As for Putin, the archbishop worried “the problem is we're dealing with a ruler who as a young man made a step in a diabolical direction.”
“He became a KGB operative. And in the Soviet Union, working for the KGB was something that was considered unconscionable. I mean, you sold your soul to the Communist system of repression,” he said of Putin. “And he’s been in that mindset for 50 years. He’s explicit about recovering that legacy. He considers that the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he wants to rebuild an empire of those proportions. And he’s thinking, as Stalin did, well, ‘how many divisions does the Pope have?’”
“The Pope and Christians have spiritual warfare,” the archbishop said.
To the question of the Russian Orthodox Church’s endorsement of the war, Gudziak said that Church is “still in a colonial mindset” that has only strengthened in the last 15 years. This contrasts with most Christian churches which are revisiting their history and the role they might have played in colonization and empire building, “recognizing it has nothing to do with the Gospel and with God's will.”
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has developed an “ideological construct” of the “Russian world” which treats any lands that had been part of the Russian empire as part of his Church’s canonical territory. These lands are where the Russian Orthodox Church must guide society and have an impact. In Gudziak’s view, Putin has taken this concept of the “Russian world” for his own purposes.
“This is really scandalous,” said Gudziak. “The Patriarch, and his main spokesman, Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Department of External Church Affairs, are not able to speak truth to power. They are not able to speak out clearly in defense of the orphans and widows that are being multiplied. They don't defend the schools and universities and hospitals that are being destroyed. It's a major problem. It's a major problem for the Russian Orthodox Church and for Russian society.”
“This is not a war that Russia is waging because NATO was threatening Ukraine. Ukraine, of course, is not threatening Russia,” he said. He cited Ukraine’s surrender of its nuclear arsenal for guarantees of territorial integrity from Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. It had reduced its army from 900,000 in 1991 to 6,000 in 2014.
“Ukraine was not a threat. The real threat is the democracy, the spirit, the freedom of the press, the civic society that developed in Ukraine,” the archbishop said. “That virus, if it passed to Russia, would create great danger to an autocracy, a kleptocratic oligarchy, which Putin runs and is fostering. And he wants that kind of system globally.”
As Gudziak sees the world, this kind of system is in place in China and Venezuela. He noted that Putin is supporting “authoritarian tendencies” and has shown friendliness towards Indian Prime Minister Modi and Brazil’s President Bolsonaro.
“Putin is not a defender of traditional values,” Gudziak added. He pointed to Russia’s extremely high abortion rate and “astronomic” rates of alcoholism, divorce, and corruption.
“These spiritual, moral indicators are much better in secular Netherlands than they are in Russia,” he said.
(Story continues below)
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Gudziak discussed the world’s reaction to the Russian invasion and welcomed prayers and Church outreach to refugees.
“The Catholic Church in Poland has taken a prophetic stance and is leading all of Polish society in receiving the refugees … they're being received very warmly, very generously,” he said.
The archbishop also stressed the need to pray.
“We’re very grateful that Churches throughout the world are praying and prayer is very important,” he said. “Prayer brought the Soviet Union down. It wasn’t a war, it wasn’t an army. It was the blood of martyrs, God’s Grace and years of prayer and the kind of work that Aid to the Church in Need did, educating people and calling people to pray for the fall of communism.”
“We saw the incredible power of a tyranny of a totalitarian state armed to his teeth with nuclear weapons, with limitless resources for repression, (yet) that Soviet Union was not able to snuff out the Church,” the archbishop continued. “The Ukrainian Catholic Church was reduced from 3000 priests to 300. Those 300 priests in the end were serving only 1% of the pre-World War II population because in the underground you can't have big gatherings and today [the Church] has 3000 priests. Again, we see that authoritarian powers can do great damage to Christians, to Catholics—China is an example today—but the Church will prevail.”
“We have prayer, we have grace, and we can see that morally Ukraine has won this war. The whole world is united today around Ukraine,” he said. The war “united a fractured Europe” and brought together North Atlantic partners.