05/13/2010 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Russian Patriarch, Praising World War II, Sidesteps Stalin's Legacy

By Sophia Kishkovsky
Religion News Service

MOSCOW (RNS/ENI) Sidestepping a debate over the legacy of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said World War II had "redeemed Russia from its sins."

"The church does not look at the war as historians or politicians do," Patriarch Kirill I said in a May 9 sermon at the Church of Christ the Savior to mark the Russian victory over Nazi Germany. "The church has a particular stance, a particular spiritual point of view."

The Patriarch said he believed the war--which Russians call the Great Patriotic War--had redeemed the nation from its sins, the "bloody events of the beginning of the 20th century."

"How many lies, how much evil and human suffering there was. But God washed away these lies and this evil with our blood, with the blood of our fathers, as has happened more than once in human history."

While Kirill did not mention Stalin by name, he nonetheless took issue with historians who equate Nazi Germany with Stalin-era Russia.

"When some homegrown historians tell us that the evil here was no less than there, they are not seeing beyond their own noses, and fail to see the divine horizon beyond their extremely primitive and sinful analysis," said Kirill. "The Great Patriotic War revealed to us God's truth about ourselves. It punished us for our sins but revealed to us the great glory and strength of our people."

The Moscow Patriarchate has been embroiled in a public dispute after Stalinist author Aleksandr Prokhanov accused church leaders of insensitivity and "placing themselves against the people" in their criticisms of Stalin's bloody legacy.

Archbishop Hilarion, the church's director of external relations, had earlier labeled Stalin a "spiritual monster"--statements that Prokhanov and others have called dangerous and damaging to Russian identity.

Three days before Kirill's sermon, the church had posted a letter from Hilarion's office saying "an inhuman system was created under Stalin, and nothing can justify it. ... The regime created by Stalin was based on terror, violence and repression, by lies and denunciations."