Sister Vassa and Public Orthodoxy on Ukraine, Part 1

Once again, Sister Vassa and Public Orthodoxy have boldly staked out positions, which just happens to coincide with the fashionable opinion of the moment. In a video by Sister Vassa, and then in a declaration published by Public Orthodoxy (which Sister Vassa signed), they express their belief that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is evil, that Putin is solely to blame, and that the Russian Church should condemn Putin for it. And the declaration goes on to accuse the Russian Church of outright heresy. In this response, I will focus my attention on Sister Vassa’s video. In part 2, I will address the Public Orthodoxy declaration.

The Intentional Fog of War Propaganda

Before getting into Sister Vassa’s specific assertions, I would like to remind those who are old enough to remember the lead up to the first Gulf War — and to inform those who were too young or not yet born — of the lies our government propaganda machine churned out to talk us into going to war. I remember it well, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps because I believed the things we were told. Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and we were told horror stories of how the Iraqi soldiers treated Kuwaitis. One of the more memorable things we were told was that Iraqi soldiers burst into hospitals, took babies out of incubators, left them on the floors to die, and then carted those incubators off to Iraq. There was testimony to this effect before the United States Congress, from a young woman who claimed to have been an eye witness to these barbarous acts. George H. W. Bush alluded to this frequently as he beat the war drums. This could not stand. Something had to be done. The only problem was, it was a lie. The young woman who testified before Congress happened to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, and had not been in Kuwait at all during or after the Iraqi invasion. Of course, this only came to light long after the war was over. In 1990 and in 2003, the vast majority of Americans supported going to war with Iraq. Today, the vast majority of Americans believe it was a mistake.

Then under Bill Clinton we launched a war against Serbia, in which we bombed them back to the stone age, killed thousands of civilians, and carved off Kosovo from Serbia, where we still have American troops stationed to this day. This also happened due to the stenographers in the mainstream media, which dutifully presented a one-sided story of a complicated civil war, along with countless fabrications and lies which were designed to inflame the emotions of the American people… and then the United States did exactly what we are accusing Russia of doing right now.

In the lead up to the second Gulf War we were assured that there were weapons of mass destruction being amassed by Sadam Hussein, and this also turned out to be a lie. We invaded Iraq, and a country that was 10% Christian now has few remaining Christians because we unleashed Islamic Jihadists that Sadam Hussein had kept on a short leash, and the country has been a wreck ever since. I think there are few people left who would not gladly turn back the clock, and put Sadam Hussein back in charge of Iraq. As bad as he was, the world was a far safer place, and Iraq was a far better and safer place too.

More recently we launched regime change wars in Syria and Libya in which our military played direct roles, which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and millions of refugees. What we did in Libya caused further Islamic terror in other parts of Africa, as Libyan weapons made their way into the hands of Islamic terrorists, like Boko Haram. We have seen open slave markets, and human misery increased exponentially all because we wanted to take out the latest Hitler of the Month. If when we embarked on these regime change wars, we were creating paradises in their stead, perhaps one could justify this as a foreign policy theme, but instead, we consistently make bad situations into hell holes.

I could go on, but we have been repeatedly lied into going to war in country after country, and in almost every case, the situation has been made far worse by our actions. But the point here is that the media willfully presented propaganda to the American people, designed to whip up public opinion and get them to support American foreign policy based on lies.

The Complexities of the War in Ukraine

In Sister Vassa’s comments, she repeats a great deal of the spin we are hearing in the western media, as if it were all true, and there was nothing more to it. Her arguments amount to appeals to emotion based on the media narrative, and appeals to majority opinion, rather than on reason, evidence, or logical argument. The problem here is we should know by now that we cannot put a lot of faith in what our government or the media tells us when our government is trying to push public opinion to support a war. And make no mistake, that is what is happening. We are being asked to support an economic war, which will have huge repercussions on our own economy, as well as every economy in the world — which will disproportionately affect the poor throughout the world, and put them in positions in which keeping body and soul together will be extremely difficult. We are being asked to supply weapons to one side, and there is the very real prospect that we could soon be drawn into the fighting on the ground before all is said and done, if we are not careful.

Anyone who is presenting this war in simple terms is either ignorant of the facts, or is trying to deceive you, and they are certainly not advancing the cause of peace. This war has an extremely complicated background. For one thing, Ukraine was never an independent country prior to the 1990’s. For most of the last 3 centuries it has been united with Russia, and so there are strong ties to Russia, particularly with the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine. Ukraine has had two “revolutions” since it became independent, both of which the United States had more than a small role in. In 2014, we had a blatant coup d’etat in which our country sponsored the violent overthrow of the lawfully elected government of the country. As a result there was unrest throughout Eastern and Southern Ukraine. The Russian government seized Crimea, which has been the base for the Russian Black Sea fleet since Catherine the Great, and whose population overwhelming supported the action. In most of the South, unrest was violently squelched, but in Eastern Ukraine, two regions declared their independence, and with Russian support, were able to keep from being crushed by the new Ukrainian government, but the people in those regions have been subjected to continuous shelling by the Ukrainian military for the past 8 years, and about 14,000 people have been killed… but CNN didn’t bother stoking anyone into being outraged about those deaths — and in fact, most people are unaware of this aspect of the present conflict entirely. 

For more on the 2014 Coup, see the documentary Ukraine on Fire, the follow up documentary Ukraine Revealed, as well as How US-backed Maidan coup, Russiagate led to war in Ukraine.

Since 2014, there have been two peace agreements that have been signed which would have ended the war in Eastern Ukraine, and in both cases, nothing came of them, because the president of Ukraine was either unable, or unwilling to implement them. I am sure the politics of this is very difficult to navigate, but while the last two Ukrainian presidents both ran on a platform of bringing peace to Eastern Ukraine, and they may both have been very sincere in their intentions, neither was able to accomplish their stated intentions… for whatever reason. Zelensky even went to Eastern Ukraine and personally ordered the overtly Nazi Azov Battalion to withdraw… and they simply refused to do so. So it is unclear who has really been running the show in Ukraine.

On top of the 8 year war against Russian speaking people in Eastern Ukraine, Zelensky suggested in February of this year that Ukraine would be seeking to acquire Nuclear weapons, and Ukraine has stated its intention to join NATO, and to retake Crimea from Russia… by force if necessary. Russia had laid out to the US a list of its “Red Lines,” the biggest of which is Ukraine entering NATO, and the US refused to accommodate Russia on any of its concerns. Countless experts have been warning that this policy of NATO expansion would eventually lead to a military response from Russia:https://www.youtube.com/embed/1H0rCqaGtJw

And so given that this was entirely predictable, one has to wonder why the Biden administration chose to continue to press ahead with NATO expansion, rather than to press Ukraine to actually implement the Minsk agreements, and end the 8 year war in Eastern Ukraine.

Sister Vassa notes that even Fox and CNN agree that this is all Russia’s fault. The problem is that war is the one remaining bi-partisan issue in America. The establishments of both parties generally support going to war. Fox News has generally taken the same stance.

Sister Vassa dismisses concerns about Nazis in Ukraine because Israel sides with the US, Zelensky is Jewish, Ukraine fought against the Nazis in World War II, and she suggests that like any other country, Ukraine simply has people with various political leanings. But Israel has little choice but to side with the US, given that the US is Israel’s only ally in the world, and heavily funds and supplies its military. Zelensky is Jewish, but that doesn’t prove that there are not Nazis throughout Ukraine’s military and security forces, and when you have overtly Nazi Battalions that are part of the Ukrainian Army, that is not just having some kooks in your country. Yes, 8 million Ukrainians died fighting the Nazis, but many of those from Western Ukraine died fighting for the Nazis. You had Ukrainian divisions of the SS. And they have a Nazi war criminal that is celebrated as a National hero — Stepan Bandera. Obviously the average Ukrainian is not a Nazi, and one could argue that the Russian government makes more of this than is warranted, but pretending that this is not a real issue is either ignorant or dishonest.

The BBC has reported on the heavy role played by Nazis in Ukrainian politics as well:

A good case can be made that the primary reason why the Minsk Agreements have never been implemented is that the Ukrainian government has a legitimate fear of being overthrown by these Nazi forces.

You cannot honestly discuss the current war in Ukraine without addressing the 2014 coup, the last 8 years of war in Eastern Ukraine and the 14,000 people (mostly Russian speaking Ukrainians) who have been killed under nearly constant shelling, and dealing with the role of various Nazi groups in both the coup and the war, and you certainly cannot discuss this without mentioning the United States’ role in all of the aforementioned. And yet Sister Vassa almost completely ignored all of this.

To say that this war is all Putin’s fault is, at the very least, simplistic. If you say it is all his fault, you are in effect saying it is not the United States’ fault, or the fault of the post-coup Ukrainian government. But it is quite possible that there is some blame that is due to each party here. And while God knows exactly how much everyone responsible is to blame, I don’t believe we do, at this point. It certainly simplifies things if you can paint one side as heartless people who take babies out of incubators and throw them on the floor, but it probably is better to wait until you have a better idea of what has actually happened before you jump to simplistic conclusions.

Furthermore, laying all the blame on Putin takes off any pressure for the US or Ukraine to seek a compromise solution, and at this point, a compromise solution is the only way the fighting will end in the short term. So while people who take this position have the self satisfaction of virtue signaling, and can claim that they are for peace, they actually are making it less likely that peace will be restored any time soon.

The Pastoral Issues for the Russian Church

Aside from the problem with pinning the blame on only one side when we don’t have sufficient evidence to really reach that conclusion, the Russian Church has the very real problem of having people who are on the various sides, and everywhere in between — and this is true just among the Ukrainians in the Russian Church. In my parish alone I have Ukrainian people who believe Russia is coming to the rescue, and people who think Putin is evil, and then people who have mixed opinions. I don’t want to alienate any of those people. They all have family and friends who are suffering, and many who have been killed or will be killed. The Church has to rise above such things, and appeal to all sides to find a way towards peace.

Conclusion

We can all agree that war is evil. We are praying for a swift end to the war. And in the meantime we are doing what we can to raise money to help those who have been displaced by the war. No one in the Russian Church wanted to see things come to this point. All sides should do what they can to end this war as soon as possible. We can certainly say that anyone who contributed to causing this war will have a lot to answer for before God. Anyone who chooses war when they have other viable options is committing a great sin. God knows the truth. At this point, I don’t believe we do.

This war was certainly preventable. I believe the US government could have prevented it, and so if I was going to condemn anyone, I would have to start with the government that at least theoretically answers to the American people.

For more information:
Sermon; The War in Ukraine
Sermon: God is on the Throne

Update: Let me clarify one point so that no one is confused. It is not my place or the place of the Church to tell Ukrainians that they should not want to have an independent country, nor would it be to say that they should. Ukrainians themselves are not of one mind on this question, and so obviously everyone cannot have their way when people disagree. They should find a peaceful way to resolve such disputes, but this really should be a matter that they settle without outside interference.

Furthermore, war is always an evil thing, and there is always at least one side that is in the wrong. Sometimes both sides are in the wrong. Reasonable people can disagree about such things, because we all have limited knowledge, and we come from our own perspective. God, however, knows exactly who is to blame, and it would be a horrible thing to have to answer for on the day of judgment.

Update 2: One other point, just to be clear. Anyone has the right to think or say whatever they believe to be true about the current war in Ukraine. If Sister Vassa had simply voiced her opposition to it, I wouldn’t have responded. It is the accusation that the Church has to condemn one of the three major parties to this war, but not condemn either of the other two, that I take issue with. War is horrible. Everyone with any compassionate would rather it not have happened, and would want it to end as soon as possible. But the reasons for why we are where we are at this point in history are not simple, and demanding that the Church pretend otherwise, and exonerate the US and the post-coup government of Ukraine, while laying the blame only on the Russian government, is not a reasonable position to take. If Russia had invaded Ukraine out of the blue, that would be a different matter, but there has been a war going on for 8 years, and so it is not nearly so clear cut. More facts will hopefully come out, and as they do I hope everyone will revise their opinions accordingly, but that is how I see it at this point.

Also, one commentator mentioned that a lot of other people collaborated with the Nazis, including Russians. I can understand why people living under Stalin, knowing only what they knew at the time, might have thought that Hitler was the lesser of the two evils. However, when you have groups of Ukrainians in 2022, who choose to identify with this particular chapter of their history, and identify themselves as Nazis, they have a lot less of excuse then their grandfathers had. And furthermore, when you have those people functioning openly in the Ukraine military, in Nazi units, it is a far more problematic matter. Every country has its share of kooks. Most don’t have Kook Battalions in their military.

About the author

Father John Whiteford is Archpriest and pastor at St. Jonah Orthodox Church, in Spring, Texas. He was born in Riverside, California in 1966, and lived in Grand Terrace, California. Father John and his family moved to Murray, Kentucky in 1976, and then to Houston, Texas in 1978. He was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, but began studying Orthodoxy while working on his B.A. in Theology at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. Fr. John decided to convert not long after graduating from there in 1990. He was baptized at St. Benedict Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City on November 10th, 1990.

Fr. John wrote an article entitled Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds, which laid out many of the theological reasons for his conversion. This article was published in the Christian Activist in 1995, and then was published in a revised and somewhat expanded form by Conciliar Press in 1996, under the title Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology.

Fr. John was a representative of the ROCOR Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America at the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in Moscow, on May 17, 2007. He is currently the general editor of the St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. He is also the dean of the southern deanery (Texas and Louisiana) of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America ROCOR.

All comments are moderated and must be civil, concise, and constructive to the conversation. Comments that are critical of an article may be approved, but comments containing ad hominem criticism of the author will not be published. Also, comments containing web links or block quotations are unlikely to be approved. Keep in mind that articles represent the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Patristic Faith or its editor or publisher.
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8 thoughts on “Sister Vassa and Public Orthodoxy on Ukraine, Part 1”

  1. Amen and AMEN! Father, you have expressed, so succinctly, what so many Americans know down deep in their heart but are afraid to say.

    For years American evangelicals have lamented about the Godless state of America and its moral decline into the abyss. As we could now stand on the very brink of nuclear annihilation, how many of them would accept the possibility that the destruction of America at its own hand could very well be the judgement of God upon our nation?

    As for the dear Sister, she should be ashamed. Lord, have mercy.

  2. So I understand that you agree with Putin sending tanks and planes to bombard another country and threatening the whole planet with nuclear weapons?

  3. TY Father, having served in the US Army for 20 years and fought in the Vietnam war, I absolutely have no, zero, faith in our government or the MSM...they are simply liars and many are under the influence of the evil one. Thank you again for this truth telling article.

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