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Orthodox Russian intellectuals: Forgive us for what Russia is doing today! [INTERVIEW]


Katolicka Agencja Informacyjna - published on 03/06/22

Andrei and Karina Chernyak denounce Russian aggression in Ukraine and reveal the Russian Orthodox community that opposes Putin's war.

“We feel pain, bitterness, fear, shame and anger for what Russia is doing today in Ukraine,” Karina and Andrei Chernykh, Moscow-based Orthodox activists and intellectuals currently in Vilnius, said in an interview with the Polish Catholic news agency, KAI. “We feel very sorry for the dying Ukrainians, especially the children, and also for the Russians being led senselessly to their deaths by a madman. This is a tragedy for both nations: Ukraine and Russia,” they add.

KAI: How did you — as Russian Orthodox Christians — perceive the attack of the Russian army on the independent Ukrainian state?

Karina and Andrei Czerniakow: We feel pain, bitterness, fear, shame, and anger caused by what is happening. It seems almost impossible to believe. We don’t know how to help Ukrainians in this situation other than with prayer. All our thoughts are with Ukraine right now, and we realize that this is a tragedy for both nations, Ukrainian and Russian. Our nations are brothers, and this tragedy divides us and will continue to divide us for many decades, perhaps for generations. We feel very sorry for those who have to suffer through this onslaught, these air raids. We are very sorry for the dying Ukrainians, especially children, and also for the senselessly dying Russians, led to death by a madman.

How do you interpret the speeches of Vladimir Putin, in which he actually not only denies the right of independence of Ukraine, but alleges that Ukraine is an inseparable part of Russia and is ruled by Nazis who must be eliminated?

Vladimir Putin’s speeches are for us the rantings of an unread man. They are terrible gibberish bloated by propaganda, propaganda which offers Russia not clear way forward. Propaganda has a very strong effect on people’s brains. Many Russians, unfortunately very many, believe it. It was similar in Hitler’s Germany where propaganda planted ideological gibberish in people’s heads. Today the same is happening in Russia.

What is Ukraine for you? What should be its status and role in this region of Europe?

Ukraine is a country dear to our hearts. We have many people close to us there, dear to us, who have been important to us throughout our lives. We are indebted to many of them because they were our masters and teachers. It is a wonderful country with a wonderful culture, self-contained and rich. Ukraine should absolutely have the right to determine its own fate, including the right to join NATO or the European Union. After all, Ukraine can play a very important role in the culture of the whole of Europe and in European politics. It just needs to be allowed to do so.

How can we evaluate the attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate and Patriarch Kirill himself towards the aggression against Ukraine?

It is very painful for us because the Orthodox Church, to which we belong, has not protested against the aggression. Neither the Church as a whole nor Patriarch Kirill himself has done so. This aggression is a violation of all the commandments of God.

This aggression is a violation of all the commandments of God.

What explains the lack of condemnation of this aggression by the Russian Orthodox bishops?

Russia’s fusion of Church and State. Fear of some sanctions of the church or lack of personal interest. However, this does not apply to all bishops and all priests. Many, especially priests, have come forward with their voice of protest. Also, some bishops do not agree with what is happening, although they do not say so publicly. These dissenters are leading solemn prayers (novenas) for reconciliation and for the cessation of this terrible war.

What do other Orthodox circles in Russia, such as the circle of former disciples of Fr. Aleksandr Mienia, to which you belong, think about this situation?

We cannot speak about all Orthodox circles in Russia; there is a tangle of different, diverse opinions. We can only speak about our own, close to us, circle in which, unfortunately, there are also different opinions, although most of our friends, our Christian brothers and sisters condemn the war, pray for peace and do what they can for reconciliation and help for those suffering in Ukraine.

Are there any Orthodox Christians in Russia taking initiative to stop the war, to help Ukraine or offering gestures of solidarity with it?

Six thousand Russians have already been imprisoned for participating in pickets and protest actions against the war. Every attempt, even without any outward signs of protest, always, is thwarted, and the participating people are put in jail. Therefore, I don’t know what else can be done. It was completely different in the USA, when thousands of people spoke out against the war in Vietnam, but nobody arrested them there.

Six thousand Russians have already been imprisoned for participating in pickets and protest actions against the war.

In our country many people, although they do not agree with Putin’s policy, are afraid to go out on the street with protests, but they pray for it because in their hearts they want the war to stop, they want peace. They experience shame, sympathy for the Ukrainians, and guilt.

I know that these Russians would like to help the Ukrainians materially, but it is not possible to send money, they would like to accept refugees, but they do not flee to Russia, they would like to send humanitarian aid, but this is also not possible. Therefore, we do not see the possibility of assistance. It is possible only from outside Russia. People from all over the world are collecting things, warm clothes, money, food, to help Ukrainians in their country and also those who were forced to go abroad.

As Christians in Russia, what message would you like to give to other Christians in Europe and in the world?

First of all, Putin and his closest circle are by no means all of Russia. Please do not think that this is an aggression of all Russia. We recall the words of an Italian priest, Fr. Romano Scalfi, who was the founder and director of “Russia Cristiana” and did much to restore Christianity, Orthodoxy in Russia. Father Romano shortly before his death (d. 2016) said: “Despite everything, love Russia.”

Despite everything, love Russia.

I don’t know how much he foresaw all the nightmare that is happening today and what else Russia might bring to the world. But that phrase, “In spite of everything, love Russia,” to me is a sign that he could have foreseen that possibility. Russia is not only Putin, but also Pushkin, Tolstoy, musicians, painters, the vast Russian culture, and a great many simply good, decent people, as well as believing Orthodox Christians. I imagine that if Fr. Alexander Mien were alive today, his words would resound loudly: “Niet war!”

We would also like to add that we very much want something like this to never happen again in Europe or in the whole world.

Forgive us!

Interviewer: Marcin Przeciszewski

Andrey Chernyak was a Soviet space shuttle constructor who converted to Orthodoxy in the 1980s and later became one of the closest co-workers of Father Alexander Mien, who was murdered in 1990. He later worked for many years as a computer scientist, involved in various evangelization works and ecumenical dialogue. His wife Karina is the founder of the Moscow club “Hosanna,” which conducts evangelistic activities among young people. Both of them were for years involved in St. Alexander Nevsky parish of Fr. Alexander Borisov, which gathers Moscow’s intellectual and artistic elite. They currently live in Vilnius.

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