On Friday 24 February, hundreds of people gathered at Sts Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, North Melbourne, to commemorate the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The prayer service was a joint initiative between Sts Peter and Paul’s and the Association of Ukrainians in Victoria (AUV), a chance to pray for an end to the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

Led by Bishop Mykola Bychok CSsR, Hierarch of the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Melbourne Eparchy, those gathered prayed the Moleben to the Most Holy Theotokos (a prayer of supplication to the Mother of God) before proceeding to Federation Square for a candlelight vigil.

Joining Bishop Mykola were Catholic bishops from across the Archdiocese, including Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, Auxillary Bishops of Melbourne Anthony Ireland, Martin Ashe and Terry Curtin, Bishop Paul Bird CSsR of Ballarat, Bishop Shane Mackinlay of Sandhurst, Bishop Greg Bennet of Sale, and Syro Malabar Bishop Bosco Puthur.

Archbishop Philip Freier of the Anglican Church was also present, as was Bishop Evmenios of the Greek Orthodox Church and representatives of other Christian denominations.

‘This anniversary is not one to celebrate,’ Bishop Mykola told the congregation in his homily, ‘but something to remember for future generations.’

‘Today, all together, we unite in a special prayer for peace in Ukraine as the living Body of Jesus Christ, which is the Church. The 24th of February 2022 is a day that changed the lives of all Ukrainians, and the whole world.’

For suffering Ukrainians, so many questions needed answering, he said. ‘Where is justice? Why do innocent children suffer? Where is God in this war?’

Bishop Mykola pointed to the Scriptures for answers, especially to the story of Job, who reveals that suffering sometimes comes as a trial, and patience is, mysteriously, the key.

Bishop Mykola Bychok CSsR. (Photo courtesy of the Press Office of the Melbourne Eparchy.)

‘Amid tragedy, if you want to find God, look where the suffering is. God is there suffering with us. This is the message of the Incarnation, that God is with us. So don’t look at the heavens and shake your fist. Look at the dirt and the earth, and dig your hands in. For that is where God is, with us in the midst of it all.’

In our current trial, as in the story of Job, Jesus is likewise telling us that God, when we feel most lifeless and hopeless and worthless, isn’t going to leave or forsake us or send us to the fires. Rather, God is entering into our lifelessness, hopelessness and worthlessness with compassion, love and forgiveness.

‘In today’s prayer we not only pray for peace, but above all, we remember our fallen heroes, volunteers and civilians, who gave their lives in order that others might live,’ he said. ‘May Almighty God have mercy on us all and Our Lady of Perpetual Help protect us and save us. Amen.’

Among those present were representatives from the Department of Home Affairs, the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Immigration and Citizenship, and other cultural and religious communities. After the service, Bishop Mykola addressed everyone with gratitude and asked them to continue praying for an end to the war in Ukraine.

After the Moleben, a candlelight vigil was held in Federation Square, where many more people turned out to mark the occasion. Attendees of the event reported a solemn atmosphere, with people of all ages present. Even elderly parishioners for whom travel is difficult made a heroic effort and came out in force.

Iconic buildings were illuminated with the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag, including the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne Town Hall, the National Gallery of Victoria and Federation Square itself.