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.
The Lord said, A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.
And throughout all Eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me.
As our dear Redeemer said:
‘This the Wine, and this the Bread.’
The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.
‘He is free because he forgives’
In the book by Kevin Andrews, The Flight of Ikaros1, there is a story that sums up the essence of forgiveness. Andrews was studying medieval fortresses in Greece. The year was 1949. He was travelling through a land devastated by the German occupation during the Second World War, and cruelly divided by the post-war struggle between Communists and anti-Communists that had only just drawn to a close. Arriving one evening in a village, he was given hospitality by the parish priest Papastavros. The priest’s house had been burnt down, and so he received his guest in the shed that was now his home.
Gradually Andrews learnt the priest’s story. His two eldest sons had joined the Resistance during the German occupation. But some villagers betrayed their hiding-place; they were captured and never seen again. About the same time, his wife died from starvation. After the Germans had left, Papastavros was living alone with one of his married daughters and her baby son. She was expecting her second child in a few weeks. One day he returned home to find his house in flames, set on fire by Communist partisans. ‘I was in time’, he recounted to Andrews, ‘to see them drag my daughter out and kill her; they shot all their bullets into her stomach. Then they killed the little boy in front of me.’
Those who did these things were not strangers coming from a distance, but they were local people. Papastavros knew exactly who they were, and he had to meet them daily. ‘I wonder how he has not gone mad,’ one of the village women remarked to Andrews. But the priest did not in fact lose his sanity. On the contrary, he spoke to the villagers about the need for forgiveness. ‘I tell them to forgive, and that there exists no other way,’ he said to Andrews. Their response, he added, was to laugh in his face. When, however, Andrews talked with the priest’s one surviving son, the latter did not laugh at his father, but spoke of him as a free man: ‘He is free because he forgives.’
Two phrases stand out in this account: ‘There exists no other way’, and ‘He is free because he forgives.’
There exists no other way. Certain human situations are so complex and intractable, so fraught with anguish, that there exists only one way out: to forgive. Retaliation makes the problem worse; as Mahatma Gandhi observed, ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.’ Solely through forgiveness can we break the chain of mutual reprisal and self-destroying bitterness. Without forgiveness, there can be no hope of a fresh start. So Papastavros found, faced by the tragedies of enemy occupation and civil war. Surely his words apply also to many other situations of conflict, not least in the Holy Land.
He is free because he forgives. In the words of the Russian Orthodox starets St Silouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938), ‘Where there is forgiveness … there is freedom.’ If only we can bring ourselves to forgive – if we can at least want to forgive – then we shall find ourselves in what the Psalms call a ‘spacious place’ or ‘a place of liberty’: ‘We went through fire and water, but Thou broughtest us out into a place of liberty’ (Psalm 66:12). Forgiveness means release from a prison in which all the doors are locked on the inside. Only through forgiveness can we enter into what St Paul terms ‘the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ (Rom. 8:21).
Yet how hard, how painfully hard, it is to forgive and to be forgiven! To quote another Russian Orthodox witness, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003), ‘Forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: it has breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea.’ ‘Do not think that you have acquired virtue,’ said the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus (346-99), ‘unless you have struggled for it to the point of shedding your blood.’ The same can be said of forgiveness. Sometimes the struggle to forgive is indeed nothing less than an inner martyrdom, to the point of shedding our blood.
Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church
How shall we set out in our exodus across the ‘Red Sea’ of forgiveness? Let us consider first the way in which the Orthodox Church offers to its members an annual opportunity to make a fresh start, on what is known as ‘The Sunday of Forgiveness’. This will lead us to look more closely at forgiveness in the Psalms and especially in the Lord’s Prayer. What, we may ask, is the meaning of the Greek verb used in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘forgive’, aphiēmi, ‘let go’? Does this mean that to forgive is to condone, or at any rate to forget? Next, taking as our guide the early Fathers, we shall see how the phrase ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’ underlines the fundamental unity of the human race. Finally, we shall try to appreciate what is signified by the word ‘as’ in the forgiveness clause of the Lord’s Prayer : ‘ … as we forgive’. Why should the scope of God’s forgiveness be seemingly restricted by my own willingness to forgive? We shall end with four practical guidelines.
The Sunday of Forgiveness occurs immediately before the seven-week Fast of Lent, the ‘Great Fast’ in preparation for the ‘Feast of Feasts’, the Lord’s Resurrection at Pascha. The human animal, it has been said, is not only an animal that thinks, an animal that laughs and weeps, but much more profoundly an animal that expresses itself through symbolic actions. With good reason, then, the Orthodox Church affords its members the chance each year to externalize their longing for forgiveness, through a liturgical rite that is both corporate and personal.
On the morning of Forgiveness Sunday, the appointed Gospel reading is Matthew 6: 14-21, beginning with Christ’s words: ‘If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ Then in the evening, at the end of Vespers, there comes a ceremony of mutual pardon. Usually the priest gives a homily, concluding with an appeal to his flock to forgive him for all his mistakes and shortcomings in the past year. Then he comes down the sanctuary steps to the floor of the nave where the people are standing; for there can be no genuinely mutual forgiveness unless I put myself on the same level as the other. Kneeling before the congregation, he says ‘Forgive me, a sinner.’ The people likewise kneel before the priest, answering ‘May God forgive you. Forgive us.’ To this the priest responds ‘God will forgive’, or ‘May God forgive and bless us all.’ After that the people come up one by one to the priest, and each kneels before him, as he in turn kneels before each of them; and they exchange the same words, ‘Forgive me …. God will forgive.’ Then, having first knelt before the priest, the members of the congregation go round the church kneeling before one another, each asking and granting pardon. All this, for obvious reasons, is easier to carry out if, as in traditional Orthodox practice, the church is not cluttered up with pews.
There is of course a danger that a ceremony such as this may become over-emotional, in which case the results will probably prove ephemeral. Forgiveness, after all, is not a feeling but an action. It involves not primarily our emotions but our will. It is a decision, which then requires to be given practical effect. There is also the opposite danger that some worshippers, growing accustomed to this ceremony year by year, will go through it in a manner that is merely formal and automatic. Ritual can all too easily become ossified.
Nevertheless, when full allowance has been made for the dangers of emotionalism and formalism, it remains true that for very many Orthodox Christians this annual service of mutual pardon is deeply healing. On the basis of my personal experience, after more than forty years of pastoral work in a parish, I can testify that again and again it has a transfiguring effect upon relationships within the local church family. It is an occasion that many of our people approach with the utmost seriousness. Let us not underestimate the power of ritual. Even if there are times when it becomes ossified, on other occasions it can and does act as a potent catalyst, enabling us to give expression to what would otherwise remain unacknowledged and repressed. Those too hesitant or embarrassed to call at one another’s homes and embark on a lengthy verbal explanation can make a new beginning within the framework of shared prayer. The Vespers of Forgiveness serves in this way as a genuine breakthrough, the sudden vision of a fresh landscape.
The burden of unhappy memories means, not surprisingly, that the Vespers of Forgiveness is somewhat subdued and sombre. We cry out in sorrow: ‘Turn not away Thy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble; hear me speedily: hearken unto my soul and deliver it.’ Yet, along with sorrow, there is also a note of glad expectation. ‘Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast,’ we sing in one of the hymns; and a little later we add, ‘Thy grace has shone forth and given light to our souls.’ As the mutual pardon is being exchanged between priest and people, in many churches the choir sings the Resurrection hymns that will be used seven weeks later at Paschal midnight: to forgive is to rise again from the dead. St John Climacus, abbot of Mount Sinai in the seventh-century – whose book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is specially appointed for reading in Lent – has a phrase that exactly describes the spirit of the Vespers of Forgiveness: charopoion penthos, ‘mourning that causes gladness’ or ‘joy-creating sorrow’.
Sometimes people have told me that they find the phrase commonly used at the service, ‘Forgive me … God will forgive’, to be problematic and even evasive. Surely, they object, when someone asks for forgiveness, it is not enough for us to assure them that they are forgiven by God, for they already know that; what is required is that we should forgive them. This, however, is to overlook an essential point. Forgiveness is first and foremost a divine act: ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (Mark 2:7). If, then, I am to forgive someone else, and the other person is to forgive me, in the last resort this is possible only in so far as we are both of us in God. More specifically, we are able to forgive each other solely because we are both of us already forgiven by God. Our forgiveness is rooted in His, and is impossible without it: ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).
Since, therefore, forgiveness is not primarily our human action but a divine action in which we humans participate, it is vitally important that in the process of mutual forgiveness we should allow space for God to operate. At the beginning of the Eucharistic service in the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to the priest, ‘It is time for the Lord to act’ (see Psalm 119:126), thereby affirming that the true celebrant at the Holy Mysteries is not the priest but Christ Himself. The phrase applies equally to our mutual forgiveness: here, too, it needs to be said, ‘It is time for the Lord to act.’ Our attempts at reconciliation often fail, precisely because we rely too much upon ourselves, and do not leave proper scope for the action of the Lord. With St. Paul we need to say, ‘not I, but Christ in me’ (Gal. 2:20). Such, then, is the spirit in which we reply at the Vespers of Forgiveness, ‘God will forgive.’
Forgiveness in the Psalms
In order to deepen our appreciation of the mystery of forgiveness, let us turn both to the Old Testament and to the New; and let us consider how forgiveness is understood first in the Psalms and then in the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the central place that the Psalms have occupied in the liturgical life of the Church, in both the East and the West, the testimony that they bear to the meaning of forgiveness is particularly significant.
First of all the Psalms contain a number of striking passages in which the worshipper pleads to God for forgiveness. The best known and most eloquent of these pleas is Psalm 51, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness’, which is recited no less than four times daily in the Byzantine Divine Office, at the Midnight Service, Matins, the Third Hour and Compline. Another such plea is Psalm 130, ‘Out of the deep …’:
If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could abide it? (verse 4).
The same urgent cry for forgiveness recurs in many other Psalms:
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord,
Be merciful to my sin, for it is great (Psalm 25:10).
Deliver me from all mine offences …
Take Thy plague away from me (Psalm 39: 9, 11).
I said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me:
Heal me, for I have sinned against Thee’ (Psalm 41:4).
O remember not our past sins, but have mercy upon us, and that soon:
For we are come to great misery (Psalm 79:8).
In these and similar passages of the Psalms, it is made abundantly clear how greatly we need the healing grace of divine forgiveness. Without God’s mercy we are helpless. It is also made clear that we have no claims upon God. Helpless as we are, we can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s mercy, nothing to oblige or constrain Him to forgive us. We can do no more than wait in patience and humility for His free gift of pardon. ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait for Him … A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise’ (Psalms 130:5; 51:17).
In the second place, the Psalms repeatedly insist these pleas for divine forgiveness do not remain unheard. The Lord is a God of loving-kindness and tender love, ever eager to show mercy and grant healing. This is the theme in particular of Psalm 103, used daily at Matins in the Orthodox Church, and also regularly in the Divine Liturgy:
Praise the Lord, O my soul:
And all that is within me praise His holy name …
Who forgiveth all thy sin:
And healeth all thine infirmities …
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:
Long-suffering and of great goodness …
Like as a father hath compassion upon his children,
So hath the Lord compassion upon them that fear Him (verses 1, 3, 8, 13).
In a memorable phrase, it is said that God ‘covers’ our sin:
Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven:
Even he whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).
Elsewhere it is said that our sins are ‘blotted out’:
To Thee shall all flesh come to confess their sins:
When our misdeeds prevail against us, in Thy mercy do Thou blot them out (Psalm 65:2).
A leitmotif in the ‘historical’ Psalms is the way in which, again and again in the story of salvation, the people of Israel has gone astray, and yet God in His faithful love has forgiven them (Psalms 78:38; 106: 43-44; 107: 13-16; cf. 85: 1-3). God, it is said elsewhere, is like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep (cf. Matt. 18:12; Luke 15:4):
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost:
O seek thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments (Psalm 119:176).
Yet we are not presumptuously to take God’s forgiveness for granted, for His mercy goes hand in hand with His justice (cf. Romans 11:22):
My song shall be of mercy and justice (Psalm 101:1).
Thirdly, if we are in this way forgiven by God, then we in our turn are called to extend forgiveness to our fellow humans. This is not in fact affirmed in the Psalms very clearly or very frequently, but there are occasions in which it is at least implied, in the context of money-lending:
The ungodly borroweth and payeth not again:
But the righteous giveth and is bountiful …
The righteous is ever bountiful and lendeth:
And his children shall be blessed (Psalm 31:21, 26).
It is good for a man to be generous when he lendeth (Psalm 112:5).
This can perhaps be enlarged to include not only generosity over debts but other forms of remission and forgiveness. At the same time a restriction has to be noted. We cannot grant forgiveness on behalf of others, in regard to offences that have been committed not against us but against them:
But no man may deliver his brother:
Nor pay a price unto God for him (Psalm 49:7).
Sadly, however, it has to be noted that there are grave limitations in the Psalms concerning the scope of forgiveness. If, as we have seen, there are only a few places where it is suggested that we should forgive others, there are unfortunately many other passages in which the Psalmist curses his enemies and prays for their destruction. God is invoked as a God of vengeance (Psalms 54:1; 94:1). We are to hate our enemies with a ‘perfect hatred’ (Psalm 139:22). Particularly cruel is the punishment called down upon the daughter of Babylon:
Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children:
And throweth them against the stones (Psalm 137:9).
Most notably, Psalm 109 contains an imprecation daunting its cruelty:
Let his days be few:
And let another seize his possessions.
Let his children be fatherless:
And his wife become a widow.
Let his children be vagabonds and beg their bread:
Let them be driven out even from their desolate places …
Let there be no man to pity him:
Or to have compassion upon his fatherless children (verses 7-9, 11).
Such a passage does not stand alone: compare, for example, Psalms 83: 9-17, 129: 5-8, and 140: 8-10. I have noted altogether over thirty passages in the Psalms asking God to inflict pain and suffering upon others, and this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. It is of course possible to explain away such passages by interpreting them symbolically, as referring not to our fellow human beings but to our evil thoughts or to the demons. But such was not their original intention
‘… seventy times seven …’
When we turn, however, from the Old Testament to the New, we are at once impressed by a manifest and remarkable contrast. Nowhere in the Gospels does Christ instruct us to hate our enemies: He tells us, on the contrary, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt. 5: 44). The law of retaliation is firmly abrogated: we are not to ‘resist an evildoer’, but to ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matt. 5:39). There are to be no limits to our forgiveness: we are to forgive our brother ‘seven times a day’ (Luke 17:4); and not only that, but ‘seventy times seven’ (Matt.18:22). We do not find such statements in the Psalms. Nor, indeed, do we find in the Psalms the statement that occupies such a prominent place in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ (Matt. 6:12). The Lord’s Prayer is comprehensive but extremely concise: if, then, in such a short prayer, nearly a quarter – no less than 13 words in the Greek text, out of 57 (or 58) 0 – is devoted to the theme of forgiveness, this shows how crucially important it is in God’s sight that we should forgive and be forgiven.
Such, certainly, is the view of Origen (d. 253/4): if Christ, he says, places such strong emphasis upon forgiveness in the model prayer that He has given us, this is because there cannot be any true prayer at all unless it is offered in a forgiving spirit.11 St Gregory of Nyssa (d.ca. 394) goes so far as to claim that the clause ‘Forgive us .. as we forgive” is the culminating point in the entire prayer; it constitutes ‘the very peak of virtue’.12 He adds, however, that – fundamental though the clause is – its true sense is not at all easy to grasp: ‘The meaning surpasses any interpretation in words.’13
A valuable insight into the significance of forgiveness is provided by the literal sense of the verb used in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘forgive’, aphiēmi. The primary idea conveyed by this word is ‘let go’, ‘set aside’, ‘leave behind’. It denotes such things as release from captivity, the cancellation of a debt, or the remission of punishment. The unforgiving grasp, retain, and hold fast; the forgiving let go. Yet, if we ‘let go’ the memory of an offence, does this not suggest that we are condoning the evil that has been done? That, surely, cannot be the correct meaning of forgiveness. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ‘Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what has happened seriously and not minimizing it.’14 To condone an evil is to pass over it, to ignore it, or else it is to pretend that it is not an evil, to treat it as if it were good. But to forgive is something altogether different from this. There can be no genuine forgiveness that is not truthful and realistic. Let us not practise any evasion. If an evil has been done, then this has to be frankly admitted.
Moreover, if the process of forgiveness is to be brought to full completion, the evil has to be frankly admitted by both sides, by the aggressor as well as the victim. It is true that, when we suffer wrong, we should endeavour to forgive the other immediately, without any delay, not waiting for the other to acknowledge the wrong. It was precisely in this spirit that Jesus prayed at His crucifixion, ‘Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:24). If, however, the forgiveness is to come to proper interpersonal fulfilment, more than this is required. Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered; and the one who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.
If forgiveness, in the sense of ‘letting go’, is not the same as condoning, should we say that to forgive is to forget? Shall we make our own King Lear’s words, ‘Pray you now, forget and forgive’? The answer seems to be both yes and no. It all depends on what we remember (or forget) and on how we do so. Certainly there is no point in clinging to the memory of trivial misunderstandings and injuries. We should rather allow them to slip quietly away into oblivion, for we have better things with which to occupy our minds. There are, however, events in our personal lives, and in the lives of the communities to which we belong, that are far too important simply to be forgotten. It would not be right to say to the members of the Armenian nation, ‘Forget the massacres of 1915’, or to the Jewish people, ‘Forget the Shoah in the Second World War.’ These are matters that, for the sake of our shared humanity, none of us should forget, not least so as to ensure that such atrocities may never be allowed to happen again.
More decisive than what we remember is how we do so. We are not to remember in a spirit of hatred and recrimination, or for the sake of revenge. Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, has rightly said: ‘Remember the past … but do not be held captive by it. Turn it into a blessing, not a curse; a source of hope, not humiliation.’15 Our memories are not to be repressed or negated, but at the same time they require to be purified and healed. We need to remember, yet not self-righteously, not with aggressive accusations, but in a spirit of compunction and mourning. We need to remember with love. But that is difficult.
Forgiveness, it can even be said, begins not with an act of forgetfulness, but with an act of mindfulness and self-knowledge. We have to recognize the harm that has been done, the wound that we or the other carry in our heart. Only after this moment of truthful recognition can we then begin to ‘let go’, not in the sense of consigning to oblivion, but in the sense of no longer being held prisoner by the memory. Remember, but be free.
Responsible for everyone and everything
In the Patristic interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, a dominant theme is the unity of the human race. The early Fathers are in full agreement with the words of Julian of Norwich (fourteenth century), ‘In the sight of God, all man is one man, and one man is all man.’16 They agree equally with John Donne (1571/2-1631), ‘No man is an Island, entire of it self.’17 Our need to forgive and to be forgiven springs directly from the fact that we are all of us interdependent, members of a single human family. Indeed, this insistence upon coinherence is to be seen, not only in the clause ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, but in the Lord’s Prayer as a whole. St Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) notes how the prepositions in the Prayer are consistently in the plural, not the singular – not ‘my’ but ‘our’, not ‘me’ but ‘us’:
We do not say ‘My Father who art in heaven’, or ‘Give me this day my bread’, nor does each one ask that only his own debt be remitted, nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation or may be delivered from the evil one. Prayer with us is public and common, and when we pray we do not pray for one but for the whole people, because the whole people are one.18
This perception of our human unity, in Cyprian’s view, has its foundation in the Christian doctrine of God. We believe in God the Trinity, who is not only one but one-in-three, not only personal but interpersonal; we believe in the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so we human beings are saved, not in isolation, but in communion one with another.19
This unity that marks us out as human persons, while underlined throughout the Lord’s Prayer, is particularly evident in the clause concerning forgiveness. In the words of Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 – ca. 215), when we say ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, we are proclaiming that ‘all humankind is the work of one Will’.20 This is a point emphasized by St Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662) in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. Unity and mutual love, he says, constitute ‘the principle (logos) of nature’, according to which we human beings have been created. When, therefore, we pray for forgiveness, we are bringing our human will into harmony with the logos of our nature. Conversely, to withhold forgiveness is to ‘sunder human nature by separating ourselves from our fellow humans, even though we are ourselves human’. Our refusal to live in union with each other through mutual forgiveness is therefore self-destructive: ‘Failing such union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s divine and ineffable gift of Himself.’21
St Gregory of Nyssa likewise sees the refusal of forgiveness as self-destructive: ‘In condemning your neighbour, you thereby condemn yourself.’22 Giving a wide-ranging application to the notion of human unity, Gregory maintains that it extends through time as well as space. When saying ‘Forgive us’ in the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking forgiveness not only for our own personal sins but also for ‘the debts that are common to our nature, and more particularly for the ancestral sin23 that the whole human race inherits from Adam. Even if we keep ourselves free from personal sins – in fact, as Gregory comments, none of us can claim this of ourselves, even for an hour – we would still need to say ‘Forgive us’ on behalf of Adam:
Adam lives in us … and so we do well to make use of these words Forgive us our trespasses. Even if we were Moses or Samuel or someone else of pre-eminent virtue, we would none the less regard these words as appropriate to ourselves, since we are human; we share in Adam’s nature and therefore share also in his fall. Since, then, as the Apostle says, ‘we all die in Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:22), these words that suitably express Adam’s penitence are likewise appropriate for all those who have died with him.24
A similar line of thought is found in St Mark the Monk (? early fifth century). In his opinion, we are called to repent not only ‘for our own sin’ but also ‘for the sin of transgression’, that is to say, for the ancestral sin of Adam. Repentance is vicarious:
The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbour, for without active love they cannot be made perfect … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.25
Even though there is no explicit reference here to the Lord’s Prayer, Mark’s line of argument can surely be applied likewise to the petition ‘Forgive us … as we forgive.’ If we can repent for the sins of others, then we can and should also ask forgiveness on their behalf. The principle of mutual solidarity applies equally in both cases: ‘we are each of us assisted by one another’. No one is forgiven and saved in isolation.
These statements by Gregory of Nyssa and by Mark the Monk fall far short of a fully developed theology of original guilt, such as we find in St Augustine (354-430). Mark specifically excludes the view that, in a juridical sense, we are guilty of Adam’s sin, considered as an act of personal choice.26 Yet, on a level more profound than legal culpability, there exists a mystical solidarity that unites us all one to another; and it is of this that Gregory and Mark are speaking. ‘All man is one man’, and so we are each of us ‘responsible for everything and everyone’, to use the phrase of Dostoevsky’s Starets Zosima.27 Even if not personally guilty, nevertheless we bear the burden of what Adam and all the other members of the human family have done. They live in us, and we in them. Here as always the vital word is ‘we’, not ‘I’. None of us falls alone, for we drag each other down; and none of us is forgiven and saved alone. Forgiveness is not solitary but social.
How far can the notion of vicarious forgiveness be legitimately extended? Can I forgive or accept forgiveness on behalf of others? So far as asking forgiveness is concerned, it is surely reasonable to request forgiveness on behalf of others, when those others are joined to me in some way, for example by kinship, nationhood, or religious allegiance. If, tracing back our ancestry, we become aware that our family tree is tainted with unresolved tensions and alienation, we can and should pray for the forgiveness and healing of our forebears. By the same token, the descendant of a slave-trader might rightly feel impelled to ask forgiveness in his heart – and perhaps by some external gesture as well – from the families of those whom his ancestor took captive and sold into bondage. Pope John Paul II acted as a true Christian when, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome in June 2004, he asked the Patriarch’s forgiveness for the sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders eight hundred years previously.28 How I long for an Orthodox church leader to ask forgiveness in the same way from the Catholics, for the many evils that we Orthodox have inflicted upon them! And all of us, Orthodox and Catholics alike, have to seek forgiveness from the Jews, God’s Chosen People, for the heavy sins that, over the centuries, we have committed against them.
Have we the right, however, not only to ask forgiveness on behalf of others, but also to offer it on their behalf? Here there is reason for us to be much more hesitant. For myself, I agree with the late Rabbi Albert Friedlander – and with Psalm 49:9 – that one cannot forgive offences that have not been committed against oneself. It would be inappropriate, and indeed presumptuous, for me as a non-Jew to claim authority to forgive the suffering inflicted upon the Jews during the Shoah in the Second World War. It is not for me but for the Jews themselves to decide how those sufferings should be remembered, and how and when they should be forgiven. In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, ‘… as we forgive those who have trespassed against others’, but ‘… as we forgive those who have trespassed against us’.
Issuing an order to God
What light do the Fathers shed upon the central word in the forgiveness petition – indeed, the most puzzling word in the whole of the Lord’s Prayer – the word ‘as’: ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’? ‘No word in English’, states Charles Williams, ‘carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word “as” in that clause; it is the measuring rod of the heavenly City, and the knot of the new union. But also it is the key of hell and the knife that cuts the knot of union.’29 Truly it is a hazardous prayer. We dare to apply to ourselves with unmitigated rigour the principle laid down by Christ. ‘The measure you give will be the measure you get’ (Matt. 7:2). ‘What you do,’ warned St Cyprian, ‘that you will also yourself suffer.’30 As St John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) put it, ‘We ourselves have control over the judgement that is to be passed upon us.’31
Not only is it a hazardous request to God, but it is also a very strange one. It is as if we were issuing an order to God and instructing Him how to act. ‘If I do not forgive others,’ we are saying to Him, ‘then do You withhold forgiveness from me.’ Nowhere else in the Lord’s Prayer do we issue orders in this way. St Gregory of Nyssa attempts to spell out the paradox in terms of what may be called ‘mimetic inversion’. Under normal circumstances, he observes, it is we who are called to imitate God; as St Paul said, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1). This is particularly the case when we forgive others. Since in the last resort it is God alone who has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:7), it is only possible for us to forgive others if we imitate God. We cannot genuinely forgive, that is to say, unless we have been taken up into God and have ourselves ‘in some sense become God’, to use Gregory’s phrase. The one who forgives needs to be ‘deified’ or ‘divinized’; there can be no effective forgiveness without theosis.32 That is the normal pattern. But here, in the case of the Lord’s Prayer – and Gregory admits that this is a ‘bold thing’ to say33 – the customary order is reversed. On this occasion, it is we who serve as an example to God. Instead of ourselves imitating Him, we are telling Him to imitate us: ‘What I have done, do You do likewise; imitate Your servant, O Lord …. I have forgiven; do You forgive. I have shown great mercy to my neighbour; imitate my loving-kindness, You who are by nature loving-kind.’34
Yet, in this clause ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, precisely how strong a sense should be attached to the conjunction ‘as’? Should it be understood as causative, proportionate or conditional?
(1) Is the sense causative? In that case, we are saying to God, ‘Forgive us because we forgive’; our forgiveness is the cause of His. This is indeed the way in which some Patristic authors interpreted the phrase. Clement of Alexandria even suggested that, by forgiving others, we somehow compel God to forgive us.35 Yet a causative interpretation of this kind surely presents grave difficulties. As Calvin has rightly insisted, forgiveness comes from the ‘free mercy’ of God.36 It is an unmerited gift of divine grace, conferred solely through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection; it is never something that we can earn or deserve. God acts with sovereign liberty, and we have no claims upon Him. As Paul affirmed, quoting the Pentateuch: ‘For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:15-16; cf. Exod. 33:19). This is rendered abundantly clear in Christ’s parable concerning the labourers in the vineyard: to those who complain about their wages, the master replies, ‘Have I not the right to do as I choose with what is my own?’ (Matt. 20:15). Moreover, the initiative rests with God and not with us. He does not wait for us to forgive others before He extends His forgiveness to us. On the contrary, His act of free and unrestricted forgiveness precedes any act of forgiveness on our part: ‘God proves His love for us, in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8).
(2) If the word ‘as’ cannot be causative, is it proportionate? Does it signify ‘to the same degree’, ‘according to the same measure’? Once more, this can hardly be the true sense. Between our forgiveness and God’s there can be no common measure. He forgives with a fullness and generosity far beyond our wildest imagining: ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord’ (Isa. 55:8). The transcendent and incomparable character of divine forgiveness is underlined in another Matthaean parable, that of the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). In relation to God, we are like the slave who owed ten thousand talents (a talent being equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages received by a labourer), whereas in relation to each other we are like the slave who owed a hundred denarii (a denarius being the usual day’s wage for a labourer). Even St Gregory of Nyssa, after suggesting that in His act of forgiveness God is imitating us, at once goes on to qualify this by asserting that our sins against God are immeasurably heavier than any sins by others against us.37 Later he refers for confirmation precisely to the parable of the two debtors.38
(3) If, then, our forgiveness is neither the cause nor the measure of God’s forgiveness, what further alternative remains? There exists a third possibility: it is the condition. Forgiveness is indeed unmerited, but it is not unconditional. God for His part is always overwhelmingly eager to forgive. This divine eagerness is movingly expressed in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15 : 11-32), which is read at the Orthodox Liturgy on the Sunday two weeks before the Sunday of Forgiveness. The father does not simply sit and wait passively for his son to return home. We are to imagine him standing day after day outside his house, anxiously scanning the horizon in the forlorn hope that at long last he may catch sight of a familiar figure. Then, as soon as the prodigal comes into view, while he is still far off, the father rushes out to meet his son, embracing and kissing him, and inviting him into the feast. Such is God’s great willingness to forgive us and to welcome us home. Later in the story the father again goes out, this time in the hope of persuading his elder son to come and share the feast. This double going out on the part of the loving father is of primary significance if we are to appreciate the quality of divine mercy.
Yes, indeed, God is always eager to forgive – far more so than we are to repent. In the words of St Isaac the Syrian (seventh century), ‘There exists in Him a single love and compassion that is spread out over all creation, a love that is without alteration, timeless and everlasting.’39 Calling to mind Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane and His death on the Cross, we ask ourselves: What more could God incarnate have done to win us back to Himself, that He has not done? Forgiveness, however, has not only to be offered but to be accepted. God knocks at the door of the human heart (Rev. 3:20), but He does not break the door down: we for our part have to open it.
Here precisely we find the true meaning of the word ‘as’ in the Lord’s Prayer. It is not that God is unwilling to forgive us. But if, despite God’s unfailing eagerness to forgive, we on our side harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness to others, then quite simply we render ourselves incapable of receiving the divine forgiveness. Closing our hearts to others, we close them also to God; rejecting others, we reject Him. If we are unforgiving, then by our own act we place ourselves outside the interchange of healing love. God does not exclude us; it is we who exclude ourselves.
Our forgiveness of others, then, is not the cause of God’s forgiveness towards us, but it is certainly the condition without which God’s forgiveness cannot pass within us. Divine pardon is indeed a free gift that we can never earn. What concerns us here, however, is not merit but capacity. Our relation to God and our relation to our fellow humans are strictly interdependent. As St Silouan of Mount Athos affirmed, ‘Our brother is our life.’40 This is true not in a sentimental but in an ontological sense. Love for God and love for neighbour are not two loves but one.
‘Forgive us … as we forgive’: when we say these words, so Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has rightly cautioned us, ‘we take our salvation into our own hands’.41
Four words of counsel
As we begin to cross the Red Sea of forgiveness, let us remind ourselves of certain practical guidelines.
(1) Do not delay, but do not be in haste. Do not delay: the time for forgiveness is always now. Maximize the moment. The devil’s weapons are nostalgia and procrastination: he tells us ‘Too late’ or ‘Too soon’. But, where the devil says ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Tomorrow’, the Holy Spirit says ‘Today’.
We are not to think within ourselves, ‘First, I will change for the better; then I will be ready to forgive.’ Still less are we to think (what is far worse), ‘First, I will wait to see whether the other is really sorry for the wrong that he has done, and whether he has really changed for the better; then I will decide whether to forgive him.’ Let us, on the contrary, be like the loving father in the story of the prodigal. Let us take the initiative, and run out to meet the other. Forgiveness has to come first; it is the cause of the change in ourselves and in others, not the effect. To adapt a phrase of the Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr Dumitru Staniloae (1903-93), ‘In so far as I am not forgiven, I am unintelligible to myself.’42
Yet there is another side to the question. Forgive now, in your heart; but in your outward actions do not be overhasty. Forgiveness signifies healing, and healing often takes time. Premature requests for forgiveness can make the situation worse. If we force ourselves upon the other, without first seeking through imaginative empathy to discover what the other is thinking and feeling, we may widen rather than bridge the gulf that separates us. Without putting things off, often we need to pause – not with passive indifference but waiting with alertness upon God – until the kairos, the moment of opportunity, has become clear. The Emperor Augustus was right: Festina lente.43
(2) Forgive the other, but also be willing to accept the forgiveness that the other is offering to us. It is hard to forgive; but often it is even harder to acknowledge that we ourselves need to be forgiven. Let us be humble enough to accept the gift of another’s pardon. As Charles Williams wisely observed, ‘Many reconciliations have unfortunately broken down because both parties have come prepared to forgive and unprepared to be forgiven.’44
(3) Forgive others, but also forgive yourself. Have we not sometimes said, or heard others say, ‘I will never forgive myself for that’? Yet how can we accept forgiveness from others, if we will not forgive ourselves? In the words once more of Charles Williams, by remaining in this state of ‘half-anger, half-anguish’, we each create for ourselves ‘a separate hell’.45 Judas regretted what he had done, but in his case self-knowledge brought him not to fresh hope but to despair; unable to accept God’s forgiveness, and therefore unable to forgive himself, he went out and committed suicide (Matt. 27: 3-5). Peter on the other hand took a different path. Brought to self-knowledge by the crowing of the cock, he wept bitter tears of remorse; yet this remorse did not reduce him to despair. On the contrary, seeing the risen Christ at the lakeside, he did not turn away from Him into a ‘separate hell’, but drew near with hope. Accepting Christ’s forgiveness, forgiving himself, he made a new beginning (Matt. 26:75; John 21:15-19).
(4) Pray. If we cannot yet find within our heart the possibility of forgiving the other, then let us at least pray for them. In the words of St Silouan, ‘If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you.’46 Let us ask God that we may not make the other’s burden more heavy, that we may not be to them a scandal and a cause of stumbling. And if, as we pray, we cannot yet bring ourselves to the point of actually forgiving, then let us ask God that we may experience at least the desire and longing to forgive. There are situations in which truly to want something is already to attain it. Like the man who brought his sick child to Christ and cried out, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mark 9 : 24), let us also cry out with tears: ‘Lord, I forgive; help my unforgivingness.’ Slowly, gradually, there will come at last the moment when we are able to remember with love.
By invoking God’s help in prayer and by admitting our own helplessness, we are reminded of the all-important truth that forgiveness is a divine prerogative. It is not simply our action, but the action of God in us. To forgive, in a full and genuine sense, we need to be ‘in God’. ‘It is God who has shone in our hearts … the all-surpassing power is from Him and not from us’ (2 Cor. 4 : 6-7). This ‘all-surpassing power’ of God is communicated to us above all through the ‘mysteries’ or sacraments of the Church; and, in the Patristic interpretation of ‘Our Father’, at least two of these ‘mysteries’ are mentioned implicitly in the course of the Prayer. When we say, ‘Give us today our daily bread’, we are to think not of material bread alone but of the ‘bread from heaven’, the Eucharist. Then, in the petition that follows, ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, we are to recall the forgiveness of sins that we have received in Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Prayer, according to St Augustine, is in this way a continual renewal of Baptism: reciting the words that Christ has given us, ‘daily we are washed clean’.47 Our forgiveness, then, does not depend merely upon our feelings, or upon the decision of our will. It has an objective basis, in the sacrament of our baptismal washing.
After Orthodox Christians have knelt before each other at the Vespers of Forgiveness, asking and granting pardon, what do they do on the next day, the first day of Lent, known as ‘Clean Monday’ (Kathara Devtera)? In many places it is still the custom to go out on the hills and have a picnic; and on this, the first open-air festival of the year, both children and grown-ups fly kites in the spring breeze. Such can also be our inner experience when we begin to forgive one another. To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. It is to emerge from gloom into the sunlight, from self-imprisonment into the liberty of the open air. It is to ascend the hills, to let the wind blow on our faces, and to fly noetic kites, the kites of imagination, hope and joy.
As his son said of the priest Papastavros, ‘He is free because he forgives.’
1 Kevin Andrews, The Flight of Ikaros: A Journey into Greece (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1959), pp. 109-19.
2 I take this sentence from a pamphlet entitled The F Word: Images of Forgiveness (no place, no date).
3 Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: The Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1991), p. 341.
4 Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966), p. 31. See also his perceptive words about forgiveness in Meditations on a Theme (London/Oxford: Mowbrays, 1972), pp. 104-8.
5 On prayer 136; tr. Robert E. Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus : the Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford: OUP, 2003), p. 207 (translation modified).
6 For the liturgical texts used on the Sunday of Forgiveness, see The Lenten Triodion, tr. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (London/Boston: Faber & Faber, 1978), pp. 168-83, especially p. 183. Most of the hymnology for the day in fact alludes, not to mutual forgiveness, but to the other main theme of the Sunday, the Casting out of Adam from Paradise.
7 The details of the ceremony vary in different places. A simpler form of mutual pardon is used daily at the end of Compline: see Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, tr. Isabel Florence Hapgood, 2nd. edtn (New York: Association Press, 1922), p. 162; The Liturgikon: The Book of Divine Services for the Priest and the Deacon, ed. The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, 2nd edtn. (Englewood, NJ: Antakya Press, 1994), pp. 67, 98.
8 Not that there is anything wrong with the emotions as such, for they are an integral part of our human personhood according to the divine image, and so they can and should be offered up to God in our ‘reasonable worship’ (Rom. 12:1). I am thinking here, however, of a febrile emotionalism that is artificial and exaggerated.
9 The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7, title (PG 88: 801C), tr. Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (London: Faber & Faber, 1959), p. 113.
10 The Greek text, as used liturgically, in the Orthodox Church, contains 58 words; in critical editions of the New Testament there is one word less, as the definite article is omitted before gēs (‘earth’).
11 On prayer 8:1, 9:1, ed. P. Koetschan, GCS (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1899), p. 317; tr. Rowan A. Greer, The Classics of Western Christianity (New York/Ramsey/Toronto: Panlist Press, 1979), pp. 97,98. On the Patristic use of the Lord’s Prayer, see the systematic study, with detailed bibliography, by Kenneth W. Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer : A Text in Tradition (London: SCM, 2004), to which I am much indebted.
12 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. J.F. Callahan, Gregorii Nysseni Opera VII/2 (Leiden/New York/Köln, 1992) p. 59, line 1; tr. Hilda C. Graef, Ancient Christian Writers 18 (New York: Newman Press, 1954), p. 71.
13 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 10-11; tr. Graef, p.73. Here (and elsewhere) I have modified Dr Graef’s translation.
14 Quoted in the pamphlet The F Word : Images of Forgiveness.
15 The Times (London), 17 July 2004, p. 47.
16 Quoted by Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins (London : Geoffrey Bles, 1942), p. 16. This brief study, written in the middle of the Second World War, remains one of the most helpful treatments on the subject.
17 Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (London: Thomas Jones, 1624), Meditation XVII.
18 On the Lord’s Prayer 8, ed. C. Moreschini, Corpus Christianorum III/A, Pars II (Turnhout: Brepols, 1976), lines 103-18; cited in Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 33.
19 On the Lord’s Prayer 23, ed. Moreschini, lines 447-9.
20 Stromateis 7:81:2, ed. O. Stählin and L. Früchtel, GCS (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1970), p.58; tr. F.J.A. Hort and J.B. Mayor, Clement of Alexandria : Miscellanies Book VII (London: Macmillan, 1902), p. 141.
21 On the Lord’s Prayer, ed. Peter van Deun, Corpus Christianorum 23 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), lines 662-8; tr. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 2 (London/Boston: Faber & Faber, 1981), p. 301 (translation adapted).
22 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 5-6; cf. p. 69:24; tr. Graef, pp. 73, 80.
23 The Greek Fathers, and also most present-day Orthodox writers, speak not of ‘original sin’ but of ‘ancestral sin’ (propatorikē hamartia). There is a subtle difference in meaning between the two terms.
24 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, pp. 64:23; 65:2; 66:7-15; tr. Graef, pp. 76,77.
25 On repentance 12 and 11, ed. G.-M. de Durand, Sources chrétiennes 445 (Paris: Cerf, 1999), pp. 252, 250.
26 On baptism 17, ed. de Durand, op. cit., p. 392.
27 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage Classics, 1991), p. 320.
28 Service Orthodoxe de Presse et d’Information (SOP) 290 (July-August 2004), pp. 1-3.
29 The Forgiveness of Sins, p. 66.
30 On the Lord’s Prayer 23, ed. Moreschini, lines 440-1.
31 On Matthew, homily 19:6 (PG 57: 281).
32 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, pp. 59:1-11; 60 : 15-16; 61 : 15-17; tr. Graef, pp. 71, 72, 73.
33 op. cit., ed. Callahan, pp. 61 : 13-14; tr. Graef, p. 73.
34 op. cit., ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 23-24; 62 : 7-9; tr. Graef, pp. 73, 74.
35 Stromateis 7 : 86 : 6, ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 62; tr. Hort and Mayor, p. 153.
36 Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 165.
37 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 62 : 9-11; tr. Graef, p. 74.
38 op. cit., ed. Callahan, pp. 69 : 26; 70 : 12; tr. Graef, pp. 80-81. The parable is quoted to the same effect by other early Christian writers, such as Tertullian (ca. 160- ca. 225), On the Prayer 7, ed. and tr. E. Evans (London: SPCK, 1953), pp. 12-13; Origen, On prayer 28 : 7, ed. Koetschau, p. 379; tr. Greer, p. 150.
39 Isaac of Nineveh (Isaac the Syrian), ‘The Second Part’, Chapters IV – XLI, tr. Sebastian Brock, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 555, Scriptores Syri 225 (Louvain : Peeters, 1995), Homily 40 : 1, p. 174.
40 Archimandrite Sophrony, Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 47, 371.
41 Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer, p. 30.
42 Marc-Antoine Costa de Beauregard, Dumitru Staniloae : Ose comprendre que Je t’aime (Paris: Cerf, 1983), p. 24: ‘Mois-même, tout que je ne suis pas aimé, je suis incomprehensible.’
43 Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, ‘Divus Augustus’, §25 (‘Make haste slowly’).
44 The Forgiveness of Sins, p. 113.
45 The Forgiveness of Sins, pp. 77-78.
46 Archimandrite Sofrony, Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 377.
47 Augustine, Sermon 59 : 7; cf. 56 : 11; 57 : 8 (PL 38: 382, 390, 401). See Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 82. A similar interpretation is given by Caesarius of Arles (ca. 470-542), and by Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century): see Stevenson, op. cit., pp. 90, 108.
The following letter was sent by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to Patriarch Pavle, leading bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, on July 24, 1995:
Your Holiness, Beloved Patriarch Pavle,
Responding to the outbreak of war in former Yugoslavia, in 1992 the Holy Synod directed that several petitions be added to the Great Litany during Liturgy, Vespers and Matins. One petition appeals to the Lord on behalf on “all those who commit injustice against their neighbors, whether by causing sorrow to orphans or spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred,” asking that “God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even towards their enemies.”
We think of this urgent prayer while regarding what has happened in the past several years while the war has continued and so many innocent people have been killed, wounded, raped, beaten, so many homes and places of worship destroyed, so many driven from their homes and made refugees by those who wanted only people of a particular national background to remain. Adding to the tragedy has been the conviction of many fighters on each side that his actions were a justifiable defense of his religion. Indeed often they have heard their actions praised by pastors of the several religious traditions.
Against the background of such tragic events, we appeal to the Holy Synod to go further in making clear that the Church does not sanction actions which create orphans and widows, acts of violence against neighbors, and the spilling of innocent blood.
Specifically we propose that the Synod require that no use be made of a service for blessing weapons included in an edition of the Book of Needs published in Kosovo in 1993. In the context of ongoing events occurring in neighboring republics of former Yugoslavia, the blessing of weapons can only be regarded as sanctioning the use of weapons in a fratricidal war.
More than that, we appeal to the Synod to declare that any baptized person who shoots at or abuses non-combatants, who puts the populations of cities and towns under siege, who impedes the distribution of food, medicine and other necessities of life, who commits acts of violence against the civil population or against captive soldiers, or who drives people of other ethnic groups from their homes, is violating the law of Christ and is not permitted to receive communion and cannot be restored to communion until his sincere repentance is recognized. Let it be clear to all that the Church calls all its children to respect the well-being of their neighbors, no matter what their religion or their ethnic background.
We hope such an action by the Serbian Orthodox Church will meet with similar responses from other religious bodies whose children are caught up in the fighting.
Your Holiness: We are living in a time of moral collapse in which the countries traditionally associated with Orthodoxy are not exempt. May the bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church be remembered as apostles whose words and deeds communicated to one and all the love of God for each person.
Your Holiness, we would like to ask you to discuss this letter with your fellow hierarchs at the next meeting of the Holy Synod.
We ask your blessing and prayers.
+ Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Assistant Bishop, Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate)
Archpriest Theodoor van der Voort
Margot Mutz, President, Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Archpriest Dr Sergii Hackel
James Forest, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Father Heikki Huttunen, President, Syndesmos International
Father Michel Evdokimov, Secretary of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France
Father Thomas Hopko, Dean, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY
Olivier Clément, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris
Nicolas Lossky, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris
Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Orthodox theologian, Paris
Father Stephen Peter Tsichlis, pastor, Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Seattle, Washington
Father Yves Dubois, Bath, England
Deacon Patrick & Helena Radley, Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church, Great Walsingham, England
Mariquita Platov, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship – USA
Philip Tamoush, member of the Executive Board, Orthodox People Together USA
Father Anthony Coniaris, President, Light & Life Publishing Co., USA
Father Alexis Voogd, rector, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Amsterdam
Father Lambert van Dinteren, pastor, Sts. John Chrysostom and Servatios Orthodox Church, Maastricht
* * *
Here is a translation of a letter sent to Patriarch Pavle. Please correct any mistakes in the translation. We are fortunate to have a neighbor who did this for us but he is not a theologian and has very little background in Church life. We hope that nonetheless the basic content and spirit of our letter is preserved.
Vaša Svetosti, Voljeni Patrijarše Pavle,Kao odgovor na izbijanje rata u bivšoj Jugoslaviji, Sveti Sinod je 1992. godine odlučio da se neke molitve dodaju Velikoj Litaniji u toku Liturgije, Večernja i Jutrenja. Jedna od njih je molitva Gospodu u ime “svih onih koji čine nepravdu svojim susedima, bilo da ožalošćuju siročad, bilo da prolivaju nevinu krv ili mržnjom uzvraćaju na mržnju,” moleći da im “Bog podari samilost, da obasja njihove misli i srca i prosvetli njihove duše svetlošću ljubavi za prema njihe nerijatelje.”
Mislimo o ovoj preko potrebnoj Molitvi, osvrćući se na ono što se desilo u proteklih nekoliko godina dok je rat neprekidno trajao i tako mnogo nevinih ljudi ubijeno, ranjeno, silovano, pretučeno, tako mnogo svetih mesta uništeno, tako mnogo izbeglih, koje su proterali oni koji žele da tu ostanu samo ljudi odredjenog nacionalnog porekla. Tragediju je uvećalo uverenje mnogih boraca na svim stranama, da su njihova dela pravedna odbrana njihovih religija.I zaista su često sveštenici raznih vera dizali u nebo njihova dela.
Bez obzira na pozadinu tako tragičnih dogadjaja, molimo Sveti Sinod da i dalje objašnjava da Crkva ne odobrava dela koja stvaraju siročad i udovice, dela nasilja protiv suseda i prolivanje nevine krvi.
Posebno predlažemo Sinodu da zahteva da se ne koristi služba blagosiljanja oružja koja se nalazi u jednom izdanju Velikog
Trebnika sa Kosova iz 1993. godine. Sobzirom na ono što se upravo dešava u susednim republikama bivše Jugoslavije, blagosiljanje oružja jedino može biti shvaćeno kao odobravanje upotrebe oružja u bratoubilačkom ratu.
Šta više, molimo Sinod da objavi da bilo koja krštena osoba koja puca na nekog ili povredi nekoga ko nije borac, koja stavi stanovnike gradova i naselja u opsadu, koja ometa raspodelu hrane, lekova i drugih neophodnosti za život, koja počini delo nasilja protiv civilnog stanovništva ili zarobljenih vojnika, ili koja izgoni ljude drugih etničkih grupa iz njihovih domova, krši zakon Hristov i da joj neće biti dopušteno da primi peičest i da se ne može ponovo pričestiti sve dok se ne uvidi njeno iskreno kajanje. Neka svima bude jasno da Crkva poziva svu svoju decu da poštuju dobrobit svojih suseda bez obzira na njihovu versku ili etničku pripadnost.
Nadamo se da će ovakav postupak Srpske pravoslavne crkve naići na istovetne odgovore drugih verskih zajednica čija su deca zahvaćena ratom.
Vaša svetosti: mi živimo u vreme moralnog pada od koga zemlje tradicionalno vezane za pravoslavlje nisu izuzete. Mogu li episkopi Srpske pravoslavne crkve biti upamćeni kao apostoli čije reči i dela saopštavaju svakom i svima ljubav božiju za svaku ličnost.
Vaša Svetosti, mi Vas molimo da razmotrite ovo pismo sa Vašim poglavarima na sledećem saboru Svetog Sinoda.
Molimo Vas za blagoslov i molitve.
U Alkmaru, 24. 7. 1995. god.
U medjuvremenu naše pismo potpisali su I ovi ljudi dobre volje.
+ Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Assistant Bishop, Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate)
Archpriest Theodoor van der Voort, Deventer, the Netherlands
Archpriest Dr Sergei Hackel, editor, Sobornost; UK
Margot Mutz, President, Orthodox Peace Fellowship
James Forest, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Archpriest Heikki Huttunen, President, Syndesmos
Father Michel Evdokimov, Secretary of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France
Father Thomas Hopko, Dean, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York, USA
Olivier Clément, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris
Nicolas Lossky, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris
Father Stephen Peter Tsichlis, pastor, Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Seattle, Washington, USA
Father Yves Dubois, Bath, England
Father Anthony Coniaris, President, Light & Life Publishing Co., USA
Father Alexis Voogd, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Amsterdam
Philip Tamoush, member of the Executive Board, Orthodox People Together, USA
* * *
Ваша Светости, Вољени Патријарше Павле̦
Као одговор на избијање рата у бившој Југославији̦ Свети Синод је 1992. године одлучио да се неке молитве додају Великој Литанији за време Литургије, Вечерња и Јутрења. Jеднa oд њих jе мoлитвa Гoспoду у име “свих oних кojи чине непрaвду свojим суседимa, билo дa oжaлoшћуjу сирoчaд, билo дa прoливajу невину крв или мржњoм узврaћajу нa мржњу”, мoлећи дa им “Бoг пoдaри сaмилoст, дa oбaсja њихoве мисли и срцa и прoсветли њихoве душе светлoшћу љубaви чак и зa њихoве нериjaтеље.”
Мислимo o oвoj прекo пoтребнoj Мoлитви, oсврћући се нa oнo штo се десилo у прoтеклих некoликo гoдинa дoк jе рaт непрекиднo трajao и тaкo мнoгo невиних људи убиjенo, рaњенo, силoвaнo, претученo, тaкo мнoгo светих местa уништенo, тaкo мнoгo избеглих, кojе су прoтерaли oни кojи желе дa ту oстaну сaмo људи oдређенoг нaциoнaлнoг пoреклa. Трaгедиjу jе увећaлo уверење мнoгих бoрaцa нa свим стрaнaмa, дa су њихoвa делa прaведнa oдбрaнa њихoвих религиja. И зaистa су честo свештеници рaзних верa дизaли у небo њихoвa делa.
Без oбзирa нa пoзaдину тaкo трaгичних дoгaђaja, мoлимo Свети Синoд дa и дaље oбjaшњaвa дa Црквa не oдoбрaвa делa кoja ствaрajу сирoчaд и удoвице, делa нaсиљa прoтив суседa и прoливaње невине крви.
Пoсебнo предлaжемo Синoду дa зaхтевa дa се не кoристи службa блaгoсиљaњa oружja кoja се нaлaзи у jеднoм издaњу Великoг Требникa сa Кoсoвa из 1993. гoдине. С oбзирoм нa oнo штo се упрaвo дешaвa у суседним републикaмa бивше Jугoслaвиjе, блaгoсиљaње oружja jединo мoже бити схвaћенo кao oдoбрaвaње упoтребе oружja у брaтoубилaчкoм рaту.
Штa више, мoлимo Синoд дa oбjaви дa билo кoja крштенa oсoбa кoja пуцa нa некoг или пoвреди некoгa кo ниjе бoрaц, кoja стaви стaнoвнике грaдoвa и нaсељa у oпсaду, кoja oметa рaспoделу хрaне, лекoвa и других неoпхoднoсти зa живoт, кoja пoчини делo нaсиљa прoтив цивилнoг стaнoвништвa или зaрoбљених вojникa, или кoja изгoни људе других етничких групa из њихoвих дoмoвa, крши зaкoн Христoв и дa joj неће бити дoпуштенo дa прими причест и дa се не мoже пoнoвo причестити све дoк се не увиди њенo искренo кajaње. Некa свимa буде jaснo дa Црквa пoзивa сву свojу децу дa пoштуjу дoбрoбит свojих суседa без oбзирa нa њихoву верску или етничку припaднoст.
Нaдaмo се дa ће oвaкaв пoступaк Српске прaвoслaвне цркве нaићи нa истoветне oдгoвoре других верских зajедницa чиja су децa зaхвaћенa рaтoм.
Вaшa Светoсти: ми живимo у време мoрaлнoг пaдa oд кoгa земље трaдициoнaлнo везaне зa прaвoслaвље нису изузете. Мoгу ли епискoпи Српске прaвoслaвне цркве бити упaмћени кao aпoстoли чиjе речи и делa сaoпштaвajу свaкoм и свимa љубaв бoжиjу зa свaку личнoст.
As we endure these difficult times and suffering, we experience a
range of emotions, including despair, anger, and restlessness. The Lord has blessed us with His peace and promised us victory over all evil.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” (Jn 14:27) Jesus gives His peace. He does not loan it; He does not take it back. The peace that is in Jesus – “My peace” – becomes the disciples’ final possession. At the beginning of each day, it is possible for me to be confirmed in the Saviour’s peace, no matter what anxieties the day brings.
The Saviour gives His disciples His peace at the moment when His Passion is about to begin. When He is confronted with the vision of immediate suffering and death, He proclaims and communicates His peace. If at such moments, Jesus is the Master of Peace, then the strength of this peace will not abandon the disciple in moments of lesser strife.
“But I say to you, do not resist evil.” (Matt 5:39). How scandalous and foolish is this statement in the eyes of men, and especially of unbelievers? How do we interpret this commandment – about turning the left cheek to the one who struck the right, giving our cloak to the one who took our tunic, walking two miles with the one who forced to go one mile already, giving a blessing to him who curses us? Have we explored the ways and means of loving our enemy – whether he be a personal or public enemy? “You do not know of what spirit you are…” (Lk 9:55)
No, it is a question of resisting the Gospel. The choice is not between fighting and not fighting, but between fighting and suffering. Fighting brings about only vain and illusory victories, because Jesus is the absolute reality. Suffering without resistance proclaims the absolute reality of Jesus. If we understand this point, we see that suffering is a real victory. Jesus said: “It is enough” (Lk 22:38) when His disciples presented Him with two swords. The disciples had not understood the meaning of Christ’s statement, “He who does not have a purse, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” (Lk 22:36) What Christ meant was that there are times when we must sacrifice what seems the most ordinary thing, in order to concentrate our attention on the assaults of the evil one. But defense and attack are both spiritual.
Jesus goes out to the front of the soldiers, who with their torches and weapons, want to lay hands on Him. (Jn 18:4) He goes freely, spontaneously, to His passion and His suffering.
Jesus cures the servant whose right ear had been cut off by the sword of a disciple. (Matt 26:51) Not only is Jesus unwilling that His disciple defend Him by force, but He repairs the damage that the sword has caused. It is the only miracle that Jesus performed during His passion.
The example of non-resistance that Jesus gave does not mean that He consents to evil, or that He remains merely passive. It is a positive reaction. It is the reply of the love that Jesus incarnates – opposed to the enterprises of the wicked. The immediate result seems to be the victory of evil. In the long run, however, the power of this love is the strongest.
The Resurrection followed the Passion. The non-resistance of the martyrs wore out and inspired the persecutors themselves. It is the shedding of blood by the martyrs that has guaranteed the spread of the Gospel. Is this a weak and vague pacifism? NO – it is a burning and victorious flame. If Jesus, at Gethsemane, had asked His Father for the help of twelve legions of angels, there would have been no Easter or Pentecost – and no salvation for us.
* * *
This article is an excerpt from a larger work entitled “A Dialogue with the Saviour.” Fr Lev Gillet is best known as “A Monk of the Eastern Church,” as he often preferred not to identify himself by name in his writings, such books as “The Year of Grace of the Lord” (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press).
Communion and otherness — how can these two be reconciled? Are they not mutually exclusive and incompatible with each other? Is it not true that by definition the other is my enemy and my “original sin,” to recall the words of Jean-Paul Sartre?
Our western culture seems to subscribe to this view in many ways. Individualism is present in the very foundations of this culture. Ever since Boethius in the Fifth Century had identified the person with the individual (“Person is an individual substance of a rational nature’), and St. Augustine emphasized the importance of self-consciousness in the understanding of personhood, western thought never ceased to build itself and its culture on this basis. The individual’s happiness has even become part of the American Constitution.
All this implies that in our culture protection from the other is a fundamental necessity. We feel more and more threatened by the presence of the other. We are forced and even encouraged to consider the other as our enemy before we can treat him or her as a friend. Communion with the other is not spontaneous; it is built upon fences which protect us from the dangers implicit in the other’s presence. We accept the other only insofar as he does not threaten our privacy or insofar as he is useful to our individual happiness.
There is no doubt that this is a direct result of what in theological language we call the “Fall of Man.” There is a pathology built into the very roots of our existence, inherited through our birth, and that is the fear of the other.
This is a result of the rejection of the Other par excellence, our Creator, by the first man, Adam, and before him by the demonic powers that revolted against God.
The essence of sin is the fear of the Other, which is part of the rejection of God. Once the affirmation of the “self” is realized through the rejection and not the acceptance of the Other — this is what Adam chose in his freedom to do — it is only natural and inevitable for the other to become an enemy and a threat. Reconciliation with God is a necessary pre-condition for reconciliation with any “other.”
The fact that the fear of the other is pathologically inherent in our existence results in the fear not only of the other but of all otherness. This is a delicate point requiring careful consideration, for it shows how deep and widespread fear of the other is: we are not afraid simply of certain others, but even if we accept them, it is on condition that they are somehow like ourselves. Radical otherness is an anathema. Difference itself is a threat. That this is universal and pathological is to be seen in the fact that even when difference does not in actual fact constitute a threat for us, we reject it simply because we dislike it. Again and again we notice that fear of the other is nothing more than fear of the different. We all want somehow to project into the other the model of our own selves.
When fear of the other is shown to be fear of otherness, we come to the point of identifying difference with division. This complicates and obscures human thinking and behavior to an alarming degree, with serious consequences. We divide our lives and human beings according to difference. We organize states, clubs, fraternities and even Churches on the basis of difference. When difference becomes division, communion is nothing but an arrangement for peaceful co-existence. It last as long as mutual interests last and may easily be turned into confrontation and conflict as soon as these interests cease to coincide. Our societies and our world situation today give ample witness to this.
If this confusion between difference and division were simply a moral problem, ethics would suffice to solve it. But it is not. St. Maximus the Confessor recognizes in this cosmic dimensions. The entire cosmos is divided on account of difference, and is different in its parts on the basis of its divisions. This makes the problem of communion and otherness a matter organically bound up with the problem of death, which exists because communion and otherness cannot coincide in creation. The different beings become distinct beings: because difference becomes division, distinction becomes distance.
St. Maximus makes use of these terms to express the universal and cosmic situation. Diaphora (difference) must be maintained, for it is good; but diaresis (division), a perversion of difference, is bad. The same is true of distance which amounts to decomposition, and hence death.
This is due, as St. Gregory of Nyssa observed, to the distance in both space and time that distinguish creation ex nihilo. Mortality is linked with createdness-out-of-nothing; this is what the rejection of the Other — God — and of the other in any sense amounts to. By turning difference into division through the rejection of the other we die. Hell, the eternal death, is nothing but isolation from the other.
We cannot solve this problem through ethics. We need a new birth. And this leads us to ecclesiology.
Because the Church is a community living within history and therefore within the fallen state of existence, all our observations concerning the difficulty in reconciling communion with otherness in our culture are applicable also to the life of the Church. The Church is made up of sinners, and she shares fully the ontological and cosmic dimension of sin which is death, the break of communion and final diastasis (separation and decomposition) of beings. And yet we insist that the Church in her essence is holy and sinless. On this Orthodox differ from other Christians, particularly of the Protestant family.
The essence of Christian existence in the Church is metanoia — repentance. By being rejected, or simply feared by us, the other challenges or provokes us to repent. Even the existence of pain and death in the natural world, not caused by anyone of us individually, should lead us to metanoia, for we all share in the fall of Adam, and we all must feel the sorrow of failing to bring creation to communion with God and overcoming death. Holiness in the Church passes through sincere and deep metanoia. All the saints weep because they feel somehow personally responsible for Adam’s fall and its consequences for innocent creation.
The second implication of the Orthodox position concerning the holiness of the Church is that repentance can only be true and genuine if the Church and her members are aware of the true nature of the Church. We need a model by which we can measure our existence; the higher the model, the deeper the repentance. This is why we need a maximalistic ecclesiology with a maximalistic anthropology — and even cosmology — resulting from it. Orthodox ecclesiology, by stressing the holiness of the Church, does not and should not lead to triumphalism but to a deep sense of compassion and metanoia.
What is the model? From where can we receive guidance and illumination in order to live our communion with the other in the Church?
faith in the Trinitarian God
There is no other model for the proper relation between communion and otherness either for the Church or for the human being than the Trinitarian God. If the Church wants to be faithful to her true self, she must try to mirror the communion and otherness that exists in the Triune God. The same is true of the human being as the “image of God.”
What can we learn about communion and otherness from study of the Trinity? First, otherness is constitutive of unity. God is not first One and then Three, but simultaneously One and Three.
God’s oneness or unity is not safeguarded by the unity of substance, as St. Augustine and other western theologians have argued, but by the monarchia of the Father. It is also expressed through the unbreakable koinonia (community) that exists between the three Persons, which means that otherness is not a threat to unity but the sine qua non of unity.
Study of the Trinity reveals that otherness is absolute. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are absolutely different, none of them being subject to confusion with the other two.
Otherness is not moral or psychological but ontological. We cannot tell what each Person is; only who He is. Each person in the Holy Trinity is different not by way of difference in qualities but by way of simple affirmation of being who He is. We see that otherness is inconceivable apart from a relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all names indicating relationship. No person can be different unless it is related. Communion does not threaten otherness; it generates it.
faith in Christ
We cannot be the “image of God” unless we are incorporated in the original and only authentic image of the Father, which is the Son of God incarnate.
This implies that communion with the other requires the experience of the Cross. Unless we sacrifice our own will and subject it to the will of the other, repeating in ourselves what our Lord did at Gethsemane in accepting the will of His Father, we cannot reflect properly in history the communion and otherness that we see in the Triune God. Since God moved to meet the other — His creation — by emptying Himself and subjecting his Son to the kenosis (self-emptying) of the Incarnation, the “kenotic” way is the only one that befits the Christian in his or her communion with the other, be it God or neighbor.
This kenotic approach to communion with the other is not determined in any way by the qualities that he or she might or might not possess. In accepting the sinner into communion, Christ applied the Trinitarian model. The other is not to be identified by his or her qualities, but by the sheer fact that he or she is, and is himself or herself. We cannot discriminate between those who are worthy of our acceptance and those who are not. This is what the Christological model of communion with others requires.
faith in Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit, among other things, is associated with koinonia (II Cor 13, 13) and the entrance of the last days into history (Acts 2, 17-18), that is eschatology.
When the Holy Spirit blows, He does not create good individual Christians, individuals “saints,” but an event of communion which transforms everything the Spirit touches into a relational being. The other becomes in this case an ontological part of one’s identity. The Holy Spirit de-individualizes beings wherever He blows. Where the Holy Spirit blows, there is community.
The eschatological dimension, on the other hand, of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit affects deeply the identity of the other: it is not on the basis of one’s past or present that we should identify and accept him or her, but on the basis of one’s future. And since the future lies only in the hands of God, our approach to the other must be free from passing judgment on him. In the Holy Spirit, every other is a potential saint, even if he appears be a sinner.
faith in the Church
It is in the Church that communion with the other reflects fully the relations between communion and otherness in the Holy Trinity. There are concrete forms of ecclesial communion that reflect this:
Baptism: This sacrament is associated with forgiveness. Every baptized person by being forgiven ceases to be identified by his or her past and becomes a citizen of the city to come, the Kingdom of God.
Eucharist: This is the heart of the Church, where communion and otherness are realized par excellence. If the Eucharist is not celebrated properly, the Church ceases to be the Church.
It is not by accident that the Church has given to the Eucharist the name of “Communion,” for in the Eucharist we find all the dimensions of communion: God communicates Himself to us, we enter into communion with Him, the participants of the sacrament enter into communion with one another, and creation as a whole enters through Man into communion with God — all this taking place in Christ and the Holy Spirit Who brings the last days into history and offers to the world a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
The Eucharist does not only affirm and sanctify communion; it sanctifies otherness as well. It is the place where difference ceases to be divisive and becomes good. Communion in the Eucharist does not destroy but affirms diversity and otherness.
Whenever this does not happen, the Eucharist is distorted and even invalidated even if all the other requirements for a “valid” Eucharist are satisfied. A Eucharist which excludes in one way or another those of a different race, sex, age or profession is a false Eucharist. The Eucharist must include all these, for it us there that otherness of a natural or social kind can be transcended. A Church which does not celebrate the Eucharist in this inclusive way loses her catholicity.
But are there no limits to otherness in eucharistic communion? Is the Eucharist not a “closed” community in some sense? Do we not have such a thing as exclusion from eucharistic communion? These questions can only be answered in the affirmative. There is indeed exclusion from communion in the Eucharist, and the “doors” of the synaxis are indeed shut at some point in the Liturgy. How are we to understand this exclusion of the other?
Eucharistic communion permits only one kind of exclusion: the exclusion of exclusion: all those things that involve rejection and division, which in principle distort Trinitarian faith. Heresy involves a distorted faith that has inevitable practical consequences concerning communion and otherness. Schism is also an act of exclusion; when schism occurs, the eucharistic community becomes exclusive. In the case of both heresy and schism, we cannot pretend that we have communion with the other when in fact we have not.
Ministry: There is no area of Church life where communion and togetherness co-exist so deeply as in the Church’s ministry. Ministry involves charismata of the Holy Spirit, and charisms involve variety and diversity. “Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do all of us have the charisms of healing?” Such questions posed by St. Paul receive blunt negative answers from him. The body of Christ consists of many members and these members represent different gifts and ministries. No member can say to the other, “I need you not.” There is an absolute interdependence among the members and the ministries of the Church: no ministry can be isolated from the “other.” Otherness is the essence of ministry.
Yet at the same time otherness is acceptable only when it leads to communion and unity. When diaphora becomes diaresis, returning to the terminology of St. Maximus, we encounter immediately the fallen state of existence. In order to avoid this, the Church needs a ministry of unity, someone who would himself be needful of the “others” and yet capable of protecting difference from falling into division. This is the ministry of the bishop.
There is no Church without a bishop, nor is it by chance that there can be only one bishop in a Church, as declared by Canon Eight of the Council of Nicea. More than one bishop creates a situation in which difference may become division. The present-day situation of the Orthodox Diaspora, allowing cultural and ethnic differences to become grounds of ecclesial communion centered on different bishops, is thus unfortunate, dangerous and totally unacceptable.
Theology and Church life involve a certain conception of the human being: personhood. This term, sanctified through its use in connection with the very being of God and of Christ, is rich in its implications.
The Person is otherness in communion and communion in otherness. The Person is an identity that emerges through relationship (schesis, in the terminology of the Fathers); it is an “I” that can exist only as long as it relates to a “Thou” which affirms its existence and its otherness. If we isolate the “I” from the “Thou,” we lose not only its otherness but also its very being; it simply cannot be without the other. This is what distinguishes the person from the individual.
The Orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity is the only way to arrive at this concept of Personhood: the Father cannot be conceived for a moment without the Son and the Spirit, and the same applies to the other two Persons in their relation with the Father and with each other. At the same time each of these Persons is so unique that their hypostatic or personal properties are totally incommunicable from one Person to the Other.
Personhood is inconceivable without freedom; it is the freedom of being other. I hesitate to say “different” instead of “other” because “different” can be understood in the sense of qualities (clever, beautiful, holy, etc.), which is not what the person is about. In God all such qualities are common to the each three Persons. Person implies not simply the freedom to have different qualities but mainly the freedom simply to be yourself. This means that a person is not subject to norms and stereotypes and cannot be classified in any way; its uniqueness is absolute. This means that only a person is free in the true sense.
And yet one person is no person; freedom is not freedom from the other but freedom for the other. Freedom becomes identical with love. God is love because He is Trinity. We can love only if we are persons, allowing the other to be truly other and yet be in communion with us. If we love the other not in spite of his or her being different but because they are different from us, or rather other than ourselves, we live in freedom as love and in love as freedom.
The other is a condition of our freedom. Freedom is not from but for something other than ourselves. This makes the person ecstatic, going outside and beyond the boundaries of the self. But this ecstasis is not to be understood as a movement towards the unknown and the infinite; it is a movement of affirmation of the other.
This drive of personhood towards the affirmation of the other is so strong that is not limited to the “other” that already exists but wants to affirm an “other” which is totally free grace of the person. Just as God created the world as free grace, so the person wants to create its own “other.” This is what happens with art: the artist creating a totally other identity as an act of freedom and communion. Living in the Church in communion with the other means, therefore, creating a culture. The Orthodox Church has always been culturally creative.
Finally, we must consider the ecological problem. The threat to God’s creation is due to a crisis between the human being and the otherness of the rest of creation. Man does not respect the otherness of what is not human; he tends to absorb it into himself.
This is the cause of the ecological problem. In a desperate attempt to correct this, Man may easily fall into the pagan alternative: to absorb Man into nature. We have to be very careful. Out of its tradition, Orthodoxy is called to offer the right Christian answer to the problem. Nature is the “other” that Man is called to bring into communion with himself, affirming it as “very good” through personal creativity.
This is what happens in the Eucharist where the natural elements of bread and wine are so affirmed that they acquire personal qualities — the Body and Blood of Christ — in the event of the communion of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in a para-eucharistic way, all forms of true culture and art are ways of treating nature as otherness in communion, and these are the only healthy antidotes to the ecological illness.
We live in a time when communion with the other is becoming extremely difficult not only outside but inside the Church. Orthodoxy has the right vision of communion and otherness in its faith and in its eucharistic and ecclesial existence.
It is this that it must witness to in the midst of Western culture. But in order to be a successful witness, it must strive to apply this vision to its “way of being.” Individual Orthodox Christians may fail to do so, but the Church as a whole must not. This is why the Orthodox Church must watch carefully her own “way of being.” When the “other” is rejected on account of natural, sexual, racial, social, ethnic or even moral differences, Orthodox witness is destroyed.
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Metropolitan John Zizioulas teaches theology in both London and Thessaloniki. This is a shortened version of a lecture given at the European Orthodox Congress given in October, 1993. The full text, as well as the text of other lectures given at the Congress, is available in English, Dutch, French and German editions from the Apostle Andreas Press, de Vrièrestraat 19. B-8301 Knokke-Heist, Belgium.
Reprinted from Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s Occasional Paper nr. 19, summer 1994.
Mother Maria Skobtsova — now recognized as Saint Maria of Paris — died in a German concentration camp on the 30th of March 1945. Although perishing in a gas chamber, Mother Maria did not perish in the Church’s memory. Those who had known her would again and again draw attention to the ideas, insights and activities of the heroic nun who had spent so many years of her life assisting people in desperate need. Soon after the war ended, essays and books about her began appearing in French, Russian and English. A Russian film, “Mother Maria,” was made in 1982. Her canonization was celebrated in May 2004 at the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Paris. Among those present at the event was Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris and Jewish by birth, who subsequently placed St. Maria on the calendar of the Catholic Church in France. One wonders if there are any other saints of post-Schism Christianity who are on both the Catholic and Orthodox calendars?
We have no time today for a detailed account of her life. I will only point out that she was born in Riga in 1891 and grew up on a family estate along the Black Sea. Her father’s death when she was fourteen was a devastating event that for a time led her to atheism, but gradually she found her way back to the Orthodox faith. As a young woman, she was the first female student at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. In the same period she witnessed the Bolshevik coup and the civil war that followed. Like so many Russians, she fled for her life, finally reaching Paris, where she was among those who devoted themselves to serving fellow refugees, many of whom were now living in a state of destitution even worse than her own. At that time, she worked with the Student Christian Movement.
The tragic death in 1926 of one her daughters, Anastasia, precipitated a decision that brought her to a still deeper level of self-giving love. In 1932, following the collapse of her marriage, her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy, encouraged her to become a nun, but a nun with an exceptional vocation. Metropolitan Evlogy blessed her to develop a new type of monasticism — a “monasticism in the world” — that centered on diaconal service within the city rather than on quiet withdrawal in a rural context.
In a time of massive social disruption, Mother Maria declared, it was better to offer a monastic witness which opens its gates to desperate people and in so doing to participate in Christ’s self-abasement. “Everyone is always faced … with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item … the Cross.”
It was clear to her that it was not only Russia which was being torn to shreds. “There are times,” she wrote, “when all that has been said cannot be made obvious and clear since the atmosphere around us is a pagan one and we are tempted by its idolatrous charms. But our times are firmly in tune with Christianity in that suffering is part of their nature. They demolish and destroy in our hearts all that is stable, mature, hallowed by the ages and treasured by us. They help us genuinely and utterly to accept the vows of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure, but the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”
She saw that there were two ways to live. The first was on dry land, a legitimate and respectable place to be, where one could measure, weigh and plan ahead. The second was to walk on the waters where “it becomes impossible to measure or plan ahead. The one thing necessary is to believe all the time. If you doubt for an instant, you begin to sink.”
The water she decided to walk upon was a vocation of hospitality. With financial support from Metropolitan Evlogy, in December 1932 she signed a lease for her first house of hospitality, a place of welcome and assistance to people in desperate need, mainly young Russian women. The first night she slept on the floor beneath the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. A small community of co-workers began to form. To make room for others, Mother Maria gave up her own room and instead slept on an iron bedstead in the basement by the boiler. A room upstairs became a chapel.
The first house having become too small, in 1934 the community relocated to a three-storey house at 77 rue de Lourmel in an area of Paris where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. Now, instead of 25 people, the community could feed a hundred. Stables in back became a small church.
The vocation of hospitality is much more than the provision of food, clothing and a place to sleep. In its depths, it is a contemplative vocation. It is the constant search for the face of Christ in the stranger. “If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person,” she reflected, “he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him — one that will demand his most dedicated efforts…. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil…. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.”
By 1937, there were several dozen women guests at 77 rue de Lourmel. Up to 120 dinners were served each day. Other buildings were rented, one for families in need, another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium.
From a financial point of view, it was a very insecure life, but somehow the work survived and grew. Mother Maria would sometimes recall the Russian story of the ruble that could never be spent. Each time it was used, the change given back proved to equal a ruble. It was exactly this way with love, she said: No matter how much love you give, you never have less. In fact you discover you have more — one ruble becomes two, two becomes ten.
Mother Maria’s day typically began with a journey to Les Halles to beg food or buy cheaply whatever was not donated. The cigarette-smoking beggar nun became well known among the stalls. She would later return with a sack of bones, fish and overripe fruit and vegetables.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh provides an impression of what Mother Maria was like in those days: “She was a very unusual nun in her behavior and her manners. I was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse. In front of a café, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer, and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes. I looked at her and decided that I would never go near that woman. I was young then and held extreme views.”
Mother Maria felt sustained by the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not only do we know the Beatitudes, but at this hour, this very minute, surrounded though we are by a dismal and despairing world, we already savor the blessedness they promise.”
Life in community was not easy. Conflicting views about the relative importance of liturgical life were at times a source of tension. Mother Maria was the one most often absent from services or the one who would withdraw early, or arrive late, because of the pressing needs of hospitality. “Piety, piety,” she wrote in her journal, “but where is the love that moves mountains?”
Mother Maria saw blessings where others only saw disaster. “In the past religious freedom was trampled down by forces external to Christianity,” she wrote. “In Russia we can say that any regime whatsoever will build concentration camps as its response to religious freedom.” She considered exile in the west a heaven-sent opportunity to renew the Church in ways that would have met repression within her mother country.
For her, exile was an opportunity “to liberate the real and authentic” from layers of decoration and dust in which Christ had become hidden. It was similar to the opportunity given to the first Christians. “We must not allow Christ,” she said, “to be overshadowed by any regulations, any customs, any traditions, any aesthetic considerations, or even any piety.”
Russians have not been last among those enamored with theories, but for Mother Maria, all theories had to take second place. “We have not gathered together for the theoretical study of social problems in the spirit of Orthodoxy,” she wrote, “[but] to link our social thought as closely as possible with life and work. More precisely, we proceed from our work and seek the fullest possible theological interpretation of it.”
While many valued what she and her co-workers were doing, there were others who were scandalized with the shabby nun who was so uncompromising in her hospitality that she might leave a church service to answer the door bell. “For many in church circles we are too far to the left,” she noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.”
In October 1939, Metropolitan Evlogy send a priest to rue de Lourmel: Father Dimitri Klépinin, then 35 years old. A man of few words and great modesty, Fr. Dimitri proved to be a real partner for Mother Maria.
The last phase of Mother Maria’s life was a series of responses to World War II and Germany’s occupation of France.
Her basic choice was the decision to stay. It would have been possible for her to leave Paris when the Germans were advancing, or even to leave the country to go to America, but she would not budge. “If the Germans take Paris, I shall stay here with my old women. Where else could I send them?”
She had no illusions about Nazism. It represented a “new paganism” bringing in its wake disasters, upheavals, persecutions and wars. It was evil unveiled, the “contaminator of all springs and wells.” The so-called “master race” was “led by a madman who needs a straightjacket and should be placed in a cork-lined room so that his bestial wailing will not disturb the world at large.”
Paris fell on the 14th of June. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger for many people. Local authorities in Paris declared the house at rue de Lourmel an official food distribution point.
Paris was now a prison. “There is the dry clatter of iron, steel and brass,” wrote Mother Maria. “Order is all.” Russian refugees were among the high-priority targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, including several close friends of Mother Maria and Fr. Dimitri. An aid project for prisoners and their dependents was soon launched by Mother Maria.
Early in 1942, with Jewish registration underway, Jews began to knock on the door at rue de Lourmel asking Fr. Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those “baptized” were also duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo, as indeed did happen. Fr. Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same.
In March 1942, the order came from Berlin that a yellow star must be worn by Jews in all the occupied countries. The order came into force in France in June. There were, of course, Christians who said that the law being imposed had nothing to do with Christians and that therefore this was not a Christian problem. “There is not only a Jewish question, but a Christian question,” Mother Maria replied. “Don’t you realize that the battle is being waged against Christianity? If we were true Christians we would all wear the star. The age of confessors has arrived.”
In July, Jews were forbidden access to nearly all public places. Shopping by Jews was restricted to an hour per day. A week later, there was a mass arrest of Jews — 12,884, of whom 6,900 (two-thirds of them children) were brought to a sports stadium just a kilometer from rue de Lourmel. Held there for five days, the captives in the stadium received water only from a single hydrant. From there the captives were to be sent to Auschwitz.
Mother Maria had often thought her monastic robe a God-send in aiding her work. Now it opened the way for her to enter the stadium. Here she worked for three days trying to comfort the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in, even managing to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins.
The house at rue de Lourmel was bursting with people, many of them Jews. “It is amazing,” Mother Maria remarked, “that the Germans haven’t pounced on us yet.” In the same period, she said if anyone came looking for Jews, she would show them an icon of the Mother of God.
Fr. Dimitri, Mother Maria and their co-workers set up routes of escape to the unoccupied south. It was complex and dangerous work. Forged documents had to be obtained. An escaped Russian prisoner of war was also among those assisted, working for a time in the Lourmel kitchen. In turn, a local resistance group helped secure provisions for those Mother Maria’s community was struggling to feed.
In February 1943 Mother Maria, her son Yuri, Fr. Dimitri and their collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the camp at Compiegne.
In December, Yuri and Fr. Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany and from there to Dora, 40 kilometers away. On the 6th of February, Yuri was “dispatched for treatment” — a euphemism for being sentenced to death. Four days later Fr. Dimitri, lying on a dirt floor, died of pneumonia. His final action was to make the sign of the Cross. His body was disposed of in the Buchenwald crematorium.
Mother Maria was sent to Ravensbrück in Germany, where she endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. “She was never downcast, never,” a fellow prisoner recalled. “She never complained…. She was on good terms with everyone. Anyone in the block, no matter who it was, knew her on equal terms. She was the kind of person who made no distinction between people [whether they] held extremely progressive political views [or had] religious beliefs radically different than her own. She allowed nothing of secondary importance to impede her contact with people.”
By March 1945, Mother Maria’s condition was critical. She had to lie down between roll calls and hardly spoke. Her face, a fellow prisoner Jacqueline Pery recalled, “revealed intense inner suffering. Already it bore the marks of death. Nevertheless Mother Maria made no complaint. She kept her eyes closed and seemed to be in a state of continual prayer. This was, I think, her Garden of Gethsemani.”
She died on Holy Saturday. The shellfire of the approaching Red Army could be heard in the distance. We are not certain of the details of her last day. According to one account, she was simply among the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of another prisoner, a Jew. Jacqueline Pery wrote afterward: “It is very possible that [Mother Maria] took the place of a frantic companion. It would have been entirely in keeping with her generous life. In any case she offered herself consciously to the holocaust … thus assisting each one of us to accept the Cross…. She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”
We now know Mother Maria as St. Maria of Paris. Her commemoration occurs on July 20.
Every saint poses a challenge, but Mother Maria is perhaps among the most challenging saints. Her life is a passionate objection to any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings. Still more profoundly, she challenges each of us to a life of a deeper, more radical hospitality, a hospitality that includes not only those who share our faith and language but those whom we regard as “the other,” people in whom we resist recognizing the face of Christ.
Mother Maria was certain that there was no other path to heaven than participating in God’s mercy. “The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need…. I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.”
We can sum up Mother Maria’s credo in just a few words: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.”
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A more detailed account of the life of St. Maria of Pais is posted at:
Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship . He is also the author of numerous books, including “Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue,” and wrote the introduction to “Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings” (Orbis Books, 2003).
The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West
Alexander F.C. Webster and Darrell Cole, Regina Orthodox Press, 2004
reviewed by Fr. Andrew Louth
review published in In Communion, Spring 2004, issue 33
This book is a work of polemic. The opening chapter is a clarion call to the Christian West to realize the danger of militant Islam and gird itself to fight back and defeat it. “Nine-Eleven” is presented as a belated moment of awakening for the West, and the purpose of this book is to convince Christians of the “virtue of war,” as the title puts it: that is, to demonstrate that in certain circumstances (which include the present circumstances of an Islamic attack on Western civilization) war is not only a regrettable necessity, but a positive good, in which good ends are achieved by the virtuous means of warfare.
The book is co-written by an Orthodox priest and theologian, Fr. Alexander Webster, and a Western theologian, of probably Protestant credentials, though with a deep and articulate sympathy for the Western Catholic tradition of the just war. The aim is to demonstrate broadly-based Christian support for an offensive war against evil, and especially to include the Orthodox tradition, that has often been presented as viewing war in deeply mistrustful terms. The opening chapter, as part of its clarion call, presents an alarming account of Islam, centrally and essentially committed to jihad in military terms, in the course of which there are several references to Orthodoxy’s long familiarity with Islam, as compared with the West.
This might be a good place to begin an assessment of the book, as it is certainly true that the Orthodox have a long familiarity with Islam, reaching right back to the beginnings of that religion. In the centuries since, Orthodox have often had Islamic states as close neighbors, and also lived cheek-by-jowl with Muslims, in Palestine and later under the Ottomans and the states that succeeded that empire. At times this relationship has been sharply antagonistic; so it was in the first century or so of Islam, when the Umayyad Empire sought to take Constantinople. But more often, the Orthodox have found a modus vivendi with their Muslim neighbors, as the Western crusaders found out to their annoyance, when they discovered that the Byzantine Emperor was engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the Muslims, to their mind simply enemies of the faith.
Plenty more examples could be cited for this Orthodox quest for a modus vivendi: Manuel Komnenos’ modification of the rite of conversion for Muslims, making it clear that Orthodox and Muslim worshiped the same God, however different their conceptions of him; Gregory Palamas’ favorable impressions of the mullahs with whom he met and engaged in theological discussion during the couple of years he spent as a prisoner of the Sultan (only Palamas’ more conventional, “apocalyptic” view of Islam is cited here).
In contrast, the West has tended to see Islam in terms of extremes: either the infidel, against whom one waged crusades, or a representative of an alluring “orientalism,” explored by the late Edward Said in his famous book of that name. Fr. Alexander, in his chapters in this book, seems anxious that the Orthodox should not be left out of this crusading drive against Islam, which is very much the fruit of such extremes of perception on the part of the West.
The chapters by Fr. Alexander are not a little confused. He seems to accept the virtual pacifism of the Church before Constantine, and seems uneasily aware that the Byzantine attitude to war was ambivalent; he speaks of a “penitential gloom” in Orthodox attitudes to war, but it is this that he seeks to dispel. His argument advances along several lines. First, he draws attention to the bloodthirsty God of the Old Testament. He is certainly right to warn against the potential Marcionism of opposing a God of love in the New Testament to a God of armies in the Old, but in his resolution he seems to obscure the prevailing impression left by the Lord’s teaching.
The canonical tradition poses a fairly daunting challenge. As he admits, there is virtually no exception to the canonical requirement of penance for any Christian soldier who killed in war before the eleventh century, and it is only thereafter in the West that this requirement comes to be forgotten. He might have mentioned, but does not, how the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Phokas – disturbed that Muslim warriors went into war with the promise of eternal bliss if they fell in battle, whereas Christian warriors had no such promise, but rather faced penance if they killed – pleaded with the patriarch and the bishops to change this canonical regulation, but in vain. Instead, Fr. Alexander tries to suggest that the canon of St. Basil requiring three years’ penance (that is, three years’ exclusion from communion) is in some way ambivalent.
Another argument draws attention to the Byzantine military martyrs: but what is striking about these martyrs is that none of them died in battle, indeed in many cases their military careers are largely, or entirely, posthumous (e.g., the historical Procopios or Demetrios). These are not glorified combatant soldiers, but rather notable participants in the struggle against evil, and defenders of Christian cities and peoples.
Fr. Alexander draws attention to prayers for the armed forces in the Divine Liturgy; true, he mentions the threefold petition for peace at the beginning of the Great Ekteny, but not the fivefold petition for peace in what the Greeks call the Eirenika. It is clear on which side the weight falls. A good deal is made of the services for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Here we touch on something that needs to be brought out into the open. There is no question that, in the wake of the conversion of Constantine, the Church, both in the East and the West, lent not only its prayers for the peace and prosperity of the Empire, but also its blessing (within the limits noted above) to armed defense of the Empire.
But is this part of the Church’s tradition, or a betrayal of it? The way in which the cult of the Holy Cross became part of the Imperial cult was dangerously close to idolatry, even if it is reflected in prayers and songs we still use. The way in which these remnants of the Christian imperial cult have come to serve a questionable role in modern Orthodox nation states might be regarded as one of the more dire consequences of “phyletism,” condemned, at least notionally, as a heresy by all Orthodox Christians.
I have concentrated in this review on Fr. Alexander’s contribution, because this is an Orthodox journal (and, indeed, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is singled out for criticism by Fr. Alexander). The rest of the book presents the Western case. There we have a fine presentation of the Western case for a just (or justifiable) war, and an exploration of its history. Some good points are made, notably that the idea of a just war in which the virtue of the warrior is displayed and tested actually provides a means by which justice in war can be maintained. It is still the case, however, that Dr. Cole favors quite a hawkish conception of the “just war”; he is unhappy with the idea of such a war as a “mere” last resort. His position here leaves this reviewer with the impression that for him a just war can actually be a good thing, something that can be pursued with enthusiasm, rather than regret.
Whatever the merits of some of the arguments advanced, this book’s wider purpose is to justify a modern crusade against Islam – even though it recognizes, though to no noticeable effect, that Islamic terrorism is not actually a tautology – and calls on Western civilization to commit itself to such a crusade. This seems to me to leave no ground for questioning the right of the United States, or any other state powerful enough, to set itself up as a world policeman, the consequences of which seem to me profoundly alarming.
For a world power to take upon itself the role of being a world policeman raises Cicero’s question: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos – who will guard the guards themselves? The damage that well-intentioned people can do with the resources of a state (especially one so wealthy and powerfully armed as the US), as opposed what terrorists can do (and I certainly am not defending terrorism, or minimizing the guilt of terrorist action), seems to me immense. Consider Kosovo.
Look even at Iraq, where it more and more looks as if the military action there has destabilized the country and region in ways that are likely to have unfortunate long-lasting consequences. Simply in terms of numbers (which are ultimately irrelevant), the body count from allied action in Iraq exceeds that of the terrorists – and there is also the question, still quite unresolved, as to whether attacking Iraq had any impact on al Qaedi, or even was ever expected to. The metaphor of the policemen makes one think of friendly people keeping the peace. But the reality depends on who you are.
Here in England there is growing consciousness of the dangers of “institutionalized racism”: the policeman is not perceived as friendly – and often isn’t – if you are a black and living in South or East London. I know about this from teaching in South London for ten years. Similarly in Iraq: for a great many people there, the American “policemen” are not welcome, and thus are finding it more and more difficult to fulfill a police role. The atrocities in the Shia holy cities, almost certainly the work of Sunnis, are blamed by the Shiites on the Americans.
But are such factors irrelevant to the book, The Virtue of War? They would be (or only tangentially relevant) if the book confined itself to a discussion of the question of war and the Christian conscience, but it doesn’t. The first chapter – drawing on a one-sided use of Huntingdon’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis – is, as I said above, a clarion call for Christians to support the American attack on militant Islam, supported by arguments that Islam as a whole is potentially militant.
It is interesting to see what Christos Yannaras makes of the Huntingdon thesis, which sees Orthodoxy as a separate civilization from the West, something Yannaras welcomes with undue enthusiasm, though I think he is right in saying that Orthodoxy has at least as much in common with Islam as with the West. This might lead one to the conclusion, which Yannaras does not seem to draw, that we Orthodox are in an unusual position to mediate in what could become a fatal fault-line for the history of the 21st century.
Fr. Andrew Louth is an Orthodox priest of the Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain and Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, UK.
A related text:
Here is a response by Jim Forest to an essay (published in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly in 2003) by Fr Alexander Webster in which he argued that war should be recognized as a “lesser good” rather than a “lesser evil.”
In Fr Alexander Webster’s argument that the Orthodox Church should regard war as “a lesser good” rather than “a lesser evil,” it is striking how meager is his attention to the New Testament. Does he really imagine Jesus sanctioning war and obliging his followers to take part in it? The Savior became incarnate in a country enduring the humiliation of military occupation, yet failed to side in word or action with the Zealot opposition. There is no Gospel account of him sanctioning anyone’s death. In the one instance we know of when an issue of capital punishment was brought before him, he succeeded in saving the life of a woman who might otherwise have been stoned to death. When the apostle Peter used a sword in an attempt to defend Jesus from arrest, the injury Peter caused was healed by Christ—his final healing miracle before crucifixion. Jesus responded to Peter with words Fr Alexander has omitted from his essay: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus’ only act of violence in the New Testament narrative was to use a whip—not a life-endangering weapon—to cleanse the Temple. The only sword he wields is the sword of the truth. Again and again he insists on forgiveness. In the Beatitudes he blesses the merciful and refers to peacemakers as children of God. Following the way of the Cross, Christ gives the example of nonresistance. Quite literally he gives himself for the life of the world.
In the first three centuries Christians were notable for their refusal to kill, a situation that was problematic for converts in the military or in certain governmental positions. Catechetical texts coming down to us from the early Church put a special stress on the obligation not to kill either in war or through abortion. Substantial penances were established for those who broke this discipline. Even after Constantine’s conversion and the end of anti-Christian persecution, it remained obligatory for priests, deacons and iconographers not to kill anyone, not even in self-defense. These canons survive unchanged into our own day.
However convinced Fr Alexander may be that certain wars may be regarded as justifiable or even good, he would be forbidden by Church law to serve at the altar if he were to kill in such a “good” war—a prohibition one would assume should also prevent a priest from encouraging or blessing others to kill. Fr Alexander seems oblivious to the values that stand behind this prohibition. Does the Church forbid its priests doing what it regards (according to Fr Alexander) as “a lesser good”? What do these canons reveal about eucharistic life?
Canons do not, however, always solve the problem of what to do in the crucible of life. Many Christians faced with evil forces, such as St Alexander Nevsky, have found no nonviolent option in responding to attack but armed resistance—though later in life, struggling to avoid calamitous defeat, the same prince lost the respect of many fellow Russians for prudent compromises he struck with the Golden Horde.
Since the age of Constantine, time and again faithful Christians of every rank have found themselves drawn into war. Soldiers and their weapons have been blessed by pastors and bishops. We must recall, however, that often the wars on which blessings have been showered were not events which can be regarded as bringing any moral credit on those who fought in them, however heroic and patriotic the soldiers may have been: wars for the expansion of empire, wars of national hubris, wars of manifest destiny, wars of ethic cleansing, wars to gain valuable resources.
Consider what might be regarded as the very best of recent wars: World War II. Here there was an aggressive enemy driven by totalitarian and racist ideology willing to kill not only opposing soldiers but large categories of noncombatants. Many people could find no way to respond to the war imposed on them but to fight back with whatever weapons they had. At last the Allied counter-attack resulted in city bombing, fire storms and finally the use of nuclear weapons. There were hundreds of thousands of noncombatant deaths which, in today’s “Newspeak,” would be regarded as “collateral damage.” Many of those who fought against Hitler and his allies, though possessing medals for heroism on the battlefield, have had to live with nightmarish memories of the killing of noncombatants and other terrible memories of what occurs in the actuality of war. They may well regard the war in its overall objectives as justifiable and unavoidable, but certainly not good. Indeed, one cannot even speak of the killing of the guilty as good deeds.
For all his interest in what in the Roman Catholic Church has come to be known as the Just War Theory or Doctrine, Fr Alexander seems to take little interest in one of the key elements of that doctrine: the protection of noncombatants. In the reality of modern war, it is the noncombatant who is the typical casualty. In the age of St Alexander Nevsky soldiers fought soldiers, but in our world when bullets fly and bombs fall, it is the most defenseless members of society who are the most likely to die or be maimed. Can anyone, least of all a follower of the Gospel, speak of events which claim the lives of so many innocents—mainly women, children and the aged—as “a lesser good”?
Were states to call on Orthodox Christians to take part in the destruction of churches or the wholesale burning of icons, there would be organized resistance by the faithful with the hierarchy speaking out boldly. But when it is the destruction of human beings, bearers of the image of God, what is most striking is the cooperation of the faithful in it and the near silence of their shepherds. True, one does occasionally discover theologians who raise questions about war. One of them, Fr Stanley Harakas, is briefly if dismissively referred to in the Webster essay. But one rarely meets an Orthodox Christian who has heard about such debate regarding these questions. The questions are raised in academic journals and forums and, sadly, there they tend to remain.
Saint Nicholas wrote no books nor have any of his sermons or letters survived, but few saints have been the object of such universal affection. He is the patron of prisoners, seafarers and orphans.
Born in Asia Minor about 280, he was the only child of wealthy parents who arranged for their son to receive a Christian education from his uncle, the bishop of Patara. Taking literally the words of the Gospel, when his parents died, he distributed their property to the poor, keeping nothing for himself. Though drawn to monastic life, he felt led by God’s will to serve as a priest in the world. After his ordination, he was chosen as archbishop of Myra. During the persecutions of Diocletian and Maximian at the end of the third century, Nicholas was among the many thousands imprisoned and tortured.
Over the centuries, Nicholas’s life was embroidered with many legends, yet there are several stories about him which seem solidly historical. One of these relates how, while Nicholas was visiting a remote part of his diocese, several citizens from Myra came to him with urgent news: the ruler of the city, Eustathios, had condemned three innocent men to death. Nicholas set out immediately for home. Reaching the city outskirts, he asked those he met on the road if they had news of the prisoners. Informed that their execution was to be carried out that morning, he hurried to the executioner’s field where he found the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow. Nicholas passed through the surrounding crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed. His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell. Eustathios later confessed his sin. Nicholas absolved him, but only after the ruler had undergone a period of repentance.
Nicholas was one of the bishops participating in the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 where, according to legend, he was so angered by the heretic Arius, who denied that Jesus was the Son of God, that he struck him on the face. For his violent act, he was briefly excluded from the Council.
Tireless in his care of people in trouble or need, he was regarded as a saint even during his lifetime. At times, it is said, his face shone like the sun.
He died on December 6, 343 and was buried in Myra’s cathedral. In the eleventh century, his relics were brought to Bari, Italy, where they remain.
— Jim Forest
The icon detail is a panel from the border of a large St Nicholas icon, probably painted in Moscow, dated early 16th century, now in the collection of The Hermitage, St Petersburg.