Scholar Mark Elliot’s recent online article describes a Christian community fractured by war. In Ukraine and Russia, evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholics, and others have broken fellowship with each other. They are, in his words, “elevating loyalty to a fatherland over loyalty to God the Father”—that is, they are not striving for peace with everyone, but are allowing a “root of bitterness” to spring up and cause trouble.
This root is old and deep. Ukraine lies on a geopolitical, cultural, and religious fault line that goes back centuries, and even though the current crisis started for geopolitical reasons, religion plays a key supporting role. Since the beginning of the crisis last year, churches of every denomination have been drafted into the fight, with each side using biblical language to justify its actions and demonize the other. These churches provide a veneer of virtue and moral authority that the governments themselves could not muster.
It is precisely for this reason, however, that the churches of Russia and Ukraine will be indispensable to any lasting peace. A peace treaty, if it ever comes, might stop the fighting, but only the church can address the enmity, division, and brokenness caused by the war.
This won’t come naturally to most churches in Russia and Ukraine. Many priests and pastors see themselves as responsible for what happens within the four walls of their church—and nothing else. This deeply-embedded isolationism—a legacy of the Soviet period—makes it nearly impossible for the church to engage society during a time of crisis. As one Ukrainian pastor put it to me, “We see serving God as something we do only in our church. So when ...1