LVIV — Anger and anguish, not forgiveness of sin, is this year’s Easter message in Ukraine. The holiest day in Christianity will be observed here this coming Sunday according to the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar, which the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church also follows.
There was no talk of returning the sword to its sheath or washing away sins at a Wednesday press conference featuring Pavlo Drozdiak, spokesperson of the Lviv Eparchy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and spiritual advisor to the Lviv City Council, and Mykhailo Syvak, keyholder of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Instead, the clergy focused on the conquest of good over evil as the war rages on. “During wartime, the celebration of Easter is particularly relevant, because Easter is about the victory of Jesus Christ over death. It’s about the victory of good over evil. It’s about the victory of light over darkness,” Syvak said. “Since we are siding with the truth, since we are defending our homes, our families and our country, we will win.”
After Monday’s missile strikes in Lviv, the city’s mayor, Andriy Sadovyi said that in cities like Bucha and Mariupol, the dead couldn’t be buried according to Christian rites. Syvak agreed, saying that the Russians “do not care about anything,” killing civilians, clergy and destroying churches. “There is nothing sacred for the aggressor,” he said.
Syvak said that in the war, there were three fronts: military, diplomatic sanctions, and “a spiritual one, the front of prayers,” which had called the clergy in Ukraine to “maintain the combat spirit of our military.”
Drozdiak echoed the warfighting sentiments of his Orthodox counterpart. “Thank you, defender. Thank you for the sacrifice you’re ready to make. Maybe you’re not really sure if you’ll be able to meet the next dawn,” he said. “When God calls you into eternity, the life you sacrifice for Ukraine will not [be] in vain.”
The Ukrainians didn’t fire the opening salvo on Syvak’s “spiritual front.” Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has long backed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “Let this image inspire young soldiers who take the oath, who embark on the path of defending the fatherland,” Kirill said as he gave a religious icon to a Russian general, who replied that it would protect his soldiers from “Nazis.”
Kirill also oversees some 12,000 churches in Ukraine.
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Efforts of neutrality and reconciliation also provoke sharp rebuke in the country. Pope Francis caused outrage among Ukrainians by inviting a Russian woman and a Ukrainian woman to carry the cross together during the traditional Good Friday Way of the Cross in Rome.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is Ukraine’s second-largest organized denomination but the largest religious denomination in Lviv. The church, which is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, was sharply critical of the Pope’s decision. “For the Greek Catholics of Ukraine, the texts and gestures of the 13th station of this Way of the Cross are incoherent and even offensive, especially in the context of the expected second, even bloodier attack of Russian troops on our cities and villages,” said Major Archbishop Sviatislav Shevchuk, the head of the church.
Drozdiak backed his leader. “I can’t but agree … We are experiencing enormous anguish and it’s not the right time to be talking about reconciliation,” he said.
Despite the deviation from traditional Easter messages, Drozdiak gave a final nod to the holiday: “We will bend over backwards to help Ukraine resurrect.”
Matthew Best is a freelance journalist from Toronto currently based out of Ukraine.
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