Orthodox Christianity and War: A historical, ecclesial and theological deliberation in pursuit of peace and inter-Church conciliation

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings
RG01 (Ground Floor)

About this event


In November 2020, a conflict erupted in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Soon after, religious discourse started to be used to propagate ideas favourable to war by some clergy and church-affiliated individuals, as seen in the examples of Daniel Kibret, a preacher affiliated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) and acting as social affairs advisor to the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Since the outbreak of the conflict, ethnicity has undoubtedly become a dividing factor in the Church, culminating in the separation of the Tigray Orthodox Tewahedo Church from the EOTC with its headquarters in Addis Ababa.

A convergence of faith and politics can also be seen in the crisis that erupted in Ukraine in February 2022. Not only is there a strong identification of political and Church leadership in Russia that favours the war in Ukraine, but religious identity is invoked as a distinctive characteristic of an ‘eastern’ or Russian identity in need of protection from encroaching Western expressions of secular modernity and (multi-)cultural polyvalence. Moreover, the political events unfolding have resulted in rifts and divisions between different Orthodox Churches, endangering Orthodox unity within eastern Christianity.

This convergence of Orthodoxy and politics in the context of war seems alarming and raises important questions:

  • Is not the Orthodox faith one of self-sacrifice and love that should rise above national, ethnic and cultural differences?
  • Given current convergences between political and religious discourse, can the Orthodox faith supersede nationalist and ethnicity-oriented sentiments, to become a force of reconciliation and unification within conflict-riven regions?
  • How might the rifts and divisions that have emerged between different Orthodox churches and communities be overcome and what could be a more conciliatory approach to political crises?

This appears to be a particularly momentous time to have a reflective discussion on the relationship of Orthodox Christianity to war from both theological grounds and the perspective of different countries’ lived historical experiences. We also hope to explore what paths exist for peacebuilding within regional contexts as diverse as Ethiopia and Ukraine.

In this roundtable we will focus on Ukraine, while a separate roundtable will later be dedicated to the case of Ethiopia to honour differences in the historical trajectories of Eastern and Oriental faith traditions and the socio-political conditions of the two countries.

The event will comprise of a series of presentations from international specialists and individuals with direct experience in the region and/or eastern Christianity and will aim to nuance current representations and discussions in media. The presentations will be followed by a roundtable involving numerous discussants joining from different parts of the world.


This initiative results from a series of informal discussions among colleagues in the UK, Russia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other parts of the world concerned about the unsettling role that Orthodox Churches (Eastern and Oriental alike) are currently playing in politically-motivated wars affecting different parts of the world.

This circle of trusted friends and colleagues has regularly met to informally share updates from their respective geographical contexts, express concerns and support each other. We aim to provide a small contribution to building understanding and a community of trust in these particularly challenging times.

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Dr Romina Istratii ( ri5@soas.ac.uk ) and Dr Lars Laamann ( ll10@soas.ac.uk ).

Organiser: SOAS Centre of World Christianity (CWC)