Category Archives: Chapter 5: REFERENCE TEXTS FROM THE HOLY FATHERS

REFERENCE TEXTS FROM THE HOLY FATHERS
Nation and Nationalism

Chapter 5: REFERENCE TEXTS FROM THE HOLY FATHERS

REFERENCE TEXTS FROM THE HOLY FATHERS

Nation and Nationalism

Disregard for the World

As long as this body remains common with the rest, its corporal condition must also be common, and it is not granted the members of the human race to be separated from one another, unless there is withdrawal from this life. Meanwhile, we, good and evil, are contained within our house. Whatever comes within the house we endure with equal fate, until, when our temporal earthly period has been fulfilled, we are distributed among the homes of eternal death or immortality. So then we are not comparable and equal with you, because, while we are still in this world and in this flesh, we incur equally with you the annoyances of the world and of the flesh. For since all that punishes is in the sense of pain, it is manifest that he is not a participant in your punishment whom you see does not suffer pain with you.

— To Demetrian[1], by St. Cyprian of Carthage, Chapter 19

If, as the Apostle Paul says (1 Cor 7.31), heaven, earth and anything else in the universe passes away, how can we praise the fertility of the earth and water? Although you may consider the place where you live or one similar to be surpassing, the [divine] word regards them as nothing.

— The First Homily Concerning the Forty Martyrs[2] (part one), by St. Gregory of Nyssa

It is a very serious consideration, that now at this time any are forbidden to leave the world; a time when the end of the world is drawing nigh.

— Epistles3, St. Gregory the Great, Book 3, Epistle 65

The Value of Earthly Homelands

It is not virtue, therefore, either to be the enemy of the bad or the defender of the good, because virtue cannot be subject to uncertain chances.

Moreover, to reckon the interests of our country as in the first place.

What are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation? — that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues, — all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence.

How can a man be just who injures, who hates, who despoils, who puts to death? And they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things: for they are ignorant of what this being serviceable is, who think nothing useful, nothing advantageous, but that which can be held by the hand; and this alone cannot be held, because it may be snatched away.

The Divine Institutes, by Lactantius4, Book 6, Chapter 6

You have exchanged the notion of the motherland for a vacuous internationalism although you know very well that when it comes to defending the motherland, the proletarians of all nations will be its faithful sons, not its traitors.

— Letter to the Council of People’s Commissars, 13/26 October 1918, by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow

The Identity of the Christian Empire

And they (the Jewish teachers) said once more: “if we accept that He (the anointed One) has already come, as you claim on the basis of the prophets and other arguments, then how is it that the Roman Empire is still in power?” The Philosopher answered: “It is no longer in power, for it has passed, like all empires at its likeness, for our Empire is not of Rome, but of Christ.”

— The Life of Sts. Cyrillus and Methodius5, Chapter 10

The New People

I exhort you to have but one faith, and one preaching, and one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ; and His blood which was shed for us is one; one loaf also is broken to all [the communicants], and one cup is distributed among them all: there is but one altar for the whole Church, and one bishop, with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants. Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth; and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism; and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ, and by their own sweat and toil; it behooves you also, therefore, as “a peculiar people, and a holy nation,” to perform all things with harmony in Christ.

— The Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Philadelphians6, Chapter 4

The Roman emperors worshipped idols, but all the present — coming from this or that people or tribe — rule in the name of Christ.

— The Life of Sts. Cyrillus and Methodius, Chapter 10

Racism and Xenophobia

This saying of Cicero is true: “But they who say that regard is to be had to citizens, but that it is not to be had to foreigners, these destroy the common society of the human race.”

— The Divine Institutes, by Lactantius, Book 6, Chapter 6

The whole of Russia has become a battlefield! And that is not all. Things are even more terrible. We receive rumours about pogroms against Jews, the beating of a race without concern for age, guilt, sex or convictions. Angered by the circumstances of life, man searches scapegoats for his mishap, and in order to throw upon them his offences, pain and suffering hits out so hard, that under the strikes of his hand, blinded by the thirst of vengeance, many innocent victims fall.

— Pastoral Letter to the Faithful of the Orthodox Church of Russia, 8/21 July 19197, by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow

The True Homeland of the Christians

I see, most excellent Diognetus, that thou art anxious to understand the religion of the Christians, and that thy enquiries respecting them are distinctly and carefully made, as to what God they trust and how they worship Him, that they all disregard the world and despise death, and as to the nature of the affection which they entertain one to another.

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of life. Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world. The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible: so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible. The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war with it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, though it receiveth no wrong from them, because they set themselves against its pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members: so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together. The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meats and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office for which God hath appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.

— The Epistle to Diognetus 8, Chapters 1, 5 and 6 [information regarding authorship is in the endnote]

The citizens of the heavenly city honour their (the martyrs’) success which brings joy to the entire assembly of heaven.

— Second Homily concerning the Forty Martyrs, by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Peace

Interior Peace

For what advantage is it, that the world enjoys profound peace, if thou art at war with thyself? This then is the peace we should keep. If we have it, nothing from without will be able to harm us. And to this end the public peace contributes no little: whence it is said, “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” But if any one is disturbed when there is quiet, he is a miserable creature. Seest thou that He speaks of this peace which I call the third (inner, ed.) kind? Therefore when he has said, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,” he does not stop there, but adds “in all godliness and honesty.” But we cannot live in godliness and honesty, unless that peace be established. For when curious reasonings disturb our faith, what peace is there? or when spirits of uncleanness, what peace is there?

— Homily 7 on 1 Tim 2:2-4, by St. John Chrysostom

Christ Brings Peace

Abel, peaceable and just, while he was sacrificing to God innocently, taught others also, when they offer a gift at the altar, to come with fear of God, with simple heart, with the law of justice, with the peace of concord. Worthily did he, since he was such in God’s sacrifice, himself later become a sacrifice to God, so that being the first to manifest martyrdom he initiated the Lord’s passion by his blood, who had both the justice and peace of the Lord. Finally, such are crowned by the Lord; such on the day of judgement will be vindicated with the Lord. But the discordant and the dissident and he who has not peace with his brethren, according as the blessed Apostle and the Holy Scripture testify, not even if he be slain for His name, shall be able to escape the crime of fraternal dissension, because, as it is written: Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and a murderer does not arrive at the kingdom of heaven nor does he live with God. He cannot be with Christ, who preferred to be an imitator of Judas rather than of Christ. What a sin that is which cannot be washed away by the baptism of blood; what a crime that is which cannot be expiated by martyrdom!

— On the Lord’s Prayer, by St. Cyprian of Carthage, Chapter 24

And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, “The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn,” might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.

— First Apology, by St. Justin Martyr, Chapter 39

We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,-our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife. For you are aware that the prophetic word says, ‘And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.’ Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world.

— Dialogue, by St. Justin Martyr, Chapter 110

After the name of Christ was heard in the world, not only were wars not increased, but they were even in great measure diminished by the restraining of furious passions.

If all without exception, who feel that they are men not in form of body but in power of reason, would lend an ear for a little to His salutary and peaceful rules, and would not, in the pride and arrogance of enlightenment, trust to their own senses rather than to His admonitions, the whole world, having turned the use of steel into more peaceful occupations, would now be living in the most placid tranquillity, and would unite in blessed harmony, maintaining inviolate the sanctity of treaties.

— Against the Gentiles, by Arnobius9, Book 1, Chapter 6

He (Christ) not only preached through His own disciples, but also wrought so persuasively on men’s understanding that, laying aside their savage habits and forsaking the worship of their ancestral gods, they learnt to know Him and through Him to worship the Father. While they were yet idolaters, the Greeks and Barbarians were always at war with each other, and were even cruel to their own kith and kin. Nobody could travel by land or sea at all unless he was armed with swords, because of their irreconcilable quarrels with each other. Indeed, the whole course of their life was carried on with the weapons. But since they came over to the school of Christ, as men moved with real compunction they have laid aside their murderous cruelty and are war-minded no more. On the contrary, all is peace among them and nothing remains save desire for friendship.

Who, then, is He Who has done these things and has united in peace those who hated each other, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation? Even from the beginning, moreover, this peace that He was to administer was foretold, for Scripture says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles, and nation shall not take sword against nation, neither shall they learn any more to wage war.” Nor is this by any means incredible.

The barbarians of the present day are naturally savage in their habits, and as long as they sacrifice to their idols they rage furiously against each other and cannot bear to be a single hour without weapons. But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer. In a word, instead of fighting each other, they take up arms against the devil and the demons, and overcome them by their self-command and integrity of soul.

— On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius the Great, Chapters 8, 51 and 52

Peacemaking

Moreover, you have many things to ponder. Ponder paradise, where Cain, who destroyed his brother through jealousy, does not return. Ponder the kingdom of heaven to which the Lord admits only those of one heart and mind. Ponder the fact that only those can be called the sons of God who are peace-makers, who, united by divine birth and law, correspond to the likeness of God the Father and Christ. Ponder that we are under God’s eyes, that we are running the course of our conversation, and life with God Himself looking on and judging, that then finally we can arrive at the point of succeeding in seeing Him, if we delight Him as He now observes us by our actions, if we show ourselves worthy of His grace and indulgence, if we, who are to please Him forever in heaven, please Him first in this world.

— Jealousy and Envy, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, Chapter 18

Non-Violence and Martyrdom

Non-violence and non-revenge is the Christian Norm

We, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another. An ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.

— Against the Gentiles, by Arnobius, Book 1, Chapter 6

Why, then, are you disturbed? I will never willingly desert you, though if force is used, I cannot meet it. I shall be able to grieve, to weep, to groan; against weapons, soldiers, Goths, my tears are my weapons, for these are a priest’s defence.

I ought not, I cannot resist in any other way; but to fly and forsake the Church is not my way; lest any one should suppose I did so from fear of some heavier punishment. You yourselves know that I am wont to show respect to our emperors, but not to yield to them, to offer myself freely to punishment, and not to fear what is prepared for me.

— St. Ambrosius of Milan, Sermon Against Auxentius, on the Giving Up of the Basilicas10

Where the Saviour is named, there every demon is driven out. Again, who has ever so rid men of their natural passions that fornicators become chaste and murderers no longer wield the sword and those who formerly were craven cowards boldly play the man? In a word, what persuaded the barbarians and heathen folk in every place to drop their madness and give heed to peace, save the faith of Christ and the sign of the cross? What other things have given men such certain faith in immortality as have the cross of Christ and the resurrection of His body?

— On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great, Chapter 8, 50

What a difficult, but yet elevated task it is for a Christian, to retain within himself the great joy of non-anger and love even when his enemy has been overthrown, when the persecuted martyr prepares himself to judge his recent persecutor and oppressor. The providence of God has already placed certain children of the Russian Orthodox Church in front of this temptation. Passions arise…

Orthodox Russia, let this shame pass by you! Let this curse not touch upon you. May your hand not be reddened by blood, which cries out to heaven. Do not let the enemy of Christ, the devil, carry you away by the passion of vengeance and to besmirch the endeavour of your martyrdom from the hands of the violators and persecutors of Christ. Remember: pogroms are the victory of your enemies. Remember: pogroms are a dishonour for yourself, a dishonour to the Church! For the Christian, the ideal is Christ, who used no sword to defend Himself, who brought the sons of thunder to peace, having prayed for His enemies on the Cross. For the Christian, the guiding light is the command of the holy Apostle, who suffered much for his Saviour and who sealed his dedication to Him by his death: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God: for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; is he his thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.'” (Rom. 12:19-20).

Should we, Christians, embark upon this way (of vengeance, ed.)? O, let this not be! Not even if our hearts would break from the grief and oppressions inflicted upon our religious feelings, our love of our native land or our temporary well-being, even if our feelings would infallibly tell us who and where our assailant is. No, let better bleeding wounds be inflicted upon us, than that we move to revenge, or worse even, to pogroms, against our enemies, or those, whom we take to be the source of our suffering. Follow Christ! Don’t betray Him! Don’t fall into temptation. Do not allow your own soul to perish in the blood of vengeance. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).

— Pastoral letter to the faithful of the Orthodox Church of Russia, 8/21 July 1919, by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow

You detach yourself from the cross to which you have crucified yourself alongside the Saviour if you go and hit your brother.

— Small Catechism, by St. Theodore the Studite

Martyrdom Without Self-defence

Hence (from the days of Cain and Abel) finally begin the first hatreds of the new brotherhood; hence the abominable parricides, when the unjust Cain is jealous of the just Abel, when the evil persecutes the good out of jealousy and envy… He was unjustly oppressed who had been the first to show justice; he endured hatred who did not know how to hate; he was slain impiously who while dying did not fight back. What other than the stimulus of jealousy provoked Saul the king also to hate David, to desire to kill that innocent, merciful man, patient with a gentle mildness, by often repeated persecutions? Because, when Goliath had been killed and so great an enemy had been slain by divine assistance and condescension, the admiring people burst forth into approbation unto praise of David, Saul through envy conceived the furies of hatred and persecution.

— Jealousy and Envy, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, Chapter 5

For this reason it is that no one of us fights back when he is apprehended, nor do our people avenge themselves against your unjust violence though numerous and plentiful. Our certainty of the vengeance which is to come makes us patient. The harmless give way to the harmful; the innocent acquiesce in the punishments and tortures certain and confident that whatever we suffer will not remain unavenged, and that the greater is the injury of the persecution, the more just and serious will be the vengeance for the persecution. Long ago divine Scripture laid down and said: ‘Vengeance is mine, I shall repay, says the Lord,’ and let the Holy Spirit again warn us saying: ‘Say not: I will avenge myself on my enemy, but wait in the Lord so that He may aid thee.’ Thus it is clear and manifest that not through us but for us do all these things happen which come down from the anger of God.

— To Demetrian, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, Chapter 17

They (the Christians) love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility.

The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war with it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, though it receiveth no wrong from them, because they set themselves against its pleasures. The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members: so Christians love those that hate them. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meats and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office for which God hath appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.

— The Epistle to Diognetus, Chapters 5 and 6

Spiritual Benefit of Martyrdom

Our enemies do good when they are hostile and thereby cause no dishonour. The devil assists Job instead of harming him (Job 1+); the king of the Assyrians helps Daniel (Dan 3.1+); the three youths in the furnace profess God’s grace (Dan 3.24); Isaiah praises the Hebrews when he was sawed in half (cf. Heb 11.37); Zachariah blessed his murderers while standing between the temple and altar of incense (Mat 23.35-7); John proclaimed God’s help when Herod beheaded him (Mat 14.1+); the Apostles [blessed] those who bound and persecuted them; all the martyrs loved their persecutors and could not hold fast unless these athletes maintained their courage.

— Second Letter Concerning the Forty Martyrs, by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Love of Enemies

From the sacrament of the cross you receive both food and drink; let the wood, which availed at Mara in a figure for sweetening the taste, avail you in truth for soothing the softened breast, and you will not labour for the remedy for increasing the health. Cure yourself at the source from which you had been wounded. Love those whom you hated before; esteem those whom you envied with unjust disparagements. Imitate the good, if you can follow them; if you cannot follow them, surely rejoice with them and congratulate your betters. Make yourself a sharer with them in a united love; make yourself an associate in a fellowship of charity and in a bond (Syndesmos) of brotherhood. Your debts will be forgiven you, when you yourself shall forgive; your sacrifices will be accepted, when you shall come to God as a peace-maker. Your thoughts and actions will be directed by God, when you ponder the things that are divine and just, as it is written: ‘Let the heart of man ponder just things, so that his steps may be directed by God.’

— Jealousy and Envy, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, Chapter 17

They (the Christians) love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility. In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world.

The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members: so Christians love those that hate them.

— The Epistle to Diognetus, Chapters 5 and 6

War

Positive Service of War and Army

Law of Constantine concerning the confessors of the Christian religion.

Victor Constantinus, Maximus Augustus, to the inhabitants of the province of Palestine:

Once more, with respect to those who had previously been preferred to any military distinction, of which they were afterwards deprived, for the cruel and unjust reason that they chose rather to acknowledge their allegiance to God than to retain the rank they held; we leave them perfect liberty of choice, either to occupy their former stations, should they be content again to engage in military service, or after an honourable discharge, to live in undisturbed tranquillity.”

…Accordingly he called on God with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven. About noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. And while he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night suddenly came on; then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.

…Thus the emperor in all his actions honoured God, and exercised an unwearied oversight over His churches. And God requited him, by subduing all barbarous nations under his feet, so that he was able everywhere to raise trophies over his enemies: and He proclaimed him as conqueror to all mankind, and made him a terror to his adversaries: not indeed that this was his natural character, since he was rather the meekest, and gentlest, and most benevolent of men.

…Indeed, wherever this appeared, the enemy soon fled before his victorious troops. And the emperor perceiving this, whenever he saw any part of his forces hard pressed, gave orders that the salutary trophy should be moved in that direction, like some triumphant charm against disasters: at which the combatants were divinely inspired, as it were, with fresh strength and courage, and immediate victory was the result.

…The emperor, when he saw that he must meet his enemies in a second battle, devoted the intervening time to his Saviour. He pitched the tabernacle of the cross outside and at a distance from his camp, and there passed his time in a pure and holy manner, offering up prayers to God; following thus the example of his ancient prophet, of whom the sacred oracles testify, that he pitched the tabernacle without the camp. He was attended only by a few, whose faith and pious devotion he highly esteemed. And this custom he continued to observe whenever he meditated an engagement with the enemy. And then, as if moved by a divine impulse, he would rush from the tabernacle, and suddenly give orders to his army to move at once without delay, and on the instant to draw their swords. On this they would immediately commence the attack, fight vigorously, so as with incredible celerity to secure the victory, and raise trophies of victory over their enemies.

…With full confidence in his Saviour’s aid, he raised his conquering standard against these enemies also [the Scythian and Sarmatian tribes], and soon reduced them all to obedience; coercing by military force those who fiercely resisted his authority, while, on the other hand, he conciliated the rest by wisely conducted embassies, and reclaimed them to a state of order and civilisation from their lawless and savage life. Thus the Scythians at length learned to acknowledge subjection to the power of Rome.

…And not only so, but he also caused the sign of the salutary trophy to be impressed on the very shields of his soldiers; and commanded that his embattled forces should be preceded in their march, not by golden images, as heretofore, but only by the standard of the cross.

…With regard to those (soldiers) who were as yet ignorant of divine truth, he provided by a second statute that they should appear on each Lord’s day on an open plain near the city, and there, at a given signal, offer to God with one accord a prayer which they had previously learnt. He admonished them that their confidence should not rest in their spears, or armour, or bodily strength, but that they should acknowledge the supreme God as the giver of every good, and of victory itself; to whom they were bound to offer their prayers with due regularity, uplifting their hands toward heaven, and raising their mental vision higher still to the king of heaven, on whom they should call as the Author of victory, their Preserver, Guardian, and Helper. The emperor himself prescribed the prayer to be used by all his troops, commanding them, to pronounce the following words in the Latin tongue:

We acknowledge thee the only God: we own thee, as our King and implore thy succour. By thy favour have we got the victory. Through thee are we mightier than our enemies. We render thanks for thy past benefits, and trust thee for future blessings. Together we pray to thee, and beseech thee long to preserve to us, safe and triumphant, our emperor Constantine and his pious sons.” Such was the duty to be performed on Sunday by his troops, and such the prayer they were instructed to offer up to God.

— The Life of St. Constantine the Great, by Eusebius of Caesarea11, Book 1, Chapters 24-33; Book 2, Chapters 7-12; Book 4, Chapters 5-20

…You have taken from our soldiers everything for which they fought splendidly in the past. You have taught those, who not long ago were still brave and invincible, to abandon the defence of the motherland, to run from the battlefields12. You have extinguished in their hearts the conscience that “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

— Letter to the Council of People’s Commissars, 13/26 October 1918, by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow

War is one of the tools in the hands of God, as well as peace. War is a poison, which kills, but which at the same time cures and heals.

It is better to have one great and mighty river than many small streams which easily freeze in frost and which are easily covered with dust and filth. A war which gathers an entire people for a great cause is better than a peace which knows as many tiny causes at it knows people, which divides brothers, neighbours, all human beings, and which hides in itself an evil and hidden war against all.

We have to wish those, whom we love, both a good life and a good death. To die in the struggle for a great common cause is a good death.

— Thoughts about War and the Military Endeavour, by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic13

Leaflets of St. Sergius”, nr. 10, 1929

The Militant Church

The people of Israel shall encamp each by his own standard, with the ensigns of their fathers’ houses; they shall encamp facing the tent of meeting on every side.” (Nr. 2:2)

The Apostle Paul reveals to us that when the people of Israel, on its way towards the promised land, near Mount Sinai, under the burning fire, the cloud and the darkness, the storm and the mighty sound, received the Law from God and entered into covenant with Him, that then, for the establishment of this covenant, which we now name the Old, Christ Himself dominantly acted, and “His voice shook then the earth” (Hebr. 12:18-26). From this we have to conclude that Our Lord Jesus Christ, by his own orders through Moses at that moment established the so-called “tent of the meeting,” meaning the Temple of God.

From this follows as well that Our Lord Jesus Christ also gave this commandment: “The people of Israel shall encamp each by his own standard, with the ensigns of their fathers’ houses; they shall encamp facing the tent of meeting on every side.” (Nr. 2:2). Further, in this order the exact position of the armies around the tent is determined.

In this way, the army was spread out like the shape of a cross, and the centre of the cross was occupied by the “Tent of the meeting.”

Behold the first church established on earth, behold it amidst hosts and armies, established in this position by the Lord of the Church Himself.

— Sermon at the Consecration of a Military Church, by St. Philaret of Moscow, Leaflets of St. Sergius, nr. 10, 1929

Christianity Brought the End of Wars

Who, then, is He Who has done these things and has united in peace those who hated each other, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation? Even from the beginning, moreover, this peace that He was to administer was foretold, for Scripture says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles, and nation shall not take sword against nation, neither shall they learn any more to wage war.” Nor is this by any means incredible.

The barbarians of the present day are naturally savage in their habits, and as long as they sacrifice to their idols they rage furiously against each other and cannot bear to be a single hour without weapons. But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer. In a word, instead of fighting each other, they take up arms against the devil and the demons, and overcome them by their self-command and integrity of soul.

— On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius the Great, Chapter 8, 52

The Evils of War

There are three very grievous kinds of war. The one is public, when our soldiers are attacked by foreign armies: The second is, when even in time of peace, we are at war with one another: The third is, when the individual is at war with himself, which is the worst of all. For foreign war will not be able to hurt us greatly. What, I pray, though it slaughters and cuts us off? It injures not the soul. Neither will the second have power to harm us against our will; for though others be at war with us, we may be peaceable ourselves. For so says the Prophet, “For my love they are my adversaries, but I give myself unto prayer” (Ps. 109:4); and again, “I was at peace with them that hate peace”; and, “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” (Ps. 120:6, 7, LXX) But from the third, we cannot escape without danger. For when the body is at variance with the soul, and raises up evil desires, and arms against it sensual pleasures, or the bad passions of anger, and envy; we cannot attain the promised blessings, till this war is brought to an end; whoever does not still this tumult, must fall pierced by wounds that will bring that death that is in hell. We have daily need therefore of care and great anxiety, that this war may not be stirred up within us, or that, if stirred up, it may not last, but be quelled and laid asleep.

— Homily 7 on 1 Tim 2:2-4 , by St. John Chrysostom

For a little consider that you are being transported to the loftiest peak of a high mountain, that from this you are viewing the appearance of things that lie below you and with your eyes directed in different directions you yourself free from earthly contacts gaze upon the turmoils of the world. Presently you also will have pity on the world, and taking account of yourself and with more gratitude to God you will rejoice with greater joy that you have escaped from it. Observe the roads blocked by robbers, the seas beset by pirates, wars spread everywhere with the bloody horrors of camps. The world is soaked with mutual blood, and when individuals commit homicide, it is a crime; it is called a virtue when it is done in the name of the state. Impunity is acquired for crimes not by reason of innocence but by the magnitude of the cruelty.

— To Donatus, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, Chapter 6

How do we count the fruits of earthly blessings? If we … add to our account those who have fared well in combat through inflicting defeats in battle and other recorded deeds, these examples do not suit our objective. A Christian is ashamed at anything contrary to the faith and rejoices at praise coming from persons who love Christ much like those in the shadow of a notable person exult in his victories. Let us be silent about this world’s glories despite their numerous accounts.

— The first Homily concerning the forty Martyrs (Part One), by St. Gregory of Nyssa

The Inevitability of War

That wars continue with greater frequency, that barrenness and famine accumulate anxiety, that health is broken by raging diseases, that the human race is laid waste by ravages of pestilence, this too you should know was predicted, that in the last days evils are multiplied and adversities are diversified and presently with the approach of the day of judgement more and more is the censure of an indignant God roused to the scourging of the human race. For these things do not occur because your gods are not worshipped by us, but because God is not worshipped by you. For since He himself is the Lord and the Director of the universe, and since all things are done at His decision and nod and nothing can be done except what He Himself has done or has permitted to be done, surely when those things are done which show the anger of an offended God, these are done not on account of us by whom God is worshipped, but are inflicted because of your sins and merits, by whom God is neither sought nor feared, nor are empty superstitions abandoned and true religion recognised, so that He who is the one God for all is alone worshipped and sought by all.

— To Demetrian, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, Chapter 5

Killing and Bloodshed

The Sin of Killing and Bloodshed

So long as the nature we at present possess is preserved, the moral nature is not able to bear a punishment commensurate with the more numerous or more serious faults. For the robber, or ruler, or tyrant, who has unjustly put to death myriads on myriads, could not by one death make restitution for these deeds; and the man who holds no true opinion concerning God, but lives in all outrage and blasphemy, despises divine things, breaks the laws, commits outrage against boys and women alike, razes cities unjustly, burns houses with their inhabitants, and devastates a country, and at the same time destroys inhabitants of cities and peoples, and even an entire nation — how in a mortal body could he endure a penalty adequate to these crimes, since death prevents the deserved punishment, and the mortal nature does not suffice for any single one of his deeds?

It is proved, therefore, that neither in the present life is there a judgement according to men’s deserts, nor after death [but after the Resurrection, ed.].

— On the Resurrection of the Dead, Treatise of Athenagoras the Athenian14, Chapter 19

Hence (from the days of Cain and Abel) finally begin the first hatreds of the new brotherhood; hence the abominable parricides, when the unjust Cain is jealous of the just Abel, when the evil persecutes the good out of jealousy and envy.

— Jealousy and Envy, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, Chapter 5

The world is soaked with mutual blood. When individuals commit homicide, it is a crime; it is called a virtue when it is done in the name of the state. Impunity is acquired for crimes not by reason of innocence but by the magnitude of the cruelty.

On gladiator games: Man is killed for the pleasure of man, and to be able to kill is a skill, is an employment, is an art. Crime is not only committed but is taught. What can be called more inhuman, what more repulsive? It is a training that one may be able to kill, and that he kills is a glory. What is this, I ask you, of what nature is it, where those offer themselves to wild beasts, whom no one has condemned, in the prime of life, of a rather beautiful appearance, in costly garments? While still alive they adorn themselves for a voluntary death, wretched they even glory in their wicked deeds. They fight with beasts not because they are convicts but because they are mad. Fathers look upon their own sons; a brother is in the arena and his sister near by, and, although the more elaborate preparation of the exhibition increases the price of the spectacle, oh shame! the mother also pays this price that she may be present at her own sorrows. And at such impious and terrible spectacles they do not realise that with their eyes they are parricides.

— To Donatus, by St. Cyprian of Carthago, chapters 6 and 7

Public spectacles are the greatest incitement to vices; for they not only contribute in no respect to a happy life, but even inflict the greatest injury. For he who reckons it a pleasure, that a man, though justly condemned, should be slain in his sight, pollutes his conscience as much as if he should become a spectator and a sharer of a homicide which is secretly committed. And yet they call these sports in which human blood is shed. So far has the feeling of humanity departed from the men, that when they destroy the lives of men, they think that they are amusing themselves with sport, being more guilty than all those whose blood-shedding they esteem a pleasure. They are even angry with the combatants, unless one of the two is quickly slain; and as though they thirsted for human blood, they hate delays. They demand that other and fresh combatants should be given to them, that they may satisfy their eyes as soon as possible. Being imbued with this practice, they have lost their humanity. Therefore they do not spare even the innocent, but practise upon all that which they have learned in the slaughter of the wicked. It is not therefore befitting that those who strive to keep to the path of justice should be companions and sharers in this public homicide. For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.

If, then, it is in no way permitted to commit homicide, it is not allowed us to be present at all, lest any bloodshed should over spread the conscience, since that blood is offered for the gratification of the people.

— The Divine Institutes, by Lactantius, Book 6, Chapter 20

All who take the sword will perish by the sword.

–Matthew 26:52

The rivers of blood of our brothers, shed mercilessly at your orders, cry out to heaven and presses us to speak to you a bitter word of truth.

…Celebrate your anniversary in power by liberating the prisoners, by stopping bloodshed, violence, destruction, the restriction of faith; turn not to destruction, but to the establishment of order and lawfulness, grant the people the desired and well-deserved rest from civil war. Or else all just blood that you have shed shall be required from you (Lk. 11:51), and from the sword you shall perish, who have taken up the sword. (Mt. 26:52)

— Letter to the Council of People’s Commissars, 13/26 October 1918, by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow

We don’t even mention that bloodshed always calls for new blood. And vengeance — for new revenge. Constructing on enmity means constructing on a volcano. There will be an explosion, and once more there will be an empire of destruction and death…

— Pastoral letter to the faithful of the Orthodox Church of Russia, 8/21 July 1919, by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow

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