Letter from the Editor

monks1

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

—Paschal Troparion, sung by monks in Kiev standing in the line of fire between police and protesters

Dear friends,
Likely you are aware of the events that have swept Ukraine onto front pages everywhere and to the brink of civil war in recent weeks. You probably know too that by January 19th, three people had been killed by police, crude barricades had been erected in the Maidan––Kiev’s central Freedom Square—between police and protesters, government buildings had been occupied by loosely organized protesters, and the police were mandated to be tough in restoring public order. And that the first of many fires were lit as the city began to burn.

You have no doubt seen the pictures of the monks who, on the morning of the 20th, stepped into the middle and stood on the Maidan between riot-ready police and angry protesters and said no to violence. The protesters had invited them to side with the people after the Church had been asked to support the government. They did neither. They demanded peaceful resolution and risked their own lives as proof of their seriousness.

Why am I mentioning it here? Is it because since the 20th things have gotten so out of hand and complicated in Ukraine, as these kinds of dramas have so often of late, that I will now pretend to have something new and profound to say about it?
No. I have nothing. I do not pretend to understand the complicated workings of Ukraine’s politics or society––or the virtue and violence that are manifest on all sides––and the further down this road Ukraine goes, the harder it will be to sort out. Instead I want to zero in on one thing, perhaps the thing, in this story that I think matters in the midst of it all:
The monks got it right!

They got faith right. They got courage right. They got love right. They got the Church as mediator right. They got their apolitical witness right, regardless of their personal political perspectives. Their apolitical, Saint-like action before the entire world––which seems to have barely noticed––showed Christians that we are in control of our witness and that Christ-like witness matters in every arena. They showed us that outcomes should not matter to us but that God is in control of outcomes.

For a brief moment, however, a crack appeared in the fortress-like wall of violence that helps hold the gates of hell in place. A moment of solidarity formed, as clergy from other Orthodox jurisdictions—the fathers who led were of the Russian Patriarchate, symbolically significant because they would have been presumed to side with the government and did not officially represent the demographic of most of the protesters—came and stood with them. At least one Protestant minister did too, and a Catholic priest, and a very small handful of the civilian population; a few police prayed with the monks and sang the Paschal Troparion but didn’t join them, though since then no small number have defected from their ranks. An Orthodox website published a document called Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine condemning violence, strictly calling the government and all others in positions of influence to immediately engage in dialogue, and calling on all to pray and begin behaving like Christians. It is a stiffly worded document and pledges all who signed it (including many clergy from various Orthodox juris-dictions––themselves showing unusual solidarity in these days) to repentance and a renewed commitment to Christian deportment in their conduct in the public interest.

Briefly, then, for the space of a held breath, it seems, the police held their fire and the people said they would hold their stones for as long as the monks stood there. But what if all the Christians had dropped what they held in their hands—the police their guns, and the protesters their Molotov cocktails and rocks—and had instead stood with them? Would the crack have widened? Would it have become a chasm through which grace would pour?

On February the 20th, a truce called by the Ukrainian president, prior to which twenty-six people had died, ended after less than twelve hours as violence not only re-erupted, but rapidly escalated. In less than a few hours, police had killed between seventy and a hundred people and injured many more as protesters took police hostage, threw fire bombs, and some with guns shot back. A video was released later in the morning of a police sniper lying prone on the grass and carefully shooting towards the crowd as other officers stood nervously by—they were clearly not under attack. Reports say many of the protesters from among the crowds in the Maidan died from single gunshots to their heads. Another video showed a police officer on fire, the victim of a thrown Molotov cocktail.

Words fail.

The next day, news came that the interior minister, who was responsible for carrying out the strategy of violence in dealing with the protesters, had been sacked and the President had signed an agreement with opposition leaders. A few days later, after more violence, the President went into exile. Today, a scanty calm holds as political tension builds and a new government forms. Will the crack widen or will the edifice of violence strengthen? Tomorrow the news may swing the other way again. But I close with a thought on the lasting accomplishment of the monks.

The monks who led in their incredible witness to peace were not naïve and they did not fail. We don’t know who didn’t die because of their courage or how their resolute faith mitigated against the totality of violence or ultimate protraction of the conflict, or how Christians watching, indeed the Church, were strengthened in their faith. We don’t know––but be assured, no action is without its residual effects. We must only choose our action. Standing for peace and choosing non-violence is not a strategy with a desired outcome like civil, political, or military strategies are. Nor is it for the uncertain, the weak, or the cowardly––read the interview with them that follows this letter and look again at the pictures and determine for yourself what kind of men they are. Heaven is populated with Saints such as these.

Hear them as they sing!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Who knows how much worse the world would be if we didn’t pray, or how much better it will become if we do? God help us all to pray.

Courage, my friends!

Pieter Dykhorst

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:10-17).