Washington National Cathedral prayer service marks 500 days of Russia’s war in Ukraine

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 10, 2023

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, speaks during a July 9 service at Washington National Cathedral marking 500 days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo: YouTube

[Episcopal News Service] Washington National Cathedral on July 9 marked 500 days since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with a prayer service that included remarks by Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States and participation of Ukrainian clergy, singers and readers.

Russia’s unprovoked war with Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine, and fighting has continued since then with no clear end in sight. At least 350,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have been injured or killed in the fighting, according to U.S. estimates, and the war has killed or injured more than 24,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.

General Convention last July adopted a resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and called for Russian leaders to end it, asked for just treatment of all refugees and called upon all in authority to “labor without ceasing to bring a swift and just end to this conflict, and a restoration of Ukraine’s independence and autonomy under conditions of tranquility.”

The cathedral service, which saw hundreds of worshippers inside the cathedral and several hundred more watching the livestream, was led by the cathedral’s provost, the Rev. Jan Naylor Cope. Assisting were the Rev.  Volodymyr Steliac, dean of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, Maryland; and the Rev. Robert Hitchens, administrator of the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, D.C. Musicians included singers from all three churches, and flags of both the United States and Ukraine were on the platform where clergy were seated.

In her remarks, Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova thanked the cathedral for offering the opportunity for worshippers to pray “for a just peace in our beloved country.” She added, “thank you for honoring those who perished in defense of Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state, Ukraine’s right to live, pray and love as we would like to live. Thank you for praying for those who are fighting today on the battlefields defending our borders of freedom from brutal Russian invasion.”

Scripture readings and hymns were offered in English and in Ukrainian. Music included settings by 16th century composer Thomas Tallis as well as new music for a traditional Ukrainian prayer written last year by English composer John Rutter shortly after the war began.

Steliak and Hitchens also offered comments during the service. Steliak spoke of the “indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people during these 500 days of relentless struggle,” as he paid tribute to the “fallen soldiers and innocent civilians who paid the ultimate price for freedom.”

Hitchens recalled a visit he made to the cathedral in the 1990s when he was a seminarian, never thinking “in a million years” he’d be asked to preach there. He said he wished it was taking place in a joyous celebration of ecumenism rather than a commemoration of the start of the attack on the homeland of his ancestors. He also noted that based on a report from the United Nations marking the war’s one-year anniversary, it is estimated that almost 60,000 people have died so far in the war – 15,000 Ukrainian fighters, 35,000 troops of the Russian Federation and nearly 10,000 civilians.

In her closing prayer, Cope asked God to “grant the people of Ukraine the grace of faith and hope in the midst of the devastating trials and trauma of war.” She then asked God to “pour out your Holy Spirit upon us and bind us together this day, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the prince of peace.”

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.