Marianna Vyshemirskaya, Faina Savenkova, Ekaterina Ershova
The Gospel reading from Holy Tuesday’s Matins service was from that of Saint Matthew, chapters 22 and 23. In it, our Lord pronounces woe upon the scribes and Pharisees. He speaks of how they devour widows’ houses, but make long prayers for show. He speaks of how they travel land and sea to win one convert, but then make that convert twice as much a child of hell as themselves. He speaks of how they dishonour the Temple by saying that it is not the Temple which is sacred, but rather the gold which is sanctified within it. They strain gnats but swallow camels. They clean the outside of the dish, but leave the inside filthy. He speaks of how they tithe mint and anise and cumin, but neglect the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faith. And He speaks of how they venerate the prophets of days past with much pomp and splendour, but then kill and scourge and crucify and persecute the prophets and wise which come before them. In this, Jesus Christ calls to mind His own earlier words, in Matthew 13, of how the prophets are not without honour, save in their own land and in their own house.
Am I not guilty of all of these things myself? Do I not make outward shows of piety and righteousness, while my own eyes are full of sin, and my own body is full of darkness? When I show up at church in my best clothes, but the inside of my own soul is full of lust and despair and rage, what right do I have to speak? What right do I have to expect Jesus to recognise me as His own, when I am not at peace with myself, and when I struggle to make peace even with my family and friends who love me?
And more, is not our own nation guilty, and will we not all stand guilty before Jesus Christ, as we have destroyed and expelled the prophets who are sent to us? On NPR this morning, in light of the recent Discord leaks, they spoke of Edward Snowden and Pvt Chelsea Manning, not in terms of the right and wrong of what they exposed to the light of day, but only in terms of how they embarrassed the United States, and of their guilt, which was assumed. And all of this, while Australian citizen Julian Assange remains in prison, merely for speaking about what even the governments whose secrets he leaked to the public acknowledge is true.
I had cause to think about prophets who are not without honour save in their own land, when I saw the video of Ekaterina Ershova (pictured at right above), kneeling down in silent prayer on the concrete in front of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, while she is surrounded by a throng of jeering, mocking hooligans prancing around her in unholy jubilation at the eviction of the Lavra’s monks. She is to me a model of faith. Evidently she was seized by the SBU (security services) after she was taken away from the Lavra; her social media accounts have been deactivated and her family haven’t heard from her since. What is she if not a prophetess?
And I also thought about the ‘Madonna of Mariupol’, Marianna Vyshemirskaya (pictured at left above). She was all over the news after an AP report which reported on a Russian air raid on a Mariupol maternity hospital. She had the misfortune to be in that hospital while the AP camera crews were there. She came in for unwarranted vituperation from Russian netizens on account of this alone. And then when she spoke up about what had truly happened to her when she was taken out of the hospital—that there had been no air raid and that she’d been photographed without her explicit permission—all of a sudden it was the Ukrainian nationalists who reviled her and cursed her, and clamoured for her and her child to be put to death. Her name was added to the infamous Myrotvorets database. She is to me a model of patience. Despite all that she has had to endure, she is not bitter, but rather continues to focus on raising her daughter and being of service to her community near Donetsk.
And then I also thought of Faina Savenkova (pictured above in the centre), the teenage poetess and science-fiction author. She is to me a model of honesty and truth-telling. She has been talking about the war that has been taking place in her home for the past nine years. She talks about being one of the ‘wrong children’, ‘born and living in the wrong place’ (like children in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Palestine), one of the children on the ‘wrong side’ of a line drawn by political operatives in Kiev in 2014. And the Ukrainian government continues to want to silence her for talking about it.
Like the three youths in the Book of Daniel, these three young women have bravely refused to bow to the graven images and idols of nationalism. They have so far refused to glorify the worldly Nebuchadnezzar over God. And for that, the powers of this world, including the powers which rule us here in the West, would consign them to the fiery furnace. The nation which proclaims ‘glory’ to itself, and ‘glory to heroes’, refuses to honour the prophets which are sent to it.
But the fiery furnace is not the end—even Daniel could see that. The prophets are not without honour in the kingdom to come. Lazarus was raised. There is a Resurrection. We shall see it, three days from now. Today we see the powers of this world—the imperial power of Babylon, the gravitas and military main of Rome—exercise their judgement upon the just Judge, and heap blame upon the blameless One. Tomorrow we shall see Him put to rest in the tomb. But come midnight, the day after tomorrow, we shall see the tomb lying empty: glory to God.