by Lori Branch
In these paschal days when we sing and greet each other with “Christ is risen,” the people of Ukraine suffer hunger, cold, injury, and death. While individually we help through IOCC and other charities, at the level of the global Church we are too often passing them by on the other side of the road. Like the priest and Levite in Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we may tell ourselves we can’t do anything meaningful or that more important duties call us—loyalty to Church hierarchs perhaps, some who have blessed the invasion and others who remain silent about it. Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, meanwhile, remain bleeding by the wayside.
On Pascha, a small pan-Orthodox group of Christians in Iowa City decided to change this by launching GOLD: the Global Orthodox Laypeople’s Demonstration Against the War in Ukraine. We call our Orthodox family worldwide to join together on Sunday, May 8, 2022 to pray and witness for the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) against the war in Ukraine and hierarchs who have sanctioned it. Act now and plan a demonstration: contact a friend or two (Matthew 18:20), involve your children, designate one hour to meet together in front of your church, and spread the word on email and social media. Carry icons, signs, flowers, and flags, speak your conscience, and pray for peace in Ukraine. Post pictures and video to social media and to our Facebook group. Let our brothers and sisters around the world, from hierarchs to laypeople, in Russia and Ukraine and elsewhere, hear our testimony: Orthodox Christianity cannot be used to endorse this war. If the war continues, we will plan a second demonstration for Pentecost.
We launch this movement with love and compassion for the Church worldwide. In an extraordinary action, more than 300 priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine have called the Orthodox world to condemn the invasion of their homeland and bring Patriarch Kirill to trial. Many Orthodox clergy have spoken out (and here and here), some to their peril (and here). Others who would protest have been instructed by their bishops to remain silent, while patriarchs in regions dependent on Russian aid continue to refrain from calling out Patriarch Kirill’s complicity in the war. Worse yet, radical all-anonymous Orthodox websites parrot Russian state propaganda about Ukrainian “fascism,” in the face of all fact-checking to the contrary. Let us be clear: we are not demonstrating against Russia, Russians, or the Russian Church per se. We are Russians, Ukrainians, and every sort of Orthodox, and we act in love for the the bright stream of our faith, which includes Russian Orthodoxy from the Optina Monastery that nourished Gogol and Dostoevsky, to St. Seraphim of Sarov who taught us to “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved” and St. Maria Skobtsova, who rescued Jewish children in Nazi-occupied France and gave her life in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. “This is the faith that established the universe” (Synodikon of Orthodoxy). We call ourselves and all Orthodox Christians to live up to it.
May 8 is the second Sunday after Pascha, the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women. In their icon, the women who were the first to learn of Christ’s Resurrection carry in one hand the myrrh of their love for the crucified Lord, and the other they raise to witness to His being raised from the dead. They “threw off their ancestral curse and proudly preached the news to the disciples, saying ‘death has been overthrown’” (Troparion of the Resurrection, Tone 4). Following in their footsteps, on May 8 Orthodox laypeople everywhere will proclaim to the world that Christ is risen and that the Church can have no part in the machines of war. When she does, she betrays herself and her Lord, and she undermines the Church’s witness to the gospel. For the sake of generations of people who will come to the deep rivers of our faith, we need Orthodox Christians to stand up now in the name of the Church and witness that this grievous evil is against our faith and that the people of God do not condone it.
What is needed is grassroots action, and Orthodoxy in the US is small and grassroots by nature, as many of us know. We teach Sunday school, chant, direct choir, serve in the altar, stand and sing for radiant hours on end, clean the bathrooms, shovel the walk, tend the lawn, serve on parish council, stock the food pantry, cook meals for the hungry, for food festivals, for our brothers and sisters in the “liturgy after the liturgy” at coffee hour. Why?
Because we love the Church, the bride of Christ who first loved us (1 John 4:19). In her we have sought and found and continue to seek and to find “him whom our soul loves” (Song of Songs 3:4), Jesus Christ, the fountain of our Resurrection. In her we find the path to love of God and neighbor, the fountains of living water, the way of life—the sacraments, prayer, contemplation, joy, peace, acts of compassion and mercy. As our parish heartily proclaims during the thanksgiving prayers after Holy Communion, “The Church is revealed to all as a brilliantly lit heaven, leading the faithful in the way of light. Standing therein we cry aloud: Make firm the foundation of this house, O Lord!”
If we experience this love, we should witness to our contemporaries and to future generations against those who poison the wells of the Church by condoning the violence that Jesus came to end.
We express our love for the church and the world
By testifying that the good news of Jesus Christ
Teaches us to love God and our neighbor.
This self-sacrifice is the path of joy and life.
We say in love to the world, to Patriarch Kirill, and to hierarchs everywhere:
The war against Ukraine is incompatible with the faith of Jesus Christ.
If you have condoned it, repent.
The people of the Church will not be complicit in this war by our silence.
We pray to the Lord: “Give us Your Peace.”
If Christians bless naked aggression, war, violence, and murder, or stand by afraid to proclaim “mercy, peace, sacrifice, and praise” as we sing in the Divine Liturgy, then as much as the suffering people of Ukraine, we lie wounded and dying on the side of the road. Let May 8 be the day we stop to bind up the wounds of war, deathliness, and blindness with the light of Jesus Christ.
Lori Branch is and Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Iowa.
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.