A Visit to Beit Jala

by Jim Forest

Beit Jala, with its population of 12,350, stands on the eastern slopes of Ras Jala, which rises 920 meters above sea level, one of the highest mountains in the Judean Hills. The town is famous for its olives and olive oil, apricots and skilled stone-cutters. Viewed from a distance, Beit Jala — “carpet of grass” in Aramaic– is simply the western side of Bethlehem, only on higher ground. The border between the two towns is the road that runs south from Jerusalem to Hebron. The main street connecting Bethlehem and Beit Jala — part of it a stairway — is a busy pedestrian artery named in honor of Pope Paul VI. Along the way there are many posters honoring Palestinians who had died in the intifada, from infants killed by accident to suicide bombers. The buildings are two or three storeys high with shops on the ground floor. In ancient times, Beit Jala may have been the Biblical town of Gallim, mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah in relation to the Assyrian invasion in the eighth century before Christ, a time of even greater suffering.

Beit Jala is also one of the main Palestinian centers of Christianity. Approximately 70 percent of the community are Orthodox Christians, 20 percent Catholic, and the rest Muslim. There are three Orthodox churches, a Catholic church and seminary, and a mosque.

Beit Jala is also one of the Palestinian places most damaged by Israeli firepower since the current intifada began in September 2000, just after Sharon’s infamous visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Hundreds of houses have been damaged, many destroyed or made uninhabitable. No one goes to sleep without taking care to be in the safest possible location.

I visited the town in the eleventh month of the current conflict, often referred to both in Israel and Palestine as “the situation.”

In conversation with a taxi driver in the town center, I had the good luck to meet someone not only welcoming but remarkably open and articulate. I will refer to him as Michael, not using his actual name.

I asked if anyone in his family had been hurt in the conflict.

“No, thank God, but we have had some very close calls. There has been serious damage in the upper part of our house but no one was injured, at least not physically. Only one of my daughters — she is seven — has been having terrible nightmares and headaches. My wife and I also have trouble sleeping. But luckily we are not in the area of houses closest to Gilo. For now we are trying to stay in our house.”

Michael gave me a gift — a long, heavy, missile-shaped slug which still had its sharp point. It had shattered a window in his home before being stopped inside a living room couch. It’s a souvenir I didn’t bring back home with me — it’s not the kind of object I would want to explain to a security agent at Ben Gurion Airport — but I have a photo of it in the taxi-driver’s hand.

I mentioned to him that I knew Gilo from the period in 1985 when I was teaching at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, a place in the immediate neighborhood both of Beit Jala and Gilo, the one community southwest of us, the other west. At the time, Anne was still a baby and Gilo — a young town itself, only fifteen years old — was the one place in walking distance where disposable diapers were for sale in those days. These were sold at an American-style supermarket, but Nancy preferred to do most of our food shopping at traditional open-air Arab markets along the roads to Bethlehem and Beit Jala. Gilo — as new as the nearby Palestinian towns were ancient — was built on land confiscated from Beit Jala and the adjacent village of Beit Safafa. It’s one of the belt of fortress-like settlements Israel has established that circle East Jerusalem. Another substantial settlement, Har Homa, is now under construction on another confiscated hilltop immediately north of Bethlehem.

“Doesn’t anybody care about us?” Michael asked. These were words I heard over and over again from Palestinians in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and then Beit Jala. “Not many of us wish any harm to the Israelis. We want to live side-by-side with them and raise our children in peace. For us who are Christian, it is especially hard — radical Israelis on one side, radical Muslims on the other. These fanatics will be our death. Fanatics are a minority but more and more they seem to be the ones in charge. I pray every day for God to protect us and also ask St. Nicholas to help us.”

The oldest Christian church in Beit Jala is named in honor of St. Nicholas. I had already been in the church for a visit. There were icons of Nicholas everywhere I turned, including one carved from red stone on a pillar in the crypt.

“We Christians are only two percent of the Palestinian population. Our only hope of survival is to live in peace with all our neighbors, whether Jewish or Muslim. Jesus killed no one. He hated no one. He gives us the example of peace.”

I asked if anyone was helping the local people rebuild damaged houses.

“Thank God, the Vatican is helping us, but I am sorry to say we experience no support from our own Orthodox Church. Do Orthodox Christians in other countries not care about their brothers in the land where Christ was born? I am happy you came and only wish many more would come. Perhaps if they saw how we are living, what is happening to us, they would try to help. Perhaps they can have some influence on their governments. What can we do to stop the war? Only people in Europe and America can do that. Who else will the Israelis listen to? For them a Palestinian is hardly more than an animal. But we are human beings who only want to live in peace. We cannot live without the Israelis and they cannot live without us.”

I pointed out that news reports indicate that Israeli forces normally doesn’t shoot first at Beit Jala but open fire only in retaliation. Michael shook his head and lit a cigarette.

“I have to admit the Israelis are not our only problem. There are Palestinian radicals who shoot at Gilo and the army post that protects Gilo. The Palestinian Authority has issued orders that no one should attract fire on populated areas and peaceful homes but such orders have little effect. These men keep shooting — not every day but often. Sometimes they shoot from inside cars. Their only achievement is giving the Israelis an excuse to destroy our homes. I no longer can remember how many times we have been attacked in the last eleven months — thousands of bullets, also rockets and bombs, and who knows what is still to come? We are used to helicopter gunships over our houses. Perhaps next it will be tanks.”

I asked why anyone would shoot at Gilo if the real harm is done not to Gilo but to Beit Jala.

“We don’t think any of the people who fire shots from Beit Jala live here. They use Beit Jala because it is so close to Gilo. They use Beit Jala — and Gilo — to make Israel angry, to make the fire hotter. They think they are doing something brave, something for the liberation of Palestine, but all they do is give Israel an excuse to destroy Palestinian homes and cause more Palestinians to flee to other countries. There are fewer and fewer Christians in the Holy Land.”

I asked if he had ever visited Gilo or knew anyone from that town. That morning the taxi driver who brought me to the military checkpoint to the north of Bethlehem was from Gilo, a man whose parents had come to Israel from the Jewish community in Iraq.

“I was in Gilo when it was mainly olive groves — I gathered olives there with my family — but I wouldn’t dare to go there today, especially right now. Another place I would not dare enter is Har Gilo, a smaller settlement on the western edge of Beit Jala — you can walk there easily from here, only you have to pass through a military checkpoint. Har Gilo was created on Beit Jala land in 1976.”

I asked if he had any hope for better times in the future.

“Some days I have no hope at all and other days I thank God that we are still alive and that it is mainly our houses rather than our people which are destroyed. On those days I feel God is close and it gives me hope.”

His home is near the Church of the Virgin Mary, one of the largest churches in the Holy Land, built of cream white stone in the Byzantine style. “The bell tower is 31 meters high,” Michael said. “You can see Jerusalem from it, and the Jordanian desert.

The conversation with Michael was providential. A planned meeting with the senior Orthodox priest, Fr. George Shawan, came next and was the day’s main event.

A man with a close-clipped, greying beard, Fr. George is living in large house on Virgin Mary Street next to Beit Jala’s only mosque. Also in the house were his wife, mother and children, four of whom I met — Heidi, Christina, Natasha, and Stephanos, who is less than a year old. Also taking part in the visit was Dr. Solomon Nour, headmaster of Hope School, and Rose Saga, a member of his parish whom I knew through a mutual friend.

After lemonade was served, Fr. George told me why the town’s oldest church is named in honor of St. Nicholas.

“For us he is not Santa Claus but like our great great grandfather. We feel we know him personally. In the year 305, several monks from Anatolia in Asia Minor came here and established a small monastery with a church named in honor of the Great Martyr George. This was before St. Sava’s Monastery was founded in the desert east of Bethlehem on the Kidron Gorge near the Dead Sea. The monks in Beit Jala had a few caves and several houses. In the years 312-315, St. Nicholas was here. He came as a pilgrim to visit shrines in the Holy Land. A text written in his own hand is still in the care of the Patriarchate in Jerusalem. It was in his prayers that St. Nicholas heard the Holy Spirit call him back to Asia Minor, to Myra, where soon after his return — in 317 — he was consecrated bishop. We was among the bishops taking part in the first Ecumenical Council.”

I asked about the age of the present church.

“The ancient church was destroyed by the Persians in 614 but another was raised in its place and later also destroyed. It has been built and rebuilt several times, but our local people are very skilled stone workers and never let a church stay in ruins for long. It is said that the people of Beit Jala can make the stone talk!

“But now we are facing another period of destruction. In the past 20 years much of our land has been confiscated and thousands of olive trees destroyed. Many people have been displaced. The Israeli town of Gilo, immediately to the north, is built entirely on land taken from Beit Jala and another Palestinian village, Beit Safafa.”

His views about the violence of the past eleven months were similar to what I had been told by Michael the taxi driver.

“Radical gunmen — not local people — have used Beit Jala in order to fire shots at Gilo. Israel responds with bullets, rockets and bombs. So far 300 homes have been heavily damaged, 50 completely destroyed. Many more have been damaged less severely — broken windows, damage to the furnishings inside. When you think how much damage has been done, how many times Beit Jala has been attacked, it is a miracle there have been so few casualties!”

I asked where people who have been forced from their homes either by destruction or danger are staying.

“Sometimes they stay for a night or two in our churches. In most cases they find places away from the main lines of fire. The most dangerous area is in direct sight of Gilo, the north edge of town.”

Does he see a solution for the conflict?

“We continue to hope that the resolutions of the UN Security Council can be applied and that the way can be found for the Holy Land to be shared and all the people living here to respect and safeguard each other, but it seems to us that Israel’s wishes are quite different. Israel wants everything and controls everything. Israel closes every road. I am afraid to go anywhere. Often it is impossible to visit people who are ill or close to death and need a priest. Even our school, a 20-minute walk from here, is on the other side of a checkpoint.”

I asked if the local people continue in Beit Jala under such circumstances.

“Beit Jala has been a center of Christian life in the Holy land for nearly 2000 years and has survived many catastrophes, but now our Christian community is shrinking, partly because of the violence, but mainly because of our severe economic problems. The most urgent thing for our people is to find jobs and, in the case of newly married couples, to have a place to live. Because of the economic situation, young couples are unable to rent or buy a home or apartment. This is one of the reasons so many of our young people are leaving for America or Jordan or other countries.”

But is housing a question for the Church?

“The Church cannot say this is their problem, not our problem. The Church begins with the family. Without it, there is no Church. We are not a religion of individuals but of families.”

I asked if the Church had the funds for building.

“Our hope is that we can find friends in other countries who can help with long-term, low-interest loans. We have two projects in mind. The first is a housing project especially for young couples. The Church owns the land — it is only a question of putting up the buildings. Our plan is to put up several building with a total 40 apartments costing $50,000 each. Thus we need to borrow $2,000,000. The couples will pay back the loans over a 30-year period.”

The headmaster of the Hope School, Dr. Nour, described one other plan. He has been at the school for 31 years.

“We want to add an additional floor to Hope School and make it a college, adding business administration and computer courses, also new language courses such as Greek. Until now it has been a secondary school with 125 students, 20 of whom are residential because they are orphans. The ages range from twelve to eighteen. Our local Arab Orthodox Benevolent Society owns the building but we have not been able to run it ourselves because we didn’t have enough money. The school has gradually been moving in a more Orthodox direction. The Mennonites who have been responsible for the school are willing that it be taken over by the local community — but we can only do so with outside help, though we are raising part of the school’s costs with self-support and work-study projects like our chicken farm, which raises three to five percent of the budget.”

“We are often given small gifts by caring people from other countries — food and clothing,” said Fr. George, “but what we really need is help in strengthening the structures of community. We can do a lot with our own hands, anything that does not require a lot of money. The future of the people of Beit Jala depends on such help! Without it the day will come when pilgrims will come here and find our churches buildings but not our believing people.”

I promised to make the projects known and can only hope that support can be found. Fr. George will soon be sending me detailed proposals to make available to anyone who will try to help. The sums of money needed are so tiny compared to the costs of war.

Fr. George was suddenly called away to visit a sick member of the parish. Dr. Nour excused himself as he had to return to the school. In their absence, Fr. George’s mother took charge, serving us stuffed eggplant and tomato soup.

While the meal was being eaten the sad news came that a suicide bomber had killed himself and at least twelve others — the next day the number was fifteen — at a pizza restaurant in west Jerusalem, not far from the guest house where I was staying.

“It is terrible news,” Rose Saga said. “It is the first bomb in Jerusalem since the intifada started. The Israelis will certainly respond heavily. It’s not safe in Beit Jala. You had better leave.” This meant putting off till a future time a visit planned for that day with her family.

Rose accompanied me to the square where the taxi stand is located. There would be one taxi with green plates to take me as far as the checkpoint near Tantur, then a walk across the border with my western passport, then another taxi with yellow plates into Jerusalem.

I told Rose on parting how much the visit had meant to me.

“No one comes here without his life being changed,” she replied.

* * *


Shortly after midnight on August 28, just 18 days after my visit, Israeli forces entered Beit Jala, taking up positions in various buildings, including the Church of the Virgin Mary, the Arab Orthodox Club, a Lutheran-sponsored orphanage, a girls’ school, and several homes. One Palestinian policeman was killed and ten Palestinians wounded. The occupation followed sniper fire from Beit Jala aimed at nearby Gilo. Israel radio said 31 apartments were damaged. Israeli troops responded with heavy machine gun and tank fire, then sent in tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers.”

Israelis imprisoned more than 40 people in houses that were used as bases.

As the Israelis blasted away with machine guns from the upper stories of his lavish home, Sami Shehadeh, 27, a lawyer, was held under guard for two days in a bedroom with relatives, half of them children. “It was really frightening because the shooting was coming from inside our house. We were flat on our bellies, and had no way of knowing what was going on around us.”

In her house, 12-year-old Razan Rabiyeh said she held a Bible and a small wooden cross during the attack “in order to feel protected.”

Reached by mobile phone during the attack, Father George Shawan said he was speaking not from his home but a tiny dwelling which in recent days had been crammed with children as young as two, hiding from gun battles. “If President Bush read the Bible well, he would not be sending missiles and bombs to fall on us.”

The Independent, a British newspaper, reported that “while life continued as normal in the Gilo, the Arabs in the old villas across the valley — many of them middle-class professionals who used to work with Israelis — did not seek this conflict and have long resented the Palestinian gunmen who have been coming in to fire at settlers.”

“The takeover is a tragedy for residents of Beit Jala … the least likely people to take arms against Israel,” another British daily, The Telegraph reported. It quoted a Beit Jala resident saying: “We cannot tell the [Palestinian] gunmen to go away. They do not listen. They tell us that Beit Jala is no better than anywhere else, and we should share the suffering of the struggle.”

The occupation ended on its third day.

— JF

published in the summer 2001 issue of In Communion / addendum re Beit Jala’s occupation added 25 August 2001

The Pacifist Option

The Moral Argument Against War in Eastern Orthodox Theology

by Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster, Ph.D.

Parish Priest, St. Mary Orthodox Church, Falls Church, Virginia

Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel), Virginia Army National Guard

Eastern Orthodox Chaplain, University of Pennsylvania

Professorial Lecturer of Religion, American University

Foreword by His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh

“A thoroughly documented contribution to the study of peace and war deserving wide attention… A most valuable resource.” — Very Rev. Fr. Stanley S. Harakas

Few scholars in religious studies or theologians in Western countries would link pacifism with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In this pathbreaking historico-moral study, Fr. Alexander Webster demonstrates convincingly that a distinctive pacifist trajectory — characterized by the moral virtues of non-violence, nonresistance, voluntary kenotic suffering, and universal forgiveness — has endured through two millennia of Orthodox history in unbroken continuity with the ancient Church.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines in the fields of moral theology and religious studies, Fr. Alexander first shows that Orthodoxy embraces two simultaneously valid fundamental trajectories on the moral issues of war and peace: a mainstream “justifiable war” perspective and an “absolute pacifist” perspective. The second and main part of the study adduces the evidence for the “pacifist option” through a rigorous examination of the key sources of Orthodox moral tradition. Fr. Alexander consults a vast array of primary texts, including Holy Scripture, patristic writings through the Byzantine era that terminated in A.D. 1453, Orthodox canon law, the lives of the saints, devotional literature, and the works of modern Russian Orthodox theologians such as St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

As the moral problem of war and peace and particular issues of international security in the nuclear age are revisited by religious leaders, scientists, and military defense experts with all sorts of ideological proclivities, Fr. Alexander sets the stage for the Eastern Orthodox Churches to enter the debate and to make a fresh, vital, but properly nuanced contribution. Orthodox scholars, theologians, and educated laity who seek to engage contemporary society will find this study indispensable. The Pacifist Option should also appeal to peace activists and scholars in religious studies, ethics and moral theology, international security, Byzantine & medieval studies, and Russian and East European history and culture.

351 pages — Index and Bibliography — Softcover edition published: September 1999 — $33.50. There is also a hardcover edition available for $55. (Please add $3.00 for shipping and handling for 1 book, and $1.00 per additional book.)

To order THE PACIFIST OPTION, send your name, address and check, money order or credit card information to:

Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group

(an International Scholars Publications imprint)

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web: http://www.univpress.com/Catalog

N.B.: Those who order the book online via the website of University Press of America (the publishing house that bought the titles of International Scholars Press–thre book’s original publisher–and has become, in turn, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group) will be able to purchase the book with a 15% discount off the list price.

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Peace Be with You

Living the Beatitudes in a Wounded World

At the invitation of Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America, the North American branch of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship held its annual conference for a second time at St. Tikhon Monastery and Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, on the weekend of Pentecost, 13-16 June 2003.

A report about the conference by OPF-NA coordinator Sheri San Chirico.

Here are the texts of lectures that were presented:

To be posted when final text is received: An essay on war in the Old Testament by Fr. Michael Dahulich, Dean of St Tikhon Seminary.

The History and Mission of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

a talk given by Jim Forest for the OPF conference at St Tikhon’s Monastery, 13-16 June 2003

The history of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is surprisingly complex. The story can only be told in part as some of the key figures who were involved have since fallen asleep in the Lord and cannot be interviewed. Mariquita Platov, aged 95, died December 14, 2000. Jim Larrick died of a heart attack December 19, 1993. After many years teaching at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, John Boojamra died in 1999. All I have to guide me at present are two short memoirs written by Mariquita, two folders of correspondence from Jim Larrick and Mariquita, and several recent letters people who participated in early efforts to launch OPF.

Mariquita Platov (self-portrait)
Mariquita Platov (self-portrait)

It turns out that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship has been founded twice. My wife compares OPF to a caterpillar that has gone through two stays in the cocoon before finally emerging as a butterfly.

The first effort occurred during the Vietnam War. The Orthodox Peace Fellowship that now exists dates from a second effort made in 1986.

One person was involved in both initiatives — Mariquita Platov, a poet, artist and playwright. A great granddaughter of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, she was born in a mansion across the street from Carnegie Hall in Manhattan in 1905. In 1927 she graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a major in Greek. The following year, traveling with her adventurous mother, she visiting Russia. It was the year Stalin launched his first five year plan, inaugurating policies that would result in many millions of deaths. While many from the west were coming to Russia to witness what they imagined was the creation of a genuine utopia which they somehow managed to see despite all evidence to the contrary, what inspired Quita were Russia’s Orthodox Christians.

“In 1928,” she recalled in an unpublished autobiographical essay she sent me in 1986, “a drastic persecution of Orthodox Christians was taking place there. [My mother and I] visited churches in Leningrad and Moscow where services were forbidden, but the faithful gathered to light candles and to pray, risking, perhaps, their very lives.” (Her gift to me, when I became Orthodox, was a Vladimir Mother of God icon she had obtained during her stay in Russia in 1928.)

A seed of belief took root in Quita and slowly but steadily grew. A decade later, Quita became an Orthodox Christian.

In time she became active in youth work in the Orthodox Church in America. One of Quita’s tasks in the sixties was serving as poetry editor of Young Life, a Orthodox children’s magazine edited by her dear friend, Sophie Koulomzin, at that time the executive secretary of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission of the Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the America. Sophie Koulomzin and her family lived in Nyack, a town north of Manhattan along the Hudson River.

It may well have been through Sophie Koulomzin that Mariquita became aware of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group which happened to have its headquarters in Nyack. Founded during the First World War, the FOR was an association of people from various churches and religious traditions who had a shared commitment not to take part in war and instead committed themselves to nonviolent work to overcome the causes of war. Its members included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1962 Quita joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation and began doing voluntary work at the FOR headquarters.

In an essay written when she was 87 years, Quita recalled: “Sophie introduced me to two young graduates of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Fr. John Townsend and Fr. Stephen Plumlee. At the time, one had already been ordained a priest; the other was awaiting ordination as a deacon. Both were involved in building up the Orthodox Church of America in the environs. I became a part of the church they started, which used to gather, quite informally, in a firehouse.”

Quita doesn’t offer a date but Fr. Stephen Plumlee recalls the year was 1968 about the time Fr. John Townsend had been placed in charge of a new mission in the West Nyack area. “In the summer of 1968 Sophie Koulomzin introduced us to Quita. The mission did not have a place for Great Vespers Saturday evenings, so we conducted them in parishioners’ homes. Quita lived as a volunteer at the Fellowship of Reconciliation. During that summer we often had Vespers on the lawn of FOR in the twilight, overlooking the Hudson River. It was idyllic, and surely contributed to our vision of peace…. Quita introduced us to Alfred Hassler and a group of people at FOR … who were supportive of founding an Orthodox Peace Fellowship. From then on we moved to establish the OPF, with the FOR as the only model we knew.

“I was ordained deacon in December 1968 and priest in May 1969,” Fr. Stephen continues. “After that I was assigned to the English-language community, St. Innocent’s Chapel, at the Manhattan cathedral of the OCA archdiocese of New York-New Jersey. The budding OPF met several times during the next months. I think that we met in more than one location, but most often at the home Vesty Entwhistle on West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. She was a Russian who had grown up in Western Europe and was an artist, a mosaicist. I do not know that she was deeply committed to the peace movement, but was grateful to Quita for some large kindnesses and I think hosted our meetings more from that motive.

“Among those taking part in the meetings were John Boojamra, my wife Lois and me, Bishop Seraphim Sigrist (who had graduated from St. Vladimir’s and was, I believe, then living and teaching as a layman in Japan; I think his participation was during a summer vacation home), and Fr. John Matusiak, who was still a seminarian and not ordained… There were several other people involved, but I don’t remember all the names. It was never a large group of people — ten to fifteen at the most. I do not remember how many times we met, but there were just a few gatherings.”

Bishop Seraphim puts the OPF founding one or even two years earlier: “I went to Japan in June 1967 and before that attended a good many [OPF] meetings at Quita and Vesty’s in which a pamphlet was produced. By the summer of 1967 there was also a chapter in Chicago. I think it likely that the New York chapter began formation therefore in the fall of 66…. Good times in the New York OPF group included stopping at the White Horse Tavern after meetings (where Dylan Thomas had done his health no good).”

To quote further from Quita’s memoir: “The two seminary graduates became interested in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and noticed that within the FOR there were confessionally-centered smaller groups for Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and others. They proposed starting an Orthodox Peace Fellowship as well. I was delighted with the idea, as was Alfred Hassler, the FOR executive secretary, and other members of the FOR staff. Though we were only a few people, we launched the Orthodox Peace Fellowship as an FOR associate group.”

But association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation proved an obstacle for some of those who were involved. Sophie Koulomzin was one of those who couldn’t join a group that obliged its members to be conscientious objectors. As she wrote in a letter to Quita: “War is so obviously evil, causing evil and drawing out evil. Yet I never felt that being a ‘conscientious objector’ was the right answer. War, it seems to me, is a kind of sin, a kind of evil of which I cannot make myself free and clean individually, keeping my personal robes white. It is a sin mixed up with suffering and I would not feel right to refuse to share in this suffering, whether in my own personal experience or my son’s. … Like most people, I am not sufficiently informed about [the history of the Vietnam War], but two things I do know: One is the nature of Communism and its international policies and all its means. The other is the experience of Munich, Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler, and the short-lived joy that a second world war could be avoided. I do not think that appeasement is the way of avoiding war.”

In her 1992 memoir, Quita recalls that “Unfortunately the young American-born clergy of our church, proceeding on their own judgment in our organization, had failed to consult their bishop about the idea of starting the OPF. When the church authorities heard of their involvement in a peace fellowship, they threatened to excommunicate our friends. Peace was still a very suspect word. Meanwhile we had sent out letters announcing the OPF’s existence to clergy and laity all over the USA. Letters were coming back in response, landing in the postal box we had hired, but we couldn’t get at the mail because the blow-up involving our two clerical members made it impossible to finish the legal process of founding the OPF and I was not able to claim the mail. What a pity! I will never know what people wrote or what contributions they sent us. The original OPF died new-born. The extreme political conservatism that reigned in the Orthodox Church at that time made it impossible to go further. I don’t want to suggest that there was no sympathy for the OPF. But even those with much sympathy were under pressure to distance themselves from it while others, considering the FOR statement of purpose, realized they couldn’t endorse conscientious objection.”

Here is Fr. Stephen Plumlee’s recollection of these events:

“That first movement did come to an abrupt demise for several reasons. Quita conflates events in her memoir. As I remember it the postal box was in the hands of a young woman who went to retrieve the mail. I believe she was denied access to it because she could not produce documentation as a representative of a legally recognized organization. You will remember, I am sure, that those were war years and there was much concern about anti-American activity.

“The other incident involved Fr. Townsend and me. We behaved very naively by sending a joint letter to our bishop to announce the formation of the OPF. Fr. Townsend was then librarian at St. Vladimir’s Seminary; we unthinkingly wrote the letter on stationery that was on his desk: St. Vladimir’s letterhead. A faculty member also denounced us (unbeknownst to us), and the reaction was swift. We were not threatened with excommunication, as Mariquita thought. However, a priest at the chancery telephoned to tell us that our bishop demanded we stop our involvement in the OPF and suggested that if we did not do so, the consequences would be serious. We interpreted that message to mean that we would be suspended from the priesthood.

“Our thinking about the structure of the OPF had not matured sufficiently for the little movement to weather these two problems that might have been relatively minor in other conditions. We had not confronted the question of whether the OPF should be an ecclesiastical function of the Church or an extra-ecclesial voluntary gathering of Orthodox believers. I think we would have succeeded if we had taken the latter tack.

“I also think the Fellowship of Reconciliation model confused us. The FOR seems to have been — perhaps still is — based not so much in Christian Tradition and the Gospel, but in a philosophical view of humankind and society that is self-derivative rather than revealed. That troubled me. Furthermore, at one of our meetings, perhaps the last, there was a controversial discussion about the nature of peace-seeking. Some members, I believe Mariquita among them, were in favor of commitment to a doctrine of complete nonviolence and refusal to participate in war in any fashion. I, along with my wife and some others, had concluded that Orthodoxy is not a Peace Church, in, for example, the Quaker sense. I believed that our best purpose would be to strive for peace in prayer, study, and conciliatory action and leave a range of flexibility to the individual member.”

Fr. John Matusiak — now pastor of a parish in Wheaton, Illinois — recalls several meetings with Mariquita and others who were trying to start the OPF. He too had a connection with Sophie Koulomzin. In those days, in addition to his studies at the seminary, one of Fr. John’s activities was assisting Sophie Koulomzin in editing Young Life, the Orthodox children’s magazine in which Quita was also involved. Sophie Koulomzin also appointed him editor of Upbeat, the OCEC’s teen magazine.

“It was at meetings on West Fourth Street,” writes Fr. John, “that plans for the OPF were discussed, the text of the introductory brochure was written, and the original logo which I had designed, which consisted of the peace sign with a three-bar cross on top, was presented and approved.”

Fr. John recalls that “some connection was also made at that time with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship campus movement” and that “something about OPF was published in Concern magazine, the OCF journal, which I used to work on with Serge Schmemann, George Koulomzin, and Serge Meyendorff.” In that period poems by Mariquita were occasionally published in the Concern, whose editor was Fr. Jim Couchell, who later went on to direct the Orthodox Christian Mission Center and is now Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos.

Fr. John also recalls the discussion about how closely to connect OPF with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. “A lot of people were very much against the Fellowship of Reconciliation for a lot of different reasons — some because it was ecumenical/inter-faith, some because they saw it as a communist front … [and] some because it was, or appeared to be, radically pacifist, etc. If my memory serves me correctly, this opposition to FOR was discussed at the meeting at Mariquita’s, and I remember distinctly that it was discussed that connections with FOR should be played down because of the negative sentiment.”

Fr. John adds: “I know that when I was a student at St. Vladimir’s, from 1968-1975, the notion of conscientious objection was seen in a very negative light, especially by the foreign-born faculty members like Fr. Schmemann and Prof. Verhovskoy. While I knew them very well and had an excellent relationship with them on several levels, they were very disturbed by the whole anti-war movement.”

While all the details of the OPF’s collapse in the first round are not clear, what is obvious is that, although Orthodox Christians in the US were increasingly disturbed by the war in Vietnam, there wasn’t yet enough of a consensus about how best to respond to the issue of war for an Orthodox peace group to take root, especially if conscientious objection to war was obligatory for its members. The word “peace” was itself a problematic word, probably more so among Orthodox Christians than many others. It was a word much used by Communists. Orthodox Christians knew the “peace” the Communists promoted had proved to be the peace of the police state, the prison camp and the mass grave. Nor were they favorably impressed with the various peace movements in America — groups outraged about what America was doing in Vietnam but silent about huge crimes being committed by Communist regimes. Students and faculty at St. Vladimir’s Seminary quickly discovered that their rector would not bless their taking part in such an organization.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship, version one, faded away. But the idea never faded in Mariquita’s thoughts.

I can’t recall how I first met Mariquita but it must have been through the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which she was one of the very few Orthodox members. In the late sixties I was for a time responsible for the FOR’s Vietnam program and in the mid-seventies edited the FOR journal, Fellowship. In 1977 I had moved to Holland to head the staff of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. There was occasional correspondence with Quita.

Nine years later, 1986, still on the IFOR staff in Holland, I received a letter from Quita asking if I favored a fresh attempt to start an Orthodox Peace Fellowship. My response was positive. I put her in touch with another Orthodox Christian, Jim Larrick, who also thought an Orthodox peace group was needed.

Jim Larrick and Quita never met face to face. Quita was living a hermit’s life in a cabin near Tannersville, a village in the Catskills in upstate New York. Jim, a teacher of English, was in Fort Wayne, Indiana. But the two carried on a busy correspondence and together launched the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, version two. This time it took flight. They assembled a mailing list of about a hundred people who might be interested and Jim started publishing a very simple OPF newsletter — two to four pages — that appeared several times a year. It was christened The Occasional Paper. The OPF address was Jim Larrick’s apartment in Fort Wayne. The OPF affiliated itself with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

My role in that period was simply cheer leader and occasional advisor. I regarded their initiative as very timely. By that time I was well on my way to my own Chrismation as an Orthodox Christian. Orthodoxy was also challenging me to think about peace in a new light.

One of my early tasks was to work with Quita and Jim on the OPF’s statement of purpose. Here the issue reappeared of how closely to link OPF with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The three of us were FOR members, but its requirement that all members should personally renounce participation in war seemed too limiting. While drawing inspiration from parts of the FOR statement of purpose, the text we eventually agreed on was in many respects quite different than that of the FOR. Among other things, the statement did not oblige members to be conscientious objectors.

Draft followed draft. Here are the key paragraphs in their final form:

From the earliest days of the Church, followers of Jesus have sought to live out Christian faith in its fullness, working to build communities of worship, providing for those lacking the necessities of life, loving not only neighbors but enemies, seeking conversion of adversaries rather than victory over them, and practicing repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation as normal virtues of sacramental life.

This has never been easy. Each generation has had to confront the problem of evil and combat its structures and also has had to suffer the tension that exists between membership in the Church and citizenship in a nation-state.

Often the teachings of Jesus have been dismissed, even by believers, as too idealistic. Yet every generation, even in the era of Hitler and Stalin, has been blessed with heroic witnesses to membership in “an army that sheds no blood.”

Members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship try to use life-protecting methods to safeguard life and creation.

Aware that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, we seek recovery of a sense of familial connection which, while respecting national identity, transcends all tribal, ethnic and national division. This is the oneness the Church mirrors when it is gathered before the Holy Table.

Using our vocation and whatever special gifts and resources God has given us, especially our participation in eucharistic community, we strive to undertake constructive action on behalf of those who are endangered, from the womb to old age. Aspiring to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution, we promote resolution of conflicts by mediation, negotiation and other forms of nonviolent action.

While no one can be certain that he or she will always find a nonviolent response to every crisis that may arise, we pray that God will show us in each situation ways of resistance to evil that will not require killing opponents.

We offer support to those whose conscience leads them to refuse participation in war and who struggle against evil in non-military ways. We support their conscientious objection as consistent with the Gospels and Holy Tradition.

We encourage the compassionate treatment of prisoners and their rehabilitation, with special attention to restitution by wrong-doers to victims of their crimes. We reject the execution of criminals as incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

We commit ourselves to prayer for enemies and endeavor to communicate God’s love for them, recognizing our own violence and praying that, through Christ’s saving death on the Cross, we will be reconciled with God and with each other.

Thus we strive to avoid bitterness in dealing with controversy, seeking conversion both of ourselves and our adversary.

Aware that we are in need of conversion not only in the way we relate to other people but to the world God has put into our care, we will try to change our lives in order to live as priests of God’s world, asking continuously for the Holy Spirit to descend and transfigure the earth. We will cooperate with efforts to protect and preserve the environment which do not involve violence, coercive methods of population control, or violate the sanctity of human life.

Nine issues of The Occasional Paper appeared. OPF growth was slow, with its expenses coming chiefly coming from Jim and Quita’s own pockets, though donations trickled in from others as well. Then in November 1989, 18 months after I had left the IFOR staff, I received a request from Jim and Quita. Would I be willing, they asked, to take charge of OPF work?

It was not easy to say yes but at the same time I couldn’t quite say no. After many years of work in peace organizations, I was painfully aware of the shortcomings of such groups and had become wary of all movements. Also I wanted to concentrate on writing and journalism. Yet clearly someone new was needed if the OPF was to continue. Jim had a teaching job that absorbed most of his energy. He was confined to a wheel chair. His health was increasingly problematic. Quita was in her eighties and, though of sounder and clearer mind than many people half her age, she was nearly deaf and tired easily. I had a solid background in publications work, a lot of experience in Russia and the Middle East, had a convert’s zeal for the Orthodox Church, and was aware that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship met a need in the Orthodox Church.

After some reflection with Nancy and our parish priests, Fr. Alexis Voogd and Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov, I agreed to take over editing The Occasional Paper and to act as OPF co-secretary together with Quita and Jim. The first Occasional Paper edited in Holland came out in May 1990, shortly after Pascha. (In February 1995, having grown both in size and readership, The Occasional Paper became In Communion, as it is now known.)

One of my first concerns, having begun acting as OPF secretary, was the creation of an OPF advisory board mainly composed of clergy from various jurisdictions. This was undertaken both because we saw the need for guidance and also so that it would be clear that OPF is rooted in the universal Church — not simply one segment of the Church — and has the support of a number of highly respected people. The board members included several bishops and a number of distinguished theologians. The first hierarch to join the advisory board was Bishop Kallistos Ware in Oxford..

OPF’s mission:

I recall a meeting of OPF board members in Holland in the early nineties at which Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov identified four major tasks for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship:

1) Publications: Our main work has been issuing a quarterly journal, In Communion, that provides its readers with essays and news and also serves as a forum for dialogue. In recent years the main articles plus other resources have been made available via our web site, which receives a good deal of use. We also have produced posters and cards as well as booklets for parish use.

2) Theological research: Much needs to be done within the Church to better understand ways in which Orthodox Christians should respond to division, conflict, injustice, war and the relationship of the believer to the state. We have encouraged research on peace in the Bible, peace in the Liturgy, the search examples of ways Orthodox people and churches have responded to war from ancient to modern times, and the collection of relevant quotations and stories from the Fathers and the saints. One significant result of this effort is the book, For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource book on War, Peace and Nationalism, edited by Hildo Bos and myself and published by Syndesmos, the international association of Orthodox youth. The full text of this basic reference book is now also on the OPF web site. A revised, enlarged edition of the resource book is in preparation, to be published this time by the World Council of Churches.

3) Encouraging the formation of local, national or regional OPF groups: We also have helped to arrange conferences such as the one we are taking part in today here at St. Tikhon’s Monastery. There have now been three national conferences in the USA and three European conferences, all of which have met in France. With Syndesmos, we also jointly organized a conference on war, peace and nationalism that was held in Greece on the island of Crete.

4) Practical assistance in conflict areas: OPF members have been active in Israel-Palestine and other parts of the Middle East, Central America, Chechnya and other areas of war or severe civil unrest. A growing number of OPF members are also involved in houses of hospitality in areas of homelessness.

To these four areas, several others that should be mentioned:

Lectures and retreats: There has been OPF lecture trips for the past ten or twelve years. So far I have been the main OPF person doing this but I have hopes that our list of speakers will grow. Recently Fr. James Silver led a weekend retreat at a Pennsylvania parish that benefitted OPF. Income from lectures and retreats has been a major part of OPF income these past thirteen years. Perhaps a work of the future is the creation of an OPF speakers bureau.

Speaking out on matters of controversy: We do little of this but a recent example was the OPF Iraq Appeal, written in the time when war with Iraq seemed increasingly likely. It was signed by many bishops, priests and lay people and continues to stir valuable discussion in the Orthodox community.

Representing a consistent pro-life ethic: A defining moment for OPF was our break with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1999. This followed years of futile effort to encourage dialogue in the FOR on the issue of abortion. As I wrote to the FOR’s Secretary in December 1999, “This separation follows a decision made within the Orthodox Peace Fellowship not to affiliate ourselves with organizations which do not promote a consistent pro-life ethic. This would include attention to the unborn and their mothers, who often resort to abortion not so much from choice but under intense social or, in some countries, even legal pressure. The recent FOR National Council statement made it clear that the FOR and OPF take a very different view on this matter, which for us is central to our reason for being: protection of human life at every stage of development, from the womb to the death bed.”

There is a certain irony here. In the early years of OPF development, the FOR’s position regarding respect for human life was seen by many Orthodox as too extreme, but in the end we broke with the FOR because, when abortion became acceptable, the FOR failed to do anything to protect unborn human life or even to recognize the unborn as part of the human race. Sadly, its commitment to nonviolence had nothing to do with those in the womb.

Our vocation:

Before closing, let me add a few points that describe my own sense of our vocation as Orthodox peacemakers:

We are faithful sons and daughters of the Church, not the Church’s rescue committee. Fr. John Meyendorff once remarked about a schismatic Orthodox group, “We do not save the Church. The Church saves us.” Our modest task is not to invent anything or announce a new theology or reorganize the Church but simply to reopen forgotten or neglected Church teachings regarding day-to-day life in a world in which enmity is always a problem, in which millions suffer from hunger, thirst and homelessness, and in which war is rarely if ever not occurring somewhere on our small planet.

The Church has preserved the Liturgy down through the centuries. It has preserved the Bible and the Creed. It has preserved the writings of the Church Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. It has developed and maintained a calendar of sacred time. But it has been somewhat less attentive to calling us to account for the teaching it has preserved. Over the centuries we have to often been more obedient citizens than obedient Christians.

We believe in a hierarchy of identities. We are not first people of a certain country, then Orthodox, then finally Christians. It is the other way around. We are first Christians, then Orthodox, and finally people of a particular nation. We renounce none of these identities nor do we ignore any of their obligations, but when the requirements of one identity clash with another, we are required to know which comes first.

We try to remind ourselves and our neighbors that there is no such things as a good or holy war — that it defames God and the Gospel to use adjectives associated with sanctity and heaven in that most hellish of all activities, the organized killing of human beings and the destruction of the environment upon which all life depends. Every possible effort must be made to avoid war, but not by cowardly avoidance or failure to recognize evil for what it is and to resist it. Chamberlain was not a peacemaker. Those who fail to see and resist evil are its accomplices. Yet we believe that prayer and fasting are also weapons of struggle, that there is such a thing as spiritual combat, and that what we seek is not the killing of evil people — such a task would require a holocaust that would destroy the human race — but their conversion, which is also our conversion, for the line dividing good from evil runs not between people or classes but, as Solzhenitsyn reminds us, within each and every human heart.

We are people attempting, with God’s help, to love our enemies as Christ commands his followers to do. This is not a sentimental undertaking but a soul-saving quest to be liberated from enmity. In the seventh century, St. Maximus the Confessor put it in these words: “‘But I say to you,’ the Lord says, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.’ Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.”

Our concern about the sanctity of human life is not limited to war. We seek to protect the lives of the unborn — not by denouncing women who feel they have no other choice, but to help them bring their children safely into this world and to do whatever is in our power to make the world more welcoming. With the same motives, we do not regard killing as an acceptable solution for those whose illnesses seem to be incurable or who are severely handicapped. We do whatever we can in support of hospices for the dying, including effective pain relief for those who are suffering. At the same time we oppose taking extraordinary measures to prolong life when in the natural order a person is beyond hope of recovery.

Our view of peace is not borrowed from secular ideologies or political movements. It is not based on the life of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or any of the heroes of nonviolence, even though we greatly admire such people and learn from them. It comes from the Gospel. We understand peace both through the words of Jesus and through his actions. We experience peace in the Liturgy and the eucharistic mystery and try to bring it with us when we return to ordinary life. Day by day we discover peace as the mystery of healing — healing within ourselves, healing between each other — the healing that comes from forgiveness, repentance and love.

Peacemaking is not an idea or principle. It is how we live. It us Christ’s life in us. It is less a refusal to do terrible things to others than doing those things which communicate the love and mercy of God.

You have heard it again and again but let us never stop remembering what Jesus teaches us about the Last Judgement: What we do to the least person we do to him. May God preserve us from harming the least person. May God give us the love which empowers us to be merciful to the least person.

Peacemakers are everywhere — the parent sorting out a dispute within his or her family, the parish council member finding a solution to a conflict that might tear a parish to shreds, the priest hearing confessions who helps a penitent experience God’s mercy, the missionary who helps awaken faith in another and points the way to baptism, the volunteer who lives a life of hospitality in a neighborhood others avoid, the driver who responds to dangerous actions on the highway with a prayer rather than a gesture of hatred… We could spend the rest of our lives noting acts of peacemaking.

Last but not least, our fellowship exists to give witness that peacemaking is something absolutely ordinary. It is an integral part of everyday life. It has to do with how we pray, for whom we pray, how we listen, how we speak, what we do with our anger and frustration, our willingness to forgive, and our attempts to serve as a bridge between those who hate each other.

May God give us strength to persevere in being channels of his mercy.

text as revised July 12, 2003 and revised again July 10, 2014

News report

OPF Conference at St. Tikhon’s

The North American chapter of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship met for its third annual conference on June 13-16 at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary and Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. The conference theme was “Peace Be With You: Living the Beatitudes in a Wounded World.” Metropolitan Herman welcomed OPF back to St. Tikhon’s and gave his blessing for the conference.

Fr. John Chryssavgis opened the conference with an address focusing on the connection between the Beatitudes and the environment. “Hence­­forth, if we wish to live by the Beatitudes, we can no longer remain deaf to the calls of people who suffer, or to the sounds of an environment that groans We must persist in responding to the poor, in striving to share the resources of the world, in trying to heal our broken community and environment. This is the way in which we shall inherit the heavenly kingdom and this earth.”

Fr. Michael Dahulich, Dean of St. Tikh­on’s Seminary, spoke on Saturday evening concerning “An Orthodox Under­standing of God and War,” walking through the Old Testament and the history of the Church, highlighting God’s ultimate pur­pose. Sun­day evening brought Mother Raphaela, Abbess of the Holy Myrrhbear­ers Monastery in Otego, New York, who spoke on “Monasticism and the Way of Radical Peace.” She began by teaching that, “Rather than seeking peace, I think as Orthodox Christians, we are meant to seek the Lord first, and then He gives His peace to fill our lives.” She shared from her experiences as a monastic, and challenged us that “any peace, to be a true peace, must be literally comforting Yet for us, comfort has degenerated to visions of soft pillows and blankets, easy chairs and walking shoes that may indeed help us to find necessary relaxation, yet may also tempt us away from our higher calling and enervate us rather than streng­then us.”

Workshops dealt with specific themes relating to the Beatitudes. There was a lecture on purity of heart given by Dr. Al Rossi and on capital punishment by Fr. Lev Smith. Jim Forest presented a paper on OPF’s history. (Texts of all the lectures will soon be available on the OPF web site.)

At the OPF-NA business meeting, Sheri San Chirico (right) was named as the new coordinator, succeeding John Oliver (below), and a new council was appointed. The feast of Pentecost contributed to a sense of the Holy Spirit among us, giving us with a renewed sense of mission. Plans were begun for conferences in 2004 and beyond.

One member wrote in reflection, “I do believe that for me the conference is now part of my ‘Wow!’ experiences Pentecost was succeeded by persecution and the details of everyday life. This conference is no different. I come home to dirty dishes and bills But that does not change things. I went to the conference burdened; I came away renewed and with a fresh sense of purpose and, more impor­tantly, knowing through comments and actions, conversations and sharing in worship, a sense of joy and love.”

Bartholomew’s Paschal Peace Appeal

At the first Paschal service in Istanbul, Patriarch Bartholomew said the resurrection offered humanity hope for peace in a world beset by blood­shed and hatred.

“May the Risen Lord heal all brokenness of contemporary humanity and grant peace and life to all human beings, removing all hatred and blood­shed, and exchanging them with peace­ful cooperation for the good of all,” he said.

He warned those in power against seeking to dominate others.

“There have been many who destroyed prosperous empires in their desire to make them greater, many who became self-destructive in setting before them aims of conceited pride … many who des­troyed others in their desire to lord and dominate over them.”

Patriarch Alexei’s Opposition to War Against Iraq

On March 17, in a statement issued on the eve of the war’s outbreak, Patriarch Alexei, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, made a final effort to prevent war in Iraq.

“The USA, with the support of Great Britain and some other countries, is planning to launch large-scale military actions against this country, trying to justify them by the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

“The Russian Orthodox Church … is concerned for the proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Many religious leaders have repeatedly stress­ed that the observance of international norms in this areas is one of the essential conditions for peace on the planet.

“Insisting on a peaceful diplomatic way of settling this problem in Iraq, our Church has repeatedly called to lift up the economic sanctions from this country as they have already led to the suffering of civilians, especially sick people and children. In the context of efforts made by the world public to strengthen peace in the Middle East, we have established a dialogue with the religious, public and political leaders in Iraq.

“In the course of the dialogue we stress­ed the necessity of taking such measures by the Iraqi government that will remove all doubts of the international community regarding the war potential of this country. The decision to resume the work of international inspectors was accepted with satisfaction by the majority of people on our planet because that meant the choice for a peaceful way of settling the existing problems.

“Today there are no reasons for stopping the mission of international inspectors and commencing military operations. Nations cannot be de­prived of a chance to establish peace.

“The war in Iraq will inevitably lead to the death and suffering of many innocent people…

“Today the Russian Orthodox Church addresses an appeal to the governments of those countries on which the decision to begin or not to begin war depends to do all that is possible to avoid an armed conflict. For the actions that are taken without considering the opinion of the international community, the opinion of a majority of people on the Earth, destroy the existing system of international law and inter-governmental institutions.

“The first blow on its foundations was already struck by the bombing of Yugoslavia, which was initiated without the sanction of the United Nations and which led to destruction and death of thousands of people in the very center of Europe. Now another action is being prepared, which can turn the existing world order into ashes. The violation of legal norms sows chaos and arbitrariness, for lawlessness always generates more lawlessness. ‘They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind,’ says Holy Scriptures.

“Our Church supports the efforts of the governments, spiritual and public leaders in various countries who have come out against the military operations and rejects the attempts to justify this war. We call upon the nations of the world to stop military preparations against Iraq, to prevent bloodshed of innocent people. We plead God ‘to guide our feet into the way of peace’ and to protect the biblical earth of Iraq against the fire of war.”

‘Religion a casualty of war’: Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana

Two weeks after the Iraq War began, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania issued a statement deploring the war’s impact.

“Long is the list of victims from the war in Iraq: women and children, soldiers fallen or about to fall in battle, the international economy, international legitimacy, the U.N., truth and justice, and many others — whether by direct or indirect means. Religion, too, is in danger of becoming one of these victims. Leaders of both sides have already used religious terms, by invoking God. In our time, religions continue to influence people, but do not determine the decisions of political and economic leaders. These decisions are made on the basis of different calculations and interests.

“Religious consciousness, however, is called upon to resist war, so that religion retains its sacred role of peace­making, reconciliation, forgiveness and the healing of wounds.

“At the numerous interfaith conferences that have taken place over the last few years, representatives of different faiths have agreed that religion has to bring peace and support peace in the world; that violence and terrorism — individual, group or state-initiated — are against the true spirit of religion; and they have con­demned, in particular, invoking God’s will to justify violence and war.

“At the same time, these participants have undertaken the responsibility to make the cries of those who are suffering from violence their own, and contribute their utmost in securing the freedom and dignity of every person and of all peoples.

“The blowing winds of war must not sweep away the sacredness of religion, contaminating the hearts of people with bitterness and enmity for each other’s religion. Much greater catastrophes than those caused by weapons of mass destruction could be produced by the incitement of religious intolerance. The radioactivity of hatred, enriched by the ‘uranium’ of religious passion, will last long after hostilities have ceased, for decades, maybe even for centuries — as was the case of the Crusades and ‘holy wars’ in the past.

“Those who believe in ‘the God of peace’ (Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9; Hebr 13:2­0, etc.), and particularly those who have committed themselves to serving Him, cannot help but repeat insistently the supplication ‘for peace in the whole world,’ and strive to do whatever is possible to let justice and peace prevail on earth­.

IOCC Helping Iraqi Families

In Baghdad, where a bag of apples can cost a month’s salary, International Ortho­-dox Christian Charities has concentrated on providing food to needy families.

Thousands of IOCC food parcels have arrived in Baghdad for distribution to families who increasingly can’t afford even the most basic food items.

“The problem is not only a lack of food but also the lack of employment and rising food prices­,” said Edmond Adam, a coordinator for IOCC’s partner, the Middle East Council of Churche­s.

“Millions of families could be without adequate food in a couple of months,” Adam said. “The outlook is bleak if people don’t start earning salaries soon, enabling them to buy food.”

The first delivery of food parcels came in a six-truck humanitarian convoy organized by IOCC and other members of the global humanitarian alliance Action by Churches Together. Each parcel contains cheese, tea bags, lentils, white beans, chick peas, milk powder, tomato paste, sugar, rice, vegetable oil and other items enough to supplement a family’s diet for a month. Also delivered were 2.2 tons of high-protein biscuits, 250 tents, 19,200 cans of meat, 6,400 blankets and a 40-foot container of medicines.

The medicines were immediately delivered to hospitals in the area.

Distributions are being made through a network of churches and mosques in Bagh­dad and Mosul, including Baghdad’s Antiochian Orthodox parish, led by Fr. Younan Yagoob. Other parcels and relief supplies are being stockpiled in churches for future emergencies.

“There is a real fear that current rations distributed to people by the old Iraqi regime under the oil-for-food program will run out,” Adam said.

Donations can be made via the IOCC web page: www.iocc.org.

Bartholomew Rededicates Holocaust Monument

Expressing “endless grief” at the killing of tens of thousands of Thessalo­nika’s Jewish population during World War II, Patriarch Bartholomew said the Holocaust Monument in Thessalo­nika affirmed that we are to fight for the creation of a peaceful world where all people will coexist in harmony. “We should explain to our children and our fellow human beings,” he declared, “that such crimes of the past must never be repeated, since they were a result of hatred and misjudgment.”

The Minister of Culture of Greece, Evangelos Venizelos, and the Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Rabbi Israel Singer, also addressed delegates of the Fifth Consultation Between Judaism and Orthodoxy, which had concluded a two-day meeting at the end of May.

The Patriarch was made an honorary citizen of the Jewish Community.

In accepting the honor, Bartholomew declared, “It is in our interest to have justice and equality for all minorities since whatever people offer and recognize in any country to minorities, the same will be enjoyed in their own country. … Fanatics are not the elect of a specific faith but rather the weakest among its believers.”

Refugees returning to their homes in Kosovo

On July 14 a group of 25 Serb returnees returned to the shattered village of Belo Polje near Pec after four years as refugees. The returnees were greeted in front of the Serbian Orthodox church by Fathers Sava and Xeno­phont of Decani Monastery and the nuns of the Pec Patriarchate. The welcome was also attended by representatives of KFOR and UNMIK. The emotional event was also attended by representatives of the nearby Serb village of Gorazdevac, the only village in the Pec region where Serbs managed to survive after the war.

The returnees, who exited the bus carrying an icon of St. Cosmas and Damian, the religious feast celebrated that day, were served with traditional bread and salt, followed by a formal thanksgiving to God served before the improvised camp where they will be housed.

After the service the returnees were welcomed on behalf of Bishop Artem­ije by Fr. Sava Janjic.

“This is the day we have all waited for so long, the day when you are once more returning to your homes to again build your houses out of ashes and rubble, and restore the life of Belo Polje,” said Fr. Sava, who thanked God as well as all the people who helped in making the return possible. Fr. Sava expressed special thanks to the commander of Italian KFOR troops in Pec, Colonel Iubini, who made a personal effort to make the return possible.

After liturgy and homily the returnees were served lunch prepared by the nuns of the sisterhood of the Pec Patriarchate. KFOR has provided food supplies for the next week as well as fuel to power the electrical generator. Decani Monastery also sent food.

On behalf of Coordinating Center head Dr. Nebojsa Covic, Ljiljana Belos welcomed the returnees and informed them that during the next few days the Coordinating Center would provide a refrigerator, a stove, pots for preparing food, as well as other necessities. The Coordinating Center also plans to provide long-term assistance for the restoration of the destroyed homes.

Returnees to the village of Polje will be protected by members of Italian KFOR who have a newly built base nearby called “Villaggio Italia.”

Meanwhile vandals continue desecrating churches and cemeteries in Kosovo. A church in Pristina attacked in May was again stoned on 26 June, while tombstones in an Orthodox graveyard in Kosovska Vitina were destroyed.

“The situation is grim,” says Fr Sava. “Extremists want all the Serbs out of the province, and the international community is not providing the means to stop it from happening.”

Former French envoy urges churches to give EU a new vision

At a meeting in Trondheim, Norway, on July 1, a former high-ranking French diplomat has warned European church leaders that the European Union is reaching a breaking point and has called on chur­ches to help give the organization a new sense of purpose. The gathering began after the unveiling in mid-June of a draft EU constitution intended to streamline the union so that it can deal with the influx of up to 10 new member countries next year.

Francois Scheer, a former French ambassador to Germany and to the EU, said the war in Iraq and the conflict in the Middle East had revealed the union’s weakness as a political force.

“The difficulties in Transatlantic relations are deeper than most of us in Europe had realized,” Scheer said in a speech on Monday at the 12th assembly of the Conference of European Churches.

The projected enlargement of the EU in 2004 from 15 to 25 members also risked weakening the union’s institutional structures, noted Scheer, who had also served as secretary-general of the French ministry of foreign affairs.

In his address, Scheer called for a return to what he termed the basic sources of European unity, “creating reconciliation and peace with the solidarity that this required.”

Scheer’s remarks were supported by a senior Orthodox church leader, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who told the assembly that “Europe lacks ethos, imagination, generosity and vision.”

The archbishop said: “It is the duty for Europe to be in the front rank of a worldwide mobilization for a new war, the war of combating world poverty.” The archbishop criticized the failure of the constitution to contain an explicit reference to what Anastasios said were the “Christian roots of Europe.”

Sacraments of Healing

OPF Retreat in Vézelay, France

 Here are transcriptions of Bishop Kallistos’ six lectures given in April 1999 at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay. Please note that these are not to be published elsewhere without the permission of Bishop Kallistos and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

A Healing Retreat

a report by James Chater

VEZELAY-20050896 An Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat took place in Vézelay, France, from 16-19 April, 1999, the weekend following Pascha. Vézelay rests on the edge of a hill situated on the edge of a national park in the heart of Burgundy, about 120 miles south-east of Paris. It is small, untouched by 20th-century development and off the beaten track, but as a religious center it has considerable importance: since the Middle Ages it has been a stop-over point for pilgrims on the way from northern or eastern Europe on the way to Compostela, and it was the launching-pad for the First and Third Crusades (even if, in this time of war, it is unpleasant to be reminded of this).

The Romanesque basilica is a haven of tranquillity and harmony (the choir sing rather well, and I was agreeably surprised that they incorporate Russian Orthodox texts and melodies in their liturgy). It is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, preserving a relic of this saint, who according to one legend spent her last years in the nearby Rhone valley, and has exceptionally fine the carvings. Like the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland, where St Columba settled as penance for having been in military service, Vézelay makes a special impression on many pilgrims for its sense of ‘thinness’, through which God’s light passes into this world. Light, music and prayer seem to envelop the place: a more suitable venue for an OPF meeting would be hard to imagine.

The retreat was led by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, well-known to many as the writer Timothy Ware, who lectures on Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and is assistant bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Great Britain.

The theme was ‘The Sacrament of Healing’, explored in a series of six talks titled ‘Glorify God with your body: the healing of the whole person’; ‘The passions: enemy or friend?’; ‘Approaching Christ the Physician: the true meaning of confession and anointing’; ‘In peace let us pray to the Lord: peace and healing in the Divine Liturgy’; ‘Let us go forth in peace: healing in the parish and in the world’; and ‘A peaceful end to our life: bodily death as an experience of healing’.

The bishop’s profound insights, leavened with a warm sense of humor and a vast (so far as I could judge) knowledge of both Patristic texts and more recent literature, left me feeling uplifted and greatly heartened, and I felt sure the other participants were similarly affected. His sense of awe and wonder, of sacramental living, was vividly communicated to us. By the time Sunday came round, and we all crammed into the tiny Orthodox parish church to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, there was a renewed, more palpable sense of ‘Christ in our midst’.

At one point the participants divided into two groups, one to discuss the issues of healing raised in the bishop’s talks, the other to discuss how we might respond to the war in Yugoslavia, whose outbreak occurred long after the topic of the retreat had been chosen. A paper outlining the issues raised by the war was prepared by Father Stephen Headley and Jim Forest.

Mark Pearson suggested that OPF members should collaborate in round-the-clock prayer until the war was over. Various ways in which we might pray were considered, and participants were invited to commit themselves to a certain number of half-hour prayer sessions each week. The notion of a ‘just war’ was discussed: it was pointed out that most of the Anglican bishops believed the war to be just (Tony Blair has also stated several times that he believes the bombing to be ‘justified’). The idea of the ‘just war’ was originally developed from Roman Catholic theology; even so, the Pope has called for an end to the bombing. Bishop Kallistos expressed his doubts that the Yugoslavian war met the criteria of a ‘just war’ as defined by Roman Catholic theology.

Our warm thanks to Bishop Kallistos for his leadership, to Jim Forest for his indefatigable organization, to the Franciscan Center Ste. Marie Madeleine and the Jerusalem Community for housing us, to our hosts, the Orthodox parish of St. Germain d’Auxerre and St. Etienne, and especially to their priest Father Stephen Headley and his wife Anne, for their unstinting hospitality, and for keeping us as well-fed physically as we were spiritually.

PS: For those unfamiliar with the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, the transformation of NATO from a defensive alliance into “world policeman” or machine of death and destruction (depending on your point of view) is a defining moment in the history of East-West relations. This might be the right time to consider supporting the work of an organization like the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, which advocates nonviolent ways of resolving conflicts and reconciliation by bearing witness to Christ’s offering of Himself in the Eucharist. Members receive the quarterly newsletter, In Communion.

A few more photos from the retreat…

Please help the Vezelay parish…

Glorify God with your Body

Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, April 1999 / first lecture by Bishop Kallistos

Sacraments of Healing: In April 1999, at the end of Bright Week, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia led a retreat for members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our host was the parish of St. Etienne and St. Germain in the village of Vezelay, France. This is the first of six lectures. Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and leads the Greek parish in the same city. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way.

First let me apologize for arriving late. I missed my train at the Gare de Lyon, and then I got on the wrong train, one that wasn’t going to stop at La Roch-Migennes but was going to Dijon. They stopped in La Roch-Migennes especially for me. That’s the first time I’ve had that experience. I am thinking in very high terms of the French railway. I can’t imagine the British railways making an unscheduled stop.

Our theme in our time together here at Vezelay is Sacraments of Healing. Please think of the word sacrament and what it signifies. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas says, “It is the sacraments that constitute our life in Christ.” Let us this weekend root our thinking in the sacraments. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas also called the sacraments “windows into this dark world.”

Yes, it is a dark world. I am sure for all of us present that our celebration of Pascha has been overshadowed by the immense human tragedy in Kosovo. I recall how the bombing commenced on the feast on the Annunciation, according to the new calendar. It continued throughout the Holy Week and Pascha and there is no sign of it ending. We think of all the refugees. How many people’s lives have been utterly wrecked?

But though we live in a dark world, there are windows into it. Let us remember the Greek term for sacrament — mysterion, mystery. This has a whole range of associations that the Latin word sacramentum doesn’t have. A mystery, in the true religious sense, is not simply an enigma, an unexplained problem. A mystery is something which is revealed for our understanding, yet never totally revealed because it reaches into the infinity of God. The mystery of all mysteries is the incarnation of Christ; therefore all other sacraments of the church are founded upon that.

The second word in my title which we shall need to keep in mind during these days is healing — Sacraments of Healing. Healing means wholeness. I am broken and fragmented. Healing means a recovery of unity. Let us each think that I cannot bring peace and unity to the world unless I am at peace and unity with myself. “Acquire the spirit of peace,” says Saint Seraphim of Sarov, “and thousands around you will find salvation.” If I don’t have the spirit of peace within myself, if I am inwardly divided, I shall spread that division around me to others. Great divisions in the world between nations and states spring from many divisions within the human heart of each one of us.

Tonight I want to start with the human person. How I am to understand my unity as a person? What models do I have when I think of the healing of my total self?

I would like to share with you a patristic model, a recurrent model in the Fathers that can be summed up in the words microcosm and mediate. Human beings are a complex unity. My personhood is a single whole, but a whole that embraces many aspects. As humans we stand at the center and crossroads of the creation. Saint John Chrysostom thinks of the human person as bridge and bond. In a Sufi phrase quoted by Pico della Mirandola, the human person is “the marriage song of the world.” Each of us then, is a little universe, a microcosm, each of us is imago mundi — an icon of the world. Each reflects within herself or himself the manifold diversity of the created order. This was a recurrent theme in various pagan authors and was taken over by the early Fathers.

“Understand,” says Origen, “that you have within yourself on a small scale a second universe. Within you there is a sun, there is a moon, there are also stars.” This theme is developed in a celebrated passage by Saint Gregory Nazianzen, the Theologian. In his 38th Oration, he distinguishes the two main levels of the created order. On one hand, there is the spiritual or invisible order, on the other there is the material or physical order. Angels belong only to the first order. They are bodiless, spiritual beings. In Saint Gregory’s view, animals belong to the second order — the material and physical. You, uniquely in God’s creation, exist on both levels at once. Anthropos, man, the human person alone, has a twofold nature, both material and spiritual. Saint Gregory goes on to speak of ourselves as earthly yet heavenly, temporal yet immortal, visible yet intelligible, midway between majesty and lowliness, one selfsame being yet both spirit and flesh. Wishing to form a single creature from two levels of creation from both visible and invisible nature, says Gregory, the Creator Logos fashioned the human person. Taking a body from matter that He has previously created and placing in it the breath of life that comes from himself, which scripture terms the intelligent soul and the image of God, He formed anthropos, the human person, as a second universe — a great universe in a little one.

Now because we stand in this way on the crossroads of creation, because each of us, in the words of Saint Maximus the Confessor, is a laboratory or workshop that contains everything in a most comprehensive fashion, we have a special vocation, and that is to mediate and to unify. Standing at the crossroads, earthly yet heavenly, body yet soul, our human vocation is to reconcile and harmonize the differing levels of reality in which we participate. Our vocation is to spiritualize the material, without thereby dematerializing it. That is why reconciliation and peace are such a fundamental aspect of our personhood.

But having said that humans are a microcosmic image of the world, we have not yet said the most important thing. The most important thing about our personhood it is not that we are an image of the world but it is that we are created in the image of God. We are a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. Indeed Saint Gregory of Nyssa even cast scorn on the idea of a human being as the image of the world, as a microcosm. This, he says, is to glorify humans with the characteristics of the gnat and the flea. No, he says, our true glory is that we are in God’s image, that we reflect the divine. Saint Maximus the Confessor develops this by saying that we are called not only to unify the different levels of the created order, but we are also called to join earth and heaven and to unite the created and the uncreated.

So, made in the divine image each of us is not only microcosmos, but microtheos, a phrase used by Nicholas Berdyaev. We are not only imago mundi but also imago dei — image of God. These are our two vocations — not just to unify the creation, but to offer creation back to God. As king and priest of creation formed to the image of God, the human person offers the world back to God and so transfigures it.

Now, you may have noticed that when I quoted Gregory Nazianzen, I said God formed the human person as a second universe, a great universe in a little one. But perhaps you thought, “He’s got it the wrong way around, this person who persuaded the French railways to make an unscheduled stop. This triumph over the railway has gone to his head!”

But, in fact that is what Gregory said. The great universe is not the world around us, not the galaxy light years away from us. The great universe is the inner space of the heart. This is what Gregory said. We are not so much microcosmos as megalocosmos. Incomparably greater than the outside universe is the depth within each human heart.

Our vocation is not just to unify but also as microtheos, as image of God, it’s our task to render the world transparent — diaphanic, or rather theophanic — to make God’s presence shine through it.

Now if we have that kind of ideal of human personhood, what practical consequences does this have? The inner logic of the model we have been exploring surely requires a holistic view of the human person. We cannot fulfill our vocation as bridge builders, as unifiers, as cosmic priests, unless we see our own selves as a single undivided whole. More specifically, we can act as bond and mediator within the creation, rendering the material spiritual only if we see our body as an essential part of our selves, only if we view our personhood as an integral unity of body and soul. Severing our links with the material environment, we cease to mediate.

Here at once we see the very grave spiritual implications of the present pollution of the environment, what we humans are doing toward the cosmic temple which God has given us to dwell in. The fact that we are degrading the world around us in a very alarming manner shows a terrifying failure to realize our vocation as mediators. So we need, if we are to be truly human, to come to terms with our own body — with its rhythm, its mysteries, its dreams — and through our body then to come to terms with the material world.

Let’s think for a little about the way in which we can and should be using our body, and let’s think about how we use our bodies in worship. Christianity is a liturgical religion. Worship comes first, doctrine and moral rules come afterwards. Surely it is one of the strengths of our Orthodox Church that we still attach immense importance to symbolical action involving our body and material things. All too often in the western world people have lost the power of symbolical thinking — not entirely, but quite frequently. It is surely a deep impoverishment.

I would plead that as Orthodox Christians we shouldn’t allow ourselves to diminish the value of symbols or lose the participation of our bodies in worship. Sadly, one finds examples of such a loss. I was in US last month and enjoyed that visit very much, but was saddened to see that many Orthodox churches have been taken over by pews. Have you reflected on the horrid effect that pews have on worship? People in pews can no longer make prostrations or even make deep bows. They just stand or sit and thus become an audience instead of active participants. In a pew it is not easy to make a proper sign of the cross with a deep bow. Now you might say that this is not so important and that pews are there for convenience and that people today just can’t stand up for very long. But traditionally the Church has provided stalls and benches on the sides or a few chairs here and there. Those who need to sit can then come forward to make prostrations. But our tradition is not one of neat rows.

Let us also take care not to diminish our Orthodox tradition of fasting. Fasting is one way in which the body participates in prayer. Fasting is not simply the observation of certain rigid rules and dietary restrictions. The real purpose of fasting is the renewal of prayer and of our personal relationship with God and our fellow humans. To fast and simply become ill-humored defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. “What is the purpose of not eating meat,” asks Saint Basil, “if instead you devour your brother or sister?” Through fasting, through learning to do without certain foods you take for granted, through eating more simply, we renew the participation of our bodies. The body is the messenger of the soul. The purpose of fasting is to give us freedom for prayer. Lent is a school of freedom, a season freeing us from dependence on physical power. Indeed through fasting we are able to see the beauty and wonder of the food that we eat. Fasting helps us not to take food for granted.

Consider too the physical aspect of baptism, the act of immersion in water. Let us not diminish the materiality of this sacramental sign. Baptism should involve the whole body. It should represent drowning — a “joyous, devout drenching,” in Philip Larkin’s phrase.

And let us not diminish the fact that we use bread and wine in the Eucharist.

Let us renew for ourselves an understanding of the sacramental value of oil in relation to healing. This may be difficult for those coming from cultures in which olive oil is not part of daily life, as opposed to those who live in the Mediterranean. When I travel down to France and see the first olive tree, my spirit rises! I like the use of oil in our vigil service on Saturday evenings. No pilgrimage is complete unless you are anointed with oil from the lamps at the shrine. Surely we should anoint the sick with oil more than once a year, during Holy Week.

I value very much the gesture of the laying on of hands. We see this in ordination but also in our Orthodox practice of confession. The priest confers forgiveness not from a distance but by placing his stole over the penitent and then lays his hands on the penitent’s head. This is an ancient gesture associated with healing found frequently in the New Testament.

In the early period, the seventh and eighth centuries, we have evidence that this gesture took a reverse form. At the moment of absolution, the person making confession put his hands on the neck of the priest, symbolizing that the burden was being taken away, now being carried on the shoulders of another. The priest took it on himself. It’s a very serious thing to hear people’s confessions!

Another way in which the body has been diminished in western Orthodox practice in some places can be seen in modern funeral customs. When I am to preside at a funeral, I am sometimes asked not to have an open coffin. There is to be no last kiss. They prefer to see the body at the funeral parlor — not a very liturgical place! I’ve been told, “We couldn’t do that, it would be too frightening for the children.” Something has gone terribly wrong in our understanding of death if we find the body of a person whom we have loved to be somehow repellant and frightening. Surely the dead body of someone whom we love is not to be hidden away in those final hours before burial as something causing distress and disgust. Surely we should surround the dead body with love. I’m sure that children will not be frightened if our Orthodox funeral customs are properly explained. The practice of kissing the dead body is extremely ancient. We find it mentioned at least as early as the year 500 in the writings of the Dionysios the Aerogopite, and perhaps the custom is far more ancient than that.

So in all these ways and many others, let us give full value to our material bodies and their part in worship. “The body is divinized along with the soul,” says Saint Maximus the Confessor. “The flesh also is transformed,” says Saint Gregory Palamas. “It is raised on high together with the soul and together with the soul it enjoys communion with God becoming his domain and dwelling place.” “In the age to come,” adds Palamas, “the body will share with the soul ineffable blessings.”

Clearly the body must share in these blessings, as far as possible, here and now.

Of the great neo-Platonist philosopher, Plotinus, it is said by his biographer Porphyry that he “was ashamed of being in the body and did not want anybody to celebrate his birthday.” The occasion of his being born into this world in a body was, for him, a cause of lamentation rather than joy. He wouldn’t let anyone paint his portrait. “My appearance,” he said, “is not important.”

But this is not the Christian attitude. I am my body and my body is me. The body is to be transfigured along with the soul. Divine grace is to be shown in and through our bodies.

In the University of London there used to be a professor of the philosophy of religion, H.G. Lewis, not to be confused with C.S. Lewis, who was much inclined, in a Platonist manner, to emphasize the contrast between body and soul. His students used to say of him that “he didn’t go for a walk but rather that he took his body for a walk.”

This is not the true Christian view. We are not a ghost in a machine but, on the contrary, we are called to glorify God with our body. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” writes Saint Paul (1 Cor 6:19-20). In Romans 12 he says, “Offer your body as a living sacrifice to God.” In the words of the great prophet William Blake, “Man has no body distinct from his soul, for that called ‘body’ is the portion of the soul discerned by the five senses.”

Let me add one more comment. Our human personhood is a mystery. We do not fully understand our own selves. Sophocles observed in Antigone, “There are many strange things and none stranger than the human person.” Not just in our theology do we need an apophatic dimension, but we need it also in our anthropology.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa gives a specific reason for the fact that we do not understand ourselves. He connects it with the truth that the human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and the image, he says, is only truly such insofar as it expresses the attributes of the archetype. One of the characteristics of the Godhead is to be in its essence beyond our understanding. The human person is a created icon of the uncreated God, and since God is incomprehensible, so is the human person.

So I ask you this evening to renew in your hearts your sense of wonder before the mystery of your own personhood. As it says in Psalm 138: “I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.”

This text may not be reproduced without permission of Bishop Kallistos. The transcription was made by Christine Nelson and Jim and Nancy Forest.

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The Passions: Enemy or Friend?

[published in In Communion 17 / Fall 1999]

Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, April 1999 / second lecture by Bishop Kallistos

Consider the word “wonder.” We have come to a place full of wonder, this ancient pilgrimage town of Vezelay. I can recall very vividly my first visit here when I was a student at university. It was in the year 1954. I was traveling with a party of fellow students in a lorry. It was from the back of that lorry that I had my first view of Vezelay — a city set on a hill — and at the heart of the summit of the city, a great church. Each time I saw Vezelay, as I happened again last night when I came up from the railway station, my spirits rise, and so does my sense of wonder. I have been back ten or twelve times since 1954. Then on entering the basilica, standing in the narthex, you are faced with the marvelous sculpture of Christ in glory, which surely awakens wonder in the many pilgrims who come here.

I don’t know about you but a sense of wonder has always been very important in my reading of literature. From the age of 16, there was one genre of Christian literature that particularly attracted me and that was works of fantasy — for example, the stories of George McDonald. I have always enjoyed the works of fantasy by C.S. Lewis — Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, the Narnia books, and above all his retelling of the Psyche myth, Till we Have Faces. Along with Lewis, I have always liked the supernatural thrillers written by his friend Charles Williams — War in Heaven and the rest. And there is of course Tolkien. Such stories reveal the thinness of this world, the nearness of the invisible world.

Once, when a friend of the Anglican writer Evelyn Underhill was going to Iona, her gardener said to her, “Iona is a very thin place.” And she asked, “What do you mean?” The gardener, a Scotsman, said, “There is not much between Iona and the Lord.” Vezelay is another thin place.

We need to be sensitive to the closeness of the invisible world. We need a sense of wonder. “The beginning of the truth is to wonder at things,” said Plato. That’s not just Plato — it is good Christianity as well.

Have you noticed how the theme of wonder runs through scripture? For example, in Psalm 76 we read, “Who is so great a God as our God … Thou art the God who doest wonders.” Or take the prophesy of the Incarnation in Isaiah: “For unto us a child is born and his name shall be called wonderful.” Throughout the Gospels we notice that the reaction of those who hear Christ’s words and witness His miracles is a sense of wonder. Those who first heard the Sermon on the Mount, it is noted, “were astonished at his speech.” When Jesus rebukes the storm, we read they marveled, saying, “Who can this be?” People met Christ with a sense of wonder. Those who heard him teaching at the synagogue in Nazareth “were astonished.” The account of the resurrection in Mark’s Gospel reports that when the women found no body within the tomb, “they trembled and were amazed.” The Greek text says they were “seized by trauma and were ecstatic” — they were taken out of themselves with wonder. At Pentecost, when language is no longer a barrier between peoples, we find them “speaking of the wonderful works of God.” A sense of wonder is a golden thread that runs all the way through holy scripture. If we are to continue as faithful disciples of Christ, we need to unceasingly renew our sense of wonder.

Last night our theme was unity. Jerusalem, we are told, “is built as a city at unity with itself.” We, each one of us, must be a city at unity with ourselves. If we are to be peacemakers, we need to rediscover our inner unity. The great principle about peacemaking is from within outwards. You can’t expect peace to be imposed by governments. It’s got to come from the human heart. From within, outwards — and we might also add from heaven, earthwards.

Our human vocation is to be microcosmos, microtheos — to be a mediator, to unify creation. This was the vocation given to the first Adam in paradise. Failing to fulfill it, in his fall he brought about division rather than unity. But this vocation of mediation is restored to the human race by the second Adam, Christ.

I cannot unify unless I am inwardly at one. As St. Isaac of Syria said, “Be with peace in your own self, then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.”

Now let me put before you a symbol of human unity, this complex unity of spirit soul and body: the symbol of the heart. What do we mean by the heart?

When the late Duchess of Windsor published her memoirs, she drew its title from a quotation by Paschal — “the heart has its reasons, which reason does not understand.” I confess I have not read the Duchess of Windsor’s memoirs from cover to cover, but a brief consultation of that work brought home to me that by the heart, she meant the emotions and affections, perhaps somewhat disordered and wayward emotions. But that was not what Paschal meant, nor is it what Christians mean by the heart.

If we look at scripture, we do not find in the Old or New Testament any contrast between head and heart. In the Bible, we don’t just feel with our hearts — we also think with our hearts. The heart is the place of intelligence and wisdom. In scripture, feeling and thinking are held together. In the Bible, the heart is the conscience — the moral spiritual center of the total person. Evil thought comes from the heart but equally the heart is where the Holy Spirit cries out, “Abba, Father.”

The heart is a unifying concept in another way. Not only does it hold together feeling and thinking, but it transcends the soul-body contrast. The heart is the spiritual organ, the center of our bodily structure, but the heart also symbolizes our spiritual understanding. It’s a point of convergence and interaction for the human person as a whole.

Here is St. Macarius of Egypt writing about the heart: “The heart governs and reigns over the whole bodily organism. And when grace possesses the pastures of the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts, for there in the heart is the intellect, and all thoughts of the soul and its expectations. In this way grace penetrates also to the members of the body.”

The heart is the center of the physical organism — when it stops beating, we are dead. But it is also the place where the intellect dwells, the center of spiritual understanding. It is through the heart that we experience grace, and through the heart grace passes to all members of the body. The heart contains, say the Macarian homilies, “unfathomable depths,” including what is meant today by the unconscious. There are reception rooms and bed chambers in it, doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In the heart are the works of righteousness and wickedness. In it is life; in it is death.

The heart, then, has a central and controlling role. The heart is open on one side to the unfathomable depths of the unconscious, open on the other side to the abyss of God’s glory. When the Orthodox tradition speaks of the Prayer of the Heart, that doesn’t mean prayer just of the feelings and emotions, it doesn’t just mean what in western Roman Catholic spirituality is termed affective prayer. Prayer of the heart means prayer of the total person, prayer in which the body also participates. In the hesychast tradition, entering the heart means the total re-integration of the human person in God.

My spiritual father, Father George, once told me to read Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. He particularly liked the words of the fox. “Now here is my secret,” said the fox, “a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This is the meaning of the heart in scripture and in the Orthodox spiritual tradition.

Now let’s extend the idea of our human unity. We have said our unity as persons includes the body. But what about the passions?

In the account of the Egyptian desert given by Paladius, we read that when he went there as a young man in the fourth century, he was placed under elder Dorotheos, who led a life of severe asceticism. He used to carry stones from one place to the other. Young Paladius thought this was excessive. “Why do you torture your body this way?” “It kills me, I kill it,” Dorotheos responded. But was he right? Rather than kill the body, would it not be better to transfigure the body? Another Desert Father corrected Dorotheos, saying, “We have been taught not to kill the body, but to kill the passions.” But should we kill the passions? Or should we transfigure them? I feel that the English poet of the seventeenth century, John Donne, comes nearer to the truth when he says, “Let our affections kill us not, nor die.” I would agree with the seventeenth century moralist, Sir Robert Le Strange: “It is with our passions as with fire and water. They are good servants but bad masters.”

Let’s explore this a little more deeply. Unfortunately there isn’t a satisfactory translation in English for the Greek word pathos. Pathos is normally translated as passion, sometimes as emotion or affection, or it could be translated simply as suffering — the passion of Christ. There is no single English word that will convey all these different senses. It is linked to the Greek word pascha, which means to suffer. So pathos is fundamentally a passive state. It can be regarded as something that happens to a person or object. The Greek Fathers talk about sleep and death as being pathos and Gregory the Theologian describes the phases of the moon as passions. But often pathos actually acquires a positive sense — it’s not some thing merely passive, it can also be something active. And so when we come across this word pathos, or passion, in Greek, we need to look carefully at the context, to see how it is used.

Now behind the Greek Fathers we might look at passion as it is used in Greek philosophy, especially in Aristotle.

When we read the Stoics, we find pathos employed in a negative sense. It means disordered impulses of the soul, an impulse that has got out of hand, that has become disobedient to reason and so is contrary to nature. As with some later Christian theologians, the passions are seen as diseases; the victim of passion is mentally deranged. For the Stoics, passions are pathological disturbances of the personality. The wise man aims at apatheia — dispassion, the elimination of the passions. But alongside this negative view of passion, there is in Greek philosophy, a more positive view. For Aristotle, the passions in themselves are neither virtues nor vices; they are neither good nor evil. We are not commended or blamed because of them. They are neutral. Everything depends on the use that we make of our passions. He includes among the passions, not only such things as desire and anger, but also things such as friendship, courage and joy. So in Aristotle’s view our aim shouldn’t be to eliminate the passions, but we should try to have a moderate and reasonable employment of them.

Plato has a similar view. He uses the famous analogy of a charioteer with a two-horse carriage. The charioteer represents reason, which should be in control. One of the two horses pulling the chariot is of noble breed, the other is unruly and rebellious. And for Plato the fine horse denotes the noble emotions of the spirited part of the soul — courage, etcetera — while the disorderly horse represents the baser passions of the desiring part of the soul. The implications of the analogy are clear: if the charioteer has no horses at all, the chariot is never going to get moving, it is no use simply calculating with reason; if your carriage is to get moving, you need to have a proper relationship with the other aspects of your personhood. But the analogy goes further than that. If you have a two-horse carriage and only one horse yoked to it, you won’t get very far. The chariot will go askew immediately. In order for your chariot to move straight and far, you must have both horses properly harnessed, and you have to come to terms with both your horses.

So Plato’s analogy is holistic — that we’ve all got to come to terms with all the different impulses in our nature if we are to live a fully human life. We cannot simply repress or ignore certain aspects of our personhood because we don’t like them very much. We’ve got to learn how to use them.

Now with this twofold classical background to consider, what do we find in Christian tradition? The word pathos is used only three times in the New Testament: in each instance by Paul and each case in an unfavorable sense. Coming on to the Fathers, many of them take a Stoic view of the passions. Clement of Alexandria, in the early third century, regards passion as an excessive impulse disobedient to reason, contrary to nature. Passions are diseases of the soul, says Clement, and truly good persons have no passions. In the 4th century Evagrius of Pontus, disciple of the Cappadocians but also a Desert Father living the last eighteen years of his life in the Egyptian wilderness, associates the passions with demons. For Evagrius, our aim is to expel the passions. The aim is apatheia, though Evagrius gives dispassion a positive sense, linking it with love, agape.

Gregory of Nyssa takes a similar view. He says that passions were not originally part of our nature, but came as a result of the Fall. For him, the passions, have an animal character. They render us akin to irrational animals. They express our humanity in its fallen condition.

But this is not the only view of passion in the Greek Fathers. Because it’s much less well known, I would like to mention the approach of other writers who come closer to the Aristotelian view. In particular I want to look at Abba Isaiah, who lived in Egypt and then in Palestine during the fifth century. You will find a short extract from his writings in the first volume of the Philokalia. There is a full French translation of his writing, but it hasn’t yet been translated into English. Abba Isaiah takes the view that desire — epyhthemeia — along with envy or jealousy, anger, hatred and pride — are all fundamentally in accordance with nature. They are not sinful, fallen distortions, but parts of our human nature as created by God.

Let me read what Abba Isaiah said: “There is in the intellect, a desire that is in accordance with nature, and without desire, there is no love for God.” This is also the view of John Climacus. Though he takes the negative, stoic view of passion, when he discusses eros, he takes a more positive view. He says that the erotic impulse, though it may take a sexual form and can often be distorted, can also be directed towards God. Eros is not to be eliminated but redirected, transformed. Without desire, epyhthemeia, without eros, there is no proper love for God. This is why, remarks Abba Isaiah, Daniel was called “man of desire.” “But the enemy has changed this desire into something shameful, so that we desire all kinds of impurities.”

Then Abba Isaiah comes to jealousy — zelos in Greek, a word that can also mean zeal. We lack an English word that conveys both senses together. There is for Abba Isaiah a zeal, a jealousy, “which is in accordance with nature and without which there is no progress toward God. Thus the Apostle Paul says tells us to ‘strive jealously for the good gifts’.” (I Cor 12:31) He might have added that, in the Old Testament, God Himself is described as a jealous God. “But if jealousy directed toward God has been changed within us into a jealousy contrary to nature, so that we are jealous of one another, we envy and deceive one another.”

Then he comes to anger: “There is, in the intellect, an anger that is in accordance with nature. Without anger there is no purity within a person. One must feel anger against all those seeds sown within us by the enemy.” Again and again, in confession I hear people telling me they have been angry, either inwardly or outwardly. I always say to them you shouldn’t simply repress your anger. If you sit on it, sooner or later it will explode. What you have to do is to use your anger in a creative way. The energy in your anger is something good, or something that can certainly be put to good use. When anger takes a negative, destructive form, it is the misuse of something which in itself is implanted in us by God. There is ample evidence in scripture that Christ, on various occasions, felt and showed anger. But this anger, says Abba Isaiah, “has been changed within us so that we are angry with our neighbor over all sorts of futile and useless things.”

Then he comes to hatred: “There is, in the intellect, a hatred that is in accordance with nature. Without hatred against that which is hostile, nothing of value is revealed within the soul.” We are not to be like the oyster hiding quietly in its shell. My spiritual father used to say, “Even the oyster has his enemies.” You needn’t imagine you will win people’s support by doing nothing. “But this hatred has been changed within us into that which is contrary to nature, so we hate our neighbor and loath him, a hatred which expels all virtue.”

Then Abba Isaiah comes to pride. I wondered how can he find a good use for pride, but he does. He says: “There is, in the intellect, a pride that is accordance with nature, that we feel in the face of enemies. When Job found this pride, he reviled his enemies, calling them dishonorable men of no repute, lacking everything good, unfit to dwell with the dogs guarding his flocks. But this pride in the face of our enemies has been changed within us; we have humiliated ourselves before our enemies, and grown proud against each other.” What Abba Isaiah is saying here is that pride, properly understood, is a sense of our own value and meaning, and can be used as weapon against self-pity and despair, against a sense of helplessness and uselessness. But you are not useless. A sense of uselessness is not humility, but a temptation of the devil. Humility is to know that I am made in the image of God; therefore God hopes many things from me. I have a unique vocation. Humility is to say all that I have is a gift.

In the parable of the talents, the master didn’t say to the servant who buried his talent and made no use of it, “Well done, you humble and modest servant. You have done much better than your proud companions who used their gift.” On the contrary, the servant is rebuked who wouldn’t use his gift because he thought he was no good. So, humility is not to say I am useless, but is to say everything that I have is a gift. And pride, understood as the sense of our value and meaning in God, of our high vocation as an icon of the Holy Trinity that can be put to good use, to be used against the temptations of the devil, who says, “You are hopeless.” There is a good self love, as St. Augustine emphasizes. When we love our true self, we can be proud of our true self. And we can be proud of our true self because our true self is in the image of the living God.

So all these things like anger and pride, which a writer in the Evagrian tradition would regard as demons, are considered by Abba Isaiah as a natural part of our personhood, created by God. Desire or anger is not in itself sinful. What matters is the way in which it is used. Our ascetic strategy is not to mortify but redirect, not eradicate but educate, not eliminate but transfigure.

It is not only Abba Isaiah who tells us that the passions can be put to good use but the later Greek Fathers. For example Maximus the Confessor talks about the “blessed passions” Gregory Palmas refers to “the divine and blessed passions.” He writes that the aim of the Christian life is not the containment of the passions but their transposition or redirection.

Again, I would commend to you the approach of John Donne: “Let our affections kill us not, nor die.” If we can learn to use our passions in the right way, then we should be, each of us, a true peacemaker.

Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and leads the Greek parish in the same city. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. Our thanks to Nancy Russell for transcribing the tape. This text may not be reproduced without permission of Bishop Kallistos.

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Approaching Christ the Physician

The True Meaning of Confession and Anointing

Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, April 1999 / third lecture by Bishop Kallistos

My theme this afternoon is “Coming to Christ, the Good Physician.” And I’ll be speaking about confession chiefly. But I’ll be looking at it as a sacrament of healing.

In the book by Tito Colliander, The Way of the Ascetics, a brief conversation is recorded between a monk and a layman. The layman asks the monk, “What do you do there in the monastery?” And the monk replies, “We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up again.” It’s not only in monasteries that we do that. In a fallen and sinful world, an all important aspect of our personhood is our need to be healed, to get up after we’ve fallen, our need to repent, to forgive, and to be forgiven.

We’ll start this afternoon with the familiar text of St. James, Chapter 5:

Are any among you sick? They should call for the presbyters of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up. If anyone has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins one to another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.

What we notice in this passage is that St. James is speaking about healing in an all-embracing sense of body and soul together. He talks about the sick person being healed through anointing with oil, but he also says that the sick person will be forgiven his sins. So, healing of body and soul go together. We are to see the human person, as we already said, in holistic terms. An undivided unity: the body is not healed apart from the soul, nor the soul apart from the body. The two are interdependent. St. James speaks at one and the same time of the sick person being raised from his bed physically healed, and he speaks of the forgiveness of his sins through confession. He speaks of spiritual healing.

I find this to be a key that opens a very important door, a vital clue — the anointing of the sick and confession are essentially connected as two indivisible aspects of a single mystery of healing and forgiveness. Each has its own specific function — they do not replace one another, but together they form a true union. So, perhaps the most helpful way to look at the sacrament of confession is to see it as a sacrament of healing.

Now, sacramental confession as we know it today in the Orthodox Church represents a convergence of two things which originally were, perhaps, distinct. First of all, there is the administration of penance. This is particularly connected with John, chapter 20, verses 22 through 23. There, the risen Christ breathes on His disciples, confers on them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and, He says, “whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whosoever sins you retain, they are retained.”

There, the risen Christ gives to His disciples the power of binding and loosing sins — a juridical power. This task of binding and loosing was transmitted from the apostles to their successors, the bishops. In the early church, the administration of penance was something public; it didn’t involve the private giving of counsel or advice. It was something exceptional. You hoped, by God’s mercy, that you wouldn’t have to be involved in penance. Indeed, the penances that were imposed were by our standards extremely severe. It often requires a leap of the imagination on our part to think of how life was in the ancient church. For example, for fornication — I mean, sex outside of marriage — St. Gregory of Nyssa assigns a penance of nine years without communion. St. Basil’s a little more merciful, he says seven years without communion. Finally, in the sixth and seventh century, in the canonical legislation of St. John the Faster, it’s been reduced to two years. Even so, by our standard, that may well seem severe. Does any part of the Orthodox Church today impose penances of that kind?

Another example is involuntary manslaughter — for example, killing somebody in a car accident. In the early church the act of accidental killing of another person meant ten years without communion. Perhaps, says St. John the Faster, if you observe strict fasting it can be reduced to three years. Parents who allow a child to die unbaptized — three years without communion. So it continues.

Now, that is one source of confession as we know it — the system of public penance that existed in the early church. But this is seen as something exceptional, not a regular part of people’s Christian life, only if they got into trouble. It was not primarily a question of spiritual direction.

But then there is another source of the sacrament of confession as we know it today. This is the practice of spiritual counsel, first found especially in the Egyptian monasticism of the fourth century, though no doubt the practice of using spiritual counsel goes right back to apostolic times. But we don’t know very much about it until the emergence of monasticism.

In the desert of Egypt, as we have learned from the Gerontikon and the Apothigmata — or Sayings of the Desert Fathers — an important part was played by the disclosure of thoughts. The disciple would go perhaps daily to his spiritual elder, his staretz, and open his heart to him. Now this is something clearly different from the system of public penance. First of all, it is regular, not exceptional. In many monastic centers, this happens daily. Secondly, it is private, not public. It’s carried out under conditions of confidentiality. It doesn’t directly involve the church hierarchy.

The spiritual father — in a monastic context, the elder — may in fact be a layman, not a priest. Anthony of Egypt was never a priest but he formed in many ways the prototype of the monastic spiritual father. Athanasius calls him a physician given by God to all of Egypt. The spiritual father of St. Simeon the New Theologian of the eleventh century — Simeon the Studdite — was not a priest. St. Silouan of Mt. Athos was not a priest. On the Holy Mountain today there are many spiritual fathers who are lay monks. Indeed, the giving of spiritual counsel can surely be done by a lay Christian — a man or woman — a person not in monastic vows at all, though that is more exceptional.

In this practice of spiritual counsel, the scope is far wider than in the formal penance of the Church. What you disclose to your elder is not just your sins, but your thoughts. You don’t just speak of what you’ve done wrong, you share with him your inner state, your whole situation. The hope is that by revealing your thoughts to your elder, you will in fact avoid falling into sin. In other words, penance is retrospective, picking up the pieces after the breakage; but, through the use of spiritual counsel, you hope to avoid the breakage itself.

When I was a student at Magdalen College in Oxford, there was a formidable guardian of the chapel, the verger, a little man called Tallboy. I remember a new Dean of Divinity arrived and, with some severity, Tallboy explained to him all the traditions and practices of the college chapel. At the end of this, the new Dean of Divinity said, a little nervously, “Thank you, Mr. Tallboy, you put me right when I go wrong.” “Sir,” said Tallboy, “I’ll put you right before you go wrong.”

Now, the first law of penance puts you right after you’ve gone wrong, but the first law of the disclosure of thoughts, so one hopes, puts you right before you’ve gone wrong.

The underlying principle behind this monastic disclosure of thoughts is very clear; it is described in this way in the Gerontikon, a collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers:

If impure thoughts trouble you, do not hide them, but tell them at once to your spiritual father and condemn them. The more a person conceals his thoughts, the more they multiply and gain strength. But an evil thought, when revealed, is immediately destroyed. If you hide things, they have great power over you, but if you could only speak of them before God, in the presence of another, then they will often wither away, and lose their power.

The process of bringing into the open what is hidden is decisive behind spiritual counsel. That, of course, is also the principle in modern psychotherapy, but the desert fathers thought of it before Freud and Jung.

If the model in the first place with public penance is primarily juridical, the model in the second case, with spiritual counsel, is more therapeutic. Confession as we know it today represents a growing together of these two tendencies. From the fourth century onward, with the greatly increased number of Christians, the system of public penance fell increasingly into disuse. In a much larger Christian community, the trust that existed in the first centuries of the church was diluted. To discuss publicly, in the presence of the whole community, the sins of individual members became a cause of scandal. And so from the fourth century onwards, increasingly penance is no longer public. It becomes a personal meeting just with the bishop and the one who has fallen into sin. Also, with the increasing number of Christians, the bishop alone could not possibly administer the practice of penance, so he delegates this task to specific priests.

Up until the present day in the Greek church still only a minority of priests will hear confessions. This is not something conferred automatically at ordination. There is a special ceremony in the Epilogion — the book of prayers — for the appointment of a priest as a confessor and spiritual father. Generally, in Greek tradition, priests do not hear confession until they have received that special blessing from the bishop.

Once confession and the practice of penance became private, then probably the priest appointed to deal with this matter would not limit himself just to imposing a penance, but he would offer some kind of guidance, some kind of healing counsel. So, increasingly the administration of penance from the fourth century onward takes in elements from the second strand I was describing, the tradition of spiritual counsel.

But there has never been a complete fusing between the two. The practice, as I have already said, of people going to a monk who is not a priest for counsel and to ask God’s forgiveness, has not entirely ceased.

Now, in our view of confession today, where do we put the primary emphasis? Do we put it mainly on the aspect of penance, or on the aspect of spiritual counsel? Do we think of confession primarily in juridical terms, as coming to Christ as the Judge? Do we think of it, on the other hand, more in therapeutic terms, as coming to Christ as the Good Physician, the Doctor? Do we see sin primarily as the breaking of the Law, in medieval terms, or do we see sin more as the symptom of inner illness? Do we emphasize mainly binding and loosing — or healing? Is coming to confession like going to a law court, or like going to a hospital? Now, our answer surely should be, there is truth in both approaches. They are not mutually exclusive.

I remember when I first traveled to America as a hungry student, I went by boat. In those days — the 1950’s — air travel was extremely expensive. It was only for the wealthy. So, unless you were rich, you went for five days on one of the great ocean liners. I can recall traveling on the liner, the Queen Elizabeth. The price of the meals was included in your ticket. I was delighted to find on my birthday that on the menu there was a huge list of food, and you did not have to choose just one item out of three courses. You could make as many courses as you liked. At breakfast, you didn’t have to have either fruit juice or cereal or porridge, you could have all three. You could then go on to have both fried eggs and poached haddock, if you felt like that in the heaving waters of the mid-Atlantic. At dinner the other people at my table were very small-minded. They just had soup and then a main course and then pudding. But I worked it out that I could have hors d’oeuvres and melon, soup, fish, meat, and then dessert, then fruit and then cheese. It wasn’t a question of either/or, but it could be both/and.

Now I would suggest spiritually we should follow the path of the luxury liner! We shouldn’t feel we’ve got to think of confession either in legalistic terms or in terms of healing, but we should combine the two. Even so I have to say that I myself find the therapeutic model much more helpful — to see confession above all as a sacrament of healing, to think of it as coming to Christ the Doctor. The priest is not the doctor, he is the medical assistant. If you’re given a penance — that’s not a punishment, it’s a tonic to help you recover afterwards, to get better.

Of course, this means if you do have a therapeutic approach to confession that you need more time, you can’t just deal with things in two minutes. In my experience, though I am in a fairly small parish, I find I need a quarter of an hour on average for each confession, but during Lent we might spend considerably longer, even a whole hour, together.

If you stress the element of healing, confession is less abhorable. It’s a time for a true opening of hearts.

What we bring to Christ is not a laundry list of sins, but we bring ourselves. We bring not just our sins, but our sinfulness, because often there is a sinfulness that is far deeper than the specific acts we mention. But again, we do not isolate our sinfulness from our total personhood. What we bring to Christ in confession is ourselves, and we may need time to do that.

If we think of confession in terms of healing, we also have to remember that healing takes time. Normally it doesn’t happen suddenly. We shouldn’t think of each confession in an isolated way, separately from all the others. We should recognize that confession is a process as well as an event. In going to a series of confessions, if possible to the same priest, gradually we change, even though we may feel that nothing very remarkable happened at any specific confession. Yet over time we realize, yes, we have been healed.

How many of Christ’s parables in the Gospels speak of slow, gentle, secret growth, unseen by us but seen by God? Think, for example, of Mark 4:26-29. That’s one of the very few passages which is only in Mark, and not in any of the other Gospels. And Mark, speaking there of the harvest, says that you were first the blade, the tender stalk, then you have the ear, or head. And then gradually the full corn in the ear, the head full of grain, but it happens very slowly, and we don’t see it happening though after time we notice the difference. Is not that true, very often, of our own spiritual lives? Certainly it was true of Mark himself, who got off to a rather shaky start. Paul was displeased with him and wouldn’t have him on his second missionary journey. But at the end of his life, Paul tells us that “only Mark is with me,” so evidently Mark made progress.

Christ Himself recognizes how long and drawn out the process of forgiveness may be. We have to forgive people to “seventy times seven.” That’s often what God has to do to us. We shouldn’t feel discouraged if we have to keep mentioning the same sin over and over again at successive confessions. Does that mean that the confession is useless? Does it mean that we are just wasting our own time and the priest’s time? Not necessarily. When we feel, “well, I can’t go to confession because I’d only have the same things to say” — that is a temptation of the devil. We must go back. We must keep mentioning these things. Change happens slowly.

Throwing together what I’ve been saying about confession, I’d like to ask the question, “Why go to confession at all? If, after I have sinned, I turn to God in prayer and, with all sincerity of heart, I ask Him to forgive me, saying my evening prayers that day, does not God at once forgive my sin? Why, then, do I need to go to confession?”

My answer is, yes, God does forgive my sin when I confess it in full sincerity of heart from that very moment, but we still need to go to confession for several reasons. In confession, there are basically three of us there: there is me, making my confession; there is the priest, listening as witness; and there is God — Christ the Physician — who forgives and heals.

Let’s consider what each of these three people do.

First of all, there is what I do. Earlier I quoted from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers — if a thought is concealed, repressed, hidden within us, it has great power. But if we can only bring it into the open, it loses its power over us. Now there is the first reason to go to confession. Yes, I can confess my sins alone in my evening prayer, but there is great power in the uttered word. If I externalize this, if I bring them into the open, what has hitherto been internal, perhaps only half-conscious, now assumes an objective existence and so I can deal with it. Let us not underestimate the effect upon us of speaking about our secret thoughts and sins.

As part of our church service, the mystery of confession in the presence of another person deepens. Often, it is surprising how in confession itself, we say things that we didn’t realize lay in our power to say. Sometimes in confession itself, our whole situation becomes clear as we speak. We didn’t really know what we were going to say until we said it. In this way, the process of speaking can have a creative impact.

Of course, we are to prepare before confession. People who are afraid that because of the erratic character of human memory, or because of nervousness, they may forget things — yes, certainly they may write a few things down on paper. I always discourage people from writing their whole confession down before they come to simply read from a piece of paper what is there. The creative work of putting it into words needs to happen in the confession itself. The same is true, mind you, of preaching sermons. Certainly we should prepare: it’s not advisable to just get up and say the first thing that comes into your head. That, on the whole, won’t really help people. You should have a clear notion before we begin our sermon of what the theme is going to be, what is going to proceed from the point, and we may even have something written down. But we shouldn’t read a prepared statement word-for-word. When that is done, it means that the creative work was done in our study, perhaps several days before, and what we are offering to the congregation is merely the cold ashes afterward. That’s a little harsh, but it wasn’t I who said that. I think is was St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. The same is true of confession: make a few notes if you wish but always find the words at the actual moment of confession. So the creative work is happening in the confession itself.

That ends the first point — what I do, the power of the uttered word. Then there’s what the priest does. Here I think there are two points — one more obvious, the other perhaps less so. The obvious thing is that the priest can give us counsel, advice. Many people think that is the main reason for going to confession. Actually, I would say, what I — the penitent — do is more important than the advice the priest gives me. But nonetheless, the priest’s advice can be decisive.

It is a remarkable thing, that statements which, if you read them printed in a book, would not strike you as in any way remarkable. You’d say, “Well, that’s obvious enough!” But when the same words are spoken to you by the priest hearing your confession, they may suddenly prove to be words of fire. Words which, taken in the abstract, may seem very ordinary and simple, in confession may suddenly come alive. If you are receptive, they may alter your life.

I remember one case. At the Russian convent in London to which I often went as a layman, there was an elderly priest, Fr. John, who didn’t like preaching sermons and he didn’t like hearing confessions. He was always extremely laconic. Few words of advice were given. One day, a woman who often came to him for confession told him as usual and at great length the arguments that she had had with her husband. “He said this and I said this and then he said this and I told him he was all wrong and said this and this and this…” At the end of all this, Fr. John simply looked at her, and said, “And did it help?” Then he gave her absolution.

Those four words changed her life. She suddenly saw how futile it was to go on arguing all the time, always trying to answer people back, always wanting to have the last word. She suddenly thought, “It doesn’t have to be like that at all.” She stopped it and changed. It was that very simple word of advice from the priest, put in the form of a question, that made her life different.

I remember a friend of mine who went to one of the Greek priests in the cathedral. She was a little taken aback — indeed, a little offended at first — because his advice was limited to five words. He just said: “Not serious, but too many,” and then gave her absolution. Again, that made a difference. It altered her attitude toward herself.

When in confession, listen very carefully to what the priest says. He is not simply offering general advice, reflections on the human predicament. He is speaking to me, calling on the Holy Spirit to guide him. What are these words from the Spirit that the priest has to say to me here and now? If we will really listen, then we shall learn.

I remember going one day to a Russian church when I was a layman, wanting to go to confession, and asking, “Which one of the priests speaks English?” I was told, “Go to that one.” So I did. Once I had confessed, he began talking to me but I couldn’t understand a word. So I said, “Could you please speak English?” And he said in an irritated voice, “I am speaking English!” It was not a promising beginning for our mutual cooperation!

So even though what I do may be more important than what the priest does, yet the priest’s counsel can often change my life, if I will let it do so. We mustn’t expect the priest to do everything. When Christ was among people with no faith, he could not work any miracles there. It’s always two-sided. If I, the penitent or the disciple, am not receptive, then the spiritual father will not have a healing word for me.

There is another way in which the priest’s role is important, which, perhaps, we forget. The priest is there as the representative of the church community. Penance, as we saw earlier, was originally a public event. All the local community were there. Now it is personal and private, but the priest is nonetheless representing the community. There are no entirely private sins. All sins are sins against my neighbor, as well as against God and against myself. Even my most secret thoughts are, in fact, making it more difficult for those around me to follow Christ.

All personal sins have a negative effect on other persons, though they may not be consciously aware it does. So, when I come to confession, I come to ask forgiveness not only from God, but also from my sisters and brothers, from the community. I see the priest, therefore, who is present as a witness, as being the representative of the community.

Let me give an example. I’ve heard this story twice, told by quite different people. Perhaps it happened twice. This is a story involving someone I had the privilege of meeting personally and knowing, a saint of our church, St. John Maximovich, who was a bishop of Shanghai, then here in France, then finally San Francisco.

Once, a man was making confession to him, and he said to Archbishop John, “Yes, I see that I have sinned. With my mind, I appreciate that what I’ve done is wrong, but my heart is like a stone — I feel no sense of sorrow or compunction.” Now, the confession was being heard just before the Liturgy and there were already many people in the church. Archbishop John said to the man, “Go out into the middle of the church, kneel in front of all these people, and ask their forgiveness, and then come back to me.”

The man did so. And when he knelt before the people and asked their forgiveness, a sudden change occurred inside him. Suddenly, the stoniness of his heart was taken away. Suddenly, something that held back his tears of compunction was released, and he was able to weep over his sin, and then he received absolution. This brings out the importance of the priest as a representative of the community. We have to ask forgiveness of our fellow Christians.

Here I would join Fr. Alexander Menn’ in issuing a word of caution. There is, in my view, a great danger of over-emphasizing the role of the spiritual father. People read Dostoevski’s account of Staretz Zosima, which is indeed a marvelous piece of writing, and then they think, “That’s how it’s going to be for me. I’m going to find a spiritual father who will know all my thoughts before I confess them; who will alter my life with a single healing word.” Now, for many of us, that is not the way things happen.

Priests have to be very careful, if they are in a parish and are hearing confessions of married couples, not to demand of lay people the kind of obedience that is appropriate only in a monastery. There’s a danger sometimes of parish priests thinking, “I shall be St. Seraphim, I shall be Staretz Zosima.” But even in a monastery, those kinds of spiritual fathers are very much the exception. We shouldn’t, as priests, be too quick to claim the authority of a charismatic staretz. Perhaps I am a St. Seraphim, perhaps I am not.

So I would see the primary purpose of the spiritual father — especially among lay people, but it applies also in monasteries — is to help others to discover their freedom. Not to tell them what they should do, but to help them, through the use of their own freedom, to stand in their own conscience before God and to come to an informed decision.

Very often people come to a spiritual father wanting him to make the decision for them, and perhaps the answer is they have to make the decision. The spiritual father can help them to see what the issue is.

I recall Fr. Sophrony telling me about the approach of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos towards those who came to him. He said, Staretz Silouan hardly ever told people exactly what to do, he hardly ever issued commands. Much more often, he would ask them questions — very carefully chosen questions, yes — but he didn’t issue orders. He wanted people to think for themselves. Fr. Sophrony said that if Staretz Silouan did give counsel in a more detailed way, he frequently began his sentences with the word, “If.” In other words, he tried to help people see connections, to see that if they did one thing, then that would lead on to something else, so there is a chain of cause of effect within our spiritual lives. He tried to help people see how things hang together, how one thing leads to another. Still he left it to them to make up their own minds.

If somebody comes to me and just says, “Tell me what I should do,” my response is, “That is not the real question. You can only discover what you should do if you look in a much more precise way at what the possibilities are and what the alternatives are. Then you can begin to make a choice. But the question, just in the abstract, ‘What should I do?’, is not yet ready for an answer.” The spiritual father doesn’t issue orders, he’s not a lawgiver. We hear this again and again in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. But he can, sometimes, help people to see what the question is.

The purpose of confession is that it is a school for healing. I mentioned what I do in confession and what the priest does. Thirdly, there is what God does, and that is, by far, the most important thing of all.

Confession is a sacrament, a mystery. Divine grace is at work in it. Confession, like all the other sacraments, is God’s action in which we, both penitent and priest, are invited to share.

What St. John Chrysostom says of the Divine Liturgy is true also of confession. Of the liturgy, St. John Chrysostom says, “The priest only lends his hand and provides his tongue. Everything is brought to pass by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” When the priest in confession lays his stole on the head of the penitent and then his hand upon the penitent’s head, it is the hand of Christ who is laying this hand upon the head of the penitent. That is made very clear in the exhortation at the beginning of the Russian rite of confession: “Christ stands invisibly before us, I am only a witness, bearing testimony before Him of all the things you have to say to me.”

So here you have my reasons for suggesting that is why we do need to go to confession.

Let me end with a quotation not from an Orthodox writer but from Protestant, a Lutheran, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Speaking of confession, he says, “Who can refuse, without suffering loss, the help that God has thought it necessary to offer us?”

Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and leads the Greek parish in the same city. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. His lecture may not be reproduced without his permission. The transcription was made by Lara Oliver. Our thanks to her.

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In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord

Peace & Healing in the Divine Liturgy

Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, April 1999 / fourth lecture by Bishop Kallistos

This afternoon I spoke about the sacrament of Confession. Tonight, I would like to say something about the Holy Eucharist.

Let me begin with two words. The first is from 19th century Russia, St. John of Kronstadt: “The Eucharist is a continual miracle.” And my second word is from 14th century Byzantium, from St. Nicolas Cabasilas: “This is the final mystery. Beyond this it is not possible to go, nor can anything be added to it.” So, let us reflect together this evening on this “continual miracle,” this “final mystery,” which holds the church in unity, makes the church to be itself, and which is the heart of our life as Christians.

I would like to look at two things: first, what is the meaning of the word “liturgy”?; and secondly, how do we speak about “peace” during the course of the liturgy?

First of all, what is the meaning of the word “liturgy,” the word which Orthodox use above all when referring to the service of Holy Communion. The Greek term “liturgia” is sometimes explained as meaning the “work of the people.” That, I am told, is bad etymology, but it is, in fact, quite good theology, because liturgy indeed means precisely a shared corporate action. Liturgy is something done by many persons in common, something that none of us can do alone. So, if the Eucharist is termed liturgy, that means that, at the service, there are only active participants; there are no passive spectators.

Let us think together about the way in which the corporate, shared nature of the Divine Liturgy is expressed. Throughout the service, except on rare occasions, all the prayers use the plural, not the singular. We say throughout the Liturgy “we,” not “I.” Exceptions are only apparent exceptions. At the beginning of the Creed, it is true, it starts “I believe.” That is because the Creed was originally used in the service of Baptism, and so, the person being baptized as an adult used the singular when making their profession of faith. When the Creed was introduced from the Baptismal Service into the Divine Liturgy, the singular was preserved. If you look at the prayer said before the Great Entrance by the priest during the Hymn of the Cherubim, again you will see that he uses the word “I,” but that is a prayer said secretly by the priest. It was never said aloud. It was introduced into the liturgy at a time after the prayers had come to be said in a low voice so that they couldn’t be heard by the people. As it is a priest’s prayer, it naturally fits to say “I.” Equally, in the Russian use, before communion we use the prayer “I believe, Lord, and I confess,” but that really belongs to the Prayers of Preparation, not to the Liturgy itself, and so, naturally, when a person is saying the Prayers of Preparation alone in their own room, it is appropriate for them to say “I believe and I confess.”

Elsewhere in the Liturgy, the word used is “we.” And in this way the Liturgy reflects the pattern of prayer given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ: the Lord’s Prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer we say “us” five times, “our” three times, “we” once; but never at all do we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “me”, “mine”, or “I.” So, the liturgical pronoun is “we,” not “I.” And that underlines that the Liturgy is a common, shared act.

I often think of the story retold by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov about an old woman and an onion. You will all know it — how the angel tried to pull her out of the lake of fire, and how the other people in the lake of fire climb on in the hope of being pulled out as well, and how the old woman, alarmed by this, cried out, “Let go. Let go. It is not you who are being pulled out. It’s me. It’s not your onion; it’s mine.” And as we know, when she said “It’s mine,” the onion snapped in two, and she fell back into the lake of fire. And there, so I am told, she still is. If only she said, “It is our onion,” surely the onion would have been strong enough to have pulled them all out together. In saying “It is my onion,” she was being profoundly un-liturgical; indeed, she was denying her human personhood.

As persons made in the image of God, we are made in the image of God the Holy Trinity; and the Holy Trinity signifies mutual love. If we are made in the image of the Trinity, that means we are made to love one another. And if we refuse to love one another, that means we lose our true human personhood. So, there is no true person unless there are at least two persons — better still, three — in dialogue with one another. The doctrine of the Trinity means, in terms of our human personhood, I need you in order to be myself.

So that is the first way in which we see how the Liturgy is always a shared action. Always we say “we.” The Liturgy expresses mutual love. One of the things that I was taught by Nicholas Zernov very early in my acquaintance with the Orthodox Church was how important in the Liturgy is the phrase “Let us love one another, that so we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” Without mutual love there is no true confession of the Trinity, and no true Liturgy. I remember when I first became a priest in Oxford, Nicholas say to me, “We must have that portion of the Liturgy in English.” He was very keen on having everything in English, if possible. This was not the view of all the other people in the parish, but evidently he thought the English speakers especially needed to be reminded of mutual love. What a pity, in most of our Orthodox Churches, we do not exchange the kiss of peace among the congregation at that point. I don’t know what you do here in Vézelay. You have the kiss of peace? Well, I would expect nothing less of Father Stephen, but I am afraid that we don’t at Oxford, and that is a sad thing, though the exchange of the kiss of peace among the congregation had already dropped out quite early. By the time of St. Maximus it was only being exchanged among the clergy.

As we continue talking about “we,” let us notice another element in the Liturgy which stresses the importance of mutual love, the importance of communal solidarity at the service. When, as celebrant, I come into the church for the start of the service, before I go into the sanctuary to put on my vestments, I say the Prayers of Preparation in front of the iconostasis. I then venerate the icons. I then turn to the west, away from the sanctuary, and bow. Often nobody else has arrived in the church at that time, so I only bow to the angels, but if there are humans there as well, then they should bow back. A second time, before as celebrant I go to the Holy Table to take the gifts of bread and wine and carry them in the procession of the Great Entrance, once more I bow to the people and they bow back. A third time, before Holy Communion, once more the celebrant turns and bows to the people and they bow back, though in most Orthodox churches at this moment, the doors are closed and the curtain is drawn, so nobody sees that.

What are we doing when we exchange these bows with each other? Is this simply a mutual courtesy? No, it has a far more specific meaning. The priest, as he bows, says aloud, or else in his heart, “Forgive me.” And the people, when they bow back, respond, either aloud or in their heart, in the same way: “Forgive us.” And each may say in their heart, “May God forgive us.” So what we are doing in the exchange of bows is giving and receive pardon — mutual forgiveness. And this, again, shows how in the Eucharist we never come to receive communion alone as isolated individuals. We come as members of a community; and, we come, or we should come, as members of a reconciled community — a community that is at peace with itself. Without the giving and receiving of forgiveness, there is no true celebration in the full sense.

Then, thirdly, let us note another thing in the Liturgy. Before the beginning of the Anaphora, the great prayer of offering, there is an opening dialogue. The celebrant or deacon says, “Let us stand aright, let us stand with fear.” Then the people respond, in the correct text, “Mercy. Peace. A sacrifice of praise.” In fact in most churches they say, “a mercy of peace,” but that does not make very good sense. If we consult the older Greek manuscripts we find, “Mercy. Peace. A sacrifice of praise.”

Notice that we begin by speaking of peace before we begin the Great Prayer. Then the celebrant blesses the people, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The people respond: “And with your spirit.” “Let us lift up our hearts.” The people answer, “We lift them to the Lord.” “Let us give thanks to Lord.” The people answer, “It is meet and right.” Incidentally, if we followed the more ancient texts, we shouldn’t go on by singing, “It is meet and right to worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence” and so on. The meaning of the people’s response is. “It is meet and right to give thanks,” and so it remains in the Greek tradition, but the Russians added other words in order to fill up space while the priest was saying the prayer silently. If you say the prayers aloud, there is no need to do that. It actually obscures the meaning of the people’s response there. (We need quite a lot of liturgical tidying up in our Orthodox churches, but this is the proper critical text of the Liturgy based on the best manuscripts. Perhaps that is something we might get on with as Orthodox in a constructive way instead of arguing about other matters.)

Now what is the meaning of this opening dialogue? Here is the explanation given by St. John Chrysostom in his commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “As we begin the actual celebration of the dread mysteries, the priest prays for the people and the people pray for the priest, for the words ‘and with thy spirit’ mean precisely this: Everything in the Eucharistic thanksgiving is shared in common. For the priest does not offer thanksgiving alone, but the whole people give thanks with him. For after he has replied to their greeting, they then give their consent by answering: ‘It is meet and right.’ Only then does he begin the Eucharistic thanksgiving.” So on the understanding of St. John Chrysostom, this opening dialogue exactly expresses our togetherness as we embark upon the central part of the Eucharist. The priest alone says the prayer of the Anaphora, but the people are directly and actively involved in everything that he does. And so, in this dialogue, the unity of priest and people in the shared action of the Liturgy is clearly underlined. The priest greets the people; they respond to his greeting:”The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” — “And with thy spirit.” This is mutual prayer, as St. John Chrysostom explains it. The priest then invites the people to raise their hearts on high; and the people respond by saying, “That is exactly what we’re doing!” And then the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord,” and that could also be translated: “Let us offer the Eucharist to the Lord.” And the people say: “That is an excellent idea.” Only when they have responded in that way does the celebrant continue. The celebrant is, as it were, asking permission from the people to continue with the Eucharistic celebration. He needs their endorsement. He cannot act on his own. The prayer is theirs as well as his. Their active consent is indispensable. So the Eucharistic Anaphora begins with a dialogue because the Eucharist is, par excellance, the human action. We are eucharistic animals as human beings; and also, the human animal is essentially a dialogic animal — an animal that engages in dialogue. So what that dialogue before the Anaphora is expressing is just what I said a few minutes ago: I need you in order to be myself.

All of this then helps us to understand how the Eucharist, if it is to be properly celebrated, needs to be celebrated by a community that is at least at unity within itself. It is offered by nobody singly, but by all of us in loving fellowship with one another. That is the ideal. Let us all try to make it also the reality.

Now I would like to move to my second point which concerns the meaning of the word “peace.” This is a recurrent phrase in the Liturgy: peace. Here I borrow from the excellent little book by the Monk of the Eastern Church, Fr. Lev Gillet, Serve the Lord With Gladness. Fr. Lev has a great gift for expressing deep truths with remarkable conciseness and simplicity.

[Bishop Kallistos made a gesture imitating quotations marks, then explained:] There was a minister in America some years ago who used to begin and end all of his sermons with a gesture like this. People asked him why do you do that. “My sermons,” he replied, “are not my own. They are actually taken from other people, and those are the quotation marks.” So for this little bit, as I am paraphrasing Fr. Lev, I ought to do this as well.

Let’s reflect for a moment on the text of the Great Litany at the beginning of the service, the Litany of Peace. Three times we speak about peace: “In peace let us pray to the Lord”; “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord”; “For the peace of the whole world and the good estate of the holy Churches of God and for the communion of all, let us pray to the Lord.”

This threefold request for peace is not a superfluous repetition. Each repetition is charged with a distinctive significance.

At the very outset of the public part of the Liturgy, we establish the fact that peace is the spiritual space in which the Divine Liturgy is being celebrated. We start by saying “in peace, let us pray to the Lord.” We cannot enter into the action of the Liturgy or experience the joy of the Kingdom unless we have within our hearts, by God’s mercy, a state of interior peace. So we start by seeing peace as an inner state of our soul. “In peace” — the state of wholeness and of integration. So at the beginning of the Liturgy we are to banish, from within ourselves, feelings of resentment and hostility toward others: bitterness, rancor, inner grumbling, or divisiveness. We are to shed these things; let them go; begin the Liturgy “in peace.” That is Stage I.

Then Stage II: “For the peace from above…” Peace is not just a psychological state produced by my own effort. Peace, true peace, comes from above as a gift from God, a gift of grace. “Without me,” says Christ, “you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In translating the Philokalia, I have been struck by the surprising frequency with which that text is quoted. “Without me you can do nothing.” We see that peace is not a manufactured article, human made. It is a gift, a charisma. We therefore have to open our hearts to receive Christ’s gift of peace: “the peace from above.” As it says in Ephesians 2:14, “He is our peace.” Notice in this second petition how peace is closely joined with salvation. “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls.” Salvation, in the tradition of the Christian East, is not understood primarily in juridical terms, as a release from guilt, although it is that in part. But salvation thought of positively means wholeness, fullness of life. We can’t have that wholeness, that fullness of life without the divine gift of peace.

Then we come to the third petition: “For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy Churches of God, the union of all.” The peace that we seek is not just inward looking, not world denying. It is outward going, active, practical. We seek peace not for myself alone, but for and with others. If I seek peace selfishly, I will not find it. Peace and unity go together.

So then, that is the sequence: “in peace” — “peace from above” — “peace of the whole world.” Peace is not self-centered. It is outward looking, ecstatic (in the literal sense of that word), generous, and practical. In Fr. Lev’s words: “We pray for the peace of the universe. Not only for humans, but for all creatures: for animals, for vegetables, for stars, for the whole of nature.” So we enter into a cosmic piety. We express our sympathy with everything to which God has given being. But though our prayer for peace is not limited to the human race, that is certainly where we begin. And how urgent at all times, but especially now, is the need for the prayer begging Christ to give peace to this suffering world.

Then we have God’s response to that threefold prayer for peace. It comes a little later in the service when the celebrant says to the congregation: “Peace be with all.” In Slav use, that is said soon after the Little Entrance and the Trisagion. In Greek use and, again, in the Slav, it comes before the Gospel, and repeatedly thereafter. “Peace be with all.” That is not just an empty phrase but is a powerful performative utterance — not just a courteous formality, but the transmission of a reality. Now what the priest is transmitting is not his own peace. He is speaking at this moment in Christ’s name. He is transmitting to the people God’s peace: “The peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) We think at this point of Christ’s words at the Last Supper: “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you.” (Jn. 14:27) There is a two-way traffic. Our prayer for peace is the one movement, then the responding movement, God’s gift of peace. The effect of peace is unity with ourselves; unity with God; unity with others round us. Peace and unity in this way are essential marks of the eucharistic celebration.

So then, remembering Plato’s words — “The beginning of truth is to wonder at things” — I ask you tonight to renew your sense of wonder before the final mystery, the great mystery of the Eucharist. I began with the words of St. John of Kronstadt, who was a very profoundly eucharistic priest, so let me end with his words: “In the words ‘take, eat, drink’ there is contained the abyss of God’s love for humankind. O perfect Love! O all-embracing Love! O irresistible Love! What shall we give to God in gratitude for this Love?”

Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and leads the Greek parish in the same city. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. His lecture may not be reproduced without his permission. The transcription was made by Fred Bittle. Our thanks to him.

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