In a dark alley north of Manhattan, there are four dazzling green onion domes against the night sky.
Behind the heavy oak doors of the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America hides a world that stands in stark contrast to the bustling streets of New York.
Traffic noise from the street is swallowed up by the brick walls. The smell of incense hung in the air. The walls are decorated with icons and gilded paintings with Cyrillic inscriptions.
Father Nicodim, who bears the title of abbot of the monastery, says that strangers are not often received here.
Indeed, according to him, TV 2 is the first news medium to reach the doors, at least after the start of the war against Ukraine.
“But American journalists lurk outside to throw themselves at church members and question them,” he says contemptuously.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been accused of justifying Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine.
After the fighting began on February 24, several congregations broke away from the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill.
But not the cathedral of New York.
– We all feel a great pain in our hearts, says Father Nikodem to TV 2 when asked about Ukraine.
He himself claims that the Church here does not take a position on the conflict raging in Europe, but when he is asked to talk about the background of the war, well-known accusations come from the Kremlin.
– They harassed the Russian Orthodox. They have taken over our churches. They discriminated against us because of our nationality and language. We are deeply concerned about our brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine, who have been subjected to military aggression by their own compatriots.
In Russia, the authorities banned the war in Ukraine as a war.
When TV 2 asks the priest what he calls what is happening, he becomes insecure.
– It is a difficult question, he answers, before embarking on a comprehensive reflection that events on the ground in Ukraine are subject to subjective interpretations.
But are you allowed here in New York to call war a war?
– I’m not. Not because the Russian authorities forbid it, but because saying this word openly, as a priest, can stir up people’s feelings.
It includes not only Russian devotees, but many Ukrainians and other Russian speakers from countries such as Moldova, Kazakhstan, and Poland. And the war, which could not be called a war, was already a source of contention among the churchgoers.
The Church should try to get people out of the whirlpool of passions and political differences and raise them to a higher level. If we don’t, the whole world will fall apart, Nicodim tells TV 2.
Threats and incitement
Because of the patriarch’s apparent support for Putin, and Americans’ unusually strong commitment to Ukraine, congregants in New York received backlash as well.
According to the pastor, there was a constant flow of incitement and threats via letters and email. Some even came to church and acted in a threatening manner. At one point, the New York City Police had a 24-hour security guard outside the cathedral.
– How many threats did you receive?
– There were several hundred. Hundreds, the priest laughs in resignation.
He believes that neither the Americans nor anyone else should interfere in what is happening in Ukraine, because it is an “internal affair” between two brotherly peoples.
– This tragedy happened in our house. in our family. In our Russian Orthodox Slavic family. This is our tragedy, says Father Nicodim firmly.
He now hopes the temperature will drop soon and devotees can at least move on.
– There is nothing we can do about the situation. What happened has happened. Whether it was good or bad, what happened had nothing to do with the matter. Better look to the future.
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