(Friday, September 29)

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.” (Lk 6:22-23)

I am so grateful this morning to read our Lord’s words, quoted above from today’s Gospel-reading, because lately, in my Russian Orthodox Church, quite the opposite message is being preached. Our Lord Jesus Christ promises that we will be “blessed,” and greatly rewarded, and should even rejoice and leap for joy, when excluded, reviled, and our names “cast out as evil,” for the sake of Christ. But in my church, both in Russia and abroad, priests and laypeople are being intimidated into silence, on the issue of the great war-crime of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for fear of being cast out of their ministry, of losing their “name” and place in the church.

Just this past week, one young priest in the village of Gorodische in the Tverskaya region was publicly shamed by his superior, Bishop Adrian Ulianov (see the picture above), because the priest prayed for “peace” instead of “victory” when he said Patriarch Kirill’s war-prayer during the Liturgy, and because he had signed an anti-war petition. Bishop Adrian says in the video of this public shaming (see the link in the comments below), right before he demands that the priest “repent” before his parishioners: “Do you know what happens (to a priest) for such actions? …Who were you? Fr. Ilya? Now you’ll just be Ilyushka…” That is, the bishop is pointing out, you will lose your priestly title; you will no longer be “Father,” and will “just” be a nobody. This is what one is supposed to fear, according to Bishop Adrian: the loss of your church-name, even while our Lord Jesus Christ says, “Blessed are you when men…cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake…” In another such incident this past week, the brilliant theologian Fr. Cyril Hovorun was suspended from priestly ministry by Patriarch Kirill, for speaking out against the Patriarch’s sanctioning of the war through manipulations of Scripture and Orthodox tradition.

But let us take heart, my friends, embracing faith and not fear, and re-affirming our dedication to Christ and His word, to which we as Church owe our obedience. “We ought to obey God rather than men,” as the Apostles say in Acts 5:29. Thank You, God, for blessing us at this time, with Your word, Your Church, and Your witnesses, against which the gates of hell will not prevail.