(RNS) — At the top of the website for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is a simple, three-word message.
“Pray for Ukraine!”
“May God hear our loving petitions and soften the hearts and minds of all, those within and outside Ukraine, during these dangerous times,” wrote the UOC’s Council of Bishops, in a statement responding to news of the Russian invasion this week.
The bishops of the UOC, founded by immigrants, were among a host of religious leaders asking God to intervene on behalf of Ukraine. The prayers asked for an end of hostilities and for the protection of civilians — and in at least one case, for a defeat of Russian forces.
“Send your heavenly legions, O Lord, commanded by the patron of Kyiv, Archangel Michael, to crush the desires of the aggressor whose desire is to eradicate our people,” the UOC bishops wrote in an online prayer.
Calls for peace also echoed from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which planned to hold a prayer for peace Thursday (Feb. 24), according to an announcement on the cathedral’s website. The announcement linked to a “prayer for the cessation of civil strife.”
“Lord Jesus Christ our God, look down with Thy merciful eye upon the sorrow and greatly painful cry of Thy children, abiding in the Ukrainian land,” that prayer read. “Deliver Thy people from civil strife, make to cease the spilling of blood, and turn back the misfortunes set against them.”
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow stressed the common religious history of Russia and Ukraine “dating back to the baptism of Russia by the holy prince Vladimir, equal to the apostles,” and said that the Orthodox church could help heal the current conflict, reported the Orthodox Times.
“As Patriarch of All Russia and Primate of the Church, whose flock is in Russia, Ukraine and other countries, I deeply empathize with all who have been touched by misfortune,” Kirill said in a statement. “I call on all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. I appeal to bishops, pastors, monks and laity with an appeal to provide all possible assistance to all victims, including refugees, people left without shelter and means of subsistence.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked Catholics to fast for peace on Ash Wednesday (March 2). Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, also called for a day of prayer.
“In this time of fear and uncertainty, we stand in solidarity with the Church in Ukraine and offer our support,” Malloy said in a statement. “We call on all the faithful and people of good will to pray for the people of Ukraine.”
Faith-based and humanitarian groups expressed concerns about a possible mass exodus of refugees. Along with praying for those affected by the invasion, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, called on political leaders to prepare to protect displaced people.
“The humanitarian implications of a full Russian invasion must be a central consideration in the U.S. and international response,” Vignarajah said. “Thousands could lose their lives, and millions more could lose the only home they have ever known. The U.S. and its allies must prepare to respond to the very real possibility of a mass exodus of Ukrainian refugees. Protecting the displaced cannot merely be an afterthought.”
Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization, encouraged its members to pray and fast and to hold public vigils for peace on Ash Wednesday.
“Pax Christi USA urges the international community to stand united against the invasion of Ukraine and in support of diplomacy and dialogue to bring this crisis to an end,” the group said in a statement.
In the United Kingdom, the archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a joint pastoral letter in response to the invasion, with calls for prayer along with liturgical texts and readings in support of peace. Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop Stephen Cottrell invited Anglican church members to make Sunday a day of peace and to join the call of Pope Francis for prayers on Ash Wednesday.
“Peace, therefore, is so much more than the absence of war,” they wrote. “It is a gift, and it is also a decision, a gift that must be received. It is a choice we make that shapes the way we live well alongside each other. It characterises our relationship with God. It comes into being by seeking justice.”
Leaders of the United Church of Christ began their prayer, posted online, with a quote from the Book of Proverbs: “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
“Hear our prayers for all those who will die today because of war in Ukraine and other war-torn countries all over this world. Grant them an end to the suffering of this world and eternal peace that is only found in You,” the UCC officers wrote.
A number of faith leaders took part in an online vigil for peace this week — including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church; Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Mohamed Elsanousi, executive director of The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, as Religion News Service reported earlier this week.
“The drums of war are beating louder with each passing moment,” said Tarunjit Singh Butalia of Religions for Peace USA during the vigil. “We must stand up as people of faith and people of peace to speak truth to power.”
Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, head of worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community, prayed that world leaders would try to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine before it can spread into a wider conflict.
“I pray that the world’s leaders pay heed to the need of the hour and value, above all else, their obligation to ensure the peace and stability of the world. May Allah the Almighty protect all innocent and defenceless people and may true and lasting peace in the world prevail,” he said in a statement.
Prayers for Ukraine were offered during a recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee in Nashville, Tennessee, and Southern Baptist leaders and other influential evangelicals offered prayers via social media.
“Christ have mercy. Pray for Ukraine,” tweeted Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The World Evangelical Alliance and the European Evangelical Alliance called for an end of hostilities in Ukraine and withdrawal of all Russian troops.
“We are gravely concerned to yet again witness armed conflict that will inevitably lead to tragic loss of human lives, including innocent civilians who only desire to live in peace,” the WEA’s secretary general, Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher, said in a statement. “We call for an end to the hostilities, an immediate ceasefire and respect for Ukrainian territorial integrity.”
The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace organization, urged U.S. leaders and the international community to pursue diplomacy and deescalation rather than a military response to the crisis in Ukraine.
The group also passed along a message from Quakers in Ukraine calling for peace. “It is very important for us to convey that Ukrainians are peace-loving people and very kind. In the last two months, when we got together and started our meetings, we agreed that there is no one among us who would see war as the answer, or believe that violence is the way out,” the message read. “We categorically condemn any aggression, expansion, and pressure.”
Claire Giangravé, Adelle Banks, Jack Jenkins and Emily McFarlan Miller contributed.
Advent is a wonderful time for reflection and devotion as believers look forward to Christmas and its significance for our faith. UrbanFaith had the opportunity to have a Q & A session with Katara Washington Patton, the author of Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional. The exchange is below, edited for clarity.
It is so good to have you share with UrbanFaith again and your new and relevant book. Advent is a great opportunity to reflect, be inspired, and deepen our relationship with God and others, so I’m grateful for your book.
1. A lot of people are not as familiar with Advent as some of the other major holidays such as Christmas and Easter. What is Advent and why is it important for believers?
Advent is the period leading up to the observance of our Savior’s birth–Christmas; Advent is observed during the four weeks before Christmas and normally begins the last Sunday of November. Advent means to anticipate the coming of Christ (remembering how people anticipated His birth and how we anticipate His second coming).
2. What inspired you to write a book of devotionals for this holiday season?
I love devotionals; they have been one of my main sources of growth. They are shorter readings you can do mostly every day, which increases your faith through reading and reflecting on Scripture. So, whenever I’m given the opportunity—as I was by my publisher with this book—I jump at the chance to write material that can help people grow in faith. This one particularly is for the entire family…so adults and children can learn from it.
3. You were very intentional at making this a FAMILY devotional, why is that important to you?
We know Family can mean…grandmother and child, two parents and children, auntie, uncle, big sister, etc. So I like the fact that families—whatever your definition is—can center themselves around a scripture and reading and explore its meaning, have activities to do. This can be done alone as well but it is written at a level children will understand too. I think that’s important…for my family, my child has a different Christian education than I did. I went to Sunday school every Sunday because my mom was the superintendent and my dad a teacher; today, pre-pandemic, my child was in a class at church maybe once a month or so (due to several reasons like the format of classes at our church); and now with the changes due to capacity limits and the pandemic, she’s not in a class. Where does she learn those fundamental lessons we learned? In family devotions, I hope and pray.
4. I love the format of your devotions, why did you decide to include activities as well as the traditional prayer and Scripture inspirations?
I’ve always been a person who looks at learning and even ministry from a practical stand point. If I can’t apply this lesson to my life, then it’s just words. Activities help reinforce the application of the lesson. I’m always going to look for a way to bring home the point through activities.
5. How has choosing devotion during Advent and Christmas impacted your faith journey?
I loved rediscovering many of the stories I selected: Jesus’ genealogy, Simeon and Anna, even Noah and the rainbow, Elizabeth and Mary, even Abigail and David– all to drive home the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love. I think we need to tell these stories over and over again to remind ourselves and to teach our children of the goodness of God and the amazing faith journey we have been presented with as we journey ourselves. Utilizing these devotions can also help us connect the faith stories within the Bible to our own faith story based on our belief in our savior’s birth.
6. What advice would you give to our audience who may be trying to grow in their faith?
Other than read my books?! Lol. Honestly, read your Bible and supplemental material of your choosing faithfully. If you find one devotional or book isn’t giving you enough or inspiring you to read regularly, find another. There are so many different formats we can utilize for Bible reading and devotions that you can find something that is speaking to you in the moment. Being consistent is key. I enjoy waking up and having that time with God; I understand it may be car time for another or bed time or lunch time for others—but the consistent practice of carving out that time to study, reflect, and pray has been my saving grace.
Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional is available everywhere books are sold.
Pentecost is only a few weeks away, and for many of us living through the pandemic we have lost track of important days. Amid negative news, racial unrest, and daily frustrations, there is more than enough reason for prayer. Today is the National Day of Prayer, but it is not on a lot of people’s calendars this year. The National Day of Prayer was instituted in 1952 by President Harry Truman and has continued for the past 69 years with various presidents, congress people, and other officials observing it each year. There is a non-profit organization called the National Day of Prayer Task Force that coordinates events surrounding the day with particular themes and bringing some unity to Christians observing the day.No matter the theme or who recognizes it, whether official or informal, it is always a good time to pray.
We all face challenges and we are always in need of God’s peace. It is enough to worry about what is going on in our homes, our classrooms, and our communities without having the constant worry of the world we are aware of through social media. Especially as black believers living in this moment, we are carrying more questions than answers. The world as we know it has been turned upside down, and not in a good way. Many of us are struggling to redefine our faith and feel connected to God and other people we haven’t felt present with in a long time.
Psalm 35:6 encourages everyone who is godly to pray at the acceptable time. The Apostle Paul encourages believers to pray without ceasing in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Jesus tells His disciples a parable in Luke 18:1 to teach them to always pray and never give up.
Philippians 4:6-7 is one of the most well known passages about prayer in the Bible. Paul says:
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)
This verse in Philippians reminds us that when we pray, the peace we will experience surpasses our understanding! It is peace that we feel, that we can rest in when nothing else makes sense.
I remember the days after my grandfather died of COVID were filled with worry, anger, sadness and frustration. There were so many barriers to getting answers, making arrangements, honoring the life of a man whose legacy I am living. When I realized I was doing worse than I expected I got a phone call from a friend. He had no idea what I was going through but asked could he pray for me. When he finished praying I felt the weight of the world lift from me. I couldn’t explain it, because I had just received peace that exceeded my understanding.
That same peace is available for all of us when we pray, and when we receive prayer from others. Take some time today to pray for yourself. Acknowledge something you are worrying about to God, He cares about all that concerns us. Then pray for someone else. Pray that God will meet them with His perfect peace. Reflect on the fact that today, you are praying alongside millions of Christians across the country. And may the peace of Christ will meet you in a way you do not have to fully understand to fully receive.
Well, this year we vote. At some point, perhaps in the early morning hours of the day after the election, perhaps not for several days, we will find out who has been selected by our Electoral College system to serve as President for the next four years. I expect that the winner will not fulfill all the promises they have made. Nor will their presidency be as apocalyptic as the prophets of doom have predicted. Both of these candidates have virtues that are worthy of our admiration, and weaknesses that merit our concern. Nonetheless, based on the deluge of Facebook posts by my friends, I expect that while somewhere around a third of you will be ecstatic over the result, another third will be bitterly disappointed.
But this post isn’t really about who is President for the next four years. We’ll all survive that. This post is about our friends, our neighbors, the stranger we see on the street, the person driving in front of you whose bumper sticker you disagree with. It’s about all of us. For no matter who wins this election, the last election, the next election — most of us will still be here. There is an old saying that we get the government we deserve. And frankly, based on the vitriol and animosity I have seen in social media surrounding this year’s presidential campaign, we don’t deserve much.
The Facebooking of Politics
I have heard friends accuse friends of being bigots and racists because of who they are voting for. I have seen friends accuse friends of being “uninformed, misinformed, communists or opposed to this country’s values” if we vote for specific candidates. I have seen friends accuse friends of being haters, homophobes, misogynists, etc., if they vote for others. I have seen friends “unfriend” friends. Frankly, I’ve been tempted to unfriend some folks myself, although I have resisted the urge. I don’t know if we are reflecting the polarization of Washington, or if the Beltway reflects the hatred and spite of the American citizenry.
Here’s what I rarely, if ever, observed: People truly listening. People asking questions of people who view the world differently than them. People seeking to understand.
To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, it’s not that we have tried to engage in gracious, thoughtful political dialogue and found it wanting — it’s that we have found it difficult and not tried. We have told people what they think rather than asking them. We have refused to believe their reasons, choosing to trust our own stereotypes. We haven’t listened to their stories — we’ve made them shallow caricatures in a story of our own creation.
I expect I have noticed this acutely the past several years during the 2008 and 2012 elections, because those were the first elections when so many of us were on Facebook in a presidential election year. But of course, politics, not to mention religion, has been a taboo topic of discussion for years, long before the Internet. It is tragic that those two disciplines that capture the depths of human values and meaning — religion and politics — are considered off-limits for many of our conversations. I expect much of this revolves around our need to be right, and our fear of people who see the world differently.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, as a friend of mine has continually jabbed at supporters of the other candidate, goading them to respond to some of the more troublesome aspects of their candidate’s platform. Always done in a shaming, blaming way. Not surprisingly, no one took my friend up on the offer to explain.
But let me make a few friendly suggestions about how we might do this better four years from now.
The Wisdom of Listening
First, ask questions. And listen. Really listen. Don’t just wait for the person you disagree with to take a breath so you can shoot down their position. Listen seeking to understand. Assume that they are a person of good faith rather than an evil, bigoted hater. Don’t tell them why they’re wrong. Try to understand why they view the world the way they do. Affirm aspects of their values and perspectives that you can respect and admire, even if you might view things differently. Make it safe for them to share their deepest hopes and fears with you. In the Old Testament, Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (ESV). Are we practicing the wisdom of listening?
You will find that when you have asked questions, listened actively seeking to understand, and affirmed common ground, that you will develop trust. You will also have created a space where they may ask you questions and give you the same respect that you have shown them. They may even be willing to express respect for some of your values and vision.
Confession Is Good for the Soul
Then, admit to them the concerns you have about your own candidate/party, acknowledging that candidates, like the rest of humanity, have their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Then, and only then, might they feel safe enough to address the weaknesses in their candidate/party that trouble you. Few of us embrace the entire platform of the candidate we vote for. You may not change your friend’s vote. But you will have deepened a friendship. And opened a mind. You cannot wait for them to take the first step; you have to do it.
And whoever wins this election, be open to the possibility that some of their policies, all of which have been informed by advisors and embraced by close to half the population, might actually succeed. Hope and pray for the success of the candidate, even if you’re skeptical. Be more concerned about the good of the country than the success or failure of political parties.
When we remain open to the virtues and vision of our elected officials’ leadership, they may be more willing to listen to our legitimate concerns about those who might get left behind by their policies.
And maybe, just maybe, this sort of political engagement will catch on.
In the wake of the passing of one of the best vocalists of all time, I’ve made a decision.
I want us all to have a new relationship with celebrities.
It came to me in my quest to learn the details surrounding the death of Whitney Houston. As I surfed channel after channel looking for answers, I was repulsed by the tone of the coverage. Tired of countless photos and video footage of her with her ex-husband Bobby Brown at her worst. Indignant over the constant references to quite possibly the worst time of her life.
Even worse are some of the tweets and Facebook updates I’ve seen. One post remarked: “People are SURPRISED Whitney Houston is dead…REALLY?! She was a DRUG ADDICT!!” Others mocked her infamous “crack is whack” statement to Diane Sawyer in 2002.
Not that I ignored all the drama when it was going on … I saw it and it broke my heart then. But I never indulged and watched. I think I saw half of one episode of Bravo’s Being Bobby Brown. Do you wanna know why?
I was (am) a fan of Whitney Houston and admired her talent and gifts.
Plain and simple.
Never had an appetite to watch her struggle. It never gave me any pleasure to see coverage of what everyone is now calling “bizarre behavior.” I refused to buy a People magazine with a disheveled picture of Whitney on the cover. I long ago tuned out whenever negative coverage of any celebrity is pushed and pushed.
What is it about us — society — that enjoys watching another human being struggle and suffer? Especially if that human has lots of money.
We all make mistakes. We all have our vices. We all have profound flaws in our character.
I am grateful I don’t have to live mine out in front of the whole world. I also try to be gracious enough not to judge others for the worst thing they ever did in their lives. Over and over again.
We can stop this madness. We can vote with our remotes and stop supporting programming that takes advantage of the worst of the people we claim to love. We can stop buying the magazines. The paparazzi exist because of our collective demand.
After the 1997 death of Princess Diana, I opted out of madness. And it is 100 times worse now with all the new media.
Similar to Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, many of Whitney’s fans began mourning her demise years before her actual passing. But many of us also prayed that her story would have a happier ending. We knew her voice would never be the same, but we hoped that she would find the peace and wholeness that seemed to elude her.
Even as they entertain and inspire us, it’s important to remember that celebrities are people too — real people with struggles, sadness, pain. All the money and fame in the world cannot secure true peace. Princess Diana knew that. Michael Jackson knew that.
Whitney Houston knew that.
Maybe God allows some people to become famous not just so that they can entertain us but so that we can pray for them. Maybe they need our prayers just as much as our applause.