An Act of Lighthearted Betrayal: How Moscow's Official Church Hunts Down Her Anti-War Priests
There were relatively few people in Moscow who knew Fr. John Koval before February 2023. Native to Luhansk, Ukraine, he moved to Moscow and graduated from the famous Central Music School of the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory. He received theological training at St. Thikhon Orthodox University of Humanities before being ordained some twenty years ago and appointed to work in parishes in southeast Moscow.
In early February 2023, the priest’s life changed drastically. Fr. Koval’s name appeared in many Russian media outlets, including the government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Why they became so much interested in a low-profile parish priest? What did he actually do? The direct trigger was Fr. Koval’s being formally suspended or barred from exercising his priestly office. However, there was another reason behind the censure that actually caused the scandal.
On February 2, 2023, the head of the official Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Patriarch Kirill (Gundyayev), who is the ex officio diocesan ordinary of the city of Moscow, issued a ukase that said: "Priest John Koval of the church of St. Andrew the Apostle is herewith suspended before hearing of his case by the Disciplinary Commission of the Diocesan Council of Moscow."
The ukase said nothing about the reason for the censure, which was so strange, even weird, as to become known very soon after. Kirill’s action was a response to a denunciation from a member of Fr. Koval’s congregation, according to which the priest repeatedly replaced the word victory with peace in church prayers.