"People of Peace": to look into each other’s eyes
On September 21, the Sviatogorsk Lavra hosted the “People of Peace” Forum. How was the forum held and what needs to be done to achieve peace in the Donbass?
The main task of the "People of Peace" Forum was declared at the meeting of the Holy Synod of the UOC on August 17, 2020 – "to continue the peacemaking initiatives of our Church to end the armed conflict in the Donbass".
The Sviatogorsk Lavra as a venue was deliberately chosen. According to the UOC Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony, “The Lavra has felt and still feels the war in the east of our country in a special way ... Because from the very beginning people has fled to the Lavra to get shelter, housing, and bread. There was a time when several thousand people lived there. Children were born there. And still, more than a thousand people remain under the Lavra’s care."
The organizing committee of the event included famous Ukrainians who do not represent any political forces: Honoured Doctor of Ukraine, Professor Boris Todurov; absolute world boxing champion Alexander Usik; Honoured Doctor of Ukraine, Professor Alexander Usenko; Professor Vasily Lazorishinets; human rights defender Igor Artemenko; Honoured Economist of Ukraine Tatyana Sysoeva; member of the board of the international public organization "Day of the Christianization of Rus’", businessman Alexei Omelyanenko; culture critic Yuri Molchanov; TV producer Vlad Riashin, as well as journalists, educators, scientists, musicians and doctors, including those who live near the demarcation line and know firsthand what war is.
The forum was deliberately apolitical. Why? First, because it was organized by the Church. Secondly, because the organisers wanted to hear the opinion of ordinary people, those whom the war brings nothing but suffering and tears. And thirdly, because politicians have already spoken about the war in the Donbass.
According to the fair remark of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kyiv and All Ukraine, civil society should influence the peacemaking process since it is not politicians who suffer from the war but ordinary people. “Therefore, a peace initiative should come from them. Politicians sometimes want war, sometimes peace, each of them has his/her own view on this issue and personal interests. And people do not care about the motives of a military conflict – for them, it is real pain and sorrow. Therefore, they should seek peace and talk about it."
“Politicians sometimes want war, sometimes peace, each of them has his/her own view on this issue and personal interests. And people do not care about the motives of a military conflict – for them it is real pain and sorrow. Therefore, they should seek peace and talk about it."
His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry
His Beatitude's opinion was also supported by Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich), according to whom, “our task is to say in a clear and understandable way what civil society wants. This will be one of the steps in the process of achieving peace in Ukraine."
And this position is defended not only by representatives of the Church but also by representatives of the secular society. So, in his video address to the forum participants, a well-known journalist, editor of the “Strana” edition Igor Guzhva: “We see and hear how politicians talk a lot about war and peace: the Minsk process, the Normandy format, meetings in Berlin and Paris, summits, online conferences ... There are many words on this issue, there is no one main thing – the result. Because politicians can talk about it forever – they earn political points on this, someone earns money on it, and people suffer – those who live on the land where there is a war." Igor Guzhva is sure that "the task of people, the task of civil society is to force politicians to end the war."
Steps towards peace
The tasks of the forum were voiced on behalf of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry by the UOC Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony: “As a rule, in wars, with their great geopolitical, political, economic and other interests, the powers that be do not see ordinary people, do not feel their pain, sufferings and worries. That is why today at the Forum we are listening to the testimony of common people who live in the frontline zone and are especially suffering from the war. The purpose of our today's communication is, on the one hand, to show ordinary people and their sufferings, and, on the other hand, to testify to a strong desire for peace."
The Primate of the UOC also suggested his own vision of what exactly needs to be done to achieve peace in the Donbass as soon as possible.
In his opinion, "the first step towards peace should be the establishment of human communication between both parties to the conflict." Indeed, we must stop seeing in our neighbour a "colorad", an "ukrop", a "vatnik" or a "nazik" (Pejorative terms based on the people’s views and position – Ed.). It is necessary, first of all, to try to see a human in another person. And this aspiration must necessarily be mutual because, His Beatitude says, “only in a dialogue between the warring parties can a new vision of their joint future ripen, in this case, the future of our Motherland Ukraine, which can and should be peaceful. It is with the awareness of both sides that peace is possible that all kinds of demonization of the enemy, which feeds every armed conflict today, will stop. Let us add that dialogue begins where mutual hatred and malice stop. Peace is not just a cease-fire; it is a state of the heart and soul.
The second step, according to the Primate of the UOC, is to identify the common “that unites rather than divides, and focusing on this is the right product of peacemaking efforts of the conflicting parties”.
Yes, whichever side of the barricades we take, we have a lot in common. And this common concerns not only history but also culture, understanding of basic values and the Christian faith, in the end. Each of us should become a "good seeker" as St. Paisios of Athos said. That is, to seek in the neighbour the good that the Lord put in him/her.
This mutual search should lead to the final step on the road to peace – "mutual forgiveness". Metropolitan Onuphry emphasizes that “it is precisely mutual forgiveness that is the basis of lasting peace and building a common future. It is one of the basic Christian virtues ... It is not with revenge and resentment but with forgiveness, that the path to reconciliation opens. With the acceptance by both sides of the conflict of a common future, the future that they themselves will jointly build in peace, and a new page will begin in the history of our common long-suffering country”.
At the same time, says His Beatitude, it is important not to look back, not to remember the mistakes, the bloodshed and mutual accusations but to look forward – this is the only way to see the possibility of peaceful coexistence: “The past divides us, and the future can unite and reconcile us – a common goal in the name of peace in which it is only possible to build a strong and prosperous Ukraine, where each of its inhabitants, regardless of language, religion and other differences, will feel at home – comfortable and valuable”.
“The purpose of the forum is, on the one hand, to show common people and their sufferings and, on the other hand, to testify to a strong desire for peace."
Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich)
In addition, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) mentioned an important aspect. This aspect concerns the propaganda of war, which, unfortunately, has a very large place in the modern Ukrainian information space. Vladyka believes that it will not be easy to achieve peace without stopping this propaganda – the propaganda of war must be forever left behind. According to the bishop, "this task, along with the establishment of a full-fledged dialogue on the issue of achieving peace on the Ukrainian land, should become a priority for all healthy forces of society in the near future".
Church as a mediator of reconciliation
It is no secret that many Ukrainian politicians and mass media openly incite hatred towards the Donbass residents, especially of the uncontrolled territories. In their turn, Donbass people pay the same coin. And looking at the mutual flow of accusations and insults, it seems that it cannot be stopped. But there is a place where people from "hostile" regions communicate despite the tragedies that have happened to their relatives.
Metropolitan Arseny gave a remarkable example of how the Church can become a mediator in the peace process. He said that people from Donetsk, Horlivka, Luhansk and Lugansk region came to the Lavra for the feast of the Sviatogorsk Icon of the Holy Theotokos. "They came with their troubles, grief and misfortunes,” said Vladyka. “One had his house broken, another's neighbour was killed, the third one had three children killed, someone's mother was torn to pieces by a mine," said Vladyka.
At the same time, pilgrims from the Rivne and Volyn regions arrived. One said: "They sent my nephew in a coffin, we buried him three days ago. His mum is black with grief." Another said: "My son was killed; he was a sexton in the church. He was taken (to the army – Ed.) at the age of 19, two weeks later he returned in a coffin." And after such a mother's grief, she came here to the Lavra to pray."
“They wanted to divide us, perhaps someone wants to do it now, but we were not divided, we have been and remain one people with one holy mother – our Church.”
Metropolitan Arseny (Yakovenko)
For modern Ukrainian society, this seems to be an impossible situation because people who lost their relatives and close friends, who stood on the opposite sides of the front, communicate. By the standards of most politicians, media, activists, etc., they must hate one another. And they speak about their grief, hug and cry together. “After the end of the feast, many people gathered from Donetsk, Luhansk, Rivne, Volyn regions and began to complain to one another…… And so, they told all this, and then wept and hugged together. Then the Rivne residents and Volhynians got on the bus, and our Donbass people waved at them,” the bishop said.
This is the only way that can become the way of peace – not war, not automatic weapons but dialogue, communication and forgiveness. And the UOC has always stood on these principles. According to Metropolitan Anthony, 'The Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not ask for weapons for war but ask God for peace. The hierarch noted that although the forum is apolitical, the problem of war in the Donbass cannot be solved without politicians: 'We would like very much for politicians to listen to the voice of the Church,” said the UOC Chancellor. “The voice of the Church is the voice of the people. Perhaps, we principally approached the idea of gathering without politicians, although we understand that this issue cannot be resolved without politicians.” That is why "the forum seeks to realize, to feel the real pain of those people who suffer from the war and to tell the politicians that it is time to end the war".
The forum is over. The war is not. But the "People of Peace" gave us hope and confidence that the more Ukrainians join the peaceful initiatives of the Church, the sooner the ceasefire in the Donbass will become.
Therefore, on the one hand, civil society should most actively support the aspiration for peace in the East of Ukraine. On the other hand, politicians should also take part in this process.
In addition, one cannot speak of any peace without dialogue. But the dialogue is possible only in the case of mutual perspective and mutual forgiveness. The Church is ready to act as a mediator in this process. Moreover, it is already initiating this process.
And we must always remember the words of our Primate: “The moment when we see the eyes of our opponent, even the enemy, dispels many wrong stereotypes that are formed in our souls because we do not see each other,” said His Beatitude. “Words cannot express all our feelings and experiences, while eyes speak about everything.
That is why it is so important to look into each other's eyes."