Image: by Jim Forest / Flickr / Creative Commons license

From Radio Free Europe: 

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has told his followers that “sacrifice in the course of carrying out your military duty washes away all sins.”

The patriarch’s comments during his Sunday sermon on September 25 came amid nationwide protests and rising criticism over the Kremlin’s recent announcement of a partial mobilization to replenish Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.

Western officials estimate that Russia has suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties since it invaded Ukraine in February.

Russian officials have said the draft would focus on reservists and would bring 300,000 fresh troops to the war effort. But Russian media has said the real target is 1 million new troops, and reports that men with no combat experience and beyond draft age are being enlisted has attracted criticism even from pro-Kremlin voices.

Kirill, a prominent supporter of President Vladimir Putin who has “blessed” the war effort and warned by Pope Francis against becoming “Putin’s altar boy,” has previously claimed that Russians were doing a “heroic deed” by killing Ukrainians, even as he has urged them not to see the Ukrainian people as enemies.

“We know that many today are dying in the fields of internecine battle,” Kirill said at a church near Moscow on September 25. “The church is praying that this battle will end as soon as possible, that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war.”

The AP adds this:

Kirill’s latest words raise the rhetorical stakes at a time when Russia has begun mobilizing reservists and has taken steps to annex parts of eastern Ukraine in the wake of military losses to Ukrainian forces.

“If someone, driven by a sense of duty, the need to fulfill an oath, remains true to his calling and dies in the line of military duty, then he undoubtedly commits an act that is tantamount to a sacrifice,” Kirill said in the sermon.

“He sacrifices himself for others,” Kirill said. “And therefore we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed.”

He compared the sacrifice to that of Jesus on the cross.