A Lenten Address from Bishop Irenei on the Dioceses Response to the Situation in Ukraine

My very reverend and reverend fathers, pious monastics and faithful of the God-preserved Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe: As the terrible war in Ukraine carries on now into another sorrowful month, with blood continuing to water the soil on which our saints have trod and injustice dividing peoples whom God has called into unity, I wish once again to express my gratitude before God for the spirit with which the faithful and pious children of this Diocese have been, and are, responding to this unwanted and utterly lamentable war.

We as Orthodox Christians stepped into the present season of Great Lent with unusually heavy hearts, burdened by the weight of unsought-for bloodshed and war. Here in Europe, the grief of this suffering is close to home, both geographically, since Ukraine is so close to the territory of our diocese, but even more so spiritually, since our brothers and sisters in the long-suffering lands of Ukraine are precisely that: our brothers and sisters, and our mothers and fathers, and our children, not only in the general sense of the common bonds of all humanity, but in the sense of the spiritual kinship of our Orthodox faith. We are children of a common God, venerating common saints, partaking of the Holy Mysteries from the one chalice of Christs Church; and we look into each others eyes and say with full sincerity the words of Ruth, recorded in our holy Scriptures: "Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16).

The sorrow we are feeling - that our brothers blood is shed, that our sisters home is in ruins, that children suffer and grieve - adds a new pain to this season of repentance by which we prepare for the Lords Resurrection. The Church, by her nature, calls always for peace; and in moments where peace is stolen by acts of violence and fratricidal bloodshed, we are reminded only too potently of our Saviors words: that the peace the world gives, which so easily crumbles under hatred and anger, is not the same as the peace He brings, and which we always seek. The Church is not a political enterprise, called to speak politically; and though there are those who persist in seeking political commentary from the Church, our charge is to speak, rather, of the spiritual realities beneath all world events, and here the reality is clear: we are experiencing wickedness, and the Christian must respond with the witness of a higher way - and the actions to aid those who are grievously suffering so unjustly.

I wish to express my deep gratitude to the faithful of our Diocese, who in these weeks since the advent of this lamentable situation have responded with an immense outpouring of Christian love and work towards that peace. Centered in London but spreading throughout eleven countries and principalities of Western Europe, our Diocese of the Church Abroad has shown itself blessed with pious believers who, without hesitation, have seen the wounded, and rushed to heal their wounds; have witnessed the grieving and sought to provide consolation; have seen those in need, and raced to provide what is necessary. Our parishes, some of which are very large but many of which are very small, have raised many tens of thousands of pounds, euros and Francs - most of this coming forth in a matter of days, and sent directly to the humanitarian fund of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and our beloved father, shepherd and witness to the peace of Christ - a man who stands with his flock, caring with all his heart for the Ukrainian people, and working to aid all those now in peril and need. And our parishes have organized so many other means of help, and so swiftly: from small communities organizing bookstalls to raise funds for refugee relief, to parishes offering shelter in the homes of parishioners for refugees arriving from Ukraine, to parishes organizing legal aid to assist refugees in obtaining legal status in European nations as they seek safety, to collecting medicines and clothes, and so many other acts of charity and love. May God bless all of you who have turned love into action; and those of you who are proving tireless in this necessary work.

My brethren, for more than a century our Church Abroad has been the home to Orthodox Christians across the world, with many of its parishes, through our heritage in the long history of Orthodoxy as a whole, having been functioning in places like London and Vevey and Geneva and Florence and elsewhere since long before the advent a century ago of our Church Abroad in her autonomous life and administration, which we preserve even today, headed by our Holy Synod and First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America, centered in New York. Linked to no State or government except as citizens of the many nations in which we dwell, these parishes, and this diocese - like all our dioceses across the world - embrace within them Orthodox Christians of every nationality and race and tongue, without reference to political borders or affiliations. It is for precisely this reason that our faithful so instinctively see the present situation not as one of "us and them," but simply as being a grief for us all - and therefore a cause for our common love, action, and shared labors.

I urge all of you, above all, to pray to Almighty God that the bloodshed will cease swiftly, that those in civil authority who are responsible for governments and militaries will at once turn from the way of the sword, and that peace may be swiftly restored. Prayer is the chief tool of the Christian, and is powerful: wield it well! In every single one of our parishes, at every Liturgy, we offer liturgical prayers for the swift end to the bloodshed in Ukraine: ensure you do this also at home. And I urge you, also, to preserve in all ways the love and concord of our communities in these times of strain and heightened emotion. Do not let fear or grief or anger turn your hearts cold; for then our sorrow is only multiplied. Rather, continue to be what you are in truth: children of the God Who loves all, sharing and showing His love to all. In this moment, rest securely in the stability of the Church: she is Christs body, not a tool of political whims or a reed to be blown about by even the fiercest storms of world events - but the very rock on which we can stand firm in times of trial, since she exists to provide hope for the hopeless, comfort for the grieved, and joy to those in sorrows.

As we continue through Great Lent, guard peace in your own hearts, and attain it through the ascetic practices of the Church; for it it does not exist in the heart, we cannot share it elsewhere. Be true peacemakers: acquire the Spirit of peace within you through prayer and fasting and the Mysteries of Christ, and use the strength of that peace to work together to help those who now stand in such immediate need of care.

May God bless you. May He swiftly bring peace to Ukraine and her children, uniting the divided and healing the suffering; and may His glory be revealed even in these hard days, to the salvation of His beloved human race.


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