A sad departure as storm clouds darken

Written by Revd Glen Ruffle, Curate St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Moscow on 11 March 2022

We watched the ominous storm clouds gathering, the signs that the world was soon to change. Many did not believe it would happen; a hopeful denial set in that it was all political posturing. Surely, in this day and age, no one would actually invade a neighbouring country? 
And then it happened.  

On Sunday 27 February, we offered support and time to pray, talk and reflect. Many of the foreigners in our congregation were preparing to leave, frightened, unsure of which way events would turn. Companies gave orders to get their staff out; English teachers packed up half-way through term and left; rental apartments were suddenly abandoned mid tenancy. 
I told people that I had no intention of leaving: and on Sunday, why should I leave? All was calm, the church was thriving, we had just launched a third service to help ease pressure in the mornings, and ministry opportunities were abounding. Moscow was, and is (at the time of writing), safe. The only notable change was an increased police presence in public places; otherwise, Muscovites continued to laugh, go to theatres, show off their fashions, dine out in restaurants, and go through the stages of life as people do in any other city. 

Most were largely oblivious to events 400 miles to the south. The older generation are especially dependent on state TV for information, and all they knew was that a "Special Operation" was taking place in Ukraine to get the ‘fascists’. As I write, state media is reporting how powers in Kyiv are planning to attack refugees exiting the country! 

The younger generations, more internet savvy, with better knowledge of English and greater ability to access information, were aware something else was going on - but they have been raised and trained in a system that tells them involvement in politics is dangerous. You protest: you go to prison. Sit back and accept it. Those who do demonstrate risk losing careers and livelihoods. 

So, although there is widespread dismay, there is also acceptance of events and confusion as to what is really happening. One hundred million good Russian people have again been turned into pariahs by the actions of their elite – and so with resignation and sadness, people soldier on.  

On Sunday I told people I would stay and serve, but that I was largely dependent on outside forces. On Monday, my day off, my phone rang at 8.30am. It was someone from church, in tears, asking me to come in. I looked at the news: the US embassy was advising all citizens to leave immediately, and although the British embassy was more cautious about issuing such advice, I knew things would not be good. 

The ministry team met and, with much sadness but acceptance of the facts, I was told my curacy in Moscow would by necessity come to an end. It was no longer possible to receive funding, and as I write, we don't even know if the church will be able to continue operating. Having been told I had to leave, a group of us bought tickets to Egypt, guessing that the airspace would not be closed. And early Thursday morning we departed Russia, having had to say goodbye to our lives, hopes, dreams and, most heart-wrenchingly, to our friends, in a crazy 48-hour period. 

But then, when reflecting on our heartbreak, one remembers what is taking place in Ukraine, and one realises that I have nothing to complain about compared to the suffering and destruction taking place there. 

Will Russia open again? What will happen in Ukraine? Is a new Iron Curtain already in place? Will we ever be able to travel and see our beloved friends and Christian family this side of eternity again? It's hard to know. 

Ironically, we were just thinking and planning to see how we could pick up the mantle of being a church of reconciliation, part of the Coventry Community of the Cross of Nails. And then the invasion began.  

But we also look back at the consecration of St Andrew's in January 1885. Bishop Jonathan Holt Titcomb, in blessing the building, said St Andrew's was "an open door which no man can shut". We believe this prophetically, that the church of Jesus Christ cannot be silenced, and St Andrew's will continue to proclaim the glory and healing power of Jesus into this dark world. 

If you would like to donate to the Bishops Lent & Easter appeal to support humanitarian work both in Ukraine and with refugees fleeing into neighbouring countries. 

Click here.