Dressed in the stark black habit that marks her vocation, Sister Vassa Larin is a Russian Orthodox nun whose online mission includes a daily Newsletter, a weekday audio podcast called “Morning Coffee,” online courses, and a YouTube channel with15,000 subscribers.
Born and raised in New York, the daughter of a Russian Orthodox Priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), and living in Austria, she recently gained notoriety because of her passionate denunciation of the Russian war on Ukraine.
“During the days of the Soviet Union, when the Church in Russia had no voice,” she says in a YouTube video, “ROCOR was the voice of the Russian Orthodox Church.” So too it should “say the truth about this despicable war.”
In the 1970s and 80s, growing up in New York, Vassa would take part in demonstrations with ROCOR in support of Russian dissidents persecuted by the Soviet Union. But since reunification with the Moscow patriarchy, she says, the church has failed to come forward in support of those silenced by the Russian government.
While we sit transfixed by the scenes of horror and violence taking place every day in Ukraine, she says, we weep when we see the destruction of “kindergartens, hospitals, churches…but more tragically the living temples of God—our brothers and sisters and their children dying.” And those fleeing the country are “blocked from doing so by the dangerous fire of the Russian forces.”
“We sit and weep with these people in exile from their country, not knowing if they will ever be able to go back to their country and will they be reunified with the sons and fathers and brothers and husbands.”
“But we sit and weep, my friends. also as a Church, because we are bound not only historically with the peoples both of Russia and Ukraine because we are a Russian Orthodox Church abroad, but also because we are bound as one body of Christ.”
She mourns “our loss of vision because many in our Church, even in the highest position… appear to be putting the blame and responsibility for it on someone else, as if we do not share in the responsibility as living, breathing and thinking member of the Church.”
Those living in the diaspora of the Russian Orthodox Church also share in the responsibility, she says defining responsibility as “the ability to respond.”
“We are called to respond to this challenge to our consciences.”
She calls the bombing of Ukraine a war crime: the bombing of apartment buildings, of railway stations, of people trying to leave the country. And the shelling of a nuclear power plant for hours, sparking horror and fear of the possibility of nuclear contamination.
“Practically the whole world has seen Russians as aggressors, as unhinged war criminals,” she says. “The good name of the Russian people has been stigmatized and disgraced… and so is the name of the Russian Orthodox Church, which today officially, in the words of its highest and primary representative, our beloved Patriarch Kirill, justifies President Putin’s inhumane decision” to attack “the fraternal, traditionally Orthodox country of Ukraine that is a sovereign nation.”
She believes the Church is complicit and God himself is blasphemed by the Church’s silence.
“We sit and weep because of our isolation. Because we have been dragged into this type of communion…We do not weep because someone else is bad and has unjustly inflicted this upon us….We have allowed this to happen…. We have been silent.”
“Everything that Orthodox spirituality speaks about, speaks against self-justification…We do have shared responsibility, especially if we justify or tell half-truths about it.”
She believes Russia has become an “anti-Christian state.” A state isolated now from the entire Western Christian world.
“I am appealing to us…first and foremost to myself that I say the truth…in no uncertain terms. The West is not attacking some kind of Christian values here. No, the West is defending the basic Christian value that values human life that values not killing innocent people, that does not respect the rule of brute force.”
“I’m calling first of all on myself to reembrace the truth, to reembrace the vision that I was brought up in ROCOR to embrace and to tell the truth even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when it does not make us a lot of friends. Let’s not forget our vision as ROCOR to be the free voice of the Orthodox church.”
Sister Vassa was born in Nyack, New York, where she graduated from Nyack High School at 16. She attended Bryn Mawr College but left to enter the ROCOR Lesna Convent in France at 19. Her novitiate training included the study of Greek, Latin, German, patristic theology and Church history. She received her master’s degree from the Institute of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Orthodox Theology.
Her doctoral dissertation on Byzantine hierarchal liturgy, The Byzantine Hierarchal Divine Liturgy in Arsenij Suxanov’s Proskinitarij, was published in 2010 in the academic series Orientalia Christiana Analecta.
Since January 2009 Sister Vassa has taught liturgical studies at the Catholic Faculty of the University of Vienna in Austria. She is a founding member of the Society of Oriental Liturgies, and a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy.
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