Category Archives: Conversations by Email

OPF list discussion content included in issues of In Communion

Conversations by e-mail: Winter 2007

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 .

Pacifism: There was a letter last week from a new OPF member who had hesitated to join because she could not call herself a pacifist. “I confess I still have trouble with pacifism,” she wrote, “not so much with an individual being pacifist within his or her own individual circumstances, but with national defense.”

I responded by pointing out that in fact one does not have to be a pacifist to belong to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. I went on to say that the aspiration to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution is something all sane people have in common, yet few would say that they would never use violent methods to protect the innocent. All we can do is attempt to find ways of responding to injustice that are consistent with the Gospel. Clearly nonviolent methods are to be preferred to violent. In working for peace, I don’t think it helps to describe ourselves as pacifists. It’s enough to say that we are attempting to be Christian peacemakers. Pacifism is a modern word. In the Oxford English Dictionary, which organizes its definitions historically (oldest first, most recent last) and also provides examples of word usage, it is not surprising to find the earliest examples of the words “pacifist” and “pacifism” are from the first decade of the 20th century. Pacifism is defined as “the policy or doctrine of rejecting war and every form of violent action as a means of solving disputes, especially in international affairs.” It is also “the belief in and advocacy of peace- ful methods as feasible and desirable alternatives to war.” A pacifist is a person “who rejects war and violence as a matter of principle” or “advocates a peaceful policy as the first and best resort.”

I find dictionary definitions helpful and use dictionaries almost daily, but people do not hear dictionary definitions. They hear sounds which may suggest very different meanings. The major problem with the word “pacifist” is that it sounds like “passive-ist.” Yet there is nothing passive about peace-making. To work for the healing of a divided society is not just watching with folded hands from a safe distance.

The ideological charge that words ending in “ism” have is also a problem. Christianity is not an ideology. It’s a way of life in which love of God is impossible without love of neighbor.

We need not label ourselves pacifists, but peacemaking is not something optional for Christians.

Jim Forest

[email protected]

Peace in the parish: Our parish’s patron is St. Nicholas of Myra, which means not only that the temple is dedicated to him but that he is literally a patron and protector of it. When I’m aware of any trouble in the parish, I try to remember to pray to St. Nicholas to intercede for our church and to guide and protect us in the conflict we face. All of us, including me, could do more of this.

While “fleeing the situation” sounds cowardly or irresponsible, I believe that there’s a “holy fleeing” too. In every parish, there seem to be some who see the Church and its local manifestation in relatively worldly, political terms. Structural problems, differences between factions in the church, tend to seem very important to them, and they want you to see them as very important too – in brief, to take sides, to have an opinion in whatever the conflict is. It’s difficult not to get sucked into that worldview and that agenda, but in my view it’s worthwhile.

John Brady [email protected]

Global warming film: Tonight we had a public showing of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the film on global warming made by Al Gore. I’m not sure how many the theater holds, but every seat was taken and around 100 people were turned away, and this was in a small suburb of Vancouver. This is the fourth event we have participated in representing the Canadian branch of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and I believe the most successful.

By popular demand, we’ll have a second showing this week. OPF-Canada is also arranging with the David Suzuki Institute for a special program on Global Warming to be held jointly, one session at the Monastery and one at the local University College. This event will take place in February.

+Archbishop Lazar

[email protected] org

The Atlantic Divide: Since living in Europe, I have been impressed by how much more environmentally conscious Europeans are than Americans – that is, more concerned about genetically modified food, more intensive use of public transport, more interest in fair trade, and generally in better physical condition. Oddly, this conscious- ness seems to not apply to smoking. At least here in Romania, it is nearly impossible to find a smoke free restaurant to eat in while in the US, we have whole states where each restaurant is totally non-smoking, yet we pollute the world with our gas guzzlers, eat the most unhealthy of foods, and inject our livestock with synthetic hormones and chemicals. Why the contradiction on both sides? Strange.

Monica Klepac

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Depression: It would be good to remember that the effectiveness of anti-depression drugs is regularly exaggerated or even falsified by their promoters; and that some kinds of “talk therapy” and even exercise programs have been proven to be as effective as drugs for many sufferers.

The depressed person often isn’t in a position to be a “smart shopper,” but his loved ones may be doing him a service by looking up the available interventions and the numbers that support them before automatically filling that prescription. John Brady [email protected]

Failed strategy: I find the question of depression of personal interest, as I have been inclined to depression throughout my life. I have never taken drugs to deal with it. I’ve come to agree wholeheartedly that drug therapy, especially as the first and primary resort, is a failed strategy. It avoids dealing with the real causes, whatever they may be. It is quick, easy, and oh so American. By examining my own life, I’ve found three things that contribute to bouts of depression. First, I think some people are inclined by temperament toward a more melancholy disposition. I am. I tend to slide to the dark side for a number of reasons, some of which I have identified, some not. I have friends who claim, astonishingly, to never have suffered a minute of depression! Second, there are numerous environmental factors that contribute to depression. They may range from what I had for breakfast or how well I slept, to the state of my relation- ships, to what is in the air and how much sunshine I enjoy, all the way to socio-cultural factors that I can’t understand or control. Third, there are spiritual factors. Sin matters. Worship matters. My orientation to God, others, and life all matter. By prioritizing spiritual things, I secondarily affect my depression. Whenever I realize I’m being affected by depression, I try to run down a mental checklist to find if there is something I’m overlooking in one of those three categories.

My tendency toward depression does not obviously involve any kinds of physical or chemical abnormalities that should be treated medically. I have had a great deal of success in “treating” myself through attention to the primary causes of my own depression. Whatever residual depression I suffer from still, I think I’m predisposed to, and I can live with that.

A further insight that may be helpful is that it seems to me from what I’ve learned that we can experience happiness and sadness, joy and grief, and suffering and blessing all at the same time. I’m therefore not sure that the goal is to rid ourselves completely of things like depression. Depression can actually be part of our giftedness and can be made a useful tool in whatever God has given us to accomplish. Accepting that has actually given me some joy – I think the way I’ve experienced God is in large part a function of what I’ve suffered, including from depression. That must be a good thing.

Pieter Dykhorst

[email protected]

Psychiatric pharmacology: My mother was wrongly diagnosed as depressed for forty years. It was only toward the end of her life that she was correctly diagnosed as bi- polar and appropriately medicated, so her last years were comparatively normal. I doubt she would have had the emotional or even the physical wherewithal to do without her medications. I have great respect for sensitive and appropriate psychiatric pharmacology.

I’d like to share with you a comment made by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, himself a medical doctor and psychiatrist: “A great many mental illnesses could be avoided by a sincere confession early on.” Now, this is true psychiatry, whose etymology yields “healing of the soul.” In my experience, the “talking cure” applied in many schools of non-pharmacological psychotherapy is a first cousin to spiritual direction, since it’s rooted in the affect, or the area of choices we make based on what we think we know.

As such, it could take a longer or shorter time, but I’m always happier with short-term psychotherapy than with any approach which takes more than six months or so, and I think that Freudian psychoanalysis is completely useless.

Generally, I’d rather rely on active-directive psychotherapeutic models with the client’s needs clearly in focus than with any one-size-fits-all theory. We are individuals, each of us reflecting something of the divine image unique to ourselves, and we should appreciate each other as such, no matter the context. And this is exactly how we must do spiritual direction, too.

Monk James Silver

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Drug withdrawal: It is human instinct to alleviate suffering, indeed to escape it, and our culture has certainly taken that to an extreme. After years of struggling with the meaning of my depression, looking for causes, psychological family history, spiritual perspectives, and so on, I finally succumbed to my own weariness and the voice of our medical culture that said it was biochemical and genetic, and started taking anti- depressants. I really wanted a “fix.” All I got over three years was a minor reduction in morbidity and a lot more tiredness. The last year I was getting desperate, trying several different drugs, and finally at my worse moment, I thought: maybe I’m just supposed to bear it. This is my thorn in the flesh, this is my “karma.” It is simply who I am. Was it not possible that all my obvious family history of mental illness (two suicides in my immediate family!) had a spiritual meaning as well, that in fact we can’t separate the spiritual from the physical/psychic? Spiritually, I was simply bearing the sins of my father. (Medically, it was an inherited condition that with the right treatment could be eliminated or at least controlled, like diabetes – so doctors told me). With my spiritual father’s approval (he was psychiatrist as well), I gradually with- drew from drugs and have now been drug free for eight years, apart from one six- month period.

And here is the paradox: That if I really give my assent to this cross of mine (but there is no faking this assent), if I really let it pierce me in all it’s personal horror, then in the long run I’ll “feel better” because I know that I have the incredible privilege of being joined to Christ’s own act of redemption. For only he took on the full weight of the human condition. But because he did it, now we can too, our own personal share of it.

Paul del Junco

[email protected]

Beatitude of mourning: I just spent the whole train ride back from Amsterdam thinking about the Beatitudes, in particular “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (We’re having a series of discussion on the Beatitudes at church, and this is the one I’m going to be discussing.) Could this be what Christ was saying – to assent to the thing that’s causing you pain? Does it have to do with exercising the full extent of one’s personal freedom in Christ, to accept the cross and ride it out to the very end? And that this is the key to “comfort” – the root meaning of which is to be strengthened – in Christ?

Nancy Forest

[email protected]

From Pakistan: I have just received the Fall issue of In Communion. I have gone through Jim Forest’s article, “The Healing of Enmity,” and found it impressive and thoughtful. If you agree, I would like to translate it into our local language for publication in our Christian newspaper, so that our readers may read its beauty and inspirational teaching.

Rev. Fr. Andrew Mushtaq

[email protected]

D. C. Road, Narowal – 51600, Pakistan

Soup kitchen: I do some dishwashing one night a week at the Catholic Neighborhood Center in Wheeling. It serves three meals a day to about thirty to 100 guests. The Wheeling Soup Kitchen, a non-denominational operation a few blocks away, does comparable business.

Some of the clientele look like “street people”; others wouldn’t attract any special attention on the street. I’ve been told that very few are literally homeless – many live in subsidized rooming houses, etc. Quite a few are unemployed families or elderly people whose government checks run out before the next one arrives. It’s painful to see a young couple with kids coming to a soup kitchen.

One of the Neighborhood Center’s services is a small medical and dental clinic staffed by volunteer doctor/dentists. (I wonder how do they get liability coverage?). In this part of the world, missing teeth are pretty much the norm and wouldn’t set someone apart. The Neighborhood Center also has washing machines and showers. Good thinking.

John Brady

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Christian disunity: I’ve often thought that Christian disunity is a crime against humanity. If the world will know that the Father has sent Christ by our love for one another, what will the world think about Jesus and the Father by our schism? Probably what so many do think. Sad. More than sad, it’s disgusting, and no reason or excuse is good enough to justify the greatest failure of our history. Good will may not be enough alone, but without enormous good will to start, it will be utterly impossible – probably why it hasn’t happened. God bless the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew as they lead their flocks in the creation and showing of such good will, and may it lead to the hard work required to atone for our great sin of division and bring us back together as one body to show the world that the Father has indeed sent the Son.

Pieter Dykhorst

[email protected]

A tragic wound: The first searing experience I had of this very real and sinful rift was in 1988, when I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem for the first time. I felt a tragic wound was being inflicted daily on the Body of Christ by allowing division lines to go straight through that space, the very topos marking His saving sacrifice. In that church one beholds the fruits of separation – a fragmentation of heart and purpose, the implicit violence of derailed loyalty to split traditions…The suspiciousness and absence of love are palpable for any visitor.

To this day, when I think of that Church I am overwhelmed with a tragic sorrow for our having alienated our own brothers and I want to repent for the sin of fratricidal rejection among those bearing the Name of Christ.

Ioana Novac

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Barred at the border: When I returned to Canada from my year of study in Lebanon, one of the first things I did was get a new passport. In addition to my time in Lebanon, I also had the opportunity to visit Egypt, Turkey, and Syria. In November, I was invited to give a guest lecture at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY. A friend of mine teaches a course in world religions there. He thought I’d be a good person to talk about eastern Christianity. Since I’m working midnights now, my brother offered to come along with me to drive so that I could sleep in the car.

Those who have met my family know that my brother is a different race than I am, since my parents adopted him when he was a newborn. The last time we did a road trip to the States was in early November. The immigration officer we spoke with on that trip was satisfied with the explanation. (Perhaps it helped that she seemed to have been the same race as my brother.)

On our most recent trip, however, we were told to park the car and report to the immigration office. When we walked in, we both noticed that I was the only white person on the wrong side of the counter. Everyone else waiting to speak with an immigration officer was “a person of color.”

For reasons known only to himself, the officer we spoke with decided that he did not believe me and my brother. Apparently his view was that the whole thing was simply a ruse to allow my brother to stay illegally in America. We were held at the border for over two hours. We were insulted and berated. We were threatened with arrest and huge fines. We were fingerprinted and photographed. Our rental car was searched. Finally we were sent back to Canada.

My brother was mortified, since he had only come along to help me out. My friend was mortified, since his extension of hospitality had been so brutally trampled upon. I was infuriated that my brother had been accused of being a liar and a person of poor moral character in front of me, and I didn’t dare open my mouth to defend him.

I contacted the US Consulate in Toronto two days after our return, and after wading through the automated voice mail system was finally instructed to call the Toronto airport branch of US Customs. I have yet to reach a human being at that number. For now, the monasteries that my friends and I visit in America are off-limits to me. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend this year’s graduation ceremony at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. Any church conferences are similarly off-limits to me unless they are being held in Canada. It’s really a shame to see what America is becoming.

Peter Brubacher

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Thinking about war: Attitudes toward war and peacemaking are quite varied, even in the Orthodox community, in this country, at least. Our church community here in Alaska has been together for many years, yet the Orthodox canonical development with respect to war has never been discussed. I know that the priests and deacons have considered it, but the laity has never thought about it until the past year, to my knowledge. That is sad; it would have been nice had we considered it before the country found itself at war and some of our children have gone off to serve for the most honorable reasons.

Still, we grow as we grow. We are ignorant of our blind spots. We stay under the influence of the biases we have known as we have matured.

Abortion and euthanasia have been considered already. At some point, because of God’s love, some of us begin to question the matter of war. For me this came because of an increasing awareness of what our country is doing and how very dramatically it is at odds with what God shows me in the Liturgy, as I bow to others in mutual love, respect, forgiveness; and with what He shows me in the scriptures and the homilies.

Sally Eckert

[email protected]

Violence against women: Today is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, in which a deranged misogynist shot dead a number of female university students. This anniversary will be commemorated across Canada with vigils and workshops on domestic violence.

Violence against women remains a serious problem, not only in “third world” nations, but in Canada as well. We have all read of the attempts of some cultural groups to justify “honor killings” of women who marry without parental consent, who divorce abusive husbands or marry “beneath the families status,” and for other reasons. At the same time the savage and cruel practice of female circumcision continues in many parts of Africa, and the sexual torture of women in Darfur, the Congo and other places rages unabated.

The fact that most domestic violence is carried out by men against women is certainly not comforting. Indeed, it would seem that men should be in the forefront of striving to bring an end to all these acts of brutality. We should be deeply offended that our gender is being defined in some part, in so many places, by acts of cruelty and violence against women.

I would like to respectfully suggest that it might be a good subject for clergy to discuss with young people in their parishes. Those who are inclined to, might also in some small way, observe this day, which has become a semi-official memorial day for women who have lost their lives in domestic violence and in the violation of the humanity of women.

+Archbishop Lazar

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Execution in Iraq: My heart was heavy yesterday with the news of Saddam’s hanging and what it might mean for the continued cycling of violence here. What I hadn’t realized was the significance of where I’ve been living for the past few months. I was walking with Colonel T and he mentioned being in “Saddam’s hometown.” “Tikrit is his hometown?” I asked. “Yes, haven’t you heard his full name, Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti? ” I had not been aware of that. I subsequently was told that all movement to and from our base had been canceled for the next few days because of the anticipation of increased attacks.

This information became particularly pertinent today at the chapel. I was up with the choir and we were standing in the front of the congregation, facing them, off to one side. Father K stood behind the congregation at the back entrance where he signals the choir to start the service so that he can walk down the center aisle to the altar as we sing. Today he waved at us to begin with his trademark big smile and… BOOM!!! The building shuddered. Everyone froze. The choir did not begin singing. Faces all around were wide-eyed and some looked frightened. I looked back again to Father K and he seemed uncertain of what to do. There was dead silence for several seconds that seemed like several minutes. He reached over to a small basin of holy water, dipped his fingers into it, and crossed himself. A few more moments of silence and then Father K smiled sheepishly and waved at us to begin again. Captain H snapped out of her own reverie after a few seconds and announced the song. After the service we all agreed it must have been a controlled detonation somewhere in the vicinity, otherwise an alert would have gone out. Regardless, as I came out of the chapel I half expected to see a smoldering crater nearby. I was struck by just how focused I’d been in those timeless moments. Priorities were clear, all things superfluous were instantly burned away. The unspoken challenge to myself seemed to be one of “how do I get that back?” and “how does one maintain such a state?” How is it that I so seldom feel the realness of what is real? I think I must be amassing questions here that I’ll have the rest of my life to try and answer.

Aaron Haney

[email protected]

Eternal memory: George Zarifis, 80, a longtime member of our Minnesota Chapter of Orthodox Peace Fellowship, died in his sleep on January 12, 2007. Despite his age, it was unexpected – just like George himself.

George was a founding member and our secretary, recording the notes for our OPF meetings each month. I have the notebook in which he kept track of the life of our little group. I’m glad we have them now, not just to remember what our group has discussed and done, but to remember George.

More than just our secretary, George was a guiding light and tireless worker in our chapter as we have pursued our desire to open an Orthodox house of hospitality in the Twin Cities area. He has had a hand in every event and project we have sponsored or supported, sharing his time, money, talent and generous love in so many ways.

The last time I visited with him was shortly before Christmas at a prayer retreat sponsored by his parish, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis. He was involved in many ways in the life of the Church, including being an usher and greeter with a warm smile and kind heart.

It grieves me that George did not live to see the day that our Orthodox house of hospitality for the poor will open in Minnesota. He truly believed in this shared vision of our small chapter. Frequently he would ask in a bewildered way, “Why don’t more people join us?” I was never able to answer that question. Would that the words “peace” and “hospitality” would draw a crowd. Perhaps George, with his background in the military and his own life of outreach, had a deeper sense of the essence and interconnectedness of these two words, and the need for them to be lived out in concrete ways.

In my tears I draw hope from the sense that George has gone to be with the Lord. I pray that he is interceding for us who still struggle on earth for peace, justice and salvation.

The thoughts, prayers and compassion of all of us in the Minnesota OPF chapter go out to George, his wife Cleo and his family. It will be awhile before we again see his smile, feel his warm hug, his gentle laugh and words of wisdom.

Memory Eternal, dearest George. You are missed. Pray for us as we pray for you.

Rene Zitzloff

[email protected]

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

Conversations by e-mail: Fall 2006

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 .

St. Constantine:

OPF received a letter yesterday in which a questionwas raised as to why St. Constantine is not on the calendar of saints in the Catholic Church, although he is in the Orthodox Church. “Does it concern you that this ‘man of war’ is honored in our tradition?” I responded by saying that my impression is that there are quite a few pre-Schism. No doubt a factor in his canonization was his decision to end all persecution of Christians and the influence Christianity had in encouraging him to reshape many laws in a more merciful direction. Many saints have taken part in war – none has been canonized for being a soldier. The calendar of the saints cension of the Lord. I think the timing of this feast was, consciously or uncon- sciously, a decision of great wisdom. Our Lord has gone up to rule over heaven and earth from the right hand of the Father. Part of His rule includes the kingdoms of this earth. Constantine was among the very first rulers to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ over the State and to begin the process of transforming the laws and customs of this world to conform to the law and wisdom of the Lord.

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We celebrate what the Lord has in fact accomplished; but we also celebrate what has begun. Constantine was not in fact the first Christian king (a king of Armenia preceded him). His sins were many and some of them serious; some of his accomplishments were not long-lasting; and some of his achievements were not even appropriate – the Constantinian union of church and state was in fact an unholy matrimony that has caused endless problems to the message and integrity of the Church. Even so, his accomplishments were great indeed. Perhaps more than any other saint of the ancient Church, he represents the task that Niebuhr called the transformation of culture. From that point of view, oddly enough, in light of his being chief commander of the Roman armies, he is close to the spirit of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

David Holden [email protected]

Byzantium:

The Byzantine Empire was culturally Byzantine, unique in all the ways cultures always are, with Hellenistic culture being but one influence. It is customary to refer to Byzantine culture as Greek, but that didn’t mean the same thing in pre-modern times that it does now. The marriage of blood, culture, and religion to create the modern conception of Greek ethnicity as something pure and inherent began in the eighteenth century. Byzantines didn’t think of themselves as Hellenes; neither Byzantines nor Hellenes ever being thought of themselves as an ethnic group. Hellenism was always a cultural phenomenon. It was the post-Byzantine culture under the Ottomans that recovered for themselves, from the pre-Byzantine past, their Hellenic identity. Prior to the development of nationalism in the 18th century, there was never any such idea as a Greek, or any other, ethnicity.

The migrations that led to large amounts of today’s mainland Greece being Slav took place between the 6th and 7th centuries, dates and extent of settlement being uncertain and debated by historians. Most of the cities remained Greek, and there was much intermixing of the populations. The peninsula was recovered and once more largely Greek by the 9th century. There is no evidence that there was anything like a large-scale population exchange, though Imperial policy was influential.

Constantine was certainly neither Serb or British, as neither of those ethnicities even existed then, Slavs being a completely unknown people to the Romans at that time. Slavs migrated into the Balkans in the 6th century as raiders and didn’t begin to settle in significant numbers until the 7th. They never supplanted native populations (assimilation, over time, may be more accurate, but such processes were so bi-directional that we can never say that the cultural end product was the same as at the beginning of the process). While there was a cultural influence in both directions, by the time the Greeks recovered dominance, the settled Slavs had been thoroughly “Grecified.”

Pieter Dykhorst [email protected]

Conciliar model:

Constantine’s significance in the East has largely to do with the importance we place on Ecumenical Councils, as distinct from a Roman-style Magisterium. His moving of the capital to Byzantium/Constantinople, the effect he had on establishing the emperor as the vital link between Church and State, the significance of the Nicene Creed from the Council over which he presided, his leadership in the Donatist struggle: all of this political influence – coupled with the fact that he was St. Helena’s son (is holiness genetic?) and introduced an impressive number of ethical and social changes into the life of the Empire, from tax relief and charitable works to endowing churches in the Holy Land and elsewhere – certainly contributed to the growth of popular veneration of his person. We are called to emulate Constantine’s virtues, not his vices – but that’s true with any saint, who, by the simple fact of being human, is also a sinner.

Fr. John Breck

[email protected]

Byzantines and war:

Thinking a little bit about history, I was wondering, if one compared the Orthodox Byzantine Empire with other great world powers in history, is it the case that the Byzantines engaged in war mostly from a defensive and protectionist stance, to consolidate their position, rather than engaging in expansionist wars?

Certainly Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire of an earlier age, the Muslim Arabs, Genghis Khan, the Turks, all engaged in imperial expansionism.

The crusades too might fall in this category. But the Byzantines after Constantine seem rarely to have gone on wars of expansion. They did fight against the Persians, Arabs, Turks, Bulgars, but these were mostly attacks upon them.

After Constantine, the empire goes into a pattern of land lost by attrition and war. Pretty much the Byzantines lose interest in the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century. In the 7th Century, the Arab Muslims gobble up huge portions of the empire. The Bulgars carve out their own empire. The Turks further diminish Byzantium until they conquer it.

The Byzantines seem to have engaged in some diplomatic efforts with the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Bulgars, and eventually with the Crusaders. But their war efforts were defensive rather than expansionist, except at times to regain lost territories.

I wonder if anyone is aware if any research has been done on the attitude of the Byzantine Empire toward war itself. After Constantine, did Christianity have an impact on the imperial attitudes toward war? Did this lead to the Empire being more defensive than expansionist?

For example, here is the Theotokian from Matins Canticle Nine for the Be-heading of John the Baptist:

Son of the Theotokos:

Go forth, ride prosperously and reign. Place the forces of Ishmael that fight against us, beneath our feet, and grant victory to the Orthodox

Christians over their adversaries by the intercessions of her who bore You, O Word of God.

It is interesting that Monk John, who wrote this hymn, does not call for the armies to go forth and conquer Arab territories, but only that Jesus would grant victories over those who are attacking the Byzantine lands.

Even the “Protection of the Theotokos” is more defensive than offensive.

It is a call to protection from aggressors, and not a call for the Orthodox to become aggressors. So though the Constantinian legend was that he would conquer beneath the Sign of the Cross, the later Byzantines seem to have relied more upon God as a protector than as an aggressor conqueror God. Is this perhaps part of the peace tradition in the Byzantine legacy?

Fr. Ted Bobosh [email protected]

Byzantines and War:

There is a recent book by John Haldon, Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World (London, 1999). My guess is that the Byzantines mostly engaged in defensive wars, because they had little option for anything else. But under Basil II, there was expansionist warfare (though he probably thought of it as regaining lost Byzantine territory).

Fr. Andrew Louth

Lebanon:

Just to let you know I’m unharmed. I left Lebanon twenty days before Hezbollah crossed the border, killed the soldiers, and took the captives. My biggest hassle in leaving the country was the fact that I was over my weight allowance. My priest told me not to buy books while I was there, but I didn’t take his advice. At this point, I’m unspeakably grateful that I decided against staying in Lebanon until September.

I have been in contact with many of my friends in Lebanon. I have spoken with Fr. Symeon by phone twice now. His apartment has what used to be a beautiful view of Beirut across the harbor. They’re far enough out of town and away from any potential targets that they’re as safe as anyone can be in Lebanon about now, but his wife and children are staying with her parents in a mountain village for the time being.

What grieves me even more than the scenes of devastation and death is the thought of yet another generation of scarred survivors. Fr. Symeon’s oldest child is three. One of my other friends from Canada who returned to serve the

Church in Lebanon has a young son.

Lord, have mercy!

Peter Brubacher [email protected]

Orthodox prison ministry:

Fr. David Ogan, who heads Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, has been doing a tremendous job by filling a void in the area of prison ministry. Sad to say, but few institutions in the United States provide religious services for Orthodox Christians, though there are exceptions. The jail where I serve as Supervising Chaplain provides 32 religious services each week to the inmate population, including Orthodox Christian liturgy and catechism. Prisoners who become Orthodox believers in our jail are connected with a local parish when they are released. However, at least 30 percent of the inmates are sentenced to penitentiaries where they will spend many years of their lives. Most US penitentiaries do not provide Orthodox Christian religious worship services simply because there has not been a voice from the Orthodox

Christian community calling for such service, and not enough clergy to provide the services. Therefore, the new Orthodox Christian believers behind bars have been relying on Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry and local parishes to keep them connected to their new faith without any formal worship experience.

I am not sure what we would do without that ministry. Thank you, Fr. David.

The need is so great and the door is wide open for Orthodoxy in our jails and prisons. I am in a position of influence in the state of Pennsylvania. I have been praying and trying to think of a way to enlist more Orthodox Christians in ministry to prisoners. Is this something that OPF might be interested in exploring?

Patrick Tutlella [email protected]

Inequality:

Inequality has been on my mind a lot recently. First, I read Tracy Kidder’s superb Mountains beyond Mountains, a profile of Paul Farmer, an American doctor who has established a health-care system in central Haiti. One small anecdote struck me especially. His clinic arranged to fly a boy with a rare

but treatable cancer to the US, and ended up having to pay $20,000 to fly him out (they’d meant to take him on a commercial flight, but his condition deteriorated). Some people in the organization wondered whether that money couldn’t have been better spent to serve more people – a legitimate question. Farmer recognized the issue, then pointed out that a first-year doctor in the US makes about $100,000 – but no one asks if that money might be “better spent” on other healthcare needs. A mere tithe on American doctors’ incomes would pay for a lot of medevac flights…

Then I read an issue of The Atlantic Monthly with two pieces on growing inequality in the US. One was mostly on why the average person’s pay hasn’t gone up, even while productivity has been climbing for decades. The other was a profile of the rapidly-growing business of providing services to the super-rich. Its concluding paragraph is haunting:

“Then, out of the blue during one of our later conversations, Natasha Pearl [head of one of the cater-to-the-rich companies] said something surprising:

‘If the income inequality persists, we could end up with real armed camps, like in South Africa.’ She said she was increasingly aware of the tension between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ and she described a surge in demand among the ultrarich for real estate in out-of-the-way places such as New Zealand and rural Argentina – expensive insurance policies in case things go haywire for some reason at home. ‘The wise ones are thinking about it now,’ Pearl said. Indeed it might be worth planning ahead; I wonder what the going salary will be for a spot in an oligarch’s private army.”

John Brady [email protected]

On Power:

John Brady raises a key point. The question is that often for people, equality of goods is not per se the issue but the ends they want to pursue. I don’t care that many people have lots more money than I do since all I’m interested in is having the resources I need to pursue the ends that interest me. I’m bothered by the fact that many – too many – people have lots, lots less than me not simply because they have less but because they are thwarted in pursuing the sorts of ends that seem to be part of a minimally decent life. On the other hand, many people are quite content with living very simple lives that require few material possessions – I know people that don’t have a television since they have no interest in watching one. But a “simple” life is not the same as one that is materially impoverished. Some saints and ascetics have so renounced the ends of ordinary life that they have virtually no interest in any material possessions except those required for bare survival and their religious devotion.

Such people don’t care that other people have a lot more. Once again, we are back to the questions of the ends that we pursue for ourselves and with reference to others. Most of the “goods” that we consider in terms of equality/inequality are merely means to those ends and they get their value and moral worth from those ends.

Christianity seems ambivalent on this score. On the one hand, there are the injunctions for a radical renunciation of the world leading to a life of extreme poverty (on any definitions of poverty) and, on the other, the legitimacy of engaging in the world (even if one isn’t “of the world”) and thus “acquiring” and using the wealth and goods which makes such engagement possible.

John Jones

On being downsized:

This past year, since I was “downsized” out of a job, has been a very positive experience for me, and I try to analyze just why it has been so. Clearly, it might have been more trying if our general financial situation had been more precarious; we had beenprudent (and, in some ways, just lucky) in setting ourselves up for retirement time, although we didn’t think it would come quite so soon. But, there are other elements that are even more important.

The loss of control: It is a good thing to be reminded that we are not in charge in this life, that the vagaries of fortune or providence can change things in a twinkling.

Free time: Time was suddenly available to help with family crises. One daughter had a problem pregnancy. Another needed to move to Atlanta with her toddler while her husband was doing research in Japan.

Time to give: I have been able to commit time to pro bono projects related to war and peace in which I could much more readily invest my deepest feelings than in any paying job I ever had.

Freedom: Suddenly I had freedom to look for what God really wanted me to be doing, rather than what “made the most sense” in some job-counselor/personnel office way.

Living on less: The realization that our (relative) “poverty” – regular pay-checks stopping – did not make our lives worse – and most days made them better. There has been more time to spend with my wife, more time to play the piano, more time to tend my flower garden, etc.

I am currently a candidate for a job that I am truly enthusiastic about. It is quite freeing to be able to go into my upcoming key interview with a sense that it is all about doing God’s work, not ensuring that we will have the income to take fancy vacations, add on to our house or give lots of gifts at Christmas time. God is good! I had to go on unemployment to realize how good!

Alex Patico [email protected]

Riches and poverty:

A friend of mine here in Romania who is also interested in living out the Gospels has been reading Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. She was chuckling at his list of suggestions of things you could do to live more simply. There were things like “use fans instead of air conditioning,” etc. She said, “Well, we do almost all these things already whether we want to or not.” Air conditioning is rare in Romania!

“Simplicity” is often a thinly veiled disguise for figuring out how to save in one place just to spend it on something else. I wonder if the “wherewithal” does not come from a change in perspective where we see the contemplative and relational fruit from voluntary simplicity whatever degree it may take, rather than the supposed cost to our material abundance.

I think it was Wendle Berry who said something about what a shame it was that we now feel comfortable giving money instead of ourselves.

Joel Klepac

[email protected]

In the military:

At times I can’t help but feel that I’m being judged by those who all but say that there is no place for an Orthodox Christian in the armed forces.

[email protected]

The circumstances that have brought me to this place are complex and pre-date my becoming Orthodox. No doubt my decision to incur a commitment to the armed forces would have been different if I had been Orthodox at the time, but God has put me here for a reason and I have to honor that.

There is no doubt that the military is a tough place to be an Orthodox Christian, but I feel the Church helps me navigate these things by maintaining a tension that encourages humility and respect for the image of God in others and does not allow me to participate in the glorification of violence.

The work I do is oftentimes mentally, physically and spiritually exhausting, but soldiers are real people with real problems and they do not need the “easy wisdom” of those who simply tell them to get out of the military at any cost even if it means being dishonest or somehow misrepresenting themselves and their circumstances. They need prayers, not man’s judgment.

Aaron Haney, MD

CPT/USA/MC

[email protected]

Ex-Army:

I am a seven-year Orthodox Christian, converted after twenty-four years as a non-denominational Protestant. I got out of the Army after nine years in 1985 as a conscientious objector. I have traveled a long and difficult road in search of what is true and right and good, as I trust we all are doing. I have come to the conclusion that honest dialogue between Christians does not always lead to agreement, regardless of the experience, wisdom, and maturity of the individuals.

Though I am convinced of my conscientious objector beliefs, rooted in Christian faith and practice, I honor my brothers and sisters who disagree with me and serve in the military for honorable reasons. I can’t wait till we can sit before God and sort this all out so that it makes sense.

Pieter Dykhorst

[email protected]

Questions, not judgments:

The questions we raise about war are not an oblique way of putting people in uniform on the spot. Whatever we do in life, we are all implicated in the activities of the society to which we belong, but when we look at how individuals respond in their own lives, we may find some of those who best reveal the peace of Christ happen to be people in the military.

I recall the executive officer of the unit I was part of while in the US Navy who stayed up much of a night reading a book he borrowed from me – War and Christianity Today – and afterward decided to give me his public support in my application for a special discharge as a conscientious objector. What he did, in my opinion, required more courage than anything I had done.

He was a career officer who probably sacrificed promotion from commander to captain by his efforts on my behalf. I’ve always been grateful that my interest in peace issues initially took shape while I was in the military – the period of my life in which I found my way to Christian faith. The experience was a blessing in many ways and ever since has protected me from dehumaniz- ing people wearing military uniforms.

Jim Forest [email protected]

Houses of Hospitality:

According to books I’ve been reading, Peter Maurin (Dorothy Day’s inspiration in many things) quoted a “fifth-century church council” that required bishops to set up houses of hospitality in all their parishes. (These would provide food, shelter and probably medical care for the poor).

I’ve tried to find out what council this was, and what it said, but haven’t

been successful. Does anyone know?

John Brady

[email protected] com

Canons:

A canonist I am not, but I look- ed a little and here is what I found. I found a list of the Captions of Arabic Canons that are attributed to the Council of Nicaea (which is, of course, actually 4th Cent.). The caption of Arabic Canon 70 is: “Of the hospital to be established in every city, and of the choice of a superintendent and concerning his duties.” I also found incidental reference to a poor house (ptocheion) in Canon 8 and to a hospice (xenodocheia) in Canon 10 of the Council of Chalecedon (5th Cent.). These canons do not specifically command that such facilities be constructed, but assume that they exist; the point of these canons is that bishops should govern them and that clergy who have moved from one place to another should not meddle in the affairs of institutions they have left.

David Holden

[email protected]

Peace, Islam and Christianity:

I know that there is not only no unity on the teaching of nonviolence which Christ gave us in the Gospel, but there are many who see nothing amiss in the current war in Iraq. I do not feel the Orthodox are especially blessed with true under- standing about nonviolence, but I know that it is what we are called to be as Christians.

In a recent sermon I heard, our priest said that for all intents and purposes Christianity in Europe is dead while Christianity in the US is now a political distortion. The responsibility for this situation lies in the unfortunate decision to align ourselves with political power, beginning with Constantine. To make ourselves comfortable in this world, we were quite willing to abandon the Kingdom of Heaven. We have no message of salvation, we have no Resurrection to reveal to our fellow humans. Wherever and whenever Christ through the Holy Spirit reveals that we have not succeeded in burying Him, we rush with planks and nails to entomb Him again.

Unless we begin to state the truth as baldly as this, we can expect no more of the Middle Eastern Muslims. Why should they lead the way to peace? And where would they begin to find it? Since Christ is our Peace and the Peace of the entire universe, if we bury Him how will the Muslims find Him?

It is because we live in a “post-Christian world” that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship has the task of exhuming the theology of the Gospel left to us by the Councils and Church Fathers, but buried by our eras-long alliance with military and government power.

Orthodox Christians who see nonviolence as unpatriotic are still living within the romantic delusion of Christian imperialism. How hard the Gospel is on that refuge of the deluded! Why shouldn’t the devout and fanatical Muslims continue their war against the “west”? They really believe in theocracy and practice it as well. As long as we see the Gospel as compatible with war and violence, why should we call the Koran into question?

Alice Carter

[email protected]

War on terror:

The news report “Washington losing ‘war on terror'” (In Communion, Summer 2006) left me dissatisfied. The remarks by Alain Chouet, formerly of France’s foreign intelligence service, do not go far enough.

Chouet says that we should not be attacking the effects of terrorism but its causes, a remark with which it is difficult not to agree. But when I read that he attributes the causes of terrorism to Wahhabite ideology, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim brotherhood, alarm bells began to ring in my head.

To be fair, he went on (in a passage In Communion omitted) to say that: “US policy in the Middle East, which had turned Iraq into a new Afghanistan,’ was acting as a powerful recruiting agent for a generation of Islamic radicals.” He also said that “the continued US presence in Iraq, the atrocities committed by a campaigning army, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq and the grotesque US detention center at Guantanamo in Cuba all ‘provide excuses’ for violent radicals.”

It is good to see widespread recognition that the USA is its own worst enemy. It is also hard not to agree with the main thrust of Chouet’s remarks. But what about the things he and the other people in the report omit to say? What about Arab/Muslim anger at the appalling way the Palestinians have been treated by Israel year after year, Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, the USA’s unqualified support for Israel over several decades, the fact that jets and missiles made in the USA fall almost daily on Palestine, killing and maiming men, women and children in larger numbers than the Israelis who are killed by Hezbollah rockets?

What about US hypocrisy and double standards, confronting Iran over nuclear weapons it does not have while refusing to condemn Israel for its nuclear weapons program? Chouet mentions Wahhabite ideology, but what about the neo- conservative ideology emanating from Washington? Here Chouet appears to be buying into the US extreme-right ideology based on the “clash of civilizations,” in which “they” are portrayed as out to wreck “our” way of life and the values “we” hold dear.

His criticisms suggest US incompetence and stupidity while downplaying the extent to which the USA is in fact guilty of more serious, deliberate and premeditated crimes against humanity, in Israel, in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Perhaps this is why he mentions only “the continued US presence in Iraq,” omitting to mention that the US invasion of the country in the first place was a war crime.

There is a temptation to see all politicians in Western democratic countries as fundamentally well-intentioned but prone to blunders and apt to fly off the handle. Unfortunately I think the reality is more somber, and the prophecy about the “hearts of men growing cold” is being fulfilled in our time by cynical, hollow politicians among others.

Not only Hezbollah rockets and Islamist suicide bombers, but also bombs, bullets and torture made in the USA, have cheapened life and defaced the image of God that is printed on each one us.

What is the most appropriate Christian response to all this? As I say, I find it hard to keep up!

James Chater

[email protected]

Meeting President Bush:

I had my picture taken last week with the President of the United States. For some this means I had my picture taken with one of the greatest men alive, to others it means being frozen in time with a war criminal. When my father-in-law first invited my husband and me to attend a fundraiser compliments of him, my first response was negative. I am not a sup-

porter of George Bush Jr.

I ran the idea past some of my friends at the homeless shelter where I volunteer.

These people are the poorest of the poor and would never have the chance to go to anything like this. “What would you say to the president of the United States,” I asked, “if you had a few seconds with him?” Suggestions ranged from asking him to resign to asking for money to telling him gently that we are all humans and make mistakes and perhaps he should take responsibility for the ones he has made.

Although the luncheon itself was not set until 11:30, we had to be at the hotel by 9 a.m. because they would be closing the roads for security reasons. We were greeted by cheerful volunteers, given name tags, and ushered into a room towait. After being taken through a metal detector, we were taken to another area where there were breakfast rolls, fruit, coffee and tea. We milled around while a buffet was set up.

At last we were told the president would be there soon and we should get into the velvet-roped line. Various Republicans ascended a platform and gave speeches in support of the Republican candidate, Mark Kennedy. The priorities of the Republican Party became clear to me. First it was the war (brave and noble), second it was the economy (getting better), and third it was family (bright and shiny). A vote for Mark Kennedy was not only a vote for security and continued wealth, but a vote for family. As my attention turned from the speakers, I looked around the room and a thought slipped into my consciousness.

There were only one African-American in the room. No Hispanics or Asians. We were as white as the snow outside. I noticed the Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, not far from me. “Governor,” I said, “look around. There are only white people here. Except for one person, I don’t see any people of color.” The Governor’s eyes moved around the room. He nodded. “It’s a little disturbing isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, a bit hesitantly. “I am a volunteer at a homeless shelter in Minneapolis,” I went on. “We have diversity there, but here I see only one color. Do you think there is anything we can do about that?” The governor was vague, told me about a homeless initiative of his administration, then asked me a few questions about Peace House. I invited him to come and visit, writing down our phone number and address for him. “God bless you,” I said, as I moved away, “He has,” he replied, almost defensively.

Finally the moment arrived. We were in an area divided by long blue velvet curtains. On the other side we heard applause. The president had arrived.

Then things went quickly. Suddenly my husband and I were next in line. We walked toward the president standing in front of the bright lights of the photographer. I felt the president’s hand in mine.

We smiled. Camera flash.

I turned and sought the president’s eyes, and took his hand again. “Please,” I pleaded, “don’t forget the poor and the homeless.” His eyes seemed worried, he appeared to have braced himself. “I won’t,” he said staunchly. He looked like a brave little boy.

Rene Zitzloff [email protected]

Conversations by email – Winter 2005

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_cs.com.

Facing up to killing in war

When I think about the criticisms of various people have made of the OPF’s Iraq Appeal, particularly to their objection to understanding the death of innocent civilians in war as murder, I think of my own experience “in the loss of life,” having had a miscarriage some years ago.

The Church in its wisdom understands that being “involved in the loss of life, whether voluntary or involuntary” (in the words of a prayer for those who have suffered miscarriages) means you are “in sin.” I know this personally. Anyone who has been involved in the loss of life knows this. I daresay any soldier in Iraq knows this.

Many argue that the war Iraq is just and virtuous. But when a soldier is involved in battle and the lives of the innocent are lost, I wonder whether these arguments are relevant to him. If a soldier drops bombs in an urban area, and he knows that as a result women and children will die, can such arguments help heal the torment he faces in the depth of his heart? When he comes home from the war and he cannot sleep, cannot eat, cannot make love to his wife, will these arguments bring him peace? I don’t think so.

I sympathize with how upset some people are that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship not only spoke of the killing of the innocent but used the word “murder” in talking about the reality of war. Many people prefer to focus on heroism and the soldiers’ noble intentions. The soldiers are doing their duty, this is what happens in war, in fact this is a good war, we are fighting a worthy cause, etc. The thing is, no matter how worthy the cause is alleged to be, no matter how much we appreciate a soldier’s courage, he is the one who has to see death in war close up, he is the one who has to return to the scene of a raid and discover all the women and children lying there slaughtered – who died because of what he did. He is the one who has this etched in his conscience for the rest of his life. How can he not feel deeply wounded and guilty, and how can he not feel revolted at the ticker-tape parades and the nationalistic sentiment back home?

This is where the Church must serve him – not by trying to salve his pain with platitudes about duty and just causes and courage and how God is on our side, but by addressing the real sin and then going about healing it. It does not come up with an abstract argument to let you off the hook, because such a sinner knows in the depth of his or her heart that there is something that must be healed, and if the Church fails to address it, then it is failing its own members. Being involved in the loss of life, whether voluntary or involuntary, is to be in sin. Nothing anyone says about the virtue of war, the goodness of America or the badness of Saddam Hussein can change this.

I just finished reading a book that I highly recommend. I would urge that we all read, and read carefully, War is a Force that Gives us Meaning by Chris Hedges. Hedges worked as a journalist for the New York Times in some of the most war-torn spots of the globe – Nicaragua, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Iran. He has seen fighting and death over and over again. He has come to understand the myth of war that has to be told so that it can be carried out with any real purpose. He has come to understand that the strongest force in life is love, without question. Hedges also attended seminary and got a graduate degree in theology from Harvard, so he came to his work as a journalist with very interesting preparation.

Nancy Forest

No man is an island

Part of the significance of what Nancy presented to us is the vast difference between our ordinary modern stance toward death, or loss-of-life, and the biblical sense of its relationship with our fallen nature.

The traditional way of thinking – for which there is plenty of scriptural foundation – links the fall of Adam and the introduction of degradation and death into the world. I admit to never having yet figured out how exactly that works, but there it is, nonetheless.

For me, the most important part was that acknowledgment that a life being lost constitutes not just a “normal, natural part of life” (although we all face it), but is always something to mourn, to feel grief over, and to humble ourselves before – even when we are not sure that we committed any sin that is related to it.

Is death something that “just happens” and no one has take any responsibility or take it personally? Or is death a tragic loss, as in John Donne’s “No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde.”

Maybe such losses should always be approached in humility, solemnity and repentance – there might be fewer wars, fewer abortions – even, conceivably, fewer miscarriages, whether we understand how or not.

Alex Patico

Murder vs killing

In discussions of “murder” versus “killing,” the often an underlying assumption is that “wrong” and “law” are the same. If it is wrong, it must be against the law, and if it is not against the law, it is not wrong. But we are struggling with what to call that which is wrong and outside the “law” and we are left with sin. At some level, I think this is correct.

One of the frustrations for me in U.S. politics and the whole debate over “moral values” is that we think that all things which are wrong must be illegal, and so if we think it is wrong, we need to make it illegal. Yet I don’t think that the law is always the way to handle wrong. It is a relatively blunt tool. Critics of the OPF’s Iraq Appeal seem to assert that anything that is not illegal is not wrong.

What is lacking in a society that thinks that the law defines what is wrong and all else is “right” is that there is no room for grief, no room to account for those things in our life which exemplify the ways in which our world is not the reign of God. The Church acknowledges that any loss of life is something to grieve.

While we need to be careful in using the term murder, how do we acknowledge the intentional and unnecessary loss of life? How do we point to the real need to grieve, which cannot but help our soldiers who come back with all sorts of psychological disorders that are exacerbated by a society who tells then that what they did is right regardless of how they feel about it, without calling it murder? And how do we talk about a loss of life that is not intentional, and an occurrence which may not be a result of any sort of voluntary or involuntary action, but is still a real loss? Is confession only for sin, or is it broadened to include anger, grief and loss? Does confession then begin (or continue?) to include what we normally put under the category of counseling (grief counseling, psychological counseling, whatever)? How do we grieve without blame?

Most American soldiers enlist because it is one of the few available jobs they have. It is not clear that soldiers have a full range of choices.

I think our use of language is important, and thus we need to be careful regarding the implications of the words we use, whether it is murder, miscarriage, abortion or sin. Is there room for tragedy, which might allow for grief without blame?

Maria McDowell

A voice from Britain

Some of us who signed the OPF Plea for Peace are not US citizens. The issue of Britain’s involvement in Iraq is much more controversial here. Blair probably does not have the backing of the majority in the country and only got a Parliamentary vote for war, it is argued, by not disclosing the full truth about weapons of mass destruction.

There was no UN authority for the Iraq intervention. Basic principles of international law were breached by the US and Britain. Other EU countries took a very different line.

On the question of enlisting: Any Christian volunteering should ask, “Why am I doing this? Am I prepared to kill? If so how can I answer before God at the Day of Judgment?”

Surely, everything we do has to be tested in the Light of the Gospel?

Seraphim Honeywell

Recalling being wrong

A nice thing about being old is it positions me to see how many times I’ve been wrong. What follows are changing understandings of big sin in my lifetime. (These broad brush strokes don’t fully paint the prevailing spirit of my world in these eras).

1940s: In my Scotch-Irish Presbyterian world, the worst to be said of one is that he/she is “un-American.” Protestantism and progress were inextricably linked. Catholics were, at best, marginal Americans, apt to betray us at the orders of a foreign pope. The name “Un-American Activities Committee” captured the spirit of the times. If I now see this as nationalism trumping Christianity, I then saw “God and country” as one package.

1960s: In academia, the worst to say of one is that he/she is a racist.

1970s-80s. Still evangelical academia, the worst to be said is that one is a sexist.

1980s-90s: Exiting evangelical academic, growing numbers of peers saw the great sin as homophobia.

Arguably, while we can learn from each, we have all distorted the Gospel. So too smaller movements, even those pro-life and pro-peace. It’s not them versus us. It’s just us. Our common challenge is not to be trapped in our cultural skin.

Our challenge isn’t to tag after these movements, which can rule our minds and our “guts.” Those who set the agenda win. Our challenge – set our own the agenda, ask the right question, speak unrelentingly to it.

John Oliver

Orthodoxy & western civilization

It strikes me that when Christ spoke to us about being a light to the world or the salt of the earth, that his imagery is one where we remain somehow distinct from the main culture. It really doesn’t matter whether the culture is 1st Century Jewish, 6th Century Byzantine, Western, Capitalist, Islamic, liberal or secular. We still are to be light and salt but not the culture itself. Jesus doesn’t speak much about us having political, legal or social power over others.

The creation of a Christian culture/ empire/nation/society is an interesting experiment, but remember monasticism came into its own in reaction against a supposedly Christian culture/empire, not in reaction to a pagan world. The monks did keep that sense of being light and salt, not being the world – and they kept their distance from the world.

We are in the world, but not of it. It’s not the culture which determines our role – we are to be salt and light no matter what culture we happen to live in.

It seems a temptation that Christians never can resist to get the culture/nation to pass Christian laws, to enforce Christian morality. Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation to have power over all kingdoms of the earth, but the Church has not been able to resist that same temptation.

Legislating morality does not make people moral, let alone holy. We can order the removal of temptations, but we don’t stop people from sinning. The Roman Empire embraced Christianity, and the monks fled the empire and flocked to the desert.

We are to be witnesses to the world, to Christ’s love, to self denial, to helping the least of the brethren – including those tempted to abortion. Christ did not command us to form government, laws and police to enforce morality.

Orthodoxy constantly talks about fasting and self denial, yet when it comes to asceticism, to denying ourselves access to excessive wealth or pornography or abortions, we abandon voluntary martyrdom in favor of state-ordered morality. Do we find taking up our crosses, voluntary self-denial too hard and so we want the state to force us to do what we really don’t want to choose? Is this the Christian freedom of which the Gospel speaks and Dostoevski brings to light in his Grand Inquisitor?

Christians have walked that path before of creating Christian societies, Christian laws, Christ loving armies and holy wars. But holiness, as hagiography shows does not result from government laws, but from personal asceticism, voluntary self-denial. Do we have even one saint in our history who would say that it was the laws of the nation or cultural Christianity which made them holy?

Fr. Ted Bobosh

OPF conference report

Presbytera Elizabeth, I and the kids just got back from the OPF Conference at St. Nicholas Ranch. Here is a quick rundown.

The conference was well attended. We had a little over sixty participants, of whom about fifty were paid registrants and the rest speakers or workshop leaders. The conference was opened with prayer by His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. In attendance the first night was Elenie Huszagh, former president of the National Council of Churches. Jim’s opening keynote address was fantastic, as were the presentations by Greg and Margaret Yova of Project Mexico and Fr. John Chryssavgis.

We had a very diverse group of attendees. There was a good young adult contingent, about seven or eight college students, and a nice range of ages. There were about a dozen or so OPF members, so the majority of those who attended were learning about OPF for the first time, which is to be expected since OPF is still relatively unknown on the west coast. About ten people joined OPF during the course of the conference.

Structurally, I think the conference worked quite well. We had a wide range of presentations on the many ways of living out the Similitudes, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world”: bringing peace to situations of conflict, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the prisoner, protecting the unborn, giving dignity to the elderly and dying, preserving the natural environment. It was a very packed weekend content-wise, with a strong emphasis on the practical dimension. The schedule held together, the workshops were well attended, and people seemed genuinely impacted by what they saw and heard.

All in all, I believe we accomplished our goals, and made a very good start on establishing a more visible presence of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship on the west coast.

Fr. Paul Schroeder

The spirit of conflict

We are familiar with St. Seraphim’s “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” It’s an appeal to strive firstly for personal, internal peace. Reading St. Nicholas Cabasilas’s Commentary on the Divine Liturgy about the relationship between peace and agitation and prayer, I’ve been wondering if there is a sobering corollary to Seraphim’s axiom, one that considers the cosmic consequences of those passions that burn within, such as anger, apathy, envy, lust, et al. Perhaps it would be, “Retain the spirit of conflict, and a thousand souls around you will be lost.”

Fr. John Oliver

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Last spring the OPF was asked by the World Council of Churches if we wanted to nominate anyone for the “Blessed are the Peacemakers” award to be given by the WCC’s Program to Overcome Violence. We nominated Joe May, founder of Matthew 25 House in Akron, Ohio, sending with the nomination the In Communion article by Joe that was published in our Winter 2003 issue. Here is a letter from Joe with the news that he has received the award:

“I wanted to let you know that yesterday I received the ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ award from the World Council of Churches. I cannot thank you enough for placing some attention on these guys who are living with us and just maybe the thought of living in a different way.

“Life is really blessed here. The men and women in our community really feel like family. Thank you also for entering the article into In Communion. The fact that these words are published and taken seriously has changed the syntax of my church community here in Akron.

“We do a First Friday Roundtable each month. This month it was on voluntary simplicity. A young lady named Alice from Iowa was visiting a professor friend of ours so she led the discussion. Alice and I spent the day together and in our visiting we had come to the conclusion that we know so many people who are bitter and rankled and saddened and tired and sick over the elections – feeling like we are losing or have lost the fight. It was funny because we both independently had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t about winning the fight anyway. We have chosen to be joyful about God, joyful about all the blessings that we have. We resolve to just continue to love one another in small ways and also continue to speak the truth if the opportunity presents itself.”

Joe May

Joe’s most recent “In Communion” article, “The Gospel of Necessity,” is posted at this website.

Mother Gavrilia

It was good to read in the last In Communion John Brady’s presentation of Mother Gavrilia as she appears in Ascetic of Love. One remark, though, which jarred on me was that “in this time of heightened enmity between Islam and the West, it seems a miracle that only fifty years ago she traveled alone by bus from Jordan through Iraq and Iran to India – and that at every stop she was invited to enter the local mosque to ‘pray to her God’.” John Brady is here reflecting the text of the book, though the book suggests Islamic fundamentalism would now prevent Mother Gavrilia praying in a mosque.

May I comment on this, and add a little to the ongoing discussion in In Communion about attitudes to Islam?

I do not think anyone then or now would have seen Mother Gavrilia as a typical product of “the West.” “The West” is more difficult to define than people sometimes think. It includes the US, but does it cover all of Europe? Does it cover Japan (for Europeans is the “Far East”)?

Wherever one thinks the West is, a person like Mother Gavrilia who refused to have a bank account is hardly representative of it. And it is quite obvious that Mother Gavrilia herself related to people as created in the image of God. Points of the compass meant nothing to her.

It is a mistake to talk about Islam as a great undifferentiated (and for many people in “the West” threatening) block. There are Muslims living in many different countries. They are not only Muslims but schoolgirls, truck drivers, grandmothers, football fans, unemployed, nurses, builders, cooks, civil servants, farmers, people with handicaps, musicians, teachers, garbage collectors, young fathers, neighborhood gossips and much else. Mother Gavrilia will not have encountered small undifferentiated chips off the block of Islam but met specific people.

The Muslims whom she met on her journey to India will have seen her in the first place as elderly – thus deserving respect – and traveling alone – and so needing help. Anyone who has experienced the long-established Middle Eastern tradition of hospitality to travelers will not be at all surprised that Mother Gavrilia succeeded in making this journey. And if she could not travel back overland from India to Bethany on the West Bank (at the time part of Jordan), it was because of that 20th century plague, visa restrictions.

Muslims will also have recognized her holiness. True spiritual athletes transcend religious boundaries, and the fact that she was invited to pray in mosques is a sign of how far she had already progressed on the path to sainthood – in Muslim terms, how much of a “friend of God” she already was.

If it is true that nowadays “fundamentalist” Muslims would be against her praying in a mosque, remember that they are not the majority in the Muslim world. They are a vocal minority, on the increase in large part because of “the West’s” policies towards certain regions of the Muslim world and because of the poverty brought about by globalization. (To be fair, one can ask oneself how many Christian communities would invite a Muslim of Mother Gavrilia’s spiritual stature to pray in their churches.)

The way Mother Gavrilia approached people of other faiths is an inspiration to us to look at them, not as faceless monsters, but as brothers and sisters – people to love.

Hilary Waardenburg

Jesus the peacemaker

I am reading The Mountain of Silence, a remarkable book by Kyriacos Markides, and find a passage to share:

“The son of a prominent priest from Limassol, Lavros as a young man during the fifties took part in the guerrilla campaign against the colonial government, a campaign the British called terrorist. His task was to carry secret messages from one part of the island to another. But a particular episode during those dark years drastically changed his life.

“One day on his way to a village in the eastern part of the island on a special mission, he got lost and stopped his motor scooter near an open field. He suddenly noticed an unusual sight. In the middle of that field he saw a shepherd sitting on a rock and reading a book. He walked toward him to ask for directions when he realized the shepherd was reading the Bible. ‘Before I give you directions,’ the man replied, lowering his glasses to get a clearer look at Lavros, ‘please answer this question for me. Had Jesus been the archbishop of Cyprus, do you think he would have taken a machine gun to fight the British?’

“‘The shepherd’s question changed my life one hundred and eighty degrees,’ Lavros declared emphatically. ‘Right then and there I became a pacifist and renounced violence as a means of solving human problems. That shepherd was either an angel or someone the angels had sent to help me see more clearly.'” (pp 236-7)

Alice Carter

Restoration of the deaconate

I am reading the writings of St. Maria Skobtsova. How I wish we could sit down and talk! When I was at Bussy over a quarter of a century ago, I met a couple of the old nuns who remembered her. They said there was no question but that she died a martyr’s death and that she had a true vocation to the deaconate. They felt it as a sadness that she could not see more in some of the monastics around her. I’m not sure it was that cut and dried, reading her – but having come from where she came from and living in the midst of the Nazi horror, I can see that for her, she was being utterly honest and true to what God wanted for her.

I do think that is one of the difficulties for Orthodoxy in the West. The active religious orders were a re-establishment of the deaconate. St. Elizabeth of Moscow, the Grand Duchess, had the vision to begin a similar order. I am bringing that to the attention of our hierarchs who say “our church does not have deaconesses.” Hers was a very viable attempt to live out the same sort of vision as St. Maria – although they could not have been more different people.

I do think the deaconate is an important issue – a deaconate of service, not necessarily of ordained liturgical function (a distinction the Grand Duchess was very careful to make), and for both men and women.

Mother Raphaela

Holy Myrrbearers Monastery

Otego, NY

Tolstoy

It is a long and fascinating story – also very sad – how Tolstoy gradually entered into a one-man war with the Orthodox Church and many of its teachings and practices.

There is a symbolic moment that Andre Troyat describes in his excellent biography of Tolstoy when the famous author decides to eat meat balls at a Lenten meal (they were on the table for the benefit of the non-Orthodox English tutor). Tolstoy became a self-made would-be Russian messiah. One aspect of his objection to the Church, as you might expect, had to do with the Church’s non-critical relationship to the state and its military activities. That’s the part I find it easiest to sympathize with. However he came to disown the Trinity, the Resurrection and much more.

To its credit, the Church was not in a hurry to excommunicate Tolstoy, though he had long since excommunicated himself. Many efforts were made, right up to his death, the reconcile him.

He had a sister who was an Orthodox nun, and most of his family remained strongly Orthodox.

Ask a Russian which is his favorite writer, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, and you will usually find out at the same time what relationship the person you ask has to the Church.

Jim Forest

Correspondence

Sleepless nights

Sleepless nights for all who dread the coming war. We struggle as Christians about “individual” responses to violence but the discipleship and purpose of the Eucharistic community is not an “individual” one. “We” are called to this life — and until the Church returns to that nonviolent realization of the Gospel our individual responses to violence will sound moralistic or ideological or both.

The Gospel reading from Matthew about the salt losing its savor and deserving to be tossed out may say more about this dilemma. It is always good to hear the lives of saints like Father Arseny, but isn’t his response to violence a direct consequence of his understanding of what it means to be in the Body of Christ? In this country individualism is a god — and all Orthodox are affected by this. Rather than measuring our degree of nonviolence we need to embody the Gospel as worshiping Christians gathered to receive the Eucharist every week. We are not called to be in the armed forces — or the police forces or the CIA, FBI or KGB. We can always pray for those who are. By capitulating to the culture of nationalism, we lose our savor — we have no Gospel to preach. We depend on the sword and the sacrifice of innocents to maintain our own lives in our culturally accepted manner. Heroic individual nonviolent behavior needs to be seen as normal behavior for Christians, not exceptional. In the Church such saints reveal how far we have moved from Christ, not how heroic they are.

Alice Carter

I couldn’t agree with you more, Alice. The pursuit of the “American Dream” is predicated on a rugged individualism in all areas of life, including in how we choose to live out the Christian faith. Protestantism always talks about the “personal’ relationship with Christ, a sort of “me and Jesus” against the world mentality.

And over the years it seems that too many Orthodox in their desire to assimilate have compromised far too much in order to assimilate to US social norms. This is not meant to necessarily be critical, rather it should be seen as a somewhat necessary thing with an immigrant population who faced numerous challenges in coming to a new land in which their loyalty was suspect and their practices seen as abnormal. And the large influx of converts over the last two decades has, I believe, added its own set of complications for the Church. As a convert myself I am constantly realizing how much baggage I have brought over from my Protestant upbringing. And frankly I realize more and more that many of those views are heretical. The dear parish priest who instructed me in the faith as a catechumen was always very encouraging in dealing with converts, having been one himself. He taught many of us that whatever we had found to be good, holy and true in our pre-Orthodox Christian experience remained good and holy and true in Orthodoxy. I guess what has changed for me is what really was good and holy and true.

Donald Eusebios Wescott

Prayer for the armed forces

An OPF member asked:

“I write you about a problem I have with the liturgical prayer in the Liturgy for the armed forces as used in my parish (OCA). Of course, I pray for those in the armed forces as well as all other people, but I don’t support the armed forces per se. My question: is that a part of Orthodox prayer in all liturgies or a local addition?”

The earliest extant liturgies (of the second and third centuries) had no separate petition on behalf of armed forces — that petition seems to have been a later addition — but armed forces appear to have been seen by the early Church as mere forceful expressions of those in civil authority (as Jim said).

The “Apostolic Catechetical Synaxis” was an instruction-and-prayer service that eventually became the first part of the Divine Liturgy. In it is a litany, founded on St Paul’s instruction to obey civil authorities, that reads, in part:

“So that we, acknowledging the honor and glory conferred upon [the civil authorities] by Thee, may bow to them, without in the least opposing Thy will.” And later in the petition: “Do thou, O Lord, direct their counsels in accord with what is good and pleasing in Thy sight, so that they may piously exercise in peace and gentleness the authority Thou hast granted them, and thus experience Thy graciousness.”

And from another liturgy, after the Edict of Milan: “We pray to You for all magistrates. May their government be peaceful, for the tranquility of the Church.”

Those early liturgies also included petitions that the entire congregation would pray on behalf of “enemies,” “those who hate us,” and “those who persecute us,” that the Lord would “calm their anger.”

There is no early evidence that the Church prayed, as some Orthodox liturgies do today, for our armed forces “in defense of peace and freedom,” or that God will “aid them and grant them every victory over every enemy and adversary…”

Dn. John Oliver III

In Russian pre-revolutionary service books, there were petitions for the Tsar, his “God-loving army,” etc. The Service of Thanksgiving for the New Year, as used in the Russian Church before the revolution, had many references to the Tsar, government, army, etc.

I might add that in the texts of the Liturgy by other jurisdictions in the US one also finds the petitions for the president, the civil authorities, and the armed forces.

If I am not mistaken, the OCA translation reads, “for the armed forces everywhere,” which one could take to mean all who served in armed forces other than just those of the US.

By praying for the armed forces one is not endorsing war, killing, bombings, etc. We are praying for those individuals who, often with little choice of their own, serve in the armed forces, that God will protect them, keep them safe, and bring them home alive.

Father John Matusiak

Prayer for peace

The following prayer “In Times of International Crisis” is prescribed for use in our Diocese (American Carpatho-Russian). It was inserted in the litanies this morning.

“Furthermore, we pray for peace from above, so that our civil leaders and authorities will be blessed with wisdom at this critical time. Allow them to see your light. Increase their understanding. Let them not overlook any possibility for peace. We pray for the protection of our sons and daughters who serve in the armed forces. We pray for our enemies, that they may be touched and led to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Spare our people yet another war. Let them beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. May nation not lift up sword against nation, nor may they learn war anymore. We pray to You, most merciful Lord: ‘Hear the voice of the supplication of us sinners and have mercy.'”

John Brady

PS: Also note the prayer section of the OPF web site.

Gun ownership

I do not own a gun, not because guns are evil, but rather because I am fallen. The temptation is too great. Which is why, I think, the Orthodox Christian perspective is less about weapon ownership, and more about one’s relationship to violence and, indeed, our God.

We can point to saints in both camps. I have to conclude that some can handle instruments of harm appropriately, and others cannot. I cannot.

Marty Watt

A Christian warrior has the job to defend the Christian community. There is a great difference between defending one’s fatherland or motherland and going out to conquer other lands. The warrior who kills must repent, but the warrior who refuses to fight when his neighbors will die if he does not may have far more to repent of.

Daniel Lieuwen

I am not opposed to guns per se, or to hunting in all circumstances. As a boy, my father introduced me to guns and I had many pleasant, interesting and challenging times with shooting, assembly, disassembly and cleaning of guns, going to the neighborhood “turkey shoot” (for the uninitiated, a target shooting contest where the prize was a turkey), and so on.

What I am opposed to includes:

  • taking of human life (and by extension, production and sale of those weapons that are suitable only to that end, as opposed to target-shooting or hunting)
  • having guns where they can fall into the wrong hands (e.g. children’s hands)
  • having guns available to those who have demonstrated a tendency to commit crimes against persons and property; it’s a small step from robbing a store where the owner might have a gun behind the counter, to walking into the store prepared to shoot the store owner first
  • gratuitous sport hunting, with no purpose of feeding oneself or one’s family — I think that the destruction of life must be a serious thing that is linked to a greater counterbalancing creation of life, or else we end up “behind”; in general, I would keep the hunting to a bare minimum, seeing as how own can easily survive on a vegetarian diet. Factory farming of livestock is pretty gruesome, compared to an animal running free in the wild until it meets a hunter’s bullet, arrow or spear.

What does that leave? Guns for target practice, just as we use the bow-and-arrow primarily for that purpose these days.

Of course, if this actually were the only use, then the gun might, over time, go the way of the bow — less and less used, until it is finally a mere antique curiosity. Lovely thought, eh?

Alex Patico

Health and Wholeness

My interest and support of the work of OPF is basically a consequence of my own desire to achieve an integrated and holistically healthy life in all its dimensions: physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, socially, politically and economically.

OPF members are already quite aware of how the fact that our spirituality holds profound implications for our political behavior. I would submit that it also has implications for other areas of human experience and that these realms are intertwined each one with each of the others.

TV chef Graham Kerr, following his Christian conversion, began to adjust his recipes so that they contained less fat and were more nutritious, and advised his audience that they don’t need to include the wine that he was previously so fond of. He composed a new motto that reflected his own downsized lifestyle as he gained a new awareness of the disparity of consumption between the rich nations of the world and that of their poorer counterparts. He began to advise: “Live simply that others may simply live.”

With respect to diet and our own health, it has long since seemed strange to me that, in the Orthodox Church, many of our brothers and sisters vacillate between the extremes of daily unhealthy indulgence in non-nutritious foods, during regular times, and strict fasting and abstinence from foods that are banned by the Church during fasting periods (while continuing to indulge in unhealthy treats concerning which the church may not have explicit rules). It seems to me that it would be far better for many of us to learn dietary discipline in more manageable steps. How can one who is extremely undisciplined in his dietary habits be expected suddenly to display the asceticism of a monk? I personally think it is far more reasonable to encourage most modern-day over-indulged rich Christians to learn how to move from pampering and poisoning (and slowly killing) themselves to actually nurturing themselves. The appropriate level of self-sacrifice will come as a result of giving up unhealthy dietary habits and pushing themselves to replace them with healthy ones.

We are am fortunate to live in Taiwan with its year-round growing season in which I am able to indulge in mounds of fresh vegetables every day.

Timothy Beach

I agree that in the West, and Western-based societies, diet is a problem, as is an apparent inability to discipline the appetites, but I find that there’s also a tendency to be in control. I remember an interesting talk I had with a very health-oriented Orthodox family who had visited a Catholic convent on one of their vacations and were so impressed by what they saw because the bread for Holy Communion was whole wheat! In other words, if white bread Communion is good for you, just imagine how much better whole wheat Communion would be!

I spoke with a friend recently who attends a Catholic church in the US where the sacrament of confession is never practiced. She had never been to confession. She asked me to tell her about confession. “What can it do for me?” she wanted to know. There’s a tendency to think of everything in terms of how it can benefit me, how it can be “healthy,” good for my body, give me energy.

So what’s the difference between maintaining a rule of fasting, eating well and being concerned about health, being a health crank and being a control freak?

Nancy Forest

I don’t scorn meat-eaters, and I don’t think my way is more “spiritual” in that sense. I have a revulsion of eating dead animals. I am not choosing this path in order to be more ascetical. I am choosing it for many reasons, one of which is that many more people can be fed on a vegetarian diet than a meat-based diet. I think that my own path as a Christian involves looking at the big picture, and trying to live in a way that all people on the earth can live sustainably. I am, of course, far from this goal. I still live with much more wealth than most of the world.

I do know that the way that animals are treated makes me glad that I do not participate in their slaughter, and it also makes me queasy that I do participate in the way they are treated in order to take their milk and eggs. That’s one reason I’m trying to raise my own chicken and duck eggs; I’ve thought about getting a milk cow, but I don’t think that’s practical right now!

This way of eating and living is “more right” for me. I cannot speak for anyone besides myself. I don’t try to convert others, although I was not disappointed when my children decided to be vegetarians too.

I can’t speak to the alcohol issue — we had decided to leave the teetotaler tradition of our families before we became Orthodox. I have no problem with drinking wine! The priest who chrismated us made sure to tell us that we didn’t have to drink wine in order to become Orthodox…

Presvytera Elizabeth

Saints of the Week

For awhile now I’ve been putting out a “Saints of the Week” e-letter, giving short (or sometimes not-so-short) biographies of Saints commemorated that week. It’s put out in both New Calendar and Old Calendar versions. If you’re interested in being put on the mailing list, just let me know (specify Old or New Calendar).

Saints of the Week is also available as a web page:

www.geocities.com/AbbaMoses2002/Saints (Old Calendar)

www.geocities.com/AbbaMoses2002/SaintsNC (New Calendar)

John Brady

I am not a big deal

This comes from Canton, Ohio, where I’m the guest of John and Marge Oliver.

The highpoint of the day was visiting Matthew 25 House, part of the local Catholic Worker (four houses all together and all on the same block) but this one started by an Orthodox Christian, Joe May. He’s a musician, computer programmer, web designer and graduate of Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary, also a member of Annunciation Parish. His work is mainly home based so that he can be present at the house as much as possible, though there are other volunteers. He bought the house, a duplex, and makes the monthly payments for it from his own income. His guests are men in need of shelter, at the moment mainly refugees from Central America. The house is beautifully decorated and quite tidy. Joe’s a good cook, as we found out when lunch was served.

In the bathroom I discovered a little sign by the mirror:

I am not a big deal.

I am not a big deal.

I am not a big deal.

Joe explained to me that his spiritual father once suggested that every morning he repeat the words “I am not a big deal” three times, so he put them by the mirror to remember them while shaving.

Jim Forest

Lord of the Rings

I thought I would pass this along to you. It is notes from my sermon preparation for the Sunday before Christmas.

Thinking about the genealogy of Christ and the Lord of the Rings, I realized that the mustard seed of the Kingdom grows in the hearts of individuals. But the Kingdom of God is not the only thing that grows in the world. Unless evil is opposed it grows. Even when it is opposed it sometimes grows. Those who love what is good (and who love peace and wish for it), will be faced with the evil that grows if it is not opposed.

The good must be willing to oppose evil even to the point of their own death. The good may be called upon to die to oppose that evil which otherwise grows.

God understood this truth, and so loved the world as to have His Son be born to accomplish what the good must do. The Nativity of Christ makes it possible for God to oppose evil by His own death.

God does not simply oppose evil from the safety of His heaven. God comes face to face with evil on this earth. God takes side with His created people, God unites Himself to humanity in order to do what is necessary to oppose evil. Christ is born so that He might destroy evil by His own death.

That is the mystery hidden from the ages that God has revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is not killing which gives life, but rather death which destroys death.

Christ comes to oppose all evil in the world. He does it not by killing but by dying. Christian martyrs through the centuries have understood this way to be God’s partner in love.

God has made you and me His partners in love through the incarnation of His word. By the truth of the Nativity and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called in love to die to the world in order to oppose evil and to establish the Kingdom of our God in my life, and in the world.

We are called to die with Christ — we have not been called to kill. I know for many of us this is scary, for we might think when it comes to evil, God’s way surely is that it is better to kill than die.

May that Love which God revealed in Christ, may that Peace which Christ is, may God’s own opposition to evil, be with all of us both now in this Christmas season and forever.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

Burial of a priest

Fr Alexis Voogd, principal founder of our parish, St. Nicholas Church in Amsterdam, died November 30 after two years of chronic illness. He was spiritual father to many people, myself among them, and also played a major role in the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Yesterday was entirely given over to his burial. The church was only slightly less crowded than it is at Pascha, and indeed there was something deeply paschal about the day.

Father Alexis was vested in golden robes. I was struck by the beauty of his face in death. He looked like a king, or rather as one thinks a king ought to look. The burial service, led by Archbishop Simon, involved six priests plus two deacons and several readers as well as Mother Maria, abbess of the Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God near Asten.

We started the service at 10 and by 2 had gotten to the point of closing the casket and carrying it to the hearse. Two buses plus a number of cars followed the hearse as we drove to a cemetery in the dunes near the North Sea just outside the fishing town of IJmuiden. Singing our way in procession, we made our way to the open grave and there gave Father Alexis one more blessing before lowering his body into the earth. Everyone put in a handful of sand. Some of the younger men of the parish then shoveled in still more sand until the casket was fully covered.

I was deeply struck by these words from the Ikos chanted at the burial of a priest:

“If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man, that same mercy shall be shown unto thee there; and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion, the same shall there deliver thee from want. If in this life the naked thou hast clothed, the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm: alleluia.”

Jim Forest

PS: There is an interview with Father Alexis on this web site.

Kicking the Secularist Habit

I enjoyed a piece in the current Atlantic magazine by David Brooks, entitled “Kicking the Secularist Habit: A six-step program.” Brooks begins “Like a lot of people these days, I’m a recovering secularist.” I recommend the whole article, which is humorous but thoughtful. One excerpt:

“There are six steps in the recovery process. First you have to accept the fact that you are not the norm. Western foundations and universities send out squads of researchers to study and explain religious movements.

“But as the sociologist Peter Berger has pointed out, the phenomenon that really needs explaining is the habits of the American professoriat: religious groups should be sending out researchers to try to understand why there are pockets of people in the world who do not feel the constant presence of God in their lives, who do not fill their days with rituals and prayers and garments that bring them into contact with the divine, and who do not believe that God’s will should shape their public lives. Once you accept this — which is like understanding that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa — you can begin to see things in a new way.”

John Brady