We are approaching the ninth month since the start of Russia’s horrific war of aggression on Ukraine. Nine months is the time in which a human life takes shape in the womb and then comes to light, but that in Ukraine was not a gestation of life, but only of death, hatred, devastation. There is one aspect of this war which we do not always remember: it is a conflict involving two peoples belonging to the same faith in Christ and the same baptism. Christianity in that geographical area is associated with the baptism of Rus’, completed in 988 when Vladimir the Great wanted his family and the people of Kiev to receive the sacrament in the waters of the Dnieper.
Russian and Ukrainian Christians share the same divine liturgy and the same spirituality proper to the Eastern Churches. Today there is a tendency to hide this common belonging of faith and liturgical tradition for reasons related to war propaganda: when you fight, when you kill, you must forget the face and humanity of the other, as the prophet of peace Don Tonino Bello recalled. And you must even forget that the other has the same baptism as you. The fact that what has broken out in the heart of Europe is a war between Christians makes the wound even more painful for the followers of Jesus.
We are not faced with a conflict to be classified in the convenient scheme of the “clash of civilizations”, a theory that became famous after the Islamist attacks of 11 September 2001 to mark the differences between “us” and “them”. No, here the attackers read the same Gospel as the attacked. The dismay aroused by this observation could lead us to reflect on how far the Gospel message still has to go to enter the hearts of Christians and permeate their culture, so as to embody the example of Jesus who in Gethsemane ordered Peter to put the sword back in the sheath. It could even induce us to climb the judging and reassuring pulpit of those who want to mark the difference between “our” Christianity and that of the warmongers who mix holy icons with soldiers’ banners, justifying aggression and violence with religious discourses, as we too did until the day before yesterday and as perhaps someone would like to do today as well.
But this attitude would be for us only a convenient escape route, a form of self-absolution in order not to keep the wound generated by this war open.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine teaches us instead that belonging to a common tradition, referring to an identity and a culture originating from the same evangelical proclamation, are not enough to keep us from slipping into the barbarism of violence, hatred, war assassin.
Keeping the wound open therefore means remembering every day that our faith and our religious traditions can never be taken for granted or taken for granted. It means remembering that we can only act as Christians by grace, not by tradition or culture. It means remembering Jesus’ words: “Apart from me you can do nothing”, to return to being humble beggars of him, alive and present today, and of his peace.
from Andrew Tornielli