piektdiena, 2022. gada 18. novembris

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)



Beloved of Christ, let's joyfully celebrate the 104th anniversary of our great, our best Republic of Latvia! How good it is to simply be together in the church again! How good that we have each other and can build our country together! How good it is that we have friends and partners present from other countries, whose support we can count on! On this God-given and nation-won holiday, we can celebrate life! However, it is also appropriate to reflect on it during the celebrations.


Søren Kierkegaard once said that you can only understand life backward, but you have to live it forwards. His point is clear. Living forward, we often don't see what's around the corner. Only by looking back can we understand what we experienced. But is it really so? Is it that easy to understand? We are one land, one country, one nation, but how differently do we understand recent and current events! The last few years have increased the contradictions between us. Will a joint holiday help overcome it?


We spent two years in the grip of the pandemic. For some it was a global health crisis, for others it was a conjured illusion. For some government, restrictions seemed necessary to protect the public. Others saw it as a tyrannical restriction of human rights and freedoms.


Government support measures with benefits have kept thousands of companies out of bankruptcy and tens of thousands of people kept their jobs. They are genuine and sincerely grateful to their state today. Tens of thousands more lost their jobs because of the same government's vaccine policy. Today, they feel deeply betrayed and wounded by their state. Both the gratitude and the disappointment are genuine and genuine on both sides. How to understand that? How to understand each other?


Can we even understand February 24th this year in retrospect? Can you understand what Russia is currently doing to Ukraine? What does a man do to a man in this war? At least in this respect, there could not be different assessments, could theyBut there are. And the separation does not follow the line of nations, ethnicity, or language, as one might think.


I recently spoke about Russia's invasion of Ukraine with a high-ranking and highly educated Western colleague. We talked about everything that was happening there, and suddenly he said to me: "However, it may be that the president of Russia is a better Christian than our president." In a similar conversation with an American Latvian, I recently heard the idea that Russia does well what it does because it has seen the gates of hell in Western civilization. On a YouTube channel of conservative Americans, I read choruses of comments that Putin is the kind of leader they would want for their nation because he stands for natural values. May this be trueAt least he talks about them a lot.


In the summer of this year, a monument in Riga fell. For some, it was a day of deep and genuine joy, because the symbol that reminded the most evil in the history of the Latvian nation and many families was finally removed. For others, it was a day of pain, as they saw it as a desecration of the memory of loved ones who fell in the war. A Russian journalist asked - after the demolition of the monument if there was anything left that would assure the Latvian Russians that this land is also their homeland and this state is also their state?


A Latvian singer saw the wings of an angel in the splashes of water created by the falling pillar. Maybe we really need an angel of God so that we can understand this event together, and not against each other?


The different perception of the same things has also set us against each other. It has to be said, “Friends, this is not good!”[1] How do we find a common point of view? What would be the indisputable measure that would help to understand such contradictory people and events in a unified framework? How can I check if I am "zombified" or not - as we like to characterize each other?


The touchstone was given to me by my cat Samurai. We had to put him to sleep this summer. In the clinic, I held him on my lap sick and barely alive. After a short time, I held him dead in my arms. To say that there was a big difference between "barely alive" and "dead" is an understatement. There was an abyss between one and the other. Something irreconcilable, irrevocable, insurmountable, and irreparable. Existentially felt, palpable with hands. On one side was life. On the other side, there were none.


In the entire known universe, God chose the planet Earth and made it special among all the heavenly bodies by endowing it with life. Life is an indisputable, unquestionable value and a measure to weigh and evaluate when it is difficult to understand who stands for what and why they do what they do.


For example, in order to understand whether the war in Ukraine is really a Christian fight for "the de-Satanization of Europe", as they claim, and how it resonates in the minds of many, including among us, we need to remember the words of the Lord Jesus: " I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." He calls the abundance of life the goal of his mission.


How is a campaign that leaves behind the mass graves of the peaceful population and abandons its fallen, whose rotting corpses poison the waters and wells, compatible with the purposes of Christ? How do the nightly shellings that seek to destroy what people have built for decades to live contribute to the fullness of life? How is the mission of Christ fulfilled by those for whom weapons of death seem not enough, but who bring forth famine, and hazardous pollution and rely on frosty weather to finish even those who are beyond the reach of bullets?


Our Lord Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” How can efforts to plunge cities into darkness and cold, like Dante's last circle of Hell, be connected with the essence of Christ? In addition to this, there are endless lies and victim blaming - Ukrainians themselves have provoked the war, and Ukrainians themselves destroyed their cities. Ukrainians were Nazis. At the same time, they unapologetically proclaim Russian supremacy.


Would our Lord really have chosen as his God bearers those who catch their men on the street and in their homes and make them choose - to die in the fire of an aimless war or to rot in a prison pit? As Boris Grebenshchikov[2] prophetically sang twenty years ago:


«Моя родина как cвыня жрёт свой синовей».

(My homeland devours its sons like a pig.)


If we ignore this and take seriously claims of being defenders of the faith and traditional values just because of talks against pride marches in “Gayrope”, then we are indeed like Jesus said: "You strain out the gnats and swallow the camels!"


The Good Spirit gives life. The evil spirit delivers death. The values ​​of life are not created or protected by anyone who walks in the spirit of death. Today in Russia, Christian values ​​are rather represented and defended by those who raise their voice against the war. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!


Perhaps the representatives of the countries and nations are also present here, whose cities witness demonstrations with slogans: "We are for peace! Don't give weapons to Ukraine, so that the war ends sooner!" Such naivety, even if well-intentioned, calls for leaving an entire Christian nation defenseless before such an attacker, whose actions fit exactly into Jesus' description of the enemy of the human race, the father of lies: "The thief does not come except to steal, kill and destroy." (John 10:10)


We can be proud of our country only when it stands for life.


Are we like that? We also need to test ourselves. People have a psychological need to feel that they are on the right side. The easiest way to get that feeling is to point the finger at someone else's injustice. Thank You, God, that I am not like this sinner! But that would be a cheap righteousness. It is easy to point to an aggressor who is condemned by everyone. Can we do this with a clear conscience?


You should not get angry or offended about such a question, but check it. There is no sin that each of us cannot commit under certain circumstances. Let it settle in the consciousness: there is no such sin that each of us cannot commit under certain circumstances! What matters is how we try to protect ourselves from it. Are we creating an environment around us whose ethos and sense of sacredness helps us not to do this? Or are we trying to weaken and deconstruct even what we have inherited?


Two weeks ago, a meeting of foreign ministers of the G7 countries took place in a historic European town hall. The crucifix, which had been there for five hundred years, was removed from the meeting hall, under which the peace treaty that ended the Thirty Years' War was signed. Someone thought that the ancient work of art did not fit in a modern meeting of leaders. Around the same time, in Daugavpils, the Mark Rothko Art Center opened an exhibition by Estonian ceramist Sander Raudsepp, where a "crucifix" is displayed, where the image of Christ on the cross is replaced by a realistically reproduced male genital organ. Someone apparently thought that such a work of art fits perfectly into the modern cultural space. Two separate events? Or two signs of the times?


Some find it good and progressive, and some will probably say that they are the ones who are moving forward. Others don't think it's good, and it will be said about them - they want to go back. You can try to explain everything so simply. Always forward - good. Back is always bad. Four legs - good! Two legs - bad! But the truth is not arrived at either by simple clichés or by doing the exact opposite, as my opponent says. A wiser path leads along the ridge of the mountain, where to the left is the "only forward" cliff of chaos and to the right is the "only backward" gorge of stasis. "Narrow is the way that leads to life," says Jesus, but we have the opportunity to choose it.


However, looking more closely at the signs of the times - what are we doing with the sense of sanctity in our society? Are we not increasing the credibility of the talk about the need to de-Satanize the West? If the one who points out our wrongs is a war criminal, does that mean we are doing everything right? It needs to be checked.


A sense of sanctity prevents a person from making big mistakes in matters that are not regulated by laws. Especially where the legislator does not try to create a social reality with laws rooted in values ​​and ideals but adapts the laws to social reality. Social reality obeys the Second Law of Thermodynamics, too, and in its course tends towards chaos, which eventually leads to death in various roundabout ways.


If we would like to argue that we are not doing anything bad, let's think again. Over the last five years, a total of more than 16 thousand induced abortions have been performed in Latvia. The same amount as on June 14,1941 when people were taken out of Latvia in livestock wagons to face death. Every year, as many as the population of Kandava or Broceni or Pļaviņas. Or in a sizeable Ukrainian village. How do we pass the test of life?


I know this is an explosive topic. Stephen Adley Girgis in his play  “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” which was lately staged in the Daile Theater as "The Midnight Show with Judas Iscariot" is assassinating even Mother Teresa's character for having, somewhere, at some point, associated the ethos of abortion with death and war. I too was recently challenged on Twitter: "What would you say to a Ukrainian woman who conceived a child from the abuse of a Russian soldier?"


One could debate how correct it is to argue with extreme situations from a war zone when living in peaceful conditions. But I would never talk to a woman like that on Twitter. Only if sufficient trust is established in a pastoral, non-judgmental, and supportive conversation, would I perhaps dare to ask if she might consider giving the only chance, if only through adoption, to that person, to that unique personality, who would otherwise not be there? Because it is about the miracle of life, which had the misfortune to begin in such a terrible way and is threatened with an equally terrible end.


Maybe she would say no. Maybe it would be too horrible for her. That is not the point. God also loves and has mercy on a person who has made an unfortunate decision and certainly takes into account the difficult circumstances as it has happened.


It is quite another thing when we, living in peace, gleefully deconstruct the sense of sanctitymake fun of virtue as a dark ignorance, disparage marriage as an anachronism, admire art whose salt is to cross limits and shock feelings of propriety, celebrate the pop culture for "breaking all taboos." Well done! – but we are not going "forward" with that. Such civilizations have already existed and sunk long ago. With this, we lose vitality. With this, we increase premature and unfounded cynicism in the new generation.


There is no sin that each of us cannot commit when the soul has lost the sense of sanctity. We need to win it back. For each and every one. Otherwise, we increasingly embrace an ethos and way of life that eventually leads to lives we don't expect, don't want, and don't want to take responsibility for. And the problem is solved by throwing them in the garbage.


It becomes really problematic when modern society defines the right to do so as a sign of development and a measure of democracy. From the point of view of life, there is something hellish about it, too.


Rather, we should encourage births and eliminate conditions that make children seen as a path to poverty and an obstacle to good opportunities in life. We should raise the safety of children in stable families as a flag in the fight for life. We could be no less proud of this than the fact that we are helping Ukraine, bearing hardships and the cost of living with dignity.


I know that this topic will seem taboo to many. But if we welcome the breaking of taboos, maybe this is not the worst reason. Maybe we should also think about it and talk about it. Not to restart closed debates, but because it is fair to evaluate ourselves in the light of life as we have evaluated others. It helps to make better decisions.


Why are we so divided in the West anyway? How can it be that even highly educated and spiritually developed Western people, both English and Latvian speaking, see something defendable and even Christian in the speeches and actions of the Russian regime?


It is possible that from what they observe and experience from their own elites in the so-called culture wars, they feel so deeply wounded and worried that the principle comes into play: my opponent's opponent is my ally. Even if he kills people, he still criticizes the destruction of my culture. This is not trivial. When a person is deprived of his culture, he is deprived of his home. Not as violently as the destruction of cities in Ukraine, but still hurtful.


People notice similarities. For example, the postmodern idea is that everything can be justified by finding the right construction of words. Call the war a special operation. Call the occupation a liberation. Or call the killing of a child a simple healthcare intervention, as written on the World Health Organization's website. Although there is an irrevocable, irreparable abyss between the unborn and the dead.


Or the principle - if you want to defeat your opponents, raise their children. Cossack classes are being created in the occupied regions of Ukraine, where Ukrainian children must wear the military uniforms of the conquerors and learn to love great Russia. Particularly progressive politicians in Latvia say: "The way we think, everyone will think in the future. We will take care of it through education and school."


In Russia, they put people in prison who honestly say what they see and call war a war. In a Nordic country, a Lutheran bishop is accused and tried for an old article in which marriage and human sexuality are discussed in the light of the Holy Scriptures.


Of course, it's not all the same. The level of violence and brutality, at least for now, is incommensurable. But the approach to things is not that different. It's divisive, and if a factor of power is involved, it's also frightening. And that, friends, is not good!


We often stand on two sides of the road, but maybe we can agree on at least one common measure - life? Christ said, "I came that they might have life more abundantly."


I remember a thought expressed by the former resident of Riga, now a Ukrainian political commentator Mikhail Sheitelman: “I used to think that the function of the state was – well… maybe to pay pensions and benefits to the poor and unemployed. I was always independent, so I felt that the state was hardly relevant to me. But the Russian invasion made me realize that my state was the only thing standing between me and the invading horde. Between me and death is only my state with its armed forces and everything that supports them." If he still lived in Latvia, he would probably add: "..with the mandatory military service." So that Latvian men in a case of mobilization would not arrive to the frontline unprepared like "chmobiks" who only know how to die.

From the point of view of life, it probably cannot be said more profoundly and truly: "My state is what stands between me and death." Just six weeks ago we elected a new Saeima. Three-quarters of new people's representatives. This could be a good wish and reference point for the next four years. Stand in such a way that our nation wants to live and live in Latvia. Work so that its life force increases. This should be the main and common measure for both the coalition and the opposition to be taken into account in every decision and vote.


If our state stands between us and death, we want it to be as strong and united as possible. Unfortunately, the last couple of years has increased tensions and divisions. New injuries have been added to the historical ones. However, in crisis and war, everything can be seen in a new light. What must we overcome for our state to stand stronger between death and me? Jean-Paul Sartre said that freedom is what we do with what others do with us. What could we as free people do with what has been done to us?


In his novel The Buried Giant British writer Kazuo Ishiguro tells an ancient legend about the Britons and Saxons. While a female dragon, Querig, blew a mist of oblivion into their land, the two tribes were able to live in harmony because they did not remember the wrongs they had done to each other. It might work for us too. Forget the past like in a fog. But there was always a knight who wanted to kill Querig so that the mist would clear and a new war would begin.


We do the same sometimes. Obviously, we need something better than the mist of oblivion. For example – to understand, forgive and learn. In understanding and learning the key would help us that was given to me by my cat Samurai but given to the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. Life.


In the struggle through the unknown, we were often on opposite sides of the road and harbored anger. The hurt and pain are real. But let's try to look at those on the other side as we look at ourselves. We judge others by their actions, and ourselves by our motives. If we wanted to see the motives of others as well, then maybe we would discover that it was one thing for all of us - life.


Those who called for strict restrictions and mandatory vaccines did so for the sake of life. Those who fought back, also for the sake of life - if only to avoid having anything to do with the cells of an aborted child. And those who introduced, yes, the sometimes flawed, sometimes exaggerated restrictions, were trying to fulfill the state's mission to stand between their society and death. Then maybe we would be able to analyze what we experienced without anger and objectively, in order to really learn what was right, what was wrong, and what should be done in the future.


The toppled monument was loved by some and hated by others. Opposite feelings, but the same reason - lost life. Some hated it as a symbol of relatives killed in Soviet repressions and ethnocide. Others loved it as a symbol of memory for family members who died in the war. Although on two sides of the road, we could understand each other in terms of motives. If I were invited, I would hold a memorial service for the slain souls of both sides.


But the monument had to fall - for another reason, which can be significant for all of us. The Putin regime had long ago hijacked May 9 and the monument from the commemoration of the fallen and turned it into a sacrament of the imperial "Russian World" ideology. A “sacrament” through which it gathered its congregation of adherentsYear after year at this pillar and its small likes all over the land, as in a cult, new generations were initiated, which no longer had anything to do with the old war. This year, it was revealed to the whole world that it is a death cult, spewing menace and death in all directions from its abysmal stocks.


Russian missiles in Ukraine also destroy Russian-speaking cities and both Ukrainians and Russians suffer and die under them. Language or ethnical origin does not protect them. Only their state protects them. In our country, both Latvians and Russians should understand that only this state of Latvia stands between us and the deadly serious Iskanders.[3] It is much smaller, but that's exactly why we want it - we need it to be strong and united. It can only be so when it is supported by a united, internally reconciled nation. If nothing else, then for our own lives.


I hope there is some grain of reason in these reflections. Yet, Rudolfs Blaumanis said: "Feelings easily climb over the fence built by the reason." Whatever the reasoning of the mind, we tend to find satisfaction in nurturing feelings of resentment and bitterness. "For standing on two sides of the road, I come to ask for your forgiveness", sings Bus in the sky.[4] It's hard to ask for forgiveness without understanding. It is even more difficult to forgive when we do not learn because then the hurtful experience seems unforgivable. But there is no reconciliation without forgiveness. Feelings need to be healed as well.


Let's look at the crucifix. Not to that void in the old town hall and not to that artifact in the Rothko Center, but to a real crucifix. If our eyeballs were turned inward, we would probably see within ourselves deeds we mourn, words we regret, thoughts we are ashamed of, and inactions that make us unable to respect ourselves. But when our eyes turn normally and look ahead, we see and all our impurity, all that we cannot forgive ourselves, is on him. As the prophet says:


He was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds, we are healed.." (Isaiah 53:5)


It is the way to peace with God and also to peace with ourselves. As long as we trust and pray. The next step is like a leap of faith. If what I did to others rests on him, then what others did to me also rests on him. In him is the way not only to peace with God and with oneself, but also with other people. Even with those with whom we stand on both sides of the road.


Let's look at the Crucified and Resurrected! Contemplating Him makes a vivifying sense of sanctity grow. Aristotle suggested that a relationship succeeds when two who love each other also love a transcendent Third. The third above us. Lord Jesus Christ says: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."(John 12:32) Let us exalt him as our common transcendent Third! As we draw closer to Him, we also draw closer to each other.


And also, let's pray to God for our country! We often criticize our state, more rarely praise it, but we should pray a lot about it. Imagine - this ancient church was built, and therefore we are gathered in it today because someone prayed to God for it long ago! Obviously, prayers work! Thus, let us also pray for what we have recognized, searching together, understanding, learning, and forgiving, with life as a guide on our common path! May God bless Latvia!

[1] The words that our Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš once said about the spread of Covid-19 and which became a popular meme.


[2] A legendary Russian musician and songwriter, labeled as a “foreign agent” by the regime.


[3] Iskander – a Russian ballistic missile. “Не смешите наши «Искандеры» (Don’t make our Iskanders laugh) – a popular and defiant Russian slogan in response to Western sanctions or any claims of Russia’s smaller neighbors on respect or equal treatment.


[4] Autobuss debesīss – a popular Latvian rock group.

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