Russia’s Putin applauds ‘strengthening’ role of church amid conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin marked Orthodox Easter Sunday by applauding the “strengthening” role of the church for society and youth, while the country’s top bishop supported the offensive in Ukraine.

“I would like to express my profound gratitude for your tireless and selfless work in preserving the enduring historical, spiritual, moral and family values, by educating and enlightening youth,” said Putin after taking part in the liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

“For many years, your wise pastoral words have served to strengthen society… Today, as we face serious challenges, it is particularly important,” he added.

Easter is the most important celebration in the Orthodox calendar in both Russia and Ukraine.

In the past, Russia’s top bishop, the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, has justified the country’s offensive in Ukraine by insisting Russians and Ukrainians are brothers who have been separated by force, particularly by the West.

But the Ukrainian government has countered that view, denouncing the conflict led by the Kremlin and also pursuing investigations and prosecutions aimed at the church and priests deemed close to Moscow.

Ukrainian authorities have also angered the Russian church by announcing, amid the conflict, the expulsion of monks occupying the celebrated Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, Pechersk Lavra, considered the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy.

The Patriarch Kirill denounced in March the expulsion as “monstrous.”

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