New York City is home to over 8 million people, so there’s no surprise that there are thousands upon thousands of Orthodox Christians living here, from all over the world. The first Orthodox service was conducted over 150 years ago, with the New York Times calling it the “inauguration of the Russo-Greek Churches in America.” The communist takeover of Russia in the early 1900s caused the churches to break off into competing factions, but that doesn’t stop them from banding together over a cause they all believe in.
Last week, over a dozen religious and political leaders gathered in solidarity and support at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Volodymyr on the Upper West Side. Those leaders represented several religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, the leader of the American Orthodox Church, and a prominent Rabbi. But missing among this diverse representation of faiths, the New York Times reports, was the Russian Orthodox Church, which has a location right here on the Upper East Side. According to the Times, these local Russian Orthodox leaders “had been invited but did not reply.”
If you visit the website of the Moscow Patriarchate, you will see a section titled “In Defence of the Unity of the Russian Orthodox Church,” with several articles about the Ukrainian Church, condemning various practices. In fact, the leader — Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia — gave a late February sermon praying for peace and protection of the Russian land, in which he clarified Russian land as “…the land which now includes Russia and Ukraine and Belarus and other tribes and peoples.”
The Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 15 East 97th Street is the Moscow Patriarchate’s administrative and religious headquarters in the United States, and worshippers from all areas of the former Soviet Union attend sermons there, including people from Ukraine. It is their religious home, but some have expressed hesitancy and even fear when discussing the war, afraid for the safety of their loved ones back home. Even the priests are wary of sharing their feelings, worried there will be repercussions from the Church and division among its parishioners.
Many people attend church services at times of great need; when they need a respite from their suffering and have a desire to feel closer to God. But for the worshippers at the Russian Orthodox churches, they are unable to find that relief in their religious leaders, and speak with each other in whispers, for there is a fear of vengeance that ripples through their minds. A fear so deep-seated, it crosses halfway around the world.