Russian Orthodox Church considers ending blessings for nuclear weapons

Moscow, Russia, Jul 10, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Russian Orthodox Church is debating an end to the practice of blessing large scale weapons, including nuclear missiles. 

Last month, a committee on ecclesial law met in Moscow and recommended ending the practice of blessing missiles and warheads, and suggested that priests should instead bless only individual soldiers and their personal weapons. 

According to a report by Religion News Service, Bishop Savva Tutunov of the Moscow Patriarchate said that it would be more appropriate to bless only the warrior who is defending their country, and their own personal weapon–instead of bombs. 

“One can talk about the blessing of a warrior on military duty in defense of the fatherland,” said Tutunov. 

“At the end of the corresponding ritual, the personal weapon is also blessed — precisely because it is connected to the individual person who is receiving the blessing. By the same reasoning, weapons of mass destruction should not be sanctified,” he said.

The proposal to end the blessings for larger weapons has yet to be approved by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Weapons systems, including Topol-class intercontinental ballistic missiles, are frequently blessed by members of the Russian Orthodox clergy during military parades and other events. These blessings are seen as a way of spiritually protecting the country. 

In 2007, Russia’s nuclear weapons were consecrated in a service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. In Russian Orthodoxy, the patron saint of Russia’s nuclear weapons is St. Seraphim. 

Tutunov’s view is not universally held in the Orthodox Church. According to  the piece published by Religion News Service, Fr. Vsevolod Chaplain, a former spokesman for the Patriarch of Moscow, said that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is akin to the “guardian angels” of the country and are needed to protect Orthodoxy. 

“Only nuclear weapons protect Russia from enslavement by the West,” Chaplin said to a Russian newspaper. 

Patriarch Kirill is rumored to have been a KGB agent prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. His predecessor, Patriarch Alexy II is also believed to have been a KGB agent. The Moscow Patriarchate denies this. 

The Catholic Church is explicitly opposed to nuclear weapons, and supports countries dismantling their arsenals. 

Pope St. John XXIII called for the banning of nuclear weapons and wrote that “a general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control” in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes acts of war aimed at the indiscriminate destruction of entire cities or large areas as “a crime against God and man.” 

“A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons – especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons – to commit such crimes.”

In November, Pope Francis is expected to visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima–cities where the United States deployed two atomic bombs during World War II–on his apostolic visit to Japan.

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