‘I’m not used to having four coffins with soldiers in the temple’, — priest Viktor Marynchak

After the invasion began, Viktor Marynchak continued to serve in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, although he blessed everyone who decided to leave Kharkiv to evacuate. Military funerals are often held in the church now, forcing Father Viktor to ask himself difficult questions.
Denys Volokha07 November 2023UA DE EN ES IT RU

Father Viktor is a legendary man in Kharkiv. Having taught at the Russian language department since 1968, in 1991, he suddenly became the priest of perhaps the only pro-Ukrainian church in Kharkiv, which bothered the Moscow Patriarchate.

In a building with an extraordinary history, glass was broken when shells fell nearby. “But the walls did not move,” says Father Viktor, recalling that he and his parishioners did not feel fear then.

Next is a direct speech from Viktor Marynchak about emotional control, his personal redemption, the church’s ability to reform, dignity, and freedom.


We woke up every morning in March to machine gun fire, and it was clear that this was a state of emergency, but this did not shake our foundations. And when the first news came about Bucha and Irpin...

It was definitely difficult. I think the strain will continue until the end of this war, and then there will be new difficulties. We are doomed either to demise or to Victory. We will not allow death, therefore, there will be Victory. But the problems are very significant...

© Денис Волоха / Харківська правозахисна група
© Denys Volokha / Kharkiv Human Rights Group

The experience of loss and bitterness piles up. We get used to something, and then it accumulates and becomes statistics. These are terrible things. But they happen. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to this. We must look straight into our souls with the understanding that not everything is right with us. In fact, our enemy’s main target is our soul, and not everything is fine there.

I asked a question — the same question that I heard many years ago from a boy who had seen his mother die. “Where was your God?” I ask myself a question. Where was God when the tragedy happened in Bucha, Irpin, Izium, Balakliia, and Tsyrkuny? Where was your God? I have no answer, no simple, non-speculative answer — None.

© Денис Волоха / ХПГ
© Denys Volokha / Kharkiv Human Rights Group

The point is how these facts affect your soul. For me, they undermined the foundations of my rational worldview. My rational worldview was based on the commandments, of course. This worldview is humanistic. This worldview is aimed at the individual as the center of the Universe — a human with dignity and love. With their rights, with his creativity, with inspiration. This is the worldview that Jesus Christ gave us. Such a worldview assumed that people would treat each other more humanely over time, and some rules and rights started to take effect. However, there are no rules. No rights. Nothing works in a world ruled by an evil empire.

Emotions

Sometime 20 years ago, one doctor looked at my blood pressure readings and said: “Why is your lower blood pressure so high?” Then he thought and said: “Ah, adrenaline!” I have an adrenaline rush every day.

We married a man here, a warrior. And then he was buried. I have a family friend who lives next door — all 32 years I have served here. I buried his great-grandfather, great-grandmother, grandfather, and grandson, an eighteen-year-old guy. I know the family. I don’t allow myself to cry, but I couldn’t stand it this time. I hugged the boy’s grandmother, stood for a few minutes, and cried in the cemetery. And then I started to sing the funeral service.

© Денис Волоха / ХПГ
© Denys Volokha / Kharkiv Human Rights Group

I don’t tell anyone even a tenth of my experience. Because I have the grace of the priesthood, it helps me bear this cross. But people do not have the grace of the priesthood; nothing protects them. I felt it in my time how the grace of the priesthood protects me. These are not words; this is the reality that I deal with.

At a funeral, I am the only person who has to remain calm from start to finish. Control yourself and control the situation. Again, this is not the absence of emotions but the ability to extinguish negative, destructive emotions, which is essential. However, I cultivate helpful emotions in myself. I baptized here twice today: such bright feelings, such pure and light joy. Emotions appear, and the point is not that we lose emotions... I’m not used to burying people. I’m not used to the fact that four coffins are standing here — we had such a case with the soldiers. And an old friend of mine is standing next to one of them because it’s her relative; I’ve known her for 30 years. It is next to impossible to survive all this, but controlling myself and remaining calm is possible.

Меморіал загиблим воїнам у храмі Іоана Богослова у Харкові, встановлений у 2014-му році. © Денис Волоха / ХПГ
The memorial to fallen soldiers in the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Kharkiv installed in 2014. © Denys Volokha / KHPG

I think, for example, that the sign of a believer is steadiness and unfounded, and I emphasize unfounded confidence that everything will be as it should be. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad — it is how it should be. Proper. By the will of God. And I accept it completely, no, unambiguously. And I have nothing to fear. I must admit crisis situations are beneficial, for they teach us to pray and to look for life-affirming attitudes. It is imperative.

Redemption

I am a collaborator. Yes, not entirely active, but nevertheless. This is because it was impossible to live as a non-collaborator in the field of education and culture. I have worked in education since 1968. You understand that more than twenty years in education is profound. And so my future life is a way to work out somehow the change in my attitude, my behavior. And live a little differently. Not the way I lived in Soviet times. That’s why I became a priest. I had to somehow atone for my guilt.

© Денис Волоха / ХПГ
© Denys Volokha / Kharkiv Human Rights Group

For me, this individualistic, personalistic thing in Christianity was very close. I understand that Christianity does not appeal to the masses; it appeals to each individual, looking for a way to save each individual. She may have been guilty of something, made a mistake, or fallen — she needs help to get up and change her life. She needs help turning.

Reforms

The thing is, there are new churches, Protestant ones, which are reforming at very high speed. It is their uniqueness. They are new. They don’t have 2,000 years of history and don’t feel the pressure. And we have a 2,000-year history. We’re in no hurry. We are in no hurry to reform.

© Денис Волоха / ХПГ
© Denys Volokha / Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Our reforms must be related to our social service first and foremost. Now, in our church, several young chaplains are at each service. They are faced with an extraordinary task. They see those who go into battle every day, and they need to listen to them, receive confession, and pray for them. Also, sing the funeral service for someone. And be close in spirit. And allow relying on the same priest as a source of spiritual strength. It is necessary.

Christianity is the most tragic religion in the world, in which the death of all that is best is anticipated. One theologian wrote about our defeat: “Christians are doomed to defeat because they cannot use all the means; they pick through the means.” The history of our church is a history of persecution for two thousand years. Until recently, we were in the state of a persecuted church, one way or another. And therefore, we should not be surprised that most of our saints are martyrs.

Храм Іоана Богослова. © Денис Волоха / ХПГ
Church of St. John the Evangelist. © Denys Volokha / KHPG

Dignity

You know, the foundations of modern society, with its emphasis on human rights, the rule of law, human freedom, respect, and dignity, lie in the Christian view of life, the Christian view of people. Thus, for example, when I went to Maidan in the first days of December 2013, I did not go as a civilian. I was asked to come properly, as a priest — I came and explained that our demands for freedom and dignity are Christian demands.

Віктор Маринчак на харківському Євромайдані. © Den Sinelnykov / YouTube
Viktor Marynchak at the Kharkiv Euromaidan. © Den Sinelnykov / YouTube

We must go to the end, maintaining freedom and dignity. I think this is the meaning and purpose of human existence. Be the image of God. God is love. God is light. God is freedom and truth, for example. So be him — the bearer of freedom, light, truth, love. Carry it, claim it. What else do you need?

You know, when a person dies, no one is interested in the list of his publications, achievements, or certificates. Everyone remembers the person and his image because that’s the main thing. And it should be a glowing image.

© Денис Волоха / ХПГ
© Denys Volokha / Kharkiv Human Rights Group

I can say that I have seen many people of extreme dignity on the brink of life and death. The people who shined with amazing light. And this inspires me. It gives me joy and peace, and it gives me some kind of confidence. Because it turns out that this is possible until the very end, and this is what I program for myself. On the other hand, the forms of people’s activities have more applied aspects.​

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