An Open Letter to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, Moscow
From The Rev. Dr Keith Clements
8 March 2022
I greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
During these recent days I have been recalling very clearly the visit which in May 1999 Your Holiness and I together with other church and ecumenical figures made to Belgrade. We met with President Milosevic to present and discuss with him a proposal, drawn up by the Vienna Group of which both of us were members, for ending the conflict over Kosovo. Belgrade at that time was under aerial bombardment by NATO forces. In Belgrade and elsewhere we saw at first hand the effects of such attacks and our visit involved not a little danger to ourselves. But we went willingly, with the aim of contributing towards a cessation of hostilities and the creation of an opportunity for peace. This remains with me as a very positive memory of ecumenical fellowship in pursuit of peace, for which I am deeply grateful.
Today, in Ukraine, we are witnessing attacks on a country and its people, on a far greater scale than anything seen in Europe since 1945. This time, it has to be said in plain truth and in sorrow, the military operations are being carried out not by NATO but by Russian forces under the orders of President Putin. The devastation being wreaked upon Ukraine, its people and its infrastructure, the displacement and flight of civilians now being numbered by the million, are being witnessed by the whole world. It is a situation which cannot be justified by any Christian spirit or conscience, and for the sake of the people of Ukraine and of Russia must be ended without delay.
In the same spirit which led us to visit Belgrade in 1999, I appeal to you for a word which acknowledges and addresses this situation in terms befitting a great Church of Jesus Christ. Thus far, we in the world outside have heard words about the desire for peace, but not about the things that make for peace: first of all an acknowledgment of the wrong that is being committed against the people of Ukraine, without which no genuine movement towards peace can begin. It is known that there are voices in your Church and in other Christian communities in Russia, which are already expressing these aspirations towards repentance and the hope which repentance brings. I and others hope and pray that you will hear, defend and uphold them.
Many of us are well aware of the real historical factors which are involved in the relationship of Russia and Ukraine. We also realise that all countries, including those in the West, will need to reflect on their policies in Europe over recent decades, and be ready to learn from past mistakes. Moreover we are aware of the constraints which Your Holiness experiences, as leader of a Church with such close ties to the Russian state. But ‘the word of God is not chained’ (2 Timothy 2:9) and history shows us that there are moments when the Church is challenged to confess, perhaps at great cost but greatly strengthening its witness to the love of God for all people, where its truest and highest allegiance lies. Christians are called to place above all claims of earthly powers their loyalty to Jesus Christ to whom alone ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given’ (Matthew 28:18).
With all those who eagerly await such a word from you, and with continuing prayers for the guidance and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit upon Your Holiness, I remain,
Former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches 1997-2005
Keith Clement is former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, 1997-2005.