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Impending Russian attack on the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv?

Saint Sophia symbolizes the vibrant Ukrainian national identity, and the linkage of that identity to the baptism of Rus’ in 988, that Vladimir Putin seems hell-bent on destroying.

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine. (WIkipedia)

Ukrainian intelligence reports suggest that Russian forces may deliberately target and attempt to destroy Saint Sophia, the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, in downtown Kyiv. If such an attack took place, it would be an attack of cultural barbarism even worse than the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan in 2001, which was cultural vandalism more-or-less detached from politics. The destruction of Saint Sophia would embody in a uniquely vicious way Vladimir Putin’s attempt to rewrite the history of eastern Slavic Christianity in support of his campaign of post-Cold War Russian imperialism, which would be cultural vandalism in aid of political tyranny .

Built in the early 11th century, Saint Sophia is Ukraine’s national sanctuary and the country’s most cherished monument to the baptism of the eastern Slavs in 988. Magnificently restored in recent decades, after the depredations of the Soviet period when it was turned into a museum, its golden domes and extraordinary mosaics are of such historical, aesthetic, and cultural value that it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Perhaps more to the immediate point, Saint Sophia symbolizes the vibrant Ukrainian national identity, and the linkage of that identity to the baptism of Rus’ in 988, that Vladimir Putin seems hell-bent on destroying.

Earlier today, Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church issued the following appeal to the world from a bomb shelter:

We have received information that the Russian army plans an air strike on the most venerable holy site of the Ukrainian people since the time of Kyivan Rus – the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Kyiv. His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Head and Father of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, calls upon all Christians to pray for the protection of this holy site of all Slavic peoples and calls upon the aggressor to refrain from this most horrific act of vandalism.

Those prayers should arise from every Christian heart as Christians throughout the world count down the hours to the beginning of Lent.

More can and should be done, however. On the assumption that the intelligence that led to the Major-Archbishop’s appeal has been shared with Western governments by the Zelensky government in Ukraine, Western leaders should waste no time in informing the Kremlin that the destruction of the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv by Russian forces will lead to an immediate and even more draconian imposition of economic sanctions, including the cut-off of all Russian exports, oil and gas included; the acceleration of efforts by the International Criminal Court to bring war-crimes indictments against Russian officials; and the seizure of Russian assets held in non-Russian financial institutions.

For decades now, Vladimir Putin, whom some deluded souls imagine to be some sort of Christian figure, has deployed a warped misrepresentation of the history of eastern Slavic Christianity to buttress his attempts to reverse the verdict of the Cold War and reassemble something resembling the old Soviet Union. Three days before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Putin gave an hour-long address in which he claimed, in effect, that Ukraine had no past of its own, and therefore should have no future of its own.

In this assault on historical truth, Putin has been aided and abetted by the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, which endorses his preposterous claim that the sole legitimate heir of the baptism of the eastern Slavs in 988 is Russia. Thus religious authorities throughout the world should contact Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and demand that he exert whatever influence he has to forestall a blasphemous act of destruction in Kyiv. Vatican officials who imagine they can play some sort of mediating role in the war on Ukraine should be the first on the phone to the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church, demanding protection for an artifact of Christian history that antedates the split of 1054 between Christian East and Christian West. Saint Sophia is uniquely of Kyiv, but it belongs spiritually to all Christians, and Patriarch Kirill should be forcefully reminded of that.

It was entirely predictable that Russian anti-personnel attacks on civilians would intensify as the Russian military’s bumbling performance in Ukraine failed to deliver the blitzkrieg victory that Mr. Putin evidently anticipated, self-deluded as he was about the unreality of Ukrainian nationhood. In response to Ukraine’s heroic resistance, the defense ministry in Moscow has publicly announced that Kyiv will be subject to bombing and missile attack. It is Afghanistan and Syria and Chechnya all over again – barbaric assaults on the innocent that have no connection to military reason, or military honor. That, it seems, is the Russian way of war, whether under communism or under those whose consciences seem to have been terminally warped by communism, like ex-KGB agent Putin.

The world must let Vladimir Putin, those who surround and enable him, and the Russian military leadership know that they will be international pariahs if this barbarity continues, and if Saint Sophia is one of its victims.


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About George Weigel 428 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).

19 Comments

  1. What gives me the creeps is that Putin has set the bar for the use of nuclear weapons so low that, if he were to use one, he would guarantee the total destruction of Russia as a state.

  2. Once again, sincere thanks to George Weigel, for these very valuable updates.
    I would add, however, that the more draconian sanctions called for by George if the Santa Sophia Cathedral is targeted for destruction should be already in place when Ukrainian citizens are being targeted for destruction.

    • The Cathedral of Holy Wisdom is not some building it is the center of the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. Yes, Biden should go after Putin the Malevolent for attacks on the population. But this symbol of Ukrainian culture,faith and life should be protected.

  3. Well, Mr. Weigel has already insisted the man from Moscow is a lunatic, so why would he listen? And how could the man from Moscow “become” an international pariah. According to Mr. Weigel, he already is.

    Let us director our prayers to the proper intention, that God spares the people of Ukraine, and their cultural heritage, more suffering or destruction.

  4. It will never be reasonable, at any level, national, regional, inter-regional, international, for Europe to end up in a conflagration over Ukraine. Nothing justifies it. Nothing will justify it.

    What we have going no now is belied by what was made possible earlier in Merkel and Junker. Since they were replaced everything got distilled and the Zelensky-Porochenko syndic is revealed.

    Forsooth, there are too many other options open for all those involved on every side, that allow them to be able to proceed forward in positive ways. Doing this likely will mean an excluding of the Porochenko-Zelensky syndic; but this should have happened a long time already.

    It is not “Ukraine” that has gone where it was not supposed to go. It is that particular assembly of personages and linkages that have come to a junction, using Ukraine; that have forced their own captive agenda and that have been working on risking precisely this evil result, from their beginnings. The end of it is the suffering they lead others into and say it was a glory for everyone especially them. That is the way it went with World War I and the whole purpose of EU, is to sidestep it.

    There is a legal issue too. Militarization is for the sovereign nation. If EU tasks itself into militarization of its members, en bloc, this will spread like wildfire across the world -just like WWI. The legal perspective is pointing to a reality that the EU is being hijacked. EU defense policy has been surrendered into a crisis management and its sovereign members must reverse this.

  5. Poor George is really going off the rails. If he and his neocon buddies really want to get Putin’s attention, why don’t they tell the Germans to blitzkrieg East Prussia?

  6. Putin, red in tooth and claw, may flatten Kiev’s beautiful Saint Sophia .
    An outrage.
    In the West we turn cathedrals into theme parks or make available for celebration of lbgtq liturgies.
    Nothing seems to be sacred anymore.
    Outrageous.

  7. Joey-Boy-Bought will “handle” Putin with $5 Gasoline and s “Queer” Military, while John “Mr-Teresa-Heinz” Kerry laments that the “real cost” of Putin’s War is (not dead Ukrainian people and bewildered and dead Russian conscripts) but, literally, “more carbon emissions.”

    What disgusting individuals, Biden and Kerry. Bought and paid for.

    God bless and strengthen the Ukrainian people, and all men of good will coming to their aid with weapons and money and food. Europe and America need to help keep Ukraine alive and fighting and help bring down Putin, until his own people turn against him.

    Germany is utterly disgusting for blocking arms shipments to Ukraine, and the rest of Europe had better wake up and get really serious very fast.

    And the US voters have to destroy the DEM party in the elections and then bring fown the criminal fraud Biden, who is probably black-mailable by Russia and China snd a dozen orher gangster states.

  8. Watch Taras Tymo, Eastern Catholic Ukrainian man, and professor of theology and philosophy from Kiev (I believe) reporting his update Day 6, on the success of the Ukrainian defenders against the Russian Army. He and his teen kids drive supplies to Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the front.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QKOZiBaARNM

  9. What happened to the Christian communities in Iraq after the George Weigle sanctioned invasion by the US and it’s coalition of the willing? Mr Weigle, was a signatory to The Project for The New American Century’s Statement of Principals:
    https://www.rrojasdatabank.info/pfpc/PNAC—statement%20of%20principles.pdf There is more to Mr Weigle than meets the eye when it comes to the subject of a war which resulted in the death of over one hundred thousand innocent Men women and children….. referred to as collateral damage. I would suggest you worry less about the cathedral building and more about the people of Ukraine as war of this nature is the murder, by Putin and his regime of enablers, of his own soldiers, and the soldiers and civilians of Ukraine. Was the war you endorsed and justified with your eloquent discourse on just war theory and PNAC’s pre emptive strike mantra different in any substantially fundamental way? I think not. To hell with your war on Iraq and to hell with Putin’s war! Surely your thinking must be in some form of Cognitive dissonant disorder.

  10. George is 100% dead wrong on this one. 100%. Putin is deeply flawed but he is no unprovoked madman rushing headlong in a world war. Look at the leadership of every nation opposing Russia. Biden, Kerry, Clinton, even Soros are all in on this confrontation. They are nothing but sick perverted globalists who create and harness deadly crises in order to obtain power and destroy the opposiion. I could post a few pictures here to prove it. Their puppet Zelensky’s past is particularly sick. Look at America today. Look at Europe. Look at Israel. All are captive to Klaus Schwab, Soros, and the PERVERTED LAWLESS NWO. Russia is next. Ukraine is simply their gateway to Russia via Russia’s allies and neighboring states. Unlike our weak western leaders who gave us up without a fight, Putin is going to stand up to this beast. He has no choice. His reactions reflect a VERY clear understanding of the ruthless worldwide agenda of the leftist and they reflect a man who is aware of the stakes. George understands neither.

    • Barry,

      There is no justification for a war of aggression here. Just because a group is a part of an evil cabal doesn’t mean that they are wrong about everything. Russia isn’t Christian, and Putin is no crusader nor is he Christian.

      Although it would be too controversial to get through moderation, I have seen apparent proof that Putin is as corrupt as others that you mention.

    • Barry Gregory: You are conflating a bunch of issues which have nothing to do with one another. By doing so, you are obscuring the moral clarity/reality of the situation.

      By any sane standard, including traditional Church teaching on Just War, Putin’s actions are unjust and evil. There is no justification for what he is doing.

  11. Putin does boldly from without what concealed secular materialists do surreptitiously from within the ecclesial universe across multiple confessions, tragically even our own Holy Roman Catholic Church.
    What is the greater tragedy? What is the greater sacrilege?
    Only those drunk on self-deception can say it is otherwise.

  12. Not to be forgotten is that the US bombed Monte Cassino, similar in age and historical significance, to rubble in WWII, and many other religious sites. Many of these were intended to achieve emotional/ morale objectives rather than a strategic ones. That was reprehensible too.

  13. Let this sink in:

    Biden is NOT sanctioning Russian oil imports to the US, but instead increased them, reversing the risk reduction gained by Trump’s coherent and sane oil production production policy.

    And the price of the incoherent madness of western progressive political and corporate millionaire elites is: thousands of dead and slaughtered Ukrainian soldiers and citizens.

  14. Please let us not forget the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv. This is where Patriarch Sviatoslav is sheltering with families.
    The Russian Orthodox hate the Ukrainian Catholics, it too would be a target, especially if Putin can also take out the Patriarch. God is with us!

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  1. VVEDNESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit
  2. Impending Russian attack on the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv? - George Weigel

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