London, September 18, 2023
His Grace Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) notes in a new statement that “some in the media persist in misrepresenting our views, with no attempt to speak directly with us at any stage.”
Bp. Irenei is referring to the article, “Putin’s Useful Priests: The Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin’s Hidden Influence Campaign in the West,” by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, published by Foreign Affairs, the official magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations, on Thursday, September 14.
The article argues that Russian Orthodox parishes outside of Russia, and especially in America, are a source of strong backing for the Russian government, which, the authors say, was cultivated over the course of two decades by an unnamed employee of the Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations.
According to the article, the FBI has taken note, and sent letters to Orthodox communities in the U.S. in the spring, warning “that Russia was likely using the church to help recruit intelligence sources in the West.”
However, the authors are seriously mistaken about the size of the Russian Orthodox Church in America. The authors claim that “in the United States, the Russian Orthodox Church has 2,380 parishes, along with 41 male and 38 female monasteries.”
In fact, the number is far less. The Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR have a combined 333 parishes, missions, and monasteries—more than seven times less than is claimed by Soldatov and Borogan.
Regarding Bp. Irenei, whom the authors characterizes as “the most influential bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad,” the article notes that in A Call For Prayer: Persecution against the Kiev Cave MonksTo all pious Christians, above all I exhort you to pray. Pray to our Almighty God that He will work a miracle amongst His pious flock in Ukraine.
“>March 2023 he issued a statement on the persecution of Ukrainian Christians, though it makes no reference to any of his previous statements or the ROCOR European Bishops issue pastoral epistle on war in Ukraine“In these difficult times, our fervent prayer is that every Orthodox Christian in the embrace of our archpastoral labours will respond to the calling of God, to conform our lives ever more closely to those of His saints.””>joint statements coming from the European bishops of ROCOR.
The article claims: “Bishop Irenei was referring to Ukrainian charges against clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine who have supported the Kremlin,” which ignores the UOC’s decision to depart from the Moscow Patriarchate and the countless statements from His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the UOC Synod, and other hierarchs against the war.
Bp. Irenei issued a statement yesterday in response to the article’s misrepresentation of him and his stance:
Since we note with sorrow that some in the media persist in misrepresenting our views, with no attempt to speak directly with us at any stage, we restate here what we have openly said since the war in Ukraine began: We stand wholly against the war and we call for it to end. I do not know how one can be clearer than this. The war is an evil. It cannot be justified. God will bless the peacemakers, as the Lord Himself says.
In the Church we are not politicians. We in the Church Abroad are not linked with any state or government, nor any political ideology, as some in the media are nevertheless swift to assume. Indeed, there is something of a ‘witch hunt’ on in certain circles at this moment, in which anyone may be claimed to be politically aligned this way or that, assigned as such simply by accusation — generally in a manner that serves the political interests of the one doing the ‘reporting’ rather than having any bearing on reality. But this leads to falsehoods, and too often these bring real harm to those striving to live peacefully and to do their part to bring peace to terrible situations, who are wrongly accused of supporting wars they do not support, or encouraging regimes with which they in fact have no connection.
A tree should be judged by its fruits. Since the war began, I and my brother bishops in Europe have stood against it whole-heartedly and vocally. We have built upon this stance with action. We have raised large sums of money that have been transmitted to humanitarian relief funds in Ukraine. We have received formal thanks from Ukrainian church leaders for the support of their suffering people. We have opened and operated food banks to provide food to Ukrainian refugees in the UK and Europe. We have assisted in housing and supporting refugee families. We have run a summer camp for children of Ukrainian refugee families in Europe. We have welcomed refugee priests and integrated them into our parishes. We have opened a new parish in Switzerland to cater to large groups of Ukrainian refugees in a region where we had no parish before. We help to the greatest degree we are able and we pray for peace with special prayers composed for the cessation of this war, which are read in every parish in our diocese at every Liturgy.
This is not a political question for us but a religious one. We stand against all war, and this war in particular, as we stand also against bloodshed, and against persecution in all cases — whoever may be their perpetrators. We have already stated many times that the military actions in Ukraine are wrong. We have also stated that the persecution of prayerful Christians within Ukraine is wrong. While for some this might raise the uncomfortable reality that things are not always black-and-white, since the present situation implicates actors on all sides in the current war in acts that are wrong and from which the innocent must be protected, this dark and confusing web of evil is precisely why we stand against the tragedy of war itself. Yes, we wrote against the persecution of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine by civil authorities — a reality that is well documented and against which there have been calls raised by religious leaders all across the world — just as we also wrote earlier against the bloodshed and killing of our Ukrainian brethren by those attacking their land from without. Is the one evil to be ignored, simply so that we might avoid being slandered by those who will use the care for those innocents as a spurious claim of support for those harming others? I should hope that humanity is more mature than this, and that we can see that war leads to suffering everywhere. Love ought to lead us to compassion and care for everyone, without litmus tests of nationality, ethnicity, or political agenda.
Let me repeat once more, for the sake of clarity: our Church Abroad is not united to any State, is not aligned with any government, and does not bow to or toe the line of any political agenda. Claims otherwise may arise out of ignorance or wilful misrepresentation, but in any case they are false.
This should, and does, mean that we are free to bear the responsibility that we have without constraint: to speak out against evil whenever it rears its head, and by whomever’s hands, and to care for those who are suffering, by whomever’s hands. There are those who will always try to politicise this, but we must and will ignore these false accusations and strive simply to follow the example of Christ. In the face of this sinister war, with the bloodshed it continues to cause and the persecution of innocents that it fosters, let us strive together to help all those innocents, and to bring a swift and longed-for end to this blight on human dignity.
Follow OrthoChristian on Twitter, Vkontakte, Telegram, WhatsApp, MeWe, and Gab!