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“Everyone tries to enlist God on their side”: Orthodox priests reflect on ROC split over war in Ukraine

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At the outset of the full-scale invasion in Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill promised absolution of sins for those who perish in the war, justified the invasion by the necessity to combat gay parades, and mandated the recitation of a new prayer - “For Holy Rus.” Priest Ioann Koval, who substituted the word “victory” with “peace” in this prayer, was defrocked, and priest Ioann Burdin was barred from serving after an anti-war sermon and was fined for “discrediting the army.” Similar fines were imposed on other priests of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), including Andrey Kuraev (he was also defrocked). Some of them signed an anti-war petition, under which almost 300 names are presently listed. ROC priests shared with The Insider their perspectives on the unfolding events, why dissenting voices against the war are not heard amidst the Church's aggressive stance, and how Patriarch Kirill's position aligns with the Gospel.

The names of certain individuals mentioned in this article have been changed

  • “To serve God is beyond prohibition”

  • “Young people are against it, the elderly are for it. There is no difference between the clergy and the laity”

  • “War is one of the main ideological pillars of the Russian Orthodox Church”

  • “Taking an anti-war stance is the greatest folly”

“To serve God is beyond prohibition”

Priest Vasily, barred from service for expressing an anti-war stance

On prohibition of service due to an anti-war stance

I have been prohibited from serving, but who can prevent one from serving God? You can expel a person from the church, you can deprive them of the antimension that allows them to serve in the church. But serving God cannot be forbidden: a person can serve, ultimately, not just as a priest, but, for example, through preaching, good deeds they do, or even simply by abstaining from evil.

My greatest concern is losing the feeling of God's presence by my side. As for these restrictions... Let them impose them. We'll observe how things progress. Today it's this way, tomorrow it might change. I just wish the church displayed more consistency in its actions... Currently, it seems to be influenced by the political situation, even though it claims to stay distant from politics.

The church seems to be influenced by the political situation, even though it claims to stay distant from politics

I doubt it's possible to accurately assess the proportion of clergy endorsing the war versus those opposing it. However, I suspect it's on par with the general sentiment in Russia. Priests, after all, are a reflection of societal trends and are, fundamentally, part of the population. And in a society devoid of much enthusiasm, this is glaringly evident. Who genuinely finds joy in warfare? Perhaps only seasoned soldiers. For a rational person, such sentiments are unusual.

A significant portion of the clergy strives to maintain neutrality towards political matters and remains largely indifferent. When they are instructed to recite a prayer for Holy Russia, why object? If tomorrow we are asked to pray for our African friends, we will comply, why not? After all, we aren't told to invoke the Antichrist, are we? Some questionable theological aspects might provoke reactions, but those things won’t.

Officially taking an anti-war stance shouldn't imperil a clergy member. Naturally, there isn't a canon that advocates for penalizing clergy who voice dissent against war. That would necessitate the annulment and rephrasing of half the liturgical texts. “For the peace of the whole world, let us pray to the Lord,”— there are numerous texts emphasizing peace...

For instance, Priest Ioann Koval <who was defrocked for altering words in the prayer “For Holy Russia” — The Insider> was told that this act, in itself, was an act of disobedience, a breach of the priestly oath. In essence, they attempt to attribute actions that could fit within the canons. Well, it depends on their creativity. Some are accused of pacifism, even though no council has ever deemed it heretical. Yet, in the end, such accusations seldom reach a definitive verdict.

Efforts are made to either discover or concoct canonical transgressions. The canon is like a reed—whichever way the wind blows, it follows. There isn't substantial legislation, no church court per se, and what exists is a parody. A greater parody than what one finds in secular courts. There's no adversarial process, no prosecution and defense. What talk of rights can we engage in if the most vital element is absent? It simply needed a name, so they labeled it a court. I believe it's no accident that those who are defrocked can be reinstated relatively easily. This probably indicates the awareness of canonical violations and breaches of a person's right to defense.

The church court that exists is a greater parody than what one finds in secular courts

They discussed my situation in a diocesan council meeting, and it was somewhat absurd. The metropolitan told me not to speak or defend myself, “we will tell you what we must.” Essentially, he directly conveyed that they didn't want to hear anything from me; they simply received instructions from Moscow to conduct a session, so they did. The council members, who were quite stern-faced, began to criticize me, but the metropolitan intervened. “We needed to do this, we did, but let's not turn it into a public spectacle,” — that encapsulates the implicit meaning of that gathering.”

On the church's support for the war

The church cannot endorse a war. However, this hinges on how one interprets the term “church.” If we view the church as an institution, it might support anything if it serves the interests of those in charge. If we perceive the church as the body of Christ, how can it advocate for something diametrically opposed to Christ's teachings? It cannot support patriotism either because our true homeland is in heaven, not here: we are but pilgrims. The apostles constantly emphasized this. The 19th century saw the heresy of ethnophyletism <favoring national or ethnic interests over the universal church — The Insider>.

A priest administers communion to the “SMO” fighters
A priest administers communion to the “SMO” fighters

The church cannot be confined to a specific nation; it transcends nationality, states, territories; the foundation of the church lies in the equality and unity of all people. Hence, I strongly disagree with the stance of the Russian Orthodox Church when the patriarch begins to assume an atypical role: the church starts to elevate him as some kind of Russian Pope. This isn't true Christianity, nor is it genuine Orthodoxy. He is simply another bishop like everyone else. If he deserves respect and reverence, people will extend it to him, and if not, they won't.

If we turn to the Gospel, each person must determine for themselves what they choose. Are you inclined towards what is now termed pacifism — essentially, complete non-resistance to evil? However, if you witness the killing of your loved ones or innocent people, should you not resist? How can you look away when someone is suffering? The choice doesn't lie between good and evil. It's a choice between one sin and another. This is what's referred to as an inevitable sin.”

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Yasnohorodka, where the Ukrainian army halted the advance of the Russian army
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Yasnohorodka, where the Ukrainian army halted the advance of the Russian army

However, the church takes a sensible approach to this, as Saint Basil the Great once pointed out: yes, wars exist, and soldiers must fight in them, that's the reality. But the church should urge them to repentance and remind them that going to war isn't a heroic act but indeed a transgression before God. In my opinion, this should be the stance. However, it's just my perspective, one that is hard to defend, as people instantly raise objections: what will you do if they start harming your children? And indeed... I can't say I'd remain calm in that scenario. So it's challenging to decide for others and especially for the entire church in a definitive manner.

On denunciations

In the church, it has always been like this—the farther from authority, the simpler. The best approach is to serve in a remote village, where nobody sees or hears you. If a parishioner hadn't denounced me back then, I believe nobody would have ever known about me. I can't recall any canon that explicitly forbids denouncing, but in principle, from both a spiritual and moral standpoint, there's certainly nothing virtuous about it. We won't find any instruction in the Gospel, the Holy Scriptures, or any canonical sources encouraging denunciations.

As for the Gospel, it states: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” And if he doesn't heed, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If he still refuses to listen, tell it to the church; and if he continues to resist even the church's counsel, “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” This is a direct guidance from the Gospel on how to address situations where you witness your brother sinning. Well, let's refrain from discussing whether an anti-war stance constitutes a sin, but if you believe he is transgressing, approach him for a one-on-one conversation.”

On the forgiveness of sins

Presently, it may appear as if there's nothing grave at stake: we'll deviate slightly from the Gospel, reinterpret some traditions... However, straying from the purity of the Gospel and making compromises doesn't come without consequences. This could lead to secularization. The notion of forgiving sins and canonizing those involved in warfare is entirely unchristian. Yes, historically, some warriors were canonized, but delving deeper reveals nuances. They were not canonized for triumphing on the battlefield. At a certain point, the Church started aligning itself with the empire, attempting to harmonize two challenging aspects: military service and the preaching of commandments like “thou shalt not kill,” alongside the Gospel's teaching of “do not resist evil; turn the other cheek to the one who strikes you.”

The notion of forgiving sins and canonizing those involved in warfare is entirely unchristian

I find the theological concept that aligns with Patriarch Kirill's ideas unconvincing. I see no consistency in it, no adherence to the Gospel, no alignment with Christianity, and I fail to comprehend why Christianity should resemble Islam.

In November, the academic council of the Holy Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris expressed a clear standpoint on the forgiveness of sins for soldiers in a joint communique. They criticized Patriarch Kirill's idea strongly, reiterating that the sin of killing in war remains a sin, regardless of the circumstances. Even if it is in defense of one's homeland or under lofty rhetoric, in any case, it is a sin, and this sin cannot be absolved by dying on the battlefield. Forgiveness of a sin can only be granted by God. Every sin is redeemed through repentance: if a person repents, the sin is redeemed, and if not, it remains. Hence, a warrior who perishes in battle, regardless of the cause, cannot automatically attain sainthood. Simply because any war inherently involves the commission of a sin.”

The sin of killing is a sin, and this sin cannot be absolved by dying on the battlefield

In 2011, the Synodal Commission for Canonization rejected the canonization of Suvorov, stressing that warriors are not canonized for their military achievements <in 2022, the Ministry of Defense asked the Russian Orthodox Church to reexamine the possibility of canonizing Suvorov, and this year Patriarch Kirill supported this idea — The Insider>. Why did the Synodal Commission assert one thing in 2011, only to now adopt a completely opposing stance? How can the Church alter its views so swiftly, aligning with the current demands?

On the church as a concept

To me, the Church as a metaphysical entity is not merely an administrative structure; it embodies Christians — people who maintain fidelity to God and adhere to His commandments. When speaking about the administrative framework, I don't recall any doctrinal texts attributing inherent sanctity to it. These are distinct aspects.

If the Church is regarded as holy, then it is deemed infallible. However, its administrative apparatus is susceptible to making errors. It has made disputable decisions repeatedly, both presently and throughout its historical trajectory. And this is not exclusive to the Russian Orthodox Church. It would be peculiar to assert that it is devoid of its own fallibility and misjudgments. However, speaking about the metaphysical significance, the Russian Orthodox Church sustains a connection with the Universal Church.

If the Church is regarded as holy, then it is deemed infallible. However, its administrative apparatus is susceptible to making errors

If we refrain from addressing the issues within the Church, it will remain stagnant. The Catholic Church concealed instances of pedophilia for at least a century, and eventually, it triggered widespread protests. There came a moment when concealing such misconduct became utterly untenable. How could one ever conceal such a sin, such a problem? It needs to be acknowledged and dealt with, not swept under the rug.

It is unequivocally unacceptable when the Church is subsumed by the state, including the military, and the clergy assume roles resembling those of political officers and propagandists. Essentially, when priests start discussing political events, engaging in information warfare, or involving themselves in the ideological indoctrination of soldiers. One can deliberate whether a priest should administer communion to soldiers or conduct a liturgy before battle — so that a person, having received communion, proceeds to commit an overt transgression. Nonetheless, there exists no explicit directive stipulating that a priest must advocate for serving Caesar and defending the homeland.

When you begin to serve not Christ, but earthly ideas and the earthly state, it later turns against the Church itself. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ's Church, of course, but this is spoken of the Universal Church, not specific local churches. We know local churches that simply ceased to exist. The Russian Orthodox Church is far from that point. Yet I am uncomfortable supporting the direction it is moving in; I do not want to be a part of it. However, I do not believe it has ended, because there are people who remain Christians in this church. This includes priests, and there are many of them.

Looking back at the pre-revolutionary church, one sees a price paid in blood during the Soviet era persecutions, a consequence of their grave errors and departure from Christ. Equally, the mistakes of autocracy were paid for dearly by the nobility, aristocracy and the entire populace. I earnestly hope to avoid a repeat of such a scenario. The gravest concern is the potential emergence of a violent chaos, eroding people's trust in the church and the ideology it strives to propagate. The official ideology lacks deep roots in the hearts of the people. This is evident. The public does not universally endorse everything preached by the church and the state. There is a sense of caution and mistrust. Naturally, there's a segment of the population that enthusiastically embraces everything, but this has always been the case.”

“Young people are against it, the elderly are for it. There is no difference between the clergy and the laity”

Priest Nikolai

On Necessary Evil

Manipulating quotes from the Old Testament is misleading. Numerous questions arise, especially regarding the Patriarch's statement on absolving the sins of those who perish in war. Is this a new doctrine? Comparable to Jihad? What is the implication? That this war is sanctified, and any devout individual dying in it for the advancement of a cause is granted entry to paradise? Christianity has never endorsed such a doctrine. This assertion lacks substantiation entirely. Neither Church tradition nor the Holy Scriptures indicate that someone who dies in war attains the status of a saint. There's a distinction when an individual throws themselves on a grenade, shielding and selflessly sacrificing themselves for the salvation of those nearby. That genuinely constitutes giving one's life for others. However, detonating oneself alongside dozens of enemies isn't an act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others; it's a combination of suicide and murder.

Occasionally, one is compelled to engage in a necessary evil. There are instances where a person commits a homicide out of necessity, such as when a maniac is targeting children, and the only way to stop him is by using lethal force. As a Christian, I am obligated to take this action, yet in this scenario, one is forced to choose between two evils. It isn't an act of virtue; it remains an evil, albeit a lesser one compared to standing by and allowing the harm of innocent children. This leaves a lasting impact on a person's conscience. That person must grapple with the knowledge that they took another person's life. Consequently, such an person is no longer fit to become a priest.

In the period before the Edict of Milan, when the church transitioned from a marginal sect to a state religion during the 4th century CE in the Holy Roman Empire, all Christians declined military service and the use of weapons. However, as the church and Christianity gained widespread acceptance, adjustments were made. The process of secularization ensued, allowing Christians to serve in the army. This was a response to the reality that if the entire empire consisted of Christians who refused to defend their borders, they would have been conquered and subjugated. Nevertheless, the rule persisted for priests not to wield weapons: a priest would lose his position if he caused bloodshed. Even if he participated in a war and killed an enemy while performing a heroic act, he was disqualified from continuing as a priest.

On the church-state relationship

In practice, the church has consistently aligned with the authorities since the 4th century. There were certain figures like John Chrysostom, who opposed Empress Eudoxia, Metropolitan Philip, who opposed Ivan the Terrible, and Ambrose of Milan, who stood against Theodosius the Great. However, these were isolated cases where the episcopate and clergy went against the ruler's directives. The church largely justified the actions of the authorities. How does one grapple with this? What actions can be taken? I don't have a definitive answer.

Currently, the official stance of the church authorities closely mirrors the agenda of the talk show Evening with Vladimir Solovyov. It aligns with the government's official position. However, not everyone within the church supports the current state of affairs. There are dissenting voices within the episcopate. For instance, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeev, once regarded as the right-hand man of the patriarch and a significant figure in the Russian Orthodox Church, was relocated from Moscow to Hungary in June 2022. <Media reports suggest he didn't receive the traditional acknowledgment for his contributions in Synod journals>. He was removed because he voiced opposition. People within the church exhibit a range of views. Typically, younger priests are against the “special military operation,” while older priests who watch television are in favor. I see no fundamental difference between the clergy and the laity.

The official stance of the church authorities closely mirrors the agenda of the talk show Evening with Vladimir Solovyov

On persecution for expressing anti-war sentiments

The severity of Russian laws is typically mitigated by their selective enforcement, and the situation is no different in the church. Nobody keeps a close watch until there's public outcry. Only then are specific measures taken. From the perspective of secular authorities, there are no prosecutions or actions taken against individuals openly opposing the war. I suspect that the security services view the ROC as a ministry or department of sorts and therefore avoid getting entangled in such matters.

For instance, police wouldn’t typically arrest an FSB officer for his Facebook posts until both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Federal Security Service concur on the appropriateness of the arrest. The situation is analogous in the church: members of the clergy are not arrested until the Patriarchate grants approval. However, if a public outcry suddenly arises, the church endorses the arrest, and the clergyman can face imprisonment. This is what happened with Father Ioann Kurmoyarov <who is presently serving a three-year prison term for expressing anti-war views – The Insider>. Besides being defrocked he was also promptly arrested. Such incidents unfold in this manner.

Aside from these instances, there are no internal persecutions within the church orchestrated by the church authorities. Unless it's an initiative from a ruling bishop in a distant diocese who might take offense at one of their clergy. Nevertheless, there's no pervasive control. In most churches, nobody even monitors whether you recite the prayer against war. More often than not, it isn't recited. Not because the priests are anti-war, but simply because, well, why introduce yet another prayer when the service is already lengthy? Over time, so many new prayers have been introduced — regarding peace in Ukraine and various “plague winds” like Covid-19. People simply don't pay much attention to them anymore.

On supporting the war

Throughout history, rulers have been highly tempted to exploit the notion of God for their propagandistic purposes. For instance, soldiers of the Third Reich had “Gott mit uns” (God is with us) inscribed on their belt buckles. In general, this phrase is from the prophet Isaiah. Everyone tries to enlist God on their side, but God is not on anyone's side. God is always with those who suffer. When there's a front line, and Christians are shooting at each other on both sides, while priests on both sides bless them for it... Where is Christ in all of this? One side says “God is with us,” and the other says the same. I believe Christ is in the middle, and every bullet flying from either side hits God first.

Can a priest support a war? It's hard to say. Who can prohibit a priest from supporting one thing or another? But, to be honest, people don't support it out of malice. They see something sacred and often attribute some religious significance to it. Brainwashed, what else can I say? There were crusades, witch hunts, burning of heretics. It's simply abhorrent. It's a terrible phenomenon presented as the highest spiritual valor. But it's not true. It's self-deception. We understand that the Sermon on the Mount is impossible to align with crusades or the Holy Inquisition. They don't fit with the Gospel; they contradict the Gospel. But still they exist. As Nietzsche said: “Throughout the entire history of humanity, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.”

The Church is affected by the societal malaise. Naturally, we aspire to witness an ideal, deeply rooted in the gospel, within the Church—something we would perceive as a genuine reflection of the Gospel in our lives. Sadly, this isn't always a reality. We observe that even within the Church, the gravest sins can be found, but at the same time, instances of true holiness often emerge. Anticipating an ideal state from the Church has proven hard, and this has consistently been the case.

“War is one of the main ideological pillars of the Russian Orthodox Church”

Priest Kirill

On the Church's stance

In the public domain, we consistently hear the voices of official church representatives, who often do not echo the beliefs and perspectives of the majority of the clergy. The perception of what we encounter in the media and on social platforms as the Church's official stance is profoundly disheartening. It appears that those speaking have completely overlooked the words of Christ, who declared: blessed are the peacemakers, not those who advocate for a sacred war. This perspective has been forgotten so thoroughly that pacifism is viewed as a genuine crime, although this notion is absurd.

While it is reasonable to talk about a warrior's death while defending their homeland as “laying down one's life for others,” in the absence of such a threat, using such terminology is an unwarranted stretch. Moreover, the assertion of an automatic “forgiveness of sins” for those falling in the line of duty on the battlefield is clearly not appropriate from a Christian standpoint <Patriarch Kirill promised forgiveness of sins to those who died in the war in Ukraine — The Insider>.

The Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker in the city of Volnovakha, Donetsk region
The Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker in the city of Volnovakha, Donetsk region

Discussing what percentage of the Russian Orthodox Church clergy supports the policies of the current authorities, remains indifferent, or is categorically against is a difficult task. As far as my knowledge goes, no such sociological surveys have been conducted. Even if someone were to attempt these surveys, I am uncertain about the accuracy of the results. Expressing one's opinion is too costly for a priest in today's climate, especially if they aim to be peacemakers.

The church leadership's attitude towards peacemakers is unmistakable: some face defrocking, others are barred from service or sidelined. While these penalties are not widespread, they are sufficient to convey a very distinct message: if you wish to serve but hold a view that differs from both secular and church authorities, it is better to keep that view to yourself.

On persecution for anti-war stance

I can't affirm that numerous priests have suffered significant repercussions from the Church during this year and a half. Few of those who endorsed the Appeal for Reconciliation and Cessation of Hostilities in March 2022 faced penalties. Primarily, this remained on the level of verbal admonitions, reassignments from one parish to another, or recommendations from superiors to step down.

The Church leadership doesn't explicitly demand obligatory support for the “SMO” from the clergy. It's more about what they're prohibited from doing. Presently, advocating for peace, criticizing the war, or even labeling the conflict as a war is off-limits.

Presently, advocating for peace, criticizing the war, or even labeling the conflict as a war is off-limits

A handful of “dissenting voices” remain quiet not out of fear for repercussions. Every genuine shepherd is backed by their congregation, and he feels a responsibility toward them, not wanting to abandon them. Additionally, a priest highly values the ability to conduct religious services, which could be taken away from him as a form of punishment. This, to a significant extent, functions as a lever of control, a mechanism for restraint.

On the “militant voice of the church”

The situation within the Church mirrors that of society at large. The ratio between advocates for war, its opponents, and those undecided or apathetic is roughly equal within the Church. In this sense, the Church represents a true cross-section of our society, intimately connected to its fabric. The difference lies in its relatively smaller scale as a system, allowing information to circulate more swiftly within it. Consequently, conversations about “sensitive” topics are often avoided, both among the clergy and with the congregation.

Amidst this prevailing silence, the notably pro-war stance of “patriotic” priests and a segment of the episcopate deeply involved in the country's political affairs stands out. This gives rise to the impression that the entire Church is in favor of war. In a way, this is indeed the case; for most people, the silent Church remains inconspicuous. They can only perceive the Church through its vocal elements and form judgments accordingly.

Personally, this fills me with profound sorrow. Firstly, because many people who hear this “militant voice of the Church” find support and justification for their own militant inclinations, and this comes at the cost of human blood and lives. Secondly, because thoughtful and conscientious people, upon hearing this voice, lose trust in the Church and turn away. It is only logical that in such a difficult moment, we would hope to hear the truth, a call for peace, compassion, and love. If these are absent, trusting the Church becomes a challenge. Thirdly, I understand that sooner or later, the ongoing events will come to an end, and each person will be answerable for their actions and words during these trying times. It pains me to contemplate the potential repercussions that could then befall the Church. This distress stems not from fear for oneself or others but from the realization that the Church transcends our individuality. If it faces disrepute or condemnation, an immense number of people might lose the pathway to connect with God.

I believe my sentiments find resonance with others. However, I acknowledge that not everyone shares these thoughts, and not everyone grasps the extent to which the position of the ecclesiastical leadership undermines the limited progress we've made in recent decades. Despite this, our achievements, as we witness, do not attain a level that can be described as remarkable.

The Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Kharkiv
The Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Kharkiv

Furthermore, regardless of the current challenges, it's crucial to recognize that nothing fundamentally new is occurring. Throughout the entire history of Christianity, we observe a recurring pattern: whenever the notion of the church integrating into the life of the state and becoming intertwined with political affairs gains prominence, a similar theme emerges. The “military endeavor” is upheld and sanctioned, not only in situations where an external threat necessitates resistance, but also when the ambitions of the state and its rulers dictate military engagements well beyond its borders.

It's profoundly disheartening when thoughts, concepts, appeals, and slogans emerge in the name of the church that are fundamentally at odds with Christianity. Only those deeply embedded within the church, understanding its life and doctrine intimately, can discern that these ideas don't align with true Christianity or the essence of the Church. However, most people observe from an external vantage point. I feel a deep sorrow because I comprehend quite well what they perceive.

“Taking an anti-war stance is the greatest folly”

Father Konstantin Maltsev

On the role of priests

Above all, a priest is a peacemaker, always striving for reconciliation. Some of our clergy periodically serve on the front lines as chaplains <priests in the military, aviation, and the navy — The Insider>. They do not engage in combat but offer spiritual support to the soldiers, performing baptisms, conducting funerals, and providing religious guidance.

We recognize the importance of praying for the Lord to instill peace in the minds and hearts of all individuals, making victory centered on peace and the salvation of human souls. Naturally, we extend assistance by regularly collecting humanitarian aid: this includes provisions, clothing, and religious support.

Refugees have been uprooted from their usual lives—some have lost their homes, while others have homes but staying there is perilous. Some are displaced due to their political beliefs, supporting the “SMO”. Others are here out of fear, anticipating potential danger and seeking safety. Various circumstances contribute to their diverse situations. However, we make an effort to treat everyone with love, offering aid to some, engaging in conversations with others, and providing spiritual solace.

With those unwilling to engage, there can be no dialogue. Can the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra be held responsible for military actions? Absolutely not. Yet it was forcibly taken from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which had been its custodian for 30 years, and it's planned to be handed over to the schismatic OCU (Orthodox Church of Ukraine) due to political considerations. Its main sacred objects were dispersed across Europe and the world. In the end, it's a complete deception from start to finish. What has the “SMO” to do with it? Nothing. We are prepared for and open to communication. It's akin to our relationship with the Lord. The Lord assists those who seek Him, but He doesn't compel anyone.

When discussing the attitudes of clergy towards current events, it's important to acknowledge that each priest holds his private opinion. However, this opinion should not sow division within the congregation. This applies to all political matters, not just the present military operation. Consider a scenario where churchgoers include both supporters of the United Russia party and advocates of communist ideology. It's vital to maintain respect for all and emphasize the spiritual dimension, underscoring the importance of living in peace regardless of diverse political views.

Each priest holds his private opinion. However, this opinion should not sow division within the congregation

The conduct of clergy openly expressing their anti-war stance is, in my opinion, a considerable lack of wisdom. An anti-war stance essentially aligns with supporting those states and political forces who seek to defeat Russia. Hence, I regard this as imprudence that has not led to any positive outcomes.

On the forgiveness of sins

We pray for the Patriarch's blessing in all churches for a swift restoration of peace, affirming that the divisions have been incited by Russia's adversaries. The Church is meant to pray for peace and advocate for it, which the Patriarch does. However, this doesn't imply that the Church should forsake its pastoral care for soldiers fulfilling their duties.

In my perspective, when the Patriarch spoke about absolving sins for those who died in combat, he was anchored in this principle: there are the words of the Lord, “There is no greater act than to lay down one's life for others.” When a soldier perishes, he is attempting to protect people in need of that protection. The special operation is linked to defending the Russian-speaking population that sought help from the Russian Federation. We believe that the Lord will show mercy to these fallen soldiers.

When thunder struck, people crossed themselves, and they found solace. At the onset of all this, the number of people in churches even increased in some places - they started to pray. However, this was mostly out of fear. Now, as this situation has been ongoing for some time, people have become accustomed to what is happening. We conduct services in every church, hoping for all of this to end. Previously, during such supplications, about 20 people would attend, but now only five or six stand in attendance, concerned with praying for their brothers or husbands. We provide support to people as they reach out to us because we do not force ourselves upon anyone. The Lord did not impose Himself on anyone, and thus, we strive to emulate Him even more.

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