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Fr. Nikolai Balashov, a senior official in the Moscow Patriarchate and a close advisor to the Patriarch gave an interview to Novosti, Russia’s largest news agency this past Friday describing the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church to help their flock in the new regions to resume normal church life, attend services, give confession and receive communion.
One of the biggest obstacles is that a huge number of churches have been heavily damaged by the fighting, but there are other issues, missing priests (either wounded, killed, or have left for Ukraine or Russia as refugees), lack of supplies, lack of funds, lack of electricity and heating, and so on.
Here is a video from the Svyatogorsk Monastery, one of the most important monasteries in Russian Christendom, which is located in Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine, where the fighting has been heaviest.
The monastery has changed hands a number of times over recent months and is only recently back on the Ukrainian side of the front due to recent Ukrainian advances against Russian forces.
The video documents an aide delivery sent from Odessa, i.e., from the Ukrainian side. Odessa is traditionally a Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, like most of the South and East, and in this video, everyone is speaking Russian. The video shows the extent of the damage to the monastery, which is significant.
Another video from Svyatogorsk, shows how a magnificent wooden church burned to the ground after a deliberate direct hit from Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian nationalist forces often deliberately target Orthodox churches because they understand that they are symbols of Russian culture and faith. Russian forces on the contrary, try to defend these structures.
It is not widely appreciated in the West how large and grand the biggest monasteries in Russia and Ukraine are. Here is an excellent photo essay on our site which shows how remarkable they are. The 7 Biggest and Grandest Male Monasteries in Russia (Photo Essay)
To deal with these problems, the Russian Church has set up an emergency working group, of which Balashov is a member, according to him: Our first priority is to prepare for winter, where possible, and create the necessary conditions for continuing life of parishes and monasteries, and performing divine services.
A lot is already being done. Several seriously damaged churches were restored in the Donetsk and Luhansk dioceses this fall, and about ten more are being urgently restored or modular church buildings are being built. Heat supply is being organized, field kitchens for charity meals have been delivered on the basis of church institutions and their work has been ensured, more than two thousand tons of humanitarian aid have been sent by the church to refugees and civilians in the conflict zone (and more than 700 tons only from the Moscow church headquarters).
Doctors, nurses and other volunteers go to Ukraine. A prosthetics and rehabilitation centre is being organized at the St. Alexy Hospital in Moscow. Doctors in the affected regions are provided with the necessary equipment and resources.
When asked by journalists whether the churches in the new territories would go under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, or remain with the largely autonomous Ukraine church, Fr. Balashov replied that was not possible to predict, and did not elaborate further. It is likely that he was implying that it is useless to speculate on such things while the final outcome of the war was not clear.
‘Winter is coming, and we still have a lot to do before the cold weather sets in’, he added.
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