An end to the bloodshed and a start to reconciliation and a just peace
I greet you with the word of the Resurrected One: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)
Today all the world is following the Victory Day celebrations to be held in various cities in Russia. But what is Russia now celebrating? The victory of peace?
According to the traditional answer, Russia celebrates the victory over Hitler’s Germany and National Socialism. Field Marshal Georgi Žukov of the Red Army received the surrender signed by his his German colleagues in Berlin, at three minutes after midnight on 9 May, 1945.
The truth is that the Soviet Union suffered terribly both from Hitler’s attack and Nazi Germany’s defeat. May the Lord remember all these victims in his Kingdom. The truth is also that Stalin’s Soviet Union outrageously played Hitler, along with Germany, by concluding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement and by subjugating the Baltic lands, eastern Poland and Bessarabia under its violent imperium. Finland preserved its independence with difficulty and war.
It is clear that this year, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s intention was to produce a sequel to his Victory Day report: victory over a threatening Ukraine which had been stripped of Nazis and its own army. But what is the end result? In western eyes, what kind of spoils of war does Russia celebrate this Victory Day?
Great deception, for it had already been planning the attack for days, and from the beginning of December it only appeared to be searching for a solution through diplomatic means.
A war of aggression, for which not the smallest justification exists from the perspective of international law or common morality.
A culture of lying, in which a nation’s leadership systematically lies to itself, to the nation, and the entire world, so that it no longer appears believable before the presence of the truth.
A drift to becoming a rogue state rejected by the international community, in which economic sanctions are destroying its economy and make the life of its own citizens miserable. And at the same time a drift into becoming a police state in which the leadership of the state, out of fear of rebellion, is led to restrict the fundamental rights of its citizens more and more sharply.
Even bombastic military parades cannot negate the fact that today Russian is also celebrating the corruption of its military: the soldiers of its aggressor army have systematically stolen, tortured, raped and killed civilians. What has been stolen includes grain, vodka, tractors, household appliances, women’s handbags and men’s underwear. Children, women, the elderly, homes, schools, hospitals, churches, monasteries, museums and nuclear power plants have been made targets of their bombing. If all are misses, it’s a matter of an army of the deaf and blind. If again they are successful hits, it’s a matter of an army of destruction marching in the boots of the worst fascists.
Perhaps the most abhorrent of all is the news of gang rapes. According to both the United Nations and local psychologists, Russian soldiers gang rape and force the next of kin to watch the desecration. In some cases, in the end the victims have been killed.
No hardened person can wash clean these sins and crimes, not even Patriarch Kirill, whose actions have been a grave disappointment, both to his own faithful and to us ecumenical companions. The evidence for acts of destruction is overwhelming, nor can these acts be explained as some kind of setup or fake news. The brutalities are systematic, they cannot be explained as the indiscretions of individual soldiers.
Unfortunately, sometimes democracy and human rights must be defended also by means of tough security. Its time has come. Ukraine has the right to defend itself. And the western countries have the responsibility to help Ukraine humanitarily, economically and militarily. European decision-makers should dare to neuter the natural gas and oil pipelines that fund Russia’s army of rapists. And we all must to be ready to bear the pain and adversities it will bring.
Still, there is no cause for empty military bravado. Namely, a defender too – although they have the right to defend themselves, always breaks – morally as well. She has to suppress her compassion, target another person and participate in a culture of hate and death. A just war too is always a tragedy. A defender must pray: “Lord, have mercy on me.” This must be our humble prayer as well.
The Russian leadership need to know this: today the world is watching with contempt the lewd parades of the Russian army of rapists. Today they are celebrating deeds deserving not honor, but shame. The time will come when the perpetrators and supporters of atrocities will have to give an account of their lives before the face of the Almighty. Then, they will no longer be able to survive by lying.
The rhetoric of the Russian leadership, that the West wants to conquer it, is a false bullying whose intention is to prop up those who currently hold power and to increase their armaments. The rhetoric of the Russian leadership, that the West harasses Russians living here is a false victimization – they themselves harass their own citizens.
The Russian leadership also need to know this: its attack notwithstanding, I am certain that we neighbors want to live in reconciliation with it. After all the bloodshed, this reconciliation will not succeed without long and painful processes to which belong the initiation of conversation, confession of the truth, seeking a just peace, and the desire to compensate and repair.
The first step is the cessation of bloodshed. Therefore we appeal today: In the Name of God, immediately stop the shedding of the blood of Ukrainians and that of your own soldiers!
Peace is not only the absence of war. According to the Christian faith, it is much more: love among family members and friendship between neighbors. In a just society, trust and tolerance between peoples and integrity in Creation. In a word, harmony: with one’s heart, friends, peoples, Creation, and God.
All Christians are sent out to this work of (re)building at the conclusion of each service of worship, with the words of the Lord’s blessing: “May the Lord turn his face to us and give us peace.” God calls each one of us to this work of the building of peace. Peace be with you!
Bishop of the Diocese of Kuopio
Evangelical-lutheran Church of Finland