‘Hear my cry’: Russia evangelical leader calls for united prayer for peace, ‘Queen Esthers’ to stand up

By Chris Eyte |
Memorial wall bucha, Ukraine, Russia war
A woman looks at the memorial wall with the names of residents who were killed at the time of Russia's occupation, on July 2, 2023 in Bucha, Ukraine. The Kyiv suburb was turned into a battlefield in the first month of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow's troops attempted to seize the capital. | Roman Pilipey/Getty Images

As the war in Ukraine continues to rage, a leading Russian evangelical leader renews his call for evangelicals globally to join together in praying for peace, even as he admits his struggles with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness amid the unending reports of suffering and death.

In an interview with Christian Daily International, Vitaly Vlasenko, a Baptist minister in Moscow and the head of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, opens up about the impact the war has had on evangelicals in the country who were shocked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and lamented the decisions by political leaders. And as they continue to pray for an end of the conflict, they also continue to seek to serve meaningfully in society.

“Christians in Russia try to remain calm, preach the Good News and serve God and people. They try to remain ‘salt and light’ for Russian society and ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and cry with those who cry,’ to ‘seek peace and keep it.’”

Vlasenko acknowledged that the bloody conflict with Ukraine had left its mark on the Russian evangelical communities, who make up between 1-2% of the Russian population.

“It is very difficult in this situation to be a faithful citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and remain a decent citizen and patriot of your earthly Fatherland. It is very difficult to hear about the pain and see the suffering of people in a war zone and find the strength to maintain self-control not to go crazy.

“It is very difficult to speak words of consolation to the loved ones of the victims when everything is so ambiguous. It is very difficult when, instead of calls for peace and negotiations to end the war, you hear about ‘the military defeat of your country on the battlefield.’”

The evangelical leader admits to feeling anguished at times, as the conflict rages and more people lose their lives. He shared that he suffered times of weakness and temptation to lose patience, where he just wants to shout, “Have you people lost your mind?”

“Are there really no sane people in the whole world who are capable of taking responsibility and finding a solution to this conflict?

“Realizing that somewhere from my home, 700 kilometers away, a thousand young people who have mothers and fathers, wives and children, die every day – my eyes are full of tears of compassion, although I am not a sentimental person.

“Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness fill my heart, but I drive them away and cannot come to terms with it.”

And he wonders, “Where is the church calling for peace and forgiveness?”

Vlasenko suspects that the historic church schism in the year 1054, when Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches formally broke their union, continues to separate believers until today.

“Is it really that the church schism of 1054 continues to divide us into ‘East and West’? Is it really that we, as Evangelical Christians, cannot act as a united front, but stand on opposite sides of the political barricades?”

Vlasenko admitted that it felt difficult at times living as an evangelical believer “when the country that you love is being attacked by the countries of the entire Western Christian world.”

Even so, he felt “very grateful” for fellow Christians outside the country who “watch and spiritually care for us in Russia” despite any political and cultural or any other disagreements, during this “period of severe political confrontation with the world.” Vlasenko pointed to the Apostle Paul who wrote in his letter to the believers in Galatia to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.”

In seeking for a solution to the war, he believes evangelicals in Russia would welcome if Christians on both sides united in prayer for peace and for “the practical steps of the rulers of our countries, in ‘forcing peace.’”

“It will not be some kind of political weakness if we save the life of at least one soldier, because he is, first of all, a human being!

“I am not a politician,” Vlasenko said, “but today, on behalf of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, I call on all people of good will, primarily the global community of Evangelical Christians, to make every possible effort in all areas to save our wonderful world from military escalation and complete destruction.”

He said that Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” and therefore the followers of Jesus are called to respond to this prayer.

“Please hear my cry: The self-will of sinful people will destroy this world if we do not take spiritual responsibility for this world and begin to do God’s will on Earth as in Heaven.

“I call on all Christians in politics, in economics, in culture, like Queen Esther [in the Bible], to do everything we can to stop the war!”

Finally, he said, “We pray and ask you to pray for peace in Ukraine, for the suspension of all military conflicts. We pray for the spread of God's will throughout the Earth and for the salvation of people from eternal destruction. We pray for freedom of conscience and interfaith peace and harmony.”

“We pray and ask you to pray for the restoration of relations and reconciliation of the peoples of our countries, Russia and Ukraine.”

July 4, 2024 Update: In response to the above interview, the European Evangelical Alliance issued a statement refuting disunity, attack claims by Russian evangelical leader, and said path to peace 'is simple'