Russian Orthodox Patriarch Approves “Holy War” Order Against Ukraine From Council at Cathedral Congress

Patrick Colwell
Patrick Colwell
Pat is a traveling freelance journalist and photographer, and holds a bachelor's degree with a focus in conflict investigation. With years of expertise in OSINT, geolocation, and data analysis, he is also the founder of the Our Wars Today brand.

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The Order and Holy War:

During the recent cathedral congress of the Russian Orthodox church that took place on March 27th, in the hall of church councils of the cathedral of Christ the savior in Moscow under the chairmanship of the Russian Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill, an order concerning state and domestic matters was approved that was put forward by the World Russian People’s Council. This order outlined a number of statements and suggestions about Russia and actions that needed to be carried out, or prevented, to make the nation aligned properly with the church’s vision. This included an assertion in the order that the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started in 2022 was a “Holy War” for the purpose of “Russia and it’s people defending the spiritual space of Holy Rus’, fulfill the mission of “Holding” (their culture and identity), protecting the world from the onslaught of globalism and victory of the West which has fallen into Satanism”. As well, the order declares that the entirety of Ukraine should be exclusively under the influence of Russia and that any “Russophobic” political entity will be removed:

“The special military operation is a new stage in the national liberation struggle of the Russian people against the criminal Kyiv regime and the collective West behind it, waged on the lands of Southwestern Rus’ since 2014. During the SVO, the Russian people, with arms in hand, defend their lives, freedom, statehood, civilizational, religious, national and cultural identity, as well as the right to live on their own land within the borders of a single Russian state. From a spiritual and moral point of view, a special military operation is a Holy War, in which Russia and its people, defending the single spiritual space of Holy Rus’, fulfill the mission of “Holding”, protecting the world from the onslaught of globalism and the victory of the West, which has fallen into Satanism. After the completion of the Northeast Military District, the entire territory of modern Ukraine should enter the zone of exclusive influence of Russia. The possibility of the existence in this territory of a Russophobic political regime hostile to Russia and its people, as well as a political regime controlled from an external center hostile to Russia, must be completely excluded.”

The approved order is broken up into eight sections: special military operation, Russian world, foreign policy, family and demographic policy, migration policy, education and upbringing, spatial and urban development, and economic development. Throughout the document, the idea of the “Russkiy Mir,” or Russian world, upholding a religious and societal defense against a global “evil,” is reiterated. This idea of a Russian world is connected, in several paragraphs, to Russian Slavic ethnic identity, orthodoxy, Russia’s society and current politics, and other various topics addressed in the order. The order largely mirrors the same rhetoric put forward by the Russian state in the past several years in order to justify aggression and the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the imprisonment of dissidents.

The inclusion of the word “war” is notable, along with the recent admission by Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov that the invasion has turned into a “de facto war.” This is the second time this month that the state narrative of the past two years that the conflict was only a “special military operation” has relapsed. In some cases, individuals were prosecuted for acknowledgement of the war or for protesting it, and in general, the Kremlin forbade media organizations from calling it a war.

Notably as well, the document describes Russkiy Mir as having larger boundaries than the current Russian Federation and even borders of historical Russian states. “Russia is the creator, support and defender of the Russian world. The borders of the Russian world as a spiritual, cultural and civilizational phenomenon are significantly wider than the state borders of both the current Russian Federation and greater historical Russia. Along with representatives of the Russian ecumene scattered throughout the world, the Russian world includes everyone for whom the Russian tradition, the shrines of Russian civilization and the great Russian culture are the highest value and meaning of life.”

Details of the Order:

The timing of the publication of the order and appeal to lawmakers in Russia comes a week after the Crocus City Hall terror attack carried out by Islamic State militants, reportedly from Tajikistan, who claimed to be from the Caucasus branch, said to be closely tied to the Afghanistan Khorasan province Islamist militant branch. In the section on migration policy, it is stated that “closed ethnic enclaves” in Russia’s largest cities are “emerging and actively developing, which are breeding grounds for corruption, organized ethnic crime and illegal migration. Existing according to their own rules, they serve as a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism, and are also a source of colossal tension in society.”

The historically and genetically incorrect outlining of Belarusians and Ukrainians as “sub-ethnicities” of “the Russian people” contributes to ideas of Russkiy Mir and ethno-nationalist rhetoric put forward by the state to justify further conflict for the purposes of “reunification” for the states into the Russian Federation. These claims were used previously to justify the beginning of the invasion in 2022. The order calls for this “trinity doctrine” of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, to be engrained into Russian law by government officials and for the concept of Russian spiritual and moral values and the Russkiy Mir to be incorporated into the legal system.

Migration Policy

Going further into ethnic groups that the order conversely considers to be outside of this trinity, they state that the “massive influx of migrants who do not speak Russian and do not have a proper understanding of Russian history and culture, and therefore are not capable of integration into Russian society, is changing the appearance of Russian cities, which leads to the deformation of the country’s unified legal, cultural and linguistic space.” Regarding labor, the order states that “The uncontrolled massive influx of foreign labor leads to undervaluation of wages for the indigenous population and their subsequent replacement by migrants in entire sectors of the domestic economy.”

They outline that the “The main priorities of the new migration policy of the Russian Federation should be:

-Protection of Russian families, their socio-economic rights and interests. Creating conditions that guarantee employment for Russian citizens, as well as a high level of income for Russian families;
-Protection of Russian civilizational identity, the unity of the legal, cultural and linguistic space of the country. Protection of the rights and legitimate interests of the Russian and other indigenous peoples of Russia;
-Protecting the domestic labor market, ensuring the scientific and technological development of the Russian economy, and increasing labor productivity;
-Implementation of effective state control, as well as planning and management of external migration flows;
-Creating conditions conducive to the mass repatriation of compatriots to Russia, as well as the relocation of foreign highly qualified specialists, scientists, investors and members of their families, loyal to Russia and ready for linguistic and cultural integration;
-Significant restriction of the influx into the Russian Federation of foreign cultural, low-skilled foreign labor. Introduction of the principle of maximum legal and economic responsibility of the employer for foreign workers of different cultures attracted by it;
-Ensuring anti-terrorist security, combating illegal migration, as well as ethnic crime.”

Demographic Change, Families, and “Russian Values”

The first statement made under the section on migration policy is “Effective demographic policy is impossible without a new migration policy.” In the previous section, the order goes in depth into the church’s vision for Russia:

“The main threat to the existence and development of Russia is the demographic catastrophe our country is experiencing. To survive in the 21st century, preserve sovereignty and its own civilizational identity, Russia needs sustainable, and most importantly, intensive natural population growth. Solving this problem is impossible without reviving the traditional large family in Russia, as well as traditional family values.

A strong large family, its protection and provision of well-being, an increase in the birth rate and the fight against abortion should be placed at the center of all state policy. The family and ensuring its well-being must be recognized as the main national development goal, as well as a strategic national priority of the Russian Federation. Corresponding amendments must be made to key strategic planning documents of the Russian Federation.

A set of measures should be developed and implemented to encourage married couples to have a third and subsequent child. One of these measures could be the introduction of partial or complete write-off of mortgage debt depending on the birth of another child in the family (for example, after the birth of the third child, 50% of the debt is written off, of the fourth – 75%, after the birth of the fifth – the mortgage debt is repaid in full).”

The order then goes on to describe plans, family structure, and beliefs directly:

“The state must take comprehensive measures to protect the family and family values from the propaganda of abortion, sexual immorality and debauchery, as well as sodomy and various sexual perversions. Chastity and virtue, traditional for the Russian people, must return to Russian society. The entire domestic culture, especially mass culture, should work to create in society the cult of family, large families, marital fidelity, responsible parenthood, and the attractiveness of family life. Preparation for creating a family and family life should be the goal of school education. The moral foundations of family life (family studies) should be included in the list of compulsory school subjects.

The attitude of Russian society towards abortion must be radically changed. Since ancient times, the Church has considered intentional termination of pregnancy (abortion) as a grave sin. Canonical rules equate abortion to murder. The justification for intentional termination of pregnancy, which leads to a real epidemic of abortions, must end. Amendments to federal legislation should be developed and adopted to prohibit propaganda, as well as inducement to abortion in the absence of medical or social indications. Administrative and criminal liability should be introduced for the commission of these acts. In addition, it is necessary to legally prohibit the performance of abortions by non-state medical organizations by amending the Federal Law “On Licensing Certain Types of Activities” dated May 4, 2011 No. 99-FZ, and the Federal Law “On the Fundamentals of Protecting the Health of Citizens in the Russian Federation” dated November 21. 2011 No. 323-FZ, as well as other regulatory legal acts providing for the introduction of a ban on artificial abortion by medical organizations that are not part of the state and municipal health care systems.

In order to systematize, as well as put into practice numerous proposals in the field of demography, it is necessary to develop a set of scientifically based measures of demographic and pronatalist policies, the application of which in practice will lead to a real increase in the number of large families, as well as to an increase in the birth rate – an increase in the total coefficient fertility rate (TFR). In order to test the effectiveness of the proposed measures, as well as to develop their optimal combination, the developed demographic and pronatalist measures should be tested in the territories of individual constituent entities of the Russian Federation in the format of pilot projects. After which, proven effective practices should be scaled up across the entire Russian Federation, with amendments made to the relevant strategic planning documents, as well as regulatory legal acts at the federal and regional levels.”

Education, Urban, and Economic Development

In the education portion of the order the focus is put onto the “sovereignization of the national education system.” They say the “Domestic educational programs, as well as upbringing programs, must be cleared of destructive ideological concepts and attitudes, especially Western ones, that are alien to the Russian people and destructive for Russian society. A new socio-humanitarian paradigm, based on Russian civilizational identity and traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, must be developed and introduced into the domestic teaching of social and humanitarian disciplines.”

For urban and spatial development order says to ensure that there is “a significant increase in the birth rate,” they must bring about a “spatial transformation of Russia.” Including the “refusal of priority development of large and largest urban agglomerations, mass construction of multi-apartment residential buildings, as well as over-concentration of labor resources and productive forces in megacities; transition to the traditional for Russia uniform distribution of the population and productive forces throughout the country through the mass relocation of city residents to comfortable suburban settlements and individual residential buildings; a change in development priorities of the domestic construction industry in favor of mass individual construction carried out in an industrial way, which in 10-15 years should occupy at least 70-80% of the total volume of housing being built in the country.”

They also state that “From the territory of sixteen megacities and vast depopulated spaces, by 2050 Russia must turn into a uniformly populated and equipped low-rise country of 1000 revived medium and small cities – into the Gardarika of the 21st century. Suburban settlements should become the main type of settlements in the country, 80% of the Russian population (or more than 30 million Russian families) should live in their own individual houses on their own land.”

Lastly regarding the economy the order says that “Russia needs a sovereign and efficient economy based on full control over its own monetary, monetary and financial system, as well as on the rapid development of industries, technologies and production of the new (sixth) technological structure. The main goals of the domestic economy should be to increase the real well-being of Russian families, increase the number of jobs, ensure an increase in the birth rate, settle and develop vast Russian spaces, ensure the sovereignty and defense capability of the country, as well as the competitiveness of Russian technologies, goods and services in the domestic and foreign markets.”

Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church:

Patriarch Kirill is alleged by two Swiss outlets, Sonntagszeitung and Le Matin Dimanche, to have had ties to the KGB since the 1970s under the code name “Mikhailov” in order for them to gain influence in the World Council of Churches (WCC). The patriarch’s nephew, Mikhail Gundyaev, who currently represents the Russian church in the WCC in Geneva, denies that his father was an agent but that instead he was subjected to strict controls by the KGB, which didn’t affect the sincerity of his work. Kirill had reportedly visited Switzerland 43 times, often skiing and even breaking a leg in 2007 while on the slopes.

Kirill, a strong supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly, has often called for closer ties between church and state during his tenure as patriarch. Along with decrying anti-government protestors in Russia during demonstrations against Putin and state, he also publicly supported Belarusian leader and self-proclaimed dictator Alexander Lukashenko in 2010 during his non-democratic election in Belarus, which was marked by anti-government protests, mass arrests of demonstrators and journalists, internet censorship, media raids, and suppression of opposition parties, including through beatings and the arrest of candidates.

While supporting the invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s presidency in outward appearances, in 2014, during the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the conflict that followed, he both refused to integrate parishes from the peninsula and also boycotted a Kremlin celebration of the annexation. He also didn’t adopt Putin’s vision of Crimea as “Russia’s Temple Mount,” where Vladimir the Great had been baptized. This period of animosity, before Kirill later embraced the idea of a “holy war” against Ukraine, is possibly because the initial conflict and destructive results inflicted by the annexation of the oligarch-backed and Russian-backed separatists caused the Eastern Orthodox church as well as Kirill and the Russian church to lose a significant amount of influence both in Ukraine but also in diaspora and international communities. The church split that followed most certainly diminished the control both the patriarch and the Russian church of had over the branches in Ukraine.

In 2018, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople said he would grant the Ukrainian church independence from the Russian church for the first time since 1686 and establish a church body under himself, the ecumenical patriarch, while revoking the permission given to the patriarch of Moscow to ordain Kyiv and the excommunication of unrecognized Eastern Orthodox Ukrainian churches. Before Bartholomew re-established the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the OCU, the main church in Ukraine was the UOCMP, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, and several other smaller non-canonical jurisdictions existed. After Bartholomew granted a tomos (scroll/decree) of autocephaly to OCU to self-govern, the appointed unification council re-established the church, made up of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate (UOCKP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), joined as well by two bishops formerly of the UOCMP. The Russian Orthodox Church refuses to recognize these ecclesiastical changes to the structure of Ukrainian religious bodies. In March 2022, according to Info Sapiens, the UOCMP held the membership of about 6% of Ukraine’s Orthodox members (4% of the population), and the OCU held the membership of about 78% (52% of the population). The territory of the OCU’s parishes is limited to Ukrainian national borders.

Purpose for the Order and Impact:

The purpose of this order from the World Russian People’s Council, which was approved by Kirill, seems largely to bolster additional further justifications for the war in Ukraine and pressure lawmakers across Russia to adopt policies that align with the church and the state. Reading the order in its entirety and its specification of certain provisions and laws, it’s difficult to interpret it in any way aside from making direct policy suggestions and directions for Russian officials and societal leaders.

These policy suggestions approved in the church congress fall in line with recent sentiments from Russian officials and nationalist and ultranationalist individuals and groups that have called for tougher migratory laws and foreign labor restrictions, increased pressure to adhere to family values that align with the state and leading political parties, focused efforts to affect demographic change and cultural beliefs, increased religious participation in state affairs and domestic policy, as well as distancing from external influences, such as “the West.” The order is openly an attempt to grow nationalistic sentiment and foment religious fervor in support of the church, the suggested policies, and the document’s imbued ideological positions.