Russian Orthodox Church Considers a Ban on Priests’ Blessing Weapons of Mass Destruction

A Russian Orthodox priest blesses military conscripts at a conscription point in downtown Moscow in 2010. Military blessings are common in Russia. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

Early one evening in May 2018, days before the annual parade celebrating the Soviet victory in World War II, a convoy of military trucks carrying long-range nuclear weapons trundled to a halt on the Russian capital’s ring road.

As police officers stood guard, two Russian Orthodox priests wearing cassocks and holding Bibles climbed out of a vehicle and began sprinkling holy water on the stationary Topol and Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Since relations between Russia and the West plummeted after the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, such scenes have become common here. Priests have sanctified S-400 surface-to-air missiles, nuclear submarines, tanks and fighter jets. Several years ago, a priest in Russia’s far east explained that weapons, including nuclear missiles, were “perceived as a means of protection and salvation.”

But the practice could soon be a thing of the past. Last month, a Russian Orthodox Church committee on ecclesiastical law recommended that clergy concentrate on blessing soldiers, rather than weapons.

“One can talk about the blessing of a warrior on military duty in defense of the fatherland,” said Savva Tutunov, a bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate. “At the end of the corresponding ritual, the personal weapon is also blessed — precisely because it is connected to the individual person who is receiving the blessing. By the same reasoning, weapons of mass destruction should not be sanctified.”

Not everyone agrees with the committee’s proposal, which still has to be approved by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, center, welcomes relics of St. Spyridon, bishop of Trimythous, from Corfu, Greece, during a service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on Sept. 21, 2018. (Igor Palkin, Russian Orthodox Church Press Service via AP)

Vsevolod Chaplin, an influential priest and former spokesman for the patriarch, told the Vzglyad newspaper that nuclear weapons were the country’s “guardian angels” and necessary to preserve “Orthodox civilization.”

“Only nuclear weapons protect Russia from enslavement by the West,” Chaplin said.

In any event, a ban on sanctifying weapons of mass destruction is unlikely to affect the intertwining of Russia’s armed forces — including its nuclear forces — with the Russian Orthodox Church under President Vladimir Putin.

Patriarch Kirill has described the Kremlin’s military campaign in Syria as a “holy war,” while uniformed clerics embedded with the armed forces are being trained to drive combat vehicles and operate communication equipment.

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Source: Religion News Service