Call for help from evangelical seminaries in Ukraine…… | News and reports
Editor’s Note: This article will be updated.
A month ago, Taras Dyatlik gathered in Moldova with friends and partners for another 10-day round of mundane seminar meetings. As regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia for the Overseas Council, he was the driving force behind the strategy and funding of a network of theological institutions in Ukraine and in Russia.
Three days later he returned desperately to kyiv. Dyatlik’s family, like much of Ukraine, was under fire from the Russian military. And the only thing louder than the air raid sirens that would soon invade his sleepless nights was the silence of his Russian colleagues.
“This is not one conflictWhere voltageWhere special operationhe said, using terms used by most Russians – and too many otherwise cautious supporters in the West. “He is invasion and war.”
He pointed out that the Bible shows the importance of precision in language.
“It’s not just that Abel is dead or that Jesus has just been betrayed; Judah betrayed Jesus, Cain killed Abel,” he said. “Not only that a man has sinned; Adam and Eve sinned. Biblical truth has names, has a chain of cause and effect.
Dyatlik’s charged remarks mirrored others expressed during an online roundtable Thursday hosted by the Ukraine-based Eastern European Theological Institute (EEIT). Around 500 supporters, partners and general supporters registered for The Russo-Ukrainian War: Evangelical Voiceseager to hear from other believers on the front lines.
Attendees, from at least 25 nations and 20 U.S. states, received theological reflection and raw emotion.
“It is difficult for us Ukrainians to stay calm when we talk about what is happening in Ukraine,” said EEIT director Roman Soloviy, who served as moderator. “Most of us men have never cried so much as in the past three weeks. We really need your help, your prayers and your voice in the world.
Oleksandr Geychenko, rector of the Odessa Theological Seminary (OTS), expressed everyone’s shock.
“We died with the pregnant woman and her child when the maternity ward was bombed. We fled with those fleeing Russian fire,” he said. “Everything we used to is wiped out – now just a desert.”
OTS is the oldest of Ukraine’s evangelical seminaries, tracing its history to a 1989 local effort to train preachers and Sunday School teachers. The campus was evacuated at the start of the war as the Ukrainian army took possession of it to defend the Black Sea port.
But what has most intrigued and discouraged Geychenko is the position of many Russian evangelicals. A week before the invasion, as tensions rose with Moscow, he participated in an initiative to draft a joint statement of theological educators from Eastern Europe and Central Asia that would condemn the threat and preparations for war.
The Russian participants hesitated, he said. They wanted a generic call to prayer for peace.
“A week later our cities were hit by missiles and these colleagues started to change their minds,” Geychenko said. “Unfortunately, the wider circle of Russian ministers, evangelical celebrities and average Christians did not.”
“Most experts are wrong when they say this war is Putin’s war,” he said. “No, this war is supported by a significant part of the Russian people.”
The big challenge, said Valentin Siniy, rector of the Tavriski Christian Institute (TCI), is to deal with feelings of hurt and betrayal.
Located in Kherson, the first major city to come under Russian control, his seminary is today occupied by the Russian army.
Siniy cited the biblical example of Jesus cleaning the moneychangers’ temple with a whip. “If we are going to hide our fear, our anger behind a mask, then we will act like Pharisees,” he said. “…We Ukrainians will have to accept our anger and give it to God.”
He reflects on the Mennonite-influenced history of his youth. But today, Siniy prays Deborah’s curse in Judges 5 on those who didn’t come to help. Seeking to direct him against war itself, he also prays positively for the kingdom of God to manifest itself more clearly in the world.
Ivan Rusyn is more specific.
“Someone said that the phrase ‘How much longer, Lord?’ is as spiritual as the word Alleluia,” he said. “I want to go further and say that I have come to the conclusion that the words ‘God, break the bones of my enemy’ are as spiritual as Aaron’s blessing.”
As rector of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (UETS) in Kyiv, Rusyn is one of a handful of staff who have stayed on to help their community. The campus first served as a hub for ministry to neighbors and those fleeing war zones further east.
But then he was bombed, his neighborhood fell under Russian control, and he now lives in the office of the Ukrainian Bible Society.
Missile fire, he added, was audible during the presentation.
“This is a full-scale, unprovoked war by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian people,” he said. “The goal is the complete destruction of Ukraine.”
Yet he still sees God at work. Rusyn learns the meaning of incarnation ministry. The neighbors promise to visit the campus once the war is over. Bibles are distributed to soldiers and civilians alike.
And he sees an even greater impact.
“The war has brought Ukrainians closer together,” Rusyn said. “If the church follows Christ, it follows where the need is greatest and stays there.”
So far, Stanislav Stepanchenko, dean of the theological seminary in Lviv, near Ukraine’s western border, is still able to stay safe. Every day, its campus welcomes around a hundred people fleeing to neighboring Poland or Romania.
The UN estimates the number of Ukrainian refugees at more than three million.
“We’re the first place they can breathe deeply and get food,” he said. “There is no fighting in our streets, but we see the war in the eyes of those who flee.”
Coordinating the work of 40 volunteers, Stepanchenko accepted the imprecatory prayers of his colleagues. He prayed Psalm 82 and Psalm 55, wishing the abusers would descend into the pit.
But he and his team find hope in Matthew 25—I was a stranger, and you took me in– and they remember it in every act of service. Even so, they think of the dozens of children killed in the war, frequently returning to the cry of Rachel’s Genesis.
“Ukraine mourns its children and refuses to be comforted,” Stepanchenko said. “Why is Putin doing this? Because he can.
A theater housing hundreds of civilians in Mariupol was bombed on Thursday, despite clear “CHILDREN” labeling painted on the outside. A nearby pool complex was also hit, with women and children inside.
The Russian military denied hitting Mariupol that day.
But the damage throughout Ukraine is considerable. The Russian offensive is largely stalled, with major cities being bombarded from a distance. Religious sites are not immune.
Soloviy and Geychenko joined dozens of other clerics and religious freedom advocates in condemning damage to 28 churches, mosques and synagogues. The Ukraine Religious Freedom Roundtable also listed the murder of four Orthodox priests and the capture of two others (one since released).
Similarly, CBN News reported the kidnapping of one of its affiliated aid workers near Mariupol, a woman named Valentine.
The joint appeal, also signed by the Ukrainian Bible Society, Youth for Christ, and leaders of the Baptist, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish communities, called on affiliated Orthodox Church parishes in Moscow to sever their ties with Patriarch Cyril of the Russian Orthodox Church. Church.
It has already happened abroad. The churches of Amsterdam and Estonia announced separation.
Kirill foresees a tense struggle for Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and a recent survey confirms it. Before the war, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOP) had about 12,000 parishes. The breakaway Orthodox Church of Ukraine numbered about 7,000.
But a March 10 poll found more than half of UOP parishioners favored severing ties.
Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Archbishop Justin Welby of the Anglican Church remain in dialogue with Kirill. Separate communications highlighted an agreed need for peace and justice.
“The church should not use the language of politics but the language of Jesus,” Francis said. “We are pastors of the same people who believe in God, in the Holy Trinity, in the Holy Mother of God.”
Beyond the call for advocacy, evangelical seminary leaders suggested ways supporters can help.
Geychenko asked for a consultation on how theological education can continue in the tattered form of seminaries. Having lost all documents except their e-readers, he suggested that overseas online libraries could be opened up to professors and graduate students.
UETS said it was ready to begin online education immediately. OTS hopes to do so by April.
Siniy, however, advised beyond theology as many refugees will end up having to stay in their host countries for a long time. “Think about their education,” he said, “not just food and water.”
Ukrainians must organize their travel, open schools for their young people and plant churches for their families. Pastoral care must be prioritized quickly, as feelings of survivor’s guilt are beginning to develop among the refugees.
But to close the meeting, Dyatlik offered a theological message — a message he said was badly needed in a post-truth society.
Satan’s first challenge was to get Adam and Eve to question reality: Did God really say? And since it introduced sin into the world, requiring God’s initiative to heal, only the Holy Spirit can also convince the hearts of blinded Russians, he said. Arguments and evidence will not help the cause.
Moreover, there is too much work to do and little time to rest.
“Today is the 22nd day of the war,” Dyatlik said. “Now there are no more weekends, no more Mondays, no more Tuesdays. We are just counting the days.”
Editor’s Note: This article will be updated.