Late last month, Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first post-Soviet president, warned the world that his country was “on the brink of civil war.”
After visiting the country, the European Union’s foreign policy chief was reportedly “shocked by the unrest” and added that there was “no question that the importance of finding a quick and peaceful way forward is on everyone’s minds.”
Happily, there is one group of Ukrainians providing an example of what a “peaceful way” would look like—and they did it in the most dramatic and powerful way possible.
On January 22, as protesters and units of the Ukrainian police militia squared off on Kiev’s Grushevsky Street, they were “joined” by monks from the Kiev-Caves Lavra, an ancient monastery dating back to 1051.
Actually, “joined” is the wrong word. What the monks did was to place themselves between the militia and the protesters. A photograph that has gone viral shows a monk, holding a cross, facing the crowd while a soldier, to whom his back is turned, points a rifle in his direction.
Instead of taking sides in the confrontation, the monks called on both sides to “stop their fighting and repent.” Instead of shouting slogans, they prayed and sang the ancient hymn known as the Troparion, which goes, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
Then something remarkable happened: The crowd broke up, and the protesters and police agreed to a truce.
As the New York Daily News put it, “Holy nerves of steel!”
Unfortunately, the truce didn’t hold for long. Ukraine is deeply divided between a predominantly Russian-speaking eastern part—a legacy of its Soviet past—and an overwhelmingly Ukrainian-speaking western part. We should keep the people of Ukraine in our prayers.
And we should also pray for the monks and learn from their example. We are all familiar with the beatitude “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” But, as the monks of Kiev-Caves Lavra remind us, being a peacemaker is not without considerable risk.
The monks positioned themselves between an angry crowd and armed soldiers. Likewise, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu saved a man from being burned to death by an angry crowd, he had to wrestle with the man’s would-be executioners.
No one ever said that being a son of God would be easy. Or safe. But a world where conflict is often the rule and not the exception needs Christians who are willing to be called the sons of God. Back in the 1980s, the New Republic credited the mostly-peaceful nature of the struggle against apartheid to the Christian faith of the black majority.
Ukraine’s best chance to avoid the conflagration Kravchuk warned against is for more Ukrainians to emulate the example set by those brave monks.
Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org) that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
This is one of the hymns the monks of Kieve-Caves sang on Grushevsky Street. “Christos Anesti” is an ancient Easter hymn of the Eastern Orthodox church.
Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission.