Ukrainian theologian and pastor Fyodor Raychynets (Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary) is currently in Kyiv, Ukraine—posting daily to his Facebook page with updates and reflections on the toll the Russian war on Ukraine has taken on innocent, vulnerable people. Women, children, and the elderly are sheltering in place without electricity, without water, without medication, and without any clear idea when or how this will end. Fyodor is a former student of Miroslav Volf's from their time at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia in the early 1990s. In this conversation, recorded Sunday, March 13, 2022, Fyodor shares his experience, now after 20 days of war, 20 days of being under siege, and 20 days of prayer and feeding the hungry. "I have to remind myself on a daily basis that we are humans and we are not just to remain, but it is so crucial in the midst of hell not to lose our humanity, but to preserve it and to show it and to demonstrate it, because that's what the people need the most at this moment."
Today we're sharing a conversation between Miroslav Volf and Fyodor Raychynets, a former student of Miroslav's when he taught at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia in the early '90s. Fyodor is a theologian and pastor in Kyiv, and is head of the department of theology at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on the northwest outskirts of the city, 20 kilometers outside downtown Kyiv.
We spoke to Fyodor on Sunday, March 13, 2022, just as he came in for the 8pm curfew after a day of feeding the elderly, the sick, weary soldiers, and women and children stuck in the basements without electricity, without clean water, without medication, and increasingly, without a clear idea of how any of this will end for them. That day Fyodor visited his seminary campus to find it had been shelled by three missiles, destroying much of the campus, including his office, leaving his library of books destroyed.
In this conversation, Fyodor shares his experience, now after 20 days of war, 20 days of being under siege, and 20 days of prayer and feeding the hungry.
Fyodor posts daily updates and reflections on his Facebook page, you can find a link in the show notes. Each daily post begins with developments in the war and how it's impacting him, his team of fellow ministers, and the city around him. He then reflects on the nature of war itself, and its impact on human life. He closes each post with a prayer for Ukraine, for freedom, for humanity. I'll quote just a few of his moving passages.
Day 7, "War is when the safest place to sleep in your apartment is the bathroom, although that's obviously for other purposes.."
Day 11, "War is when the most vulnerable suffer. That's when ordinary things, for example, going to the store and buying fresh, warm and fragrant Ukrainian bread (I've visited about 70 countries, but I've never eaten such delicious bread) become impossible. It's when you meet people every day who haven't eaten bread for 4 or 5 days, not to mention anything else...."
Day 15, "War is when evil reaches unseen dimensions and lowest forms, and when good manifests itself in its highest manifestations against the backdrop of total uncontrollable madness."
Day 19, "War is when you wake up in the morning, if you managed to fall asleep at all, not from the alarm clock or birds singing, but to the sounds of sirens, or bomb explosions that make you tremble. War is when your emotional state shifts from optimistic to pessimistic more often than in peaceful time, and the emotional range itself is much wider."
Day 20, written just a few hours ago. "War is when your understanding changes when not in theory but in practice you especially appreciate the moment "here and now" and live it more consciously..."
- "War is when the safest place to sleep in your apartment is the bathroom”
- Fyodor’s connection with Miroslav Volf, and his experience with war in Croatia and Bosnia
- “I was joking when I was coming back to Ukraine... that ‘I am returning to the most peaceful country in the world.’ And here we are.”
- “When the US government and UK government warned us about the impending full-scale invasion of Russian troops, we thought that they were exaggerating.”
- Three missiles hit his campus the day before this interview
- Fyodor’s volunteer group feeds the elderly trapped in basements
- Why Fyodor decided to stay and help, rather than leave
- “Thanks to God, I was able to evacuate my children.”
- The risks involved in visiting those trapped in basements
- "Is it worth that degree of risk?"
- Fyodor’s seminary was hit by a missile: “Let me put it in one word: it's an apocalyptic scene, you know?”
- Giving communion in a destroyed landscape, “What does Christ's body, given for the life of the world, mean in that moment?”
- “I started to believe in what we called an open Lord's Supper: when everyone is welcomed”
- Giving communion to people from different religious backgrounds
- ‘What the people ask for’
- Grappling with the Russian support for Putin’s war: “It’s a wider problem”
- “When the intellectuals support that kind of aggression, we have a serious problem.”
- “Ukrainians were always a pain in the back to the Russians because of our free will. We love freedom.”
- Is the Russian Orthodox Church involved in a Russian imperial project?
- Public versus private support of the war, and neutrality, by the Russian Church
- “Martin Luther King used to say there is a special place in hell for these kinds of people who pull or choose neutrality in the times of moral crisis.”
- “As we say in Ukraine, the war did not start 18 days ago, it started eight years ago.”
- How can our humanity be preserved in the midst of evil?
- “I have to remind myself on a daily basis that we are humans and we are-- not just remain --but it is so crucial, in the midst of hell, not to lose our humanity. But to preserve it, and to show it, and to demonstrate it.”
- How to keep anger from taking control
- Is faith a consolation?
- “It is challenging to sustain a faith in the situation where there is a sense that you cannot control anything that is happening.”
- Faith and responsibility
- “Your faith is challenged by this simple statement of a soldier who says, ‘You go there on your own responsibility.’”
- Faith tested by family as much as the war
- 1 John: “Love conquers all fear”
- Emotional extremes in wartime, and the simple comforts of a croissant from the local church
- “I don't know what's wrong with the policy in this world that we cannot square one crazy dictator.”
About Fyodor Raychynets
Fyodor Raychynets is a theologian and pastor in Kyiv, Ukraine. He is Head of the Department of Theology at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in Leadership and Biblical Studies, particularly the Gospel of Matthew. He studied with Miroslav Volf at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia.
Follow him on Facebook here.
- This podcast featured theologians Fyodor Raychynets and Miroslav Volf
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
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