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Metropolitan John (Popov) of Belgorod: It is time to turn swords into plowshares

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In a statement on July 3, Metropolitan John of Belgorod became the first Russian hierarch to say that Ukraine is at war and called for the bloodshed there to stop and “swords to be turned into plowshares.” He did so after debris from a Ukrainian missile intercepted by Russian forces fell on an apartment block in Belgorod, killing three people.

And more specifically, Metropolitan John stated:

“Tonight, rockets of the Ukrainian armed forces hit sleeping residents of Belgorod in residential areas. Among the dead are residents of Kharkiv region, who came to take refuge from the war in peaceful Belgorod. However, no one knows the day or the hour when our earthly life will end, no one knows how it will happen (Matt. 24:36-39). We call for increased prayer for the repose of the dead and for the healing of the wounded, as well as for an end to the bloodshed that is happening on Ukrainian soil, but which today has reached our homes. It is time, in the words of Holy Scripture, “to beat swords into plowshares” (Is. 2:4). May God save all the living and grant peace on earth.”

Until now, already five months after the start of the war, this is the boldest statement by a Russian hierarch, which gained strong popularity and caused various comments. Here are some of them:

Vadim Yakunin, professor of history at Samara State University and member of the Academy of Military Sciences of the Russian Federation:

“Belgorod Metropolitan John (Popov) called for ‘swords to be turned into plowshares.’ This is a very important signal – both for believers and non-believers, as well as for politicians. Because today the ROC is inseparable from politics and the state, unfortunately. I got personally acquainted with Mr. John in the late 90s, when he came to Togliatti. It was a different time, another patriarch ruled the church, and it was truly separated from the state, and its hierarchs were servants only of the church, but not of the state – in any way. One could easily converse with the metropolitan (then still a bishop) over a cup of tea, in the truest sense of the word. Mitr. Ioan is a lover of rock music and has even recorded his own rock songs without promoting them. From 1994 to the end of 2021, he was the head of the missionary department of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Today, despite the dependence of the Russian Orthodox Church on the state, the Metropolitan stated: “… We call for intense prayer for the repose of the dead and for the healing of the wounded, for an end to the bloodshed that is happening on Ukrainian soil, but has already reached our homes. It is time, in the words of Holy Scripture, “to beat swords into plowshares” (Is. 2:4). May God save all the living and grant peace on earth.”

These are very important, symbolic words of one of the highest hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. For now, however, they sound “like the voice of one crying in the wilderness” against the background of the official statements of the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. For example, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church repeats in almost every sermon that “Russia has never attacked anyone”, that “all wars in our history have been defensive” and that “she has never invaded foreign territory” (but then what happened in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968?)…

It is in what Mitr did. John, his call for peace, consists the work and duty of the clergy. And it cannot be ignored by the authorities and society.”

Sergey Chapnin, theologian and publicist, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate:

“Many are calling Metropolitan John’s statement, published the day before yesterday on the diocese’s website, a remarkable example of anti-war speech. Alas, I cannot share the general enthusiasm. The short statement – only five sentences – was made in the fifth month of the war (before that there was silence) and only in connection with the deaths of civilians in the Belgorod region. Is the metropolitan not interested in the death of civilians in the neighboring Kharkiv region? Or had he not noticed until July 3 that a war was being waged several tens of kilometers from his home? Or does he think in the following way: this is a neighboring diocese, I will not interfere in its affairs?

Yes, in his statement, Metropolitan John spoke directly about the war and did not use the euphemism “special military operation (SVO)”, which is mandatory for officials. Was this done on purpose or due to oversight? Is it a dare or an oversight? It’s hard to say. Let’s see if the metropolitan will not be suggested to change it and if the press office will correct the text afterwards.

But note: the metropolitan is not at all calling for an end to the bloodshed. It calls for “strong prayer … for an end to the bloodshed on Ukrainian soil”, i.e. it is a most general, comprehensive and pious appeal to God. There is not even a hint of intercession for the peoples before the Russian authorities who have ignited this war and can end it. Nor is it an appeal to the Russian soldiers who went to fight and kill in a neighboring country. This complaint does not name anyone by name. I do not see much courage in condemning “bloodshed in principle” and saying that war is evil. I cannot advise you exactly what the Metropolitan should say, but what he has said is clearly not enough. Will there be a second and third statement? Will there be real steps? We will see. Alas, I do not strongly believe in this.’

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