Being a chaplain is a special calling.
It's one thing to be a priest in the rear, to care about one's congregation in warmth of one's parish. And totally different thing is to cure people's souls at the front line, amidst cold, dirt, fear, and desperation. What is it like to be a medium between soldiers and God amidst shelling and fire?
Pastor of the Protestant Evangelical Christian Church of Kyiv Oleh Usatiuk is one of the chaplains who have a clear answer for the question: God will tell. And you do what you must: help people in the ATO area with spiritual support, prayer, and volunteer cargo brought from the rear, if needed.
- At first, we went to the ATO area as volunteers, not as chaplains. We were delivering food and clothes.
- Who do you mean by 'we'?
- We have a detachment of chaplains.
- Does the battalion include priests from different churches?
- Yes. When it was created, it included believers of various churches. Kyiv Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Greek Catholic Church, Catholic church, Protestants, Baptists, Pentecostals. We decided that when we serve, we do not speak of various church issues, but of Jesus Christ. We were to preach faith in God, speak of moral principles based on Christianity.
- Generally, you speak of what unites instead of what differs.
- Right. The boys are open to prayer, and to asking questions. Recently we visited the Luhansk region: Shchastia and Stanytsia Luhanska. There are many believers from the western Ukraine there. It's very important that they could confess, pray, ask questions on the Bible. We tried to provide for all of that.
- Famous volunteer Tatiana Rychkova told me once: "The chaplains are the best psychologists. They can comfort and ease a soldier." And there is an option of confession. What is the most widespread confession at war?
- Most often they ask questions. "We are at war, we have to kill. How do we deal with the "Do not kill' commandment?"
- What do you say?
- I explain to people what the Bible reads. That "Do not kill" means you cannot be aggressive towards anybody. But protecting your home, your country, and you family is not judged by the Lord.
-When you explain his, does it comfort the soldiers?
- Of course. At the same time our chaplains ask soldiers to act as Christians and humans in any situation.
- If you capture anyone, treat them as humans. Separatists, Russians - they are Lord's creatures who are loved by Him, but they were fooled and came to us with aggression. We pray for them as well, so that they gain their wisdom and leave our country.
- Father Mykola from the 25th Airborne Brigade told me about a hefty fellow, the company commander, crying on his chest: "Father, I have so many guys killed, how can I live on?!" The priest gave him solace as best as he could, prayed with him - and the officer felt relief. Do you have similar experience?
- We were talking to an officer and when we spoke about faith, about Jesus Christ, he said: "There are no unbelievers in the war. We were hiding from the Grad multiple rocket launchers shelling which lasted for three hours and there were 12 people in our trench. And all of them were praying! Some of them remembered the Lord's Prayer, others did not. But everyone turned to God."
- You have told of God's acts in this war, and what about the devil's ones?
- It is excessive drinking. Some guys drink to suppress emotional wounds. But alcohol does not solve problems; it merely exacerbates them. The commanders told that there was less drinking in the detachments with chaplains, where the psychological work was conducted with soldiers. But the guys were finding some satisfaction in alcohol in the detachments where it all was hung out.
- One of the most painful questions the priest is asked by the soldiers is: "Father, how does God allow so many deaths?" They witness not only their fellows' deaths but also civilians'...
- Yes, there are such questions. But there is another force apart from God - the devil who makes it all: war, suffering, and death. Therefore there is no need to blame God. And we explain to people that God is love.
Once we were communicating with commanders and when we were already bidding farewell, they said that they had underestimated this psychological factor of work with servicemen. And then they acknowledged it as a very important necessity.
- You are 52, and you have been chaplain for seven years, you've seen a lot. Whose heroism impressed you at this war?
- Seeing females at the front line looks like heroism to me.
- Why do they go to the front? War is for males, it's dirty and fool of blood…
- I believe this to be some kind of patriotism. I spoke with a spiritual girl in Kyiv. She is a volunteer buying food, clothes, and shoes. She told me: "If I was a man, I would have been on the front line!"
This is some kind of patriotism. I never thought I was alone, but the year that passed discovered similar qualities in many people.
-Which Bible verse do you cite most often at the war?
- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Yevhen Kuzmenko, Censor.NET