The powerful head of the Russian Orthodox Church has denounced the Islamic State (IS) group, saying that it "discredits the image of Islam in the eyes of the entire world."
Patriarch Kirill made his comments on February 19 at a reception in Moscow for the patriarch of Antioch, John Yazigi X.
Patriarch Kirill is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose rule Kirill once famously likened to "a miracle of God." Patriarch John, who was born in Latakia in Syria, is an open supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"It is not possible to imagine a more terrible 'service' to Islam that what they [IS militants] are providing. The images that the whole world sees on television -- they destroy any positive image of Islam," Kirill said, according to the TASS news agency.
The Russian Orthodox patriarch added that the militants were also "consciously or unconsciously creating chaos in the Middle East."
According to Kirill, it is necessary to "explore the genesis of this phenomenon and to understand to what extent it is an anti-Islamic and anti-Arab action."
Kirill's comments had, of course, a political dimension. The patriarch's comments could be seen as hinting at an argument that Moscow has been emphasizing since the emergence of militant Islamist factions in the Syrian crisis and in particular since the rise of the IS group -- that the armed groups in Syria, including IS gunmen, are not only anti-Arab and anti-Islamic but deliberately so, because they are a creation of the West.
The patriarch said that Russian citizens who study these issues should obtain education in Arab countries, and noted that students from the Kazan Theological Seminary could study at state universities in Syria.
Kirill is known for his highly conservative views, including his denunciation of feminism as propaganda that encourages women to adopt roles beyond child-rearing and housekeeping.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk