Love During a Revolution

March 26, 2014

www.rtl.lu

www.rtl.lu

Ukraine has the world’s attention. The largest country within the borders of Europe, with a population of some 44 million, recently went through a significant revolution. The protesters forced a change of government following a particularly volatile protest staged by civilians against a pro-Russian government. The world’s leading powers are still trading threats and punitive actions over the forceful Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Certainly this battle for Ukraine is not over as it has become the center in a struggle between the power and values of West vs. East. A new Cold War era might be upon us.

I have been riveted by the events in Ukraine, a county dear to me since it was where my father was born and where I still have relatives. Watching the revolution unfold on live Ukrainian TV had become a daily activity for me.  What particularly struck me was the active participation of leaders of the predominant religious groups in supporting the protestors and/or calling for peace. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic clergy of Ukraine, along with other Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams prayed with the demonstrators, broadcast speeches and issued numerous appeals for peace. Their main message for Ukraine was “no bloodshed”, “no civil war”. It is the finest hour for the religious denominations of Ukraine in perhaps a century. Many members of the clergy were willing to risk their own lives. The images of priests and monks having the courage to stand between armed opposing sides, with nothing more than their faith and a cross or icon in their hand is the very definition of the love of Christ.[1] “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)

Amidst the violence, tragic sufferings and deaths, there were also signs of hope and love. Some of the most beautiful images from the square (maidan) in the capital Kiev were those of marriage proposals and weddings that took place. Some four or five couples were engaged or married during those revolutionary days.  With a tent turned into a chapel and several priests who stayed with the demonstrators, having a wedding ceremony in the midst of a revolution was not a problem; choir members, bridesmaids, groomsmen, as well as well-wishers were in abundance.[2] Amidst rubble and barricades, while wearing bullet proof vests and military helmets, love and hope for a bright future flourished.[3]

Many people in the United States, or indeed in any stable society, can’t begin to conceive of falling in love during a revolution let alone being married in the midst of one. The thought of finding a life partner in the midst of armed attacks without significant time spent in various dating rituals is unheard of. Weddings are the very public display of a couple’s commitment that have also come to mean elaborate dinners, a massive wedding cake, and hiring the best band to dance to. No such dating prerequisites or wedding fundamentals were available to those who fell in love and married in the midst of the revolution in Kiev. Many gay and lesbian people have also gone through a revolution to fall in love, and get married as they are subjected to daily attacks, some violent, in order to stay together. Gays and lesbians do fall in love and vow to stay together in spite of a revolution that is waged against their love and commitment. Frequently they are denied the support of family, the blessing of the Church and the protection of the government as if a revolution were taking place.

A typical Saturday evening will find numerous male-female couples of all ages doing something as simple as standing in line and holding hands, while waiting to buy movie tickets. Most gay couples will think twice and three times before grabbing the hand of their date or even spouse in public. Will they be ridiculed, attacked or even arrested?[4] No heterosexual couple has to wonder when walking into a flower shop to order flowers for their wedding, if their business will be rejected because of their sexual orientation.[5] A lifelong member of a church community will beam with happiness telling their pastor that God has led them to someone they want to share their love and life with forever. The gay person hides this joy from the priest knowing that they might be placed under severe penance and certainly denied the mystery (sacrament) of marriage in the church. And yet, in spite of all of the negative pressure from family, society, civil laws and religious institutions, gay people continue to seek love and establish lifelong relationships with people of the same sex. In spite of the war against them, gay people, expressions of same-sex love, and gay marriages survive and thrive.

Love and marriage during a revolution is commonplace for most gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals. Why would we risk our family relationships, our employment, public ridicule, and even our lives in order to be with the person that we love? For many of us the answer is two-fold.  First of all, we believe that God has placed within us the powerful and life altering ability to love and to be loved. Second of all, we believe that it is God who has led us to one particular person with whom we share love and all of life’s joys and difficulties and to whom we are joined as a helpmate. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) Instead of subverting the will of God, the Orthodox Church should “confirm the word which the couple have spoken”[6], and be the vanguard in ending the war against gay people. That would be a worthy revolution, indeed.



[1] For photo images of priests intervening during the revolution in Kiev – see this link

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/ukraine-priests-brave-line-fire-stop-deadly-protests-article-1.1588893

 

[2] For photo images of the proposals and marriage ceremonies that took place during the revolution in Kiev, – see this link

http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/02/03/22557069-four-weddings-and-a-revolution-love-on-the-barricades-in-ukraine?lite

 

[3] These stories reminded me of the marriage of my aunt and uncle, both fighters in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during World War II. They were married during the war, by an army chaplain. The only “dress” that my aunt could find was a man’s suit jacket. Their marriage lasted for over 50 years until my uncle passed away.

[4] Those who think that I might be exaggerating the dire situation of the complete lack of civil rights and protections  for the LGBT community have not been following the recent news out of Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia and several other countries.

[5] Something that my husband and I experienced as we were planning for our crowning ceremony.

[6] Taken from the betrothal service of the Orthodox Church.

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