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    PloughCast 31: Hope in Wartime

    Hope in Apocalypse, Part 1

    By Ivan Rusyn, Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts

    June 28, 2022

    About This Episode

    Susannah and Peter discuss Peter’s lead editorial, “Hoping for Doomsday,” and cover some of the mysteries at the heart of Apocalypse: is it the end of the world? Why is it hopeful? What does it mean? What does it take to allow the supernatural hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth give your life meaning now, and what’s going on with Christians’ addiction to apocalyptic date-setting?

    Then they have a conversation with Ivan Rusyn, the president of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kyiv, whose wartime experience has included sneaking back to his home in occupied Bucha to bring help to his neighbors.

    He describes the current state of the conflict and calls on Christians to help with pressing needs; he also describes the incredibly powerful experience of Christian and civic unity that the war has led to in Kyiv and across Ukraine.

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

    Recommended Reading

    • Peter Mommsen, “Hoping for Doomsday,” Plough
    • Ivan Rusyn, “War and the Church in Ukraine,” Plough
    • N. T. Wright History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology
    • Martin Hägglund, This Life
    • To support the work of Ivan Rusyn and the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary to provide material assistance to people in and around Kyiv, please donate to the relief fund they have created. Donations will be used to buy food and medications for residents of Kyiv, to buy necessities for evacuated students and faculty of UETS, and to provide help to students and staff whose homes have been destroyed.


    Section I: Hoping for Doomsday

    Peter Mommsen: Welcome back to The PloughCast. This is the first episode in our new series linked to our apocalypse issue. I’m Peter Mommsen, editor-in-chief of Plough.

    Susannah Black Roberts: And I’m Susannah Black Roberts, senior editor at Plough. In this episode, we’ll be talking about Pete’s lead editorial, “Hoping For Doomsday,” and then we’ll be welcoming Ivan Rusyn, president of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, who will be speaking to us from his home in Bucha outside Kyiv. So Pete, let’s talk about your editorial, which is entitled “Hoping For Doomsday.” What were you thinking about when you chose that title and what were your key points there?

    Peter Mommsen: Well, I was thinking a lot about apocalypse, which is the theme of the issue and also the series of podcasts. When I first started going around pitching the idea of apocalypse to people, I got two sets of reactions. I don’t know what yours were, but I got one set of just blank horror. Like, “Are you guys going into some weird doomsday prediction scenario type of thing in Plough?” And another set of people saying, “Wow, that’s absolutely how I feel.” That would then split into two sets of people. Your more progressive set of people might be worrying about climate change, the more conservative people might be worried about breakdown of faith communities, family, marriage, social norms, deaths of despair.

    And then in the midst of it all, as we were putting this issue together, Russia invaded Ukraine, that horrible war began, and suddenly questions of nuclear apocalypse started feeling urgent again as they hadn’t probably for decades. And so those are some of the things that we thought about in putting this whole issue together, that we’d thought about in putting this series of podcasts together, and that we’re going to explore, and that also I tried to encapsulate here in this editorial, which is about the promise of apocalypse.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Right. And that’s actually what I was really interested in because one of the things that you talk about is the basic materialist worldview. A, we eventually all die. Obviously B, eventually there is the heat death of the universe. That is something that we might think of as an apocalypse, but the Christian apocalypse is significantly different. One of the things that it refers to is the end of a world, but rather than creating meaninglessness, the way that looking at the heat death of the universe might do, it almost back-projects meaning onto a lot of mini-endings that we otherwise might experience as the end of hope.

    So you talk about the little apocalypses, the little ends of worlds that are our own deaths. And one of the things that the Christian apocalypse does is that it’s something more like a beginning. It means, technically, “unveiling,” and what it unveils is who we really are and what the world really is. And that retroactively gives meaning to a lot of things or reveals meaning in a lot of kinds of suffering, including the suffering that we undergo when loved ones die or when we’re afraid of our own deaths, that might not otherwise have had meaning.

    Peter Mommsen: Exactly. And that’s the way in which the microcosm of our own lives and that ancient human question that we can only assume goes back tens or hundreds of thousands of years: A human life, a person that I love’s life must mean more than just disintegration when he or she dies, right? Combined with just looking out on our world and on humanity in general, the history of humankind, and thinking there must be more to this story, right? So the idea of Apocalypse actually develops in the early Middle East, probably a few hundred years before Christ, possibly simultaneously in Judaism and in Zoroastrianism – there may be other traces. We have a beautiful piece in the issue that actually talks about how apocalyptic ideas really took hold under the Seleucid Empire, which was the first empire to use numerical chronology.

    So years would go on in numerical progression. Shira Telushkin in her piece on Wassily Kandinsky looks into that and how the idea of naming years, not by who was ruling or something like that, but rather just giving them a number so that they progressed, invites us to think, “Well, where does that progression end?” Right? And so the people who are asking those questions are, of course, not the people who want the current regime or dynasty to continue forever, but the ones who are counting the years till when that oppressive Seleucid emperor goes away and lets us live freely again. So Apocalypse is always been from its inception about freedom, and making sense of things that don’t make sense on their surface, right? And that’s what I try to get into a little bit.

    I think probably before we get more into that, Susannah, it would be worth clearing a few confusions away about Apocalypse. The first one is, the ideas of apocalypse that motivated strange apocalyptic cults and sects to commit either mass murder or mass suicide or plant bombs, right? There’s everything from the Branch Davidians to Aum Shinrikyo in Japan. And you can go back through history and find people who were possessed of an idea that the world is ending and that therefore allows me to do anything. Of course, you see that in Christianity, and there’s a form of that in the Islamic state going on with suicide bombers.

    And another one is that Christianity itself, in my view at least, has often gotten the idea of apocalypse wrong, especially modern Western Christianity, which bought into this enlightenment idea that the end of the world means that space, time, the universe call it quits, right?

    Which many scholars, N. T. Wright is one name that comes to mind, argue that that’s never what second temple Judaism or the early Christians meant when they talked about apocalypse, the “unveiling,” the coming of the day of the Lord. And so there’s actually a much deeper vision of renewal and transformation and new creation that we need to be thinking about in terms of those last days.

    What I was interested in was getting to this early Christian, early Jewish idea of what the promise of those end times mean. What does it mean when God unveils his plans for humanity? And then what does that mean personally for people who are in despair, feeling like it’s not worth getting up in the morning, that it’s not worth founding a family, that the death of a loved one is meaningless or even that the extinction of humankind would just be some random and meaningless event that’s going to happen someday. And there it is, right? Both of us were taken by this one blog post by this guy we both follow, Freddy DeBoer, on the most personal form of apocalypse, I think you even pointed it out to me, Susannah. So hat tip to you.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So Freddie DeBoer, who’s an atheist, as far as I know, and a materialist, describes what the implications of the basic materialist worldview are. “We’re born in terror,” he says, “we exist for no reason. We experience confusion and shame as children. We busily prepare ourselves for lives we don’t want or can’t have, we are forced to take on the burdens of adult responsibility. We compromise relentlessly on what life will pursue. We settle and settle and settle. We fear death and ponder our meaninglessness. We experience the horrors of aging and when we died, the only comfort we have is that we aren’t conscious to learn that there was never any heaven or God to give it all meaning.” So that’s . . . right there, that is the question which I think apocalypse answers or that is the challenge, which I think apocalypse takes up, properly understood.

    Peter Mommsen: It’s a great post, even though I obviously completely disagree with it. And the weird thing is that we modern people often flatter ourselves that this bleak view of the meaningless of the universe is some new insight that only we, with the help of modern science and a secularized worldview have been able to grasp. The odd thing is you open your Bible and you’ll find that same sense of devastation and meaninglessness in the face of human mortality right there in the Psalms, and of course, in the book of Ecclesiastes. And that is precisely something that people have thought for a very long time. I think from the first time that humans gathered around a corpse to bury it.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Ecclesiastes, I’ve found a comforting book in a lot of ways because no matter what you actually believe to be true about the reality of what we can expect after death, the reality of where our meaning is, there are certainly moods that we get in. It’s a very human thing to get in that Freddie DeBoer mood and Ecclesiastes is that Freddie DeBoer mood maximized in the middle of the Bible and then answered in its own way. Job is a certain kind of Freddie DeBoer mood, although again, answered but answered in a really unsatisfying way in certain ways.

    But apocalypse, in the Christian vision, is really something that in the face of that meaninglessness reveals what actually is there and reveals what was there the whole time. This is a common trope, but one way to look at it is if we look at human history in our own lives, what we see is the bottom side of a tapestry with dangling threads that have been cut short. It looks ugly, it looks chaotic, it looks meaningless. Apocalypse is the flipping over of the tapestry. It’s the unveiling of the pattern that was already there. It doesn’t just mean the end of an age, although it does mean that, it also means the revelation of the meaning of the age that we’ve been living through and of our own lives.

    Section II: Apocalyptic Times

    Peter Mommsen: And of course the most famous example of that and where the word actually comes from is the Apocalypse, the final book of the Bible, the Revelation of John, which we’ll get to in due course. But first I’m a little curious if you share, as I do Susannah, the feeling that this end-of-the-world fear is more widely out there right now than it has been for a while. And this is cyclical, right? This is again, not that 2022 is this unique year where people are uniquely scared, but there do seem to be just many, many signs of a hopelessness, of this meaninglessness that Freddie DeBoer and the Psalmist and the writer of Ecclesiastes expressed, just being generalized out in actually playing a role in people’s lives.

    One example that I mentioned already is climate change. There was a study a couple years ago where they surveyed sixteen to twenty-five year olds in a bunch of countries around the world. Four out of five young people are fearful of the future with the climate, 59 percent were very worried or extremely worried. I mean, those are big numbers and what’s been well publicized, and there’s even been some coverage of this just in the last few weeks in the New York Times by Ezra Klein and others: how does it impact childbearing? Should I bring a child into the world in view of the climate-threatened future he or she will have? Is it even moral to bring a child into the world who’s going to contribute to the killing off of the planet? Right?

    So there’s eco anxiety, which has actually become a diagnosable syndrome by psychiatrists, apparently on the rise, unknown just a couple of decades ago. You have extreme events such as a man who burned himself to death outside of the US Supreme Court earlier this year as a protest of the court’s threatened action to strike down climate change regulations. So there’s that whole set of things that I think climate change is forcing people to reckon with, the fact that the world that we see outside that we’ve been living with for the last 10,000 years, I guess since the last ice age is not here forever, right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Right.

    Peter Mommsen: And of course for many people, although you could say, “Well, didn’t you know that already?” Climate change has certainly focused their minds. And I guess possibly because maybe most people just think in terms of . . . even if they’re not parents, they think in terms of my potential child’s generation or my potential grandchildren’s generation, that’s our horizon, and climate change has moved the inevitable end of the planet as we know it up into that timeframe that we care about.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Right. It’s hard for us to think in terms of really caring about more than 10,000 years in the future, unless we are really doing the wrestling with existential angst which I can remember doing intensely just before I converted when I was fifteen or so. You can usually dodge that, and you can usually psychologically at least anchor your hope for the future in your grandchildren’s generation or their children’s, or in the sense, if you don’t have kids, that there’s a civilization that you’re contributing to that will go on in the future. And there’s a vagueness to that, that I think allows for hope. But I actually think that there’s not something concrete really that’s changed. I mean, obviously we are aware of things like climate change, we are aware of other things that could end the world as we know it.

    Peter Mommsen: I mean, we’ve been aware since the 1950s that this thing called the atomic bomb could very quickly end the world as we know it. And whatever contributions to civilization, biological or otherwise, we may make in our lifetime might become very quickly irrelevant.

    Susannah Black Roberts: But it seems to me that there needs to be a double vision that we have, two different kinds of hope that we have in order to live good human lives. And it’s a weird thing because sometimes those two kinds of hopes seem to be in conflict with each other.

    You need to have a sense that the actual everyday actions, the decisions that you make, are contributing to something that is a good human project that will be bigger than you and that will continue in one way or another into the next generation and beyond. The P. D. James novel that was made into a movie, Children of Men, whenever I hear people complaining about other people’s kids on airplanes, it always makes me think about that novel because whether or not you have kids, the existence of kids in the world makes your life so much better than it otherwise would be, and I’m not even sure that people realize that. The existence of the next generation, the fact of babies is something that deeply charges your life with meaning whether or not those babies are related to you. And I don’t think that there’s really any way to be grateful enough for that.

    At the same time, if all we’re hoping for is human beings to get more and more powerful and more and more spread over the world, increase their dominion over the earth so that they completely control it and then spread to the stars, that’s a hopeless vision too, in a weird way. I mean, people who are huge fans of Star Trek might disagree with me, but I actually think that a world where the Federation has completely attained victory, and there’s this end of history, perpetual peace throughout the stars – that’s bleak, because it feels like it’s in the place of some eternity, but it doesn’t actually answer the need for eternity that we have. And in that case, it seems to me that something like an apocalypse, something coming in to disrupt this human perfection – that can actually be a source of hope.

    Peter Mommsen: Just as it was for the people under the Seleucid Empire, right? Who were living, not in peace, but at least with some type of political orderliness, but they couldn’t wait for that thing to be gone. And so they were counting the days, right? Any day now.

    You were saying earlier that in a way nothing has changed and of course in a way nothing has changed, but there is a sense in which it’s a lot harder, I think for a lot of people and this is one reason we did this issue is because many of our readers wrote into us or suggested this very topic to us is much harder to imagine now because of not only climate change, but also cultural changes that the project that I’m devoting my life to, the civilization, the community I’m building is something that I can actually pass on to the next generation in any type of meaningful way. Because if that next generation is going to really have no sense of connection to this intergenerational project, even the act of having kids becomes a bit meaningless, what are they going to do? Just move to Brooklyn?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Hey!

    Peter Mommsen: But there is a sense of that, right? That you are not raising up the new generation of kids who are going to move your hometown forward into the future. Those same forces that create opioid addiction, epidemics, rising rates of suicide, rising rates of mental illness, especially among the young are also the things that chip away at the meaningfulness even of having a family.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Or at the meaningfulness of contributing to a society, a civilization, that more and more people don’t really believe in, right? And so I think that may also be playing into that apocalyptic mood where the type of thing that Freddie mentions in his blog post becomes more widespread as an actual mood, not just something that we know intellectually is out there, yeah, we’re going to die someday, but something that permeates into our present lives into our way that we go about in the world. And that is precisely, I think, why Christianity has not only the idea, but also the teaching of apocalypse, right? That the tapestry that you were speaking about earlier does get flipped over.

    Susannah Black Roberts: And I think that flipping over actually is something that gives meaning not just to the supernatural dimension of human life, but to the natural dimension as well. It seems to me that we’re in a place where the natural project of human family and the natural project of human civilization has been called into question. I think that the questioning of it is a attack on a natural good. And I think that natural good needs to be revived by supernatural source, but it doesn’t cease to be itself. It doesn’t cease to be a natural good. When we hope for the new heavens and the new earth, that hope actually allows me to get married, that hope actually allows us to publish a magazine.

    The projects that we do that are part of natural goods, that are part of making families and carrying on civilization are actually given energy and given life by that supernatural good. And I think there’s a reason for that. I think ultimately they’re going to be caught up in it. And it’s just interesting to me that we are at a point where we’re not able to depend on the vagueness or basic assumption of that natural good anymore. Even to have the natural good, we need the supernatural good.

    Peter Mommsen: So of course, there’s a whole host of people who would say, “This is just wish projection,” right? The desire for the meaningfulness of life is that leads to the belief in apocalypse that ultimately believes in the belief in resurrection, that death is not the end, that there will be a new heaven and new earth, that the heat death of the universe won’t just be the punctuation mark to a story that nobody else will ever hear. That’s a nice and comforting idea that we’re maybe wired to believe in. But it’s not actually true, right? And that is, I think what Freddie’s getting at is explored in detail in a book that I really like, just because I disagree with it so much, by this philosopher Martin Hägglund at Yale. He wrote a book, This Life, where he says, it’s actually the idea of mortality, of our finitude that gives our lives meaning because otherwise if we had infinite time, whatever we did right now would be perfectly meaningless, right?

    All through reading Martin Hägglund’s book on this, I just wanted to scream, “Have you ever read the Book of Revelation?” Because eternity is not just endless time to keep on doing the same thing and having the same arguments and running out of new cocktails to make, right? Eternity is generative. It’s new creation, new heavens, new earth, new people with new possibilities.

    When we read the Book of Revelation, it’s somewhat confusing but superabundant imagery of what that new heaven and new earth looks like. A cubic city all made out of gemstones, somehow, with a tree and a river in it without a sun or a sea, but with all kinds of people from somewhere else, all coming to it – Kings, right? This imagery suggests that this new creation is one rather of buds bursting from buds bursting from buds than that it is some eternal stasis where we just get sick of talking to everybody.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Right. The phrase obviously that a lot of people have resonated with and which I can remember reading – my dad reading to me when I was probably eight was “further up and further in,” which is how C. S. Lewis describes what happens when the old Narnia has passed away and the new Narnia . . . even this fantasy world, even this world which seems a paradise itself, and seems magical, and is re-enchanted, even that has to pass away. And there’s a new heavens and new earth in Narnia. And even there, you are at rest, but you’re not in stasis. You’re still learning. There’s still something more. And that “something more” sense that we feel in our hearts – we need rest and we need that more. And that’s really what the incredible weirdness of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature, I think, gesture towards.

    There’s also, I think, a reason that people are so endlessly fascinated by trying to decode it. There’s a sense in which Revelation – the idea of unveiling itself – is both a thing that happens and also a project that we’re constantly doing, trying to understand what this is.

    Peter Mommsen: The Bible scholar Christopher Rowland famously noted that this book of unveiling is notoriously the most veiled book in the Bible. It’s invited centuries of decoders. And that’s where I think we need to get into some specifically Christian misunderstandings of apocalypse.

    So right from the earliest centuries of the church, there have been people who, despite the clear warnings of the Book of Revelation itself and of Jesus too that that day would come like a thief in the night and no one will know the time or the hour, have attempted to determine the time and the hour and exactly when the thief would come.

    And it’s an almost unwittingly hilarious history. According to some historians, Augustine’s City of God was actually written to blunt the popularity of one particular theory that that day would come in 500, right? And of course the Roman Empire was falling, things were falling apart. It looked pretty apocalyptic, maybe even more so than today. And so that prophecy made a certain sense. And so this landmark in Christian theology, even though from an Anabaptist point of view, we have a couple of quibbles with it, was in a way pointing Christians back to the fact that, “No, believe what the Good Book says. We don’t know when that time is coming.”

    A lot of this was tied into this idea of the great Sabbath, right? That human history was a playing out of 6,000 years, each millennium corresponding to one day of creation followed by this Sabbath rest, right? And the Book of Revelation does of course, speak of this millennium, this thousand years, in somewhat riddling ways. And so people were consumed with the idea that if we could only identify the date of creation, then we could figure out when the 6,000 years is up and then we’d know when the millennium is coming and Jesus will return, right? And so this happened in AD 500. It happened again, people thought it would come actually in AD 801, which is one reason why Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Empire by the Pope in AD 801. This was in a way an inauguration of this millennium. Then of course, that fell apart. The year 1000 came, and that seemed like a good round number after Jesus’ birth, you’d think that now is time for another millennium, and that didn’t work out. So, well, let’s go off of when Jesus died. So 1033 is going to be the new date that we think this thing is going to hit.

    Of course there was Joachim of Fiore, who famously worked out a Trinitarian version of this, which was very influential in Reformation times. And then Bishop Ussher, right? Who was an Anglican divine from the seventeeth century, I believe, who worked out this whole system of Biblical history that some Young Earth Creationists still hold to, that the world was created in 4,004 BC.

    It’s a fascinating history, and modern day Christians tend to be a little embarrassed and think, “This is just a fringe. This is just a Christian underbelly.” I’m not quite so sure. I think this recurrent idea that the millennium is coming and it actually didn’t, has probably played a much bigger role in Christian history than we would possibly want to admit. It’s a bit embarrassing.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It’s embarrassing, but it’s also . . . I mean, I think there’s an element of it, we’re not supposed to date set. We’ve been told not to date set, and yet we’ve been told to be ready and we’ve been told to be the wise virgins who have the lamps ready and so on. And we’ve been told to get hyped.

    Peter Mommsen: And it’s very tough to be one of the wise virgins holding the lamp and not look at the clock sometimes.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah, exactly. So I think it’s something that we need to . . . again, there’s a double vision that we need to have. We need to think, “All right, well maybe it’s going to be another 10,000 years. Maybe we are in the early church. Maybe it’s going to be another 100,000 years. Maybe there’s a huge amount of actual stuff that we need to do in order to respond to climate change because it’s actually our responsibility to not screw up the planet because we are going to have to keep living here. Maybe we should be going to the stars.” We don’t know, what we do know is the hope that we have doesn’t change no matter how far out it is or how close it is. We know that our own deaths are the mini-apocalypses that are going to come a lot sooner than, probably, a final apocalypse.

    And we also know that the ethics that Christ calls us to . . . the way that we’re supposed to live in an everyday way is not ever suspended by the expectation of apocalypse. If anything, the whole vision of living as though today is the last day of the world or the last day of your life, should lead us to intensify what we should be doing anyway. There’s no out that we get of ordinary love. In fact, ordinary love is given its own proper weight by the realization that it’s the point of contact that we have with that eternity.

    Peter Mommsen: I think you’ve edged close to the point, which is that Freddie DeBoer and his hopeless view of the future and the hopelessness of that entire materialist view of history is true – except for one thing, that the New Testament tells us that Jesus was raised from the dead and that this day of the Lord, this age to come is already begun. And that is the only thing that we have to hang our hat on. And there is no hope in apocalypse, there is no promise of eschatology apart from that.

    Susannah Black Roberts: This is really dorky again, but a couple years ago, it was Holy Saturday, the Saturday in between Good Friday when we remember Jesus’ death and Easter Sunday when we remember his resurrection, and I was listening to this new musical called Hadestown, and I was thinking about the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and of Hades and Persephone. One of the things that’s often said about Judaism and Christianity is that they arose in the face of cyclical, pagan ideas of history, and cyclical kinds of hope where there’s enough hope to get you through the next year because spring is going to come again, Persephone is going to come back from Hades.

    But that’s actually not the kind of hope that we need. We need the kind of hope that might have been if Orpheus had actually succeeded in rescuing Eurydice from the underworld, which he didn’t. We need that kind of hope. We need the kind of hope that actually undoes death and creates a permanent spring without stasis, a real final end to the cyclical thing, the maybe hope but actually return to hopelessness, that has been the best that we could do in pagan myth and in human history until then. And that fundamental revolution of life that really finally grabs Eurydice back from the underworld and doesn’t let her go and doesn’t fail: That’s what Jesus offered.

    Peter Mommsen: It’s interesting that that pagan cyclical hope works for people who live fulfilled long lives, go through their natural life cycle, now it’s time to go, right? That is acceptable. It’s sad, but it’s OK, right? Where those ideas completely don’t wash is in the face of the death of a child. The violent death of a child, for instance, in a school shooting. There is no way that pagan idea can offer any hope or provide any sense of meaning. You think of what’s going on in Yemen right now, the death of children from hunger. These are the things that the teaching, the promise of apocalypse developed – not to answer, but to point a way out of.

    N. T. Wright, in one of his books, describes how the idea of resurrection became popular within Judaism. Because of course, famously, it’s hard to find. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard to find a teaching of the resurrection in the Old Testament. It’s not everywhere.

    And really according to his argument, it emerged during the time of persecution when you had under the Seleucid Empire, with people dying for their faith and there was no way to make sense of that because there was no justice in this life for the death of these righteous people. And it was the death of the righteous at the hands of the unrighteous that, if we were to believe in justice in the universe, called for, demanded a resurrection. And it was out of that sense, that hope that arose in Second Temple Judaism, that Jesus then came bringing with him his message that this is what is starting now, the new age, the age to come is with us and we can be part of it. So that is what I hope our issue Hope in Apocalypse will ultimately point to.

    And we’re going to be exploring that in some of these future sessions. Sometimes in a more playful way, as in our next episode, and sometimes in a purely secular way in terms of looking at future generations and why is it that people aren’t having more kids and what might convince them to have more. So a whole wide range of topics we’re going to look at, but that is just to let our listeners know where we’re coming from and ultimately why we think apocalypse, Doomsday, is something we should hope for and look forward to.

    So, Susannah, I think that wraps up this. We do want to turn to something that’s happening right now, which is where the hope of apocalypse is needed and that is the war in Ukraine. We have an interview next with someone who’s going to tell us more about that.

    Section III: Ivan Rusyn: A Pastor in Kyiv

    Susannah Black Roberts: We’re very pleased to have on the podcast today Dr. Ivan Rusyn, who is the president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kyiv in Ukraine, and the pastor of a church there. We did an interview with Dr. Rusyn several months ago, and we wanted to check back in with him again. Welcome, Dr. Rusyn.

    I guess my biggest question is this. When I last spoke with you, I think you had just met up with your wife again for the first time, since she had gone out of the war zone and you had just met back up with her for the first time in forty days. What’s happened since then, and what’s the current situation?

    Ivan Rusyn: Well, it was a great blessing for me that my wife, she came back to Kyiv. Our friends, they gave us opportunity to stay at their apartment downtown Kyiv because our own apartment in Bucha was looted and there was no heating, no light, so we had no chance to live in our own apartment. So it was a healing experience for me to stay in a good apartment after I had spent more than a month in one of the offices in the Bible Society sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag.

    So three days ago we were able to come back to our own apartment in the city of Bucha. Still, there are some things that remind us that Russian soldiers, they were in our apartment. They looted our apartment and destroyed many things. Still very often electricity goes off. Just 15 minutes before our interview, the light switched off. So I was not sure if we would make it or not, and just few seconds before 10:00 p.m., the light was on again. So we are trying to restore our previous life in the city of Bucha. For us, it’s a prophetic stand against all the reality we see around. So this is what is happening right now.

    Peter Mommsen: Images of what happened in Bucha went around the world and were also very influential, I think, in swinging world opinion about the seriousness of what was happening with Russia’s invasion in the Ukraine. What is it like in the town of Bucha now? Have you had conversations with people who were there during the occupation?

    Ivan Rusyn: Yesterday, I was stuck in the elevator with my wife because the electricity went off. So, complete darkness. We were locked in an elevator, and one neighbor was walking around. So we just cried, “Please help us to get out.” Because there was no connection, no internet inside of the elevator. So, one person came to rescue us. He’s a technician. When he opened the door, I recognized in his face one of the people that we helped just after the Russians left Bucha.

    So first phrase that he said to me, I will try to translate into English. “Goodness and generosity comes back.” And he was very happy to rescue me from the elevator because I was providing him food and gasoline when there was no gasoline and food in Bucha. So of course, now I meet some people we have been helping the next day after the Russians went away from Bucha and Bucha was retaken.

    And of course, I heard a lot of painful stories, but now it seems that our government tried to do as much as they can to fix everything. So they're trying to make there be nothing to remind us about the war, but of course there are many things that remind us. Every time I enter my apartment, it reminds me. When I am driving my car, I see a lot of buildings that are destroyed. When I am entering to my campus, the seminary I am leading, I see destruction which was caused by Russian missiles.

    So many things remind us. And we know that now the Ukrainian situation is not the first priority in Western mass media. We know it, because we are informed about that. But the war is real as it was twenty days ago and forty days ago. Every single day, we hear this air alarm that is informing us that the Russian missiles are heading to Kyiv. And just one day ago, Kyiv was targeted in an attack by five or six missiles.

    So this is our everyday reality. Every day, according to our president, between fifty and one hundred Ukrainian soldiers are killed. More than six million Ukrainians, including my extended family, are International refugees. Over forty million Ukrainians, they have been forced to leave their homes. And for the almost two months, I was a refugee because my city Bucha was occupied. So for us, this war is real as it was from the first day of the war.

    Susannah Black Roberts: What is the situation with supplies? Are there groceries in the grocery stores? To what degree are people able to go to work? What kind of normalcy is there?

    Ivan Rusyn: The situation is not normal. It’s interesting: observations that I can make. In the beginning of the war, many people, they would say, “No, no, no, we are OK. Please give food for other people.” They had some savings.

    During the first days of the war, it was hard to buy stuff because almost everything was closed down in Kyiv. Now we have grocery stores that are open, but prices are extremely high and people, they have no savings. So for example, the UETS, our seminary, is providing 1,000 hot meals per week. And frankly speaking, I am surprised what kind of people are coming to our cafeteria to get food. When you see those people, they are middle age, they have good clothes. It’s clear that they had a pretty good life before the war, but now they are coming to our campus, to our cafeteria, which has no windows and instead of windows, we have some plastic bags because windows were destroyed by the explosions, and they’re coming to have hot meal.

    So our humanitarian crisis is just starting. And also in the beginning of the war, our international friends, they were extremely generous sending us provision food. But we see that every week we receive less and less provision from, for example, Norway, Slovakia, Poland, because prices went up in their countries and now it’s hard to buy a lot of food to send abroad. So we are grateful to our international partners that have, I would say, proper and holistic theology. Those who experienced war and they know that after 104th day of the war, the problem is still very urgent. So they are sending funds, they are sending provisions and we are able to provide food.

    Just few days ago, I had a phone call from the city of Hostomel. And there’s a person that we have been providing support for during all of these days, including some medical staff. So, and he very kindly, in very diplomatic way, he asked, “You haven’t visited us for almost two weeks.” And I said, “Well, do you still have a need of provisions, of food?” And he said, “Well, we have our grocery stores open, but we have no jobs.” What he communicated to me, was, well, we do not have money to purchase food. And I realized that even if the city of Hostomel is just few miles away from Kyiv, the need is still very urgent.

    We made it a focus in our mission to go in the smallest villages, far from Kyiv, and to the cities like Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. So we deliver provisions there, but in Kyiv suburbs, people, they have a challenge to meet just basic needs – hygiene and food.

    So of course, it’s very embarrassing for us to recognize this need, but this is our reality. He’s maybe forty, forty-two years old and he didn’t tell me directly that “we have no money.” It would be hard for him to say, but he communicated to me, “Ivan, we have just no money to purchase food.” So the need is huge and every day when we send our teams to deliver hot meals and provision, we honestly and sincerely ask God to lead us in a way that we will find out those people that need the food the most, because there are hundreds of disabled and elderly people, they cannot walk fast.

    So we learn right from the beginning, when we enter the village, we stay almost fifteen minutes near every house because it will take some time for elderly people to get out. They move slowly and then we stay long enough to make sure that there is nobody inside. So the need is still very big and of course we recognize that many people around the world, they got tired of this war. It is 104 days, but situation is very dramatic. Of course, in Kyiv, we don’t hear explosions as often as we used to hear during the first months of the war, but still there’s a siren and sometimes, the Russian rocket they are hitting Kyiv.

    Susannah Black Roberts: We will certainly drop the link to the fund that you set up. We linked that in the original article and we’ll obviously link that in this podcast as well and tweet it around. Can you describe what’s going on with the work of the seminary itself? You’d been attempting to restart classes or restart, I think, online classes. How’s that going?

    Ivan Rusyn: We resumed our teaching at the end of March. It was a strong request from our students and from our faculty and it was a healing experience for both. When I was able to return to our campus and when I was teaching using Zoom from my office without windows, it was very moving. When I told my students, “Can you imagine – I am teaching from my office?” there were a lot of tears in their eyes and in my eyes.

    So it is a strong stand that we want to make. We will resume, and we will continue our mission in spite of the fact we are bombed, we are shelled and there is a war in Ukraine. So during this 104 days of the war, we resumed our educational process. We are teaching our full-time programs and part-time programs.

    We started two new programs in counseling, one in Central Asia, and one in trauma healing in Ukraine. Very strong demand from our people in Ukraine. We had to close down registration because we wanted to have twenty students just to make a good cohort because when you teach trauma healing, it’s very important to have a smaller group of students and you build trust. And then when we got thirty-five applications, we decided to close down registration because it become like a conference, not like a study program. So we are operating, we are fulfilling our obligation for the students.

    And of course our campus was . . . we got six missiles and I, as a president, I was very naive. When we informed our faculty, we had the zoom and some of our faculty are in Poland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, United States. Some are in Ukraine. And I told to my people, “We got six missiles. We lost 80 percent of our windows, but no worry, it will cost us about $7500 and we have friends from Australia, they will provide this funds.” Well, a few days after I realized that just for the one building, we need $100,000 to fix our windows.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Oh my gosh.

    Ivan Rusyn: So of course we are facing great challenges, but the team is strong and we strongly believe in our mission and we see how God was leading us to this point of time. Because six years ago, when we have been developing our vital sustainability plan, we developed a track, which we call theology of citizenship. What is the role of the church in society? So now we are more ready than ever before. And for us, it is extremely important that we are active. We are doing that mission in spite of the fact, and we are doing holistic mission. And I heard many promises from people I have never met before that they will visit our seminar after the war will be finished.

    And some of our soldiers that are serving in our location, they shared information with us that our community is very surprised with the role of the seminary, because the seminary was providing food and provision during all days of the war. So we are continuing. Of course, we are impacted by the war. We are wounded as an institution. We will probably lose some of our faculty because they will never come back. However, our understanding of the nature of holistic ministry, our understanding of public role of the church and publicity of the gospel has become clear as never before.

    So I strongly believe that we will be stronger, we will be more authentic, and this will make us strong, not our strength, our resources, because we have no resources, but because we are authentic and we have the same scars our society has. So when people from our neighborhood are traveling around the seminary, they see this campus was shelled by Russian forces. As a Ukrainian citizen, as a minister of the church, my apartment was looted, I was a refugee. So we can speak with our . . . we can understand our people because we experienced the same suffering they experienced. So this is our reality right now.

    Section IV: Ivan Rusyn: Christian Unity in Wartime

    Peter Mommsen: One of the things from your interview – and it’s in our print issue and then there’s an extended version of the interview online, which I urge our listeners to check out and we’ll drop a link in the program notes – In there, Ivan, you mentioned how certain barriers between different Christian churches in Ukraine fell away, which I just found fascinating. Could you talk a little bit about that? Has that continued to be the case? I imagine like in many countries that have traditional established churches, non-conformist churches haven’t always been popular. Is that something you could tell us a little bit about? How is the relationship between the different Christian confessions working out in this time of stress?

    Ivan Rusyn: Well, Ukraine always was different if you will compare religious freedom and collaboration between churches among post-Soviet Union countries. We always had freedom and partnership. And this partnership has been grown extremely during these 104 days of the war. So I say . . . and I see that this war made every Ukrainian my neighbor. The last question I ask, “To which church do you belong?” I do not care. If I see a need, I do not care to which church that person belong or even if they . . . he is a believer or not. I see the need and I feel responsibility to help. So there is extreme partnership and unity between churches, Orthodox churches, Catholic churches, Greek Catholic churches, and Protestant evangelical churches.

    For me personally, it was a great blessing to have lunch – it was the first month of the war. Everything was unclear. Every day we heard explosions – and few times we had a lunch with the head Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Kyiv. One day when we visited him and we brought some provision to him, Bible study to his church, to his cathedral and I remember he provided a full box of avocado. And for the next few weeks we had a lot of avocado.

    And we visited the office of the Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We had meetings with the Greek Catholic Church, and we shared resources with Baptists, Pentecostals, and others, and it was a great unity. And when I saw that unity and partnership, it strengthened my hope that everything will be OK. When we try to interpret everything that is going on from only our denomination, it’s one thing but when we hear conformation from other denominations, it’s another thing. A few days after our visit to the Roman Catholic Bishop, he called my co-pastor who's working for the Ukrainian Bible Society and he said, “Brothers, if you need rest somewhere in downtown Kyiv, we have a monastery there because last time you visited me, I realized that you are very tired.” So it was a great testimony that somebody from a different tradition noticed that we are tired because the Bible Society is almost on the edge of Kyiv and every night, every day, there were explosions, it was our everyday reality. And he was concerned about that.

    And we have regular meetings between different churches. And as you may know, in Ukraine, we have the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which includes Muslims and Jews. We have meetings almost every month. This is interfaith community, we have these meetings, we have dialogue and I am very, very happy to see that there is a dialogue. There is a mutual respect between different Christian churches and also between different religions. Yes, we have different theology, we have different beliefs, we belong to different traditions, but all of us are Ukrainians.

    And for us, it is our war, our fight. In comparison with other countries, Ukraine indeed demonstrates very good dialogue. And this dialogue is stronger and stronger every day. We have been delivering food and other provisions to different churches and also we receive provisions and support from different churches.

    For example, in the city of Hostomel, one guy, he called us and he said that his mother, she’s handicapped, and he has no chair. So we called the Bishop of the Adventist Church in Ukraine, and they provided a brand new chair. We delivered it and those people in Hostomel, they were surprised because this is brand new and they asked, “How much does it cost?” It cost nothing. Everything was paid. Don’t worry, just use it. So this is our reality

    Susannah Black Roberts: Early on in the war I think you had told me about a prayer service that included all the Christian denominations as well as Muslims and Jews in the Cathedral. Has that continued? Have there been more of those?

    Ivan Rusyn: Yes. There was several meetings like that when different church leaders and also leaders of other religions gathered together to pray. The first meeting was very symbolic because it was the sixth or seventh day of the war. There was information that Saint Sophia Cathedral might be attacked. So it was also a prophetic stand of religious leaders to perform prayer in the same cathedral. And it was very honest prayer. And one bishop who was praying there, his prayer was the loudest prayer that Cathedral had witnessed during 1000 years of history because that bishop, when he was praying at that moment, his son was arrested in southern Ukraine.

    And until now we have no idea if he is alive or not. The Russians are saying that he is alive, but he’s arrested. They've been trying to push that bishop to sign some documents in order to see his son. But we hear a lot of people who are saying that his son was killed in the beginning.

    I am part of a younger generation of ministers. When you see leaders, the bishops of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches, and how they pray when Kyiv is surrounded by the Russian army, it was a great example of courage and hope. Of course frankly speaking, I would be happier not to have such events and not to have this war, but to be part of that prayer, it was a great experience for me. And when it is very hard and when our battery is low, I recall that experience. That experience gives me some strength.

    Peter Mommsen: When you think of your mission there now and your task as a church, as a seminary, are there examples from history you look to inspire you about what it means to give witness as a Christian Church during war time?

    Ivan Rusyn: There are several examples. I don’t want to be spiritual because every time we have to mention Jesus, of course, but the incarnation of Jesus is the supreme model for me. So I would expect Jesus to cancel suffering, but he decided to suffer with humanity. This is what makes me astonished and crazy. Jesus came to suffer by himself. So I developed the idea that Jesus, he must be nearby because he always shows up where suffering is. So this is how I try to nourish my soul.

    Jesus is also an example for me. He was in the midst of suffering. I spent 104 days in Kyiv, just two days I was outside of the Kyiv area. Those were two days when I was going with my friends to Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, in the north part of Kyiv, actually the east part of Kyiv.

    I saw a lot of tears and suffering. And I don’t think that people are looking for answers. People are looking for presence, that somebody is present with them. I’m not capable to comprehend how crucial presence is, when we are present. What can I tell to people that lost their loved ones, they lost their apartments? I don’t know why this happened, but I know what it means. I was in a shelter for six days. My flat was looted. My loved ones are refugees. My campus is bombed. I run funerals for my graduates.

    I led a funeral for my colleague, sixty-four years old, a great guy. He was a great blessing for me. And because of war, he had to leave. And his heart just stopped. Just one day before that the cemetery was de-mined, and then with his two sons and daughter-in-law, we had a funeral. And I can share that . . . I don’t know, I have no answers, but I know what it means. We have the same scars still.

    And I think when we speak with people about this, somehow they can read on our faces that we speak out of our context. We really know what it means. When I was visiting Bucha and delivering food to hundreds and hundreds of people, I was always saying, “I am from Bucha. My apartment is over there.” I am not just a foreigner that came to them. So – presence and solidarity, this is what we can offer. Of course, we have education, PhDs in theology, but people are not looking for answers in this moment. They are looking for presence, for support and compassion. We know that everybody started from this war, and we understand this as Ukrainians. And of course we know – why should the global world bother about Ukraine? This is absolutely our problem, but I am very inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Once he said that injustice anywhere is a threat for justice everywhere.

    So there is something in that: Yes, we are responsible for the world as a people of God. So as ordinary Ukrainians, the last thing we need is lessons how to forgive, how to live spiritual in this condition. This is the last thing that we need. Everything we are looking for at this moment when we are fighting a giant, we are looking for some presence in the midst of us. We are looking for some solidarity. The Ukrainian nation had a very corrupt history under the Soviet Union. And finally, we made the choice. We want to have a different future. We believed in these Western democratic values and convictions. And we want to fight for this because we want to have a different future. We want to have a transparent just country with freedom.

    So we ask, we cry to the world, “Do not leave us alone.” We know, we understand that you are tired from the war, we too, but this is probably the last chance for Ukraine to have a different future. And this war is not about territory, it’s not about land. Unfortunately, there is no space for Ukrainian identity in the Russian world. So this is our prayer and our cry to the world: “Do not leave us, do not leave us alone.” Thank you.

    Peter Mommsen: Thanks for listening. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast needs met and share with your friends. For a lot more content like this, check out for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe. $32 a year. will get you the print magazine, or for $99 a year, you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits from free books to regular calls with the editors to invitations to special events and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community and we depend on them as an extra advisory council. So go to to learn more.

    And join us next week when we’ll be talking with extremely online self-described mystical idiot and illustrator Owen Cyclops, known as @owenbroadcaston Twitter, about his journey from general weirdness to Christian weirdness, and his cartoon on the American temper of apocalypticism, and with Eleanor Parker, known as @clerkofoxford on Twitter, about Archbishop Wulfstan and his attempt to build a polity out of recently-pagan Vikings and Christian Anglo-Saxons in the eleventh century AD. See you then.

    Contributed By IvanRusyn Ivan Rusyn

    Ivan Rusyn is the president of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kyiv.

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    Contributed By portrait of Peter Mommsen Peter Mommsen

    Peter Mommsen is editor of Plough magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Wilma, and their three children.

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    Contributed By portrait of Susannah Black Roberts Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black Roberts is a senior editor of Plough.

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