Berlin, June 1, 2022
The Russian Orthodox Church is being negatively affected by the fratricidal war in Ukraine, which should be immediately stopped, believes His Eminence Metropolitan Mark of Berlin of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
In a recent interview with the German outlet haz.de, Met. Mark tells about his upbringing in Germany, about how he discovered Orthodoxy through Russian literature, and about Church life in his diocese and Germany as a whole.
Vladyka Mark is the senior ROCOR hierarch and is now serving as the Locum Tenens since the recent repose of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of New York.
The conversation also turned to how the fratricidal war in Ukraine has affected his diocese and the broader Russian Church, and the Metropolitan’s views on the fighting.
“I can’t subscribe to this point of view,” that the war is about Russia defending itself, His Eminence says, but without condemnation: “I know that during the communist period the official Russian Church repeatedly justified communism and the crimes of the communist state. At the time, I said I didn’t want to contribute to this, but I don’t know the reasons. I must also say this clearly today in view of this war.”
On February 22, just two days before the war began, Met. Mark and the other ROCOR hierarchs in Europe issued a statement calling for increased prayers and repentance in order to “save the world from fratricide.” And in a Memorial Saturday sermon in March, His Eminence made a plea to preserve Church unity and avoid the temptation of “divid[ing] along national traits.”
Therefore, Met. Mark and his diocese have been very active in helping refugees and those suffering within Ukraine. As soon as refugees began to appear in Germany, the Church contacted state and local officials to offer its language skills and understanding of the Ukrainian people. The diocese also supports convoys sending food and clothing to Ukraine, in particular to a monastery in eastern Ukraine that is housing more than 1,500 refugees.
Presumably His Eminence is referring to either the Holy Dormition-Svyatogorsk Lavra or the Monastery of St. Basil and the Convent of St. Nicholas in the village of Nikolskoye, Donetsk.
Besides humanitarian aid, the Church most especially copes with the fratricidal through prayer, the Metropolitan affirms: “We cannot and do not want to participate in any form of war. But we provide support through our prayers. Members of our Church are fighting on both sides. That’s challenging. In some communities, the situation is causing conflict.”
Asked his view on the war, the senior ROCOR hierarch answers plainly: “I consider this war a crime.”
He continues: “Some say that it’s actually been going on for eight years and that, for example, the Ukrainian government made a mistake in banning the use of Russian in schools. That’s probably true. But this can never be a justification for a war. No way.”
While acknowledging that there are groups in Ukraine that are “close to the spirit of the former Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera,” Met. Mark doesn’t believe its tenable to argue that they rule in Kiev.
However, at the same time, Vladyka doesn’t rush to directly condemn Russia for every tragedy that occurs during the course of the fighting: “In a war, the population and cities are affected by acts of war on both sides. I don’t allow myself any judgement… In many cases, you really don’t know who destroyed it, because there’s shooting from both sides: one attacking, the other defending.”
He has also received reports from clerics that the Ukrainian army has taken up positions in residential areas. “Isn’t it to be expected that the Russians will shoot at them, hitting innocent people in the process?” the hierarch asks.
“I also don’t understand why our monastery with all its refugees has come under fire, by whoever.”
Next, the interviewer asks: “Should the Russians pull out of Ukraine?” to which Met. Mark responds: “Is that a question? Yes, definitely! And completely.”
In his March sermon, he spoke very harshly about the reality of war:
During these terrifying days when streams of blood merge with the flow of deceit and wickedness, we Christians cannot allow ourselves to submit to the spirit of war. The spirit of war is demanding. It requires us to divide into parties. It forces us to hate.
We Christians must understand: the wrath with which war burns is the wrath of hell. The enemy of God drinks in not so much human blood as human bitterness and division. The devil wants nothing more than to separate man from his neighbor, from the Church and from Christ.
Thus, Vladyka believes there needs to be compromise in Ukraine. On the one hand, there should be more leeway for the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, while “Ukraine’s EU membership seems sensible to me, even if this arouses great resentment on the Russian side again,” he says in the recent interview
Met. Mark is certain that the war will change the Church, “and unfortunately not for the better.”
“I find it difficult to believe that the Ukrainian part of our Church wants to stay with the Russian. And Ukrainians are the most faithful members of the Russian Orthodox Church,” the Metropolitan comments.
His Eminence’s interview was given before the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that was held on Friday, at which the UOC Statutes were amended to remove all mention of any connection to the Russian Orthodox Church.