Russian Church Wants to Ban Priests From Blessing Weapons of Mass Destruction

The Russian Orthodox Church is moving forward with new guidelines seeking to ban priests from blessing weapons of mass destruction and other large military hardware.

It is common for Russian Orthodox priests to bless objects, not least new military hardware being introduced into service. However, a senior church official has now said the practice is not in-keeping with the church's historic responsibilities, The Moscow Times reported.

Members of a church council commission met last Wednesday in Moscow to discuss and approve the draft revision on the rules covering the blessing of military hardware. The new rules say that weapons of mass destruction, tanks and other large weapons may no longer be blessed, but still allow priests to sanctify "personal weapons."

Bishop Savva of Zelenograd, a senior official at the Moscow Patriarchy, explained the decision in a message posted on the Telegram messaging app, The Moscow Times reported. "Weapons of mass destruction and non-personal weapons in general should not be 'sanctified,'" he said. "This is where the commission's position is at odds with practices of recent years."

The bishop explained that the commission had been tasked with making sure that "centuries-old" church practices remained in line with "liturgical and historical texts."

"We had to reconsider new realities: The Church has basically not encountered some types of weapons until the 20th century, and more likely until even its second half," he added. As such, large modern weapons like tanks and missiles are not suitable for blessing. However, he said that "personal weapons" could still be blessed as they are used by serving troops "for the protection of the Fatherland."

In the past, Orthodox priests have been regular fixtures during preparations for Victory Day parades in Moscow, on hand to bless Russia's most fearsome military weapons before they take their places in the event. Other instances have seen priests reportedly blessing anti-aircraft missiles in Crimea and weapons loaded onto fighter jets for use in Syria.

A commission press release released after last week's meeting listed more military situations in which blessings are acceptable. These include troops being deployed or returning from missions, the opening of new camps and barracks, graduation from military schools and the assignment of new military ranks. Items such as military flags will also be approved for blessings.

The revisions to the rules on blessings have been in progress for at least two years, the bishop noted. They will be sent to church districts around the country for approval in July.

Russia, priests, bless, MWDs, weapons, military
A Russian orthodox priest blesses a Su-27 fighter jet on the airfield of Belbek military airport outside Sevastopol, Crimea, on November 26, 2014. YURI LASHOV/AFP/Getty