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Editor's choicePope Francis praises the Russian head of the Old believers for his...

Pope Francis praises the Russian head of the Old believers for his “attitude of peace”

Jan Leonid Bornstein
Jan Leonid Bornstein
Jan Leonid Bornstein is investigative reporter for The European Times. He has been investigating and writing about extremism since the beginning of our publication. His work has shed light on a variety of extremist groups and activities. He is a determined journalist who go after dangerous or controversial topics. His work has had a real-world impact in exposing situations with an out of the box thinking.

On May 7, Russian head of the Worldwide Union of Old Believers (Old believers are Eastern Orthodox Christians who maintain the liturgical and ritual practices of the Russian Orthodox Church as they were before the reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow between 1652 and 1666) Leonid Sevastianov received a personal handwritten letter from Pope Francis.

The letter was addressed also to Svetlana Kasyan, a famous Russian opera singer and Leonid’s wife. The Pope thanked them for their “attitude of peace” adding “we Christians must be ambassadors of peace, carrying out peace, preaching peace, living in peace.”

Pope Francis to Leonid Sevastianov Pope Francis praises the Russian head of the Old believers for his "attitude of peace"
Letter from Pope Francis to Leonid Sebastianov

The two religious leaders Leonid and Francis know each other well, and it’s pretty obvious that the latter finds a more friendly ear with the first than with Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, in these times of war. Kirill has been using his position to help Kremlin’s propaganda justifying the war in Ukraine, whilst Leonid Sevastianov, still living in Moscow, has bravely voiced his opinion that Kirill was seriously erring, and that war was at least questionable: “We do not know why this war: for what reasons? For what objectives?” he said, not avoiding the term despite the Russian law forbidding the use of the word “war” when speaking about Ukraine invasion by Russian troops. And as regards Kirill: “Logic would have it that Easter be a moment of humanity, and not of politics. But Kirill’s statements indicate otherwise. And they denote heresy.”

Those are strong statements that echo those of Francis in Corriere della Sera after he spoke to Kirill: “The patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy.”

Francis is also a big fan of Svetlana Kasyan, and recently she released her first solo album which she called “Fratelli Tutti”, in homage to the Pope’s encyclique published a year before. The title and the concept of the album, heading for universal peace amongst people of any country and any faith, was kind of prophetic: there is more than ever a need for more understanding, more love, more brotherhood. That is also the message of Sevastianov, a message that he would love to get across to the political leaders of the country he lives in.

These last months, Kirill has been disavowed by hundreds of Orthodox leaders and priests all around the world, but also in Russia, despite the risk that anyone criticizing the war and its defenders takes. In the future, when this will be over, it might happen that the Russian Orthodox Church entirely loses its power even in Russia, and who knows who will be able to gain spiritual leadership then. In fact, it might be anyone but the current leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has already too much compromised itself into politics and warmongering.

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