(Saturday, May 6)

Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” (Jn 16:2a)

The final words of this Saturday’s Gospel reading, quoted above, have been on my mind since Russia invaded Ukraine last February 24, with the blessing and vocal support of many representatives of our beloved Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time there were the “a-political” calls for peace and prayer for both sides of the “conflict” of most Orthodox church-voices not only in Russia but also among us in the West. Then came our many silences about Mariupol, Bucha, and many other atrocities, including the ongoing targeted killing of civilians, the bombing of their houses, schools, and infrastructure, also throughout the cold winter of 2022-2023, and the deportation of Ukrainian children. I should also mention our silences about the persecution, in Russia, of those courageous clergymen and laypeople who have spoken out against the war or simply prayed for “peace” instead of “victory.” The stance of many in our church was explained by the alleged need to stay “out of politics,” so we did not explicitly name President Putin and his regime as the aggressors.

We changed this “a-political” stance only recently, and it was not to condemn all-of-the-above. It was not to condemn the Putin regime’s aggression against millions of civilians, but to condemn the victim in this tragic story: it was to condemn the Zelensky government, after it has been fighting a defensive war for over a year, for its (non-violent and also not successful) attempts to remove from the heart of Kyiv, from the Kyiv-Caves Monastery, ca. 200 monks with canonical ties to the Church of Russia. *This* was the big “atrocity” that moved even our church-authorities to words loud and clear, to political words about human rights and freedoms, and even to name the alleged aggressor, the Zelensky government. Does this make sense? Does the housing-situation of 200 monks deserve our active and vocal attention more than the very lives of millions of civilians? And why are we not called to peace and (silent) prayer when it comes to an injustice against monks, as we seem to be when it comes to atrocities against millions?

I think it is because many of us in the Orthodox Church are confused as to who the victim is, in this war. We buy into the Kremlin narrative, repeated again and again by S. Lavrov, Patriarch Kirill, and other representatives of the Putin regime, that somehow Russia *had to* begin all the killing in Ukraine to defend the good, like family values or traditional values, or “Holy Rus” that supposedly stands for all that. But if we accept this narrative, we are actually thinking that killing tens of thousands of people, – people who did not attack you, – is somehow a service to God. “Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service,” says the Lord. So, let’s not embrace this perverse and murderous kind of thinking, and let us not blame the victims of it in Ukraine, as they desperately and courageously fight to put a stop to it.