Religion and Conflict

Stop Following Herod and Follow ChristOpen Letter to the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR)

Published on: February 23, 2024
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Editorial Note: As the world marks the second anniversary of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, numerous open letters have surfaced, revealing deep disappointment among Orthodox Christians regarding the actions of the Church hierarchy. Many seek answers to lingering questions that remain shrouded in silence. Despite this outcry, the episcopate chooses to remain silent, feigning normalcy in church affairs. The hypocrisy of the Church hierarchy is most evident within the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Once a staunch opponent of falsehoods and crimes committed by communist authorities in the Soviet Soviet Union, ROCOR in recent years has aligned itself with Putin’s Russia, forsaking its mission and calling, as argued in the open letter below.

Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)
Image: Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Credit: iStock.com/TonyBaggett

Your Excellency and Your Graces:

The Russian war against Ukraine has lasted for two years. The Moscow Patriarchate has consistently supported the invasion, and has made heretical statements about the spiritual consequences of death while engaged in war. It has expelled priests who oppose the war. In September 2022 Patriarch Kirill said that Russian soldiers who die in the war against Ukraine will be “cleansed of all their sins”; this was a few days after President Putin ordered the country’s mobilization.

When the war began, there was a notion that maybe it was the fault of the West, or that it would end soon, or that the news was not reported accurately, or that the Russians were defending oppressed Russian speakers, but it is now clear that it is an unprovoked and inexcusable bloody invasion. It is also clear that Russia is guilty of numerous war crimes, including the kidnapping of children, sexual violence, torture and killing of prisoners of war. As a result of the war, Russia has become a violently repressive regime, imprisoning people for speaking out about the war, and arresting many dissidents. Russian conscripts are abused as fodder for war. Russians are fleeing. The Moscow Patriarchate is acting as a de facto arm of the neo-Stalinist state, defrocking clergy who pray for peace. President Putin mischaracterizes the invasion as a war against the West and Western decadence. The Patriarch supports this falsehood. In November, President Putin awarded Patriarch Kirill five million rubles prize for his contribution to strengthening the unity of the Russian nation.

And now we have the death in prison of the most vocal opponent of Putin, the newly-martyred Alexei Navalny. Two years on, what are you, our Bishops, thinking?

When the invasion began ROCOR clergy noted their support for Metropolitan Onufriy and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), as opposed to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch. Metropolitan Onufryi opposes the war and from the first days of the invasion called on President Putin to stop it. He blessed the armed forces of Ukraine. Beginning in May 2022, the UOC-MP separated itself from the Moscow Patriarchate, removed references to the Moscow Patriarchate in its constitution and ceased to commemorate Patriarch Kirill.

But ROCOR clergy still commemorate the Patriarch, ignoring his warmongering sermons. It is nauseating to stand before a holy altar and hear his name. Some clergy say they “hold their nose and say it anyway.” Some singers refuse to sing the commemoration. But everyone standing silently in church and not protesting is complicit in the warmongering of the Patriarch. From the very moment when ROCOR was established in the US after World War II, our church stood for freedom of religion and speech, for the defense of dissidents, and as a small but truthful witness against human rights abuses in the USSR. Now our church supports human rights abusers, war criminals and liars.

Please, we ask you, our Bishops, to conclude that while we support Metropolitan Onufryi, we do not need to support the Patriarch of Moscow or Putin. Every time you force churches to commemorate Patriarch Kirill, you support Putin’s war crimes. That needs to stop, but far more is needed as well. You, our Bishops, also need to stop discouraging clergy from opposing the war or condemning Putin as a war criminal. You need to stop telling your flock that they should not attend conferences where the war is discussed. You need to allow parish clergy to serve open and official panikhidas for Alexei Navalny. Why are you not allowing people to freely express their views? Why are you not encouraging the exercise of religious liberty we always enjoyed here? Why are you acting as agents of Putin and Patriarch Kirill? You are following King Herod, who killed Saint John the Baptist, whom he perceived as a political opponent, and slaughtered innocent children because he feared a competing king. This is not a Christian path.

Otherwise, what are the laity to do? Shall we use our American freedoms of speech and come to church with posters that say PEACE!? Shall we scream in church when the Patriarch is commemorated? Or do you just want us to never set foot in church again?

Respectfully seeking your blessing,

Lena Zezulin
Sea Cliff, New York

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Lena Zezulin

    Lena Zezulin

    Attorney

    Lena S. Zezulin is an attorney admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and was a partner in the law firm Slevin & Hart, P.C., where she represented employee benefit funds and non-profits, including labor unions and feminist organizations. Her litigation experience included constitutiona...

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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