Orthodox chaplains in the military, the 'chaplains' who give guidance and inspiration to troops on the battlefield, risk their lives as much as members of their flock do, or even more, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has stated.
“A priest is the most valuable target for the enemy. Snipers aim at [them] first,” Patriarch Kirill said on Thursday during a speech in the Russian parliament.
Kirill was explaining that while Orthodox priests are banned by their faith from serving in the military or even from taking up arms, the role of military capellans is as important and requires as much courage as that of a soldier.
“Priests don’t hide behind, with the wagon trains. They are with the warriors, their flock, often at the most forward parts of the frontline,” he said.
Five priests have been killed during the military operation in Ukraine, the patriarch reminded his audience. One of them has been posthumously awarded Russia’s highest merit, the Hero of Russia.
He was referring to veteran chaplain Mikhail Vasilyev, who was killed by a rocket strike in November. The 51-year-old cleric had accompanied Russian troops during missions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Abkhazia, Kyrgyzstan and Syria, among other places.
The patriarch urged lawmakers to put into law a social safety net for chaplains, which would put them on par with military service members. Kirill was speaking during a session, which was part of the “Christmas educational readings”, an annual event organised by the Russian Orthodox Church.
In his address Kirill described the conflict in Ukraine as “fratricidal” and instigated by powerful foreign forces, which seek to antagonise the peoples of Ukraine and Russia. Those forces are also behind Kiev’s crackdown against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which would be essential for any future reconciliation, he assessed.