To the editor,
As a Grand Forks resident for 21 years and now, traveling back and forth to Ukraine for the past 24, I'm writing in response to a piece written by Washington Post contributor Julia Ioffe, titled "Please don't wish me 'Merry Christmas'." (The piece was published on the Herald's website).
I, for one, Ms. Ioffe, know what it's like to live in what you rightly say was once run by the "self-declared militant godless" Soviet leadership who exchanged New Year's for Christmas.
When I first arrived here in 1994, I soon learned from my neighbors that Christmas had been virtually snuffed out under 70 years of Communism. Any expression of the holiday-the trees, the gifts, the family dinner-was simply transferred to the New Year's occasion a week later. A greeting like "Merry Christmas," possession of a Bible, gathering for a non-state registered church service and any other public religious expression was severely frowned upon, if not met with rigorous discipline or jail.
The state had become the "god" and people were openly coerced to act like it-until, when several generations later, children scarcely knew who Jesus was and His reason for coming.
With near success, the government had effectively removed any knowledge of God from the public square and today we know the result at the end of the USSR - a generally secular people besieged by corruption, low income, high alcoholism, crumbling infrastructure and widespread hopelessness.
But Christmas can't be snuffed out, just as Christ, Himself, can't be.
He is still the Son of God who came to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) through his selfless death and resurrection and who offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who turn to Him by faith.
"But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). Which is the greatest reason for celebration the world will ever know.
And had I met the Jewish Ms. Ioffe, a Muslim down the street, a secular taxi driver or anyone else during this wonderful season, I-respectfully and with a heart overflowing with joy and gratitude-would have greeted them with "Merry Christmas."
It is the tiniest expression of hope I can give.