In early March, a few days after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, a local priest, John Burdin, spoke out against the war in a church in the Kostroma village of Karabanovo. One of the parishioners told police that the priest was summoned for questioning and then fined under a new article on “discrediting the armed forces.”
Burdin’s signature, however, remains under open letter clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church with a call for reconciliation and an end to the war. “We remind you that the life of every person is a priceless and unique gift of God, and therefore we wish the return of all soldiers – both Russian and Ukrainian – to their homes and families safe and sound … No nonviolent call for peace and an end to war it should not be forcibly suppressed and considered a violation of the law, for such is the divine commandment: “Blessed are the peacemakers,” it says, among other things, in the address.
Another Kostroma priest, Archpriest Georgy Edelstein, a human rights activist and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, also spoke out against the war. Their parishioners, however, do not always share the feelings of the priests, and some locals are collecting signatures to expel Burdin from the parish.
Burdin, Edelstein and their flock – in the film of the documentary project “Signs of Life”.
A person’s life is a chain of elections
After the 24th there was a fracture inside me, I felt that the ground on which I was leaning collapsed. The world is over, a new world has begun, in which you have to start all over again, look again for the support you lost. This is not politics, this is rejection at the Christian level. No human blood should be shed, no matter how justified. There is the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, which is absolute, which man cannot transgress. Even if a person is forced to kill, sin remains a sin.
This is an exam for everyone. The Lord asks man the question: who are you? Tell me about yourself. There is no Doomsday as a legal act. It’s just that when one finds oneself before God, one sees oneself as one really is. Man appears as a complete person. If he went to a rally, if he said something against, if, on the contrary, he approved, supported, if he remained silent, did not react in any way – this is his disclosure as a person. I believe that a person’s life is a chain of choices that a person makes, a person discovers himself, presenting himself to God at the last moment, when a person’s life ends.
I posted the appeal on a website that is read by 20 people at best, our parishioners. There were 12 people at the sermon. I named what was happening. One of the parishioners called the police, it seemed to him that it offended the Russian army. I was called to the police, I went and gave explanations. The conversation was normal: “How did you come to such a life, you have such a good church, such a good temple.” There was a funny moment, they say: “People come to you from Krasny, we come to you, you have such a temple. And you will go to us – it’s all about money.” I say, “Don’t you think one thing has to do with another?”
The world still remains dark, darkness prevails in it
I come from a Christian family. The first time I renounced God at the age of six was when a six-year-old teacher asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I’m small, and the teacher is big, somehow it got scary, I say, “No.” Then shame burned me, he, in fact, has not yet passed, so I remember him every time, every time I regret it. Then I was asked this question again in the fourth grade, then I said, “Yes, I believe,” and went on a full program. They put me in front of the class, they said, “He believes in God, let’s laugh at him together, how can you believe in such nonsense.” Nothing special came out of it, except that my character hardened a little. Then, I repent, this is also my sin, I became both an Octoberist and a pioneer, I also believe that this is a renunciation of God, in fact. As a pioneer, I was dragged to the Council of Pioneers, where an aunt interrogated me, who taught me, who made me go to church. That is, they were looking for, apparently, undermining their parents.
It has been at all times. Germany 1936-37, there were wonderful people who loved their children, their wives, and with their approval there were concentration camps, gas chambers and everything else. I don’t see anything so unusual here, it’s always been in history. When I look at what is around, I realize that I do not want to live here, in this world, on this planet, on this earth, in this time. The world still remains dark, darkness is still in it, malice prevails.
Sovdepiya cannot do without aggression
I expressed my point of view on the first day of the war, February 24. Father John published our letter on the 25th, the second day of the war. It says that we, and Father John, and I – for peace, against…, the word “war”, in my opinion, is now forbidden, I do not use it. The task of the church is to avoid zinc coffins, no matter which way. The first hierarch of any church must always, every day, call for peace, not war.
The Russian Orthodox Church in its current state was founded by Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin in September 1943. It was a pocket Stalinist church, a branch of the agitprop, and it remains so today. I went to church, hoping that this was the only place where I could hide from the Communist Party, from the Soviet Party. Then I realized that was not the case. I wrote that Navalny is a member of our parish. If a person is not afraid to fly, knowing that he will be rowed right at the airport, such a person is nice to me, close. At every, without exception, every service, we pray for the servant of God Alexei, our parishioner. And today we prayed, and tomorrow we will pray. To me, Putin, Yeltsin, Khrushchev, I can repeat a hundred times that they are all the same to me – they are the leaders of the Soviet Union. Sovdepiya cannot do without aggression.
They thought they would bark – and we will write clauses, as under Stalin
It seems to me that any priest should hold such an anti-war position. Father John was unlucky to have his own opinion, he expressed it, and the excitement around him begins. They thought they would bark, yawn – and here we will go to the father, we will write clauses, as under Stalin. No. As a result, the police were disappointed, we did not pour dirt on my father, they did not like it very much. During the break we were asked to leave the hall, we are standing, the precinct officer came out: you, you two morons, couldn’t load your father? And why load a person? Right, wrong, not for me to judge. I didn’t hear him say anything like that, even if he did, how many times did he extend a helping hand to me, will I continue to drown the person? Am I an animal, a pig?
People are used to living in the fact that any war is sacred
[Люди] hastily signed this letter [против священника], apparently, now they are very worried about it. They were not in the service, but they are not bad people, they are good people. Just a wave of cheers and patriotism that “Russia, forward”, let’s raise the homeland from its knees, bombs and everything else. I’m not afraid to say that. A small group will still do some crap. Especially if the funeral comes now, I think all the hatred, of course, will be poured out on him, such compensation is to look for who is to blame. It’s not paradoxical, we talked to Father Ivan yesterday – it’s about the same thing that a person lives, [у него есть] Dad and Mom, and you have to love Dad and Mom, Dad and Mom are good. And then they come: you know, it turns out that your dad is a rapist and a murderer. He says: it can’t be. You just want to humiliate and insult my dad, and if you humiliate and insult, I will just humiliate you… People are used to living in the fact that any war is sacred. Because they went through the Second World War, the Great Patriotic War, they got used to the fact that our soldiers are always heroes, our soldiers are always liberators, this is what brings light. I can’t say that they are scoundrels, no, they are just people whose moral sense is completely distorted, they do not understand. They will be told to justify it all, so that God forbid they say that Dad is really a rapist. This hatred is growing, it does not pass as fuck and all. I think we live in such difficult times, but what to do.
I never care about Putin, [с ним] I’m calm
I perceive this time as normal. I am, of course, 67 years old, but I am still working. Normally began to pay a salary, we and allowances, and everyone pays. We make good money in this area. I go to the temple. I will never say anything bad about the government, especially now that our president is normal. I always said that it is not in our minds to think, people are scientists, people are military, they know the situation better. There’s intelligence, there’s the KGB. I never care about Putin, [с ним] I’m calm. He does not send our boys there for war, he sends specialists, not cannon fodder. And he does everything he has to do in this situation. Someone says that it is bad that he is wrong, and I always have this opinion: it is not our mind to think. People have learned this, people know the situation, people know how to act. And if we have our arguments… I love watching these shows, sorry for our boys, but the boys knew where they were going. I told my son, he wanted to go to the police, I said: “Misha, your head will be blown off, this is a dangerous profession, you must be ready to die early.” It’s a pity, of course, but at least not cannon fodder. Before Chechnya, it was a pity to send children. If only there was no war – that’s the main thing. We don’t have a war yet. There is a war in Syria, there is a war. Our president makes sure we don’t have it.
We watch TV, we have information only from the TV
I had a father in the war, he went through the war in 1924, then he was sent to Bandera to calm down, then to the Baltics, and I do not want to die, he went through the war. He somehow avoided it. Then he was sent to Austria, I was born there in 1955, my mother was there, in Austria. He served in the KGB. We are paid good money, pension is paid, everyone is happy. Ukrainians feel sorry for, of course, everyone who dies, everyone feels sorry for. Here they are paid money, they move it wherever they want. Let them live with us if they don’t like it there. We watch TV, we have information only from the TV. I do not watch the Internet, I do not have it. Others may get information from the Internet, but I only get it from TV.