ONLINE – On March 21, 2022, the European World Region of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held meetings online. The meetings were led by Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who serves as the European representative on the ILC’s Board of Directors. Among other topics, participants discussed how churches might help people in Ukraine during the current crisis, as well as aid those who have fled.
ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), attended the meeting as a representative of his church body. “What was particularly moving at this meeting was not only the great helpfulness of the ILC member churches,” Bishop Voigt noted, “but also a statement that a participant from a church in Russia made to the participants and which he also made available in writing after the meeting.”
What follows are the words of the Russian representative. For security reasons, neither his name nor the name of his church is given here.
The Russian participant reported: “The shock of what has happened is so grave that we will probably be able to realize it only years after. I think that at the moment we are going through the first four stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. ‘It can’t be! We can’t have started a war!’ ‘Damn this war!’ ‘There must be some way out!’ ‘It’s all hopeless…’ The world we lived in has been shattered and there is no way to undo it.
One can hardly imagine the multiple layers of crisis that Russia and its people are now facing. It is not only political and economical, but foremost existential: the war has divided society. It has left honest, thinking people helpless and feeling fear and shame.
The current situation facing media is unprecedented. The censorship is monstrous. A new law allows people to be sentenced to 15 years in prison for sharing “fake” news about the war. That even includes just calling the “special military operation” in Ukraine a war at all.
People have to use VPN services to avoid bans of social networks. Most opposition media sources have closed down and journalists have left Russia. Those very few that remain are not able to cover the war.
People do protest. But all meetings are forbidden and people are immediately detained and fined. Those who are detained for a third time are imprisoned. Some of our congregation members went on anti-war strikes and have been detained. One Russian-Orthodox priest faces a charge because of a sermon where he urged people to pray for peace and sign a petition to stop the war. (By the way the petition was signed by 1.2 million Russian citizens. It could be even more popular but, as it requires personal information, people are reluctant to sign it—and the organizer of the petition has already been detained.
As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon—and we live-stream it too—I wonder: when will my turn come?
As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon, I wonder: when will my turn come?
I would say that the main feeling people in Russia have now is fear. Firstly, it is the fear to speak up. People are afraid not only to publicly share their opinion but even to “like” or repost the opinions of others. Secondly, people feel a paralyzing fear for their future. With the rise in inflation and the consequences of sanctions, people are afraid it will cut down not only supplies to foreign goods and luxuries but also to necessities, and even lead to famine.
But the church has immunity against both of these types of fear. Firstly, we have been confessing our faith boldly for more than 2,000 years now. We have learned to preach the truth no matter how unpopular it is or how dangerous it is. “So every one who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Secondly, we have learned to trust God and not to worry for He Himself will provide: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:33-34). “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).
So we continue to do what we are called to do: preach the Law in all its strictness and the Gospel in all its sweetness. As we preach the Law, we also point to the sin of the war and admonish all those responsible for bloodshed to repent. As we preach the Gospel, we remind people of God’s love for us sinners and His continual care.
In these days, we again think a lot about the Confessing Church (“Bekennende Kirche”) from the Nazi-era in Germany. But the main conclusion that I make is that the church should have preached the Law and the Gospel diligently and boldly before it came to the point when it was impossible. This is the only way to prevent society from turning to fascism.”
Bishop Voigt has expressed his admiration for the frank assessment of this Russian participant at the meetings of the ILC European World Region. “I am deeply impressed by the courageous and unflinching statement of our brother from Russia,” he said. “When I asked if we could publish his words, he answered ‘yes’ without hesitation.”
“In these days, with the horrific images from the Kiev suburbs circulating in the media, this Lutheran minister’s words show a different Russia,” Bishop Voigt continued. “Let us not tire of praying for the people of Ukraine, as well as for this ‘other Russia’
The International Lutheran Council is supporting relief efforts in Ukraine and refugee assistance. For information on how you can help, click here.