Our parish in Deventer, belonging to the “Archdiocese of Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe”, so the “rue Daru” to keep it simple, is a very international congregation: about half of us are Dutch. Further we have Russians, Rumanians, Greeks, Serbs, Ukrainians, Macedonians, Syrians, Eritreans and Georgians. A few months after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, our region welcomed several hundreds of Ukrainians refugees, mostly women with children. Since that time a few dozen of them started to visit our church regularly. Two women, a mother with her daughter, joined the choir, having eagerly learnt to pronounce Dutch words. A young guy and one of the boys started to help in the sanctuary. We are very glad with their presence and prayers, but we cannot help keeping in mind that the reason why they are here is that terrible war.
We have had no problems between the Russians and Ukrainians in our parish. In the very beginning of the war, it was one of our Russian parishioners who suggested that our parish should organize something to gather money to help the Ukrainian population over there. And that was what we did! We should not forget that many Russians have relatives and friends in the Ukraine and vice versa. Friends from Kiev came to the Netherlands and stayed a couple of weeks with their Russian friends over here. Fortunately, this war cannot destroy these bonds of friendship.
Like Orthodox people elsewhere, we were appalled to learn what our Patriarch Kyrill said in the first weeks of the war. For me personally it was a real shock. I studied at the Leningrad Theological Academy in the nineteen seventies, and the present Patriarch was our rector. I have pleasant memories about his way of managing the Academy and stimulating the students. In the nineteen nineties I visited him several times in Smolensk and once I could even attend a clergy-meeting, where Metropolitan Kyrill gave after each report a short summary with some suggestions to improve the future results. That was simply excellent, and in line with the way he had acted as the rector of the Theological Academy.
When the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided in November 2018 to abolish our Archdiocese, and decided that our parishes should join the local diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the General Assembly of our Archdiocese did not accept this decision. A few commissions were formed to study what could be done to save the Archdiocese and to continue its activity. I participated in the commission that started negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate. These were quite successful and one year later our Archdiocese could join the Moscow Patriarchate. I was allowed to participate in the celebration of the festal Liturgies, which crowned this unification. Sunday November 3rd 2019 in the Christ Saviour Cathedral, and Monday November 4th, the Russian National Holiday, in the Uspensky Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. During both Liturgies I was invited to come to the Patriarch and he was extremely friendly to me. Towards the end of the Liturgy on Monday he inquired if I was feeling well. He told me that during the service he had been looking several times at me, and had got the impression that there was something wrong. I was completely flabbergasted. The Patriarch was surrounded by more than a dozen bishops and some eighty priests, and he had managed to look at me, even several times? “Fr. Theodore”, he said, “when you are back home, please, go to your physician, and have your blood-pressure checked. We have to serve the Church still for a couple of years, together!” I was astonished by this fatherly behaviour, especially when it turned out that he was right. When I consulted my physician, he concluded that my blood-pressure was too high. But this fatherly love sharply contrasted to his attitude to the Ukrainian Church once the war started. After this Liturgy we were invited for lunch in the Patriarchal premises in the Kremlin. At the end of this meeting the Patriarch gave a toast in which he told us that he would now join the President of the Russian Federation in his car to lay flowers at the monument for Minin and Pozharsky at the Red Square. He added that he would use this occasion to tell the President that the Church has its own responsibility and needs this freedom. A certain distance between Church and State would be helpful, as the Church needs its liberty, but, so he concluded, the Church could never separate itself from the people. I was pleasantly surprised by these words of the Patriarch, but now I fear that he kept his mouth shut in the presidential car…
When the armed forces of the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, I was shocked to learn that Patriarch Kyrill was in favour of this war. As we all know he held a sermon in the Christ Saviour Cathedral, in which he told the Ukrainian population that they had to accept this period of military violence, but this was to protect them from the atrocities of gay pride parades. I beg your pardon: a gay pride parade is an event, which is not exactly welcomed by the majority of Christians, but as far as I know, no fatal casualties are involved with it, whereas this terrible fratricidal war… Recently, his remarks that Russian soldiers who are fulfilling their duty until its very end, and die in this battle are offering a sacrifice, a sacrifice that abolishes their sins, were sharply criticized. Both Metropolitan John of Dubna, our Archbishop, and the staff of the Theological Institute “St. Serge” in Paris gave a sharp reaction.
As a result, in our jurisdiction many clergymen and parishes feel reluctant to continue to commemorate Patriarch Kyrill in the church services, especially as Ukrainian refugees are filling our churches. Our Metropolitan John told us that in the litanies and at the Great Entrance in the Liturgy we can omit the commemoration of Patriarch Kyrill, and only commemorate our Archbishop, as the commemoration of the Patriarch is only a habit, typical for the Russian Orthodox Church, but not something, anchored in Church law. He himself would continue to commemorate Patriarch Kyrill in the services. We could restrict the commemoration of Patriarch Kyrill to the Proskomedie, which is done in low voice, and when almost no one is present in our church.
The Ukrainian refugees who come to our parish often inquire, whether we belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. I tell them, that we do, but that we are ashamed of the position, taken by our Patriarch in this war, and accordingly do not commemorate him, but pray at the Great Entrance for the suffering population in the Ukraine. Normally this is enough for them to stay for the Liturgy and to come back next Sunday. Additionally, we tell them that the Church is more than the Patriarch.
From our Ukrainian friends who are coming to our parish church, we hear sometimes very encouraging stories that they reached the Netherlands with the help of Russian volunteers in Russia. One young guy told me that he stayed for a couple of days in the theatre in Mariupol, which was eventually bombed. He left it a couple of days before that happened. He wanted to go to Western Europe and chose to use the road through the Donbas-region and Russia. He was checked several times at the border of the Donbas-region and Russia proper, but passed it easily. Once he was in Russia, he met Russian volunteers who gave him food, cloths, a ticket to Moscow and the Moscow address of the International Red Cross. There, other volunteers gave him a ticket to St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg they accompanied him to a minibus, which took him to the border of Estonia. At this frontier there were no problems, and from Estonia he easily travelled to the Netherlands. It is quite possible that the Russian authorities allow Russian volunteers to help Ukrainian refugees, as there is no official war between Russia and the Ukraine, but just this terrible “military operation”.
By celebrating the Divine Liturgy together, with Russians and Ukrainians, we confess that we are one in Christ, in spite of the fact that an aggressive regime is waging war against innocent and vulnerable people. We are Christians and have respect both for the Russian and the Ukrainian culture, and do not accept any discrimination by anybody or by any government. Further, we are hoping that this war will somehow come to an end. Then, Patriarch Kyrill will have to explain his behaviour over the past period. How could he support the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation and refuse to interfere in this his war, in which his fellow bishops in the Ukraine, with whom he has been standing at the altar, with whom he used to eat and drink, the further clergy and all the people over there, Orthodox or not, severely suffered of the atrocities of this fratricidal war.
Archpriest Theodore van der Voort
Archpriest Theodore van der Voort is the rector of the Parish of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Deventer (The Netherlands), Dean for the Benelux Countries for the Archdiocese of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe and Member of the Council of this Archdiocese.