Effects of the War in Ukraine on Russian Orthodox Parishes in France – English versionCatherine Tyson
Since the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), has come under widespread criticism for his statements regarding the conflict. Prominent political and religious leaders throughout the international community have called upon the Patriarch to condemn the war in clear and outspoken terms, which he has not done. The Patriarch’s statements and the almost universal condemnation they have engendered inspire certain questions: How has the war in Ukraine and Patriarch Kirill’s position impacted ROC parishes? What stance have local priests taken towards the war, and how have their communities responded? These questions are especially important to examine in ROC communities that exist outside of Russia. These communities are often home to a rich diversity of ethnicities, including both Russian and Ukrainian people, and they also exist in a space with more autonomy to voice anti-war opinions.
This article provides a brief and preliminary review of some of the pastoral work employed by ROC priests to guide their congregations through these troubled times and how their members have responded. The questions asked, and the answers received are based on a small sample of interviews conducted in France with ROC priests and their parishionersThese interviews were solely conducted with priests and parishioners in churches belonging to the Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate in France (see https://cerkov-ru.com/) not in parishes belonging … Continue reading.
France is home to a diverse mix of Orthodox churches, including Romanian, Serbian, Greek and Russian communities. Originally founded to meet immigrant needs, the Orthodox community in France has since grown to include members of the native French population as well. As of 2021, according to the Directory of the Orthodox Churches in France, Orthodox churchgoers numbered over half a million spread between an estimated 320 parishes2021. Assemblée des Évêques Orthodoxes de France: Annuaire de l’Eglise Orthodox. Monastére de Cantauque 11250 Villevazy. … Continue reading.
Catalyzed by the arrival of refugees fleeing the 1917 Communist Revolution, the Russian Orthodox community in France has continued to grow and diversify throughout the years. Language is an example of this diversification. While the traditional liturgical language used in ROC parishes in Russia is Church Slavonic, several ROC parishes in France serve exclusively in French with the aim of making the services more accessible to French parishioners and French-speaking descendants of Russian immigrants. There is even a parish, founded with the blessing of the Moscow Patriarchate, in which the service is conducted primarily in Romanian to meet the needs of the Moldovan émigré communitySee the Website for the Moldovan Orthodox Communities of the Chersonesus Diocese https://www.ortodoxmd.eu/. In addition to the Russian priests, the clergy of the ROC in France includes priests from the United States, Moldova and France. This multiplicity of priests, people and languages demonstrates the open-minded attitude of the Russian Church in France, providing parishioners the option to choose the church community they find most appealing. This also means that the war in Ukraine and the Patriarch’s statements on the war have impacted ROC communities in different ways depending on the demographics of a given congregation.
At the start of the war in Ukraine, the first collective response across Russian church communities was including a special prayer for peace during the liturgy. However, the very diversity of the parish communities precluded any collective statements concerning the Ukrainian conflict by the ROC in France. Therefore, the decision to make such statements fell to each priest and his parishioners and was heavily dependent on the demographic characteristics of each community.
One key point of discussion among certain ROC parishes was the question of further commemorating Patriarch Kirill. Commemorating the current Patriarch during church services is a tradition in the ROC which consists of reciting several prayers on his behalf. However, according to the canonical law of the Orthodox Church, a priest is not required to commemorate the Patriarch, only his local bishop. This nuance has led some to stop commemorating Patriarch Kirill as a demonstration against his position on the war. This was the case in at least one ROC parish in France. The priest organized collective discussions with his congregation to decide if and how they should react from an ecclesiastical standpoint. After thinking through this question as a community, they came to a consensus that they would no longer commemorate Patriarch Kirill during the liturgy. As the priest stated, “Our bishop told us “whatever your conscience tells you to do, you do.””To protect the identities of those involved in this study, all quotes are kept anonymous.
As highlighted by the example above, some feel that not commemorating the Patriarch acts as their clear statement of opposition to his public position on the war. In contrast, other communities continue to commemorate him. This act, in accordance with the ecclesiastical tradition of the ROC, does not axiomatically mean that the priest or his congregation support the war. They may simply feel that it is best not to make such a decision unilaterally. This is shown by the example of an ROC-France priest who is personally against the Kremlin's conduct of the war and who stated that while it is not a canon of the church to commemorate the Patriarch during the liturgy, it is a tradition that the faithful are accustomed to. Therefore, if a decision is to be made to stop commemorating the Patriarch, it should be made collectively through discussion and consensus in order to avoid confusion among the faithful.
It should be noted that all canonical Orthodox parishes must have an umbilical cord to their Mother Church. Therefore, regardless of whether a community commemorates Patriarch Kirill or not, it is still part of the ROC, making the question of commemoration a moot point for some. As one parishioner said, “we don’t have another Patriarch.”
Certain parishes that did not cease to commemorate the Patriarch appealed to him in other ways. One parish sent him a letter, signed by the congregation, asking him to act in his role as Patriarch and do whatever he could for the creation of peace in Ukraine.
In addition to the question of commemoration, priests also differed in their opinions on whether or not it was appropriate to take a clear stance on the war and to allow political discussion in the church. Some felt it was their responsibility to take a very open stance and speak out against Russia’s side in the war, especially as Patriarch Kirill had not done so. However, others did not consider it their place to voice such an opinion. These clergy stressed the church's role as a place for prayer and not politics, emphasizing the positive actions their parishioners could do to support one another and those in Ukraine through sending humanitarian assistance or helping in other ways.
The extent to which these different strategies are keeping congregations unified is a question that needs to be researched in much further depth. Beyond the actions of each priest, people may decide to remain or depart from an ROC parish based on a number of complicated factors. For some, the statements of the Patriarch may be enough to make them not want to attend a church under his leadership. For others, their church attendance might depend less on the words of the Patriarch and more on the local connections that tie them to a particular church. As one person, born in Ukraine but attending an ROC parish, said, “My church is where my friends are.”
While there has been at least one instance where several parishioners left an ROC parish in Paris because of the Moscow Patriarchate’s opinion on the war, many, including Ukrainians, continue to attend. There are even examples of people who left Ukraine after the war began and now attend ROC churches. As one refugee said, “To me, it’s not important if I’m attending a Russian Orthodox Church or a Serbian Church or a Romanian Church. What matters is that it’s a canonical Orthodox Church.” However, speaking in reference to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry, she said, “If I had the option to attend a Ukrainian Orthodox Church, of course, I would go there. It’s my church.”
Until recently, there was no such church in Paris. However, in the fall of last year, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in honor of the Pochaev icon of the Mother of God was created on the outskirts of the city“Ukrainian Orthodox Church Community Opened in Paris”, Union of Orthodox Journalists, November 15, 2022, https://spzh.news/en/news/69552-ukrainian-orthodox-church-community-opened-in-paris.. This fact creates an opportunity for Ukrainian people to attend a church led by one of their own priests without the commemoration of Patriarch Kirill. The potential impact of this church upon the émigré community adds yet another factor to be studied within the context of the influence of the war in Ukraine on the relations of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox communities in Paris.
Much research has been conducted to study religion’s impact on war. However, very little research has been done to study the opposite: the consequences of war on religionHenrich, Joseph, Michal Bauer, Alessandra Cassar, Julie Chytilová, and Benjamin Grant Purzycki. "War increases religiosity." Nature human behaviour 3, no. 2 (2019): 129-135. In the case of the war in Ukraine, the latter is an especially pertinent topic of study as it can help better understand the impacts of this conflict on the future of the ROC, which is the largest autocephalous (self-governing) church in the world. This article has aimed to give an initial idea of the varying approaches of priests in assessing their own feelings as well as those of their congregations, and acting accordingly. It is hoped that the reader, whatever his or her religious background, will appreciate the complexity of the situation, which is evolving with time and the war’s progression. This research only scratches the surface of the immense work that needs to be done to attempt to capture the depth, scale and nature of the impact of the war in Ukraine on ROC parishes.
|↑1||These interviews were solely conducted with priests and parishioners in churches belonging to the Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate in France (see https://cerkov-ru.com/) not in parishes belonging to the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe or the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).|
|↑2||2021. Assemblée des Évêques Orthodoxes de France: Annuaire de l’Eglise Orthodox. Monastére de Cantauque 11250 Villevazy. https://www.monastere-cantauque.com/publications-et-traductions/annuaire-assemblee-eveques-orthodoxes-france/|
|↑3||See the Website for the Moldovan Orthodox Communities of the Chersonesus Diocese https://www.ortodoxmd.eu/|
|↑4||To protect the identities of those involved in this study, all quotes are kept anonymous.|
|↑5||“Ukrainian Orthodox Church Community Opened in Paris”, Union of Orthodox Journalists, November 15, 2022, https://spzh.news/en/news/69552-ukrainian-orthodox-church-community-opened-in-paris.|
|↑6||Henrich, Joseph, Michal Bauer, Alessandra Cassar, Julie Chytilová, and Benjamin Grant Purzycki. "War increases religiosity." Nature human behaviour 3, no. 2 (2019): 129-135.|
Catherine Tyson, "Effects of the War in Ukraine on Russian Orthodox Parishes in France – English version". Bulletin de l'Observatoire international du religieux N°42 [en ligne], mai 2023. https://obsreligion.cnrs.fr/bulletin/effects-of-the-war-in-ukraine-on-russian-orthodox-parishes-in-france-english-version/
Catherine Tyson, Fulbright Grant Awardee (USA)