While listening to the sermon of an American pastor who recently arrived to Ukraine, I was somewhat surprised by the thoughts of this respected minister regarding the events in Ukraine. After all it seemed that the mission with which he came to Ukraine was to calm down the Ukrainians. What recipes have been suggested for that purpose? First, we have nothing to worry about. Secondly, you just have to wait, because a little more and everything will pass away. It always happens that way. As in the world of Koelet (Ecclesiastes), remember? “עת מלחמה ועת שלום” – “a time of war and a time of peace.” It’s just a different time now. Why? What is the reason for this – is not entirely clear. But the main thing is to believe and soon everything will pass.
Of course, we do give many thanks to this man who came here from peaceful America, this is in a sense a brave act. At least, in order to understand something. And maybe he will understand. But what was visible during the preaching, at least to me, was that a person simply cannot put the word “war” into his head as part of the life of a believer (by the way, during the sermon this word sounded only once). That’s it, peace exists, and war does not exist. And the whole sermon was about the fact that peace will definitely come. Although the word peace was not in the sermon, for there is no war, in his mind at least. And what is happening now is like a mere natural disaster, that will disappear on its own.
It may have been hidden in the sermon but there was still a hint that you guys are a bit overzealous here. Well, two neighbors quarreled, then someone looked askance at someone, said something wrong and it all began. Well, if they quarrel they will definitely reconcile. Especially since non-believers quarreled. And since we pray for them then peace will surely come.
Of course, no one has long been surprised by such rhetoric, but it makes it clear once again the rather sad situation in which religious communities in different countries find themselves. And why in the eighth month of the war which is taking place in the center of Europe there is still no clear reaction from the religious leaders. For the most part there is no reaction at all or there is a small one, something like that which came from the current head of the Vatican – “let’s all hug each other”. After all, there is no war in their understanding of the universe. That is there is no struggle between good and evil which can happen in this way because everyone is equally guilty. And maybe even equally right.
Now it is quite common to hear attempts to find answers in our past history. And this is natural, because there is hope that humanity should get some experience. I will also propose to dive a little into not so ancient history to clarify the question: have believers, in particular, the believers of America, always taken such a neutral position in relation to world events?
On March 8, 1983 Americans and the whole world witnessed President Ronald Reagan’s spectacular speech. One of the theses voiced by President Reagan did not go unnoticed. One part of the speech had a sharp impact on the Soviet Union and was widely circulated around the world. Reagan declared the USSR an Evil Empire. Even behind the Iron Curtain Soviet propaganda did not hide anything, presenting it as another crazy prank of the president – a former Hollywood actor. At the same time many in USA also laughed at this saying that Reagan watched Star Wars movies too much.
But it is interesting that the mentioned speech took place not just anywhere, but at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) convention and received the historical name Evil Empire Speech. The President of the USA pleasantly impressed the present pastors and heads of Protestant unions from the platform of the congress with his religious rhetoric quite unusual for politicians at that time and especially for Reagan. Bright speech colored as always with humor really captivated the audience and was repeatedly interrupted by applause.
It was at the end of the speech that Reagan made several important remarks about US foreign policy in relations with the Soviet Union. It should be noted that the expression “Evil Empire” was given a religious connotation defining America as a country that fights against evil. And this struggle is based on Judeo-Christian values as Reagan himself noted.
What is also worth paying attention to: at the time, it was considered unacceptable for most Christians in America to take a radical stance in the political confrontation between the free world and totalitarian regimes. Of course everyone understood that in the USSR people were deprived of many freedoms, including religious ones, and the peoples living there, to put it mildly, could not be envied. But at the same time it was considered inappropriate to present America as an example of righteousness because it had enough internal problems not to mention mistakes in foreign policy such as the Vietnam War. That is why church leaders usually avoided any assessments in this sense since they had a negative attitude towards the increase in the military budget and the blame for participation in the so-called arms race fell equally on the USSR and the USA.
Ronald Reagan presented a slightly different picture of the modern world. A world in which there is a REAL, not a mystical struggle between good and evil. In my opinion 3 main theses can be seen in his speech:
1) We must honestly look at the existing state of affairs and call them by their proper names. So the Soviet Union is an Evil Empire built on moral and spiritual principles that contradict the Bible. This empire must be destroyed and the peoples that are in it must be given a chance to become free. And our duty as believers is to change this world for the better as much as possible.
2) The struggle between USA and the USSR is primarily spiritual not material. It is a struggle for freedom, a struggle between light and darkness, between good and evil. But at the same time we (Americans) must demonstrate strength, including military strength, which will confirm our ability to courageously fight for our ideals.
3) By no means can America and the Soviet Union be equally blamed for this confrontation. Even though we (American society) are imperfect and have many mistakes, we and they have different paths. We are on the path of freedom which allows us to correct these mistakes, they are on the path of enslavement, oppression of man, his alienation from the Creator.
There is also one statement from the speech that sounds a bit strange at first glance. For the sake of context, I’ll just add that it refers to proposals to stop the weapons buildup that were being discussed in American society, and in which the United States was seen as a kind of provocateur:
“… in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride – the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault…”
The unusualness of such an assessment may be somewhat surprising to many believers. After all the position of a large number of religious communities which usually distance themselves from direct participation in “secular” conflicts of society, on the contrary, is considered a model of humility and wisdom. And not only humility but even God’s justice, which seems to require us to be “objective” and not to take one or another unambiguous position. How could it even occur to the honorable president to call it pride?
Of course it can be assumed that there will always be situations in the life of society where communities of believers should not intervene headlong or resort to unequivocal assessments. But there have been and will be no fewer situations where the Most High is waiting for our actions and decisions.
I will give a primitive example to sharpen the question a bit. Let’s imagine that you witnessed a crime when one person tries to take a wallet out of someone else’s pocket. You may have different opinions on this. For example:
Why is this person stealing? Maybe he had a difficult childhood and life did not work out or maybe he has nothing to eat now? And if I point to him now maybe they will beat him, call the police, put him in prison, and the prison as you know has not yet corrected anyone, only made it worse. And the one whose wallet is being stolen, maybe he has some kind of guilt before God? After all, nothing happens for nothing, maybe this is a lesson for him. And in general, why did he put his wallet in his pocket so demonstratively, it provokes others. And if I tell him about it now, a fight may break out, and we cannot rule out that the thief may have a knife and kill someone else… No, I’d rather pray for both of them, it’s the right thing to do, let G-d judge.
Continuing this reflection one can definitely come to certain conclusions: In fact, everyone has sinned. No one is righteous, no matter what we do, the world gradually slides into an abyss that it digs for itself. Thank you G-d that I am not like that and do not act like that, and do not participate in this worldwide madness … Does this remind you of anything?
After all if we take such a position “above the fray”, we separate ourselves from the rest of society, do we not become a special caste that does not take any responsibility for everything that happens around us? And this means that it is not our business to take care of perishable issues, let’s leave them to this world, we must continue to engage in our own spiritual development ( and material, just in case).
Well, of course, absolving ourselves of any responsibility for what is happening in society, we completely shift it to another part of our fellow citizens (humanity), to those who do not go to church, synagogue, do not read the Holy Scriptures, do not pray. It’s all because of them…
Do we not then become very similar to the negative example of a believing jew from the Prushim (Pharisees), as in the parable of Yeshua (Jesus), who became so proud that he is completely different – not like that publican? Therefore, who will see at least some logic in these thoughts, perhaps Reagan’s warning about the dangers of pride and a blithely attitude to life will no longer cut the hearing?
I must say that the speech, which was forever assigned the name “Evil Empire”, made a rather strong impression on the Protestant part of America, and definitely brought a new meaning to religious life. But later, the Catholic part of the faithful, usually more conservative, accepted the call of the Evil Empire Speech, in part, thanks to Reagan’s warm personal relationship with the then head of the Vatican, John Paul II. Let me remind you that the special reason for this relationship, as Reagan himself said, was the assassination attempts on both of them, which occurred with a difference of almost a month in 1981. Who knows, maybe both of these historical figures (we remember the personal influence of John Paul II on the events in Poland, the Solidarity trade union), the assassination attempt and the injury were a kind of meeting with the reality of the evil that exists in the world, and this requires a certain answer to it. . .
On the other hand, the Evil Empire Speech introduced an unusual religious context into US foreign policy towards the USSR. Though many of Reagan’s opponents scoffed at this, such a harsh assessment of a regime with a nuclear bomb controlling half of Europe became commonplace. And it also showed many that it’s not so scary to call a spade a spade.
One way or another, but after the start of such a tough conversation in the Soviet Union, mired in gloomy stability, unusual events began to occur. Initially, it was a short-lived so-called “races on gun carriages,” in which each new, but not very fresh, Soviet Secretary General was given no more than a year to govern. Then, after these competitions with nature, apparently in a purely evolutionary way, a more capable leader (literally and figuratively) emerged.
The following story about how the Evil Empire was destroyed without a single shot from the United States and NATO, by the hands of the same energetic General Secretary, is perhaps unnecessary to tell. But many who read these lines (especially if you lived in the USSR) are not averse to thanking G-d again for this, and also remember with gratitude the name of US President Reagan, who once took it upon himself to call a spade a spade. Well, of course, if you don’t consider the collapse of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” (putin’s statement)…
But not everything turned out as we would like it to see… And already in 1988, President Reagan, observing the enthusiasm with which Gorbachev began to destroy the USSR on the 70th year of its existence, gave an assessment that undoubtedly influenced the future moods of the Western world. When asked in Moscow, not far from the mausoleum, whether he still considers the USSR an Evil Empire, he replied that this era is already in the past.
Unfortunately, such a hasty assessment has taken hold of the West, especially after the final collapse of the USSR in 1991. Indeed, the weakened, confused post-Soviet space with the absence of communist ideology did not cause any fears among the victors in the Cold War – the United States and Europe. However, Russia, asserting itself as the rightful heir of the Soviet Union, became the center on which the Evil Empire successfully reproduced itself.
As it turns out, the ideological basis of evil does not matter much. Having changed the sign, repainted the facade, the evil did not abandon its plans, but, it must be admitted, it became even more skillful and insidious. Why did it happen so? I will give my simple answer – because this Evil Empire did not receive the same trial as, for example, Germany at the Nuremberg trials. That is, a real court, providing for both a sentence and certain legal consequences of such a sentence. (it is a spoiler – everything is ahead!).
With the beginning of a full-scale war in Ukraine, this evil is manifesting itself more and more every day. It is still trying to keep the mask of civilization that it once wore, but at the same time, it is no longer ashamed to openly say that it wants to destroy Ukraine and Ukrainians by any means – freeze, deprive them of food and water. With rockets, drones, torture in the occupied territories. This evil, namely Russia, is already ridiculing and mocking the whole world, talking about some fight against “combat mosquitoes” in the UN Security Council. Every week it changes the goals of it’s “special operations” for their lie-crazed population, because the population demands new lies like a drug. It makes the elite of his army from murderers and rapists, releasing convicts from prisons on the terms of a military contract. In defense of the “Russian language” this evil gathers peoples who can hardly speak russian.
A question for us as believers. What will we call this phenomenon in our prayers and sermons? Are we able to call a spade a spade before the Almighty, or will we leave it only for conversations among ourselves? Or maybe the scale of the victims is not yet sufficient to draw such harsh conclusions? What else does the Russia have to do, what new whims of the Kremlin Fuhrer and his “populace” have to be realized, so that we can frankly and directly, both before ourselves and before the Almighty, call this northern swamp the Evil Empire? What are we waiting for?
According to the latest poll, 86% of Ukrainians are in favor of continuing the armed struggle against the aggressor. And this is not because we want to fight, not because we are such a warlike nation that only dreams of weapons. It’s just that 86 percent of Ukrainians, unlike the West, really understand the darkness that is coming from the north, and by and large, the whole world. I’m sure that this will sound too loud for some, but isn’t there a feeling in society that the Almighty has chosen us to stop this darkness? And without this understanding there would be no resistance because the authorities did not prepare for war at all. But that’s a separate topic for discussion…
There is such an Israeli concept of warfare. At the first opportunity to transfer hostilities to enemy territory. Maybe we should also change something in our prayer? We believers, of course, pray for peace in Ukraine, sometimes even for peace throughout the world. But the final peace in Ukraine will come when this Evil Empire is finally destroyed. A simple withdrawal of troops to the borders as before February 24, 2022 or to the borders of 1991 will not reduce the danger, on the contrary! As soon as this Empire has enough strength, it will begin to destroy us again, but with much more experience, cruelty and understanding. An example of this is the Second Chechen War. If we understand this then let’s pray based on this understanding.
Without a doubt, if you do not believe that the Russian Reich must be destroyed, if you still believe that “not everything is so simple” and that both “participants in the conflict” bear the same responsibility, then you really need to pray only for peace in Ukraine, and possibly in Russia. But does the Almighty hear such prayers? More specifically, how do you think He should answer such a prayer?
Let us dwell a little on the understanding of the Hebrew word תפילה – tefilah – prayer, (the same root word – להתפלל – lehіtpalel – to pray). One of the explanations for the meaning of this word lies in the single-root noun פליל – plіl – judge, court, trial, litigation (in modern Hebrew – פלילים – refers to the criminal court).
This suggests that sometimes in problem situations our prayer is a claim to the Almighty, so that he would consider it and make a decision as a Righteous Judge. And if this is so, then, like any judge, the Almighty expects reasonable arguments from us. Why do we consider our offender guilty, what injustice are we protesting against, what decision are we waiting for, what specific claims do we have against the opponent, what is his fault?
But imagine a situation in an ordinary earthly court when you come to a court session and instead of providing the judge with clear statements about the guilt of your offender, setting out specific claims against him, you say something like: “Well, not everything is so clear, you know, Your Honor, in all these events there is also my share of guilt, why be embarrassed, I’m not an angel either…”. What do you think, what decision will the judge have after submitting such a “petition”!? The answer will be more like this: “You know what, dear plaintiff, go figure it out yourself and don’t take our time.”
If anyone thinks there is anything unusual about this view of prayer where we blame the other side, then you have probably never read the entire Tanakh. Or missed something. It is enough to take a few lines from the book of Tehillim (Psalms) to be convinced of this.
For example, Tehillim 28, 3-6:
ג) אל תמשכני עם רשעים ועם פעלי און דברי שלום עם רעיהם ורעה בלבבם
ד) תן להם כפעלם וכרע מעלליהם כמעשה ידיהם תן להם השב גמולם להם
ה) כי לא יבינו אל פעלת יהוה ואל מעשה ידיו יהרסם ולא יבנם
ו) ברוך יהוה כי שמע קול תחנוני
3 Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts.
4 Give them according to their deeds, and according to the evil of their deeds, according to the work of their hands, and return to them what they have deserved,
5 Because they do not look to the power of the L-rd and the work of his hands, let him destroy them, and let him not build them up.
6 Blessed be the L-rd, for he has heard the voice of my cry.
Or Tehilim 94, 1-7:
א) אל נקמות יהוה אל נקמות הופיע
ב) הנשא שפט הארץ השב גמול על גאים
ג) עד מתי רשעים יהוה עד מתי רשעים יעלזו
ד) יביעו ידברו עתק יתאמרו כל פעלי און
ה) עמך יהוה ידכאו ונחלתך יענו
ו) אלמנה וגר יהרגו ויתומים ירצחו
ז) ויאמרו לא יראה יה ולא יבין אלהי יעקב
1 O L-rd G-d, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
2 Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.
3 L-rd, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
4 How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?
5 They break in pieces thy people, O L-rd, and afflict thine heritage.
6 They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
7 Yet they say, The L-rd shall not see, neither shall the G-d of Jacob regard it.
And these are only two examples but indeed David aMelech (King David) has left us many more models of appeals to justice, encouraging us not to be afraid to stand trial before the Righteous Judge, if we have reason to do so.
Of course, we come to such a judgment before the Almighty not in the hope of our righteousness, in our deeds, but only in His mercy and promises to save and protect. Recognizing personal responsibility both for their own sins and for the sins of society as a whole. But he’s waiting for our assessment of the situation. What do we want? What can we tell him? Do we have enough arguments to make a decision in our favor?
I hope so, and here are the reasons for it:
- We did not attack and did not want to, but Russia attacked us insidiously, violating all treaties and agreements
- You the Almighty, once destroyed the USSR, the Empire of Evil, and gave us a chance to become free and become closer to You. We took this chance and parted with our past. But our enemies want to drag us into slavery again
- Our enemies openly say they want to kill us
- They lie all the time, this country is built on lies
- We have a free state, we have no worship of man. But the people of Russia idolize their tsar and are ready to be his slaves
- Yes, we have many problems and sins, and we do not rely on personal righteousness. But we follow the path of freedom and want to change for the better. The people of Russia do not want to improve, they just want everyone to live as they live
- We have elected a Jew, the son of Your people, as president. And this confirms that we are following the path of tshuva (repentance), parting with the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. And besides Israel and Ukraine, there are no other countries in the world where the head of state is a Jew. Let this be counted in our favor.
- This Evil Empire must be destroyed, because only in this way will the peoples who live there get a chance for freedom and approach to You
- This Evil Empire must be destroyed, because as long as it exists, it will seek to kill us
- This Evil Empire must be destroyed, because it is fighting against us, despite its material losses, financial losses, human losses, because it is ruled by hatred of freedom and truth. So this is really a spiritual war, not a war for territory.
- This Evil Empire must be destroyed so that the whole world can see that only You the Holy One of Israel, is God on earth and in heaven. That only You give miracles, signs and salvation to the weak before the strong. Let the whole world see it, the righteous will rejoice, and the evildoers will be afraid and tremble.
If you have something to add to this list, please write in the comments. Or if you do not agree, write too.
And finally a little from the Jewish liturgy namely the Shmona Esre prayer – שמונה עשרה (eighteen blessings) which in itself in a certain sense can be considered a kind of list of petitions to the merciful and just Judge:
וכל אויבי עמך מהרה יכרתו
ומלכות זדון מהרה תעקר ותשבר ותכניע במהרה בימינו
ברוך אתה ה’ שובר רשעים ומכניע זדים
And all the enemies of your people will soon be eradicated
And the kingdom of evil will soon be uprooted and crushed, and quickly defeated in our day
Blessed are You, O L-rd, who crushes fiends and conquers malefactors
(excerpt from Birkat Aminim – ברכת המינים – Prayer against the apostates, siddur Rav Amram Gaon, 9th century)
Amen and amen!