ROME – On Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday, the country’s leading Orthodox prelate has praised his leadership as divinely orchestrated and has urged citizens to offer two days of prayer for his health.
In an Oct. 7 congratulatory note, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow praised Putin’s reputation as a national leader “selflessly devoted to the Fatherland, sincerely loving the Motherland and giving her all your strength, abilities and talents.”
“The Lord placed you at the helm of power, so that you could perform a service of special importance and great responsibility for the fate of the country and the people entrusted to your care,” Kirill said, listing what he argued are some of the most important achievements of Putin’s reign.
Among these, he said, are the “transformation of the image of Russia, strengthening of its sovereignty and defense capability, protection of national interests, progressive socio-economic development, and concern for the wellbeing of fellow citizens.”
He made no mention of Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine or the war that erupted after, which continues to rage, has claimed thousands of civilian lives, including children, and has forced millions from their homes and destabilized the security of the entire European continent.
However, Kirill has been vocally supportive of the war, and has drawn criticism from the international community for his sympathetic sharing of Putin’s view that the war is justified not only as protecting Russia’s security interests, but also as a defense against western secularism.
Russia recently announced it had annexed four occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, a move widely condemned by Pope Francis and one not recognized by the international community. Putin has also recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine to protect Russia’s “territorial integrity.”
Kirill made no mention of these developments but praised the development of church-state relations under Putin, which he said is marked by “a unique model of cooperation, building a trusting and mutually beneficial dialogue.”
Thanking Putin for his support for church initiatives, Kirill voiced hope that the “fruitful cooperation” between the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s government would assist in the preservation of “the rich historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of Russia,” and of peaceful and prosperous life for citizens.
He closed the letter asking that God would bless Putin with “unrelenting strength” and that the leader would receive “abundant help” from God in his service to the country.
Putin has dominated Russia’s political scene for more than two decades and, according to constitutional reforms he implemented, he could run for office two more times, meaning he could stay in power until 2036.
In a letter sent to clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church for the occasion of Putin’s birthday, Kirill asked all bishops, clerics, monastics, and faithful to offer “zealous home prayers” for Putin’s health.
He noted that Oct. 8 marks the feast of Russian Orthodox Saint Sergius of Radonezh, a spiritual leader and monastic reformer of medieval Russia who today remains one of the country’s most highly venerated saints.
Kirill recalled how at one point, Saint Sergius blessed the Prince of Moscow Demetrius of Donskoy and the Russian army as they fought against an enemy “who wanted the dismemberment of the Russian land and encouraged civil strife among its people.”
He called for a special liturgy to be celebrated on Oct. 8 for “the health of the President of Russia” and for the “longevity” of his reign, in commemoration of Saint Sergius and his efforts.
In his letter to clergy, Kirill asked that the special Divine Liturgy be recited using specific prayers for Russia and for Putin.
One of the prayers to be recited asks God to bless “the Head of State of Russia Vladimir Vladimirovich,” and to make him “rich mercy and Your bounty,” and to grant him “health and long life,” and to protect him “from all the resistance of visible and invisible enemies.”
A second prayer asks that “a prosperous and peaceful life, health and salvation and good haste in everything” be given to Putin and to “the power, army and people of our God-protected Fatherland.”
Despite Kirill’s fervent praise for Putin and his prayers for health and longevity of reign, Putin’s 70th birthday is being marked by increased criticism from leaders throughout the international community who argue that Russia today is increasingly isolated and impoverished as plans to take over Ukraine fail.
Putin also faces mounting pressure from global leaders over his nuclear threats.
United States President Joe Biden has warned that the use of nuclear weapons by Russia could mean “Armageddon.”
Pope Francis issued a rare direct plea to Putin to “stop the cycle of violence” during last Sunday’s Angelus address, while also urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be open to negotiations.
He asked world leaders “to do everything in their power to put an end to the ongoing war, without allowing themselves to be drawn into dangerous escalations, and to promote and support initiatives for dialogue.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen