Agia Skepi Sustainability Center in Cyprus

Please consider supporting our new Cyprus initiative! Help us build a Sustainability Centre at Agia Skepi.

Agia Skepi is a long term detoxification community for adults in Cyprus. The therapeutic framework of the program inspires members in the spirit of fostering quality living through eliminating harmful substances.
 I
An integral part of the recovery process involves cultivating the earth and developing a profound relationship between nature and community. This bond is reinforced by member participation in farm life, which produces organic yields.The relationship between nature and meaningful work is essential in the difficult struggle of detoxification.
 I
The next step in furthering these goals is to renovate three derelict buildings next to Agia Skepi and turn them into a Sustainability Centre. This new effort will provide a practical demonstration of how the principles of sustainable living can be applied in this particular environment. We hope to exemplify the spirit of Agia Skepi through use of natural building methods, renewable energy systems and food production within a regenerative social and agricultural setting.
I
 l
To support this project, please donate here.  All donations made will go to the Agia Skepi Sustainability Centre. 



To donate by mail, please clearly mark all checks for the Sustainability Centre and mail to:
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
PO Box 959
Bronx, NY 10458

Statement of Archbishop Demetrios on immigration in the United States, February 4, 2017:

Above: Greek fisherman aids refugees off the island of Lesvos. Photograph by Sergey Ponomarev.

 

“As Orthodox Christians and as Americans, we express our sadness  and pain for our brothers and sisters all over the world who find themselves in tragic circumstances of hostility, violence and war, where families have been torn apart, displaced and where people are denied basic human rights. Following the example of Christ, we are called to offer unconditional love to our fellow men while   starting immediately to pray for them. In our great country, which has historically and practically welcomed people of every nation, tribe, and tongue, we have the distinct privilege and honor to offer philoxenia – love of the stranger – to humans from all walks of life.

The New Testament is replete with an ethos of philoxenia – love of the stranger – based not on fear but on care and on gratitude. Welcome one another, says Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans, even as Christ welcomed you (Rom. 15:7). Christian philoxenia must not only be extended to those close to us, but must be extended to those near and far away, and even to those who will not reciprocate—to the poor, the stranger, even those who hate us. For Christ says, if you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? (Luke 14:14).

As a vital expression of love, we must continue to fervently pray for peace for the entire humanity, especially for those affected by difficult circumstances. Our fellow humans who are suffering under terrible conditions and ordeals all over the world are expecting justice and begging for our love and prayers; even the least
among them. As Christ said, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Matt. 25:40). In these most difficult times, the strongest expression of our philoxenia becomes a very urgent matter.

United as one people, as one nation under God, let us proceed courageously, prudently, and lovingly. Always with the help of the Almighty God!”

What’s New on incommunion.org?

Solomon’s Porch: A Blog of In Communion
Emmaus Icon for Solomon's porch blogActs 5:12 “And they were all together in Solomon’s Portch.” Solomon’s Porch was a place where the early disciples gathered, witnessed many good works among the people, and were in one accord. And, of course, they talked about it all. Today we gather to talk in many places, most visibly in the public square via the internet. The good works are done anywhere Christians roll up their sleeves and get to it. Our blog is a place to engage in healthy analysis of the needs around us, centered on Christ the Truth, to help us go and do good works.

2 St john baptist CoverClick one of the images above for featured content from the latest print issue of In Communion. Scroll down for other content from the issue or look on the “In Communion” menu above and select “In Communion: Previous Issues”.

 

12 icon-st-ephraim-prostration the OPF

Also see our newest “Prayers” page which you can access through the “Content by Category” menu, or click here. We are building a library of prayers that you may find useful as you pray for peace.

Shimon bar Sabbae: Patron Saint of Tax Resistance

Today, April 17, 2018 in the United States it’s tax day. Today is the day the government comes calling, and our pocket books better answer.  Today is also the feast of St. Shimon bar Sabbae, the patron saint of tax resistance.

Taxes have been a hot topic ever since humans got together and decided to start civilization. Scripture records that the first city was built by Cain, who was also the first farmer and the first murderer in scripture. Perhaps he was also the first tax collector! Tax collectors are among some of the most shockingly disreputable people that Jesus chose to associate with.

In the Old Testament, even God lampoons taxes through the words of the Prophet Samuel. When Israel pleads for a King, the Lord said to Samuel,

Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.

Samuel then goes to the people and delivers this acerbic message,

This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.

The Israelites insisted that they wanted a king, so that they could be like other nations and so that the king could fight their wars. God warned them that taxes and exploitation are the price for nationalism and militarism, but the Israelites went against God’s wishes and made the same choice that we make today. It’s better to have a nation and a military, even if it means paying taxes and making ourselves vulnerable to oppression.

When Jesus came preaching that a new Kingdom had come, the first question that came to mind for his listeners was taxes. Did Jesus really mean a new Kingdom? Did that mean that they didn’t have to pay taxes to other kingdoms? If Jesus paid taxes then that meant that he didn’t really mean that another Kingdom was coming, or at least it meant that he didn’t think his Kingdom was in competition with Rome. If you pay taxes, his listeners wondered, then perhaps you can serve two masters after all.

Taxes were particularly contentious in Jesus’ time because of how exploitative the practice became. Tax collectors would often overcharge individuals (especially poor people), and take the excess for themselves. The poor had no choice but to pay, for if they didn’t then the Romans would come knocking. Tax collectors were thus seen as collaborators with the Roman occupiers, representing Israel’s oppression. There was hardly a better image for the powers and principalities that Jesus came to vanquish than that of a tax collector. What’s more, taxes were often paid with coins that bore Caesar’s image. It would be idolatrous to carry such a coin or to use it. The standard ‘tribute penny’ bore the image of the Emperor Tiberius, and carried the inscription “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” To pay taxes meant not only possessing an image that proclaimed Caesar the son of a god, but in rendering this unto Caesar, one gave implicit assent to Caesar’s claims to divinity.

In response to such blasphemy and oppression, many Zealots began a campaign of tax resistance. So when Jesus came and announced the fulfillment of Israel’s hope, many wondered if he agreed with the other subversives of his day.

The Synoptics record that Jesus’ opponents tried to trap him with this question. If Jesus paid taxes then they could denounce him as a fraud; he wasn’t really promising an alternative to Rome. But if he didn’t pay taxes then they could turn him over to the authorities. So they asked,

Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?  Should we pay or shouldn’t we?

In his characteristically clever fashion, Jesus evaded the question. He implied that he did not even have a coin on him by asking if anyone could show him a coin. Thus he shunned graven images, and obviously unable to pay taxes. His accusers produced a coin, which demonstrated that they did carry such images. Jesus then asked whose inscription was on the coin.  The interlocutors looked down at the inscription declaring Caesar to be the Son of God, and reported so. Jesus then replied “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God’s what is God’s.”

This incisive remark is as clever, if not more so, than “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” What is Caesar’s after all? Certainly not the title “Son of God.” But this title was the entire claim to Caesar’s legitimacy and the legitimacy of collecting taxes. Jesus was not saying “pay your taxes but worship God.” Rather, he was saying that one should honor God alone, and if one does so, then there is nothing left over to give Caesar. If Caesar is stripped of his divinity, then by the logic of the Romans, he would be stripped of his right to taxes as well. Thus Jesus confronted his accusers with their own theology. Do they really believe that God is the only God? If so then why are they holding a coin? Why are they opposing Jesus, who promises to bring about God’s reign? As happened again and again, when they tried to trap Jesus, Jesus trapped them.

This was not the only joke that Jesus made about taxes. The Evangelist Matthew records that Temple tax collectors asked Peter about whether Jesus paid Temple taxes or not. These taxes did not go to Rome, but to ecclesiastical authorities. Nonetheless they were still controversial. Jesus criticized the practice because it often hit the poor the hardest, and caused some women to become homeless and die in poverty (this was what Jesus meant when he accused the Temple officials of “devouring widows’ houses”). Peter had no clever answer for the tax collectors. But when he returned to Jesus’ house in Capernaum, Jesus asked him,

What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?

Peter answered that taxes are collected from others. So Jesus replied,

Then the children are exempt. But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.

The implied critique is that if the Temple really did serve the children of God, then there would not be any taxes. The existence of taxes proved the failure of the Temple to serve. But that is not the only critique in this passage. Romanian Archpriest Fr. John McGuckin notes that this passage is one massive joke by Jesus. The story does not actually say that Peter went and caught the fish, but rather ends with the joke about finding the coin in the fish’s mouth. The fish in question was a certain species of Tilapia, which is known as “St. Peter’s Fish.” This species has a tongue that is shaped liked a coin. So Jesus was making a joke to Peter, saying sarcastically “we must pay our taxes! So go give them Tilapia tongue!” Were Peter to actually do that, it would cause quite the offense!

When Jesus was finally arrested and taken to Pilate, taxes are the first thing his accusers mention. 

We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.

This got Pilate’s attention. And the association of Christianity with tax resistance evidently spread to the early community. It must have become something of an issue, as St. Paul was forced to confront it in his letter to the Romans. As with all of Paul’s letters, he gives rules only when people start acting in contrary ways. So one can only imagine what ideas people had about Christianity and taxes that led St. Paul to write,

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Christians living in Rome knew quite well that they were expected to pay taxes by the government. So the fact that St. Paul had to remind them of this meant that there must have been a streak of insurrectionism running through the early Christian community. St. Paul in this section of his letter had to remind Christians that the way of the Zealots, the way of violent revolution, was not the nonviolent way of the cross. Thus, the injunction to pay taxes and to not overthrow the government was prefaced by the remark, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Paul’s vision was not that the Roman government, which ended up executing him and many other Christians, was somehow good or that by executing him the were doing God’s will. Rather, it was that by doing good, by acting with love and nonviolence, one could overthrow and overcome the evil of this world.

Paul reinforced this message by continuing,

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Here Paul echoes Jesus’ clever ‘render unto Caesar.’ Paul begins by saying that we should give what we owe. If taxes are owed then we pay taxes, if revenue then we pay revenue. But he then (in a characteristically Hebraic writing technique) undercuts what he has just said. The only debt, the only thing that we should owe, is love. Furthermore, if one loves, then one has already fulfilled the law. He goes on to say that among all the laws and commandments there is really only one law, “Love one another.” And because of this “Love has fulfilled the law.” But by saying this, Paul gives a wink to his audience. If love fulfills the law, then the tax laws don’t really apply to you and aren’t what you are following anyway. By making this shift in emphasis from law and government to love, Paul throws out the whole question. What does it matter if we pay our taxes or overthrow the government or not? All that matters is love, and we should forget the rest! By saying this, St. Paul both preserved the radically subversive message of Christianity without reducing it to a temporal political program that demanded complete and total resistance. Resistance of a sort was expected; it’s what got Paul killed. But Paul emphasized that resistance for its own sake meant nothing. Just like Jesus, the point was to focus ourselves elsewhere.

Thanks to Paul’s clear-sightedness, Christians managed to strike a balance between paying taxes and proclaiming another King. But the early Church did not interpret Paul’s injunction to pay taxes or Christ’s joke about rendering unto Caesar to be universal rules. Sometimes tax resistance is called for. They say that in life there are only two things that are certain: death and taxes. But just as Christ found a way to get around death, every once in a while his followers manage to get around taxes.

Which brings us to St. Shimon, whose feast it is today, April 17. Shimon lived in Persia in the fourth century. At that time, tensions between Persian Christians and Persian Zoroastrians were on the rise. In the 330s and 340s, the Persian king Shapur II began an offensive against the Roman Empire. Given that the Romans were Christian, Persian Christians were viewed as resident enemies. Then as now, it is tough being a religious minority!

Shapur decided to impose a hefty tax on Christians. This was meant to penalize them for their Christianity, as accusations of subversion came forth. The tax also may have been to encourage abandonment of Christianity, and certainly helped to fund the war effort against the Roman Christians. What better solution for fighting the Romans than making resident Christians pay for the war effort against their fellow Christians?

As the presiding bishop of Christians in Persia, Shimon was tasked with collecting this tax. But Shimon knew that such a tax was unjust and would only be blood money. So he launched a nonviolent campaign of mass war-tax resistance.

Obviously, this was not received well by Shapur, so he demanded that St. Shimon and the rest of the Christians pay, otherwise he would kill them. Remarkably, St. Shimon refused to retaliate to these threats. Just a century later, some Christians in Persia would resort to terrorism in response to a similar situation. But St. Shimon refused violence. He refused to fight. Instead he chose to suffer nonviolently. Death was his protest. Shimon accepted the death penalty and was martyred. By rendering unto God what was God’s, his very life, he showed the king that there was nothing left over for his coffers!

The hymnography of the Church plays with this theme poetically,

Choice silver that is tried in the earth: a portion of the heavenly treasure, which is desired by the angels, and by the prophets and apostles, and by the honored martyrs, Christ gave, in his grace, to the faithful Church: the venerable Mar Simon, he whose neck was sliced for the sake of the law of the love of God. Come, all you peoples, in awe and love, and in songs of the Holy Spirit, let us honor the day of his commemoration. He is indeed an unassailable rampart for our people.

Shimon’s martyrdom is called silver, a “heavenly treasure” rather than an earthly tax. St. Shimon is the tax, the “choice silver” given by Christ to his Church. In disobeying the law, St. Shimon followed “the law of the love of God.” This is the law that St. Paul implored us to follow. By following the law of love and rendering his life unto God, St. Shimon showed us the true meaning of a faithful life.

Today it is important to remember St. Shimon and what he lived and died for. As we pay our taxes today (or decide to engage in some war tax resistance ourselves!) we should ask ourselves which laws we truly follow.

This past week, the United States dropped a series of bombs on three sites in Syria. Currently, it is estimated that those strikes cost over $100 million in taxpayer money. What’s more, Patriarch John X, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, and Patriarch Joseph Absi, who are all Patriarchs in Syria soundly condemned America for the attack. Patriarch Kirill likewise spoke out against the attack and called Pope Francis to discuss condemning the attack. Who knows how much tax money paid by American Orthodox Christians today will end up building bombs that will again strike Syria this next year, to the protests of the Church. It is a sobering reminder that even in a country as supposedly Christian as America, sometimes the revolutionary nonviolent faith that worships a man accused of tax resistance is not compatible with supporting our nation. I imagine that St. Shimon loved Persia. I imagine he even happily paid his taxes most of his life. But when the time came, when it was clear that he  had to choose between national loyalty and his faith, he chose civil disobedience. Let us a sing a hymn of exaltation to St. Shimon today, the choice silver tried in the earth! And maybe, if we are feeling a bit bolder, we can do more than sing to him. Perhaps we can sing with him, in the words of the old American folk tune,

Tear up those income tax returns
They’ll buy no bombs with what I’ve earned!

Why should I buy a war machine
To kill some child I’ve never seen.
Don’t bail me out, don’t pay my fine
Your cash can kill the same as mine
There’s no one’s blood I want to spill
And I’ll not pay a war lord’s bill.

Tear up those income tax returns
They’ll buy no bombs with what I’ve earned!

The men who plan for blood and strife
Demand your money or your life
My faith in God is not for sale
That’s why I’m here locked up in jail.
Between these bars I see blue sky
I know that some day you and I
Can live in peace and without war
And that’s the day I’m working for.

Tear up those income tax returns
They’ll buy no bombs with what I’ve earned!

 

Kingdom or Empire: A Reflection on the Magnificat

by Philip Maikkula, St. Vladimir’s Seminary

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”

My guess is that most of us are so accustomed to hearing the beautiful words of the Magnificat that we fail to actually hear them. This is sad, not only because the Magnificat is the only Biblical ode that is still widely sung and heard in the canon of matins, but also, because we miss the profound Gospel proclamation found on the lips of the Mother of God.

Do we truly have ears to hear that Gospel?

I wonder if our Lady’s Gospel words are too radical, her Gospel message too challenging for us to hear. Her Gospel words overturn our comfortable reality, because her words are a proclamation of Gospel (good news) for the weak and the poor. Her Gospel words are an outright rejection of the status quo.

Picking up in the middle of her song she says,

He has shown strength with his arm;
​ he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53 NRSV)

Notice that it is the proud, powerful, and rich who are brought down and left empty, while the lowly and hungry are exalted and filled. Mary’s words are a fitting response to the promise of the Archangel Gabriel who said of Jesus that…

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32-33 NRSV)

Jesus, whose name means “Yahweh, save,” will be called the son of God, the son of David. He will restore the Davidic kingdom and reign as the Messianic King. Therefore, it is clear to the Theotokos that this announcement of salvation will result in overturning the social and political powers of the world, rendering in return deliverance for the people of Israel.

The Empire of Caesar:

As radical as these words are, they are more radical in the context of the first century. If we heard them in the context of imperial cult of the Greco-Roman world we would be even more shocked. For in the imperial cult of the Greco-Roman world, Caesar Augustus the Roman emperor from 27 BC till 14 AD, was called “son of God,” “the savior of the whole world,” the bringer of universal peace (Pax Romana), and his birth was celebrated as the gospel (good news – euangelion) of the new beginning of the world.

Yet, as we can see in the announcement of the Gospel to Mary, Jesus radically overturns the imperial claims of the Roman Empire. It is Jesus, not Caesar, who is the true Son of God. It is Jesus, not Caesar, who is the true savior of the world. It is Jesus, not Caesar, who truly brings “peace on earth,” as the heavenly host of Angels proclaim. It is Jesus’ birth, not Caesar’s, which is gospel (good news – euangelion) for the world.

What can’t be missed in the Magnificat and the narrative of Jesus’ birth is that it is a radical challenge to the status quo. It is a radical challenge to the ruling empire. It is a radical challenge to worldly power. God’s reign has begun in the birth of Jesus and the kingdoms of the world must take notice.

Modern Empire?

The difficult thing in hearing the radical words of the Gospel is that we too live in an empire. It is not the Roman empire of the Caesar Augustus, yet its claim to power, wealth, and peace are no less real. We live in an empire which attempts to bring peace through superior firepower, bragging of dropping “The Mother of All Bombs,” the largest non-nuclear ordnance ever used; We live in an empire where we look to Presidents as saviors who will bring “hope and change” or will “make America great again;” We live in the wealthiest empire in the history of the world and yet the marginalized and the poor go unnoticed and forgotten.

So when we hear the Gospel, we must ask ourselves…
Which kingdom do we belong to?
Which son of God do we serve?
Who do we call Lord?
Where do we look for peace?
What is our good news?

I’m afraid that for most of us, myself included, it’s easy to give lip service to Christ as Lord and yet still live as if the empires of this world have dominion. So what can we do?

Repentance?

Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” declares John the Baptist (Luke 3:7).

Repentance is the key way we can start to live in the Kingdom of God rather than the empires of this world. And it is important to note that repentance is not merely a psychological feeling that we might have. Repentance must bear fruit.

That is why John tells the crowd,

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)

That is why John tells the tax collectors,

Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” (Luke 3:13)

That is why John tells the soldiers,

Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:14).

No matter where we finds ourselves living in the empire, John offers us a means of bearing fruit worthy of repentance. Rather than hoarding our goods, John prescribes radical charity. Rather than exploiting others, John prescribes economic justice. Rather than utilizing power and fear to gain our desires, John prescribes contentment.

As John shows, it is through repentance that we too
like the crowd,
like the tax collectors,
like the soldiers
can live in the Kingdom of God rather than the empires of this world.

The Protection of the Mother of God

Theological research has always been a mandate of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship as well as In Communion, and this year we have launched a new research project on the saints of the Church. It has become customary to feature saints on the cover of our journal for several years now, and to use the saints as the launching point for each publication. We have now begun a formal and systematic study of the hagiographies of the Church, with the hope of producing a book-length publication on the subject: A Mercy of Peace.

Every day of the year, the Church celebrates dozens of holy people whose lives illumine the Church. These saintly luminaries reveal the mind of the Church in a special way. The teachings and activities of the saints do not carry the same authority as the liturgical, canonical, or conciliar texts of the Church, but instead shed light on the Gospel and the teachings of Christ in a way that canons, formulas, and liturgical texts cannot. Saints are humans, just like us, who took the message of Christ to heart, and who lived out that message in radical ways. The witness of the saints is diverse. Hagiographies do not provide us with doctrine, methods of prayer, or rules for behavior. Instead, they provide us with stories. In them we read narratives and tales of heroic individuals attempting, and
sometimes failing, to proclaim that the Kingdom of God reigns, while at the same time laboring in a world that seems alien to the values of poverty, meekness, mercy, peace, and justice that define Christ’s Kingdom. Without the witness of these saints, the tradition of our Church would merely be a record of methods of prayer,
rules for Church governance, and a few dogmatic statements of belief. It is the saints which make our tradition a living one.

Every Orthodox community has a special devotion to certain saints, and the OPF is no different. Looking through our past publications, you will see St. Maria of Paris, St. Dmitry Klepinin, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, and St. Alexander Schmorell appear again and again. Among the saints, there is one in particular to which the OPF has the highest devotion, and that is Mary, the Mother of God herself. The OPF is formally dedicated to the Protection of the Mother of God, and in many places the name of our organization is written “The Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God.” An icon of the Protection of the Mother of God was even specially painted for the OPF, and has since come to adorn everything that the OPF does.

The Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God is celebrated on October 1, or on October 28, depending on the jurisdiction. This feast commemorates a series of events, the first of which occurred in the summer of 626, where Constantinople was saved from an enemy invasion, not by force of arms, but through the non-military, supernatural intervention of the Mother of God. It is recorded that while Emperor Heraclius and the entire army were away, the city of Constantinople wasattacked simultaneously by the Scythians and the Persians. Left defenseless, thepeople began to pray fervently. Patriarch Sergius began to lead processions through the city. In response to the threat of invasion and death, the people gathered, they marched, they prayed, and they kept vigil. The center of this activity was at the Great Church of the Theotokos, which was near the city gates. As the account goes, their actions paid off. A hurricane soon swept through the region, scattering the enemy ships and routing the sieging armies. In icons commemorating
this, “The Mother of God is seen standing on a small cloud, hovering in the air above the faithful. She has both arms outstretched in a gesture of supplication, expressing her prayer of intercession. Two angels hold by either end a great veil which billows in the form of a vault over the Mother of God.” (The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, printed in our Fall 2007 issue of In
Communion) Other icons simply depict Mary holding out her veil as a sign of protection. The Russian word Pokrov (Покров), and the Greek Skepi (Σκέπη) both mean “veil” or “shroud,” as well as “protection” or intercession.”

Following this event in 626, it became custom to devote prayers to Mary for protection, as the story had a tremendous impact on the public consciousness of the Byzantine people. It is reported that several other times following this event (in 677, 717-718, and in 860) Mary appeared and intervened, preventing invasions and routing armies through supernatural means. These events imprinted themselves on the Byzantine conscience, making it even more commonplace for Orthodox to resort to prayer, rather than arms, in times of danger. Mary was given the title “Defender General” by the Church, and it was to her that the Byzantines would first look for defense. This “feminine defense paradigm” came to exert a powerful influence over medieval Orthodox culture, as Dr. Marian Simion recounts:

“[T]he feminine defense paradigm had been a dominant motif in Orthodox Christianity, which deconstructed the masculinity of war and consistently skewed the meaning of violence away from an exclusive physical expression. This paradigm prevented the adoption of a Just War theory, due to structural and phenomenological implications. First, the feminine defense paradigm affected the institutional self-perception of the Orthodox Church; secondly, it redefined human connectedness; and thirdly, it deeply influenced the spiritual life of the Orthodox Christians in terms of feminine protection, as expressed in the devotion to Virgin Mary.”

-Marion Simion, Religion and Public Policy: Human Rights, Conflict, and Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 200

Dr. Simion further elaborates on these points, noting that the motif of Mary’s protection shifted the Church away from viewing Christianity through a masculine lens of retribution, and instead viewed Christianity as paradigmatically about care and protection. This reinforced attitudes towards caring for the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the stranger, and the prisoner. This likely also contributed to the fact that the Church in the East never developed retributive theories of the atonement, or views of God that emphasized retribution and violence. As Dr. Simion further summarizes, “The effect of such imagery and mnemotic analogies over the Orthodox society was that they contributed to a sense of social cohesion, which in  essence had collectively celebrated meekness and life, rather than valor and sacrificial death–thus discouraging any rush to violence. Furthermore, such illustrations simply maintained that violence leads to alienation, destruction and death, and that it ultimately destroys and humiliates God’s own creation.”

Even in the military texts of the late Byzantine Empire, peace was always viewed as normative. Often times, these popular sentiments caused Emperors, such as Leo VI, to encounter difficulty in raising support for the armed forces. This is in part due to the pervasive belief in Mary as the Protector General and the dominance of the feminine defense paradigm. In fact, the Byzantine Empire was viewed as “effeminate” by the Franks because of their aversion to war. As Dr. Simion concludes, “Thus, within the spirituality of warfare, the feminine motif had been profound and complex enough to have influenced the attitudes towards war more directly. It is clear that such influences generated attitudes which often prevented wars of aggression, while wars of defense had increasingly involved non-violent means. Moreover, with Virgin Mary’s patronage over the imperial City and civil society, the Orthodox Church advocates human interaction (including with enemies), based on sharing, reconciliation, maternal instincts,
nurturing, restoration and recreation of relationships, social connectedness, forgiveness, meekness, etc.”

The feast of the Protection of the Mother of God was formally added to the calendar after another instance of protection in the 10th century. During another siege, Sts. Andrew and Epiphanius were holding vigil in the Church of the Theotokos, when suddenly they saw a familiar woman enter the church and begin walking up the aisle. “On reaching the center of the church, the Mother of God
knelt down and remained long in prayer, her face bathed in tears. When she had prayed yet again before the altar, she took off the shining veil which enveloped her and, holding it above her head, extended it over all the people present in the church.” (In Communion Fall 2007) After this, the siege ended with neither bloodshed nor violence.

The most recent story associated with this feast day occurred during WWII, which explains why the feast is celebrated on October 28 in the Greek tradition. That was the day that Mussolini had given Prime Minister Metaxas for surrendering to the Italian forces, lest they be invaded. It is recorded that Metaxas simply sent a telegram in response which read, “Oxi,” which means “no.”

That morning, Greeks of all political persuasions filled the streets, gathering and marching, shouting “Oxi!” October 28 is still celebrated in Greece as “Oxi Day,” commemorating the Greek resistance to the Axis forces. The Church participated in this resistance nonviolently, protecting many Jews, and refusing to  cooperate with evil. In 1952, the Church of Greece formally moved the feast of the Protection to the 28th, connecting the ancient feminine defense paradigm to the activities of peace and resistance which Orthodox Christians still undertake today.

In our own way, we at In Communion also hope to stand in this tradition, kneeling down next to the weeping Mother of God in this suffering world, clinging to her soft and nurturing veil, our own faces bathed in tears, praying with her for a world under siege by violence. Let us pray for peace in the words of the Akathist:

“O Champion  General, I your City now inscribe to youTriumphant anthems as the  tokens of my gratitude,Being rescued from the terrors, O Mother of God.Inasmuch as you have power unassailable, From all kinds of  perils free me so that unto youI may cry aloud: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride.” IC

Ouspensky, Leonid, and Vladimir Lossky. “The Protection of the Mother of God.” In Communion, no. 47 (October 27, 2007).

Demetrios. “Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for OXI Day 2015.” October 23, 2015. http://www.goarch.org/news/encyclicaloxiday2015.

Simion, Marian. “Just War Theory and Orthodox Christianity.” THE ANNALS OF THE ACADEMY OF ROMANIAN SCIENTISTS, Vol. 3, no. 1 (2011): 23-45.

Two Apple Orchards

The following reflection is an excerpt from His Grace Bishop Seraphim Sigrist’s 2017 book Tapestry, in which he reflects upon themes of peace and conflict as they are seen through the lens of two apple orchards.

The apples are gone now from the tree out front . . . These orchards from other years and other places. . . The tree here today standing between the seasons. Those trees which seem in memory to suggest not only the past but also the future.

Butovo: Apples Falling from the Past
In the afternoon we travel from Moscow to Butovo a place to the south of Moscow which was a killing ground used by the Communists for people from the Moscow area, and in particular in 1937 and 1938.

On the way a lady speaks of Fr. Pavel Florensky’s scientific work on seawater during the days before his execution in the northern Solovki camp, and of his intention to do a second volume of Pillar and Ground of Truth, this time focused on humanity, as the first is on God. Since we do not have it, drafts were destroyed, we do not know what the final position of his thought was. Then she says we are getting near Butovo and she wishes to be silent for these moments.

There is a new church and a bell tower and there are stones with the inscriptions of many names of those murdered here. In the church the attendants tell us that the names of 10,000 are known but countless others unknown. Included are 900 bishops and priests. Enough record remains of them,that 250 of the 10,000 here have been formally recognized as saints by the Church. 10,000 in the Moscow region in 1937-1938 in just this one place. Think of the whole land and of the whole Communist period.

But we will remember also the day when they will return, and all our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and ourselves also will return. I think of Peter de Vries, who wrote, “The recognition of how long, how very long, is the mourners’ bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship—all of us, brief links ourselves, in the eternal pity,” and so it is not wrong that there are flowers and apple trees also even, beside a mourners bench long enough to stretch to Eden where there were also apples and flowers, or perhaps, indeed, it must be the same garden because it will return. Will return and has returned. We walk in the apple orchard,and there are flowers now and apples on the trees. When we leave, ladies from the church follow us to the gate with a big plate of apples newly fallen, and we eat them in the car.  Someone says,“Every centimeter of this place is soaked with blood . . . eating these apples is like communion.”

Krakow: Apples Falling from the Future
Now we have come to the chalet-like retreat center of Andrej and Samita on a hillside near the ancient Polish city of Krakow. Here we will spend the night. It is a good place with apple trees everywhere and I know I must be deeply feeling it a good place because I feel the desire to climb the trees,as when a boy. We sit around a table under the trees,and there is nothing lacking,and the apples are falling continually. This year there are more than ever, it seems, now one falls, now three but it almost seems they are growing faster than falling and how perfect and round they are and how fine the taste . . . and there is watermelon and coffee too and talk about interior monasticism. . . and Andrej says . . . we must open ourselves to God who is coming not from the past but from the future . . .apples falling like cherry blossoms into, or rather from,a future momentarily at least made present in love and peace.

And under the apple trees Anika played the guitar and sang beneath the weaving branches.

The next morning we spread a cloth on a table in the middle of the orchard and in the early bright light do our service of shared bread and wine . . . Apples falling still . . . some great joyful mystery in these ripening and falling apples somehow offering themselves as we offer all things as best we can . . .and again the growth seeming to more than keep pace with the falling . . .a circulation of heaven and earth. Our host Andrej says in conversation after that there is much writing about Spirit, about the Holy Spirit, about Pneumatology as it is called, but this is to make it an abstraction and an object not the subject, not the One who acts. . . what is needed he said is “Pneumatics,” the seeing of the Spirit’s operation in persons and in the world . . .

Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist)

China’s Peaceful Warrior

by Matthew Franklin Cooper

China is now portrayed in much of the news media as the world’s fastest-growing Christian country, and an increasing amount of attention is being paid to the plight of Christians inside China. Without downplaying either the successes or the struggles of modern Chinese Christians, particularly vis-à-vis the state, much of this coverage lacks a certain historical dimension, relevant to modern Orthodox and Catholic efforts inside China. Christianity – Eastern Christianity – has a long history in China which includes notable and well-respected individuals in Chinese culture.

An interesting bit of history I came across recently in my traverses through Chinese opera in prose translation, is that Guo Ziyi 郭子仪, the ‘loyal and martial’ Prince of Fenyang 汾阳郭忠武王, historical military governor (jiedushi 节度使) of Shuofang Prefecture 朔方郡 (centred on present-day Ordos in Inner Mongolia) during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and literary inspiration for one of the heroes of Hong Sheng’s opera The Palace of Eternal Youth 《长生殿》, was in fact a member of the Syriac-Persian Nestorian Church of the East, a committed advocate for the rights of Christians in the Tang Empire, and – if such a thing can be believed – a peaceful warrior.

Guo’s portrayal in The Palace of Eternal Youth was that of an ‘upright and loyal official’ (zhongchen 忠臣) of the Tang court, an embodiment of Confucian virtues and righteousness, a cautious and deliberating general, generous to his troops and therefore popular, and one of the earliest officials to understand the deep threat posed by allowing An Lushan to go free. It was Guo’s swift and timely actions that allowed Emperor Minghuang to escape Chang’an with his life, and which allowed Emperor Suzong to regain control of the Empire after Yang Yuhuan’s death.

Guo Ziyi served as a military general under four Tang Emperors (Minghuang, Suzong, Daizong and Dezong), and was distinguished by his service to the Tang in putting down the rebellion of An Lushan. However, some of his greatest victories were achieved by being a peaceful warrior. In the true spirit of Sun Wu (or, indeed, in the spirit of some of the military martyrs of the Church!), Guo Ziyi was able to ‘subdue the enemy without fighting’. In the wake of the An Lushan rebellion, sensing weakness, the semi-independent Tibetan Empire and the Uighur Khaghanate sent invasion forces to loot, pillage, harry and invade chunks of the Tang Empire. Guo Ziyi was able to force the Tibetans to retreat with a mere four thousand tired and grumbling troops, using misdirection and trickery (lighting fires at various intervals and firing off firecrackers to confuse them and make them believe they were surrounded). In another instance, at the age of seventy, he went himself, unarmed and unarmoured, toward the Uighur camp. When they, who had been told he was dead, saw him and recognised him, they knelt down and surrendered to him at once, and joined his army to fight against the Tibetans.

He ‘turned the other cheek’ in domestic affairs as well – never fighting back even when he was slandered by jealous members of the eunuch faction at the Tang court, particularly Yu Chao’en. In another instance, his son boasted to his wife, a Tang princess, that his father Ziyi, powerful general that he was, could become Emperor any time he wanted. Guo Ziyi, who valued loyalty above every other consideration, punished his son severely for that boast, imprisoning him and offering him up before Emperor Daizong for judgement. But when Emperor Daizong entered the court, he forgave the junior Guo, saying, ‘When son and daughter fight, it’s better as old men to pretend to be deaf.’

Interestingly, however, it was Guo’s selfless and grateful treatment of the great Tang poet Li Bai 李白 – then suspected of desertion during the An Lushan rebellion – that exhibited in literary critic Wu Jingxiong’s 吴经熊 view the Christian temperament of the good general. Li Bai had saved Guo’s life long before, when he had been facing court-martial and execution for offending his commander in Shanxi. From The Four Seasons of Tang Poetry (pardon the Wade-Giles):

Unfortunately for Li Po, the troops of Prince Ling were routed in 757, and our poet had to escape to P’eng-tse in Kiangsi, but was caught and put in prison. He was sentenced to death, but Kuo Tzu-i, whom he had saved twenty years before, and who was by this time Minister of War and commander-in-chief of the imperial troops, went to the new Emperor and offered to ransom the life of Li Po by giving up his own official rank. Incidentally, Kuo Tzu-i, the greatest soldier-statesman of T’ang, was a Nestorian, and in this case he certainly showed the spirit of Christ. As a result of his intercession, the death sentence was remitted, and instead Li Po was banished to Yeh Lang.

For all of Guo Ziyi’s distinction in military service, being a servant of Christ he was also truly a man of peace, who desired peace and stability for his country above everything else, even though that state was not guided by Christian values. He was willing to subordinate his own personal interests and even suffer personal insults from high officials without complaining or retaliating, if doing so meant that he could preserve the dynasty. Interestingly, the same virtues and skill that made Guo Ziyi a great general who could win battles without fighting and who became respected without striving for power and titles, also made him respected among the Confucian literati of his own time.

Guo Ziyi’s example may be something for Chinese Christians – indeed, all Christians – to consider. Balancing one’s loyalties to the ‘two cities’ is never easy, let alone practising an ethic of peace from a position of military authority, and Guo Ziyi’s example shows both the limitations and the personal sacrifices and risks entailed. At the same time, the fascination of Guo is that he shows a loyalty both to the Chinese dynasts and to Christian praxis to be possible.

Death has Died, War is Over!

August 15 we celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos, the falling asleep of Mary. August 15 is also the anniversary of the end of the Arab-Byzantine wars, by a miracle of the Theotokos.

For centuries, the Romans faced instability on their eastern front. The longest conflict in history is the series of Roman-Persian wars, which began 50 years before the birth of Christ. These wars ended in the 7th century when the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates conquered the Sassanid Empire. This did not bring peace to the Byzantine Empire, however, for these new Empires began their own expansionist campaign known as the Arab Conquests. This campaign culminated in the siege of Constantinople in 718.

The Byzantines were a notoriously peace-loving people, and viewed with derision by their contemporaries for this. They preferred to avoid open battle, often refused to fight offensively, and went to great lengths to achieve diplomatic solutions, even if it meant paying hefty tributes. As such, when the siege began, the Byzantine Emperor offered a gold ransom for every single person in the city if the siege were called off. Unfortunately the Umayyads refused.

What followed was a grim thirteen moth siege. Unfavorable winds hindered the Umayyad navy, while a harsh winter overwhelmed the troops. On August 15, 718, the Umayyads decided the siege was a failure and withdrew. Reportedly, a great storm and volcanic activity hindered the retreat of the invaders.

Inside the city that day, the faithful had gathered in the churches to celebrate the Feast of the Dormition, the falling asleep of the Theotokos. The people of Constantinople attributed the peace that had broken out to Mary, and began commemorating the day as a ‘miracle’. They did not attribute the peace to their soldiers or their defensive capabilities. Rather, they saw in the decision of the Umayyads to withdraw the intervention of the Queen of Peace, who softens the heart of those who have grown violent.

In the aftermath, peace and stability was established on the eastern front for the first time in 9 centuries. Historians attribute this to the events of August 15, 718. The Byzantines refused to take advantage of the weakened state of the Umayyad forces following the siege. Had they done so, they could have conquered much of the Arab territory, and may have sown the seeds for another few centuries of conflict. Instead, they sought to win peace and security. Aside from scattered instances of banditry, the frontier did not experience any major war again until the thirteenth century with the beginning of the Ottoman-Byzantine conflict. The Abbasid Empire replaced the Umayyad, and the Roman Byzantines sent emissaries on peace missions, establishing a robust cultural exchange and several centuries of peace. For once, in the middle of Byzantine history, war was over.

The Dormition appropriately coincides with the commemoration of this peace every year. Observance of the feast began sometime in the sixth century, just at the end of the Roman-Sassanid wars. It commemorates the death of Mary. But rather than being referred to in these terms, the phrase Dormition, or falling asleep is used. The reason for this is that the Dormition became a mirror of Christ’s glorification. Christ died violently on the cross, while himself remaining nonviolent, so that death itself could be killed. Christ stormed hades so that no one else would have to languish there. Christ was glorified by the Father, gaining a resurrection body and returning to the shekinah of the Heavenly Father. Christians commemorate this with a great fast, followed by a great feast.

The traditions that came to be associated with the Dormition mirror this. Christians first fast for fifteen days, and then feast. Mary is commemorated as dying peacefully, and then after three days is glorified, raised from the dead and taken to the shekinah presence of God. Because Christ has been glorified and death has died, Mary does not fully die as one would have before Christ. Rather she ‘falls asleep’ and is then raised and glorified. Everything evokes Christ’s death, but is modified. The icons of the Crucifixion and Resurrection are filled with action. The Dormition icon rests peacefully. Christ holds the infant Mary, evoking and contrasting the tumultuous birth of Christ. The reason behind this modified parallelism is that Mary comes to represent all humanity. All humans are destined not to die, but to be raised because of the raising of Christ. And with Mary we see this in the middle of history, rather than at the end.

Taken together, these two commemorations complement one another. Death has died because Christ is risen and we have seen this in this world, in the middle of history. War is over because of the victory of the Prince of Peace, and we can see this as well in the middle of history. War, death, destruction have lost. Peace is secured. This is not just an end times proclamation, but insofar as we live in Christ and honor his mother, we too can taste of these things in our own time.

As Mary herself showed us on the Feast of the Dormition in 718, there is no better icon of the death of death than the end of war.

Nicholas Sooy

editor, In Communion

Christmas is the Real Birthday of Each of Us

 

Children who are born on a day close to Christmas may fear or feel that their birthday celebration is lost in this day, but there is a deep way in which it cannot be a loss because Christmas is the real birthday of each of us and to approach Bethlehem is to approach the moment of our own birth.

This is because God in accepting human life revealed all human life joined to eternity, your birth and my birth are shown too, by the birth at Christmas, to be endlessly beginning in God. Life is divine and human because of the Godmanhood of Jesus. There is no death, all things are eternal. Egocentricity lets go of its boundaries and is born in personhood.

A child approaches Christmas with a joy and sense of wonder which are already an intuition of this. For those older, for us, there is a journey perhaps back and inward to that beginning which is our own Bethlehem, past all of the routine and tiredness and memory of things done poorly, of failures, of gain and of loss, roads taken and untaken and of the shadow of death, of having come to terms with life as it is, past all that to a beginning.

… my soul hurrying
Could not speak for tears,
When she saw her own Child,
Lost so many years.
Down she knelt, up she ran
To the Babe restored:
“O my Joy,” she sighed to it,
She wept, “O my Lord!”

This going back and inward, this meditation, aims on an individual level to imitate what God has accomplished at Christmas on a cosmic level.

The happiness that I wish you at this Christmas is then profound and new it does not arise from our perhaps pious Christian practice over the years, good though that is in its way, nor even from those childhood memories which are themselves close to the beginning but only an intuition of it. As Eric Rohmer expressed it “it is a living joy a joy of today. The birth we celebrate is not only that of Jesus but our birth as well, each of us is asked to believe in a fresh joy for tonight, we must pledge ourselves in a new hope.”

Then we see that the star above is the Christmas star, and all things that live are in its light. The holiness of the real is always there, totally accessible, intimate and immediate…

We see at this place where time and eternity meet, this beginning place, that it is indeed a beginning for us today whatever our age, the beginning of a way of life and an adventure in joining moment to moment on the way into that holiness which is life as adventure, life as becoming and becoming as divine.

The Christmas message of His Grace Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist)

The Radical Hope of Christmas

Christians are the people of hope.
This is especially the case during the season of advent and the following celebration of Christmas. Hope is a peculiar thing in this world; without God the violence and death of the world would be all that most humans would have to look forward to. Yet, we find in this season a great joy and a hope for a kingdom of peace and life. The most striking poems of hope come from the Prophets, those lone voices speaking out at the edges of civilization, declaring that another world is possible.

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
For You have broken the yoke of their burden
And the staff across their shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor,
As in the day of Midian.
For every warrior’s boot used in battle,
And the garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning as fuel for fire.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end

These are the words of the Prophet Isaiah who announced this Kingdom of Peace from of old. The words of the prophets are full of life, of the Holy Spirit. They speak hope to a world “rolled in blood.”

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the lamb together;
And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And will assemble the outcasts of Israel

The prophets spoke of a world without killing, without enmity, without exploitation. A world where the violent are converted to the way of a peaceful child. A world where the outcasts of Israel, and even those gentile foreigners, are brought together. Where race and nationality no longer divide. These things would all be brought about by the Messiah. The Christ. The King. This King would raise a new banner for the nations. A banner of peace. A banner of hope. When this Christ comes, the order of the nations will be overturned. The Kingdom of God turns the way of the world on its head.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

In these ancient words we hear their hope and expectation, foretelling of a great wonder. Mary herself continues this tradition, writing the oldest advent hymn in history, the Magnificat. In this hymn she references the prophets of old and continues their prophetic message, singing

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.

‘As He spoke our fathers.’ What did God speak to our fathers? He spoke of casting down the mighty from their thrones, of sending the rich away, of lifting up the lowly, and of filling the poor and the hungry with good things. This is a prophecy of hope. There are so many in this world today who are oppressed by the mighty, who are poor and starving, who live daily in fear of death from violent men. The way of the world is a way of death. And yet Mary, in the tradition of the Prophets, found a “great light” to hope in. This light would destroy the Kingdoms of this world and their way of death.
And then was born, a child. And it was proclaimed by heaven itself,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill among all people.”

This is the proclamation of the Kingdom for which the ancient tradition of hope had waited. Peace on Earth. Good will among all people. And this peace did not come through overthrowing the kings of this world with violence, as many zealots had hoped. It did not come on a fiery chariot. It did not come with a sword. It came in a manger, as a little child. The little child that Isaiah foretold, leading the lion and lamb. The most helpless, weak, meek, and poor child the world had seen. Born as a political refugee under a violent Herod. Born to a poor, teenage, unwed mother. Born to the care of the elderly Joseph, a working man. This King wore only a crown of suffering. He overthrew death by dying rather than by killing. He conquered the violent and dark world, not with more violence as so many from Alexander to Napolean have tried to do, but with simple words, with love, with peace. Just as the prophets foretold, he exalted the poor and lowly. Christ Jesus began his ministry with the words of Isaiah, echoing his prophecies,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.

This day as I sit, filled with joy of the Nativity services, of the birth of our Lord, of family and of love I think of all those who do not have homes or family or peace. Those who now are clinging for their life in the face of violence, poverty, hunger, and captivity. And I hope for the Christ who has come and will come again to set us all free. I think of the words of the Christmas poem Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote many years ago in the face of the darkness of the American Civil War, where brother killed brother,

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

With these words I remember that Christ was not born once long ago, but that he is indeed born in us whenever we imitate him, in meekness, in poverty, in righteousness, in peacemaking. And I remember that even after the Christmas season is over, we remain in advent, in the season of hope. An advent that will last until Christ’s Kingdom comes, on Earth as it is in heaven. Until that time we will continue to proclaim the words of hope, as we do every liturgy, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will among all people.”