Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Christian Duty in Ukraine

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Christian Duty in Ukraine

Article excerpt

Although many Christians have suffered and even died in Ukraine, churches across the globe keep silent about what is happening. This is quite in contrast with the way in which international organizations and national governments approach the situation there. The discussions at the Security Council of the U.N., for example, produce more moral statements about Russia's lies, violence, and manipulations than any church has ever done. It seems as though the churches and political organizations have swapped roles: The churches speak more as political organizations, and governments and international bodies as churches.

Consider the statement issued by the Holy See and the Ecumenical Patriarchate during Pope Francis's meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul in November 2014. Two sentences in this statement were dedicated to Ukraine:

We also remember all the people who experience the sufferings of war. In particular, we pray for peace in Ukraine, a country of ancient Christian tradition, while we call upon all parties involved to pursue the path of dialogue and of respect for international law in order to bring an end to the conflict and allow all Ukrainians to live in harmony.

This is probably the strongest statement in support of Ukraine promulgated by Christian leaders so far. Yet it is much weaker than most statements issued by international organizations and national governments. It only implicitly condemns Russia's annexation of Crimea by urging respect for international law. Apart from this juridical judgment, there are no moral judgments in the text.

Pope Francis, who is known for his connection with the Ukrainian community in Argentina, speaks about and prays for peace in Ukraine but avoids talking about the nature of the conflict. Sometimes his language is dubious. During one of his general audiences he called the war in the east of Ukraine "fratricide"-using the term promulgated by Russian propaganda. To call the war "fratricide" ignores the fact that there are Russian weapons and troops on Ukrainian soil. The pope also warned the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to be less involved in politics, even though this church does not support any political party or regime. During this time, he has not said a word about the heavy political engagement of the churches on the other side of the conflict.

Another example of implicit appeasement and appalling "impartiality" is the position of the World Council of Churches. From the very beginning of the Maidan protests that succeeded in ending Viktor Yanukovych's corrupt regime, I regularly visited the website of the WCC and searched for the word "Ukraine." The search returned four or five results not really relevant to what world media outlets were discussing on their front pages during those months. The silence was broken after a Russian "Buk" missile downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last July. Then the WCC sent a message of solidarity with the Dutch churches. There was still silence when, at around the same time, the sons of pastor Alexander Pavenko of the charismatic Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord were murdered by separatists in the city of Slavyansk, when the priests of the Patriarchate of Kyev and the Muslim leaders were expelled from Crimea, and when Greek Catholic priests were tortured by the "Russian Orthodox Army."

I was relieved to read the WCC "Statement on Ukraine Ceasefire Agreement," which announced that a high-profile delegation of the council would visit Ukraine. The delegation, which included top representatives of the churches and the general secretary of WCC, was a token of the council's worry about the situation in Ukraine. When they visited in March of this year, two members of the delegation traveled to the east of the country and met with people there. Some other members visited a shelter for displaced people near Kyev. They listened to all sides at both official and non-official meetings. There were two official meetings: one with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the other with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. …

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