Ukrainian Faith Leaders are Finally Speaking With One Voice. We Should Listen.
March 24, 2022
This article was originally posted on March 22, 2022.
“Why I was so focused on my personal life before February 24, 2022?” I asked myself. “Now, how can I live abroad when my cities are being bombed and my people are being killed?”
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
I think that every Ukrainian person living in diaspora is asking themselves this kind of question. But as a student of theology, studying at the John Paul II Center in Rome, I also ask: is this a war of biblical proportions, with implications every bit as divinely significant as the wars we read about in our sacred texts?
This conflict has pushed me to think beyond the sacred value of life and to wonder whether freedom and dignity matter more than life itself. As one who believes that our life on Earth is but a first step, a waiting room before meeting God and entering life everlasting, death is itself not the worst outcome of this war. Experiencing the suffering of family and friends from afar is far worse, as is the sense that my own life lacks purpose until I return home and stand up for my homeland.
I have spent so much of my life searching for God, blaming God, doubting God, fighting with God. I worked with other religious communities, from across Christian denominations, Jewish organizations, Muslim communities, and those of all traditions who approach their faith with honesty and humanity. I study how we should defend peace, justice and other powerful values. But these studies felt increasingly artificial and theoretical – until now.
Now I realize that God knows more than we all do. In the darkest times God shows you the brightest people. I have seen something that makes me feel powerful and proud of Ukraine: Faith leaders across denominations are uniting in common cause. Many people who do not speak Ukrainian or see the war from our perspective might not otherwise be aware of this phenomenon, this surge of religious pluralism that Ukrainians are living into. This moment may come to define Ukrainian identity for generations to come. If so, our culture may be one of religious pluralism and widespread acceptance of different Christian churches, Muslim, Jewish, and humanist communities. If we can support each other in times like this, God can be felt our midst, even at a time filled with such desperation and pain.
In the past weeks, I have watched hundreds of videos and countless articles and social media posts from Ukrainian religious leaders of all backgrounds. Here are some of the many that call for hope, unity, and a sense of common purpose that transcends any theological differences. “We will fight back, we will win! You have a chance for self-determination, freedom, the revival of your national, cultural and religious identity.” – Sheikh Ismagilov, Mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah.”
“You can’t keep quiet. I’m shouting, I beg you, anyone in power: get out. ‘Never again.’ It was a slogan. Show what it means. Stop these killings of civilians, children. Stop it now! Don’t wait for the tribunal, now is the time for action.” – Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine.
“Today we feel that Archangel Michael is fighting for Ukraine with the whole heavenly army. We are praying today: Archangel Michael and all the heavenly army, all the heavenly forces, fight for Ukraine, overthrow the devil who attacks us, kills us, brings destruction and death.” – His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
“We all feel in danger, but we must not lose hope, let alone panic. Now, more than ever, we need unity and mutual support. Therefore, I ask all priests and consecrated persons to be close to their faithful and not to leave parishes. Our willingness to receive spiritual help through the Sacraments can be a support and reassurance to many people. Perhaps it is now that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,’ become the meaning of our pastoral ministry, here and now … The time of war is a test of our love commandment, which commands us to love not only ourselves but also our neighbors.” – Monsignor Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Archbishop Metropolitan of the Roman Catholic Church in Lviv
“It is not a sin to defend ourselves. If we seize someone else’s territory, it is murder, it is a desire to seize someone else’s. But we are defending our own country, we are defending our homeland, we are defending our home. And when the enemy came to us, we, by protecting our land, show love. Love for your neighbors, love for your land. Therefore, it is not a sin as such. The Lord said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. That is why our glorious warriors, heroes, lay down their souls, protecting all of us, protecting our state. They do not try to capture something else, they guard their home, and therefore show their love for their homeland. And those who come to our land for evil, they die …
“Of course, we know that birth is always in suffering, in torment, in pain. But after these sufferings, after the new birth, we will have a completely different Ukrainian state: a sovereign, strong, European, democratic, without corruption, without other various troubles that have been in our state so far. A new Ukraine is being born, through suffering a strong Ukrainian nation is being born, which will continue to develop, establish itself and become united.” – Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine.
Lidiia Batig is a Ukrainian journalist and graduate student at the Pope John Paul II Center in Rome. She expresses thanks to Rabbi Joshua Stanton for his assistance with this essay. Batig and Stanton met four years ago at an Emerging Leaders Conference in Lithuania for rising Catholic and Jewish clergy leaders from around the world. Stanton is an IFYC Sacred Journeys Fellow; Senior Fellow of CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; Spiritual Coleader of East End Temple; and coauthor of the book, “Awakenings.”