Orthodox, Interfaith and Political Leaders Gather in New York City for Ecumenical Prayer Service in Support of Ukraine
Orthodox, Interfaith and Political Leaders Gather in New York City for Ecumenical Prayer Service in Support of Ukraine

Релігійні та Політичні Лідери Зібралися на Молитовне Богослужіння за Народ України

On March 9, 2022, the 14th day of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, along with His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, local clergy, and faithful gathered at the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan, New York, in solidarity to support Ukraine in her resistance the ongoing Russian invasion upon her lands, and the slaughter of her innocent people.

As 10 a.m. approached, the Master of Ceremonies, Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis (Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne) stepped up to the microphone and thanked everyone who had gathered for this Intercessory Prayer Service, known as a Moleben.  He went on to explain that the Moleben consists of prayers for the intercession and supplication for cessation of the war in Ukraine, as well as for solidarity of those defending their homeland from the devastating war initiated by Russia. 

Greeting the honorable members of the state and civic governments, eminent members of the Diplomatic Corps, esteemed members of the Ecumenical and Interfaith organizations, venerable hierarchs and clergy of the Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox communities, and honored guests, Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, stated that at this time of horror of the assault of Russia upon Ukraine, prayer seems inadequate.  However, he continued to explain that having spoken with a friend in Ukraine, she made him promise to never stop praying, stating that during war, they have realized that they cannot rely strictly upon themselves and their human leaders, and quickly become overwhelmed without prayer.  It is in fact, only due to the constant prayer throughout the world on behalf of Ukraine, that the nation has been able to stand against the onslaught of the large Russian forces.

We get the impression that we have not made much progress, but in fact we have, he continued.  The world has united against this injustice.  The people stand together in large protests and demonstrations and have formed unimaginable alliances here and all around the world, even within Russia.  While we feel helpless, and that we are doing too little, too late, here we stand, all together with Ukraine against Russian aggression.

As everyone stood, the Royal Gates opened as Metropolitan Antony, Archbishop Daniel, Archbishop Elpidophoros and local clergy emerged and stepped down to stand before the tetrapod upon which lay the Gospel, and an icon surrounded by flowers in blue and gold – the colors of the flag of Ukraine.

As the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary sang the responses, the hierarchs fervently prayed.

“…we pray for our God-loving and God-protected country the United States of America, for the Government and armed forces and for all the people; for our God-loving and God-protected ancestral homeland Ukraine and for all the people, that the Lord God help and aid them in all things and protect them from every enemy and adversary.”

At the conclusion of the Moleben Archbishop Elpidophoros recited in English the prayer for Ukraine, which then Archbishop Daniel prayed in Ukrainian.

“Lord our God, Great and Almighty, we Your sinful children turn to You with humility in our hearts and bow our heads low before You.  We beseech Your loving kindness and abundant blessings upon the nation – the people – of Ukraine during these days of great danger to their safety and well-being.  

Our brothers and sisters, Lord, are once again threatened by aggressors who see them only as simple obstacles blocking the path to the complete domination of the precious land and resources of the country of Ukraine.  Strengthen the people as they face this great danger, turning to You in the immeasurably deep faith, trust and love they have placed in You all their lives.  Send Your Heavenly Legions, O Lord, commanded by the patron of Kyiv, Archangel Michael, to crush the desires of the aggressor whose desire is to eradicate Your people.  

Grant unity of mind, heart and soul, O Lord to all leaders in public service with those they serve.  Unite them all into one, great Christian family, so that together, as brothers and sisters, they may glorify Your Majestic Name – God in the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.   Amen.”

With the final words, “May Christ, Our True God, through the prayers of His Most Holy Mother, of our Holy and God bearing Fathers and of all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is Good and the Lover of all Mankind,” the service concluded, and the hierarchs took their seats as once again the Master of Ceremonies approached the podium and stated that there are a number of invaluable lessons the people of Ukraine have taught us over the past two weeks.  The people have shown us all and the world, that democracy and the rule of law cannot be taken for granted.  That freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion cannot be taken for granted.  Freedom and the rule of law are precious gifts of Western Civilization that need to be protected and promoted.  The world cannot be reduced to or overcome by political tyranny or ideological oppression.  The people of Ukraine have reminded all of us that we live in a different world today.  Whether we know it or not, in fact, whether we like it or not, we have come a long way.  There has been tectonic shift in the democratization of politics, a development precipitated by the growth of the Internet.  Where people feel the need to have more responsibility, more influence over events – no longer ignoring, no longer tolerating injustice.  The people of Ukraine have shown all of us and the world, that we must speak up against aggression.  That we cannot be silent in the face of brutality.  That churches, even some of his own, are guilty of remaining silent, even complicit; and that nations, even his own, are sometimes too slow to respond.  The people of Ukraine have shown all of us and the world that faith communities should be united against war, for peace, just as they are in Ukraine, where every Faith is working together against divisions, so we too should be against divisions on the base of race, or religion, ethnicity, or identity.  Religion should never be used to divide people, based on moral presumption or prejudice.  We have learned from Ukraine because they have shown us all, especially religious leaders that full transparency is vital, even in the Church. Every form of authoritarianism is immoral and reprehensible; that Church leaders are accountable for their lack of transparency, for their endorsement or tolerance of autocracy.  With these final words Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis introduced the first speaker, and host of the event, Metropolitan Antony of the UOC of the USA.

Stepping up to the podium, His Eminence warmly welcomed all those who had gathered for this prayer service and thanked them for their participation and support.  Metropolitan Antony informed those assembled that he is a fourth generation American, and even though he many generations removed, his ties to Ukraine are just as tight as his brother bishop’s, Archbishop Daniel’s, whose parents and brother still live in Ukraine.  We have ties to our homeland that go beyond all comprehension, and what happens in Ukraine, affects us deeply here in the United States of America.  In fact, it affects not only Ukrainians, but all peace-loving people throughout the world; all the people whose nations have known the horrors of subjugation, and genocide.  Ukraine once again finds itself being invaded by a neighboring nation.  Throughout history she was always coveted by her neighbors, with different portions of her conquered by various nations, forming empires until the 20th century and the Soviets took over, subjugating Ukraine completely.  It is difficult to even begin to explain to you what has taken place just in this century in the life of Ukraine.  When the Soviets took over the entire nation, millions were killed.  Stalin sent in his butchers and took every bit of grain from the homes of the people, confiscated bread baking in ovens, tore up floors and confiscated the grain saved for spring planting.  Over the 6 months, 7-10 million people starved to death, on the streets, in their homes before their children. 

Metropolitan Antony continued, asking to share one thing.  When we talk about genocides, the number of people who have died.  In the 20th century well over 20 million people have died in Ukraine.  Demographers have studied the numbers and stated that Ukraine’s population today would be over 100 million individuals, instead of 44 million (minus the 3 million that have now fled their homeland in search of safety). It is not just those who died, whom we have lost.  We have lost their future descendants. Those who would have built the nation to be even stronger, and even more freedom loving.  We stand here today, beside ourselves, that after 30 years of independence, recognized by the world over, did we ever think that we would be going back to what we see today?  This is sadly the history of Ukraine.  His Eminence said he cannot begin to explain the depth of appreciation that the people of Ukraine, and of Ukrainian descent,  have for people and nations throughout the world, the Representatives of State and Federal Government entities, to not only repeat “you are in our thoughts and prayers”, but, to have developed a movement  with a desire to help, and to fall on their knees and pray.  The people of Ukraine tell us they feel the power of those prayers. His Eminence stated that is all he can ask of those gathered, to continue to pray fervently for Ukraine.

Turning to face the religious leaders, of various Faiths, sitting behind him, he thanked them for coming from all over the state to support Ukraine.  Metropolitan Antony than turned to those in front of him, and thanked all the political leaders, and all the guests.  He stated that, “We embrace you, and when a Ukrainian embrace someone with love, you do not get away easily.”  He stated that the Ukrainian embrace them, and hold onto them, for comfort and a sense of peace, for a sense that sooner or later it is all going to be okay.  His Eminence concluded by praying that this be the pivotal moment, that the world wake up, and real from this feeling of disgust and horror, and will say no more.  No more can we permit Ukraine to suffer.  No more can we watch her innocent children die.  The first steps towards that goal have already been taken.  With his warmest thanks and blessings, Metropolitan Antony retook his seat as Fr. John stepped up to introduce the next speaker, the 57th, and first female governor of the State of New York, the Honorable Kathleen Hochul.

Governor Hochul explained how honored she was to be participating in this event, in this beautiful Orthodox Cathedral, which had once been a synagogue.  She explained that this is the correct location for people of all the various Faiths to come together and lift up Ukraine.  Looking about the room, the governor explained that she hears the powerful prayers on their lips, but, she also sees the tremendous pain their eyes, she senses the weeping hearts.  However, she also senses defiance in their souls, which encapsules that which has captivated the world as we watch Ukrainians stand up, women grabbing weapons and heading to the frontlines with the men.  Those are powerful images which remind us all that freedom is not free, but, must be fought for, and never taken for granted. When freedom comes under assault, freedom loving nations like ours must stand in defiance and unity and ostracize those who dare to breach the borders of a sovereign nation like Ukraine.  That is exactly what happened by the unprovoked assault by Putin just two weeks ago.  So, what can we do?  Yes, we can pray, and we will pray hard.  on behalf of 20 million New Yorkers we not only stand with Ukraine, but, we reject any business with our state from anyone with Russian interests.  That is part of a global effort to bring the Russian nation to its knees and have them regret the day they ever dreamt of subjugating the great country of Ukraine.  She continued, that all the refugees are welcome in New York, the home of the largest Ukrainian population in the United States.  New York is ready to accept them and care for them.  The governor stated she had spoken with Polish officials and has made arrangements to accept incoming refugees.  The statue of Liberty in one harbor, and our arms are wide open to welcome anyone who needs help.  She concluded by vehemently stating that she and we all stand against tyranny, and against Putin’s attack on Ukraine.  She asked people to continue to pray, but realize we are all in this together, supported by our Churches, we will overcome.

The next speaker was Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis.  Rabbi Joseph greeted all the members of the Interfaith community and explained that he too is a refugee.  He was born after the war, the only child of his parents who lost 5 children. When arriving in Massachusetts after the war, they were greeted by Catholics and Jews who helped them begin life again, because those people understood the ancient Jewish commandment of loving your neighbor.  The Christian New Commandment also teaches to love your neighbor.  In the Quran, God teaches that God has made one blood of the human family.  He continued that when Abraham pleaded for the lives of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, he did not only plead for the lives of Jewish people, but, for all people. When Jonah pleaded for the people of Nineveh, he pleaded for all people. Elie Wiesel stated that the true tragedy of the Holocaust was that those that should have been shouting were silent.

We come here today, and we proclaim that we will shout over and over again.  Because when we said never again after the war, we did not put a question mark after it, but an exclamation mark after it.  We can discuss and debate a no-fly zone, but there is one thing we cannot debate.  There should be a no-cry zone.  We should never ever see innocent people mercilessly murdered.  We are approaching Purim.  There was a despot, Haman, who wanted the Jewish people to submit to his rule.  They fought back, and ultimately, he was relegated to the dust bin of history, and the people were victorious.  He hopes that the president of Russia reads this story.  Maybe this year it will be Putin’s Purim, because we have learned that history often repeats itself.  So, when the President of Russia speaks of denazification, he is astounded for as many of you know, the president of Ukraine is Jewish.  His grandfather fought in the soviet army against the Nazis.  President Zelensky is correct.  Do not call it denazification.  What you are doing in assaulting Ukraine is Nazification.

Rabbi Potasnik recalled a story of two people stranded in the desert with one canteen of water between them.  If they both drink, they will both die.  If one drinks, one survives. The question is, who should drink from the canteen. After some debate, if you own the canteen, and it is your water, you have the right to save your life.  However, you have a responsibility towards the person who did not get to drink from the canteen.  He continued that today we have that responsibility.  To remember those who died, and to rescue those who have survived. 

In Hebrew, the word for “bread” is “לֶחֶם” (lechem). The letters can be switched around to mean either “fight” or “dream”.  The tragedy in this world, is that some people have to fight for a piece of bread.  There are others who only dream to fight.  We come here today, and stand with the people of Ukraine, to proclaim that we will fight for a dream.  A dream of decency and dignity for people.  Never again – for the people of Ukraine, and all people who want to live in freedom.

His Excellency Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the 10th and current Archbishop of New York stepped up to say a few words, stating that a common conviction all the men and women gathered share, is that God can bring good out of evil.  We are seeing raw evil in Ukrainian, in this irrational invasion.  However, we are also seeing radiant good as the world has united as never before in standing up to the evil.  The other day he met with a journalist who had just returned from Ukraine, who told him that the people are not united through national pride, language, and a desire for freedom, but what is uniting Ukraine is faith.  They are a deeply religious people of various persuasions.  They deep down know the difference between good and evil, God and Satan, virtue and slavery, peace, and war – because they believe in God. We who believe in God, unite with Ukraine and shout “God help these people, bless them, and save Ukraine!”

As the applause died down, His Excellency Sergyi Kyslytsya, who serves as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine and Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations stepped up to speak.  He is trained as a diplomat and strong when he has to look in the eyes of evil and deliver speeches defending his nation.  He stated, he believes in God, and that Ukraine is composed of many Faiths.  Having taken a DNA test, he is Ukrainian from Kyiv, with a bit of Polish, and a bit of Ashkenazi Jew.  He told the herald of Satan, his Russian adversary in the Security Council that there is no purgatory for war criminals, and they go straight to hell.  Everyone has an option and is up to him to decide whether he remains on the side of evil or repents and takes the side of God.

Quoting Robert Frost: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

So, as he told the Russian Ambassador, we are today at that road.  As one learns from the Babylonian Talmud, there is a long way which is short, and a short way that is long.  The travel of the Jews from slavery to freedom was filled with trials and challenges, and yet they have become a strong nation, reassured that leaving Egypt was the right thing to do.

The same is the destiny of Ukraine, leaving the evil empire of the Soviet Union was and is the right thing to do. As the Jews had doubted after 40 years of wondering in the desert whether they would be able to conquer the Promised Land, so the Ukrainians of today, must have faith in God, and know that they shall conquer and possess the land which is theirs by God’s Will.  They simply must trust and obey.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  Today, there is no one who would claim Ukrainians do not have faith.  They all believe in God and will not fail. 

Today, we celebrate the memory of Ukraine’s Kobzar, Taras Shevchenko, and the Ambassador concluded his speech quoting the great bard,

“Борітеся – поборете, Вам Бог помагає! За вас правда, за вас слава. І воля святая!”

“Fight – and you shall conquer, for God helps you! Truth is with you, glory is yours. And freedom is holy!”

The Ambassador received a standing ovation which he humbly acknowledged as the final speaker came up.  

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America stepped up and delivered a moving speech. 

Over the past two weeks, the world has watched as Russia launched an unjust and violent invasion into Ukraine. During these turbulent times, we earnestly pray for those whose lives are affected by this brutal assault. The implications of the current humanitarian tragedy are being felt throughout Ukraine, its neighboring countries, and around the world.

Violence in the world is a somber sign of our fallen reality and the imperfection of our human experience, enslaved by the brokenness of our hearts which have been disfigured by our estrangement from the presence of God. Violence is a sin in perfect contradiction with the vocation for which men and women were created: to carry the supreme legacy of God’s image, while simultaneously growing in His likeness. Therefore, no war can ever be called “holy” nor even “just” in an attempt to rationalize it as morally acceptable. Today’s bloodshed in Ukraine must be set squarely upon the shoulders of Vladimir Putin, who is risking global peace for his own selfish political agenda.

We are witnessing an immense tragedy of human suffering: the targeting of civilians, assassination and terror, and the deaths of innocents, especially children. Yet, we know that Ukrainians and Russians are both children nourished from the same breast. They are brothers and sisters in Christ. How is it possible that such a fratricide is taking place on the Holy Ground of Kyivan Rus’?

Ten days ago, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said: we “…plead to end the war now. To immediately stop any act of violence, anything that spreads pain and death. Let reason prevail, love for fellow human beings, reconciliation, and solidarity, the light of the Risen Christ, the gift of life.”

In this same spirit, we join ourselves to these sentiments expressed by His All-Holiness and we exhort the Faithful: to offer prayers and tangible support for all the Ukrainian People — those of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and those of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate — for those of the Ukrainian Catholic and Jewish communities, for those belonging to a religion and for those without religion, and for all those who find themselves in the dire circumstances of war. I would like to commend His Eminence Metropolitan Antony of Hierapolis and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon for their inspirational leadership during these challenging times. As they host this prayer service in their Cathedral, we thank them for allowing us this opportunity to gather and pray together in a spirit of solidarity and compassion.

Today, we feel blessed to be surrounded by so much love and support from the friends of Ukraine. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all of you today for answering our call to pray for peace in Ukraine with such readiness. In response to the tragic humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the immediate aid needed there, we, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, have announced a major fundraising effort that will help those most affected by the Russian invasion. This is why —as a first step — we have donated $100,000 to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to support the efforts of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and have also created the Ukrainian Relief Effort, which was established in collaboration with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).

As the Righteous Gideon proclaimed, “the Lord is peace” (Judges 6:24). During each of our worship services, we pray “for the peace of the whole world,” because peace is more than the balance of powers or the absence of war. Peace is a state by which God’s presence reveals itself. “For Christ is our peace,” writes Saint Paul, and “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14).

As we watch the news from the region, we are inspired by both the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people who are facing terrible adversity with a valor which no one expected, and by the bravery of the many thousands of Russian People who are risking their freedom — and perhaps even their lives — as they protest this unprovoked and unreasonable attack. The current situation reminds me of what Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote: “Someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free.” It is this sense of freedom that brings inspiration to and respect from the entire world.

We are called to not only forgive our enemies, but to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Here we can take it one step further: Let us see no enemy in any of our brothers and sisters. For truly, the love of Christ can break down all barriers, transforming us into one united family able to resist evil and bring healing to the wounds from which our world is suffering at this very moment. To me, this is the prophetic lesson that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has taught us by granting the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2019. The spiritual independence of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine was — and even more so today is — the real response to division. An independent Orthodox Church as a promise of unity for the people of Ukraine: this was the vision of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. When the time comes to consider the reconstruction of this wonderful country in the aftermath of this tragedy, I see a wonderful opportunity for the Orthodox Church to be a catalyst and a source for renewed unity.

Thank you for joining us today. May God bless Ukraine and the Ukrainian people!

Slava Ukraini!

As the program came to a close, Fr. John asked His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, President of the Consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, who participated in the Unification Council of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in Kyiv and was present for the official signing of the Tomos of Autocephaly of the OCU in Constantinople in 2019 to say a few words.

His Eminence stated that an hour before this prayer service he received a phone call, and a text message from the Archbishop of Donbas, of Mariupol, His Eminence Metropolitan Serhij, who texted him initially from the basement of his church and reported that a children’s and maternity hospital where mothers were giving birth to babies was just bombed.  Sounds of shock and horror rose from the people listening.  While many people had already been evacuated, still the loss of life is most likely severe.  He said that the streets of Mariupol are covered with blood.  Even though the Russian Federation has promised to create a safety corridor, they have violated their promises over and over and over again.  The Ukrainian people cannot escape and are stuck in the danger zone.

13 days ago, at the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, he recalled how he had sat in front of the TV with the seminarians, all from Ukraine, and watched the first images being shared of the atrocities taking place in their homeland due to the attack of the Russian Federation on the sovereign nation of Ukraine.  As their bishop, he had a hard time consoling these young men.  There are no words to take away the pain and horror. 

8 years ago in Ukraine, the war started.  It did not start a few weeks ago, but, years ago, when the Revolution of Dignity took place, when the pro-Russian president fled Ukraine, and the loss of the Heavenly Hundred in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine took place.  Ukraine has responded to the tragedy of the Heavenly Hundred, the first hundred people who died during the Maidan of Kyiv by creating a hymn, a song in memory of those who had lost their lives.  It is called “Plyve Kacha”.  It is a song about a mother and son having a conversation about their lives, and what happens if mother or son dies, and who will take care of them. 

Before the seminarians chanted the song in memory of the first Heavenly Hundred, and all those who have perished in today’s tragedy in Ukraine, His Eminence asked everyone to rise for a moment of silence.  He asked everyone to pray according to their own tradition, as we are all united in prayer. As Archbishop Daniel asked that the lives of all those who lost their lives be eternal, all those assembled quietly rose to their feet, and bowed their heads in silence, commemorating and praying for all the human lives lost to tragedy. 

Quietly, eerily, the seminarians’ voices rose in a solemn chant.  Those who understood the words were quickly reduced to tears, while those who did not speak Ukrainian also found tears streaming down their cheeks, as the emotion of the chant was felt, and if not understood by the ears, was understood by the hearts and souls. 

As the deep male voices faded to silence, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony once again turned to all the gathered hierarchs, clergy and faithful, thanking them for coming and for their support of the nation of Ukraine.  He stated that people who

love God, regardless of their many traditions, can come together and make a statement to the world, supplicating God, beseeching God, to look down upon us all and give us the strength to do what we can, for His Glory, and for the establishment of His Kingdom of Love.

Glory to God!  Slava Ukraini!  Glory to Ukraine!

Orthodox, Interfaith and Political Leaders Gather in New York City for Ecumenical Prayer Service in Support of Ukraine

Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan

Text by Elizabeth Symonenko

(48 images)

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