The Liturgical Consent to War

by A. Edward Siecienski


In a famous scene from A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More defended his silence on the Act of Supremacy by citing a maxim of the law, “Qui tacet consentire videtur” (Silence betokens consent). His argument was that by saying nothing, the court must assume he agreed with the Act regardless of whatever his private opinions may be. Today, as the representatives of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) stand silently by and concelebrate with Patriarch Kirill while he blesses Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the question must again be asked—Does the church’s silence betoken its consent?

There is no doubt that the OCA has been in a delicate position since the war began. The ties that bind the OCA to Moscow are strong, as it was the Moscow Patriarchate that granted the OCA its autocephality in 1970 despite the Ecumenical Patriarch’s refusal to acknowledge it. When the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) was granted autocephality by Patriarch Bartholomew in 2019, the OCA continued to recognize Metropolitan Onufriy of the Moscow Patriarchate, although (unlike Moscow) it did not cut off communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch as a result.

Yet the invasion of Ukraine, with the apparent blessing of Patriarch Kirill, was so egregious that the OCA was finally forced to break ranks with Moscow, at least a little. At first there was only a general appeal for peace by Metropolitan Tikhon, urging “that President Putin put an end to the military operations” (the words “war” and “invasion” were assiduously avoided). As the horrors of the invasion became more apparent, a second letter addressed to Metropolitan Onufriy did label the conflict an “unjust war,” which finally (if obliquely) recognized that the blame for these actions fell largely on one party.

Then came the Sunday of Orthodoxy (March 13), when, according to the OCA website, “Archpriest Daniel Andrejuk, Dean of the Representation Church of Saint Catherine the Great Martyr in Moscow, was invited, as it is customary, to the concelebration at Christ the Savior Cathedral presided by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill.” The website tells how “His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon took the opportunity of this invitation to have Father Daniel personally deliver a letter to officials within the Moscow Patriarchate for His Holiness imploring him to do what he can to end the war in Ukraine,” although the actual contents of the letter remain unpublished. It was at that liturgy, with Father Daniel concelebrating, that Patriarch Kirill presented Russian National Guard leader Viktor Zolotov with an icon of the Theotokos in order to “protect the Russian army and bring about our [Russia’s] victory faster.”

Whatever the contents of that letter, the clear message sent by the presence and participation of Father Daniel during this liturgy was that the OCA somehow approved of Patriarch Kirill’s actions that day. Silence betokens consent, although I am sure (at least I hope I’m sure) that this was not the intent of Father Daniel or any of the hierarchs involved. However, Kirill’s continued use of the divine liturgy to justify and sanctify Russia’s fratricidal war, which has thus far killed hundreds of (mostly Orthodox) Ukrainian civilians, should have given the OCA pause. Only a week earlier he had used the Forgiveness Sunday liturgy to speak of the “military operations” in Ukraine as part of a wider metaphysical battle against “gay parades” and the evils of Western liberal values. If the OCA is serious about opposing what it describes as an unjust war, might it not be better to refuse concelebration with the Patriarch as long he continues to use the liturgy to bless the invasion of a sovereign state and violence against his fellow Orthodox? To be clear, I am not suggesting breaking off communion with the Moscow Patriarchate—we have far too many schisms in Orthodoxy already. I am merely suggesting that until Kirill stops using the liturgy as a propaganda weapon in Putin’s war, it is better for everyone in the OCA to simply stay away rather than give, by their presence, the appearance of complicity.

A. Edward Siecienski is Professor of Religion and Clement and Helen Pappas Professor of Byzantine Civilization and Religion at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey.  He is also a member of the Orthodox Church of America.