Russian Orthodox Priests are facing persecution by their church for calling for peace in Ukraine while Moscow’s war rages on.
At least 30 Orthodox priests have faced pressure by religious or state authorities for speaking out against the war, said Natallia Vasilevich, the coordinator for the human rights group Christians Against War.
There may be even more cases, according to Vasilevich, who said some priests are afraid to discuss repercussions for fear of further retaliation.
One of those priests, Rev. Ioann Koval, was defrocked after he prayed for peace in Ukraine following orders from Moscow Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, required all of his clergymen to pray for victory last September.
Koval said he lost is priestly rank for swapping one word in the prayer for another — “peace” instead of “victory.”
“With the word ‘victory’ the prayer acquired a propagandistic meaning, shaping the correct thinking among the parishioners, among the clergy, what they should think about and how they should see these hostilities,” Koval said. “It went against my conscience. I couldn’t submit to this political pressure from the hierarchy.”
Praying for peace in Ukraine also comes with legal ramifications, after lawmakers passed legislation following Russia’s Febryary 2022 invasion that allowed prosecuting people for “discrediting the Russian army.” The charge has been leveled against thousands of people and broadly used to punish any speech that contradicts Moscow’s official narrative.
While Vladimir Putin has set up an increasingly authoritarian regime during wartime, Kirill has done so as well within the Orthodox church, said Andrew Desnitsky, professor of philology at Vilnius University in Lithuania. “If you are not loyal, then there is no place for you in church,” said the longtime expert on the Russian church.
The church, meanwhile, claimed the repercussions against priests who speak out against the war are punishments for their so-called engagement in politics.
“The clergy who turn themselves from priests into political agitators and persons participating in the political struggle, they, obviously, cease to fulfill their pastoral duty and are subject to canonical bans,” said Vakhtang Kipshidze, the deputy head of the church’s press service.
Priests who support the war, however, have been met with support from the state, Vasilevich said.
“The Russian regime is interested in making these voices sound louder,” she added.
With Post Wires.