The U.K. government announced on Thursday that it is imposing sanctions on the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The announcement came after European Union member states failed to agree on whether Patriarch Kirill should face sanctions after his name was proposed by the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU. Hungary reportedly objected to his inclusion.
The U.K. decision was welcomed by Andrii Yurash, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See.
Writing on Twitter, he said that the Russian Orthodox Church and its leaders had to pay the “same price as Putin for killing thousands and destroying Ukraine.”
But the step was condemned by Vladimir Legoida, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Synodal Department for the Church’s Relations with Society and Mass Media.
In a June 16 statement on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate, he said that “attempts to intimidate the head of the Russian Church or to force him to abandon his views are meaningless, absurd, and futile.”
“The Patriarch’s family went through years of godless persecution, and he himself grew up and formed under tremendous pressure on the faith, to which he has always honorably resisted,” he commented.
Legoida added: “The Church — especially now — is the last bridge, the means of communication, which they are trying to destroy for some reason. It may be needed only by those political forces who have made escalation of conflict and alienation of peace their important goal.”
“Otherwise I cannot explain such absurd and counterproductive measures, which contribute to only one thing — to break up the already severely damaged communication between the European community and Russia.”
Numerous influential Russian citizens have been added to the U.K. sanctions list since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The sanctions have included asset freezes and bans on travel to the U.K.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Today we are targeting the enablers and perpetrators of Putin’s war who have brought untold suffering to Ukraine, including the forced transfer and adoption of children.”
“We will not tire of defending freedom and democracy, and keeping up the pressure on Putin, until Ukraine succeeds.”
The Russian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
The Ukraine war has strained the Moscow Patriarchate’s relations with other Eastern Orthodox Churches.
It has also prompted Catholic bishops across Europe to urge Kirill to denounce the invasion. They include Poland’s Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Luxembourg’s Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, and the Irish bishops.
The pope added that he and Kirill had called off a meeting scheduled for June 14 in Jerusalem, saying “we agreed that it could send the wrong message.”
“I had a 40-minute conversation with Patriarch Kirill. In the first part, he read me a declaration in which he gave reasons justifying the war. When he finished, I intervened and told him: ‘Brother, we are not clerics of the State, we are pastors of the people,’” the pope recalled.
“I was to have met him on June 14 in Jerusalem, to talk about our shared issues. But with the war, by mutual agreement, we decided to postpone the meeting to a later date, so that our dialogue would not be misunderstood.”
“I hope to meet him at a general assembly in Kazakhstan in September. I hope to be able to greet him and speak a little with him as a pastor.”