Prayer for Ukraine

People praying in Ukraine
People praying in Subcarpathia, Ukraine. Photo: Áron Horváth-Hegyi

By Bishop Tamás Fabiny

For weeks on end, the whole world is watching the situation in Ukraine with bated breath.

Unfortunately it is hardly unusual for a war to be going on in our direct proximity: In the '90s, the crisis in the Southern Balkan ended up in a bloody massacre. Now our neighbour in the East is fighting the ghost of a civil war. What the two have in common, is post-Communist heritage on the one hand and an ethnic conflict on the other. A third factor worth mentioning is the considerable Hungarian-speaking minority both in Vojvodina back then and in Subcarpathia now which could easily become a victim of this insane conflict.

Of course I am not a political analyst and I cannot specifically define the reason for making war. On the surface though, I see that there was a former leadership befriended with the Russian which has been defeated by a persistent fight: Through demonstration in the streets and multiple tools of civil resistance of a very colourful opposition called nationalistic by many but actually often even fighting among themselves. On Maidan, a central square in Kiev, resistance went on for days, nearly every second of it broadcasted by the media. We saw shocking pictures of fighters on the barricades and civil victims hunted down by snipers. Who could forget the sight of the 21-year-old volunteer who was helping people wearing a vest with the sign of the red cross and then suddenly sending her last (so she thought) Facebook message to the world – "I am dying"– with blood running from her throat. (Later it came out that the heroic girl will probably stay alive.) We saw pictures of the world-famous boxing star, then the politician freed from prison and could follow live the decision of the parliament about depriving the former President of his power. We were almost thinking democracy had triumphed over dictatorship when we received the news about one of the first decisions of the new leadership to terminate the former law on language use which used to be advantageous for Hungarians. The outsider could more and more experience just as if it would be a severe fight between groups of politicians financed by the oligarchs. I'm afraid what I could see in the '90s at the border between Hungary and the Ukraine on a small scale, is now happening at large – that is, corruption is becoming overwhelming. At that time, it was "only" natural to slip a given amount of money to the stretched-out hand of the guard at the border station in Záhony. Palms are clearly still reaching out for the money from bribers but the sums have been magnified.

We could see many pictures of Orthodox or Greek Catholic priests in the front line who stood between the fighting parties with stole on their shoulders and cross in their hands or giving a final tribute to the dead. At the same time, I was troubled by a photo stream about the furious crowd lynching a captured sniper where they pushed a cross to the face of the young man distorted by fear showing him it is an ordeal taking place. May the cross become a threatening sign?

I am seeing less and less clear in a world where hardly no-one is able to withhold the passions and raw instincts anymore and where everything is quite visibly subordinated to games of power operated by interests and where we are only offered food prepared in some political cuisine.

I cannot do else than try to get into personal contact with those whose word I can rely on. Before informing the synod of our church about the situation in Ukraine, I contact colleagues at the Hungarian Interchurch Aid which has a strong Lutheran leadership and ask what are their plans in this critical situation. I learn that the director of the organisation is taking to Kiev a medicine supply worth millions of forints provided by Hungarian government. They will hand the aid over in a church and monastery which served as an improvised first-aid point during the fights.

I also contact the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation who informs me about steps taken by this more than 70-million-member organisation for the victims in Ukraine and for stabilising the situation. I hear that the German Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Kiev has also been active in helping those in need. Their church is hardly 150 metres from the Maidan and they are welcoming the wounded from both sides to seek attendance. The church is open for everyone and it also happens that those standing on different sides of the barricades rest here side by side, receiving warm food or spiritual consolation. The pastor and members of the congregations are ready to help without discrimination, at the same time knowing that they as a German-speaking community are likely to be perceived as belonging to the more Europe-oriented.

But above all, I want to hear the voice of my friends in Subcarpathia on the phone. I have had the opportunity to visit them several times: My last visit was a year ago in a Reformed congregation where I could also meet the last few Lutherans who are left in the region. The Deputy Bishop tells me they are experiencing unrest also in Uzzhorod (for us Ungvár). The centre of county administration was seized by the demonstrators and the military were marched out with their hands held up. My friend is worried that precious documents about the past and present of the church may be destroyed. They are also considering the possibility to bring their children to Hungary for safety reasons in case of warlike events. Just in case, I give him the contact details of a few congregations and institutions in nearby Nyíregyháza. Another pastor friend says they are afraid of nationalistic forces entering the fully Hungarian village he is serving. Therefore they set up a civil guard to watch for themselves and their belongings. There are also radical Hungarians there who hope that the chaotic situation could lead to returning some parts of Subcarpathia to the territory of Hungary. On the whole, my friends would prefer being left out of whole mess as turmoil is only good for the extremists.

I can only ask the readers to pray for Ukraine exposed to the terror of war and for the different parties to come to peace. Let the bloodshed and unfair practices come to an end. Let us pray especially for our fellow Hungarians in Subcarpathia so that they wouldn't fall victim of violent acts or become a scapegoat in a conflict between nationalities.

Dona nobis pacem. Give us peace, o, Lord.

Bishop Tamás Fabiny is head of the Evangelical–Lutheran Church in Hungary and LWF Vice-President for the Central Eastern Europe region.

Source: Evangélikus Élet 9 March 2014 | English translation: Kinga Marjatta Pap

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17 December 2020
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.