Douglas Todd: Can Easter, Passover and Ramadan ease the pain of war? – Vancouver Sun

Posted By on April 18, 2022

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Opinion: What do Christianity, Judaism and Islam which are all marking holy festivals this week have to offer during the destruction wrought by Russia's invasion of Ukraine?

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Tanks. Missile bombardments. Twisted bodies. Molotov cocktails. Shattered apartment blocks. Millions of refugee women and children. Counterattacks. Bravery. Fear.

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What do Christianity, Judaism and Islam which are all marking holy festivals this week have to offer during the cruel destruction wrought by Russian President Vladimir Putins invasion of Ukraine? Can distressed people find support in Easter, Passover and Ramadan, which are, in a rare event, coincidingthis year on the calendar?

Adding to the chaos, Russias invasion of Ukraine is pitting some of the worlds 300 million Orthodox Christians against each other. In better times, they are brothers and sisters in the faith. But Russias most powerful church leader, Patriarch Kirill, has fanned the flames of hate and violence against Ukrainians.

Religion plays a key role in other ways in the midst of the bombs and blood. A Russian-speaking Jew, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is emerging as a hero to the West. Ukraines small Muslim population is also under siege, as are Muslims throughout the Middle East who are finding food and energy sources broken because of the conflict.

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It will be a very difficult Easter for every Ukrainian, says Pavel Gavrilyuk, a theology professor who spoke last month at Vancouvers St. Marks College. Hes scrambling to collect humanitarian aid for Ukraine, including more than 2,500 tourniquets, which can stop bleeding. His efforts are among thousands launched by Canadian churches.

In Ukraine, dozens of churches have been bombed and an untold number of religious artifacts have been confiscated by Russian troops, said Gavrilyuk. Even the Holocaust Memorial near Kyiv, which is a testament to the massacre of Ukrainian Jews during the Second World War at Babyan Yar, has been damaged by bombs, leaving five dead.

This April, following two years of coronavirus restrictions, Christians, Jews and Muslims were looking forward to gathering in person for their festivals.

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But war has cast a different dark pall over this Easter season, as well as over Passover week, which is celebrated April 16 with a seder meal. The holy month of Ramadan, which began April 2 with devout Muslims fasting during daylight hours, is also affected.

Easter will be especially tragic and profound this year, said Gavrilyuk, explaining how the Easter festival is a time for Christians to share in the suffering that Jesus, the Christ, endured when he was crucified before being resurrected.

While the worlds two billion Catholics and Protestants mark Good Friday and Easter this weekend, Orthodox Christians follow the movable Julian calendar and will this year observe Good Friday on April 22. They are in the midst of preparations for it.

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There are roughly 100 million Orthodox Christians in Russia, with another 30 million or so in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which in 2018 gained independence from the Russian church. Canada is home to more than 1.4 million people with Ukrainian origins.

Gavrilyuk blames the war against Ukraine on how Putin has become drunk on his power for 22 years. And he condemns Patriarch Kirill for abetting the dictator by claiming Russia is not the aggressor and criticizing Ukraine. The patriarch has turned this into a distorted holy war, said Gavrilyuk. He believes both Putin and Kirill should go on trial for war crimes.

In Chilliwack, Orthodox priest Matthew Francis is this weekend trying to help his multicultural congregation make sense of the war in the context of the Easter season.

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Like everyone, as human beings it breaks our hearts to see the images of tragic violence and suffering. The human suffering is devastating, especially for some parishioners who have family and friends in Ukraine, said Francis, whose Holy Apostles Mission belongs to the Orthodox Church in America, Archdiocese of Canada.

The joy and faith we have in Jesus Christ will provide consolation and hope, even in the face of this terrible warand uncertaincircumstances.

Orthodox Christians in Ukraine will be singing Easter hymns this week even in the midst of bombs and great danger, he said. They will not be singing alone, because Orthodox Christians all over the world will be lifting their voices.

For the worlds Orthodox Christians, April 16is Lazarus Day, which commemorates the account of Jesus raising his friend from the dead. It is a story, Francis said, that even in a time of immense grief can give hope.

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Weve heard that Ukrainians who are escaping are praying in their cars as they go through checkpoints, the priest said. They are experiencing everyones worst nightmare. Theyre saying, Lord have mercy. But they have a hope that death is not the final story.

Jewish Orthodox Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt, of Vancouvers Schara Tzedeck synagogue, says, Its super-interesting that the poster boy for this invasion is Jewish, referring to Zelenskyy, whose ancestors both fought the Nazis and were murdered by them during the Holocaust.

Although the worlds Jews have a very complicated relationship with Ukraine and Russia because of the Holocaust, Rosenblatt said there is almost universal outrage over Putins invasion.

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Today, Ukraine is home to 60,000 to 150,000 Jews, much less than the more than 1.5 million who lived there at the beginning of the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Another 150,000 Jews live in Russia.

The Jewish tradition, Rosenblatt said, is inherently sensitive to oppressed people. And thats particularly true now of the 44 million citizens of Ukraine.

Rabbi Rosenblatt said the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, frequently reminds Jews: Do not oppress the stranger, because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.

The phrase is repeated during the ritual Passover meal, which celebrates Jews liberation from the land of the pharaohs.

When the rabbi was asked if he sees any significance in the way that Christianitys Easter, Islams Ramadan and Judaisms Passover overlap in this troubled time in 2022, Rosenblatt said not really. Despite sharing outrage over the atrocities Russia is committing in Ukraine, he quipped that Orthodox Jews, who comprise just one stream of the roughly 400,000 Jews living in Canada, spend a lot of time ignoring other traditions. We stay in our own lane.

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Still, he emphasized that Jewish tradition has long taught that nation shall not raise sword against other nations.

Similarly, Vancouver Muslim Farida Bano Ali says Islams holy book, the Quran, teaches followers to care about the death and suffering of all humans, no matter their creed or religion. Any kind of disaster, we feel it.

The worlds 1.8 billion Muslims have been looking forward to marking their first Ramadan without COVID-19 restrictions in two years, said Ali, who has headed the womens council of the B.C. Muslim Association. She was ecstatic the month of daytime fasting and communal prayer was finally arriving. But the festival has taken on a more sombre tone because of Russias attack on Ukraine.

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Its not that we overlook whats happened to (Muslim-majority) Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. But we are very concerned about the people who are dying in Ukraine. We are shocked at the atrocities. Its no different. Its just the name of the country is different. People are dying for no reason.

Ali, who works with the B.C. government to combat domestic violence, said Ramadan is meant to be a time of peace, meditation and strengthening the inner self for Canadas one million Muslims, as well as those in the Middle East who are struggling with rising food and energy prices caused by the conflict.

Ramadan is for thinking of how we can ease the pain of others. When one of us is affected, were all affected.

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As Russian bombs continue to destroy lives and cities in Ukraine, Gavrilyuk, who is based at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, laments how Ukraine is becoming the worlds sacrificial lamb, a bulwark against evil in which brave soldiers give up their lives to, in effect, stop further Russian encroachment into the West.

But Gavrilyuk, who was born in Kyiv and baptized in the Russian Orthodox tradition, is also aware that Easter brings a message of hope.

The universal symbol of Easter is the mythological phoenix, he said, a bird that rises from the ashes of death. It embodies the rebirth of the soul and, for Christians, the resurrection.

The phoenix symbolizes the rebuilding of Ukraine.

And thats why, every day, every waking hour, Gavrilyuk and his 10 staff are toiling non-stop to send tourniquets, life-saving prescription drugs and other humanitarian aid to the determined people of Ukraine.

Im involved in this 24/7. But if I could I would give 1,000 hours a day.

dtodd@postmedia.com

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Douglas Todd: Can Easter, Passover and Ramadan ease the pain of war? - Vancouver Sun

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