A Devotion

By Brian Polkinghorne

Posted in News

How can one speak about faith issues today without referencing Russia and Ukraine? This war is not only about history and culture and politics but – critically - about religion as well.

This agonizingly painful fracture is revealing the fracture of different expressions of faith. Even within the Orthodox faith itself. Stan Grant reveals this quite clearly in his quote: ‘First Vladimir Putin goes to church, puts on the cross, then he kills.’

That's what Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos has said about Putin's war on Ukraine. He asks: ‘Is this Putin's orthodoxy?’

This war has split the Orthodox Church globally. This is not just a war of politics, it is a holy war.

A holy war also? Yes I think so. Several other analysists agree with that dimension. I myself am almost hypnotised by the similarity between Abram’s covenantal dream in Genesis Chapter 15 where God says that he is giving Abram and his descendants – ‘All this land from the borders of Egypt to the river Euphrates, including the lands of the Kenites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perrizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites,’ Chapter 15 of Genesis.

All this land! Is this not strangely similar to what Putin is saying today? Is not Putin saying, ‘I want back all the lands of Greater Russia, which we lost in 1991 – all the land of the Ukranites, and the lands of the peoples of Armenia, Azabijan, Belaraus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. My land,’ perhaps says Putin in his head.

Particularly with Ukraine, the very centre of the Holy Rus Empire as from the year 988 the very epicentre of the Russian Orthodox Church – and a land of great natural wealth. Are there not strange parallels here? Both Israel over the centuries and Russia now with total disregard for the pain, suffering and horrors of dispossession of wars, and religious aggression devoid of compassion? How fortunate that our settlers found this terra Nullius Island and so respected it that we have never had any land conflicts or need for a treaty or compensation!

Tim Costello met Vladimir Putin in 2013 and writes now, ‘This spiritual space is an important clue often overlooked. In 988 Vladimir, King of the Rus was the first Christian convert. In Kyiv he summoned the whole city to the banks of the Dnieper River for a mass baptism. Holy Mother Russia was born. In 2019 the Ukrainian Orthodox church broke with the Russian Orthodox Church and declared its independence. But Putin and the Russian Church will not accept this because it is the site of the imagined mother church for all the Rus.’

Tim Costello also agrees with Professor Marlene Laruelle of George Washington University who says that Putting and Russia describe the West as a corrupt, morally decadent liberal world, and itself, as a kind of Saviour of Christian conservative traditional values.

Stan Grant puts this idea even more clearly saying ‘Vladimir Putin said in a speech in 2021: “We see many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of western civilisations. They are denying the moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual.”’

And so on and so on goes the analysis. But what is all of this saying to us?

During the period of Bin Laden we were all stirred up about Muslim fundamental extremists, and rightly so. But fundamental extremism is not limited to Muslims is it? Certain branches of Christianity are just as scary. Just as scary, and divide the church just like the divide Islam.

How do we know that we might not be slipping into the fringes of fundamental extremism ourselves? For me, it always comes down to asking myself – what I am thinking or planning to do – does that align with the overall teaching, the living example of Jesus?

What we do in the Uniting Church Fellowship and Mission Support (UCFAMS) – does that align with the teaching and living example of Jesus? Therein, and therein only lies the potential authenticity of the church, all its branches and us as individual disciples. Not Old Testament Law but New Testament love and grace. Sounds so easy doesn’t it!

Let us pray.

Lord our Lord – the God of love, grace, compassion and forgiveness, we thank and praise you that Jesus has revealed to us this dimension of your nature.

Help us to always be prepared in this Lenten season, to face up to our own failings and measure our steps carefully so that we do not fall deeper into spiritual blindness or casue others to fall with us.

We pray for the people and the leaders of both Russia and Ukraine – all the leaders of NATO and the European Union, that they will have the grace to admit their failings and the courage to lead with compassion and grace.

We pray for our own church leaders and ourselves as we live out our joyous responsibilities within the community of UCFAMS.

These and all issues in our lives we put into your hands and ask for guidance and wisdom in all we do – that all we do and are, may resound to your honour and glory. Through Jesus the Christ, Amen.


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