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Prayer Forced Me to Leave the Russian Orthodox Church

21. September 2023

Hieromonk Athanasius (Bukin)
A Blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University

On February 7th, 2023, still a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, I boarded a plane and left the Holy Land, where I was serving as a member of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem (REM). Only after landing in Antalya (Turkey) did I publish a post on social media in which I announced my departure from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and my intention not to return to Russia. This was preceded by months of heavy reflection and, I will not hide, moral uncertainty.

I became a practicing Orthodox Christian in 2008, when I was studying at the Polytechnic University in St. Petersburg. After entering the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, I had “anti-intellectual” sentiments at first. But already in during my masters studies, analyzing the ecclesiology of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, I felt a renewed affection towards knowledge, this time humanistic, and I’ve seen my future as primarily connected with academia. After completing my masters degree at the Theological Academy and entering the postgraduate program, I was sent first to Greece to study the language and then to Cyprus for one more masters program.

While in Cyprus, I received an offer to continue my ministry in Jerusalem. The reasons were simple: my being a hieromonk and fluent in modern Greek. At that time, I knew close to nothing about the REM, but I accepted the offer gladly. From the age of 12, I’d been coming to Israel to visit my grandparents for the summer, until my grandmother’s death.

Ministry in Jerusalem did not stop me from working on my masters thesis in Cyprus and encouraged me to continue my research, specializing in the ecclesiology of St. Augustine. My work was aided by learning about the life of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church and of the different Christian communities of the Holy Land. In my Hebrew courses, I enjoyed interacting with fellow students of very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.

The very idea of violence, the idea of war per se, is foreign to me, as it probably is to many Christians. However, the world is full of violence, and armed conflicts are somewhere out there all the time. I must confess that not all of them concern me in the same way. There are certainly some particularly sensitive people who always very much affected by the news of a tragedy, wherever it occurs. Many of us are probably saddened by injustice and cruelty, but, by and large, do not think deeply and seriously about wars. In other words, we have a choice to remain internally unattached to a tragedy, and moreover, this right to remain a non-participant is usually passive.

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