All posts by jim forest

Courage between Rocks and Guns: monastic peace witness on Kiev’s Euromaidan

euromaidan-monks-1-2014The 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.”

* * *
as published in “In Communion”, the journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, issue 68 February 2014
* * *

Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine

>> original text in Ukrainian (includes list of signers):

Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine

Jan 25th, 2014

Beloved Brothers and Sisters, Fathers, Concelebrants, fellow Citizens!

Our country finds herself on the brink of chaos. We are witnessing an escalation of confrontation and violence, which encompasses wider and wider circles of our citizens. We mourn and pray for the repose of the people who were killed during clashes or perished of illegal actions. There can be no excuse for murder, violence, abuse and neglect of human dignity no matter in the name of what and by whom it is done.

Despite calls by the leaders of the Ukrainian churches and personally by the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine Vladimir, the government has not taken steps to resolve the conflict, stop the violence and start a real dialogue. The situation escalated to the limit when it appears that the opposition is unable to control the mood of the protesters. “Disband the Maidan” in such a situation is impossible, and forceful dispersal will lead to the beginning of the Civil War, in which there will be neither losers nor heroes.

What is happening in Ukraine today is judgment day for all parties and for everyone: for authorities, opposition, churches, public figures and for each person. “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God” – says the Lord. In this situation, we Christians must be the first to take responsibility for our actions, emotions, calls and prayers.

Our Christian principles are the Lord’s commandments. Nothing can justify the violation of the commandments. “Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud” – these are the basic norms, and the one who trespasses them puts himself outside the boundaries of Christianity.

“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment. ” – the Orthodox Church reminds us of these words remind us today in the liturgical reading of the Epistle of the Apostle James (2:13). Yet instead of mercy we often become today witnesses to lawlessness, abuse, cruelty. We implore everyone: Come to your senses! The judgment of God is for everyone. The Lord might not give us time to repent. The measure of lawlessness overflows very quickly when it is filled by those who consider themselves Christians.

Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Woe to those who call evil good

and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink,

who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!

Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and smote them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still.

He will raise a signal for a nation afar off, and whistle for it from the ends of the earth; and lo, swiftly, speedily it comes!”(Isaiah 5:20-26).

Or is this the future we want for ouselves and our children? There is still time to stop. We call on all parties to end the violence and illegal actions. Only truth and goodness can defeat evil that is encompassing us.

Now is the time for each of us to say that in the future he will not live a lie. It’s time to remember and join the words that were written by Solzhenitsyn in Soviet times. We declare that:

We will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in our opinion distorts the truth.

We will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people, neither on our own behalf not at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, not in a theatrical role.

We will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which we can only see is false or a distortion of the truth whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.

We will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather our own nest, to achieve success in our work, if we do not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.

We will not allow ourselves to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to our desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which we do not completely accept.

We will not raise our hand to vote for a proposal with which we do not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom we consider unworthy or of doubtful abilities.

We will not allow ourselves to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question.

We will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if we hear a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.

We will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

In this so help us all the Merciful Lord, the Sun of Righteousness!

From politicians we demand the restoration of dialogue to find a peaceful way out of the social crisis. Our politicians – pro-government and opposition – must come to their senses, must begin to live according to the rules of law and solidarity, to stop cheating and deceiving. Only the restoration of mutual confidence among politicians and in the community can be the beginning of a new page of history of Ukraine.

We call all Christians to fervent prayer for Ukraine! Our country, like ancient Israel, will either find the strength for the peaceful transformation and start living according to God’s commandments, or will become a thing of the past as one who has turned away from God’s blessing.

Still, our efforts are not enough. There is still a need for political agreement to begin to live heeding the law of God and of man, while respecting the rights and dignity of citizens, and maintaining social cohesion.

Today our political leaders will determine whether this nation will be blessed. And we all need to pray that politicians have the wisdom, courage, and mutual trust to start a new life. Whatever decision politicians adopt, the people, and especially Christians today must prove themselves as people with dignity and conscience.


Протоієрей Андрій Дудченко, клірик Спасо-Преображенського собору в Києві (УПЦ), редактор сайту «Київська Русь»

Юрій Чорноморець, доктор філософських наук, вірянин УПЦ

Протоієрей Віталій Ейсмонт, Овруцька єпархія УПЦ

Протоієрей Ігор Савва, Запорізька єпархія УПЦ

Священик Валентин Гороховський, Херсонська єпархія УПЦ

Костянтин Сігов та Ірина Пастернак, УПЦ

Протоієрей Миколай Тишкун, клірик Спасо-Преображенського собору в Києві (УПЦ)

Диякон Іван Гичун, клірик Спасо-Преображенського собору в Києві (УПЦ)

Леся Іванченко, Київ, УПЦ

Протоієрей Богдан Огульчанський, Київ, УПЦ

Денис Кондюк, пастор євангельської церкви, Київ

В’ячеслав Горшков, Київ, УПЦ

Священик Ігор Григола, Волинська єпархія УПЦ

Анастасія Верстюк, Київ, УПЦ

Юрій Юрченко, УГКЦ

Наталія Єпіфанова, УПЦ

Олексій Кузьменко, УПЦ

Юлія Зубкова, екс-редактор англійської версії офіційного сайту УПЦ

Петро Боканов, Мангейм, РПЦЗ

Олена Мухова, Мангейм, РПЦЗ

Тетяна Деркач, Київ, УПЦ КП

Протодиякон Віктор Мартиненко, прес-секретар Володимир-Волинської єпархії УПЦ

Наталія Міссірова, Київ, УПЦ

Юрій Кірпач, США, ПЦА, екс-викладач КДА

Тетяна Даневич, Києво-Святошинська Церква ЄХБ

Марія Пилипчак — керівник дитячого ансамблю»Цвітень» при національному народному хорі імені Григорія Верьовки, член спілки композиторів України, м.н. співробітник ІМФЕ ім. М.Рильського НАН України

Щедрин Виктор Андреевич, Москва, РПЦ МП

Протоієрей Георгій Тарабан, секретар Сумської єпархії УПЦ

Яков Ревякін, УПЦ

Протоієрей Георгій Коваленко, голова Синодального інформаційно-просвітницького відділу УПЦ, речник Предстоятеля УПЦ

Денис Горенков, президент Союзу студентів-християн

Михайло Черенков, доктор філософських наук, віце-президент Асоціації Духовного відродження

Священик Іоанн Тунський, УПЦ, Тульчинська єпархія

Ольга Тунська, дружина священика УПЦ МП, Одеса-Вінниця

Антон Савва, студент ЗМУ, вірянин УПЦ МП, Запоріжжя

Володимир Мельник, УПЦ, Суми-Нідерланди-Іспанія, doctor of economics and social schience

Священик Корнилiй Зубрицький, клiрик УПЦ в Канадi

Протоієрей Євген Заплетнюк, УАПЦ

Диякон Володимир Крикливий, Херсонська єпархія УПЦ КП

Олеся Лісовенко, Київ, УПЦ

Максим Солодкий, журналіст, Київ, УПЦ

Петро Цимбал, Ірпінь, УПЦ

Новак Світлана, УПЦ, Київ, релігієвед, педагог, психолог

Юрій Вестель, Київ, УПЦ

Протоієрей доктор Михайло Димид, Львів, УГКЦ

Олена Кулигіна, журналіст, РКЦ

Інга Леонова, США, ПЦА

Диякон Ярослав Мінєєв, Дніпропетровська єпархія УПЦ

Илья Бей, магистр богословия, Запорожье, УПЦ

Польцева Наталія, м.Харків, православна

Геннадій Христокін, кандидат філософських наук, УПЦ

протоиерей Петр Зуев, руководитель отдела по информации и связям с общественностью Киевской епархии УПЦ

Левченко Артем, вечерний редактор портала «Православие и мир», г. Чугуев, Харьковская обл. (Изюмская епархия УПЦ)

Протоієрей Сергій Кравчук, Волинсько-Луцька єпархія УПЦ

Петро Марусенко, УПЦ, Київ

Артеменко Надежда, г. Одесса, УПЦ

Ігор Кравчук, УПЦ

Юлия Блохина, г.Киев, УПЦ

Шандор Ідярто,Угорська Реформатська Церква

Соболєва Катерина, УПЦ

Пономаренко Татьяна Викторовна. г. Киев. УПЦ

Даниїл Ґаладза, Відень, УГКЦ

Варвара Сікоренко-Гусар, православна, м.Київ


протоиерей Борис Бродовский, Черкасская епархия УПЦ

Єпископ Володимир (Вільде), екзарх України, Автокефальна Грецька Православна Церква Америки і Канади (АГПЦАК), Київ

Роман Козак, Глушиця, УПЦ

Сергій Терентьєв, пастор євангельської церкви «Голгофа»

Диякон Микола Денисенко, США, ПЦА

Дрига Марина, Одесса, православная

Микола Шабала, Луцьк, УПЦ

Раиса Филоненко, УПЦ, Донецк

Олексій Гріщенко, м.Вінниця УПЦ

Трусюк Надія, с.Городище, Вінницькоі області, УПЦ МП
Трусюк Тетяна, с.Городище, Вінницькоі області, УПЦ МП
Черниш Валентина, с.Городище, Вінницькоі області, УПЦ МП
Вінничук Віра, с.Городище, Вінницькоі області, ЄХБ
Віннічук Микола, с.Городище, Вінницькоі області, ЄХБ
Бондаренко Ганна, с.Городище, Вінницькоі області, ЄХБ

Омеляненко Сергій, м. Полтава, УПЦ

Павел, Людмила и Николай Недачины, Киев-Буча-Ганновер, УПЦ

иерей Олег Тимофеев и прихожане Св.Пантелеимоновского прихода УПЦ Одесская епархия

Пастор Владислав Сачко, Обухів, ЦХВЄУ

Толчикова Татьяна, Запорожье УПЦ

Никитяева Татьяна, г. Снежное Донецкая область, православная церковь Московский патриархат.
Никитяев Вячеслав
Медведева Валентина

Святослав Прокопчук, християнин, ЄХБ

Руслан Василишин, УПЦ КП, м.Київ

Довгаленко Олена, православна

Роман Островський, студент Грегоріанського Університету, Рим, УГКЦ

Яценко Наталія, Київ, УПЦ

Святелик Сергій, м.Полтава, мирянин УПЦ

Священник Володимир Івасенко, УПЦ, Житомирська єпархія

Юрий Сигаев

Юлия Давиденко, Киев, УПЦ

Оксана Ротко, г. Днепропетровск, УПЦ

Ігор Ремез, УПЦ КП, м. Дніпропетровськ
Тетяна Корчагіна, УПЦ КП, м. Дніпропетровськ

Світлана-Майя Залізняк, поетка, місто Полтава

Олександр Крамаренко, військовий пенсіонер, вірний УАПЦ, м.Лубни

Владимир Шолох — Киев, УПЦ

Сергієнко Ганна, Україна, Луганськ, РПЦ, МП

Місьонг Ольга, редактор наук. журналу, Львів, УГКЦ

Олексій Ігнатьєв, журналіст, м. Суми

Вадим Залевський, м. Вишневе, УПЦ

Анатолий Макогон, старообрядец РПЦ МП

Ігор Тодоров, професор, Донецьк

Ірина Черняк, УПЦ Суми

Давиденко Артем, м.Київ, УПЦ

протоієрей Валентин Марчук, голова інформаційно-просвітницького відділу Волинської єпархії УПЦ

Олег Хома, доктор філософських наук, УПЦ

Хилюк Iрина Юрiiвна — м.Iрпiнь, Iрпiнська Бiблiйна Церква

Священик УПЦ Константинопольского Патриархата Петро Приймак

Чернецький Микола, м.Київ, УПЦ
Чернецька Інна, м.Київ, УПЦ

Ірина Москаленко, Мангейм, Німеччина
Алла Доблер, Ляймен, Німеччина
Наталія Лиса, Бенсхайм, Німеччина
Олга Келлер, Гейдельберг, Німеччина

Кохан Андрій, магістр права, Київ, УПЦ КП

Віталій Гусар

Оксана Лукашук, журналіст телепрограм Волинської єпархії УПЦ

Надія Киценко, РПЦЗ, Нью Йорк

Наталия Захараш. Киев

Колосюк Андрій, кандидат фізико-математичних наук, Київ-Вінниця-Суми, УПЦ

Священик Максим Хоменко. Вол.-Волинська єп. УПЦ

Людмила Трусова, парафіянка Свято-Покровського жіночого монастиря, УПЦ, м. Київ

Сулимовская Анна Сергеевна (Киев, Николаев) УПЦ

Протоієрей Олександр Климук, Волинська єпархія УПЦ

Тетяна Метельова, кандидат філософських наук, с.н.с. Інституту всесвітньої історії, журналіст, Київ, УГКЦ

Кучмєєва Ольга, УПЦ, Київ

Протоієрей Андрій Свинарьов (Константинопольский патріархат, Екзархат парафій руської традиції, Франція, Париж)

Татьяна Царева, преподаватель КПИ (Факультет менеджмента и маркетинга)

Андрій Андрійович Поповіченко, Одеса, УПЦ

Юлія Разлом, м.Харків, православна

Иеромонах Иннокентий (Ивлев), Сумская епархия УПЦ

Ксения Талалай, Хмельницкий. УПЦ

Прот. Олександр Білінський, Луцька єпархія УПЦ

Герук Светлана Владимировна, журналист, православная христианка УПЦ, г. Киев

Даниил Струве, Париж, Архиепископия православных русских церквей в Западной Европе

Игумен Силуан, УПЦ, Донецк

Протоіерей Володимир Басистий м.Сарни УПЦ

протодиакон Игорь Сторожук, УПЦ

Священник Александр Карнаух, Киевская епархия УПЦ

Марія Савва, м. Запоріжжя, регент приходського храму Свв. Мчч. Віри, Надії, Любові та матері їхньої Софії у м. Запоріжжя УПЦ

Хацкевич Вадим, православний, Київ

Кузнецов Владимир Владимирович,г.Киев УПЦ

прот. Анатолій Слинько, УПЦ, Київська обл.

Славутская Анна Юрьевна. Хмельницкий. УПЦ

Дудка Ольга, г. Киев, УПЦ

протоиерей Николай Закроец, Конотопская епархия УПЦ

Петруня Елена, псаломщица, Конотопская епархия УПЦ

Гаврилова Татьяна, православная христианка, пос.Софрино

Головач Людмила, УПЦ, Киев

Александра Танич. Православная, УПЦ, г. Кривой Рог

Іван Дутка, магістр богослов’я, Львів, УГКЦ

протоиерей Александр Тимофеев. Москва

Лариса Васильєва, Київ, УПЦ

Валерій Полив’яний, м. Львів, УПЦ

* * *

Crisis in Ukraine: Truth is the First Casualty

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.”

by Jim Forest

Wars are fought not only with weapons but with words and propaganda. As the Ukraine crisis unfolds, charge and counter-charge are exchanged as Kiev, Moscow and Washington assert, accuse and deny. Are the “green men” 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 ordered snipers to open fire on the people on the Euromaidan several months ago? 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?

Spend an hour or two on the web reading texts about the conflict in Ukraine. It’s impressive how much bluster, hyperbole, exaggeration, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and plain lies 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 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 with limited rights to use their own language, that many of them might prefer either a high degree of regional autonomy or 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 many times 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 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 as well as 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 dialog 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.”

note: Resources for parish and private prayer as well as various texts can be found on the Ukraine Crisis page posted on the OPF’s In Communion web site:

* * *
Jim Forest is International Secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
* * *

text as of 7 May 2014

Statements from Ukrainian Orthodox bishops

Statement of the Ukrainian Council of Churches on the decision of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine

STATEMENT of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations on the Occasion of the Russian Federation Soviet of the Federation of the Federal Sobranie of March 1st, 2014

On March 1, 2014 the Russian Federation Soviet of the Federation of the Federal Sobranie on request of the President of Russia has given its permission to employ Russian troops in Ukraine. The military engagement of another country on the territory of Ukraine is a threat not only for our country but also for peace and stability on the European continent in general.

We call the authorities of Russia to give up the military or any other interference into internal affairs of Ukraine that are not provided by the international law and bilateral agreements. The Russian authorities ought to realize their responsibility before God and mankind for possible irrecoverable consequences of the military conflict on the Ukrainian land.

The Ukrainian people have friendly, fraternal feelings toward the Russian people. Citizens of Ukraine do not wish to enflame hostility. We want to continue to build fraternal relations with Russia as a sovereign, independent country.

Once again we testify to the recognition of the legitimacy of the state authorities formed by the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine and the officials appointed by the acting President Oleksandr Turchynov and the Government of Ukraine.

We appeal to the international community with the request to do all the things possible to keep peace in Ukraine and keep the territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of the borders of the Ukrainian state. Undermining of peace and stability in Ukraine threatens to ruin all the modern system of the world safety. Therefore all the measures should be used to keep Ukraine from war resulting from the employment of the foreign troops.

Churches and religious communities of Ukraine are with the Ukrainian nation. We call all to more fervent prayers for our Motherland.

May the Lord keep all of us!

Presiding Member of the Ukrainian Council of Church and Religious Organizations,

+ Onufriy,
The Metropolitan of Chernivtsi and Bukovyna,
Locum Tenens of the Kyivan Metropolitan Cathedra
of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)

Kyiv, 2 March, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

* * *

7 April 2014

Council of Churches supports integrity of Ukraine

KYIV – The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) has condemned the separatism and supported the integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

This is stated in the Communique adopted after the session of the UCCRO held on April 3, 2014 in the National Sanctuary Sophia Kyivska, chaired by Metropolitan Onufriy, Locum Tenens of the Kyivan Metropolitan cathedra of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), the Institute for Religious Freedom reported.

The Ukrainian Council of Churches stated unanimously that there is no inter-religious enmity or intolerance between religions in Ukraine. The heads of the churches and religious organizations condemned the provocations and artificial attempts to incite enmity on the grounds of religion, to which some media have resorted.

“The churches and religious organizations maintain inter-confessional and inter-religious peace, despite the period of socio-political crisis that our country suffers from,” emphasizes the communique from the UCCRO.

In addition, the heads of the Ukrainian denominations expressed firm conviction concerning the necessity of building a strategic partnership of churches and religious organizations with the Ukrainian society and the state.

For this purpose, the Council of Churches has proposed the adoption of the draft law ‘On the concept of church-state relations in Ukraine,’ which will help to overcome the consequences of the atheistic past, to implement constitutional freedom, and to establish the mechanisms of cooperation of religious organizations with the state.

The UCCRO welcomes the fact that this draft law is in the top priority in the program of the new government and hopes that the concept will be admitted in the near future.

The heads of the denominations emphasized the urgent need for a legislative solution to specific problems of the churches and religious organizations by the Parliament of Ukraine’s adoption of the applicable laws, which have the support of all members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches.

* * *

Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv Calls on Ukrainians to Stay United

28 March 2014

Patriarch Filaret has called on Ukrainians to stay united due to the threat of Russian occupation of the country. This Primate of the Kyiv Patriarchate said in his statement (full text in Ukrainian).

“The enemy has attacked our country, occupied part of the Ukrainian land. In fact, without declaring war, the Russian authorities have already started a war against Ukraine,” he said.

“Kremlin’s plans cannot be stopped only with weapons or foreign aid but with our fortitude and our unity. If we, the citizens of Ukraine, belonging to different nationalities, religions, political movements, are united as one people, if we stand in defense of Ukrainian statehood, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity – the enemy’s plans will not be fulfilled,” writes the Patriarch.

Patriarch Filaret therefore calls on Ukrainians not succumb to panic and stop arguments, because “the future of Ukraine, our shared home, is more important than any issues that divide us.”

“God and truth are on the side of the Ukrainian people because we do not wish anyone harm, but only want peace and friendship with our neighbors to live in our own home – united and independent Ukraine. I believe that through our unity, strength of spirit and mutual support, with God’s help, together we go through all these challenges.

“May God inspire us with wisdom,” said Patriarch Filaret.

* * *

UOC-MP Urges Priests to be Patriots and Prevent Separatist Sentiments among Laity

9 April 2014

Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanych) of Boryspil and Brovary in an interview with Oleh Havrysha for UNIAN-Religion explained the UOC-MP’s stance on the riots taking place in eastern Ukraine.

According to him, the UOC-MP has repeatedly stated that it supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“And today we clearly condemn attempts to deprive Ukraine of its territories and to incorporate them in other states. Therefore, unrest in Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk disturbs us greatly. We see in them a real threat to our country. We pray that our statesmen will have the wisdom to prevent this threat without the use of force. Regarding the influence of the church on the congregation, today it is first of all wielded by parish priests, who communicate with ordinary people who come to church. We encourage our priests to be patriots of their country and to prevent separatist sentiments among the laity,” Metropolitan Anthony said in the interview.

* * *

Patriarch Kirill: My heart is with Ukraine

Two recent statements on the Ukraine crisis from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow:

Patriarch Kirill: My heart is with Ukraine

Statement of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia on a new aggravation of the civic confrontation in Ukraine.

4 May 2014

Blood is again shed in Ukraine. The clashes in the Donetsk Region and tragic events in Odessa have led to the death of tens of people and further destabilization of the situation in the country. Many are in despair and fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

In this hardest of times, my heart is with Ukraine, with each of her sons and daughters who are in pain, grief, anger and despair. I am praying that all the victims of the bloodshed may rest in peace, that the lives of the casualties may be saved and that the injured may recover as soon as possible. My ardent prayer is for the healing of the country and pacification of the enmity, so that blood may not be spilt again and violence may be stopped forever.

Responsibility for what is going on lies first of all with those who resort to violence instead of dialogue. Special concern is raised by the use of military hardware in a civic confrontation. The use of force is often provoked by commitment to political radicalism and denial of citizens’ rights to express their convictions.

In the situation of today’s Ukraine, only one political position cannot be declared the only possible and obligatory for all. It is pernicious to the country. It is my conviction that attempts to assert one’s own point of view by force should be abandoned once and for all. I appeal to all the parties to restrain themselves from the use of arms and to settle all problems through negotiations. In a short-term perspective, Ukraine needs at least reconciliation, in a long-term – a lasting and inalienable peace.

Ukraine can be healed and can take the path of building a dignified life for her citizens only if it becomes a common home for people of various political beliefs who differ from one another in many things. There is no alternative to dialogue. It is necessary, while there is still a possibility for it, to hear one another and try not only to resolve today’s contradictions but also to renew the commitment to Christian spiritual and moral values, which have formed the Ukrainian people and enriched them with wisdom and love of truth. I trust: precisely these values will help them today to find a way to peace and justice without which a dignified future of the country is unthinkable.

O God, one and great, preserve Rus’- Ukraine!

* * *

Patriarch Kirill: A terrible crime has been committed in view of the whole world

4 May 2014

to His Eminence Agafangel, Metropolitan of Odessa and Izmail

Your Eminence, dear Vladyka,

The horrific news about the people, burnt to death in the House of Trade Unions in Odessa, has most strongly affected me and pierced my soul with the deepest pain. A terrible crime, which neither heart nor mind can put up with, has been committed in view of the whole world.

The tragic developments in Odessa have resulted in the death of dozens of people. Millions are suffering grief and despair. People fear for their relatives and for their life, as well as for the future of their country.

My heart is with you, Vladyka, with your flock, and with Odessa, which is mourning over her children, as well as with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with all those who day after day call to peace and to end of violence in Ukraine.

I lift up my ardent prayer to God for the repose of souls of the dead, for the survival of those, whose lives doctors are fighting to save, and for the recovery of the injured. I also pray for the salvation and healing of Ukraine, for the cessation of bloodshed, and reconciliation of enemies. I pray for the people of opposite political positions to be able, by God’s mercy, to hear one another and to realize that any attempts to impose one’s opinion on the other by force only lead to the death of the beautiful, blessed county.

May this terrible ordeal, occurred on the radiant Paschal days, strengthen us in our commitment to follow the path of our saints – St Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, St Sergius of Radonezh, the saints of the Laura of the Caves in Kiev, St Seraphim of Sarov, numerous new martyrs of the Russian Church, and St Kuksha of Odessa. May it strengthen us in our adherence to those Christian and moral values that alone can help to save the people of Ukraine.

Let us find strength and consolation in the good tidings that Christ the Saviour has conquered death, falsehood, and enmity, and that the doors of hell will not overcome His Church.

Christ is Risen!

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

* * *

Ukraine Crisis: The Fog of Propaganda

To the editor of The New York Times:

The lead article in the web edition of today’s The New York Times begins:

The Facebook post on Tuesday morning by Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia was bleak and full of dread. “Blood has been spilled in Ukraine again,” wrote Mr. Medvedev, once favored in the West for playing good cop to the hard-boiled president, Vladimir V. Putin. “The threat of civil war looms.”

Medvedev pleaded with Ukrainians to decide their own future “without usurpers, nationalists and bandits, without tanks or armored vehicles — and without secret visits by the C.I.A. director.”

And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies about the political crisis in Ukraine that have emanated from the highest echelons of the Kremlin and reverberated on state-controlled Russian television, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.…

What is striking is how much bluster, hyperbole, misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and outright lies have come not only from Moscow but from Kiev, Washington, London and other capitals. Hour-by-hour the ancient Greek proverb — “In war, truth is the first casualty” — is being amply demonstrated on all sides.

How ironic it is that the overthrow of the elected Yanukovych government by demonstrators in Kiev — an event welcomed and supported by Washington and its allies — has inspired similar demonstrations and the occupation of government buildings in the largely Russian-speaking cities of eastern Ukraine, but in these more recent cases the demonstrations are condemned by Washington and its allies. What was admirable when it was done in Kiev is seen as outrageous in other Ukrainian cities.

In the US press, the fact that the CIA has been quietly meddling in the affairs of Ukraine is regarded as a detail of minor significance, even though the CIA has many times in the past played a decisive role in arranging regime change. White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that CIA Director John Brennan visited Kiev over the weekend and met with principal Ukrainian officials — with a straight face he said that it was absurd to imply that US officials meeting with their counterparts Kiev was anything other than routine. It would be laughable if the consequences of enmity were not so disastrous. It is bizarre for the US to accuse Russia of interfering when the US itself is sowing discord, unrest and violence in so many countries.

The Yanukovych government was corrupt, as was the government that preceded it. That many Ukrainians are fed up with such leadership is understandable. It’s similarly understandable that the Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority is outraged and, after being treated for years as second-class citizens with limited rights to use their own language, that many of them might prefer either a high degree of regional autonomy or 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 interference. Regardless of the outcome in Ukraine, the US and NATO should stand back.

The press can play its part. Propaganda, whether from the US, Russia or the EU, only thickens the fog and makes war, whether civil or between nations, more likely.

— Jim Forest
International Secretary, The Orthodox Peace Fellowship

16 April 2014

* * *

A Letter to a Friend in Ukraine

29 April 2014. Alkmaar, The Netherlands

Dear Natalie,

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

It is good to hear from you. I hope you are well.

>> I guess, you know about the situation in our country.

I try to follow developments in Ukraine each day.

>> What do the Orthodox Christians from your country say about the situation in Ukraine?

In our parish in Amsterdam (in which there are many Russians and Ukrainians), there are special prayers for Ukraine at every liturgy. Mostly what I hear in conversation among members of the parish is distress and worry.

>> People are divided here. Sometimes it is really not so easy to understand what is happening and what can be done for living in peace.

Nationalism is a spiritual disease in which differences become more important than similarities and ethnic identity (really an artificial creation) becomes more important than religious identity, so it can easily happen that it is more important to me that I am Ukrainian or Russian (or whatever) than I am an Orthodox Christian.

You say it is not easy to find out what is happening and we face the same problem. I don’t think there is any single news source that reports fairly what is going on, both good and bad, on the various sides. Much that is presented as “news” is in fact propaganda, in the sense of being information that is incomplete and tilted toward one side. I often think of the Greek proverb, “In war the first casualty in truth.” Both the US and Russia are playing manipulative roles that serve their own interests.

We have set up a special page on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is encourage prayer — see our home page: .

If I see any articles that I think you might find helpful. Some of the content of the current issue of our journal “In Communion” will interest you and will soon be posted.

What is the atmosphere like where you are?

In Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest, International Secretary
Orthodox Peace Fellowship

* * *

War and Peace in Orthodox Tradition

Paper presented by Jim Forest at the Volos Academy for Theological Studies in Volos, Greece, at a conference (May 17-20, 2007) on “Forgiveness, Peace and Reconciliation.” The event was co-sponsored by the Boston Theological Institute and the World Council of Churches.

As we consider the Christian vocation of peacemaking, the healing and restoration of memory has been a recurring theme in our discussion. We have forgotten so much. including key elements of the teaching that was normative in the early Church.

The issue of war and peace has troubled and even divided followers of Christ for the greater part of Christian history. In any war we are likely to find (1) a small but dedicated group of Christians refusing to take up arms because of their objections to bloodshed in all circumstances, their specific objections to a particular war, or their canonical obligations as clergy or monks; and (2) a great majority of Christians taking part in every aspect of military life without voicing any objection.

This is an entirely ecumenical phenomenon. It is as likely to be true among Orthodox Christians as Christians belonging to other churches, though the percentage of conscientious objectors is greater in churches in North America and western Europe than in most other parts of the world — regions where conscientious objection has come to be recognized as a legal option. Yet even in those countries, conscientious objection is often limited to those who oppose all war rather than those who, their consciences shaped by the criteria of the Just War Doctrine, object to a specific war because of its failure to meet one or more of the classical conditions of that doctrine.

The fact that relatively small numbers of Christians are conscientious objectors might indicate that such a position is at odds with authentic Christianity. Surely the majority is to be regarded as the more representative? On the other hand, it may be observed that many Christians in our world are far more influenced by their national rather than by their religious identity. Many obey orders to participate in war because no one, including pastors and bishops, has suggested grounds exist for Christians to behave otherwise.

However, if we consider the witness of Christianity in the early centuries, those whom we now call conscientious objectors may be seen as more representative of the teaching of the early Church.

Let us begin with the Gospel itself. In Christ’s Gospel, one of the most surprising elements is his emphasis on love — and love not only of neighbors but of enemies. Nor are his words simply abstract recommendations. The Gospels bear witness to the consistent example he gives. His merciful actions are provided not only to his fellow Jews, but to those whom Jews regarded as their enemies. We note his readiness to heal the servant of a Roman centurion, an officer of an unwelcome and oppressive army of occupation. We see his many acts of forgiveness — no one who seeks his forgiveness fails to receive it. We see him saving the life of a woman condemned to death. We note his final miracle before his execution was to heal the wound of one of those Peter had injured in his attempt to defend his master; at the same time he hear Jesus reprimanding Peter for his violent attack on the man: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” At no point in his arrest or the suffering that followed do we see Jesus offering any form of resistance. Indeed we find no instance in the Gospel of Jesus killing anyone or authorizing his followers to commit an act of homicide. Describing the Last Judgment, he says, “What you have done to the least person, you have done to me.”

Searching the calendar of saints, among the martyrs of the first centuries we find Christian soldiers who were executed for refusing to take part in battle, or even to take the military oath.

For example, there is Maximilian of Numidia, a 21-year-old North African, who was being drafted into military service, but refused to take the oath. Tried in the year 295, he declared to Dion, the proconsul who tried him, “I cannot fight for this world…. I tell you, I am a Christian.” The proconsul pointed out that there were Christians serving in the Roman army. Maximilian replied, “That is their business. I also am a Christian, and I cannot serve.” For his refusal, Maximilian was beheaded. He was immediately regarded by the Church as a martyr and saint. The trial transcript is preserved in the Martyrology.

There is also the case of a recently-baptized centurion, St Marcellus. In the year 298, Marcellus’ unit in northern Africa was celebrating the emperor’s birthday with a party. To the astonishment of his fellows, Marcellus rose before the banqueters and denounced such parties as heathen. Then, casting off his military insignia, he cried out, “I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors and I scorn to worship your gods of wood and stone, which are deaf and dumb idols.” Marcellus was at once arrested for breach of discipline. At his trial, the record of which has been preserved by the Church, Marcellus readily admitted what he had said and done. It was not, one notices, a question of his being required to worship pagan gods, a defining matter for many martyrs. Marcellus’s motive for objection was, he declared, that “it is not right for a Christian man, who serves the Lord Christ, to serve in the armies of the world.” Because of his stand, he was beheaded. It is recorded that he died in great peace of mind, asking God to bless the judge who had condemned him.

Not all who took such stands paid for it with their lives. One of the great missionary saints of the early Church, Martin of Tours. Martin is most often represented in religious art at the moment when he, wearing military attire and seated upon his horse, divides his officer’s cloak, sharing half of it with it a freezing beggar whom he afterward recognizes as Christ.

Martin was born about the year 336 in Sabaria, Asia Minor. He was a member of the elite imperial guard serving the emperor. While an officer, he became a catechumen.

St Martin’s crisis in military service occurred due to a barbarian invasion of Gaul, or France as we know it today. Called to appear before Julian Caesar to receive a war-bounty, he declined to accept it, saying to Caesar: “Up to now I have served you as a soldier. Now permit me serve Christ. Give the bounty to these others. They are going to fight, but I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” Not surprisingly, the emperor accused Martin of cowardice. Martin replied that, in the name of Christ, he was prepared to face the enemy on the following day, alone and unarmed. He was thrown into prison. As it happened, there was a swift end to the hostilities in Gaul. The emperor, who may have regarded the enemy’s withdrawal as a divine act, chose not to punish Martin but instead ordered his discharge. Remaining in Gaul, Martin was welcomed by the bishop at Poitiers, St Hilary, who not long after ordained Martin a deacon and later a priest. Martin became an effective opponent of the Arain heresy and served the Church as a bishop, bringing many to baptism.

The witness of such saints is not at odds with the catechetical teaching of the Church at that time.

For example, the Apostolic Canons of St Hippolytus (170-236 AD), Bishop of Rome, state that renunciation of killing is a precondition of baptism. Here are several of the relevant canons:

Concerning the magistrate and the soldier: they are not to kill anyone, even if they receive the order…. Whoever has authority and does not do the righteousness of the Gospel is to be excluded and is not to pray with the bishop.

A soldier under authority shall not kill a man. If he is ordered to, he shall not carry out the order, nor shall he take the oath. If he is unwilling, let him be rejected. He who has the power of the sword or is a magistrate of a city who wears the purple, let him cease or be rejected. Catechumens or believers, who want to become soldiers, should be rejected, because they have despised God.

A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is compelled by a chief bearing the sword. He is not to burden himself with the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, he is not to partake of the mysteries, unless he is purified by a punishment, tears, and wailing. He is not to come forward deceitfully but in the fear of God.” (Canons XII-XVI)

In brief, the Church was willing to baptize soldiers so long as they promised not to engage in war or acts of deadly violence. This was a difficult but not impossible condition, as in many situations of service the soldier was fulfilling either a noncombatant role or the role of what today would be regarded as a policeman.

In a criticism of Christians written in the first half of the third century by the pagan scholar Celsus, Christians were sharply condemned for their attitude toward military service: “If all men were to do as you,” wrote Celsus, “there would be nothing to prevent the Emperor from being left in utter solitude, and with the desertion of his forces, the Empire would fall into the hands of the most lawless barbarians.”

Defending contemporary Christian practice, a theologian of the Church in Alexandria, Origen, replied to Celsus:

“Christians have been taught not to defend themselves against their enemies; and because they have kept the laws that command gentleness and love of man, they have received from God that which they would not have achieved if they were permitted to make war, though they might have been quite able to do so.” (Contra Celsum 3, 8 )

The Christian refusal of military service, Origen argued, did not indicate indifference to social
responsibility, but rather the higher duty to engage in effective spiritual combat with the forces of evil. He wrote:

The more devout the individual, the more effective he is in helping the Emperor, more so than the soldiers who go into the lines and kill all the enemy troops they can … The greatest warfare, in other words, is not with human enemies but with those spiritual forces which make men into enemies.

In the same period St. Justin Martyr expressed himself in similar terms:

We who were filled with war and mutual slaughter and every wickedness have each of us in all the world changed our weapons of war … swords into plows and spears into pruning hooks.” (Trypho 110)

Elsewhere he wrote,

We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies but, that we may not lie or deceive our judges, we gladly die confessing Christ. (I Apol. 39)

Around the year 177, St. Athenagoras of Athens also stressed nonresistance to evil:

For we have been taught not to strike back at someone who beats us nor to go to court with those who rob and plunder us. Not only that: we have even been taught to turn our head and offer the other side when men ill use us and strike us on the jaw and to give also our cloak should they snatch our tunic. [A Plea for Christians]

Another of the Christian voices coming down to us from the early generations of believers is that of Clement of Alexandria. At the end of the second or early in the third century, Clement described the Church as “an army which sheds no blood.” (Protrepticus 11, 116) “If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You shall not kill, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Prot. 10) “In peace, not in war, we are trained,” he declared in another essay. (Paedogogus 1,12)

In the New Testament and early Christian texts, we find numerous references to military service as a metaphor for Christians life, followers of Jesus often describing themselves as “soldiers of Christ,” but nowhere in the writings preserved to us from the early Church do we find any blessing of war or endorsement of military service. The closest we can come to that is the advice of St. John the Baptist that soldiers “should be content with their pay and be satisfied with their wages.” (Luke 3:14) To be content with their wages meant not to resort to pillage or taking spoils. It should be noted that soldiers were not free to resign from the army on any grounds except age or physical incapacity. Soldiering was regarded as a lifetime vocation; many were born into it. From the point of view of any government in the ancient world, the idea of conscientious objection was unthinkable. Those who failed to follow orders were subject to harsh penalties, including torture and execution.

Even in Constantine’s time, one sees within the Church a profoundly critical attitude regarding military service. At the First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicea near Constantinople in the year 325, with the emperor attending, one of the canons issued by the bishops declared:

As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military belts, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, so that some have regained their military stations; let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. [Hearers and prostrators were categories of penitents who can be present, like catechumens, for the Liturgy of the Word, but are barred from the Eucharistic Liturgy.] But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretense, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favorably concerning them. (Canon XII)

As you know, in the post-Constantinian world, attitudes regarding Christian engagement in war gradually began to shift. No longer regarded by the state as an enemy, the Church came to be seen — and to see itself — as a partner. The Church having become an object of imperial favor, the changes in attitude that followed must have been distressing to those who remained committed to earlier models of behavior. As St. Jerome observed in this period, “When the Church came to the princes of the world, she grew in power and wealth but diminished in virtue.”

Late in the fourth and early fifth centuries, the foundations were laid of what eventually became known as “the Just War Doctrine.” This provided a justification for Christian participation in defensive wars under specific conditions. Even then St. Ambrose (d. 397) and St. Augustine (d. 430) were firm in maintaining the traditional view that the Christian is barred from self defense, but argued that acting in military defense of one’s community, when it was under attack, was a different matter. Yet both insisted that under all circumstances the command to love one’s enemies remained in force.

The Just War Doctrine had it roots in the classical world. Over the centuries, the doctrine was developed until it reached its classic form in the Middle Ages. Under its terms, a war could be considered just, and Christians may participate, if, without exception, it meets certain criteria: the war must be declared by the legitimate authority. It must be fought for a just cause and with a just intention, not simply to satisfy national pride or to further economic or territorial gain. Just means must be employed, respecting the right to life of the innocent and noncombatants. The war must have a reasonable chance of success. There must be a reasonable expectation that the good results of the war will outweigh the evil caused by it. War must be the last resort. The burden of guilt must be clearly on one side.

The Just War Doctrine is chiefly associated with Western Christianity. In his essay “No Just War in the Fathers,” Fr. Stanley Harakas, for many years Professor of Orthodox Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Massachusetts, described his search through patristic sources and Byzantine military manuals searching for texts concerning war. He reported:

I found an amazing consistency in the almost totally negative moral assessment of war coupled with an admission that war may be necessary under certain circumstances to protect the innocent and to limit even greater evils. In this framework, war may be an unavoidable alternative, but it nevertheless remains an evil. Virtually absent in the tradition is any mention of a ‘just’ war, much less a ‘good’ war. The tradition also precludes the possibility of a crusade. For the Eastern Orthodox tradition … war can be seen only as a ‘necessary evil,’ with all the difficulty and imprecision such a designation carries. [“No Just War in the Fathers,” full text on the web site of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship; search “Harakas.”]

Fr. Harakas discovered what he referred to as the “stratification of pacifism” in the Church: The discipline of not killing others under any circumstances that had applied in earlier times to all baptized Christians in the early Church came to be required only of those serving at the altar and iconographers.

To this day, Church canons bar those who serve in the sanctuary from having killed anyone for any reason, including accidental homicide. Some priests and deacons practice the asceticism of not driving precisely because of the danger of their accidentally killing someone. (On the other hand, there are bishops who, in acts of pastoral ekonomia, permit clergy to continue their eucharistic service despite their having been responsible for another person’s death.)

Contrasted with the early Church, how different attitudes are today! What has been notable about local Orthodox Churches for centuries has been the meager attention given to the teaching and practice of the early Church in regard to war and the readiness of pastors and bishops, especially since the nineteenth century, to uncritically embrace nationalism and tolerate wars or even bless them.

One also notes a certain emphasis being given to “soldier saints,” displaying icons which visually make clear they were in the military, yet ignoring the details of their lives. The uninstructed viewer is left to assume the armored saint whose image he is gazing at was a person who had no moral problem about warfare. Thus every Orthodox Christian will be familiar with St George, but few know that there is no record of his having taken part in any battles. He was tortured and martyred for publically professing his Christian faith during a period of persecution. The “dragon” we see in icons was in fact Caesar.

In Russia St Alexander Nevsky, who did indeed take part in battle, is more celebrated for his success in war than for the life of repentance he later embraced in becoming a monk. Early icons showed St Alexander clad in monastic robes; but from the time of Czar Peter the Great, he was instead dressed as a soldier.

In Greece one easily finds a saint-like devotion to priests and others who actively took part in driving out the Turks out of Greece. In a church publication, I once saw an icon in which the Greek flag had been inserted.

In defense of our absent-minded Church and its preoccupation with national identity, one must recall that the great drama of Orthodox life in the lands in which it is most deeply rooted has been survival in profoundly hostile circumstances. In country after country, until quite recently Orthodox Christians lived under the unfriendly rule of non-Christians. In that context, the Church became the main guardian of national identity.

For many generations, the Orthodox Church was a church of immense suffering. Without doubt there were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in all other centuries combined. It is not surprising that Orthodox Christians longed for better days and came to regard with admiration and gratitude those who took up deadly weapons to speed the day of liberation.

What is even more remarkable, however, is the fact that in Russia, following seven decades of Soviet rule which had cost the lives of millions of believers, violence was not used to end atheist rule, and no wave of retribution was directed at those who caused so many to suffer.

To sum up: We Orthodox certainly have remembered how the early Church celebrated the liturgy. To the astonishment of other Christians, we are happy to stand in the church for very extended periods. But sadly we have forgotten a great deal of the social teaching and practice of the early Church and have become deaf to much that the saints, including the best known editor of the eucharistic Liturgy, St John Chrysostom, had to say. I conclude with these brief extracts from the teaching of that very saint:

It is certainly a finer and more wonderful thing to change the mind of enemies to another way of thinking than to kill them…. The mystery [of the Eucharist] requires that we should be innocent not only of violence but of all enmity, however slight, for it is the mystery of peace.

And again from St John Chrysostom:

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in your heart.

* * *

a report of the conference:

photos taken while in Volos:

* * *

Jim Forest
[email protected]
Jim & Nancy site:
In Communion site:
Forest-Flier Editorial Services:

* * *

Pray for peace in Ukraine

017rublev troitsaIn Ukraine, Russia and the contested area of Crimea, passions have been running high for months, leading to many deaths and injuries. Honest and well-informed observers offer very different perspectives on what is happening and what the causes are. The injustices are many and are on all sides.

Without taking sides, one thing Orthodox Christians can do is pray with fervor that more bloodshed can be avoided and that the fever of nationalism will not take control of the spiritual lives of the people of Ukraine.

To help parishes and individual believers with resources for prayer, we are providing several links.

As this page develops we will try to provide helpful information that furthers understanding of the events taking place in the region to help bridge the gap through better understanding.

* * *

O Lord Jesus Christ our God, look down with Thy merciful eye on the sorrow and great pain of lamentation of Thy children in the Ukrainian land. Deliver Thy people from civil strife, make to cease the bloodshed, turn away impending misfortunes. Bring the homeless home, feed those that thirst, console those that weep, join together those that are divided. Let not Thy flock that are embittered towards their kin be diminished, but grant them swift reconciliation, for Thou art compassionate. Soften the hearts of those that have grown violent and bring them to know Thee. Give peace to Thy Church and her faithful children, that with one heart and one mouth we may glorify Thee, our Lord and Saviour, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has called on parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate to include this special prayer for peace in Ukraine to be included in the Divine Liturgy)

* * *

Special Petitions for the Increase of Love: On February 26, the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, issued a statement encouraging the clergy of the Eastern American Diocese to add further petitions for the increase of love during the Divine Liturgy on Forgiveness Sunday. The petitions may also be used as part of a moleben that can be served upon completion of the Divine Liturgy. A special service “For the Increase of Love” can be found in the Great Book of Needs or by following the links:

Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine issued in Kiev 25 January 2014:

Courage between Rocks and Guns: Monastic Peace Witness on Kiev’s Euromaidan:
an interview with Hieromonk Melchizedeck (Gordenko) and monk Gabriel (Kairasov) that first appeared in Orthodoxy in Ukraine, a Ukrainian language website on January 30th.

Patriarch Kirill: My heart is with Ukraine:

Statements from Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops:

A selection of prayers for peace:

Ukraine Crisis: Truth is the First Casualty by Jim Forest:

A short sermon by Fr Sergei Ovsiannikov given at the Moleben for peace held March 4 at St Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam:

* * *

Articles of special interest

Russia, Ukraine and the Church: A Lenten plea for peace
What happens when different parts of a church (and in this case, a church which generally believes in obedience to earthly power) find themselves on opposite sides of a looming conflict? Over the centuries, the Orthodox church has found ingenious ways of preserving the spiritual bonds between its fractured sons and daughters while accepting that in earthly affairs, they were deeply divided. During the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, Russia’s Orthodox church was happy to let its small but vigorous outpost in Japan pray for a Japanese victory; no religious ties were broken in the process. Bear all that in mind when contemplating the latest religious moves in Ukraine…. >> read the rest:

* * *


An album of photos of peace vigils carried out by monks during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev:

An album of photos of the peace demonstration in Moscow that took place Saturday 15 March 2014:

* * *

Prayers for peace between Russia and Ukraine

Last night (3 March 2014) there was a special moleben (service of supplication) at St Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam for peace between Russia and Ukraine. The special prayers were taken from the attached Service for the Increase of Love and the Uprooting of Hatred and All Animosity.

Here is a summary of what was said at the end of the service by the rector of the parish, Fr Sergei Ovsiannikov:

Recently I heard this explanation of how evil happens. It is when two people, each convinced he is acting for a just cause, attack each other. We seek mercy from heaven, but we in this world seek justice by ourselves.

There is no war in which people on one side consider themselves unjust. People always are convinced that their side is the just side and that their going to war is justified and necessary.

The only way to peace is to make peace in your heart — in each heart and in all our hearts. That is what we are trying to do now.

A hundred years ago, in 1914, the First World War was started. Perhaps you remember how it happened. On the 28th of June, one good man, an Orthodox man, a Serbian man, decided to seek justice, and so he killed another man, Archduke Ferdinand. That was the beginning of the First World War. And when that first war finished, in 1918, it was not really the end because soon the Second World War began — a direct continuation of the First World War.

Let me share with you a quotation: “We must defend our people, we must defend our brothers and sisters. They are suffering in another country, but it is our nation, our people. Our people are suffering.” Who do you think said these words? It was Hitler. It was in a speech he gave in the Reichstag, the German parliament. It was his justification for starting the Second World War.

The terrible thing is that we hear this words again and again and we don’t recognize them. We hear them once again and we think perhaps it is true — people are suffering and they need us to make justice. And in this way war begins once again.

The only chance we have is to ask God for a miracle, a miracle in our hearts that can prevent a new war. That is why we are here praying together. Let us pray, and keep on praying. Please pray.

* * *

A Service for the Increase of Love and the Uprooting of Hatred and All Animosity

At the Proskomedia:

O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, Who gavest a new commandment to Thy disciples, that they should love one another: Accept this offering for the remission of all the sins of Thy right-believing servants And by Thy Holy Spirit renew love for Thy goodness and for neighbor, which has waxed cold in us. Do Thou establish this with strength in our hearts, that, fulfilling Thy commandments, we seek not on earth our own ends, but that which is to Thy glory, the building up of our neighborhood, and for salvation.

At the Beginning of the Divine Liturgy:

At the Great Litany, after the petition “For travelers by land, by sea, and by air…”, the following are added:

That we may be cleansed of our sins and transgressions which have dried up in us love for Him and for our neighbor, and that it may be established by the power, action and grace of His Most-holy Spirit, and rooted in all our hearts, earnestly let us pray to the Lord.

That there may be planted and rooted in us by the grace of His Most-holy Spirit the new commandment of His New Testament: that we love one another, and not merely satisfy ourselves, but rather always strive for His glory and the building-up of our neighbor, let us pray to the Lord.

That there may be uprooted in us hatred, envy and jealousy and all other passions which destroy brotherly love, and that there may be planted unfeigned love, fervently let us pray to the Lord.

That there may be kindled in us the fervent love of God and our neighbor by the grace of His Most-holy Spirit, and thus burn out to the very roots the passions of all our souls and bodies, let us pray to the Lord.

That there may be uprooted in us the passions of self-love, and rooted instead the virtue of brotherly love by the power of His Most-holy Spirit, with broken and contrite hearts let us pray to the Lord.

That we may not love the world and that which is in the world, but rather have true love for God and His glory, and that we may love that which is profitable and for the salvation of our neighbor, so that we may ever gaze on the good things prepared in heaven, and that we may seek these with all our souls, let us pray to the Lord.

That truly we may love, not just our friends and brothers, but also our enemies, and do that which is good to those who hate us, with the power, action and grace of His Most- holy Spirit moving us, let us pray to the Lord.

That we may examine ourselves, condemn ourselves, and ever looking upon our own transgressions, humble ourselves before God and before everyone, never judging our brother, but loving him as our very self, by the power, action and grace of His Most- holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

That we may imitate the burning love of the Christian in ancient times for God and neighbor, and that we may be their heirs and successors, not only in image, but in true action, by the power, action and grace of the Most-holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

That He may keep us immovable in the True Faith, in peace and the unity of burning love, increasing in all virtues, and preserve us unharmed from all soul-corrupting passions, by the power, action and grace of the Most-holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

After the Entrance:

These are sung to established order together with the appointed Troparia and Kontakia:
Troparion, TONE 4: Thou didst bind Thine Apostles in the bonds of love, O Christ, and hast firmly bound us, Thy faithful servants, to Thyself, that we may fulfil Thy commandments and have unfeigned love for one another, through the prayed of the Theotokos, O Only Lover of Mankind.

Kontakion, TONE 5: Kindle our hearts with the flames of love for Thee, O Christ God, that being inflames by this, in heart, mind and soul, we may love Thee with all out strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, and that keeping Thy commandments, we may glorify Thee the Giver of all good.

Prokeimenon, TONE 7: I will love Thee, O Lord, my Strength; the Lord is my Foundation. (17:2-3)

Vs. My God is my Helper, and I will hope in Him. (17:3)

Epistle from the First Catholic Epistle of John (periscopes 72 & 73 – I John 3:10-24)

Alleluia, TONE 8: O love the Lord, all you His saints. (30:24)

Vs. For the Lord requires truth; and unto them that act proudly, He will repay abundantly. (30:24)

Gospel: John 46 (John 13:31-35)

After the Gospel:

At the Augmented Litany the following petitions are added:

O Lord our God, in Thy mercy, as Thou art good, look down upon the ground of our heart in which love has dried up, cruelly overgrown with the thorns of hatred, self- love, and innumerable transgressions. And as Thou art the Source of all good, fervently we entreat Thee: having released a drop of the grace of Thy Most-holy Spirit, richly bedew it that it may bear fruit, and make it increase, out of burning love for Thee, the root of all virtues—the fear of Thee—as also vigilant solicitude for the salvation of our neighbor, and the uprooting of all passions, evils of various forms, and hypocrisy, and as the Lover of Mankind quickly hearken and have mercy.

O Master Who gavest a new commandment to Thy disciples that they should love one another, renew this by the grace of Thy Most-holy Spirit acting in our souls and hearts, that we will never become selfish, but always endeavor to please Thee and strive for the salvation of our neighbor and pay close attention to that which is beneficial, we pray Thee, the merciful Giver of all that is good, hearken and mercifully have mercy.

Thou gavest the first and greatest commandment, that we should love Thee, our God and Creator, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength, and a second, like it, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and that on both of these hangs the Law and the Prophets. Having taught us to fulfil these commandments in deed, convince all of us by the grace of Thy Most-holy Spirit, that pleasing Thee, our Savior, through the salvation of our neighbor, we may receive Thy promised blessings, for, fervently falling down before Thee, our Master and Savior, we beseech Thee, quickly hearken and mercifully have mercy.

That we may be perfected in Thy love, O our God, constrain us, by the grace of Thy Spirit, O Master, to have sincerely love for our neighbor. For, to suppose that we have love for Thee, but hate our brother, is a lie and to walk in darkness. Therefore, O Merciful One, that there be kindled in our souls and hearts love for Thee and our brother, we pray Thee, as Thou art merciful, quickly hearken, and as Thou art compassionate, have mercy.

O All-compassionate Lord, by the Grace of Thy Most-holy Spirit, establish in us Thy love, that we may truly love, not only our brothers and friends, but, according to Thy divine command, our enemies, as well, and do good to those who hate us, striving sincerely for their salvation, we pray Thee, O Wellspring of Good and Abyss of Love for Mankind, quickly hearken, and, as Thou are tenderhearted, have mercy.

Communion Hymn:

The Lord said, A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.


* * *