The images coming across the news screen and social media feeds daily of the war in Ukraine are devastating. Children murdered in the streets, mothers huddling in the cold with their children, and fathers saying goodbye to their children as they stay to fight. Sadly, perhaps, these are images many have already become accustomed to seeing. However, one image and one man symbolizes the source of hope many Ukrainians, and Christians around the world, have and from where they are getting strength. It also challenges each of us to examine our ourselves.
The image shows a man clinging to a crucifix erected outside a church. According to the photographer who captured the moment, it was as others were rushing to gather extra supplies and prepare for the Russian invasion that his camera caught one man clinging to Christ. It reminds me of what St. John Vianney said about suffering in relation to the cross.
“I tell you that you have less to suffer in following the cross than in serving the world and its pleasures,” St. Vianney said.
St. Vianney also said, in reference to the cross, “you must accept your cross; if you bear it courageously, it will carry you to heaven.”
The man, in the middle of a country being invaded by a much larger military, clings not to material things, food, or supplies. He clings to Christ. A man whose face is not shown in the midst of a country at war, shows the world the source of Ukraine’s hope. It’s the source of His hope. When the world’s eyes were on Russia, this man’s eyes were on the cross of Christ. When Ukraine’s focus was on Vladimir Putin and his military, this man’s focus was on Jesus Christ and His heavenly authority.
The photographer, Dennis Melnichuk, snapped the photo in Lviv, Ukraine as calls of Kyiv’s bombing went out. In the February 24 Facebook post, Melnichuk said: “Before heaving east towards Ternopil, Ukraine, we went to grab groceries and extra cash from the ATM. We stood in line for about an hour to get our turn at the machine and found out that there was a $100 limit per person. The reality of martial law just hit us. Across the street from the store stood this beautiful cathedral with a man hugging the cross in front. My heart quivered. War has begun.”
The picture, currently with 1.4K shares and 1.5K reactions, displays a stark contrast. It’s a simple photo that speaks volumes about this world. The beautiful cathedral stands as a backdrop to a simple, seemingly quiet, scene. The large crucifix stands approximately three to four times taller than the man who is dressed in black. Just steps behind the man hugging the crucifix, there are two people walking by and appear to be chatting with drinks in their hand. The photo does not show the man’s face, as it is buried in the cross, but it shows the head and face of the crucified Jesus looking down at him.
How often are we walking by Jesus without even taking a second thought at the importance of what He has done or how crucial it is to cling to Him? How many times are we the man with arms locked around Jesus? How many times are we the two people walking carelessly by as if there were no care in the world?