CV NEWS FEED // Orthodox priests are leaving the Russian Church due to pressure from the government to include recitation of its nationalistic Victory prayer during the liturgy.
Priests of the Moscow Patriarchate have been leaving the denomination on account of obligatory “patriotic and warmongering rhetoric” according to a report from Asia News.
Some priests who refused to recite the prayer “for the victory of Holy Russia” have been suspended from their ecclesiastical duties, while others have reportedly “managed to leave without attracting attention,” from the Patriarchate which requires its priests to remain in their posts unless they present documented health issues.
Priests who attempt to leave without proof of illness or incapacity to perform their duties are either forced to return to their post, or returned to lay status—a measure which the report claims has been “applied several times especially in this phase of the war, to avoid “strategic retreats”. from clerical-patriotic commitment.”
A former collaborator of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Sergej Čapnin, who now lives in the US, told the publication that he continues to receive requests from priests asking “to continue their service in one of the other national Orthodox Churches, and do not know how to organize the transition.”
However, Orthodox Churches in Serbia, Bulgaria, Czechia, and Poland have reportedly expressed reluctance to accept these priests, both for bureaucratic reasons and for fear of aggravating Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate.
Many of these priests have been advised to enter the US as illegal immigrants from Mexico, since the Patriarchate does not grant official travel documents to priests who are in a state of non-compliance.
“The patriarchal punitive machine became particularly effective during the war years against priests who think differently, and especially against those who express pacifist sentiments,” said Čapnin.
The report continued:
Priests who are even only “unenthusiastic” about the war propaganda are first given benevolent admonitions, and then move on to threats not only of punishments or suspensions, but also of cancellation of priestly privileges with respect to mobilization in the army, with the risk of being sent to front directly from the Ministry of Defense.
Patriarch Kirill signed an agreement in 2022 with the military barring the conscription of clergymen “as long as they carry out their priestly functions,” thus further incentivising compliance with Moscow.
Although Orthodox Churches generally recognise the right of the Constinople Patriarchate to restore priests to their ecclesiastical status, according to Čapnin, the Moscow Patriarchate works around this tradition by “infinitely lengthening the times of canonical trials, leaving priests in an ‘ecclesiastical purgatory’ from which it is very difficult to escape.”