My Lord Bishop, Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers, Fr Deacon, Ministers of many faiths, I would like to acknowledge and welcome you, our guests who have gathered here to pray for peace and justice in Ukraine. You presence today is very much appreciated by Ukrainians here in Sydney as well as those in Ukraine.
Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? (Joel 2:17)
These words are written in the book of the prophet Joel. It’s probably not one of the better known books of the Bible, so it might be helpful to see the background and context of this passage. We’re not told when Joel lived; all we’re told is that he was the son of Pethuel. He was a prophet in Jerusalem, at a time of national disaster. A plague of locusts was attacking the land of Judah, and coming dangerously close to Jerusalem. It was a time of total devastation, a time of despair at time of great sadness.
There are many parallels with today’s Ukraine!
Like all the Prophets, Joel calls people to repentance, to a change of heart, to seek forgiveness and to be reconciled with the Lord our God! Such reconciliation is vital for the People of Ukraine. For only through penance and forgiveness can Ukraine as a nation and as a people find that true peace, which only God can give.
Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people!
The images of the Majdan in Kyiv have inspired and disturbed us. The sight of so many ministers of God, be they Catholic or Orthodox, Lutheran or Baptist, Jewish or Moslem standing with their people. Standing between the oppressors and the oppressed, mediating, comforting and consoling in the midst of gunfire and violence and reminding them that God is with them! Lest they ask; “Where our God?”
Ukraine is a home to people of most faiths and traditions much like that which we find in Australia. In recent times harmony has prevailed despite a very difficult history of occupation, oppression, and persecution. This harmony was and still is evident on the Majdan and is a symbol of the new order which must now prevail in the Ukrainian Nation. One nation united under God!
In today’s Gospel Reading we hear the words of Jesus; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”
My friends, we are gathered in prayer for peace and justice in Ukraine, this peace must begin with ourselves.
Jesus leaves us His peace because of His love for us. We must therefore be apostles of love so as to be agents of peace. We are capable of love even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances. Blessed John Henry Newman said: We love because it is our nature to love, and it is our nature because God the Holy Spirit has made it our nature. It is this natural love that brought so many into the streets and squares of Kyiv and so many other Ukrainian cities. The love of God, of freedom, of justice of truth. These people are not radicals, fascists or anarchists but ordinary citizens, young and old, students and workers united by love and steadfast in faith.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid
As Ukraine and the world mourn the dead, the “Heavenly Hundred” let their deaths be not in vain. We give thanks for those, who in the face of brutal and criminal acts stood strong and were not afraid to remain on the Maidan. We commend their souls to God and remember the prophetic words of the great Ukrainian Poet Taras Shevchenko;
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
We also pray for those who grieve and those who are injured, that they will find comfort in the peace of God.
Ukraine is undergoing a profound change. Not just politically or socially, but morally and spiritually. It has been 23 years since the fall of the Soviet Union – that Evil Empire that brought nothing more than oppression and persecution, 23 years since Ukrainian independence. Yet only now do we see the last gasps of Homo Sovieticus – soviet man, in all his greed and selfishness, which he still tries to cling so desperately to the old ways, where he thinks “there is no God”! That religion is the “opiate of the masses”. The Soviet man that believes that the state orders the people for an imagined common good but in fact, only helps those who are in power. Ukraine is now finally free of that old order and we must pray that it remains free!
Alas, even today, armies are gathering on the border and threats are being made by those who cannot accept that Ukraine is a free and sovereign nation. A nation in which all people, all faiths and ethnicities can stand on the golden fields under the bright blue sky as one nation united under God.
So let us pray for peace, for justice, for basic human goodness to prevail. Let us pray that we learn from the mistakes of the past and are given Divine wisdom not to repeat them! Let us pray for strength in times of weakness and hope in times of despair. Let us pray that hearts be changed, and forgiveness be asked for and given.
Finally, let us pray for Australia, the land and her people in which Ukrainians and so many other peoples have made their home. That we may stand as an example of unity and diversity, justice and peace, of faith hope and of love and as a shining example to the world.
God bless Ukraine! God Bless Australia!