Orthodox Churches in chaos. Easter of blood and division. An editorial by Andrea Riccardi

The celebration, the divisions. The war has exacerbated the contrasts between the Russian community and the various Ukrainian patriotic clergy groups

Today, Orthodox Churches are celebrating Easter. Ukrainian and Russian Christians have always experienced this feast with a special enthusiasm, something unknown here in the West. The liturgy involves the people. On Easter night, churches are lit by the many candles of the faithful, symbolising the defeat of 'night', the dark world of existence and history.
Both Ukrainians and Russians put great religious passion in the rite common to the Orthodox. The faithful, as they walk in procession around the church, repeat "Khristòs voskrés!" (Christ is risen). And people respond: 'Voistinu voskrés!' (He is truly risen!).
You can hear the festive greeting "Christ is risen!" repeated again and again, even outside church at Easter time. Easter speaks of resurrection and peace. This was evident even in the dark years of Soviet persecution in the few churches left open. The liturgy revealed a kind of 'beauty' unknown to the Soviet grimness.
The Orthodox Church paid a very high price in those years: one million victims, among them 200 bishops, killed because they were Christians. Yet Orthodoxy was rooted in the people, despite violence and atheistic campaign, so much so that Stalin, attacked by the Nazis in 1941, felt the need for the Church's support, and gave it a new (limited) space in society.
Since the collapse of the USSR, the Church has become free and has a prominent position in Russia. Several churches have been built and many restored. When Kirill became Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in 2009, he gave a speech in the imposing Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - rebuilt in 2000 after Stalin had blown it up in 1931. He said that the responsibility of keeping the Orthodox peoples of the former USSR united fell on him as Patriarch.
Putin, then prime minister, was there and listened together with Belarusian President Lukashenko and Russian President Medvedev.
Today, although the people's spirit at Easter has remained unchanged, Orthodoxy is divided, with no voice of its own in the face of war, apart from Kirill's support for the State action and the patriotic attitude of the various Ukrainian Churches.
In 2018, the Ukrainian Churches, which did not recognise themselves in the Moscow Patriarchate, united and then received a tomos signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew decreeing the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Kirill denounced this as an abuse of power and broke off relations with Bartholomew.  Since then the international Orthodox world has been divided between those who recognise the Ukrainian autocephalous Church and those who oppose Bartholomew.
Thus, the process of inter-Orthodox cohesion, which the Ecumenical Patriarchate worked so hard on in the 20th century, has been partly compromised. On Easter night in Moscow, Bartholomew's name was not mentioned in prayer. Orthodoxy appears to be shattered. The deepest division is in the Ukraine.
The Russian invasion and the position of the Moscow Patriarchate, siding with the state, have put the Ukrainian Church, traditionally linked to Moscow, in great difficulty. Despite being autonomous since 1990, it is accused of serving Moscow. Its head, Metropolitan Onufrij, asked Putin to 'immediately stop the fratricidal war' once the invasion began. The Church condemned the war and the policy of the Russian Patriarchate, and asserted its independence. Since the beginning of the war, about 250 parishes out of 8,500 have switched to the autocephalous Church. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian (former Russian) Church remains the largest Christian community in the country. A government bill, to be debated in Ukranian parliament, bans all religious activity to organisations with their headquarters in an enemy country. Some former Russian churches, such as Lviv Cathedral, were forcibly occupied and then, by a vote of the people gathered in the church, annexed to the autocephalous Church. The government took the thousand-year-old Kiev Cave Monastery away from the Ukrainian (ex-Russian) Church, but the monks have resisted.
Pope Francis has publicly called for an act of force to be avoided. We wonder what interest the government has in increasing religious laceration in a country already suffering so much because of the invasion. In this Easter of bloodshed caused by war and atrocities, however, Orthodoxy once again reveals it is a Church of the people, able to communicate something deep and vital to people in its liturgy and faith. Many of the faithful pay little attention to the different struggling hierarchies. However, the Orthodox institutions are dramatically shaken by nationalisms. All Churches are more lonely and isolated. Meanwhile, pan-Orthodox relations and ecumenism are in serious crisis. The Churches are in danger of being held hostage by the nation. None can get free on its own and must conform. The other Churches are also shaken, perplexed and sometimes biased.
In times of war, as in the First World War, dreams of a pan-Christian peace council reappear.

(editorial by Andrea Riccardi published in Corriere della Sera on 16 April, translation by editorial staff)