Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark and darkness has never put it out.
– John 1:3b-5 CEV
It is a blessing to celebrate the holiday season here in Kyiv, where both Western and Orthodox Christian communities gather for traditional worship services to mark the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As a missionary in Ukraine representing The United Methodist Church, some years I am asked to lead an ecumenical worship service celebrating Epiphany, when the miracle of Christmas – God taking human flesh, incarnate in Jesus – was first revealed to the world. The Magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem, honored him as their Lord and King, and then went out to share this good news to the nations. It is always a privilege for me to preach, celebrate Holy Communion and lead the gathered community in worship on this holy day.
On January 7, here in Ukraine and in Orthodox communities worldwide that follow the Julian calendar, faithful Christians celebrate Christmas Day. On the evening of January 6 and throughout the day on January 7 around the country, Orthodox believers gather to give thanks to God for the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Every night throughout this holiday season here in Kyiv, from mid-December through early January, thousands of people gather at St. Sophia’s Square, outside a cathedral dating back to the 11th century. Though it is a season of great joy, many come to this square with heavy hearts, bearing difficult burdens. Over the past five years, the ceaseless conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 13,000 people and has driven over 1.5 million people from their homes. Everyone who gathers at St. Sophia’s has been affected in some way by the violence, economic ruin, and political chaos that this war has engendered. Mothers mourn their sons who have fallen in warfare. Grown children worry for their parents who continue to live in the conflict zone. Families recently evacuated to the safety of Kyiv struggle to make a new life far from their home.
And yet, though the darkness is real, it does not overcome the light. In search of hope, the people of Kyiv gather on the cathedral square to proclaim that the love of God shall not be extinguished. As the lights of the tree and cathedral belfry shine brightly, we are reminded of the light of Christ that burst forth into the dark world on that first Christmas in Bethlehem.
As we enter this new year, I pray God’s blessings on you and your loved ones. May the joy of this season remain with you throughout the coming year. May the light of Christ shine brightly within you, so that you may be a witness of God’s love to the world. Through you, may others come to know Jesus our Lord, whose birth long ago in Bethlehem we celebrate in these holy days.
The Rev. John Calhoun has served in several missionary placements since his commissioning in 2000. Currently, he is the project manager for the new Institute for Multicultural Ministry in Europe and the coordinator of International Ministries, United Methodist Church, Ukraine. He is an elder of the New York Annual Conference and earned his undergraduate degree in Russian and economics from Georgetown University, Washington, DC. From 2001 to 2005, he served as pastor of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, an international, interdenominational Protestant congregation in Moscow, Russia.
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