It’s Christmas time, and surely, we want to express joy at the Advent of Jesus, and along with family and community celebration, enjoy all that is associated with this vital moment of our lives.
Even so, it matters that I remind myself and all whom I know, of the sorrow and tragedy afflicting so many lives and in so many places. My frequent trips to Ukraine this past 12 months, brought me face to face with enormous tragedy and human dislocation, death, and life-changing moments. I’ve written about these in recent Dispatches.
In my end of the year and Christmas Dispatch, I want to introduce you to my dear friend, Yuri Polakiwsky, born in Canada of Ukrainian parents and for a time, served as a political assistant in the Ontario government. He has moved to Ukraine, where his writings caught the attention of major newspapers and magazines. He is currently writing a book on the war.
In this piece published by New Beginnings, a magazine of the Church of England, Yuri Polakiwsky presses us to consider what might be critical in a Christian analysis of the war in Ukraine.
It is both disappointing, even shocking, that after ten months of war in Ukraine, Pope Francis had to ‘clarify’ his views. He called the war ‘senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.’ In secular terms, that may be accurate, however, most unfortunate was that he chose not to employ biblical terms, which would have injected a powerful moral and rhetorical component and distinguished his message from the strict secularists whose language dominates the ‘evils’ taking place in Ukraine.
Absent in the discussion regarding Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is the lack of a dominant moral narrative that would not only frame and contrast the competing values systems of both nations but inject an uncompromising moral imperative to further inspire Western moral resolve towards confronting Russian genocidal acts in Ukraine. Russia is committing deliberate evil and sinful acts against Ukraine’s innocents for which it must repent and be made accountable.
Russia’s actions must be judged and be seen to be judged on the record. These evil acts include: the deliberate targeting of ordinary civilians in residential neighbourhoods by bombing, the conducting of summary executions in their cities, towns and villages, torture, the indiscriminate killing of evacuees attempting to flee, the stealing of children and sending them to Russia, in addition to the rape of women, the destruction of hospitals, educational and cultural institutions. Over 10 million people have been displaced and tens of thousands of innocents have been killed as a result of a deliberate effort by Russia to destroy the Ukrainian people.
In purely secular terms, and according to the Geneva Conventions, Russia is perpetrating a genocide. Such behaviour began in the earliest days of the war and was easily known to everyone. Anyone who read Putin’s essay ‘On the Historic Unity of Russian and Ukrainians’ could clearly deduce the ideology. Ukrainians were dehumanized as not a sovereign country or a distinct people, contrary to historic fact. A basis for genocide was established. Ukraine’s resistance to Putin’s authoritarian ‘Russky Mir’ (Russian World) would have to be ‘punished’.
This said, why this Vatican ‘clarity’ now? (St) John Paul II would not have been beholden to the political machinations of the Roman Curia and concern himself with Church politics regarding future relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. The lives of millions would take precedence over earthly political interests. In light of the evil being perpetrated by Russia, Karol Wojtyla would not have been reluctant to confront the immoral and fear tactics of Moscow. He was a witness to the Holocaust. He would have known the truth and the power of true words that need to be spoken to malicious power. He would have courageously, and without compromise, stood up and spoken up against immoral power and resisted, without fear, any potential blackmail by Putin. He would not have been fooled that the Russian church exists in servitude to Russian authoritarianism, and Putin in particular, knowing full well that it had long ago abandoned its moral authority very much like the German church did with Hitler. He, like Bonhoeffer, would have employed the spiritual insight to distinguish when religious authorities compromised their fealty to the essence of the Gospel and when they were ‘antihuman’ and ‘anti-life’.
What is missing in the worldwide contemplation of the situation in war-torn Ukraine? Simply put, a prophetic voice that would act as a critique of the guiding principles of the Russian world. A voice that not only emphasizes the plight of the innocents, those struggling to maintain basic human dignity and who are intentionally targeted through military power, but a message that calls out the evil being perpetrated by Russian forces on a daily basis. Gospel language suggests that evil is the intentional destruction and killing of human life. Russia is directly targeting innocents in Ukraine and trying to destroy the nation.
An uncompromising ‘prophetic word’ is needed that judges Russia’s behaviour to be evil and sinful, and its need to repent of its evil ways. This would more accurately frame Russia’s act of aggression and morally inspire those who believe in the dignity of all human beings to stand up and resist evil. Employing a transcendent Old Testament ‘prophetic’ voice would not only convey a message on the meaning of evil but articulate an alternative voice to the Nietzschean secular relativism of the world’s political elite – to condemn the killing of innocents, but with the power to inspire justice-based principles for future peace and ‘blessing’ the potential for transformation.
God is not dead in Ukraine. Yet an undisciplined and heretofore unaccountable evil runs rampant through Ukraine’s lands. What is missing is a relevant, applicable ‘theology of evil’ to act as a moral judgement on Russia. Yes, it is laudable to pray for peace and it is exemplary Christian behaviour to give to the displaced and provide funds for refugees. It is impressive to formulate resolutions condemning Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine within our religious institutions. But it is not enough.
It is essential for any faith to shine a light on the forces of darkness and express a biblically based condemnation of the deliberate destruction and killing of innocents. To resist, and call out evil, is one of the most essential messages of ‘revealed’ religion. The strength and clarity of this will be clear and understood. For it will not only frame our understanding of what Russia is doing in Ukraine, but help save of thousands of lives, and for future peace, in addition to holding perpetrators accountable for their sins.
Yuri Polakiwsky is a Ukraine based columnist whose work has appeared in the Kyiv Post, the Atlantic Council, The Globe and Mail and Brussels-based New Europe, and Ukrainian publications. He is a member of Ukraine’s “Association of Writers and Poets” and author of the book, “A Lament of a Promise”. He was born in Toronto and presently resides in Lviv.
Dispatches by Brian Stiller
Global Ambassador, the World Evangelical Alliance
Author: Brian Stiller