Learning from the Russians (and Ukrainians)

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to a number of pastors who’ve been discouraged and depleted by dealing with COVID issues.  They’ve found it challenging to adjust to changing government regulations.

But that’s not been the hardest part for many of them.

What’s been most disheartening has been trying to deal with the different (and strong!) opinions held by people in their churches related to wearing masks, following government regulations or getting vaccinated. 

One pastor told me of meeting with a parishioner who lambasted the church leaders for caving into government guidelines that limit church attendance.  The same day, this pastor had another meeting with a parishioner who took him to task for failing to implement more stringent safeguards to keep everyone safe.  He went home feeling beaten up and beaten down.

So how are Christians to remain united when viewpoints related to COVID threaten to divide us?

Here’s where a group of Russian and Ukrainian biblical scholars have much to teach us.

This summer I listened to an episode of the On Mission Podcast where Dr. Chris Wright interview Oleksandr Geychenko, the president of Odessa Theological Seminary in Ukraine.

Dr. Geychenko told the inspiring backstory for the Slavic Bible Commentary.

Back in 2011, biblical scholars from Russia and Ukraine met in Kiev to begin work on the Slavic Bible Commentary.  This was a ground-breaking project—the first time Slavic Christians from various countries had come together to work on a biblical commentary.

The project was going well until 2013.  That’s when war erupted between Russia and Ukraine.

People wondered if the commentary would be delayed or permanently derailed by the war.  Afterall, the biblical scholars from Russia saw the war quite differently than their colleagues from Ukraine.  It was an incredibly intense time.

Thankfully, the ninety-four scholars involved in the commentary project decided not to let their differing viewpoints on the war disrupt their unity as followers of Christ.  They placed Christ above country.  They elevated their Christian faith higher than their political perspectives.  And by God’s grace, they completed the commentary in 2016.  

As I listened to Dr. Geychenko, I sensed those of us in Canada and the United States could learn from their example.  As we deal with our differences related to COVID 19 issues, we must elevate our commitment to Christ above our viewpoints on vaccines.  We must prioritize working together for Christ and His Church above our desire to convince others to adopt our outlook on masks, lockdowns, or vaccines.

Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-3 ring with special relevance for us right now: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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