Category Archives: Conversations by Email

OPF list discussion content included in issues of In Communion

Conversations by email

Email Conversations Spring 2015

Any member of the OPF may request to be added to our online discussion list where postings and comments are made almost daily. If you wish to join, make your request via our website or send an email to Alex Patico, Jim Forest, or Pieter Dykhorst (see inside front cover). The following were taken from the discussion list.

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Jim Forest wrote:
A long-term study of Vietnam veterans with PTSD finds that among those “especially likely to develop such war-related trauma, [are] those veterans who had killed multiple times in combat.

Catherine Jefferson wrote:
This is rather like a formal scientific study finding out that children whose parents read to them at home score better on reading and writing skills at school––not scientifically “inevitable,” but at very least an expected result. I don’t scorn the study. Scientific studies of questions that we think we already know the answers to often teach us new things. Sometimes they show us that the expected result/answer we thought we already knew is wrong.
I am not at all surprised that expectations were confirmed when it came to PTSD rates among combat veterans. I’m just a few years younger than most younger Vietnam veterans, and most combat veterans tend to be young guys. I’ve known several. One fought in the Tet Offensive. His statement to me and anyone who asks, “I don’t care how justified. If you ever have to kill somebody, your life will suck for a very long time.”
He never talked about Vietnam, with me anyway…. I don’t know, as a fact, that he has PTSD, but I can see the obvious.
Data is not the plural of anecdote, but I offer his story to illustrate. I expect there are plenty of young men and women from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer the same way my friend does.

Jim Forest wrote:
I agree, Catherine, that there are no surprises in this study, but one real plus is that those who wish to deny the obvious are less able to claim that killing in war leaves no hidden wounds on those who do the killing.

——————
The following exchange was in response to an essay by Herbert A. Perkins, co-founder of an anti-racist educational group in the twin cities called ASDIC Metamorphosis, who wrote an essay “Reflection on ‘Burning Down the Town’” in response to the problem of some violent protests in Ferguson after the Grand Jury decision not to indict the police officer who shot to death Michael Brown.

A few quotes from Perkins’ essay:

There is no “turning-over,” i.e., revolution, without burning of the “old order” and some degree of “loss” imposed on the innocent.

Who is innocent? Are any of us innocent in our “by-standing” ownership in a society that is racist? What does our DISINTEREST in the ways racism is a violence against people mean in any of our claims of “innocence”? Are we innocent as we turn our eye away from the everyday operations of US racism and the policing/law enforcement that protects the racist interests and life-ways of US communities?

Let us not be naïve! We must take sides against racism. There are no innocent by-standers!

Oppression is held in place by violence. It is removed through the violating of the norms and practices that hold it in place.
I do not advocate the burning of businesses as such, don’t get me wrong. I, a reader of Mohandas Gandhi, recall him saying something like the following: “I’d rather see a man engage in violence to resist the injustice imposed on him than to see him cowardly accepting violence being done to him. Cowardice is inexcusable! But non-violence as resistance to violence is better, preferred.”

Now, today, protesters in Ferguson, protestors across the country, have also violated the peace and orderly business of the towns they live in.

So, please, let us be less sanctimoniousness about this!
In the context of US enslavement of Africans and resistance, Fredrick Gabrielle Douglass’ famously responded: “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Alex Patico wrote:
The problem I have with “reactive violence”—what happened in my home city of Washington after Dr. King was shot, for example––is not that it is hard to comprehend, or that it is morally equivalent to the taking of human life by authorities, or even to long-term institutional racism that eats away at souls bit by bit. No, I object for the same reason I object to drone warfare: it ends up hurting many who are, if not totally innocent (who among is?), certainly far from being the ones mainly responsible, the persons that those who burn are really mad at. Those shop owners are “collateral damage,” which is not acceptable in any situation. They become victims mostly because they are convenient targets.

Steve Hayes wrote:
Yes, most violence in the world is “reactive violence”—that is violence because people are angry at someone else’s violence. It is “feel-good” violence, because it makes people feel good to express their anger by behaving violently. The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 was reactive violence, and the attack on Afghanistan that followed was reactive violence reacting against that. The problem I have with reactive violence is that it just perpetuates the cycle of violence, or worse, makes it a spiral, killing and injuring more people each time round. More people have been killed in Afghanistan than were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, and as far as I am aware none of them were involved in planning the attack on the World Trade Center.

That is why I am a pacifist.

I feel passions, like anger, that are sparked off by other people’s violent acts, and the immediate reaction is to want to hit back. But as Orthodox Christians we are told to control the passions, and to rein in our violent urges. And it is only by doing this that we can reduce the spiral of violence, making it smaller instead of bigger.

“Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. I will repay.”

Paul del Junco wrote:
God’s “vengeance” was the Cross of Christ. That’s how little we understand what vengeance is for God. If it’s not about love in the end, it’s about nothing. Justice is a degradation of love, in my mind.

Here’s a reality which puts racial injustice, and any injustice, into perspective. And the contemplation of it brings me close to despair. Every single nation on earth without exception, either directly or indirectly, that contains all the finest culture, art, beauty, education, social progress (however you define it), lofty jurisprudence, every human refinement of thought word and deed, including all the finest theological thought, rests on the ugly brutality of war. Our physical security, our economic security, our leisure to pursue all these things (including this conversation!) all rest on this. This is the foundation upon which we all stand. Whether it’s Pax Romana, Pax Byzantina, or Pax Americana. Pax, peace as we know it in this fallen world of ours, stands on this hideous reality. As J. L. McKenzie says, it’s part of the air we breathe.

Jesus is clearly a contradiction to this reality but he lived and preached and died in the reality of Pax Romana. The peace he preached was not of this world. His perspective was not looking into improving the future. It was eschatological. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. It is not as the world gives that I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we shouldn’t try to improve the world. But we need perspective. We are handing on the baton to our children (may they forgive us), but the fulfillment of our lives and this world does not lie here. The most obvious reason is that it’s temporary. The world’s and our fulfillment lie in eternity.
What’s our job here? To love. Or as Peter Maurin put it, “We must make the kind of society where it is easier for people to be good.”

Alex Patico wrote:
Wonderful, Paul! I think that speaking about justice as “love lite” might be closer to the mark. It’s what passes for fair, reasonable, and good in the absence of the truly compassionate option, which is so much more, as you point out.

Steve Hayes wrote:
I see justice as congealed love.
You can’t force people to love one another, but justice reduces the evil effects of their lack of love.

Conversations @ E-Mail – October 2011

Counting the Cost. The cost of paradise is the Cross of Christ. God is love. The cost of God loving us is his self-emptying in the incarnation culminating in his passion and total dereliction on the Cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the cost of God forgiving us. This is the cost of Christ’s total identification with our fallen humanity. In order to win Paradise for us, he has to enter our hell where we are totally bereft not only of God’s presence but of life itself. Christ offers us this free gift of forgiveness and salvation without reservation and with only one condition––that we let our hearts be broken open in repentance to receive this forgiveness (“a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Ps. 50) and in like manner forgive others. In truly repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness, we then forgive others. In a sense it’s automatic. We simply can’t receive God’s forgiveness without forgiving others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The cost of our own repentance and forgiving others is our share in the Cross of Christ. Why is this so rarely even preached? Why do we simply fail to understand this when we evade the simple truth of “Love your enemies”? The answer is very simple, if also very tragic. We don’t want to pay the price of God’s becoming one of us. We don’t want to pay the price of the Cross. Paul del Junco

Paul, your words reminded me of those of Archimandrite Vasileios, Abbot of Stavronikita, then of Iveron, whom I just heard speak. He said: “PARADISE is a kind of TASTING…to know/understand that all is love…” Clearly, this understanding can only come to a heart willing to be broken open and bear the Cross. Ioana Novac


Peace. It seems to me that the majority of Orthodox Saints and fathers hold a simple truth about peace–it must begin with individual peace within and grow from that place. St Seraphim of Sarov is often quoted “If you find inner peace, thousands around you will be saved.” Most of the Noble Peace Prize recipients do not reflect that essential element in their acceptance speeches. More often issues of justice and tolerance, or grand multinational policy and international security, are the focus of attention. Is it “peace one person at a time” or can we effect general policies and attitudes? Maybe it can be both. Maybe it is more of how we do it? Fr. John Brian


Fear. Henry Nouwen writes: “Waiting is not a very popular attitude. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait!” For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something. In our particular historical situation, waiting is even more difficult because we are so fearful. One of the most pervasive emotions in the atmosphere around us is fear. People are afraid–afraid of inner feelings, afraid of other people, and also afraid of the future. And fearful people have a hard time waiting.
I am fearful of many things–bedbugs, snakes, (9.3 on the Richter scale) earthquakes, offending someone, even of the dark sometimes! I just know God is there and so push myself through those fears. It is a matter of giving them to Him, “putting them on the altar,” so to say. It would be impossible for me to make it through a day without exercising faith. So many of those things could and have and do happen! How do I know that the occasional hitchhiker I’ve picked up is a person of good will? I don’t. I come from a family of sometimes violent people who have had problems with post-traumatic stress and alcoholism. The unthinkable does indeed happen. Still, we want to do the needful thing, show hospitality.

On the other hand, reason sometimes cautions that it is time to give certain things up. I think of driving in busy, urban traffic, for example. It is a time of life for me to let someone else sit behind the wheel there, and one day I will probably not drive any longer, period. I just don’t respond as quickly as I once did, and I would not want to endanger others.

One of C.S. Lewis’ books mentioned that life is more meaningful because death always lurks beside us (I think he actually said “in the water” because he was talking about being beside a pool of some sort). The gist of it was that there is no life without risk of dying or without confronting our fears. This tells us that things matter.  Sally Eckert


Related to our “particular historical situation” is the matter of our culture struggling with the matter of having lost its faith (God is dead, etc.) Whether any particular person is devoted or not, we are no longer surrounded by any on-going assumptions and reminders of faith, that we journey on earth for a time before going on to another reality and that what we do here and now is of great significance, etc. Cosmically, therefore, we don’t know where we are.

Being lost is scary. This touches the second matter, not limited to this particular time, but–the fear of being alone, truly alone in the universe, as above, but alienated from our selves and therefore alone within ourselves, strangers from ourselves. “They cannot scare me with their empty spacesBetween stars–on stars where no human race is. 
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.”–from Robert Frost’s “Desert Places”

Add to that the lack of community, that we live in such an individualistic society that refuses community. Con-sumer approaches to religious practice indicates this.  We don’t want to “fit in” to a community at all, with all its implications that fly in the face of me, myself, and I. Our young people have huge trouble with commitment to a partner, leaving marriage till later and later.“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping.”I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.”–from Simon and Garfunkle’s “America”

Why would someone pour out one’s heart to someone when he knows she is sleeping? Clearly because he is des-perately afraid, both of being alone and of being known at the same time.Thomas Snowdon I don’t have time to do the research but in recent years have several times seen statistics about the number of people in the US using various kinds of stress medication. The number, high already, shot up significantly after 9-11.
I think fear of God is qualitatively different than fear of the threats and dangers that swallow up so much of our physical energy. It would be interesting to look at the Greek words (I am assuming there is more than one) that are translated as “fear.” I think of fear of God as being in a state of radical awe, overwhelmed by the mystery of a Being at once so close and so far, so demanding and so merciful. Jim Forest

Just War. The issue of justifiable war or coercion comes up frequently. I believe I have said this before, but here I must say again that I think the typical Orthodox take on the subject is illogical and unfair to the Catholics.

The argument seems to be that the difference between Orthodoxy and the West on the point of killing is that, if a person ever feels morally compelled to kill one person in order to save another, the killer should still take a repentant attitude. There is no question that Orthodoxy does indeed teach people to take such a repentant attitude and in all seriousness: The Orthodox attitude does indeed appear to be that the action really is to be regretted and the person who committed it needs to search his or her heart deeply, turn away from all low motives that may have led to it (anger, revenge, lust for power, etc.), and acknowledge that the action of killing is always inherently somewhat in-compatible with the Spirit of the Prince of Peace.

My son in the Army told me a story that illustrates the kind of repentance that is called for. When he was serving in Iraq, another young man had engaged with the enemy and killed one of the enemy soldiers. He was very proud of that fact. For about a week he went around saying and implying, “I’m a warrior! I’m a real man!” It was too much for the other soldiers in the unit. His colonel finally said to him, “Soldier, that other young man had a family too.” His pride wilted on the spot.

I want to add here that if Orthodoxy does require repentance of a person who kills another person, then Orthodoxy shares the Catholic doctrine of justifiable war, coercion, violence, and killing. I say that because the Catholic tradition of justifiable war has always included the necessity of repentance as one of the criteria for justifiable war. The simple fact is that the Catholics also insist on repentance–so this is not a difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. If X is supposed to differ from Y in having Z, but Y does have Z, then X does not differ from Y (at least in that particular respect).

I hasten to add also that the Catholic tradition of justifiable war has been cheapened and prostituted by Western governments and public policy. After all, the theory of justifiable war was used to justify the Crusades. And we have all seen instances of this use of the theory of just war in recent years. It may well be the case that the vast majority of wars do NOT meet the criteria for a just war–but the rulers and leaders of nations use the theory of just war to convince and persuade their people that they should fight. The State has a way of twisting things to its own advantage.

I think that many of the things said against the “theory of just war” have in mind the somewhat less than Christian form that that theory has taken in statecraft in the West–not the theory as worked out by Catholic ethicists and theologians. A recent book explores this aspect of the matter in great and profound detail. I highly recommend Daniel Bell’s Just War As Christian Discipleship as a way to explore what the tradition meant and how governments have messed around with it. Another book, much more personal in approach, is Eric Greiten’s The Heart and the Fist, which is the story of a humanitarian who came to believe that there is a place for the use of military force in dealing with genocides and other misuses of force. The young man started out doing humanitarian work in Bosnia and Rwanda and ended up becoming a Navy SEAL.

My point here is that when we Orthodox say that we have no theory of a just war, we are indulging ourselves with hype that is not to be taken seriously. It is another example of a kind of Orthodox triumphalism and “The Catholics and the West are always wrong about everything.” If you believe that it is ever morally right to use military force to stop military force, then you do in fact have a theory of just war. You then have a moral and intellectual obligation to state under what circumstances it is morally right for nations and individuals to take such action. The Orthodox theory may indeed differ from the Catholic theory in some respects–but I have yet to see an essay that spells out those differences in a way that shows real familiarity with the Catholic tradition. If anyone on the list does know such an essay, please refer me to it; I really would like to see it. I know that we have smart and wise people working on Orthodox ethics–but in this instance, it seems to me that the Catholics have worked harder and articulated a more coherent theory than the Orthodox. We should cultivate the humility to recognize that sometimes our brothers and sisters in other traditions have gifts to give us, and that we have no monopoly on wisdom. David Holden


Whether a tradition has a formal theory of “just war” does not rest on whether its members sometimes consider a certain use of violence to be justified. Many such decisions are taken in an ad hoc, even helter-skelter way, without benefit of careful reflection or doctrinal devel-opment and refinement. Where is the JW Theory in Orthodoxy enunciated?
 Fundamentally, though, I think this is the bottom line: that a person (or a church) can hold (and I think there is plenty of this in Orthodox tradition) that a) war is never a good in itself and is always lamentable, b) human beings are caught in situations where they cannot always discern a totally moral position–in which case they must do the best they can, and c) we should always repent when we feel we may have committed sin–in fact, we should repent for sins that we have committed without our knowledge or conscious intent If the above looks to anyone like “Just War Theory” then we must agree to disagree. Alex Patico

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011


Conversations by E-Mail – Summer 2011

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <markp -at- earlham.edu> or Jim Forest <jhforest -at-gmail.com.

Osama Bin Laden: The killing of Osama Bin Laden reminds me of the summary execution of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. At the time, there was jubilation because this event signified the slow-in-coming fall of an important piece in the political domino of ex-communist Eastern Europe

However, as a Romanian who had experienced first hand the terror of the police state headed by him, all I could feel was shame that people who called themselves Christian were so pleased with political assassination.

I feel now a sadness that there is so little room in this culture for views beside pleasure in manhunts and killing as a solution for dealing with terrorism or political opposition in other countries.
I am convinced that it does eventual harm to all of us who live here, especially to children who grow up learning that this is the “way.”

Ioana Novac

Pascha 2011: Last week we celebrated Easter. The world really needs Easter. An earthquake plus tsunami knocked the Earth off its axis in Japan, the American South was being decimated with storms, a megalomaniac was and is running wild in Libya, and now the extrajudicial killing of Osama Bin Laden has taken place in “defense of freedom.” The world really needs Easter.

Benjamin Abbott

Constantine the Great

Constantinian conundrum: Part of my OPF work is to respond to the hard questions people send via our web site or e-address. Here is one someone has asked plus my answer. How would you have answered him differently

Question: “I struggle to understand St. Constantine’s vision of the Cross and the message to violently conquer in the sign of the Cross. He is a saint, and who am I to question his actions? But such a message seems to be a perversion of the true meaning of the Cross, whereby Our Lord gave His own life and showed us that we must turn the other cheek. How do we reconcile our nonviolent philosophy with the actions of St. Constantine?”

My response: While I cannot speak for the whole Orthodox tradition, I would answer your question in this way, hoping that I am doing justice to the scriptures and the wisdom of the Fathers (or at least not doing damage to either).

In a sense, if we are Christians, we are all called to be “pacifists” – the Way of Christ is the way of peace. But few of us fit the definition of the term very closely.

The Church has always been leery of what happens to the soul of any Christian when he takes a human life, yet also realistic about the fact that a person might be confronted with what seem like impossible choices – between allowing another to be harmed and acting in their defense, between responding to the unity of humanity and to the claims of patriotism, and so forth.

For Constantine to see the cross as a sign of divine approbation of war was wrong. He was not made a saint because of his success in battle or other violent actions as emperor, but for his ending the persecution of Christians and for his support of the Church in its good works.

By the same token, St. John Chrysostom is not honored for his various failures (such as his harsh words regarding Judaism) but for his living out of fundamental message of Christ, his eloquence and his defense of doctrine that is central to the Church.

We all commit sins, but should still strive toward the perfection that God asks of us and toward which He helps us.

Alex Patico

Anomalies: There are many anomalies in the Orthodox Church. A perfect example is the commemoration on Pentecost of the Uniate last Emperor of Constantinople in my Russian parish. Another example – on the same day – was our prayer, during the third kneeling prayer, for those in Hades, the only time we do so liturgically during the year. It is an extraordinary prayer. Normally, we simply don’t pray for those in hell; but on Pentecost we do. There are also a few scattered examples in the lives of saints who sought, through prayer, to pray people out of hell (e.g., Trajan by Pope St. Gregory the Great).

My view is that we ought not be predisposed to eliminate what at first glance seems odd or anomalous. Rather, we ought to assume the practices to be correct unless they can be shown, with great force, to be wrong. Rather than start by judging odd practices, we ought to look at how they may push us to expand our views and not put God into a box.

To quote Metropolitan Hilarion Alfayev: “Orthodox liturgical texts are important because of their ability to give exact criteria of theological truth, and one must always confirm theology using liturgical texts as a guideline, and not the other way round. The lex credendi grows out of the lex orandi, and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services. Thus, if there are differences in the understanding of a dogma between a certain theological authority and liturgical texts, I would be inclined to give preference to the latter. And if a textbook of dogmatic theology contains views different from those found in liturgical texts, it is the textbook, not the liturgical texts that may need correction.”

When we see things that seem anomalous to us, let’s not be so sure that the anomalies need to be removed. Let’s not be so sure we know all the answers, or need to.

Daniel Lieuwen

Maybe: The Church is such a complex institution, the scriptures so rich and (sometimes) ambiguous, and the nature of God so unfathomable, that it is reasonable to say “maybe” more quickly than “definitely not.”

An Iranian author I like described a situation involving her uncle. Her Muslim friends were talking over how best to relate to Baha’is. One man said, “They usually seem like very nice people … but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.” Another said, “They are apostates – they knew Islam and rejected it!” A third asked her uncle what he thought on the subject. His response was: “I am glad that Allah is larger than the closet in which you keep Him.”

Alex Patico

Population: The world population will hit seven billion in the next few weeks. There is no limit in sight. Meanwhile whole habitats are destroyed and the earth becomes less capable of sustaining life. Species are dying out because of the sheer number of people and the influence we exert on the planet. Each time a link in the eco-chain disappears, we endanger our own survival.

It is not just that we as individuals create more pollution than our ancestors did. In fact our behavior as individuals may even be improving in some ways because of recycling, less polluting cars etc. The problem is in the sheer number of us. If you solve the population problem, many of the other problems, such as emissions, pollution, erosion and destruction of habitats, will more or less go away.

At the time of Early Fathers, over-population wasn’t an issue. This may be why the Church, even if it has a lot to say about ecology and our relationship with Creation, didn’t address such issues as over-population. Also, over-population is not a moral category like cruelty, murder or theft. These are universal crimes, and one can justly aspire to a world where no one is cruel, kills or steals. But reproduction is not a “crime” or a “sin.” You cannot aspire to world where no one has babies, as then the human race would become extinct: the patient would be cured, but dead! The problem lies in the way we act in aggregate, not as individuals.

Somehow – I don’t know how – we must evolve to become more hospitable and compassionate towards one another while at the same time being realistic about the challenges posed by over-population. What should we as Christians be thinking, saying and doing about this problem?

James Chater

Other factors: I agree, James, but there are so many other factors. One is corrupt government that fails to distribute food equitably or to distribute food aid at all. Another is cash crops – poor countries serving as the farms of the distant rich. Another is education – there is a tendency for better-educated people to have fewer children. The poor are kept poor, and poor people tend to have more children. The notorious approach of the past century was in various ways to limit the size of poor families by means of birth control, abortion and even sterilization. But this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. If the failure of the world to feed, clothe and educate its population was better dealt with, would it reduce the population problem? Or exacerbate it, keeping ever more people alive and give them longer lives?

Nancy Forest

Above: Adam and Eve with Christ in Paradise (Monreale, Palermo

Sexuality: I suspect that we can’t really learn about human sexuality from Adam and Eve, who were initially beautiful, good and pure but immature, who then also suffered the disintegration associated with the fall.

Being fallen, we are probably not good judges of how things should be because of the lack of integration between heart (nous) and head and body, or soul. We experience a fractured existence with the elements of our personhood out of sync with each other. We are materialistic about more than foods; we misuse what is essentially good in an idolatrous way, and this includes our sexuality.

And so we drift this way and that, and then convince ourselves that we are discovering a rule or the truth. But Truth for us is someone, not something. Jesus is our Truth. We must offer ourselves to Him to begin to learn without guile, with a broken and contrite heart.

Maybe sexuality augments our understanding of God. Maybe biology is meant to help open the eyes of our understanding. God could have given us different forms, but made us as we are.

Like the relationships in a monastic vocation, the relationship between married persons is a path toward salvation that can contribute to our redemption and deification if it is lived sacramentally with thanksgiving. Our God-given sexuality can be good, instructive toward wisdom, and useful.

The pattern and prototype comes from the Holy Trinity; and it is modeled for us by Jesus in the Incarnation as He fashions, or creates, His “bride” (with “her” voluntary collaboration) – together with the Father and the Holy Spirit – and makes all things new. In other words, this great and Divine Liturgical relationship is creation. It is a Divine dynamic that cannot be circumscribed in words.

The parable of bridegroom and bride is one very good way of describing the relationship between the Israel of God and the Eternal Son; and the “parable” of children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, our High Priest over all creation, is another. But each is a “parable” or “typos” and does not fully reveal the glory of what we may eventually become through God’s grace and our desire for Him. The Holy Trinity is creating. Trying to find words to contain that Truth leaves us helplessly speechless.

It’s a question, not an answer… But it’s hard for me to see sexuality without a context. It is a gift for edification, although we may misuse or waste it.

Sally Eckert

After the Fall: Thanks, Sally. Part of our problem with living in this world is that we only know of the world in its fallen condition and we can never fully apprehend what life was like before the Fall. Everything we experience, no matter how “natural” is experienced through the lens of the Fall.

In some ways this is a great limit on our understanding how to live in this world. Just like science cannot peer into anything prior to the “Big Bang” – that is the limit of science – so too we cannot peer into the world before the flood let alone the world before the Fall.

These are “worlds” beyond our perception, though we can know about them through the Scriptures. The eschaton and heaven too are beyond our normal experience, though we are granted hints, prefigurations, glimpses into these “worlds.” We are granted awareness of these “worlds” which allows us to anticipate them, which is somewhat the joy we experience in and through the Liturgy.

But as the Fathers saw it, sexual activity belongs to this world – the world of the Fall and the world of sin and death. They tended to believe there was no sexual activity in Paradise (perhaps because none is mentioned in Scripture until after the Fall) and that there will be none in the Kingdom to come (“they will be like angels not given in marriage”).

So our entire experience of and understanding of sexuality and gender is, as we experience it, in this the world of the Fall. So we are left to theorize about it, and to understand the commandments related to it (these commandments by the way are also given to us in the world of the Fall, so they may have no eternal validity belonging to the first Covenant rather than to Christ), and to interpret what it is to be human.

Discussions about sexuality and gender are therefore conducted within an incomplete experience of the entire cosmos; creation and paradise as well as the eschaton and heaven are beyond our experience. They are part of the context in which we are to understand sexuality.

But because of our limited experience with them, sexuality has an element of mystery (in the sacramental sense) to it. This is also why to overly dogmatize about some of these issues raised by sexuality is to forget our human limits in understanding and that our understanding is at times imperfect.

There is a logic at operation in the universe which is not ours. What has occurred in the world of the Fall regarding gender and sexuality may have some meaning which we cannot at this point fathom or grasp. God does work in mysterious ways.

And we who say human life is sanctified and valuable, and who can embrace and even celebrate life for the handicapped and the challenged, may have to find the sanctity which is also present in those whose gender or sexual orientation is inexplicable or different.

We are dealing with complex issues with implications for the lives of many. We do have to deal with these issues in the world of the fall. What are the limits of acceptable sexual behavior in human society?

Here we come back to the wisdom which is available to us through Scripture and Tradition.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

Merton on Nonviolence: “Nonviolence seeks to ‘win’ not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary,” wrote Thomas Merton, “but by convincing him that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood.

Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over him, but to turn him from an adversary into a collaborator by winning him over.”

This passage touches the root of my deep skepticism of the state or the political process as an active force for genuine peace. I can’t even begin to imagine a world where my own State, the U.S., will ever take the attitude toward any enemy that there is a higher common good for both parties if only both could strive together to attain it.

To be sure, “we” (identifying ourselves with the State) are convinced that there is a higher good, but we are equally convinced that we have either already attained it or are darn close, and it is “they” (the other state) who are holding it back or refusing to attain to our good already achieved or “seen.”

Conversely, Merton convinces me that peace begins with me, that the higher good really is far above me, and possibly, in the degree to which I succeed in attaining it, I can influence those around me sufficiently that corporately we might have an eventually sufficient influence on the State that it may at least act something like a peacemaker of the sort Merton describes. It’s the last part I really don’t believe.
Pieter Dykhorst

Caesar always leads: I have the impression that Copts in Egypt, like Christians in many countries, are asking for a particular freedom, not for freedom for everyone in the country.

But democracy is an all or none proposition. Christians cannot ask for particular freedoms, while asking that existential freedom be denied to those whom it wishes.

Liberalization is in the very nature of democracy, because it eventually expands to encompass all citizens. In the end, if you wish to deny the benefits of democracy to some, to the “not us,” or those who, for example, feel the need to divorce, then you must resort to a dictatorship and a set of religious laws: and Islam is the dominant religion, so the laws will be theirs, not yours. Democracy is all nor none. If you wish to dance with Caesar, you must remember that Caesar always leads. And Caesar is always an opportunist.

Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo)

Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church, is one of the oldest churches in Egypt. A church was built on the site in the 3rd century.

Photo: Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church, is one of the oldest churches in Egypt. A church was built on the site in the 3rd century.

Egyptians Coptics: The Copts here in Egypt tend to want either a full-blown secular state, a liberal democracy with rights and freedoms for everyone, including them, or else protection by a benevolent ruler from forces that would persecute them, as they think they had under Mubarak.

After 1400 years of either outright persecution or discriminatory treatment at best, it seems that these are understandable longings.

What is truly amazing about this is that the Coptic Church here is the healthiest church I have ever seen. Churches are full to over-flowing with multiple services on multiple days on the weekends.

Monasteries and convents are active and growing with young monks and nuns, often very accomplished people, living and working out of new or newly refurbished facilities. Impressive development services for poor villages and slums are undertaken by both the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Evangelical churches. It all says to me that we Christians do better under duress than privilege.

Whatever the shape of Egypt’s political future looks like, I hope it doesn’t undermine this health.

Thomas Snowden

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011

Conversations by E-Mail – Winter 2011 IC 59

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson or Jim Forest.

Questions: Via the OPF web site, we receive a steady flow of letters. A recent correspondent asked this question: “I read on the OPF website about people whose conscience compels them not to fight. What about people whose conscience compels them to fight?” Here is my response.

I believe that there are several questions tied up in this one:

Should individual conscience be respected and followed?

Is the voice of conscience reliable as a moral guide?

Can fighting, in general, ever be a Christian endeavor?

In answer to the first question, I think that the answer is yes. Law in the USA, for example, recognizes blanket objection to war on the grounds of an individual’s conscience. Unfortunately, recognition of selective conscientious objection – that is, acknowledgment that an individual’s conscience opposes a particular conflict – is not recognized under the existing law. I think that this a wrong approach, in that it takes away the individual citizen’s right to exercise his/her own conscience and makes each person a “good soldier” just following orders. It was this sort of reaction that led to people being executed under the Third Reich for resisting conscription into Hitler’s war efforts, and which leads to men and women being jailed today because they cannot in good conscience serve in Iraq, based on their understanding of the (lack of) justification for that conflict.

This leads us to the second question – can conscience be used with or instead of other sorts of decision-making processes – is it a better way to make important choices? I would say that we never have a mutually exclusive set of methods – one can do all the other sorts of calculations (political, economic, self-interest, etc.) in conjunction with conscience. One ends up saying either, “this would be prudent, cost-effective, advantageous or popular – and it would be the moral thing to do” or “this would be a right decision in every other way … but, it would be wrong.”

Of course, the conscience is only as reliable as the process which formed it; if brought up by parents and teachers who emphasized self-denying compassion, one would have a different sensibility from a person who was imbued with values of cut-throat competition, brutal denial of any consideration for others and so forth.

Lastly, when is it right to fight? Orthodox tradition (especially in the early church) holds that it is never good to take human life. The Church also recognizes, though, that sometimes people have what are essentially “Sophie’s choices” – an untenable set of alternatives, such as war or the slaughter of innocents. Therefore, we acknowledge that certain actions may seem inevitable or unavoidable and yet they would still be lamentable. If a man shot an intruder in the belief that he was threatening his children, he might be acquitted by a jury of his peers and might be judged sympathetically by his neighbors, but he should still mourn the loss of a human life at his hands and deal carefully with its effect on his moral constitution.

The more absolute pacifist tradition (taken by many saints) is that there is no circumstance in which killing can be entertained; that, like Christ, we must even go to our own death rather than becoming a killer. Since this might entail suffering for others, one may be tempted to see it as a “passivist” tradition. Conscience, though, does not let us off the hook that easily. One should do whatever is within our power – short of killing – to effect protection of the innocent. Non-cooperation, sabotage, or putting oneself in the way of deadly force to save another might all be moral choices that would be required. Conscientious objectors have done everything from washing bedpans to serving as unarmed medics on the front lines in their quest for moral purity and responsible citizenship.

Alex Patico

Secretary, OPF-North America

[email protected]

Saved by beauty: Dostoevsky’s famous comment about beauty – “Beauty will save the world” – appears in the dialogue in The Idiot (in which the words are attributed to Myshkin, the prince).

Regarding beauty, I think there is an aesthetic quality even to the love of Christ. If prayer is an art, as is maintained in the Philokalia (literally “love of the beautiful”), then its object must be conceived of or experienced somehow by its subject. The quote cannot be reduced to such bare conceits as one’s appearance, or the subjectivity of eye-pleasing preferences. Beauty may have something to do with the intrinsic worth that subsists in everything, even in that which is desecrated, even in the dignity of an enemy, and the vision one must acquire to see it does involve a kind of aesthetic task.

I don’t think there is any problem in seeing beauty as salvific. This isn’t a threat to the redemption of creation via the cross. We are all involved in the salvation of each other, we work it out “with fear and trembling.” There are many facets to the synergistic cooperation between God and man, which may of course include beauty, or may in fact define beauty in its absolute context.

Eric Simpson

God’s fragrance: While aesthetic experiences can and often do lead to self-transcendence, and hence perhaps to God, such beauty is not salvific in itself. Rather, the beauty which saves is a treasure hidden in earthen vessels. It is revealed through humility, which is abhorrent to the worldly-minded. The beauty of Christ is “the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” (2 Cor 2:14-16)

As Bishop Kallistos notes, “In a fallen world, beauty is perilously ambivalent: it is not only salvific but deeply seductive.”

It is ironic that this catchy phrase originates from the one major Dostoevsky novel in which there is, in fact, no salvation. In his other novels, we see repentance come through the interactions betwixt the major protagonists. But The Idiot ends with madness, death, and apostasy – perhaps because, as Dostoevsky noted in his journals, the book was intended to show the futility of viewing Christ as merely a “beautiful man.” If He is not God incarnate, there is no salvation – and in this novel, this is made quite clear.

I believe Dostoevsky was responding to the 19th century attempt to portray Christ merely as a good man, a noble teacher, a “Christian Socrates.” I doubt that he was trying to make any absolute statement about Christian aesthetics or our mutual responsibility for the salvation of each other. The latter view was presented in Brothers Karamazov through the person of Fr. Zosima.

But if our understanding of beauty is as broad as the tradition of the Church, then there is no problem at all saying that beauty will save the world, since “beauty” is then a synonym for God’s grace. But while all this is self-evident to those within our tradition, it becomes problematic when the statement is removed from the context of the Church and her teaching.

Peter Brubacher

Saved by love: Beauty can’t save. In fact beauty itself, in our world, is mortal and corrupted by sin, made “ugly” – and must itself be saved! And of course, this is what Christ did – Christ who “was without form or comeliness” and “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” If this is not the heart of our salvation, I don’t know what is.

I would be happier if Dostoevsky had said “love (agape) will save the world.”

Paul del Junco

Solzhenitsyn: I wonder if the phrase, attributed to Dostoevsky, was as well-known before Solzhenitsyn attributed it to him in his Nobel lecture? I refer to this section:

“One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: ‘Beauty will save the world.’ What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes – but whom has it saved?

“There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender. It is possible to compose an outwardly smooth and elegant political speech, a headstrong article, a social program, or a philosophical system on the basis of both a mistake and a lie. What is hidden, what distorted, will not immediately become obvious.

“Then a contradictory speech, article, program, a differently constructed philosophy rallies in opposition – and all just as elegant and smooth, and once again it works. Which is why such thing are both trusted and mistrusted.

“In vain to reiterate what does not reach the heart.

“But a work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force – they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.

“So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through – then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar to that very same place, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?

“In that case Dostoevsky’s remark … was not a careless phrase but a prophecy? After all he was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination.

“And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today?

“It is the small insight which, over the years, I have succeeded in gaining into this matter that I shall attempt to lay before you here today….”

Eric Simpson

Divine Names: For Dionysius the Areopagite, beauty is one of the divine names or energies that is the same as goodness: beauty is God, the Trinity, in His creative and sanctifying presence to the whole of created reality. Dionysius writes (Divine Names 4.7): “God is beauty because He gives beauty from Himself in a manner appropriate to each thing. He causes the harmony and splendor of all things. He flashes forth on all, after the manner of light, the gifts of His flowing ray that produces the gift of beauty in all things. He calls (kaloun) all things to Himself whence He is called beauty (kallos).”

That beauty, which Dionysius hymns, is the uncreated light of Christ’s divinity which shines forth at the Transfiguration, at Pascha, even and especially at the Crucifixion, as we see in Orthodox iconography. The uncreated light illumines all of the saints and martyrs even in the midst of great suffering. That beauty is the gladsome light of the glory of the Father, who greets us at Vespers; the true light whom, at the end of the Divine Liturgy, we acknowledge having seen and received in His Body and Blood: Christ himself. How could this beauty, this beautiful one, not save?

Fr. John Jones

Likeness of God: In the journal Sobornost (vol. 30:1, 2008), Bishop Kallistos wrote about Dostoevsky’s statement “Beauty will save the world.” By way of a careful explanation of the Greek word for beautiful (kalos) used in Scripture, often translated as “good” in English, as well as quotes from the Fathers and references to beauty in the natural world and in Orthodox life, he concludes that, properly understood, Dostoevsky’s statement is quite correct.

“By virtue of their creation in the image and likeness of God, all persons participate in the Divine Beauty,” he writes. “While this is true of every human being without exception, however outwardly degraded and sinful, it is true pre-eminently of God’s holy ones, the saints….

“So it is also with every expression of beauty in created things: such beauty is symbolic, in the sense that it makes manifest the Divine. In this way beauty brings God to us, and us to God; it is a two-way door of entry. Beauty is therefore endowed with sacramental power, acting as a vehicle of God’s grace, an effective means of sanctification and healing. And that is why it can justly be claimed that beauty will save the world.”

He ends with this: “Despite the effects of the Fall and despite our deep sinfulness, the world continues to be God’s creation. It has not ceased to be ‘altogether beautiful.’ Despite human alienation and suffering, the Divine Beauty is still present in our midst and still remains ever active, incessantly performing its work of healing and transfiguration. Even now beauty is saving the world, and it will always continue to do so. But it is the beauty of a God who is totally involved in the pain of the world that He has made, of a God who died on the Cross and on the third day rose victorious from the dead.”

Peter Brubacher

Beauty of creation: I was coming out of one of the darkest times in my life when my eyes were opened to the beauty of creation and in humankind. It pierced my heart. I realized then that beauty is an expression of God’s love on this earth. It permeates all.

This overwhelming experience of God’s love made me recognize we are suspended every moment by the grace of God. This filled my heart with gratitude. It was gratitude that caused me to re-engage a life I had just about given up on. With time I learned how to integrate the suffering and beauty, trusting that all is being transformed to light.

This is how my heart was reoriented on a path of healing. Yes, beauty will save us!

The tap, tap, tap of the rain will eventually crack the hardest stone heart. Then the healing can begin. Leonard Cohen has spoken of this place of brokenness, saying, “but that’s how the light gets in.”

Jennifer Ferraez

Reading Dostoevsky: What about resolving to read (re-read?) The Brothers Karamazov in 2011? The translation I would recommend is the one by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. It’s available both in paperback and hardcover for just a little more.

Jim Forest

Parish and monastery: Having experienced both parish life and monastic life, each for a fair number of years, I am more aware of the similarities than the differences. After all, though monasticism began among the desert fathers with hermits living in isolation from one another, monasticism as it has been lived in the Orthodox Church for centuries is mainly a life in community.

We could even go so far as to say that a monastic community is best understood as a specialized form of parish—a parish consisting entirely of adults of the same sex who live together, eat together, work together, and worship together. Typically in a monastic community the member spends only the time of private prayer and the hours of sleep – usually a small percentage of the day – apart from the rest of the community.

In other words, what counts in monastic life is basically what counts in parish life – interpersonal relationships. The difference between the two is largely one of intensity. If we could compare parish life to a pot of soup simmering on a stove, monastic life is like a pressure cooker. Much of the internal life of a monastery remains hidden from pilgrims, and as a result pilgrims may have the illusion that monks and nuns are holy people who spend most of their time in peaceful communion with God.

In reality, a monastic community consists of broken people living a life of repentance. Like all broken people, monastics come into intense conflict with one another, conflict which visitors and pilgrims never see because monks and nuns tend not to “wash their dirty linen in public.” What the visitor to a monastery experiences in the gracious hospitality and respectful distance is absolutely genuine, but it has little to do with the experience of the monks and nuns themselves. Outsiders who visit a monastery may consider the members of the community to be “perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless.” Members of the community know better. The basic difference between monastic life and parish life in this respect, then, is that the problems in a monastery become far more severe, but the solutions become even more profound and life-changing.

They say that in any average monastery nine out of ten who come to try the life end up leaving. It’s all about handling the pressure of interpersonal relationships. Either you give up and go away or you stay and make it work. Ultimately there is only one way to make the monastic life work—by demonstrating the willingness to resolve conflict by forgiving others, asking their forgiveness, reconciling with them, and by humbling yourself even when you think you are right. This process does not take place in every monastery, and as a result the monasteries which are healthy are very, very healthy, while the monasteries that go bad go very, very bad. In either case, they serve as an example to the parish, either a good example or a bad example.

What monastic life, at its best, has to offer the parish is a vision of what the Kingdom is like when we make our relationships with other persons work, because ultimately healthy relationships – with other human persons and with God – are the only thing that matters.

Monk Cosmas Shartz

Virtues and Vices: Over the last three decades or so I’ve been a monk, mostly in the city and involved with parishes. I’ve learned that the very same virtues which would make a good monk would make a good marriage, and the very same vices which would destroy a marriage would wreck a monk.

Monk James Silver

Israel Boycott: While our Fellowship does not have a policy on the program of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) which is designed to increase world pressure on Israel to stop building settlements, open up Gaza, loosen its occupation regime and come to the negotiating table and related efforts, I have a personal, slightly ambiguous take on the strategy. I suppose it comes down, basically, to where one stands.

For Palestinians, who are daily impacted by the status quo in the economic realm, one can view BDS as akin to the salt march of Gandhi or the divestment campaigns against South Africa: refusal to actively participate in the propping up of a highly-questionable structure of governance – and subjugation.

For Israelis, one can see that approach as punitive, de-legitimizing and a “blunt instrument.”

What are the requirements of true peacemaking? They are different from those of mere political involvement, even at the upper end of responsible participation in decision-making. They include an almost irrational adherence to principles of balance, fairness, withholding of judgment and the simultaneous embracing of the competing narratives of the particular conflict in question.

The question becomes: will this tactic distance us from either or both of the parties in the situation? Will we, by taking it up, pass from honest broker to partisan? Are we the voice of conscience? Or do we become the hall monitor lowering the boom?

Personally I haven’t been able to reconcile peacemaking with BDS. It is nonviolent, and therefore preferable to many other approaches, but isn’t designed to promote reconciliation, which must be part of every stage and every process.

For me, the focus is on helping bring together Jews, Arabs and others to help shift the thinking on Israel-Palestine to where it needs to be. Another’s talents may put one in the other direction, which is also fine.

Alex Patico

On the Sidelines? My question is what would Jesus have done? And what would he have us do? Did he exhibit an “almost irrational adherence to principles of balance, fairness, withholding of judgment” in the face of evil? Not from my reading of the Bible. Would he have us heed the cry of the oppressed? Or stand aside for fear of becoming partisan?

Patricia Ann Abraham

Jesus a partisan? “What would Jesus have done?” He lived in an occupied nation oppressed by a powerful empire, but did not join the Zealots. He seemed indifferent to the importance of political power and many times repudiated the desire of those around him to make him into a conquering messiah (anointed king) who will throw off the enslaver of Israel. As we meet him in the Gospels, he doesn’t seem to be calling his followers to be concerned about such things as nation or statehood.

But clearly we are called to alleviate suffering in any way we can. He seems to assume that no matter what political system or power we’re under, we will always be having to relieve the suffering caused by that system.

Paul del Junco

Hiroshima: A friend of mine from Japan lives in the US with her eleven-year-old daughter. She said that she was nervous when her daughter’s class began studying World War II in school as she didn’t know how the Japanese would be portrayed in US textbooks.

But in one class, when the teacher talked about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she said, “And now we know that it was wrong to drop those bombs and kill so many innocent people.”

My friend said this was very healing and reassuring for her to know her daughter was getting the whole story.

Monica Klepac

A Justified Act? Well before I became Orthodox, I can remember sitting in a circle with the professor and students of a Senior History Thesis Seminar class while at a conservative Evangelical Protestant college discussing our various projects. One of the students wrote his paper on the use of the atomic bomb during World War II.

At some point during the discussion I realized the question of whether or not use of the bomb was “justified” was not being addressed and the answer just assumed. When I raised my concern I was shut down by the professor who said we weren’t going to talk about that. Maybe it was a matter of staying focused on the thesis, but the thesis seemed to be based on the assumption it was a justified act.

Aaron Haney

War Against Miners: When Alex and I were driving from the Patico home in Maryland to Murfreesboro, Tennessee in October, we stopped midway in Charleston to visit a friend and spend the night at a bed & breakfast.

There we happened to meet a West Virginian who mentioned a significant event in the state’s history, the Battle of Blair Mountain. She referred to it as if you would have to be a piece of driftwood to be unaware of it.

For me, I confess, it rang only the faintest of bells. I’ve since found a link to a Wikipedia text about this important confrontation between the owners, with their private army, and the men who mined the coal:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain

America may pride itself on being “the land of the free,” but in those days to be a union organizer, or even a union member, was to risk your own murder. During the Battle of Blair Mountain, the US military intervened, dropping bombs.

Elements of this story made their way into the film Matewan.

Jim Forest

Silent as a Stone

Deborah Carter in England has written a play for performance by children based on the rescue story told in Jim Forest’s children’s book about St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris, Silent as a Stone. It’s ideal for parishes and schools and use is free. We’ll e-mail a copy of the script to anyone who requests it – just send a note to: [email protected] .

❖ IN COMMUNION / Feast of St. Ephrem the Syrian / Winter 2011/ Issue 59

Conversations by E-Mail -Fall 2010 IC 58

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson or Jim Forest .

Global warming: The evidence is in: global warming is happening in our time. What remains to be seen is that the global warming now occurring is, in whole or in part, the result of human activity. Do we or don’t we contribute to, or even accelerate, these natural cycles? The jury is out on this one.

I suggest we behave as if global warming in our time is connected to our activity, even if it finally proves otherwise, and do our best to minimize whatever human activity contributes to the problems attendant to the rise in Earth’s temperature, and work to avoid the deleterious effects of that warming in historical time.

Monk James

A greener coffee hour: I’m doing research on what our parish could do to have a “greener” coffee hour, so I’m interested to hear what your parishes have done. The stipulation is that it has to be as easy and as low-effort as possible – the easier it is, the more people will participate.

Michele Hagerman

One example: In our parish, we have divided the alphabet roughly in half, making sure an equal number of families are in each half. If it is your week to supply the food, then it is also your week to clean up. Some Sundays we use disposables, but usually we use regular plates, cups and flatware.

We have three women who have taken on maintaining the kitchen and doing the extra stuff each week as their ministry. They keep our paper products stocked and make sure the kitchen and social hall are cleaned. One of them always takes home the towels and wash cloths and launders them. On any given Sunday, many other people pitch in and help, so the division of labor isn’t as rigid as it may seem. Once a month our youth group has to do the dishes.

Claudia Riedel

Styrofoam banned: In our parish styrofoam is banned – a good start. Folks use a selection of coffee mugs provided by the parish, and wash their own. Recycled paper products are used for the food line for easy clean up, metal utensils are used.

Michael Taylor

Real dishes: Here’s what we have done in our parish. With donations from members, we bought a portable dishwasher. We asked the congregation to bring a few mugs – everyone drinks out of mugs, be it lemonade, water, tea or coffee. We bought plates. Each month two or three people sign up to clean up. It’s working well. One of our members brought some very plain glasses she didn’t need anymore.

Though we have banished styrofoam, we use paper on Pascha night when we have so many people.

Lin Richardson

Death penalty: The main argument used by proponents of the death penalty is that it protects society in two ways, by removing the opportunity for the condemned criminal to recommit and by deterring others who would commit the same crime.

The deterrent effect of capital punishment may be irrelevant in an absolute sense, but social and justice problems are never without context. Discussing whether or not capital punishment deters is perfectly relevant in our social context. If we can remove deterrence as a justification of capital punishment, we can move on to other things like what is truly an effective punishment and how exactly do we serve justice.

The first of the proponents’ defenses, that capital punishment prevents any reoffence, is bogus since no one believes it is the only way to do so. Proponents do, however, believe that deterrence is an absolute argument in favor of capital punishment; therefore, rebutting that argument with evidence does justice an absolute service.

Pieter Dykhorst

Revenge: Most people agree that capital punishment is not a deterrent but nonetheless want to retain it for reasons of “justice,” i.e, revenge. That’s a gut level human response. I think we need to expose the desire for “justice” as really the desire for revenge. For those who call themselves Christians, we have to challenge the desire for revenge as being incompatible with being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Paul del Junco

Justice: Justice is a value to which we mere mortals can only aspire. Yet, even at our best, the most “justice” we can hope to accomplish is restitution and restoration, a return to equilibrium; it’s not for nothing that one of the nearly universally recognized symbols of “justice” is a set of balancing pans or scales.

It remains to be proved that imprisonment somehow satisfies the barest demands of “justice.” It would be more coherent to require convicts to adhere to strict standards of restitution and restoration. In the case of murder, convicts might be sentenced to support the families of their victims.

It is unthinkable for a Christian to be in favor of the death penalty, since no Christian may serve as an executioner. This is a self-evident truth of our faith, as can be understood by a close reading of the canons and patristic literature.

One of the most powerful Christian arguments against the death penalty is that it shortens the time which God’s Providence might allow even convicts to come to repentance. If it is a sin to kill people, no sophistry will ever make it a virtue. It is incumbent on us to work for a “consistent pro-life ethic” if we hope not to share in the bloodguilt of others who commit murder in our name.

Monk James Silver

Repentance: The possibility of a person guilty of murder coming to a state of repentance seems to me the strongest support a Christian could have on opposing the death penalty. Who are we to close the door on a life that might return to God?

I have always found it deeply moving to hear from murder victims’ families how, after an execution, they didn’t find any resolution or sense of justice but who felt their sorrow only deepened when one more life was lost. I favor the idea of criminals working in prison to pay some kind of reparation to victims families. I would be interested in how European countries sentence criminals that we would put on death row.

Monica Klepac

Suicide prevention: One of the people I was fortunate to meet on my recent lecture trip in the US was David Miller, an associate professor of school psychology. We discovered we had a common interest in suicide prevention. He is the author of Suicidal Behavior in Children and Adolescents: School-Based Prevention, Assessment, and Intervention. It’s due out December from Guilford Press and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.com. Miller focuses on how school staff can respond to potentially suicidal youth. He recommended two other books:
November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide by George Howe Colt. Written by a journalist, it provides a broad overview of suicide for the general reader.

Why People Die By Suicide by Thomas Joiner. Joiner is a distinguished professor of psychology at Florida State University who, Miller writes, “is the most prominent researcher in suicide alive today…. Joiner lost his father and his grandfather to suicide, so he has personal experience with this topic.”

Jim Forest

Hiding the pain: One of the books that I highly recommend is Dying to be Free: A Healing Guide For Families after a Suicide, by Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch. People need not wait until someone they know dies by suicide to read any of these books. They can help teach people how to minister to wounded families and they also give information of the warning signs of suicide.

One myth that I keep hearing is that it is only people who seem really down or depressed that are in danger of a suicide attempt. Not so. Many people who are depressed cover over it with a buoyant personality to hide their pain. I was extremely depressed most of my life growing up – in fact I wanted to grow up to find a way to die – but no one had a clue because I was a good student, active in athletics, drama, band, cheerleading, etc. etc. I wore a smile all the time. Inside I felt as if a bomb had gone off and left me mangled, but no one could see it but me.
Our son Joshua also knew how to hide his pain, and I think he felt society expected that of him – “to be a man.” He was a risk taker since the time of being a young boy – so that what could have been real attempts at suicide were not clear to us.

There is such an apathy in the world when it comes to suicide – it really feels that people don’t care and want to stay far away from the families involved. But I must admit that I was the same way before it happened to us. I didn’t give suicide much thought. I thought that our family had immunity. I was wrong.

Renee Zitzloff

One issue politics: I had an interesting exchange with an Orthodox priest recently via Facebook. He had posted a link about voting “Pro-Life” in which he said that Christians should use a voting guide in order to know who to vote for. The link provided names of politicians whose anti-abortion stand is demonstrated by their voting record.

Our exchange amounted to me expressing concerns that a priest was telling people how to vote and basing it solely on one criterion. I laid out a few concerns about other life issues. I was told I “didn’t understand abortion” and what the Bible and Orthodoxy taught about it. I got analogies to the Nazis and genocide, was told it was my Christian duty in a democracy to vote as he suggested, and I was told my approach (which I don’t think he understood) was “helping increase evil in the world.”

It was a very hard conversation to have.

Aaron Haney

Another kingdom: As a parish priest, I do not endorse political candidates or parties. All candidates represent a host of positions, some acceptable to Orthodoxy, others not.

The church represents a kingdom not of this world, and acknowledges this world is not the Kingdom. Our agenda is very different than political candidates and parties who represent nothing but this world.

I know my views would be condemned by those (some of them priests) who feel that anyone who votes for a “pro-choice” candidate should be excommunicated. But there are many issues which are pro-death issues that we end up voting for if we simply base our votes on one issue.

We each must answer to God for all the choices we make. When we make pro-war choices, we will have to answer for each civilian – child, man or women – murdered during the war. We cannot escape these realities. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities because these choices are hard and mean we fall under God’s judgment. In a democracy we are faced with voting – making difficult choices that have multi-implications for good and ill. It is what led some ancient Christians and kings to avoid baptism until they were on their deathbeds. They hoped to avoid the judgment of God. We are judged by God even if we try to avoid judgment!

Let us not be deceived into thinking that as long as we reduce the world to one issue that we reduce God’s judgement of us to only that one issue.

The political divide in America has widened, and those on either extreme often no longer recognize their rivals as fellow Americans, fellow Christians or even fellow humans.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

Abuse of authority: There are priests who are into everything concerning their parishioners lives, apparently drawing on a monastic concept of the spiritual father who commands absolute obedience from his spiritual children. Add in someone with a personality that lends itself to a “cult of personality” and you might get a priest who attempts to dictate to his parishioners how they’re to conduct themselves in every area of their lives and who, via the internet, may be tempted to control the lives of those who are not his parishioners. It used to be that such priests could only pontificate via the printed word. Now they’ve got Facebook, blogs and e-mail. I could tell you stories that would make your toes curl.

Michele Hagerman

Consistently pro-life: When my wife was pregnant with our first son, she had a doctor who suggested that she have an abortion due to a past medical event in her life. Fortunately we went to see a specialist who informed us that the advice we had been given was based on information “long out of date” and that there was nothing to prevent my wife from delivering a healthy baby. Later we went for “genetic counseling,” which we concluded was a money-making scam, closely aligned with the abortion industry. This was years before I joined the Orthodox Church but I could see the twisted priorities in play, and my view on the abortion issue was irrevocably changed.

However, that didn’t mean that I stopped caring about poverty, war, racism and all of the other social/political ills that inflict our country – on the contrary. I don’t particularly like getting into a numbers game when deciding which “evil” is worse. Clearly the number of abortions performed in the country is horrific, but so is the thought of people being allowed to die of a treatable disease because they can’t afford health insurance. In the latter instance, not only is a human life lost, but a person who has been living by the social contract, going to work, paying taxes, etc., is betrayed by their own country. Supporting any politician who takes money from large insurance companies to thwart change in American health care strikes me as morally bankrupt.

During the Bush years, hunger increased. There was also an increase in infant mortality. This most recent leak of secret documents about the Iraq War shows that the Pentagon is aware of some 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties – incomplete figures that do not reflect, for example, individuals who simply “disappeared” or those with chronic medical conditions who died because they no longer had access to the drugs and medical services. For anyone who wishes to be truly pro-life, these facts matter.

We need to count not only abortion deaths but deaths caused by social neglect. African Americans die younger and more frequently of diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer than do their Caucasian counterparts. Native Americans have their own set of issues that shorten their life spans. Both these populations share decreased access to regular preventative healthcare and testing that are commonplace for more affluent whites.

Social policies have real life and death impact. If you want to run a coal mine, but you don’t want inspectors around to get in your way, back candidates who will oppose mine safety regulations. Too darn bad when a handful of guys gets killed now and then. This sort of scenario follows through worker safety and in matters of consumer safety where tainted meat or lettuce can literally kill you. It just takes a little more brain power to see the threat to life posed by a worldview in which profit and political domination are the dominant factors.

David Golden

St. Maria of Paris icon available: We often get requests for mounted icons of St. Maria of Paris (Mother Maria Skobtsova). Now there is one available from Come and See Icons, a reproduction of an icon that Nancy and I commissioned from the iconographer John Reves. See it here:
www.comeandseeicons.com/m/opf01.htm

The icon page includes a short biography of St. Maria.

The icon is 8 by 10 inches. It sells for $27 plus postage, $5 of which is donated to OPF by the producer.

Jim Forest

IN COMMUNION / FEAST OF ST. ANASTASIA OF ROME / FALL 2010/  issue 58

Conversations by e-mail – Summer 2010

These are extracts from recent postings
to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list.
If you are an OPF member and wish to take part,
contact Mark Pearson <markp (a) earlham.edu>
or Jim Forest <jhforest (a) gmail.com>.

Weapons for peace: A little historical trivia. The Gatling gun, first used in the American Civil War, was the first successful machine gun and the predecessor of modern automatic weapons. Henry Gatling, the inventor, believed it would reduce deaths in war.

Gatling invented the Gatling gun after he noticed early in the American Civil War that a majority of the dead were lost to disease rather than gunshots. In 1857, he wrote: “It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine — a gun — which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease would be greatly diminished.” (From the Wikipedia entry on Gatling)

No doubt Gatling was sincere, but it’s difficult not to notice that this rationale crops up again and again in the history of modern warfare: some used it to justify the atomic bomb, and now it is used to justify the growing use of robotic weaponry.

John Brady
[email protected]

Rejecting limits: Men take war as inevitable, and moral limits that seem unbreakable at the beginning of a conflict seem foolish by the middle (thus Roosevelt, one of the biggest critics of bombing of cities before the US joined World War II, became one of the advocates of city bombing later in the war). So many horrible things have been done already that they tend to make old restrictions seem pointless.

I can think of only one case of the rollback of a technology of war by deliberate choice – the abandonment of guns in Japanese warfare after a time. They were simply too deadly, so they went to older technology for about two hundred years. Other than that, every lethal technology – however deplored at the beginning – seems to become standard technology pretty quickly after its development. Those who refuse to use available technology become the prey of those who revel in its use. And that becomes a powerful excuse to ignore old strictures – if we don’t use it, those evil people over there may defeat us. The result? Humanity as a whole suffers more.

Daniel Lieuwen
[email protected]

A question overheard: I was in Uganda earlier this month. While waiting at a service station for my car’s air conditioning to be repaired, I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone. I do not know what she was talking about or to whom she was talking, but I heard her say, in the rich accent of that country, “What does the Bible advise you to do about that?” We sure don’t hear that question asked very often here in the USA.

David Holden
[email protected]

Forebodings of Nicholas II: In the same vein, I’ve been reading Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra and came across a section on Tsar Nicholas’s concern about the “grim horror of any future war” and his proposals to avert it by bringing the governments of the world together to talk about disarmament and other ways to keep the peace. This was in 1898, about 15 years prior to the First World War.

Aaron Haney
[email protected]

Seeking blessings: As a priest, a few times parishioners have asked my opinion (blessing, permission, approval) for something which clearly they have their own doubts about. When I ask them, “Would Christ bless this?” they say “No.” I always say to them, “Well if you know Christ wouldn’t bless what you want to do, why do you ask me for my blessing?”

Fr. Ted Bobosh
[email protected]

A burial: This past week, a family in our parish, who had been rejoicing in the expectation of a third child, learned during a check-up that their child was dead in the womb. The next day the mother underwent a D&C to remove the child. The family asked for a memorial service and burial, which we did. It was intensely moving. Our priest found a service for a stillborn child online, and it was quite beautiful — obviously from some OCA source, it was original but followed the tradition of Orthodox hymnography very closely.

The child’s grandfather had spent many hours producing a beautifully-crafted oak box no bigger than a cigar box, which held the body.

Following the church service, there was a burial at our parish cemetery, using the customary Orthodox grave-side service. Family members filled the very small grave by hand. Somehow I was especially touched to see the tiny hand-made casket buried within 24 hours of its being fashioned.

The parents had named the child, and he was commemorated by name many times during the service, and again at a panakhida on Sunday.
Families react to miscarriages/stillbirths in various ways – some desire complete privacy; others like this family are willing to grieve openly, in the company of the Church. I hope that services like this one will become more common.

John Brady
[email protected]

Naming: A couple of years after we lost Oscar, we were having dinner with friends at which Bishop Seraphim of Canada was a guest. I told him the story of the miscarriage. He asked if we had named the child. I said yes, his name is Oscar. Bishop Seraphim said, that’s good. Now you have an advocate in Heaven. Instantly it changed my feeling about the experience. I know that one day we will meet Oscar face to face, and see him as we were never able to see him here.

Nancy Forest-Flier
[email protected]

Circle of concern: Any of us who have anticipated the birth of a child know how much we ourselves grow during the gestation period – in depth of feeling, reflection about the future, and capacity to include another individual in our circle of concern and caring. When a preg-nancy ends prematurely, all that is expected to just come to an end. That process is aborted, even if the first loss was not medically engineered. Just as we don’t stop loving a parent when he or she dies, we should not stop loving the very young person who almost was amongst us. To do so is to voluntarily diminish ourselves, to pare back the growth in humanity/divinity that has occurred through the grace of God.

Alex Patico
[email protected]

Friends huddled together: Before Joel and I were Orthodox, when we miscarried, we had a small ceremony. We didn’t even know what we were doing, just that we wanted to honor this little life that had already changed us so much. This was almost a decade ago, but I still get tears remembering that small group of friends huddled together. It was a great comfort to us.

Monica Klepac
[email protected]

Redemptive Suffering: In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil writes: “Redemptive suffering is that which strips suffering naked and brings it in its purity right into existence. That saves existence. As God is present through the consecration of the Eucharist in what the senses perceive as a morsel of bread, so he is present in extreme evil through redemptive suffering through the cross.”

With all due respect to Simone Weil, it seems to me that in such passages she embraces religious masochism, expressing a pseudo-spiritual pathology which we ourselves would do well to avoid and discourage in others. Suffering, even redemptive suffering (whatever that is, apart from the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ) doesn’t save anything, let alone save existence itself.

Suffering and misery are to be avoided by us Christians, and alleviated when we see the opportunity to comfort others. Were it a good idea to suffer, there would be no reason for us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. Clearly, the Gospel teaches us that human suffering is to be alleviated, not encouraged.

Weil’s mention here of “the cross” rather than “a cross” or “our crosses” suggests that she has in mind only the cross on which our dear Lord Jesus was tortured to death. While our Lord tells us that we must all follow Him and take up our crosses, those crosses are different from His, and they are probably symbolic and don’t involve physical torture. Still, just accepting and dealing with the troubles and trials which come our way every day and test our faith and love is enough of an ascetic exercise; even we monastics seek no more.

God is not present in human suffering – especially as such suffering is inflicted by some of us on others of us – except in the identity which we, in our suffering for the sake of Him Who suffered for us embrace and yield our strength and health and our very lives. This is the essence of martyrdom, which isn’t always bloody.

Monk James
[email protected]

Valley of the shadow: This reminds me of Iulia de Beausobre’s book, Creative Suffering, written as she struggled with suffering in her own lifetime. It is a difficult subject because, as Fr. James says, we must not make an idol of suffering. Idolatry is idolatry, and it misses the mark and departs from the path in an unfortunate sickness. It is even hard to talk about this particular subject because we express ourselves imperfectly!

What is said by Simone Weil could be interpreted as idolatry, but I think it need not be seen in that way. Iulia de Beausobre was talking about accepting our crosses and giving ourselves so totally to God so that we might participate in His redemptive act – suffer with Him, just as the martyrs have throughout our fallen age. After all, He tasted suffering and death in order to come to us in our low estate (in our world where there is suffering and both biological and spiritual death). It is His solidarity of love and compassion that save us. And it is clearly not a love of suffering, itself, that brings Him to the cross. He models the correct attitude: “If it be possible, let this cup pass; nevertheless…” There is only one Christ and one Cross and one salvation working in the midst of the earth, just as there is one Priest and one Prophet (the Logos) and one King in whom all anointed for such services may participate. Those who have given themselves to Him voluntarily take up their crosses and vocations to participate in what He is doing.

Perhaps we can hear Simone’s words in that context – that if we find ourselves unavoidably in the tragic position of suffering, there is still this element of companionship and solidarity that we may apprehend creatively as we suffer. It may be a creative and life-giving witness if we remain joined to Christ through it. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me…” At least, that is one way to hear what she is saying – with hope!

Sally Eckert
[email protected]

Made for joy: Metropolitan Kallistos has written that martyrdom is a universal vocation – each of us can place ourselves at the disposal of God’s intentions for us, and stand firm, come Hell or high water, for His Kingdom. But it always is to be a voluntary decision on our part, not merely a passive default position for everyday life.

Kallistos also said, “He made us not for sorrow but for joy – as St. John Climacus puts it, not for mourning but for laughter. …We are not to say that suffering as such is a blessing from God. And yet, by the divine mercy, what is in itself evil can be turned to good.”

We don’t say that a tornado ripping an infant from his crib is a blessing, but we can say that God working in the lives of his surviving family can create grace-ful outcomes in the aftermath of the tragedy. This is most definitely not a plug for reckless tornado-chasing, only for opening our hearts to God’s healing and cleansing.

Alex Patico
[email protected]

If this cup: When we go through any extreme suffering – physical, psychological or spiritual – it leaves a terrible wound in us that can only be healed in the Cross of Christ. It’s not a matter of balancing suffering with joy.

Once our innocence has been lost, which is what all deep suffering does to us, when we experience the shattering presence of evil, precisely the radical absence of God, we desperately in our depths need to find God in this shattering of our lives. We find him in the Cross of Christ.

This is what Simone Weil means to me. For me it is very hopeful. Of course we don’t go looking for this type of suffering, what Weil calls affliction. We can’t. It would be crazy. Jesus didn’t either. “If this cup may pass from me…”

Paul del Junco
[email protected]

Least person: Each of the sentences that Christ uses in Matthew 25 to describe ways in which the saved, knowingly or unknowingly, responded mercifully to Him describes actions which are the polar opposite of what combatants are required to do in war.

Turned on its head, the text then becomes: “I was hungry and you destroyed the fields, I was thirsty and you bombed the water works, I was naked and you burned the flesh from my body, I was homeless and you destroyed my city, I was sick and you fired missiles into the hospital, I was in prison and you tortured me. I tell you solemnly that what you did to the least person, you did to Me.”

Jim Forest
[email protected]

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

Conversations by E-Mail (Pascha 2010)

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <markp -at- earlham.edu> or Jim Forest <jhforest -at- gmail.com>.

Prayer for peace: The following brief prayer was composed in an effort to bring into the liturgical life of the Church, and into the spiritual awareness of its members, the need for focused prayer concerning the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is particularly relevant for those jurisdictions which have parishioners actively involved in these conflicts. Worded so as to fit well into the opening section of the Liturgy of Fervent Supplication, it asks not only for peace, but also for that repentance which leads to peace.

“Also, we pray Thee for a speedy end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that all who are entangled in their violence as participants or supporters may embrace the riches of Thy kindness, forbearance and patience, and enter into that godly grief which leads to repentance; vouchsafe that our hearts and theirs may turn to works of reconciliation, to mercy and compassion for all, and to a thirst for that peace from above which heralds the drawing near of Thy Kingdom, we pray Thee, O Lord, hearken and have mercy.”

This prayer was referred by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, and was discussed at the meeting of the Holy Synod in March. The prayer was recognized as voicing a legitimate aspiration for peace. The Synod then left it to the discretion and authority of each diocesan bishop as to whether to include it in the Divine Liturgy.

If you believe that prayer is the best beginning for any action and think this prayer would be a good way to act spiritually on behalf of peace, would you bring this prayer to the attention of your bishop?

James Campbell
<[email protected]>

Haiti: Some prominent Christian ministers have blamed the terrible earthquake in Haiti that caused so much death and destruction on the Haitians themselves. The earthquake, so they claim, was God’s punishment for Haitians having made a pact with the devil in 1791 in order to be freed from France. (Note that there is no reliable historical source behind the claim.)

Actually I agree that a pact with the devil was an element in this multi-faceted tragedy, but the pact I am thinking has to do with the European colonialists’ lust for gold. They got the idea that in the lands beyond the uncharted ocean great riches were there for the taking. So they braved the unknown and landed on the island of Hispaniola, as it was then called, and proceeded first to enslave the native Taino people and, when those enslaved failed to meet their needs, to annihilate them.

The next step was to import slaves. Have you ever noticed how the Haitians we see on the news are, well – black? Why is that? Because once the native people were eliminated, Europe turned to Africa for slave labor to dig not only for gold but to work the fields for the “gold” of sugar cane. More ships, more guns, more death. This was the price of gold – and this is the real pact with the devil. The pact the European slave masters made with the devil was for their own profits and their own power.

Monica Klepac
<[email protected]>

Crown jewel: It was worse in Haiti than just about anyplace else. Haiti was the crown jewel of the French Empire, producing vast sums from sugar cane. The slaves were mostly male. Life expectancy was about seven years from a slave’s arrival until his death. Early abolitionists boycotted sugar because almost all sugar was produced by slave labor.

Daniel Lieuwen
<[email protected]>

Tribalism: I’ve been thinking about this, with its layers of implications; ethnic enclaves, Orthodoxy and other Christian groups, Christianity and other world religions, just to mention three.
I have received much inspiration from (Roman Catholic) Jean Vanier’s books on life in community with persons with developmental disability.

I suppose the reason why we Orthodox Christians as a whole shy away from cooperation with Catholic missions like the Catholic Workers and L’Arche is the fear of being seduced – is that the right word? – into a false peace and unity through ongoing efforts like these.

Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier address needs that we Orthodox haven’t focused on very much. Just as the Lord stopped the disciples from preventing a person not with them from casting out demons, saying “He who is not against us is on our side,” (Luke 9:50) we can learn from such as these.

What would be the harm in cooperating with such efforts when we have so little in place to address such real needs in many areas in which we live? One could start an Orthodox mission, I suppose, but in many places we lack the resources to do this, and the need is there, right now.

As long as we understand why we are Orthodox Christians, as opposed to the other varieties, would such cooperation threaten us? When we know why we are what we are, we can cooperate without compromise. Clarity can be maintained while cooperating in meeting needs in the world.
By cooperation, I mean efforts toward the material needs of people. In our efforts in regard to evangelism and church planting we must remain true to who we are, how we worship, what we believe, as Orthodox Christians.

Ephrem Gall
<[email protected]>

My Father, Not Yours: My thought of the day: Anything that can be tribalized will be tribalized – not excluding God. Isn’t it astonishing how often, when we say “Our Father,” we actually mean “Our group’s Father, not their group’s Father – My Father, not your Father”?

Jim Forest
<[email protected]>

Words with bullets in them: The escalation of political rhetoric in the US has led many people to wonder if the stage isn’t being set for violent acts. My normal inclination would be to dismiss such worries, but something about all this anger gives me pause.

I live in the Midwest and know many people who are conservative Evangelical Protestants. These are some of the nicest and most giving people you’d ever want to meet, but there is this dark side that I am confronted with periodically that is driven by a theological necessity grounded in their perceived notion of God’s “justice.”

Recently a friend encouraged me to join a group on Facebook called “I support Israel’s right to defend herself.” Here I found a lot of posts filled with stories of “Arabs” who are “full of hate” and “want to destroy Israel.” I told him about my concerns that these kinds of groups were mostly forums to justify the use of violence and more part of the problem than the solution. He responded that Israel is the “apple of God’s eye” and we should support her no matter what because of her special place.
Another friend, a person who has done a lot of selfless work, tells me that she “loves the sound of A-10’s” (a variety of jet fighters) training in the skies overhead – this is, she says, “the sound of freedom.” I wondered how many others have heard that sound with sheer terror just before their family or friends were obliterated. She views America as “a Christian nation” founded on “Biblical principles.” Its enemies are her enemies.

A last example concerns a relative with whom I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, a few years ago. While there, he picked up a folder about prominent cultural figures in German society during the Hitler period who were killed because of their being gay. “It’s sad,” he said, “but they deserved it.” He seemed to think their deaths were justified because God hates “that sort of thing.”

Such instances – I have limited myself to just three – seem to reveal a vulnerability in the very heart of the American middle class to violence. Maybe not a personal use of violence to kill, but at least a complicity when seeing it done by others in the “right” circumstances.

Aaron Haney
<[email protected]>

Right-wing voices: Though I now live in the States, after a decade living in Romania I often feel like a foreigner as I try to understand the strange American ways. The popularity of right-wing radio and TV preachers and political commentators is one of those things. I catch bits of these broadcasts on the radio when I go shopping and occasionally see clips on TV. Our small town in the “Bible Belt” is pretty conservative. I have friends who have deep, rich spiritual lives and yet believe wholeheartedly in what such commentators say.

From observation and conversations, I believe that what makes the ideas of such commentators so appealing is how they reduce the current economic upheaval to black-and-white terms. A lot of people are scared, out of work, and insecure about the future. They want someone or some group or party to blame. It’s not enough to point a finger at the many forces and structures that came together to create the mess we’re in. People want to have one big, menacing evil to fight. Painting President Obama and all Democrats as socialists and marxists, however ridiculous this is in reality, provides an enemy we fight with letters, phone calls, rallies, etc. It also feeds into the American self-perception of being independent, hard working pioneers.

Monica Klepac
<[email protected]>

Saints who said no: I came across the following footnote in The Year of Grace of the Lord by “a Monk of the Eastern Church,” as Fr. Lev Gillet signed himself. In this case, he was writing about the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste – executed for refusing to participate in the pagan cult required for all soldiers:

“We [also] come across cases of soldiers put to death as ‘conscientious objectors.’ Their objection was directed against the fact of carrying arms rather than against official idolatry. Violence and the shedding of blood seemed to them incompatible with the Gospel.

“Texts that contain the judicial proceedings against them, the interrogations and their sentences, have survived to our day. Among these conscientious objectors, we can name the soldiers Tipasius, Julius, Fabius, Maximilian of Carthage, and, much later, when Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire, Martin of Tours and Victrice of Rouen.

“The Church of the first four centuries canonized as authentic martyr saints those soldiers who suffered death for refusing military service. Their stand was the same as the stand of the Church, as can be seen from ecclesiastical texts such as the Canons of Hippolytus, which forbade the military profession to Christians.

“Many Christian writers, among them Origen and Tertullian, considered there was something irreconcilable between Christ and the bearing of arms. Later on, when the Empire was somehow baptized in the person of Constantine, this attitude changed. The Church made military service and war legitimate. Even so, however, this approval was not general. St. Basil, who lived in the empire after it had become Christian, deprived all soldiers who had taken part in a war of the sacraments for nine years.”

Fr. Ted Bobosh
<[email protected]>

Responding to tragedy: The tragedy of one people is the tragedy of all of us. So many human tragedies occur around the world in a given year that it is impossible to know of all of them, and of the ones well known, sometimes they seem so great that many people just shut them out. Yesterday, Haiti, today Chile, everyday Darfur. And then there is the ever-present tragedy of our own wounded “street people.”

The tragedy of one human being is the tragedy of all human beings. There is so little we can actually do to relieve the suffering of these tragedies – mainly make financial donations that seem so tiny compared to the need. Yet we need to do what we can.

Sometimes all we can do is to acknowledge in our hearts the tragedies of our fallen humanity, but it also would not be without significance for each of us to light a candle in church in prayer for the people who are suffering and to offer special prayers for each of the events we are aware of, as a way of acknowledge our common humanity, the fact that all mankind shares in a common human nature that binds us together – that every human being is God’s creation and each bears not only the wounds of the fall, but also the image and likeness of God.

It is not possible that a prayer offered in love will have no effect, no matter how unseen. Whatever else we can do, and actually undertake, let’s all light a candle, from the heart, for those enduring these tragedies.

Archbishop Lazar
<[email protected]>

Spring Issue IC 56/ PASCHA  2010

Coversations by email: Winter 2010

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <[email protected]> or Jim Forest <[email protected]>.

Fellowship of St. Maria: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin has launched a “Fellowship of St. Maria of Paris” to focus on building a community based on service, justice, and hospitality.

Our goals include: To practice prayer, and to focus on spiritual growth, and Christian hospitality; to honor the service we each already provide and to inspire, and teach the practice of Christian service to others; to conduct outreach through collaborative service projects and to be a catalyst for Christian service in the parish; to share success stories of Christian service among members of the parish & promote the same externally; to better understand and engage our urban environment as an opportunity to serve those in our own neighborhood; to collaborate with governmental agencies, and other churches and non-profits with similar aims as our own.

To mark the Fellowship’s launching, an icon of St. Maria was placed in the narthex.

Fr. Stephen Hrycyniak

<[email protected]>

The Enemies of God: Today on the web I found myself on a blog set up by a fellow Orthodox Christian whose homepage was full of links to groups preaching the necessity of recognizing that we are in a mortal battle against “Jihadists.” There were many generalizations regarding Islam in general.

After I posting some of my concerns about the page, I received a response accusing me of an “effeminatized Christianity” shaped by “political correctness.” While he acknowledged that Christians are required to love and forgive our personal enemies, he said such love has nothing to do with “enemies of God.” He posted a quotation attributed to St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves: “Live in peace not only with your friends, but also with your enemies; but only with your personal enemies, and not with the enemies of God.” I have no idea what this quote means. Can anyone enlighten me?

Aaron Haney

<[email protected]>

Casuistry: Your query made me think of a passage in Romans which describes all of us as “enemies of God,” who have been reconciled through Christ and will be resurrected with him. The distinction between “personal enemies” and “enemies of God” sounds like poorly wrought casuistry to me.

Eric Simpson

<[email protected]>

The enemy is me: What a sad encounter! Rather, we are in a mortal battle against the passions within ourselves… I have met the enemy, and he is me (to paraphrase Pogo). It is interesting to think of using human violence against an “enemy of God.” First of all, God really has no equal adversary. He is God of all, “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The cross and resurrection show one way He deals with enemies  a healing and transfiguring way for all who embrace it. God doesn’t needs for us to play God. He has given us the Sermon on the Mount with its Beatitudes and called us to a ministry of reconciliation.  Sally Eckert

<[email protected]>

Not being silent: Refusing to live “at peace” with the enemies of God is not the same thing as attacking them. I’ve been in a number of conversations with vocal atheists (they’re having their moment these days!), and have had to overcome the temptation to keep things smooth by saying nothing, failing to identify myself as a believer, or even leaving the impression that I agree. I believe that that sort of “living at peace” is simply unfaithful: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory.”

In such situations, even identifying oneself as a Christian can take a bit of courage, but sometimes it’s enough to make the “enemy of God” decide to keep the peace. If he (she) decides to persist, I feel we have a responsibility to give an account of the hope that is in us, as soberly and lovingly as we can.

In this sense, I’m fully in harmony with St. Theodosius’ words.

John Brady

<[email protected]>

A basic tension: The greatest struggle of my life is the tension between the way the State does business and the way we are called as Christians to live. Our history is an unbroken, uncompromised legacy of competitive self-interest seeking behavior at the community, state, nation level that involves violence of every sort, at every level, and with every means to the maximum extent that the engaged entity is able. It is daunting to even imagine changing that! Who knows what it would look like to even try? I firmly believe that no state could adopt an uncompetitive, fully cooperative, unarmed posture in the world without immediately being devoured from without or overthrown from within.

The US is indeed a “peace keeper” of sorts: our economically backed military might is a coercive force for maintaining some semblance of order and stability, without which it is hard to imagine what the alternative would be. The US can no more be expected to go pacifist than a pig can be expected to fly.

But we Christians can begin to be imaginative, we can be prophetic, and we can be faithful to the Gospel call to be peacemakers and voices who call all authorities to be accountable to the Gospel. I’m coming to terms with voting being part of that prophetic responsibility, but with no confidence that the State will ever change its spots. We cannot expect to convert the State to Christ any more than we can expect to convert a horse to being a cow. But I am convinced that we Christians cannot operate as though making our nation Christian should be a goal, much less even possible. We must be faithful peacemakers despite all that. And willing to pay the price of it all.

Pieter Dykhorst

<[email protected]>

“Pitiless” war: The idea of “pitiless” warfare is surely a redundancy. War can hardly be done in a pitying way. But the use of the word “pitiless” points up moral errors that tend to crop up in a wartime context. If a particular leader is regarded as so vile that he cannot be allowed to succeed, then (the reasoning seems to go) the war effort against him must be given no quarter. The practical implication of this is that all those who are caught up in it  lieutenants, soldiers, police forces, industrial workers, or even the common civilian population who pay taxes to his war machine become equally appropriate targets. So, we go from the “evil incarnate” target to targeting the powerless non-combatant in one swift inclusionary sweep “total war.” If the bad guys hide among the good, wipe them both out and let God do the sorting. Have I got that right?

Alex Patico

<[email protected]>

Nonviolence untried: I think we ought not be too quick in dismissing nonviolence responses on a national level as being impractical. The fact is that nonviolent alternatives have never been attempted to any great degree. Major resources have not been allocated to anything except building “better” weapons and training soldiers to kill more efficiently. It seems there is little incentive to do the hard and humbling work of building relationships with all other nations (those we like and those we don’t like) that share this planet with the sense that it has intrinsic value and not simply a handle on furthering our own (selfish) interests because we can “beat anybody up if we need to.”

This is where the OPF comes in for me. You all have been a tremendous resource for me, especially when I was deployed to Iraq and subsequently serving out my active duty time. I hope to continue to grow in “peace and love” with you all for years to come, Lord willing. Aaron Haney

<[email protected]>

Hard-headed realism: Using different time-scales, we can (sometimes) reason back from everyday common sense. If I were in a fight with someone and he was trying to knife me, the best option for me might not be to “go limp” as he was about to stab me. But how could I respond in a way that might allow both of us to walk away from the encounter alive and unbloodied?

Maybe I could first say “you know, you are a helluva fighter, I’ve got to give you that!” Then, maybe I’d add, “Ease off, let me know what it would take to let us both go home to our families.” I might also say, “In a minute, I’m going to put my knife down and stop fighting  you think about whether you want to stab an unarmed guy who isn’t going to fight back.”

Choosing which tack to take would depend on how well I knew my opponent. The more I knew about him, the better chance I’d have of hitting the right “button” to get to him and change the dynamic.

Internationally, we are in that same situation, but on a different timescale. We are locked in a war with radical Islam and other terrorists and anarchists. But 1) how in the world did we get ourselves into this? and 2) how well do we know our opponent, to even have a clue about how to defuse the situation and get it headed in another direction?

We don’t start by announcing unilateral disarmament starting next Tuesday, but we do consider how to begin a process of learning how to get our knives on the ground, and it has to be a serious one (not “you put yours down, then maybe I’ll do the same”).

This is realism informed by faith. Hard-headed idealism. Compassionate conservatism.

Alex Patico

<[email protected]>

Good intentions: Violence is always a failure, and it is made much more likely by ignorance and misinterpreting what the other says and does, giving the most favorable interpretation to one’s actions and the least to the other.

Unfortunately, we often seem to think that “good intentions” are sufficient to replace good information (in fact, the intentions are not necessarily too good).

Daniel Lieuwen

<[email protected]>

Winter Issue IC 55 2010

IN COMMUNION 55 / FEAST OF ST. BASIL THE GREAT / JANUARY 2010

Conversations by email: Fall 2009

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <[email protected]> or Jim Forest <[email protected]>.

Fervent supplication: Here is a petition for possible inclusion in the Liturgy during the Litany of Fervent Supplication. It is intended for use in Orthodox parishes in nations that are still part of the “Coalition Forces” deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“Also, we pray Thee for a speedy end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that all who are entangled in their violence as participants or supporters may embrace the riches of Thy kindness, forbearance and patience, and enter into that godly grief which leads to repentance; vouchsafe that our hearts and theirs may turn to works of reconciliation, to mercy and compassion for all, and to a thirst for that peace from above which heralds the drawing near of Thy Kingdom, we pray Thee, O Lord, hearken and have mercy.”

James Campbell
[email protected]

Gift from an astronaut: Forty years ago, in a cell in a Wisconsin prison, I listened via radio to the astronauts’ voices as they touched down for the first moon landing. I was in the early weeks of serving a one-year sentence for having been one of fourteen people who burned draft files as a protest of the Vietnam War.

Less than a week after the Apollo crew safely returned to Earth, I received a packet from NASA containing a color print of a photo of the Earth taken by one of the three astronauts. It hung on my cell wall for a year, until I was released, then returned with me to New York. I never knew which of the Apollo crew had sent the photo, but reports in today’s newspapers make me wonder if it wasn’t Neil Armstrong. He believes the moon landing may have helped prevent war between the US and the USSR.

“Speaking at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his becoming the first person to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, 78, said that he and the two other Apollo 11 crew members recognized that what for them had been a daring mission in space also may have helped reduce hostilities between the Soviet Union and the United States. ‘The space race faded away. It was the ultimate peaceful competition,’ said Armstrong. ‘It allowed both sides to take the high road. I’ll not assert that it was a diversion which prevented a war. Nevertheless it was a diversion’.”

What must it be like to see with one’s own eyes a world without borders and no bigger than one’s hand?

Jim Forest
[email protected]>

Health insurance: Sometimes it helps to be simple-minded about things. I admit I don’t understand much about the insurance industry or about universal health care in other countries. But, it seems to me that the complaint in the U.S. that universal health care is a socialist plot to destroy our private enterprise system is a scamming lie. Private insurance is a socialist system.
Everyone in the system pays into the pot regardless of present need and everyone who has need takes from the pot. The system decides how much each pays and whose needs are addressed and how. The only problem is that the system today is more concerned about its own well-being than of those it is intended to serve.

Insurance of any form is no more than a “society” of members sharing the cost for their collective needs. At best, members are making monthly payments for a product before they actually receive it. Does it matter if the scam is run by the government or business? We need to figure out how to hold them accountable whoever they are.

I may be too simple, but I think we should get over our simplistic fear of socialism and just figure out the best way to provide for people. Forgive me if I put my fingers in my ears when the capitalist choir starts singing about competition and efficiency and blah, blah, blah. The fear that putting the government in charge will lead to “undeserving” people using benefits “I paid for” is nonsense. Healthy people who own insurance are always paying for other people’s healthcare. Monthly premium? Tax? What’s the difference? All I know is I can’t afford any of it at the moment. If we can reform how it is done so that it is affordable and then hold the system accountable, I don’t care who I pay. I enjoy phone service, trash collection, fire fighting protection, police protection, highway construction, and more, all of which I “subscribe to” by my taxes or other monthly payments. When private enterprise does it better, fine; when government does it better, also fine. Lets get our ideologies and “isms out of the way so we can be human and get together to get it done.

In late Roman times and in early Europe, the Church cared for its own and welcomed others in, society said “what a fine idea,” and started creating hospital systems. Let’s go back to basics and start setting an example for society at large to emulate, as Christ and the Apostles suggested with the whole body caring for its members.

We, as members of a Christian peace organization, should encourage social cooperation and responsibility as broadly as possible while remembering who our Master is and that his ways are not the same as the world’s ways. Ultimately, we need to encourage each other to live hospitably and peacefully in service to each other no matter the cost to us or the chaos around us while striving to get over the disappointment that the cost and chaos are not going away.

Pieter Dykhorst
[email protected]

Back home: After almost nine years in Romania, Joel and I have returned to US and are now living in Wilmore, Kentucky, the college town where we first met and where Joel will be pursuing a master’s degree MA in counseling.

The boys have adjusted well. We appreciate all the educational possibilities here and have found many friends. We’re living close to my parents and having a day with grandma each week is a dream come true.

The transition from missionary life for Joel and me is rockier. I feel like Rip van Winkle waking up to a different world than I lived in ten years ago. What keeps coming to mind is societal insanity. I see the cycles of lust, greed, consumption, self-absorption and waste as ultimately running us into the ground. Sadly, I see these cycles in myself and know I can say, with Paul, that I am chief among sinners.
I am seeking how I can reconcile being a stay-at-home mom with my activist side. Though my time is limited, I hope to become involved with local ministries and peace groups (perhaps one that has no Orthodox representatives) not only to live what I believe but also to help me lift my eyes out of my own little world.

Our work as missionaries in Romania would still be going on, but we had to return home because of our son Simeon’s medical needs. Recent discussions on the OPF List regarding healthcare are very close to home. I have actually cried on the phone this week with healthcare providers over problems with getting appointments, so I understand the urgency of getting the current, broken system fixed.

Monica Klepac
[email protected]

Prayer for enemies: Yesterday I had a letter from a friend about an experience she had of praying for a student who had been angry with her for a grade she had given him plus some feedback he didn’t agree with.

Though the student wasn’t her enemy, he seemed to regard her as his enemy. Recalling Christ’s advice about praying for enemies, she decided to begin praying for her student. The next few weeks in the classroom were difficult “ his anger was obvious. “But God gave me an incredible amount of compassion for him,” she told me, “and also showed me that I should have communicated with him more sensitively.

“One day he came back to class to pick up something after the other students were gone. Clearly he wasn’t feeling well. I just said that I was sorry and hoped he would be feeling better soon. He then began to cry. We talked for about an hour. He shared many things with me including his rejection of the angry, wrathful God he was brought up to believe in. I mainly listened, but also shared some of my own journey.”

My friend ended up giving him a book that she thought might help, Mountain of Silence. They’ve had more conversations. Things have changed dramatically, both in the classroom and in the student’s life.

Jim Forest
[email protected]

A change of heart: Many years ago, I described a particularly painful situation to another monk. He suggested that “ whenever this individual’s abuse of me came to mind “ I should offer a prayer for her. I did this, and it helped enormously. What happens when we do this is a lot like forgiveness. A change occurs in our own hearts, and it doesn’t matter in the least whether or not our “enemies” know that we pray for them or forgive them. The change in our own hearts relieves us of great stress and even of sin, and makes it possible for us to think about our “enemies” more benevolently, and so to engage them more kindly the next time we meet.

Monk James Silver
[email protected]

Sand bags: Sometimes the best one can manage is to throw a roadblock in the way of the thoughts of enmity, anger, and recrimination before they can move in to take over our mental “real estate.” The Jesus Prayer is certainly good for that, like a row of sand bags before rising water.

Alex Patico
[email protected]

Healing: To forgive is so healing for the one doing the forgiving, the interceding. It may even play a part in our bodily health in a holistic way. I wonder, too, about the one for whom intercession is made. Holding someone up into the stream of God’s love surely has some effect, as well. Perhaps God finds ways of showing such a person he or she is loved, and that makes a difference in the person’s life. Perhaps a respite of peace or encouragement visits the person in ways only known to God.

Sally Eckert
[email protected]

Economics and illness: I make my living as a psychotherapist. It seems to me that my patients fall into three groups. Some would be in my office no matter what state of the world they are born into. In other words, they would have mental and emotional illnesses regardless of the nature of the society, economy, and culture that they are in. Another group have no mental or emotional illness; they are normal people who are stressed out by living in the crazy society that we have created. And the rest are people who have some emotional and mental problems that are intrapsychic, but made much worse by living in our crazy system.

This has made me much more sensitive to cultural and societal factors in creating and exacerbating people’s issues. So, in the past four years or so I have spent a lot of time studying economics. I have decided that it is a much bigger issue than I previously thought. I am a bit angry at myself for looking down on it when I was studying classics and theology back in college.

It is now clear to me that ideas about money, property, and the fair handling of them pervade everything else we think. Our thoughts become congruent with one another (except, of course, for inconsistencies that we don’t even notice), and often the economic idea forces others into submission.

So we have the case here in America that we believe our ideas about free markets, private property, and the like simply must be right and true “ and we turn around and make our philosophical and theological ideas follow after our economic principles.

One result of this is that Christianity in America has become the champion of capitalism and our form of democracy. Many followers of American Christianity (by no means all, but a great many) simply ignore and deny the inconsistency of capitalism and our form of democracy with Biblical teachings about justice, care for the poor, and peacemaking.

All of which is to say, I think it is imperative that OPF spend a significant portion of time discussing economic issues. They contain within them the roots of war. As I never tire of quoting St. James the Brother of the Lord, “What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have, so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war.”

David Holden
[email protected]

Regarding Satan: Throughout the Gospel Jesus demonstrates how little power Satan has “ the demons have to beg Christ’s permission to flee His presence and enter the swine. We use that in our baptismal exorcism when we say that Satan does not have power even over swine. Neither the Gospel nor the Bible as a whole hold to belief in dualism “ where Satan is God’s equal and opposite and God and Satan are at war with each other on almost equal footing. The Old Testament gives very little credit to Satan for anything and rarely mentions him or demons. There are false gods which the Old Testament soundly condemns and certainly Christians should recognize that if we think Satan is divinity in some form “ holding such power over creation “ we have made him into a god, and that is a false god.

Our baptismal prayers ban Satan from people’s lives permanently. He has no power over us, let alone power over all the kingdoms of the world “ that is Satan’s self deception. He is lying to Christ when he declares he has power over all these kingdoms “ he is the father of lies. He is lying and deceiving and is self deceived.

Jesus’ kingdom indeed is not of this world “ not of the supposed power, domination and coercion of this world. This doesn’t mean that all kingdoms of this world are pure evil. God used those kingdoms to carry out His will. That is the claim of the prophets about Babylon, Persia, Egypt or Rome. Their downfall was that they did not understand their power came from God and assumed they defeated Israel because of their gods or their own goodness.

If all world power comes from Satan, how could there be kings or princes who become saints? It would mean that God’s salvation and kingdom cannot reach kings, presidents, princes, emperors.

Fr. Ted Bobosh
[email protected]

The tears of things: Not everything is broken beyond repair. The stars on a clear night, the sounds of birds, those great waterfalls and that broad and deep river you live near, a child’s hand reaching for yours. These are not broken. The sinfulness and brokenness and woundedness of human beings have led the whole creation to groan, as St. Paul puts it, because we have hurt the animals and the forests and even the mountains and oceans“ but we and the fallen angels are the fallen creatures.

The rest of the world still has its ancient splendor. That’s why the pigs we hear about in the Gospel drowned themselves “ they couldn’t stand for demons to be within them. They, unlike us, are not fallen creatures and know evil when it comes to them.

Our sadness is due not only to the realization that everything beautiful dies but that our experience of the beauty we behold is itself so temporary. We see flowers and hear great music “ and some part of us knows that this is the future, that they are ambassadors from the Kingdom yet to come. We get glimpses of a Beauty in and around and beyond all things. But only glimpses. Only moments. Then we go back to the colorless and the formless and the emptiness that fill our days. Heartbreaking. But not hopeless.

David Holden
[email protected]

Help make OPF better known

Though our members are in every continent and jurisdiction, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship remains unknown to most Orthodox Christians.

You could help make OPF better known if you would suggest persons to whom an OPF information packet could be sent.

If you provide us with an address, we’ll send a letter and folder, a copy of In Communion and an OPF poster.

Consider suggesting not only close friends but rectors of parishes.

Jim Forest
[email protected]

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54



Bookmark and Share

Conversations by email: Fall 2009

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <[email protected]> or Jim Forest <[email protected]>.

Fervent supplication: Here is a petition for possible inclusion in the Liturgy during the Litany of Fervent Supplication. It is intended for use in Orthodox parishes in nations that are still part of the “Coalition Forces” deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“Also, we pray Thee for a speedy end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that all who are entangled in their violence as participants or supporters may embrace the riches of Thy kindness, forbearance and patience, and enter into that godly grief which leads to repentance; vouchsafe that our hearts and theirs may turn to works of reconciliation, to mercy and compassion for all, and to a thirst for that peace from above which heralds the drawing near of Thy Kingdom, we pray Thee, O Lord, hearken and have mercy.”

James Campbell

[email protected]

Gift from an astronaut: Forty years ago, in a cell in a Wisconsin prison, I listened via radio to the astronauts’ voices as they touched down for the first moon landing. I was in the early weeks of serving a one-year sentence for having been one of fourteen people who burned draft files as a protest of the Vietnam War.

Less than a week after the Apollo crew safely returned to Earth, I received a packet from NASA containing a color print of a photo of the Earth taken by one of the three astronauts. It hung on my cell wall for a year, until I was released, then returned with me to New York. I never knew which of the Apollo crew had sent the photo, but reports in today’s newspapers make me wonder if it wasn’t Neil Armstrong. He believes the moon landing may have helped prevent war between the US and the USSR.

“Speaking at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his becoming the first person to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, 78, said that he and the two other Apollo 11 crew members recognized that what for them had been a daring mission in space also may have helped reduce hostilities between the Soviet Union and the United States. ‘The space race faded away. It was the ultimate peaceful competition,’ said Armstrong. ‘It allowed both sides to take the high road. I’ll not assert that it was a diversion which prevented a war. Nevertheless it was a diversion’.”

What must it be like to see with one’s own eyes a world without borders and no bigger than one’s hand?

Jim Forest

[email protected]>

Health insurance: Sometimes it helps to be simple-minded about things. I admit I don’t understand much about the insurance industry or about universal health care in other countries. But, it seems to me that the complaint in the U.S. that universal health care is a socialist plot to destroy our private enterprise system is a scamming lie. Private insurance is a socialist system.

Everyone in the system pays into the pot regardless of present need and everyone who has need takes from the pot. The system decides how much each pays and whose needs are addressed and how. The only problem is that the system today is more concerned about its own well-being than of those it is intended to serve.

Insurance of any form is no more than a “society” of members sharing the cost for their collective needs. At best, members are making monthly payments for a product before they actually receive it. Does it matter if the scam is run by the government or business? We need to figure out how to hold them accountable whoever they are.

I may be too simple, but I think we should get over our simplistic fear of socialism and just figure out the best way to provide for people. Forgive me if I put my fingers in my ears when the capitalist choir starts singing about competition and efficiency and blah, blah, blah. The fear that putting the government in charge will lead to “undeserving” people using benefits “I paid for” is nonsense. Healthy people who own insurance are always paying for other people’s healthcare. Monthly premium? Tax? What’s the difference? All I know is I can’t afford any of it at the moment. If we can reform how it is done so that it is affordable and then hold the system accountable, I don’t care who I pay. I enjoy phone service, trash collection, fire fighting protection, police protection, highway construction, and more, all of which I “subscribe to” by my taxes or other monthly payments. When private enterprise does it better, fine; when government does it better, also fine. Lets get our ideologies and isms out of the way so we can be human and get together to get it done.

In late Roman times and in early Europe, the Church cared for its own and welcomed others in, society said “what a fine idea,” and started creating hospital systems. Let’s go back to basics and start setting an example for society at large to emulate, as Christ and the Apostles suggested with the whole body caring for its members.

We, as members of a Christian peace organization, should encourage social cooperation and responsibility as broadly as possible while remembering who our Master is and that his ways are not the same as the world’s ways. Ultimately, we need to encourage each other to live hospitably and peacefully in service to each other no matter the cost to us or the chaos around us while striving to get over the disappointment that the cost and chaos are not going away.

Pieter Dykhorst

[email protected]

Back home: After almost nine years in Romania, Joel and I have returned to US and are now living in Wilmore, Kentucky, the college town where we first met and where Joel will be pursuing a master’s degree MA in counseling.

The boys have adjusted well. We appreciate all the educational possibilities here and have found many friends. We’re living close to my parents and having a day with grandma each week is a dream come true.

The transition from missionary life for Joel and me is rockier. I feel like Rip van Winkle waking up to a different world than I lived in ten years ago. What keeps coming to mind is societal insanity. I see the cycles of lust, greed, consumption, self-absorption and waste as ultimately running us into the ground. Sadly, I see these cycles in myself and know I can say, with Paul, that I am chief among sinners.

I am seeking how I can reconcile being a stay-at-home mom with my activist side. Though my time is limited, I hope to become involved with local ministries and peace groups (perhaps one that has no Orthodox representatives) not only to live what I believe but also to help me lift my eyes out of my own little world.

Our work as missionaries in Romania would still be going on, but we had to return home because of our son Simeon’s medical needs. Recent discussions on the OPF List regarding healthcare are very close to home. I have actually cried on the phone this week with healthcare providers over problems with getting appointments, so I understand the urgency of getting the current, broken system fixed.

Monica Klepac

[email protected]

Prayer for enemies: Yesterday I had a letter from a friend about an experience she had of praying for a student who had been angry with her for a grade she had given him plus some feedback he didn’t agree with.

Though the student wasn’t her enemy, he seemed to regard her as his enemy. Recalling Christ’s advice about praying for enemies, she decided to begin praying for her student. The next few weeks in the classroom were difficult & his anger was obvious. “But God gave me an incredible amount of compassion for him,” she told me, “and also showed me that I should have communicated with him more sensitively.

“One day he came back to class to pick up something after the other students were gone. Clearly he wasn’t feeling well. I just said that I was sorry and hoped he would be feeling better soon. He then began to cry. We talked for about an hour. He shared many things with me including his rejection of the angry, wrathful God he was brought up to believe in. I mainly listened, but also shared some of my own journey.”

My friend ended up giving him a book that she thought might help, Mountain of Silence. They’ve had more conversations. Things have changed dramatically, both in the classroom and in the student’s life.

Jim Forest

[email protected]

A change of heart: Many years ago, I described a particularly painful situation to another monk. He suggested that  whenever this individual’s abuse of me came to mind – I should offer a prayer for her. I did this, and it helped enormously. What happens when we do this is a lot like forgiveness. A change occurs in our own hearts, and it doesn’t matter in the least whether or not our “enemies” know that we pray for them or forgive them. The change in our own hearts relieves us of great stress and even of sin, and makes it possible for us to think about our “enemies” more benevolently, and so to engage them more kindly the next time we meet.

Monk James Silver

[email protected]

Sand bags: Sometimes the best one can manage is to throw a roadblock in the way of the thoughts of enmity, anger, and recrimination before they can move in to take over our mental “real estate.” The Jesus Prayer is certainly good for that, like a row of sand bags before rising water.

Alex Patico

[email protected]

Healing: To forgive is so healing for the one doing the forgiving, the interceding. It may even play a part in our bodily health in a holistic way. I wonder, too, about the one for whom intercession is made. Holding someone up into the stream of God’s love surely has some effect, as well. Perhaps God finds ways of showing such a person he or she is loved, and that makes a difference in the person’s life. Perhaps a respite of peace or encouragement visits the person in ways only known to God.

Sally Eckert

[email protected]

Economics and illness: I make my living as a psychotherapist. It seems to me that my patients fall into three groups. Some would be in my office no matter what state of the world they are born into. In other words, they would have mental and emotional illnesses regardless of the nature of the society, economy, and culture that they are in. Another group have no mental or emotional illness; they are normal people who are stressed out by living in the crazy society that we have created. And the rest are people who have some emotional and mental problems that are intrapsychic, but made much worse by living in our crazy system.

This has made me much more sensitive to cultural and societal factors in creating and exacerbating people’s issues. So, in the past four years or so I have spent a lot of time studying economics. I have decided that it is a much bigger issue than I previously thought. I am a bit angry at myself for looking down on it when I was studying classics and theology back in college.

It is now clear to me that ideas about money, property, and the fair handling of them pervade everything else we think. Our thoughts become congruent with one another (except, of course, for inconsistencies that we don’t even notice), and often the economic idea forces others into submission.

So we have the case here in America that we believe our ideas about free markets, private property, and the like simply must be right and true and we turn around and make our philosophical and theological ideas follow after our economic principles.

One result of this is that Christianity in America has become the champion of capitalism and our form of democracy. Many followers of American Christianity (by no means all, but a great many) simply ignore and deny the inconsistency of capitalism and our form of democracy with Biblical teachings about justice, care for the poor, and peacemaking.

All of which is to say, I think it is imperative that OPF spend a significant portion of time discussing economic issues. They contain within them the roots of war. As I never tire of quoting St. James the Brother of the Lord, “What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have, so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war.”

David Holden

[email protected]

Regarding Satan: Throughout the Gospel Jesus demonstrates how little power Satan has – the demons have to beg Christ’s permission to flee His presence and enter the swine. We use that in our baptismal exorcism when we say that Satan does not have power even over swine. Neither the Gospel nor the Bible as a whole hold to belief in dualism  where Satan is God’s equal and opposite and God and Satan are at war with each other on almost equal footing. The Old Testament gives very little credit to Satan for anything and rarely mentions him or demons. There are false gods which the Old Testament soundly condemns and certainly Christians should recognize that if we think Satan is divinity in some form  holding such power over creation  we have made him into a god, and that is a false god.

Our baptismal prayers ban Satan from people’s lives permanently. He has no power over us, let alone power over all the kingdoms of the world  that is Satan’s self deception. He is lying to Christ when he declares he has power over all these kingdoms he is the father of lies. He is lying and deceiving and is self deceived.

Jesus’ kingdom indeed is not of this world not of the supposed power, domination and coercion of this world. This doesn’t mean that all kingdoms of this world are pure evil. God used those kingdoms to carry out His will. That is the claim of the prophets about Babylon, Persia, Egypt or Rome. Their downfall was that they did not understand their power came from God and assumed they defeated Israel because of their gods or their own goodness.

If all world power comes from Satan, how could there be kings or princes who become saints? It would mean that God’s salvation and kingdom cannot reach kings, presidents, princes, emperors.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

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The tears of things: Not everything is broken beyond repair. The stars on a clear night, the sounds of birds, those great waterfalls and that broad and deep river you live near, a child’s hand reaching for yours. These are not broken. The sinfulness and brokenness and woundedness of human beings have led the whole creation to groan, as St. Paul puts it, because we have hurt the animals and the forests and even the mountains and oceans but we and the fallen angels are the fallen creatures.

The rest of the world still has its ancient splendor. That’s why the pigs we hear about in the Gospel drowned themselves  they couldn’t stand for demons to be within them. They, unlike us, are not fallen creatures and know evil when it comes to them.

Our sadness is due not only to the realization that everything beautiful dies but that our experience of the beauty we behold is itself so temporary. We see flowers and hear great music and some part of us knows that this is the future, that they are ambassadors from the Kingdom yet to come. We get glimpses of a Beauty in and around and beyond all things. But only glimpses. Only moments. Then we go back to the colorless and the formless and the emptiness that fill our days. Heartbreaking. But not hopeless.

David Holden

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Help make OPF better known

Though our members are in every continent and jurisdiction, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship remains unknown to most Orthodox Christians.

You could help make OPF better known if you would suggest persons to whom an OPF information packet could be sent.

If you provide us with an address, we’ll send a letter and folder, a copy of In Communion and an OPF poster.

Consider suggesting not only close friends but rectors of parishes.

Jim Forest

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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