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On Thursday 24 February 2022 we stand here again, clothed in nothing but the shreds of our lost illusions.
Thus wrote one of our most perceptive commentators on European matters, Professor Timothy Garton-Ash as the reality of President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began to sink in to our consciousness. Death and destruction threaten a modern European capital, Kyiv, less than three hours flying time from the UK; whole families are fleeing from their homes to shelter in underground stations; refugees are beginning to arrive at the Polish border. The post-1990 new world order has been turned upside down in a display of naked military aggression.
Much has been written, often in negative terms, about Vladimir Putin’s symbiotic relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church and his fervent desire to restore the original homeland of Slavic Christian orthodoxy, present day Ukraine, to the Motherland. There may or may not be truth in such assertions. The broader truth is that individuals and empires have often yoked themselves to the outward forms of Christianity in order to achieve more mundanely political ends: the Emperor Constantine did it in the fourth century in order to consolidate his power over the eastern Roman Empire; four hundred years later Charlemagne did the same in western Europe with the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire; and (despite his undoubted personal piety) Henry VIII did the same in sixteenth century England. The modern Church of England is the product of an essentially political settlement.
Scripture teaches us that Christ, as distinct from Christianity, can never be co-opted in this way. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s says Jesus to the Pharisees – quite deliberately avoiding, as he speaks, specifying exactly what it is that belongs to Caesar, as opposed to God who is the giver of all things. My kingdom is not from this world says Jesus to Pontius Pilate, distancing himself from the power politics of his day and making it clear that his kingdom is utterly different from any imperial power represented by Pilate or anyone else.
We pray for the people of Ukraine and for all those who have the power to bring about a resolution to a conflict that is a reflection of human fallibility and weakness. We also pray for the coming of God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace, the smallest of seeds which will grow into a tree where there is shelter, safety and protection for all.
With prayers and good wishes,
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