The war in Ukraine divides the Orthodox Christian churches on LI

Two Orthodox Christian churches in Sea Cliff serving Long Island’s Russian-speaking community are about a mile and a half apart, but some worshipers believe the Russian invasion of Ukraine separated them.

Lena Zezulin, 67, said she grew up loving St. Seraphim Church in Sarov, which her father helped build. However, she said she would spend this Easter at the nearby Church of Our Lady of Kazan.

Although both churches are liturgically Orthodox and both use the Old Slavic language at their services, they belong to different religious jurisdictions.

“I cannot enter a church that is subordinate to Patriarch Kirill at the moment,” Zezulin said, referring to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. “I can’t. My foot won’t go through the door.”

St. Seraphim belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, an autonomous part of the Orthodox faith which reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007. Kirill, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, framed the Russian invasion of its Orthodox neighbour. as a war waged by foreigners against Russia.

A sign at the Church of St. Seraphim of Sarov in Sea Cliff asks for donations for those in need in war-torn Ukraine on April 3.
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As two Orthodox countries clash in the fields and streets of Ukraine, a new schism divides the faithful. While Russian Orthodox Christians clash or tiptoe around the war, some Orthodox jurisdictions have outright condemned it.

Zezulin said she moved to Our Lady of Kazan, which is within the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America, after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, even though it meant celebrating Easter away from home. his family and friends.

“I just can’t stand it when a church supports mass murder,” Zezulin said.

The Orthodox Church in America, which is not associated with any national or ethnic group, has called for an end to the war.

“No Christian can remain dispassionate or lukewarm in the face of suffering or remain silent in the face of such evils that are perpetrated,” the OCA said in a March statement.

Archpriest Serafim Gan of St. Seraphim said his church was divided on the Ukraine issue – and was trying not to talk about it to keep the parish together.

“Everyone is very saddened, of course,” he said. “But it’s something that unites us. We are saddened and united in prayer.

The parish raises funds for humanitarian aid to refugees, he said, but parishioners have different opinions about the situation in Ukraine.

“Some people consider it an invasion and some people consider it a fratricidal war,” he said, adding, “we try not to discuss these things here, or at least not passionately”.

The faithful of the Church of St. Seraphim of Sarov in Sea...

Worshipers at St. Seraphim of Sarov Church at Sea Cliff on April 3. Saint Seraphim belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, an autonomous part of the Orthodox faith which united with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007.
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Alex Kwartiroff, 74, of Sea Cliff, who had a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father, continues to attend St. Seraphim. No one is happy with war, and his church is actively praying for peace, he said, adding that NATO’s eastward expansion after the fall of the Soviet Union pushed Putin into a corner.

“We’re not saying whether he did the right thing or not,” Kwartiroff said. “It’s that he was kind of forced into that position.”

Kwartiroff said the community was nonetheless heartbroken by the violence, as Ukraine and Russia are closely linked, like cousins.

Since the invasion of Russia in February, Kirill has made statements reflecting some of the Kremlin’s justifications for the conflict – calling it a war against the West.

“Why did outside forces rise up against Russian lands?

At an April 4 event at the Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Port Washington, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros of America said Kirill was responsible for tolerating the war.

“This unjust and fratricidal war must not be put at the feet of our Russian brothers and sisters, who are deceived and victimized by their leaders, both civil and religious,” Elpidophoros said. “Even the poor Russian soldiers sent as cannon fodder to Ukraine deserve our sympathy and prayers, but for those who commit atrocities there will be justice, in this life or the next.”

No one picked up the phone at the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia headquarters in Manhattan on Friday, and emails to church leaders went unreturned.

Reverend Martin Kraus leads a Sunday prayer service at Holy Trinity...

Reverend Martin Kraus leads a Sunday prayer service at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in East Meadow on April 3. The parish is part of the Orthodox Church in America.
Credit: James Carbone

Among congregants at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Uniondale, where services are held in Ukrainian, there has been no unrest over the divisions. A memorial in front of the church erected in 1983 commemorates “Ukrainians murdered during the famine deliberately created by Moscow”, referring to the millions of Ukrainians killed in the Holodomor famine caused by Soviet policies in the 1930s.

During the service on April 3, the Very Reverend Yaroslav Dumanskyy asked the “Mother of God” to protect the Ukrainian people in need and “to help achieve our common goal, our victory”.

“We pray for our lives, we will endure all hardships, we pray for our soldiers who protect our land, for those who have suffered, for those who are surrounded by enemies, for those who are in the basements,” he said. he said in Ukrainian. . “We pray that God will show us a way out of this situation and save Ukraine.”

He ended the service by shouting “Slava Ukraina!”, which means Glory to Ukraine.

After the service, Dumanskyy said the Ukrainian church was a “second army” in the war.

“Prayer is the second weapon. It’s the most powerful weapon anyone can use,” Dumanskyy said. “We believe in God. We believe in good things and the good thing is that the war stops.

Natalia Sizonova, from East Meadow, who is Ukrainian, attends a Sunday...

Natalia Sizonova, from East Meadow, who is Ukrainian, attends a Sunday service at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in East Meadow earlier this month.
Credit: James Carbone

Parishioners focused on shipping humanitarian supplies to Ukraine. On the church’s Facebook page, it lists items wanted for donation; in addition to toiletries and baby bottles, it is stated that “any type of dressing will be accepted”. Inside the church, sharing a table where prayer candles can be purchased, is a wooden collection box for donations to the Ukrainian military.

Taras Tabachnyuk, 24, a student from West Islip, helped pack aid boxes at the church earlier this month.

“The only positive I can see in this war is that it united Ukraine as a nation,” Tabachnyuk said.

At Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in East Meadow, which is a parish of the Orthodox Church in America, Reverend Martin Kraus said some of their parishioners have families in Ukraine. He added their names to a list of people he includes in his prayers.

Last month, a dying elderly parishioner desperately tried to join her family in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, Kraus said.

The woman, whose funeral was held last month, held on until she reached her family, Kraus said.

“She was on her deathbed,” he said. “When she got the phone call and heard they were safe, she was able to let go of her mind.”

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