"We prayed together on our knees for peace in Ukraine and for the end of the war ... We are all united in suffering."
Prayers for peace in Ukraine, for the dead and all other victims of this war—the wounded and the suffering—are being prayed throughout the world. The Orthodox Church of Biarritz, France, which has depended on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople since 1931, is no exception. Starting on February 27, 2022, more than 70 faithful have been gathering to pray together. They meet every Sunday after the liturgy to beg the Lord to put an end to this war.
A message of peace
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, a message of peace has been posted at the entrance of this parish, dedicated to the Protection of the Mother of God.
“Our Orthodox community in Biarritz is a member of the ecumenical movement for the unity of all Christians, and is not a political or cultural institution. We all gather together to pray fraternally for peace,” the statement says.
Indeed, this Orthodox community has a special characteristic: it is multi-ethnic. “Our parishioners are French, Russian, Spanish, Georgian, Serbian, Moldavian, Romanian, Lebanese, and of other origins. Ukrainian parishioners represent 50% of our faithful,” the pastor of the parish, Fr. George Ashkov, explained to Aleteia. He continued:
“Our Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew condemns this war. He prays that the Lord will enlighten the leaders of Russia so that they understand the tragic consequences of their decisions and actions. The Ecumenical Patriarch fraternally calls upon the Local Orthodox Churches to pray unceasingly for the Ukrainian people, for the victims of this war and for the establishment of peace and justice in Ukraine.”
It’s a call to which this priest responded without delay, and the parishioners responded whole-heartedly to his initiative.
United in the same sorrow
Ksenia, a parishioner, spoke to Aleteia:
“My heart and soul are torn with pain. The day the war broke out, I was afraid to sing in our choir, which brings together Russians and Ukrainians. I was afraid to talk with them. Like many Russians, I feel guilty for what is happening, even though deep down I know that I had nothing to do with it; I was not the one who made the decision to declare this war,” she said. “In the end, I was very surprised to see that there was no aggression or hostility towards the Russians in our parish. On the contrary, our service last Sunday, when we prayed together on our knees for peace in Ukraine and for the end of the war, proves that we are all united in suffering. At the end of the service, a Ukrainian woman came to hug me.”
Another parishioner named Tatiana also spoke with Aleteia. Her parents and sisters live in Kharkiv. This city, located in the east of the country, has been bombed and assaulted by Russian troops. Despite this, this mother of five children does not blame all Russians. “I understand that the Russian people feel bad because they bear a pseudo-responsibility for the actions and decisions of one man. In these times of war, we must remain human. We are all God’s children and God’s children have no nationality. We must pray together for peace; we must unite in prayer.”
The parish of Biarritz is also active in sending medicines, medical equipment (bandages, wheelchairs, crutches, etc.) and financial donations to Ukraine, via the Dobro association (“kindness” in Russian), created by Tatiana two years ago to help an orphanage in Ukraine. “We keep sending minibuses to the border of Ukraine. There are many volunteers who come to help us. There’s a real surge of solidarity. Many people bring their donations to the church,” explained Tatiana.
Prayer for peace
Here is the prayer for peace composed by Fr. Ashkov from Orthodox and Catholic prayers (including one by St. John Paul II), which the parish of Biarritz recites every Sunday.
God of our Fathers, Great and Merciful, Lord of peace and life, Father of all:
You have plans for peace and not for affliction. You condemn wars and strike down the pride of the violent.
You sent Your Son Jesus to announce peace to those who are near and far, to unite all people from all continents into one family.
Look down from heaven and see how the nations quarrel and plot against each other with agitation and malice, how all tremble before the horror of military violence and await new and more terrible evils.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, receive our prayers on our knees and our humble tears before Your Holy Altar, in these times of trouble and distress of Your people, and accept the intercession of Your Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of all the Saints whose help we now invoke, so that the light of Your love, visible on Your Cross, may illuminate every unhappy person in this world, in the darkness of hatred and iniquity.
Forgive our sins and iniquities, pour the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of humanity, dried up by absence of love and troubled by hatred, envy, wickedness, and enmity, so that burning love for You and their brothers and sisters may grow within them.
Hear the unanimous cry of Your sons and daughters, the cry of sorrow of all mankind: may there never again be war, sorrow and violence in heaven, on earth, or on the sea.
We beseech You, our Lord Almighty, Judge of the universe: help us to stop this war, and bring peace to Ukraine and the whole world.
We ask You to speak to the hearts of those who are responsible for the destiny of peoples, to infuse in them the desire and determination to put an end to the logic of revenge. Offer them new solutions through Your Wisdom, and help them find possibilities of dialogue and patient waiting that will be more fruitful than all military decisions, so that the blood of Your children on earth may not be spilled and flow.
Lord of Mercy, send Your help to all the wounded, to prisoners, and to all those who are suffering in this war. Comfort the families who have lost their loved ones. Give rest to the souls of all those who died in this war, and forgive their sins.
Lord, Friend of humanity, we diligently pray to You: grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to Your people, and to all Your creation. You are the King of the world. Your love knows no bounds, and all of us give You glory, thanksgiving, and worship, now and forever and ever.