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Ukraine is paying for our security in blood, Archbishop Welby tells Synod

29 February 2024

‘I am not neutral on this,’ he says in a debate calling for a just peace

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Archbishop Welby speaks to the Synod on Tuesday

Archbishop Welby speaks to the Synod on Tuesday

THE General Synod has renewed its call for a just peace in Ukraine, after a debate to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion, which fell on Saturday.

The motion, which was carried almost unanimously on Tuesday at the end of a five-day meeting in Westminster, referred to the “ongoing suffering and terror” experienced by Ukrainians two years into the war, and called on churches and politicians to work for an end to the conflict and a restoration of the international order.

During the debate, the motion was amended to include a further call to UK politicians to “affirm their continued support for Ukraine until such time as a just and lasting peace is secured”.

First to speak was the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently returned from his second visit to Ukraine (News, 23 February). He had also spoken, directly but remotely, with Patriarch Kirill. “But I am not neutral on this,” he said. “Ukraine is paying for our security with blood.”

Ukrainians were defending the international order, he said, with 21st-century drones and First World War-era bayonets. The country felt sombre and apprehensive compared to when he first visited in 2022, but its people were equally determined to fight on, despite a shortage of supplies from the West.

War was a horror, Archbishop Welby said, but Christians must continue to push their political leaders to provide money and weapons to Ukraine. “We need a just, independently agreed peace, not another Czechoslovakia or a Munich.”

The motion was welcomed by the Synod, but several members warned that the language of the accompanying paper risked echoing Russian propaganda, which justified an unprovoked invasion.

A Royal Navy officer, Adam Kendry, said that nations such as Ukraine were not pawns in the Russian sphere of influence, and that the Church must not allow its desire for peace to muddy the waters of its wholehearted defence of Ukraine and the principles of self-determination. He ended his rousing speech with the cry: “Slava Ukraini [Glory to Ukraine] and Prince of Peace, thy Kingdom come!”

The Revd Tuomas Mäkipää, who leads the diocese in Europe’s chaplaincy in Helsinki, said that his compatriots lived every day with the looming presence of a revanchist Russia just over the border. If a war came, he would be called up to fight, while his wife would flee with their children to safety. He, too, criticised the paper for entertaining the false Russian narrative that the country was being threatened by the West and fighting in self-defence.

The Revd Stephen Platt, who leads a Russian Orthodox Church parish in England, spoke of hope in the gloom. His congregation included both Russians and Ukrainians, and people with relatives who were fighting and dying on both sides. Yet there remained closeness and unity in Christ, he said.

Andrew Gray, who proposed the amendment which added the call for political backing for Ukraine, spoke passionately about how victory against the Russian invasion was an imperative for the whole Western rules-based order.

The fate of the continent depended on Ukraine, he said — a country which he described as “Europe’s Calvary” It was, he said “a moment of tortured anguish where democracy and freedom hang upon a cross”. If the West’s resolve to stand with Ukraine faltered, evil around the world would be emboldened, and more blood would be shed, he warned.

Several former and current military chaplains told members of a growing sense of anxiety among the armed forces that the conflict might lead to a wider European war, and urged the Church to pray for them, too.

Put to the vote, the motion as amended was carried by 254 votes to three, with two recorded abstentions.

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