On an Advent Sunday in a small Protestant church in St. Petersburg, a Russian pastor nervously approached the pulpit. While his senior leadership was publicly neutral about the war, he was about to preach from the Sermon on the Mount against the invasion of Ukraine.
And in the pews before him was another potential land mine.
A congregant had been bringing along a childhood friend, who happened to be a Wagner Group mercenary. Wounded during combat for Russia’s private paramilitary company, the man was not there to spy. Yet while the pastor knew his close-knit congregation well, he could not predict the fallout from his message.
Relations remained good with the pastor’s mentor afterward, while the mercenary recovered and returned to the front lines. For now, the pastor has been left free to continue in ministry and—whether known to the intelligence services or not—in clandestine theological work against the war.
“Of course, we could go out and protest, but this would get you in jail,” he said, requesting anonymity. “For us, the most effective means are to work within your spheres of influence—and ours are very small.”
Over the course of the yearlong conflict, only a tiny minority of Russian Christian leaders have voiced complaint publicly. The response from authorities has been uneven: Minor church figures have been fined or jailed, while others continue to use their names on social media.
But no major denomination in Russia has condemned the war outright.
The St. Petersburg pastor, along with about 25 of his scattered multifaith colleagues, desired to confront their silence at the biblical source. Christianity Today spoke with three of them, on condition of anonymity, for insight into the antiwar movement.
The group released its declaration to “all Christians of Russia” in advance of Christmas.
“We are terrified by the fact that many church officials and theologians … are distorting the truth of the Holy Scriptures,” the Russian Christians stated via their Christians4Peace website and Telegram channel. “[But] we are convinced that participation in this war—on the side of the aggressor—is unacceptable for any Christian.”
The provided Russian and Ukrainian downloads of the declaration include an appendix with an extended theological treatise. Last summer, the pastor and a few like-minded friends began a study group on…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on March 17, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.