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Archbishop Welby at online service renews appeal for solidarity with Ukraine

22 December 2022

‘Winter has been weaponised by the bombing campaign in Ukraine’

Church of England/YouTube

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivers a Christmas message at the beginning of an online Advent service of prayer for peace in Ukraine, on Wednesday evening

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivers a Christmas message at the beginning of an online Advent service of prayer for peace in Ukraine, on Wednesday ev...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a fresh appeal for Christian solidarity with Ukraine over Christmas, comparing the country’s resistance to the Russian invasion to the circumstances described by the prophet Isaiah.

“As the Russian invasion continues, chaos and evil have been released — all the forces of hell are being visited on that courageous people,” Archbishop Welby said of Ukrainians on Wednesday evening.

He was speaking during an international service for Ukraine, held online, which was led by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, and attended by Anglicans around Europe as a culmination of Advent prayers for peace.

“As we gather tonight,” Archbishop Welby continued, “many of us in warmth and safety, but also with our own troubles, we remember that winter has been weaponised by the bombing campaign in Ukraine. Many have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees torn from their homes, often with family members killed, living without certainty. These are the evils that wars of aggression unleash.”

He recounted memories of his visit to Ukraine earlier this month (News, 9 December); in particular, the massacre town of Bucha, and a blown-up bridge near Kyiv, which had now been lined with crosses in memory of the people who were killed while attempting to flee. He spoke of the stories that he had heard from “those who lived through unspeakable atrocities”.

The Archbishop spoke of his visit as “a tiny gesture of solidarity with a suffering yet courageous people: it was about saying to them, you’re not forgotten; we pray for you, we support you, we stand with you, and we’ll advocate for you.”

“Five to 600 years before Jesus Christ, Isaiah prophesied that justice and peace will come at some point, that weapons will be turned into ploughshares. And yet we stand amidst godless leaders ruling by violence and fear, with armies struggling by night. At the time of Isaiah, people were living in a similar world, in the shadow of death, in darkness, exile, suffering, famine, and torture.”

The service included prayers — read by Anglicans in Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Latvia — for Ukrainians to find “courage, solidarity, and allies in their hour of vulnerability and sorrow”, as well as for the conversion of “those bent on war and invasion”.

It took place as President Zelensky sought to rally support during a visit to Washington, DC, his first abroad since Russia’s February assault, and as the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, assured defence officials that Moscow would “fulfil all goals” of its invasion by deploying a new hypersonic Sarmat missile for attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Church of England/YouTubeThe Archbishop of Canterbury prays with church leaders in Ukraine, during a visit to the country earlier this month

Speaking during the service, the churchwarden of Christ Church, the Anglican chaplaincy in Kyiv, Christina Laschenko, said that half the Ukrainian capital was in blackout after three aid raids this week, but that recollections of past Anglican contacts had raised spirits in the “darkness and despair”.

She listed examples of mutual self-help, charity, and resilience during the war, and said that solidarity from Christians in Europe had “reinforced and strengthened” a “huge manifestation of Advent and Christmas spirit”.

The Chaplain of St Andrew’s, Moscow, Canon Malcolm Rogers, told viewers that 60 regular members of the congregation had left Russia since the war began. His latest requests for a work visa had been turned down by officials.

Although the Moscow Patriarchate remained “supportive” of the city’s Anglican community, he said, the Remembrance Day service had been disrupted by an “organised demonstration” in which the chant “Defeat to Anglo-Saxon vampires” had been heard.

Canon Rogers, who is also Area Dean of Russia and Ukraine, said: “Russia, so the narrative goes, is engaged in a defensive conflict, forced upon her by the aggression of the US and NATO, which is intent on breaking Russia up and replacing Russia culture and Russian Orthodoxy with a Western individual-centric liberalism. NATO’s Trojan horse in all this was Ukraine, where the Russian Church was persecuted and Ukraine was being armed long before February.

“At times, it is couched in religious terms — a holy war, a fight for the survival of Russia against a satanic West, which has abandoned its Christian roots. It’s hard to know how many people believe that narrative. But there are certainly many alternative truths slopping around.”

The online service showed images of tanks, ambulances, and destroyed residential buildings, and included psalm settings by the choirs of Jesus College, Cambridge, and St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

It also included the poem “Refugee” by the priest-poet and Church Times columnist the Revd Dr Malcolm Guite. The same poem was chosen by the King for a carol service in Westminster Abbey on Friday, in memory of Queen Elizabeth II (News, 16 December).

In his address, Archbishop Welby recalled meeting Ukrainian religious leaders in an air-raid shelter, and that they had expressed “hope and determination” as part of “a nation in total war”. The head of Kyiv’s missile-damaged Baptist seminary had told him that the Church needed to “bear the scars of the society around it” if its mission to the world was to prove effective.

“Just think of that: Jesus was recognised after his resurrection most often by the scars on his hands and feet and side; the Church is not a place of retreating from the world,” the Archbishop said.

“Ukraine spoke deeply to me, passionately, of a Church enduring with the people who endured — not separate, not privileged, not special, but full of love and the grace of God. . . The revolution that came at Christmas — of light in the world — is alive now in churches shining into the darkness.”

In his address to the US Congress on Wednesday evening, President Zelensky said that many Ukrainians would mark Christmas by candlelight, as electricity, heating, and water supplies had been disrupted by Russian missile strikes, but that it would not allow “the light of faith” to be extinguished.

Ukrainian church leaders have encouraged Christmas celebrations to maintain morale, although work-free days have been cancelled because of martial-law regulations.

Ms Laschenko said that just nine people had attended a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Sunday, in the Ukrainian capital’s Lutheran Church of St Catherine, but that local Anglicans still felt “supported and encouraged” by being “part of a huge Christian community”.

Canon Rogers also requested prayers for the people of Russia, and hoped that the Anglican chaplaincy in Moscow would survive as “one of the very few open doors between Russia and the West”.

The diocese in Europe’s secretary and chief operating officer, Andrew Caspari, drew attention to the Anglican Ukraine Emergency Appeal, which was launched last March (details at www.uspg.org.uk/ukraine).

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