JONES, Okla. — At a small country church 20 miles east of Oklahoma City, Ukrainian and American flags flutter outside.
Inside, Reverend Stepan Bilogan preaches and prays in his native language while a member of the choir translates his Ukrainian words into English.
Founded immigrants St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church – the only Ukrainian Orthodox congregation for hundreds of kilometers – more than a century ago.
These days, believers from Belarus, the Republic of Georgia, Romania, Russia and Serbia as well as Ukraine make up the Orthodox body of about 35 members.
“We’re like a little UN,” said Robby Lee Wall, 52, a subdeacon who has attended St. Mary’s all his life.
A year ago, Reverend Bilogan, 46, came to America to minister to the spiritual needs of this small Oklahoma town, where miles of farmland give way to frame homes and a old fashioned main street.
His mother, brother and countless other loved ones are still in Ukraine.
“Every day I talk to them,” the priest said in an interview. “We are very worried about the news coming out of Ukraine.”
As Russian troops and tanks driven deeper into Bilogan’s homeland On Sunday, he and his fellow Christians asked God to bring peace.
Reverend Bilogan characterizes prayer as “the greatest weapon” of believers.
“Everywhere Ukrainians would like only peace and happiness. And even in the Holy Scriptures it says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” he told the congregation, referring to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. “Every war has its beginning and its end, and we pray that this end will come very soon.”
St. Mary’s member Olena Nesin and her husband, Vasyl, immigrated from Ukraine 11 years ago.
After worship, they became emotional as they discussed Russian President Vladimir Putin and the attack he unleashed on Ukraine.
“Everyone should understand what’s going on,” Olena Nesin said. “It’s not just about Ukraine. It is about the security of the civilian world.
“I spoke to my friends, my family,” she added. “For now, they are all safe. But the situation is just horrible.
The world needs to know the truth about Russia’s aggression, said Vitalii Sorochynskyi, another Ukrainian St. Mary’s member.
“It sadly reminds me of the invasion of Poland” in 1939, he said, recalling the German advance that sparked World War II. “And if there are people who think it’s just a Ukrainian problem, they’re stupid. Unfortunately, this is a global crisis.
Sorochynskyi said he lost communication with some friends in Ukraine.
“I have family who, unfortunately, are struggling,” he said. “And so I came here (to the church) to pray for them, to pray for the whole country.”
Mikita Dzialendzik, 20, a member of St. Mary’s Choir, is the priest’s translator.
Dzialendzik moved to the United States with his family when he was 2 months old. He speaks English and Russian and understands Ukrainian. He has friends from different backgrounds, including Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians.
The University of Oklahoma student struggles to understand the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
“The languages are similar. The cultures are similar. Faith is similar,” Dzialendzik said. “They are not the same. There are significant differences, and they are two different people.
“But they are sister nations – they are brother people – and they should cooperate,” he added. “They should be friendly, and seeing things like that is awful.”
St. Mary’s is affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States. The church originally formed in 1919 in the nearby community of Harrah, Oklahoma. A Memorial Day 1949 fire cost a previous building, and the congregation moved to Jones in 1950. Its cemetery remains in Harrah.
At the end of the Sunday service, the church sang “Eternal Memory” – “Vishnaya Pamyat” in Ukrainian – and rang its bells in recognition of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians killed in the fighting. It is the hymn normally sung at funerals and commemorations.
Thereafter, despite concerns over the conflict in Eastern Europe, the congregation enjoyed a bit of normality: a potluck on Meatfare Sunday, the last day of meat eating before Pascha, Orthodox Easter, April 24.
Reverend Bilogan is from Lviv, in the westernmost corner of Ukraine about 45 miles from the Polish border. Airstrikes are the main threat to those close to him, he said.
“There is nothing worse than war,” he said after the Divine Liturgy. “But I hope that with God’s help we will overcome this. My country has not attacked anyone and our soldiers have never set foot on the territory of another country.