Fr. John Burdin was arrested March 6 for preaching against the invasion of Ukraine. On March 9, Novaya Gazeta published an article by Sergey Mostovshchikov titled Discrediting Love, which gives an account of Fr. John’s life, his arrest, and includes an interview with the brave priest. Fr. John has become an international figure since then, and a friend of the OPF. We were sent this article by our partners at Friends House Moscow, who produced an English translation of excerpts from this article, reprinted here with permission.
A few days ago, a priest from Kostromo, Father John Burdin, became famous in Russia and the world. On March 6, in his little church in the village of Karabanov, before the liturgy, he delivered a sermon about the unacceptability of the “special operation” in Ukraine. The service was attended by a few dozen people in all; one of them turned the good father in. The priest was summoned to the police station, they kept him on the back burner for half a day, wasted a ton of paper on the record of an interview containing words like, “acts, tending to discredit the Military Forces of the Russian Federation.” A trial is pending.
As a matter of fact, this church is not typical of those lost in the depths of what everyone now likes to think of as the “Russian World.” Although local people almost never attend, people travel from all over Russia to pray there. To start with, this is because the church was founded and made famous by its former incumbent, Father Georgii Edelshtein, a defender of human rights, associated with the Moscow Helsinki group..
People often come to Karabanov from Kostromo and the surrounding villages. Children are baptized there including the children of the police who questioned Father Burdin, the current incumbent of the Church of Christ’s Resurrection. The point is that, here, there is no price tag put on the mysteries of the Church, you can take candles for free or for a voluntary contribution, as you wish or are able.
Father John himself is also an unexpected and candid person, especially in light of the currently ongoing madness. . . Here is a record of his thoughts and reminiscences. [The original contains a fascinating spiritual autobiography -- from Father John’s childhood conviction that he was a Christian to his decision, in mid-life, to enter the seminary]
. . . when there was yet another flare-up in Donbas. I stepped forward In Communion Spring / 2022 13
and said essentially the same as I did this time, “Brothers and sisters, this is a fratricidal war. A Christian does not have the right to raise his hand against another person, and especially against a brother in Christ.” After this sermon, a man came up to me. And, with some embarrassment, he said. “Holy Father, bless me. I have to go to Donbas.” And, you know, I could not refuse. I blessed him and said, “May the Lord protect you.” I felt, that it was two different things — to be against [the war] and to be concerned for a person, who might be killed and who, it may be, is not acting of his own free will. .
And in this lies the whole tragedy of the situation; it’s what tears you apart inside. You are not choosing between good and evil, but between the greater and lesser evil.
It seems perfectly natural to me that, after my recent sermon in Karabanov, they tried to present me as some sort of extremist. Broadly speaking, the most extremist book in the world is the Bible. And still more extremist are the Evangelists. When you speak truthfully about Christ, sooner or later, you will begin to say things that won’t please those who govern this world. This isn’t anything complicated. And so, when I woke up on the morning of February 24, and read the news...I needed time to collect myself. The world we knew had gone. Something new had begun. How do I live in it? How do I talk to people? How do I go to church? How do I perform the liturgy? I did not know.
...I had some time to think. I was sick with COVID, before that I had buried my mother. In the end, I came to this conclusion. If you eliminate the minor details, the ones they now think of as discrediting the Russian army, the meaning is simple: a person does not have the right to shed the blood of another person. Christians should not kill Christians. As for the blood, which now being shed, the responsibility for it lies on all of us.
It was important for me to express these thoughts, and not because I wanted to preach about something. I chose the time leading up to the service, because I believe, feel and know: at the time of the liturgy, I am standing before God. It’s not so that some sort of flame will descend upon me, I will not lie — it’s not going to descend. But I believe that it is impossible to deceive God. To act as if nothing has been going on in the world —that’s telling a lie before God.
And any lie is obvious to him. That is why I said what I said. I was making myself visible to God, who is always asking a person who he is. The person who informed on me to the police was making himself visible In exactly the same way. And you cannot reproach anyone for this, you cannot deny a person that freedom, which was given to him by God. Yes, freedom may be a tragedy, but that’s just the way it is.
Now God has asked each person a serious question: “Who are you? Tell me about yourself." With their words, their action or inaction, each person now reveals their essence before God. How each will appear before God largely depends on what we say and do in these days. – Fr. John Burdin
Do not be tempted – the victory of evil is short-lived! – Fr. John Burdin