Reviewing Frank Schaeffer (author of novels such as Portofino, and non-fiction works including Keeping Faith), is challenging. His writing is so closely associated with the story-arc of his own life––a childhood within one of the inner circles of evangelical Christianity, and a journey across the faith spectrum to light in the bosom of the Orthodox Church––that it is hard to view that body of work on its own merits. One must be able to judge a book on several levels: literary merit, intellectual con-tent, style, authenticity and so forth.
Patience with God was published in 2009, after Schaeffer’s books about his son’s military service, and before his latest novel, And God said, Billy! All his books have to do, in some way, with religion, faith, and the search for God, but Patience is focused directly on that subject matter. It deals with three paths diverging in a wood, if you will: fundamentalist Christianity, atheism (especially the “New Atheism“) and an option that is contrasted with both of those poles.
The subtitle of the book is “Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).” Turned off by a politicized and intolerant Religious Right, and uncomfortable with acerbic attacks from non-religionists, many look for a third way, which retains the baby while tossing the bath water.
I was impressed with several ele-ments of this book. First is Schaeffer’s approach to the acquisition of spiritual knowledge (with which some readers may have a problem, while others will be encouraged):
“When salvation is understood as a journey, there is no pressure to make snap decisions and ‘get right with God.’ And because everyone is on the same path––even atheists––those at different stages on that path are not judged as ‘lost.’ In that sense, what many Fathers of the Church said is understandable…. The Church can only say how some people may find the path of salvation, but never who is lost…. One is freed from the illusion of certainty.”
This captures the essence of the volume: that sincere searching, of what-ever kind, is to be applauded, while zero sum standoffs about doctrine do no one any good. Does this flirt with anything-goes relativism? I think not, but readers will have to judge for themselves.
Second, judiciously chosen quotes from Soren Kierkegaard add meatiness to the narrative:
“Let others admire and extol him who claims to be able to comprehend Christianity…. I regard it then as a plain duty to admit that one neither can nor shall comprehend it.“
“One sees now how…extraordinarily stupid it is to defend Christianity…, making of Christianity a miserable something or other which in the end has to be rescued by a defense.“
“Man is offended at Christianity… because it is too high, because its goal is not man’s goal, because it would make of a man something so extraordinary that he is unable to get it into his head.”
What Schaeffer takes from this nineteenth-century Danish philosopher (often called an existentialist) is the radical jarring of our modern Christian consciousness that real progress toward spiritual achievement requires.
Third, the author draws on personal relationships, such as those with the couple who ran his boarding school in England, or with a craftsman he met there. They taught him life lessons that have served his well––about kindness, diligence, integrity, and humanity.
Fourth, Schaeffer distinguishes between the responsible and serious atheists (and believers ) with whom he picks no quarrel, and others who are, by personality and mission, antagonistic. Figures like Bertrand Russell stand out as well-meaning and serious questioners of faith, who may in the end actually strengthen its claim on our spirit. This comment of Russell on mortality could find a comfortable home in the reflec-tions of an Orthodox monk: “To aban-don the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things––this is emancipation, and this is the free man’s worship…. United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love.”
I’ll let this quote of Shaeffer’s sum up my thoughts: “The cure for hubris…is, I think, to experience God through fail-ure, beauty, tragedy, community, and love.“ The open-minded will find much to like in Schaeffer’s third way––which is The Way of Christ. IC
And throughout all Eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me.
As our dear Redeemer said:
‘This the Wine, and this the Bread.’
The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.
‘He is free because he forgives’
In the book by Kevin Andrews, The Flight of Ikaros1, there is a story that sums up the essence of forgiveness. Andrews was studying medieval fortresses in Greece. The year was 1949. He was travelling through a land devastated by the German occupation during the Second World War, and cruelly divided by the post-war struggle between Communists and anti-Communists that had only just drawn to a close. Arriving one evening in a village, he was given hospitality by the parish priest Papastavros. The priest’s house had been burnt down, and so he received his guest in the shed that was now his home.
Gradually Andrews learnt the priest’s story. His two eldest sons had joined the Resistance during the German occupation. But some villagers betrayed their hiding-place; they were captured and never seen again. About the same time, his wife died from starvation. After the Germans had left, Papastavros was living alone with one of his married daughters and her baby son. She was expecting her second child in a few weeks. One day he returned home to find his house in flames, set on fire by Communist partisans. ‘I was in time’, he recounted to Andrews, ‘to see them drag my daughter out and kill her; they shot all their bullets into her stomach. Then they killed the little boy in front of me.’
Those who did these things were not strangers coming from a distance, but they were local people. Papastavros knew exactly who they were, and he had to meet them daily. ‘I wonder how he has not gone mad,’ one of the village women remarked to Andrews. But the priest did not in fact lose his sanity. On the contrary, he spoke to the villagers about the need for forgiveness. ‘I tell them to forgive, and that there exists no other way,’ he said to Andrews. Their response, he added, was to laugh in his face. When, however, Andrews talked with the priest’s one surviving son, the latter did not laugh at his father, but spoke of him as a free man: ‘He is free because he forgives.’
Two phrases stand out in this account: ‘There exists no other way’, and ‘He is free because he forgives.’
There exists no other way. Certain human situations are so complex and intractable, so fraught with anguish, that there exists only one way out: to forgive. Retaliation makes the problem worse; as Mahatma Gandhi observed, ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.’ Solely through forgiveness can we break the chain of mutual reprisal and self-destroying bitterness. Without forgiveness, there can be no hope of a fresh start. So Papastavros found, faced by the tragedies of enemy occupation and civil war. Surely his words apply also to many other situations of conflict, not least in the Holy Land.
He is free because he forgives. In the words of the Russian Orthodox starets St Silouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938), ‘Where there is forgiveness … there is freedom.’ If only we can bring ourselves to forgive – if we can at least want to forgive – then we shall find ourselves in what the Psalms call a ‘spacious place’ or ‘a place of liberty’: ‘We went through fire and water, but Thou broughtest us out into a place of liberty’ (Psalm 66:12). Forgiveness means release from a prison in which all the doors are locked on the inside. Only through forgiveness can we enter into what St Paul terms ‘the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ (Rom. 8:21).
Yet how hard, how painfully hard, it is to forgive and to be forgiven! To quote another Russian Orthodox witness, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003), ‘Forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: it has breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea.’ ‘Do not think that you have acquired virtue,’ said the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus (346-99), ‘unless you have struggled for it to the point of shedding your blood.’ The same can be said of forgiveness. Sometimes the struggle to forgive is indeed nothing less than an inner martyrdom, to the point of shedding our blood.
Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church
How shall we set out in our exodus across the ‘Red Sea’ of forgiveness? Let us consider first the way in which the Orthodox Church offers to its members an annual opportunity to make a fresh start, on what is known as ‘The Sunday of Forgiveness’. This will lead us to look more closely at forgiveness in the Psalms and especially in the Lord’s Prayer. What, we may ask, is the meaning of the Greek verb used in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘forgive’, aphiēmi, ‘let go’? Does this mean that to forgive is to condone, or at any rate to forget? Next, taking as our guide the early Fathers, we shall see how the phrase ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’ underlines the fundamental unity of the human race. Finally, we shall try to appreciate what is signified by the word ‘as’ in the forgiveness clause of the Lord’s Prayer : ‘ … as we forgive’. Why should the scope of God’s forgiveness be seemingly restricted by my own willingness to forgive? We shall end with four practical guidelines.
The Sunday of Forgiveness occurs immediately before the seven-week Fast of Lent, the ‘Great Fast’ in preparation for the ‘Feast of Feasts’, the Lord’s Resurrection at Pascha. The human animal, it has been said, is not only an animal that thinks, an animal that laughs and weeps, but much more profoundly an animal that expresses itself through symbolic actions. With good reason, then, the Orthodox Church affords its members the chance each year to externalize their longing for forgiveness, through a liturgical rite that is both corporate and personal.
On the morning of Forgiveness Sunday, the appointed Gospel reading is Matthew 6: 14-21, beginning with Christ’s words: ‘If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ Then in the evening, at the end of Vespers, there comes a ceremony of mutual pardon. Usually the priest gives a homily, concluding with an appeal to his flock to forgive him for all his mistakes and shortcomings in the past year. Then he comes down the sanctuary steps to the floor of the nave where the people are standing; for there can be no genuinely mutual forgiveness unless I put myself on the same level as the other. Kneeling before the congregation, he says ‘Forgive me, a sinner.’ The people likewise kneel before the priest, answering ‘May God forgive you. Forgive us.’ To this the priest responds ‘God will forgive’, or ‘May God forgive and bless us all.’ After that the people come up one by one to the priest, and each kneels before him, as he in turn kneels before each of them; and they exchange the same words, ‘Forgive me …. God will forgive.’ Then, having first knelt before the priest, the members of the congregation go round the church kneeling before one another, each asking and granting pardon. All this, for obvious reasons, is easier to carry out if, as in traditional Orthodox practice, the church is not cluttered up with pews.
There is of course a danger that a ceremony such as this may become over-emotional, in which case the results will probably prove ephemeral. Forgiveness, after all, is not a feeling but an action. It involves not primarily our emotions but our will. It is a decision, which then requires to be given practical effect. There is also the opposite danger that some worshippers, growing accustomed to this ceremony year by year, will go through it in a manner that is merely formal and automatic. Ritual can all too easily become ossified.
Nevertheless, when full allowance has been made for the dangers of emotionalism and formalism, it remains true that for very many Orthodox Christians this annual service of mutual pardon is deeply healing. On the basis of my personal experience, after more than forty years of pastoral work in a parish, I can testify that again and again it has a transfiguring effect upon relationships within the local church family. It is an occasion that many of our people approach with the utmost seriousness. Let us not underestimate the power of ritual. Even if there are times when it becomes ossified, on other occasions it can and does act as a potent catalyst, enabling us to give expression to what would otherwise remain unacknowledged and repressed. Those too hesitant or embarrassed to call at one another’s homes and embark on a lengthy verbal explanation can make a new beginning within the framework of shared prayer. The Vespers of Forgiveness serves in this way as a genuine breakthrough, the sudden vision of a fresh landscape.
The burden of unhappy memories means, not surprisingly, that the Vespers of Forgiveness is somewhat subdued and sombre. We cry out in sorrow: ‘Turn not away Thy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble; hear me speedily: hearken unto my soul and deliver it.’ Yet, along with sorrow, there is also a note of glad expectation. ‘Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast,’ we sing in one of the hymns; and a little later we add, ‘Thy grace has shone forth and given light to our souls.’ As the mutual pardon is being exchanged between priest and people, in many churches the choir sings the Resurrection hymns that will be used seven weeks later at Paschal midnight: to forgive is to rise again from the dead. St John Climacus, abbot of Mount Sinai in the seventh-century – whose book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is specially appointed for reading in Lent – has a phrase that exactly describes the spirit of the Vespers of Forgiveness: charopoion penthos, ‘mourning that causes gladness’ or ‘joy-creating sorrow’.
Sometimes people have told me that they find the phrase commonly used at the service, ‘Forgive me … God will forgive’, to be problematic and even evasive. Surely, they object, when someone asks for forgiveness, it is not enough for us to assure them that they are forgiven by God, for they already know that; what is required is that we should forgive them. This, however, is to overlook an essential point. Forgiveness is first and foremost a divine act: ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (Mark 2:7). If, then, I am to forgive someone else, and the other person is to forgive me, in the last resort this is possible only in so far as we are both of us in God. More specifically, we are able to forgive each other solely because we are both of us already forgiven by God. Our forgiveness is rooted in His, and is impossible without it: ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).
Since, therefore, forgiveness is not primarily our human action but a divine action in which we humans participate, it is vitally important that in the process of mutual forgiveness we should allow space for God to operate. At the beginning of the Eucharistic service in the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to the priest, ‘It is time for the Lord to act’ (see Psalm 119:126), thereby affirming that the true celebrant at the Holy Mysteries is not the priest but Christ Himself. The phrase applies equally to our mutual forgiveness: here, too, it needs to be said, ‘It is time for the Lord to act.’ Our attempts at reconciliation often fail, precisely because we rely too much upon ourselves, and do not leave proper scope for the action of the Lord. With St. Paul we need to say, ‘not I, but Christ in me’ (Gal. 2:20). Such, then, is the spirit in which we reply at the Vespers of Forgiveness, ‘God will forgive.’
Forgiveness in the Psalms
In order to deepen our appreciation of the mystery of forgiveness, let us turn both to the Old Testament and to the New; and let us consider how forgiveness is understood first in the Psalms and then in the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the central place that the Psalms have occupied in the liturgical life of the Church, in both the East and the West, the testimony that they bear to the meaning of forgiveness is particularly significant.
First of all the Psalms contain a number of striking passages in which the worshipper pleads to God for forgiveness. The best known and most eloquent of these pleas is Psalm 51, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness’, which is recited no less than four times daily in the Byzantine Divine Office, at the Midnight Service, Matins, the Third Hour and Compline. Another such plea is Psalm 130, ‘Out of the deep …’:
If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could abide it? (verse 4).
The same urgent cry for forgiveness recurs in many other Psalms:
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord,
Be merciful to my sin, for it is great (Psalm 25:10).
Deliver me from all mine offences …
Take Thy plague away from me (Psalm 39: 9, 11).
I said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me:
Heal me, for I have sinned against Thee’ (Psalm 41:4).
O remember not our past sins, but have mercy upon us, and that soon:
For we are come to great misery (Psalm 79:8).
In these and similar passages of the Psalms, it is made abundantly clear how greatly we need the healing grace of divine forgiveness. Without God’s mercy we are helpless. It is also made clear that we have no claims upon God. Helpless as we are, we can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s mercy, nothing to oblige or constrain Him to forgive us. We can do no more than wait in patience and humility for His free gift of pardon. ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait for Him … A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise’ (Psalms 130:5; 51:17).
In the second place, the Psalms repeatedly insist these pleas for divine forgiveness do not remain unheard. The Lord is a God of loving-kindness and tender love, ever eager to show mercy and grant healing. This is the theme in particular of Psalm 103, used daily at Matins in the Orthodox Church, and also regularly in the Divine Liturgy:
Praise the Lord, O my soul:
And all that is within me praise His holy name …
Who forgiveth all thy sin:
And healeth all thine infirmities …
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:
Long-suffering and of great goodness …
Like as a father hath compassion upon his children,
So hath the Lord compassion upon them that fear Him (verses 1, 3, 8, 13).
In a memorable phrase, it is said that God ‘covers’ our sin:
Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven:
Even he whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).
Elsewhere it is said that our sins are ‘blotted out’:
To Thee shall all flesh come to confess their sins:
When our misdeeds prevail against us, in Thy mercy do Thou blot them out (Psalm 65:2).
A leitmotif in the ‘historical’ Psalms is the way in which, again and again in the story of salvation, the people of Israel has gone astray, and yet God in His faithful love has forgiven them (Psalms 78:38; 106: 43-44; 107: 13-16; cf. 85: 1-3). God, it is said elsewhere, is like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep (cf. Matt. 18:12; Luke 15:4):
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost:
O seek thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments (Psalm 119:176).
Yet we are not presumptuously to take God’s forgiveness for granted, for His mercy goes hand in hand with His justice (cf. Romans 11:22):
My song shall be of mercy and justice (Psalm 101:1).
Thirdly, if we are in this way forgiven by God, then we in our turn are called to extend forgiveness to our fellow humans. This is not in fact affirmed in the Psalms very clearly or very frequently, but there are occasions in which it is at least implied, in the context of money-lending:
The ungodly borroweth and payeth not again:
But the righteous giveth and is bountiful …
The righteous is ever bountiful and lendeth:
And his children shall be blessed (Psalm 31:21, 26).
It is good for a man to be generous when he lendeth (Psalm 112:5).
This can perhaps be enlarged to include not only generosity over debts but other forms of remission and forgiveness. At the same time a restriction has to be noted. We cannot grant forgiveness on behalf of others, in regard to offences that have been committed not against us but against them:
But no man may deliver his brother:
Nor pay a price unto God for him (Psalm 49:7).
Sadly, however, it has to be noted that there are grave limitations in the Psalms concerning the scope of forgiveness. If, as we have seen, there are only a few places where it is suggested that we should forgive others, there are unfortunately many other passages in which the Psalmist curses his enemies and prays for their destruction. God is invoked as a God of vengeance (Psalms 54:1; 94:1). We are to hate our enemies with a ‘perfect hatred’ (Psalm 139:22). Particularly cruel is the punishment called down upon the daughter of Babylon:
Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children:
And throweth them against the stones (Psalm 137:9).
Most notably, Psalm 109 contains an imprecation daunting its cruelty:
Let his days be few:
And let another seize his possessions.
Let his children be fatherless:
And his wife become a widow.
Let his children be vagabonds and beg their bread:
Let them be driven out even from their desolate places …
Let there be no man to pity him:
Or to have compassion upon his fatherless children (verses 7-9, 11).
Such a passage does not stand alone: compare, for example, Psalms 83: 9-17, 129: 5-8, and 140: 8-10. I have noted altogether over thirty passages in the Psalms asking God to inflict pain and suffering upon others, and this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. It is of course possible to explain away such passages by interpreting them symbolically, as referring not to our fellow human beings but to our evil thoughts or to the demons. But such was not their original intention
‘… seventy times seven …’
When we turn, however, from the Old Testament to the New, we are at once impressed by a manifest and remarkable contrast. Nowhere in the Gospels does Christ instruct us to hate our enemies: He tells us, on the contrary, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt. 5: 44). The law of retaliation is firmly abrogated: we are not to ‘resist an evildoer’, but to ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matt. 5:39). There are to be no limits to our forgiveness: we are to forgive our brother ‘seven times a day’ (Luke 17:4); and not only that, but ‘seventy times seven’ (Matt.18:22). We do not find such statements in the Psalms. Nor, indeed, do we find in the Psalms the statement that occupies such a prominent place in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ (Matt. 6:12). The Lord’s Prayer is comprehensive but extremely concise: if, then, in such a short prayer, nearly a quarter – no less than 13 words in the Greek text, out of 57 (or 58) 0 – is devoted to the theme of forgiveness, this shows how crucially important it is in God’s sight that we should forgive and be forgiven.
Such, certainly, is the view of Origen (d. 253/4): if Christ, he says, places such strong emphasis upon forgiveness in the model prayer that He has given us, this is because there cannot be any true prayer at all unless it is offered in a forgiving spirit.11 St Gregory of Nyssa (d.ca. 394) goes so far as to claim that the clause ‘Forgive us .. as we forgive” is the culminating point in the entire prayer; it constitutes ‘the very peak of virtue’.12 He adds, however, that – fundamental though the clause is – its true sense is not at all easy to grasp: ‘The meaning surpasses any interpretation in words.’13
A valuable insight into the significance of forgiveness is provided by the literal sense of the verb used in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘forgive’, aphiēmi. The primary idea conveyed by this word is ‘let go’, ‘set aside’, ‘leave behind’. It denotes such things as release from captivity, the cancellation of a debt, or the remission of punishment. The unforgiving grasp, retain, and hold fast; the forgiving let go. Yet, if we ‘let go’ the memory of an offence, does this not suggest that we are condoning the evil that has been done? That, surely, cannot be the correct meaning of forgiveness. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ‘Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what has happened seriously and not minimizing it.’14 To condone an evil is to pass over it, to ignore it, or else it is to pretend that it is not an evil, to treat it as if it were good. But to forgive is something altogether different from this. There can be no genuine forgiveness that is not truthful and realistic. Let us not practise any evasion. If an evil has been done, then this has to be frankly admitted.
Moreover, if the process of forgiveness is to be brought to full completion, the evil has to be frankly admitted by both sides, by the aggressor as well as the victim. It is true that, when we suffer wrong, we should endeavour to forgive the other immediately, without any delay, not waiting for the other to acknowledge the wrong. It was precisely in this spirit that Jesus prayed at His crucifixion, ‘Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:24). If, however, the forgiveness is to come to proper interpersonal fulfilment, more than this is required. Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered; and the one who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.
If forgiveness, in the sense of ‘letting go’, is not the same as condoning, should we say that to forgive is to forget? Shall we make our own King Lear’s words, ‘Pray you now, forget and forgive’? The answer seems to be both yes and no. It all depends on what we remember (or forget) and on how we do so. Certainly there is no point in clinging to the memory of trivial misunderstandings and injuries. We should rather allow them to slip quietly away into oblivion, for we have better things with which to occupy our minds. There are, however, events in our personal lives, and in the lives of the communities to which we belong, that are far too important simply to be forgotten. It would not be right to say to the members of the Armenian nation, ‘Forget the massacres of 1915′, or to the Jewish people, ‘Forget the Shoah in the Second World War.’ These are matters that, for the sake of our shared humanity, none of us should forget, not least so as to ensure that such atrocities may never be allowed to happen again.
More decisive than what we remember is how we do so. We are not to remember in a spirit of hatred and recrimination, or for the sake of revenge. Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, has rightly said: ‘Remember the past … but do not be held captive by it. Turn it into a blessing, not a curse; a source of hope, not humiliation.’15 Our memories are not to be repressed or negated, but at the same time they require to be purified and healed. We need to remember, yet not self-righteously, not with aggressive accusations, but in a spirit of compunction and mourning. We need to remember with love. But that is difficult.
Forgiveness, it can even be said, begins not with an act of forgetfulness, but with an act of mindfulness and self-knowledge. We have to recognize the harm that has been done, the wound that we or the other carry in our heart. Only after this moment of truthful recognition can we then begin to ‘let go’, not in the sense of consigning to oblivion, but in the sense of no longer being held prisoner by the memory. Remember, but be free.
Responsible for everyone and everything
In the Patristic interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, a dominant theme is the unity of the human race. The early Fathers are in full agreement with the words of Julian of Norwich (fourteenth century), ‘In the sight of God, all man is one man, and one man is all man.’16 They agree equally with John Donne (1571/2-1631), ‘No man is an Island, entire of it self.’17 Our need to forgive and to be forgiven springs directly from the fact that we are all of us interdependent, members of a single human family. Indeed, this insistence upon coinherence is to be seen, not only in the clause ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, but in the Lord’s Prayer as a whole. St Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) notes how the prepositions in the Prayer are consistently in the plural, not the singular – not ‘my’ but ‘our’, not ‘me’ but ‘us':
We do not say ‘My Father who art in heaven’, or ‘Give me this day my bread’, nor does each one ask that only his own debt be remitted, nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation or may be delivered from the evil one. Prayer with us is public and common, and when we pray we do not pray for one but for the whole people, because the whole people are one.18
This perception of our human unity, in Cyprian’s view, has its foundation in the Christian doctrine of God. We believe in God the Trinity, who is not only one but one-in-three, not only personal but interpersonal; we believe in the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so we human beings are saved, not in isolation, but in communion one with another.19
This unity that marks us out as human persons, while underlined throughout the Lord’s Prayer, is particularly evident in the clause concerning forgiveness. In the words of Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 – ca. 215), when we say ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, we are proclaiming that ‘all humankind is the work of one Will’.20 This is a point emphasized by St Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662) in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. Unity and mutual love, he says, constitute ‘the principle (logos) of nature’, according to which we human beings have been created. When, therefore, we pray for forgiveness, we are bringing our human will into harmony with the logos of our nature. Conversely, to withhold forgiveness is to ‘sunder human nature by separating ourselves from our fellow humans, even though we are ourselves human’. Our refusal to live in union with each other through mutual forgiveness is therefore self-destructive: ‘Failing such union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s divine and ineffable gift of Himself.’21
St Gregory of Nyssa likewise sees the refusal of forgiveness as self-destructive: ‘In condemning your neighbour, you thereby condemn yourself.’22 Giving a wide-ranging application to the notion of human unity, Gregory maintains that it extends through time as well as space. When saying ‘Forgive us’ in the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking forgiveness not only for our own personal sins but also for ‘the debts that are common to our nature, and more particularly for the ancestral sin23 that the whole human race inherits from Adam. Even if we keep ourselves free from personal sins – in fact, as Gregory comments, none of us can claim this of ourselves, even for an hour – we would still need to say ‘Forgive us’ on behalf of Adam:
Adam lives in us … and so we do well to make use of these words Forgive us our trespasses. Even if we were Moses or Samuel or someone else of pre-eminent virtue, we would none the less regard these words as appropriate to ourselves, since we are human; we share in Adam’s nature and therefore share also in his fall. Since, then, as the Apostle says, ‘we all die in Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:22), these words that suitably express Adam’s penitence are likewise appropriate for all those who have died with him.24
A similar line of thought is found in St Mark the Monk (? early fifth century). In his opinion, we are called to repent not only ‘for our own sin’ but also ‘for the sin of transgression’, that is to say, for the ancestral sin of Adam. Repentance is vicarious:
The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbour, for without active love they cannot be made perfect … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.25
Even though there is no explicit reference here to the Lord’s Prayer, Mark’s line of argument can surely be applied likewise to the petition ‘Forgive us … as we forgive.’ If we can repent for the sins of others, then we can and should also ask forgiveness on their behalf. The principle of mutual solidarity applies equally in both cases: ‘we are each of us assisted by one another’. No one is forgiven and saved in isolation.
These statements by Gregory of Nyssa and by Mark the Monk fall far short of a fully developed theology of original guilt, such as we find in St Augustine (354-430). Mark specifically excludes the view that, in a juridical sense, we are guilty of Adam’s sin, considered as an act of personal choice.26 Yet, on a level more profound than legal culpability, there exists a mystical solidarity that unites us all one to another; and it is of this that Gregory and Mark are speaking. ‘All man is one man’, and so we are each of us ‘responsible for everything and everyone’, to use the phrase of Dostoevsky’s Starets Zosima.27 Even if not personally guilty, nevertheless we bear the burden of what Adam and all the other members of the human family have done. They live in us, and we in them. Here as always the vital word is ‘we’, not ‘I’. None of us falls alone, for we drag each other down; and none of us is forgiven and saved alone. Forgiveness is not solitary but social.
How far can the notion of vicarious forgiveness be legitimately extended? Can I forgive or accept forgiveness on behalf of others? So far as asking forgiveness is concerned, it is surely reasonable to request forgiveness on behalf of others, when those others are joined to me in some way, for example by kinship, nationhood, or religious allegiance. If, tracing back our ancestry, we become aware that our family tree is tainted with unresolved tensions and alienation, we can and should pray for the forgiveness and healing of our forebears. By the same token, the descendant of a slave-trader might rightly feel impelled to ask forgiveness in his heart – and perhaps by some external gesture as well – from the families of those whom his ancestor took captive and sold into bondage. Pope John Paul II acted as a true Christian when, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome in June 2004, he asked the Patriarch’s forgiveness for the sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders eight hundred years previously.28 How I long for an Orthodox church leader to ask forgiveness in the same way from the Catholics, for the many evils that we Orthodox have inflicted upon them! And all of us, Orthodox and Catholics alike, have to seek forgiveness from the Jews, God’s Chosen People, for the heavy sins that, over the centuries, we have committed against them.
Have we the right, however, not only to ask forgiveness on behalf of others, but also to offer it on their behalf? Here there is reason for us to be much more hesitant. For myself, I agree with the late Rabbi Albert Friedlander – and with Psalm 49:9 – that one cannot forgive offences that have not been committed against oneself. It would be inappropriate, and indeed presumptuous, for me as a non-Jew to claim authority to forgive the suffering inflicted upon the Jews during the Shoah in the Second World War. It is not for me but for the Jews themselves to decide how those sufferings should be remembered, and how and when they should be forgiven. In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, ‘… as we forgive those who have trespassed against others’, but ‘… as we forgive those who have trespassed against us’.
Issuing an order to God
What light do the Fathers shed upon the central word in the forgiveness petition – indeed, the most puzzling word in the whole of the Lord’s Prayer – the word ‘as': ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’? ‘No word in English’, states Charles Williams, ‘carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word “as” in that clause; it is the measuring rod of the heavenly City, and the knot of the new union. But also it is the key of hell and the knife that cuts the knot of union.’29 Truly it is a hazardous prayer. We dare to apply to ourselves with unmitigated rigour the principle laid down by Christ. ‘The measure you give will be the measure you get’ (Matt. 7:2). ‘What you do,’ warned St Cyprian, ‘that you will also yourself suffer.’30 As St John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) put it, ‘We ourselves have control over the judgement that is to be passed upon us.’31
Not only is it a hazardous request to God, but it is also a very strange one. It is as if we were issuing an order to God and instructing Him how to act. ‘If I do not forgive others,’ we are saying to Him, ‘then do You withhold forgiveness from me.’ Nowhere else in the Lord’s Prayer do we issue orders in this way. St Gregory of Nyssa attempts to spell out the paradox in terms of what may be called ‘mimetic inversion’. Under normal circumstances, he observes, it is we who are called to imitate God; as St Paul said, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1). This is particularly the case when we forgive others. Since in the last resort it is God alone who has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:7), it is only possible for us to forgive others if we imitate God. We cannot genuinely forgive, that is to say, unless we have been taken up into God and have ourselves ‘in some sense become God’, to use Gregory’s phrase. The one who forgives needs to be ‘deified’ or ‘divinized'; there can be no effective forgiveness without theosis.32 That is the normal pattern. But here, in the case of the Lord’s Prayer – and Gregory admits that this is a ‘bold thing’ to say33 – the customary order is reversed. On this occasion, it is we who serve as an example to God. Instead of ourselves imitating Him, we are telling Him to imitate us: ‘What I have done, do You do likewise; imitate Your servant, O Lord …. I have forgiven; do You forgive. I have shown great mercy to my neighbour; imitate my loving-kindness, You who are by nature loving-kind.’34
Yet, in this clause ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, precisely how strong a sense should be attached to the conjunction ‘as’? Should it be understood as causative, proportionate or conditional?
(1) Is the sense causative? In that case, we are saying to God, ‘Forgive us because we forgive'; our forgiveness is the cause of His. This is indeed the way in which some Patristic authors interpreted the phrase. Clement of Alexandria even suggested that, by forgiving others, we somehow compel God to forgive us.35 Yet a causative interpretation of this kind surely presents grave difficulties. As Calvin has rightly insisted, forgiveness comes from the ‘free mercy’ of God.36 It is an unmerited gift of divine grace, conferred solely through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection; it is never something that we can earn or deserve. God acts with sovereign liberty, and we have no claims upon Him. As Paul affirmed, quoting the Pentateuch: ‘For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:15-16; cf. Exod. 33:19). This is rendered abundantly clear in Christ’s parable concerning the labourers in the vineyard: to those who complain about their wages, the master replies, ‘Have I not the right to do as I choose with what is my own?’ (Matt. 20:15). Moreover, the initiative rests with God and not with us. He does not wait for us to forgive others before He extends His forgiveness to us. On the contrary, His act of free and unrestricted forgiveness precedes any act of forgiveness on our part: ‘God proves His love for us, in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8).
(2) If the word ‘as’ cannot be causative, is it proportionate? Does it signify ‘to the same degree’, ‘according to the same measure’? Once more, this can hardly be the true sense. Between our forgiveness and God’s there can be no common measure. He forgives with a fullness and generosity far beyond our wildest imagining: ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord’ (Isa. 55:8). The transcendent and incomparable character of divine forgiveness is underlined in another Matthaean parable, that of the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). In relation to God, we are like the slave who owed ten thousand talents (a talent being equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages received by a labourer), whereas in relation to each other we are like the slave who owed a hundred denarii (a denarius being the usual day’s wage for a labourer). Even St Gregory of Nyssa, after suggesting that in His act of forgiveness God is imitating us, at once goes on to qualify this by asserting that our sins against God are immeasurably heavier than any sins by others against us.37 Later he refers for confirmation precisely to the parable of the two debtors.38
(3) If, then, our forgiveness is neither the cause nor the measure of God’s forgiveness, what further alternative remains? There exists a third possibility: it is the condition. Forgiveness is indeed unmerited, but it is not unconditional. God for His part is always overwhelmingly eager to forgive. This divine eagerness is movingly expressed in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15 : 11-32), which is read at the Orthodox Liturgy on the Sunday two weeks before the Sunday of Forgiveness. The father does not simply sit and wait passively for his son to return home. We are to imagine him standing day after day outside his house, anxiously scanning the horizon in the forlorn hope that at long last he may catch sight of a familiar figure. Then, as soon as the prodigal comes into view, while he is still far off, the father rushes out to meet his son, embracing and kissing him, and inviting him into the feast. Such is God’s great willingness to forgive us and to welcome us home. Later in the story the father again goes out, this time in the hope of persuading his elder son to come and share the feast. This double going out on the part of the loving father is of primary significance if we are to appreciate the quality of divine mercy.
Yes, indeed, God is always eager to forgive – far more so than we are to repent. In the words of St Isaac the Syrian (seventh century), ‘There exists in Him a single love and compassion that is spread out over all creation, a love that is without alteration, timeless and everlasting.’39 Calling to mind Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane and His death on the Cross, we ask ourselves: What more could God incarnate have done to win us back to Himself, that He has not done? Forgiveness, however, has not only to be offered but to be accepted. God knocks at the door of the human heart (Rev. 3:20), but He does not break the door down: we for our part have to open it.
Here precisely we find the true meaning of the word ‘as’ in the Lord’s Prayer. It is not that God is unwilling to forgive us. But if, despite God’s unfailing eagerness to forgive, we on our side harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness to others, then quite simply we render ourselves incapable of receiving the divine forgiveness. Closing our hearts to others, we close them also to God; rejecting others, we reject Him. If we are unforgiving, then by our own act we place ourselves outside the interchange of healing love. God does not exclude us; it is we who exclude ourselves.
Our forgiveness of others, then, is not the cause of God’s forgiveness towards us, but it is certainly the condition without which God’s forgiveness cannot pass within us. Divine pardon is indeed a free gift that we can never earn. What concerns us here, however, is not merit but capacity. Our relation to God and our relation to our fellow humans are strictly interdependent. As St Silouan of Mount Athos affirmed, ‘Our brother is our life.’40 This is true not in a sentimental but in an ontological sense. Love for God and love for neighbour are not two loves but one.
‘Forgive us … as we forgive': when we say these words, so Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has rightly cautioned us, ‘we take our salvation into our own hands’.41
Four words of counsel
As we begin to cross the Red Sea of forgiveness, let us remind ourselves of certain practical guidelines.
(1) Do not delay, but do not be in haste. Do not delay: the time for forgiveness is always now. Maximize the moment. The devil’s weapons are nostalgia and procrastination: he tells us ‘Too late’ or ‘Too soon’. But, where the devil says ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Tomorrow’, the Holy Spirit says ‘Today’.
We are not to think within ourselves, ‘First, I will change for the better; then I will be ready to forgive.’ Still less are we to think (what is far worse), ‘First, I will wait to see whether the other is really sorry for the wrong that he has done, and whether he has really changed for the better; then I will decide whether to forgive him.’ Let us, on the contrary, be like the loving father in the story of the prodigal. Let us take the initiative, and run out to meet the other. Forgiveness has to come first; it is the cause of the change in ourselves and in others, not the effect. To adapt a phrase of the Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr Dumitru Staniloae (1903-93), ‘In so far as I am not forgiven, I am unintelligible to myself.’42
Yet there is another side to the question. Forgive now, in your heart; but in your outward actions do not be overhasty. Forgiveness signifies healing, and healing often takes time. Premature requests for forgiveness can make the situation worse. If we force ourselves upon the other, without first seeking through imaginative empathy to discover what the other is thinking and feeling, we may widen rather than bridge the gulf that separates us. Without putting things off, often we need to pause – not with passive indifference but waiting with alertness upon God – until the kairos, the moment of opportunity, has become clear. The Emperor Augustus was right: Festina lente.43
(2) Forgive the other, but also be willing to accept the forgiveness that the other is offering to us. It is hard to forgive; but often it is even harder to acknowledge that we ourselves need to be forgiven. Let us be humble enough to accept the gift of another’s pardon. As Charles Williams wisely observed, ‘Many reconciliations have unfortunately broken down because both parties have come prepared to forgive and unprepared to be forgiven.’44
(3) Forgive others, but also forgive yourself. Have we not sometimes said, or heard others say, ‘I will never forgive myself for that’? Yet how can we accept forgiveness from others, if we will not forgive ourselves? In the words once more of Charles Williams, by remaining in this state of ‘half-anger, half-anguish’, we each create for ourselves ‘a separate hell’.45 Judas regretted what he had done, but in his case self-knowledge brought him not to fresh hope but to despair; unable to accept God’s forgiveness, and therefore unable to forgive himself, he went out and committed suicide (Matt. 27: 3-5). Peter on the other hand took a different path. Brought to self-knowledge by the crowing of the cock, he wept bitter tears of remorse; yet this remorse did not reduce him to despair. On the contrary, seeing the risen Christ at the lakeside, he did not turn away from Him into a ‘separate hell’, but drew near with hope. Accepting Christ’s forgiveness, forgiving himself, he made a new beginning (Matt. 26:75; John 21:15-19).
(4) Pray. If we cannot yet find within our heart the possibility of forgiving the other, then let us at least pray for them. In the words of St Silouan, ‘If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you.’46 Let us ask God that we may not make the other’s burden more heavy, that we may not be to them a scandal and a cause of stumbling. And if, as we pray, we cannot yet bring ourselves to the point of actually forgiving, then let us ask God that we may experience at least the desire and longing to forgive. There are situations in which truly to want something is already to attain it. Like the man who brought his sick child to Christ and cried out, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mark 9 : 24), let us also cry out with tears: ‘Lord, I forgive; help my unforgivingness.’ Slowly, gradually, there will come at last the moment when we are able to remember with love.
By invoking God’s help in prayer and by admitting our own helplessness, we are reminded of the all-important truth that forgiveness is a divine prerogative. It is not simply our action, but the action of God in us. To forgive, in a full and genuine sense, we need to be ‘in God’. ‘It is God who has shone in our hearts … the all-surpassing power is from Him and not from us’ (2 Cor. 4 : 6-7). This ‘all-surpassing power’ of God is communicated to us above all through the ‘mysteries’ or sacraments of the Church; and, in the Patristic interpretation of ‘Our Father’, at least two of these ‘mysteries’ are mentioned implicitly in the course of the Prayer. When we say, ‘Give us today our daily bread’, we are to think not of material bread alone but of the ‘bread from heaven’, the Eucharist. Then, in the petition that follows, ‘Forgive us … as we forgive’, we are to recall the forgiveness of sins that we have received in Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Prayer, according to St Augustine, is in this way a continual renewal of Baptism: reciting the words that Christ has given us, ‘daily we are washed clean’.47 Our forgiveness, then, does not depend merely upon our feelings, or upon the decision of our will. It has an objective basis, in the sacrament of our baptismal washing.
After Orthodox Christians have knelt before each other at the Vespers of Forgiveness, asking and granting pardon, what do they do on the next day, the first day of Lent, known as ‘Clean Monday’ (Kathara Devtera)? In many places it is still the custom to go out on the hills and have a picnic; and on this, the first open-air festival of the year, both children and grown-ups fly kites in the spring breeze. Such can also be our inner experience when we begin to forgive one another. To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. It is to emerge from gloom into the sunlight, from self-imprisonment into the liberty of the open air. It is to ascend the hills, to let the wind blow on our faces, and to fly noetic kites, the kites of imagination, hope and joy.
As his son said of the priest Papastavros, ‘He is free because he forgives.’
1 Kevin Andrews, The Flight of Ikaros: A Journey into Greece (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1959), pp. 109-19.
2 I take this sentence from a pamphlet entitled The F Word: Images of Forgiveness (no place, no date).
3 Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: The Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1991), p. 341.
4 Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966), p. 31. See also his perceptive words about forgiveness in Meditations on a Theme (London/Oxford: Mowbrays, 1972), pp. 104-8.
5 On prayer 136; tr. Robert E. Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus : the Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford: OUP, 2003), p. 207 (translation modified).
6 For the liturgical texts used on the Sunday of Forgiveness, see The Lenten Triodion, tr. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (London/Boston: Faber & Faber, 1978), pp. 168-83, especially p. 183. Most of the hymnology for the day in fact alludes, not to mutual forgiveness, but to the other main theme of the Sunday, the Casting out of Adam from Paradise.
7 The details of the ceremony vary in different places. A simpler form of mutual pardon is used daily at the end of Compline: see Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, tr. Isabel Florence Hapgood, 2nd. edtn (New York: Association Press, 1922), p. 162; The Liturgikon: The Book of Divine Services for the Priest and the Deacon, ed. The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, 2nd edtn. (Englewood, NJ: Antakya Press, 1994), pp. 67, 98.
8 Not that there is anything wrong with the emotions as such, for they are an integral part of our human personhood according to the divine image, and so they can and should be offered up to God in our ‘reasonable worship’ (Rom. 12:1). I am thinking here, however, of a febrile emotionalism that is artificial and exaggerated.
9 The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7, title (PG 88: 801C), tr. Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (London: Faber & Faber, 1959), p. 113.
10 The Greek text, as used liturgically, in the Orthodox Church, contains 58 words; in critical editions of the New Testament there is one word less, as the definite article is omitted before gēs (‘earth’).
11 On prayer 8:1, 9:1, ed. P. Koetschan, GCS (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1899), p. 317; tr. Rowan A. Greer, The Classics of Western Christianity (New York/Ramsey/Toronto: Panlist Press, 1979), pp. 97,98. On the Patristic use of the Lord’s Prayer, see the systematic study, with detailed bibliography, by Kenneth W. Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer : A Text in Tradition (London: SCM, 2004), to which I am much indebted.
12 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. J.F. Callahan, Gregorii Nysseni Opera VII/2 (Leiden/New York/Köln, 1992) p. 59, line 1; tr. Hilda C. Graef, Ancient Christian Writers 18 (New York: Newman Press, 1954), p. 71.
13 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 10-11; tr. Graef, p.73. Here (and elsewhere) I have modified Dr Graef’s translation.
14 Quoted in the pamphlet The F Word : Images of Forgiveness.
15 The Times (London), 17 July 2004, p. 47.
16 Quoted by Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins (London : Geoffrey Bles, 1942), p. 16. This brief study, written in the middle of the Second World War, remains one of the most helpful treatments on the subject.
17 Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (London: Thomas Jones, 1624), Meditation XVII.
18 On the Lord’s Prayer 8, ed. C. Moreschini, Corpus Christianorum III/A, Pars II (Turnhout: Brepols, 1976), lines 103-18; cited in Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 33.
19 On the Lord’s Prayer 23, ed. Moreschini, lines 447-9.
20 Stromateis 7:81:2, ed. O. Stählin and L. Früchtel, GCS (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1970), p.58; tr. F.J.A. Hort and J.B. Mayor, Clement of Alexandria : Miscellanies Book VII (London: Macmillan, 1902), p. 141.
21 On the Lord’s Prayer, ed. Peter van Deun, Corpus Christianorum 23 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), lines 662-8; tr. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 2 (London/Boston: Faber & Faber, 1981), p. 301 (translation adapted).
22 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 5-6; cf. p. 69:24; tr. Graef, pp. 73, 80.
23 The Greek Fathers, and also most present-day Orthodox writers, speak not of ‘original sin’ but of ‘ancestral sin’ (propatorikē hamartia). There is a subtle difference in meaning between the two terms.
24 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, pp. 64:23; 65:2; 66:7-15; tr. Graef, pp. 76,77.
25 On repentance 12 and 11, ed. G.-M. de Durand, Sources chrétiennes 445 (Paris: Cerf, 1999), pp. 252, 250.
26 On baptism 17, ed. de Durand, op. cit., p. 392.
27 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage Classics, 1991), p. 320.
28 Service Orthodoxe de Presse et d’Information (SOP) 290 (July-August 2004), pp. 1-3.
29 The Forgiveness of Sins, p. 66.
30 On the Lord’s Prayer 23, ed. Moreschini, lines 440-1.
31 On Matthew, homily 19:6 (PG 57: 281).
32 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, pp. 59:1-11; 60 : 15-16; 61 : 15-17; tr. Graef, pp. 71, 72, 73.
33 op. cit., ed. Callahan, pp. 61 : 13-14; tr. Graef, p. 73.
34 op. cit., ed. Callahan, p. 61 : 23-24; 62 : 7-9; tr. Graef, pp. 73, 74.
35 Stromateis 7 : 86 : 6, ed. Stählin and Früchtel, p. 62; tr. Hort and Mayor, p. 153.
36 Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 165.
37 On the Lord’s Prayer, homily 5, ed. Callahan, p. 62 : 9-11; tr. Graef, p. 74.
38 op. cit., ed. Callahan, pp. 69 : 26; 70 : 12; tr. Graef, pp. 80-81. The parable is quoted to the same effect by other early Christian writers, such as Tertullian (ca. 160- ca. 225), On the Prayer 7, ed. and tr. E. Evans (London: SPCK, 1953), pp. 12-13; Origen, On prayer 28 : 7, ed. Koetschau, p. 379; tr. Greer, p. 150.
39 Isaac of Nineveh (Isaac the Syrian), ‘The Second Part’, Chapters IV – XLI, tr. Sebastian Brock, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 555, Scriptores Syri 225 (Louvain : Peeters, 1995), Homily 40 : 1, p. 174.
40 Archimandrite Sophrony, Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 47, 371.
41 Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer, p. 30.
42 Marc-Antoine Costa de Beauregard, Dumitru Staniloae : Ose comprendre que Je t’aime (Paris: Cerf, 1983), p. 24: ‘Mois-même, tout que je ne suis pas aimé, je suis incomprehensible.’
43 Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, ‘Divus Augustus’, §25 (‘Make haste slowly’).
44 The Forgiveness of Sins, p. 113.
45 The Forgiveness of Sins, pp. 77-78.
46 Archimandrite Sofrony, Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 377.
47 Augustine, Sermon 59 : 7; cf. 56 : 11; 57 : 8 (PL 38: 382, 390, 401). See Stevenson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 82. A similar interpretation is given by Caesarius of Arles (ca. 470-542), and by Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century): see Stevenson, op. cit., pp. 90, 108.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” Jesus gives His peace. He does not loan it; He does not take it back. The peace that is in Jesus “My peace” becomes the disciples’ final possession.
The Savior gives His disciples His peace at the moment when His Passion is about to begin. When He is confronted with the vision of immediate suffering and death, He proclaims and communicates His peace. If at such moments, Jesus is the Master of Peace, then the strength of this peace will not abandon the disciple in moments of lesser strife.
“But I say to you, do not resist evil.” How scandalous and foolish is this statement in the eyes of men, and especially of unbelievers? How do we interpret this commandment about turning the left cheek to the one who struck the right, giving our cloak to the one who took our tunic, walking two miles with the one who forced us to go one mile already, giving a blessing to him who curses us? Have we explored the ways and means of loving our enemy whether he be a personal or public enemy? “You do not know of what spirit you are.”
No, it is a question of resisting the Gospel. The choice is not between fighting and not fighting, but between fighting and suffering. Fighting brings about only vain and illusory victories, because Jesus is the absolute reality. Suffering without resis-tance proclaims the absolute reality of Jesus. If we understand this point, we see that suffering is a real victory. Jesus said “It is enough” when His disciples presented Him with two swords. The disciples had not understood the meaning of Christ’s statement, “He who does not have a purse, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” What Christ meant was that there are times when we must sacrifice what seems the most ordinary thing, in order to concentrate our attention on the assaults of the evil one. But defense and attack are both spiritual.
Jesus goes out to the front of the soldiers, who with their torches and weapons, want to lay hands on Him. He goes freely, spontaneously, to His passion and His suffering. Jesus cures the servant whose ear had been cut off by the sword of a disciple. Not only is Jesus unwilling that His disciple defend Him by force, but He repairs the damage that the sword has caused. It is the only miracle that Jesus performed during His passion.
The example of non-resistance that Jesus gave does not mean that He consents to evil, or that He remains merely passive. It is a positive reaction. It is the reply of the love that Jesus incarnates, opposed to the enterprises of the wicked. The immediate result seems to be the victory of evil. In the long run, however, the power of this love is the strongest.
The Resurrection followed the Passion. The non-resistance of the martyrs wore out and inspired the persecutors themselves. It is the shedding of blood by the martyrs that has guaranteed the spread of the Gospel. Is this a weak and vague pacifism? NO, it is a burning and victorious flame. If Jesus, at Gethsemane, had asked His Father for the help of twelve legions of angels, there would have been no Easter or Pentecost and no salvation for us! IC
Excerpted and edited from a larger work entitled A Dialogue with the Savior. Fr. Lev is best known as A Monk of the Eastern Church, as he often preferred not to identify himself by name in his writings.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:16-18)
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
In an increasingly complex and violent world, Christian Churches have come to recognize that working for peace constitutes a primary expression of their responsibility for the life of the world. This responsibility is grounded on the essential goodness of all human beings and of all that God has created, continues to sustain, and desires to redeem and make whole. For Orthodoxy, peace—as gift and vocation—is inextricably related to the notions of justice and the freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Peace and peacemaking as a gift and vocation provide opportunities to connect theology with ethical witness, faith with social transformation. The dynamic nature of peace as gift and vocation does not allow its identification with stagnation or passivity or with the acceptance of injustice.
While the Orthodox Church affirms that peace is an integral and indispensable element of the Christian gospel, it has not sufficiently reflected––in a morally consistent manner––on the nature of peace and peacemaking and what peacemaking requires, in practical terms, of their life and witness to the world. Orthodox theologians have noted that offering simply a theoretical presentation of the Orthodox understanding of peace is not a sufficient expression and witness:
It is not enough for us simply to theologize, to describe and to prescribe regarding the Orthodox vision of justice and peace. We must also mobilize and work together for God’s purpose to defeat injustices and to establish justice wherever possible, as well as to overcome the forces which threaten peace on earth.*
The contextualization of peace and peacemaking and the critical appreciation of the ecclesial actions or inactions for the advancement of peace compel the Orthodox Church to explore different but complementary ways to relate liturgical and spiritual experience and faith with the complex and conflictual issues of the world. Such a move evokes accusations that the Church moves from the spiritual realm to politics, an “activism” that would be alien to Orthodoxy. Commenting on the reluctance of the various Orthodox Churches to address issues of public life, Metropolitan John Zizioulas believes that they are right to give preeminence to those elements of their tradition that refer to the centrality of eschatology but they are wrong to disconnect eschatology from history, theology from ethics, and generally to be indifferent in finding and witnessing God in the historical realm.
Orthodox theologians, because of close association of many Orthodox Churches with the State and their long oppression by totalitarian regimes, have not adequately and critically reflected on either the reflexive relationship of self and society or the Christian imperative of the simultaneous transformation by God’s grace as well as of Christian discipleship of both. Oppressive, unjust, and violent social structures in the past jeopardized the humanity of the oppressed, but now the possibility of just societies is put at risk by unjust, greedy, and self-centered individuals. Fr. Stanley Harakas notes the undeveloped status of social ethics in Eastern Orthodoxy most especially on peace studies:
There are few Orthodox writers and thinkers who have dealt deeply and thoughtfully with these issues. Still fewer, if any, have provided theoretical underpinning for a consistent and authentic Orthodox Christian Social Ethic. Because of this there is the danger that our social concern will become subject to mere sloganeering and, worse yet, the tool of alien forces. For example, Peace as an ideal for the Christian Church is almost self-evident. Yet there is no such thing as a coherent body of Orthodox peace studies. Few, if any, Orthodox theologians have concerned themselves with the problems of pacifism, disarmament, nuclear war, just war theory, peace movements, etc. There is a danger on this issue that we will allow ourselves simply to be used as a propaganda outlet.
Despite this lamentable situation, opportunities for Orthodox theologians to reflect on issues of justice and peace have arisen. Among them, the military invasion of Iraq generated among Orthodox in the USA an interesting debate on whether the war was just, and whether judged by the standards of the Orthodox Church, war can ever be “Just,” or may sometimes be considered a “lesser good” or a “lesser evil.” All three views are problematic. Orthodoxy has never conceived a theory of Just War or the notion that any war may be just; further, violence is neither fully legitimized when it is viewed as a lesser good nor unconditionally renounced when it is considered as a lesser evil. Rather, most Orthodox theologians have defended the peaceable nature of the Orthodox Church and at the same time have conceded that the use of force is sometimes an inevitable tool of statecraft, while some evidence exists that the Byzantines at times attempted to place elements of strict and yet meaningful moral restraint on the execution of war. The theological assessment of violence, however, remains an issue of contestation.
Does the eschatological nature of the Christian faith allow us to give a condition-al theological legitimacy to violence? While the eschatological orientation of the gospel teaches us that a fully reachable earthly shalom is unattainable in history, it places the world in a dynamic process of transformation by the Holy Spirit that moves the world closer to the peaceable reign of God. Eschatology is thus a subversive principle questioning every necessity that legitimates violence. As Gregory Baum states:
Replying to the question “Can society exist without violence?” in the negative gives permission for societies to reconcile themselves with the violence they practice. Replying yes to the question, in the name of divine promises, challenges every society to review its practices and reduce its reliance on violence.
Peace, of course, is more than the absence of violence. It does not deny conflict, an intrinsic element of human relationships, but neither does conflict necessitate violence. Violence is not the only way to resolve conflicts. Peacemakers are con-stantly seeking creative applications of peacemaking principles to conflict situations whereby people and communities can resolve their differences without resort to physical violence. Peacemaking is a dynamic process, often without an absolute end point, that either strengthens conditions that prevent violence or introduces new elements that lead toward greater freedom and justice and away from violence.
Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, living in a Muslim country and having experience with the cruelties of religion-sanctioned wars and strife, argues that the Church cannot exercise its vocation of peace and peacemaking and hold onto war:
In the church, a vision of inwardness where peace becomes our vocation is plausible only if war can be exorcised….Nothing can be accomplished until the biblical foundations of violence are shattered. For us the error lies not in history but in theology.
Alongside the image of a bloodthirsty God, there arises the image of a merciful God whose voice speaks through prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea and in the Song of the Servant in Isaiah. We are confronted here with two irreconcilably opposed faces of the Lord in the same Scripture.
Metropolitan George argues that these incompatible images of God must be understood through a “kenotic” reading of Scripture and suggests that the “the Cross alone is the locus of divine victory, and the source of the meaning of faith. Anything in the Scripture that does not conform to the mystery of Love is a veil over the Word.” Other Orthodox scholars, risking the accusation of being Marcionites, tend to bypass the violent texts of the Old Testament as earlier stages in under-standing God’s revelation that the New Testament has surpassed. In the Patristic tradition the violent texts of the Scripture have been interpreted through the allegorical method to describe “Spiritual personal struggles against evil and sin.”
However, the renunciation of violence and war as destructive of human lives, unjust, and oppressive becomes a credible expression of the Church’s faith only when it is complemented with ethical practices that point to their prevention. The peaceable witness of the Church in situations of conflict and war cannot be limited only to its ethical judgment about the legitimacy and rules of conduct of war or even its unconditional renunciation. Peace requires much more than either military action or passive pacifism. If our ethics focus only on when a military action is right or wrong, their scope is limited to the exclusion of preventive actions. A remedy to this limitation is for the Church to develop “just peacemaking” practices that move its ethical discourse from theories that justify or regulate the use of violence to preventive actions that contribute to the building up of a culture of peace.
The Church’s witness may not always prevent war, and Christians may continue to disagree on the justification of a particular war, but it must be possible to work together and reach consensus on what practices of violence prevention and peacemaking the Church should support. Orthodox pacifists have a particular moral obligation to address situations of aggression, injustice, and violent conflicts to contribute to the invention of peaceful means and actions by which justice, peace, and reconciliation are served and not simply to renounce violence and war.
The concern of the Church for peace and its active participation in movements of peace is a testing ground of its faith about the origins, essential goodness, and future of the world. The Church, as the sacrament of God’s peace to the world, must find ways to actively support all human efforts that aim to identify more effective ways of resolving disputes without resorting to violence. The Church’s peacemaking vocation, through prayer and action, is to transform the conditions that breed violence and to help those whom violence and war have put asunder to find wholeness in God’s peace and justice through reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness.
Theological Foundations for a Culture of Peace: The Orthodox Church understands peace and peacemaking as an indispensable aspect of its faith and of its mission to the world. It grounds this faith conviction upon the wholeness of the Biblical tradition as it is properly interpreted through the Church’s liturgical experience and practice. The Eucharist provides the space and the perspective by which one discerns and experiences the fullness of the Christian faith and is the witness of the Church as it bears its mission for the life of the world. Robert F. Taft concludes that since the formation of the Byzantine liturgy, peace had assumed a central importance as a greeting and prayer that expresses the Church’s understanding of God’s Kingdom. The peace of God in the Liturgy is referred to as “peace from on high,” as in the angelic greeting “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk. 2:14). In the Liturgy, people receive the peace of God through unity with Christ once they enter, by the Eucharist through the work of the Holy Spirit, into unity with God. Finally, at the end of the liturgy, the people are sent away in peace and as bearers of peace to the world.
Peace in Scripture as well as in the liturgy is a greeting and a dynamic, grace-giving word: God Himself is Peace and peace is His gift; peace is a sign of communion with God, who gives peace to those who serve him; peace grants freedom from fear and is inseparable from righteousness without which there is no real peace—in short, “peace” is practically synonymous with salvation; peace is communion with God and Jesus Christ is our peace since, as the bond of communion, “We live in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”; peace is granted to the world and to the Church by the operation of the Holy Spirit, the active presence of God within the world that guides the Church into unity “in one place with one accord” and grants to all peace, justice, love, and joy (Jn. 20:19-21, Jgs. 6:24, Ps. 85:8-13, Rom. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:23, Eph. 2:14-17, Rom 5:1, Acts 2:1, Rom. 14:14).
Christians, as it is reflected in the liturgy, place primary emphasis on the eschatological peace that God grants to them as a gift of communion with Christ. Yet, they do not ignore the conflicts, power struggles, and violence they presently experience in the world. Although the early Christian Church of the first three centuries was primarily pacifist, grounding its attitudes on the Sermon of the Mount, the Fathers of the Church later––without abandoning the pacifist attitude of the early Church––justified defensive wars without developing theories of Just War or giving theological legitimacy to violence. Still, the Orthodox Church gave far more attention to the question of how to establish and maintain peaceful and just societies than it did to justify, or even tolerate, any instance of war. It remains that the Church has a dynamic commitment to the praxis of peace.
In every dimension of life, the Church invites us to embody the way of Christ as fully as we can in the circumstances that we face: to forgive enemies; to work for the reconciliation of those who have become estranged; to overcome the divisions of race, nationality, and class; to care for the poor; to live in harmony with others; to protect creation and to use the created goods of the world for the benefit of all. Advocacy for peace must not stop with praying the litanies of the Liturgy. We can pray these petitions with integrity only if we also move beyond prayer and offer ourselves as instruments for God’s peace in the world, ready to live the petitions out in relation to the challenges to peace that exist among peoples and nations, believing that God has destined the world to live in peace. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas states: “Christians, as disciples of Christ who made all things for peace, are to be ‘craftsmen of peace.’ They are called a peaceable race, since ‘nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace.’” The Third Pre-Conciliar Pan Orthodox Conference (1986) exhorts Orthodox Christians to be active peacemakers grounded in their faith:
We, Orthodox Christians, have—by reason of the fact that we have had access to the meaning of salvation—a duty to fight against disease, misfortune, fear; because we have had access to the experience of peace we cannot remain indifferent to its absence from society today; because we have benefited from God’s justice, we are fighting for further justice in the world and for the elimination of all oppression; because we daily experience God’s mercy, we are fighting all fanaticism and intoler-ance between persons and nations; because we continually proclaim the incarnation of God and the divinization of man we defend human rights for all individuals and all peoples; because we live God’s gift of liberty, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ, we can announce more completely its universal value for all individuals and peoples; because, nourished by the body and blood of our Lord in the holy Eucharist, we experience the need to share God’s gifts with our brothers and sisters, we have a better understanding of hunger and privation and fight for their abolition; because we expect a new earth and new heaven where absolute justice will reign, we fight here and now for the rebirth and renewal of the human being and society.
There remains, then, a need to learn practical ways, develop pastoral projects, and create opportunities that allow Orthodox people and the Church to participate in movements of social transformation and contribute to a culture of peace. For, as the Christian understanding of peace and how it is advanced in the life of the world is guided by the eschatological peace that God grants to the world––the reality of being with God and participating in the glory of His reign––it remains primarily a gift and a vocation, a pattern of life. It discloses the life of those who have been reconciled and united with God. It is primarily this unity that enables Christians to embrace in love all human beings because of the active presence of God’s spirit in them. Since peace is constitutive of the Christian Gospel, Christian believers are involved in a permanent process of becoming more conscious of their responsibility to incarnate the message of peace and justice in the world as a witness of the authenticity of their faith. This is clearly stated by St. Basil: “Christ is our peace,” and hence “he who seeks peace seeks Christ…without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.”
The Orthodox Church insists that the root cause for violence, injustice and oppression in the world reflects the pervasive presence and impact of the still active operation of the “principalities and powers” of the fallen world. Evil, violence, injustice, and oppression reflect the disrupted communion of human beings with God, the fallible nature of our human actions, and the failure to discern and do the will of God in the midst of the ambiguities of history. Violence has multiple manifestations: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless, and innumerable other acts of inhumanity between individuals and groups of every organizational type. In the midst of violence and injustice, Christian faith recognizes the active presence of God’s Spirit, the subversive reality that enables the world, and in particular the suffering victims of injustice, aggression and oppression, to begin a process of liberation and movement towards a culture of peace and justice. A tension between the already given reality of peace and its not-yet-fulfilled reality characterizes the key theological stance of Christians involved in the struggle for peace. The awareness that peace is an eschatological gift of God and of the active presence of God’s Spirit in history makes it impossible for the Church to accept either the historical fatalism that makes wars, lesser clashes, and other violence an unshakable reality or to embrace the possibility of a permanent peace in this world by relying on simple human-centered ideologies.
The Christian notion of Peace in the Public Space: The Christian gospel invites the faithful to a continuous spiritual struggle that leads, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, towards greater justice and peace. Every Christian is called to be a peacemaker and a worker for justice. This calling is nourished through prayer and repentance, by allowing Scripture to form our human consciousness, in participating in the Eucharist, and through recognizing the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed as living icons of Christ.
This calling is noble, and Christians, through the above mentioned devotional practices, receive the gift of God’s peace as the basis of their involvement in the life of the world. They are peacemakers because of their participation in God’s mission. Here it is important to differentiate between the gift of God’s peace and how this gift is received, acknowledged, and communicated by the Church and the faithful. While the gift of God’s peace is given through the Church to all by virtue of their identification with Christ, it is not equally true that the faithful are always the vehicles of God’s grace and peace to the world. Christian responses to situations of violence are always subject to God’s judgment that compels the Church and the faithful to repentance and asking for God’s forgiveness for all their failures to act as agents of His peace to the world.
Orthodox theologians have recognized that there is a need to “lift up in the consciousness of the Church the peacemaking character of Christianity and the Christian duty to serve the cause of peace and Justice.” Articulating only abstract theological truths, which nevertheless are normative for the Church’s identity and mission, cannot raise the consciousness of the Church. There is a need to enhance and concretize these theological ideals with insights about social injustice, oppression, and violence that the social sciences provide. As the report of the Orthodox Perspectives on Justice and Peace states:
It is important that we not only speak about justice and peace, but also develop projects and contribute practically in programs and sustained organized activity on behalf of the concrete realization of the values of justice and peace in our ecclesial life. In this regard the Church must learn to dialogue especially with non-Church bodies to find the most suitable common ways for the implementation of justice and peace.
We carefully note, however, that dialogue between opposing sides is not simply a means to reach agreement. The Orthodox Church should exercise its peacemaking mission through its active participation in peace dialogues seeking to end wars between and within states, resolve violent disputes of all kinds within society, and defeat racism, discrimination, and exploitation of the weak and the poor. The very presence of the Church in dialogue with others is witness to God’s love for all humanity and affirms the dignity of all human beings as well as affirms that dialogue itself is part of a reconciliation process. The Orthodox should defend not only dialogue on peace as such but also the inclusion of people who are very often neglected in crucial deliberations. Those who partner in true dialogue with open and sincere minds, ready to listen and not only to speak, are already on the way to peace.
On the basis of the theological understanding of peace, the various Orthodox Churches should participate in movements of peace and justice. However their involvement will not be credible unless they first liberate themselves from ethno-nationalisms that reflect the history of the long identification of church-nation-state relationship in most Orthodox countries where the Churches had been considered as national institutions. Ethno-nationalism has in some instances reduced the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to a “national” church, restricted geographically and shaped by a particular culture, shared history, worldview, language, and other idiosyncrasies that serves the political purposes of a state while helping to preserve its nationalist, racist, and chauvinist ideologies. The suggested liberation of the Orthodox Churches from ethno-nationalism does not mean that their members cannot be patriotic or love their nation. What is objectionable is the exclusive identification of God with a particular nation and the triumphalism that attaches to that. The partiality of ethno-nationalism not only hinders the Orthodox contribution to peace movements, but it debases basic tenets of the Orthodox faith.
The Church must learn to express its deep-rooted commitment to justice in concrete ways relevant in our time. We must continue to affirm, loudly and clearly, the truth that God’s image is present in every human being. We need to seek out and actively cooperate with all forces of good working for the eradication from God’s creation of all forms of prejudice and discrimination. We ourselves must teach our people to respect the integrity and dignity of all peoples of every nation, economic condition, race, sex, and political affiliation, so that reconciliation and tolerance may replace coercion and violence in our relationships. Our goal is nothing less than the reign of God’s love among all peoples.
Is it possible for Orthodoxy to justify wars in defending the dignity, the rights, the freedom and the liberation of oppressed people? As the report on Orthodox Perspective on Justice and Peace states:
The Orthodox Church unreservedly condemns war as evil. Yet it also recognizes that in the defense of the innocent and the protection of one’s people from unjust attack, criminal activity and the overthrowing of oppression, it is sometimes necessary, with reluctance, to resort to arms. In every case, such a decision must be taken with full consciousness of its tragic dimensions. Consequently, the Greek fathers of the Church have never developed, a just war theory, preferring rather to speak of the blessings of and the preference for Peace.
The Church, while it supports all human efforts to repudiate the logic of violence and war, must not forget its greater mission to lead the world to address the deeper issues. Peace is not a moral good in and of itself; it is linked with the most basic human values and practices as a permanent improvement of the human condition on all levels. Defending the dignity of every human person and the sanctity of life cannot be disengaged from the quest for greater justice and freedom as the foundation, source, and origin of real and permanent peace. “No society can live in peace with itself, or with the world, without the full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person, and of the sacredness of all human life.” The Church must be hesitant to fully support those peace movements that disregard fundamental human values like justice and freedom for the sake of merely avoiding the last explicit negation of peace, i.e. massive armed war and lesser applications of violence. Certainly, a Christian would always share in the efforts to avoid bloodshed because life is the most precious God-given gift, but he would try to remind people that when attempting to avoid war and keep peace they should critically examine what kind of peace they represent.
One has to speak of the Christian peace concept and its contribution to the general peace movement not as an absolute one in a general religious, self-sufficient sense but as a radical particularity which is unique in that it goes dynamically deep into the primary causes of war and violence and calls for thorough understanding in shaping a praxis of peacemaking. Particularity here refers to a uniqueness relating to Christ as our Peace, presenting God’s Peace as a paramount gift to the whole of humanity. There are good attempts in the secular realm regarding peace, and a Christian should affirm them as a first point of contact with God’s peace: “Whenever we see harmony, justice, forgiveness, respect for human dignity, generosity, and care for the weak in the common life of humanity, we witness a blessing of the Lord and catch a glimpse—no matter how dim and imperfect—of the peace of Christ.” Then the uniqueness of Christian peace could definitely become a necessary and positive counterbalance against all kinds of unilateral, human-centered and godless peacemaking.
Finally, the contribution of the Orthodox Church in advancing peace with justice and freedom depends upon the unity of all Orthodox Churches in their total commitment to the Gospel of love and reconciliation and on their courage to speak and act accordingly beyond any kind of temporary affiliations in the socio-political realm. Its contribution will, however, be truly Christian, if it is offered in all humility and in that spirit of repentance and forbearance which is the key prerequisite of true peacemakers. IC
Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis is Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology at Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, MA where he has taught since 1985. In Communion thanks Fr. Emmanuel for his invaluable contribution to our ongoing quest to promote peacemaking not just as an ideal, an eschatological end point, or for those inclined to activism but as necessary for the whole Church. His essay has been edited here for length. The unedited essay with full notes and references may be found at: www.goarch.com.
* To save space, all footnotes and references have been removed throughout this issue. Any article is available, with full notes, to anyone upon request.
Moved with compassion, the Good Samaritan comes to the place where a Jew, typically despised by Samaritans, has been beaten and left (Lk. 10:33). And he acts: “beholding him,” the Samaritan “came to him and bandaged up his wounds.”
When the father sees his returning, prodigal son at a distance, he is moved with compassion and rushes out to him (Lk. 15:20). He embraces him and welcomes him back home as his son and not merely his servant.
Moved with compassion for the widowed mother who has just lost her only son, Jesus stops the funeral procession and restores the son to life (Lk. 7:11-16).
The Greek verb for “moved with compassion” is found only in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Sometimes it describes Jesus’ response to others; other times, Jesus uses the term in certain parables. In the Gospels, being moved with compassion always serves as a prelude to or motive for action on behalf of others.
Despite its apparently visceral origin in our inner parts, “compassion” is less a raw emotion than what might be regarded as an attunement (an Einstimmung to borrow loosely from Heidegger). In Patristic texts, compassion is often linked with sumpatheia, which is often translated in Latin as “compassio” in the sense of a capacity, if you will, to identify with the suffering of another.
Compassion makes us aware of others who are afflicted or in distress and it draws us towards them. Moved with compassion, the Good Samaritan “comes near” to the beaten man. Moved with compassion, even while his son is “a great way off,” the father runs towards the prodigal son and embraces him. By way of comparison, although the Priest and the Levite see the beaten man, they pass by him on the opposite side of the road. Jesus does not tell us what moves these men to deliberately avoid the man, but the clear intention of the parable is that both lack any acute sense of sumpatheia or of mercy. Compassion then is distinguished from pity at least in the sense that pity involves merely feeling sorry for someone while yet remaining aloof, distant, superior to and disengaged from that person.
Compassion, moreover, is an attunement to others “without borders.” One principal lesson of the Good Samaritan parable is that the merciful neighbor is a neighbor to all others. As St. John Chrysostom writes to correct those who would limit assistance only to other Christians: “Let us not care only for ‘those of the household of faith’ (Gal. 6:10), and neglect others…If you see any one in distress do not be curious and enquire further. His being in distress involves a just claim on your aid…He is God’s…[and] even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help.”
Compassion, thus, leads to “good works” that render mercy and assistance to others. Of course we call these good works alms or, in a broader sense, works of mercy. Our prototype for such compassionate works is, of course, God Himself. Even after our sinful rebellion against Him, he did not abandon us but “because of his tender compassion” visited us in various ways (Liturgy of St. Basil just before the recitation in the Anaphora of the events of salvation history). In the Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that God is merciful and compassionate (Ps. 102:8, the first Antiphon) and that the scope of these works includes “giving food to the hungry, setting the prisoners free, giving sight to the blind, lifting up those who are bowed down, watching over the sojourners, and upholding the widow and the fatherless” (Ps. 145:7–9, verses of the 2nd Antiphon that we, regrettably, rarely sing).
Not surprisingly, then, the scope of alms is substantively broader than merely giving material aid or money. Works of mercy comprise all our personal actions to assist those who are in need and distress, whether spiritual, mental, or physical. Personal works of mercy can and should extend to efforts to change social structures and policies on behalf of, as well as to advocate for, those who are poor, vulnerable, or treated unjustly.
But what about corporate works of mercy or actions that are undertaken by a community in which there is a “we” who collectively and collab-oratively acts as a community, be it a local church, a monastery, or the gen-eral assembly of an autocephalous Church. Why should Orthodox Christ-ians be concerned about cultivating such activity rather than simply the merciful activities of individual persons?
The history of the church is, of course, replete with examples of corporate works of mercy. Indeed, monasteries have often had hospices, poorhouses, hospitals, and other philanthropic institutions associated with them which were either staffed in part by monks/nuns or at least supported by the community. The monastic reformer, Nikon of the Black Mountain, offers this observation about the Monastery and Hospice of the Mother of God Tou Roidiou which clearly links communal worship with communal works of mercy:
Behold, the church and the house of hospitality: the one for the worship and correctness of right faith and praise of the love of God and so on, the other for the love of neighbor (and “neighbor” means all humankind) for “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35) and other similar commandments of the Lord. As the Lord himself says, “On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40), [that is] on the love of God and neighbor. For these things the church and the hospice were provided.
There are many specialized studies that allow us to gain some understanding of the nature and scope of these corporate activities, but there is almost nothing, as far as I can tell, in our service texts or icons that serve to commemorate them. Consider these examples drawn from the lives of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great—two of our three hierarchs or ecumenical teachers.
Fr. Georges Florovsky famously referred to St. John Chrysostom as the prophet of charity. Anyone familiar with St. John’s many homilies knows how passionate he was about the importance of caring for the poor and others in need. However, of the many hymns and other texts for his feast day, there is only one text that I find—an aposticha verse—that acknowledges him as “… true Father to orphans, prompt help of the distressed, support of the poor, nourisher of the hungry, staff for those who are falling.” His biographies note that he founded various hospitals. St. John himself mentions that the Church (most likely in Antioch) provided for 3,000 widows daily plus others in prisons, those who were infirm, etc. This must have been a rather highly organized undertaking which St. John obviously did not undertake by him-self but for which he most likely at best provided general oversight. Sadly there is almost no surviving record of how this activity was carried out. But there is also no day in the church calendar on which we commemorate or even remember the church in Antioch, or the many other churches and Christian communities in the 4th century, for undertaking the daily feeding of the poor and other works of hospitality.
St. Basil the Great was also one of the great episcopal benefactors in this period. As with St. John, there is one service text for his feast day, January 1, which clearly acknowledges this: “Treasure of the poor, father of orphans, protector of widows, consoler of the afflicted, O holy Basil, you were also the pilot for the wealthy, the instructor for youth, the staff for the elderly; and for monks, a model of virtue” (Troparion, Canon ode 7). His vita mentions that he spent his wealth and the income of the church on behalf of the poor and destitute and ”in every center of his diocese he built a poorhouse; and at Caesarea, a home for wanderers and the homeless.” (OCA life of St Basil). In Caesarea he established a “new city” outside of Caesarea, as St. Gregory the Theologian referred to it, which consisted of a hospital and other buildings attached to a monastery that provided care for lepers, respite for travelers, and so forth. We know practically nothing about the daily activities of this complex except that it was supported by the corporate activity of the monastery’s monks. But, again, so far as I know, there are no service texts or days to commemorate this monastery or any others for their corporate philanthropic activities.
As with our service texts, Orthodox icons focus almost exclusively on individual saints. Nearly all of our icons of saints present them alone or in groups but almost never, so far as I know, as engaged in collective action together. We get at best some intimation of the activity of a community in the icons of St. Maria Skobstova and those with her but only because of what we know of their work together. I obviously do not want to diminish the important witness of the holy men and women whom we venerate as saints. Their lives and icons rightly serve to portray them as prime examples of our god-bearing fathers and mothers who remained steadfast in their faith and in their manifestation of God’s love in the world. Yet, as Jim Forest notes, the icon shows “the recovery of wholeness….[It] suggests the transformation that occurs to whomever has acquired the Holy Spirit….[It is] thus a witness to theosis, deification.” There are, of course, many icons of Christ performing works of mercy as exemplified by the first icon shown in this essay (pg. 14). But does the nearly complete absence of icons and service texts commemorating the collective or corporate works of mercy of Christian communities suggest that these activities are somehow outside the pale of transform-ation or deification in the Holy Spirit?
Of course, if there are no clear exam-ples of icons or service texts commem-orating corporate works of mercy, there are the icons and service texts that commemorate the fathers of the various ecumenical councils. These icons repre-sent the Fathers of the Church acting together with one another in an organ-ized, corporate manner to resolve the various issues that were presented to them at the councils. These icons, especially those which represent the Fathers of the Church gathered in semi-circles across from one another recall the icon of Pentecost. This icon, of course, represents the new community (ecclesia) that overturns the breakdown of communication and collaboration that plagued the construction of the Tower of Babel (Aposticha, Vespers for Pentecost).
M.C. Escher’s early 1928 woodcut of the Tower of Babel (below) well illus-trates the contrast between the (trans-figured) reality of the Church and that tower. As Escher noted about this wood-cut: “Some of the builders are white and others black. The work is at a standstill because they are no longer able to understand one another.” (I will leave it to the reader to ponder whether the actual historical condition of the Church at times is more aptly represented by Escher’s woodcut than the icon of Pentecost.)
The unity and repose of the apostles in the icon for Pentecost provides the basis for their collective and united activity in the church. It was the apostles, at least those in Jerusalem, who collect-ively managed the gifts that were laid at their feet in the first Christian community (Acts 4:35); it was the apostles who collectively appointed the seven for ser-vice in the early community (Acts 6:1-5). It was the apostles and other elders in the church who met at the very first council of the church and who collectively acted on various matters “as it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28).
At the feast of Pentecost, we also cele-brate and commemorate the Holy Trinity. Nor surprisingly the icon of Pentecost recalls the icon, the Hospitality of Abraham, by which we commemorate the Trinity. The manner in which the figures in that icon are turned toward one another illustrates the essential and eternal communion of the persons of the Trinity as they face each other. But this icon is not limited to manifesting the love of the divine persons solely for one another. For the chalice in the center of the table reminds us of the freely chosen “outgoing” character of the Trinity’s love for the world. The Eucharistic chalice in the icon also manifests the essentially compassionate character of God’s love. As Blessed Theophylact writes, likening Jesus to the Good Samaritan in that parable: “Our Lord and God…journeyed to us…. He did not just catch a glimpse of us as He happened to pass by. He actually came to us and lived together with us and spoke to us. Therefore, He at once bound up our wounds.”
But while only the Son of God becomes incarnate, suffers, dies, and is resurrected, nevertheless his salvific engagement in our life always expresses the will and love of the Father and the Holy Spirit just as the Divine Liturgy always manifests the distinct but undivided action of the Trinitarian persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Sr. Nona Harrison rightly observes, the icon of the Trinity also serves as a model for human community that is grounded in our existence as persons, which means that “we are free and are able to know and love others, but it also means that our belonging to the community of humankind, our relatedness to other people, is at the very root of who we are.” She gives a particularly apt quotation by then Bishop Kallistos of what this means in practice:
Each social grouping—family, parish, diocese, church council, school, office, factory, nation—has as its vocation to be transformed by grace into a living icon of [the Holy Trinity], to effect a reconciling harmony between diversity and unity, human freedom and mutual solidarity, after the pattern of the Trinity.
The realization of this vocation is obviously impossible unless human beings collaborate with one another in actions that have the corporate, social nature of a “we” who act. Such social action has a structural character to it that cannot be reduced merely to the sum or conglomeration of purely independent individual actions. For example, the outreach ministry or Christian education program of a parish typically require the blessing of the rector, the support of the parish council, and funding provided from the parish budget or other sources. Individuals who work in the programs act as representatives of the parish. The programs themselves require some organization, a division of labor, etc. Such programs, in other words, are carried out by people acting in a collective manner and not merely as isolated individuals acting on their own behalf.
Alas, while I am unaware of any icons that commemorate communal works of mercy undertaken by various Christian communities, there is one notable exception in some of the icons of the Feeding of the 5000. This miracle is recounted in all four gospels (Matt. 14:13-21, Mk. 6:31-44, Lk. 9:10-17, and Jn. 6:5-15). On the one hand, the story receives a Eucharistic interpretation in which Christ’s miraculously feeding the people prefigures the Eucharist. Not surprisingly, the icon for this event that evidently stresses a Eucharistic interpretation focuses almost exclusively on Christ.
Yet in each of the Gospel accounts, Christ tells the disciples that they should feed the crowd even though they want to send them away. They are incredulous that they can feed them since they only have two fish and five loaves. Christ miraculously multiplies the loaves and fish, but he gives the food to the disciples and they distribute it. Without losing a Eucharistic interpretation, this event also has the simple, literal meaning that Christ to-gether with the disciples fed a large crowd at the end of the day when they were hungry.
In this second icon, Christ blesses the food and the disciples actively distribute it. This icon manifests the corporate action of the disciples together with Christ in feeding the 5000. That is, if Peter had gone home to his wife at the end of the day, he would have recounted the event by telling his wife about the miracle that Jesus performed and about the fact that “we disciples” distributed the food after Christ blessed it. The feeding of the 5000 then was the action of a community. Again without losing the Eucharistic interpretation of the event, the story and the second icon serve as the prototype for a work of mercy performed by the community of Christ and his disciples.
I’ve not been able to find an icon for the event of the Christ’s first commissioning of the disciples. But that event also initiates collective or corporate action. Jesus does not simply send the disciples forth to act as autonomous individuals in their own names. They are sent to preach the word of God, to heal the sick, cast out demons, etc. as members of the community of the disciples whom Jesus had called. Whether they traveled in groups of two or individually, but not as a single group, they still acted as members of the community of Jesus’ disciples.
In any event, I think we can combine a set of icons in which the corporate works of mercy of a community reflect and manifest the “collective” compassionate action of the Trinity towards the world (opposite page).
The traditional Eucharistic icon of Christ giving himself as his Body and Blood to the community of his disciples is intimately connected with the icon of the Hospitality of Abraham. Moreover, the celebration of the Eucharist is intimately and essentially related by Christ himself to the paradigmatic expression of Christian humility and service: Christ washing the feet of his disciples (Jn. 13:4-17). This event is emblematic of the new commandment that Christ gives to his disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). When we recall that Christ’s love and compassionate engagement with us is symbolized by the compassionate engagement of the Good Samaritan with the man beaten and abandoned, then another way of phrasing the new commandment is “be compassionate and merciful neighbors to one another as I have been a compassionate, merciful neighbor to you.”
In its own way, then, the icon of the Feeding of the 5000 pulls all of these themes together. Given a Eucharistic interpretation, the icon manifests Christ Eucharistically giving himself to the faithful through the priestly ministry of the apostles. The icon also manifests what we might call the liturgy after the liturgy: the Eucharistic community of the church facing the world in order to feed those who are hungry through the material gifts of food that Christ supplies. Christ’s neighborly presence to the community of the faithful in the Eucharist is simultaneously repeated in the neighborly presence of a Christian community engaged in works of mercy.
It should be clear, I think, why Orthodox Christian communities should cultivate corporate works of mercy. For such works are, if you will, a “natural” extension of the life of a Christian community. Metropolitan Anthony Sourozh wrote that
if we want to become…a Christian community, a community of people who love one another earnestly, if necessary sacrificially, whose love is prepared to go as far as crucifixion, then we must learn a great deal about our attitude to each other. How can we contemplate the vision of the Cross if we are not prepared to carry one another’s burdens, to identify in sympathy and compassion with each other?
But compassion, as I noted above, has no borders. The very cultivation of compassion among the members of a Christian community has to extend to mem-bers outside that community. How can people claim to belong to compassionate Christian community and yet be oblivious to and unengaged with people outside the community? Conversely, if we always receive Christ’s loving gift of himself as members of a Eucharistic community, how can the community not manifest that same love through “facing the world” in a compassionate and neighborly manner?
Each Orthodox Christian community must face the world if it takes seriously the mission of the Church to bring the Word of God to the world through evangel-ization. But the Word of God did not simply preach to people. When crowds of people came to Christ with “those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others,” he healed them. After they spent three days with Christ, he refused to send the crowd away hungry, but “moved with compassion,” he blessed the meager food the disciples had and mobilized them to feed the people (Matt. 15:30-38, Mk. 8:1-6).
We have a striking witness of a corporate, compassionate attunement to the world in our own monastic tradition. In the Byzantine period of the Church, as Giles Constable notes,
almost all houses [monastic communities] distributed alms to the poor and to travelers at the gate and provided food and lodging in the guesthouse, and many of them assisted orphans, prisoners, and women who lacked the wherewithal for dowries. The hospital associated with the Pantokrator in Constantinople was unique, but many houses supported hospices, old age homes, and hospitals, and also bridges, which were considered a worthy object of charity.
Finally, I want to note that compassion should make us critically attuned to the kinds of injustice that marginalize, dehumanize, and exclude people from a legitimate participation in their social world. Samaritans were outcasts to Jews, and vice versa. Yet the Good Samaritan’s compassionate action implicitly challenged the legitimacy of various negative barriers—psychological and social—by which Jews and Samaritans ostracized each other. If compassion is so often most manifest when directed to those who are marginalized in a society, it is because compassion is fundamentally without borders. As such, compassionate action is attuned to the contrived borders which exclude people from a full participation in their social world. Compassion in principle shatters the artificial and unjust ways in which humans individually and collectively marginalize and dehumanize people. For example, St. Herman of Alaska and other monks of the American Mission sought to defend the Alaskan natives against oppression and exploitation by the Russian American Company headed by Alexander Baranov. Their compassion incurred a particular cross: “for their concern and intervention, the members of the Mission were persecuted, among them Father Herman.”
In a similar way, a compassionate response to assisting those who are poor is in principle critically sensitive to attitudes and policies that seek to blame the poor entirely for their poverty. One need only read St. John Chrysostom’s many homilies dealing with poverty to see how often he caustically rejects claims by parishioners that the poor did not deserve assistance since they were to blame for their condition. Indeed, St. John pointedly rejects any appeal to Jesus’s remark that “the poor are always with you” to justify spending money on beautifying the Church at the expense of directing funds to support the poor and others in need.
For what is the profit, when His table indeed is full of golden cups, but He perishes with hunger? First fill Him, as one who is hungry, and then abundantly deck out His table also. Do you make Him a cup of gold, while you do not even give Him a cup of cold water? And what is the profit? Do you furnish His table with cloths bespangled with gold, while to Him you do not afford even the necessary covering?
To be sure, St. John is addressing parishioners who would rather have donated money to the Church than to those who were poor. But is there any reason why a parish community should not consider this text to be relevant when it considers how to use its own time, talents, and resources? If it did, it certainly could not automatically justify simply turning entirely towards its own internal “needs” rather than cultivating a communal commitment to facing the world in a compassionate manner. Such a community would not use a text like “the poor shall always be with you” to justify some inevitability or divine sanction to poverty, among other things, as a reason for avoiding compassionate engagement with the world. St. John Chrysostom certainly did not think that poverty in his day was inevitable. He thought it could be eliminated, at least in extreme form, if people were sufficiently willing to share economic resources with one another. Indeed, while St. Cyril of Alexandria acknowledges that in this text, Jesus gives a certain precedence to honoring him over serving the poor or doing works of mercy in general, he denies that this precedent is absolute. In fact he writes that Our Lord himself tells us “it is not necessary always without intermission to devote our time to honoring Him, or to spend everything upon the priestly service, but rather [we should] lay out the greatest part upon the poor.”St. Cyril notes that while, at the command of Christ, the apostles devoted themselves to prayer and fasting between his Ascension and Pentecost, they afterwards “eagerly spent all the offerings that were brought to them upon the poor.” They did this as leaders of and on behalf of the Church.
Indeed, generosity in service to others pervades the history of the Church in its corporate works of mercy. As Fr. Demetrios Constantelos notes in his discussion of history of corporate philanthropic activity of the Orthodox Church:
The Church, in the Byzantine era, including its monastic communities, often provided the essentials of social security for a large segment of the population of the Empire throughout its existence…it took under its aegis orphans, widows, the old and the disabled, the stranger and the unemployed; it saw to the release of prisoners of war and of those unjustly detained.
Moreover, Orthodox Christian communities that endeavor to face the world around them in a neighborly, compassionate manner should not shun, but in fact should cultivate, the critical dimension of compassion. There is absolutely no reason why a Christian compassionate attunement to the world should be blind to social and structural factors that harm people. In 2009, for example, the Diocese of Alaska (Orthodox Church in America) “passed a unanimous resolution opposing any development that may be harmful to the people or land of Southwest Alaska.” The resolution was passed in opposition to the development of the Pebble Mine in Alaska. In 1989 at its Ninth All American Council, the Orthodox Church in America passed a motion supporting “the abolition of the death penalty in this and all countries” and further recommended that “legislative provisions be made for life imprisonment without possibility of parole for those subject to the death penalty.” Examples like these certainly suggest that there is good reason in principle for Orthodox communities to address as appropriate the institutional and social factors that promote or block the compassionate treatment of people in their local communities.
Fr. Constantelos’ observation, thus, is well worth remembering by Orthodox Christians individually and as communities:
Because of peculiar historical experiences––one might speak of vicissitudes––the Orthodox have often failed to respond to social problems such as racism, peace and war, social justice, and political oppression in a systematic manner…[However] if some Orthodox fail to raise voices of protest against racism, injustice, and oppression, they betray the ethos of their Church. But when they concern themselves with contemporary social problems, they act in full agreement with the nature and character of their Church in history. IC
Fr. John D. Jones is professor of Philosophy at Marquette University and Associate priest at Sts. Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church (OCA) in Milwaukee, WI. For a fully referenced and footnoted copy of the original article, contact Fr. John at email@example.com.
Our theme is the liturgy after the Liturgy. Consider the word “peace” in the Divine Liturgy: In peace let us pray to the Lord, for the peace from above, and for the peace of the whole world; and also the meaning of the celebrant’s greeting, “Peace be with you all.” We know the priest is not just transmitting his own peace, but he is transmitting to the congregation the peace of Christ. And peace, we know, is a gift from God.
There is one phrase from the Liturgy in which the word peace figures pro-minently: “Let us go forth in peace.” There are many commandments in the Liturgy, things that we are told to do such as “Lift up your hearts,” “Give thanks to the Lord.” But, “Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not a comforting epilogue, they are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.
This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who, wherever he or she looks, sees Christ everywhere and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.
“I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was a stranger. I was in prison.” Of everyone who is in need, Christ says, “I.” Christ is looking at us through the eyes of all the people whom we meet, especially those who are in distress and who are suffering. We go out from the Liturgy, seeing Christ everywhere. But we are to return to the world not just with our eyes open but with our hands strengthened. I remember a hymn as an Anglican that we used to sing at the end of the Eucharist, “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken.” So, we are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ in all human persons.
Let us reflect on what happened at the Last Supper. First there was the Eucharistic meal, where Christ blessed bread and gave it to the disciples, “This is my body,” and he blessed the cup, “This is my blood.” Then, after the Eucharistic meal, Christ kneels and washes the feet of his disciples. The Eucharistic meal and the foot washing are a single mystery. So, we have to apply that to ourselves. We go out from the Liturgy to wash the feet of our fellow humans, literally and symbolically. That is how I understand the words at the end of the Liturgy, “Let us go forth in peace.” Peace is to be something dynamic within this broken world. It’s not just a quality that we experience within the church walls.
Let’s remind ourselves of the way in which St. John Chrysostom envisages this liturgy after the Liturgy. There are, he says, two altars. There is, in the first place, the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from the church, there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.
Developing the meaning of the command, “Let us go forth in peace,” let us think of the Liturgy as a journey, Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s key image for the Liturgy. We may discern in the Liturgy a movement of ascent and of return. That kind of movement actually happens very frequently. We can see it in the lives of the saints, such as Antony of Egypt or Seraphim of Sarov. First, in the movement of ascent, if you like, or flight from the world, they go out into the desert, into the wilderness, into solitude, to be alone with God. But then there is a moment of return. They open their doors to the world, they receive all who come, they minister and they heal.
There is a similar movement of ascent within the Liturgy. We go to church. It’s pleasant to go there; though some people must use cars, I like to walk from my home to church before the Divine Liturgy, to walk alone if I can. It’s only about ten minutes, but I find it quite important to have that movement, a sense of going to church, a sense, if you like, of a separation from the world and starting on a journey. I walk to church, and I enter the church building, into a sacred space and sacred time. This is the beginning of the movement of ascent: we go to the church. Then, continuing the movement of ascent, we bring to the altar gifts of bread and wine and offer them to Christ. The movement of ascent is completed when Christ accepts this offering, consecrates it, makes the bread and wine to be his body and blood.
After the ascent comes the return. The bread and wine that we offered to Christ, he then gives back to us in Holy Communion as his body and blood.
But the movement of return doesn’t stop there. Having received Christ in the Holy Gifts, we then go out from the church, going back to the world to share Christ with all those around us.
Let’s develop this idea a little. Receiving Christ’s body, we become what he is. We become the body of Christ. But gifts are for sharing. We become Christ’s body not for ourselves but for others. We become Christ’s body in the world and for the world. So the Eucharist impels believers to specific action in society, action that will be challenging and prophetic. The Eucharist is the start of cosmic transfiguration, and each communicant shares in this transfiguring work.
Our title suggest a connection between peace and healing in the parish and the world, and I can’t possibly deal with all the things suggested by it. But let me, in light of the bit about “Let us go forth in peace,” pose a few questions about the different levels of Eucharistic healing and transfiguration in the world.
First a question about our parish life. Perhaps this is not true everywhere, but it’s true of some parishes I’ve known. I’ve often wondered why our parish council meetings, and more particularly the annual general meetings of parishes, are such a disappointment? To me it’s very surprising that often there’s a rather dark spirit at work in the annual general meetings of parishes. The picture given of our parish life is actually deeply misleading. All the good things seem to be hidden—perhaps that’s as it should be—but we get a very distorted picture. There seems often to be an atmosphere of tension and hostility at annual general meetings in parishes.
I’ve often wondered why that is. How to bring a truly Eucharistic spirit into such gatherings? How can we bring the peace of the Divine Liturgy into the other aspects of our parish life? I don’t have an easy answer, but I think behind this first question there lurks another question. How can we make the Divine Liturgy more manifestly a shared and corporate action? In my own experience, the parish where I am, we began worshiping just in a room, and at that time it was not difficult to have a very strong feeling of the Liturgy as a unified action in which everybody was sharing because we were all so close to one another, and there was only a few of us.
Some of the most moving Liturgies I’ve ever attended have not been in churches with great marble floors and huge candelabra but in small house chapels in a room or even in a garage. Now, gradually our community has grown. Twenty-five years ago, we built ourselves a church, and now that church is too small and we’re working towards enlarging the church in order to be able to have room for all the worshipers. Now that is, in a sense, encouraging, but there is a real struggle here. As a parish grows larger and as it acquires a larger building, it becomes much harder to preserve the corporate spirit, the sense of a single family, the sense of all of us doing something together. It becomes much harder to preserve that.
I haven’t any easy answers, but that is one level on which I ask, “How can we bring peace and healing into a community that’s growing ever larger, and therefore that is bound to lose its sense of close coherence, unless we struggle to preserve it?”
There is another level of healing that occurs to me quite frequently at the Divine Liturgy. We often have present non-Orthodox Christians and we are not able to give them Holy Communion by the rules of our Church. Now, I’m sure all of you have reflected on the reasons why the Orthodox Church takes this straight line over inter-communion. The act of Communion, we say, involves our total acceptance of the faith. It involves our total life in the Church. Therefore we cannot share in Communion with other Christians who—however much we may love them—we recognize as holding a different understanding of the Christian faith, and are therefore divided from us.
This is, we know, the argument why we cannot have inter-communion. But I think we should constantly ask ourselves if we are right to take this position? In fact I think we are, but I would say go on asking yourself in your heart if it’s the right thing to do. We Orthodox are becoming increasingly isolated on this issue. In my young days, most Anglicans would have taken the same view, and would have said they could not have Communion with Protestants. That’s certainly not the case now in the Anglican Church. Also, Roman Catholics held this view very strictly, but since Vatican II, whatever the official regulations may be, in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church there is widespread inter-communion. But we Orthodox continue as we were. Are we right? And if we do continue to uphold a strict line on inter-communion, in what spirit are we doing this? Is it in a spirit of peace and healing?
I remember at the beginning of my time as priest, the first occasion, and I still feel the wound inwardly, when persons came up for Communion whom I knew were not Orthodox. I felt that it was my duty as priest not to give them Communion. I was really interested in the reaction of two different parishioners. One said to me, “You did quite right! We cannot give Communion to these heretics. The Orthodox Church is the one true church.” He saw that in triumphalist terms. That made me feel even worse. But then another parishioner came up, and he said, in a very different tone of voice, “Yes, you were right, but how tragic, how sad, that we had to do this.” Then I thought, yes, we do have to do this, but we should never do it in an aggressive spirit of superiority but always with a sense of deep sorrow in our hearts. We should mind very much that we cannot yet have Communion together. Incidentally, both of those two parishioners are now Orthodox priests themselves. I think the first one, over the years, has grown a little less triumphalist. I hope we all do, but I’m not sure whether that always happens.
Then I’d like to reflect on a third level of healing. Let me take as my basis here the words said just before the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, at the heart of the Liturgy. The deacon lifts the Holy Gifts, and the celebrant says, “Thine own from Thine own, we offer Thee.” And in usual translation, it continues, “in all and for all.” But that translation could be misleading. It could be understood as meaning “for all human persons, for everyone.” In fact in Greek, it is not masculine, it is neuter—“for in all things, and for all things.” At that moment, we do not just speak about human persons, we speak about all created things. A more literal translation would be, “In all things and for all things.”
This shows us that the liturgy after the Liturgy involves service not just to all persons, but ministry to the whole creation, to all created things. The Eucharist, thus, commits us to an ecological healing. That is underlined in the words of Fr. Lev: “Peace of the whole world.” It means, says Fr. Lev, peace not just for humans, but all creatures—for animals and vegetables, stars, for all nature. Cosmic piety and cosmic healing. Ecology has become mildly fashionable and often has quite strong political associations. We Orthodox, along with other Christians, must involve ourselves fully on behalf of the environment, but we must do so in the name of the Divine Liturgy. We must put our ecological witness in the context of Holy Communion.
I’m very much encouraged by the initiatives taken recently by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Twenty some years ago, the then Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios issued a Christmas encyclical saying that when we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, his taking of a human body, we should also see that as God’s blessing upon the whole creation. We should understand the incarnation in cosmic terms. He goes on in his encyclical to call all of us to show, and I quote, “towards the creation an ascetic and Eucharistic spirit.” An ascetic spirit helps us distinguish between wants and needs. The real point being not what I want.
The real point, then, is what I need. I want a great many things that I don’t in fact need. The first step towards cosmic healing is for me to make a distinction between the two, and as far as possible, to stick just to what I need. People want more and more. That’s going to bring disaster on ourselves if we go on selfishly increasing our demands. But we don’t in fact need more and more to be truly human. That’s what I understand to define an ascetic spirit. Fasting indeed can help us to distinguish between what we want and what we need. Good to do without things, because then we realize that, yes, we can use them, but we can also forego them, we are not dependent on material things. We have freedom.
If we have a Eucharistic spirit, we realize all is a gift to be offered back in thanksgiving to God the Giver. Developing this theme, the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, followed by his successor, the present Patriarch Bartholomew, have dedicated the first of September, the New Year in the Orthodox calendar, as a day of creation, when we give thanks to God for his gifts, when we ask forgiveness for the way we have misused those gifts, and when we pray that we may be guided for the right use of them in the future. There’s a phrase that often comes to my mind from the special service “When in danger of earthquake.” “The earth, though without words, yet cries aloud, ‘Why, all peoples, do you inflict upon me such evil?’” And we are inflicting great evil on the earth. Interesting to see earthquakes as the earth groaning because of what we do to it!
Finally, I ask you to think for a moment about one of our Gospel readings. What happens when the risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday appears to his disciples? Christ says first to the disciples, “Peace be unto you.” The first thing that Christ speaks after rising from the dead is peace. Then what does he do? He shows them his hands and his side. Why does he do that? For recognition. Yes, to show that here he is, the one whom they saw three days before crucified; here he is, risen from the dead in the same body in which he suffered and died. But there’s surely more to it than that. What he is doing is showing that, though he is risen from the dead, yet he still bears upon him the marks of his suffering. In the heart of the risen and glorified Christ, there is still a place for our human suffering. When Christ rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he does not disengage himself from this broken world. On the contrary, he still carries on his body the marks of his suffering and he carries in his heart all our burdens. When he says before his ascension, “See I am with you, even to the end of the world,” surely he means, “I am with you in your distress and in your suffering.” Glorified, he is still with us. He has not rejected our suffering, nor disassociated himself from us.
We see from the Gospel how peace goes with cross bearing. Having given peace to his disciples, the risen Christ immediately shows them the marks of the Cross. Peace means healing and wholeness, but we have to add, peace also means vulnerability. Peace, we might say, doesn’t mean the absence of struggle or temptation or suffering. As long as we are in this world, we are to expect temptation and suffering. As St. Antony of Egypt said, “Take away temptation and nobody will be saved.” So peace doesn’t mean the absence of struggle, but peace means commitment, firmness of purpose, clarity of vision, an undivided heart, and a willingness to bear the burdens of others. When Paul says, “See, I bear in my body the marks, the stigmata, of Christ crucified,” he is describing his state of peace. IC
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Metropolitan Ware lives in England. This essay was edited from a talk given at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, France in April 1999.
For we are His workmanship; created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
The “Jubilee” in our name stems from the desire to fulfill the Lord’s ministry of facilitating the flow of His abundance to those in society in desperate need of a second chance. It is “The King’s” jubilee because the ministry and all that we share, all who share it, and every street, park, home, and prison where it is shared belongs to Jesus Christ the King.
In the Law of Moses, every 7th year was to be a Sabbath year and every fiftieth year (the year after the seventh Sabbath year) was to be a Jubilee year when the fields were to lie fallow, all debts were to be canceled, land was to be redistributed, and slaves were to be freed for the year to give them opportunity to earn enough to buy their freedom permanently (Leviticus 25-27).
The Sabbath and Jubilee years were an acknowledgment that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” that land, the most fundamental “capital” in an agrarian society, cannot be owned by men but belongs to the Lord and could thus only be used for a time. They also declared that our God is a God of “second chances.” Every seventh and fiftieth year, those who had made bad decisions, landing them in poverty, debt, or bondage were given an opportunity to work themselves into a better situation. The Jubilee was to start with the blowing of horns and the lifting of a great shout, followed by a radical social realignment and land redistribution—another shot for all to live in freedom! But, the Jews never truly observed the Sabbath years or the Jubilee. That is why they went into captivity and remained one year for every Sabbath year they had neglected.
Isaiah 61, pointing to the ministry of Christ and his Church, suggests a continual Jubilee as the Spirit proclaims “the acceptable year of the Lord.” The Church was quick to get about the business of the Jubilee. The Epistle of St. James promotes economic equality and balance saying “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted; but the rich, in that he is made low, because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away” (Jms. 1:9-10). The Apostle Paul spent one of his journeys collecting to provide for those suffering from a famine, encouraging the Corinthians to give willingly “that there may be equality” (2 Cor. 8:13).
From 1985 to 1988, I worked as a full-time, volunteer prison chaplain and coordinated the work of over 500 volunteers in 10 separate prison populations in Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties and Graterford State Prison. While serving in that capacity, I learned firsthand of the glaring disparities between rich and poor, between whites, blacks, and browns, and between suburbanites and inner city urbanites. I saw Montgomery County become one of the wealthiest in the country because of white flight from Philadelphia.
Seeking an authentic voice and wanting to address larger and more complicated issues, like land use and zoning, discrimination, addiction, welfare dependency, absentee fathers, and depersonalization in our society, I listened to the inmates at Graterford who told me I needed to help care for the homeless in Philadelphia. I took that as my “Macedonian call” and began serving meals to homeless people one night a week with Deacons Marvin Walker and Les Bodger.
In February 1989, my wife Bethann and I, together with our four daughters, and a few friends, formed The King’s Jubilee. We began assisting a storefront church that was already going out three nights each week to feed homeless people in Center City (downtown Philadelphia) by taking responsibility for one night ourselves. The next year, Nancy Karpinski wanted to start serving meals and sharing clothes among the poor (especially the children) on the streets of Pottstown and Stowe. We helped organize that and oversaw that work for several years. One thing led to another until The King’s Jubilee had weekly outreaches in seven towns spread across five counties in two states. In addition, there were other deliveries of material aid to various ministries on various occasions. Plus we provided free concerts and picnics in parks, a Monday Evening Bible Institute, and more.
Over time some of these ministries continued independently as local efforts, but most discontinued as conditions changed or volunteers got tired or passed away. We always saw that as OK: “It is accepted according to what a man has, not what he has not.” The King’s Jubilee continues, however, to serve a hot dinner to between 75 and 175 people in the park across the street from the family court building, at 18th and Vine Sts. in Philadelphia every Thursday evening at eight o’clock. We also distribute clothing, blankets, and toiletries. Some evenings, we give away “power packs” which can serve as a breakfast or lunch for the next day.
We get to know people and try to help in practical ways, like hooking people up with job training, helping people moving into permanent housing with cleaning supplies and equipment through our Operation Clean Start program, and helping people starting out with stocked cupboards and furniture items. We exchange phone numbers so we can stay in touch to try to help people transition into their new neighborhood. We also gather and pass on resources to other front-line ministries who do not receive government money.
My 2004 Scion xB, our mobile ministry platform, has been referred to as a clown car for a couple of reasons: it is rather colorfully decorated with decals, and occasionally spills out more people than it should be able to carry.
The checker-patterned splats on the four fenders and on the tailgate are called QR codes. They allow people to simply point their smart phones at the code and click and it takes them to our website. I added them to the car (the TKJ Mobile) after I observed someone typing the website into his smart phone while driving next to me and reading the side of my car. This is much safer. The decals always attract interest. People see them as we drive and want to donate or get involved. Recently, we received seven large bags of winter coats that employees at Selas Fluid Processing Corp. had gathered. One had seen the TKJ Mobile and shot the QR code.
Another time, while I was parked at the bank talking on my phone, a woman stood waiting by my window. I ended the call, rolled down my window, and greeted her. She asked, “Do you take in homeless children?” and told me she was about to kick her 26 year old son out of the house. I told her that he wasn’t a child, but began to discuss alternatives. Since then, we have been working with this troubled young man who struggles with heroin addiction and his family. He has helped serve on the street and with the cooking. He enjoys helping and is a skilled chef. We see this part of the ministry as homelessness prevention.
The TKJ Mobile is used as sort of a community car. People have used it when their car is in the shop, it has been to Canada to help some poor Vietnamese neighbors bless a baby, it has been to numerous court dates and to the county assistance office, and has met countless buses and trains and a few planes. I put Mercedes stars on it, because the people we carry are worthy of high class treatment. Frequently it runs on gas paid for by others, for which I am grateful. On more than one occasion, five adult men have traveled, more or less comfortably in it, along with a considerable amount of gear. It’s when we arrive somewhere to serve and people just keep getting out that I sometimes get the clown car crack. IC
For more information, inspiration, or to donate go to www.shoutforjoy.net. Cranford is an OPF member and occasionally posts on our Facebook page.
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).
Pastors, parishioners and parish councils often find themselves in conflict with each other—conflicts that arise from misunderstandings, differences in interests and values, competition for position and power, and sinful actions. St. James teaches that conflict and quarrels are caused by the preeminence of our desires and passions. When left unfilled, these demands and passions lead us to resent and accuse one another; conflict arises, and the result is enmity and our separation from Christ.
Inordinate attachment to our differences and demands often leads us into conflict with one another. The desires for control that fire these differences are self-centered and divisive, seeking their own satisfaction, often at any cost. When they are not satisfied, disappointments arise, leading us to make more unreasonable demands of others, to judge others for not fulfilling our desires or doing what we think is right. We act in divisive ways, and finally punish others or retaliate through our actions, with accusations, arguments, gossip, hatred, and more. Conflict has painful effects on us, wounding and tearing the fabric of our oneness in Christ Jesus.
When conflict in a parish is not addressed in a skillful and spiritual manner, it can become corrosive, with grave consequences for pastors and parishioners alike. The more prolonged and contentious the conflict, the more harm done. Conflict, how-ever, offers us an important opportunity to serve other people as stewards, to grow through these practices toward a union with Christ (theosis) and to give glory to God.
In resolving a conflict, we trust in God’s compassion and mercy, taking responsi-bility for the role we have had in it, allowing ourselves to be restored, genuinely seeking peace and reconciliation, and forgiving each other as Christ has forgiven us. We consider the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who says, “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for indeed, all that we have done, you have done for us” (Is. 26:12).
God loved us so much that we were reconciled with him through Christ Jesus and redeemed from our estrangement. St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans states, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:11). Consequently, there is an urgent need for peacemaking efforts and reconciliation within our everyday lives and within the life of the Church. In fact, peacemaking and reconciliation are essential ministries of the Church. A ministry of peacemaking and reconciliation and its practices are committed to building up the body of Christ and His Church. The mission of this peacemaking ministry focuses on teaching practices that bring about the resolution of conflict through reconciliation. This resolution allows movement through forgiveness to communion, where once there was conflict and enmity.
In June 2010, Metropolitan Philip (Antiochian Archdiocese of North America) approved the creation of a ministry for peacemaking and reconciliation within the Department of Lay Ministry of the Archdiocese. Since then, several of us (Frs. John Mefrige and Timothy Ferguson, Dr. John Dalack, Anthony Bashir) have sought professional training in peacemaking and reconciliation within spiritual com-munities. Our approach is grounded in the teachings of the Orthodox Church and incorporates scriptural and patristic teachings. With the approval of the Metro-politan, we have begun to work with a few parishes, focusing on their desire once again to be reconciled one to the other and to let their “light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
This ministry is an initiative in support of our Hierarchy, our clergy, and our churches. The goal is to implement a healthy and spiritual process that focuses on conflict resolution and reconciliation. At this time, the Department is preparing to offer professionally trained crisis-intervention teams to help local parishes embroiled in destructive conflict. It is our belief that the Orthodox Christian mediator is an unbiased person who serves many functions, including convening, facilitating communication and understanding, building trust, modeling behavior, generating alternatives, and bearing witness.
When our department is invited to a parish and given permission to intervene by the Metropolitan, we will follow a specific process that includes an assessment of the current conflict and a determination of readiness for intervention. Our mediation efforts follow a specific process: ground rules are established, opening statements are made, stories are heard, problems identified and clarified, solutions explored, and agreements made. Conflict coaching and conflict mediation have distinct phases that incorporate the Scriptures as well as the Church Fathers in an open, fair, and honest dialogue directed to reconciliation and forgiveness.
As this ministry grows, we will want to recruit and train qualified individuals within each of the dioceses so as to build a team of well-prepared Orthodox Christian mediators who will be available, as needed, for peacemaking and reconciliation initiatives. Specific information and qualifications concerning team membership will be made available upon request. We will work through the Metropolitan’s office so that we might be in contact with local bishops, who could assist us in identifying potential members for this department. Our goal is to create a department that works in harmony with diocesan representatives who are prepared and trained in this ministry to the glory of God. IC
For information regarding this ministry or for answers to specific questions, please contact Fr. John or Anthony Bashir at one of the following e-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. IC published an article by Fr. John titled “Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution in the Church” in issue 57, Summer 2010.
Thoughts on the False Christian Character of Fascism
by Miltiadis Konstantinou and Efstathios C. Lianos-Liantis
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez’ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. (Rev. 2:20).
We should begin with a persistent historical paradox: When fascism and Nazism became the dominant state ideologies in Europe, the great Christian confessions did not resist them. They did not put forward the crucified Christ as a counter to the armbands and swastikas, nor did they contrast the word of Gospel with the hate-filled speech of the fascists. They kept quiet, they went along, they blessed, but they did not oppose. And this stands—and will always stand—as a shameful chapter in the history of the dominant Christian groups of those times. The Church, however, is not (only) its hierarchical bodies and administration; the Church is, primarily, the saints and martyrs of every age. The Church was founded and will ever be founded on the blood of its martyrs; and those Christians who confessed the truth of Christ and were persecuted, imprisoned, and executed by the fascists are its modern boast. As has always happened throughout history, the Christian truth was reconfirmed by the bravery and martyrdom of a few.
No Christian confession today wants to recall Nazi collaborators or accept the timid apology of members who supported them without the criteria of truthfulness. Everyone—almost everyone, if we take into account the unique case of Cardinal Stepinac—has been condemned to oblivion. And one would that after the disclosure of fascism’s hideous crimes against unarmed minorities and the Holocaust in its entirety, the Christian world would permanently delete any ideological reference to or sympathy for it. For some, however, this remains fascism’s “secret lure.”
Despite its inherently anti-Christian stance, the lure of fascism as a movement is in how it employs traditionalistic values and “deifies” the concept of the nation (and therefore, the superego of a people), esteeming a particular society solely because it belongs to a certain racial [ethnic, cultural, etc.] group. These are the points that correspond to certain inflexible notions of a part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which—leaving aside the Christian message’s universal perspective and the radical equality proclaimed by Christ and his disciples—simply repeats history, and, in a completely arbitrary way, prefers to barricade the Church within the limits of the nation-state, making it hostile toward foreigners and those who are different. And precisely when Christian identity is turned into a paradox, or nullified altogether, at least for a conscientious member of the Church, one adopts a kind of fascism.
In 1933, when the fragile Weimar Republic was succeeded by Nazi totalitarianism, the National-Socialist theorists tried to construct a fake Christian confession, which would serve the fascist state machine. The main thrust of what they called “positive Christianity” essentially negated the fundamental principles of the Christian faith, replacing Christianity with a racist, neo-pagan construct, which simply used the name of Christ. Their stated intentions included the rejection of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture and the “de-Judaizing” of the New Testament (especially the Gospel of Matthew and the Pauline Epistles), the view that the Reformation was being fulfilled in the “messianic” figure of Adolf Hitler, the racial identification of Jesus as an Aryan, and the replacement of Jewish elements of Christianity with ancient German traditions and Druid myths.
A handful of German pastors, theologians, and lay people reacted to these positions, as well as to the creation of the Reichskirche, the Nazi “church,” and formed the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church) in an attempt to resist the growing fascism in the Protestant confession. In their Theological Declaration at Barmen, the leaders of the Bekennende Kirche noted: “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” The leading figures in this small group of exiled Christians were herded into concentration camps and some were executed, even up to the very end of the war. Among those distinguished by the vigor of their spirit are the great Karl Barth and the “martyr” Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The subsequent vindication of the Christian resistance was not complete, however, because responsibility was never assigned to the members of the Church, the common people, who, rejecting Christian love, loved the metaphysical “I” of the nation or the race.
Christianity can be true only when it is chosen, exists, and ministers with absolute freedom, and is inspired by love, as described beautifully in Greek by Paul. Any other form of Christianity is fake, because it tarnishes the image of man as a creature of God’s love and abolishes its expression of the Word’s redemptive, loving sacrifice. Fascism is incompatible with this freedom of love—as well as with freedom of expression and conscience—and this is precisely why it cannot be Christian. The Church is the Body of Christ when it accepts and embraces everyone; the Fathers, typically, did not consider those who consciously place themselves outside the Church as adversaries, but rather as “potential” members of the Church. Fascism always operates the same way: it singles out a social group and presents it as “the enemy” in order to incite people’s emotions, trigger their instinct for self-preservation, and rally their followers. The Church—the true Church—embraces its enemies; fascism constructs its enemies, and then banishes or executes them.
In the exquisite hymn sung before the Epitaphion on Good Friday, Joseph of Arimathea beseeches Pilate to give him Jesus’ dead body with the following words: “Give me the foreigner, foreign as a foreigner from childhood. Give me the foreigner, killed as a foreigner.” The first foreigner in Christian history was Christ himself; he who in his earthly life was a refugee, persecuted, a political prisoner, who died as a criminal on the cross, talking about his “kingdom” to a thief.
The foreigner, the “other,” is a sanctified entity in the body of the living Church. He is the one whom the community of believers will help and embrace as if he were Christ himself, just as Christ said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me….Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:35-40). Can this practice of welcoming and actively supporting the foreigner coexist with the abysmal hatred and violence birthed by fascism and similar ideologies?
Today, when fascism is making its appearance once again on the social map, threatening our fellow man, the leaders of the Church should not be silent. A repetition of the errors of the period between the two World Wars and pastoral indifference will lead to a crushing rejection of our ecclesiastical leaders and, perhaps, even Christianity itself. Indeed, Orthodoxy, which is the dominant faith in this country [Greece], was in its golden age when it identified itself with the powerless, when it chose to be persecuted for the truth. As Fotios Kontoglou beautifully describes it in one of his short essays: “The Orthodoxy of that time was like the tortured mother whose children grieved her more rather than herself being complacent. True love is what they call painful love, on which Christ founded his sweet faith.” IC
Miltiadis Konstantinou is a professor in the Department of Theology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Efstathios C. Lianos-Liantas is a theologian, editor, and doctoral candidate at Aristotle University.
The following is not so much a review as a topical commentary on a few readings related to this issue’s theme.
A recent article in UUWorld, the magazine of the Unitarian-Universalist Association of Congregations, talked of “The End of Church.” The author, Fredric J. Muir, is the pastor of a UU church in Annapolis, MD, not far from my home. He notes that figures from Thomas Jefferson to contemporary scholars have suggested that his denomination has a potential to do well in America, yet “we remaina small religious minority.” He believes that UU’s are being “held back by a pervasive and disruptive commitment to individualism.” Although in tune with one of the characteristic strains of American culture, he says, this individualism also presents a problem. How can people who are “allergic to authority and power” also be deeply involved in their society? Muir is asking more than just how his faith tradition can be more successful and expansionary; he is wondering how it can be more conducive to the development of what Martin Luther King and others have called “The Beloved Community.” In other words, how can one (recalling the words of Hillel) be “for oneself” while also embracing social consciousness and an ethic of service?
Muir cites Emerson: “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature,” and even, “men are less [when] together than alone.” The Beloved Community, in contrast, expresses “the ethical meaning of the Kingdom of God….the divine indwelling that equally graces all people” (citing Prof. Gary Dorrien about King).
Certainly, the latter is more consonant with the standard one gleans from Orthodox tradition: “One Orthodox Christian is no Orthodox Christian,” we say; we are saved together, rather than in isolation from our brothers and sisters. Leitourgia is the work of “the people,” not of a lone actor.
But, if this is the case, why are Unitarians so much more prominent in social endeavors than we Orthodox are? Their congregations are regularly engaged in a variety of efforts to seek the common good. Sure, we can point to the Ecumenical Patriarch addressing environmental stewardship, or find archival footage of an Orthodox hierarch marching with civil rights leaders, but no one would say that we have placed our stamp on society to the degree that Catholics, Jews, Quakers, or Brethren have, relative to our numbers. Is there a reason why Matthew 25 is not a Bible verse that we find in the lectionary for our Divine Liturgy?
Another periodical caught my attention. This one, called Prism, comes from Evangelicals for Social Action. The articles in a recent issue treated the conflict in Israel/Palestine, air pollution, homelessness, and “transcending the culture wars to build bridges for the common good.” One author prayed, “Whether we veer to the traditional or the innovative, may our focus be on Christ alone as we seek to follow him in a world that will change regardless of how we feel about budging.”
We Orthodox take pride in the fact that we honor tradition and resist innovation (at least for its own sake). But would it really be an innovation for us to involve ourselves in the community as the early Christians did? They spread out far and wide spreading the Good News of Christ’s life and teaching, and also took care of the sick, protected widows and orphans, held their wealth in common and showed their unique character in “how they loved one another.”
It is not as though the concerns for justice, peace, and the poor in other communities are embraced to the exclusion of core values. In the wind these days is a strong current of active searching for deeper and more profound expressions of Christianity. In what is usually called the “Emergent Church”—an untidy phenom-enon that is not quite an organization, nor exactly a movement—thousands are looking for ways to go beyond what they have in their own ecclesial backyard. Whether Catholic, Methodist, Baptist or Mennonite, the “Emergents” say they want a more serious relationship with Jesus Christ—less bureaucracy but more joy, less comfort and more challenge. Some form separate gatherings to augment their own church, others propose change in the way of “doing church” in their denomination.
A recent book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Tony Jones), attempts to corral the disparate threads of this surprising and sometimes baffling new development in Christendom. Jones says that, “The modern church— at least as it is characterized by imposing physical buildings, professional clergy, denominational bureaucracies, residential seminary training, and other trappings— was an endeavor by faithful men and women in their time and place, attempting to live into the biblical gospel. But the church was never the end, only the means.” He posts, as sidebars throughout his book, a series of brief “dispatches,” such as these:
“Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality.”
“Emergents believe that church should function more like an open-source network and less like a hierarchy.”
“Emergents believe that theology is local, conversational, and temporary. To be faithful to the theological giants of the past, emergents endeavor to continue their theological dialogue.”
The idea of theology being “temporary” would strike many of us as anathema, yet we can relate to Jones’ description of emergents as embracing “the messiness of human life.” In our tradition of ekonomia, we recognize that intellectual formulations may often miss much of the mysterion that is God and His Kingdom.
Interestingly, the Emerging Church is, I’ve learned, quite open to exploring and accepting key elements of the Orthodox faith. Its members are seriously curious about contemplative and monastic traditions, and interested in rediscovering the Holy Spirit (and the Trinity in general), while they simultaneously “downplay the differences between clergy and laity.” They may haul out their pews and bring in overstuffed sofas as part of their “remodeling”—never considering that large parts of the Church never installed pews in the first place!
Personally, I am not ready yet to have communion bread come in “cinnamon raisin or cheddar jalapeno sourdough,” as in one congregation the book describes, but I admire the Emergents’ urge to seek God Himself, even if the way leads away from the temple they grew up in. They, Jones says, “are pushing over fences and roaming around at the margins of the church in America” like feral animals that have become de-domesticated. Time will tell where the movement leads.
So, while we may have something to learn about doing social action, what do we do well as Orthodox Christians? Another book I recently finished does a good job of elucidating the soul of our Holy Tradition. Everyday Saints and Other Stories features some elements that might cause evangelicals, emergents and Unitarians to blanche: exorcisms, gulags, and superstition. But it also shows the heart of Russian monastic life in all its “messy” richness. Written by a monk of the Pskov Caves Monastery, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), the book is a series of memoirs and hearsay, a work of non-fiction but as readable as a collection by Gogol. One encounters dozens of figures who have been Fr. Tikhon’s elders, peers, or parishion-ers over several decades, during both the Soviet era and the period of perestroika.
Saints has sold millions of copies in Russia and is available in a dozen languages. The stories told so captivatingly are too long to be repeated here, but the author also offers, from time to time, brilliant and moving passages on life in the faith:
“For us it was somehow completely obvious that Soviet authority would some-day live itself out and collapse with a magnificent crash. This is not to say, of course, that it could not seriously ruin our lives, putting some of us in jail, for example, or even getting us killed. But we believed that unless it was the will of God nothing of the sort whatever possibly could happen anyway. In the words of the ancient ascetic Abba Forstus: ‘If God wishes me to live, He knows how to make this happen. But if God does not wish me to live, then why should I live?’”
“This new world Fr. Raphael had joined was full of joy and light, and governed by its own particular laws. In this world, the help of the Lord would always come when it was truly needed. In this world wealth was ridiculous, and glamour and ostentatiousness absurd, while modesty and humility were beautiful and becoming. Here great souls and just souls truly judged themselves to be lesser and worse than any other man. Here the most respected were those who had fled from all worldly glory. And here the most powerful were those who with all their hearts had recognized the powerlessness of their unaided humanity. Here the true power was hidden with frail elders, and it was understood that sometimes it was better to be old and ill than to be young and healthy…. Here the death of each became a lesson to all, and the end of earthly life was just the beginning.”
Place Everyday Saints alongside The Philokalia on your bookshelf, if you are not called to enter the monastery yourself. The search is mainly within each of us, after all. Poet Corey Carlson wrote that God’s love is “never hidden far, though we seek as though it were. IC