Bittersweet Pascha

Today, Orthodox Christians around the globe celebrate Pascha, or Easter. Actually the services started yesterday, vigils held at midnight. Lent is over, fasting is broken, and Christ is Risen! This is always, always Good News.

From our church in Montana. Oh how we miss them.

And yet there is a pervasive, bittersweet sorrow among Ukrainians who celebrate today. It has been 60 days of war. Exactly 2 months since Russia started bombing. For many, Lent was nearly impossible to participate in. Normally this includes abstaining from meat, eggs, dairy, olive oil, and other indulgent foods. There is grace if you are unable to fast for reasons like pregnancy, sickness, dietary restrictions, travel, or age (either the young children or the elderly). War certainly falls in that category. On February 23rd people were starting to prepare for Lent, making plans and mentally preparing for the strict 40 day fast. And then the bombs fell. And we all went into survival mode. Food was not always easy to find, if you were at a shelter you had no control over the menu, and depending on where you were, it wasn’t safe to attend church.

Lord, have mercy.

Between the hiding, traveling, sickness, and other circumstances outside our control, we have not been able to attend church regularly since February (hopefully that will change soon). The only food group we truly were able to fast from was alcohol. Not like that’s a big deal for us to give up. Not like we had much opportunity anyway. We have watched the videos posted by our local church back home. And last night, our friend from the convent in Kyiv sent us a video with clips from the Saturday services. Thankfully the convent had not been damaged, and it was beautiful to see. Oh how we wish we could be there in person with her.

Lord, have mercy.

Holy Protection convent in Kyiv. One of our favorites to attend.

In Romania the schools have enjoyed spring break, starting on the western Good Friday so that both Easter weekends could be enjoyed no matter when you celebrate. I watched people with suitcases joyfully get in taxis and head off for holiday. They smiled, knowing what was ahead and knowing when they would return. I’m used to seeing suitcases coupled with fear and crying, a whole life packed away in one little box. If they were lucky enough to have time to pack.

Lord, have mercy.

President Zelensky and churches of all denominations implored Russia for a brief ceasefire these past two weekends to allow people to celebrate. Not just the Ukrainians, but the Russian soldiers too. Russia refused, and the past two weekends have been more intense than the recent fighting. Yesterday they fired missiles on Odessa. A 3-month old baby was killed as a result.

Lord, have mercy.

Valerya and her daughter (name not released) were both killed yesterday as the result of the attack. Her husband posted their pictures so they would be remembered.
Another one of the victims from Bucha. Sweet Sasha, aged 2. I cannot even describe the conditions they found him in. It makes my blood boil.

People are grieving the loss of their loved ones. They are separated from family. They don’t know if their friends in the east are still alive, or even still in Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainians have been forcibly evacuated from Mariupol into remote towns in Russia, on the Pacific coast, cut off from everyone and not knowing if Ukraine still exists or not. This is not the Pascha that any of us thought.

Lord, have mercy.

Our hearts are heavy today. We mourn for what is lost and we feel the pain, as Jesus wept for Lazarus. And yet we still celebrate, because we know that one day God’s divine justice will triumph overall. After the darkness of Friday and Saturday comes the light of Sunday. We believe that the victims of those war, those brutally murdered, especially the children, are in the arms of Jesus our great comforter. And in that we find our comfort, hope, and peace.

Easter lunch with our new friend from YWAM Marta and her family.

Christ is risen. Христос воскрес.

Joyous Pascha.

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