We are nearing the end of the ninth month since the start of Russia’s horrific war of aggression against Ukraine. Nine months is the time during which a human life takes shape in the womb and then comes to light, but in Ukraine it was not a gestation of life, but only of death, hatred, devastation. There is one aspect of this war that we do not always remember: it is a conflict that involves two peoples belonging to the same faith in Christ and the same baptism. Christianity in this geographical region is associated with the Baptism of Rus’, completed in 988 when Vladimir the Great wanted his family and the people of kyiv to receive the sacrament in the waters of the Dnieper.
Russian and Ukrainian Christians share the same divine liturgy and the same spirituality specific to the Eastern Churches. Today, we tend to hide this common belonging of faith and liturgical tradition for reasons linked to war propaganda: when we fight, when we kill, we must forget the face and the humanity of the other , as the prophet of peace Don Tonino Bello reminded us. And one must even forget that the other has the same baptism as oneself. The fact that the war which broke out in the heart of Europe is a war between Christians makes the wound even more painful for the disciples of Jesus.
We are not in the presence of a conflict to classify in the convenient scheme of the “clash of civilizations”, a theory that became famous after the Islamist attacks of September 11, 2001 to mark the differences between “us” and “them”. No, here the abusers read the same gospel as the abused. The consternation aroused by this observation could lead us to reflect on the path that the message of the Gospel must still travel to penetrate the hearts of Christians and permeate their culture, in order to incarnate the example of Jesus who, in Gethsemane, ordered Peter to put the sword back in its scabbard. It could even incite us to mount the reassuring pulpit of judgment of those who wish to emphasize the difference between “our” Christianity and that of the warmongers who mix holy icons with soldiers’ flags, justifying aggression and violence through religious discourse, as we ourselves did until the day before yesterday and as some would perhaps like to do today.
But this attitude would only be a convenient escape for us, a form of self-absolution so as not to keep open the wound generated by this war.
On the contrary, the current conflict in Ukraine teaches us that belonging to a common tradition, recalling an identity and a culture stemming from the same evangelical proclamation, are not enough to prevent us from slipping into the barbarism of violence , hatred and deadly war.
Keeping the wound open, then, means remembering every day that our faith and our religious traditions can never be taken for granted, for granted. It means remembering that we can only act as Christians by grace, not by tradition or culture. It means remembering the words of Jesus, “Without me you can do nothing,” to become humble beggars again for the Lord who is alive and present today, and for his peace. (andrea tornielli)