STANDING WITH THE SUFFERING IN UKRAINE
“Our eyes are on the suffering Ukrainian church. We are suffering with them.” These words by SAT-7 TÜRK presenter Volkan Er opened a discussion of the crisis enveloping Ukraine and its European neighbours in a recent episode of Worldview.
This weekly current affairs program, along with the SAT-7 TÜRK News program, is a precious source of news and Christian analysis for Turkey’s marginalised Christian community. It is also a significant Christian voice for wider society and one that is rarely heard on national media.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February the government of Turkey has faced a dilemma. Located on the opposite side of the Black Sea, Turkey has enjoyed economic and political ties with both nations while also being a member of NATO. Ankara has condemned the invasion, and on Sunday (6 March) President Erdogan spoke to the Russian president asking for an urgent general ceasefire and offering to act as a mediator in negotiations with Ukraine.
Volkan Er and Senem Ekener, the presenters of Worldview, explained that the Church does not take political sides but is bound to “stand with” those who are suffering and are being oppressed.
“It is our duty to pray for the protection of those who are suffering,” Volkan said. “The church in Ukraine is also acting as a witness by protecting people.”
The Church in action
Senem explained some of the ways in which this is happening. “We are seeing the Church being very active,” she said. She quoted a Ukrainian bishop who said, “Our priests and pastors are going to the people who cannot come to church. We are going to share the Lord’s meal with the people who are seeking shelter from bombs in the metros and underground.”
“This is a very important message to the outside world of the Church’s role,” Senem added.
Volkan agreed: “It’s very important for us to see that church officials are refusing to leave the country and that they are staying and serving among the people.”
An inserted news update related how the international community is responding. “The war is not staying localised – it spreads like fire,” Volkan continued. “Pray for good to prevail; pray against evil.”
The justice of God
Senem and Volkan went on to consider what God says about war. They noted that Matthew 26:22 records Jesus’ words to Peter that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. They stressed how human actions will be judged by God.
“God’s eyes are not closed to the situation. He is not passive to what is happening to the world,” Senem explained. “We can draw comfort from God’s living word because it speaks into our situations: God is in control.”
“As Christians we must be of one mind with God in prayer and action. We must be in prayer, and if there is anything we can do to help people around us, we must do it,” Volkan emphasised.
Another news insert reported calls for peace from four global networks: the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the European Church Conference, and the World Methodist Council. It also showed how churches of many denominations in Ukraine were meeting to pray for peace, despite the dangers in attending church.
“Christianity is a religion of peace,” Patriarch Sahak ll of Turkey’s Armenian Orthodox Church said in a sermon excerpt shown on the program. “Peace is the most valued virtue in Christianity. Peace is the word we use the most in the church … Peace is the most valuable thing, and Jesus says you must ensure this peace.”
He explained that “the sword” is necessary in a world where evil must be confronted, but the Christian’s constant responsibility was to fight a spiritual war. “We put on God’s armour and fight a spiritual battle. Let us do our duty of prayer because prayer is also a struggle,” he said.