Losing my religion. Valery Panyushkin on the Russian Orthodox Church

13 January 2024

Source: Spektr.press

Father Aleksiy Uminsky being banned from ministry and defrocked came as a sort of painful relief to me. Like having a tooth extracted. There’s pain, of course, but it’s no longer so sustained and desperate as the pain that caused the tooth to be extracted.  Your mouth is full of blood, of course, but, after all, it will heal and it will pass. You have, of course, lost a part of your own body but, after all, it had been nothing but torment of late. In place of the extracted tooth, there’s a yawning void but in six months’ time an implant of some kind will be inserted that will work just as well as the real, live tooth.

Father, forgive these associations I have regarding your removal.

Father Aleksiy Uminsky is an important person to me. I was never one of his parishioners but only because the Church of the Holy Trinity in Khokhly was too far from my home in Moscow Region and from my customary routes around the city. Had it not been two and a half hours from my home to the church, I would most certainly have attended the liturgy, taken communion and made my confession.

Every time Father Aleksiy and I met, we were delighted to see one another and I hope we will be so when we meet again. Only where? In what latitudes? 

Above all, to me, Father Aleksiy is a comforter. Most of our encounters took place at a very odd event in Moscow – a gathering in memory of children who had died in hospice care. In no way is this something that need be hidden! You can’t get your head round how to live if you’ve lost a child. But Father Aleksiy is able to say something to these unfortunate parents. To reset their broken lives somehow. 

He doesn’t utter nonsense about the dear little children sitting as angels in heaven and waving to us from there. He is able somehow to pronounce even the rote-learned ecclesiastical formulas in such a way that each individual’s personal tragedy is woven into God’s Plan. He is a great comforter. 

I have not been able to enter an Orthodox church since at least 24 February 2022. This church has too obviously become a department of state that supports the war. But nor could I renounce the Orthodox Church and the main impediment was that Father Aleksiy Uminsky continued to minister within that Church. And again I felt moved to tears by all that was familiar since childhood – the precious candles, communion bread, icons…

I imagine what it must be like for Father Aleksiy to leave the Church of the Holy Trinity where he had ministered for 30 years and where every candle holder, every little scratch on every candle holder is dear to him.

It can’t, of course, be undone. But Father Aleksiy’s gift of comfort remains. Unlike a parish, the gift of comfort cannot be taken away at the Patriarch’s bidding. For this gift is not given by the Patriarch, nor can he take it away.

I don’t know where Father Aleksiy is right now but his gift of comfort is with him. I also feel that, apart from sentimental nostalgia for the precious candles and icons, nothing ties me any longer to the department of state which has expelled Father Aleksiy and which is called a church only out of habit. I no longer need to go back there. There is no longer anywhere to go back to. 

I also think that if Father Aleksiy’s gift of comfort exists in the world, then so does the Power that confers the gift. In the words of the Gospel, wherever two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, He is there in the midst of them. Where then does this Invisible Church exist?

How is it to be found? 

Translated by Melanie Moore

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