Ukrainian-American pastor joins faith leaders in counseling and reinvigorating chaplains on the front lines

May 9, 2024 by No Comments

A Ukrainian-born American pastor is contributing to supporting efforts for chaplains on the front lines against Russia. Andrew Moroz — a lead elder at Gospel Community Church in Lynchburg, Virginia — is currently helping military chaplains to recuperate from the traumas of the conflict. “I show up where I’m needed and invited. I come to listen and to learn first,” Moroz told Digital. “If I can model a faith that is curious and humble, as well as courageous — that’s what I want these chaplains to bring to the soldiers they serve.” Digital reached out to Moroz to learn more about the very recent creation of chaplaincy services, how its clerics and faith leaders operate, and the challenges they face alongside normal combatants.

Chaplains in the Ukrainian conflict are divided into two groups — enlisted soldiers and volunteers supported by churches or regional dioceses. The Military Chaplaincy Service is a brand-new structure within the Ukrainian armed forces, introduced in 2022 by an act of the nation’s parliament. Prior to its introduction, the only spiritual support provided to soldiers was auxiliary programs run by volunteers. Training for chaplains inside and outside the armed forces is disorganized and lacks standardization. Many are forced to learn on the job and pick up pastoral skills as they go.

Ukraine is an overwhelmingly Christian country with a solid Eastern Orthodox majority, followed by a sizable Greek Catholic minority, and an even smaller Protestant minority. Sergii Dadsko — a chaplain who began volunteering in 2014 working with civilian refugees — now puts most of his effort into serving soldiers. He studied at a seminary before the invasion, but says most of his training has been through his wartime ministry. Mykhailo Hryhoruk is a member of Olive Branch, an organization coordinating religious support for years across Ukraine. Olive Branch has given Mykhailo opportunities to take courses and attend seminary classes in Kyiv and Ryvne.

The pair work together, often coordinating relief for soldiers coming out of combat to resupply or due to injuries. The chaplains help soldiers find showers and a place to rest. They serve all members of the military, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. In between the logistical work of caring for the wounded and exhausted, they find time to read Scripture and invite others to join them.

The work is crucial, Moroz says, as Ukrainian society continues suffering an overwhelming mental toll in the face of massive casualties. “In the midst of trauma and conflict, I have personally experienced both individuals who are finding their faith and actively expressing it, and individuals who are experiencing a crisis of faith,” Moroz told Digital. “I would say the longer this war goes, the more I see discouragement and hardening of hearts. I heard one of the volunteers say this week, trauma will either drown you (harden you) or it will teach you how to float (it will tenderize your heart).”

Moroz, through his Renewal Initiative program, is one of many foreign faith leaders entering Ukraine in order to support those aiding the soldiers. “I just finished a three-day retreat on a beautiful (and peaceful) camp property outside of Kyiv. We had between 80–100 chaplains and civilian volunteers that have been actively serving others during the last two years (some longer – since 2014),” Moroz said. “I brought four mental health specialists with me and three other pastors. We had self-care/self-assessment sessions based around physical, emotional, and spiritual care. Outside of the sessions, the guests set counseling appointments with the therapists.”

He continued, “With the help of donors from the United States, we were able to purchase delicious and wholesome food, hire massage therapists, and provide a sauna experience. There were also moments of prayer for personal health and the country of Ukraine. We were told that this is something that is desperately needed in Ukraine and does not exist broadly.” The conflict is now in its second year. Hard figures on military and civilian casualties are impossible to accurately calculate, but numbers in the tens of thousands for both sides.