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Christmas Epiphanies from the Ruins of Ukraine

Image: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

In advance of Putin’s unilateral declaration of a 36-hour truce over Orthodox Christmas today, Ukrainian seminary leaders shared their reflections on the impact of ten months of unabated conflict.

“War is exhausting—but this exhaustion does not happen overnight,” wrote Roman Soloviy, director of the Eastern European Institute of Theology. “Nevertheless, our mission continues.”

Reviewing his own emotional response since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Soloviy cited the impossible choices forced upon his nation: Save your family or your neighbors? Flee the country or stay and help?

He could not read, listen to music, or watch movies for many months.

The stress only surged as reports proliferated about atrocities, complicated by the frustration that Ukrainian churches could not help everyone. Decisions needed to be made in darkness, while seeking to balance one’s own psychological health.

A Kherson seminary, Tavriski Christian Institute (TCI), was occupied by Russian forces in March and liberated in November. President Valentin Siniy recounted the grim chronology:

January: Talks about the war. Doubts about invasion.
February: Team. Responsibility. Daily Zoom calls to pray.
March: Massacre. Inhumanity. Generosity: flour, sugar, potatoes, seeds.
April–May: Russians want to reconcile, without repentance. Families separated.
June–July: Marriages. Fragility of life. Losses. Divorces.
August: TCI shelled. Books trashed. Valuables looted. Vandalism.
September: New location. Big enrollment.
October: Infrastructure destroyed. Nation freezing. Unity. Mutual assistance.
November: Liberation. Joy. First trip home. Ruined city.

For his December entry, Siniy wrote: “Christmas is the coming of God into a mean world to mean people. We pray that the Lord will show us how and where to serve.”

Oleksandr Geychenko, meanwhile, chose a different theme for the holiday. Yet it fit perfectly with Siniy’s October observations.

“This year’s Christmas for me is closely associated with the metaphor of light,” wrote the president of Odessa Theological Seminary. “Perhaps, this is my reaction to the uncertain power supply.”

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) first suggested the holiday truce, while 1,000 US-based faith leaders called for Ukraine to honor it. Nonetheless there has been exchange of shelling along the front lines, and many Ukrainians dismissed Putin’s initiative as a cynical ploy to buy time for his retreating troops. (Foreign analysts instead saw a PR bid for Russian Christian backing.)

But despite the battlefield losses, last month Russia specifically targeted Ukraine’s electrical grid, repeatedly plunging cities and civilians into darkness and cold.

Geychenko had taken his electricity for granted. Now, he sees a spiritual connection. “The light that comes from Jesus not only shines into human darkness,” he wrote, “it also…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on January 7, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.

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