Issue 264 - Ukraine and Russia
March 2022
Concerned about the destruction in Ukraine, we are heartened by the devotion and volunteerism of the 'church' people.
Backpacks and Tote Bags
Have you asked yourself the question: If I had to flee my country today, what would I load in my backpack? Ukrainian mothers and teens try to escape explosions and gunfire with only a backpack, what they can carry; and mothers with babies leave holding a tote bag with the bare necessities for the baby. They travel to places unknown with a frangible heart full of hope, many with prayer on their lips.

Bill and I often remarked, during our 2015 pilgrimage to Russia, about the visible piety and devotion of the Russians in their Orthodox Churches. Peasants on the way to work, and smartly dressed professionals during lunch breaks, entered the sacred spaces, crossing themselves three times. Their demeanor was of humble dedication to the Pantocrator (Christ), Theotokos (Mary), and the saints, especially their most beloved saint, Nicholas the Wonder Worker (pictured in the icon above).

One of the unexpected inspirations I remember from our pilgrimages to Taizé, France, was that the Ukrainians, like most Europeans, arrived with only a backpack for the week’s pilgrimage of prayer. I watched them in the Church of Reconciliation, gaze at an icon with, seemingly, a pledge of fervor and prayerful promise, a devotion to contemplation and sacred silence. With cooperation of local churches and a commitment to solidarity, the Taizé Community held their first Ukrainian "Pilgrimage of Trust" in the city of Lviv, joined by other young European people, in Spring of 2018. The program mirrored the daily activities of prayer and workshops of the Taizé community in France: “It will include vespers and liturgies with the local communities, common prayers all together, reflection and silence, meeting in small groups with those from other places and backgrounds, workshops on themes related to faith, social commitment, culture and art.” Ukraine’s patron is Saint Vladimir I (or Volodymyr I).

Besides the Taizé Community, we’ve seen many other concerned people reach out in solidarity with the Ukrainians. Our Benedictine Monastery of St. Scholastica in Boerne united with monasteries of women in the US to help raise funds for the Benedictine Sisters of Ukraine who have stayed behind to care for orphans, and Sisters from Poland who are welcoming Ukrainian refugees. PBS website also lists humanitarian organizations you can contact to help.

You may pray in solidarity with Christians and people of all faiths all over the world for an end to the war. In solidarity, I am packing my backpack with my Liturgy of the Hours prayer book, my favorite icon of St. Nicholas, and a few other simple things, that remind me to raise my empty hands in prayer throughout the day.
"A Church Volunteer"
In the New York Times article, Anatoly Berezhnyi, a 26-year-old Ukrainian, is described simply as “a church volunteer.” That innocuous term conjures up images of folks serving coffee after church, picking up the folding chairs and tables after the fellowship dinner, sitting through yet one more boring committee meeting.

As a pastor, I have high respect for church volunteers. No congregation would function without them. There are people who put in countless hours serving their congregations and their communities, usually without reward and often without recognition.

At the congregation I currently serve as interim minister, the woman who usually lights the candles before worship was absent one Sunday because of illness. No one else (not even the pastor) was paying attention, and the candles never were lit. I jokingly told her later that we had proven she was indispensable! In truth, all church volunteers are.

Anatoly Berezhnyi was simply “a church volunteer.” After he had evacuated his own family to safety in western Ukraine, he drove back to the suburbs of Kyiv to help others escape the advancing Russian forces. Berezhnyi was part of an evacuation effort organized by his congregation, the Irpin Bible Church.

On Sunday, March 6, he was helping a woman and her two children cross an open square near a destroyed bridge when a Russian mortar shell landed nearby. Berezhnyi and the family he was helping were all killed. In a tragic irony, their bodies fell at the foot of a war memorial, honoring local residents killed in World War II.

-- Bill
Icon - Our Lady of Vladimir
The original of this icon (c.1180) is venerated in a small chapel in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. A contemporary rendition known as Our Lady of Tenderness, is in the Taize Church of Reconciliation.
"Everything began in 1940, so the story of Taize goes..."
The ecumenical community of Taize was founded during World War II as a shelter for refugees.... Read more about Taize here."
Visio Divina for Ukraine
Prayer for Peace in Ukraine
in this Time of War -
from the Church of Reconciliation, Taize, France
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Bill Howden and Jan Davis
Soul Windows Ministries