The quiet cadence of prayer and fasting as Lent began was shattered with the invasion of Ukraine. Forgiveness Vespers was ridden with sorrow and disbelief. There was no escaping the sadness and helplessness as we prayed. As I quietly mouthed the words to “Open to Me the Gates of Repentance,” the full meaning of the words dawned on me. Until that moment, it had not occurred to me that we were averse to repenting, that we needed to pray that Christ may soften our hearts so we may return to him. I think of the words of my beloved spiritual father: “Where is Christ?” he would ask. In other words, he was asking, where was He in our lives, did we manifest His presence through our actions?
In Boston and New York, prayers were being offered for Ukraine at special services, but the news bore images that were daringly sacrilegious. The cold-blooded murder of sons and daughters and of children. As a mother of a son, I could not imagine what every Ukrainian and Russian mother was enduring. Everything I was feeling went against the beautiful prayer of St. Ephrem to which we prostrated every morning and evening at Holy Cross Chapel, Brookline. I had no right to be prostrating myself; I was so angry, so beside myself as I watched the script play out yet again. The countries of the Balkans, Palestine, Syria, Balochistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Burma, and countless peoples around the world whose right to freedom and land were being seized from them brutally.
Murder continues to be justified for political ends. In the midst of these atrocities, the icon of Christ crucified, His head bowed, His silence louder than words, His torment as brother murdered brother.
“Pray, pray, pray,” whispered the wife of my spiritual father earnestly, a theologian herself, as we bowed to each other during Forgiveness Vespers. It was not that long ago that I was in the Balkans with IOCC, documenting the rehabilitation of refugees. That was the beginning of my journey to faith. In the midst of these faithful people of God, I began to witness that God is a living presence, and he worked through us, as much as we allowed Him.
I also realized we were not doomed to repeat endlessly the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, that Christ had condescended to live in our midst to raise us up to our true selves. “Stomen kalos” exhorts the celebrant at the beginning of the Holy Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy. Not having been raised in the tradition, the meaning of these words would have been lost on me if not for the direction of my spiritual father, who brought to my attention these potent words. “Stomen kalos”—let us stand well. The English translation is a poor substitute for its true meaning: let us remember who we are. We who were made in His image no less.
Before long an opportunity presented itself in the form of an invitation, enquiring politely if I would like to volunteer with Rebuild Ukraine, an organization that was created the day Russia waged war on Ukraine. Rebuild Ukraine began with a team of business people and educators, led by theologian, professor, and deacon Dr. Paul Gavrilyuk. The desire to save lives has swelled the ranks of volunteers in the US, with over a hundred volunteers in Ukraine responding to needs in the war zone, working closely with the team in the US. I learned that Rebuild Ukraine was working inside the war zone, supplying critical lifesaving drugs and protective gear to people who could not flee and volunteers who had increased in large numbers to fight for their country. Everything was being coordinated at breakneck speed. Whatever I could do would be better than watching the horror unfold and stay the feeling of helplessness.
Before I knew it I was in the thick of it. While in Serbia, I had learned about St. Maria of Paris, whose life has become a powerful witness of what happens when Christ becomes a living presence in one’s life. In order to bring her life to the screen, I had come to study at Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline. St. Maria’s words had burned themselves into my consciousness. Her Christianity was rigorous, it was not the Christianity of the bourgeoisie; she knew better than anyone that the Church was where you felt “a real anguish for your sins.”
Saying yes to participate with Rebuild Ukraine was to answer the call. To date, Rebuild Ukraine has delivered over 2,000 tourniquets to Ukrainian hospitals and to combat zones. Each day, ten or more wounded soldiers are spared from death because of tourniquets. Medics have reported that the tourniquets have proven useful in performing emergency surgeries as well. In order to evacuate the wounded from the battlefield, Rebuild Ukraine is also providing used SUVs to serve as emergency vehicles.
Having learned that more people will die from lack of access to medication than from bullets, Rebuild Ukraine identified a set of the 15 most essential prescription medications that are being acquired in the EU and delivered swiftly to hospitals and pharmacies in Ukraine. The organization has robust relationships with leading pharmacies to make these drugs accessible.
Finally, Rebuild Ukraine is supplying non-lethal aid to Ukrainian civilian defense volunteers. Unlike the regular army, these civilian defenders often lack protective gear. In a month’s time, 300,000 men and women from all walks of life—teachers, students, engineers, doctors, business people, and workers who joined the struggle for their country’s freedom—will have access to protective gear. Rebuild Ukraine is supplying them with camouflage uniforms, boots, fleece sweaters, protective goggles, and so on. At the core of Rebuild Ukraine’s work is its commitment to participate in God’s work of saving lives. I am a Rebuild Ukraine ambassador because I believe that together we will be able to change the course of this war, and with it, the course of history.
We request parishes to consider dedicating their Paschal donation to Rebuild Ukraine. https://rebuild-ua.org/donate/
To learn how you can join us in rebuilding Ukraine, please visit https://rebuild-ua.org/
Anberin Eugenia is a graduate of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts and has a Masters degree in documentary film production from the University of Florida. She currently serves as the Orthodox Christian Media Specialist at Holy Cross.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.