As Russian troops are massed on the eastern border of Ukraine, it’s a tense situation. The reports from Crimea are grim. If there was ever a time to pray for the nation and the region, now is that time.
As my thoughts and prayers are with the people there, I want tohonor their faith throughout the rapidly unfolding events of recent months since the EuroMaidan protests began. I also want to inform people of the spiritual side of the revolution in Ukraine, which I have followed in amazement. God is doing a great work, which, I believe, will continue to grow in the region. Fed up with corruption, Ukrainian society is searching for new moral authorities and reference points. And none are more open than the young generation.
Every day during the protests pastors, priests and lay Christians have been present among the people on Independence Square, known as Maidan, leading prayer and worship from the stage, speaking with people who are grappling with the situation, serving food, and caring for the wounded. Many of our Ukrainian friends have been among them, even at risk of their lives. Evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic churches set up prayer tents and provided accommodation and refuge at monasteries and churches. In an effort to prevent violence, as riot police were about to storm the camp, priests and pastors stood between the police and the protesters.
Prayer & Hope
Prayer is essential and our Every Nation churches in Ukraine have asked for fervent, ongoing prayer. Our churches, which are all led by Ukrainian pastors, have been gathering, sometimes daily, with other churches in their cities to pray. The battle for freedom and justice is a battle against corruption, but it remains, in reality, a spiritual battle.
A missionary with Reach Global, Jim Baker, wrote on a recent trip to Kiev, “There are times when the grasp that evil has – on levers of power, over schemes of humans, things which gain a juggernaut-like momentum of their own, over people who have ‘given themselves over’ to corruption – becomes a force in its own right. It is at times like this, when we truly sense the nearness of a spiritual battle, a fight which truly is not ‘against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.’ “ (Eph. 6:12, NLT)
An important role of the Church during difficult times is communicating hope to people. You know God is at work in a nation when the day after snipers killed demonstrators in the center of Kiev, these words rang out from the stage at Independence Square: “Beloved, today heaven is shining upon Ukraine. Today, amidst our great sadness, three things matter most – faith, love and hope. We must believe that God sees us even now, that He hears our prayers. We must believe that He will pour His grace upon Ukraine. Tomorrow will be a better day. We do not pray in vain. We believe. And even though we’re hurting, we must hope for a new day. A new era is coming to our country. We ask for blessing and we must choose to love for God is love. Our power is not in righteous fury alone, but in love. God hears our united breath and united hearts. Let us bow our heads once more. He has the power to change everything.” (Feb. 21, 2014)
Along with prayer, Ukrainian heroes of the faith preached the Gospel openly on the streets as violence escalated. After the first casualties in February, priests and pastors made an effort to tell every man who went to the front lines about Christ and how to be reconciled with God.
Clay Quarterman, President of Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine who lived in the center of Kiev said, “We could hear the crowd chanting from our windows, singing the national anthem, and shouting not only ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ and ‘Liberty or Death!’, but also, ‘Glory to Jesus Christ’! This is something new, during the past week, as the reality is setting in that this is a life or death struggle with forces of evil: misuse of power, blatant corruption, diversion of public funds, religious hypocrisy, and more. People on the square realized their lives could end in this struggle, and they said the Lord’s Prayer on the hour, committing their lives to God’s care.”
Refuge & Mercy
St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral and Monastery offered refuge to protestors in the early morning hours one Saturday in November after police dispersed the crowd with batons and stun grenades when protests on Kiev’s Independence Square swelled to nearly 10,000 people.
Running up the hill away from the square, young protesters knocked on the gold-domed monastery’s gate and were offered refuge. “This is the only safe place we have left, and besides I have nowhere else to go,” said Alexander, a seventeen-year-old student from Lviv. St. Michael’s was destroyed during the religious purges of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt after Ukraine’s independence. As the violence escalated in early December, some of the injured were carried or driven to the monastery grounds to be treated by doctors since patients risked arrest if taken to state-run hospitals. With dried blood on his leather jacket, one young man said police knocked him unconscious and he managed to crawl away from the square. People took him to the monastery in a taxi so he would be safe.
Dozens of protesters, some wrapped in bandages, lay resting on rugs behind the monastery’s sky-blue and white walls. One report stated, “Many were still in their battle garb; kneepads, gloves and ice hockey helmets. Bearded priests paced the grounds, but declined to speak to reporters. Men guarded the entrance, one holding a hammer.” 1
Community formed at St. Michael’s as people brought food and clothing. Some attended an early morning service at the cathedral on the monastery grounds after which several black-robed monks listened to the protesters and urged them not to seek revenge. “They gave us tea to warm us up, told us to keep our spirits strong and told us not to fight evil with evil,” said Roman, a native of Kiev. “I don’t go to church much, only to escape from the powers of evil,” he said.
I was moved by Mykhailo Gavryluk’s powerful example of mercy and forgiveness. He was severely tortured by police, then forced to stand naked in freezing temperatures surrounded by onlookers. A video of his assault went viral. When called to court recently to face one of his torturers, he asked the judge to pardon the guilty man.
“The Bible tells us to forgive. I was forgiven by Christ. How can I not forgiven another man even he has wronged me? I don’t want his children to grow without father while he spends eight years in prison. I withdraw my complaints against him. It’s better to let him raise his children, so that such things are never repeated again,” said Gavryluk. 2
Justice & Truth
The protesters demand justice and truth, which come from God. This presents an opportunity for the church to preach a standard that can only be reached by Christ and can only be offered by His grace. Justice and truth are central to the Gospel. As the ground shifts and Lenin statues topple, revolution can lead to reform, repentance and faith, and produce lasting change in the country and the region.
Filaret, Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, is strong when he talks about justice. He said, “The authorities must carry out their duties to protect the good and to punish evil. When it punishes the good and protects the evil, such authority does not fulfill its obligations.”
In addition, he said that the church “must be out of politics. But it has to be with the people. Moreover, when people are beaten, it must save the people, to give them shelter. It is not an accident that St. Michael’s Monastery received those who were brutally beaten.” (Jan. 7, 2014)
Finally, as Alexander Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting President – a Christian who preaches on a regular basis at a Baptist church in Kiev – said, “If God is for us, no one can be against us.”
“For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You,” 2 Chronicles 20:12
God bless Ukraine.
1 Huff Post – Matt Robinson