Metropolitan John of Dubna: “We walk in the blood of our new Martyrs” (link)
Doxologia Info News
February 20, 2023
The belligerent position of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and of Patriarch Kirill, who clearly supported Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, is causing misunderstanding and regret in the Orthodox world. However, few people decide to openly condemn the behavior of the Kremlin-linked clergy – with the exception of the primates of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Radio Liberty presents readers with an interview with Metropolitan John of Dubna, head of the Orthodox Church of the Russian tradition in Western Europe, whose parishes are mainly located in France and Switzerland.
Dear Monsignor Jean, Russia has been fighting against Ukraine for almost 9 years; after February 24, 2022, this war is now being waged on a large scale. With whom has the Orthodox Church of the Russian Tradition been connected in Western Europe all this time?
Metropolitan Jean: Our Archdiocese was founded in 1921 by the Russian Church. Now it unites believers of various ethnic origins, among whom there are many Ukrainians and Russians. It was impossible to imagine a war between Russia and Ukraine. After all, they not only have a common border, but many residents of these countries are united by history, Orthodox faith, cultural customs and family ties.
When the Russian Federation brutally attacked Ukraine on February 24 last year, it caused confusion and horror in people’s hearts. On the same day, we called on parishes and believers to maintain unity and to pray for all the victims of this tragedy, for the rapid restoration of peace in Ukraine. Millions of people fled to the West to escape war. We helped them in the field, collected and sent several trucks with humanitarian aid: medicines, clothes, basic necessities. The church choirs gave concerts for the refugees. And it all is continuing to happen.
The war of Russia against Ukraine is compared by its cruelty to the Second World War; the Russian army is accused of genocide in Ukraine. Are there parallels with the crimes of the Nazis?
I must admit with regret that the gravity of the crimes of Russia encourages one to compare this war against Ukraine to the Second World War. By attacking Ukraine, Russia condemned the Ukrainian people to great suffering. Ukraine’s infrastructure, small villages and big cities, like Mariupol, are being destroyed. Witness accounts, frightening photos of Boutcha, and other Ukrainian places tell about the atrocities of the Russian army. Russian propaganda denies the obvious, but constantly repeats the idea about the need to revive the “Russian world.” But Russia has no right to declare sovereign countries to be “the Russian world” and dictate its will to them just on the grounds that it wants it so badly. This is unacceptable. Because Ukraine is the Ukrainian world, Poland is the Polish world, and so on. And then Russia resorted to aggression, attacked Ukraine, as Hitler once attacked Poland.
What amounts to the genocide of the Ukrainians was proclaimed as necessary to replace them with the “Russian world.” The crime of genocide is one of the most serious on the international list of war crimes. The deportation of the peaceful Ukrainian population deep within Russia for the purpose of assimilation, and the stealing of children in order to forcibly make them “Russian,” is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Russia has broken many international laws. And I believe she will be brought to justice for this.
How do you assess the position taken by Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church with regard to Russia’s war against Ukraine?
The position of Patriarch Kirill has been revealed gradually. It pains me to say that in the beginning there was complete silence, no one said anything at a high level in the church in defense of peace and against war. The silence was followed by the justification for war. On March 6, Sunday of Forgiveness, the Patriarch addressed believers at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. He said in his sermon: there is an excuse for a bloody and aggressive war, it is a “metaphysical competition” in the name of the “right to stand on the right side of the world…”
And from this terrible sermon, it turns out that the necessity of Russia’s war against Ukraine is supposedly revealed by the “light of Christ, by the Gospel.” In no case will I agree with such a reading of the Gospel. In my deepest conviction, the mission of the Church – the “good shepherd” – is to be a peacemaker. In an open letter on behalf of believers in our Archdiocese, I begged Patriarch Kirill to ask the Russian authorities to end the monstrous and senseless war against Ukraine as soon as possible.
But the war continues, although Vladimir Putin is not the same as all of Russia. I dare to assume that Patriarch Kirill is not the whole Russian Orthodox Church either. What do you think?
I agree, Putin is not all of Russia. It took us more than a day for the troubles we are experiencing today to occur. The international isolation of Russia and the bloody war against Ukraine were the result of Putin’s regime. In order to create appropriate moods and an “official picture of the world” among the people, information in Russia is received under the strict control of the authorities. Television, radio, and the press plant in people’s heads the ideas of “perestroika of the ‘Russian world’” and the revival of a “mythical Russia” – the Soviet Union. The mood of unconditional loyalty is also well-defined in the Russian Orthodox Church. It is bittersweet for me to realize that a significant portion of the clergy succumbed to this disastrous trend, and those who spoke out against the war were immediately banned. I think many priests view the “resurrection of the Soviet Union” differently, but support Patriarch Kirill, or keep quiet, apparently out of fear. There is something terrible in this strange “regeneration of the USSR,” isn’t there? I was deeply touched by Orthodox journalist Sergius Chapnin’s appeal to the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, in which he begs them to resist lies, to stop justifying war, to call everyone to a just peace.
It also follows from the speeches of Patriarch Kirill, as well as the speeches of President Putin, that Russia has launched a war to protect itself from LGBT ideology and the decaying West. What is your opinion on the patriarch’s arguments in this regard?
I doubt that Russia is an appropriate country to teach moral lessons to others. Not to mention the more than difficult and tragic legacy and difficult parallels of today: let’s take a look at least at modern abortion statistics – it makes Russia a European leader in this. There are problems here… it is also the attitude towards vulnerable groups of the population, such as LGBT… With this terminology, I would prefer to be more careful. However, yes, you are right about this, including this being broadcast from Moscow as a reason to take Russia to war.
Today I read on the Internet that yesterday, in a single day, a thousand Russian soldiers were killed. The death of a human life is a terrible disaster, and here are tens of thousands! What young men hear before going to the front: “You will be saved if you are killed for defending the vision of Russia, which brings ‘morality’ and ‘good words’ to the West, your sins will be forgiven! Additionally, soldiers are urged to fight the ‘decadent West’ to ‘save the ‘Russian world.’ Something like this can be heard among suicide bombers in radical Islamic movements, but it is unacceptable and unheard of to hear this from the mouth of the church patriarch.
Here we must clearly define that European countries are secular and democratic states. Humanity has been heading there for a long time; democracy allows everyone to be themselves. However, if we talk about “marriage for everyone,” then personally, I see something funny about it. Because so far it has not yet happened that homosexual unions produce offspring. To conceive a new life, you still need a union of two different sexes. That’s marriage, from my point of view. However, we have no right to force people to live differently than they want.
History remembers forcing people to live against their will, for example, in concentration camps. The Third Reich did it under the banner of National Socialism. Putin’s Russia uses its own interpretation of “Christian morality” for these purposes, while many Russians are atheists, profess Islam or other religions. A simplified and one-sided view of such complex issues does not bode well. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – those two states ended badly.
I wrote a letter to Patriarch Cyril: “The happiness, all the love that the Western world felt for Russia, you hurt them, because now the Russia that we love, the Russia that fed us, that gave us fine writers and spirituality, this Russia has fallen from our eyes… It is no longer Russia. It is an attempt to resurrect another entity, Soviet Russia. Now that we have a tragic vision of Russia, we are afraid that this new Russia will self-destruct and crumble in its return to the Soviet spirit, as is now being observed.
How do the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine affect relations between Christian churches?
I think that Patriarch Cyril made a great strategic, political and ecclesial error, because in the end he found himself on the sidelines of the Christian Church. When our archdiocese united with the Russian Orthodox Church three and a half years ago, we were able to have a dialogue. And now we see that the behavior of the patriarchal throne is politicized. The churches found themselves in a very difficult situation, because calling on Patriarch Kirill means taking risks now.
We must always strive to be realistic, and even more so in this tragic time, as soldiers and civilians are dying every day. It is not very easy to keep in touch with Russia now, with the Patriarchate of Moscow. Our archdiocese should strictly follow the canons of the church, but at the same time not confuse the policy of Russia with the policy of the Patriarch of All Russia. We are obliged to constantly keep our distance, helping, participating in helping, those who suffer from war.
We have instructions not to concelebrate with other churches, especially the Patriarch of Constantinople. Relations between the Orthodox churches have also become more complicated; we can even say that ecumenical relations have deteriorated – Catholics and Protestants see that the Russian Orthodox Church has a very politicized patriarch. Moscow declares unity, but in fact destroys it. On May 27, 2022, the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared its full independence and independence of the PM Russian Orthodox Church. It’s very sad.
What is your position on the future relationship of your Archdiocese with the Russian Orthodox Church, which openly supports Russia’s war against Ukraine? Can the Archdiocese of Western European parishes of Russian tradition be part of the Russian Orthodox Church?
The relations of our Archdiocese with the Russian Orthodox Church are canonical; the bishop celebrates in relation to the Synod, and not with a specific person. The 2019 decision restored the unity of the Archdiocese of Western European parishes of Russian tradition with the Russian Orthodox Church. And it is hoped that all members of the Holy Synod do not share the Patriarch’s one-sided view on Russia’s war against Ukraine; even if they don’t say it openly, maybe they mean it. So we stay with the synod and do not engage in politics in our diocese – it is unacceptable to use the spirit for political purposes. We are not engaged in politics in our Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris. But we pray for peace, pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters attacked by Russia, help them as much as we can and keep in touch with the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The church is called to be a peacemaker and end wars. What is already being done – in particular, by your archdiocese – and what else needs to be done to heal the wounds of those who are suffering?
The mission of the church should be a mission of peace. Unfortunately, we have seen that the peace mission is not close to the Moscow Patriarchate. We pleaded with Patriarch Kirill to ask the civil authorities to take steps to achieve peace as soon as possible. Unfortunately, he himself was involved in the war process; it was sad to see him in green “military” outfits calling on believers to sacrifice themselves. For what? To seize land or repress the Ukrainians? Is this the mission of the church? For me, it is a big question and a source of inner suffering when the church calls for war, even for “metaphysical” reasons. The mess is that each of us is waging a “metaphysical war” against our own passions.
And Russia is waging a real war against Ukraine – there is violence, torture, death, human suffering, all the human passions that war triggers.
And this happens after the many sacrifices confessors made in Soviet times, during the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. You know, we have always bowed to this sacrifice, the holiness of the church that was born in the Soviet period, and now this holiness is being destroyed by collusion with power, which is so similar to the Soviet one that killed millions of people. We have millions of confessors. I say: we walk in the blood of our new Martyrs.
The Blood of the Martyrs calls for peace, for love between nations. Ukrainians have already suffered a lot in Soviet times from famine, the “Holodomor,” from concentration camps, from wars. Many peoples suffered during the Soviet era. And now it repeats itself. How to heal wounds? The situation of the Moscow Patriarchate is tragic. Wounds can only be healed through humility. But who has the humility to heal the deep wounds caused by war? War always breeds cruelty and hatred. Now the Russians are killing the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians are defending themselves and killing the Russians… What can reconcile them and heal their wounds? It will take a long time, and above all, it takes a lot of compassion on both sides.
I think the only thing that will help heal deep military wounds is a return to previous borders, as recommended by the United Nations. And then maybe the wounds will gradually heal. It will take several generations. On February 24, 2022, a period of hatred and violence began between two close peoples, who became enemies like the biblical brothers Abel and Cain.
Marina Okhrimovskaya – editor-in-chief of the “Switzerland for All” website, in particular for Radio Liberty