As Ukraine nears 9 months of war, Vatican News‘ Editorial Director says the war has opened wounds between countries which share a common baptism, teaching us that faith and religious tradition should never be taken for granted.
Ukraine is approaching the end of the ninth month since the beginning of Russia’s horrific war of aggression.
Nine months is the amount of time in which human life takes shape in the womb; that same amount of time in Ukraine has however not been the nurturing of life, but of death, of hatred, of devastation.
One common Christianity
There is one side of this war that we do not always remember: it is a conflict between two peoples who belong to the same faith in Christ and the same baptism.
In that geographical area, Christianity is associated with the Baptism of the Rus peoples in 988, when Vladimir the Great, after being baptized in Kherson, wanted his family and the people of Kyiv to receive the sacrament in the waters of the Dnieper River.
Russian and Ukrainian Christians share the same Divine Liturgy and spirituality belonging to the Eastern Churches.
Today there is a tendency to hide this common affiliation of faith and liturgical tradition for reasons related to war propaganda: when you fight and kill you have to forget the face and humanity of the other, as the “prophet of peace” Bishop Don Tonino Bello recalled.
And you even have to forget that the other person shares the same baptism as you.
The war that has broken out in the heart of Europe is a war between Christians, so the wound is made even more painful for followers of Jesus.
We are not faced with a conflict that can be classified as a “clash of civilizations,” a theory made famous following the Islamist-driven attacks of September 11, 2001 to mark the differences between “us” and “them.”
No. Here the attackers read the same gospel as the attacked.
Wounds made by war
The feelings of dismay aroused by this realization might lead us to reflect on how far the Gospel message still has to go to enter the hearts of Christians and permeate their culture, so as to embody the example of Jesus who in Gethsemane enjoined Peter to put his sword back in its scabbard.
It could even lead us to climb up on our secure pulpit of judgment of those who would delineate between our Christianity and that of the warmongers who mix holy icons with the soldiers’ labarum to justify aggression and violence with religious speech, something which we ourselves did until not long ago and as some would still desire to do today.
But this would only be for us a convenient escape route, a form of self-absolution not to keep the wound created by this war open.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine instead teaches us that belonging to a common tradition, recalling an identity and a culture originating from the same Gospel proclamation, are not enough to preserve us from falling into the barbarity of violence, hatred, and murderous war.
Peace through Christ alone
Keeping the wound open means to, therefore, remember every day that our faith and religious traditions can never be taken for granted.
It means remembering that we can only act as Christians through grace, not by tradition or culture.
It means remembering Jesus’ words, “apart from me you can do nothing,” to return to being humble beggars for Him, alive and present today, and for His peace.
With thanks to Vatican News and Andrea Tornielli, where this article originally appeared.