Why is the voice of the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia not heard a week after the beginning of the constant strikes of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine, and why the “special operation” can not be called a holy war? A short conversation with Archpriest Professor Georgy Mitrofanov, Professor of Church History at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy.
– Father Georgi, my first question is simple: are we in hell or not yet? How do you perceive what is happening? Are you personally afraid?
– The style of the interview hardly suggests such an emotional question. But since you asked him this, I will precede my answer with a poem by one of the most tragic Russian poets of the twentieth century, Nikolai Stefanovich:
An ominous metal bell, a trumpet calling us,
signs for our last Judgment
they prove us nothing, without change,
near the station passing train
according to the schedule they go.
The clock is ticking, the stalls around me are,
I’m walking through our rainy city,
not knowing in our foggy autumn,
that our Last Judgment has been pronounced
and everything around me is already hell.
What is happening, I really perceive as the descent of hell on earth and, of course, I’m afraid. But still, trying to remain a Christian in this situation, I try to recognize the absurdity around me, because hell is not only terrible, but also absurd, its innermost meaning. And when I do not find answers to my questions either in my heart or in the mouths of my neighbors, I dare to ask them to God in the hope that He will condescend to them.
– What is the most important unanswered question for you right now?
– The one who prophetically sang Yuri Shevchuk: “What will happen to the Motherland and us?”. And I would add: “Will the Orthodox Church in Russia remain the Church of Christ, opposing the forces of hell?”
– The patriarch said: “God forbid that the current political situation in our close brotherly Ukraine be used to take over the evil forces that have always fought against the unity of Russia and the Russian Church.” What are the evil forces in this case?
“I don’t know who but the devil the patriarch might mean, so you should ask him about these forces.”
“Do I think so, or do the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church not condemn military strikes on the land where Russia actually began its existence?”
– The vast majority are publicly silent. But I take comfort in the hope that in their personal archpastoral communion with their closest pastors, many of them grieve.
“But why is this happening in a whisper?” Is there really a fear stronger than the fear of becoming an “accomplice” whose “tacit consent” happens because the secular authorities in Russia do not hide their ecclesiology, which means that there are trusted clergy around them?
– Due to the centuries-old tradition of ecclesiastical servility and, probably, due to a deep understanding of the superficiality of ecclesiology, even rather the ecclesiology of power.
– If there are those who condemn and others who justify the war to the parishioners, can we say that what is happening these days divides the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia? Whose voices are heard more now?
– Such a hidden division between priests and propagandists in race or “named political officers” in the words of the hero of the movie “Muslim” by director Vladimir Khotinenko, has existed for a long time. But the silence of the majority of the clergy is heard most loudly.
– How do you see the future of Orthodoxy in the territories of the fraternal Slavic land – Ukraine?
– I think that the current events will deal a very tangible blow to the authority of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy.
– What should an Orthodox man do who wants to stop the war?
– Such a person must do what his abilities allow: moral, intellectual, professional, official, physical.
– What would you say to an Orthodox man who welcomes the military operation? I personally know church people who applaud what Russia’s secular and military authorities are now doing in the neighboring country.
– I would say to such an Orthodox man that at that moment he ceases to be a Christian and his faith at this moment is replaced by an ideology that hates man.
– The Orthodox Christian should look at this with humility, or is it better to try to explain to the brothers and sisters in Christ that hatred only breeds hatred?
– One should not give in to the element of hatred, perceiving one’s own enemies as God’s enemies.
– How true is the idea that wars give birth to saints, that wars themselves can be sacred? Do we see such a war today?
– Wars give birth to the dead, the physically and morally disabled. And conscientious and thinking people after the war, as a rule, become anti-militarists and try only in the most extreme cases to oppose evil by force. There are holy wars among Muslims. For Christianity, war has always been a grave sin.
– If the shrines of Kyiv are lost, will Orthodoxy survive?
– The most important thing is that after the still small apocalypse that has happened so far in Russia and Ukraine, more people will remain alive, and then there will be Christians among them, and therefore the Church of Christ will be preserved.
“A little apocalypse?” So you’re not ruling out a big apocalypse?
– The Great Apocalypse, of course, is inevitable.
– Who do you think can stop the fratricide?
“Of course, Lord God, if people don’t try to stop Him.” Because, as one of Russia’s outstanding 20th century theologians, Vladimir Loski, put it, “God becomes powerless before human freedom.” And if we go back to the beginning of our conversation about my perception of the current situation, I must tell you that not only do I not see any optimistic prospects for us, but I do not anticipate them.
Source: Interview of Nikolay Nelyubin for Noviy Prospekt, 4 March 2022.