CALHAN • A suspension cable tie connects Ukrainians to parishioners at St. Mary’s Holy Dormition Orthodox Church in the small rural town of Calhan.
“The greatest uniting factor is that we are all part of one church,” Rector Fr. Stephen Osburn said Sunday after officiating at two services announcing the start of the Eastern Orthodox observance of Lent. The holy time focuses on penance, forgiveness and charitable works, and culminates in the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.
Orthodoxy, one of the three branches of Christianity, is the predominant religion throughout Ukraine. And as the Russian military invasion rages on, an intense kinship between adherents of the religion has grown around the world, say spiritual leaders.
“The general sentiment among priests is to leave the churches alone, and for the most part (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, who is Orthodox, leaves the churches alone,” Osburn said.
On Sunday – day 11 of the war – Osburn interspersed prayers for peace throughout the service.
Like other Orthodox parishes, many of St. Mary’s 120 parishioners have contributed to a special collection for the benefit of approximately 1.3 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighboring lands.
Tatiana Boyd’s daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren left Ukraine’s capital Kyiv for Romania because they feared for their lives.
Boyd talks daily with his daughter’s family on Facetime.
“It’s awful,” Boyd said. “They are crying, the army is destroying everything and killing women and children.”
Other relatives, including a sister living in Ukraine, all tell the same story, she said.
While the Biden administration announced last week that Ukrainians already in the United States can be granted temporary protected status from deportation, many, including the Boyds, want refugees to be allowed to seek safety. in America.
“Poland and neighboring countries must not take in refugees,” said Tatiana’s husband, Rob Boyd. “We’re not asking taxpayers to bring them here, we’re asking people to get their families out of harm’s way.”
Most Americans have never traveled to Eastern Europe, Rob Boyd said. But his wife’s daughter and sister visited the plains of southeastern Colorado and its Eastern Orthodox Church, the family’s spiritual home for 15 years.
“Everyone knows they’re like us – they just speak a different language,” he said. “It’s the only thing that separates us.”
Orthodox churches in Ukraine resemble Calhan Church, said Georgianna Glover, 79, whose father helped build St. Mary’s Holy Dormition, which opened in 1905.
She remembers arriving for services in a horse and cart.
“They built this church like those in the old country, which now could be destroyed,” Glover said. “For what reason, I wonder.”
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His grandparents emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Calhan in the early 1900s and his father fought in World War II.
“You pray that they stop the bombings and that there is no more war,” she said.
John “Butch” Sakala’s grandparents on both sides left their Slovak homeland in 1896 to settle in Calhan, where a concentration of Czechs settled.
Five generations later, the church and its community remain special, he said.
“All Orthodox people around the world are praying together for peace, for the war to end,” Sakala said. “The crisis there is terrible, but the church is keeping us strong.”
Ukrainians in southern Colorado send prayers to the sky, including Colorado Springs resident Svetlana Nudelman, who considers herself spiritual but not religious and is “a big believer in the power of prayer.”
She, her husband and their two sons left Kiev in 1991 for America. Nudelman also has daily contact via the Internet with cousins and friends who live in Ukraine.
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“It’s unimaginable,” she said. “My devastation comes from the fact that they know, as they wage this bloody and unjustified war, that more than half still believe that Ukraine has no right to exist as a country. But not all Russians support Putin.
A state-run public opinion poll reported in Russian news last week claimed that Russians’ level of trust in Putin had increased his approval rating from 60% to 71% in the week since. the start of the attack.
That ordinary Ukrainian citizens take up arms and try to defend their country is not surprising, Nudelman said.
“My grandfather fought in World War II, where we saw the idea of everyone working together,” she said. “I know people can come together and fight for freedom.”