Worshippers approached one of three altars at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church to make the sign of the cross and light a candle.
It was the first Sunday after the Russian invasion. I had arrived early and was basking in the glow of the paintings and icons that lined the walls.
The pews in front of me soon filled, and I turned to see if there were vacant seats behind me. Every row was filled, and dozens of congregants were standing shoulder to shoulder behind the last pews.
They would be standing for some time as the service followed the pattern in place for centuries – a lengthy liturgy in the Ukrainian language that alternated between the priest’s chant and the choir’s response.
There was no sermon. Parents did their best to keep their children seated, but occasionally one scooted down the aisle, followed by a parent, and no one seemed to mind.
A woman in front of me turned and showed me her phone. Putin had put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert. I looked at her and shook my head. “That can’t be,” I thought, as she nodded grimly.
The traditional liturgy segued into a service for Ukraine with a special prayer and ended with the Ukrainian national anthem.
Following the service, members met in the parish hall for lunch and to plan the next step – a series of rallies to keep the crisis in the national, or in this case, state’s focus.
I was welcomed by Father Michael and Irene Maxfield, the congregation’s president. Father Michael is not fluent in English, but he made sure I received a copy of a statement by the Ukrainian World Congress urging an end to the war and financial support for the army.
Ms. Maxfield, too, emphasized the importance of raising funds. Members crowded around a display of giant barcodes, scanning them with their phones to connect with organizations that are raising funds to assist refugees and the Ukraine armed forces.
These events brought to mind words from other wars, long before funds could be transferred in seconds: “Do your part – buy war bonds.” “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” “Coming in on a wing and a prayer.” “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
More than 80% of Ukrainians say they are Christians, the majority of those are Orthodox, and Christians around the world are praying for them.
The Baptist World Alliance has asked Baptists worldwide to pray. The National Council of Churches has issued a prayer for peace. The U.S. Episcopal church held an interfaith vigil.
The Church of England supported Pope Francis’ call for a national day of prayer on Ash Wednesday. An interfaith prayer gathering was held at the Church Center for the United Nations on March 3.
More than 100 Russian Orthodox clerics have issued a joint letter, calling on both sides to come together.
Though not directly addressed to their president, their letter refers to Matthew 5:9, seemingly offering him the opportunity to take the lead in brokering a peace. The letter ends, “Let yourself and all of us enter Great Lent in the spirit of faith, hope and love.”
I will not forget the face of the woman who showed me the message of where this war might lead.
But a stronger message was delivered by Archbishop Daniel, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, who recently wrote, “As Christians, as people of faith, we also have a weapon in our hands — and that’s a prayer.”
And the people said, “Amen.”