A pair of Russian priests are speaking out in opposition to Vladimir Putin's military campaign in Ukraine, despite the risk of imprisonment or angering Russian Orthodox Church officials.
As CBN News previously reported, Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the Russian church's leader, have partnered to justify the Ukrainian campaign as a "holy war."
Father Georgy Edelshtein and Father Ioann Burdin are reportedly among several priests from the Russian church who are expressing their disappointment with the state.
During an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP), Edelshtein, 89, acknowledged that Russia is the "aggressor" and Ukraine the "victim of aggression."
He continued, "I'm afraid I am a bad priest. I've never been against all wars. But I've always been against any land grabbing, aggressive war."
As AFP reported, Edelshtein signed a letter on Feb. 25 that was written by Burdin, denouncing the war. The letter was posted on the website of Burdin's parish church in the village of Karabanovo in the Kostroma region.
"The blood of Ukrainian residents will remain on the hands not only of the rulers of Russia and soldiers carrying out this order. Their blood is on the hands of each of us who approve this war or simply remain silent," said the post, which was later deleted.
Metropolitan Ferapont of Kostroma, a highly placed monk, condemned the letter, saying that Edelshtein and Burdin are the only priests out of 160 in the region who oppose Russia's military operation.
Rev. Burdin, 50, was fined 35,000 rubles ($432) for "discrediting the Russian armed forces" after sharing the post.
"The responsibility for what is happening is not born only by the one who gave the order, by the one who kills and sheds blood, but by all of us who approve or keep the silence," Burdin told AFP.
"For me, the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is unconditional," Burdin explained. "If a person commits a personal sin, he himself rebels (against God), not the whole Church with him," Burdin said.
He added, "If I'm within the Church but censoring myself as I speak, if I'm silent about a sin being a sin, and about bloodshed being unacceptable, then I will just gradually, without noticing, stop being a pastor."
Edelshtein remarked that Burdin is "braver than me, I am retired." He does not face any sanctions for signing Burdin's letter. He is still allowed to hold services.