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The Diaconate in Liturgy and Life.

A Brief History of the Office and Considerations for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Orthodox Church.

by Teva ReguleOrthodox Peace Fellowship ConferenceBaltimore, MD 9/26-28/2008

Εν ειρηνη του κυριου δεηθωμεν (En eirini tou kyriou deithomen)… or in a more literal translation into English, “In the peace of the Lord, let us be in need.” These are the words of the deacon used to begin the “Great” or “Peace” Litany. Peace is an important theme and even a precondition of the Eucharistic celebration. It prepares the Church to offer and receive the Eucharist. At present, we begin the Liturgy with the Litany of Peace by invoking a state of peace commonly translated into English, “In Peace, let us pray to the Lord.” We are to be in peace the state of wholeness and integration within ourselves and with one another. As Bishop Kallistos Ware explains, “we are to banish, from within ourselves, feelings of resentment and hostility toward others: bitterness, rancor, inner grumbling, or divisiveness.” [1] Failure to forgive may be the greatest hindrance to knowing God. Moreover, peace with other believers should have primacy over duties in worship. As Christ commands, “So when you are offering your gift to the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.” [2] The Didache 3 also emphasizes this precondition of the communal sacrament “Let none who has a quarrel with his fellow join you until they be reconciled, so that your sacrifice may be undefiled.” This peace, however, is something that does not come from our own doing but comes only from God “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls ” Finally, this peace is not only inward looking but also looks to embrace all “For the peace of the whole world and for the communion [union] of all.” Peace and unity go together.[5]

In the early Church, this litany was prayed immediately before the Kiss of Peace exchange. The Kiss of Peace signified membership in the communion of believers. It was part of the baptismal rite and the reception of converts into the faith. It was further included by the Apostolic Constitutions [6] in the form of the Prayer for the Faithful ” and let the deacon [emphasis mine] say to all, salute one another with the holy kiss ” According to the noted liturgical historian, Hugh Wybrew, “The Kiss unites the worshippers among themselves, and so enables them to be united with the One, for union with God is impossible for those who are divided among themselves.” [8] This unity allows the congregation to not only confess the Trinity as “one in essence and undivided” in the Creed whose recitation usually follows the exchange of the Kiss, but reflect it. As Bishop Kallistos explains, “We are made in the image of God, we are made in the image of God the Holy Trinity; and the Holy Trinity signifies mutual love. If we are made in the image of the Trinity, that means we are made to love one another. “[9]

The Church is in the world to serve the community, to draw us closer to God and one another. The link between liturgy and service is crucial to what it means to gather as Church in worship. Liturgically, as we have seen, it is the deacon’s function to bring the people together and unite them in corporate prayer. It is in our service to the other that we are united with them. Our service to the other brings them with us to worship.

* * *

(The following remarks are part of a more in-depth presentation on the topic, including a history of the order and an examination of its restoration (male and, in many cases, female) within different faith traditions.)

The Diaconate A Brief History

A. Biblical Times The Church’s ministry, modeled after Christ’s example, grew out of the needs of the community. In the early Church, the Hellenists complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The Apostles realized that they could not attend to both the word of God and serve “tables.” [10] According to the account in Acts (Acts 6:1-6), they sought out “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task.” [11] This has commonly marked the beginning of a differentiated ministry, and as Mary Truesdell, a Deaconess in the Episcopal Church, states in her article, The Office of the Deaconess, “has always been taken by the Church as the embryonic beginning of the office of the deacon.” [12] ————-

The first place where we find the word “deacon” used as a title is in Romans. St. Paul writing to the Romans says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon (diakonon) of the church at Cenchreae ” Although some have argued that this passage only refers to Phoebe as a “helper,” Dr. Kyriaki FitzGerald in her article, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess,”cites the works of Origen and Chrysostom to show that patristic tradition upholds Phoebe’s position as a deaconess. (In addition, Phoebe is referenced in the second ordination prayer of the female deacon in the Byzantine Rite.

Master and Lord, You do not reject women who offer themselves, and by divine counsel, to minister as is fitting to your holy houses, but you accept them in the order of ministers. Give the grace of your Holy Spirit to this servant of Yours also, who wishes to offer herself to you, and to accomplish the grace of the diaconate, as You gave the grace of Your diaconate to Phoebe, whom you called to the work of the ministry. 15 )

B. Early Church We have evidence of the existence of deaconesses and deacons in the early Church as well. In a secular text, one of the letters from Pliny, Governor of Bithynia, to Trajan (112AD), he asks for guidance on how to handle the Christian sect, writing that he had to place “two women called ‘deaconesses’ under torture.” In addition, we have evidence of the existence of the male and female deacon and a general understanding of the functions of each from early church documents. We know that each was answerable to the bishop. While the male deacons ministered to men, the female deacons ministered to women. Moreover, each also had a liturgical role, although there is disagreement as to their precise functions. This parallelism can be seen in the Apostolic Constitutions passage that outlines the character of the deacon,

Let the deacons be in all things unspotted, as the bishop himself is to be, only more active; that they may minister to the infirm . And let the deaconess be diligent in taking care of the women; but both of them ready to carry messages, to travel about, to minister, and to serve [17]

This reflects an earlier understanding of the functions of the office found in the Didascalia Apostolorum. [18 ]The Didascalia contains sections on the character of the deaconess, and her ministry of assisting in the baptism of women and instruction of women converts. In addition, it contains sections for both the deacon and deaconess advising each to care for the people and to work closely with the Bishop. [19] C. Byzantine Period During the Byzantine period, the diaconal office in the east, especially that of women, flourished. This can be see by the number of women deacon saints on the liturgical calendar, including Sts. Macrina, the sister of Sts. Gregory and Basil (July 19), Nonna, the wife of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (August 5), Olympias, close friend and confidant of John Chrysostom (July 25), Xenia “the merciful” (Jan 24-5th c.), and Irene of Chrysovalantou (July 28-late 9th/early 10th c.) [20] In addition, we have descriptions of the makeup of the clergy serving during the Liturgy at Hagia Sophia which included “forty deaconesses.” [21]

During this time, the male diaconate in the East also grew in prominence. They held high positions in church governance, including participating in the Ecumenical councils (e.g. Athanasius of Alexandria was a deacon and secretary for his bishop at the Council of Nicaea in 325). They also served as emissaries and ambassadors of the episopal seat in diplomatic matters. Moreover, they were administers of church-run homes for the poor and widows, orphanages, and hospitals. [22]

D. Decline of the Order in the East The order of the female diaconate began to decline sometime after the twelfth century. By this time, there were fewer adult baptisms so female deacons were no longer needed at initiation. In addition, in late Byzantium the rise of influence of Levitical rules, especially those regarding women, led to the perception that the shedding of blood made a woman “unclean” and therefore, unable to enter the sanctuary or participate in the liturgical life of the Church. It should be noted that this is in direct contradiction to the understanding of ‘uncleanness’ found in the Didascalia Apostolorum and the Apostolic Constitutions. Chapter 26 of the Didascalia admonishes Christians to abandon the rabbinical rules of ‘uncleanness.’

[Are they de-]void of the Holy Spirit.[?] For through baptism they receive the Holy Spirit, who is ever with those that work righteousness, and does not [emphasis mine] depart from them by reason of natural issues and the intercourse of marriage, but is ever and always with those who possess Him [23]

It goes on to explicitly state that the Holy Spirit remains with a woman during her monthly period and that giving into Rabbinical taboos and rules opens the way for the wrong spirit. [24] The Apostolic Constitutions extends this emphasis,

For neither the lawful mixture [=intercourse], nor childbearing, nor the menstrual purgation, nor noctural pollution can defile the nature of a [person], or separate the Holy Spirit from him .but only impiety towards God, and transgression, and injustice towards one’s neighbor [25]

With the rise of Islam and the subsequent fall of the Eastern part of the Roman empire to the Ottomans, the Church turned inward. It could no longer participate in many of the philanthropic aspects of its ministry. Moreover, many of the traditional duties of the male deacon were being assumed by the priest and by the growing number of those in the so-called “minor orders.” This led to the position of the diaconate being perceived as more of a “transitional” one, on the way to being ordained a presbyter. Although the male deacon retained his role in the liturgical assembly, the office had devolved greatly. Unfortunately, this is what typically remains of the order in the East today.

Modern Renewal of the Office

A. Western Churches

In modern times, the diaconate has experienced a renewal and rejuvenation, most notably (and somewhat ironically) in the Western Christian churches. While this movement is due mostly to the needs of the local churches, it is instructive to us, as Orthodox Christians, to realize that the theological reasoning and justification for a re-institution of the order came from careful study of the Early Church, primarily its expression in the East. In the interests of time, I will only highlight one western faith tradition, the Anglican/Episcopal Church. (I want to emphasize that I am only speaking of the diaconate, and not ordination to the presbytery or episcopacy.)

Example: The Anglican/ Episcopal Church

As early as the 17th century, the Anglican/Episcopal Church blessed a form of ministry for women that focused on caring for the sick, the poor and needy, women and children. This was the beginning of the reinstitution of the office of the diaconate, a process that spanned over three hundred years. It was a juxtaposition of women filling the various ministerial needs of the Church and a growing understanding of the theological underpinnings of the order.

It wasn’t until 1968 that the ordained, permanent diaconate in the Episcopal Church, for both women and men, was finally restored. The deaconess was now considered to be within the ranks of the higher clergy, specifically within the diaconate. In addition, the male diaconate was no longer solely a transitional office to the priesthood but, could be a permanent, vocational office. The intention was to restore “the ancient, full, and equal order of ministry based on the call to imitate Christ in service to the poor and the needy.”[26]

In many ways, the years of ministry of the deaconess provided a model for the restoration of the fully ordained, permanent diaconate for men and women. The deacon’s duties continue to include serving directly under the bishop and helping to carry out the bishop’s ministry. She or he also functions within the ministries of liturgy, word, and charity, particularly the ministries among the poor, sick, and oppressed.[27]

Since its reinstitution, the number of deacons has nearly doubled. According to Dr. Thomas Ferguson, former faculty member at the Episcopal School for Deacons [who received his ThM from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology], “The current renaissance of the diaconate is part of the church’s recovering its own sense of diakonia, of being called and sent into the world to serve.” [28] This rejuvenation has been instrumental in helping all baptized Christians within the Episcopal Church to live out their “Baptismal Covenant,” especially as reflected in the last two questions asked at the time of baptism:

a) Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? b) Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? [29]

In summary, according to the North American Association for the Diaconate, “The diaconate of the Anglican churches is an historic order, with roots in the ancient church, adapting to the needs of the church and the world in our own age. It is a gift from God for the nurture of God’s people and the proclamation of God’s gospel.”[30]

Eastern Orthodox Church

Although the diaconate in the Eastern Orthodox Church has remained an active ministry since apostolic times, its scope and function have greatly diminished since the fall of Byzantium. The male diaconate generally functions solely in the liturgical realm and, oftentimes, has become just a transitional stage to ordination to the presbytery. The female diaconate has virtually disappeared. It is my hope that the Church will someday not only restore the ordained female diaconate, but revitalize the office, encouraging women to serve within the community and the Liturgy as Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, a noted French Orthodox theologian (of blessed memory), and others have said, in the “context of the culture and present requirements of the day.” [31]

There have been numerous attempts for over one-hundred and fifty years to reinstitute the female diaconate. As early as 1855, the sister of Czar Nicholas I tried to restore the office. Other prominent Russians also lobbied for its restoration, including Alexsandr Gumilevsky and Mother Catherine (Countess Efimovsky). According to numerous sources, in 1905-06, several bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans of the Russian Orthodox Church encouraged the effort. According to a report on the Consultation of Orthodox Women in Agapia in 1976, this issue was to be a major topic at the Council of the Russian Church beginning in 1917, but due to the political turmoil in Russia at the time, the council’s work was not addressed.[33] (It should be noted that other items on the agenda included adopting the use of the vernacular in the liturgical services and the reinstitution of the married episcopacy.)

Other efforts were made in Greece. On Pentecost Sunday in 1911, Archbishop (now, Saint) Nektarios ordained a nun to the diaconate to serve the needs of the monastery. A few years later, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Athens appointed “monastic ‘deaconesses’ who were nuns actually appointed to the subdiaconate.” [34]

More recently, the issue has been discussed at the international conferences for Orthodox women in Agapia, Romania (1976 at which its restoration was unanimously recommended), Sophia, Bulgaria (1987), Rhodes, Greece (1988), Crete (1990), Damascus, Syria (1996) and Istanbul (1997). Furthermore, in July of 2000, after over a year of careful review of the subject, a formal letter was sent to the Ecumenical Patriarch by more than a dozen members of the Orthodox community in Paris, including such noted Orthodox theologians as Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy, Olivier Clément, and Nicolas Lossky. The letter traces the history of the female diaconate and notes that the Patriarch himself has stated that there is “no obstacle in canon law [that] stands in the way of the ordination of women to the diaconate. This institution of the early Church deserves to be revitalized.” [35] It also states that the order should “involve more than a simple and archaeological reconstitution of the ancient ministry of the deaconesses it is a question of its revitalization, in other words of its realization in the context of the culture and requirements of the present day.” [36]

What would the deaconess do in the Church today? The question is generally preceded by the acknowledgement that the ancient deaconess assisted in the baptism of women, etc. It is oftentimes assumed that since we no longer have many adult baptisms (infant baptism being the norm) that we no longer need deaconesses. (Although a simplistic analogy, it is interesting that the same question is not asked of the male diaconate. i.e. Since we no longer need ‘table servers’ at the Eucharist, a function of the biblical diaconate, why do we need male deacons?) This issue has been discussed within Orthodox circles as well. According to the report of the Crete consultation (1990), a deacon or deaconess could

lead people in prayer, give spiritual counsel, distribute Holy Communion where possible. [In addition] The renewal of the diaconate for both men and women would meet many of the needs of the Church in a changing world catechetical work pastoral relations serving the same needs for monastic communities without a presbyter reading prayers for special occasions, performing social work pastoral care engaging in youth and college ministry counseling anointing the infirm carrying out missionary work ministering to the sick, assisting the bishop or presbyter in the liturgical services . [37]

The report concludes that a creative restoration of the diaconate for women, could lead in turn to the renewal in the diaconate for men as well. [38]

Considerations for a Reinstituted Female Deaconate.

A) The Liturgical Role of the Female Deacon.

When discussing the reinstitution of the female diaconate, the question of her liturgical role, including her service within the altar area, often arises. (It is my opinion, if this question were settled, we would currently have women deacons in the Orthodox Church.) According to the First Apology of Justin the Martyr (~150 AD), the ministry of the deacon was expressed in the liturgical celebration of the gathered Eucharistic assembly,

reading the gospel, leading the intercessions of the people, receiving the gifts of the people and ‘setting the table’ for the meal, serving the Eucharistic meal .[Moreover] the social service carried on by the deacons seems to be been rooted in the liturgical celebration. [39]

As we have seen, the link between liturgy and service is crucial not only to the office of the diaconate, but to our understanding of what it means to gather as Church in worship. It is in our service to the other that we are united with them. Our service to the other brings them with us to worship. We are their visible representatives. Although the liturgy enables us to encounter God in a variety of ways and at differing levels, allowing us to experience a “taste of the Kingdom,” we must always remember that we are not fully, as yet, in the eschaton [end times]. We live in the here and now and are called to draw all closer to God. In my opinion, it is a distortion of the office to have the male deacon serve only during the liturgy, but not within the community, and conversely, to have a future female deacon serve within the community, but not during the liturgy. As Dr. FitzGerald says in her book, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church,

It is important to remember that in the past women deacons did have important responsibilities in the Eucharist assembly as well as in the administration of baptism, in praying with and for those in need, and in bringing Holy Communion to those unable to attend the Eucharist. Today, these expressions of ministry can certainly continue. At the same time, we also need to examine how women deacons can participate in the Eucharist and other liturgical services in a manner which is expressive of the living Tradition of the Church and which is not defined by cultural norms of another time. [40]

B) The Need. But do we really need a rejuvenated diaconate and in particular, a restored female diaconate? To help answer this question, it is instructive to understand the responsibilities of a typical parish priest. Fr. Alexander Garklavs outlined a number of functions expected of today’s parish priest in his presentation at the 2004 Pastoral Conference held at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in June of 2004. In additional to all the liturgical duties of the priest (Sunday and any daily liturgical services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.), he enumerates some of the priest’s responsibilities in parish life in America:

Pastoral visitations, educational work, Bible study, adult study, youth work, teen work, working with choirs and choir directors, marriage preparation, marital counseling, visiting shut-ins, grief counseling, [hospital visits], office work, preparing and printing bulletins and schedules, parish mailing, aspects of parish administration: parish council meetings, budgets, agendas, PR, building committees, sunshine committees, yard work, etc. [41]

As far back as 1953, Archbishop Michael of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America realized that there is so much to do in each community that the

endeavors of these priests alone do not suffice. For should the priest wish to know, as he must his spiritual children by name, their problems, and their spiritual and moral needs, this would certainly be beyond his physical and spiritual resources. These tremendous needs of the Greek Orthodox Church in America has urged us to make a fervent appeal such as this to our daughters-in-Christ, With the future welfare of our Church and membership at heart, we are considering the establishment in this country of an order of deaconess. [42]

Clearly, a rejuvenated diaconate, a ministry that has service as its primary focus, is necessary in our Church today. No one person can fill all the duties necessary for the buildingup of the Body of Christ, the Church. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Each of us has been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The diaconate is not merely a “stepping stone” to higher orders. It is, as Dr. FitzGerald explains, “a full and parallel order of ordained ministry to which both men and women are called by God.” [44]

C) Is an ordained ministry necessary? It is an unfortunate effect of clericalism that lay participation in our churches varies widely. This is especially true of the participation of women. The range of women’s participation in the life of the Church can vary from diocese to diocese and even from parish to parish within each diocese. Still, many laywomen are already doing diaconal work in our parishes. Is ordination, then, necessary? What does an “ordination” mean? To begin to answer these questions, it is important to remember that we are all called to ministry within the Body of Christ. Each of us is called to minister to others in our daily lives we are all expected to teach others, especially those in our care; to be able to perform CPR on our neighbor, if necessary, for example. And yet, we set apart certain people to do such tasks on a professional basis. Unlike us, they must be trained in their profession and pass exams before we, as a society, confer a designation on them as “teacher” or “medical professional.” Likewise, throughout history the Church has “set apart” those “consecrated for service.” There are theological reasons for blessing someone in ministry.

[First,] Those who are set aside for ministry have the authority of the Church but they are also integrated into and accountable to the Church. [There are no “loose wheels.” This is a reciprocal relationship. The Church is also accountable to them by providing support and preparation for carrying out diaconal ministries in its name.] [Second,] Setting aside a person by the Church is a way to affirm the fact that we, as a Church, are members of one another[and Third,] We believe that it is by the grace of the Holy Spirit that spiritual and pastoral gifts are enlivened. [45]

Moreover, an ordination by the bishop who is the guarantor of the unity of the faith, is universal in scope. The authority of the bishop is rooted in Jesus Christ and it is Christ who confers it by the Holy Spirit through the act of ordination.[46] As Dr. FitzGerald acknowledges, “Ordination is not a right or a possession of anyone. Rather, it is a profound acknowledgement, by the Church, of God’s action in the life of a particular person who is called to serve Him and His Church in a distinctive and public manner.” [47] It is an action that is beyond temporality, connecting us with those that have gone before us and those that have yet to live. It is a connection to the Church past, present, and future.

Meeting the Orthodox Deaconess in the 21st century.

The Church is blessed to have a number of laywomen working in diaconal roles already, including pastoral assistants, chaplains, ecclesiarchs, and monastics. Through conversations and reflection, I have collected some of their experiences. I would like to now share them with you now. (Most of the reflections below are verbatim accounts of their experiences. In some cases, I have contextualized their comments for clarity.) Reflections of a Chaplain The first time I was scheduled to serve over night as an on-call chaplain, I received a page at 5 am. I groggily called the Intensive Care Unit, and spoke to a nurse who requested that I visit an anxious, weeping patient who would be undergoing surgery later that morning. I was told that the patient, “Andrew” was Orthodox Jewish. The nurse said that Andrea had a tracheotomy, and therefore could not speak. I entered the small ICU, which was silent but for the beeping ventilator and monitors. I introduced myself to Andrew, a 50-year old man with a scraggly beard and dark eyes. I told him that I would be happy to sit with him in this time of anxiety, and pray with him if he desired. “I understand you are Jewish,” I said, thinking that I might try to locate his rabbi if he had specific religious needs. He shook his head, and began awkwardly attempting to cross himself in an Orthodox manner. “Oh!”, I said, “You’re Orthodox!” Apparently, he had been misunderstood. “Actually, so am I!”, I said. His eyes registered surprise and joy, and he began crying calmer, gentler tears. He took a pad and wrote in large, shaky letters, “I am Orthodox. I am scared.” I put my hand on his shoulder and consoled him, and after a short conversation (via the notepad) about his surgery and his fears, I offered to pray for him. I taped an icon of the Resurrection on the wall across from his bed, and standing beside him, chanted the Trisagion prayers and a Psalm. Andrew became visibly calmer; a sense of peace came over his face. He left for surgery, trusting in God’s protection. I did not see Andrew again, but I believe that God led me to him on that early morning, to ease his fears and to refocus his heart on God’s loving presence in a time of suffering.

[Now, how much more complete would this story have been if the “deaconess” could have brought communion to the afflicted and ailing?]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant

It is Pentecost and I am to give my sermon. I am nervous but excited to be speaking about the Descent of the Holy Spirit! When I preach or teach, I know I am doing what I love, doing what I am called to do. I get to use my passions and gifts in a way that benefits the community I love.

[There seems to be no better ministry than to be able to use one’s gifts (on a universal basis) for the community that one loves.]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant

I am tired. I have just finished a long day at work and am drained. I have to lead the adult Bible Study tonight. I go to the chapel to collect my thoughts. We are reading and studying a passage from Matthew today. I ask God to give me the words. I read the passage slowly aloud. During the bible study, I am surprised at the profoundness of the words that come out of my mouth. I am energized and enlivened as are those around me. It is getting late so we wrap it up. I am totally exhausted when I get home but filled with the Spirit.

[As a “deaconess” she could read and preach not just for the small group in the Bible Study, but for all in the liturgical assembly.]

Reflections of an Ecclesiarch

I am directing students in the preparation of the chapel. We are approaching Holy Week. I need to be aware of all the liturgical order of the services, the rubrics, the chanting I put on my robe in the vestry and notice how the bishop is getting dressed, something I have never seen before. I explain part of the Proscomedia service to a young seminarian. I have always enjoyed the teaching part of this job. At first, some of the guys were “a little leary” of a woman doing this job. After all, I am not only a woman, but a convert. But, it has been a transformative process for all of us. Now, when challenged, they come to my defense, “of course she should do it, she knows what she is doing.” [It is important in our ministry as “deaconesses” to not only earn the authority, but have others recognize it.]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant.

I am helping Father with the Bridegroom services during Holy Week. At this particular service none of the altar servers are available. Father quickly motions for me to go into the altar and get one of the candles for the procession. I don’t know whether I wanted to be an altar server growing up or not. Now, here I was carrying the candle in the procession. Such a simple thing Somehow, I knew exactly what to do. It was a great honor. To be able to serve and be more fully integrated into the worship service gave me a connection to the liturgy of the Church in a way that I had never experienced before. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience the liturgy this way.

[Perhaps, our daughters will get that opportunity. I remember that my sister wanted to be an altar server when she younger. They said that only boys could do it because they could be priests one day. But, if altar service led to the priesthood then our seminaries would be full of those boys. However, they are not. As a seminary student, I was always amazed at the things they know about the service of which I had no idea. I certainly missed a great catechetical opportunity. They say that anyone who has business “back there” and has the blessing to do so can serve and that there is no reason why girls can’t and yet they don’t allow us. I have spent many years frustrated by the policy. I remember my younger brother and how proud he was to serve at the altar. I also remember other boys who could care less but felt entitled to their service. We are all called to build up the Body of Christ. Is the Church utilizing all of the talents of its members to do so?

Altar service is an important but misused service in the Church. Women serve in women’s monasteries. And prior to the fall of communism, women served almost ubiquitously within the altar area in Russia. In addition, there are young women who serve in isolated parishes in England and in the US. Would ordaining women to the diaconate and allowing women and girls to serve within the altar area allow for a more authentic form of altar service?]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant.

Father always said that no one person can meet all the spiritual needs of the congregation. Lately, he has asked me to hear confessions. Although, I am trained in pastoral care, I am nervous as this is such an awesome responsibility

[I remember reading that Paul Meyendorff (Professor of Liturgical Theology, St. Vladimir’s Seminary) as a young child in France, would be taken to the monastery by his mother to go to confession with one of the nuns. It was only after he had been properly counseled that he would then approach the priest for absolution. [48] This is an example of carrying on that tradition within the parish context. However, it is important that deaconesses and those giving spiritual counsel be trained to do so. In addition, by setting her aside to minister in this capacity, the deaconess is accountable to the Church.]

The diaconate most closely manifests our ministry to the world. It helps us bring all of creation into unity with God. Unfortunately, our lives are often fragmented. We are disconnected from those around us. A revitalized diaconate can help bridge this gap. He or she can “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes for the world.” [49]

Moreover, the Church in America faces a great many challenges in order to minister to the needs of Her faithful. Certainly, a rejuvenated diaconate a ministry dedicated to service for and by both men and women can, in the words of Dr. FitzGerald, “bear witness to Christ the Servant as well as facilitate a creative and salutary response by the Church to so many of the spiritual challenges which face us today.” [50]

The Liturgy gives us a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. But it should also make us restless, as we realize how far we are from that ideal for most of our life. We need to recognize our faults and limitations and move beyond them, striving to do the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” A community whose members are hurt is deformed. We need to be the Church, a therapeutic, healing community. It is then that we can experience the love of God more fully in this world as in the next. Thank you.


1 Bishop Kallistos Ware, “In Peace Let us Pray to the Lord: Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy,”, April 1999. Henceforth: Ware, “Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy.”

2 Matthew 5: 23-24, NRSV.

3 The Didache is a 2nd c. church document outlining early church liturgics and ethics. 4 Didache 14:2.

5 Bishop Kallistos Ware, “In Peace Let us Pray to the Lord: Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy,” paraphrasing Fr. Lev Gillet from Serve the Lord with Gladness,, April 1999.

6 The Apostolic Constitutions is a 4th-5th century document of Syriac origin that outlines early Church ethics and liturgics.

7 Apostolic Constitutions, VIII, 11.

8 Hugh Wybrew, The Orthodox Liturgy, The Development of the Eucharist Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. (Crestwood, New York: SVS Press), p. 93.

9 Ware, “Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy.”

10 In Greek, trapeza. Although the word in this passage is usually translated as “table,” it can also be translated as “bank.” It refers to the function of distributing food (and possibly other supplies) to the poor, elderly, those widowed, etc.

11 Acts 6:3, NRSV.

12 Truesdell, Mary P., The Office of the Deaconess. Accessed via on 8/ 12/2004. Ms. Truesdell was ordered a Deaconess in the Episcopal Church in 1919. This article appeared as part of an anthology on the Diaconate in 1967.

13 Romans 16:1, NRSV.

14 FitzGerald, Dr. Kyriaki Karidoyanes, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess” in Women and the The Priesthood, Fr. Thomas Hopko, ed. (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1983), p. 77-78. Henceforth: FitzGerald, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess.”

15 Original in the Barberini Codex gr. 336. Translated by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash). Accessed via on 8/12/2004.

16 Letters of Pliny and Trajan. Accessed via /ancient/pliny-trajan1.html on 9/05/2004.

17 Apostolic Constitutions, Chapter III, no. 19.

18 The Didascalia Apostolorum is a later 3rd century-early 4th century document outlining pastoral and Church practice. The eight books of the Didascalia Apostolorum were subsequently incorporated into the Apostolic Constitutions with some minor variation.

19 Didascalia Apostolorum, Chapter 16.

20 Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry, (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), pp. 28-56, referencing the Meterikon. Henceforth: FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church.

21 Gryson, Roger, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church. Jean Laporte and Mary Louise Hall, trans., (NY: Liturgical Press, 1980), p. 71 as referenced in Gvosdov, Matushka Ellen, The Female Diaconate: An Historical Perspective, (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing, 1991). Henceforth Gvosdov, The Female Diaconate.

22 Touloumes, Deacon Photios, The Diaconate in the Orthodox Church. Accessed via on 9/6/2004.

23 Didascalia Apostolorum, Chapter 26. 24 Ibid, Chapter 26. 25 Apostolic Constitutions, Chapter VI, no. 27.

26 Lifting Up the Servants of God: The Deacon, Servant and Ministry and the Future of the Church. Accessed via on 11/22/04.

27 Deacons in the Anglican Churches. Accessed via on 1/12/2005. Henceforth Deacons in the Anglican Churches.

28 Ferguson, Dr. Thomas, Lifting Up the Servants of God: The Deacon, Servant Ministry, and the Future of the Church. Accessed via on 11/22/2004.

29 Book of Common Prayer (revised 1979). Accessed via on 11/22/04. Henceforth Book of Common Prayer.

30 Deacons in the Anglican Churches.

31 An Orthodox Diaconate for Women? Reported in Sobornost 23:1 (2001), pp. 60-63.

32 Gvosdev, The Female Diaconate.

33 Ibid, referencing Tarasar, Constance J. and Irina Kirillova, eds., Orthodox Women: Their Role and Participation in the Orthodox Church (Report on the Consultation of Orthodox Women, Sept. 11-17, 1976, Agapia, Romania) (New York: World Council of Churches Press), p.27.

34 FitzGerald, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess,” p. 90 referencing Theodorou, Cheirotonia.

35 An Orthodox Diaconate for Women? Reported in Sobornost 23:1 (2001), pp. 60-63.

36 Ibid.

37 Orthodox Women’s Consultation on Church and Culture, Crete, January 1990. Accessed via on 4/28/2003.

38 Ibid.

39 Anglican-Lutheran International Commission, The Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity, (London: Anglican Communion Publications, 1996), p. 10 referencing Apology of Justin the Martyr.

40 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 197.

41 Garklavs, Rev. Alexander, The Orthodox Pastor in the 21st century. Talk presented at the 2004 Pastoral Conference (OCA) at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA, June 2-4, 2004. Accessed via

42 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 154-5.

43 1 Cor. 12:7, NRSV.

44 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 165.

43 1 Cor. 12:7, NRSV.

44 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 165.

45 Sarah Byrne, Orthodox Chaplaincy: Reflections and Recommendations in The St. Nina Quarterly forthcoming.

46 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order paper, No. 11 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), p. 22.

47 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 184.

48 Meyendorff, Paul, “Penance in the Orthodox Church Today,” Studia Liturgica 18 (1988), p. 105. 49 Book of Common Prayer, p. 543 50 Ibid, p. 195.

49 Book of Common Prayer, p. 543.

50 Ibid, p. 195.

Christian Soldiers

by Alex Patico

Returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan

A recent issue of the University of Minnesota’s alumni magazine noted that over five hundred of that university’s current students are veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan. The U’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs (named for a public servant whose career may have stopped short of the presidency primarily because his association with an earlier, divisive war) has embarked on a project in oral history to preserve the lessons of transition back into civilian life.

Done in collaboration with Minnesota’s National Guard, the project has found that the transition is often fraught with difficulty. Many of those who return find they have come back “a different person” — different both from those who did not experience war, and different from their own former selves. The relative invisibility of the war stateside is troubling. “There’s ordinary people dying and being blown up and burning to death while we sit here drinking coffee,” said Ross Hedlund, who served a year in Iraq. “I don’t think,” said Hedlund, “very many people care. The question,”Did you kill anyone?” is one that alarms the returnees, though it comes up often. This story is being repeated across the United States and, to a lesser extent, in the United Kingdom and other countries that have sent troops. [See: “From Combat to Campus,” by J. Trout Lowen, in Minnesota, Sep/Oct 2008]

Mennonite Project

Transforming the Wounds of War (TWOW) is a two-year project for religious leaders working with returning military veterans and their families building on programs already established at Eastern Mennonite University and its Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, including the Seminars in Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) and the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

An Army-funded study found reports of “severe aggression” against spouses ran more than three times higher among Army families than among civilian families. Domestic violence shelters find that rates of domestic violence have risen. Incidents of child abuse and neglect by the noncombatant parent are three times normal rates when one parent is deployed. Although veterans of all wars constitute 11% of the US population, they represent 23% of the homeless. Veterans’ rates of alcoholism and drug addiction are significantly higher than among non-veterans. While the military does not track suicides once a soldier has been discharged, investigations of veteran suicides have discovered that in 2005 there were at least 6,256 suicides of veterans of this and past wars. This is a rate of 120 every week and an average of 17 every day for 2005.

This initiative will enable communities to develop skills and programs to assist veterans to work through the spiritual issues they face as a result of participating in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to facilitate their successful reintegration back into American society. Once fully funded, this two year project will train 300 religious leaders in 15 communities across the US, and will support a pilot community-wide integrated faith response in a large community.

The leader of the project is a PhD psychotherapist with experience in dealing with trauma, who has also worked as a hospital chaplain. [Contact: Center for Justice and Peacebuilding]

*The title is not to deny that many members of the military are atheists, agnostics or adherents to other faith traditions, but only to focus here on Orthodox Christians who may be in that status.

Forest Talk

At the recent OPF-North America Conference, OPF international secretary Jim Forest gave a presentation on the response of Orthodox Christians in times of war, beginning with Christ and the apostles. “The only one of his disciples to shed blood, a brave action performed in Christ’s defense by Peter,” Forest pointed out, “was immediately admonished by Jesus, ‘Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish by the sword.’ His last miracle before his crucifixion was to heal the wound of the man whom Peter had injured. This compassionate gesture provides a powerful example of what Jesus meant in commanding love of enemies to all those attempting to his follow him.”

Forest quoted Hippolytus, one of the first bishops of Rome: “A soldier under authority shall not kill a man. If…ordered to, he shall not carry out the order..If he is unwilling, let him be rejected. He who has the power of the sword or is a magistrate of a city who wears the purple, let him cease or be rejected. Catechumens or believers, who want to become soldiers, should be rejected, because they have despised God.” He cited the theologian Origen: “Christians have been taught not to defend themselves against their enemies; and because they have kept the laws that command gentleness and love of man, they have received from God that which they would not have achieved if they were permitted to make war, though they might have been quite able to do so.” And, Clement of Alexandria: “The Church is an army which sheds no blood…In peace, not in war, we are trained…If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You shall not kill, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To him that strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.” He talked at length about St. Martin of Tours, who came from a military background and yet came, by the age of twenty, to a point where he told the emperor: “Up to now I have served you as a soldier. Now let me serve Christ…I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.”

The talk traced the winding road of steady, but gradual dilution of the principle of non-combat. Even under the Emperor Constantine, who was a protector of Christianity, canons like this were written:

As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military belts, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, so that some have regained their military stations; let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. [Hearers and prostrators are categories of penitents who can be present, like catechumens, for the Liturgy of the Word, but are barred from the Eucharistic Liturgy.] But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretense, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers…But those who take the matter with indifference, and who think the form of not entering the Church is sufficient for their conversion, must fulfil the whole time.” (Canon XII, Council of Nicea, AD 325)

Forest talked, too, about St. Augustine and the “Just War” doctrine, which has actually never been embraced in the Eastern Church. Fr. Stanley Harakas, long-time professor of Orthodox Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Massachusetts, studied the patristic record of many centuries and concluded, “For the Eastern Orthodox tradition war can be seen only as a ‘necessary evil,’ with all the difficulty and imprecision such a designation carries.” Forest ended with the admonishment: “Whatever choice we make, we must always bear in mind our responsibility to love even our enemies and to recognize Christ in the stranger.”

P.O.V. Documentary: Soldiers of Conscience

By special arrangement, through their community involvement outreach program, the documentary series P.O.V. (Point-of-View) made available to OPF a copy of one of their latest offerings, Soldiers of Conscience, for viewing at its late-September conference in Maryland.

This powerful documentary, by filmmakers Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg, treats the question of conscientious objection in the context of the current war in Iraq. A project of Luna Productions and recipient of a Sundance Institute Documentary Fund grant, Soldiers follows several men who opted to reject their role in the military and to accept the consequences. While the focus is largely on what led each of them to make that determination, the producers were diligent in including other voices — representatives of U.S. Army public affairs, a gunnery sergeant charged with training recruits, a West Point professor who grapples with the moral and philosophical issues that grow out of the prosecution of a war. Footage of Iraq war combat depicts both the herding of frightened civilians out of their homes and the blowing up of a U.S. vehicle by an IED on a Iraqi street. The viewer is thus made to look at the issues from every side. (One can say that more of the victims of bombs or bullets shown are Iraqi, but of course that is also the reality of the overall conflict in Iraq.)


The individuals introduced to the viewer include:

* Josh Casteel, a self-described “cradle conservative” and former president of his local Young Republicans who served in the 202nd Military Intelligence unit. A graduate of ROTC and West Point, Casteel, still in his twenties, is now speaking against the war. “War is not fought,” he reminds us, “by or for ideas; it is fought by individual persons who possess human will.” (He interviewed prisoners in Abu Ghraib several months after the scandal over prisoner treatment erupted.) His application as a CO was eventually approved.

* Kevin Benderman, a mature man who served during the First Gulf War (though not in combat) and re-enlisted for the present conflict, has a long family history of military service. Two grandparents served in WWI, his father in WWII, an uncle in the Korean conflict and cousins in Vietnam; indeed, Benderman said, members of his family have been in the army “since there’s been a country.” He will serve 15 months in prison and be given a dishonorable discharge for his conviction on “missing movement by design” (failing to ship out a second time to Iraq, where he had served in combat).

* Specialist First Class Aidan Delgado was signing papers to enlist in the Army at the very time that planes were crashing into the twin towers on 9/11. Serving in the 320th Military Police, Delgado saw first-hand the techniques of interrogation that have been examined and re-examined in the press and in Congress. His CO status was recognized by the military.

* Camilo Mejia, a well-spoken Hispanic-American, was in Iraq with the 124th Infantry Division. Joining the military at age 19, he also took part in routines that included sleep deprivation, threats of death and other abuses before reaching his fateful decision. He was interviewed by Dan Rather on CBS’ Sixty Minutes while still on active duty. Mejia was later court-martialed and sentenced a year in prison and a bad-conduct discharge (he was released after less than ten months — for “good behavior”).

As affecting as the very human situations shown certainly are — the face of a nine-year-old girl terrified by a house-search conducted by rough and profane coalition soldiers with big guns, the shock of the up-armored humvee being smashed by a planted explosive, or the wearing tension of sniper duty in an unfamiliar city — the documentary also presents contextual information that is vital. It cites the first recognition of conscientious objection, in one of the first laws passed by the Continental Congress on July 18, 1775. The voice-over and shots of relevant documents make clear that the soldier must object to all war, in order to stand a chance of being granted status as a conscientious objector. We learn that in present-day Germany, which has a provision for mandatory public service, over half of those called now opt for conscientious objection, rather than entering the military of that country (80,000 out of 150,000 in 2004).

A particularly eye-opening segment quoted Gen. S.L.A. Marshall, Historian of the U.S. Army, in his finding that only one-quarter of the soldiers who were in a position to shoot an enemy in World War II actually managed overcome their reluctance to do so. Responding to that fact, the Army improved its conditioning of recruits, instituting “reflexive fire training” that would “by-pass the moral decision” that gave pause to the person with his finger on the trigger. By the time Korea came, 50-60% made (from the view of the military) the “right” decision; in Vietnam, shoot-to-kill rates reached 85-90%. Feedback from military commanders in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate that “people are more lethal than they ever imagined” possible.

What will stay with many of us who watched the documentary are the soliloquies of the objectors:

“I looked at [the detainees] and I saw my own unit, but with brown skin. I was not able to make the jump to turn those people into subhumans, but it is the nature of war to turn them into subhumans.” [Delgado]

“I found myself in the region that the historians say might have been the Garden of Eden. I asked myself ‘why am I carrying around an M-16 in the Garden of Eden?’…We figured out that human sacrifice was wrong. We decided that slavery was wrong. Maybe we will finally say that war is wrong.” [Benderman]

And, the voices of new recruits, responding to their boot-camp drill sergeant cheer-leader:

“Kill, kill, kill without mercy!!! Blood, blood, blood makes the green grass grow!!!”

[Soldiers of Conscience will air on most public television stations on October 16th at 9:00 pm (check local PBS listings for P.O.V.). For more information, visit: ]

* * *

Orthodox Peace Fellowship letter to the Patriarchs of Russia and Georgia

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship, an association of Orthodox believers seeking to apply the principles of the Gospel to situations of division and conflict, has written to the leaders of the Orthodox Churches in Russia and Georgia to express support of their recent efforts first to prevent war and then to bring about a cease fire.

“What a sin and a scandal it is to see these armies shedding each other’s blood.” the letter notes. “That such an event can happen is a poignant reminder of how often, among Orthodox Christians no less than others, national identity easily takes priority over our common identity as children of the One God.

“We hope to see you both standing side-by-side in continuing efforts to promote peace between the Russian Federation and the Democratic Republic of Georgia, to collaborate in healing the deep wounds left by this tragic conflict, and to bear witness in unity to the Gospel of Christ’s Peace, who called us to love, not slay, each other.”

The full text of the letter is attached.

* * *

August 13, 2008

Beloved Patriarchs Alexei and Ilya,

Though your efforts to prevent armed conflict between Russia and Georgia have received little attention in other countries, we have followed them as we have been able, including Patriarch Ilya’s proposal in April in which he noted the potential “role and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

Sadly, despite work for peace by both of you, Russia and Georgia entered into armed conflict. Many have died, not only soldiers but innocent people. Many of our Orthodox brethren have blood on their hands.

More recently, with the conflict at its height, there was the cease-fire appeal made by Patriarch Alexei, which included these words:

“Today blood is being shed and people being killed in South Ossetia and my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox people, called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love, confront each other.”

What a sin and a scandal it is to see these armies shedding each other’s blood. That such an event can happen is a poignant reminder of how often, among Orthodox Christians no less than others, national identity easily takes priority over our common identity as children of the One God.

We hope to see you both standing side-by-side in continuing efforts to promote peace between the Russian Federation and the Democratic Republic of Georgia, to collaborate in healing the deep wounds left by this tragic conflict, and to bear witness in unity to the Gospel of Christ’s Peace, who called us to love, not slay, each other.

We write on behalf of members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship who reside in countries around the world.

Jim Forest, International Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Alexander Patico, Secretary for OPF in North America

* * *

Written September 11, 2008 for the Sojourners magazine blog:

Orthodox Response to the Russia-Georgia conflict in South Ossetia

The recent Georgia-Russia conflict in and around South Ossetia was definitely not a religious war, but serves as a reminder that religious identity doesn’t even come in third place when issues of national identity are at issue. While the battle raged, the majority of participants — and casualties — were Christians on both sides.

In both countries, the Orthodox Church — in practice, though not officially — functions as the national church. Russia has an icon of St. George at the center of its national coat of arms; the average Russian atheist regards himself as an Orthodox atheist. Georgia prides itself on having adopted Christianity in the 4th century, six centuries before the baptism of Russia.

No matter how borderless Christianity is in theory (“neither east nor west, neither Greek nor Jew”), in practice national borders are as substantial as cathedral walls.

The Orthodox churches in Russia and Georgia — led by Patriarch Alexei in Moscow and Patriarch Ilya in Tbilisi — are no exception. It’s rare for either church to stand in opposition to its government. The Russian Orthodox Church has been especially notable for being quick to bless Russia’s military — and has been all but silent in voicing criticism about Russian actions, no matter how brutal. Patriarch Ilya also has been equally silent about post-Soviet Georgia’s deepening association with the United States and the US-sponsored military buildup that has resulted.

Thus it has been a surprise to note the efforts made by the leaders of both churches first to prevent the recent war and then, their efforts having failed, to speed its end.

Ilya seems to have been the one who took the first step. In April he sent a letter to Alexei in which he noted the potential “role and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

While Alexei’s response has not been made public, it is likely that he intervened with Russia’s president and prime minister (he is on close terms with both Medvedev and Putin) in hopes of encouraging renewed diplomatic efforts to prevent conflict.

But when Georgia’s military bombarded Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on the night of August 8, hopes to prevent war were shattered. (What lay behind Georgia’s action is baffling. Whatever provocations there may have been, it was something like Rhode Island opening fire on New York. The Russians had already made clear what would happen in such a case. Georgia’s small army hadn’t a chance against Russian forces. Was President Saakashvili imagining that America, his military sponsor, would join the battle? Had he even been encouraged to open fire? I’d love to know.)

What is remarkable in the context of the days that followed was Patriarch Alexei making a public appeal to the Russian state to declare a cease fire.

“Today blood is being shed and people being killed in South Ossetia,” he said, “and my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox people, called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love, confront each other.”

In a sermon given in Tbilisi two days later, Patriarch Ilya said that “one thing concerns us very deeply — that Orthodox Russians are bombing Orthodox Georgians.”

Note that when Alexei made his appeal, he was definitely not acting as the Russian government’s amen chorus. At the time, Russia’s leaders were strongly resisting international pressure for a cease fire. It seems likely Russia was hoping, war having begun after years of tension, to seize the moment to bring South Ossetia, bitterly with odds with Georgia for many years, into actual rather than ex officio inclusion in Russia — a goal Russia is still pursuing, but at present without warfare with Georgia.

Will the two churches make more vigorous efforts to prevent renewed conflict? And if so how? How willing are the two churches to prevent the cross from being used as a flag pole?

— Jim Forest

* * *

Jim Forest is the international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (, editor of its journal In Communion, and author of Praying With Icons and The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life.

* * *

News: Summer 2008

Belarus pressures Orthodox not to venerate martyrs

Belarus is discouraging the commemoration of Orthodox Christians killed for their faith by the Soviet Union, according to a report issued in May by Forum 18. The Belarussian KGB sought to have icons of the New Martyrs removed from the cathedral in Grodno.

New Martyr St. Pavlin, Bishop of Mogilev, shot in 1937 Deacon Andrei Kurayev charged that KGB officers had asked Grodno clergy “why they were inciting the people in such a way.”

Bishop Artemi (Kishchenko) of Grodno and Volkovysk refused to take the icons down. “He told the KGB that he couldn’t rewrite history.”

During the 1920s and 30s, over 20 Belarussian clergy, including three bishops, were shot in Minsk for their faith, according to Fr. Feodor Krivonos.

“There is a certain circle of people who don’t like these icons,” said Fr. Aleksandr Veliseichik. He said icons would be removed only if they were not Orthodox, “but these were painted entirely according to church canons.”

Some of the icons, he said, were copied from originals in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. One of the icons is of St. Pavlin, Bishop of Mogilev, shot in 1937.

KGB officers also often monitor visitors to Kuropaty, where many New Martyrs are buried in mass graves. Possibly 100,000 victims of Stalin’s purges are thought to have been shot at Kuropaty in between 1937 and 1941, but no archaeological research has been conducted at the site since the 1990s.

The act of going there is “fraught with tension” with the current Belarusian regime, said an Orthodox Christian who asked not to be named. An Orthodox chapel planned for the site has never been built.

The Moscow-based St. Tikhon Orthodox University estimates that 90,000 Orthodox were killed for their faith by the Soviet state.

Over 1,000 New Martyrs were formally canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000.

[F18 News, 12 May 2008]

Russia seeks to draft priests into the army


The young priest was not intimidated by the words “criminal case” and the green file that the officer said would land him in jail for refusing the draft. He was articulate and patient as he stood, wearing a cassock and cross, in front of a colonel at his district military commission, trying to persuade him that as an Orthodox priest there is no way he could serve as an army recruit. The priest, who asked to remain anonymous, serves at one of the city’s largest churches.

Following the February passage of a law that for the first time makes Orthodox priests subject to conscription, all draft-age Russian priests find themselves torn between a legal obligation and their religious obligations.

It is a serious dilemma. The Orthodox Church forbids priests, on pain of being defrocked, from carrying guns or being involved in military activities, while the law threatens them with imprisonment if found guilty of refusing the draft.

“The officer gave me a sour look and asked what village I was from, but that initial bravado disappeared when he saw that I was honest, respectful, and serious,” the priest recalled. “Soon I saw he was baffled. He even rang his superior in my presence to ask what he should do.”

In the end, the officers made a joint decision to let the priest go, but his battle might not be over, as the spring draft continues for two more months. “I’m prepared to have as many conversations with the officers as it takes,” the priest said. “I believe in the power of the word.”

Colonel Yury Klyonov of the Leningrad military district says the presence of priests in the army is bound to improve the moral climate among recruits. “This new measure is going to be beneficial for both the church and the army. After all, the Orthodox Church has always supported the idea of serving the motherland.”

“If priests are to be conscripted at all it must be only as chaplains,” said Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov of the Moscow diocese. “They must be allowed to fulfill their duties without having to compromise and betray their beliefs.” But the position of chaplain does not exist in the Russia armed forces.

Xenia Chernega, a lawyer representing the Moscow diocese, said the law was “a sign of blatant disregard for the canons of the Orthodox Church. The restriction is set by apostolic rule number 83: ‘anyone exercising military activities must be expelled from the priesthood’.”

The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly has appealed for the amendment to be vetoed. “Breaking into churches and dragging priests off to the army would be shameful. As a political successor of the USSR, Russia is still greatly indebted to the priests who perished in Stalin’s purges,” said one of the authors of the appeal, Vitaly Milonov.

In response to such criticism, Nikolai Pankov, the Deputy Defense Minister and one of those who instigated the changes in the conscription rules, accused critics of a “lack of patriotism” and of failing to support Russia’s defense needs. He and others argue that serving the motherland does not conflict with religious beliefs. One of their arguments is that drafting priests will help to reduce the bullying and brutality for which the Russian army has become notorious.

“Several thousand young men desert the army every year because they cannot bear the humiliation, beatings, and extortion of money by the senior recruits,” said Ella Polyakova, chairwoman of the St. Petersburg pressure group, Soldiers’ Mothers.

She believes the move was meant to send a tough message. “Russia has become a police state. True to its name, it has to constantly remind the people who’s boss. The other amendments are equally repressive. Just think about a young man having to leave a sick mother confined to her bed or a breast-feeding wife with no income. The authorities openly show that they see our citizens the way feudal lords saw their serfs.” [St. Petersburg Times, 29 April 2008]

‘Instant’ churches to ease church shortage in Russia

A group of Russian Orthodox benefactors has found a way to ease the continuing post-Soviet shortage of places of worship by devising a plan to provide prefabricated churches that can be erected in 24 hours.

A prototype is now in place at Kemerovo in Siberia, where church shortages are most acute, said Vasily Smirnov, director of the Russian Club of Orthodox Philanthropists.

“Communism changed the Russian landscape by introducing neighborhoods filled with towering apartment blocks, but because of official atheism, they almost never had churches,” Smirnov said. “In densely populated bedroom communities, there aren’t enough Orthodox churches and residents have to travel to the town center. We’re developing some innovative techniques in this sphere for people who want to build churches.”

The buildings, able to accommodate up to 200 people, will be erected in large numbers once the project gathers pace.

The Russian Orthodox Church opened more than a hundred churches and chapels in 2007 in Moscow, where a further 86 are under construction. However, Russia’s 142 Orthodox dioceses and 27,942 Orthodox parishes still have only a third of the churches the country had before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. [ENI, 7 May 2008]

Danger of War in the Caucasus warns Patriarch Iliya

War could erupt in the Caucasus unless Russia and Georgia take affirmative steps to reduce tensions, Patriarch Iliya II, Patriarch of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, warned in April. He stated the border dispute between the two former Soviet republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was in danger of spiraling out of control. He called on Patriarch Alexy of Moscow to join him in using “the role and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two northern regions of Georgia, broke from the Tbilisi government following the collapse of the USSR. Georgia has not relinquished sovereignty, but has been unable to put down the Moscow-backed secession.

Four days before Iliya’s appeal, Russia announced it would strengthen its economic and cultural ties to the two breakaway regions and provide “complete protection” to Russian citizens resident in the country. Moscow had previously granted Russian citizenship to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“The current condition of the bilateral relations,” said Iliya, “fails to meet the spirit of neighborliness and fraternity of the two peoples. Both sides have made mistakes in their attempts to normalize interstate relations…. I fear that the bilateral relations may reach a critical limit and plunge into uncontrollable processes…. We think that any confrontation, armed conflicts or military actions are unacceptable, because they will lead to irreversible consequences. That is why we think that regardless of the difficulties of launching negotiations in the present-day tense situation, there is no alternative. A peaceful dialogue is the only way out of the current situation.”

Church restoration in Kosovo to resume

The Serbian Orthodox Church has decided to resume the restoration of destroyed monasteries and churches in Kosovo. The restoration will continue in cooperation with the Culture Ministry, international institutions and the UN.

At the conclusion of its spring meeting, the Synod stated that the Church and the Serbian people would never countenance the unlawful, violent usurpation of Kosovo, and thanked all the countries that had not recognized the province’s unilateral independence declaration. [B92, 22 May 2008]

Serbian Orthodox Church relieves Patriarch Pavle

The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church announced in May that 93-year-old Patriarch Pavle would no longer head the church because he is too ill to perform his duties. The synod will take charge of the running of the church, while the oldest bishop, Amfilohije, will act as president of the synod and “Guardian of the Throne,” it was announced. Pavle, who became leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1990, has been in and out of hospital over the past two years.

Serbian Orthodox church law states that a successor to the Patriarch must be elected by a secret vote during a gathering at which at least two-thirds of the 40 bishops attend. If two candidates receive the same tally of votes, a patriarch is chosen by the drawing of lots. [ENI, 19 May 2008]

Iraqi bishop urges pressure on US to keep its ‘broken promises’

An Iraqi Christian leader has appealed to US churches to pressure their government to keep promises made to Iraqis to improve humanitarian conditions after the 2003 US-led invasion.

“There is a tragedy in Iraq now because the promises made were never kept,” said Archbishop Avak Asadourian, primate of the Armenian Church of Iraq, during a meeting in June in New York. Asadourian is the current general secretary of the Council of Christian Church Leaders in Iraq.

He lamented that though Christianity has deep roots in Iraq, war is slowly depleting Iraq of its once-vibrant Christian communities. Christianity came to Iraq in the first century, when St. Thomas the Apostle is said to have visited Mesopotamia.

“Our natural resources, which are tremendous, must be utilized for the betterment of the Iraqi people,” said Asadourian. “Until now, the infrastructure in Iraq is in shambles, and people are still waiting for basic necessities, so they may live in a normal fashion. We were promised clean water but what we got is Blackwater” (a US-based private security firm that has played a notorious role in Iraq).

Asadourian described Iraq as “a severely wounded country,” with Iraqis living “under the strain of several hardships stemming from so many wars.” These included, the archbishop said, a 13-year US-led international embargo, “which in and of itself is an act of war” and which was in place before the invasion in 2003.

The 2003 occupation brought with it hope that conditions might improve in Iraq. Instead, Asadourian noted, the occupation had led to five years of terrorism, forcing tens of thousands of people, many of them Christian, to flee Iraq.

“People are aware that they can leave home alive and never return to their families,” Asadourian said. “My cathedral closed for a year and a half because of the lack of security,” he said. “What Iraqis need, before anything else, is security.”

“It is very difficult to live under the shadow of death for so many years,” the archbishop said. “It takes its toll on you.”

Until the military action in 2003, Christians accounted for roughly 3 per cent of Iraq’s 29 million people. Approximately 70 percent of the Christians belong to the Chaldean church, which follows the ancient Chaldean rite but is in union with the Catholic Church.[ENI, 18 June 2008]

Armenian spiritual leader decries Turkeys’ genocide denial

Catholicos Karekin II, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visiting Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in May, spoke of the genocide suffered by his compatriots in the Ottoman empire, and said that those with power should ensure that justice prevails.

“We appeal to all nations and lands to universally condemn all genocides that have occurred throughout history and those that continue through the present day,” Karekin said in St. Peter’s Square on 7 May, where he had been invited by Pope Benedict to speak at a general audience. “The denial of these crimes is an injustice that equals the commission of the same.”

“Today many countries of the world condemn the genocide made by the Ottomans against the Armenian people, as John Paul II said when I was in Rome,” noted Karekin.

“The recent history of the Armenian Apostolic Church has been written in the contrasting colors of persecution and martyrdom, darkness and hope, humiliation and spiritual re-birth,” said Pope Benedict.

Armenia estimates 1.5 million of its people died between 1915 and 1923 in a systematic genocide initiated by the Young Turks’ government ruling then in Istanbul. Turkey rejects the term “Armenian genocide,” claiming that mass removals were intended to clear people from a war zone. It acknowledges that people died, but holds that the number was far less than that given by Armenia. [ENI, 13 May 2008]

Food crisis ‘artificially imposed’ says Kenyan theologian

The roots of the global food crisis that has led to soaring prices for basic foodstuffs are to be found as much in political as in economic factors, Professor Jesse Mugambi, a Kenyan academic, charged in May. Mugambi, who teaches religious studies and philosophy at the University of Nairobi, belongs to a church environmental network.

“The rise in price is not only because of decline in supply,” he said. “It is artificially imposed by rises in fuel costs and other constraints more political than economic.”

He said there could be no short-term solution to a long-term problem. “The long-term solution is equity, not charity. Equity is based on long-term investment.”

“Food prices have soared, without an improvement in personal and family income,” he said, adding that “current international economic and agricultural policies discourage Africa from growing staple foods in favor of cash crops. Africa is the only continent which produces what it does not consume, and consumes what it does not produce. Tropical Africa has some of the best soils for agricultural production in the world. Why should those soils be used for the production of non-staple agricultural commodities, while some of its people go hungry every day?” [ENI, 9 May 2008]

More than half of US firearm deaths are suicides

Suicides accounted for 55 percent of America’s nearly 31,000 firearm deaths in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, CNN reported on 30 June.

Gun-related suicides outnumbered firearm homicides and accidents for 20 of the last 25 years. In 2005, homicides accounted for 40 percent of gun deaths, accidents for 3 percent and 2 percent either for “legal killings,” such as when police do the shooting, or cases involving undetermined intent.

Public health researchers have concluded that in homes where guns are present, the likelihood that someone in the home will die from suicide or homicide is much greater. Studies have also shown that homes in which a suicide occurred were three to five times more likely to have a gun present than households that did not experience a suicide, even after accounting for other risk factors.

More than 90 percent of suicide attempts using guns are successful, while the success rate for jumping from high places was 34 percent. The success rate for drug overdose was 2 percent.

Israeli human rights group warns of grave West Bank water shortage

An Israeli human rights group anticipates a serious water shortage in large areas of the West Bank, the territory Israel occupied in 1967, as a result of what the group says is the most serious drought in the area in the past decade and Israel’s “discrimination in [the] division of water sources.”

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said, “The shortage will have serious repercussions on the economy and the health of tens of thousands of Palestinians.” The shortage, they said, was the consequence of “unfair distribution of water resources shared by the Palestinians and Israel.”

B’Tselem also blamed the water shortage on limits Israel places on the Palestinian Authority to drill new wells. “Access to water without discrimination is recognized by international law as a fundamental human right,” the group said in a 1 July press release.

The human rights group called on Israel to ensure an, “immediate, regular, adequate supply of water” to all residents of the West Bank and, “to allow the Palestinian Authority to develop new water sources.”

Najeeb Abu Rokaya, director of the field research department of B’Tselem, said, “Even if there is a little amount of water in this area, I believe there is enough for every human being, but we need to plan for it, and first of all make sure that every human being has enough drinking water. God created the world, and in this the water for all people, not just for Jews or Palestinians or Christians or any other group.”

B’Tselem said that many Palestinians who are connected to the water supply reported disruption because Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, which also controls the water supply to Palestinian areas, reduces the supply to Palestinian towns and villages in order to meet the increased need of Jewish settlements.

In Nablus, Fr. Ibrahim Nairouz said that he gets water only once every eight days.

B’Tselem reports that many poorer families draw water from unsupervised wells, resulting in an increase of infectious diseases.

“The average water consumption per capita of Israelis is 3.5 times that of Palestinians,” said B’Tselem. [ENI, 2 July 2008]

A gentler vision of Islam:Turkey’s import to Pakistan

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey. He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.

“Show me a verse in the Koran where it is forbidden,” Kacmaz said to the men who insisted Muslim men cannot wear ties. He told the two men, both were wearing glasses, that scripturally there was no difference between a tie and glasses. “Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, “only misunderstanding.”

“Kill, fight, shoot,” Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, where schools, fueled by Saudi and American money, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.

Kacmaz is part of a group of Turkish educators who have come to this battleground with an entirely different vision of Islam.

The Turkish schools, which have expanded to seven cities in Pakistan since the first one opened a decade ago, cannot transform the country on their own. But they offer an alternative approach, prescribing a strong Western curriculum with courses, taught in English, from math and science to Shakespeare.

This approach appeals to parents, who want their children to be capable of competing with the West without losing their identities to it.

The model is the brainchild of a Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen. A preacher with millions of followers in Turkey, Gulen argues that “without science, religion turns to radicalism, and without religion, science is blind and brings the world to danger.”

In one of his books, Gulen states: “In the countries where Muslims live, some religious leaders and immature Muslims have no other weapon in hand than their fundamental interpretation of Islam. They use this to engage people in struggles that serve their own purposes.” [New York Times, 3 May 2008]

Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50

News: Pascha / Spring 2008

Moscow Patriarchate urges courage, patience to Kosovan Serbs

“We share the grief and sufferings of Serbian people who are deprived of a historic part of their country connected with the history of their spiritual, cultural and national life,” said Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations at a press conference in Moscow on 18 March that followed Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

At the same time he opposed any renewal of warfare.

“In 1914 Russia radically reacted to the Balkans events and then we lost our own country,” he pointed out.

“We speak of our national guilt in the destruction of Russia…. At least the Russian Orthodox Church is not ashamed to speak of this. Serbs likewise bear guilt for what happened.

“But we are in sympathy with the Serbian people and their Church. We must find the way and funds to express our solidarity.”

He added: “If under some circumstances the principle which underlies all international relations can be reviewed and dismantled in one case, then there will certainly be a temptation to review and dismantle it in another case.”

Serbian Orthodox bishops oppose Kosovo independence

On 18 February, the synod of bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church condemned Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, saying it is an act of violence that will have negative repercussions for the Balkans and the rest of Europe.

“Just like uncountable times before, the Church is announcing once more today, that Kosovo and Metohija was and must remain an integral part of Serbia, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244,” said the Serbian bishops in a statement on 18 February. “Any solution other than that represents a violation of God’s justice and of human justice, it represents an act of violence with long-term repercussions, both for the Balkans and the whole of Europe.”

Face up to differences in order to stay united, says Bartholomew

Churches should be prepared to confront their differences honestly and to examine them in the light of Scripture, Patriarch Bartholomew said on 17 February at a service in Geneva celebrating 60 years since the founding of the World Council of Churches.

“The bonds of friendship between divided churches and the bridges to overcome our divisions are indispensable, more now than ever. Love is essential, so that dialogue between our churches can take place in all freedom and trust,” he said. “We shall then acknowledge that the divergences that originate from the different ways in which churches respond to moral problems are not insurmountable. Churches witness to the Gospel in different contexts.”

The Patriarch acknowledged the existence of turbulent periods in the WCC’s life, but said that dialogue that resulted from those difficulties has paved the way forward.

“We recognize that dialogue on ethical and moral questions proceeds on the assumption that the churches are not content to ‘agree to disagree’ on their respective moral teaching, but that they are prepared to confront their divergences honestly, and examine them in the light of doctrine, worship life and Holy Scripture,” Bartholomew said.

He recalled that the WCC was in part a result of an appeal made in 1920, just after World War I, by the Church in Constantinople calling on churches around the world, to form a “League of Churches.” Similar proposals were also made by other churches. “These laid the foundations for the modern ecumenical movement.”

The WCC eventually emerged, becoming a “platform at the service of its member churches and dedicated to increasing the spirit of the Gospel, seeking Christian unity and encouraging cooperation by the churches in their social and diaconal work as they confront the acute pressing problems of humankind.”

The patriarch asked: “Are we today prepared, as member churches, to reaffirm the role of the Council as a privileged ecumenical space, where the churches will freely create networks for diakonia and for defending and promoting certain values? And where, by dialogue, the churches will continue to break down the barriers that prevent them from recognizing one another as churches confessing a common faith, administering the same baptism, and celebrating the Eucharist together?”

Patriarch Bartholomew visits Benedict XVI

On 6 March, Pope Benedict welcomed Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, visiting Rome in connection with the 90th anniversary of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. At the end of their meeting, the two men prayed together in the Urban VIII Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

Vatican Television reported that the main topics of their conversation were peace, the safeguarding of creation, and ecumenism. “The love of God destroys the barriers among the peoples,” Bartholomew was quoted as saying, “and the Christian confessions are making a greater effort on the path of dialogue and collaboration.”

Benedict first met Bartholomew when he traveled to Turkey in 2006. They met again last October during Benedict’s trip to Naples for the International Encounter of Peoples and Religions.

Military Service for young Russian clergy?

Unless the ordinance is reversed, Russia’s young clergymen will be required to serve in the military, it was reported in the Russian press in February. Under Russia’s mandatory conscription rules, members of the clergy and seminary students will no longer be able to defer military service.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church believe that the move will undermine the fundamentals of spiritual education and threaten the priesthood in Russia.

Fr. Dmitry Smirnov, an official of the Moscow Patriarchate, said the plan was “comparable to [Soviet] persecution of the Church.”

“The Ministry of Defense assured us that the conscription of clergymen will raise morality in the armed forces, but these are absolutely empty words,” said Ksenia Chernega, the legal counsel of the Moscow Patriarchate. “The truth is that a priest dressed in a soldier’s uniform can, like any ordinary person, try to exert a share of his moral resources, yet fail to enrich the army with morality or guidance.”

The motivation for the change remained unexplained. The Ministry of Defense refused to comment.

The new rules are problematic, since the canon law of the Orthodox Church forbids clergy from taking up arms or killing anyone, even by accident.

The Moscow Patriarchate has asked the Ministry of Defense to reverse its decision.

Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts

Turkey is preparing to publish a document that has been widely described as a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam.

The proposed revision was authorized by the Diyanet, Turkey’s highest Islamic authority, responsible for more than 76,000 mosques in Turkey and Europe.

In response, Turkey’s Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of Muslim scholars at Ankara University to carry out a revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

While many Muslim scholars have long argued that the text should be revised, this is the first time that a central Islamic authority has taken such a dramatic step.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic laws, or Sharia.

More than 90 percent of the Sharia is based on the Hadith rather than the Koran, including laws on the killing of apostates, the stoning of adulterers, the seclusion of women, and many violent punishments for sinful behavior.

Islamic scholars in Turkey have come to see many passages in the Hadith as obscuring the original values of Islam and having a negative influence on society. They say that many of the sayings attributed in the Hadith to Muhammad in fact were never uttered by him, while some others need reinterpretation. The problem is that successive generations embellished the text, attributing their own political aims to the Prophet Muhammad himself.

An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings have been shown to have been invented hundreds of years after Muhammad died. They were written to serve the purposes of contemporary society. As a consequence “you can even justify the practice of female genital mutilation.”

Islamic tradition, Koerner says, has been gradually hijacked by those seeking to use the Islamic religion for social control.

Among Hadiths regarded by the panel as inauthentic are these: “Women are imperfect in intellect and religion,” “The best of women are those who are like sheep,” “If a woman doesn’t satisfy her husband’s desires, she should choose herself a place in hell,” and “Your prayer will be invalid if a donkey, black dog or a woman passes in front of you.”

As part of its program of Islamic renewal, Turkey has given theological training to 450 women, then appointed them as senior imams called “vaizes.” They have been given the task of explaining the original spirit of Islam to remote communities in Turkey’s vast interior.

One of the women, Hulya Koc, looked out over a sea of head scarves at a town meeting in central Turkey and told the women Islam should never be used to justify the violent suppression of women. “For example, there are ‘honor’ killings,” she explained. “Some women are killed when they marry the wrong person or run away with someone they love. There’s also violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This has no place in Islam… we have to explain that to them.”

Endangered Gaza Christians consider flight amid attacks

Above: The oldest Orthodox Church in Gaza: Photo MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

The stone walls of St. Porphyrius church in Gaza were raised in the fourth century, a reminder of Christianity’s long role in the region’s history. But the saga may be coming to an end. Christians, a minority of 3,000 among the Gaza Strip’s 1.2 million Muslims, are increasingly menaced by Islamic fundamentalists. Christians say they are on the verge of being driven out.

“Never in Palestinian history did we feel so endangered,” said Archimandrite

Artemios, the Orthodox priest who heads St. Porphyrius.

“We face the question of whether we are part of this community or not.”

Insecurity intensified last June when Hamas, the Muslim-based party at war with Israel, ousted the secular Fatah party, which favors peace negotiations, from control of Gaza. Fatah continues to control the West Bank.

While there are few indications Hamas itself is trying to intimidate Christians, the change brought to the surface underground Muslim groups actively hostile to Christians, said Hamdi Shaqura, 46, an official with the independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

“One problem is one that affects all: a state of lawlessness that lets extremism raise its head,” Shaqura said.

In February, arsonists firebombed a library operated by the Young Men’s Christian Association and destroyed 10,000 books.

Last fall, kidnappers killed a Christian bookstore owner and the shop was blown up. Last August, vandals damaged a Catholic church and school

Orthodox bishop seeks recognition for Orthodox in China

Metropolitan Nektarios, the new Orthodox metropolitan of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, says his priorities include bringing about legal recognition of Orthodox Christianity in mainland China. “There are many Orthodox in the port cities in South China,” he told Ecumenical News International on 29 February. “Greeks are working on the ships and they want a place of worship. The pastoral activities are first for the [Orthodox] Greeks, then for the Chinese. There are only a few Orthodox Chinese there.”

At present, the Chinese government recognizes only Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism as “official” religions, even though other religious groups operate in China.

Nektarios also said that promoting Christian unity was a priority. “I want to work very closely and with more collaboration, with some other Christian churches here. We must be together.”

The metropolitan said a major challenge now facing the Orthodox Church is to break down the national barriers dividing Orthodox Christians of various nationalities. “It is a big mistake for Orthodox to call themselves Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox. We are all Orthodox. I come here not to change a Chinese to a Greek or to a Russian, but to let the Chinese know about Christ.”

Metropolitan Nektarios was born in Greece in 1969. He received his training at the theological school of the University of Athens and was ordained a priest in 1995. The 40-year-old metropolitan, the youngest prelate of his rank in his church, said he planned to eventually divide his jurisdiction into two. At present, his jurisdiction extends from India eastwards, including all of East Asia except Korea and Japan. One part would remain based in Hong Kong, to cover Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and the Philippines. The other one, based in Singapore, would work in India, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Eternal Memory: Metropolitan Laurus

Although he was first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), Metropolitan Laurus might have remained a little-known figure until Russian President Putin invited him to the Russian Consulate in New York in 2003.

Putin had arranged the meeting to hand over a letter from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy inviting Laurus to visit Moscow. Laurus and Putin went on to discuss how the two wings of the divided Russian Church could engage in dialogue.

Canonical unity followed at a triumphant ceremony led by Alexy and Laurus at the newly rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow in 2007.

Laurus was born Vasil Skurla in the village of Ladomirova near Preshov in rural Slovakia. He decided early to become a monk. In 1939, after the death of his mother, he entered a monastery in his village. He was just 11.

As Soviet forces approached in 1944 and the Nazis fled, the monks feared the worst. Clutching their treasured icon of St. Job of Pochaiv, they fled first to Bratislava, then westward to Germany and Switzerland. In 1946 the monks left for America, settling at the Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, New York,making it the biggest Orthodox monastery in the US.

The young Vasil graduated from the Jordanville seminary in 1947 and the following year was tonsured as a monk, taking the name Laurus. In 1954 he was ordained priest. In 1967 he was named Bishop of Manhattan and was made secretary to the Synod of Bishops. In 1976 he was elected Bishop of Syracuse and abbot of the Jordanville monastery.

On travels in the Holy Land and to Mount Athos, and unofficially in Russia from the 1990s, he was open to wider Orthodox contacts, including the Moscow Patriarchate.

Amid bitter disputes between those who believed the time for enmity with the Moscow Church was at an end and those who believed in preserving separation, Laurus maintained an irenic calm. At the crucial May 2006 ROCOR council that approved canonical (though not administrative) unity, Laurus declined to argue his case for the agreement, merely calling delegates to pray over the decision.

Laurus was not one for pomp and politics. When he and another monk were left on their own at the home of a parishioner, the family were astonished on their return to find the two monks happily playing with their children’s train set. (Felix Corley)

Divine Liturgy at the North Pole

Russian Orthodox clergy celebrated the first Divine Liturgy at the North Pole on 17 April. Using a tent erected on an ice floe, the liturgy was served by Archbishop Ignaty of Petropavlovsk and Kamchatka, two priests, and a deacon of the Kamchatka diocese. In addition to the clergy, 15 worshipers participated. “Our celebration,” said Archbishop Ignaty, “is a sign that the teachings of Jesus Christ have reached the very ends of the earth. We chanted the prokimen and a psalm dedicated to the apostles, ‘Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the earth’.”

The temperature was 25 degrees below zero Celsius (-13 degrees Fahrenheit) when the Orthodox expedition arrived at the North Pole. The service lasted for about three hours. The chants were sung according to the ancient Russian Znamenny rospev.

Five sacraments were performed. The mayor of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky was baptized and anointed with chrism, becoming the first man ever baptized at the North Pole. Five people confessed, were absolved, and received the sacrament of the Eucharist. A deacon was ordained to the priesthood. There was also a blessing of a two-meter-high wooden cross, a gift of personnel of the ice station situated a hundred kilometers away. It is planned that personnel from this ice station will from time to time be stationed at the North Pole.

New Archbishop of Greece

Metropolitan Hieronymos of Thebes, 70, has become the new Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. He was elected on 7 February by the church’s Holy Synod. He succeeds Archbishop Christodoulos, who died of cancer on 28 January.

Hieronymos is seen as likely to improve relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, strained in recent years, and in general to be less confrontational than his predecessor. At the same time, he is likely to continue his predecessor’s efforts to improve relations with the Catholic Church. In 2001, Christodoulos received the late John Paul, the first pope to visit Greece in nearly 1,300 years. He followed up in 2006 with a visit to the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict.

Hieronymos was born Ioannis Liapis in 1938 in Oinofyta, in southern Greece. He studied both archaeology and theology at the University of Athens. This was followed by Byzantine studies, and post-graduate studies in Austria and Germany.

He was academic assistant to Anastasios Orlandos, a founding member and later president of the University of Athens, at the Archaeological Society of Athens, and was a teacher of literature at the Leontios School near Athens.

“In whichever position the church appoints us, no matter how high, we must know that our leader is Christ,” Hieronymos said.

One in every 99 US adults are now in prison

For the first time in US history, more than one in a hundred adults is behind bars, according to a report released in February by the Pew Center. The US prison population grew by 25,000 in 2007, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of adults is about 230 million. One in every 99 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is locked up. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between 20 and 34.

“We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime,” said Susan Urahn, the Center’s director. “Being tough on crime is an easy position to take, particularly if you have the money [to pay the cost of having so many people in prison]. We did have the money in the ’80s and ’90s, but now prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.”

Rethinking meat

Confronted with a dramatic rise in the cost of such food basics as rice and wheat, and the impact of bio-fuel on food grown for human consumption, more and more people are asking if it isn’t time to dramatically reduce meat consumption.

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years. The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. About 10 billion animals a year are raised and slaughtered to supply world demand for meat.

Meat production consumes enormous amounts of energy, pollutes water supplies, generates significant greenhouse gases, and require vast amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has contributed to the destruction of huge areas of rain forest.

The average American eats about eight ounces a day, twice the global average.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases, more than transportation.

Fr. Patrick Radley

With sadness we announce the death of Fr. Patrick Radley, who served the parish of the Holy Transfiguration, Great Walsingham, UK, for many years, first as deacon and then as priest. He died during the afternoon of 28 March. He was a longtime member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and also served as its treasurer in Britain until his health made it necessary to hand on that responsibility to Seraphim Honeywell. Kindly pray for his wife, Helena, his family and the Parish of the Holy Transfiguration. Eternal memory!

From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49

News: Winter 2008 / issue 48

New Jersey’s repeal of executions

In December, New Jersey governor Jon Corzine signed into law a measure that abolishes the death penalty, making New Jersey the first US state in more than four decades to reject capital punishment.

In a letter addressed to Governor Corzine, Metropolitan Evangelos, bishop of all Greek Orthodox Christians in the Mid-Atlantic States, wrote: “I applaud your resolve and conviction to uphold the sanctity of life, thus honoring our Creator and God who alone has the authority to give life and to end life.

“Indeed, human life is deserving of deep respect and individual human beings are to be treated in accordance to their inherent human dignity. The abolishment of the death penalty is a step in that direction, of restoring human dignity to the sinner, for we are to hate the sin, but love the sinner, praying for their repentance and subsequent reconciliation with God and society.

“The Greek Orthodox Church throughout its history in interpreting the Holy Scriptures, has always placed the highest priority on the preservation of life, as is Orthodox teaching that every human has been made ‘in the image and likeness of God.’ As such, the human being is the most precious of all God’s creation and is subject to divine law, of which ‘Thou shall not kill,’ is of the preeminent statutes.

“In accordance with Orthodox Tradition and Teaching, human beings do not have the moral or divine right to take the life of another human being.

“In today’s contemporary society, which is part of the fallen humanity, sin has entered the world and is prevalent in the fallen nature of man himself, who has fallen out of grace and commits sin, such as taking the life of another. The Orthodox Church exhorts its faithful to show compassion and mercy towards the transgressor, while at the same time abhorring the transgression, allowing Almighty God to judge. It is in this spirit of humility of placing divine law over human law I express my joy at the passing of this legislation which also serves as a precaution against wrongly taking the life of the innocent.”

Metropolitan Evangelos said it was his hope that legislators in the other states under his spiritual jurisdiction will follow “the bold initiative of

Metropolitan Evangelos

Governor Corzine and New Jersey’s lawmakers and bring an end to capital punishment, giving justice and the sanctity of life an opportunity to flourish.”

The number of executions in the United States has declined to a 13-year low, according to a study by a research group that has been critical of the way the death penalty is applied. The 42 executions recorded in the US for 2007 were the fewest since 1994, when there were 31, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Christian bodies express support for Ecumenical Patriarch

At a time when the Patriarchate of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, is facing growing hardships, leaders of Christian ecumenical groups have expressed their solidarity with Patriarch Bartholomew.

On 26 June, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled against the ecumenical standing of the Patriarchate, stating that it is a religious body only authorized to perform religious functions for the Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey.

The court ruled that the Patriarch is not allowed to bear the title “ecumenical.”

The title is given only to the Patriarchate of Constantinople as “first among equals” among world Orthodox leaders.

Over many centuries, it has become the term by which the Patriarchate is known throughout the world. Although the number of Orthodox Christians in Turkey is small, the faithful under the Patriarch’s authority number about five million worldwide.

The court ruling declared that the Patriarch as well as officers of the Patriarchate are subject to Turkish law regarding their titles and activities.

On 21 August Bartholomew was summoned to testify before a prosecuting authority in Istanbul after using of the title “Ecumenical” at a world conference of Orthodox youth that had taken place in the city a few weeks earlier.

On 27 August the Conference of European Churches expressed its “strong support” for the right of the Patriarch to use of the title “Ecumenical.”

“We could think of no other church leader in Europe who is so naturally recognized as a key figure in the ecumenical aspirations of the [continent’s] churches,” said CEC’s general secretary, Colin Williams.

On 29 August a letter addressed to Bartholomew by Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, expressed the WCC’s “whole-hearted appreciation of the authenticity and importance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as an institution and the Ecumenical Patriarch as an office within the wider church world.”

In defense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archbishop Demetrios of America appeared before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

“It is very significant,” he said, “that the European Court of Human Rights referred to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in every instance … as Ecumenical. Such language is indicative that the recognition we seek is part and parcel of a common understanding of who and what we are.

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate is recognized around the world for its transnational spiritual ministry of Orthodox witness and peace-making and reconciliation in the family of humankind.”

The court ruling has been criticized by a number of non-Orthodox Turks. “It is hard to understand our sensitivities,” wrote Cengiz Aktar, head of the EU research center at Bahcesehir University. He said that present-day Turks “have much to learn” from their Ottoman predecessors.

It was under Ottoman rule that the Patriarchate’s Theological School was established in the island of Halki in 1844. The school has been closed since 1971.

Iraq’s “new martyrs”

Christians are fleeing Iraq and Christianity risks disappearing from the country, says a senior Baghdad cleric, Archbishop Avak Asadourian of the Armenian Church of Iraq, reiterating appeals made recently to Western churches to intercede with their governments about the plight of Iraqi Christians.

“We do have the courage of faith, the outpouring of love, but because of the war, you see death and destruction, the manifestation of evil. Our people are lacking hope, and so they are leaving,” said the archbishop in December.

He said the four years since the US-led invasion had been “the most difficult by far” of his 28-year ministry in Iraq.

“We have new martyrs in the church in Iraq,” said Asadourian. “I know of no one incident in the last four years where priests have converted to another religion because they have been threatened,” the archbishop stated, adding the same was true for lay people. “So in Iraq the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ is strong enough to face martyrdom.”

Young people “are faced each day with death and destruction, they are faced each day with being kidnapped or facing the agony of having a loved one who is kidnapped.”

Despite the hardships, Asadourian, who lighting candles in Iraqleads the Council of Churches in Baghdad, said the faith of the Christians in Iraq has not wavered.

“I pray that the churches in the West will be strong enough to have a say in the corridors of power to remind those in power what they promised for Iraq and that it is high time that the promise is fulfilled. We ask for peace, not only for Christians, but for the entire Iraqi people, be they Muslim, Christian or adherents of other religions.”

He noted that the churches in Iraq have faced conflict situations since the outbreak of the war between Iran and

Iraq in 1980, in which many young Christians were killed. “After that came the Kuwait war, and what ensued after that was the 13-year-long embargo, which in itself was a war. Then we had the 2003 war – and after the cessation of hostilities, we have this, the ‘war against terrorism’ taking place in the entire country.”

“There’s no comparison between Iraq now and [under Saddam],” Canon Andrew White, a Baghdad-based Anglican priest, said in a televison interview. “Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians, probably ever in history.” He said that about 90 percent of Iraqi Christians have either fled Iraq or have been killed after being targeted for assassination by Islamic extremists.

On New Year’s Eve, at least seven Iraqi churches were bombed.

Prominent US hawk admits Iraq invasion was illegal

International lawyers and anti-war campaigners reacted with astonishment after Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal. Perle, a key advisor to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, had been one of the principal advocates for the toppling of the government of Saddam Hussein.

In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Perle told an audience in London in November: “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.”

President Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq – also the British government’s publicly stated view – or as an act of self-defense permitted by international law.

Perle said that “international law … would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone, and this would have been morally unacceptable.”

French intransigence, he added, meant there had been “no practical mechanism consistent with the rules of the UN for dealing with Saddam Hussein.”

“They’re just not interested in international law, are they?” said Linda Hugl, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which launched a high court challenge to the war’s legality last year. “It’s only when the law suits them that they want to use it.”

Middle East churches reaffirm dialogue with Muslims

Churches from the Middle East meeting in Cyprus have highlighted the importance of the Christian presence in the region and dialogue with Muslims.

“The churches expressed their great concern about various land occupations and the perpetuation of the sufferings of the people caused by injustices and wars,” the Middle East Council of Churches said in a statement issued on 4 December, following a meeting of its highest governing body.

The MECC includes churches in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Cyprus.

“The assembly of churches is looking forward to the day when the people in the Middle East can live in peace, harmony, and dignity. The churches call on the Palestinians, the Lebanese and the Iraqis to strive for the safety and the integrity of their respective countries,” the MECC text declared.

The assembly stressed the importance of “dialogue, cooperation and communication with all the Muslims in order to build a more peaceful and just world.”

Europe risks signing its own death warrant, warns Patriarch Alexei

In December Patriarch Alexei II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, urged Europeans not to abandon Christianity. He said that the failure to do so would be akin to them “signing their own death warrant.”

“Modern Europe will not create a new post-Christian culture and civilization but will simply vanish from history,” Alexei said while speaking at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

Other Christian leaders, among them Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, have lobbied European Union leaders to take note of Europe’s Christian roots in the proposed EU constitution. Poland, Italy and Germany backed such a move, but others opposed it, including France and Belgium, citing national laws on the separation of church and state.

In September Pope Benedict said that Europe faces a bleak future unless more children are born on the continent and its people return to faith in God and traditional values. “Where God is, there is the future,” he said at an outdoor mass in Austria.

Metropolitan Kirill meets with Pope Benedict

Metropolitan Kirill, the head of the External Relations Department of the Russian Orthodox Church, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in December, a visit seen as adding credence to reports of a thaw in relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican published an announcement of the meeting but gave no details of the discussions that took place.

The Moscow-based Interfax news agency said Kirill and Benedict had focused on the need to coordinate their positions.

“The participants in the conversation approved of the efforts taken by both churches after the previous meeting between Metropolitan Kirill and Benedict after the latter’s enthronement in April 2005,” Interfax reported. “These bilateral efforts by the two churches were aimed at working joint positions on the most important problems that humanity faces today.”

Orthodox opposition to Kosovo’s independence

In December the Russian Orthodox Church launched a diplomatic drive among Christian leaders in other countries to oppose a UN vote to allow the independence of Kosovo from Serbia.

“By supporting this independence drive by Albanians living in Kosovo, the West forgets the hurt suffered in recent years by the Orthodox Serbs who live there,” Patriarch Alexei said in December.

“In this spiritual cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy, 150 churches and monasteries have been destroyed or desecrated, and numerous unimaginable crimes perpetrated to eliminate the Serbs,” Alexei said. “I urge Western Christians to examine their consciences on Kosovo’s projected status and help rescue the region’s religious heritage.”

European Union leaders have been moving towards a plan for statehood for Serbia’s breakaway province.

In Istanbul, Patriarch Bartholomeos told the visiting Serbian president, Boris Tadic, that he supported a peaceful solution to disputes over Kosovo, from which up to 200,000 ethnic Serbs have fled since international control was imposed following NATO military action in 1999.

Leaders of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority are expected to declare the province’s sovereignty following the failure of UN-backed negotiations.

Concerns have been expressed for the surviving Serbian Orthodox minority in Kosovo, who until now were protected by NATO and EU forces.

Global forum a step toward Christian unity

Two hundred delegates from a broad range of Christian churches met in Nairobi, Kenya, in November to discuss the challenges and opportunities for Christian unity. The Global Christian Forum brought together a number of denominations and traditions, including Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Evangelicals and a wide range of Protestants.

Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, director of the World Evangelical Alliance, welcomed the Forum as “an opportunity to break down stereotypes and also promote greater religious liberty around the world,” particularly in countries where Christianity is a minority religion.

Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America and President of Christian Churches Together spoke of the obstacles to Christian unity. “Our Christian task is to participate with Christ in reconciling the world to God. The fact is that we also have much to do in finding reconciliation among ourselves. We have a challenge towards reconciliation at least to the extent of seeing one another as Christians,” he said.

He echoed the desire of Evangelicals and Pentecostals for further dialogue to more clearly define the meaning of certain Christian terms among the various denominations and traditions.

“Evangelism, mission, witness – we have heard much about these words. We need to do much to discover what each of our traditions means by them,” he said.

“There are certainly sources of conflict and friction around those concepts and those realities. The realities of evangelism, mission and witness eventually will need to be discussed in an open but honest way.”

He affirmed the commitment of Orthodox Christians to the process towards unity, saying, “You and I are living between the first and the second coming of Christ. We are on that road. And in a way that I hope and pray will bring us to reconciliation.”

Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in Ravenna

Papal primacy was the main subject for discussion at an October meeting of the joint Catholic-Orthodox theological commission, meeting in Ravenna, Italy.

Orthodox participants included metropolitans, bishops, priests and lay theologians representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Patriarchate of Serbia, the Patriarchate of Romania, the Patriarchate of Georgia, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Poland, the Church of Albania, the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia, the Church of Finland and the Apostolic Church of Estonia.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church were present at the beginning of the meeting but left, protesting the seating of delegates from the Estonian Orthodox Church, which Moscow does not recognize.

Despite the absence of Russian delegates, the meeting continued.

A statement issued afterward noted that there was agreement that, before the Great Schism of 1054, the Bishop of Rome had the first place among the other bishops. But the document stated that Catholic and Orthodox Christians disagree “on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome.”

The document said that there must be “synodality,” that is, responsibility exercised by all the bishops together, on the universal level.

The fact that the Orthodox representatives were willing to discuss how authority in the church was exercised on the universal level was seen as a “breakthrough” by the Vatican’s Cardinal Kasper.

Some Italian newspapers reported that the Catholic and Orthodox churches were “on the eve of reconciliation.” But Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, said such reports were “quite misleading.”

“The Orthodox cannot accept a view of the Pope, as bishop of Rome, which sets him ‘over and above’ other bishops,” Fitzgerald said. “The Orthodox would say that the nature of the authority of the bishop of Rome, which developed from the Middle Ages, is unacceptable.”

Fitzgerald said the significance of the Ravenna document was not diminished by the Russian walkout. The talks were seeking to establish a “theological consensus in dealings with the Catholic Church,” something that was not linked to the perspective of any one Orthodox church.

The next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox commission will deal with the role of the bishop of Rome in the first millennium, and then go on to deal with the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils

US food banks running short of food

US food banks are reporting critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies, distribute staples usually reserved for disaster relief, and in some instances close.

“It’s one of the most demanding years I’ve seen in my 30 years in the field,” said Catherine D’Amato, chief executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Experts attributed the shortages to an unusual combination of factors, including rising demand, a sharp drop in US supplies of excess farm products, and tighter inventory controls that are leaving supermarkets and other retailers with less food to donate.

“We don’t have nearly what people need, and that’s all there is to it,” said Greg Bryant, director of the food pantry in Sheffield, Vermont. “We’re one step from running out. It kind of spirals. The people that normally donate to us have less, the retailers are selling to discount stores because people are shopping in those places, and now we have less food and more people. It’s a double, triple, hit.”

The Vermont Food Bank said its supply of food was down 50 percent from last year. “It’s a crisis mode,” said director Doug O’Brien.

For two weeks this month, the New Hampshire Food Bank distributed supplies reserved for emergency relief. Demand for food here is up 40 percent over last year and supply is down 30 percent, which is striking in the state with the lowest reliance on food banks. “It’s the price of oil, gas, rents and foreclosures,” said Melanie Gosselin, director of the food bank.

She said need had risen sharply. “This is not the old ‘only the homeless are hungry.’ It’s also working people.”

Susannah Morgan, director of the Food Bank of Alaska said, “The biggest problem is that the federal government’s programs are dropping as need is growing.” The decline has affected rural Alaska, she said, where native tribes run most food pantries. She said about 10 percent of the state’s rural food banks have been forced to close because there is not enough federal help.

Cypriot priest’s war on sex traffickers

Fr. Savvas Michaelides, a fearless priest who serves a parish in Limassol, a popular tourist town on the south coast of Cyprus, has single-handedly taken on the sex industry. A 10,000 Cypriot-pound (17,000 euro, 25,000 dollar) bounty has reportedly been promised to anyone who kills him.

He explains he has taken up the fight against sexual exploitation on behalf of the thousands of young women forced to work in the country’s illegal sex industry.

Armed with a booming voice, he speaks with rage of the fate of young girls not only from Cyprus but from eastern Europe and Africa who are forced to work as prostitutes by unscrupulous “cabaret” owners.

“The pimps tell them they are coming here to work as dancers or in bars. In truth, they must become prostitutes, and are locked away, sometimes beaten and raped,” he said. Usually their passports are taken from them, allegedly “for safe keeping,” but in reality to keep them as prisoners.

All this is possible, he explains, because they are given “artistes” visas (special permits for working in the entertainment industry) to enter the country by the Cypriot authorities.

Fr. Savvas was born in Limassol 60 years ago, leaving for Athens at 19 to study theology. He later returned to Cyprus to teach theology, only later accepting to be ordained to the priesthood. “I gave myself time to reflect. I wanted to be sure of my calling,” he explained.

Having learned Russian earlier in his life, he now serves in the island’s only Russian Orthodox church, a tiny building with crumbling brickwork.

Hearing confessions, he became aware of the shocking details of Cyprus’s sex industry.

“The women have told me of the horrible things to which they are subjected,” he said. “I have tried to persuade them to leave the cabaret clubs, but I cannot offer them a practical solution.”

In 2001, a young Russian cabaret worker unwillingly drawn into prostitution plunged five stories to her death in the town. Reports that she had been trying to escape from a locked room drove Father Savvas into action.

“It is not enough to speak the word of God, you must also take action,” he said. In 2004, he opened a shelter for victims of sex trafficking. So far, the refuge – the only such refuge in Cyprus – has helped around 300 victims.

“We help them leave prostitution, return home to their own countries or find legal help if they want to make a formal complaint, which is rare because these women are terrorized,” Fr. Savvas explains.

Fr. Savvas does not hesitate to go out onto the streets looking for vulnerable young women in the cabarets and confront their employers face-to-face.

Asked about the 10,000 Cypriot pound reward that he says has been put on his head by underworld bosses, he said, “10,000 pounds? I had thought bravery was a little more highly valued.” When asked if he now fears for his life, he simply smiled and pointed to the sky, adding, “I have never been afraid of men, only of God.”

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

News: Fall 2007 / issue 47

Stalin’s victims honored in emotional memorial

The Russian Orthodox Church marked the 70th anniversary of the bloodiest peak of Josef Stalin’s terror with a procession that began from a remote northern island archipelago that became the prison camp immortalized in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s world famous book, The Gulag Archipelago.

The procession ended in August on the edge of Moscow at a former “killing field” that has now become a shrine to Soviet leader Stalin’s millions of victims.

The procession made its way by boat from the island of Solovki, less than 160 kilometers from the Arctic Circle, where a 16th century monastery in the White Sea was turned into a Soviet prison camp. It traveled along the White Sea-Baltic Canal, immortalized as Belmorkanal and built by the forced labor of prisoners incarcerated in the Soviet Gulag.

A 12-meter-high wooden cross accompanied the procession to Butovo, a deceptively rustic corner south of Moscow, where mass executions began 70 years ago, on 8 August 1937. Here, the cross was erected next to the newly built stone Church of the Resurrection and the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.

The Rev. Kirill Kaleda, rector of the church, said the pilgrimage was “infused with a sense of tragedy and sacrifice.”

From August 1937 to October 1938 alone, at least 20,000 people are believed to have been shot and buried as “enemies of the people” in a field adjacent to the church. The field is known as Butovsky poligon, or shooting range, and was a secret facility of the former KGB until the early 1990s.

On some days, hundreds were shot. Photographs of victims from their KGB case files are displayed near the field and in the church. When secret police files were uncovered after the collapse of communism, researchers discovered that one thousand of the victims were monks, nuns, priests and lay people who were chosen for execution because of their Orthodox faith. More than 320 such new martyrs have now been canonized. Fr. Kirill’s grandfather, a priest named Vladimir Ambartsumov, is one of the new martyrs commemorated at Butovo.

Patriarch Alexei II has referred repeatedly to the site as Russia’s Golgotha. Every year after Easter, the patriarch presides at an open-air Liturgy and memorial service at Butovo.

There were no representatives of the government, which has shown little interest in the anniversary of the Great Purge. President Putin said in June that although the 1937 purge was one of the most notorious episodes of the Stalin era, no one should try to make Russia feel guilty about it because “in other countries even worse things happened.”

“There’s a new regime that wants heroes, not victims,” said Tatyana Voronina, a researcher at the human rights organization Memorial. “They prefer to celebrate the victory in World War II. It doesn’t make you feel proud when you know that it’s your own people who did this.”

Bartholomew leads prayer for planet off the coast of Greenland

melting ice on the coast of Greenland

All that remains of Tjodhilde’s Church is a small horseshoe-shaped turf rampart, a modest memorial to a 1,000-year-old Christian site. Archaeologists believe the tiny building that stood here was the first church in North America. It was built around 1000 AD by Tjodhilde, wife of Erik the Red.

In September it marked the end of an extraordinary 21st century Greenland odyssey when it was chosen for the service celebrated by Patriarch Bartholomew to conclude his seventh water-borne symposium in the series “Religion, Science and the Environment.”

Taking part in the event were religious leaders, scientists and journalists. Together they traveled 750 miles along Greenland’s west coast aboard a Norwegian cruise ship, the Fram. Their theme was “The Arctic: Mirror of Life.”

Arctic ice has shrunk this year to the smallest on record and almost all experts say that greenhouse gases from human use of fossil fuels are behind a thaw of recent decades. Warming may also bring rising seas, floods, erosion and desertification.

“There is no time for waiting or delay. Otherwise, we are willingly and irresponsibly, even dangerously, shutting our eyes,” Bartholomew said. “What must immediately take place is repentance, together with the change of life that accompanies repentance.”

“We are concerned about God’s creation, which is constantly and shamelessly rendered the object of abuse,” he said. “We are concerned about the elementary climate and other conditions – quite literally, about the air and the oxygen breathed by modern man and which future generation, as we fear, will seek in vain. We are, finally, concerned about humanity’s mere survival on this continent and our planet.”

The North Atlantic island of Greenland has enough ice to raise world sea levels by about seven meters if it all melted, swamping small island states and vast stretches of coast from Bangladesh to Florida.

“It’s remarkable how little ice there is now compared to when I was here a couple of years ago,” said Grete Hovelsrud of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. “The rate of change has accelerated a lot and people are wondering ‘what is going on?'”

As the Fram sailed the last few miles before its passengers disembarked, the Patriarch gave his final address. He said, “If there is one single message, it is this: time is short. Humanity does not have the luxury of quarreling over racial or economic or political matters. May God grant us the wisdom to act in time.”

Metropolitan Kirill warns of crisis over ethical norms

Metropolitan Kirill, head of the External Affairs Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, has said the major churches in Europe need to join forces and seek allies from other faiths to ensure that society upholds traditional ethical values, but he warned that Christians who no longer stand for moral norms previously accepted by the church were undermining this task.

“A struggle for a single public morality and for Christian values in today’s Europe is impossible without joint actions,” he said, “first of all among Christians of major confessions, regardless of their doctrinal differences. Christians should seek allies in other religions who share moral positions similar to the Christian attitudes.”

He was speaking in September at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in the Romanian city of Sibiu, where more than 2000 representatives from Europe’s main Christian traditions had gathered.

He asserted, however, that the church itself was facing divisions about ethical norms that undermined this task.

“Until recently all Christians had unanimous views at least on man and the moral norms of his life,” Kirill said.

“Today, this unity has been broken as well. Some Christian communities have unilaterally reviewed or are reviewing the norms of life defined by the Word of God.

“Believers cannot recognize at the same time the value of life and the right to death, the value of family and validity of same-sex relations, the protection of children’s rights and the deliberate destruction of human embryos for medical purposes,” Kirill said.

Speaking to journalists after addressing the Sibiu assembly, Kirill said that divisions within Christianity about ethical issues were putting at risk the ecumenical movement for church unity.

“We are now approaching a crisis of the ecumenical movement. We need to have a very strong moral basis to continue on the ecumenical pilgrimage.”

Bartholomew cautions on European unity

At a conference in August, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew warned against the construction of a European unity based solely on financial and political considerations.

The patriarch made his remarks on 5 September at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania. The assembly was organized by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European (Roman Catholic) Bishops’ Conferences.

Europe needs to be a society “where human rights and the fundamental values of peace, justice, freedom, tolerance, participation and mutual support prevail,” said Bartholomew.

“At the same time, we categorically underline the importance of respect for life, the supreme value of marriage and family, the support and assistance of the poor, forgiveness and mercy,” the Patriarch added.

“It is only through sincere and objective dialogue that we shall also be able to contribute in a crucial way to the consolidation of reconciliation and communion even among the peoples of Europe, supporting and promoting the creation of a new Europe, where Christian principles and values will rule on the basis of the spiritual heritage of Christianity,” said Bartholomew.

In August a broad spectrum of Christian groups offered support to Patriarch Bartholomew after he was called to testify in a Turkish court for allegedly violating an order barring him from using his traditional title of “Ecumenical Patriarch.”

A Turkish court had ruled in June that the Istanbul-based patriarchate was authorised to perform religious functions only among Turkey’s 6000-strong Greek Orthodox community.

The court said the patriarchate had no right under Turkish law to call itself “ecumenical,” a Greek word meaning “universal.”

On August 21, Bartholomew was summoned to testify before a prosecuting authority after giving a speech at a world conference of Orthodox youth in July, during which he defended his office as “a historical title” recognized by the “whole world.”

New leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church

Metropolitan Daniel of Moldavia and Bucovina was elected Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church at a meeting of bishops in September. Daniel received 95 votes out of 161 in the final ballot. He was enthroned on September 30 in Bucharest’s patriarchal cathedral.

Daniel is a member of the presidium of the Council of European Churches, linking Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox Christians, and has been a member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches.

The election followed the death of Patriarch Teoctist in July.

Daniel has been archbishop of Iasi and metropolitan of Moldavia and Bucovina since 1990, the year after a revolution overthrew Romania’s communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu. Since then, he has founded more than 300 parishes, 40 monasteries, and initiated and supported the building of over 250 new churches.

His election took place during a wrangle between the church and the official body for the archives of the Communist Securitate secret police about the naming of clerics who collaborated with the communist dictatorship.

Daniel told Romanian journalists that involvement with the secret police needed to be condemned when it served private interests and harmed other people. “When it served the church and prevented harm to the church and the faithful, then it needs to be seen in a more nuanced way.”

Oxfam: a third of Iraqis need emergency help

Nearly a third of Iraqis need immediate emergency help as conflict masks a humanitarian crisis, according to a report released in July by Oxfam and NCCI, a network of aid organizations working in Iraq. The report found that the Iraqi government and other governments are failing to provide basic needs for water, sanitation, food and shelter.

Four million Iraqis – 15 percent – cannot buy enough to eat, 70 percent are without adequate water supplies, and nearly 28 percent of the children are malnourished.

Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, said, “The terrible violence in Iraq has masked the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition among children has dramatically increased and basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people.

“Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many live in dire poverty.”

“Go Green” initiative launched

“Think cosmically and act personally,” urged Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff, in a speech to students, faculty, and staff of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, which launched a campus-wide initiative for environmental sustainability.

The initiative will encompass a broad range of practices from cost-saving energy measures to cooperative recycling efforts with city and county agencies to addressing the level of pollutants in Crestwood Lake, which adjoins seminary property, that will become part of the seminary’s fabric into the future.

St. Vladimir’s will become a corporate member of The Fellowship of the Transfiguration, an environmental association endorsed by the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops.

Dr. Theokritoff played off the popular slogan for environmental concerns, “Think globally and act locally,” and instead viewed ecological crises from a theological perspective, incorporating sayings from the Church Fathers that demonstrate Orthodox attitudes and practices regarding creation.

She focused on Orthodox theology as possessing the core beliefs required to transform the environmental movement into one in which the goals are the glorification of the Creator and the ability to perceive the image of God in all things.

Touching upon the Orthodox practice of asceticism, she further noted, “We cannot just practice the ‘3 R’s’of the popular ecological movement ‘Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.'”

Rather, as Orthodox Christians, “we practice a fourth, to ‘Rein in our appetites,’ since private choices have global consequences. We have a different agenda [than the popular environmental movement], even though we cooperate with each other.

“Christians bring revelation to the secular cause,” she stated. “In the end, nothing is ‘secular’ any longer, because of the Incarnation of our Lord.”

Dr. Theokritoff, who completed her doctorate in liturgical theology under the supervision of Bishop Kallistos (Ware), currently is writing a theology of creation for the Foundations series from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

The day-long program ended with the distribution of ecology-related materials to the campus community, and with workshops on various environmental topics.

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47

OPF Report to North American Bishops

Here is the report I gave to the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) at their conference last summer. It was a good time to become acquainted with the hierarchs. They asked about our focus, noting we have a wide umbrella of concerns, whether or not we are political, and, if we were to send peacemaking teams into conflict area for practical assistance, how we would approach this in the long term. They also asked to be kept informed about our conferences and other initiatives. I said that we are encouraging local chapters by creating start-up kits and developing an organized support system and that our long-term goal is to provide more practical assistance in areas of division and conflict. I stressed that we are not political, though we work to be sensitive to issues involved our responses to issues that generate division and conflict. The bishops were encouraging. I look forward to reporting to them again.

Sheri San Chirico

Coordinator, OPF-North America

Your Eminence, Your Beatitude, your Eminences, and your Graces. I come before you as the North American coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God, also known as OPF. I bring greetings from our international secretary, Jim Forest, who lives in The Netherlands. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you who we are as a fellowship of Orthodox Christians, our projects for the last year, and our hopes for the coming year.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is an association of Orthodox Christians belonging to different nations and jurisdictions trying to live the peace of Christ in day-to-day life, including situations of division and conflict. We publish a quarterly journal, In Communion, maintain an online fellowship and discussion group of our members, and hold regular conferences and workshops. We also have local chapters, the most active of which is in Minneapolis, currently raising funds to open a house of hospitality.

Issues of In Communion often have a theme, and our most recent was on Peace- making in the Parish. Hopefully you all have picked up a copy from the display table. It included three articles entitled, “Parish Ethics and the Teaching of Jesus,” “When Taking Cover Is Not Enough,” and “Seeking the Peace From Above.” In Communion also often includes excerpts both from the news articles which are shared on our online fellowship and from the discussions that ensue.

In July 2005 we held our most recent conference at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. Our theme was “Salt of the Earth, Light of the World,” and we brought together ministries from the eastern half of North America that were actively ministering to marginalized people. Joe May, Director of Matthew 25 House in Akron, Ohio, and Fr. Paisius Altschul, Director of Reconciliation Ministries in Kansas City, Missouri, were our main speakers, and the ministries provided workshops during the day that taught the participants both about the vision of their ministries as well as the nuts and bolts of how the ministry began and was conduct- ed on a day to day basis.

This past May, we held a peacemaking workshop at Matthew 25 House through which a small group learned from a long time peacemaker and member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. He and his wife both travel yearly to Palestine and Iraq witnessing to the need for peace in violent and often dangerous situations. We learned techniques of peacemaking from him and spent much time sharing with each other about the foundations of peace in the Orthodox tradition, drawing on the Scriptures, the Fathers, and from wider Church history.

Peacemaking can mean many things. So let me briefly describe some of the peacemaking techniques that we learned. We learned how to befriend over time the very soldiers that were harassing Palestinians, and how to connect with an angry aggressor so that he or she will not attack. We discussed the need to face our own possible sacrifices in putting ourselves in areas of conflict, and how our Orthodox faith gives us examples of saints who have done so and theology that backs up this action.

We have stated in OPF that our three main tenants are theological research, publications, and practical assistance in areas of conflict. Our challenges ahead are mostly comprised of ways to increase the third area of practical assistance. As our members are spread across the continent and world, and many are committed to living simply, it is difficult to gather together due to the costs of travel. Our workshop in May was a first step in training our members in how to offer practical assistance. We learned ways to be a presence in violent areas without becoming a third party in the violence. We will continue to conduct training projects in order to increase availability to our members in the hopes that we will be ready to provide this practical assistance in areas of conflict. This is our long term goal.

OPF is also looking toward the continued development of local chapters in order to further our mission. In fact, the creation of local chapters represents a relatively new endeavor for OPF North America. We are now developing start-up kits to provide better support for members who are interested in starting their own local chapters. We hope that through these local chapters, projects will be initiated and will reach out to the marginalized people in their own community. Our goal is that these chapters and projects will be connected to the parishes to which the OPF members belong.

Finally, we are planning a conference in Portland, Oregon, where there is interest in beginning a local chapter, for spring 2007 with the theme “Living Peacefully, Locally.” I’ll finish by reading an excerpt from Fr. John Breck’s article, “Parish Ethics and the Teaching of Jesus,” in our last In Communion.

Unless our parish life reflects at its deepest level that most fundamental concern for love, then we cannot claim that our parish is truly “of the Church” at all. That love, however, needs to be directed to the inner life of the church community as much as to those who live beyond its walls. Within the parish dwell both the Publican and the Pharisee, both the Prodigal and the Older Son. Yet only God can judge the category into which any of us falls. It is never our place to attempt to do so. Parish life – communal life within the Body of Christ – is appropriately marked by an ongoing struggle on the part of each of its members to move from hypocrisy and sinfulness, to repentance and humility. Because we live in communion with one another, that movement or spiritual growth involves not only ourselves as isolated individuals. It involves us together as a living community, united in faith and love in the Name and in the Person of Jesus Christ. This most simple and basic truth has momentous implications for specific relationships, and the resolution of specific problems, within any parish setting.

I read this quote because it highlights that our fellowship is committed to peace not only on the big scale, concentrating mainly on war, but within each person, in the family, in the parish, in the nation, internationally, and in the environment. We are committed to seeing peace as our ongoing struggle to move from sinfulness and hypocrisy to repentance and humility, especially in how we interact with others in our families, parishes, nations, internationally, and in the environment. Thank you for the support you’ve given us over the last two years. Thank you also for the gracious reception you have given to my daughter Lucy over the past few days. It has been a joy to be with you. OPF looks forward to continuing our efforts with your blessing in the years ahead.

Sheri San Chirico is coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

News – Summer 2006

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006


Bartholomew leading Amazon environmental voyage

In 1995, on the Aegean island of Patmos, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made a startling proposition: That pollution and other attacks on the environment should be recognized as sins. He quickly became known as the “green patriarch.”

In July Patriarch Bartholomew set off, with a group of religious leaders, scientists and environmental activists, on a week-long trip along the Amazon River to examine the interplay of faith and ecology. It is Bartholomew’s sixth “green journey” since the first in 1995.

The efforts of Bartholomew and others have energized some of the most lively theological explorations in recent years, with fresh studies and interpretation of scripture along environmental lines.

Bartholomew’s trip hopes to draw the attention of religious leaders to the critical pressures facing the Amazon, including clearing pristine rain forest for farmland.

Following the Liturgy on the 16th of July, the third day of the voyage, there was a formal Blessing of the Waters at the point where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes meet to become the Amazon. (See: www.

“The environment brings a sense of urgency and shared purpose that few other issues can bring,” said Mary Evelyn Tucker, a co-founder of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. “It cuts across all religious traditions.”

Jaroslav Pelikan: eternal memory

Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, a leading scholar in the history of Christianity, fell asleep in the Lord on May 13 after a long battle with cancer.

He was born in 1923 in Akron, Ohio, to a Slovak father and a Serbian mother. His father was a Lutheran pastor and his paternal grandfather was a bishop of the Slovak Lutheran Church in America. He belonged to the Lutheran Church for most of his life, but in 1998 he and his wife Sylvia were received into the Orthodox Church. Members of Pelikan’s family remember him saying that he had not as much converted to Orthodoxy as “returned to it, peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there.”

His many books include The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.

He joined the Yale University faculty in 1962 as the Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History and in 1972 he became the Sterling Professor Emeritus of History until 1996. He served as acting dean and then dean of the Graduate School from1973-78. His awards included the Medieval Academy of America’s 1985 Haskins Medal.

He was past president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was editor of the religion section of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1980 he founded the Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress.

In 2002 he was appointed chairperson for the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of History and Archives.

In 2004, having received the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences, Pelikan donated his award to Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, of which he was a trustee.

He was a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. [Wikipedia and the OCA news service]

Exile Russian church opts for unity with Moscow

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad adopted a resolution in May at a historic synod that would accept the Moscow Patriarch as its head after more than 80 years of bitter separation following the Communist revolution.

The 135 delegates and top church officials at only the fourth All-Diaspora Council since 1920 adopted a recommendation calling for spiritual unity with the Moscow Patriarchate but administrative autonomy, church officials told Reuters.

“We as a church have to do this to be in communion with the masses of faithful in Russia,” Archbishop Mark, who has led the church’s negotiations with Moscow, told Reuters. “We can help the church in Russia to develop along a new path.”

In the period of Soviet rule, the exile church considered the Moscow Patriarchate a tool of the state. Feelings were so strong that it has taken 15 years since the fall of Communism for reconciliation to take place.

Some exile church officials are still suspicious of Moscow church head Patriarch Alexis, saying he once had links to the KGB. Any spiritual reunion with Moscow may prompt some to leave the church.

“The more time passes, the less Russian the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad will remain,” Alexis said last month. “This could be the last opportunity to bring together within one church two parts of the Russian people who were divided for political reasons as a result of the 1917 tragedy.”

The archbishop said the Church Abroad will retain the right to appoint its own bishops although the patriarch would bless their choices. (Reuters)

Russian Orthodox bishop urges Church not to leave WCC

In a statement issued in May, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to European institutions, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, urged his church not to withdraw from the World Council of Churches as a condition for planned reunification with the US-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

“I’m convinced there are no more obstacles to reunion – although disagreements exist, these can be settled once unity is restored,” said Bishop Hilarion in a message carried on his Web site. “The problem of whether to stay a member of, or leave, the World Council of Churches should be resolved by discussion. However, I believe it should be solved in the context of a general strategy for inter-Christian cooperation.”

The bishop noted that ROCA delegates had in Brazil criticized the Moscow Patriarchate’s stance during the WCC’s assembly in February when they called for reduced cooperation with Protestant denominations.

“I agree with those who believe it’s necessary to strengthen communication firstly with churches which protect traditional spiritual and moral values, instead of with liberal Protestants. Perhaps a council made up of the Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental churches would be more effective than the WCC,” said Bishop Hilarion, who represents Orthodoxy on the WCC’s executive committee. “But I doubt leaving the WCC would benefit the Russian church. I generally believe withdrawal would not affect the Russian Orthodox church’s internal life in any way.”

Russian Orthodox prelate joins Ecumenical Patriarchate

The deposed head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain has defended his decision to transfer to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, after its Holy Synod confirmed that it had now formally accepted him.

“I appealed to be allowed to join them and they have now accepted me on their own terms,” said Bishop Basil, who until recently headed the diocese of Sourozh, as the British section of the Russian Orthodox Church is called.

Bishop Basil was speaking after the announcement of his been acceptance by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 8 June. He said he expected at least half the clergy in the 30 parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain to join him.

The 68-year-old prelate was sacked by Moscow Patriarch Alexis as head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain in May after Basil asked to be allowed to be placed under the jurisdiction of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos.

Bishop Basil had complained that some of a new generation of Russians arriving in Britain had waged a campaign against him, and that those working against him had received support from within the Moscow Patriarchate.

The membership of the Russian church in Britain has jumped to more than 100,000 since the collapse of communist rule in Russia in 1991. Previously, the British diocese had only about 2000-3000 members, most of them English speaking.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, the Russian church seemed very open to Western Europe, and we had non-Russian bishops here,” Basil told Ecumenical News International in a 9 June interview. “But with the collapse of communism, the demographic picture changed, as did attitudes in Russia itself. The Moscow Patriarchate become less interested in communities which had grown up here, and more concerned with solidifying its control over those arriving here for the first time.”

In its 8 June statement, the Ecumenical Patriarchate said its Holy Synod had unanimously decided to elect Archbishop Basil as an auxiliary bishop and that he would “serve the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in Great Britain” who wished to come under the Istanbul-based patriarchate. [ENI]

Orthodox church to open in Beijing

The Russian Orthodox Church will receive permission to build a chapel in Beijing, it was announced in July by Ye Xiaowen, head of China’s state administration for religious affairs, when he was talking to Patriarch Alexis of Moscow.

At the global inter-religious summit just held in the Russian capital, Ye Xiaowen assured the Orthodox Patriarch that the matter of a church in Beijing “was about to be resolved.” For the time being, the only news that has leaked out is that the building will be dedicated to the Dormition of Mary and will be situated within the perimeter of the Russian embassy in the Chinese capital.

Alexis and Ye also discussed a number of problems, including the situation facing Chinese Orthodox Christians. Currently there are around 13,000 Orthodox Christians in China, but they are not recognized as an official religious community, of which there are five. The Church is doing its utmost to gain recognition before 2008, the year of the Olympics in Beijing. In anticipation of the hoped-for event, 13 Chinese Orthodox students are undergoing studies at the Sretenskaya Theological Academy in Moscow and the Academy of St. Petersburg, to pave the way for a minimal presence of clergy there. Prayer books in Russian and Chinese are already in circulation.

Catholics and Orthodox discuss Europe’s soul

The contribution of Christians is indispensable in restoring Europe’s soul, Catholics and Orthodox affirmed in a meeting on culture held in Vienna in May.

“We believe that Christians, preaching the hope brought by Christ’s resurrection, united together with people of other faiths and convictions, can help everyone to live in an ethically grounded, just and peaceful society,” the participants stated in their final message.

It was the first time that the Vatican organized a symposium in partnership with the Patriarchate of Moscow. Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, president of the Department of External Relations of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, presided over the meeting. The meeting was attended by lay and religious experts chosen jointly by the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow.

According to the participants, the present crisis splitting Europe “is of a cultural order. Its Christian identity is being diluted. The situation of European peoples is characterized by man’s profound doubt about himself: He knows what he can do, but does not know who he is.”

This crisis has “dramatic demographic consequences: the rejection of children, unions without a future, trial marriages, homosexual unions, the refusal to share life with a person in marriage. All this is a genuine European demographic suicide, in the name of egoism, and hedonism.”

To respond to these challenges, the participants emphasized “the mission of education … All education is discovery of a heritage that arouses love and recognition. In this way, we will be able to contribute to the rediscovery of our Christian roots.” (Zenit)

Iraqi War death toll tops 50,000

Iraqi Freedom

At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 US-led invasion, according to statistics released in June by the Iraqi Health Ministry, a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.

Many more Iraqis are believed to have died but not been counted because of lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government. Spotty reporting nationwide has continued ever since.

Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.

The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount. The ministry also said its figures exclude the three northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death reports to the Baghdad government .

The toll, mainly civilian, is daunting: Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years. In the same period, at least 2,520 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq.

At the Baghdad morgue, the vast majority of bodies processed had been shot execution-style. Many showed signs of torture – drill holes, burns, missing eyes and limbs, officials said. Others had been strangled, beheaded, stabbed or beaten to death.

Almost 75 percent of those who died violently were killed in “terrorist acts,” typically bombings, the records show. The other 25 percent were killed in what were classified as military clashes. A health official described the victims as “innocent bystanders,” many shot by Iraqi or American troops, in crossfire or accidentally at checkpoints. (The Los Angeles Times)

Washington losing “war on terror”

Despite high-profile arrests, security operations and upbeat assessments from the White House, the United States is losing its “global war on terror,” a number of experts warned in July.

“We are losing the ‘war on terror’ because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause,” argued Anne-Marie Slaughter, head of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. “Our insistence that Islamic fundamentalist ideology has replaced communist ideology as the chief enemy of our time feeds Al-Qaeda’s vision of the world,” boosting support for the Islamic radical cause, she said.

“It was a doomed enterprise from the very start: a ‘war on terror’ – it’s as ridiculous as a ‘war on anger,’ You do not wage a war on terror, you wage a war against people,” said Alain Chouet, a former senior officer of France’s foreign intelligence service. “The Americans have been stuck inside this idea of a ‘war on terror’ since September 11, they are not asking the right questions. You can always slaughter terrorists – there are endless reserves of them. We should not be attacking the effects of terrorism but its causes: Wahhabite ideology, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood. But no one will touch any of those.”

Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, agreed that Washington was acting as its own worst enemy in the fight against Islamic terrorism. “We’re clearly losing. Today, Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and their allies have only one indispensable ally: the US’ foreign policy towards the Islamic world.” (AFP)

A lieutenant says no

In a remarkable protest from inside the ranks of the military, First Lieut. Ehren Watada, 28, has become the Army’s first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal.

He announced his decision not to obey orders to deploy to Iraq in a video press conference June 7, saying, “My participation would make me party to war crimes …. It is my conclusion as an officer of the armed forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order.”

A native of Hawaii who enlisted in the Army after graduating from college in 2003, Watada differs from other military personnel who have sought conscientious-objector status to avoid deployment to Iraq.

Watada said he gave the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt as it built the case for war. But when he discovered he was being sent to Iraq, he began reading everything he could. He concluded that the war was based on false claims, ranging from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to the claim that Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 to the idea that the US is in Iraq to promote democracy.

“I came to the conclusion that the war and what we’re doing over there is illegal.”

Watada said the military conduct of the occupation is also illegal: “If you look at the Army Field Manual, 27-10, which governs the laws of land warfare, it states certain responsibilities for the occupying power. As the occupying power, we have failed to follow a lot of those regulations…. The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people is,” he said, “a contradiction to the Army’s own law of land warfare.”

Watada’s decision to hold a press conference and post his statements online puts him at serious risk. If the Army construes his public statements as an attempt to encourage other soldiers to resist, he could be charged with mutiny under Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which considers anyone who acts “with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny.”

“The one God-given freedom and right that we really have is freedom of choice,” Watada said. “I just want to tell everybody, especially people who doubt the war, that you do have that one freedom. That’s something that they can never take away. Yes, they will imprison you. They’ll throw the book at you. They’ll try to make an example out of you, but you do have that choice.”

Appeal for a torture ban

In a statement published in The New York Times in June, US religious leaders called for the elimination of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The statement, “Torture is a Moral Issue,” proclaims that torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear.

The statement is signed by 27 national religious leaders, including Archbishop Demetrios of America, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, DC; Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter; and Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America.

The organizer of the statement, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, urges Congress and the President to “remove all ambiguities” by prohibiting secret US prisons around the world, ending the rendition of suspects to countries that use torture, granting the Red Cross access to all detainees, and not exempting any arm of the government from human rights standards.

Churches still at risk in Kosovo

A picturesque valley in the western province of Kosovo is home to the largest and best preserved monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The 14th century Decani monastery has not only survived the passage of time but also the ravages of war. Even though around half the Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks after the war, the 100,000 who stayed are still targeted by sporadic violence. Stoning of police, attacks on individuals and even murder are not uncommon.

Life in Kosovo has been a struggle for Serbs since June 1999, when NATO bombing halted Belgrade’s repression against independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. Since then, this region has been a United Nations protectorate.

With the region still legally part of Serbia, negotiations aimed at resolving its status began in February. Ethnic Albanians say they will settle for nothing less than complete independence, while Serbs won’t surrender land they consider the cradle of their civilization. For them, Kosovo is “the land of monasteries.”

Visitors to Decani monastery must first pass a heavily armored military checkpoint manned by UN forces.

One of the monks of Decani, Fr. Sava, juggles his mobile phone with his computer hooked up to the Internet. These are essential tools for this “cyber monk,” who has been telling the outside world about his church and the plight of minority Serbs in the UN-governed former Yugoslav province.

“Living in a medieval setting does not mean accepting a medieval mentality. The Internet enables us to speak from the pulpit of a keyboard,” said Fr. Sava. He regrets the slow progress in building a truly multiethnic, respectful Kosovo.

“Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo is probably one of the most important parts of Serbian heritage in general. It is part of the Serbian identity,” says Father Sava. But it’s an identity in danger: since 1999, more than 100 churches have been the target of Albanian extremists. The continual violence culminated in March 2004, when holy sites were targeted.

In 2004, UNESCO added Decani to the World Heritage List, citing its frescoes as “one of the most valued examples of the so-called Palaeologan renaissance in Byzantine painting” and “a valuable record of the life in the 14th century.”

Many churches and monasteries have been destroyed and badly damaged. The city of Prizren suffered the worst damage. The church of Bogorodica Ljeviska, built in 1307, was burned down by a mob. It was regarded as one of the finest examples of late Byzantine art and architecture in the world.

At the meeting on the protection of monuments held in Vienna in June, Ylber Hysa, a Kosovo Albanian negotiator, said that Kosovo’s capital city, Pristina, is offering “full recognition of the rule and the status of the church in Kosovo.” The ethnic Albanian-dominated government, Hysa added, is committed to “providing legal guarantees, physical protection, along with benefits like tax exemption, and creation of special zones.”

For the moment, though, the international military presence seems to be essential. “We need long-term security,” says Fr. Sava, “as the monastery is not only Serb, it’s part of a Christian heritage that belongs to the whole of Europe.”

An important sign of reconciliation and recognition arrived when Fatmir Sejdiu, the Kosovo Albanian president who took office last February, visited the Visoki Decani monastery to mark Orthodox Easter, the first icebreaking gesture since the end of the conflict seven years ago.

Yet much remains to be done. “The problem,” Fr. Sava reflects, “is that there is a very ethnic-based approach in Kosovo, where the Serbs are neglected, with a lack of responsibility in ensuring that Serbs should live like normal citizens. I wish we had a leadership that would take care of the citizens of Kosovo as a whole.” (Monica Ellena of ABC News)

Multi-faith conference calls conversion basic religious right

At an interfaith conference in Geneva in May, the participants – Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims – concluded that everyone should have the right to convert to another faith.

The statement on religious freedom was issued on behalf of the conference by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches and Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

“Freedom of religion connotes the freedom, without any obstruction, to practice one’s own faith, freedom to propagate the teachings of one’s faith to people of one’s own and other faiths,” the statement said. This also meant “the freedom to embrace another faith out of one’s free choice.”

The statement was in line with recent calls by the Vatican and other Christian bodies for better treatment for non-Muslims in Islamic countries.

Limits on non-Muslims in Islamic countries are far harsher than any restrictions imposed in the West that Muslims decry. Saudi Arabia bans public expression of non-Muslim religions, and sometimes arrests Christians for worshiping privately, while Pakistan’s Islamic laws deprive local Christians of basic rights although churches can function. In Iran and some other Muslim countries, converts to other religions or to humanism – like Dutch Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali – are condemned as “apostates” and can be executed if they refuse to repent. In Afghanistan, Islamic clerics in March condemned Western pressure for the release of a man who had been jailed after converting to Christianity and said he should have been executed for abandoning Islam. (Reuters)

It’s official: you can’t buy happiness

It turns out that happiness really isn’t something money can buy.

A wealth of data in recent decades demonstrates that once personal wealth exceeds about $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in life satisfaction. From 1958 to 1987, for example, income in Japan grew fivefold, but researchers could find no corresponding increase in happiness.

In part, said Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, who has studied the phenomenon closely, people feel wealthy by comparing themselves with others. When incomes rise across a nation, people’s relative status does not change.

Social comparisons are not the only factor at play. A psychological factor is habituation. The happiness experienced due to an increase in income lasts only until the beneficiary gets used to his newfound status, which is often a matter of months.

When people win lotteries, Layard said, “initially there is a big increase in happiness, but then it reverts to its original level. So why do people want to win lotteries? … They have a rather short-term focus, and they don’t seem to grasp long-term ways their own feelings work.”

The journal Science reported in July yet more evidence and another theory about why wealth does not make people happy: “The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory,” one of its studies concluded. “People with above-average income … are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities.

“The effect of income on life satisfaction seems to be transient. We argue that people exaggerate the contribution of income to happiness because they focus, in part, on conventional achievements when evaluating their lives and the lives of others.”

“People grossly exaggerate the impact that higher incomes would have on their subjective well-being,” said Alan Krueger, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and an author of the study.

The problem is that once people get past the level of poverty, money does not play a significant role in day-to-day happiness, Krueger said. It certainly can buy things, but things do not usually address most of the troubles people experience in daily life – concerns about their children, problems in intimate relationships and stressful aspects of their jobs.

In fact, the study found, the more money people have, the less likely they are to spend time doing certain kinds of enjoyable things that make them happy. High-income individuals are often focused on goals, which can bring satisfaction, but working toward achievements is different from experiencing things that are enjoyable in themselves, such as enjoying close relationships and engaging in leisure activities.

“If you want to know why I think poor people are not that miserable, it is because they are able to enjoy things that a billionaire has not been able to enjoy, given his busy schedule,” Krueger surmised.

“One of the mistakes people make is they focus on the salary and not the non-salary aspects of work,” Krueger said. “People do not put enough weight on the quality of work. That is why work looks like, for most people, the worst moments of the day.” (Washington Post)

Blix says US impedes efforts to curb nuclear arms

Hans Blix, former chief United Nations weapons inspector, said in June that US unwillingness to cooperate in international arms agreements is undermining the effectiveness of efforts to curb nuclear weapons. “If [the US] takes the lead, the world is likely to follow,” Blix said. “If it does not take the lead, there could be more nuclear tests and new nuclear arms races.”

Blix made his comments in the introduction to a 225-page report by a Swedish-financed international commission, delivered today to the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan. The panel, with Blix as chairman and members from more than a dozen countries, listed 60 recommendations for nuclear disarmament. It concluded that treaty-based disarmament was being set back by “an increased U.S. skepticism regarding the effectiveness of international institutions and instruments, coupled with a drive for freedom of action to maintain an absolute global superiority in weaponry and means of their delivery.”

The commission said there were 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with 12,000 of them deployed – numbers it labeled “extraordinarily and alarmingly high.”

Blix said he feared the number of nuclear weapons would rise because of efforts to develop more sophisticated new weapons and place them in space. He said he also feared an American-proposed missile shield would bring about countermeasures by Russia and China.

The commission said nuclear weapons should ultimately be banned the way biological and chemical weapons were. “Weapons of mass destruction cannot be uninvented,” the report said. “But they can be outlawed, as biological and chemical weapons already have been, and their use made unthinkable.”

Blix was disparaged by the Bush administration for failing to find any weapons of mass destruction during the three years he headed up the United Nations inspection team in Iraq.

The United States has not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and in 2001 it withdrew from the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty.

US prison population rises to 2.2 million

The US prison population, already the largest in the world, grew in 2005 to 2.18 million, according to a report issued by the Department of Justice. One American in 136 is in prison.

The number of inmates grew 2.6 percent between July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005, an average of 1,085 prisoners per week. According to the annual Census of Jail Inmates, this was the largest increase since 1997. Two-thirds of prisoners are in federal prisons, and the rest are in state prisons. Women make up an increasing proportion of jail inmates, reaching 12.7 percent of the population in 2005, compared to 10.2 percent in 1995. Members of minority groups make up 60 percent of detainees in local prisons; no breakdown was given for federal prisons. Nearly 4.7 percent of African-American men are behind bars in the United States. That percentage grows to nearly 12 percent for black men aged 25 to 29 year old. [AFP]


An Abbess Who Said No

197755.pAn interview with Mother Maria of Asten

 A convent, chickens, inspectors, arrests, interrogations, lawyers, and the mass media: these were elements of a recent drama in the hamlet of Asten, an otherwise quiet farming district in the southern Netherlands. The unrest was over a small number of chickens kept by the nuns at the Nativity of the Mother of God Orthodox Convent in the days leading up to and following Pentecost Sunday in 2003. The abbess, Mother Maria, spent Pentecost in jail for violating Dutch agriculture laws. A nun in jail in tolerant Holland? How could it happen?

Mother Maria was born in The Hague in 1944 and was raised in an atheistic household. She came of age in a climate of doubt and searching in a nation recovering from years of German occupation. She attended university and became a linguist fluent in seven languages. A strong spiritual yearning at last drew her to Christianity.

She was received into the Orthodox Church in 1963. Two years later, age 21, she joined a convent in The Hague where she remained until 1973, when she went to Serbia to join the Zica convent near Kraljevo. Here she immersed herself in its tradition and came under the influence of St. Justin Popovich, then an abbot at a nearby monastery. He believed she was being formed for a special purpose in Holland. Her next step was to join a monastery in Greece in 1975 where she remained for seven years. During this time, people in Holland were petitioning for a new convent. She visited in 1982, after which it was decided that she would return.

In 1986, with the requisite blessings, she headed home and took up residence in a garden cottage and waited. Thus far, a series of hidden graces had occurred, but her move from a thriving monastery to isolation and uncertainty looked at first less than promising. She put out the word: Looking to buy a house with land, in a quiet place, with a garden, must be big enough for more sisters, and by the way, I have no money! But wonders happen. A wealthy man looking to endow a religious order heard of her need and offered his support.

The donor bought her a farm house on an acre of land in Asten. In January 1989, she moved in and went to work enlarging the house and converting its dilapidated chicken shed into a chapel and guest house. Little by little the property was improved. Pilgrims began to come. Donations trickled in and bills were paid. She was in time joined by nuns from other convents as well as lay people seeking a life of monastic prayer. Mother Maria had become the abbess of a secure foundation.

Life at Asten is focused, the services full and straightforward. Everything is orderly without being fussy. Mother Maria is someone who gets things done. As one sister commented: Its best if you move aside when shes onto something. She looks after her sisters with the devotion of a parent while attracting visitors from near and far to the Orthodox faith. Thanks to the monasterys hospitality, many families experiencing difficulties have found shelter in the convent guest rooms. With the donation of an adjacent plot of land, the convent has doubled its holdings. The convent chickens wander about freely.

In February 2003, the vogelpest — bird flu — reached Holland, invading industrial-scale poultry sheds in many parts of the country. The poultry industry was severely affected. The Ministry of Agriculture ordered a cull of the poultry in each affected area. Millions of chickens were destroyed. At the same time privately owned poultry were declared a hazard. Hobby farmers who had quarantined their chickens were ordered to surrender them. Though the disease had run its course by June, the government was taking no chances, since the poultry industry was waiting to resume production.

The convents chickens were untouched by bird flu. Nevertheless, government inspectors brought crates and demanded that the convents hens be surrendered. When they returned the next day, the crates were empty — the condemned chickens had been taken to safe houses out of the area.

On the eve of Pentecost, inspectors arrested Mother Maria for extended questioning. Within hours, she became a celebrity in the Dutch media.

Here are extracts from an interview made after her release by Fr. David Pratt.

Q: What is this all about?

A: First, we had a choice, either to obey the agricultural ministry and give up our chickens to be killed, or stand against that policy. I would have given them up, but I had a lot of information saying the disease had nearly run its course. Our chickens were not afflicted; we knew the symptoms, and they were far from any infected farms. So, logically speaking, why give them up if it was unnecessary?

Some veterinarians were saying this, not I. The question had become one of conscience and civil disobedience. Many times in history, we have seen when something is wrong in a country, that disobedience, at a certain point, can cause change. Previously, we had an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease. We saw many thousands of healthy cows destroyed because that was cheaper than vaccinating them. A lot of people protested, and now the EU favors a vaccination policy. Protestors caused that change. In America, was it not the civil disobedience of quite a lot of people who turned public opinion there against slavery? At a certain moment, the disobedience of many abolitionists caused a crisis: people saw slaves as human beings. Disobedience brought about a change of thinking. And it is possible to see this in Christian terms. There are times when Christians must obey the laws of the land, but there are times when we must say no, this is not good and stand up against certain laws. It is not always necessary to obey a government. Conscience is part of church history.

Once I made the decision not to exterminate the convents chickens, my relationship to them changed. I had to hide them. I needed help, but thats forbidden by law. Now my decision of conscience came to involve others — the sisters, our benefactors, and neighbors. They agreed to support my decision, and so my relationship to these people also changed. How do I answer the inspectors without betraying my supporters? How do we not betray each other? We know from our experience during the Second World War that when we act, we involve others, and if we dont act we involve someone else. Life is not black and white, and very often we have to make a choice between different degrees of badness. Life is not so easy if you live according to your conscience. Thats another theme in this experience — not to lie and not to betray others. Fortunately, Dutch law forbids self-incrimination; we are allowed to remain silent under interrogation.

Ecology is another theme. Under the law, I am the owner of the chickens and I have to answer for them. Under God, I dont own anything. The chickens actually belong to Gods creation. I am just responsible for them while they are here. Its my job to look after them. They trust us and look to us for food and shelter, and in return, they provide us with eggs. Thats a relationship. And I am responsible to God for it. I cant give them up to be killed!

Similarly parents dont own their children. They receive them and raise them as their own. Its similar here with livestock. In the New Testament there is the image of Christ the Good Shepherd who looks after his sheep and knows each one by name. Of course, that is a symbol referring to us humans, but were involved with nature in much the same way. Were the shepherds. We have dogs and cats with names. Theres a relationship going on here.

Q: Whats at the heart of this relationship?

A: I have been charged with breaking economic laws. This means the chickens are just economic units. Theres no special relationship — only money. The industrialization of domesticated animals has changed our position toward them and toward all of creation too, I think. The image of animals around and in support of a household no longer exists. We have stables filled with thousands of caged animals on a production line. What kind of image is that? Economic, of course. We have come to accept the existence of chickens that can barely stand in their cages, whose legs are feeble and useless, because we need their meat at fast-food restaurants. I dont know if human beings have a right to do that to animals. I dont think they do. This is not a picture of the shepherd and his sheep. We have reduced animals to the level of raw materials such as plastic or iron in a production process. Is this Gods law for creation? I doubt it.

Q: What are your views about the proper use, abuse and care of farm animals?

A: Nature is under our care. We use it to obtain food, but what Ive just described is abuse. Were going against nature when we raise animals that way. Raising them for food still implies a relationship of care. Monastics dont eat meat, and I dont think eating meat is necessary, but for people who do, there is no getting around the fact that these animals are alive and under our care. Bio-dynamic farming is gaining attention because it attempts to place animals closer to their natural way of life. Free-range chickens are obviously better off than the others. And if we accept that as true, then we have to consider restoring our relationship with all the animals we use for food and sustenance.

Q: Does our treatment of animals shape our treatment of each other?

A: Yes, it does. You see, Im protesting an economic policy. I petitioned the government to vaccinate our chickens. All the hobby farmers wanted to do that. But our petition was denied, though the EU permits vaccinations. Everything in Holland was geared toward resuming the poultry business as soon as possible. That was the economic rationale. At that point, I decided to protect my chickens.

Q: What finally provoked your action?

A: It was the papers the officials asked me to sign. They required the owners to sign papers before they gas the chickens. The similarity to the Holocaust was too much for me, and my conscience was already strained by the extermination of the cows. Did you know that the government publicizes a special phone number for informing on your neighbors? One lady was moving her chickens and was arrested because of this hot line. In other words, her neighbors denounced her. Thats Stalinist.

Q: Is it a problem being put on the front page of newspapers?

A: When a nun gets arrested, people take notice. Some say this has gone too far. But this gives us an opportunity to highlight certain urgent questions. Were conscious that human life in the womb and the geriatric center is threatened. When we deny life to an unborn handicapped child, its for economic reasons. When we terminate the life of an old person, economic reasons underlie the act. Some hospitals are proud to offer euthanasia. Economics drive that policy. If, today, you can economically destroy entire species of animals, then tomorrow you could do likewise with certain classes of people. If these agricultural measures were intended to ease world hunger, I could understand them. But this industry is not for the hungry; its for the wealthy.

Q: But what about rendering obedience to lawful authorities?

A: Sometimes your conscience just tells you to act. Conscience is very important. Theres no difference between a monk and a layperson in that regard. Every Christian with a life of prayer, based in the Bible and the Church Fathers, gets a sense of how to understand Gods law. We are trying to follow Psalm 118 — teach me Your statutes. We have to answer this question: What does God want? If you never hear the Gospel or never go to church, then its easy to forget that question and lose your conscience. Living as a Christian means never letting your conscience go silent. We must worship, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, pray, and study. Then we can ask if our life is in keeping with Gods will. I dont think there is a distinction between monastic and lay conscience. Theres only one kind of purity, as I understand the Fathers. There is just one ethic for everybody.

Afterword: Mother Marias stay in jail was brief. Not only were the convents chickens allowed to live but the Dutch government at last decided that all hobby chickens could be vaccinated rather than exterminated.

This is a shortened version of an article by Fr. David Pratt published in volume 9 of Divine Ascent, the journal of the Monastery of St. John in Pt. Reyes Station, California. The monastery and journal have a web site.