Serbian Nuns Learn Language of Albanian Muslims

iconographer nun at Sokolica monastery in Kosovo

 

 

 

 

 

 

The eight nuns of a Serbian Orthodox monastery, Sokolica, in religiously polarized Kosovo have decided to learn Albanian so they can talk to Albanian Muslims who come to pray at an ancient statue of the Virgin Mary.

Muslims from all over Kosovo flock to the Sokolica monastery because they believe its 14th-century sculpture of the Sokolika Virgin can cure deaf-mute children and help childless couples become pregnant. The famous sculpture is adorned with gold necklaces, bracelets and strings of pearls from grateful pilgrims, both Christian and Muslim. “It cures not only their people but also our people,” said a Muslim neighbor.

The monastery, surrounded by the Muslim village of Boletin, is located in the mountains that overlook the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica.

“When Muslims ask how to pray, we tell them to pray in their own language and in the way they are taught to,” the 67-year-old head of the monastery, Mother Makarija, told Agence France Presse. “We let them praise their Allah as we do our God.”

“Our door is open for all who come, both Christian and Muslims. If Muslims think our sacred sculpture can help them, then they are welcome,” said Mother Makarija.

“But speaking the languages of neighbors is a must,” she said. “I don’t want our sisters to talk to the neighbors and Albanians who visit the monastery in English but in Albanian. I am always looking for [Albanian] textbooks. I may be too old for it but my nuns must learn Albanian.” (The abbess speaks Serbian, English, German and Greek.)

Local villagers tell how the abbess braved heavy fighting during the war to take a pregnant Boletin woman to deliver her baby at a Serbian hospital in Mitrovica. “It was dangerous even for her, despite the fact that she was a nun,” said Besim Boletini, who lives next door to the monastery.

Muslim villager Mustafa Kelmendi, 67, said Mother Makarija had saved his son Basri from Serb paramilitaries twice. “The war brought chaos … However she did not allow Serb forces to stay in the convent even when fighting was going on in the area.”

The nuns are well known as fresco painters and iconographers. “That is our main income,” said Mother Makarija.

 

Letter from the editor IC69

Ukraine Crisis: Truth the First Casualty

guest editorial by Jim Forest

Wars are fought not only with weapons but with words and propaganda. Charge and counter-charge are exchanged as Kiev, Moscow and Washington assert, accuse, and deny. Are the armed “green men” in Ukraine’s Donboss region in fact Russian military, as Kiev and Washington allege, or are they Ukrainians merely replicating locally what was done on the Euromaidan in Kiev a few months earlier, as Moscow asserts? Who had ordered snipers to open fire back then on the people on the Euromaidan? Who distributed leaflets ordering Jews to register with authorities? Was it the new government of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, as Kiev claims, or was it a provocation aimed at discrediting pro-Russian separatists? Who killed three men at a checkpoint in Slovyansk in late April, Russian military intelligence or Ukrainian nationalists? Who is to blame for the blaze in Odessa on the 2nd of May that trapped and killed so many on the pro-Russian side? Day-by-day such questions multiply.

Spend an hour or two on the web reading texts about the conflict in Ukraine. It’s impressive how much bluster, hyperbole, exaggeration, conspiracy theorizing, overheated rhetoric, and plain lying have come from every side: Kiev, Moscow, Washington, London and other European capitals. Hour-by-hour the ancient Greek proverb—“In war, truth is the first casualty”—is being amply demonstrated.

No one would deny that the former Yanukovych government was corrupt, as was the government that preceded it. That many Ukrainians were fed up with such leadership is understandable. It’s no less understandable that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority is outraged and, after being treated for years as second-class citizens, that many of them might prefer either a high degree of regional autonomy or even being part of Russia. Only free elections, not only at the national level but oblast-by-oblast, can demonstrate the will of the people. Meanwhile the Ukrainians have a right to sort out their own affairs without outside interference. Regardless of the outcome in Ukraine, the US, NATO, and Russia should stand back.

But of course they are not standing back. It is reasonable to assume that much that is happening in Ukraine is encouraged if not choreographed by strategists in the US and Russia plus various European capitals. In the western press, the fact that the CIA has been quietly meddling in the affairs of Ukraine has been regarded as a detail of minor significance, even though the CIA has so often in the past played a decisive role in arranging “regime change.” White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that CIA Director John Brennan visited Kiev in mid-April and met with principal Ukrainian officials. With a straight face Carney said that it was absurd to imply that US officials meeting with their counterparts in Kiev was anything other than routine. The claim would be laughable if the consequences of enmity were not so disastrous.

Certainly the major powers have their special interests and goals. Western European countries see an opportunity to include Ukraine in the NATO alliance and to bring Ukraine into the European Union while in the process “reforming” Ukraine’s economy as is being done, for example, in Greece. Russia seeks to keep NATO at a distance and, having reclaimed Crimea, may also see an opportunity to reabsorb the more Russian-speaking oblasts in eastern Ukraine that were lost when the USSR collapsed. Even if Russia does not seek to expand its borders, it may want to force any future elected Kiev government to grant a considerable degree of autonomy to oblasts in which the majority of the population are Russian speakers.

A major factor in the conflict is ultra-nationalism, which infects not only a large part of the overall population but also the membership of churches. There are three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine whose borders are drawn in part along lines of language and nationality (Ukrainian or Russian). There are also both Eastern rite and Western rite jurisdictions in communion with Rome, especially in western Ukraine.

It is not a situation in which Christians on the outside can embrace one side and denounce the other. All sides have legitimate claims—and each side has its fanatics and thugs. The only hope for a peaceful solution is dialogue and free elections. Perhaps it is by stressing a deeper unity that Orthodox Christians working for peace can best help remind our fellow Christians in the midst of this conflict of a communion that transcends national and linguistic identity. While deep divisions are obvious and unhealed wounds many, all Christians, no matter of what jurisdictional segment, would respond to the exclamation “Christ is risen!” with the immediate and unified response, “He is risen indeed!”

That Paschal affirmation should shape our response to the world we live in, but often it doesn’t. Not only in Ukraine and Russia but in every Orthodox jurisdiction, national identity often influences our sense of self and our public identity more than the fact of being baptized Christians among whom “there is neither Greek nor Jew”—a Christ-centered community in which all national labels are secondary.

As Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople recently said, while on a visit to The Netherlands, “The concept of the nation cannot become a determining factor of Church life or an axis of Church organization. Whenever an Orthodox Church succumbs to nationalist rhetoric and lends support to racial tendencies, it loses sight of the authentic theological principles and gives in to a fallen mindset, totally alien to the core of Orthodoxy.”  IC

Pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov kisses an Orthodox icon after a news conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, July 10, 2014. During the interview, he said: “It is precisely Russia that we are here fighting for.... We are fighting for your right to self-determination of your language, your culture, your way of life, and your right to be free from being forced into those imposed on you by people for whom your land and your society are merely the objects of political machinations and various financial speculation.”
Pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov kisses an Orthodox icon after a news conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, July 10, 2014. During the interview, he said: “It is precisely Russia that we are here fighting for…. We are fighting for your right to self-determination of your language, your culture, your way of life, and your right to be free from being forced into those imposed on you by people for whom your land and your society are merely the objects of political machinations and various financial speculation.”
Resources for parish and private prayer as well as various relevant texts can be found on the Ukraine Crisis page posted on the OPF’s In Communion web site: www.incommunion.org/2014/03/17/pray-for-peace/

Poetry in Pictures

“United and Undivided?”

split olive trees

An elderly olive tree whose trunk was split by some trauma

when the tree was young.

The two halves are separate,

yet they are one tree,

forming one canopy and sharing the same root.

_________________________

“Being Separate Together”

Being separate together

Two trees of the same species planted far enough apart

so as to not interfere with one another as saplings

but encountering one another in maturity.

Their canopies have adapted as they accommodate each other

in a shared space.

The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

philokalia review image

The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif, eds., Oxford University Press, 2012, 349 pp

reviewed by Pieter Dykhorst

The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality is a collection of essays compiled to introduce readers “to the background, motifs, authors, and relevance for contemporary life and thought” of the Philokalia. It is an easy to read work of scholarship that can help make the challenging spiritual insights of the Philokalia more accessible to the average Christian, while also serving as a serious textbook for seminarians.

A work by and for scholars, the book is apparently long overdue on academic shelves. Many readers will be surprised, as I was, to learn that the editors created it while doing their own Philokalic research and discovering that “a large lacuna exists in scholarly literature on the Philokalia.” To begin to fill that gap, Bingaman and Nassif produced an anthology on the “History, Theological implications, and Spiritual Practices of the ” by leading scholars of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions. And the list of authors makes compelling bait! The Orthodox among them include Kallistos Ware (who also wrote the introduction), John McGuckin, Andrew Louth, John Chryssavgis, and Bradley Nassif.

The Philokalia: a Classic Text is also an aid for the rest of us. If the Philokalia itself is like a field manual for spiritual boot camp, Bingaman and Nassif’s book is like the Field Manual for Dummies. Anybody familiar with the Dummies series knows that it takes an expert to make a difficult subject easy to read. While the Philokalia is considered by many Orthodox to be an indispensable guide to spiritual growth, it often seems impenetrable to the newly initiated . The essayists in A Classic Text succeed in unpacking the various themes of the Philokalia in a way that invites one in to begin the work of making it personal.

Likewise, nobody would ever take reading about fox holes as a substitute for digging one and spending the night in it. While The Philokalia: a Classic Text should prove to be an enticement to opening up the Philokalia for anyone pursuing Orthodox spiritual growth, there are no shortcuts. Before reading either book, any notions of finishing with an easy certificate in Philokalic studies should be dispensed with.

While exploring themes like the Jesus Prayer, asceticism, theology, and others––those one would expect a book like this to examine––Bingaman and Nassif included essays on more mundane but necessary topics, like the history of the Philokalia, and a few surprising ones as well, like the last chapter: Women in the Philokalia?

Other expected areas are examined through lenses that make fundamental concepts in the Philokalia understandable and useful in a modern context. A chapter by Christopher C. H. Cook, Healing, Psychotherapy, and the Philokalia, looks at “the nature of the pathologies that the Philokalia diagnoses,” what Orthodox call the passions, from the perspective of a mental-health physician. Reading again some of St. Maximos’ texts on virtue and the lengthy list of vices found in Peter of Damascus through the lens of modern psychology only made their insight more relevant to my life in a modern context.

As I read through The Philokalia: a Classic Text, skipping from section to section, I realized I was also, unexpectedly, having fun. I was treating it as if it were not the manual it is but also a travel guide. You’ll see what I mean if you pick it up: the essayists are all familiar with a beautiful place they have visited—“philokalia” means “love of the beautiful”—and write to tell about it. The best travel books don’t simply tell you where to eat, how to catch a cab, or about local customs—they make you want to go and find all those things out for yourself. This book is no different. Its authors seem to know the Philokalia and entice others to get to know it as they do. John Chryssavgis’ insights on Silence, Stillness, and Solitude, something I’m currently exploring, are like photographs from a beautiful land.

For all that, the book isn’t exhaustive, and one is left hoping for a follow-on book. Until then, this book will serve well and word of it should spread quickly as it finds its way into homes and studies.

War and Virtue, full text keynote address OPF conference 2013

WAV 3 papanikolaou at OPF

War and Virtue

Aristotle Papanikolaou, Fordham University

Paper delivered at the annual conference of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Washington, DC – October 2013

[The following is the full text of Prof. Papanikolaou’s essay/address. The first half was published as an essay in the summer issue of In Communion, IC69]

Orthodoxy and Secular Rule: Ethics and Politics

Contemporary discussions of just war theory in Christian ethics focus on whether Christians should be in the business of defining criteria for the decision to go to war and for the proper engagement in combat. There is very little attention to the way in which, debates about just war criteria notwithstanding, combat soldiers are forced to engage in practices, both in training before war and during war, that fine-tune the body to the constant threat of violence—what I term the ascetics of war. If war is seen as fostering a certain ascetics on the body, then the Orthodox notion of divine-human communion (theosis) is relevant to discussions of war insofar as divine-human communion is itself linked to an ascetics of virtue. Understanding the human as created for communion with God shifts the focus of the discussion from just war versus pacifism to the effects of war on the human person and the practices that undo such effects. After briefly discussing the current debate within contemporary Orthodox theology on just war theory, I will draw on the work of Jonathan Shay to illustrate the effects of the ascetics of war on the body. I will then argue that the ascetics of virtue that involves the particular ascetical practice of truth-telling has the power to undo the traumatic effects of war on the combat veteran. Insofar as this undoing is an embodiment of virtue, it is also an embodiment of the divine—theosis.

Forgetting Virtue

When it comes to the question of war, the Orthodox are probably most well known for asserting that there is no just war “theory” in the Orthodox tradition in the form of distinctions between jus in bello and jus ad bellum, and their respective criteria; there is also consensus that within the tradition there has been discussion about the need to go to war even if such discussion never resulted in a just war “theory”; the current debate centers on how going to war is characterized: For Fr. Stanley Harakas, it is always a necessary evil; for Fr. Alexander Webster, there has existed a justifiable just war tradition within Orthodoxy that identifies under certain conditions when war is virtuous and of moral value. What is remarkable about the entire debate is that there is little attention to what is arguably the core and central axiom of the Orthodox tradition—the principle of divine-human communion. Webster speaks of war as “virtuous,” and yet absent is any attention to the tradition of thinking on virtue in either the ascetical writings or in such thinkers as Maximos the Confessor; in both cases, the understanding of virtue is inherently linked to one’s struggle toward communion with God—theosis. How exactly is claiming to have fought in a virtuous war, or to have killed virtuously consistent with this tradition of thinking on virtue in light of the principle of divine-human communion? Is it really the case that being virtuous in war means moving toward a deeper communion with God? Webster does not give an answer to these questions. Although Harakas does argue for the patristic bias for peace, approaching the issue from an eschatological perspective, his emphasis is still on how to label the action to go to war, or the conduct during war, and there is no attention to war from the perspective of the Orthodox understanding of creation’s destiny for communion with God.

The Vice of War

One result of understanding war from the principle of divine-human communion is attention to the effects of war on those who live through it, no matter what side one is on. Discussions of justifiable war may create the impression that as long as one is on the morally justified side of war, then that should be enough to mitigate the existential effects of war and violence. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that the “side” one is on makes absolutely no difference to the non-discriminatory effects of violence in war.
There is no shortage of stories of the traumatic effects of war from soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War, or the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What stories from veterans of war reveal is that violence becomes embodied—its insidiousness seeps into the physiological infrastructure of the human person. If creation is created for communion, and if humans are the center of this divine-human drama, then divine-human communion itself is the presencing of the good into the deep recesses of the body—it is an embodied experience. Violence opens up the body not to God, but to the inhabitation of the anti-God.

This absence of the divine is evident in the staggering statistic that at least “one-third of homeless males are [Vietnam] veterans, with 150,000-250,000 veterans homeless on a given night and at least twice that number homeless at some time in the course of a given year.” It is also apparent in the study that showed that “35.8 percent of male Vietnam combat veterans met the full American Psychiatric Association diagnostic criteria for PTSD at the time of the study, in the late 1980s . . . This is a thirty-two-fold increase in the prevalence of PTSD compared to the random sample of demographically similar civilians. More than 70 percent of combat veterans had experienced at least one of the cardinal symptoms (‘partial PTSD’) at some time in their lives, even if they did not receive the full syndrome diagnosis.” This high rate of the experience of PTSD symptoms among Vietnam veterans demonstrates that the effects of war linger in the body long after a soldier’s tour of duty. This lingering is in the form of “(a) hostile or mistrustful attitude toward the world; (b) social withdrawal; (c) feelings of emptiness or hopelessness; (d) a chronic feeling of being ‘on the edge,’ as if constantly threatened; (e) estrangement.” Those who suffer from combat trauma often experience flashbacks to traumatic events, in which the primary image that is governing their emotional state is one of violence and impending threat to life. One would hope that sleep would give respite to such suffering, but combat trauma often leads to recurring nightmares; and, the lack of deep sleep leads to other inevitable emotional disturbances, such as increased irritability and tendency to anger. Beyond the recurring nightmares, combat veterans often simply cannot sleep because they trained themselves for the sake of survival to be hyper-alert and to react to sounds that may, in combat situations, be life-threatening; as any good ascetic would know, such training of the body is simply not undone by returning home. Add to all this “[r]andom, unwarranted rage at family, sexual dysfunction, no capacity for intimacy, [s]omatic disturbances, loss of ability to experience pleasure, [p]eripheral vasoconstriction, autonomic hyperactivity, [s]ense of the dead being more real than the living.” What is most damaging to combat veterans who suffer from symptoms of PTSD is the destruction of their capacity to trust, which inevitably renders impossible any forms of bonding with others that are meaningful. If Jesus’ greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your hear, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39), then experiencing PTSD symptoms simply makes that impossible. What is most demonic about the violence of war is its power to debilitate the capacity to experience love—both in the form of being loved and loving another.

Most frightening of the diverse forms in which PTSD is manifested in combat soldiers is that which is called the “berserk state.” The state of being berserk also poses a formidable challenge to Christian conceptions of the spiritual life, and, in particular, the notion of deification. Berserk is an extreme state of PTSD that is triggered by such events as “betrayal, insult, or humiliation by a leader; death of a friend-in-arms, being wounded; being overrun, surrounded, or trapped; seeing dead comrades who have been mutilated by the enemy; and unexpected deliverance from certain death.” Shay elaborates that “I cannot say for certain that betrayal is a necessary precondition. However, I have yet to encounter a veteran who went berserk from grief alone.” The characteristics of the berserk state are: “beastlike, godlike, socially disconnected, crazy, mad, insane, enraged, cruel, without restraint or discrimination, insatiable, devoid of fear, inattentive to own safety, distractible, reckless, feeling invulnerable, exalted, intoxicated, frenzied, cold, indifferent, insensible to pain, suspicious of friends.” Soldiers who go berserk in combat are often those who put themselves in the greatest danger and, if they survive, are deemed, ironically, the most heroic. There is growing research that indicates that the berserk state entail “changes in the parts of the brain that process incoming sensations for signs of danger and connect sensation with emotion.” Even after combat, a veteran can go berserk, and often have no recollection of it, as was the case with John, and Iraqi war veteran, who cut his fiancée and her mother with a knife after an argument over bus schedules, and after a long stretch in which John was showing progress through treatment. After cutting his fiancée and her mother, John then cut himself, telling the police as they walked in, “see, it doesn’t hurt.” John could not immediately recall the event; he had to be told what had happened; and, on being told, he was afraid that he had killed his daughter, which he did not.

What’s most troubling about the berserk state is that violence can imprint itself on the body—and, thus, on the soul—in ways that could be permanent: “On the basis of my work with Vietnam veterans, I conclude that the berserk state is ruinous, leading to the soldier’s maiming or death in battle—which is the most frequent outcome—and to life-long psychological and physiological injury if he survives. I believe that once a person has entered the berserk state, he or she is changed forever.” He amplifies that “[m]ore than 40 percent of Vietnam combat veterans sampled in the late 1980s by the congressionally mandated National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study reported engaging in violent acts three times or more in the previous year.” The spiritually challenging question is, what meaning could speaking about theosis possibly have for someone whose physiology has been permanently scarred by violence?

In addition to PTSD, a new category is emerging in order to distinguish a certain state of being that is effected by the combat veteran’s participation in war and that is no longer thought to be identical with PTSD, even if many of the symptoms are similar. This state of being is being called “moral injury,” which is distinguished from PTSD in the sense of not being induced through a fear response. Moral injury refers to the state of being when a combat veteran experiences a deep sense of having violating their own core moral beliefs. It may occur as a result of killing, torturing prisoners, abusing dead bodies or failing to prevent such acts; it may also ensure even if there was no way for the combat veteran to avoid doing such acts. In the experience of moral injury, combat veterans may judge themselves to be worthless, unable to live with an act he or she committed that is a never erasable act. Symptoms are similar to those as PTSD, such as isolation, mistrust of others, depression, addiction, emotional detachment, and negative self-judgments. There are countless stories that I’ve heard of combat veterans who admit that they are afraid to speak of all that they did in combat situations for fear that the one to whom they speak will deem him or her unlovable. In the situation of moral injury, the Christian concept of forgiveness is extremely relevant. Moral injury points to the need for self-forgiveness, which I would argue is impossible without some sense of transcendence. The necessity for some form of transcendence in order to enable self-forgiveness of an act committed that can never be taken back and never forgotten but is integratable in a personal narrative through an intuition of one’s narrative being a part of a larger cosmic and divine reality, in my mind points more powerfully to the existence of God than any other philosophical argument, whether it be the cosmological, ontological or teleological arguments.

It is very disturbing to hear the stories of combat veterans, which include: not sleeping with their spouses for fear that a nightmare may lead them to physically harm their spouse; not being able to sleep in the middle of the night because of hyper-vigilance; not wanting to be outdoors for fear that a sound, such as a bird chirping or water running, may trigger combat mode; not being able to enter public spaces, such as grocery stores or elevators; having dreams of mutilating one’s children; alienating friends and families; not being able to hold a job, or even get a job for fear of public spaces. These and many such similar stories reveal that there is an ascetics to war: either through the training received in the military, or through the practices that one performs in the midst of war to train the body for survival against constant threat of violence, war is the undoing of virtue in the sense that impacts negatively a combat veteran’s capacity for relationship with family, friends and strangers. War does not simply cause “lifelong disabling psychiatric symptoms but can ruin good character.” From the perspective of the principle of divine-human communion, the ruin of good character is not limited to the “soul” of the combat veteran; “character” is a relational category and the ruin of character is simultaneously the ruin of relationships.

What does theosis have to do with war?

On the surface, it would seem that for those who suffer from PTSD as a result of combat, or any trauma, talk of theosis or divine-human communion seems like a luxury. To some extent, the Orthodox have contributed to this perception of the irrelevancy of theosis to those who are in the midst of perpetual suffering by predominantly linking deification to the monk in the monastery, the desert, on a stylite or in the forest; add to this the tendency to describe theosis in supernatural terms of being surrounded divine light, battling demons, or eating with the bears. In order to have any relevancy for the experience of trauma, theosis must expand the boundaries of the monastery and be made more worldly.

This more mundane form of theosis is rendered possible in the Greek patristic tradition in its linking of divine-human communion to virtue, which can illuminate what Shay means by the “undoing of character” that occurs as a result of war. In the writings of Maximos the Confessor (d. 662), communion with God, which is an embodied presencing of the divine, is simultaneous with the acquisition of virtue: Virtue is embodied deification. To say that the human is created with the potential to be god-like should not conjure up images of Greek mythology; within the Greek patristic texts, it simply means that if God is love, then the human was created to love, and this love is simultaneously a uniting oneself with God, since God is love. In Maximos the Confessor, deification is the acquisition of love, the virtue of virtues, and his Centuries on Love is a treatise in which Maximos discusses a trajectory of the acquisition of virtues toward the acquisition of the virtue of virtues—Love. For Maximos, the human is created to learn how to love, and is in constant battle against that which weakens the capacity to love.

Virtue, for Maximos, is not a building of character for character’s sake; it is not a state of being where one displays one’s virtues like badges of honor; it is not simply the basis for proper moral decision making. The acquisition of virtue is the precondition for enabling the human capacity to love: “Scripture calls the virtues ways, and the best of all the virtues is love” (4.74). Virtues are necessary for the learning and acquisition of love: “All the virtues assist the mind in the pursuit of divine love” (1.11). Maximos does not restrict himself to only the four cardinal virtues—prudence, courage, temperance, and justice—but, consistent with the Eastern Christian patristic tradition, gives a wider catalogue of virtues and vices that correspond to the three parts of the soul: sensible, irascible and the rational. Particular virtues correspond to particular vices, insofar as each virtue is meant to neutralize a particular vice. The hermeneutical key to Maximos’s complicated detailing of the relation of virtues and vices to the inner life of the human person and to human agency is “progress in the love of God,” (2.14), which is measured ultimately by how one relates to others, especially those to whom one feels hatred or anger (1.71). This particular definition of virtue, then, illuminates the full force and terrifying implications of Shay’s idea of war leading to the “undoing of character.” What is being undone is the human capacity to love and to receive love. When something like the berserk state “destroys the capacity for virtue,” this destruction is not simply an evacuation of a “sense of being valued and of valuing anything,” as Shay defines it; according to the description of how combat veterans relate to their family, neighbors, friends and strangers, what is impaired is the capacity for authentic relationships marked by intimacy, trust, depth—love.

If virtues are embodied deification, the precondition for the learning of the virtue of virtues, which is love, then vice impairs the capacity for love. Maximos explains that “[t]he purpose of divine Providence is to unify by an upright faith and spiritual love those who have been separated in diverse ways by vice” (4.17). He elaborates that the “vice that separates you from your brother” includes “envying and being envied, hurting or being hurt, insulting or being insulted, and suspicious thoughts” (4.18-19). Maximos is also astute to know that vice breeds vice; i.e., that it is not simply the doing of vice that harms the capacity for love, it is being “viced upon”: “The things which destroy love are these: dishonor, damage, slander (either against faith or against conduct), beatings, blows, and so forth, whether these happen to oneself or to one’s relatives or friends” (4.81). Vices produce and are such affective emotions as anger, hatred, and fear. Thoughout this treatise, Maximos is attempting both to advise and exhort a form of training that can overcome what are ultimately corrosive emotions, no matter how justified.

Also relevant to illuminating the “undoing of character” that war and violence potentially effect on a combat veteran is Maximos’s discussion of the relation of images to the cultivation of vices and virtues. According to Maximus, what often incites and reifies a vice are images or thoughts that present themselves to the human person. Maximos explains that “Love and self-mastery keep the mind detached from things and from their representations . . . The whole war of the monk against demons is to separate the passions from the representations (3.39, 3.41). He adds that the “virtues separate the mind from the passions (3.44). Maximos also warns when “insulted by someone or offended in any matter, then beware of angry thoughts, lest by distress they sever you from charity and place you in the region of hatred” (1.29). “Detachment,” for Maximos, “is a peaceful state of the soul in which it become resistant to vice” (1.36). In terms of images that incite vice, this resistence is not a removal of the image, but disabling of its power to evoke such feelings of anger or hatred. To be virtuous is to experience in the face of images the emotions and desires that cultivate authentic relationships.

The problem that veterans with PTSD often face is that the images they confront, whether real or imaginary, trigger the emotion of impending fear, which leads to other negative emotions, such as anger-turned-to-rage and hatred, which then lead to a withdrawal from the other. The relation between images of impending threat and certain emotions and desires is reminiscent of Saint Anthony the Great’s encounter with images of the demonic; Anthony’s struggle was against those images and their potential impact on the passions. In this sense, the acquisition of virtue, has something to do with the affective response to certain images, either real or imaginary. Virtue is not the elimination of images—how could one forget a friend’s head being blown off—but, rather, an attenuation of the power of demonic images on the landscape of one’s emotions and desires, which forms the basis for the shape of relationality. In combat trauma, the redoing of virtue does not mean forgetting one’s friend’s head being blown off; rather, healing is about acquiring a new kind of memory of the events. The acquisition of virtue would be an affective response to the images of war and violence that do not destroy relationships but open the path for a breakthrough of love.

If the ascetics of war is an undoing of good character, which is the destruction of the capacity for authentic relationships, then the challenge for combat veterans is to engage in the tasks that lead to a redoing of virtue, which would increase their capacity for such relationships, and for the embodied presence of the divine—theosis. Maximos discusses the virtues in terms of the power to counter particular vices. Insofar as virtue is related to love, then virtues build relationships of intimacy, trust, compassion, empathy, friendship, sharing, caring, humility, and honesty: all that is apparently threatened by the experience of vice. Insofar as virtues build proper relationships while vices destroy such relationships, then the ascetics of theosis must be relevant to those attempting to undo the ascetics of war. According to Maximos, the acquisition of virtue is a training realized in and through certain practices that forms both the body and the inner life (soul) of the human person; virtue is a wiring of the self as openness to love. Thinking about the healing of combat trauma along the lines of practices and virtues provides a way for intersecting the psychological literature on trauma and the ascetical/mystical tradition on the formation of virtue. The connecting category is that of practices, since the combat veteran must engage in a new kinds of ascetics, one that replaces the ascetics of war in order to combat the demonic images impacting his relationships to self and others.

Although there are many practices that enable the acquisition of virtue, and thus, the capacity for relationships of trust, intimacy, depth and love, I will restrict my focus to one that is key to any redoing of virtue in both the psychological and the ascetical/mystical literature—the practice of truth-telling or confession. In the Christian tradition, truth-telling is primarily associated with the sacrament of Confession understood forensically as fulfilling a contractual obligation to tell a priest one’s sins before forgiveness is granted; or, with the moral obligation not to lie. When speaking about truth-telling as a practice that enables the capacity for love through the acquisition of virtues, I am not referring strictly to either a forensic understanding of the Sacrament of Confession, or the moral obligation to tell the truth. Speaking certain truths in the midst of another or other persons has the power both to reconfigure the relationships in which such a truth is spoken, and to produce an affective effect on the landscape of one’s emotions and desires. Truths spoken hover in the midst of a relationship with the power to affect both the speaker and the listener(s). It is not uncommon to think that one can protect oneself from a traumatic experience by simply attempting to forget it, or by not verbalizing it to others. The irony is that only through a verbal acknowledgement or recognition, which cannot be revoked, can the power of the traumatic image be mitigated. It is also the case that the affective result of truth-telling as an event depends on the listener, who can use the spoken truth either to iconically presence the divine toward mitigating the power of the effects of violence, or can image the demonic by adding violence to violence. In short, the event of truth-telling to another is a iconically charged event, that can potentially presence either the divine or the demonic.

Both Jonathan Shay and Judith Herman in their experience with trauma victims attest to the basic truth that healing cannot occur until the trauma victim can begin to speak about the traumatic events. Truth-telling in and of itself is not sufficient for healing, but it is absolutely necessary. Also, truth-telling of trauma cannot begin until a safe and secure environment is established for the trauma victim, what Herman refers to as stage one of recovery. Once such a secure and safe environment is established, it is absolutely essential that the victim of combat trauma speak about the truth about the traumatic event and reconstruct a narrative of the event itself.

To even speak the truth about the trauma of war can be interpreted as an embodiment of the virtue of humility, in the sense that making oneself vulnerable is requisite to opening the self to loving and being loved. The sixth-century Syriac Christian ascetic, Dorotheos of Gaza, analogizes the Christian life to building a house, “[t]he roof is charity, which is the completion of virtue as the roof completes the house. After the roof comes the crowning of the dwelling place . . .[i.e. railings around the flat roof] . . . The crown is humility. For that is the crown and guardian of all virtues. As each virtue needs humility for its acquisition—and in that sense we said each stone is laid with the mortar of humility—so also the perfection of all the virtues is humility.” As Shay declares, “the fact that these veterans can speak at all of their experience is a major sign of healing.” The reconstruction of the narrative must also be in the context of other persons, in the form of a community. Shay argues that the “healing of trauma depends upon the communalization of the trauma—being able to safely to tell the story to someone who is listening and who can be trusted to retell it truthfully to others in the community.” The mitigation of the demonic, thus, depends on truth, even if such a truth has to do with the experience of the demonic; and this truth needs to be “communalized” told and listened to by others.

Over the years, Shay has discovered that such communalization is most effective when the community itself consists of those who know, either directly or indirectly, the effects of combat trauma. Much like Alcoholics Anonymous, the healing power of truth-telling depends not simply on telling the truth, but on who is listening. The rebound effect of truth-telling depends on the symbolic/iconic significance of the one listening. In the end, the veterans heal each other. Theologically, the veterans are iconically charged to presence the divine to each other, even in the midst of, and because of, their shared suffering.

The affective effect of truth-telling might also require a listener beyond a community of combat veterans. Shay’s “clinical team has encouraged many of the veterans we work with to avail themselves of the sacrament of penance. When a veteran does not already know a priest he trusts to hear his confession, we have suggested priest who understand enough about combat neither to deny that he has anything to feel guilty about nor to recoil in revulsion and send him away without the sacrament.” What this need for a form of truth-telling beyond the community of combat veterans reveals is that the experience of forgiveness needs another kind of listener other than the empathetic combat veteran. Although the same ascetical practice, truth-telling to distinctive listeners does different kinds of work on the landscape of one’s emotions and desire. The chances are very high that the ascetics of war will lead some to engage in practices in which there is a felt need for forgiveness. Tom Mathews’s father felt this need, as did John, who could barely speak about how combat in Iraq lead to killing of kids whom he realized “could be your kids.” On the cosmic scale, other combat veterans cannot iconically symbolize that forgiveness; cannot be a kind of listener that enables the realization of that forgiveness as an affective event in the combat veteran. Someone like a priest is iconically charged to perform that role.

The importance of truth-telling in the redoing of virtue only highlights how the military culture of denial and repression of the combat experience is corrosive. When mistakes were made and innocent people were killed rather than the “enemy,” the military thought it was helping by covering for the solider(s), who were told that it would be “all right.” Shay relays one story in which the soldiers involved in such a mistake were actually given medals as a way of covering up for the mistake. When friends are lost, soldiers are told to “stuff those tears,” or “to get even.” Whereas in ancient cultures, dead bodies, including those of the enemy, were treated with respect, the US military had no mechanism in Vietnam for memorializing the dead. Ancient cultures also had rituals for reintegrating soldiers back into society after battle. Such rituals did not depend on whether the battle was just or not. American soldiers return from war with little to no fanfare, trying to figure out what to do next. What’s especially egregious is how the US military has not provided sufficient enough resources for combat veterans showing symptoms of PTSD, often making difficult the availability of such resources because of budgetary constraints. Although improvements have been made, what pervades military culture, and American culture in general, is a pelagian-like “suck it up” attitude, with no realization at all of how a combat veteran is ultimately in the grip of the demonic until engaging in ascetic practices that undo the effects of war and violence.

It is both encouraging, ironic and a little troubling to contemplate how an ascetics of virtue in the form of fostering a community of people who learn to trust each other, who form bonds of affection through telling personal stories, who become friends, has the power to mitigate the effects of the ascetics of war. Beyond the debates over whether Christians should think about criteria for judging decisions to go to war, which this essay has not necessarily dismissed as illegitimate, the formation of communities of virtue both before and after combat has the power to mitigate the effects of violence on any one of the members in the community itself, especially if that community of virtue presupposes an open space for truth-telling.

There is an even deeper theological significance to the necessity of truth-telling as part of an ascetic of virtue that undoes the ascetic of war. First, it reveals that God meets someone in the truth of her concrete, historical situation. In the case of combat trauma, it is not a matter of first undoing the effects of war and then going off to the desert to achieve theosis; undoing the effects of violence is itself the desert in which the combat veteran finds himself in his struggle to (re)experience the presence of the divine. The ascetical struggle toward divine-human communion is entrenched in a particular history and a particular body, which then demands the virtue of discernment on the part of the community of combat veterans, the mental health professional, the priest, even family and friends in order to extricate the combat veteran from the grip of the demonic. As Shay argues, “Modern combat is a condition of enslavement and torture.” The formation of communities of virtue, which presuppose truth-telling, mitigates and breaks the cycle of violence. Second, sin committed and sin that is done to us cannot be forgotten, repressed or denied. It is part of the fabric of the universe that the truth must be recognized, otherwise it will haunt us in other forms. It is only by integrating the truth of sin into our narrative that it can then be neutralized in its effect. In the end, God is the God of truth, which includes the unique and particular truths of our narratives; if God is truth, then God is found in the verbal recognition of the truths of our narrative, no matter how horrific those truths may be. Although “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor power, nor things present nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39), to love and be loved by God and neighbor depends ultimately on the practice and virtue of honesty, which includes the courage to acknowledge and accept the truths of our own narrative.

Suggestive Conclusions

In sharing these ideas with a colleague it was pointed out to me that perhaps I am confusing therapy with morality. I think that what I have presented here today is, in part, attempting to trouble the waters between too easy a divide between, to use a different word, spirituality and ethics. It is clear that in Maximos the Confessor that whatever virtue is it has to do with what humans are meant to be, which for Maximos was creatures built to learn how to love. In so far as the arena of war, which extends as far back as military training to post-deployment life, involves engaging in a set of practices that are constitutive of the self, then what happens to the combat veteran is as much an ethical concern as are the decisions about whether or not to go to war, and by what means should war be waged.

My discussion today did not in any way intend to undermine just-war ethics; nor am I advocating a pacifist position. Christian ethics still needs to discuss when and by what means violence is legitimate, or whether these are the right questions to ask. I do think, however, that an ethics of war that focuses simply on these questions is missing other dimensions in the ascetics of war which a Christian virtue ethics can illuminate and offer resources for reflection. There may, in fact, be just uses of violence, which are also motivated by courage, temperance, justice and charity, but such a use of violence is not the end of the ethical story. Ethics needs to consider the effect of inflicted and inflicting violence on the human person and the formation of virtue that could potentially mitigate or reverse such effects, the most damaging being the capacity to love and be loved.

Finally, this interrelation between violence and virtue that I am presenting today could also be extended to areas of ethics beyond the ethics of war, such as issues related to social justice. The effects of violence on the human is also clearly visible in the poor neighborhoods in the big cities of the United States (and I’m sure of Europe), where the threat of violence is constant. One teenager who lived in a poor neighborhood of Chicago, which is infested with violent gangs, described his neighborhood as a daily war zone. Related to this, one of the most difficult questions confronting educators in the United States is how to educate children in poorer neighborhoods, who are consistently underperforming in comparison with children in more middle-class or affluent neighborhoods. Paul Tough has recently reported on approaches to this problem that focus on character, such as the recent work and studies of the Nobel-Prize economist from the University of Chicago, James Heckman. Tough describes how educators for decades were focusing on improving what are called “cognitive skills,” which have to do with such things as reading and mathematics. Studies have shown that the skills correlated with success in such things as college graduation, or well-paying job are what are called “non-cognitive skills.” It is the development of non-cognitive skills that allow for the development of cognitive skills. Examples of non-cognitive skills are self-control, impulse control, anger management, delayed gratification, or thinking before making a bad decision. If you have not noticed already, these sound a lot like St. Maximus’s virtues.

What they have also discovered is that the stress from adverse experiences in childhood, such as the experience of violence or the threat of violence, can prevent non-cognitive skills from developing properly. If a child has experienced four or more adverse effects as a child, she is thirty-two times likely to develop learning problems. If a child is experiencing the constant threat of violence in the home, the stress that such a threat generates can prevent the development of the part of the brain responsible for non-cognitive skills. Another way it was explained is this: if one is in the forest and is confronted by a bear, then the part of the brain responsible for aggression will activate and that part of the brain responsible for reading and writing will deactivate in order for the person to prepare for an emergency response. Such an emergency response, however, is meant to be infrequent. For some children living in a family home situation in which the threat of violence is constant, the brain responds as if facing a bear every single day. If the emergency response of the brain is activated repeatedly, the brain forms pathways that get increasingly ingrained. In day-to-day situations, this means that it is difficult for such children to learn reading and mathematics in class when the brain is constantly on emergency response mode. It also explains why such children are plagued with two of the vices that St. Maximus says get in the way of love—fear and anger. It is not uncommon for such children to have behavioral problems in school that often manifests itself in rage. Being surrounded by or experiencing violence can actually form the brain in such a way as to form the vices of fear and anger (again, not necessarily self-love as much as self-loathing). These vices are impairing the ability to be in the kind of relationships that would not simply allow for love to occur, but to allow for learning to occur.

What was also interesting about these studies is that it is being shown how proper attachment to a parent or parents can help a child manage the stress of adverse situations. In other words, the development of proper relations through the virtues can counter the vices formed through the experience or threat of violence. What’s most hopeful is that these non-cognitive skills can be learned even throughout adulthood; in other words, the human was created in such a way that these non-cognitive skills can be learned no matter what the age of a person. What is really remarkable about all this, at least for me, is the connection between all that these studies are showing with all that St. Maximus says about the interrelation between the manifestation of the virtues and contemplation.

What I have attempted to suggest in this paper is that St. Maximus’s account of virtue can disrupt the current status quo in both philosophical and theological virtue ethics, as well as just war and social ethics, by offering a thick understanding of the human telos as one that entails learning how to love. St. John Chrysostom once said that even the poor need virtue. St. Maximus helps us to understand this comment in the sense that what is distinctive about an Orthodox war and social ethics for today goes well beyond simply congratulating the solider for his or her service, or helping the poor during a time of need, or advocating for systemic change. By never wavering in its understanding of the human being as being created to learn how to love, a Christian war and social ethics offers the very wisdom of the practices needed to form the human being in the virtues that would allow the human to mitigate the effects of poverty and violence, and enable the person to learn how to love, which is nothing less, according to St. Maximus, than the experience of God. If poverty and violence potentially depersonalize and render the human being faceless, then the ascetical practices that manifest the virtues and that enable the capacity to love are essential for the realization of the person as a eucharistic being in the world that is free (ekstatic) and irreducibly unique (hypostatic).

Patriarch John X Statement

Patriarch John X Statement (English translation) on the release from captivity of the nuns of Mar Tekla (St. Thecla) monastery in Syria

Patriarchate Damascus

The following is an English translation of a statement by Patriarch John X and the Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch made in response to some statements made by the nuns of Mar Tekla (St. Thecla) monastery after their release from captivity about the conditions of their captivity. Their comments ran counter to the narratives of the Patriarchate, the state-run media in Syria, many Antiochian Orthodox Christians in the diaspora, and others.

The page address where this statement may be found (in Arabic) on the website of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East is here: http://antiochpatriarchate.org/ar/page/372/

The Patriarchate’s website promises an English translation, but since March this has not appeared on their English version of the website.

_______________________________________

Our Beloved Sons, Kindred, and Daughters,

On March 10, 2014, the fabric of the Syrian heart of which the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch forms a united party, celebrated in the arrival and return of the monastic sisters of Mar Tekla to peaceful soil after a much condemned kidnapping that lasted more than three months.

However, the joy of our sisters’ arrival is troubled by what came from the tongue of some of these monastic sisters upon their release from their forcible kidnapping.

Indeed, His Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Greek Orthodox Church emphasizes to all Syrians—Christians and Muslims, sons and daughters—that these statements do not reflect the position of the Church, but were the result of a lengthy kidnapping. We are not here to justify them [the sisters] nor to analyze the circumstance of their release.

His Beatitude and the Church have followed repercussions [consequences/impact] of what happened [nuns statements?]; these defections [nuns’ unauthorized statements?] which overshadowed the event and authorization were therefore an affront to the whole Christian presence, which everyone realizes his [Patriarch John] role as a humanitarian to the nation.

“His Beatitude affirms that the affront does not reflect the positions of the Syrians and their patriotism, for this Church is known by its patriotism and by what its sons undertake for their country in way of opinions, actions, and testimony. They remain in the same manner as their sisters in patriotism.”

Indeed, we hope that our people in the nation will work and support one another for the deliverance from suffering and to not resort to language that does not express our spiritual and civic values, but instead to raise to the level of sacrifice.

We affirm that the Patriarchate, just as it was at the beginning of Christianity, will continue to defend all Syrians and Easterners, wherever they are, to work for the bringing of peace and security in place of killing, destruction, and charge of disbelief, and to work on the emancipation of all those who are kidnapped without distinction so they return to their families.

Since the start of the crisis in Syria, the Syrian people–whether Muslim or Christian–suffered under the cross of misery [which characterizes] the East. The Antiochian Patriarchate like others, did not hesitate to rightly name this misery. It condemned and condemns all terrorism, charges of disbelief, kidnapping, and violence, which strike the territories in Syria and razes the mosque as well as the church. For kidnapping and the vulnerability of the holy places are the two sides of the same coin and and has one name, and it is terrorism.

In the midst of its joy in the freeing of its nuns and in the pain from what came from some statements, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East condemns all terrorism, charges of disbelief, and kidnapping which touches every strand of the fabric of our society, which pays an expensive price for strange ideologies to the values of this country, and the lives of its united sons and those who acknowledge its history, near and distant.

The Church of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox makes a point to affirm at all times that it is a daughter of the nation and is the abode in which they reside.

The bleeding of Syria is the bleeding of our heart. Its peace is the salve for our hearts. The glory of Syria is a laurel wreath on our heads. The Church, which produced Jules Jammal in the 1950s in defense of national honor, produced and continues to produce legions of martyrs

May God protect Syria, and may God protect its president and its people. May the peace which we yearn for from the depths of our hearts, return to it.

Patriarch John X statement in Arabic

Patriarchate Damascus

The following is a statement in Arabic by Patriarch John X and the Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch made in response to some statements made by the nuns of Mar Tekla (St. Thecla) monastery after their release from captivity about the conditions of their captivity. Their comments ran counter to the narratives of the Patriarchate, the state-run media in Syria, many Antiochian Orthodox Christians in the diaspora, and others.

The page address where this statement may be found on the website of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East is here: http://antiochpatriarchate.org/ar/page/372/

The Patriarchate’s website promises an English translation, but since March this has not appeared on the English version of their website.

2014-03-13

أبناءنا وأهلنا وإخوتنا الأحباء،
في العاشر من شهر آذار 2014، فرحت قلوب النسيج السوري الذي تشكّل بطريركية أنطاكية للروم الأرثوذكس جزءاً لا يتجزأ منه بقدوم الأخوات راهبات مار تقلا وعودتهن إلى بر السلام بعد خطفٍ مدانٍ ومستنكر دام لأكثر من ثلاثة أشهر.
إلاّ أن الفرح بقدوم أخواتنا عكّره ما جاء على لسان بعض أخواتنا الراهبات اللواتي كنّ قد خرجن للتوّ من اعتقال واختطاف قسريٍّ.
إن غبطة بطريرك أنطاكية وسائر المشرق للروم الأرثوذكس يؤكّد لجميع السوريين، مسيحيين ومسلمين، أبناءً وإخوةً، أن هذه التصريحات لا تعبّر عن موقف الكنيسة، وهي نابعةٌ من سطوة اعتقالٍ الطويل. ولسنا هنا بصدد تبريرها أو بمعرض تحليل ظروف صدورها.

تابع غبطته والكنيسة ارتدادات ما حصل؛ هذه الارتدادات التي تجاوز بعضها الحدث والتصريح للإساءة إلى الحضور المسيحي برمّته، الذي يعرف الجميع دوره الوطني والإنساني.
” يؤكّد غبطته أن الإساءات لا تعبّر عن موقف السوريين ووطنيتهم، فهذه الكنيسة معروفة بوطنيتها وبما قدّمه أبناؤها لبلادهم فكراً وعملاً وشهادة، وما يزالون، أسوةً بإخوتهم في المواطنة. ”
إننا نأمل من أهلنا في الوطن أن يكونوا عاملين ومتكاتفين للخلاص من المحنة وألا يلجؤوا إلى لغةٍ لا تعبّر عن قيمنا الروحية والحضارية بل أن يرتقوا إلى مستوى التضحيات.
ونحن نؤكّد أن البطريركية ، وكما كانت منذ غرّة المسيحية، ستبقى المدافعة عن كلّ السوريين والمشرقيين أينما كانوا، ساعيةً لإحلال السلام والأمن مكان القتل والتدمير والتكفير، وعاملةً على فك أسر جميع المخطوفين من دون تفرقة ليعودوا إلى عائلاتهم.
منذ بدء الأزمة في سوريا، والشعب السوري، مسلماً كان أو مسيحياً، يرزح تحت صليب شقاء هذا المشرق. والبطريركيّة الأنطاكيّة كما غيرها لم تنءَ يوماً عن تسمية الأمور بمسمياتها. وقد دانت وتدين كلّ إرهابٍ وتكفيرٍ وخطفٍ وعنفٍ يضرب الربوع السورية ويهدم المسجد كما الكنيسة. فالخطف والتعرض للمقدّسات هما وجهان لعملةٍ واحدةٍ ومسمىً واحد، وهو الإرهاب.
وفي غمرة فرحها بخروج راهباتها، وفي غصّةٍ منها لما جاء من تصريحات، تدين بطريركية أنطاكية وسائر المشرق كلّ إرهابٍ وتكفيرٍ وخطفٍ يطال كلّ شريحةٍ من نسيج مجتمعنا الذي يدفع ثمناً غالياً لإيديولوجيات غريبةٍ عن قيم هذه البلاد وعن عيش أبنائها الواحد والذي يشهد له تاريخها القريب والبعيد.
يهم كنيسة أنطاكية وسائر المشرق للروم الأرثوذكس أن تؤكد دوماً أنها ابنة الوطن والديار التي تحيا فيها. وأن ما يصيب سوريا يصيب هذه الكنيسة في الصميم.
نزيف سوريا هو نزيف قلبنا وسلامها بلسمٌ لقلوبنا، ومجد سوريا إكليل غارٍ على رؤوسنا. والكنيسة التي قدّمت جول جمال في خمسينيات القرن الماضي دفاعاً عن عزة وطن قدّمت وتقدّم إلى الآن قوافل شهداءٍ.
حمى الله سوريا، حمى الله رئيسها وشعبها، وأعاد إليها سلاماً نتوق إليه من أعماق القلب.

What is the Orthodox Peace Fellowship?

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God is an association of Orthodox Christian believers seeking to bear witness to the peace of Christ by applying the principles of the Gospel to situations of division and conflict, whether in the home, the parish, the community we live, the work place, within our particular nations, and between nations. We work for the conservation of God’s creation and especially of human life. We are not a political association and support no political parties or candidates.

A Fellowship of Orthodox Christian Peacemakers

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Let us call brothers even those who hate us and forgive all by the Resurrection. (Easter verses, Orthodox Liturgy)

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,” as Clement of Alexandria described the Church (“Soldiers of Peace” in The Protreptikos).

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 child in the womb to the aged awaiting death.

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.

Our work areas include:

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 encourage research on peace in the Bible, peace in the Liturgy, 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.

Publications

Our quarterly journal, In Communion, not only provides its readers with helpful essays and news but serves as a forum for dialogue. The main articles from past issues of In Communion plus many other resources are made available via our web site: www.incommunion.org. OPF members are also invited to take part in the OPF List, a news and discussion forum.

Practical assistance in conflict areas

As one of our members, a priest in the Republic of Georgia, points out: “Activity of the OPF is of particular importance in those Orthodox countries going through war and the horror of national conflict … The OPF can help Orthodox people to practice peace and tolerance and to show that war and national conflict are satanic traps.”

Structure

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has members in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Its international secretariat is in The Netherlands. Decisions are made by the OPF secretaries and officers in consultation with each other, with counsel from members and the Fellowship’s Board of Advisors. Our largest branch at present is in North America. There are occasional meetings and conferences in the United States and Canada as well as in Europe. We encourage the formation of local and national chapters.

Must I be a pacifist to join the Orthodox Peace Fellowship?

In the Oxford English Dictionary, pacifism is defined as “the policy or doctrine of rejecting war and every form of violent action as means of solving disputes, especially in international affairs.” It is also “the belief in and advocacy of peaceful methods as feasible and desirable alternatives to war.” A pacifist is a person “who rejects war and violence as a matter of principle” or “advocates a peaceful policy as the first and best resort.”

While our membership includes many who would identify themselves as pacifists in the sense of this definition, one does not have to be a pacifist to belong to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. It’s enough to say that we are attempting to be Christian peacemakers.

The aspiration to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution is something all sane people have in common, yet few would say that they would never use violent methods to protect the innocent. All we can do is attempt to find ways of responding to injustice that are consistent with the Gospel. Clearly nonviolent methods are to be preferred to violent.

Peacemaking is not something optional for Christians. A major element of Christ’s teaching his call to become peacemakers. They are among the blessed and are witnesses to the Kingdom of God. To be a peacemaker, Christ says, is to be a child of God. In the years of Christ’s life described in the Gospel, one of the most notable aspects is that he killed no one but healed many. He is not a warrior king. Caesar rides a horse while Christ enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Even when he clears the Temple of people who have made a place of worship into a place of commerce, he does so using nothing more than a whip of cords, not a weapon that can cause injuries; the only life endangered by his action was his own. His final instruction to Peter before his crucifixion is, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword.” Saying that, he healed the wound Peter had inflicted on one of the men arresting him. On the cross, far from calling down his Father’s vengeance on those who participated in his execution, Jesus appeals for mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Again and again, throughout is earthly life Christ gives his followers a witness of peace.

There’s quite a lot on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site that help clarify what Christian peacemaking involves and its implications in one’s own life. Note especially essays in the back issues of the OPF journal, In Communion:

http://incommunion.org/contents/previous-issues

Also look at the “What can I do?” page:

http://incommunion.org/articles/introduction/what-can-i-do

Becoming a member

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship links Orthodox Christians from different national traditions and is not under the sponsorship of a particular jurisdiction. Membership is open to any Orthodox Christian who embraces the principles expressed in the above statement of purpose. Membership in no way obligates the member to a specific political position. Both members and supporters receive the Fellowship’s quarterly journal, In Communion.

The annual donation for members is $35, 35 euros, 25 pounds sterling, or the equivalent in other currencies. (For those wishing to receive our journal, In Communion, but not to join, the cost per year is $25, 25 euros, 20 pounds sterling, or the equivalent in other currencies.)

To join, go to this page:

http://incommunion.org/articles/uncategorized/membership-and-donations

Using the message form on that page, provide your name and address and indicate that you are an Orthodox Christian and wish to join the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Then use the donation button to send a membership contribution. (If you request, you can at the same time request to join the OPF List, a news and discussion forum.)

Alternately, subscription payments and contributions can be sent to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s ABN-AMRO bank account number (IBAN) NL66ABNA0563521260 using the bank identifier code (BIC) ABNANL2A.

or by post to:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Kanisstraat 5
1811 GJ Alkmaar
The Netherlands

e-mail: [email protected]

In the USA or Canada, use this address:

OPF-North America
PO Box 76609
Washington, DC 20013
USA

OPF-North America contacts:

Alex Patico, coordinator: [email protected]
Pieter Dykhorst, editor of the OPF journal “In Communion:=”: [email protected]

In the United Kingdom, use this address:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship
“Birchenhoe”
Crowfield
Brackley NN13 5TW
England UK

For UK donors: Make transfers to the account of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Alliance and Leicester Commercial Bank, Bootle, GIR 0AA, sort code 72-00-04, account number 49456080.

UK contact:

Seraphim Honeywell: [email protected]

Support

The Fellowship is entirely dependent on the support of its members, other sympathetic persons and those parishes which make annual collections in support of the OPF. Donors are asked to contribute as their resources allow. Contributions are tax-deductible in the US. The Orthodox Peace Fellowship depends entirely on membership fees and donations to carry on its work.

Advisory Board

Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Fr. Stephen Headley, Fr. Thomas Hopko, Fr. Heikki Huttunen, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Fr. John Matusiak, Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov, Fr. George Papademetriou, Dr. Albert Raboteau, Philip Tamoush, Fr. Steven Tsichlis, Fr. Theodoor van der Voort, Fr. Meletios Webber, Mother Raphaela Wilkinson

Officers

Deacon Michael Bakker, president
Hanna Bos, vice president
Matthew House, treasurer
Jim and Nancy Forest, co-secretaries

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Learning to be Peacemakers: A Short History of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

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The Orthodox Peace Fellowship in The Netherlands/OPF-Nederland – AMBI status:

The “Orthodox Peace Fellowship” foundation is registered as a charitable institution for Dutch fiscal purposes (AMBI) as an annexed institution of the ’Stichting Orthodoxe Kerk In Nederland’ (Foundation Orthodox Church in the Netherlands). An AMBI may use certain tax advantages in cases of inheritance and donations. Also tax benefits for donors may apply. As an AMBI, we are required to publish certain information, including an updated report on the activities carried out and a financial statement. See the links below.

De stichting ’Orthodox Peace Fellowship’ heeft een registratie als algemeen nut beogende instelling (ANBI) als annexe instelling van de ’Stichting Orthodoxe Kerk In Nederland’. Een ANBI kan gebruikmaken van bepaalde belastingvoordelen bij erven en schenkingen heeft fiscale voordelen voor donateurs. Een ANBI is verplicht tot publicatie van een aantal gegevens waaronder een actueel verslag van de uitgeoefende activiteiten en een financiële verantwoording.

1) OPF-Nederland AMBI status
2) OPF-Nederland jaar verslag 2012-2013
3) OPF-Nederland activity report 2013

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page updated: 28 Aug 2014

Letter from the Editor

monks1

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

—Paschal Troparion, sung by monks in Kiev standing in the line of fire between police and protesters

Dear friends,
Likely you are aware of the events that have swept Ukraine onto front pages everywhere and to the brink of civil war in recent weeks. You probably know too that by January 19th, three people had been killed by police, crude barricades had been erected in the Maidan––Kiev’s central Freedom Square—between police and protesters, government buildings had been occupied by loosely organized protesters, and the police were mandated to be tough in restoring public order. And that the first of many fires were lit as the city began to burn.

You have no doubt seen the pictures of the monks who, on the morning of the 20th, stepped into the middle and stood on the Maidan between riot-ready police and angry protesters and said no to violence. The protesters had invited them to side with the people after the Church had been asked to support the government. They did neither. They demanded peaceful resolution and risked their own lives as proof of their seriousness.

Why am I mentioning it here? Is it because since the 20th things have gotten so out of hand and complicated in Ukraine, as these kinds of dramas have so often of late, that I will now pretend to have something new and profound to say about it?
No. I have nothing. I do not pretend to understand the complicated workings of Ukraine’s politics or society––or the virtue and violence that are manifest on all sides––and the further down this road Ukraine goes, the harder it will be to sort out. Instead I want to zero in on one thing, perhaps the thing, in this story that I think matters in the midst of it all:
The monks got it right!

They got faith right. They got courage right. They got love right. They got the Church as mediator right. They got their apolitical witness right, regardless of their personal political perspectives. Their apolitical, Saint-like action before the entire world––which seems to have barely noticed––showed Christians that we are in control of our witness and that Christ-like witness matters in every arena. They showed us that outcomes should not matter to us but that God is in control of outcomes.

For a brief moment, however, a crack appeared in the fortress-like wall of violence that helps hold the gates of hell in place. A moment of solidarity formed, as clergy from other Orthodox jurisdictions—the fathers who led were of the Russian Patriarchate, symbolically significant because they would have been presumed to side with the government and did not officially represent the demographic of most of the protesters—came and stood with them. At least one Protestant minister did too, and a Catholic priest, and a very small handful of the civilian population; a few police prayed with the monks and sang the Paschal Troparion but didn’t join them, though since then no small number have defected from their ranks. An Orthodox website published a document called Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine condemning violence, strictly calling the government and all others in positions of influence to immediately engage in dialogue, and calling on all to pray and begin behaving like Christians. It is a stiffly worded document and pledges all who signed it (including many clergy from various Orthodox juris-dictions––themselves showing unusual solidarity in these days) to repentance and a renewed commitment to Christian deportment in their conduct in the public interest.

Briefly, then, for the space of a held breath, it seems, the police held their fire and the people said they would hold their stones for as long as the monks stood there. But what if all the Christians had dropped what they held in their hands—the police their guns, and the protesters their Molotov cocktails and rocks—and had instead stood with them? Would the crack have widened? Would it have become a chasm through which grace would pour?

On February the 20th, a truce called by the Ukrainian president, prior to which twenty-six people had died, ended after less than twelve hours as violence not only re-erupted, but rapidly escalated. In less than a few hours, police had killed between seventy and a hundred people and injured many more as protesters took police hostage, threw fire bombs, and some with guns shot back. A video was released later in the morning of a police sniper lying prone on the grass and carefully shooting towards the crowd as other officers stood nervously by—they were clearly not under attack. Reports say many of the protesters from among the crowds in the Maidan died from single gunshots to their heads. Another video showed a police officer on fire, the victim of a thrown Molotov cocktail.

Words fail.

The next day, news came that the interior minister, who was responsible for carrying out the strategy of violence in dealing with the protesters, had been sacked and the President had signed an agreement with opposition leaders. A few days later, after more violence, the President went into exile. Today, a scanty calm holds as political tension builds and a new government forms. Will the crack widen or will the edifice of violence strengthen? Tomorrow the news may swing the other way again. But I close with a thought on the lasting accomplishment of the monks.

The monks who led in their incredible witness to peace were not naïve and they did not fail. We don’t know who didn’t die because of their courage or how their resolute faith mitigated against the totality of violence or ultimate protraction of the conflict, or how Christians watching, indeed the Church, were strengthened in their faith. We don’t know––but be assured, no action is without its residual effects. We must only choose our action. Standing for peace and choosing non-violence is not a strategy with a desired outcome like civil, political, or military strategies are. Nor is it for the uncertain, the weak, or the cowardly––read the interview with them that follows this letter and look again at the pictures and determine for yourself what kind of men they are. Heaven is populated with Saints such as these.

Hear them as they sing!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Who knows how much worse the world would be if we didn’t pray, or how much better it will become if we do? God help us all to pray.

Courage, my friends!

Pieter Dykhorst

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:10-17).

Courage between Rocks and Guns

monks1

The following interview with Hieromonk Melchizedeck (Gordenko) and monk Gabriel (Kairasov) appeared in Orthodoxy in Ukraine, a Ukrainian language website on January 30th.

by Lado Gegechkori

HIEROMONK MELCHIZEDECK (GORDENKO) and monk Gabriel (Kairasov), on the night of February 20th, stood risking their lives on Grushevsky Street in Kiev between the police and the demonstrators, and in this way stopped the bloodshed for entire days.

LG: Tell us, fathers, what made you to go out to the street that day?

Fr. M: Once a long time ago I saw a photograph from Serbia, in which one priest was standing between the police and the demonstrators. I was filled with admiration for him—one man with a cross in his hands was able to stop a thousand people on one side, and a thousand on the other!

Our Desyatina Monastery is located very close to the epicenter of these events—even at night in the church we could hear fireworks, shouting from megaphones, and the noise of crowds. When I heard that on Grushevsky Street explosions were causing people to lose their arms, legs, and eyes, I understood that I should be there, so that I would not later be ashamed of myself. For some reason I remembered the example of a priest in Georgia, who ran out with a bench in his hands to route the gay parade. That man saw lawlessness in the streets and did not try to hide or wait it out in the church, but went out to make his position clear to the laity, and to inspire them by his example.

LG: As far as I understand it, you had agreed upon a plan?

Fr. M: No, we had no sort of plan. Early in the morning, Fr. Ephraim, Fr. Gabriel, and I prayed together, and after asking a blessing, we went out to the Maidan. None of us had even the slightest wavering or doubt. There was no plan. There was a goal—to do at least something to stop the violence.

LG: How did the demonstrators react to the appearance of men in vestments?

Fr. M: We were realistic about the fact that it is no longer possible to stop the police or demonstrators, and therefore we were ready to stand under the flying bullets and stones. But when people saw priests in front of them, standing between them and the police cordon, it was as if they had been dashed with boiling water. They calmed down almost immediately. A moment of something like a blessed reasonableness came over them.

Fr. G: The people standing there came up to us and said, “As long as you stand here, we will not throw any stones at the police.” This really inspired us all. We were able to restrain people until nightfall—only then did Molotov cocktails start flying at the police. But even in that moment, many of the demonstrators ran over to the police cordon and shouted to their comrades to cease their aggression. Some of these young fellows even climbed onto the roof of a burnt-out bus in order to pull out the protesters, thus placing themselves in the path of danger.

LG: Did you understand that you were risking your lives? After all, Molotov cocktails and grenades were blowing up around you.

Fr. G: When we were standing between the crowd of protesters and the police behind their shields, and all around us grenades were popping and cocktails were ripping, a hot bottle landed about five meters from me. But it did not explode… Fire was burning all around us, bottles were crashing and machinery was rumbling, but for some reason this cocktail did not explode. It would have scorched me and everyone around me in a moment, but it only hit the ground and fizzled out. Then I felt that the Lord was protecting us.

Later, however, people started using us as human shields—demonstrators walked up to us and threw stones and bottles with flammable mixtures from behind our backs. At that moment I felt a terrible bitterness for these people, whom we were calling to make peace, but who were nevertheless thirsting for blood. I felt that demons were mocking these human souls, inciting them to rage, and dulling their good sense.

LG: At what moment did you understand that it was time for you to leave the demonstration site?

Fr. M: We were not alone there—there were lay people standing next to us, both men and women. We were watching attentively, so that no one would throw stones and bottles at them—after all, we essentially bore responsibility for them at that moment. Therefore, when the situation came to a head, we decided to step back in order to guard those who stood with us shoulder-to-shoulder.

Some have spoken of provocations and aggression from the crowd, others, about the cruelty and brutality of the police. I cannot say anything of the kind. We did not want to find the guilty party; we wanted to make peace between both sides.
LG: Some are inclined to emphasize the cruelty of the police, while others blame the demonstrators for everything. What is your opinion, as eye-witnesses?

Fr. G: At the moment the passions were escalating, a man ran from out of the crowd. Disregarding the cold, he was bare to the waist. The man shouted to the crowd and the police to stop, and then fell to his knees and began to pray fervently. But the police jumped at him, took him by the feet and dragged him to the cars. I tried to stop them, but in vain. I was sincerely sorry for that man—it seemed to me that God’s grace was visiting him at that moment.

It is not right to bet in this situation on one side or the other. We saw cruelty from both camps—each of them was sick in their own way.

LG: At that moment, people of all different religious confessions were gathered in the center of town. Did you have any confrontations with them?

Fr. M: During those hours that we spent at the Maidan, people from all different confessions came there: Greek-Catholics, clergy from the “Kiev Patriarchate” and the Catholic Church; and what is the most amazing of all—Buddhists!

Fr. G: Even a Jew came up to me in his kippah, and standing next to me, started praying. I listened to him amazed: he was praying Orthodox prayers with us!

Fr. M: To me a young man came up, introduced himself as Seryezha, and asked me whether we accept heretics. “Heretics in what sense?” I asked. “I am a Baptist,” Seryezha smiled. “Of course we accept them. Come on over!”
This place was the borderline of peace, and there could be no talk of “acceptance” or “non-acceptance.”

LG: That is, the common woe united all those who can’t find a common language during peaceful times?

Fr. G: There was no division between confessions or ideology. This was not the time for that. When a mother sees a tree falling over the sandbox, she won’t only grab her own child—she’ll pick up someone else’s as well, be he the neighbor’s or a street kid. At that moment, we were all related.

And do you know what is most amazing? People started calling us from Kiev and other cities—both lay people and clergy—saying that they wanted to stand with us shoulder-to-shoulder when we go out there again. Literally just a few days ago, a man who had been standing in the barricades at that moment came to our church, and said that he no longer wants to stand there, now he wants to pray.

Many protesters who saw us there said the same thing. They had thought that a stone is the weightiest thing there could possibly be. But when they saw us, they recognized that compared to certain spiritual things, a stone is lighter than a feather.

LG: You risked your lives, standing there in those minutes. Tell us, did you remember the New Martyrs then, and were you inspired by their example?

Fr. G: Do you know, when we went to the Maidan, I began to pray silently. And among all the other saints whom I was asking for help, some of the first who came to mind were the Georgian martyrs Shalva, Bidzina, and Elisbara. These were three princes who stirred an uprising in Georgia against the Islamic oppression. Having gathered two thousand warriors under their banners, they defeated the army of the Persian shah, which numbered 10,000 strong. But when hundreds of women and children were taken captive by the shah, the princes surrendered without a second thought. The captives were released, but the princes were executed. Their martyrdom consisted in their living and fighting for the people’s sake, and they were ready to die in order to save innocent lives.

I also recalled the example of one Russian commander who fought in Chechnya—his name was kept secret, but the mujahedin announced a price on his head. When the Chechens took several peaceful citizens captive, he unhesitatingly gave himself up in exchange for the captives’ freedom. He was brutally murdered, but the captives survived.
Who are the New Martyrs? What can we call the feeling that guides them? I would call it “ordinary patriotism.” IC

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