4/20/22 Devotional from Ed
April 20, 2022
Author: Ed Black
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:27
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Devotional: When listening to a recent sermon by Rev. Scott Black Johnston, I learned about this interview between Yale Divinity School professor Miroslav Volf and his former student, Fyodor Raychynets, now a pastor in the Ukraine and head of the Department of Theology at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary.
Raychynets posts updates on Facebook of what it is like on the ground right now, including being explicit about the hunger crisis and physical damage all around. His realistic portrayal of life in the Ukraine, coupled with this interview with his former professor, brought forth another reminder of how we are Christ's hands and feet in this world, even in the darkest hours.
Here's the part I'd like to lift up this week (note that Raychynets lost his wife to COVID last year):
Fyodor Raychynets: Yes. So we suffered greatly from COVID. And I survived. She did not. It was a big tragedy for me, for our school, because she was just a person that is hard to replace. So why I stayed? Because I said, you know, in the war, as I know from the Balkans, there is a frontline, but there is a rearguard. And in these rearguards, there are so many things to do. So many things to be useful. So we decided that when the war started, we will build a small volunteers group and we will just serve to the people who suffered the most from the war. And these are the elderly people. We feed them because they are in the basements. They have no idea what's going on outside the world. And they're just there. Blocked. They are scared to death. So many of them could never dream that they will experience a war again in their lifetime. They are there hungry, without electricity, without water. So what we decided to do is we decided just to provide to these people.
A few days ago, we would still help mothers with children. But at the same time, most of them have been evacuated. And we have helped hundreds of people to be evacuated from Kyiv to the western parts of Ukraine. And hopefully, them, they go to Poland, to Hungary. I'm in contact with many churches in Croatia and they are offering their assistance to welcome people, to welcome refugees to Croatia. So we decided to stay and to be of help to those who needed the most. So these are the elderly people.
Also, we know that not many churches are happy with that, but we are of great help to the Territorial Defense Group. We are trying to provide the necessary things. Medicine, hygiene stuff, clothing, shoes. We don't supply the weapons or anything like that, but there are many needs beside that to be helpful with. So I just decided to stay and help and to be of help. And as we experienced for these 18 days, the rearguard matters a lot to the frontline. And if there are these people, volunteers who are helping with all the necessary things, then the people in the frontline, they feel supported. And they want to protect us. They want to fight for these people and protect us. So basically, sorry for long description, but that's the description of the situation. That's my decision. Thanks to God, I was able to evacuate my children. So my daughter, this morning, landed in Bordeaux, in France. Some of my friends welcomed her there. And my son, he stayed with my mom in the most western part of Ukraine, which is on the border with Hungary.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. You know, you're speaking so movingly in your posts on Facebook about people who cannot get a taste of beautiful, fresh-smelling Ukrainian bread. So you spend time, you spend quite a bit of your energy also, distributing food. Is a hunger or a problem right now?
Fyodor Raychynets: It is a problem in those parts... but, well, you see, Kyiv is a large city. It's six and a half millions of population. So it's a huge cities. We went to the center of Kyiv. So there is one situation. Then we came back to the place where the seminary is located and we were under the heavy shelling. So, in this part, yes, the food is a problem. The water, clear water, is a problem now. The medicine to the elderly people is unaccessible.
So we are trying. We have some pockets of people who are sitting in the basements and that's who we are trying, daily... It is getting dangerous. Because two less days, we were led into the area on our own responsibility. The military guys, they said, "It is not safe to go there anymore. And we can let you, as a priest, as a pastors...we won't stop you. But you are going there on your own responsibility. We warn you, and it's up to you to decide what to do." So we risked it. We risked it, and we were talking on the way back, "Is it worth that degree of risk?" But the situation changes not by days, but by hours. So we don't know. We don't know what tomorrow will look like.
Miroslav Volf: But there's much destruction right now there, is that right?
Fyodor Raychynets: Yes. Yeah. And today it was heartbreaking because our seminary was hit already. We are. So, it's one missile hit. Then it explodes. And the radius of explosion, it's like 30, 50 meters. So all the windows would just go off. And so you have a lot of broken glass all around, broken bricks, scattered trees. So that's how it is. Let me put it in one word: it's an apocalyptic scene, you know? If you want to watch a movie with an apocalyptic scene, you can make it now there.
Miroslav Volf: I was really struck. Actually, I'm looking at it now on your Facebook. You, together with two other priests or ministers standing, and you're serving a communion. And immediately what came to mind is the question was, "Well, what's happening at that moment? What does this communion stand for and symbolize?" How did you experience, how did the people to whom you served it, experience it? What does Christ's body, given for the life of the world, mean in that moment?
Fyodor Raychynets: Well, we were invited first on Thursday evening to go to serve to the military people a Lord's Supper. And we went there and it was... It was an overwhelming experience for me, because, in the Balkans, I started to believe in what we called an open Lord's Supper: when everyone is welcomed, and when there is something scandalous in the Lord's Supper, how it takes place. Because there are always people who should not be there by our theological perspective or our theological beliefs and so on and so forth.
And when we went there, and, whenever I'm in that kind of situation, and I am to serve the Lord Supper, I always ask people-- whoever, whatever church they are, or maybe they're not church people at all --I will come to them with the bread, and I will say, "This is the body of Christ broken for you." They should just say "Amen." And I think that whenever they say "Amen," they agree. That body of Christ was broken for them as well. And whenever I see, especially yesterday, when, as I was serving the Lord's Supper, I was explaining to them, there was apparently a person who has no religious background whatsoever. And as we were serving to them there, he was commenting on what we were doing. We just said to them, "That's how we do it. We just come to you and we say, 'This is the blood of Christ shed for you.'" And when he said "Amen," it was a moving experience. And I believe that we are just the instrument in this kind of situation. And there is a much bigger, invisible presence of God's grace which can do something that we cannot do.
For me in this kind of situation, it is most important to make this leap of faith, a step of faith. And to do what the people ask for. And because they ask us that they would like, before the battle, they would like to take part in the Lord's Supper, we said we will do it.
And I know, and that's why I said that. Because I always end my posts, "That, and everything else, after the victory," you know? So yesterday's post, I made an old theological debate about it, "After the victory." I know that there will be a lot of disagreements and critics and I'm labeled for all these years in the Ukraine as a liberal. Whatever. I don't know what it means. But it doesn't matter here. I know that there will be unhappy Christians. That there will be unhappy righteous people about what we do, but we just do because we were invited to do. We think that's the right thing to do, and we did it. And then all comments "after the victory," you know?
Miroslav Volf: That's very good. Leave it to the hands of that Christ, whose death, and also resurrection by implication, you have proclaimed.
Prayer: Lord, for the Ukraine, hear our prayers. Amen.