Ukrainian Churches stay open to minister Christ’s love and material provision for all in need

Mar 5, 2022 by

by Barbara Gauthier:

Yesterday, in the face of escalating Russian attacks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky boldly proclaimed, “Even if you destroy all our Ukrainian cathedrals and churches, you will not destroy our faith, our sincere belief in Ukraine and God.”  And those who frequent these cathedrals and churches are now exhibiting the same resolute stance in both word and deed as they face head on the trials coming their way.
Clergyman Vasyl Ostryi’s declaration typifies the resolve of Christian leaders from all denominations to stay put and serve those around them with the love of Christ, come what may:

“I’m convinced that if the church is not relevant at a time of crisis, then it is not relevant in a time of peace. We will shelter the weak, serve the suffering, and mend the broken. And as we do, we offer the unshakable hope of Christ and his gospel. When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need.”
The situation is dire indeed. Alla Gedz, a member of Christ Anglican Church in Kyiv, has been sending out brief updates from the basement of a neighboring building where she and others have taken shelter.  In addition to physical danger from incoming bombs and shells, ordinary citizens like her are now beginning to experience other hardships as well, hardships they thought they would never see.

“There are military battles in Kyiv. An air alarm is constantly being sounded. We are at the epicentre of hostilities. All shops, pharmacies, banks are closed… We started our night in the basement, but when everything started to calm down, we returned home… The morning was quiet. Suspiciously quiet. Even the birds were silent, did not sing. This is the moment when you start to be afraid of silence, because you don’t know what awaits you….
“All these days, when there were hostilities, not a single car with food appeared on the square where we live. Yesterday, there were posts on Facebook from people who live near Kyiv. They wrote that there was nothing in the supermarkets. Nothing at all…  When they said, before the war, that there would be a blockade of Kyiv, it was hard to believe….
“No one hopes and does not believe that humanitarian aid sent by all countries will reach ordinary people. Not a single help has reached ordinary people yet.”
Anatoliy Raychynets and his church have chosen to stay and continue serving those around them. “We need prayer support as Christians,” he says, “so that as a church, we will remain a shining light, lighting the darkness in our current situation, and that we are brave enough to stay at our work and stay with the people, and let the Holy Spirit guide us.”
Pastor Vasyl Ostryi’s Irpin Bible Church members have been preparing for the past few weeks and months to meet the challenges they know they will face, both spiritually and physically. “As tensions have risen,” Ostryi says, “our church announced a week of fasting and prayer, gathering every night to bring our requests to God… and those moments produced in us an inner strength to persevere. We believe that God is with us.”
They are also being prepared to serve in whatever practical ways might be needed in the days ahead, as Ostryi explains.

“During this critical moment, our church, which has about 1,000 people attending on a normal Sunday, recently conducted several trainings on performing first aid. People are learning how to apply a tourniquet, stop bleeding, apply bandages, and manage airways. These lay people aren’t going to become doctors, but this has given them confidence to care for their neighbors if necessary.

“In fact, when I first announced the first-aid training, one brother told me, ‘Now I know why I need to stay in Ukraine.’ He had planned to leave. He knew he was not a soldier. He wasn’t able to take up arms and fight. But he now wants to stay, to help the wounded, and to save lives.

“If necessary, the church premises can be turned into a shelter. We have a good basement. We’re ready to deploy a heating station, as well as provide a place for a military hospital. To make this a reality, we’re creating response teams. If martial law is declared, they’re ready with a strategic supply of fuel, food, and material for dressing wounds. We’ve even gathered information on who in the church are doctors, mechanics, plumbers—even who has wells in case of a water shortage.”

Catholic clergy in Ukraine (both Latin-rite and Greek-rite) are doing what they can to help the refugees as Russia bears down on key cities, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. Brother Vasyl, in a village 37 miles from the Russian border, has been helping children from destitute families evacuate to the countryside in central Ukraine. “We don’t have time to be frightened. We are staying and helping the people to survive the situation,” he said.
Sister Natalia, a member of the Greek-Catholic order of the Sacred Family in Lviv, some 30 miles east of the Polish border, said that the nuns are doing what they can to help those who have poured into the city. “Here, we have been helping the displaced, supplying air-raid bunkers, and welcoming people, especially women and children. Most then head abroad, but here they have the opportunity to rest with us. And we pray together.”
The Ukranian Orthodox Church has announced that all Kiev churches are ready to offer shelter from shelling and bombing in their basements. In the Vinnitsa Diocese, a humanitarian aid center has been opened at the Holy Trinity Convent in Brailov and the monastery is also ready to accept anyone who may lose their homes.
There have also been several statements and responses from bishops, primates and metropolitan leaders of Ukrainian Churches.  The Church of England’s Diocese in Europe has a few churches scattered through Eastern Europe and Russia, including Kyiv and Moscow.  The Roman Catholic Church has a larger presence in Ukraine with both Roman “Latin-rite’ and the more numerous Byzantine “Greek-rite” Churches in overlapping jurisdictions.  There are two separate Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine: 1) the self-proclaimed autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which is completely independent of the Russian Orthodox Church; and 2) the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is part of the Moscow Patriarchate and does not recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as a legitimate Church.  Both the Patriarch of Moscow and some of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church haves also issued statements from their Russian perspective.  Most of them are what one might expect to see but a few are unpredictably surprising.
The Anglican Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, has condemned the “completely unjustified and aggressive war” in Ukraine, following the invasion by Russia last week, and has urged Christians to unite in prayers for peace. “Our hearts cry out for justice and peace.”
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, affirmed the right of Ukrainians to defend their homeland and assured his people that God would watch over them. “The voice of our conscience calls us all as one to stand up for a free, united and independent Ukrainian state,” he said. “Today we solemnly proclaim: ‘Our soul and body we offer for our freedom!’” ++Shevchuk also noted that “the history of the last century teaches us that all those who started world wars lost them, and the idolaters of war brought only destruction and decline to their own states and peoples.”
† Epifaniy, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, strongly encouraged his flock:  “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today·[…] The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14: 13-14).  “The Ukrainians a peaceful people,” he added, “but strong in spirit and faith. We believe that the violence and weapons that are turned illegally against us today will turn into the wrath of God and a sword against the attacker. With prayer on our lips, with love for God, for Ukraine, for those around us, we fight against evil – and we will see victory.”
The statement from Metropolitan Onuphry, the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (directly under Moscow), was unabashedly patriotic and hard-hitting. “At this fateful time I urge you not to panic, be courageous and to show love for your Motherland and for each other. I urge you, first of all, to intensify repentant prayer for Ukraine, for our army and our people, I ask you to forget mutual strife and misunderstandings and unite in love for God and our Motherland.” The Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine also expressed “special love and support for our soldiers who stand guard and protect and defend our land and our people.”  Committed to defending the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, ++Onuphry then appealed directly to the President of Russia, asking him to immediately stop the fratricidal war. He reminded Putin that the Ukrainian and Russian peoples came out of the same baptismal font, and that “the war between these peoples is a repetition of the sin of Cain, who out of envy killed his own brother. Such a war is not justified either by God or by people.”
+Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, responded with what seems to be a very carefully crafted statement.  “I take the suffering of people caused by the events taking place with deep and heartfelt pain and I deeply empathize with everyone affected by this tragedy.”  He called upon “all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties” and
appeal edto the bishops, pastors, monastics, and laity “to provide all possible assistance to all victims, including refugees and people left homeless and without means of livelihood.” He too mentioned that “the Russian and Ukrainian peoples have a common centuries-old history dating back to the Baptism of Rus’ by Prince St. Vladimir the Equal-to-the-Apostles” and he sincerely believes “that this God-given affinity will help overcome the divisions and disagreements that have arisen that have led to the current conflict.”  In the meantime, +Kirill calls on the entire fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church to offer a special, fervent prayer for the speedy restoration of peace.”
In contrast, some of +Kirill’s own clergy in the Russian Orthodox Church issued a strongly worded appeal to “everyone on whom the cessation of the fratricidal war in Ukraine depends,” calling for “reconciliation and an immediate ceasefire.”  Russians have never been a people naturally given to speaking vaguely or indirectly, but the forthrightness of their admonition I found stunningly frank.
“We remind you that the Blood of Christ shed by the Savior for the life of the world will be accepted in the sacrament of Communion by those people who give murderous orders, not into life, but into eternal torment.
“We mourn the ordeal to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were unfairly subjected.
“We remind you that the life of every person is a priceless and unique gift of God, and therefore we wish all the soldiers – both Russian and Ukrainian – to return to their homes and families unharmed.
“We are bitterly thinking about the abyss that our children and grandchildren in Russia and Ukraine will have to overcome in order to start being friends with each other again, respect and love each other.”
Then they unexpectedly fire a political shot directly at Putin’s own policies:
“We respect God-given human freedom, and we believe that the people of Ukraine should make their choice independently, not at gunpoint, without pressure from the West or the East.
“We call on all the warring parties to engage in dialogue, because there is no other alternative to violence. Only the ability to hear another person can give hope for a way out of the abyss into which our countries were thrown in just a few days…
“There is no other way but forgiveness and mutual reconciliation.
“Let yourself and all of us enter Lent in the spirit of faith, hope and love.
This statement was signed by Abbot Arseniy (Sokolov), representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia to the Patriarch of Antioch and the Whole East and 127 others (with new signatories being added).
Other countries are coming to the aid of the over 1 million refugees who have now fled Ukraine to escape the violence. Hungary’s border with Ukraine is not long (136.7km), but is presently the site of a heavy, and intensifying, refugee exodus. Staff and volunteers from the charity Hungarian Reformed Church Aid were first on the scene at the railway station at Záhony and were soon joined by the Red Cross and relief workers for Caritas-Hungary. Hungarian Baptist Aid (Hungary’s largest relief agency) has also created a reception facility, with sleeping accommodation, in the Reformed Church High School in the village of Tiszabecs, a road and foot crossing 90km away from Záhony. The national leaders of the different church agencies are are working very closely together: “We do not just agree on who goes where, but also on sending each other supplies where one has a surplus and another shortages. The relationship is very close. . . People are volunteering here not only from the local Reformed Church, but from no church all — this matters to everyone.”
Aid is also going back across the border from church bodies. Caritas-Hungary is co-ordinating closely with its sister organisation Caritas-Ukraine. It has sent an aid package for use in west Ukraine, and is making deliveries of food and toiletry supplies. The Hungarian Maltese Charity Service is also active in the relief effort. It is prioritising children, the elderly, the sick, and people with disabilities, “as general measures to support people forced to leave their homes do not usually address the needs of more vulnerable groups.”  “The [Catholic] Diocese of Munkács Ukraine also receives internal refugees in Transcarpathia. In order to provide food and blankets, the Hungarian Catholic Caritas sent an assistance in cash and delivered durable food to the area.”
If you would like to contribute to refugee relief for those fleeing Ukraine, Anglican Relief and Deveopment (Gafcon) has received a $100,000 challenge gift to match dollar for dollar the first $100,000 received, which will in effect double evey contribution.  Abp. Foley Beach, Chairman of the Gafcon Priamtes Council, provides additional details.

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Lenten Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus!  As we begin our Lenten pilgrimage, let us not ignore the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before our eyes in Europe. Our hearts are breaking at the scenes of Ukrainians under attack from Russian forces with bombs landing in neighborhoods, schools, and playgrounds. Many of us have family and friends living and working in Ukraine or serving with the local church.

As the crisis intensifies and Ukrainians fight for their lives, more and more Ukrainians are being displaced and made homeless. Others will be without basic necessities like water, shelter, and food as basic infrastructure is destroyed. The Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF) has mounted a campaign to raise funds to help. We are currently partnering with those inside Ukraine and those working in bordering countries being overwhelmed with refugees.

Are you able to help? ARDF has received a $100,000 challenge gift to match dollar for dollar the first $100,000 received. This means your personal gift can be doubled. Please consider helping today by clicking here.

Beyond giving financially to these efforts, your prayers are vital. Prayer really does make a difference! Pray for the Ukrainian people and their leaders, the Russian people and their leaders, the numerous Christian leaders and missionaries in the country, and for the hundreds of thousands of refugees. Ask God to intervene.

“O God, our heavenly Father,
 whose blessed Son has taught us to seek our daily bread from you:
 Behold the affliction of your people in Ukraine
 and send them swift aid in their time of need.
 Increase the fruits of the earth by your heavenly benediction;
 and grant that receiving your gifts with thankful hearts,
 they may use them to your glory, for the relief of those in need, and for their own health;
 through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
 (Adapted from Collect, In Time of Scarcity and Famine, BCP2019, p.653)
Yours in Christ,
The Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach
Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church in North America

Pray for the peace of Ukraine, protection for all those in harm’s way and for the strengthening of the Ukranian churches, that they may truly be the body of Christ to all in need, a divine light in the midst of deep darkness, and the infinite loving-kindness of God made manifest.

(Received by email)

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