Ukraine war: Metropolitan Hilarion suspended from post at Swiss university

Russian Orthodox leader Metropolitan Hilarion speaks at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 6, 2021. Russian Orthodox leader Metropolitan Hilarion speaks at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 6, 2021. | Screenshot from 52nd International Eucharistic Congress YouTube channel.

A Swiss university has suspended a leading Russian Orthodox prelate from his post as a professor for “his silence” over the Ukraine war.

Mariano Delgado, the dean of the theology faculty of the University of Fribourg, announced on March 8 that the position held by Metropolitan Hilarion was suspended until further notice.

Delgado said he was disappointed that the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate did “not feel able to oppose Russia’s clear violation of international law.”

The dean said it was “scandalous” that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, had described Russia’s war against Ukraine as a “metaphysical” struggle.

“As Metropolitan Hilarion seems to be adopting the position of his Patriarch by his silence, I declare that the position of full professor that was granted to him in 2011 is suspended until further notice,” Delgado said.

The University of Fribourg, a public university in western Switzerland, traces its history back to 1580, when the Jesuit scholar St. Peter Canisius founded a boys’ school in the city of Fribourg.

Its theology faculty is the largest in Switzerland and, although it is integrated into a state university, is supported by the Dominican Order and the Swiss Catholic bishops’ conference.

Metropolitan Hilarion, a theologian, Church historian, and composer, is one of the most prominent figures in the Russian Orthodox Church, an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church with an estimated 150 million members, accounting for more than half of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

In an interview in January, before the launch of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, he expressed opposition to war, citing the toll of previous conflicts.

“First, let’s remember at what cost did Russia win those wars. The price was millions of lives. Secondly, let’s recall that every war brings incalculable disasters to people,” he said.

“We must also remember that an outcome of any war is unpredictable. Can we assume that Russia won the First World War? Let’s remember the enthusiasm with which Russia entered it, what patriotic feelings accompanied the Russian Empire’s entry into this war. Could anyone then imagine that in three years Russia would collapse?”

“For all these reasons, I am deeply convinced that a war is not a method of solving the accumulated political problems.”

Delgado said that he had written to Metropolitan Hilarion on March 3, saying that he expected him to “use his ecclesiastical and political influence” to condemn the invasion, call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops, and “publicly and unequivocally commit himself to a resolution of the conflict based on dialogue, on the basis of international law and human rights.”

The dean said that Metropolitan Hilarion replied the same day, stressing that he and his Church were engaged in humanitarian work related to the Ukraine conflict “and are doing everything possible to help those in need and to end the conflict.”

“However, since this is not in line with what the faculty expects of him at this time, he feels it is appropriate to suspend his position as a full professor, while thanking me personally and the faculty for the many years of fruitful collaboration,” Delgado said.

Meanwhile, Catholic bishops across Europe have urged Patriarch Kirill to seek an end to the war. They include Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), the Irish bishops, Poland’s Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, and Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

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