Most of the Christians in Ukraine belong to Orthodox churches. In the Orthodox calendar March 6 was “Forgiveness Sunday”. They enter into Lent by forgiving others and making amends. Imagine the difficulty of doing so in Ukraine right now. On Forgiveness Sunday, Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Sus called his church to defend their country, but not at the cost of dehumanizing their enemy. As Christians they were still called to treat prisoners of war and enemy soldiers as Jesus would, including offering forgiveness.

Not all of his church members felt they could do that. One middle-aged woman told a reporter, “It will be a sin for what I tell you next. I will forgive them only if they will be in the ground. Only then will I forgive them. Now I can’t forgive Russians. It’s impossible.”

Orthodox Christians aren’t the only ones in Ukraine–a small minority are United Methodists just like our church. Imagine the difficulty of being their Bishop, Eduard Khegay, who is based in Moscow and bishop of both Ukraine and Russia. How do you lead the churches together in Christ when their nations are at war? Bishop Khegay posted on Facebook after the invasion began, “I am ashamed of my country and hurt for the loss of human lives. This is a disgrace. How many corpses of war should appear in Russia and Ukraine in order for this nightmare to end?” Such a post is very risky when you live in Russia. It’s not easy following Jesus.

Let’s pray for Bishop Khegay, our fellow United Methodist in Ukraine and Russia, and for the citizens of those two countries and the world who are suffering. And let us begin this Lent by forgiving when it is hard and being bold in following Christ, even when it’s risky. We may not live in a war zone but I’m sure we all will have plenty of opportunities to do the difficult thing and follow Jesus this week.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Mark