Heaven and Hell

The story of the tenth-century Prince Vladimir of Kyiv is fairly well-known among liturgical historians.  Desiring to discover the true religion and the best way to worship the true God, Vladimir sent out emissaries to assess religious worship in regions near and far.  The emissaries sent to Greece offered this report to their sovereign:

So we went into Greece and were taken to the place wherein they worship God—and we did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth, for nowhere else in the world is there so beautiful a sight.  We cannot describe it: we only know that it is there that God tabernacles among men.

Vladimir subsequently embraced Orthodox Christianity and there followed the widespread Christianization of the Kyivan Rus.

As I write these words, believers gathering for worship in Kyiv might more fairly wonder whether their country is on earth or in hell.  Whatever other responses may be appropriate and just under conditions of unprovoked military aggression, worship, too, is called for.  We urgently need prayers for peace.  We urgently need to give voice to lament before God.  In time of war, the joy of worship needs moderation.  In time of peace, too, joy needs moderation.  Peace is all too often precarious and even in the absence of war there is pain and suffering in the world which, as Matt 25 reminds us, we ignore at our peril.


  1. Kiev is the Russian name, which causes Moral Injury to Ukrainians. The Ukrainian and current name is Kyiv.

      1. In the same way, many people still refer to “the Ukraine”, which was a division of the USSR. The correct name for the country is “Ukraine” with no definite article.

  2. Reminds me of a social media meme I saw discussing which is worse, war or hell. The question is raised when a person suggests war is worse: why? Presumably everyone in hell deserves to be there. In war, this is not so.

  3. Are speakers of other languages having the discussion about an article before the name of Ukraine? Seems to me that in German it’s firmly “die Ukraine” (“the Ukraine”). Not agreeing or disagreeing, but the question isn’t being universally dealt with, at least not in the same way.

    1. I would not be surprised if usage might vary. Putting aside the common issue of compound national names in the form of “The [X] of [Y]”, Spanish uses definite articles for some non-compound national names (for example, el Perú), others not, that English usage does not.

    2. Germans add definite articles to all sorts of things, including names of countries. It’s just the way their language and idioms work, and doesn’t mean they are disowning the right to statehood.
      On the other hand, in English referring to “the Ukraine” is viewed by Ukrainians as a sign of disrespect.

      1. I woul dbe interested in knowing why Ukrainians feel the article is disrespectful. It does not have that connotation in English.

      2. Because continued use of the customary English usage with the definite article is taken to refer to a region of Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, like the Midlands of England, the Pampas of Argentina or the Great Plains of North America, rather than a nation in its own right. Since the independence of Ukraine three decades ago, normal style in the USA, at least, omits the definite article in light of that.

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