In the early 1990s, just before the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union split up, I took a group of Quaker teens to do a work project in Suzdal, a beautiful Russian village on the outskirts of Moscow. There I met a young Ukrainian who lived not far from Chernobyl when the meltdown occurred. He became so disillusioned by how the Communists handled this crisis – especially their lies – that he converted to Christianity. He shared his spiritual journey with me, and I shared mine with him. We felt very close. Then he did something surprising I will never forget. He took off the cross he was wearing and gave it to me.
"This belonged to my grandmother," he said. "We have a custom in the Ukraine of exchanging crosses to show that we are brothers in Christ."
I was deeply moved, but also concerned that I didn't have a cross to give him in return. Fortunately, my wife was with me and she had a cross, so I asked her for it and she gave it to me. I gave it to my Ukrainian brother-in-Christ. We parted in deep friendship.
We haven't stayed in touch but I still feel spiritually connected to him. During the international meeting for worship organized by Friends House Moscow, I thought about him and his family and felt deep concern. What is he doing right now? How is his family doing? I felt pangs in my heart.....
Then I reflected on a poem by the Russian poet Yevtushenko, which we included in a Quaker-inspired book project called "The Human Experience," published in the US and USSR in 1989 just as the Berlin Wall came down. His poem "On Borders" has unforgettable lines that were daring at a time when the Communists were still in power. After condemning borders, Yevtushenko writes:
we have invisible threads and threadlets,
born of the threads of blood
from the nails in the palms of Christ.
These threads struggle through,
tearing apart the barbed wire
leading love to join love
and anguish to unite with anguish.
However we feel about Christ, and whether we realize it or not, we are all interconnected. We are all one human family. That's why we are called to search our hearts and our conscience and do what the Spirit leads us to do to end the tragic conflict in this region.
from Anthony Manousos, Orange Grove Meeting (5/14/2022)