Category Archives: Abortion

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The Orthodox Peace Fellowship: An Introduction, IC70

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship: A Fellowship of Orthodox Christian Peacemakers.

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24).

Let us call brothers even those who hate us and forgive all by the Resurrection (Easter verses, Orthodox Liturgy).

FraAngelicoSword-1005x1024 the OPF
“The Capture of Christ,” by Fra. Angelico, c. 1440

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God is an association of Orthodox Christian believers seeking to practice the Christian peacemaking vocation in every area of life, to bear witness to the peace of Christ by applying the principles of the Gospel to situations of division and conflict at every level of human relationship, and to promote prayer and worship, acts of mercy and service, and love for all human beings and for all of creation. We are not a political association and support no political parties, agendas, or candidates, and we promote no ideology other than that we should “repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Were we to attempt to formulate an ideology, we could not improve on the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount.

From the earliest days of the Church, followers of Jesus have sought to live out their Christian faith in its fullness, working to build communities of worship, providing for those lacking the necessities of life, loving not only neighbors but enemies, seeking conversion of adversaries rather than victory over them, and practicing repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation as normal virtues of sacramental life.

This has never been easy. Each generation has had to confront the problem of evil and combat its structures and also has had to suffer the tension that exists between membership in the Church and citizenship in a political entity, be that an empire or a nation-state.

Often the teachings of Jesus have been dismissed, even by believers, as too idealistic. Yet every generation, even in the era of Hitler and Stalin, has been blessed with heroic witnesses to membership in “an army that sheds no blood,” as Clement of Alexandria described the Church.

Among the principles that guide us:
  • Aware that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, we seek recovery of a sense of familial connection which, while respecting national identity, transcends every tribal, ethnic, and national boundary. This is the oneness the Church mirrors when it is gathered before the Holy Table.
  • We use our vocation and whatever special gifts and resources God has given us, especially our participation in eucharistic community, as we strive to undertake constructive action on behalf of those who are endangered, from the child in the womb to the aged awaiting death, in every circumstance of life and across all boundaries.
  • We aspire to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution, and we promote resolution of conflicts by mediation, negotiation, and other forms of nonviolent action.
  • We pray that, while no one can be certain that he or she will always find a nonviolent response to every crisis that may arise, God will show us in each situation ways of resistance to evil that will not require killing opponents.
  • We offer support to those whose conscience leads them to refuse participation in war and who struggle against evil in non-military ways. We believe conscientious objection to participation in war is consistent with the Gospels and Holy Tradition.
  • We respect those who disagree with us and may choose to serve in their country’s armed forces. We do not promote the naive notion that a nation may be pacifist as a national defense strategy and acknowledge that in our fallen world people often feel compelled to choose collective violence in response to evil. Nevertheless, we find no basis for a Just War theology in Orthodox tradition and, consistent with the earliest teaching of the Church, consider all war sin. Rather than seek to justify war, we are encouraged to exhaust all efforts to seek peace. We believe more wars would be prevented by focusing on doing peace well before war rather than waiting for war to arrive to argue how to do it well.
  • We encourage the compassionate treatment of prisoners and their rehabilitation, with special attention to restitution by wrong-doers to victims of their crimes. We reject the execution of criminals as incompatible with the teachings of Christ.
  • We commit ourselves to pray for all, especially fellow believers, who suffer around the world from all forms of violence, evil, oppression, and injustice that they may be delivered from evil, healed from their wounds, and enabled to find renewed ways to live in peace and safety.
  • We further commit ourselves to prayer for enemies and endeavor to communicate God’s love for them, recognizing our own violence and praying that, through Christ’s saving death on the Cross, we will be reconciled with God and with each other.

Thus we strive to avoid bitterness in dealing with controversy, seeking conversion both of ourselves and our adversary. Aware that we are in need of conversion not only in the way we relate to other people but to the world God has put into our care, we try to change our lives in order to live as priests of God’s world, asking continuously for the Holy Spirit to descend and transfigure the earth. We seek to cooperate with efforts to protect and preserve the environment which do not involve violence, coercive methods of population control, the promotion of particular political agendas, or violations of the sanctity of human life.

Our work includes:

Theological research: Much needs to be done within the Church to better understand ways in which Orthodox Christians should respond to division, conflict, injustice, war, and the relationship of the believer to the state. We encourage research on peace in the Bible, peace in the Liturgy, examples of ways Orthodox people and churches have responded to war from ancient to modern times, and the collection of relevant quotations and stories from the Fathers and the saints. One significant result of this effort is the book, For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource book on War, Peace, and Nationalism, edited by Hildo Bos and Jim Forest and published by Syndesmos, the international association of Orthodox youth. The full text of this reference book is also on the OPF web site.

Publication: Our quarterly journal, In Communion, not only provides its readers with helpful essays and news but serves as a forum for dialogue. The main articles from past issues of In Communion plus many other resources are made available via our web site: www.incommunion.org. OPF members are also invited to take part in the OPF List, a news and discussion forum.

Practical assistance in conflict areas: As one of our members, a priest in the Republic of Georgia, points out: “Activity of the OPF is of particular importance in those Orthodox countries going through war and the horror of national conflict. The OPF can help Orthodox people to practice peace and tolerance and to show that war and national conflict are satanic traps.”

Structure: The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has members in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Its international secretariat is in The Netherlands. Decisions are made by the OPF secretaries and officers in consultation with each other, with counsel from members and the Fellowship’s Board of Advisors. Our largest branch at present is in North America. There are occasional meetings and conferences in the United States and Canada as well as in Europe. We encourage the formation of local and national chapters.

A description of our vocation:

We are faithful sons and daughters of the Church, not the Church’s rescue committee. Fr. John Meyendorff once said to a member of a schismatic Orthodox group, “We do not save the Church. The Church saves us.” Our modest task is not to invent anything or announce a new theology or reorganize the Church but simply to reopen forgotten or neglected Church teachings regarding day-to-day life in a world in which enmity is always a problem, in which millions suffer from hunger, thirst, and homelessness, and in which war is rarely not occurring somewhere on our small planet.

The Church has preserved the Liturgy down through the centuries. It has preserved the Bible and the Creed. It has preserved the writings of the Church Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. It has developed and maintained a calendar of sacred time. But it has been somewhat less attentive to calling us to account for the teaching it has preserved. Over the centuries, when state and faith were in conflict, we have more often been obedient citizens than obedient Christians.

We believe in a hierarchy of identities. We are not first people of a certain country, then Orthodox Christians. It is the other way around. We are first Orthodox Christians, then people of a particular state, national, or tribal affiliation. We renounce none of these identities nor do we ignore any of their obligations, but when the requirements of one identity clash with another, we are required to know which comes first.

We try to remind ourselves and our neighbors that there is no such thing as a good or holy war––that it defames God and the Gospel to use adjectives associated with sanctity and heaven in that most hellish of all activities, the organized killing of human beings and the destruction of the environment upon which all life depends. Every possible effort must be made to avoid war, but not by cowardly avoidance or failure to recognize evil for what it is and to resist it. Chamberlain was not a peacemaker. Those who fail to see and resist evil are its accomplices. Yet we believe that prayer and fasting are also weapons of struggle, that there is such a thing as spiritual combat, and that what we seek is not the killing of evil people—such a task would require a holocaust that would destroy the human race—but their conversion, which is also our conversion, for the line dividing good from evil runs not between people or classes but, as Solzhenitsyn reminds us, right through each and every human heart.

We are people attempting, with God’s help, to love our enemies as Christ commands his followers to do. This is not a sentimental undertaking but a soul-saving quest to be liberated from enmity. In the seventh century, St. Maximus the Confessor put it in these words: “‘But I say to you,’ the Lord says, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.’ Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger, and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.”

Our concern about the sanctity of human life is not limited to war. We seek to protect the lives of the unborn—not by denouncing women who feel they have no other choice, but to help them bring their children safely into this world and to do whatever is in our power to make the world more welcoming. With the same motives, we do not regard euthanasia as an acceptable solution for those whose illnesses seem to be incurable or who are severely handicapped. We do whatever we can in support of hospices for the dying, including effective pain relief for those who are suffering. At the same time we oppose taking extraordinary measures to prolong life when in the natural order a person is beyond hope of recovery.

Our view of peace is not borrowed from secular ideologies or political movements. It is not based on the life of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or any of the heroes of nonviolence, even though we greatly admire such people and learn from them. It comes from the Gospel. We understand peace both through the words of Jesus and through his actions. We experience peace in the Liturgy and the eucharistic mystery and try to bring it with us when we return to ordinary life. Day by day we discover peace as the mystery of healing—within ourselves and between each other—the healing that comes from forgiveness, repentance, and love.

Peacemaking is not an idea or principle. It is how we live. It is Christ’s life in us. It is less a refusal to do terrible things to others than doing those things which communicate the love and mercy of God.

We have heard it many times, but let us never stop remembering what Jesus teaches us about the Last Judgement: What we do to the least person we do to him. May God preserve us from harming the least person. May God give us the love which empowers us to be merciful to the least person.

Peacemakers are not rare. We find them everywhere: the parent sorting out a dispute within his or her family, the parish council member finding a solution to a conflict that might tear a parish to shreds, the priest hearing confessions who helps a penitent experience God’s mercy, the missionary who helps awaken faith in another and points the way to baptism, the volunteer who lives a life of hospitality in a neighborhood others avoid, the driver who responds to dangerous actions on the highway with a prayer rather than a gesture of hatred. We could spend the rest of our lives noting acts of peacemaking.

Our fellowship exists to give witness that peacemaking is something absolutely ordinary. It is an integral part of everyday life. It has to do with how we pray, for whom we pray, how we listen, how we speak, what we do with our anger and frustration, our willingness to forgive, and our attempts to serve as a bridge between those who hate each other.

May God give us strength to persevere in being instruments of the divine mercy.

Must I be a pacifist to join the Orthodox Peace Fellowship?

No. Pacifism is not a Christian ideology. The term was coined in the late 19th century as a political philosophy and has since been used to describe a wide variety of philosophical and political attitudes toward various forms of violence at different levels of relationship from personal to international. The Gospel of Jesus Christ predates and excludes all political ideologies even while many are influenced by Christian teaching. Pacifism as is generally understood is a Western idea formed in a Christian civilizational milieu and often bears marks of Christian virtue but does not capture or fully reflect the ethos of the Gospel peacemaking vocation. But in its most simple definition, “the belief that all conflict should be resolved peacefully,” pacifism is a great idea! The OPF does not reject the idea but does not endorse pacifism in any form. Some OPF members are pacifists; some are not. Instead, we simply look to Christ and our Orthodox faith and tradition for guidance in becoming fully Christian peacemakers.

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.

Peacemaking is not something optional for Christians. A major element of Christ’s teaching is his call to become peacemakers. They are among the blessed and are witnesses to the Kingdom of God. To be a peacemaker, Christ says, is to be a child of God. In the years of Christ’s life described in the Gospel, one of the most notable aspects is that he killed no one but healed many. He is not a warrior king. Caesar rides a horse while Christ enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Even when he clears the Temple of people who have made a place of worship into a place of commerce, he does so using nothing more than a whip of cords, not a weapon that can cause injuries; the only life endangered by his action was his own. His final instruction to Peter before his crucifixion is, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword.” Saying that, he healed the wound Peter had inflicted on one of the men arresting him.

In the chapters prior to the story of Jesus and his disciples in the garden, Matthew records Jesus describing in several narratives what life on earth would be like, what the Kingdom of God is like, about the end and his return, and the final judgement. Then after the Last Supper came the Garden, where Peter, thinking he had finally put all the pieces together, drew his sword. After telling him to put it away, Jesus said a remarkable thing that is frequently left out in telling this story but when taken in full context, frames Jesus words about living and dying by the sword. Jesus asked Peter “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

When we consider the choice Jesus faced in the garden, we see it was not either swallow hard or chicken out, but was rather a choice between implementing God’s way of salvation or…what would the other choice have been? The alternative had to include slaughtering his enemies! The plan Satan offered Jesus in the desert involved glory, bounty, and bloodshed; surely the world’s template for victory remained an option for Jesus here. Indeed, it seems we too face the legitimate option of violence in dealing with our enemies. Jesus seems to have said not that we have no right to choose, but rather “How will scripture be fulfilled if you do it your way?”

And then, on the cross, far from calling down his Father’s vengeance on those who participated in his execution, Jesus appeals for mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Again and again, throughout his earthly life Christ gives his followers a witness of making peace and restoring communion through forgiveness, love, mercy, and sacrifice.

There is quite a lot on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site that helps clarify what Christian peacemaking involves and its implications in one’s own life. Visit us at www.incommunion.org for resources that include past essays from the journal, membership options, and new postings.

Becoming a member:

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship links Orthodox Christians from different traditions and is not under the sponsorship of any jurisdiction. Membership is open to those who embrace the principles of the OPF and that the OPF is rooted in the Orthodox Church and Tradition. Those who wish to receive our journal but not to become members may specify so when they pay the annual donation amount. The annual donation for members and donors is $35, 35 euros, or 25 pounds sterling. Anyone may donate to receive In Communion.

Rachel’s Lament: In Communion on Abortion

Rachel’s Lament: In Communion on Abortion

8 thevisitationicon Lament

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is pro-life but not exactly in the way the term is typically used. Pro-life movements are normally associated with particular political agendas that differ across countries where they are active, but within our fellowship we simply self-identify as children of the Orthodox Church who seek to have our worldviews shaped therein. We recognize the inherent impotence of political ideology in transforming lives and would rather bring our Orthodoxy to our political activities than the other way around. The life of the unborn was cherished by Christians long before modern political realities came into being and will be long after they, as they inevitably will, fade into the past.

In 2000, In Communion published a special issue dedicated to the topic of abortion that was introduced by a letter written by Jim and Nancy Forest:

“Jaroslav Pelikan, distinguished Christian scholar and longtime professor at Yale University, also a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship advisory board, speaks of abortion as “the great human rights issue of our time.” Sadly, many do not see it that way. Even in some parts of the Christian community, traditional opposition to abortion has slowly been transformed to toleration or even abortion advocacy.”

No less surprising, those active in peace organizations—people who might be found protesting at military bases or at prisons where executions are about to occur—are rarely found engaging in efforts to make abortions less common. (On the other hand, it must be noted that many who campaign for the right to life of the unborn child often seem much less disturbed by war and executions.)

For the vast majority of feminist groups, endorsement of abortion has been a litmus test. Anyone troubled by abortion, who speaks of an “unborn child” in the womb rather than using Latin terms with a dehumanizing effect—embryo or fetus—is someone to be denounced. At all costs, the unborn must not be recognized as human beings with as much claim on social respect and protection as their parents. (Yet how readily an unborn child is recognized and celebrated as human by those who look forward to any child’s birth.)

In this issue, we follow with a few paragraphs from Michael Gorman’s excellent essay surveying the early Church Fathers’ view of abortion, which itself succinctly states our pro-life attitude. Next we offer an excerpt from an article by Frederica Mathewes-Green. The section finishes with an article by Nancy Forest.

Michael Gorman

The earliest specific written references to abortion in Christian literature are those in the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. The Didache combines a code of Christian morality with a manual of church life and order, while the Epistle of Barnabas is a more theological tract on Christian life and thought. While both of these probably date from the early second century, they most likely drew on Christian sources which had their origins in the late first century.

Both these writings also contain a section based on a Jewish oral and written tradition known as the “Two Ways.” This tradition contrasts the two ways of Life or Light and Death or Darkness. Athanasius notes that it was used extensively in the early church, either as a separate document or as part of the Didache , especially for the training of catechumens and new converts.

The Didache maintains that there is a great difference between these two ways. In an exposition of the second great commandment (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) as part of the Way of Life, the author makes a list of “thou shalt not” statements obviously modeled on, and in part quoting, the Decalogue of the Septuagint. Literally, it declares: “Thou not murder a child by abortion.”

Similarly, the Epistle of Barnabas, in its practical section on the Way of Light, repeats the same words in a list of “thou shalt (not)” statements including, just before the abortion prohibition, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor more than thy own life.” The fetus is seen, not as a part of its mother, but as a neighbor. Abortion is rejected as contrary to other-centered neighbor love.

Frederica Mathewes-Green

A woman with an unplanned pregnancy faces more than “inconvenience”; many adversities, financial and social, at school, at work, and at home confront her. Our mistake was in looking at these problems and deciding that the fault lay with the woman, that she should be the one to change. We focused on her swelling belly, not the pressures that made her so desperate. We advised her, “Go have this operation and you’ll fit right in.”

What a choice we made for her. She climbs onto a clinic table and endures a violation deeper than rape—the nurse’s hand is wet with her tears—then is grateful to pay for it, grateful to be adapted to the social machine that rejected her when pregnant. And the machine grinds on, rejecting her pregnant sisters.

It is a cruel joke to call this a woman’s “choice.” We may choose to sacrifice our life and career plans, or choose to undergo humiliating invasive surgery and sacrifice our offspring. How fortunate we are—we have a choice! Perhaps it’s time to amend the slogan: “Abortion: a woman’s right to capitulate.”

If we refused to choose, if we insisted on keeping both our lives and our bodies intact, what changes would our communities have to make? What would make abortion unnecessary? Flexible school situations, more flex-time, part-time, and home-commute jobs, attractive adoption opportunities, safe family planning choices, support in handling sex responsibly––this is a partial list. Yet these changes will never come as long as we’re lying down on abortion tables 1,600,000 times a year to ensure the status quo. We’ve adapted to this surgical substitute, to the point that Justice Blackmun could write in his Webster dissent, “Millions of women have ordered their lives around” abortion. That we have willingly ordered our lives around a denigrating surgical procedure—accepted it as the price we must pay to keep our life plans intact—is an ominous sign.

For over a hundred years feminists warned us that abortion is a form of oppression and violence against women and their children. They called it “child-murder” (Susan B. Anthony), “degrading to women” (Elizabeth Cady Stanton), “most barbaric” (Margaret Sanger), and a “disowning [of] feminine values” (Simone de Beauvoir). How have we lost this wisdom?

Abortion has become the accepted way of dealing with unplanned pregnancies, and women who make another choice are viewed as odd, backward, and selfish. Across the nation, three thousand crisis pregnancy centers struggle, unfunded and unrecognized, to help these women with housing, clothing, medical care, and job training before and after pregnancy. These volunteers must battle the assumption that “they’re supposed to abort”—especially poor women who hear often enough that their children are unwanted. Pro-choice rhetoric conjures a dreadful day when women could be forced to have abortions; that day is nearly here.

More insidiously, abortion advocacy has been poisonous to some of the deeper values of feminism. For example, the need to discredit the fetus has led to the use of terms that would be disastrous if applied to women. “It’s so small,” “It’s unwanted,” “It might be disabled,” “It might be abused.” Too often women are small, unwanted, disabled, or abused. Do we really want to say that these factors erase personhood?

A parallel disparaging of pregnancy itself also has an unhealthy ring. Harping on the discomforts of pregnancy treats women as weak and incompetent; yet we are uniquely equipped for this role, and strong enough to do much harder things than this. Every woman need not bear a child, but every woman should feel proud kinship in the earthy, elemental beauty of birth. To hold it in contempt is to reject our distinctive power, “our bodies, ourselves.”

Nancy Forest-Flier

In a recent letter, a friend explained his reluctant acceptance of abortion with the statement: “I also believe that the human race is overrunning the planet and destroying our Mother the Earth.” While recognizing abortion as a moral problem, he saw it as the lesser of two evils. The cost of saving the planet is to reduce the human population. This is a widely accepted notion, and there are many who have succeeded in making us believe that over-population is the problem and that birth control and abortion are the answers.

Population control is often an attempt by Western, wealthy nations to impose their values on poor, usually non-white nations, and these countries are not happy about it. At a 1998 Population Consultation of the UN NGO Committee on Population and Development in New York, the ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez, shocked the audience with a speech in which she sharply criticized groups such as Zero Population Growth and Planned Parenthood for trying to reduce fertility in countries that don’t want it (and thinking that it’s for their own good, etc.). She accused the West of targeting poor and darker-skinned countries, such as her own. “It used to be,” she pointed out, “that older women could depend on their adult children to care for them in old age. In 1960, for example, a Jamaican woman had an average of six children; by 1990 she was likely to have fewer than three. Now typically she has two. Who will supply the support system for this mother when she is old?”

Even more amazing was the speech by Dr. James McCarthy, Head of the Center for Population at Columbia University, who called himself a “recovering demographer” and told the audience that “population doesn’t matter.”

In her book Sex and Destiny, feminist Germaine Greer comments, “we [should] abandon the rhetoric of crisis for we are the crisis. Let us stop worrying about a world crammed with people…stop counting the babies born every minute…use our imagination to understand how poverty is created and maintained…so that we lose our phobia about the poor. Rather than being afraid of the powerless, let us be afraid of the powerful—the rich, sterile nations who have no stake in the future. More ‘unwanted’ children are born to us, the rich, than to them, the poor.”

Although there are clearly some over-populated places in the world, this does not mean that the world is over-populated. There are many, many factors involved. Someone told me recently that the entire population of the world, if it agreed to live at the same density as New York City, could fit into the state of Texas. Not a very savory prospect, but interesting.

Justifying abortion by the population-control argument boils down to saying that we should encourage the use of abortion as birth control. But there are already countries that use abortion as birth control—Russia and other former East bloc countries—and the women there are in despair. Some women have several abortions in their lifetime because the birth control possibilities are so limited, and they are urgently demanding better conditions so that they don’t have to resort to abortion just to limit births. So this argument just doesn’t hold water. Not only do the poor countries not want population control, not only is the whole over-population argument questionable, but individual women who are forced to control births through abortion are crying for help.

I would be surprised if any woman ever had an abortion for the sake of the planet or because of her concern for over-population. Among the women I have known who had abortions, none of them, at that terrible point in their lives, cared a hoot about over-population. Women have abortions because they feel cornered, abandoned, hopeless, scared, manipulated. At least my friends all felt this way and, after the abortion, mourned deeply. They may still be mourning. Frederica Mathewes-Green, in her book Real Choices, explains the psychological after-effects of abortion: if they had it to do over again, most women admit that they would choose not to abort.

My personal feeling is that abortion is just as much a feminist issue as it is a pro-life issue. I think women have been sold a very shoddy bill of goods. Radical feminist leaders have played right into the hands of Hugh Hefner types: abortion is a wonderful solution for both of them. Women are expected to make the “right” choice as soon as a problem pregnancy comes along (at least the playboy philosophy hopes they will).

The other argument one hears is that abortion is a more merciful solution for the children of the poor than growing up in destitution. My friend asked: “Isn’t poverty and isolation a slow, cruel death as opposed to an operation that deals with the new life before it can actually think and breathe?”

Not necessarily. That’s implying that poor people should consider abortion when they get pregnant, because it’s sure better than raising children in poverty and isolation. But there are lots and lots of poor women who curse their poverty, and then on top of it all they feel driven to the abortion clinic when they get pregnant, just because society has few other options.

With all our collective intelligence, with all our social science, with all our money, society in the West should be able to come up with a better solution for dealing with problem pregnancies (not medical problems) than abortion. Abortion leaves far, far too many psychological scars. But it’s the cheap way out. What abortion does is pressure the most vulnerable—scared pregnant women—into “getting rid of the problem” so that society doesn’t have to deal with it.

My friend wrote: “I shudder to think of our making common cause with the so-called ‘Christian’ right who are militantly against abortion but endorse war, sexism, and capital punishment.” But must we be inconsistent simply because others are inconsistent? Just because the far-right seems to have co-opted the pro-life argument doesn’t mean that nobody else can endorse it. This calls for a little bit of courage. I urged my friend not to let the agenda of the far right limit his agenda. If you think abortion is wrong, oppose it bravely!

Here in the Netherlands we have the lowest abortion rate in the entire Western world. And, says the Minister of Health, “we’re proud of it.” Proud to have a low abortion rate? That must mean that lowering the abortion rate, or trying to, is a thing worth doing. What I’m saying is, let’s try to lower the abortion rate everywhere. Let’s not abandon women to their own private darkness where they have to make these impossible decisions alone (and then face a society that shrugs its shoulders).

William Styron’s book Sophie’s Choice is about such an impossible choice. On one level it’s about the Holocaust, but on another level it’s about the pressure to decide which of your children you will allow to live and which you will abandon to the hand of violence. Sophie could not live with her choice and finally took her own life.

One can find women who are no more troubled about an abortion they had than they are troubled about a missed bus, but for every woman who is blasé about having abortions you will find many more who wish they hadn’t had to do violence to their unborn children and to their consciences. I’m not insisting that the laws be changed (although it would be good if it did eventually happen), or that all women be forced to go through with their pregnancy no matter what (even if their health is at risk), or that we abandon women to back-street butchers. I’m saying, let’s work from the other side. Let’s try to create a society in which abortion is unthinkable. A society that forces the weak and frightened to shoulder the burden of a social problem should be ashamed of itself.

How do we do it? That’s a good question. My hope is that peace organizations will at last begin to explore rather than ignore the problem, to start some dialogues, to try to cut through the rhetoric and terrible division and to address a problem that everybody can rally around.  IC

You Cannot Serve Two Ideas

You Cannot Serve Two Ideas: When Ideology and Theology Meet

by Fr. John Garvey

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When I was involved in draft counseling during the war in Vietnam, I had a liberal friend who knew I was anti-war and was also opposed to the death penalty. She was shocked when I said I was also opposed to abortion. When I told her I thought I was being pretty consistent, she didn’t get it. As she saw it, I was violating a kind of liberal package deal.

A couple of years later I met a man who was not at all liberal. He was very much in favor of both the death penalty and abortion rights, and saw no inconsistency. I found myself sadly agreeing with him: he was consistent.

What made him consistent was a total absence of any sense of the sacred. He didn’t think of life at any point as sacred. He wasn’t liberal in any sense of the word. He had a kind of heartless sense of the convenient: get rid of murderers and other unwanted criminals and also get rid of unwanted unborn children––anything or anyone who might interrupt his life was fair game.

My liberal friend was a more complicated case. She did have a half-baked sense of the sacred, of some value that should attach to a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth to or kill the life in her womb, and she knew that innocent people might be mistakenly con-victed, and that even guilty people should not be killed.

But neither had a sense of life as truly sacred. Nor, I think it must be said, do those who call themselves pro-life and defend capital punish-ment based on the argument that the murderer has forfeited the right to life by taking the life of another. In both cases—one side often secular and the other side often ostensibly religious––there is a sense that a life’s value depends somehow on our end of the deal, our sense that a life is of value (because completely inno-cent, as in the case of the child in the womb) or that a life has forfeited its sacred status (because it violated the sacred status of another life, as in the case of a murderer).

This makes us too important, and God’s role as creator a wimpy cameo. How I regard the life of a child in the womb––whether I want it to be born or not––does not matter in the face of the fact that this unique being exists. To argue that it is a tiny collection of cells and therefore unimportant is not far from arguing that it is not so grave a matter to murder a dwarf as it is to murder a giant; it makes my attitude toward a life more important than that life’s existence, its God-givenness.

To argue that the life of a murderer can be taken because the murderer has violated the life of his victim is to say that the murderer gets to define the limits of the sacred. The terrible fact is that the murderer’s life is sacred, because God has willed that life, and none of us has the power to cancel the holiness of having been called into existence from nothingness. We may wish to cancel our vocation; in the horror of some lives it may be an overwhelming desire. But we cannot. And Christians have to bear witness to the sacred character of all human beings, no matter how innocent or how guilty, all of them people for whom Jesus Christ died. We are not our own. This applies to the newly conceived baby, and to any murderer on death row.  IC

Confession: A Primer

by Jim Forest

A young monk said to the great ascetic Abba Sisoes: “Abba, what should I do? I fell.” The elder answered: “Get up!” The monk said: “I got up and I fell again!” The elder replied: “Get up again!” But the young monk asked: “For how long should I get up when I fall?” “Until your death,” answered Abba Sisoes.
—Sayings of the Desert Fathers

WHEN I WENT to my first confession,” a friend told me, “tears took the place of the sins I meant to utter. The priest simply told me that it wasn’t necessary to enumerate everything and that it was just vanity to suppose that my personal sins were worse than everyone else’s. Which, by the way, was a bit of a relief, since it wasn’t possible for me to remember all the sins of my first thirty-odd years of life. It made me think of when the father received his prodigal son––he didn’t let his son finish his carefully rehearsed speech. Truly amazing.”

Another friend told me that he was so worried about all he had to confess that he decided to write them down. “So I made a list of my sins and brought it with me. The priest saw the paper in my hand, took it, looked through the list, tore it up, and gave it back to me. Then he said ‘Kneel down,’ and he absolved me. That was my confession, even though I never said a word! But I felt truly my sins had been torn up and that I was free of them.

The very word confession makes us nervous, touching as it does all that is hidden in ourselves: lies told, injuries caused, things stolen, friends deceived, people betrayed, promises broken, faith denied––these plus all the smaller actions that reveal the beginnings of sins.

Confession is painful, yet a Christian life without confession is impossible.

Confession is a major theme of the Gospels. Even before Christ began His public ministry, we read in Matthew’s Gospel that John required confession of those who came to him for baptism in the river for a symbolic act of washing away their sins: “And [they] were baptized by [John] in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6).

Then there are those amazing words of Christ to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The keys of binding and loosing sins were given not only to one apostle but to all Christ’s disciples, and—in a sacramental sense—to any priest who has his bishop’s blessing to hear confessions.

The Gospel author John warns us not to deceive ourselves: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:8, 9).

The sacrament of baptism, the rite of entrance into the Church, has always been linked with repentance. “Repent, and…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” Saint Peter preached in Jerusalem, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the same book we read that “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds” (Acts 19:18).

One Gospel story in which we encounter confession is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Here Christ describes a young man so impatient to come into his inheritance and be independent that, in effect, he says to his father, “As far as I’m concerned, you are already dead. Give me now what would have come to me after your funeral. I want nothing more to do with you or with this house.”

With Godlike generosity, the father gives what his son asks, though he knows his son well enough to realize that all the boy receives from him might as well be burned in a stove. The boy takes his inheritance and leaves, at last free of parents, free of morals and good behavior, free to do as he pleases.

After wasting his money, he finds himself reduced to feeding the pigs as a farmhand. People he had thought of as friends now sneer. He knows he has renounced the claim to be anyone’s son, yet in his desperation he dares hope his father might at least allow him to return home as a servant. Full of dismay for what he said to his father and he did with his inheritance, he walks home in his rags, ready to confess his sins, to beg for work and a corner to sleep in. The son cannot imagine the love his father has for him or the fact that, despite all the trouble he caused, he has been desperately missed. Far from being glad to be rid of the boy, the father has gazed day after day in prayer toward the horizon in hope of his son’s return.

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (v. 20). Had he not been watching, he would not have noticed his child in the distance and realized who it was. Instead of simply standing and waiting for his son to reach the door, he ran to meet him, embracing him, pouring out words of joy and welcome rather than reproof or condemnation.

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight and am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (v. 21). Here we have the son’s confession compacted into a single sentence. It is the essence of any confession: our return to our Father, who made us and constantly awaits our homecoming.

WHAT IS SIN? There are countless essays and books that deal with human failings under various labels without once using the three-letter word sin. Actions traditionally regarded as sinful have instead been seen as natural stages in the process of growing up, a result of bad parenting, a consequence of mental illness, an inevitable response to unjust social conditions, or pathological behavior brought on by addiction.

But what if I am more than a robot programmed by my past or my society or my economic status and actually can take a certain amount of credit––or blame––for my actions and inactions? Have I not done things I am deeply ashamed of, would not do again if I could go back in time, and would prefer no one to know about? What makes me so reluctant to call those actions “sins”? Is the word really out of date? Or is the problem that it has too sharp an edge?

The Hebrew verb chata’, “to sin,” like the Greek word hamartia, simply means straying off the path, getting lost, missing the mark. Sin––going off course––can be intentional or unintentional.

The author of the Book of Proverbs lists seven things God hates: “A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (6:17–19).

Pride is given first place. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” is another insight in the Book of Proverbs (16:18). In the Garden of Eden, Satan seeks to animate pride in his dialogue with Eve. Eat the forbidden fruit, he tells her, and “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).

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

Yet we spend a great deal of our lives trying to convince ourselves and others that what we did really wasn’t that bad or could even be seen as almost good, given the circumstances. Even in confession, many people explain rather than simply admit they did things requiring forgiveness. “When I recently happened to confess about fifty people in a typical Orthodox parish in Pennsylvania,” Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, “not one admitted to having committed any sin whatsoever!”

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

For the person who has committed a serious sin, there are two vivid signs––the hope that what one did may never become known, and a gnawing sense of guilt. At least this is the case before the conscience becomes completely numb––which happens when patterns of sin become the structure of one’s life to the extent that hell, far from being a possible next-life experience, is where one finds oneself in this life.

It is a striking fact about basic human architecture that we want certain actions to remain secret, not because of modesty, but because there is an unarguable sense of having violated a law more basic than that in any law book––the “law written in [our] hearts” to which St. Paul refers (Rom. 2:15). It isn’t simply that we fear punishment. It is that we don’t want to be thought of by others as a person who commits such deeds. One of the main obstacles to going to confession is dismay that someone else will know what I want no one to know.

One of the oddest things about the age we live in is that we are made to feel guilty about feeling guilty. There is a cartoon tacked up in our house in which one prisoner says to another, “Just remember––it’s okay to be guilty, but not okay to feel guilty.”

A sense of guilt––the painful awareness of having committed sins––can be life-renewing. Guilt provides a foothold for contrition, which in turn can motivate confession and repentance. Without guilt, there is no remorse; without remorse, there is no possibility of becoming free of habitual sins.

Yet there are forms of guilt that are dead-end streets. If I feel guilty that I have not managed to become the ideal person I occasionally want to be, or that I imagine others want me to be, that is guilt without a divine reference point. It is simply an irritated me contemplating an irritating me. Christianity is not centered on performance, laws, principles, or the achievement of flawless behavior, but on Christ Himself and on participation in God’s transforming love.

When Christ says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), he’s not speaking of getting a perfect score on a test, but of being whole, being in a state of communion, participating fully in God’s love.

This condition of being is suggested by St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity: those three angelic figures silently inclined toward each other around a chalice on a small altar. They symbolize the Holy Trinity: the mysterious communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that exists within God––not a closed communion restricted to themselves alone, but an open communion of love, in which we are not only invited but intended to participate.

A blessed guilt is the pain we feel when we realize we have cut ourselves off from that divine communion that irradiates all creation. It is impossible to live in a Godless universe, but easy to be unaware of God’s presence or even to resent it.

It’s a common delusion that one’s sins are private or affect only a few other people. To think our sins, however hidden, don’t affect others is like imagining that a stone thrown into the water won’t generate ripples. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has observed: “There are no entirely private sins. All sins are sins against my neighbor, as well as against God and against myself. Even my most secret thoughts are, in fact, making it more difficult for those around me to follow Christ.”

Far from being hidden, each sin is another crack in the world.

One of the most widely used Orthodox prayers, the Jesus Prayer, is only one sentence long: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Short as it is, many people drawn to it are put off by the last two words. Those who teach the prayer are often asked, “But must I call myself a sinner?” In fact, the ending isn’t essential––the only essential word is “Jesus”––but my difficulty in identifying myself as a sinner reveals a lot. What makes me so reluctant to speak of myself in so plain a word? Don’t I do a pretty good job of hiding rather than revealing Christ in my life? Am I not a sinner? To admit that I am provides a starting point.

There are only two possible responses to sin: to justify it, or to repent. Between these two, there is no middle ground.

Justification may be verbal, but mainly it takes the form of repetition: I do again and again the same thing as a way of demonstrating to myself and others that it’s not really a sin, but rather something normal or human or necessary or even good. “Commit a sin twice and it will not seem a crime,” notes a Jewish proverb.

Repentance, however, is the recognition that I cannot live any more as I have been living because in living that way, I wall myself apart from others and from God. Repentance is a change in direction. Repentance is the door of communion. It is also a sine qua non of forgiveness. Absolution is impossible where there is no repentance.

As St. John Chrysostom said sixteen centuries ago in Antioch:

Repentance opens the heavens, takes us to Paradise, overcomes the devil. Have you sinned? Do not despair! If you sin every day, then offer repentance every day! When there are rotten parts in old houses, we replace the parts with new ones, and we do not stop caring for the houses. In the same way, you should reason for yourself: If today you have defiled yourself with sin, immediately cleanse yourself with repentance.

Confession as a Social Action: It is impossible to imagine a healthy marriage or deep friendship without confession and forgiveness. If we have done something that damages a relationship, confession is essential to its restoration. For the sake of that bond, we confess what we’ve done, we apologize, and we promise not to do it again; then we do everything in our power to keep that promise.

In the context of religious life, confession is what we do to safeguard and renew our relationship with God whenever it is damaged. Confession restores our communion with God and with each other.

It is never easy to admit to doing something we regret and are ashamed of, an act we attempted to keep secret or denied doing or tried to blame on someone else, perhaps arguing––to ourselves as much as to others––that it wasn’t actually a sin at all, or wasn’t nearly as bad as some people might claim. In the hard labor of growing up, one of the most agonizing tasks is becoming capable of saying, “I’m sorry.”

Yet we are designed for confession. Secrets in general are hard to keep, but unconfessed sins not only never go away, but have a way of becoming heavier as time passes––the greater the sin, the heavier the burden. Confession is the only solution.

To understand confession in its sacramental sense, one first has to grapple with a few basic questions: Why is the Church involved in for-giving sins? Is priest-witnessed con-fession really needed? Why confess at all to any human being? In fact, why bother confessing to God, even without a human witness? If God is really all-knowing, then God knows everything about me already. My sins are known before it even crosses my mind to confess them. Why bother telling God what God already knows?

Yes, truly God knows. My con-fession can never be as complete or revealing as God’s knowledge of me and of all that needs repairing in my life. But a related question we need to consider has to do with our basic design as social beings. Why am I so willing to connect with others in every other area of life, yet not in this? Why is it that I look so hard for excuses, even for theological ration-ales, not to confess? Why do I try so hard to explain away my sins, until I’ve decided either that they’re not so bad, or even that they might be seen as acts of virtue? Why is it that I find it so easy to commit sins, yet am so reluctant, in the presence of another, to admit to having done so?

We are social beings. The individual as autonomous unit is a delusion. The person without community, parents, spouse, or children exists only in ads. The individual is someone who has lost a sense of connection to others or attempts to exist in opposition to others––while the person exists in communion with other persons. At a conference of Orthodox Christians in France a few years ago, in a discussion of the problem of individualism, a theologian confessed, “When I am in my car, I am an individual, but when I get out, I am a person again.”

We are social beings. The language we speak connects us to those around us. The food I eat was grown by others. The skills passed on to me have slowly been developed in the course of hundreds of generations. The air I breathe and the water I drink is not for my exclusive use, has been in many bodies before mine, and will be used by others not yet born. The place I live, the tools I use, the keyboard I type on were made by many hands. I am not my own doctor or dentist. To the extent that I disconnect myself from others, I am in danger. Alone, I die, and soon. To be in communion with others is life.

Because we are social beings, confession in church does not take the place of confession to those we have sinned against. An essential element of confession is doing all I can to set right what I did wrong. If I stole something, it must be returned or paid for. If I lied to anyone, I must tell that person the truth. If I was angry without good reason, I must apologize. I must seek forgiveness not only from God but from those whom I have wronged or harmed.

We are also verbal beings. Words provide a way of communicating not only with others but with ourselves. The fact that confession is witnessed forces me to put into words all those ways, minor and major, in which I live as if there were no God and no commandment to love. A thought that is concealed has great power over us.

Confessing sins, or even temptations, makes us better able to resist. The under-lying principle is described in one of the collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers:

If impure thoughts trouble you, do not hide them, but tell them at once to your spiritual father and condemn them. The more a person conceals his thoughts, the more they multiply and gain strength. But an evil thought, when revealed, is immediately destroyed. If you hide things, they have great power over you, but if you could only speak of them before God, in the presence of another, then they will often wither away, and lose their power.

Confessing to anyone, even a stranger, renews rather than contracts my humanity, even if all I get in return for my confession is the well-worn remark, “Oh, that’s not so bad. After all, you’re only human.” But if I can confess to anyone anywhere, why confess in church in the presence of a priest? It’s not a small question in societies in which the phrase “institutionalized religion” is so often used, the implicit message being that religious institutions necessarily undermine spiritual life.

Confession is a Christian ritual with a communal character. Confession in the church differs from confession in your living room in the same way that getting married in church differs from simply living together. The communal aspect of the event tends to safeguard it, solidify it, and call everyone to account––those doing the ritual, and those witnessing it.

In the social structure of the Church, a huge network of local communities is held together in unity, each community helping the others and all sharing a common task, while each provides a specific place to recognize and bless the main events in life, from birth to burial. Confession is an essential part of that continuum. My confession is an act of reconnection with God and with all the people and creatures who depend on me and have been harmed by my failings, and from whom I have distanced myself through acts of non-communion. The community is represented by the person hearing my confession, an ordained priest delegated to serve as Christ’s witness, who provides guidance and wisdom that helps each penitent overcome attitudes and habits that take us off course, who declares forgiveness and restores us to communion. In this way our repentance is brought into the community that has been damaged by our sins––a private event in a public context.

“It’s a fact,” writes Fr. Thomas Hopko, retired rector of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, “that we cannot see the true ugliness and hideousness of our sins until we see them in the mind and heart of the other to whom we have confessed.”

A Communion-Centered Life: Attending the liturgy and receiving communion on Sundays and principal feast days is at the heart of Christian life, the event that gives life a eucharistic dimension and center point. But communion––receiving Christ into ourselves––can never be routine, never something we deserve, no matter what the condition of our life may be. For example, Christ solemnly warns us against approaching the altar if we are in a state of enmity with anyone. He tells us, “if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). In one of the parables, Christ describes a person who is ejected from the wedding feast because he isn’t wearing a wedding garment. Tattered clothing is a metaphor for living a life that reduces conscience to rags (Matthew 22:1–14).

Receiving Christ in communion during the liturgy is the keystone of living in communion––with God, with people, and with creation. Christ teaches us that love of God and love of neighbor sum up the Law. One way of describing a serious sin is to say it is any act which breaks our communion with God and with our neighbor.

It is for this reason that examination of conscience––if necessary, going to confession––is an essential part of preparation for communion. This is an ongoing process of trying to see my life and actions with clarity and honesty––to look at myself, my choices, and my direction as known by God. The examination of conscience is an occasion to recall not only any serious sins committed since my last confession, but even the beginnings of sins.

The word conscience derives from a Greek verb meaning “to have common knowledge” or “to know with” someone, a concept that led to the idea of bearing witness concerning someone, especially oneself. Conscience is an inner faculty that guides us in making choices that align us with God’s will, and that accuses us when we break communion with God and with our neighbor. Conscience is a reflection of the divine image at the core of each person. In The Sacred Gift of Life, Fr. John Breck points out that “the education of conscience is acquired in large measure through immersing ourselves in the ascetic tradition of the Church: its life of prayer, sacramental and liturgical celebration, and scripture study. The education of our conscience also depends upon our acquiring wisdom from those who are more advanced than we are in faith, love, and knowledge of God.”

Conscience is God’s whispering voice within us calling us to a way of life that reveals God’s presence and urges us to refuse actions that destroy community and communion.

Key Elements in Confession: Fr. Alexander Schmemann provided the following summary of the three key areas of confession:
 Relationship to God: Questions on faith itself, possible doubts or deviations, inattention to prayer, neglect of liturgical life, fasting, etc.
 Relationship to one’s neighbor: Basic attitudes of selfishness and self-centeredness, indifference to others, lack of attention, interest, love. All acts of actual offense––envy, gossip, cruelty, etc.––must be mentioned and, if needed, their sinfulness shown to the penitent.
 Relationship to one’s self: Sins of the flesh with, as their counterpart, the Christian vision of purity and wholesomeness, respect for the body as an icon of Christ, etc. Abuse of one’s life and resources; absence of any real effort to deepen life; abuse of alcohol or other drugs; cheap idea of “fun,” a life centered on amusement, irresponsibility, neglect of family relations, etc.

Tools of Self-Examination: In the struggle to examine conscience, we have tools that can assist us, resources that help both in the formation and the examination of conscience. Among these are the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and various prayers, as well as lists of questions written by experienced confessors. IC

This article as it appears here is the first half of a longer, printed booklet from Conciliar Media, a department of the Antiochian Archdiocese, as part of their popular series of attractive and informative booklets and brochures about the basic teachings of the ancient Orthodox Christian faith. The second half begins with the section we end with: Tools of Self-examination. For the entire article, please visit either of the following webistes:
http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2013/02/20/confession-primer/
http://www.antiochian.org/content/confession-healing-sacrament

Adam, Where Are You?

Reflections on Adam, Christ, and Us

by Peter Bouteneff

Many think about Adam and Eve from the perspective of debates about the age of the universe and the origin of human beings. The Church Fathers and the liturgy have a completely different starting point, less in terms of cosmology than Christology. The Church rarely mentions Adam without speaking of Christ, so that we reckon the “Old Adam,” or “First Adam,” in terms of the “New Adam.” This orientation of thinking about Adam helps us to understand our lives as baptized Christians, as human beings who are both fallen and raised, distorted and renewed, dying yet redeemed from death. In our baptism and sacramental life, we have died to the Old Adam and put on the New Adam “ yet we are somehow partaking of both. Our cosmological questions may remain, but they receive new perspective from the Church’s reckoning of Adam. Let us humbly ask God and his Church about Adam, and see what we find.

In Genesis, we hear God calling to his creature, Adam, who has just disobeyed the divine command and who has hidden himself: “Adam, where are you?”

We also may ask, with love and in a spirit of holy inquiry, “Adam, where are you?” And perhaps, “Adam, who are you?” “Adam, what are you?”

“Adam where are you? You have hidden from God in shame, but you are also hidden from our view. You are there at the beginning of our Bible and at the very end, and nowhere in between.

“Adam, who are you? Your name in Hebrew means both ‘humanity’ and ‘of the earth.’ Are you ‘man’ as a totality, or a single person? Or both at once? Or are you me and am I you, when I disobey God’s command in my own life? Or are you all of these things, and perhaps more than all? Adam, can you tell us something about ourselves, and our life in this world? For the divinely inspired Scriptures have surely told us about you so that you may teach us about God’s purpose.”

St. Silouan of Mount Athos brings far more beautiful words to Adam. In a deeply moving meditation, he sees Adam at first lamenting painfully at the loss of his closeness with God, and then completely enraptured with joy in the Lord who has given him a still greater Paradise in communion with the Holy Trinity.

O Adam, sing unto us a heavenly song

that the whole earth may hearken,

and delight in the peace of love toward God.

In St. Silouan’s writing, we have an important clue to who and what Adam was in the paradise of old: he was in a state of sweetness and gladness, looking upon God. But he was not perfect. He was not yet in the state of a fully redeemed, deified, immortal man in the “fairer Paradise” given in Christ through his cross.

It is important for us to recall that the Adam we meet in the book of Genesis is not the icon of perfected humanity. He and Eve were “naked and unashamed,” but they were neither perfect nor immortal. As the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great puts it, God put his human creature in Paradise with the promise of immortality. Adam and Eve are human beings in the making. They are works in progress.

This is the conviction of several of the Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Ephrem of Syria. The forbidden tree in Paradise was not evil in itself, and was meant for human beings, but it was meant to be eaten of at the right time and in the right disposition. Adam and Eve’s tragedy was to eat of it when they were still as children “ innocent and immature.

The biblical story shows us that Adam and Eve are not perfectly fulfilled human persons. What was it in Eve that made her listen to the voice of the serpent? That is not perfection. We speak of God-given “freedom,” but their freedom to forget God is not the genuine freedom of the deified human person. True freedom is freedom in God, the freedom to do the good, not the freedom to listen to this pathetic snake.

Adam and Eve are creatures of potential, on the way to fully realized perfection. They “ we “ were created for life, not death “ for life in union with God. But they do not attain it. And so Adam, in the mind of the Fathers, and in the hymns of the liturgy, never represents royal, deified man, but fallen man. When the hymns speak of “Adam” they mean “fallen humanity.” Nearly every feast of Christ recalls this. At the feast of the Transfiguration, for example, we sing:

You were transfigured, O Christ,

And made Adam’s darkened image to shine again as lightning,

Transforming it into the glory and splendor of Your own divinity .

Here we are not talking about an ancient historic man, “Adam.” If Christ came only to raise some single person, that would certainly not have the effect of reshaping the whole cosmos. Christ comes to raise fallen humanity. He comes to raise us.

This leads to the question not just “who is Adam,” but “who are we?” If Adam is fallen humanity, and Adam is us, then are we fallen humanity? Yes we are. But aren’t we renewed humanity, in Christ? Yes we are. We are both, and must choose between orienting ourselves in Christ or orienting ourselves in Adam. As we sing at the Matins of Holy Saturday:

You descended to the depths of the earth to fill all with Your glory;

For my person that is in Adam was not hidden from You.

And when You were buried,

You renewed me who am corrupt, O Lover of mankind.

So I can consider “my person that is in Adam” and at the same time I know my person that is in Christ. I am both. We are back to the paradox with which we began. We are baptized in Christ and in principle dead to Adam “ i.e., to fallen humanity “ yet we still sin. And our every sin reveals us to be still living in Adam.

This is another theme throughout the Church Fathers and our hymnography: Adam is us as “fallen humanity,” but also we are Adam. We are creatures of potential who constantly repeat and perpetuate the sin in the garden. Everything that is reported in the garden of paradise, with regard to Adam’s sin, pertains to us and our sin. “I came to know my nakedness and clothed myself in a garment of skin, and fell from the garden” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 19.14). “My ancestor’s weakness is my own” (Or. 38.12). “We were entrusted with Paradise that we might enjoy life. We received a commandment so that we might obtain a good repute by keeping it…. We were deceived because we were the objects of envy. We were cast out because we transgressed. We fasted because we refused to fast, being overpowered by the tree of knowledge.” (Or. 45.28)

Who is the subject of this sad tale? It is, again, not an ancient historical Adam. It is us. We sing, on the eve of Great Lent:

Long ago the crafty serpent envied my honor

And whispered deceit in the ear of Eve.

Woe is me! I was led astray

And banished from the dance of life.

And so, Adam is our forefather. But the next question is: is he our forefather in the spiritual sense, the moral sense, or in the genealogical sense? In other words, can we be said to have descended from Adam, in the same way that I have descended from a particular line of parents and grandparents and great-grandparents? Genealogically and genetically? This is a further question we are led to ask, especially in view of new perspectives from history and science.

“Adam, where are you: in our historical past? Are you in the same plane of history as Winston Churchill, Leonardo DaVinci, and Plato?” On what basis may we approach this question? To whom may we pose it? Can we look to the Fathers to answer it? Were they even concerned with “historicity” as we are in our post-Darwin era?

In fact some of the Fathers were interested in this question. There were those who answered in a very literal way, such as Theophilus of Antioch, who provided a date in history for the creation of the world and of Adam. (To this day, there are those who assert, in order to be harmonious with the Scriptural genealogies, that the universe was created somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. St. Augustine noticed that if we were to take literally all the chronologies in Genesis, Methuselah would have had to be present on Noah’s Ark.)

Other Fathers were a great deal more open about the Paradise story and what it may have represented. Possibly the best example of this open inquisitiveness was St. Gregory the Theologian, who writes that God placed the human person in Paradise, “Whatever that may mean.” He speculates that the tree of knowledge may have represented theoria, contemplation. He sees the Paradise story as one open to several interpretations. St. Gregory endorsed Origen’s view that the Paradise described in Genesis did not reside in our historical space and time:

Who will be found simple enough to believe that, like some farmer, “God planted trees in the garden of Eden, in the east” and that he planted “the tree of life” in it, that is a visible tree that could be touched, so that someone could eat of this tree with corporeal teeth and gain life, and further, could eat of another tree and receive the knowledge of “good and evil?” [T]hese are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history and not through actual events. [De Principiis 4.3.1. The passage cited here is part of the Philokalia of Origen, an anthology of Origen’s texts compiled by Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.]

Some Fathers were interested in the question as to whether Adam and Eve and Paradise existed in the same way that, for us, Hyde Park “ and those walking within it “ exist in London. They answered this question in different ways. Most probably believed that Adam existed as a historical person rather than in a mythical realm, for they had no scientific reason not to. Yet none of their theological conclusions about Adam and what he represents require him to exist as a particular historical human being.

The Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet proposes two categories of history, or temporal orders. He says that the chronological history which we try to document scientifically is already the history of fallen humanity. Our history resides on a different plane from the “spiritual history” described in Genesis:

The original condition of man as it is presented by Scripture and the Fathers is situated in another temporal order than that of historical knowledge: it does not belong to the time of sensible realities (chronos), but to the duration of spiritual realities (aiôn), which eludes historical science because it belongs to the sphere of spiritual history.[Theology of Illness, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, p. 23 n. 51]

Larchet’s model helps us make sense of modern science while retaining the inspired integrity of the scriptural story.

We may conclude that Adam is our forefather in the sense of representing what we came from, representing a failure of potential, representing us whenever we repeat that failure, representing the Old Man whom we shed in our baptism in favor of the New Man Jesus Christ. He is also our forefather in the sense of showing that there was a beginning to sin and death. Sin and death are not an eternal reality. They began, and spread to all.

When “Adam” means “fallen man,” he is rarely mentioned in our hymns apart from Christ who by clothing himself in Adam (= humanity, = us), restores Adam, recalling the divine image, bringing fallen humanity to the place that was always intended for it: into union with God himself. Christ, therefore, is the New Adam, the Second Adam.

Aside from representing the “Old Man,” Adam is also the prefiguration of Christ. In theological and scriptural language, Adam is a “type” for Christ. In Romans, St. Paul already calls Adam “a type of the one to come” (typos tou mellontos). Adam is a “place-holder” for Christ. Adam/humanity was given the vocation to be a true human person and failed in every respect. It is Christ being the Word of God (the prophet), the living sacrifice (the priest), and the king of glory who fulfills the human vocation perfectly.

Indeed, as several of the Fathers put it, you can either see Adam as the “type” for Christ, or more properly you can see Adam as being made in the image of Christ “ even, in the eternal perspective, in the image of the crucified Christ. As St. Nicolas Cabasilas wrote:

It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old. For those who have known him first, the old Adam is the archetype because of our fallen nature. But for him who sees all things before they exist, the first Adam is the imitation of the second. [The Life in Christ 6.91-94.]

As St. Irenaeus has it, “it was necessary that one who would be saved [Adam] should also come into existence, in order that the One who saves should not exist in vain.” [Adv. Haer. 3.22.3]

All of this is a part of the Church’s rich tradition of typology, which we will probably recognize from the Church’s hymnography. Adam is a type for Christ, Eve a type for Mary. The tree in Paradise is a type for the tree of the cross, and paradise itself is a type for the Church, which is God’s Kingdom on earth. In fact, the Fathers leave almost no element in the Old Testament unexplored for its typological potential. Moses’s outstretched hands are a type for the crucified Christ. Christ himself, in the gospels, repeatedly tells his disciples that what was written in the Scriptures, in other words written in the Old Testament, was all written about him. “Moses wrote of me,” says the Lord in John 5:46 and in Luke 24. Christ explains to his disciples how the entire Old Testament concerns himself.

This is illustrated in a beautiful liturgical act. During Lent, at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, we read from the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis: the creation of the world in six days, and the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. And just after this reading, we all bow down to the ground, our faces to the floor, while the celebrant comes out of the sanctuary with a candle placed on the gospel book, proclaiming, “The light of Christ illumines all.” Indeed, the light of Christ illumines all that is told in the Old Testament Scripture.

And so Adam, who represents fallen man, represents a type or prefiguration of the New Man, Christ. St. Gregory the Theologian makes a poetic one-to-one relationship between the two, contrasting the hands of Christ “ stretched out in generosity and fixed by nails “ with the hand of Adam, stretched out in unrestrained self-indulgence. Christ is lifted up (on the cross) to reverse Adam’s downward fall. Christ ingests vinegar instead of Adam’s fruit. Christ dies for Adam’s death, and is raised so that Adam may be raised. He says, also:

All of us partake of the same Adam, and were led astray by the serpent and slain by sin, and are saved by the heavenly Adam and brought back by the tree of [the cross] to the tree of life from which we had fallen. [Oration 33.9]

This brings us back to the paradox of our lives in this world, both fallen and redeemed, redeemed and fallen. We revisit this paradox in the light of the Old and New Adam.

Let us look at what is practically the last mention of Adam in the Old Testament, in Genesis chapter 5, drawing from the Septuagint Greek translation:

This is the book of the origin of human beings. On the day that God made Adam, he made him according to the divine image; male and female he made them, and he blessed them. And he named their name “Adam” on the day that he made them. Now Adam lived two hundred thirty years and became a father, according to his form and according to his image, and named his name Seth. And the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth amounted to seven hundred years, and he had sons and daughters. And all the days of Adam, that he lived, amounted to nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.

God makes “Adam” “ meaning humanity, male and female “ in his image. And then Adam, having fallen, has a son according to his image. And what follows in this chapter is a long genealogy that leads to Noah, who lives in an age of violence and depravity. This shows us what “the fall” is: human beings, created in the divine image, are now in the image of Adam. God is not gone, nor is his image in us, but now everyone who is born, is in Adam’s image as well as in God’s.

We know what follows. Jesus Christ, the living image of God, is born in history. The pre-eternal Son of the Living God, is born of a woman, a virgin “ herself born in the image of Adam, and he lives a fully human life. It is this Jesus, this New Adam, fully divine and fully human, who restores the image of God. And so, now we may live in Christ, we may die in Christ, and be raised in Christ.

The paradox remains, but it is entirely redefined. Life and death are transfigured by God, in the life and death of his Son. The divine image is restored in all its splendor, and that image, or icon, is Jesus Christ, the New Adam. But like every dimension of our life in the world as Christians in the Church, this restoration is both a gift and a calling.

Our baptism is our death. From that point onward we are alive in Christ, in the Church, through the sacraments. Death, which continues to bind us biologically, no longer defines us spiritually. This is a gift, given to us freely. It is also our calling to take it up, at every moment of our lives. At every moment we may choose to live in the Old Adam “ to yield to the self-justifying call of the serpent and pursue a deification without the cross “ or to live in the New Adam, taking up the cross and following Christ.

Our call, “Adam, where are you?”, now finally yields to the constant seeking out of the New Adam, and the constant calling out to him by his holy name: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Our paradoxical life as fallen yet redeemed persons is now taken up by the task of constantly reorienting our perspective, training our sites on Christ, the true image of God. That’s what we’re to do in and through the Church, Christ’s body. This is the meaning of asceticism, our universal calling: the redirection of our whole person, mind, body and soul. Living in Christ, we continue to suffer, we continue to be tempted, we continue to sin. But all this is decisively overcome, changed.

But that is not the only message of the gospel. The other vital message that God gives us in the New Adam is that he loves us beyond measure. He gives everything to us. And he knows our suffering in this life of paradox, because he enters it. He is not simply watching passively. No, he knows our pain, and he comes to experience it to its very fullest extent.

With our gaze thus fixed on the New Adam, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we cry out with all conviction and all joy: Christ is Risen!

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Peter Bouteneff teaches dogmatic theology, patristics, and spirituality at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He has a doctorate from Oxford University, where he studied under Bishop Kallistos Ware. This is a shortened version of a paper he delivered in May at the 13th Western European Orthodox Congress, held in Amiens, France. He is the author of Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives (Baker Academic, 2008).

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on forgiveness: For an offense, whatever kind may have been given, one must not only not avenge oneself, but on the contrary must all the more forgive from the heart, even though it may resist this, and must incline the heart by conviction of the word of God: “If you will not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”; and again, “pray for them which despitefully use you.” One must not nurse in one’s heart malice or hatred towards a neighbor who bears ill-will; but must strive to love him and, as much as possible, do good, following the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” And thus, if we will strive as much as lies in our power, to fulfill all this, then we may hope that Divine light will shine early in our souls, opening to us the path to the Jerusalem on High.

“ St. Seraphim of Sarov

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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May Christians Kill?

By Fr. Philip LeMasters

Eastern Christianity does not view morality in fundamentally legal terms or within the context of abstract philosophy, but as part of the holistic vocation of humanity for theosis: participation by grace in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. Hence, the Orthodox vision must be considered on its own terms, and not distorted by the imposition of Western categories. The question for the Orthodox is not, “What approach to warfare is most persuasive rationally or incumbent upon all Christians as a matter of moral law?” Instead, the East asks, “In light of the human vocation for growth in holiness and communion with God, how should Christians respond to the prospect of warfare?”

The prominence of petitions for peace in the Liturgy sheds light on the Orthodox response to war. Since the Church believes that the Liturgy is a participation in the worship of heaven, and grounds the knowledge of God in worship and mystical experience, it is fitting to place the issue of war and peace within the context of the liturgical life of Eastern Christianity, for it is in worship that the Church participates most fully in communion with the Holy Trinity.

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the first petitions of the Great Ektenia are for “the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls” and “the peace of the whole world; for the good estate of the churches of God, and for the union of all.” At every Liturgy we pray for our parish, the clergy and laity, for government officials and all those in public service, for the place we live and for all towns and cities, for peaceful times, for travelers, the sick, the suffering, for captives and their salvation, and for our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and need. “Help us; save us; have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Your grace,” we beg, finally commending “ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”

These are not simply decorative words. Neither are they prayers which refer merely to the inner tranquility of worshipers, nor to an entirely future Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, they embody an Orthodox vision of salvation and call upon the Lord to enable us to experience his heavenly peace right now in every dimension of life: personal, public, religious, temporal, and political. Whoever prays these prayers is asking already to participate in the Kingdom of God on earth, to find the healing and blessing of salvation in every dimension of one’s life indeed, in every aspect of God’s creation.

The entire Liturgy is an epiphany of God’s Kingdom on earth. The priest begins the service with a proclamation, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages,” which declares that the assembly is now participating in the worship of Heaven. The Church is raised to the life of the Kingdom as her members gather to glorify and commune with the Holy Trinity.

Because we believe in the Incarnation and the goodness of God’s physical creation, we pray for peace and salvation upon people in “real life” situations of peril and suffering, for deliverance from the kinds of calamities and hardships that beset our mortal bodies in this life.

The peace for which we pray includes every dimension of our existence before the Lord. God created us for communion with Himself in all aspects of our personhood: body, soul, and spirit. Christian salvation entails the resurrection of the complete, embodied self in the blessed communion of Heaven and the transformation of the entire creation in subjection to the Holy Trinity.

The peace for which we pray is our participation in that all-inclusive salvation. There is no true peace other than that found in the healing and transformation brought to human beings by the God-Man in whom our humanity is united with divinity. Since God intends to save us in every dimension of our existence, his healing concerns the full range of human life. Even as bread and wine become the means of our communion with the Lord, we are to offer every bit of ourselves and of this world to the Father in union with the sacrifice of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. We will then find life-giving communion with the Holy Trinity in everything we say and do; our life will become a eucharistic offering as we grow in holiness and union with God.

If the Liturgy is a participation in the eschatological peace of the Kingdom of God, it is fair to ask whether the members of the Church recognize and live out this vision of heavenly peace. An immediate note of realism comes to mind, as the members of the Church are sinners who have not manifested fully the new life of Christ. Nonetheless, the presence of the Holy Spirit enables the Church to embody a foretaste of the eschatological peace of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is much in the history and ongoing life of the Church which witnesses to the saving peace of God here and now.

Though there is some ambiguity in the Church’s teaching on Christian participation in war, the Orthodox vision of peace prizes selfless love and forgiveness over violence, viewing war, in some situations, as a lesser evil with damaging spiritual consequences for all involved.

In contrast with Orthodoxy, it is easier to describe the traditional Western Christian justifications of war, which have included both the granting of plenary indulgences to those who fought in the crusades and the affirmation of a just-war theory. The former envisioned the killing of infidels as such a righteous act that the crusaders were released from all temporal punishments for their sins, including exemption from purgatory. The latter, which has been widely influential in Western culture, provides moral sanction to wars which meet certain philosophical criteria.

Orthodoxy has never embraced the crusade ethic. Orthodoxy has viewed war always as an evil, even if, as the theologian Olivier Clément expressed it, “The Church has accepted warfare sorrowfully as a sometimes necessary evil, but without concealing that it is an evil which must be avoided or limited as much as possible.” Elsewhere he notes, “The only normative ideal is that of peace, and hence the Orthodox Church has never made rules on the subject of ius belli and of ius in bello.”

Canon 13 of St. Basil’s 92 Canonical Epistles states:

Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean.

Father John McGuckin observes that St. Basil refers to St. Athanasius as the father who wrote, in his “Letter to Amun,” that killing the enemy was legitimate in wartime. McGuckin argues, however, that St. Athanasius was advising Amun on the question of the sinfulness of nocturnal emissions. “In fact the original letter had nothing whatsoever to do with war… The military image is entirely incidental, and Athanasius in context merely uses it to illustrate his chief point in the letter,” which is to show that the moral significance of actions may not be discerned without reference to the contexts in which they occurred.

Against any simplistic readings of the letter as a blanket justification of killing in war, St. Basil places the issue in a specific context. As McGuckin writes on St. Basil in “War and Repentance,” “what he speaks about is the canonical regulation of war in which a Christian can engage and find canonical forgiveness for a canonically prohibited act…”

Killing in war had been forbidden completely in earlier canons, such as Canon 14 of Hippolytus in the fourth century, which states:

A Christian is not to become a soldier. A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is compelled by a chief bearing the sword. He is not to burden himself with the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, he is not to partake of the mysteries, unless he is purified by a punishment, tears, and wailing. He is not to come forward deceitfully but in the fear of God.

St. Basil distinguishes between outright murder and killing “for the defense of Christian borders from the ravages of pagan marauders.” By limiting fighting to such circumstances, he sought to “restrict the bloodshed to a necessary minimum.” In contrast to the lifelong exclusion from the sacraments imposed on murderers, St. Basil recommends three years of exclusion from the chalice, thus providing a public sign that the Gospel standard is violated by war.

The Christian soldier who has killed in war is to “undergo the cathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance… Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years, seemingly harsh to us moderns, was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.” (It is not uncommon to meet veterans who are tormented for the rest of their lives by the horrors of war. I recall the father of a childhood friend who suffered from nightmares thirty years after the conclusion of his military service during World War II. Those who are trained to kill sometimes have difficulty returning to the mores of civilian life, not to mention the life of theosis.)

McGuckin concludes that this canon of St. Basil excludes the development of just war theory in Orthodoxy. Though particular wars may be necessary or unavoidable, they are never justified, as shedding the blood of other human beings is contradictory to the way of the Kingdom of God.

In his book, The Price of Prophecy, Fr. Alexander Webster agrees that a theory of justified war “has never been systematically elucidated in Orthodox moral theology.” He describes participation in such a war as “a lesser moral option than absolute pacifism, for those unwilling or unable to pay the full price of prophecy.” He suggests that Orthodox criteria for a just war include a “proper political ethos,” meaning that the nation going to war should follow “the natural-law ethic and have positive relations with the Orthodox community.” The war should also take place for the “defense of the People of God” from injustice, invasion, or oppression “by those hostile to the free exercise of the Orthodox faith.” A proper “spiritual intent” should also lead to “forgiveness and rehabilitation” of enemies as persons who bear the image of God, and not “mere revenge, self-righteousness, or conquest.” Webster states that

Whereas the pacifist seeks to emulate Jesus as the Good Shepherd who allowed Himself to be slain unjustly by and for sinners, the just warrior perceives a higher duty: to defend the relatively innocent from unjust aggression. If the Orthodox pacifist can never do anything evil even for a reasonably just end, the Orthodox warrior cannot preserve his personal holiness by allowing evil to triumph through his own inaction.

It is curious for Webster to suggest that the just warrior follows a “higher duty” than that of the pacifist, especially when the clear norm for the Church is the selfless, forgiving, nonresistant way of Christ. Likewise, the enumeration of moral categories for a justified war and the reference to governments which follow an ethic of natural law raise the question of whether this interpretation places questions of war and peace more within the context of human moral reasoning than in that of the journey to theosis. It is fair to ask whether Webster’s formulation gives sufficient attention to the spiritual vision of Orthodoxy, as opposed to the greater reliance on an ethics of human reason in Western Christianity.

Though Christlike response of “turning the other cheek” to assaults is the ideal, the Orthodox Church does not prescribe pacifism or nonviolence as an absolute requirement of the Christian life. The Church’s moral guidance serves the goal of theosis, of guiding the members of Christ’s Body to growth in holiness and union with the Trinity. The canons of the Church are applied pastorally in order to help particular people find salvation as they seek to be faithful in the given set of challenges and weaknesses which they face. The Church’s experience is that temporal authority and the use of force are necessary to restrain evil and promote good in our fallen world.

Though the witness of the early Church was largely, but not exclusively, pacifist, the Byzantine vision was of symphonia, or harmony, between God’s Kingdom and earthly realms. Hence, Christian emperors and armies fought wars and sustained a social order that sought to embody faithfulness to the Lord in all areas of life. Church and empire were to be united, in Webster’s words, “even as the divine and human natures of Christ are united in the One Person of the Incarnate Son of God.” In practice, however, that vision was never fully realized in Byzantium; human sinfulness corrupted its political and ecclesiastical leaders in many ways.

There have remained in Orthodoxy, however, indications of the ideal of peace. Monks and clergy, for example, may not bear arms and are forbidden to use deadly violence even in cases of self-defense. Canon V of St. Gregory of Nyssa “states that should a priest ‘fall into the defilement of murder even involuntarily (i.e., in self-defense), he will be deprived of the grace of the priesthood, which he will have profaned by this sacrilegious crime.'”

Those whose hands have shed blood are no longer the icons of Christ which priests are called to be, and are not suited to serve at the altar. As Webster writes in The Pacifist Option, “An Orthodox priest is supposed to be an exemplar for the Christian community, a man with a personal history free from all serious or grievous offenses including the taking of a human life for any reason.”

Even as the sacramental priesthood is a special vocation to which not all are called, the straightforward embodiment of Christlike, nonviolent love incumbent upon priests is not canonically required of all believers. In keeping with the practice of economia, the norm of nonresistant love may not be directly applicable to those whose vocations in our broken world require the defense of the innocent. These may grow in holiness by fighting as justly as possible, even as they mourn the harm done to themselves and others by their use of violence.

Whatever choices we make in our efforts to defend the innocent from attack and abuse, none are perfect. In a fallen world populated by sinful people, every Christian’s journey to the Kingdom will be marked by a measure of spiritual brokenness, and repentance is the only road to healing.

Particular countries and peoples have been so closely identified with the Orthodox faith that their defensive wars against Islamic invaders, though not Western-style crusades, have been described as “a difficult and painful defense of the Cross.” The appeal for “victory over their enemies” at the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and other instances of martial imagery in the liturgies, has at times been corrupted into a “national Messianism” in which a soldier who dies in battle is regarded as a martyr and the evil of war is forgotten.

It would be a mistake, however, to suggest that Orthodoxy has enthusiastically endorsed war. Even in cases of the defense of a Christian people from Islamic invasion, the spiritual gravity of warfare has not been forgotten. For example, St. Sergius of Radonezh in the fourteenth century gave his blessing to Grand Prince Dimitri to fight a defensive war against the Tatar Khan only after he received assurances that the prince had already exhausted every possible means of reconciliation.

Kutuzov’s strategy in response to Napoleon’s invasion was similar, abandoning Moscow to the French and merely harassing Napoleon’s forces during their withdrawal, having no other aim than to drive the invader back to the frontier.

Far from being examples of unbridled militarism, these are instances which reflect the reluctant acceptance of war at times as a necessary evil.

These notes of realism should not be allowed to obscure the Church’s insistence that “non-retribution, the avoidance of violence, the returning of good for evil … and the harmony of peoples” are a holistic “normative good which Christians must seek with God’s help,” in the words of Olivier Clément.

Fr. Stanley Harakas observes that “the Eastern Patristic tradition rarely praised war, and to my knowledge, almost never called it ‘just’ or a moral good…. The peace ideal continued to remain normative and no theoretical efforts were made to make conduct of war into a positive norm.”

The evidence for widespread pacifism in the Church is strongest before St. Constantine, when the Empire was pagan and Christians, including converts within the army, were persecuted for refusing to participate in the worship of false gods. Even after the Christianization of the Empire, with the eventual requirement that only Christians could be in the army, there remained teachers of pacifism in the Church, such as Pope St. Damasus, Prudentius, and St. Paulinus of Nola. Webster remarks that St. Paulinus, in the fifth century, was the last Church Father who explicitly addressed the moral issue of war from a pacifist perspective. From then on, pacifist sensibilities would manifest themselves in other contexts, such as the requirement of clerical and monastic nonresistance.

The contrast between the canonical requirement of pacifism for the clergy and the acceptance of military service by the laity requires further comment. Webster notes that the identification of clergy with the nonviolent norm and the allowance of participation in war on the part of the laity implies a two-tier ethic with a higher and a lower class of Christians, which could be taken to imply that the clergy are necessarily holier than the laity.

More faithful to Orthodox ecclesiology would be the affirmation that the norm now embodied by the clergy will at some future point become normative for all Orthodox. Here we are dealing with a point of eschatological tension that will be resolved in the Kingdom of Heaven, when all will be pacifists, for violence and other evils will be destroyed. In the present, as Webster writes in The Pacifist Option, the clergy are “expected to demonstrate the attainment of an advanced spiritual and moral state to which all Orthodox Christians are [ultimately] called.”

The recognition of pacifism as an ultimate norm or goal for all Christians should not be surprising. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ calls His followers to theosis, to growth in holiness and perfection in union with God. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) This teaching is the conclusion of a section focusing on the love of enemies, which is immediately preceded by the Lord’s repudiation of resistance against evil. “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (5:39)

These passages indicate that the repudiation of violence in self-defense is a sign of growth in holiness. Our Lord’s example of offering Himself on the cross for our salvation is the paradigmatic epiphany of the selfless love in which human beings are to participate as they come to share by grace in the life of the Trinity.

Fr. Philip LeMasters is professor of Religion and director of the Honors Program at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. A priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, he serves at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Abilene. This is an abridged version of a chapter in his book, The Goodness of God’s Creation (Regina Orthodox Press). The Patristic texts cited here and many others, plus essays by a number of Orthodox theologians, can be found in For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism, Hildo Bos and Jim Forest, editors, Syndesmos, 1999. The full text of the book is posted on the OPF web site: http://incommunion.org/articles/for-the-peace-from-above/first-page

Winter 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 52

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Pro-Life Resources

From the early days of Christianity, the protection of human life — from the womb to old age — has been a major priority for the Church. Safeguarding unborn children is a topic that has often been addressed in the pages of In Communion. A partial list of articles and essays on this topic follows.

Peace With My Body

by Monica Klepac

On April 20, 2006, just a few minutes past seven in the morning, I held my new- born son, Abram. As I gazed into his beautiful face, deep gratefulness welled up within for the wonderful pregnancy and childbirth I had experienced. And at that moment, I made peace with my body. I had always been healthy and had a pretty uneventful medical history until 2001 when my husband and I were expecting our first child. At about four months into the pregnancy, just when I thought I was out of the danger zone, I miscarried. It was the most emotionally devastating event either of us had gone through. For months we cried and wrestled with God about the injustice of our loss. A weight descended on us as we saw the world as a place where bad things happen, even to good people, with little or no explanation. I began to see myself and my body as defective, unable to carry a child as it was created to. I had no health problems related to the miscarriage, yet I felt scarred and broken.

In May 2002, we had the joy of finding out we were pregnant again. Our hearts were full of hope and expectation, but with that little shadow of “what if” lurking in the corner. We had learned that there were some circumstances that we could not control and we prayed daily for health and safety for this baby, but not knowing if our prayers were enough. Almost halfway through my pregnancy, I woke up one morning to severe bleeding and cramping. This was farther along than my first pregnancy, but that shadow in my mind became a beast of fear rumbling around in my every thought. The following months brought many hurdles including placenta previa, bed rest, gall stones, bells palsy and a breech presentation. But ultimately, after a c-section delivery, we met our beautiful son, Simeon, face to face.

Despite my enjoyment of being a mother, the struggles I encountered during pregnancy left me with a deep distrust in my body. I could not look at myself and say, as God did after creating man and woman, “It is very good.” I could only say, “It is good enough, I guess.” I felt there was a flaw, an error, in my form that made me unable to have a healthy, normal pregnancy. A feeling of latent hostility towards the body God had given me remained in the background. This feeling of enmity towards the human frame is reflected in the popular culture. Society has sanctioned a very narrow range of what is “good,” when it comes to the human body. To fall into that category, the body must be thin, healthy, muscular, attractive, clean, and strong. Even the smallest variation is grounds for dismissal as sub-par.

This might mean aborting a baby with an extra chromosome, or denying food or drink to a patient in a vegetative state. Frequently young women who believe their bodies are unattractive turn to eating disorders or obsessive exercise to create a body that fits into the ideal form. Athletes use drugs to achieve new heights of speed and strength. Paradoxically, even though the mass media lifts up an impossible standard of physical perfection, America has an epidemic of obesity and many other wealthy countries are following suit. It seems that whether it is through medicine or fast food, we have yet to find how to respect these fragile frames we have been given. Our relationship with our bodies is more of aggression than harmony.

My path to peace with my body is intertwined with my journey into the Orthodox Church. At the time of my first pregnancy, we had visited Orthodox churches and monasteries and were attracted to the faith, but had made no commitments.

When I miscarried, one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to go to the liturgy so I could be free to weep and pray on my knees as my heart cried out “Why?” In the midst of my grief, I knew the Church was a refuge for my wounds. Within a few months, we were chrismated and made our first steps in our walk in Orthodox faith. As they say in Romanian, “Pu in cte pu in” – bit by bit scales were lifted off my eyes to see myself and my body in truth.

Through my increased understanding of the Incarnation and learning to pray with icons, I have grown in wonder at how Almighty, Omnipotent God was manifest through this broken, vulnerable vessel we call the human body. Christ’s feet being washed, his hands breaking bread, his mouth eating fish, are all moments of intersection of the Divine with the human. And our Savior was not tainted by living in a human form, quite the opposite. His presence as a man made possible the salvation, not just of our immaterial souls, but our hairy, sweaty, wrinkled, callous- ed bodies too.

As I work among poor children and street boys, I see arms with the scars of self- mutilation. I see little children with rotten teeth. I see old people choosing between buying medication or food.

Through the window of icons, I have encountered the truth of God made man and I have been given hope that salvation means that our bodies will one day be restored and healed.

Each Sunday, we make our way up the street and around the corner to a hundred-year-old church that has survived two world wars, revolution, and numerous earthquakes. Under its massive dome, I have learned to worship with my whole body. I have never experienced a more physical form of worship than the drama of the Liturgy. Between standing, kneeling, crossing, kissing, eating, drinking, smelling, seeing and hearing, there is enough activity for even my busy three-year-old to be engaged.

The whole liturgy is a call to give every facet of my being – body, soul, mind and spirit – to God. To make one more step forward in my continuing journey of theosis and to let go one more time of all the things holding me back. As I have learned to worship with my hands, feet, knees, mouth, nose and eyes, I have seen my body in a new way. As the psalmist praises, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I have been given this beautiful body to give it back to God in worship. When I am turned toward Christ, and my whole self, including my body, is in right relationship to Him, then I hear the Creator pronounce, “It is very good.” In addition to the Incarnation, and the Divine Liturgy, I have begun to see how the ascetic life has given me peace with my body. As opposed to the never ending diet fads that punish the body for being less than perfect, the cycles of fasting and feasting embrace the good gift of food. Like the manna that fell down from heaven, food is a blessing given from our Creator to be enjoyed and celebrated and given to others. Fasting reminds us that food is not our master, but provision from the Master. As we willingly give up certain foods, and return to the diet that Adam and Eve had in the garden, we remember that original, perfect relationship between God and his Creation. I begin to see my body as Eve must have seen hers before the Fall: a beautifully created gift.

The final passage towards peace with my body was my third pregnancy, with my son Abram. As we considered having another child, I was reminded of the experiences of the past. Fear and doubt in what my body could do tried to creep in. But the lessons taught by the liturgy, icons and fasting were deeply rooted. I did not know what the journey of carrying this child would bring, but I rested in the fact that I was under God’s care. This sense of trust, no matter the outcome, gave me the security to treat my body as the wonderfully made creation it is. I listened to what my body was telling me and responded with respect. I rested when I was tired. I ate as I felt hungry. I put heat packs on my aching back. And each day, during my afternoon nap, I relaxed and thanked God for the gift of my body. I thanked him for the ability to bear a child. I looked to the Theotokos, Elisabeth, Hannah, Sarah, the great women of faith that were given the gift of children.

And, to my delight, Abram’s pregnancy was problem-free. I was shocked to go to my check ups and not be sent to a specialist or asked to perform extra blood tests. As his due date approached, I knew that this body could birth a child because God had made it for that purpose. When labor began, I found the reading and praying and reflecting I had practiced gave me a deep sense of calm. It was strong foundation for me to stand on as I let my body do the work of childbirth. The contractions brought forth not only the gift of a baby boy, but a truce between my body and me. I know that Abram’s pregnancy could have been just as difficult as my first and second, yet I believe that the grace and peace I had received would have sustained me through joy or sorrow. This journey of peace-making with my body will vary its forms through my life. Now I am in the season of child bearing and child rearing, and God has worked through the loss of a child and the gift of two children to reveal the goodness of his gift of my body. Yet, this gift is not one for me to hold onto with a clenched fist. It is one I offer with open hands in return to the Creator, to be used and used up for His Glory. One day, I will experience what Christ expressed to St. Peter “When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18).

As I have seen the baby boomer generation attempt to evade growing old by spend millions of dollars on “anti-aging” products, I have wondered what it will mean for me to live at peace with an older body. I do not know what illness or ailments may come with the years, but more than the pleasures of youthful vigor, I seek the serenity of a spirit whose security is in Christ. As I move through the seasons of life, I pray for peace, meaning the ability to rest and be led where Christ leads, knowing he is with us.

As St. Paul tells the Ephesians, “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

God has used many means to bring me to the place where I have relinquished the feelings of hostility towards my body. I have experienced a healthy, normal and natural pregnancy and birth. I have taken first steps on a path of faith in the goodness of the Creator, reflected in the beauty of the creation. I now understand that God has graciously given me this piece of his workmanship, this body, and we are at peace.

Monica Klepac and her husband, Joel, live in Galati, Romania where they work with Word Made Flesh. Besides caring for her two sons, Simeon and Abram, Monica works among young men who live on the streets and school children living in poverty. Her blog address is www.monicaklepac.blogspot.com.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

Pro-Life Resources

From the early days of Christianity, the protection of human life — from the womb to old age — has been a major priority for the Church. Safeguarding unborn children is a topic that has often been addressed in the pages of In Communion. A partial list of articles and essays on this topic follows. (For a complete listing, use the site’s search engine, inserting the word “abortion”.)

Abortion and the Early Church

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/abortion-and-the-early-church

The Sacredness of Newborn Life

http://incommunion.org/articles/conferences-lectures/the-sacredness-of-newborn-life

The Bitter Price of Choice

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/the-bitter-price-of-choice

Many Offering Death

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/many-offering-death

Treehouse: Saving Lives One by One

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-36/the-treehouse

True Free Choice

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/true-free-choice

Zoe Means Life

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/zoe-means-life

On Homicide

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/on-homicide

The Troublesome Word “Murder”

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-32/the-troublesome-word-murder

Victims and Heroes

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/victims-and-heroes

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

http://incommunion.org/articles/conferences-lectures/we-have-met-the-enemy-and-he-is-us

Changing a Society Which has De-Valued Women and De-Humanized the Unborn

http://incommunion.org/articles/resources/changing-a-society

On Abortion and Over-Population

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/on-abortion-and-over-population

Learning to Be Peacemakers

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-31/learning-to-be-peacemakers

The Other As Icon

http://incommunion.org/articles/conferences-lectures/the-other-as-icon

The Great Human Rights Issue of Our Time

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/the-great-human-rights-issue-of-our-time

On Behalf of Unborn Children

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-31/on-behalf-of-unborn-children

Cleansing By Tears

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/cleansing-by-tears

Pro-Life Resources

From the early days of Christianity, the protection of human life — from the womb to old age — has been a major priority for the Church. Safeguarding unborn children is a topic that has often been addressed in the pages of In Communion. A partial list of articles and essays on this topic follows. (For a complete listing, use the site’s search engine, inserting the word “abortion”.)

Abortion and the Early Church

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/abortion-and-the-early-church

The Sacredness of Newborn Life

http://incommunion.org/articles/conferences-lectures/the-sacredness-of-newborn-life

The Bitter Price of Choice

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/the-bitter-price-of-choice

Many Offering Death

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/many-offering-death

Treehouse: Saving Lives One by One

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-36/the-treehouse

True Free Choice

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/true-free-choice

Zoe Means Life

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/zoe-means-life

On Homicide

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/on-homicide

The Troublesome Word “Murder”

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-32/the-troublesome-word-murder

Victims and Heroes

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/victims-and-heroes

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

http://incommunion.org/articles/conferences-lectures/we-have-met-the-enemy-and-he-is-us

Changing a Society Which has De-Valued Women and De-Humanized the Unborn

http://incommunion.org/articles/resources/changing-a-society

On Abortion and Over-Population

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/on-abortion-and-over-population

Learning to Be Peacemakers

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-31/learning-to-be-peacemakers

The Other As Icon

http://incommunion.org/articles/conferences-lectures/the-other-as-icon

The Great Human Rights Issue of Our Time

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/the-great-human-rights-issue-of-our-time

On Behalf of Unborn Children

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/issue-31/on-behalf-of-unborn-children

Cleansing By Tears

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/older-issues/cleansing-by-tears