05 January 2023

Ceasefire shorts

A snapshot taken by a British officer showing German and British troops fraternising on the Western Front during the Christmas Truce of 1914. © IWM (Q 11718) [photo and caption at source].

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, called for a Christmas ceasefire to begin tomorrow at noon Moscow time, and extending through Christmas (January 7). The purpose of the proposed ceasefire: "... so the Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of the Nativity of Christ."

A few hours later, the Russian president followed up by ordering a unilateral ceasefire for that time period.

The Kyiv Independent article linked this ceasefire to the famous spontaneous ceasefires on December 24-26 (and sometimes even longer) in the first year of World War I. I haven't found references to the 1914 events in official announcements, but the connection is made explicitly in a petition circulated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and several other organizations, with "... over 1000 faith leaders in the United States, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bishop William Barber, Rev. Jim Wallis, and Dr. Cornel West, – representing believers from every major tradition..." as signers. You can access the full list of names, as well as videos and other related resources, on this page.

The FOR's materials refer to an earlier proposal by Ukrainian president Zelenskyy: [Link and bold text in original FOR page.]

President Zelensky himself last week referenced the concept, asking Moscow to withdraw its troops on the eve of the holidays as a “meaningful step towards the diplomatic settlement that Moscow so regularly mentions.” This [Christmas] time when normal people think about peace, not about aggression,” he said. Although Putin unsurprisingly rejected Zelensky’s request that he remove all his troops, the fact that such discussion is taking place reflects how palpable the world’s desire for a ceasefire is.

It may be true that these comments by everyone involved—FOR and the other peace organizations, Zelenskyy, Kirill, Putin—reflect "how palpable the world's desire for a ceasefire is." It would be wonderful if this were true. The most 1914-like ceasefire, however, would be from the bottom up, at the initiative of the soldiers actually in the trenches and improvised barracks in Ukraine.

In 1914, the British soldiers and onsite officers were soon ordered by the generals to cease fraternizing with the enemy immediately and go back to full combat. Today, we already know that many of the Russian soldiers are confused and disillusioned by their situation, while the Ukrainian side tries to make the prospect of their surrender as attractive as possible. Maybe we can pray that these human beings on both sides of the front respond directly to the Prince of Peace whose birth they're invited to celebrate, as the politicians cast about for ways to end, or (as the case may be) to prolong this awful war.

The rest of us have apparently have not made our desire for an end to the shooting palpable enough. We're talking about 36 hours, after which Putin's genocidal project apparently continues. As for the Christians involved, it's hard for me to take Kirill seriously when he has given such full-throated endorsement to this cruel war, and did not publicly object to Russian shooting and bombing on Western Christmas Eve (increasingly celebrated in Ukraine) or on the universal New Year holiday.

Illia Ponomarenko of the Kyiv Independent tweets on his personal Twitter account, "If someone in the Western media dares to delightfully compare Putin’s 'ceasefire' with the Christmas Truce of 1914, I swear I’m gonna throw up." 

As if to reinforce Ponomarenko's resistance to any sentimentality, the head of the Donetsk People's Republic (so-called), Denis Pushilin, says there will be no unilateral ceasefire in the territory he claims. They will continue to respond to the enemy's "provocations." Furthermore, he interprets Putin's ceasefire as follows:

The decision of our President as an Orthodox person applies specifically to Orthodox people, for whom it's important to to go to church, to maintain their faithful attendance at Christmas services. For obvious reasons, we do not consider the leadership of the remaining part of Ukraine to be Orthodox.

Interesting distinction. Orthodox biblical scholar Ilya Grits saw things very differently, as he explained in his essay, "What does the 'people of God' mean in the context of the 21st century?" [Rus.].

I give you a new commandment:
love one another.
However you and I might interpret this Christmas ceasefire, there are two ways I am trying to drive a wedge of prayer into what otherwise may be a justifiably cynical analysis—yet another appropriation of Christian-scented civil religion for political purposes.

One: each bullet or shell or rocket not fired during this ceasefire may mean a life not snuffed out, a family not torn apart. Thank you, Jesus. 

Two: God grant that the actual Gospel of peace may find some new space, some new cracks in the armor, to influence decision-makers and change hearts in those hours, in the powerful name of Jesus. It's not totally impossible that something like this has already begun, and the ceasefire is a hint. We can pray!

Although I'm a pacifist, I'm not neutral in this conflict. Here are some past posts on neutrality and on dilemmas for pacifists in this current war.

Patriarch Kirill and the war: a jaundiced summary.

Eliot Borenstein on Russian propagandists' increasingly extreme depictions of Ukraine: "Video game logic."

A letter to the Friends United Meeting constituency from Colin Saxton.

Marcelle Martin on her spiritual ancestors.

The early Friends 370 years ago who left the shores of England to bring their message across the ocean spoke true revelations, many of which have been broadly accepted in our time, though those revelations still challenge us to further changes. But divine revelation does not stop. We are continually asked to attend to the newness that God is always bringing.

Greg Morgan on magical thinking and the imminence of death.

Last week I did my digest of posts from 2022. Here's a Top 11 list from Kristin Du Mez. Her ranking method is probably more useful than mine: she ranks her posts by numbers of views, and I pick one post per month, choosing the post I like the best (and, maybe subconsciously, the post I believe you should like the best!). Note: Kristin Du Mez would like your help naming her blog.

GetReligion's notable 2022 deaths, as compiled by Adelle M. Banks. Before reviewing this list I had somehow missed the death of Brother Andrew. (More about him at my post on Christian jihad.)

Here's where I'd like to be on the last weekend of this month: Clarksdale Film Festival, which will include two of Robert Mugge's films.

Speaking of Clarksdale, Mississippi, here's an outtake from the film Full Moon Lightnin', featuring Floyd Lee and his friends. (I've used this clip at least once before, back in 2009.)

Ground Zero Deleted Scene - Full Moon Lightnin' from Seriocity Studios on Vimeo.

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