All posts by Pieter Dykhorst

That the World May Believe: Why we should embrace the Holy and Great Council of Crete

That the World May Believe: Why we should embrace the Holy and Great Council of Crete

A personal reflection
by Pieter Dykhorst

“…that they may all be one…that the world may believe that you have sent me.” —Jesus (Jn 17:20, 21)

While we confess in the Creed that the Orthodox Church is one, where must an observer look to see our theological, mystical, or true oneness? We have hidden it from ourselves and the world by our behavior. Because of our pervasive fear, self-interest, and insularity, the visible unity of the Church exists only as a broken promise. We boast that the Church, the kingdom of God on earth, is a place of light set high and reached by straight roads where healing and wholeness are practiced, but it exists merely as a broken affiliation scattered among a deeply fractured human family.

The world is like a concentration camp of darkness where its billions suffer every degradation and practice mutual genocide. Our lack of unity effectively marginalizes the witness that Jesus is the light and liberty we all need. How will they believe us when we say Jesus was sent by the Father or recognize us as the children of God when we fail to be peacemakers even within our own house?

This should break all our hearts. When Jesus looked over Jerusalem and felt deeply Israel’s brokenness, “he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!’” Should we not weep both for our own dysfunctional city and the world? We know the way of peace and do not walk in it.

This is why I embrace the calling, gathering, and labor of the Holy and Great Council that convened in Crete in June 2016. One need not uncritically accept all it has done or produced. To do so would provide an unhelpful gloss. But neither should anyone seek to sabotage or undermine it. That would be business as usual. I am encouraged by the mere convening of the Council, however incomplete, and the reconciliatory mission it has undertaken. The Council is a necessary and hopeful start to the process of facilitating our healing. The work needed to resolve the problems that have hindered our mission and witness to both the Church and the world must continue. I dare to hope that all Orthodox who believe in the conciliar and reconciliatory nature and calling of the Church will embrace the Council, both as an event and as a process, and pray for its success. For the Orthodox Church manifests its true nature in open display when it gathers in council.

The Council’s call to bring all the Churches together every few years suggests a clear and simple rallying point. We reject the model of one pope who rules all. But our present model of many battling popes is a disaster. If the council as an institution were to adopt a model similar to the ruling council in Plato’s perfect republic, then our “philosopher kings” could regularly convene as a council of wise elders truly coming together as benevolent equals. Such a council could lead to increasing our capacity within the Church to bridge internal divides. We could again build trust to resolve outstanding disagreements and problems among us and create mechanisms that prevent new problems from becoming the next generation’s protracted conflicts that defy resolve. By immediately fortifying the very conciliar forum where courageous and imaginative leadership can continue to work together, we will in time come to recognize this as normal.

Critical evaluation of the Council’s documents and proceedings done in good faith and in the spirit of love and with the desire for the success of the Church in its conciliar identity is something all concerned Orthodox should engage in. As we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in this work, we may begin to implement those things on which we find we already agree, for even critical evaluation should not obscure the fact that the documents contain much that is good. This conciliar labor must engage the Church universal, not only primates, bishops, and synods. Through such a broad and engaged habit of conciliar involvement, we will pass the true test of catholicity and begin to rescue from abstraction our claim of diachronic interaction with history. An organic, growing tradition lives to make history, not preserve it.

We must also acknowledge the criticisms and concerns held by those Churches that participated fully up till the gathering in Crete and hope that their concerns will be considered in full council. These concerns cannot be addressed, and the work already begun cannot be improved or completed, if all the local Churches do not themselves participate fully. Only then can the Pan-Orthodox aspirations of the council be realized. The Churches can’t wait for the Holy Spirit’s anointing to participate, they must participate so they can invite the Holy Spirit’s anointing. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head.…For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133).

Finally, the conciliar and reconciliatory nature and work of the Church cannot be separated. The reconciliation of all things is rooted in—and indeed only made possible by—the ministry of reconciliation being practiced within the Church among and between her members (Eph 2 & Col 1). The councils of the Church are a visible expression of that ministry. When our shepherds become better and more credible examples of reconciliatory ministry through conciliar engagement, the Church may once more believably offer Jesus Christ as bread to a suffering world. Without conciliarity, there is no reconciliation.

That we may be healed and that the world may believe.

How many thousands of innocent men, women, and children have you killed today?

July 20, 2016

The collective gasp at new British PM Theresa May articulating clearly her willingness to do the will of the people by murdering multiple thousands in a nuclear strike “if necessary” is a bit of a surprise. The reminder that deterrent threats are a real part of US, British, and NATO defense strategy and useful only if articulated and believed is always bracing. But let’s not be moral fascists or hypocrites.

Is there anyone today who does not know what nuclear deterrence is for, what it threatens? The £40 billion Britain is spending on new Trident subs is not for mere window dressing. Is there anyone who does not understand what the principle common to democratic society, “of the people, by the people, and for the people” implies? As a matter of policy, deterrence in the West is periodically reinforced openly and is always voiced early in the administration of new leaders, but it should not shock anybody when it is or that it is about the shared willingness to obliterate hundreds of thousands of human beings in one go.

Clearly specified in all the highest level national and military defense documents guiding US, British, and NATO policy (Russia’s too), nuclear deterrence rests squarely on the credible threat to hold an enemy’s most valuable assets at risk without ever specifying exactly what could trigger a strike or what is being targeted. The goal is to instill debilitating, irrational, convincing fear so that an enemy does not do what we do not want them to do. The philosophical foundation of deterrence is that a threat without willingness to execute it is not a threat and might invite an attack or other costly action against us. Included in 21st century deterrence theory is the concept of “denial,” the notion that we will—quite euphemistically—not strike first but strike preemptively to destroy capability we believe would otherwise be used against us.

There is no relief in the secret hope that the threats our leaders make in our names are not sincere. What virtue is there in making unvirtuous threats, especially if they are made only to cripple with fear? “If you take one step closer, I’ll kill you” only works if the person threatened believes he’s dead unless he goes away. Where is the Christian virtue in knowing there are millions of people in the world who live under our collective threat to incinerate them? What would be a reasonable response from a British or US citizen who prayed regularly “Lord remove from the daily lives of Russians the fear that they may die in a nuclear holocaust unleashed by their enemies?” I’m pretty sure many of us pray that for ourselves. Our thoughts toward the citizens of Moscow are more likely, “If they don’t want to die that way, they should do something about their own ungodly government.” I’m pretty sure few of us think that way toward ourselves.

If Theresa May—or Barack Obama—pushes the button to launch a nuclear missile, it will be you and me who have willed it and done it. The blood of hundreds of thousands of lives will be on our hands. In a constitutional democracy, an authorized act by the government is an act of the people. According to law, a conspiracy to commit murder is as culpable as an actual murder. According to the Gospel, a threat made in the heart has the weight of an act already committed. Murder intended stains and darkens the heart like a murder done. Passivist support that lacks the courage, honesty, and integrity to oppose nuclear deterrence, voting for those who would “push the button” (ask any candidate to clearly say they would not), and merely living in a constitutional democracy all spread the responsibility evenly and widely.

Those who always, inevitably, attempt to shut down any conscientious attempt to expose this simple truth are not behaving out of either patriotic or Christian virtue. Blinded by fear and crippled by the lack of a peacemaking imagination, they employ the languages of patriotism and theology to describe nuclear mass murder as a good, hide their pretended innocence under the cloak of obedience to authority or duty to country, obfuscate with a feigned “what else can we do?”, or simply blame the enemy for doing it to himself. But it will still be murder. Don’t think so?—then how will you describe the deaths of countless children in a US city if they launch a missile against us?

Through nuclear deterrence, we arrogantly seek to emulate the worst caricature of God by threatening hell in order to bend our enemies to our will so that they submit to serve our self-interests—through fear or love, we don’t care. We may act like we don’t understand, but James 4:1 (ESV) describes normal life not submitted to God: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” The Greek for quarrel here is translated “war” or “battle” every other occurrence in the New Testament. A literal translation would read: “Where does war come from, and where do conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your pleasures at war within you?”

How many Russian, Muslim, or Chinese (all currently in US targeting protocols) children is your fear—of losing pleasure, comfort, safety, or your own life—willing to annihilate today? Go ahead—say the number. Do not be fooled, no nuclear missile distinguishes between innocent and guilty—their fiery embrace is more far reaching and inclusive than we like to think about. A nuclear blast wave does not stop politely at the periphery of a military target.

The only consonant response for a Christian citizen of a nuclear power to the “news” yesterday that the leader of a nation possessing such weapons would actually use them is repentance. Then come the fruits of repentance: humility, prayer, faith, hope, love, works of mercy, love of enemies, forgiveness of others, self-sacrificial love for all, peacemaking, etc. These are not passive; they are vigorously borne only by the courageous and strong in the face of what we fear.

Pieter Dykhorst

editor, In Communion