The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, has condemned the advance of marriage equality in the West, calling it a symptom of the apocalypse.

While giving a sermon in Red Square’s Kazan Cathedral today, Patriarch Kirill said of the growing number of countries accepting same-sex marriage around the globe: “This is a very dangerous and apocalyptic symptom… It means that people are on the path of self-destruction.”

While some countries debate extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, Russia has recently enacted a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional relations”. The law has caused concern among the LGBT community, and activists say it has already encouraged homophobia and will continue to do so while it stands.

The Russian Orthodox Church has been a key supporter of the law, and Patriarch Kirill has maintained the Church’s view that homosexuality is a sin – although he has cautioned against punishing people for their sexuality.

In 2009 he told an interviewer: “We respect the person’s free choice, including in sex relations.”

Although he reiterated that the majority of religions saw homosexuality as a sin and gay marriage could not be allowed, he added: “Those who commit a sin must not be punished… And we have repeatedly spoken out against discriminating people for their nontraditional sexual orientation.”

In January 2008, Kirill, who was then head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, said that not viewing homosexuality as a sin would lead to a variety of other sexual perversions.

“Morality is either absolute or it does not exist. If you excuse homosexuality, why not excuse paedophilia?” he said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegal.