As the Russian Federation continued its assault upon the sovereign nation of Ukraine, destroying not only military installations, but, countless churches, schools, hospitals, and residential areas, and taking thousands of innocent lives, the people of the United States gathered quietly inside the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, New Jersey. The church, itself built as a memorial to the 10 million victims of the Holodomor, the genocide by starvation perpetrated by Soviet Russia, via a manmade famine, stood tall and bright against the darkening sky.
Joining 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, was His Grace Bishop Saba of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church in North America. This evening the two Orthodox Churches, along with their faithful, joined together to beseech the Lord on behalf of Ukraine, asking for the safety of the innocent people, a cessation to the war, and a return to peace, praying in Ukrainian, English, and Georgian.
Surrounded by local clergy from the Ukrainian and Georgian Orthodox Churches, the hierarchs celebrated a Moleben, an intercessory Prayer Service, praying:
“Again, 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.”
The people filling the church, all bowed their heads and prayed along as the Seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary sang the responses, their voices hauntingly weaving among the faithful in soulfully responded to the petitions, “Lord, have mercy.”
His Eminence Metropolitan Antony prayed the moving prayer for Ukraine in Ukrainian, while His Eminence Archbishop Daniel prayed the same prayer a second time in English.
“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.”
As the service concluded, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony turned to the people and said a few words about the current situation in Ukraine.
We bishops, clergy and people all understand each other because we have all suffered at the hands of invaders, at the hands of those who seek to destroy us, and to wipe us from the face of the earth. But, by the Grace of God we rise each time, like a phoenix from the ashes. We rise, and we build anew because it is impossible for the invaders to destroy the soul of the nation. The nation is the people. It is not the physical state, but the people. Through all the numerous invasions Ukraine has suffered, even the numerous times in this last century, the Holodomor, the Soviet repression, the expulsion of millions of Ukrainians to Siberia and imminent death, our people were hurt, they were crushed, and yet still deep inside, within their hearts and souls, they knew who they were, they knew from where they came, and they knew they had to rise up again and to rebuild everything that was destroyed. Today, we have the nation of Ukraine, who for 30 years enjoyed relative freedom and independence and is recognized by the entire world, including the Russian Federation, once again being savagely attacked, being killed by the thousands, women, innocent children, infirm elderly, being attacked simply because they are “in the way”. Being attacked because they do not wish to abide by the rules of a Totalitarian government. They want to continue enjoying the freedom they have tasted during these last 30 years. The freedom that they had in their hearts, for nearly the last 2,000 years.
His Eminence continued by stating that his soul is constantly fed when he reads the history of what the Ukrainian, and the Georgian nations have overcome in this regard. How much they have had to fight back, and how much the nations had to rebuild. However, each time the nations only got stronger. He expressed that he believes with all his heart, that this is finally the time when the entire world will say, “no more war, no more torture, nor more killing, in Ukraine.” He continued that trying to subdue and own a free nation must come to an end. Ukraine is a free nation, and she will stand onto eternity as a free nation, and a free people.
Metropolitan Antony expressed his gratitude to Bishop Saba for his desire to come and pray with the Ukrainian Orthodox, and for being an example to all the former-Soviet block nations, in saying “this is enough”. It is important for the world to see that other nations which were also consumed by the Soviet Union are standing up against the tyrannical regime and saying “enough” – not only for Ukraine, but for all the nations who have suffered in such a way.
His Eminence expressed that the Ukrainian faithful embrace Bishop Saba with their hearts and souls, and thanked him for his kindness and the love which he shows to the Ukrainian people.
His Grace Bishop Saba acknowledged the gratitude and asked to say a few words, through his translator.
He stated that he came here today to be with people of Ukraine, because both our countries have been occupied by Russia. In 2008 we said the next country would be Ukraine. But back then the world did not see it. Now we see that we are dealing with a dictator. My biggest pain is the largest problem in Ukraine and that is that the clergy do not recognize the evil. He stated that many bishops and patriarchs are wrongly blessing the people who are murdering innocent civilians. This is not the Christian way. Whomever believes in Christ must stand today with Ukraine, because today, the antichrist is attacking her. Today, Ukraine is Golgotha upon which Christ is crucified. We believe He will rise, and at the end Ukraine will rise, and the Light shall conquer the darkness.
His Grace extended his support from himself, his eparchy, the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the Georgian Community, all of whom stand behind Ukraine and her people, and wish to help in any way possible. The Georgians share the pain of the Ukrainians today and are here to assist their brethren.
As His Grace concluded, and the people dried their eyes having been moved by the depth of meaning and feeling portrayed through Bishop Saba’s words, the children of the Georgian community moved forward to surround their hierarch as they sang in Ukrainian, the Ukrainian national anthem. Goosebumps arose on the gathered Ukrainians, hearing the innocent voices singing the words of the anthem etched upon their hearts. One by one, with tears streaming down their cheeks, the Ukrainians joined the children, until the entire church loudly reverberated with the words declaring the strength and endurance of the Ukrainian people, and their nation.
Ще не вмерла України і слава, і воля.
Ще нам, браття українці, усміхнеться доля.
Згинуть наші вороженьки, як роса на сонці,
Запануєм і ми, браття, у своїй сторонці.
Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу,
І покажем, що ми, браття, козацького роду.
Never perished is Ukraine's glory and freedom!
Still upon us, Ukrainians, fate shall smile!
Our enemies shall vanish, like dew in the sun;
We too shall rule In our beloved country.
Soul and body shall we lay down for our freedom
And show that we are brethren of the Cossack nation.
The children continued by singing the Georgian National Anthem in their native language.
ჩემი ხატია სამშობლო,
სახატე მთელი ქვეყანა,
თავისუფლება დღეს ჩვენი
მომავალს უმღერს დიდებას,
ცისკრის ვარსკვლავი ამოდის
ამოდის და ორ ზღვას შუა ბრწყინდება,
და დიდება თავისუფლებას,
My icon is my motherland,
And icon-stand is whole world.
Bright mounts and valleys
Are shared with God
Today our freedom
Sings to the glory of future,
The dawn star rises up
And shines out between two seas.
Praise be to the liberty,
Liberty be praised!
As the young voices faded, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel stepped up and thanked His Grace Bishop Saba, the visiting clergy, the Georgian faithful, the children, all the gathered Ukrainians, and all the guests for supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom and joining them in prayer. He thanked them for praying for Ukraine, for Georgia, and for the country in which we live, the United States of America. He continued by stating that as he watched the children sing in both Georgian and Ukrainian, he could not help but reflect upon both nations’ shared history that brings the two countries so close to each other. Our Georgian brothers lived through the same turmoil in 2008, being invaded by the Russian Federation, as the Ukrainians gathered on the Maidan also fought for independence, hoping it was their final battle. Little did they know that in 2022 they would again be fighting for freedom in both nations.
Archbishop Daniel smiled as he gazed upon the children before him and stated that his heart is full of hope, as their young voices projected life and filled everyone’s heart with joy. He stated that we all know that we will win the war against evil, because that is what we are fighting – a heavenly war against the evil in this world. Looking at the children, he stated that it is because of their voices, because of their eyes, because of their hope, that the adults are inspired and are convinced that the future of our nations – Georgia, Ukraine, and the USA, is bright and will be wonderful, as long as we work on it together, join forces, and offer our prayers to Almighty God.
His Eminence promised to pray for the children, and the Georgians, and asked that they in turn pray for Ukrainians, to which the children all joyously replied “yes”.
His smile fading, Archbishop Daniel gazed into the camera and asked everyone to pray this evening for the people of Mariupol in Ukraine. The city has been targeted for the past three weeks. This afternoon countless people were hiding in the basement of the large theater, trying to avoid the bombardment, when it was directly hit and collapsed upon those hiding beneath. Today, His Eminence received a text message from the bishop of Mariupol, who was finally able to escape the city. While he has survived, he has lost his hearing. In his text he explained that the people who are sheltering in one of the buildings are stuck in the basement of a building that was bombed, and they cannot get out. Only a few cellphones still have power, and the people are trying to reach out for help. While they have some water left, they have run out of food. However, the most horrific aspect was the rats who come out as they sleep and gnaw on the children and adults in the dark. Who would have imagined that in the 21st century there would be children, with mothers, and grandparents stuck in a basement, and not able to survive, left to die in hunger, pain, and fear?
This year, the Lenten Season has been difficult. Watching the images of the atrocities, and hearing the stories, it is difficult to cultivate a spirit of peace and tranquility. However, because of these atrocities, we need to be stronger. Seeing all the evil around us, we need to be even more inspired and dedicated in our faith in God, that we will be able to fight the battle against evil, to a final victory. At the end of every dark tunnel, there is a glimmer of light. His Eminence stated that we are in the dark tunnel, but we see that sparkle of light in the eyes of the children, in the eyes of the men and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who are defending freedom, in the eyes of the Ukrainian President who addresses not only Ukraine but the entire free world – asking them to wake up and stand up for freedom and defend the sacredness of life.
Having asked for prayers from and promising in turn to pray for the Georgian community, Archbishop Daniel invited everyone to make their way to the Saint Sophia Seminary, where coffee, sweets and a light Lenten meal was prepared for them. As the cold breeze blew, and the flags snapped in the wind, the faithful, Ukrainian and Georgian, arm in arm, step in step, brothers in Faith, and comrades in a common battle, emerged into the darkness, carrying the Light of Christ within their hearts and souls. Through their continued commitment to Christ, through their prayers, freedom is assured, and both Georgia and Ukraine have a bright future ahead of them.