Our friend and ministry partner, Rev. Dr. Roman Soloviy, Rector of the Eastern European Institute of Theology in Lviv sent us his very moving ‘Not-So-Spiritual Christmas Reflections’ and we share them here with Roman’s permission. He graphically describes the situation and mood in Ukraine as we approach the second anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s illegal full scale invasion on February 24th 2022.
This year, I didn’t send any Christmas greetings to anyone, and I received very few myself. This fact doesn’t surprise me; I almost take it for granted. I have a strong feeling that Christmas, like many other things from our past, has been taken away from us Ukrainians. Or maybe I’m wrong, and it, along with all our pre-war life, vanished without a trace in the smoke of war. Perhaps it left us to avoid hearing the cries of the wounded, the widows, and the orphans or to avoid seeing the thousands of destroyed towns and villages where no one lives anymore and no one will return. Maybe Christmas couldn’t bear with despair and hopelessness slowly taking over our country like a poisonous fog. Who knows?
That first Christmas was not very joyful either. Jesus was born in an occupied country that was given over to the local collaborator and despot Herod. Christ was born on the move, like many Ukrainian children born in the basements of bombed-out maternity wards and hospitals in Mariupol, Izyum, or Vuhledar. Unlike that first Christmas, however, it was not the singing of angels, but the cries of the dying that were heard there, and it was not wise men rushing from the east to worship the child but Russian soldiers guided by the evil star of hatred. Like Jesus, millions of Ukrainian children had to flee from their homes to foreign countries. Almost seven hundred of them failed to do so and will never grow up. The pain of their mothers can only be compared to the pain of those tens of thousands of mothers whose sons and daughters will never return from the war because they laid down their lives for the sake of those they love. Today, I read a story by a volunteer that many parents of fallen soldiers are emotionally unable to keep their uniforms and other belongings at home and give them to volunteer funds so that someone else can use them. One of these mothers wrote that the belongings of her husband, who died in the war, are now used by her son, who is also at war. And how many of those whose relatives are at war live every day like Mary, who remembered Simeon’s words that the day would come when a sword would pierce her soul? A good friend of mine, a military chaplain, tells me that the most frightening part of his service is not being on the front line but having to participate in the funerals of all the fallen soldiers of his unit.
That first Christmas happened at night. What do you associate with the night at Christmas? Perhaps with the bright light of festive illuminations? With the bottomless starry sky? Flying to your family on a fast plane? The only planes I can see in our skies are old Ukrainian military aircraft heading for the airport nearby. And I will probably associate the night for the rest of my life with reports of yet another group of missiles and drones attacking Ukraine, destroying infrastructure and ports and killing civilians. Even as I write these words, two groups of drones are attacking Ukraine from the south and north. The night is a time of curfew, the silence of which is broken only by the piercing sound of ambulances carrying wounded soldiers. But night and darkness are not only astronomical but also metaphysical, or, if you like, spiritual phenomena. It is the night of hopelessness that is enveloping the hearts of Ukrainians more and more tightly – we are at war with a country that has set itself the goal of destroying us. Every time Russia has defeated Ukraine in a war, it has ended in the destruction of Ukrainians, famine, torture and deportation. Is this what awaits us again? It is the night of despair – the free world’s help to Ukraine is in question, and without it, we have no chance of preserving our state and the right to live on this land. It is the night of distrust, which splits society along dozens of lines that no one knows how to close together. It is the night of fatigue that only the Ukrainian military truly feels, but in its way, it has crept into the soul of each of us. It is the night of uncertainty. A night of fear. A night of pain. A night like death.
I would like to end these loose fragments with words of hope. With the words that Herod did not get to Jesus after all, God saved him miraculously by sending an angel. It was indeed a miraculous rescue. But I also remember the other children who died at the hands of Herod. The angel did not tell their parents about the danger coming for their children as he had told Joseph. This is also part of Christmas.
At the same time, Christmas is primarily about God coming into this dark, awkward, dangerous world. He shares all the burdens and pains of our existence. He knows the fatigue and agony of death. He knows the terror of the night and the despair of loneliness. And he expects that, as He has entered the darkness of our existence, we will dare to walk with others on their journey through the night.
This Wednesday, our youth organised a fabulous Christmas concert in the church. The church hall was packed with people who, after the service, expressed their admiration for the beautiful repertoire and performance quality. But I was most touched by the words of one woman, an internally displaced person: “Thank you for this incredible concert! Today, you again gave me joy in my heart, a good mood, wonderful memories, beautiful songs I recorded because they are so beloved, and many smiles!”. Only God knows what she must endure and what demons she is fighting. But if we were able to show her that Jesus is Emmanuel, God who is always with us, if even for a while we were able to support her in hope as she walks her way at night, then this Christmas was not in vain.
Think about it.
673rd day of the Russian war against Ukraine