(Reuters) - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has said that Russian soldiers who die in the war against Ukraine will be cleansed of all their sins, days after President Vladimir Putin ordered the country's first mobilisation since World War Two.
Patriarch Kirill is a key Putin ally and backer of the invasion. He has previously criticised those who oppose the war and called on Russians to rally round the Kremlin.
"Many are dying on the fields of internecine warfare," Kirill, 75, said in his first Sunday address since the mobilisation order. "The Church prays that this battle will end as soon as possible, so that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war."
"But at the same time, the Church realises that if somebody, driven by a sense of duty and the need to fulfil their oath ... goes to do what their duty calls of them, and if a person dies in the performance of this duty, then they have undoubtedly committed an act equivalent to sacrifice. They will have sacrificed themselves for others. And therefore, we believe that this sacrifice washes away all the sins that a person has committed."
Russia says it is calling up some 300,000 additional troops to fight in Ukraine, in a mobilisation drive that has stoked public anger, led to an exodus of military-age men and triggered protests across the country.
Kirill's support for the war in Ukraine has deepened a rift between the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church and other wings of Orthodoxy around the world. Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, has been a vocal opponent of the war, and has appeared to scold Kirill's position in several public addresses, including earlier this month when he said God does not support war.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)