Category Archives: Letters And Statements

Letters and statements issued by OPF/IC concerning war, protest, policy, etc that may or may not gather signatures, be sent to an official, be released to the public, or be published in IC

Orthodox Christian Statement Opposing Military Action Against Syria: Supporting narrative

Supporting narrative

The following offers some narrative support for the Statement. Whereas the narrative supports the succinct text of the Statement, it too is necessarily brief; however, numerous supporting materials are offered as background to help broaden understanding (we will begin adding these shortly).

Please bear in mind, this is offered as support and background, not dogma. Mistakes are mine and you are invited to bring them, and dissent or support, to my attention. The supporting documents and our website hopefully fill in many blanks that may exist in the narrative.

Pieter Dykhorst

Editor, In Communion
journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship
[email protected]

1.  The OPF foundation of the Statement:

In blessing peacemakers in the Beatitudes as the children of God, Christ makes the vocation of  healing damaged relationships a hallmark of authentic Christianity. Yet, the path of peacemaking is as messy and conflicted, individually and collectively, as is any aspect of Christian faith and living. What follows is a general summary of what we believe and how we apply it to the current situation. It cannot be taken as a dogmatic or binding statement on anyone’s conscience. We are children of the Church working out our salvation within its sanctuary; this is no exception.

a.  While not all OPF members are against all war at all times, we believe war is always an evil that comes about as a consequence of human weakness and that the good we pursue is less a negative avoidance of war but a positive, robust, and broad pursuit of just alternatives that end current wars and make future wars unnecessary. Thus, before we are “anti-war,” we are “pro-peace.”

However, the Christian peacemaking vocation is not passive. True peacemaking requires foresight and is a preventative work requiring wisdom, faith, compassion for all, courage, and a commitment to justice as well as mercy. Preemptive peacemaking undercuts the foundations of violence long before unavoidable crises that produce violence and war result.

Once war comes, violence always breeds more violence, presently or in the future as the roots of pain and suffering, bitterness and anger, revenge, division, and fear take hold and eventually bear the fruit of more violence. The Gospel is anathema to violence as a legitimate conflict resolution strategy.

b.  We believe when war seems unavoidable and does come, it is always a failure and must be terminated at the first possible opportunity and repented of after. Victory in war can never be celebrated but may sometimes be a least-bad outcome that must still be mourned: we should beg God to show us other means to resolve differences with our enemies.

There is sometimes debate among OPF members about when a war might in fact be unavoidable, when some understandable resort to violence seems necessary. We will not enter that conversation here except to acknowledge its legitimacy and to affirm our consistent opposition to violence as an acceptable conflict resolution strategy; however our website is replete with resources addressing this issue. We are united, however, in our conviction that war must never in any case be other than a truly unavoidable last resort.

We do not believe in this case that the current call to military action can possibly, in any rational framework, be considered necessary or an unavoidable last resort. Thus, we not only oppose this action but we believe there is no “economy” possible for it. Too many viable non-violent, political, legal, and humanitarian alternatives exist: they may fail, but they must be tried.

c.  We do not weigh one side’s actions against the other to make some qualitative or quantitative judgement of who is more evil and who less. Obviously, if we deem war always evil, all sides engaged in the Syrian civil war have resorted to evil solutions.

We do not base our opposition on political considerations or on party affiliations.

To be clear, we are not naive or without personal and even collective judgements: our appeal, however, rests on none of them. Active pursuit of all viable non-violent solutions requires a proper understanding of the problem. Our Statement must be understood to go beyond opposition to military action to engaging in finding and implementing just solutions.

d.  We must acknowledge that persuasive ideological, pragmatic, and sometimes impassioned arguments are being made for and against military action and that OPF members struggle with them as much as anyone might. Supporting documents address these arguments as broadly as possible.

The current situation in Syria and the region is extraordinarily complex and volatile, and we appreciate honest debate as Christians struggle for understanding and solutions. Many international actors have conflicted interests in Syria. Syria’s civil war does not consist of two monolithic entities pitted against each other: history, culture, religion, language, and ethnicity combine in a way outsiders cannot easily understand, creating a confusing mixture of loyalties and interests. Too many simplistic views are being presented in the US media and are grossly misleading because of their misunderstanding.

We make this acknowledgement and offer supporting arguments out of sympathy for those reading here who, like many of us have, may come to a similar vocational commitment through long and conscientious struggle and who value thoughtful and prayerful consideration of other views.

e.  Finally, we simply state that legal options exist for dealing with the crime of chemical weapons use. As, for many, this is taken as sufficient grounds for war, please consider that whoever–Assad, other officials, generals or lower commanders, and/or opposition forces–has used chemical weapons, this war will end and avenues for justice exist and will be viable.

The wight of evidence for guilt for the attack on 21 September may point to the Assad regime, but please consider dissenting opinions and evidence that suggests some rebel factions may also have used chemical weapons on other occasions. As a basis for war, none of this is sufficiently clear or conclusive.

2.  The Orthodox Justifiable War position:

a.  For many within the Orthodox Church there exists some uncertainty about when war may be a lesser evil or lesser good or when war may be otherwise justifiable. The OPF’s position is clearly stated in the first section above. We would not, therefore, base our opposition to any war on a conditional framework like Just War theory although we appreciate the robust debate among some Orthodox on the subject.

Our website contains many fine resources dealing with the questions of “lesser evil,” “lesser good,” and other problems created by real-world conflict scenarios.

Our comments here are restricted to the “justifiable war tradition,” as articulated and defended by Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster in his book The Virtue of War because he argues strongly that the contemplated military attack on Syria would not be justifiable. His books are listed in the bibliography. Any further supporting comments from him will be linked as we are made aware of them. He makes a distinction between Western Just War Theory and what he considers to be an Orthodox justifiable war tradition, an argument developed in his book. he has also written an excellent book on the pacifist tradition within Orthodoxy called The Pacifist Option.

b.  Obviously, our consistent opposition to war would not always find common cause with opposition from within a conditional moral framework. But in this case, the OPF finds it helpful to include in our statement an appeal to those who adhere to justifiable war principles. Fr. Alexander argues a “dual trajectory” (of pacifism and justifiable war) within Orthodoxy, and we feel that when we can agree in opposition to a particular war, it only strengthens our appeal and Orthodox unity to do so.

We thank Fr. Alexander for his contribution to crafting a clause in the Statement that allows us to include his “rail” in the dual trajectory, thus allowing him to support us and broaden our appeal to all Orthodox who are concerned about principled approaches to war within Orthodox moral tradition.

c.  We are concerned about the trend among some Orthodox to base their support or opposition to this or any war on purely political, prudential, or other transient moral/ethical grounds. This narrative with supporting documents, not to mention our entire website, intends to help Orthodox who are seeking moral clarity by furthering healthy and informed discussion.

d.  Additional considerations of justifiable war principles applied to the current situation regarding possible US involvement in Syria will be added to our supporting documents. Good sources to include are welcome. Please send these to me at [email protected]. Important points include:

  1. Consideration of punishment for crossing a “red line,” violating an international humanitarian norm, ignoring a US threat, committing a war crime;
  2. Considerations of deterrence against future use of WMD;
  3. Considerations of how this would be a defensive war from the US perspective;
  4. Considerations of what US involvement would look like in a defensive war from the Syrian perspective (including the government’s perspective and Syrian civilian’s perspective);
  5. Considerations of rules of proportionality;
  6. Considerations of non-combatant immunity (re: collateral damage);
  7. Considerations of prompt termination when a clear and just goal is met;
  8. Considerations of last resort;
  9. Consideration of whether doctrines of “Responsibility to Protect” accord with the Justifiable War tenet of just cause.

It is our contention, aside from the OPF’s clear and consistent opposition to all violent conflict resolution strategies, that the contemplated US action would not be merely problematic under a justifiable war framework but would clearly violate all its basic tenets.

We anticipate robust disagreement on one or more points but welcome honest and careful argument in opposition.

3.  Other Orthodox and Christian non-Orthodox positions being discussed:

a.  The OPF locates its opposition to war in the positive and robust vocational peacemaking principles of the Gospel as articulated by Christ, the Apostles, Fathers of the Church, Saints, and contemporary Orthodox writers as well as in numerous writings and icons found throughout our tradition and history. As such, our position seeks to preclude what might otherwise be self-serving, rational, or prudential arguments.

We do not reject those but rather believe them to be transient and reversible and thus not sufficient alone, certainly not foundational.

There are many such arguments currently circulating. We will address as many as is reasonable in our supporting documents; we briefly address two here:

b.  Those whose lives, loved ones, property, and way of life are existentially threatened as the Christians’ are in Syria cannot be considered self-serving in their cry for help from harm. We stand in prayer and tears with all Syrian’s particularly our Christian friends and family, praying daily for prompt peaceful resolution to the conflict. We ask God for wise and courageous leadership to show us how this may be accomplished and for the strength to follow.

Nevertheless, we see no help in the US plan to intervene. Those who disagree are invited to include their views in our conversation. We hope to include these in our supporting documents.

b. Last, we suggest recent polls in the US showing unprecedented opposition among the electorate must surely carry some weight. We do not base our position on transient popular sentiment, but this might be a convergent moment when the sheer weight of dissent from diverse quarters must give pause. We acknowledge minority voices are often lonely prophetic voices and the current majority view does not imply the minority is wrong. We merely take pause.

A concluding statement

Nothing thus far should be taken as an exhaustive or exclusive presentation of important issues and points. We are acting under time constraints and wish to get this posted and to begin adding supporting documents. All feedback is welcome.

Things not mentioned here may be found under categories in the supporting documents.

Thank you,

Pieter Dykhorst
Editor, In Communion
journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

 

An Open Letter on a Looming Disaster in Iran

Dear OPF members and Friends:

In recent days, there has been a proliferation of reports indicating that Israel is preparing an attack on Iran and that it may occur in late September or sometime in October. Never mind that a majority of Israelis do not favor such a step at this time. Never mind that the United States has repeatedly indicated that our intelligence does not support the same feeling of urgency that some of the Israeli leaders evince. Never mind that military experts in both Israel and the United States have cautioned against taking that plunge into such dark and murky waters. Those who are in a position to know feel that it may be likely.

Apparently calculations are being made regarding the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and the possible impact of an Israeli strike on that political equation. Just as Iran waited for Ronlald Reagan to take office to release the Tehran Embassy hostages as a way of punishing Jimmy Carter, Israel might launch a strike (so the theory goes) in expectation of greater U.S. Buy-in or actual participation if it should occur prior to the November election.  It is even reported that official estimates have been made of the projected number of Israeli dead that would result should Iran respond with missile attacks (about 500 persons), and deemed tolerable.

President Obama urges patience, but says “all options are on the table” (code for military intervention by the U.S.). The decision may not entirely rest with him, since America will almost certainly be expected to act as a guarantor of Israel’s security, no matter what happens, based on its repeated official assurances over the years.

For those of us who oppose violations of human rights whether in an Iranian court, at an Israeli road-block, or at Guantanamo, and loss of life wherever it occurs, what should we say about another war in the Middle East? How should we consider pre-emptive war—that which is not justified by  imminent danger, but by perceived potential danger? How should we react to the monstrous calculus of risk that is being done right now in U.S. and Israeli strategy meetings?

Because we are children of God before we are citizens of the United States, Canada, or any other country, we must bring the discussion back to its fundamentals: We are our brothers’ keepers—we cannot sit on the sidelines as spectators at a calamity we might help prevent.

“War,” observed General Sherman, “is Hell.” It is not for us to condemn anyone to the hell of war, despite the fear we may feel or the evil we imagine in another. As Solzhenitsyn wrote “the line between good and evil runs straight through every human heart.” War is always like a bucket filled by a fire-hose—it quickly overflows its intended container, and much is spilled that no one planned to spill. The Law of Unintended Consequences could frame a thumbnail history of the wars mankind has fought. The “good war” is like a flying elephant: something dreamt of but never seen.

America has gone to war in the Middle East repeatedly in recent years—against the Soviets in Afghanistan through our Taliban proxies, then with NATO allies against the Taliban, then against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein (whom we had earlier supported against Iran) based on false, or falsified, information. Even if the first sorties against Iranian targets are carried out only by Israeli planes, this will be a war that quickly involves the United States and its allies, and that will profoundly impact many nations of the world.

Speculation is rampant about the reaction of the Islamic Republic of Iran to an attack, ranging from covert mischief to long-range missiles, from the closing of the Strait of Hormuz to bombings in European or American cities. No one, in fact, can say what form their response might take, but we can be sure that it will not be anything any sane person would desire. It is rare for an act of aggression not to result in retaliation.

As a collection of people who dare to call ourselves Orthodox Christians, we must consider the proposed war with Iran an avoidable catastrophe. Our grounding in scripture (e.g. “turn the other cheek” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword”) and patristic wisdom (e.g. “Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker” –St. Basil the Great) leads us to advocate non-military approaches.

At this point, who can say that every conceivable means has been tried to arrive at a peaceable solution? We are in fact far from certain that Iran is even developing a nuclear weapons capability, despite massive attempts by human intelligence and electronic surveillance designed to reach such a conclusion.

How much of our treasure has actually been spent on finding common ground? We know that the alternative will be horribly expensive in both money and lives. Are we doomed to repeat and make still worse the blunders and failed thinking that have characterized the past fifty years of Iran’s relations with the West?

We pray to God for guidance for our leaders, and implore them to consider deeply the consequences of decisions they take today and in the coming weeks and months. Those who prepare for war, usually get war; those who prepare for peace may find it.

While the current alarm may turn out to be simple posturing or even hysteria, those pushing for an attack on Iran are determined and influential and will seek new oppor-tunities to achieve their aim. We must remain equally vigilant and active as we think, pray, and seek to promote viable avenues to peacefully avoiding this looming disaster.

We ask that you would prayerfully consider how you might help circulate this letter. We suggest posting it on your Facebook page, emailing it to friends, copying it and sharing it on Sunday with fellow parishioners, sending it to an elected representative, or mailing a summary in your own words as a letter to the editor of your local paper.

Signed by the following (alphabetical by last name):

V. Rev. John Breck, Professor emeritus, St Sergius Theological Institute, Paris
Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Pieter Dykhorst, Editor, In Communion
Sally Eckert, Eagle River, AK
Jim Forest, International Secretary, OPF, author/speaker
Justin Grimmond, OPF Canada Coordinator
Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, author/speaker
Alexander Patico, North American Secretary, OPF

Eric Simpson, Medford, OR, author

Philip Tamoush, Redondo Beach, CA

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Renee Zitzloff, Minneapolis, MN

We append the following as useful resources for the general reader:

1. A summary of just war theory (JWT):  In Special Report 98: Would an Invasion of Iraq Be a “Just War”?, published in January 2003 by the United States Institute of Peace*, the director of the Religion and Peacemaking Initiative, David Smock, offered the following summary of the basic principles of “just war” doctrine:

  • Legitimate Authority: Requiring that only legitimate officials may decide to resort to force is one way to protect against arbitrariness.
  • Just Cause: The three standard, acceptable causes are self-defense, recovery of stolen assets, and punishment for wrong-doing.
  • Peaceful Intention: The intention is to use force to achieve peace, using force to restrain and minimize force.
  • Last Resort: Before turning to war, all reasonable approaches to a peaceful resolution need to be employed.
  • Reasonable Hope of Success: In going to war, there must exist the reasonable expectation of successfully obtaining peace and reconciliation between the warring parties.
  • Proportionality: The suffering and devastation of war must not outweigh whatever benefits may result from war.
  • Discrimination or Noncombatant Immunity: The means of warfare must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.

*The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan federal institution created by Congress to promote the prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

Note: A new addition to just-war theory, promulgated by Franciscan Naval Chaplain Louis Iasiello, newly-named head of the Washington Theological Seminary, has drawn some attention. He adds jus post bellum (justice after a war) to considerations of justice of and during war.

2. An Orthodox alternative approach to JWT:  It should be noted that there is a sizable and respectable thread of Christian thought which considers no war “just.” Fr. John McGuckin is professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and professor of Byzantine History at Columbia University. An essay of his, which appeared as a chapter in The Church’s Witness to Peace, edited by Fr. K. Kyriakos, is excerpted here:

Eastern Christianity simply does not approach the issue from the perspective of “Just War,” and endorses no formal doctrine advocating the possibility of a “Just War.”…Its approach is…more complex and nuanced.

Christian reflection in the eastern Church has…been more careful than the West, to remind itself of the apocalyptic and mysterious nature of the Church’s place within history and on the world-stage, and has stubbornly clung to a less congratulatory theory of the morality of War…because it sensed that such a view was more in tune with the principles of the Gospels.

[It has been] argued that the Church progressively relaxed its earliest blanket hostility to bloodshed and the military profession in general…. And yet, no Eastern Christian attitudes to war…have ever borne much relation to classic Hellenistic and Roman war theory.

Origen [of Alexandria]…was pacifist in his attitudes to war and world powers, and was sternly against the notion of the Church advocating its transmission and spread by force of arms.

Basil of Caesarea…emerged as one of the leading theorists of the Christian move-ment…. Eventually the entire corpus of the Basilian Epistles entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Eastern Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.

All violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here [in Basil] stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be “necessary” or “unavoidable” (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never “justifiable.” Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the cathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is “be penitent.” Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.

When it falls across the threshold of the Church in an unavoidable way, it sometimes becomes our duty (so the old canons say) to take up arms; though when that is the case is to be determined in trepidation by the elect who understand the value of peace and reconciliation, not in self-glorifying battle cries from the voices of the bloodthirsty and foolish. But in no case is the shedding of blood, even against a manifestly wicked foe, ever a “Just Violence.”

The eastern canons…retain that primitive force of Christian experience on that front. It may be the “Violence of the Just” but in that case the hostility will necessarily be ended with the minimal expenditure of force, and be marked in retrospect by the last act of the “violent Just” which will be repentance that finally resolves the untenable paradox. Ambivalent and “occasional” such a theory of War might be: but if it had been followed with fidelity, the Church’s hands might have been cleaner than they have been across many centuries; and it might yet do a service on the wider front in helping Western Christianity to dismantle its own “economic” structures of war theory which are so patently in need of radical re-thinking. Perhaps the place to begin…is here and now: with “Christian America” at the dawn of a new millennium, in which we seem to have learned nothing at all from generations of bitter experience of hostility: except the hubris that international conflicts can be undertaken “safely” now that other super-powers are currently out of commission…. In such a strange new millennium, perhaps the wisdom of the need to be tentative, finds a new power and authority.

3. Bibliography:  

A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, Trita Parsi, PhD (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012). Parsi heads the largest membership organization of Iranian-Americans in the United States; he is a former congressional aide.

Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling with the Ghosts of History, Hon. John Limbert (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009. Limbert, a former Peace Corps staff person, professor and diplomat, was a Tehran Embassy hostages in 1979-80.

The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, William O. Beeman (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005). Beeman is a professor at The University of Minnesota, where he is Chair of the Department of Anthropology.

What is Iran?: A Primer on Culture, Politics and Religion, Laurie Blanton Pierce (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2009). Pierce spent two years in Iran with her husband and children, studying at an Islamic seminary; she is Mennonite.

Isfahan, a World Heritage Site, contains many of the world’s most outstanding examples of Islamic art and architecture. It is the crown jewel of Iranian cities and the third largest with a population of about 2 million. It is an important center of education, manufacture, technology, and agricultural research.
Isfahan, a World Heritage Site, contains many of the world’s most outstanding
examples of Islamic art and architecture. It is the crown jewel of Iranian cities and the third
largest with a population of about 2 million. It is an important center of education,
manufacture, technology, and agricultural research.

 

The nuclear facility adjacent to Isfahan is a certain target with hundreds of buildings sprawled over 150 acres, making anypinpoint attack to destroy the facility impossible.
The nuclear facility adjacent to Isfahan is a certain target with hundreds of buildings sprawled over 150 acres, making anypinpoint attack to destroy the facility impossible.

 

❖ Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

A Letter from the (Retiring) Editor

the OPF newsletter in 1991
The OPF newsletter, The Occasional Paper, in 1991

This is the last issue of In Communion that I’ll be editing. Pieter Dykhorst, an old friend and long-time member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is taking over the job. After this issue goes to press, I’ll be joining the community of people helping as associate editors.

It’s not easy to stop doing a work that has been so significant to me, but – after twenty-one years at the job – it’s time. I’ll be turning seventy in November and want to clear more space in my life for reading, writing and wandering.

Books, newspapers, journals and magazine have figured in my life since I was in the very early stages of literacy. Would that I still had a copy of a one-page family newspaper I made by hand using an alphabet of my own design. A year or two later, having become reasonably literate, mother gave me a set of hard rubber type in several fonts and sizes plus a tiny rotary press with which I turned out a midget publication that could be read by others. By the time I was ten, there were afternoons when I hung around the local daily newspaper, The Red Bank Register, watching several men set type from molten zinc on linotype machines. Occasionally one of them set a headline with my name – an instant treasure. In seventh grade, I started a school paper that was christened The Flame. In high school, on the staff of a monthly student newspaper, I was aware how lucky we were to have as faculty adviser a man who had been a journalist for The New York Times.

The first publication of real consequence that I worked with was The Catholic Worker. Its monthly print run was about 90,000 copies and its circulation was international. Encouraged by Dorothy Day, I acquired enough experience eventually to be appointed managing editor. Later on I was assistant editor of a monthly magazine called Liberation, whose focus at the time was on civil rights and whose authors included James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King.

first issue of In Communion
First issue of In Communion, February 1995

Since then I have been involved with many other publications – newspapers, business journals, press agencies, news services, magazines – but none of these meant more to me or involved me for so long a time as In Communion.

I’ve seen the journal move from a simple two-page newsletter called The Occasional Paper (launched in 1987 by Mariquita Platov and Jim Larrick) to something more substantial after they asked me, late in 1990, to take over the job. It remained quite an occasional paper until 1995, when the newsletter became a quarterly journal named In Communion. (You hold the 61st issue in your hands.)

I don’t recall anything that, on reflection, I wish we hadn’t published. Articles have covered a very wide spectrum – the prevention and ending of war, the making of peace, hospitality, the protection of life at every stage and circumstance of its development, aspects of spiritual life, biblical studies, nonviolent alternatives and the lives of the saints. (Our year-after-year attention to the life and writings of Mother Maria Skobtsova may have played a part in her canonization.)

Thanks to the web, most of what we have published over the years is available at the click of a mouse button via the OPF’s much-visited In Communion site.

I’m delighted Pieter Dykhorst will be my successor. He has experience in all the key areas that the editorship of In Communion requires. It was during a two-year stint Pieter had in Albania that I first met him – I was then writing a book about the resurrection of the Albanian Church and he was working closely with Archbishop Anastasios, a member of our advisory board. Pieter was born in South Africa. He is now in the last stages of completing a master of science degree in international/inter-cultural conflict resolution. As it happens, he lives in Washington, DC, and thus is in the same area as Alex Patico, OPF’s secretary in North America, making face-to-face collaboration between them not only possible but easy.
I’m looking forward to the Fall issue.

– Jim Forest

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011

Peace and Tolerance

Address to the Conference on Peace and Tolerance

By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemeos, Istanbul, Turkey, February 8th, 1994

Greetings to all of our brothers and sisters from around the world who have come together for this very timely Conference on Peace and Tolerance.

Although we will focus our remarks on problems in Central Asia and the Caucasus, let us keep in mind that no member of the human family has a monopoly on malice — we are all sinners and stand in desperate need of God’s grace in our quest for a better world. But while some have pointed to a modern “clash of civilisations” as inevitable, the representatives of many of those civilisations have gathered here today in as spirit of brotherhood and harmony. May our Heavenly Father grant us the strength to maintain that fraternal spirit in the years to come.

Since the beginning of recorded history, Eastern Europe has been a great crossroads of cultures and civilisations — a vast meeting ground for many different tribes, faiths, and peoples. Sometimes it seems as if our only constants have been conflict and conquest.

But paradoxically, conflict and conquest have also been the agents of peace. Over the millennia the greatest intervals of peace were brought by the empires that took over large portions of the region. From the Macedonian conquest, with its Hellenistic civilization, through the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Habsburg, Russian, and Soviet empires, peace in Eastern Europe has come, ironically, at the tip of a sword or the barrel of a gun.

Tolerance did not always come arm-in-arm with peace. For every example of tolerance, there are many more examples of intolerance. The peace imposed on Eastern Europe by the conquering empires was relative — and it was always given on the terms of the conqueror. We must understand it, not idealize it. Those empires were shattered with the arrival of western nationalism during the 19th century — and Eastern Europe and the world have not been the same since. Nationalism began as a positive force — it offered a new logic for the construction of democratic states. But nationalism turned out to be a double-edged sword; in the hands of tyrants, it has been destructive — indeed, the most destructive force in human history, killing 75 million human beings between 1914 and 1945 alone. We must ask ourselves boldly and honestly: Is it not time to rein in the excesses of nationalism?

We are not immune to the forces of history — but neither are we helpless before them. We cannot lament paradise lost, but must find hope in the kingdom at hand. We must answer the fratricide and fragmentation of nationalism with the brotherly love and integration of ecumenicism. We must teach our people tolerance, which is ultimately based on respect for the sanctity and rights of individual human beings. Indeed, if there is one place where the spiritual and secular universes converge, it is in the individual, in the human person.

Among those of us who place our faith in spiritual institutions, this means that of all the precepts of our diverse religions, the first principle must be the divinity of each and every one God’s children. Among those who place their faith in temporal institutions, this means that of all political principles, primary emphasis must go not to collective but rather individual human rights.

Indeed, this is one of many areas in which we as people of faith have something to teach our secular colleagues. In recent years we have heard some say that human rights are relative — an unfortunate and potentially catastrophic idea. Man was created in the image and likeness of God — and there can be no different standard of treatment for those human beings who happen to be Asian, another for Africans, and yet another for Europeans. Culture may be relative — but humanity is not.

The Holy Orthodox Church has searched long for a language with which to address nationalism, amid the strife and havoc this new ideology created in the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe for much of the 19th century. In 1872 a great Synod, held in our Patriarchal Cathedral at the Phanar, in the name of the Prince of Peace, issued an unqualified condemnation of the sin of phyletism, saying, “We renounce, censure, and condemn racism, that is, racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds, and dissensions within the Church of Christ…”

Today, more than a century later, extreme nationalism remains one of the central problems of our ecumenical Church. We must answer with deep and uncompromising ecumenicism.

That is why the Mother Church has done everything in her power to support, morally and materially, the re-emerging Orthodox Churches in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe, especially since the collapse of Godless communism. Although these churches are self-governing, they are the daughters of the See of St. Andrew the Apostle. That is why we convened an unprecedented Pan-Orthodox Council or Synaxis of the heads of the world’s Patriarchal and Autocephalous Orthodox Churches in March of 1992 — an unusual display of Christian solidarity, and a return to the ecumenicism of centuries past. During this truly historic gathering, the spiritual heads expressed deep sadness over “fratricidal confrontation and for all its victims” calling on all religious leaders to offer “particular attention, pastoral responsibility and wisdom from God, in order that the exploitation of religious sentiment for political and national reasons may be avoided.”

Integration must be our watchword — In Eastern Europe as in Western Europe. Today, we must follow the Helsinki accord principle of the inviolability of borders. But tomorrow, our vision is not only for Eastern Europeans — not only for all Europeans — but for all people — is of a world without borders.

There is no good reason why people and goods one day should not be able to move freely between Bitolja and Bucharest, between Trikala and Tirana, between Sofia and St. Petersburg, between Alma-Ata and Ankara. And there is no reason to continue the hatreds that have made Eastern Europe, and especially the Balkans, the world’s caricature for ethnic conflict.

It was not always that way. Let us remember that less than two centuries ago, there were Greek businessmen in Odessa and Bucharest, and Albanian enterprises in Egypt. Serbian merchants conducted a lively trade with their Habsburg counterparts. Thessaloniki had a thriving Jewish community. And so on.

We must put behind us the divisions and feuds brought about by excessive nationalism. We were once united by great empires — but the peace that comes at the tip of a sword is no longer acceptable. As St. Paul exhorts: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18). The modern way to bring about unity and peace is to extend the European Union — to open the borders to one another, and let people, capital ideas and products flow.

Much has already been achieved in the political world — the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Partnership for Peace proposed by the American President Bill Clinton. But politicians alone cannot heal the rifts brought about by extreme nationalism. Religious leaders have a central and inspirational role to play — it is we who must help bring the spiritual principles of ecumenicism, brotherhood, and tolerance to the fore.

Indeed, this is a way that we of the cloth can help our colleagues in government. Our deep and abiding spirituality stands in stark contrast to the secularism of modern politics. The failure of anthropocentric ideologies has left a void in many lives — the frantic pursuit of the future has sacrificed the stability of the past. As the Council of 1992 stated, these ideologies “have created in men of this century a spiritual void and an existential insecurity and have led many people to seek salvation in new religious and para-religious movements, sects, or nearly idolatrous attachments to the material values of this world.”

The famous psychologist C.G. Jung once said that “among all my patients in the second half of life … every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.” He knew this in 1959; in 1994, who does not know it? Communities of faith can balance secular humanism and nationalism with spiritual humanism and ecumenicism — and we can temper the mindless pursuit of modernity with our own healthy respect for tradition.

But we can only do this if we are united in the spirit of the one God, “Creator of all things visible and invisible.” Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, Jew and Muslim — although we cannot deny our differences, neither can we deny the need for alliance and teamwork to help lead our world away from the bloody abyss of extreme nationalism and intolerance. For it is precisely when we disagree that we have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate tolerance.

We, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, will continue our efforts to be peacemakers and to light the lamp of the human spirit. We, as the Bride of the Resurrected Bridegroom, wish only to remain a Church — a Church, however, that is free and respected by all. We, like all of you who have gathered here in peace and tolerance, wish to be a religious and spiritual institution, teaching, edifying, serving pan-anthropic ideals, civilising, and preaching love in every direction. We assure you, fellow travellers on the road to peace, that we will always work with you — not only in the spirit of peace and tolerance, but more so, in the spirit of divine love itself. The Ecumenical Patriarchate belongs to the living Church that was founded by the God of love, whose peace “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). We “pursue what makes for peace” (Rom. 14:19). We believe that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16), which is why we are not afraid to extend our hand in friendship and our heart in love, as we proclaim that “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).

Beloved friends, there is more that unites us than that which divides us. Let this conference mark a turning point in our history. We have within our grasp the vision of the Psalmist: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” We pledge to you today that the Orthodox Christian Church will do everything in her power to fulfill that vision. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill towards men.”

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents