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Orthodox court backs ban for pacifist priest

23 June 2023


Patriarch Kirill in Kostroma in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow in May. Fr Burdin said that Patriarch Kirill had made a “strategic, political, and ecclesiastical mistake” in failing to oppose the invasion

Patriarch Kirill in Kostroma in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow in May. Fr Burdin said that Patriarch Kirill had made a “st...

A CHURCH court in Russia has ruled that pacifism is incompatible with Orthodox teaching, and has backed sanctions against a priest who criticised the invasion of Ukraine.

“The court saw significant ecclesiological errors in his writings — including a denial of the holiness and saving powers of the Russian Orthodox Church,” the judgment said.

“His activities sowed distrust of the Church and were aimed at alienating believers — all of which was regarded by the court as violating the priestly oath.”

The court in the Kostroma diocese, north-east of Moscow, was ruling on the case of Fr John Burdin (Viktor Valeryevich Burdin), who was fined in March 2022 for questioning Russia’s attack on its neighbour.

It said that it had conducted a “theological analysis” of the priest’s subsequent posts on the Telegram social-media channel, and concluded that he should be banned from the priesthood, pending “public repentance”.

The priest was detained for “discrediting the army” after making a speech in his parish church of the Resurrection of Christ, Karabanovo, during which he condemned the “fratricide” and insisted that Christians could not “come to church pretending nothing has happened”.

Fr Burdin told the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant that a parishioner had filed a complaint under Russia’s Administrative Code. He had attempted to evade a threatened prison sentence by joining the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria, only to be told that his Bishop had refused to grant him a letter of release, and instituted court proceedings.

A commentary on the diocesan website said that Fr Burdin had “harmed Church unity” by “publicly slandering the highest Church authorities” and “undermining trust in the Patriarch and bishops”.

It said that Orthodox traditions had historically “blessed soldiers defending the homeland”, and that Fr Burdin’s “heretical pacifism” was “incompatible with the Russian Church’s “true teaching”.

The commentary also said: “The judges also pointed out that Burdin’s pacifism was one-sided and imaginary, while his statements clearly revealed an anti-Russian political stance perceived as unacceptable in our country and radically at odds with the Church’s position.”

Patriarch Kirill has vigorously supported Russia’s “special military operation”, telling a congregation at Tobolsk last week that his Church was praying for President Putin and his country’s armed forces as they resisted those “taking up arms to destroy Holy Russia”.

In his social-media posts, Fr Burdin accused the Church of “serving the state, not Christ”, and said that Patriarch Kirill had made a “strategic, political, and ecclesiastical mistake” in failing to oppose the invasion.

The priest, who declined to attend the court session, told Kommersant that he rejected the charges, and “could not understand” why he should repent. He added that he planned to challenge the ban on his ministry.

“Thousands of people whom I did not know at all are empathising and supporting me with words, deeds, and financial help”, Fr Burdin wrote in a Telegram post at the weekend.

“They are giving me shelter now that I have nowhere to live, translating documents and finding friends to solve my problems — almost every day I meet people ready to help me.”

An official from the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations, Vakhtang Kipshidze, said that the Russian Church had not yet commented on the court ruling.

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