Two Russian priests continue opposition to church and Kremlin

05-05-2022

Eastern Europe

Lennart Nijenhuis, CNE.news

Georgy Edelshtein in front of a church in the Kostroma region in Russia. Photo AFP, Yuri Kadobnov

In Russia, at least two Orthodox priests remain openly opposed to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. They could face prison because of this.

Ioann Burdin has already been fined, since he asked questions about the “special operation” just a few weeks after the war started on February 24th. But the fine didn’t convince him, according to Christian Post.

He just wants to live according to God’s commandment, “Thou shall not kill”. That is unconditional to him, he says. “It has no other interpretations, no matter what one tries to put into it, no matter how one distorts or limits it,” he says.

Georgy Edelshtein speaks openly on a AFP video and calls Russia the “aggressor” and Ukraine the “victim of aggression”. “I’m afraid I am a bad priest”, he says in that video. “I’ve never been against all wars. But I’ve always been against any land grabbing, aggressive war.”

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Ioann Burdin. Photo AFP, Yuri Kadobnov

The Russian Orthodox Church as a whole is in favour of the military operation. Even this week, Patriarch Kirill said that Russia would never invade a country but that it would protect its borders. He is also a firm supporter of the unity of Russia and Ukraine.

Letter of protest

The two priests started their protest on February 25th already, one day after the invasion. Edelshtein signed a letter written by Burdin condemning the war. According to Christian Post, the post read: “The blood of Ukrainian residents will remain on the hands not only of the rulers of Russia and soldiers carrying out this order. Their blood is on the hands of each of us who approve this war or simply remain silent.” Burdin repeats these words more or less literally in the AFP video.

The letter was posted on the website of Burdin’s church in the village of Karabanovo in the Kostroma region, northeast of Moscow, before it was deleted.

On Sunday, March 6, Burdin preached about the human cost of the ongoing fighting. After that, the police detained him on that same day for questioning. After that, the police said that the priest was “discrediting” the Russian army. Four days later, the Krasnoselsky District Court found Burdin guilty and imposed a fine of about 350 euros. If Burdin repeats the same offence, he could receive three years in prison.

In early April, Burdin withdrew from the active ministry and is considering whether to stay in the church at all.

Edelshtein is already retired and says: “Burdin is braver than me.” He will not be sanctioned for signing a letter.

Open letter

It is not common for Russian priests to protest openly against the “special operation”. But there have been several examples of clergy giving testimony of their unease. Early March, 280 priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church called for an immediate end to the invasion in an open letter.

Of the other Orthodox Churches of the world, no one supports the Russian Church. Of all the eight other Orthodox Patriarchs, only the Serbian Patriarch Porfiry spoke out in support of his colleague Kirill in Moscow, and that just once. For the rest, Kirill seems to be isolated from the rest of his own church family.

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