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The Serbian Orthodox Church

Not What We Have Been Led to Believe

by Jim Forest

The cover of a recent issue of the British weekly magazine The Tablet displayed a drawing of an Orthodox bishop kneeling in the rubble of abombed church. On his knees behind him, looking far and away themore pious of the two, was President Milosevic. The headline beneath the drawing read, “Serbia’s Martyr Complex,” the featured essay in that issue, but it was the drawing that interested me more than the text it illustrated. The bishop’s face was that of a typecast Hollywood villain. With only a small change in costume, he could have been Count Dracula contemplating a victim’s neck or a ruthless Mafia boss imagining an enemy’s death. The archbishop was the arch-Serb.

The art of enmity has for years given us a steady diet of images of evil Serbs, sometimes shown as cavemen, often dripping with blood, victimizing their neighbors. Nor is it unusual to show the Serbian Orthodox Church playing the role as chaplain to the state and accomplice in Serbian war crimes, preacher of a nationalistic mythology which the faithful heard as a blessing to create, by any means necessary, a Greater Serbia.

It is human nature, not only the nature of the mass media, to want to iron out the wrinkles that complicate our perception of others, always with a tilt toward bad news — a process that reduces the world to comic book simplicity. Thus the English say “rather” and drink tea,the French make love and drink wine, the Dutch grow tulips and drink gin, and Serbs kiss icons and drink their neighbor’s blood.

In fact the religious identity of Serbs is not what we have been led to believe nor has the Serbian Orthodox Church been a pillar of support for Milosevic. While it’s true that church attendance in Serbia went up during NATO’s bombardment — exploding bombs turn one’s mind to ultimate things — the Church is a minor element in Serbian social and political life.

Among the reasons for this is that Tito was extraordinarily effective in his 35-year struggle to marginalize the Orthodox Church. Throughout the Tito era, it was a major disadvantage to put one’s toe in the church door. Those who wanted to advance in life had to join the Communist Party, in which atheism was obligatory. Tito died in 1980, but many of his policies survived, including the view that religion belonged to the past. While Milosevic used nationalist rhetoric in his successful bid for power in 1989, in other ways he remained faithful to his political and ideological roots.

It was thus a weakened Serbian Orthodox Church that had to define its response to the events which tore Yugoslavia to shreds in the nineties. Serbian priests I have interviewed estimate that perhaps five percent of the population is engaged in the Church in a significant way, while the vast majority is unbaptized. There are few cities in Europe more secular than Belgrade.

Nonetheless, the head of the Church, Patriarch Pavle, now 85 years old, is widely respected and often described as a saint even by unchurched people. A small, lean, white-bearded man with a meek but determined manner, he is well known for having personally taken part invarious anti-war, anti-government protest demonstrations. In 1997 he led a procession of many thousands that freed protesting students who were under police siege in central Belgrade.

Pavle has touched Serbs even more deeply through significant gestures in his private life. One cleric in Belgrade complained to me how inconvenient it was when Pavle came to visit his parish. “You can never say how late he will arrive. He travels by tram and bus, then walks the rest of the way. He says he will get a car only when the poorest person can have one.”

Not every cleric set such an inspiring example. A deacon I know in Serbia complains about priests who “are more interested in cars than souls.” Two friends of mine had to delay their wedding in Belgrade until they could find a priest who didn’t begin the conversation by announcing his fee. (It should be noted that most Serb clergy have no regular salary and depend on gifts for services for their livelihood.)

Further complicating the problem of the Church’s role in post-Tito Serbia is that the Church, however crippled by past oppression, is the only institution that still incarnates Serbian identity. No other social structure is so deeply linked with Serbia’s history, traditions, achievements and sorrows. One easily finds Serbs who value the Church for “cultural” reasons while regarding its beliefs and teachings as irrelevant. For the ultra-nationalist, ultimate values are national, yet he may regard himself as somehow Orthodox simply because to be Serb is to be Orthodox. An icon in someone’s home can be more a sign of Serbian than Christian identity.

Every Serb I met, no matter how alienated from Christian belief, held the ancient monasteries and churches — many are in Kosovo — in high regard. In more peaceful times they were always ready to take guests like me to visit these “monuments,” but those who crossed themselves, kissed icons or visibly prayed in such places were the exception. Though there have been many conversions of young intellectuals, Serbs tend to regard the Church as a beautiful museum with little relevance to the modern world, though in recent years the outspoken criticism by the hierarchy in regard to the Milosevic regime has earned the Church a certain respect among those working for a more democratic society.

The direction of the Church’s hierarchy, while wanting to preserve all that is good in Serbian identity and tradition, has been to oppose malignant, intolerant forms of nationalism.

The church’s pastors see the neglect of spiritual life as being at the heart of the nation’s crisis. “For 45 years under communism, atheism was the official religion,” Bishop Lavrentije of Sabac-Valjevo explained in an interview in 1995. “Priests were forbidden from going into schools and from visiting the army. People were educated without any contact with belief in God, and were taught that there was no soul. Those generations [who received an atheist education] are now soldiers. That is the reason for genocide. As one philosopher said, ‘If you take away God from man, man becomes the strongest animal’.” (One of Lavrentije’s projects has been to make available works of literature that will help restore Serbia’s spiritual life. The press he founded has published an edition of the complete works of Dostoevsky.)

Patriarch Pavle speaks with a similar monastic directness. When I first met him in 1994, I asked about the civil war that was then raging in Bosnia. Pavle responded that the blame must be shared among Serbs along with everyone else — the governments of the several republics of former Yugoslavia plus the rest of Europe and the United States: “Everyone is guilty. There are criminals on every side. God alone knows who has the greatest blame or who has committed the most sins.” (His answer reminded me of the figure of Father Zosima in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.) In such a situation, Pavle continued, “the Church must condemn all atrocities that are committed, no matter what the faith or origin of the person committing them may be. No sin committed by one person justifies a sin committed by another. We will all face the Last Judgment together where each of us must answer for his sins. No one can justify his sins by saying someone else is guilty of a crime.”

Few bishops east or west have spoken so tirelessly against ethnic division, hatred and war. “Let us grasp the teaching of the Holy Apostle Paul, that one cannot accomplish good by evil means — a lesson our mothers taught us through the ages, warning us that evil never brings good,” he said on one occasion. “Oh, that God would help us to understand that we are human beings and that we must live as human beings, so that peace would come into our country and bring an end to the killing.”

The principle was summed up in a statement issued by the Serbian bishops on March 23, two days before the NATO attack: “The way of nonviolence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God.” Still more significant are the special prayers the Serbian Church added to the Holy Liturgy early in the breakdown of Yugoslavia, including this petition:

For all those who commit injustice against their neighbors, whether by causing sorrow to orphans, spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and their hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even toward their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.

For years Church response to the war was expressed chiefly in the reiteration of fundamental moral principles and efforts to relieve suffering. In the past year, as the danger of war in Kosovo increased, the bishops began actively promoting policies they hoped might make peace more likely.

The person chiefly responsible for Church peace efforts, Bishop Artemije of Prizren, made five trips to Washington and traveled repeatedly to European capitals in his efforts to convince the West that it was mistaken in its long-running support of Milosevic. In a letter the bishop hand-delivered to US Secretary of State Albright in February, he said: “We believe that US policy must cease to be perceived as hostile to the legitimate interests of the Serbian nation and must, instead, be directed toward the replacement of the Milosevic regime by a democratic government… The Milosevic regime, as the repeated generator of crises, cannot be relied upon to help secure a just and durable peace. However, current American policy seems to be repeating, once again, the mistakes of the past, relying on the one hand, upon guarantees given by the Milosevic regime, while holding only the Serbian nation responsible for the escalating cycle of violence. This mistaken policy, we believe, now on the verge of NATO intervention in Kosovo Province, will be entirely counterproductive.”

NATO intervention, he argued, would only strengthen the Milosevic regime and be a major setback for the democratic opposition in Serbia, which in turn would delay democratization, a precondition for peace in the Balkan region. “NATO intervention in Kosovo would risk setting back the cause of democracy in Serbia and in the Balkans for years to come.”

Bishop Artemije proposed a solution inspired by the Swiss example — that Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanians each be granted the right to self-administration in rural areas in which they constitute relative or absolute majorities with economic, judiciary, and political links to Serbia, while in major cities a system of multi-ethnic rule be adopted in which political power is shared through a two-chamber Assembly.

On February 3, Patriarch Pavle sought permission for a non-negotiating representation at the Rambouillet negotiations. The request was denied. Even so a week later the delegation went to Rambouillet, hoping to put forward the Church-backed peace proposal. Bishop Artemije held a press conference in a local caf, telling journalists that “the Serbs in the castle represent only two parties, Milosevic’s socialists and the neo-communists of his wife.” He stood in prayer outside the chateau gates, truly a voice crying in the wilderness.

The monasteries in Kosovo, most notably the Decani monastery south of Pec, have given their own witness for peace both before and during the war (see various articles in the news section of recent issues of In Communion).

It was Hieromonk Sava, assistant abbot of Decani, who explained to a journalist, “This is a war between extremists. On one side is a totalitarian regime, and on the other, secessionists. We condemn violence on both sides.”

He regretted that “the spiritual side of Orthodoxy” was not so well known among Serbs after 50 years of communism. “You might be surprised to know,” he commented, “that at our Sunday service of worship we have only about ten people from Decani in attendance. For the Serb, tradition is important, but there has been a secularization of tradition here just as in other parts of Europe, and that has taken man further from God.”

Asked who Kosovo belonged to, he responded: “Adam and Eve, that’s who.” Asked which side does God take in this conflict? “God is on the side of the suffering people.”

Now, after dropping 23,000 bombs in 79 days, NATO is in charge of Kosovo and refugees are returning home while many Serbs flee the province. Much of Serbia and Kosovo lies in ruins, with thousands killed by soldiers and paramilitaries or as “collateral damage” of NATO bombing. While Serbia’s military was only slightly harmed, the country’s infrastructure was severely damaged. Even water purification plants were targeted. The results will be a high mortality rate for years to come among the more vulnerable members of society.

In June the Serbian Orthodox Church renewed an appeal it first made in 1992 for Milosevic to step down and for the creation of a government of national unity acceptable both to the Serbian people and other nations.

It may be a time of renewed persecution for Orthodox Christians. Bishop Artemije has had to flee Prizren after being under siege from the KLA, but remains in Kosovo and hopes to return to Prizren. As of this writing, two monasteries have been destroyed, one monk reported murdered, and a nun raped by KLA soldiers.

The most striking and hope-giving gesture since the bombs stopped falling has been Patriarch Pavle’s decision to move from Belgrade to Pec, the historic center of the Serbian Orthodox Church, an action he hopes will encourage other Serbs to remain in Kosovo or return from Serbia. It is also a gesture to Kosovo Albanians. If Pavle and the monasteries of Kosovo can give witness of Serbians who love their neighbors, and even their enemies, perhaps there can be a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Kosovo.

Jim Forest is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His most recent books are PrayingWith Icons and The Ladder of the Beatitudes (Orbis).

Go Forth in Peace

The Liturgy After the Liturgy

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

At the end of Bright Week last year, Bishop Kallistos led a retreat on “Sacraments of Healing” for members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our host was the Orthodox parish in the village of Vzelay, France. This is a shortened version of the fifth of six lectures. Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way.

Last night we spoke about the use of the word “peace” in the Divine Liturgy: “In peace let us pray to the Lord, for the peace from above, for the peace of the whole world.” We reflected also on the meaning of the celebrant’s greeting, “Peace be with you all” and saw how the priest is not just transmitting his own peace, but is transmitting the peace of Christ. Peace is a gift from God.

There is one phrase from the Liturgy in which the word peace figures prominently which I didn’t mention, the phrase that comes after Holy Communion shortly before the final dismissal: “Let us go forth in peace.”

There are many commandments in the Liturgy, many things that we are told to do such as “Lift up your hearts,” “Give thanks to the Lord.”

“Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not merely a comforting epilogue. They are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.

This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, everywhere sees Christ and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.

“I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was in prison.” Of everyone who is in need, Christ says, “I.” Christ is looking at us through the eyes of all the people whom we meet, and especially those who are in distress and who are suffering. So, we go out from the Liturgy, seeing Christ everywhere. But we are to return to the world not just with our eyes open but with our hands strengthened. There is a hymn I remember as an Anglican that we used to sing at the end of the Eucharist, “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken.” It was noted in the hymn book that this was from the Syrian liturgy. We are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ, to minister to him, in all human persons.

Let us reflect on what happened at the Last Supper. First there was the Eucharistic meal, where Christ blessed bread and gave it to the disciples, “This is my body,” and he blessed the cup, “This is my blood.” Then, after the Eucharistic meal, Christ kneels and washes the feet of his disciples. The Eucharistic meal and the foot washing are a single mystery. We have to apply that to ourselves, going out from the Liturgy to wash the feet of our fellow humans, literally and symbolically. That is how I understand the words at the end of the Liturgy, “Let us go forth in peace.” Peace is to be something dynamic within this broken world. It’s not just a quality that we experience within the church walls.

Let’s remind ourselves of the way in which St. John Chrysostom envisages this liturgy after the Liturgy. There are, he says, two altars. In the first place, there is the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from the church, there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.

Developing the meaning of the command, “Let us go forth in peace,” let us think of the Liturgy as a journey. This is Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s key image for the Liturgy. We may discern in the Liturgy a movement of ascent and of return. That kind of movement actually happens very frequently. We can see it in the lives of the saints — such saints as Antony of Egypt or Seraphim of Sarov. First, in the movement of ascent, if you like, or flight from the world, they go out into the desert, into the wilderness, into solitude, to be alone with God. But then there is a moment of return. They open their doors to the world, they receive all who come, they minister and they heal.

There is a similar movement of ascent within the Liturgy. We go to church. It’s pleasant to walk there, though some people have to use cars. I like to walk from my home to church before the Divine Liturgy, to walk alone if I can. It’s only about ten minutes for me, but it’s quite important, I find, to have that movement, a sense of going to church, a sense, if you like, of a separation from the world and starting on a journey. I walk to church, I enter the church building, I enter within sacred space and sacred time. This is the beginning of the movement of ascent. We go to the church. Then, continuing the movement of ascent, we bring to the altar gifts of bread and wine, and we offer them to Christ. The movement of ascent is completed when Christ accepts this offering, consecrates it, makes the bread and wine to be his body and his blood.

After the ascent comes the return. The bread and wine that we offered to Christ, he gives back to us in Holy Communion as his body and blood.

But the movement of return doesn’t stop there. Having received Christ in the Holy Gifts, we then go out from the church, going back to the world to share Christ with all those around us.

Let’s develop this idea a little. Receiving Christ’s body, we become what he is. We become the body of Christ. But gifts are for sharing. So we become Christ’s body, not for ourselves, but for others. We become Christ’s body in the world and for the world. So the Eucharist impels believers to specific action in society, an action that will be challenging and prophetic. The Eucharist is the start of cosmic transfiguration, and each communicant shares in this transfiguring work.

Now this afternoon’s talk has a very ambitious title. I can’t possibly deal with all the things suggested by it. That’s the great danger — you think of the titles before you think of what you’re actually going to say. So I just want now, in the light of what I’ve said about “Let us go forth in peace,” to pose a few questions about the different levels of Eucharistic healing and transfiguration in the world.

First a question about our parish life. Perhaps this is not true of Vzelay, but it’s true of some parishes that I’ve known elsewhere. I’ve often wondered why our parish council meetings, and more particularly the annual general meetings of parishes, are such a disappointment? To me it’s very surprising that often there’s a rather dark spirit at work in the annual general meetings of parishes. The picture given of our parish life is actually deeply misleading. All the good things seem to be hidden — perhaps that’s as it should be — but we get a very distorted picture. There seems often to be an atmosphere of tension and hostility at annual general meetings in parishes.

I’ve often wondered why that is. How to bring a truly Eucharistic spirit into such gatherings? How can we bring the peace of the Divine Liturgy into the other aspects of our parish life? I don’t have an easy answer, but I think behind this first question there lurks another question. How can we make the Divine Liturgy more manifestly a shared and corporate action? In my own experience, the parish where I am, we began worshiping just in a room, and at that time it was not difficult to have a very strong feeling of the Liturgy as a unified action in which everybody was sharing because we were all so close to one another, and were only a few of us.

Some of the most moving Liturgies I’ve ever attended have not been in churches with great marble floors and huge candelabra but in small house chapels in a room or even in a garage. Gradually our community has grown. Twenty-five years ago, we built ourselves a church, and now that church is too small and we’re working towards enlarging the church in order to be able to have room for all the worshipers. Now that is, in a sense, encouraging, but there is a real struggle here. As a parish grows larger and as it acquires a larger building, it becomes much harder to preserve the corporate spirit, the sense of a single family, the sense of all of us doing something together.

I haven’t got any easy answers here, but that is one level on which I ask, “How can we bring peace and healing into a community that’s growing larger all the time, and therefore that is bound to lose its sense of close coherence, unless we struggle to preserve it?”

There is another level of healing that occurs to me quite frequently at the Divine Liturgy. We often have present non-Orthodox Christians and we are not able to give them Holy Communion by the rules of our Church. Now, I’m sure you’ve all of you reflected on the reasons why the Orthodox Church takes this straight line over inter-communion. The act of Communion, we say, involves our total acceptance of the faith. It involves our total life in the Church. Therefore we cannot share in Communion with other Christians whom, however much we may love them, we recognize as holding a different understanding of the Christian faith, and who are divided from us.

This is, we know, the argument why we cannot have inter-communion. But I think we should constantly ask ourselves if we are right to take this position? In fact I think we are, but I would say to go on asking yourself in your heart if it’s the right thing to do. We Orthodox are becoming increasingly isolated on this issue. In my young days, most Anglicans would have taken the same view, and would have said they could not have Communion with Protestants. That’s certainly not the case now in the Anglican Church. Also, Roman Catholics held this view very strictly, but since Vatican II, whatever the official regulations may be, in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church there is widespread inter-communion. But we Orthodox continue as we were. Are we right? And if we do continue to uphold a strict line on inter-communion, in what spirit are we doing this? Is it in a spirit of peace and healing?

I remember at the beginning of my time as priest — the first occasion, and I still feel the wound inwardly — when persons came up for Communion whom I knew were not Orthodox. I felt that it was my duty as priest not to give them Communion. I was really interested in the reaction of two different parishioners. One said to me, “You did quite right! We cannot give Communion to these heretics. The Orthodox Church is the one true church.” He saw that in triumphalist terms. That made me feel even worse. But then another parishioner came up, and he said, in a very different tone of voice, “Yes, you were right, but how tragic, how sad, that we had to do this.” Then I thought, yes, we do have to do this, but we should never do it in an aggressive spirit of superiority but always with a sense of deep sorrow in our hearts. We should mind very much that we cannot yet have Communion together. (Incidentally, both of those two parishioners are now Orthodox priests themselves. I think the first one, over the years, has grown less triumphalist. I hope we all do, but I’m not sure whether that always happens.)

Then I’d like to reflect on a third level of healing. Let me take as my basis here the words said just before the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, at the heart of the Liturgy. The deacon lifts the Holy Gifts, and the celebrant says, “Thine own from thine own, we offer thee.” In the usual translation, it continues, “in all and for all.” But that translation could be misleading. It could be understood as meaning “for all human persons, for everyone.” In fact in Greek, it is not masculine, it is neuter — “for in all things, and for all things.” At that moment, we do not speak only about human persons but about all created things. A more literal translation would be, “In all things and for all things.”

This shows us that the liturgy after the Liturgy involves service not just for all persons, but ministry to the whole creation, to all created things. The Eucharist commits us to an ecological healing. That is inherent in our prayers in the Liturgy for “the peace of the whole world.” This means, Fr. Lev Gillet points out, peace not just for humans, but all creatures — for animals and vegetables, stars, for all nature. Cosmic piety and cosmic healing. Ecology has become mildly fashionable now. It often has quite strong political associations. We Orthodox must involve ourselves fully in the movement on behalf of the environment, but we must do so in the name of the Divine Liturgy. We must put our ecological witness in the context of Holy Communion.

I’m very much encouraged by the initiatives taken recently by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Some ten years ago, the then Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios issued a Christmas encyclical saying that when we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, his taking of a human body, we should also see that as God’s blessing upon the whole creation. We should understand the incarnation in cosmic terms. He goes on in his encyclical to call all of us to show, and I quote, “towards the creation an ascetic and Eucharistic spirit.” An ascetic spirit helps us distinguish between wants and needs. The real point is not what I want.

The real point is what do I need? I want a great many things that I don’t in fact need. The first step towards cosmic healing is for me to make a distinction between the two, and as far as possible, to stick just to what I need. People want more and more. That’s going to bring disaster on ourselves if we go on selfishly increasing our demands. But we don’t in fact need more and more to be truly human. That’s what I understand to define an ascetic spirit. Fasting indeed can help us to distinguish between what we want and what we need. It’s good to do without things, because then we realize that, yes, we can use them, but we can also forego them. We are not dependent on the constant accumulation of material things. We have freedom.

If we have a Eucharistic spirit, we realize all is a gift to be offered back in thanksgiving to God the Giver. Developing this theme, the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, followed by his successor, the present Patriarch Bartholomew, have dedicated the first of September, the New Year in the Orthodox calendar, as a day of creation, when we give thanks to God for his gifts, when we ask forgiveness for the way we have misused those gifts, and when we pray that we may be guided for the right use of them in the future. There’s a phrase that often comes to my mind from the special service “When in danger of earthquake”: “The earth, though without words, yet cries aloud, ‘Why, all peoples, do you inflict upon me such evil?'” And we are inflicting great evil on the earth. How interesting to see earthquakes as the earth groaning because of what we do to it.

Finally I ask you to think for a moment about this morning’s Gospel. What happens when the risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday appears to his disciples? Christ says first to the disciples, “Peace be unto you.” The first thing that Christ says after rising from the dead is peace. Then what does he do? He shows them his hands and his side. Why does he do that? For recognition. Yes, to show that here he is, the one whom they saw three days before crucified, here he is, risen from the dead in the same body in which he suffered and died. But there’s surely more to it than that. What he is doing is to show that, though he is risen from the dead, yet he still bears upon him the marks of his suffering. In the heart of the risen and glorified Christ, there is still a place for our human suffering.

When Christ rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he does not disengage himself from this broken world. On the contrary, he still carries on his body the marks of his suffering and he carries in his heart all our burdens. When he says before his ascension, “See I am with you, even to the end of the world,” surely he means, “I am with you in your distress and in your suffering.” Glorified, he is still with us. He has not rejected our suffering, nor disassociated himself from us.

We see from today’s Gospel how peace goes with cross bearing. Having given peace to his disciples, the risen Christ immediately shows them the marks of the Cross. As I said in my first talk, peace means healing and wholeness, but we have to add, peace also means vulnerability. Peace, we might say, doesn’t mean the absence of struggle or temptation or suffering. As long as we are in this world, we are to expect temptation and suffering. As St. Antony of Egypt said, “Take away temptation and nobody will be saved.” So peace doesn’t mean the absence of struggle, but peace means commitment, firmness of purpose, clarity of vision, an undivided heart, and a willingness to bear the burdens of others. When Paul says, “See, I bear in my body the marks, the stigmata, of Christ crucified,” he is describing his state of peace.

Bishop Kallistos is in the process of revising and correcting his six lectures, which in time we look forward to publishing. In their present form, they are posted on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site. Our thanks to Peter Brubacher for transcribing this tape.


Want to add a useful word to your vocabulary? The term etho-phyletism (meaning love of the race, tribe or ethnically-defined nation) was coined at the Holy and Great pan-Orthodox pan-Orthodox Synod that met in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) in 1872. The meeting was prompted by the creation of a separate bishopric by the Bulgarian community of Istanbul for parishes only open to Bulgarians. It was the first time in Church history that a separate diocese was established based on ethnic identity rather than principles of Orthodoxy and territory. Here is the Synod’s official condemnation of ecclesiastical racism, or “ethno-phyletism,” as well as its theological argumentation. It was issued on the 10th of August 1872.

We renounce, censure and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds and dissensions within the Church of Christ, as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers which “support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it and lead it to divine godliness.”

A section of the report drawn up by the special commission of the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Constantinople in 1872 reviewed the general principles which guided the Synod in its condemnation:

The question of what basis racism that is discriminating on the basis of different racial origins and language and the claiming or exercising of exclusive rights by persons or groups of persons exclusively of one country or group can have in secular states lies beyond the scope of our inquiry. But in the Christian Church, which is a spiritual communion, predestined by its Leader and Founder to contain all nations in one brotherhood in Christ, racism is alien and quite unthinkable. Indeed, if it is taken to mean the formation of special racial churches, each accepting all the members of its particular race, excluding all aliens and governed exclusively by pastors of its own race, as its adherents demand, racism is unheard of and unprecedented.

All the Christian churches founded in the early years of the faith were local and contained the Christians of a specific town or a specific locality, without racial distinction. They were thus usually named after the town or the country, not after the ethnic origin of their people.

The Jerusalem Church consisted of Jews and proselytes from various nations. The Churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, Rome and all the others were composed of Jews but mainly of gentiles. Each of these churches formed within itself an integral and indivisible whole. Each recognized as its Apostles the Apostles of Christ, who were all Jews. Each had a bishop installed by these Apostles without any racial discrimination: this is evident in the account of the founding of the first Churches of God….

The same system of establishing churches by locality prevails even after the Apostolic period, in the provincial or diocesan churches which were marked out on the basis of the political organization then prevailing, or of other historical reasons. The congregation of the faithful of each of these churches consisted of Christians of every race and tongue….

Paradoxically, the Church of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Moldavia and so on, or less properly the Russian Church, Greek Church, etc., mean autocephalous or semi-independent churches within autonomous or semi-independent dominions, with fixed boundaries identical with those of the secular dominions, outside which they have no ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They were composed not on ethnic grounds, but because of a particular situation, and do not consist entirely of one race or tongue. The Orthodox Church has never known racially-based churches… to coexist within the same parish, town or country…

If we examine those canons on which the Church’s government is constructed, we find nowhere in them any trace of racism. … Similarly, the canons of the local churches, when considering the formation, union or division of ecclesiastical groupings, put forward political reasons or ecclesiastical needs, never racial claims…. From all this, it is quite clear that racism finds no recognition in the government and sacred legislation of the Church.

But the racial principle also undermines the sacred governmental system of the Church…

In a racially organized church, the church of the local diocese has no area proper to itself, but the ethnic jurisdictions of the supreme ecclesiastical authorities are extended or restricted depending on the ebb and flow of peoples constantly being moved or migrating in groups or individually… If the racial principal is followed, no diocesan or patriarchal church, no provincial or metropolitan church, no episcopal church, not even a simple parish, whether it be the church of a village, small town or a suburb, can exist with its own proper place or area, containing within it all those of one faith. Is not Christ thus divided, as He was once among the Corinthians, by those who say: “I am for Paul, I am for Apollo, I am for Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12)? …

No Ecumenical Council would find it right or in the interests of Christianity as a whole to admit an ecclesiastical reform [whose membership was based on ethnic identity] to serve the ephemeral idiosyncrasies of human passions and base concerns, because, apart from overthrowing the legislative achievements of so many senior Ecumenical Councils, it implies other destructive results, both manifest and potential:

First of all, it introduces a Judaic exclusiveness, whereby the idea of the race is seen a sine qua non of a Christian, particularly in the hierarchical structure. Every non-Greek, for instance, will thus be legally excluded from what will be called the Greek Church and hierarchy, every non-Bulgarian from the Bulgarian Church, and so on. As a Jew, St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, could only have been a pastor in one nation, the Jewish. Similarly, Saints Cyril and Methodius, being of Greek origin, would not have been accepted among the Slavs. What a loss this would have entailed for the Church! …

Thus the sacred and divine are rendered entirely human, secular interest is placed above spiritual and religious concerns, with each of the racial churches looking after its own. The doctrine of faith in “one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” receives a mortal blow. If all this occurs, as indeed it has, racism is in open dispute and contradiction with the spirit and teaching of Christ.

Reprinted from For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism, edited by Hildo Bos and Jim Forest.

Through Creation to the Creator

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.

— Revelation 7:3

The saints embrace the whole world with their love.

— St. Silouan the Athonite

On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts, offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: “Love the trees.”

Fr. Amphilochios, the geronta or “elder” on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. “Do you know,” he said, “that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment “love the trees.” Whoever does not love trees, so he believed, does not love God. “When you plant a tree,” he insisted, “you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing confessions of the local farmers he used to assign to them a penance, the task of planting a tree. During the long summer drought, he himself went round the island watering the young trees. His example and influence have transformed Patmos: photographs of the hillside near the Cave of the Apocalypse, taken at the start of the twentieth century, show bare and barren slopes, where today there is a thick and flourishing wood.

Fr. Amphilochios was by no means the first spiritual teacher in the modern Greek tradition to recognize the importance of trees. Two centuries earlier, the Athonite monk St. Kosmas the Aetolian, martyred in 1779, used to plant trees as he traveled around Greece on his missionary journeys, and in one of his “prophecies” he stated, “People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees.” We can see that prophecy fulfilled today in all too many parts of the world. Another saying attributed to him — not in this instance about trees — is equally applicable to the present age: “The time will come when the devil puts himself inside a box and starts shouting; and his horns will stick out from the roof-tiles.” That often comes to my mind as I survey the skyline in London with its serried ranks of television masts.

“Love the trees.” Why should we do so? Is there indeed a connection between love of trees and love of God? How far is it true that a failure to reverence and honor our natural environment — animals, trees, earth, fire, air, and water — is also, in an immediate and soul-destroying way, a failure to reverence and honor the living God?

Let us begin with two visions of a tree.

Have we not known, each of us, certain moments when we have started with sudden amazement at the lines before us on the printed page, words of poetry or prose which, once read, have forever remained luminous in our memory? One such moment happened to me at the age of eighteen as I was reading that magical anthology by Walter de la Mare, Behold, This Dreamer , and came across a passage from the book of Edward Carpenter, Pagan and Christian Creeds . “Has any one of us ever seen a tree?” asks Carpenter; and he answers, “I certainly do not think that I have — except most superficially.” He continues:

That very penetrating observer and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, tells us that he would often make an appointment to visit a certain tree, miles away — but what he saw when he got there, he does not say. Walt Whitman, also a keen observer … mentions that, in a dream trance he actually once saw “his favorite trees step out and promenade up, down and around, very curiously.” Once the present writer seemed to have a partial vision of a tree. It was a beech, standing somewhat isolated, and still leafless in quite early Spring. Suddenly, I was aware of its skyward-reaching arms and up-turned finger-tips, as if some vivid life (or electricity) was streaming through them far into the spaces of heaven, and of its roots plunged in the earth and drawing the same energies from below. The day was quite still and there was no movement in the branches, but in that moment the tree was no longer a separate or separable organism, but a vast being ramifying far into space, sharing and uniting the life of Earth and Sky, and full of amazement.

Two things above all are noteworthy in Edward Carpenter’s “partial vision.” First, the tree is alive, vibrant with what he calls “energies” or “electricity”; it is “full of most amazing activity.” Second, the tree is cosmic in its dimensions: it is not “a separate or separable organism” but is “vast” and all-embracing in its scope, “ramifying far into space … uniting the life of Earth and Sky.”

Here is a vision of joyful wonder, inspired by an underlying sense of mystery. The tree has become a symbol pointing beyond itself, a sacrament that embodies some deep secret at the heart of the universe. The same sense of wonder and mystery — of the symbolic and sacramental character of the world — is strikingly manifest in Peaks and Llamas , the master-work of that spiritual mountaineer, Marco Pallis.

Yet there are at the same time certain limitations in Carpenter’s tree-vision. The mystery to which the tree points is not spelt out by him in specifically personal terms. He makes no attempt to ascend through the creation to the Creator. There is nothing directly theistic about his vision, no reference to God or to Jesus Christ.

Let us turn to a second tree-vision, which is by contrast explicitly personal and theophanic:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:1-6)

Comparing the experience of Moses with that of Carpenter, we observe three things: in the first place, the vision described in Exodus reaches out beyond the realm of the impersonal. The burning bush at Horeb acts as the locus of an interpersonal encounter, of a meeting face-to-face, of a dialogue between two subjects. God calls out to Moses by name, “Moses, Moses!” and Moses responds, “Here I am.”

“Through the creation to the Creator”: in and through the tree he beholds, Moses enters into communion with the living God. Nor is this all. On the interpretation accepted by the Orthodox Church, the personal encounter is to be understood in more specific terms. Moses does not simply meet God, but he meets Christ. All the theophanies in the Old Testament are manifestations, not of God the Father — Whom “no one has ever seen” (John 1:18) — but of the pre-incarnate Christ, God the eternal Logos. Visitors to St. Mark’s in Venice will recall that in the mosaics depicting the story of Genesis 1, the face of God the Creator bears unmistakably the lineaments of Christ. In the same way, when Isaiah sees God enthroned in the temple, “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1), and when Ezekiel sees in the midst of the wheels and of the four living creatures “something that seemed like a human form” (Ezekiel 1:26), it is Christ the Logos Whom they both behold.

In the second place, God does not only appear to Moses but also issues a practical command to him: “Remove the sandals from your feet.” According to Greek Fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, sandals or shoes — being made from the skins of dead animals — are something lifeless, inert, dead and earthly, and so they symbolize the heaviness, weariness, and mortality that assail our human nature as a result of the Fall. “Remove your sandals,” then, may be understood to signify: Strip off from yourself the deadness of familiarity and boredom; free yourself from the lifelessness of the trivial, the mechanical, the repetitive; wake up, open your eyes, cleanse the doors of your perception, look and see!

And what, in the third place, happens to us when in this manner we strip off the dead skins of boredom and triviality? At once we realize the truth of God’s next words to Moses: “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Set free from spiritual deadness, awakening from sleep, opening our eyes both outwardly and inwardly, we look upon the world around us in a different way. Everything appears to us, as it did to the infant Traherne, “new and strange … inexpressibly rare, and delightful, and beautiful.” We experience everything as vital and living, and we discover the truth of William Blake’s dictum , “Every thing that lives is Holy.”

So we enter the dimensions of sacred space and sacred time. We discern the great within the small, the extraordinary within the ordinary, “a world in a grain of sand … and eternity in an hour,” to quote Blake once more. This place where I am, this tree, this animal, this person to whom I am speaking, this moment of time through which I am living: each is holy, each is unique and unrepeatable, and each is therefore infinite in value.

Combining Edward Carpenter’s living tree, uniting earth and heaven and the burning bush of Moses, we can see emerging a precise and distinctive conception of the universe. Nature is sacred. The world is a sacrament of the divine presence, a means of communion with God. The environment consists not in dead matter but in living relationship. The entire cosmos is one vast burning bush, permeated by the fire of divine power and glory:

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Certainly there is nothing in itself wrong about plucking blackberries. But as we enjoy the fruits of the earth, let us also look beyond our own immediate pleasure, and discern the deeper mystery that surround us on every side.

Essence and Energies, Logos and logoi: Does such an approach lead us to pantheism? Not necessarily. As a Christian in the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot accept any worldview that identifies God with the universe, and for that reason I cannot be a pantheist. But I find no difficulty in endorsing pan entheism — that is to say, the position which affirms, not “God is everything and everything is God,” but “God is in everything and everything is in God.” God, in other words, is both immanent and transcendent; present in all things. He is at the same time above and beyond them all. It is necessary to emphasize simultaneously both halves of the paradox beloved of the poet Charles Williams: “This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.”

Upholding this “panentheistic” standpoint, the great Byzantine theologian St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) safeguarded the otherness-yet-nearness of the Eternal by making a distinction-in-unity between God’s essence and His energies. In His essence, God is infinitely transcendent, radically unknowable, utterly beyond all created being, beyond all understanding and all participation from the human side. But, in His energies, God is inexhaustibly immanent, the core of everything, the heart of its heart, closer to the heart of each thing than is that thing’s very own heart. These divine energies, according to the Palamite teaching, are not an intermediary between God and the world, not a created gift that He bestows upon us, but they are God Himself in action; and each uncreated energy is God in His indivisible totality, not a part of Him but the whole.

By virtue of this essence-energies distinction, Palamas is able to affirm without self-contradiction:

Those who are counted worthy enjoy union with God the cause of all … He remains wholly within Himself and yet dwells wholly within us, making us share not in His nature but in His glory and radiance.

In this way, God is revealed and hidden — revealed in His energies, hidden in His essence:

Somehow He manifests Himself in His totality, and yet he does not manifest Himself; we apprehend Him with our intellect, and yet we do not apprehend Him; we participate in Him, and yet He remains beyond all participation.

Such is the antinomic stance of the true panentheist:

God both is and is not; He is everywhere and nowhere; He has many names and He cannot be named; He is ever-moving and He is immovable; and, in short, He is everything and nothing.

What St. Gregory Palamas seeks to express through the essence-energies distinction, St. Maximus the Confessor indicates by speaking in terms of Logos and logoi , even though the specific concerns of Maximus, and the context in which he is writing, are not altogether identical with those of Palamas. According to Maximus, Christ the Creator-Logos has implanted in each created thing a characteristic logos, a “thought” or “word,” which is the divine presence in that thing, God’s intention for it, the inner essence of that thing, which makes it to be distinctively itself and at the same time draws it towards God. By virtue of these indwelling logoi , each created thing is not just an object but a personal word addressed to us by the Creator. The divine Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Wisdom and the Providence of God, constitutes at once the source and the end of the particular logoi, and in this fashion acts as an all-embracing and unifying cosmic presence.

Anticipating Palamas, Maximus speaks of these logoi, as “energies,” and at the same time he likens them to birds in the branches of a tree:

The Logos of God is like a grain of mustard seed: before cultivation it looks extremely small, but when cultivated in the right way it grows so large that the highest principles (logoi) of both sensible and intelligible creation come like birds to revive themselves in it. For the principles or inner essences (logoi) of all things are embraced by the Logos, but the Logos is not embraced by any thing.

According to the interpretation of Maximus, then, the cosmic tree is Christ the Creator-Logos, while the birds in the branches are the logoi of you and me and all the created things. The Logos embraces all the logoi, but is not Himself embraced or circumscribed by them. Here Maximus seeks — as does Palamas in his use of the essence-energies distinction — to safeguard the double truth of God’s transcendence and His immanence.

Whether we speak, as St. Maximus does, of the indwelling logoi , or prefer to use the Palamite word “energies” — and we can of course choose to employ both terms — our basic meaning and intention remain the same. All nature is theophanic. Each created person and thing is a point of encounter with “the Beyond That is in our midst,” to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase. We are to see God in everything and everything in God. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we can ascend through the creation to the Creator.

After listening to our two Eastern witnesses, Maximus and Palamas, let us also hear a Western prophet, St. Hildegard of Bingen, who is equally definite about the “panentheistic” character of the universe. In The Book of Divine Works she affirms, “All living creatures are, so to speak, sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun.” Elsewhere in the same treatise she records the remarkable words addressed to her by the Holy Spirit:

I, the highest and fiery power, have kindled every living spark and I have breathed out nothing that can die … I am … the fiery life of the divine essence — I flame above the beauty of the fields; I shine in the waters; in the sun, the moon and the stars, I burn. And by means of the airy wind, I stir everything into quickness with a certain invisible life which sustains all. For the air lives in its green power and its blossoming; the waters flow as if they were alive. Even the sun is alive in its own light … I, the fiery power, lie hidden in these things and they blaze from Me, just as man is continually moved by his breath, and as the fire contains the nimble flame. All these things live in their own essence and are without death, since I am Life … I am the whole of life — life was not torn from stones; it did not bud from branches; nor is it rooted in the generative power of the male. Rather, every living thing is rooted in Me.

The approach adopted by Palamas, Maximus, and Hildegard has two important consequences for our understanding of God’s creative power. First, when we speak of God creating the world, we are to envisage this, not as a single act in the past, but as a continuing presence here and now; and in that sense it is legitimate to speak in terms of continual creation . Second, and closely linked with the first point, we should think of God as creating the world, not as it were from the outside, but from within .

In the first place, when it is said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), the word “beginning” is not to be interpreted in a temporal sense. Creation is not a once-for-all event happening in the remote past, an initial act that constitutes a chronological starting point. It is not a past event but a present relationship. We are to think and to speak not in the past but in the present tense; we are to say, not “God made the world, once upon a time, long ago,” but “God is making the world, and you and me in it, here and now, at this moment and always.” “In the beginning” ( en arche ), then, does not signify, “God started it all off, billions of years ago, and since then He has left things to keep going by their own momentum.” It means, on the contrary, that God is at each and every instant the constant and unceasing arche , the source, principle, cause and sustainer of all that exists. It means that, if God did not continue to exert His creative will at every split second of time, the universe would immediately collapse into the void of non-being. Without the active and uninterrupted presence of Christ the Creator-Logos throughout the cosmos, nothing would exist for a single moment.

Secondly, it follows from this that Christ as Creator-Logos is to be envisaged, not as on the outside, but as on the inside of everything. It is a frequent fault of religious writers that they speak of the created universe as if it were an artifact of a Maker Who has, so to speak, produced it from without. God the Creator becomes the celestial Clock-maker Who sets the cosmic process in motion, winding up the clock, but then leaving it to continue ticking on its own. This will not do. It is important to avoid such images as the divine architect, builder or engineer, and to speak rather in terms of indwelling (without thereby excluding the dimension of divine transcendence). Creation is not something upon which God acts from the outside, but something through which he expresses Himself from within. Transcendent, He is also immanent; above and beyond creation, He is also its true inwardness, its “within.”

Double Vision: If we adopt the sacramental understanding of the world implied in our “tale of two trees,” we shall gradually find that our contemplation of nature is marked above all by two qualities: distinctiveness and transparency.

Distinctiveness . If we are to see the world as sacrament, then this signifies that, first of all, we are to discover the distinctive and peculiar flavor of each created thing. We are to perceive and to value each thing in and for itself, viewing that thing in sharp relief, appreciating what in the Zen tradition is called the special “Ah!” of each thing, its “is-ness,” or haeccitas . The point is vividly expressed by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame … each mortal thing does one thing and the same … selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells; crying What I do is me: for that I came.

To see nature as sacred is, in the first instance, to recognize how each thing “selves” and “speaks myself .” We are to perceive each kingfisher, each frog, each human face, each blade of grass in its uniqueness. Each is to be real for us, each is to be immediate. We are to explore the variety and the particularity of creation — what St. Paul calls the “glory” of each thing: “There is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory” (I Corinthians 15:41).

Transparency : Having evoked and savored the particular “is-ness” of each thing, we can then take a second step: we can look within and beyond each thing, and discover in and through it the divine presence. After perceiving each kingfisher, each frog, each human face, each blade of grass in its uniqueness, in its full reality and immediacy, we are then to treat each as a means of communion with God, and so to ascend through the creation to the Creator. For it is impossible to make sense of the world unless we also look beyond the world; the world only acquires its true meaning when seen as the reflection of a reality that transcends it.

The first step, then, is to love the world for itself, in terms of its own consistency and integrity. The second step is to allow the world to become pellucid, so that it reveals to us the indwelling Creator-Logos. In this way we acquire Blake’s “double vision”:

For double the vision my Eyes do see, and a double vision is always with me … May God us keep, from Single vision and Newton’s sleep!

It is vital not to attempt the second step without previously embarking upon the first. We need to recognize the solidity of the world before we can discern its transparency; we need to rejoice in the abundant variety of creation before we ascertain how all things find their unity in God. Moreover, the second level, that of theophanic transparency, does not in any way cancel out the first level, that of particularity and distinctiveness. We do not cease to value the “is-ness” of each thing because we also apprehend the divine presence within it. On the contrary, by a strange paradox the more a thing becomes transparent, the more it is seen as uniquely itself. Blake was right to speak precisely of double vision; the “second sight” that God confers upon us does not obliterate but enhances our “first sight.” Created nature is never more beautiful than when it acts as an envoy or icon of the uncreated Beauty.

Never should it be imagined that this ascent through the creation to the Creator is easily accomplished, in a casual and automatic way. If we are to see God in all things and all things in God, this requires persistence, courage, imagination. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Truly You are a God Who hides Himself” (Isaiah 45:15). When we played hide-and-seek as children, did it not sometimes happen that we concealed ourselves in a marvelously secret spot, but then to our disappointment nobody bothered to come and look for us? After waiting for a long time, we came out crestfallen from our hiding place, only to find that the others had all gone home. As the Hasidic master Rabbi Barukh of Mezbizh observes, we disappoint God in exactly the same way. “I hide,” God says in sorrow, “but no one wants to seek Me.”

This, then, is God’s word to us through His creation: Explore!

Bishop Kallistos is assistant bishop of the Diocese of Thyateira and Great Britain as well as Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Pembroke College. Perhaps his best known book is The Orthodox Church (published under his lay name Timothy Ware); a revised edition was issued by Penguin in 1993. A new edition of The Orthodox Way has been published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His essay, presented in London in 1996, was the third Marco Pallis Memorial Lecture.

Glorify God with your Body

Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

At the end of Bright Week in 1999, Bishop Kallistos led a retreat on “Sacraments of Healing” for members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our host was the Orthodox parish in the village of Vezelay, France. This is a shortened version of the opening lecture.

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

Let us consider the word sacrament and what it signifies. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas says, “It is the sacraments that constitute our life in Christ.” Let us this weekend root our thinking in the sacraments. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas also called the sacraments “windows into this dark world.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. Our thanks to Christine Nelson for transcribing this tape.

Albanian Resurrection

by Jim Forest

In Albania you touch the rough surface of life every moment. Where there is wealth, it is gross and unembarrassed. Death is close and unhidden. Power and evil are without silk wrappings. Poverty rules to a degree seen nowhere else in Europe, and yet it is not hard to encounter kindness and welcome of a quality not easily found in richer countries. Guests are received as ambassadors of God.

The great majority of people are living in austere circumstances while in the countryside life has changed little since the medieval period. Many roads are unpaved, while those that are surfaced are so full of holes that even a short drive on what appears to be a straight road is a longer ride because of the curves the driver must make in choosing the path least likely to damage the car. Many still use horse and wagon or donkey. Electricity is unpredictable and the voltage flow so uneven that electrical circuits are easily damaged. Hospitals are few, with meager resources and in appalling condition. Schools are in a similar state. Many factories are closed because of decay.

Poverty often breeds crime, especially in a society in which religious life has been badly damaged, and this is the case in Albania. The “Albanian Mafia” is infamous throughout western Europe. There are cases of Albanian women forced into prostitution with the threat that any effort to inform the police or escape will result in the murder of one or more members of the woman’s family.

Since the borders opened in 1990, it is estimated a third of the Albanian population of 3.2 million have left to work in other countries. There are an estimated half-million Albanians in Greece alone, most of them there illegally.

Far worse than poverty was the creation of what Archbishop Anastasios often calls “a culture of fear” which he sees symbolized by the hundreds of thousands of mushroom-like bunkers scattered throughout the country. Especially during the Communist era, neighbor did not dare to trust neighbor. “Unless you liked to fight dragons, like Saint George,” one old man told me, “you had to carefully hide even the smallest sign of political dissent or religious belief.” Once a culture of fear is created, it is not easily cured.

While repression was normal throughout the Communist world, in no other country was the determination to destroy every vestige of religious life so methodical and thorough as in Albania. No one yet knows how many people were either executed or perished from illness, starvation or injuries in prisons and labor camps. At least 355 priests died in prisons, camps or remote places where they were sent into exile during the Communist era. Religious repression began when the partisans took power after the German occupation. In 1967 Albania went a step further, declaring itself the world’s first atheist state. Every church and mosque was closed. Many places of worship were demolished. Of 1600 Orthodox churches, monasteries and cultural centers that existed prior to the Communist period, by 1990 less than five percent were still standing, having been turned into warehouses, weapons depots, stables, stores, clubs and restaurants. (Ruined churches are still easily found, and always clear indications that for local people even the ruins of a church provide a place of prayer. Candles are lit, small paper icons are left.)

Among the treasures of Albania today is its Orthodox Church, at the heart of which is Archbishop Anastasios. Now 71, he had hoped to spend this part of his life teaching and writing books but has instead accepted responsibility for leading the Church in Albania.

The fact that Archbishop Anastasios is Greek has been a problem. Apart from the Greek-speaking minority, many Albanians regard Greeks with suspicion. He has often been the target of severe criticism and false reports in the Albanian press. Efforts have repeatedly been made to get rid of him. A law was almost passed that would have forced any non-Albanian bishop to leave the country. His life has been repeatedly threatened. It is one of many Albanian miracles that he is still alive and well. In his office, he showed me a bullet that had lodged itself in double-pane glass. But on the window ledge near the bullet, he pointed out a grey pigeon tending a single egg in a flower pot. “A bullet and an egg!” he commented. “Perfect symbols of Albania at the crossroad.”

The bullet was one of several fired at his office during the civil war of 1967. It was in this period that he issued an appeal that had as its theme, “No to arms, no to violence.” Against the advice of many friends, he refused to leave the country. “I am the captain of the ship,” he explained. “Others may leave but for me that is not an option.”

When he arrived in Tirana in 1991, the legal prohibition of religious life had ended but only a few buildings had been returned to the church, each in a badly damaged state. Only 22 priests were still alive, all of them old and frail, some close to death. Tirana’s cathedral on the main square had been demolished years before to make way for a hotel. Archbishop Anastasios’ first action on arrival was to visit the present cathedral, a smaller church which was converted to a gymnasium after 1967. Here he gave the Paschal greeting “Christ is risen!”, lit a candle and embraced local believers. “Everyone was weeping,” he remembers, “and I was not an exception.”

Since his arrival, eighty churches have been newly built, nearly seventy restored from a ruined condition, five monasteries brought back into existence, and 135 other church buildings restored. Since the seminary was opened in 1992, there have been 120 ordinations. There are several schools for young men and women, summer camps, youth festivals, a Church radio station and newspaper, an icon painting and restoration studio, a candle factory, and printing house. There have been many thousands of baptisms, often of adults, since 1991.

Archbishop Anastasios’ respect and affection for others is not limited to his fellow Christians. When we visited the Ardenica monastery, one of the few religious centers to survive the Hoxha period with little damage thanks to its having been designated a monument and made into a tourist hotel, he was approached by a shy man who said, “I am not baptized — I am a Moslem — but will you bless me?” The man received not only an ardent blessing but was reminded by the archbishop that he was a bearer of the image of God.

While his official title is Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania, he has occasionally been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All Atheists. “For us each person is a brother or sister,” he explains. “We don’t have enemies. If others want to see us as enemies, it is their choice, but we have no enemies. We refuse to punish those who punished us.”

One of the most striking characteristics of the Church in Albania is its commitment to the works of mercy and education: clinics, programs to assist the handicapped, nurseries, kindergartens, a women’s rural health and development program, an agriculture and development program, work with prisoners and the homeless, free cafeterias, and emergency assistance to the destitute. (Most of this work is carried out through the Diaconia Agapes — Service of Love, a Church department set up in 1992.)

Assistance is available to each person without regard for the person’s religious belief or lack of belief. When half-a-million refugees flooded into Albania from Kosovo in 1999, the Orthodox Church immediately responded, taking care of 50,000 people. The only refugee center still open in Albania is a project of Diaconia Agapes. “Always remember that at the Last Judgement,” Archbishop Anastasios has said again and again, “we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person.”

Though a monk who has never known married life, Archbishop Anastasios has a remarkable ease with children. When we happened to pass a mobile dental clinic on the way to the Monastery of Ardenica, the archbishop decided not only to greet the local children waiting in line outside the van but to test the dental chair himself, much to the delight of the children watching. He was immediately a beloved uncle.

No matter how gifted the bishop, everything he does depends on the quality and inspiration of the people working with him, both Albanians and volunteers from other countries who have come to Albania to help, several through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center based in the United States, others from Greece. Each day I was in Albania I met with men and women who give an example of following Christ that I have rarely encountered before. Within the Church, I felt as if I were not just meeting occasional saints but was in a community in which sanctity is normal.

One such person is the secretary of the Church’s Synod, Papa Jani Trebicka. In the years when every religious symbol and gesture was prohibited and he had a factory job, he secretly made hundreds of small crosses that he would leave in the night at ruined churches as a gift for those who came to pray in secret. He was one of the first persons ordained a priest after Anastasios came to Albania. As a child growing up in what he called “the age of propaganda,” his family kept religious feasts in a hidden way. He told me the story of a woman whose hidden icons were discovered and confiscated. When the police were leaving she said to them, “You forgot one icon.” They replied, “Give it to us.” She then made the sign of the cross on her body. “There it is and no one can take it away.”

Metropolitan Joani, Bishop of Korca, is a scholar, but says projects to serve the poor are more important. “At the Last Judgment I will not be congratulated for my theological writings. I will be asked why I didn’t help a certain old woman.” We took me to lunch at the “service of love” free restaurant across the street from his office.

He was secretly baptized when he was 15. His father had been jailed before he was born as an enemy of the state. “Many times they nearly arrested me,” he told me. “I know so many people who went to prison. Once the secret police were going to raid my office — someone told them I had a Bible — but the director of my clinic was able to stop them. He had sympathy for me, and because he was a cousin of the director of the secret police, he could protect me.”

One of Albania’s bravest Christians during the Communist era was Marika Cico, also living in Korca. Now 95 and nearly blind, she is a fountain of joy, welcoming a stranger like myself as if he were her son. She and her sister Demetra (who died two years ago) had arranged many baptisms, weddings and liturgies in their home. Services were in the dead of night behind blanket-draped windows in a back room of their house. Working with the Cico sisters was a community that included a secret priest, the late Father Kosmas Qirjo, and a number of friends, among them the young man who is today Metropolitan Joani. Members of the group repeatedly engaged in “unsleeping prayer”– 40-day periods of continuous prayer, each person praying in one or two-hour shifts, for the end of persecution.

“Our priest, Father Kosmas, was very poor. His black raisa was so faded it was almost white. He had seven children and lived in a muddy hut with one window. When we talked with him we realized he was an apostle. He had not been well educated but he read the Bible by the light of the moon and God enlightened him. Like other priests, he became a laborer, but never gave up being a priest. ‘I am a priest,’ he said, ‘and I will serve the Church even if the Church has no buildings.’

“He lived far away. We would send him a message, ‘Please find wool so Frangji can make clothing for the children,’ our way of asking for Communion. On Thursday we would make candles and bread for the Eucharist. Then on Friday night Fr. Kosmas would arrive and that night we could receive Communion! He came to Korca five or six times every year. For 23 years, from 1967 to 1990, this is how we lived. There was not one church open in all of Albania.”

In 1990, when it was finally possible to engage in public worship without being arrested, the group organized a service for the feast of the Theophany, commemorating the baptism of Jesus. Marika showed me a brass mortar and pestle they used as a bell so that they could draw attention to their procession through the city. Thousands came out of their houses to take part.

I met a woman with a similar spirit in a village near the border with Greece. She told me about how her family had managed to live a hidden religious life at a time when even a red-dyed Easter egg could bring the police to the door. Had her mother not been regarded as crazy, she would have been arrested. “I am crazy like my mother,” the woman told me.

The word most often used to describe the church in Albania is resurrection — ngjallja in Albania. The church’s seminary is dedicated to the resurrection. The church newspapers is called Resurrection. Many churches have been given the same name. In my last visit with Archbishop Anastasios before flying back to Holland, he gave me a Paschal icon in which we see Christ standing on the destroyed gates of hell while pulling Adam and Eve from their tombs. Adam and Eve represent the entire human race in which each woman is a daughter of Eve, each man a son of Adam, and all linked to each other in Christ. The icon also mirrors the activity of the Church in Albania.

On the back of the archbishop’s pendant is the cross surrounded by two shafts of wheat. The symbol represents the Gospel text, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bring forth new life.” Archbishop Anastasios often remarks, “The resurrection is not behind the cross but in the cross.”

Jim Forest is co-secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Many of Jim’s photos from his Albania visit are web posted at this site.

September 11 and Reverence for Life

by Jim Forest

Our world has changed since September 11. While in the U.S. from mid-October to mid-November, I experienced aspects of that change again and again each day.

Arriving in America, I had a view from the air of the wound the September attack left in New York. In the early evening, a month after the World Trade Center suddenly became dust and rubble, I gazed down through the window of a small commuter jet descending into Newark Airport, watching Manhattan unfurl north to south. At the island’s upper end, rising steeply over the Hudson River, was the dark patch of Fort Tyron Park containing my favorite New York museum, the Cloisters, a healing place that must have cured many people of suicidal thoughts; then the light-pricked darkness of the Upper West Side and Harlem; the long rectangular blackness of Central Park; next, Times Square and the theater district, glowing like a fireplace; then the Empire State Building rising steeply in Midtown, once again the city’s tallest building, its upper tiers illuminated red, white and blue, a nighttime flag in stone; then the smaller, dimly lit structures of Chelsea and Greenwich Village; and finally lower Manhattan and the Financial District with its own collection of skyscrapers, now a maimed landscape. It seemed as if a giant meteorite had hit the southern tip of the island, leaving a still-smoking cavity where the World Trade Center had stood. The klieg-lit crater had become Manhattan’s brightest spot. I knew there were men hard at work in the intense artificial light, but couldn’t see them. Finally, beyond Battery Park, there was the glistening ebony water of the harbor with the Statue of Liberty still holding her torch in the sky.

A few days later, I was in Manhattan for a meeting with Bishop Dimitrios at the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese on East 79th Street. Inevitably, we talked about September 11 and its aftermath. Bishop Dimitrios told me a statistic which brought home the hidden struggle going on in so many people’s lives: the sale of tranquilizers, anti-depressants and sleeping potions had risen by 40 percent since the World Trade Center was destroyed. (The sale of hand guns and gas masks had also shot up.)

While the date September 11 opens many themes for reflection, at the top of the list is the word “murder.”

One of the remarkable things about human beings is that no other species appears to be so deeply disturbed by death. Even though few events are so common and nothing so inevitable as death, we never regard it as ordinary. Why is that? Even when we reach the point when death is welcome — the passing of an elderly person who has been patiently awaiting death’s arrival, or the last breath of a person who has been suffering a grave, untreatable illness — there is still the shock of the abrupt absence of someone torn from the fabric of our lives. We experience death as an injury, a violation.

But murder is unnatural death and disturbs us in a special way. No other crime horrifies us so much as murder, even when the victim has few good qualities. It is no defense against the charge of murder that the world is better off without the person killed. In the negative hierarchy of criminals, it is the murderer who is regarded as worst and is punished most severely.

We are both shocked and fascinated by murder, reading murder mysteries, watching murder films and studying accounts of murder trials. We want to know not only who did it, but why. How does a human being become a killer? It gives us satisfaction to see a murderer caught, whether by a real policeman or a fictitious Miss Marple. Murder mystery novels sell by the millions, suggesting not only our fascination with murder but the importance of stories in our lives.

Life’s understructure — stories

If you have ever been to Amsterdam, perhaps you discovered that this attractive city of canals and gabled houses has a prosaic underside. It’s built on sand and mud. Those houses would have sunk long ago if it weren’t for the pilings they stand on — tree trunks driven deep into the sand and clay. Sadly, many an old Amsterdam house has been torn down because the pilings rotted away, while some of the survivors now lean at odd angles.

Basic stories are like the pilings that hold up the houses of Amsterdam. These are the stories at the foundation of our lives, reaching deep into the darkness and mystery beneath consciousness, shaping and arranging perceptions, revealing patterns and meaning.

Father Joseph Donders, a Dutch priest who has spent much of his life in Africa, once told me that he had learned from African culture that the most important person in any society is the storyteller. Nothing protects a person or a nation as much as a true story — or threatens it more than a false story. In moments of crisis, it isn’t ideologies or theories that guide us but our primary stories. True stories help make us capable of love and sacrifice and light up the path to the kingdom of God. False stories condemn us to nothingness and disconnection. Much depends on our story-foundation. If the stories we live by are false, our foundations rot and we sink into the mud.

What worried Father Donders most about America is that our basic story isn’t the Gospel but the cowboy movie — always a tale about how good men with guns save the community from evil men with guns by killing them. Let’s call it the Gospel According to John Wayne, as no star in cowboy films was more convincing in the hero part. The classic scene is the gunfight on Main Street in a newly-settled town in the wild west, though the same story can be played out in the ancient world, a modern city or a far-away galaxy that exists only in our imaginations. No matter what the setting or period, what the stories have in common is the portrayal of killing as the ultimate solution to evil.

The Gospel According to John Wayne isn’t an ignoble story. There is true courage in it — the readiness of the hero to lay down his life to protect others. Thus to a certain extent it’s a Christian story — a modern retelling of the legend of Saint George and the dragon, except that in the profoundly Christian story of George, he only wounds the dragon. Afterward the dragon is cared for by the very people who formerly had sacrificed their children to it. The George legend is about the conversion, of self, of others, of evil enemies. The problem with the modern John Wayne version is that it hides from us the fact that there is no such thing as a completely evil person — also no such thing as a completely good person, apart from Christ. As Solzhenitsyn, survivor of Russia’s prison camps, wrote in The Gulag Archipelago:

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains… an un-uprooted small corner of evil.

(vol. 2, “The Ascent.”)

Solzhenitsyn reminds us that we don’t need to go far to meet a murderer. We only need to look in the mirror. I don’t mean that each of us has literally taken someone’s life, but at the very least we have had occasion to fantasize about killing another person, or ourselves. Most of us have experienced times of rage when murderous thoughts flooded our minds, or times of depression when self-murder, suicide, was a real temptation.

The missing element in our culture’s dominant story is the mystery that dominates the Bible right from the Book of Genesis: We are made in the image and likeness of God. The “we” is all of us without exception, from Saint Francis of Assisi to Osama bin Laden, from Jack the Ripper to Mother Theresa. Even Stalin, even Hitler. The traditional Christian teaching is that the image of God exists in each person as something indestructible, still there no matter how well hidden, but that with the Fall of Adam and Eve, the likeness was lost and can only be recovered through ascetic effort and God’s grace.

The perception of the Divine image is something Thomas Merton recounts in one of his most striking journal entries, found in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. In Louisville on an errand, he describes standing at a busy downtown intersection waiting for the light to change when suddenly he is overwhelmed with love for all these strangers. He speaks of “waking from a dream of separateness.” Everyone was suddenly “shining like the sun.” Reflecting on this God-given epiphany, a mystical experience in the city, he goes on to say:

I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift. … At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness or cruelty of life vanish completely … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.


More than anything else, reverence for life is a question of how well we see, how unblind we are, how unafraid we are. To see well is to be aware of the miraculous dimension of being, to sense the sacramental aspect of life, to be aware of God’s presence.

Think about the story of the man born blind in Saint John’s Gospel. Here’s a beggar in Jerusalem who has never seen anything but darkness his entire life. Yet the miracle ignites a controversy. John describes a kind of trial in which Pharisees twice interrogate the man himself and also his patents, to be sure that this is indeed their son and has been blind from birth. But the story John tells is less about the miracle than about people not believing what they have witnessed. It is a story of sighted people being blind and insisting on remaining blind. It is as if they were saying, “We see enough and know enough already. We don’t need any new prophets or street-corner messiahs. We have a lifetime supply of wisdom. Take your miracles and beggars and go away.”

We learn from John that it takes courage to see and, having seen, to take responsibility for what sight reveals to us. Wide-eyed seeing can rock the foundations of your life. It can change everything. It can get you into trouble.

With eyes that really see, you don’t need a geneticist to tell you that we are human beings not only from the cradle to the grave but during all those months before we reach the cradle. Such knowledge necessarily makes one a protector of the unborn. With eyes that really see, we cannot turn away from a pregnant woman who for lack of encouragement and support, trapped in panic and fear, may feel she has no alternative but abortion.

With eyes that really see, we can no longer speak of the death of innocent people in war as “collateral damage,” truly a phrase from hell. With eyes that really see, we cannot advocate anyone’s execution, however appalling the crime, not only because such an action makes us co-responsible for an act of bloodshed and vengeance, but because we destroy the possibility of the killer ever leading a repentant life. With eyes that see, we cannot live at peace with a world that abandons so many people. With eyes that really see, we will not dehumanize others or make ourselves into enemies of the environment. Eyes that really see can heal our lives.

The Root of War is Fear

The main impediment that brings us close to blindness is fear. It was an insight of Merton’s that “the root of war is fear.” He perceived that even deeper than the fear men have of each other is the fear we have of everything, our distrust even of ourselves:

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves that is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

[New Seeds of Contemplation, p 112]

The Greek theologian, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, writes on similar lines:

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.

[The full text of Met. John’s essay is posted on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site]


If fear of the other is the essence of sin, what is sin? This is a three-letter word that has been carefully avoided by many people in recent years but which, after September 11, seems to be finding its way back into unembarrassed common usage.

The Greek word hamartia, like the Hebrew verb chata’, literally means straying off the path, getting lost, missing the mark. Sin — going off course — can be intentional or unintentional.

The Jewish approach to sin tends to be concrete. The author of the Book of Proverbs list seven things which God hates: “A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked deeds, feet that run swiftly to evil, a false witness that declares lies, and he that sows discord among the brethren.” [6:16-19]

Though murder is on the list, pride is given first place. “Pride goes before destruction, and a disdainful spirit before a fall” is another insight in the Book of Proverbs. [16:18] In Eden, Satan seeks to animate pride in his dialogue with Eve. Eat the forbidden fruit, he tells her, and “you will be like a god.”

Pride is regarding oneself as god-like. In one of the stories preserved from early desert monasticism, a young brother asks an elder, “What shall I do? I am tortured by pride.” The elder responds, “You are right to be proud. Was it not you who made heaven and earth?” These words cured the brother of his pride.

The craving to be ahead of others, more valued than others, to be able to keep others in a state of fear, the inability to admit mistakes or apologize — these are among the symptoms of pride. Because of pride, the way is opened for countless other sins: deceit, lies, theft, violence and all acts that destroy community with God and with those around us.

“We’re capable of doing some rotten things,” the Minnesota storyteller Garrison Keillor notes, “and not all of these things are the result of poor communication. Some are the result of rottenness. People do bad, horrible things. They lie and they cheat and they corrupt the government. They poison the world around us. And when they’re caught they don’t feel remorse — they just go into treatment. They had a nutritional problem or something. They explain what they did — they don’t feel bad about it. There’s no guilt. There’s just psychology.”

So eroded is our sense of sin that even in confession it often happens that we explain what we did rather than admit we did things that urgently need God’s forgiveness. “When I recently happened to confess about 50 people in a typical Orthodox parish in Pennsylvania,” Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, “not one admitted to having committed any sin whatsoever!”

There are two vivid signs of a serious sin — the hope that it may never become known, and a gnawing sense of guilt. At least this is so before the conscience becomes completely numb as patterns of sin become the structure of one’s life to the extent that hell, far from being a possible next-life experience, is where I find myself in this life.

It is a striking fact about our basic human architecture that we want certain actions to remain secret, not because of modesty but because there is an unarguable sense of having violated a law more basic than any law book — the “law written on our hearts” that St. Paul refers to in his letter to the Romans. It isn’t simply that we fear punishment. It is that we don’t want to be thought of by others as a person who commits such deeds. One of the main obstacles to confession is dismay that someone else will know what I want no one to know.

Self-justification or repentance

There are only two possible responses to sin: to justify it, or to admit a certain action was sinful and to repent. Between these two there is no middle ground.

Justification may be verbal but mainly it takes the form of repetition: I do again and again the same thing as a way of demonstrating to myself and others that it’s not really a sin but rather something normal or human or necessary or even good. “After the first blush of sin comes indifference,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in his essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” There is an even sharper Jewish proverb: “Commit a sin twice and it will not seem a crime.”

Repentance, on the other hand, is the recognition that I cannot live anymore as I have been living, because in living that way I wall myself apart from others and from God. Repentance is a change in direction. Repentance is the door of communion. It is also a sine qua non of forgiveness. In the words of Fr. Schmemann, “There can be no absolution where there is no repentance.”

One of the blessings that has come out of the tragedy of September 11 is that we are much less embarrassed speaking about God, more able to admit own capacity for evil, and find ourselves less reluctant to pray.

Life is not recognized as sacred unless we nourish a capacity to sense the sacred and understand that God exists. Our struggle to develop a deeper, more consistent reverence for life and to help others do likewise is essentially a religious pilgrimage and an evangelical task. Our life must have a missionary dimension. We must help our neighbor to see, and assist our neighbor in becoming less fearful. It takes so little to save a life — if only we would see and, from that seeing, respond.

Jim Forest’s next book, Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, will be published by Orbis in February. He is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and co-editor of In Communion. This is based on a talk sponsored by Harmony magazine and given at the St. Martin de Porres Catholic Worker house in San Francisco, November 3, 2001.

Orthodoxy, Peace & Reconciliation

some reflections by Jim Forest for the St Nicholas Evening discussion at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Amsterdam, September 23, 2004

It’s the first St Nicholas Evening. Originally I was asked to talk about prayer with icons but the terrible recent events in Russia, Chechnya and many other countries made Deacon Hildo suggest a more difficult subject: Orthodoxy, Peace and Reconciliation.

My hope is that for a little while we can try to put aside some of the pain and anger we are feeling and, for a few minutes, look carefully at these three words. What do they mean? What do they have to do with us? What responsibilities do they point us toward?


Orthodoxy: it means both the true way to give praise and true belief. What we really mean by this is the true path of following Christ. Orthodoxy is not just a tribal designation: in this enclosure are the Orthodox Christians, over there are Roman Catholics, somewhere else, within different fences, all sorts of Protestants, etc etc. To be Orthodox is not simply a way of saying what I am not. It is a recognition that I am trying to live according to the Gospel: the word and the example of Christ.

It also means I belong to the Orthodox Church. I am part of a huge community of people with a collective memory that goes back as far Adam and Eve. It is a community that includes the Church Fathers, whose words we not only store on our books shelves but make some effort to discover, according to our spiritual and intellectual capacity.

We are a Church of Councils and hold ourselves accountable to the results of those council even though they net as much as seventeen centuries ago.

We are a Church of saints. Day by day we remember them. We bear their names. We call of them for help. We remember what they did and sometimes what they said.

Sometimes it gets confusing. One Church Father showers the highest praise on marriage, another regards marriage as a tolerable compromise for those unable to embrace the real Christian calling, celibate monastic life. It can be disconcerting to discover that on various questions different Fathers may have different ideas or different emphases.

Or we look at the saints and find here is a saint who was martyred for refusing to be a soldier and here is a saint who was a hero on the battlefield of war. Here is a saint who wore the rich clothing of a prince and here is a saint who wore nothing. Here is a saint who was a great scholar but here is a saint who was a holy fool. Here is a saint who raced to the desert, but here is a saint who refused to leave the city. Each saint poses a challenge and each saint raises certain questions.

Also it isn’t always clear what in a particular saint’s life placed him or her on the Church’s calendar. Do we have icons of St Alexander Nevsky because he defeated the Teutonic Knights? Or because, preferring negotiations to war, to negotiated with the Golden Horde and made compromises with them? Or was it because, later in his life, he set aside military and political duties and instead embraced a repentant monastic life?

Saints do not solve our problems. In the details of their lives, they march in a thousand different directions. They also made mistakes. The were not saints 24 hours a day. They too were sinners. Like us, they went to confession seeking God’s forgiveness for their faults.

But in some way each saint did something which brightly reflects the light of the Gospel. This is finally what is most important about them. They give us in many different ways a window for seeing the Gospel more clearly. In some way each of them opens a door toward Christ.

One last comment about the word “Orthodox”: It means, as St Paul says, that we are no longer Greek nor Jew. In our on world that also means we are no longer Russian or American or Dutch or Serbian. Rather we are one people whose identity and responsibility goes beyond the land where we were born or the culture and mother tongue that shaped us. In my own case, I am not first American, then Orthodox, and finally — if there is some room left — a Christian. No. I am an Orthodox Christian — Orthodox is an only adjective — who also happens to be an American. But being American comes afterward. It is in parentheses. It is in small type.


On to the next word: Peace. Let us admit right away that this is a damaged word. It’s like an icon I once encountered in Moscow at the parish of St Cosmos and Damien that had been blackened by candle smoke that the image was completely hidden. I spent an afternoon watching two restorers at work. Little by little, using alcohol and little balls of cotton, they cleaned the icon until finally we could see it bore the image of St Nicholas. Beautiful colors began to shine. There he was, a saint who is, in the Orthodox memory, the model of the perfect pastor. I realized I was watching a tiny resurrection.

Peace is a word that has been covered with a lots of smoke from the fires of propaganda, politics, ideologies, war and nationalism. In Russia there were all those Soviet slogans about peace, so many posters with the words, “Mira Mir!” The Church was obliged to take part in state-organized “peace” events. And in American, when I was growing up, it was almost the same. When I was a boy, the slogan of the Strategic Air Command, the section of the military that was in charge of fighting nuclear war, was “Peace is our profession.” It may well be still the same. More recently one of America’s nuclear missiles was given the name “Peacemaker.” Such abuse of words, whether in Russia or America, is what Gorge Orwell called Newspeak in his novel “1984.” We have to do we what can to clean words like “peace.” Otherwise it will be hard to understand the Gospel or the Liturgy or to translate the Gospel and the Liturgy into daily life.

According to the first definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, peace means: “Freedom from, or cessation of, war or hostilities; that condition of a nation or community in which it is not at war with another.” It goes on to describe peace within a nation — “Freedom from civil commotion and disorder; public order and security.” From there the writers of the OED go to deeper water, recalling that the Latin word pax, the Greek eirini and the Hebrew word Shalom all mean something more than the absence of war of civil discord. Understood biblically, peace means safety, welfare, prosperity.

One of the things I like about the Oxford English Dictionary definition is the use of the word “freedom.” The dictionary’s authors understood that peace is not simply the absence of war, a condition to be described in negative terms, but freedom from war. (One Russian word any non-Russian will quickly learn from the sermons of Fr Sergei Ovsiannikov is svaboda.) It’s not a freedom we know much about. From Cain and Able until today, war is history’s default setting. But we can imagine that not to be in a state of war is truly a liberation.

Think how often and in what significant ways Christ uses the word peace in the Gospel. Peace is a summing up of the Kingdom of God in a single word. “And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.” “And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!'” “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'” “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” “And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'” “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!'” “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” And so forth. His greeting after the resurrection is, “Peace be with you.”

We sing the Beatitudes at almost every Liturgy. The Beatitudes are a short summary of the Gospel — this is why we sing them while the Gospel book is being carried in procession. These few verses describe a kind of ladder to heaven, starting with poverty of spirit and ending with the readiness to suffer and even die for Christ. It is near the top of that ladder that we come to the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”

We hear the word “peace” over and over during every Liturgy. “In peace let us pray to the Lord!” “For the peace from above and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord!’ “Peace be with you.” “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls…” “For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy Churches of God and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord!” I am only mentioning a few examples. At the next Liturgy pay attention to how many times we speak about peace or are called to be in a state of peace. It is an absolute condition of eucharistic worship. How can we be in communion with God if we are in a state of enmity with those whom God has given is to love? It is that simple. Again and again we are warned not to approach the chalice if we have broken our communion with those around us.

We not only hear about peace from Christ and in the prayers of the Liturgy, we see peace in the life of Christ. We see it when he heals the sick servant of a Roman soldier — an officer serving in an army of occupation. We see it when Christ saves the life of an adulterous woman whom the crowd was ready to stone to death. We see it the way Christ related to every person who came to him seeking relief, healing, forgiveness, mercy. We see it in the prayer he taught to his disciples, which included the words, “Forgive us as we forgive others.” We see it even after his arrest. The last healing miracle before his crucifixion was to repair the ear of a man injured by the Apostle Peter. Then he then turns to Peter with those amazing words: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” We see peace when he is dying. He prays to his Father to forgive those who have beaten, tortured and crucified him: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” These words were said aloud — not so his Father could hear the but so that we can hear them.

We also see that Christ’s peace has nothing to do with the behavior of a coward or of the person who is polite rather than truthful. Christ said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Think of his words of protest about the teachings of the Pharisees who laid burdens of others they would not carry themselves. Think of him chasing the money changers from the Temple. No one was killed or injured but God’s lightning flashed in the Temple courtyard.

Finally consider the simple fact that Christ never killed anyone, no matter how much we might regard him as justified in such an act had he done so. Neither does he bless any of his followers to kill. There are many ways in which Christ is unique. This is one of them.

In fact, in the early centuries, Christians got into a lot of trouble for their attitude toward the state. They refused to regard the ruler as a god. They were obedient in every way they could be without disobeying God, but they were prepared to suffer even the most cruel death rather than place obedience to Caesar before obedience to God. While eventually the baptismal requirements of the Church were relaxed, it was once the case that those who did not renounce killing, whether as a soldier or judge, could not be baptized. It is still the case that those who have killed another human being, even in self defense or by accident, are not permitted to serve at the altar. The reason is that one who serves at the altar is supposed to be a person without blood-stained hands. In fact ideally this should be the case of anyone approaching the chalice, though the Church is a channel of Christ’s mercy and receives for communion those who have repented of their sins, even the sin of murder.

Christ is not simply an advocate of peace or an example of peace. He is peace. To want to live a Christ-like life means to want to participate in the peace of Christ. Yes, we may fail, as we fail in so many things, but we are never permitted to give up trying.


Finally, the word reconciliation. Because I have already spoken too long, I only want to say a little. In fact not very much needs to be said. Reconciliation means being brought back to the relationships God intends for us. It is not his intention that his children should hate each other. It is not his intention that we should be each other’s murderer. It is not his intention that we should view ourselves as better than anyone else. I am Orthodox — heaven is for me. You are Moslem — to hell with you. Each person, not matter what his belief or even his disbelief, bears the image of God. As St. John of Kronstadt said, “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.”

Another word for reconciliation is healing. Not only can we seek the healing of ourselves when we, as individuals, are sick, but we should see our social brokenness as a sickness that also needs to be healed.

But national and religious divisions are so deep, and often so ancient, that reconciliation is almost impossible to imagine. You must be a kind of holy fool to seriously think reconciliation could ever happen. Not only do we fail to do anything to bring about reconciliation but we don’t even allow ourselves to think about it. It’s too crazy. At least there are many people who would think so or even regard me as a traitor.

I think this is why Jesus, in teaching his followers to love our enemies, immediately adds the teaching, “and pray for them.”

The beginning of reconciliation is prayer — prayer for the very people we wish were dead and might even be willing to kill with our own hands, like the people who blow up children, the people who behead hostages, people more cruel than wild animals. But if we pay any attention to the words of Jesus, we are obliged to pray for them — to pray for their conversion, to pray for their repentance, to pray for their healing. This kind of prayer is extremely difficult. I am still struggling with it after all these years. But without it, there is no beginning. Prayer is the first thread in the work of repairing the torn fabric.

There is much more that could be said about each of these three words but perhaps this will at least give us a starting point.

Crisis in Kosovo

Here is a selection of statements on the Kosovo Crisis from Orthodox hierarchs followed by a selection of related news articles.

Pristina church ablaze

SCOBA Hierarchs Call Upon UN and NATO To Restore Peace and Order in Kosovo


The Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas

8 East 79th Street

New York, NY 10021

March 24, 2004

Dearly beloved in Christ,

As Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, we deplore the terrible and senseless outbreak of violence and intolerance witnessed this past week in Kosovo.

We have heard the pleas of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church. We join them in praying for the victims who were murdered or forced to flee from their homes while 18,000 international peacekeepers watched this wanton violence against the minority Serbian population and the destruction of the centuries-old cultural and spiritual heritage of the region–including UNESCO-protected sites.More than 3,000 people have been left homeless, 28 persons killed, and many injured. Furthermore, 30 churches and monasteries were destroyed, bringing the number of churches destroyed in Kosovo over the past four years to approximately 145. In addition, numerous villages were torched and leveled to the ground.

Terrorizing civilian populations, like terrorist activity in other parts of the world, must be confronted openly and directly. Ethnic cleansing is wrong, no matter who is doing it. Such intolerance, and hatred cannot and must not be rewarded.

We call on the United Nations and responsible Western governments to intervene swiftly and forcefully to restore a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, to protect the rights and property of minorities, and to preserve the remaining centuries-old religious sites throughout the region.

NATO soldiers outside ruins of bishops residence in Pristina. Having called upon our government to take appropriate measures, we call upon you also, our spiritual children, to let your voices be heard in the media and in the offices of your elected officials. We ask you, during this Lenten season, to intensify even more your prayers for peace in the world. Pray that our Lord will comfort and offer solace to the homeless and eternal rest to the victims of this violence.

To learn more about this crisis, tune in our radio program “Come Receive The Light,” on Saturday, March 27, where you will hear a radio interview with Fr. Irinej Dobrijevich at the Patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade. In areas not reached by the broadcast, you will find it on

For those wishing to help the immediate needs of those displaced, including food, shelter and medical care, please know that our agency, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) has been working on the ground in Kosovo since 1993. It is providing continuous humanitarian assistance to the refugees and persons displaced by this great tragedy. Donations can be sent to: IOCC, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, MD 21263-0225; or call toll free 1-877-803-4622.

We urge you to express in every God-pleasing way your support for our brothers and sisters in Kosovo.

With paternal blessings and love in Christ,

+Archbishop DEMETRIOS, Chairman Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

+Metropolitan HERMAN Orthodox Church in America

+Metropolitan PHILIP, Vice Chairman Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

+Metropolitan NICOLAE Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada

+Metropolitan CHRISTOPHER, Secretary Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada

+Metropolitan JOSEPH Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church

+Metropolitan NICHOLAS of Amissos, Treasurer Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in the USA

+Metropolitan CONSTANTINE Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

+Bishop ILIA of Philomelion Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America

Relics burned

Photo ERP KIM: The tomb of the 14th cenutry Saint Joanikije of Devic was broken, marble slabs taken away, and the relics set on fire. The entire chapel at the monastery of Devic was burned with all frescoes.

Metropolitan Herman calls for Prayers in Response to Kosovo Crisis

Orthodox Church in America

Office of Communication – [email protected]

SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] — His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, sent a message of prayerful support to His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle of Serbia in light of the recent intensification of attacks against the Serbian Orthodox faithful in Kosovo and Metohija.

On March 17, 2004, as has been widely reported in the media, terrorists began what has been described by the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church as an “unthinkable pogrom” against the region’s Orthodox Serbian population, burning religious sites and private residences and at least one village inhabited by Serbs. The conflict has been described as the worst in five years. Especially disconcerting about the attacks is that to date over 15 historic churches and monasteries dating back to the 14th century have been destroyed.

In an appeal issued by the extraordinary session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church dated March 18, 2004, the full text of which may be found below, Patriarch Pavle and the hierarchs decry “the continuation of organized Albanian terrorism against the Orthodox Serbian population, now in existence for several decades, against that which is considered both Serbian and world cultural heritage, as well as against other non-Albanian inhabitants in this area.”

“We call upon our faithful to remember in prayer our suffering brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija, that a just and lasting peace will descend on the region, and that the terror which the Orthodox Serbian population has endured for years will end,” said Metropolitan Herman. “During this lenten season, in which we are reminded to take up our crosses as we follow Our Lord to Golgotha, let us especially remember those who are enduring the Golgotha of terror, ethnic strife, and gross injustice.”

Pogrom victim

Letter of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman to His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle on the recent events in Kosovo

March 24, 2004

His Holiness PAVLE

Patriarch of Serbia

Krala Petra br. 5

11000 Belgrade

Serbia and Montenegro

Your Holiness, dear Brother and Concelebrant in Christ:

It is with profound sorrow and anxiety that I and my brother hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America have learned of the escalating ethnic violence in the Kosovo region and in other cities and regions throughout Serbia. We grieve the tragic loss of over twenty lives in these latest acts of senseless bloodshed, as well as the destruction of numerous historic churches, the monastery of Saint Michael the Archangel in Prizren, and many domestic dwellings in Serbian settlements within Kosovo.

The Orthodox Church in America has monitored with concern the ongoing human rights abuses perpetrated against Kosovo’s small remaining Serbian Orthodox minority. We are well aware that this current violence has its roots in the long-term and still unresolved issues of the future governance of Kosovo. We are deeply disappointed at the lack of progress on the part of the international community in fostering the development of a peaceful multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in the region.

We wish to commend the Serbian Orthodox Church for maintaining a strong voice in support of peace, reconciliation and inter-religious tolerance in the midst of such violence and tension. The courageous and Christ-like actions of Metropolitan AMFILOHIJE on March 17 that saved the historic Bajrakli mosque from complete destruction were a powerful sign of the Serbian Church’s commitment to a peaceful and sustainable solution to the current instability. Against a background of anger and temptation his actions provided a potent witness to the words of our Lord: “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Be assured that the Orthodox Church in America will continue to express to American and Canadian officials in the UN and NATO, as well as to the Albanian authorities in Kosovo, the pressing need for a fair and just resolution to the many problems in this troubled region.

I pray, dear brother in Christ, that God may continue to grant you courage, peace and strength in this difficult time. Be assured of the constant and fervent prayers and support of all the hierarchs, clergy, monastics and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America who remain in deep solidarity with the suffering and struggling peoples of Serbia.

Yours with brotherly love in Christ,

+HERMAN Archbishop of Washington Metropolitan of All America and Canada

cc: His Eminence, Metropolitan CHRISTOPHER, Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada His Grace, Bishop ARTEMIJE of Kosovo and Metohija

Appeal from the Extraordinary Session of the Expanded Convocation of the Holy Synod of Bishops

Information Service of the Serbian Orthodox Church

18 March 2004

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, from their extraordinary session, which met in expanded convocation, summoned by His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle, on the occasion of the latest tragic events in Kosovo and Metohija, issued the following Statement and Appeal:

Yesterday’s and last night’s unrest, which took place throughout the southern Serbian Province of Kosovo and Metohija, represent the continuation of organized Albanian terrorism against the Orthodox Serbian population, now in existence for several decades, against that, which is considered both Serbian and world cultural heritage, as well as against other non-Albanian inhabitants in this area. Terrorism and violence, which became especially manifest in the burning of the refectory of the Monastery of the Patriarchate of Pech in 1981, have continued and continually exist since 1999, culminating in that same year with the NATO bombing and the expulsion of several hundreds of thousands of Serbs and other non-Albanians, which would give increase in strength and intensity.

The results of that unheard-of violence are to be seen in several thousands of men, women and children that were kidnapped and murdered, villages and settlements with Serbian inhabitants that were burned, looted and endangered properties of the people, as well as of the Church, the destruction and damaging of more than 115 monasteries and churches. And all this has happened since this Province has been under the immediate protectorate of the International Community.

The climax of everything is just this recent, obviously planned in advance, unthinkable pogrom, which has been in process, over the rest of the Serbian people and their centuries lasting shrines. More than fifteen of the most significant churches and monuments of culture from 14 to 19 centuries, starting with the monastery of the Holy Archangels and the Mother of God church of Ljevish in PRIZREN, to the St. Nicholas Church (17th Century) at Belo Polje, have been burnt down and destroyed within a day. Some ten people were killed, the remaining Serbian settlements throughout Kosovo and Metohija are being burnt and destroyed, Dechani Monastery is being shelled, the monasteries of the Patriarchate of Pech and Grachanica are endangered.

For every reasonable person it is evident that here we are dealing with pre-planned total ethnic cleansing and destruction of all cultural and spiritual traces of the presence of Christian Serbian people on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija. Additionally, the representatives of the International Community, KFOR and UNMIK, by their actions or non-actions, from 1999 until the present day, contribute, voluntarily or involuntarily, to the definitive extermination of Orthodox Christian peoples from their centuries-long hearths and homes, and to destruction of their culture and all-Christian shrines of Kosovo. Our country, contrary to Security Council Resolution 1244, has not been allowed to defend its own people and a part of its territory, while those who on behalf of defending human rights and freedoms, have taken over the protectorate and responsibility, or by their passivity actually contribute to the escalation of unheard-of terror in the heart of Europe.

For this reason, the Holy Synod of Bishops appeals to the authorities of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as to the Government of Serbia, to do everything within their power in order to protect the people from extermination and from the ultimate expulsion of the Serbian people from Kosovo and Metohija.

We turn to the European Union, USA, Russia and the United Nations crying out that they urgently end this pogrom and terror, for the sake of God and for the sake of human dignity.

We also call upon on Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija and upon their leaders to stop this insanity, for their own sake as well as for the sake of their future. We remind them and also ourselves of the all-human experience, that violence, injustice and hatred have never brought any good to anyone.

Finally, we call upon all of our people that they in these extremely difficult times double their fasting and prayer for their salvation and redemption, for peace among us and all over the world. We should not allow ourselves, for the sake of any interest of this world, to commit anything that would be unworthy of the People of God, anything inhuman. During this turbulent time one should avoid any form of senseless and foolish revenge, such as that which certain imprudent persons committed against mosques in Belgrade and that in Nish. We should defend ourselves from evil and evil-doers, but not in an inhuman way or that, God forbid, we commit an evil or brutal deed in the way of evil-doers. O Lord, help all, and also us and our enemies, as peace, freedom and justice are necessary for all, both for us and for all peoples and nations.

Statement of the Extraordinary Session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church

March 18, 2004

Yesterday’s and last night’s unrest, which took place throughout the southern Serbian Province of Kosovo and Metohija, represents the continuation of organized Albanian terrorism against the Orthodox Serbian population, now in existence for several decades, against that which is considered both a Serbian and world cultural heritage, as well as against other non-Albanian inhabitants in this area. Terrorism and violence, which became especially manifest in the burning of the refectory of the Monastery of the Patriarchate of Pec in 1981, have continued and continually existed since 1999, culminating in that same year with the NATO bombing and the expulsion of several hundreds of thousands of Serbs and other non-Albanians, which would give increase in strength and intensity.

The results of that unheard of violence are to be seen in the several thousands of men, women and children who were kidnapped and murdered, villages and settlements with Serbian inhabitants that were burned, looted and endangered properties of the people as well as of the Church, and the destruction and damaging of more than 115 monasteries and churches. And all this has happened since this province has been under the immediate protectorate of the International Community.

The climax of everything is this recent, obviously planned in advance, unthinkable pogrom, which has been in process over the rest of the Serbian people and their centuries lasting shrines. More than fifteen of the most significant churches and monuments of culture from 14th to 19th centuries, starting with the monastery of the Holy Archangels and the Mother of God church of Ljevish in Prizren, to the 17th century Saint Nicholas Church at Belo Polje, have been burnt down and destroyed within a day. Some ten people were killed, the remaining Serbian settlements throughout Kosovo and Metohija are being burned and destroyed, Decani Monastery is being shelled, and the monasteries of the Patriarchate of Pec and Gracanica are endangered.

For every reasonable person it is evident that here we are dealing with pre-planned total ethnic cleansing and destruction of all cultural and spiritual traces of the presence of the Christian Serbian people on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija. Additionally, the representatives of the International Community, KFOR and UNMIK, by their actions or non-actions, from 1999 until the present day contribute, voluntarily or involuntarily, to the definitive extermination of Orthodox Christian peoples from their centuries-long hearths and homes, and to the destruction of their cultural and all-Christian shrines of Kosovo. Our country, contrary to Security Council Resolution 1244, has not been allowed to defend its own people and a part of its territory, while those who on behalf of defending human rights and freedoms have taken over the protectorate and responsibility, by their passivity actually contribute to the escalation of unheard of terror in the heart of Europe.

For this reason, the Holy Synod of Bishops appeals to the authorities of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as to the Government of Serbia, to do everything within their power to protect the people from extermination and from the ultimate expulsion of the Serbian people from Kosovo and Metohija.

We turn to the European Union, USA, Russia and the United Nations, crying out that they urgently end this pogrom and terror, for the sake of God and for the sake of human dignity.

We also call upon on Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija and upon their leaders to stop this insanity, for their own sake as well as for the sake of their future. We remind them and also ourselves of the all-human experience, that violence, injustice and hatred have never brought any good to anyone.

Finally, we call upon all of our people, that they in these extremely difficult times double their fasting and prayer for their salvation and redemption, for peace among us and all over the world. We should not allow ourselves, for the sake of any interest of this world, to commit anything that would be unworthy of the People of God, anything inhuman. During this turbulent time one should avoid any form of senseless and foolish revenge, such as that which certain imprudent persons committed against mosques in Belgrade and that in Nis. We should defend ourselves from evil and evil-doers, but not in an inhumane way or that, God forbid, we commit an evil or brutal deed in the way of evil-doers. O Lord, help all, and also us and our enemies, as peace,freedom and justice are necessary for all, both for us and for all peoples and nations.

Statement of Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia on the Tragic Events in Kosovo

2004.03.22 Pravoslavie.RU

In the heart of the Balkans, on the land of Kosovo and Metochia, tragic events have been happening, which have resulted in death of dozens of people. The fate of the Serbian population of the region is in danger.

Numerous ancient churches and monasteries have been ruined – shrines of the Serbian Orthodoxy, precious monuments of history and culture of world importance. In response mosques are being destroyed in Serbia and acts of violence against Moslems occur. Escalation of this sanguinary conflict and new crimes committed in Kosovo can result in total extermination or exodus of the Serbian population.

Sufferings of innocent people, destruction of their houses, forfeiture of estate, demolition of shrines hurts my heart. I bewail the events taking place and call to restore justice and order as soon as possible. Peace must return to the land of Kosovo.

In the name of the Russian Orthodox Church I address the hostile parties: do not give way to the feelings of revenge, reject murder and violence, stop the war! I ask the hostile parties to listen to the lawful arguments of each other. It is my profound conviction that the fate of Kosovo has to be decided only within the framework of the procedures established by the international community. All residents of the krai, including the exiled from its territory have a right for this land and have to take part in determining its future.

I call the world community and the countries of the Balkan region to resolutely protect innocent people and their right to live on the land of their ancestors. If the Serbs can no longer stay in the krai, all international efforts to manage the conflict may be considered as failed or beneficial to only one party.

I pray that the Lord may reconciliate the enmity. Let everyone, on whom it depends, do their best for the residents of Kosovo and the Balkans to live in peace.

Patriarch Alexey II of Moscow and all Russia


Albanian bishop offers $600,000 for restoration of church and mosque

Ecumenical News International

Daily News Service / 26 March 2004

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Sofia, Bulgaria, 26 March (ENI)–Expressions of both sympathy and condemnation following recent violence in Kosovo have come in from many church leaders with a powerful statement of conciliation coming from Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana, who offered US$600 000 for the restoration of a church and mosque.

“The burning of churches and mosques, does not promote justice and peace, and certainly neither progress,” said Anastasios, Orthodox Archbishop of Tirana and Albania in a statement. “On the contrary, it is a return to times and practices which led the Balkans to stagnation, divisions and tragedies.”

“We offer $600,000 for the restoration of a church and a mosque in Kosovo, or the construction of a youth centre there that will promote peaceful coexistence,” said Anastasios. “This sum comes from the funds that, with great effort, we have raised for the construction of the Orthodox Cathedral in Tirana.”

Riots broke out last week after three Albanian boys drowned in unexplained circumstances, heightening tensions between mainly Muslim ethnic Albanians and the mainly Orthodox Serbs, who are a tiny minority in Kosovo.

Since then 28 people have been killed, several hundred have been injured, about 4000 left homeless, and places of worship including about 33 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries have been destroyed, while mosques have been torched in revenge attacks by Serbs. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has boosted its peacekeeping presence by 2000 soldiers in an attempt to quell the violence.

Archbishop Anastasios said: “Those who involve religion in the violence are essentially violating the spirit of religion. No matter how much one is in the right, he must respect the sanctity and the purpose of sacred places of worship. These should become centres of reconciliation and peace and not breeding-grounds for maintaining animosities.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle attended a service celebrated by Greek and Serbian clergy in Belgrade, at the Patriarchal Chapel of St Simeon Myrrhobietes, to mark Greek Independence Day. Pavle thanked the Greek nation for its “support and generosity” during the crisis, singling out Greek soldiers guarding Orthodox religious sites in Kosovo and Metohija.

The United Nations administers Kosovo, with NATO troops there to try to maintain peace. Kosovo is officially a province of Serbia and Montenegro, but it has been run by a UN mission and NATO peacekeepers after a 1999 air campaign by NATO pushed back Serb forces which had been cracking down on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

For more about the Orthodox Church in Albania: “The Resurrection of the Church in Albania

An Offer with Special Significance

$600,000 for a church and a mosque in Kosovo

Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania

Holy Archdiocese of Tirana

The burning of churches and mosques, does not promote justice and peace, and certainly neither progress. On the contrary, it is a return to times and practices which led the Balkans to stagnation, divisions and tragedies.

Indeed, those who involve religion in the violence are essentially violating the spirit of religion. No matter how much one is in the right, he must respect the sanctity and the purpose of sacred places of worship. These should become centers of reconciliation and peace and not breeding-grounds for maintaining animosities.

It is only with peaceful coexistence of the religious communities that genuine social progress can take place. This is the principal that we Christians and Muslims alike have adopted in Albania: to live together and to cooperate with each other in harmony.

The sobriety of religious tolerance and courage of love must overcome the blind hatred that can only lead to an escalation of conflicts. In the 21st century, worldwide and particularly in the Balkan region, we are called -independent of the national or religious community, in which we were born- to work hard to coexist peacefully, with mutual respect and solidarity.

With this conviction, the Orthodox Archdiocese of Tirana has made the following decision:

We offer $600,000 -for the restoration of a church and a mosque in Kosovo, or the construction of a youth center there that will promote peaceful coexistence. This sum comes from the funds that, with great effort, we have raised for the construction of the Orthodox Cathedral in Tirana. It will be dispatched appropriately, so that it be used equitably, according to the special significance of this initiative.

Tirana, 26.3.2004

+ Anastasios Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania

Forum on Kosovo


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Senate Dirksen Office Building

Rm. G11 at 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Under the auspices of Institute on Religion and Public Policy, a forum was held where H.E. Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro, His Grace Artemije, Bishop of Kosovo, and Hieromonk Fr. Irinej Dobrijevic testified on the tragic situation of Serbs in Kosovo.

Bishop Artemije:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Only a month ago I was here in Washington to warn U.S. officials and the public of the catastrophic situation in the areas of security and human rights for the Serb community in Kosovo and Metohija.

Some of those who heard me speak understood the seriousness of my words but I am afraid that my words were quickly overruled by the report of UNMIK chief Harri Holkeri in UN headquarters and other international reports, which described the situation in the Province in unrealistically rosy terms.

These reports avoided defining the real problems, treating existing problems in lopsided and biased fashion. I regret that I must say that I was right because I would truly prefer reality to be as optimistic as seen by certain international officials. Unfortunately, the recent Albanian pogrom against the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, which occurred in the period from March 17 to March 19, has most loudly disclaimed all the illusions that representatives of the UN mission, as well as individual diplomatic representatives in Pristina, have attempted to present to the world as the irrefutable truth.

According to UNMIK numbers in just two days at least 20 people were killed, almost 900 civilians were wounded, 22 of them seriously, 561 Serb homes were burned down and 218 were damaged, among them the recently restored homes of Serb returnees paid for by the international community. Furthermore, as a bishop I am especially horrified by the fact that in those two days of disaster a total of 35 Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries were destroyed or heavily damaged, among them pearls of medieval architecture dating back to the 14th century. My Bishop’s residence and my cathedral in Prizren have been torched. Two monasteries from the 14th century have been burned to the ground.

While the U.S. cultural community admires the exhibition of medieval Byzantine art currently on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, including works of Serbian art, in Kosovo and Metohija in the last few days hundreds of valuable icons and works of art have been destroyed, dozens of cemeteries have been desecrated, even the relics of saints and the bones of Serbian rulers have been dug up and scattered. The bestial violence and barbaric behavior toward the Christian cultural heritage is absolutely shocking.

In the ash heaps of our churches, we are finding the remains of frescoes dating back to the 12th and 14th centuries, crucifixes and burned medieval manuscripts. Such barbarity, ladies and gentlemen, occurring not in a time of war but under a UN protectorate and in the presence of 18,000 of the best-trained soldiers of the NATO alliance and several thousand international policemen, is unprecedented in the modern history of the world.

May I remind you that violence against the Serbs under the UN protectorate and KFOR did not begin just a few days ago. It has been ongoing, with greater or lesser intensity, for the past almost five years during which 112 of our churches have been destroyed, almost 2,000 Serbs have been murdered or kidnapped, and one quarter of a million Serbs who were forced to flee from Kosovo after June 1999 before the Kosovo Liberation Army still remain in exile. We must not forget these victims of the so-called international peace. What occurred last week is just the logical continuation of what has been happening under the eyes of the world for years, as well as the direct result of the UN mission’s lack of decisiveness in establishing security and safety for all civilians regardless of their ethnic origin or religious affiliation, and bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice.

I must immediately emphasize that last week’s pogrom cannot be described as “an interethnic conflict between Serbs and Albanians” as some media chose to describe it, supposedly for lack of accurate information. Neither were these the misdeeds of a small group of extremists who previously destroyed our churches and murdered individuals, entire families and children. These were tens of thousands of Albanians who, led by former veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army, laid waste to everything bearing the sign of the Cross, of civilization, in Kosovo and Metohija. These were not just demonstrators; according KFOR testimony they were armed with machine guns, hand grenades even grenade launchers. And the targets of their attacks were not just Serbs, their churches and homes but also KFOR soldiers and UNMIK policemen who attempted to protect the Serb enclaves. According to data from UNMIK, 117 UNMIK policemen and 63 KFOR soldiers were wounded, and over 150 UN and local police vehicles were burned or damaged. According to information that has not yet been publicly confirmed, there were casualties among the international forces, including the two policemen killed just the other night in an ethnically pure Albanian part of Kosovo.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the true results of the mission, which only a month ago was being called a “success story”. A month ago NATO generals were talking about the need to further reduce the military presence and discontinue security checkpoints, while UNMIK leaders were seriously proposing to complete the transfer of all competencies to Albanian provisional institutions. Serbian representatives, including those of the Serbian Orthodox Church, have been constantly warning that behind the facade of so-called democracy and apparent multiethnicity in provisional institutions hides a hideous picture of ethnic violence, discrimination, lawlessness and crime. We warned that the paramilitary organization of the former Kosovo Liberation Army had not been dismantled after the armed conflict and the deployment of NATO, that it had only been transformed into multiple satellite paramilitary and criminal organizations which continued actively arming themselves, planning and implementing the complete ethnic cleansing of the Province with the goal of creating a second Albanian state in the Balkans, a state where there will be room only for ethnic Albanians.

Is this a spontaneous or even a justified demonstration of violence? I will cite the official spokesman of the UN police, Mr. Derek Chappell, who was among the first to state that the violence suggested that the attacks “could have been planned”. I also received confirmation from Mr. Holkeri personally a few days ago; despite the fact that he, like many others, at first believed that this was a spontaneous demonstration of violence. On the morning of March 17, Albanian media unanimously took advantage of the tragic drowning death of three Albanian children to issue a war cry for the beginning of a general pogrom against the Serbs, despite the fact that the very next day UNMIK police confirmed that there were no indications that this was an ethnically motivated crime on the part of the Serbs. Soon NATO’s South-East Europe commander Admiral Gregory G. Johnson told media “the relentless wave of violence across Kosovo over the past two days now appears to be organized and orchestrated. What is more, Admiral Johnson told AFP on March 19 “to speak of inter-ethnic conflict in Kosovo is a big, hypocritical lie. What¹s happening in Kosovo is called a pogrom against a people and its history.” On March 20 Admiral Johnson told Albanian language media point blank “these kinds of activities represent ethnic cleansing and cannot go on. Fighting ethnic cleansing was the reason why we came here.” These words by a leading NATO official based on detailed reports from the field completely disprove the numerous reports that appeared in numerous respected newspapers throughout the Western democratic world, apparently based solely on the false claims of Albanian media and without any objective verification. Nevertheless, the lie has been discovered and the truth about ethnic cleansing and the systematic destruction of Christian holy sites could not be hidden.

On the day the pogrom began, Hashim Thaci was in Washington talking about multiethnicity and the progress of democracy in the Province. Events on the ground disproved his claims even as the words were leaving his mouth. While Thaci spoke about democracy, thousands of Albanians belonging to his political party were laying waste to entire Serb villages and churches, leaving graffiti — including the acronyms of Thaci’s party, the PDK, the terrorist AKSh, the Kosovo Protection Corps and other organizations under the KLA label. Buses of so-called war veterans armed to the teeth headed from Thaci’s native Drenica region in the direction of Pristina and Mitrovica and clashed with international forces.

Seeing they could not cover up the extent of the violence and barbarity, the Albanian leaders adopted another strategy. They tried to explain to the world that the cause of the violence was the unresolved status of Kosovo and Metohija, unemployment and other social problems. Although I have no desire to reduce the significance of these problems, too, I would like to quote the words of NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, as reported by the Pristina Albanian language daily “Koha Ditore” on March 23 and by other international journalists: “I don¹t believe that the unresolved status has anything to do with this. This has to do with people who think wrongly, who have illusions that by carrying out these criminal acts of ethnic violence they get closer to their ambitions but they must understand that the international community will never accept this.”

Scheffer as well as other officials who have pointed out that the justifications of the Albanian leaders are attempts to avoid responsibility or transfer it to the international community and Belgrade, are in fact pointing to the root of the problem of what is now happening in Kosovo and Metohija. I will use an analogy:

Imagine, ladies and gentlemen, that a jumbo jet has been hijacked and the hijackers are threatening that they will begin killing the passengers, the pilots or that they will crash the plane into a high-rise building if their demands are not met. Would your government cave in to such blackmail? Would the hijackers whose demands had been met stop hijacking airplanes or would they hijack more planes and make even more demands? Ladies and gentlemen, in Kosovo and Metohija there is a campaign of organized terrorism going on against which we must fight in the same way that your country is fighting against terrorism in other parts of the world. If the Albanian extremists are rewarded for using such methods, crudely manipulating their own people and threatening regional peace in order to create an independent state that would institutionalize the rule of organized crime and mafia bosses, the situation will be seriously destabilized not only in the Balkans but in all of Europe and international global interests will be threatened. How to resolve this situation, ladies and gentlemen?

Let us use the experience of the medical specialist who does not prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers and vitamins to a seriously ill patient but sends him for detailed testing and then, if necessary, applies methods of radical surgery to remove the identified source of infection. So far “specialists” have not treated Kosovo but by “general practitioners” who have been treating the inflamed and cancerous wound of the patient with aspirins and band-aids, hoping the patient would cure him and thus simplify the procedure. The results of the wrong therapy can be clearly seen today. In political terms, Kosovo needs radical surgery and radical therapy, consisting of the following measures:

1. Strong KFOR presence with broad authority, which would discourage further demonstrations of violence and completion of ethnic cleansing.

2. Urgent intelligent operations to identify the organizers, planners, helpers and direct perpetrators of criminal actions. Those responsible to be brought to justice, extremist organizations to be banned and their paramilitary activities prevented.

3. Urgent restoration of destroyed Serb villages, the return of displaced persons, the restoration of destroyed and damaged churches in cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church and appropriate Serbian and international expert teams.

4. Detailed investigation of the work of the media and sanctioning of the use of media to promote ethnic hatred, encourage violence and spread propaganda. At this exact moment, an Albanian radio program is broadcasting inflammatory nationalistic songs celebrating Adem Jashari and the KLA. The Serbs are called the worst possible names, generating enormous ethnic hatred.

5. General practitioners and voodoo doctors of the past need to be replaced by competent specialists with broad powers and operational experience. A system of accountability needs to be established and all representatives of the UN mission, police and KFOR who in any way contributed to the escalation of violence either through their actions or lack of same must submit their resignations.

6. Urgent definition of concrete institutional and security systems to protect the Serb people and other non-Albanians from further annihilation. The integration of Serbs into a society where they are exposed to physical, spiritual and cultural destruction is an absurd request.

7. Temporary dissolution of Kosovo institutions, which by their silence, propaganda or complete lack of activity have shown themselves to be immature or incompetent for further participation in the political process.

8. Following radical therapy, a political convalescence process needs to be launched with those political representatives who are firmly committed to the principles and values of a democratic society. Serbs can only participate as equals and give their contribution to the democratization of Kosovo society only in such a process and with such institutions.

9. Finally, redefining the standards program and launching the process of economic and political building of a stable democratic society in Kosovo and Metohija with the creation of all preconditions for a consensual resolution of the final status of the Province where all peoples would enjoy all individual and collective human rights, regardless of final status.

10. Our opinion remains that the best way to resolve the Kosovo problem in the long run is to implement the through process of decentralization which would enable Serbs in the areas in which they constitute relative majority a possibility to have more self rule and protect their human, cultural and religious rights in a better way. Special protection has to be granted to Orthodox Christian monasteries, particularly our major monasteries of the Pec Patriarchate, Decani and Gracanica. In this proposal Kosovo would not become an independent state and the international borders of Serbia-Montenegro would not be changed. However, Kosovo would enjoy the highest level of autonomy within the country, which at the moment remains the most multiethnic state of the Balkans.

Otherwise, ladies and gentlemen, ideas suggesting that the politics of accomplished fact should be accepted with the goal of proclaiming the full or so-called conditional independence of Kosovo or Metohija or the partition of the province along ethnic lines with so-called “humane relocation of the population” would represent a dangerous precedent that would destabilize the situation throughout the region, embolden radical forces in Serbia and Macedonia, incite interethnic and inter-religious clashes involving the destruction of religious sites and prevent the European integration of this physical part of Europe for decades. The recognition of the independence of Kosovo especially would set a precedent for the use of violence to impose institutional solutions without recourse to negotiations and international law, which could have unforeseeable consequences.

I would like to assure you that most of the Albanian population in Kosovo has been thoroughly manipulated by their political leaders, largely leaders of the former KLA, as well as by the Albanian language media with few exceptions. They are channeling the completely understandable discontent of young people who have been promised a sort of Eldorado against the other ethnic communities and international missions and thus hoping to force international forces to abandon Kosovo and Metohija and leave them in full power.

In conclusion, as a bishop of the Church I appeal to the U.S. community, which has always stood on the side of the protection of basic religious and human rights throughout the world, not to allow unprecedented ethnic violence to unfold under the flags of the most respected democratic countries of the world, first and foremost, the United States of America; the destruction of centuries-old cultural and historical heritage, valuable Christian monuments and an entire people which has been present here for centuries and represents an integral part of the global cultural legacy which our generation needs to preserve for the future.

Thank you.

Read more on page 2

Sacraments of Healing

OPF Retreat in Vézelay, France

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

A Healing Retreat

a report by James Chater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more photos from the retreat…

Please help the Vezelay parish…