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The Orthodox Peace Fellowship: An Introduction, IC70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our work includes:

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

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

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

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

A description of our vocation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aspiration to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution is something all sane people have in common, yet few would say that they would never use violent methods to protect the innocent. All we can do is attempt to find ways of responding to injustice that are consistent with the Gospel. Clearly nonviolent methods are to be preferred to violent.

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming a member:

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

Rachel’s Lament: In Communion on Abortion

Rachel’s Lament: In Communion on Abortion

8 thevisitationicon Lament

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Gorman

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

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

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

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

Frederica Mathewes-Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Forest-Flier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Believers to turn from Violence and be Reconciled

Nothing is more basic to Christian life than prayer. It is the foundation of all other response, not an alternative to response. Please find time each day to be aware of wars now going on in the world and to pray for peace.

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Special prayer being used at the St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam

 

st nicholas myra amsterdam

Let all believers turn aside from violence and do what makes for peace. By the strength of your powerful arm save your people and your Holy Church from all evil oppression; hear the supplications of all who call to you in sorrow and affliction, day and night, O merciful God, let their lives not be lost, we pray you, hear us and have mercy on us.

But grant, O Lord, peace, love and speedy reconciliation to your people whom you have redeemed with your precious blood. Make your presence known to those who have turned away from you and do not seek you, so that none of them may be lost, but all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, so that everyone, in true harmony and love, O long-suffering Lord, may praise your all holy Name.

What is the Orthodox Peace Fellowship?

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God is an association of Orthodox Christian believers seeking to bear witness to the peace of Christ by applying the principles of the Gospel to situations of division and conflict, whether in the home, the parish, the community we live, the work place, within our particular nations, and between nations. We work for the conservation of God’s creation and especially of human life. We are not a political association and support no political parties or candidates.

A Fellowship of Orthodox Christian Peacemakers

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

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

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

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

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

Members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship try to use life-protecting methods to safeguard life and creation.

Aware that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, we seek recovery of a sense of familial connection which, while respecting national identity, transcends all tribal, ethnic and national division. This is the oneness the Church mirrors when it is gathered before the Holy Table.

Using our vocation and whatever special gifts and resources God has given us, especially our participation in eucharistic community, we strive to undertake constructive action on behalf of those who are endangered, from the child in the womb to the aged awaiting death.

Aspiring to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution, we promote resolution of conflicts by mediation, negotiation and other forms of nonviolent action.

While no one can be certain that he or she will always find a nonviolent response to every crisis that may arise, we pray that God will show us in each situation ways of resistance to evil that will not require killing opponents.

We offer support to those whose conscience leads them to refuse participation in war and who struggle against evil in non-military ways. We support their conscientious objection as consistent with the Gospels and Holy Tradition.

We encourage the compassionate treatment of prisoners and their rehabilitation, with special attention to restitution by wrong-doers to victims of their crimes. We reject the execution of criminals as incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

We commit ourselves to prayer for enemies and endeavor to communicate God’s love for them, recognizing our own violence and praying that, through Christ’s saving death on the Cross, we will be reconciled with God and with each other.

Thus we strive to avoid bitterness in dealing with controversy, seeking conversion both of ourselves and our adversary.

Aware that we are in need of conversion not only in the way we relate to other people but to the world God has put into our care, we will try to change our lives in order to live as priests of God’s world, asking continuously for the Holy Spirit to descend and transfigure the earth. We will cooperate with efforts to protect and preserve the environment which do not involve violence, coercive methods of population control, or violate the sanctity of human life.

Our work areas include:

Theological research

Much needs to be done within the Church to better understand ways in which Orthodox Christians should respond to division, conflict, injustice, war and the relationship of the believer to the state. We encourage research on peace in the Bible, peace in the Liturgy, examples of ways Orthodox people and churches have responded to war from ancient to modern times, and the collection of relevant quotations and stories from the Fathers and the saints.

Publications

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

Practical assistance in conflict areas

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

Structure

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

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

In the Oxford English Dictionary, pacifism is defined as “the policy or doctrine of rejecting war and every form of violent action as means of solving disputes, especially in international affairs.” It is also “the belief in and advocacy of peaceful methods as feasible and desirable alternatives to war.” A pacifist is a person “who rejects war and violence as a matter of principle” or “advocates a peaceful policy as the first and best resort.”

While our membership includes many who would identify themselves as pacifists in the sense of this definition, one does not have to be a pacifist to belong to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. It’s enough to say that we are attempting to be Christian peacemakers.

The aspiration to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution is something all sane people have in common, yet few would say that they would never use violent methods to protect the innocent. All we can do is attempt to find ways of responding to injustice that are consistent with the Gospel. Clearly nonviolent methods are to be preferred to violent.

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

There’s quite a lot on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site that help clarify what Christian peacemaking involves and its implications in one’s own life. Note especially essays in the back issues of the OPF journal, In Communion:

http://incommunion.org/contents/previous-issues

Also look at the “What can I do?” page:

http://incommunion.org/articles/introduction/what-can-i-do

Becoming a member

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship links Orthodox Christians from different national traditions and is not under the sponsorship of a particular jurisdiction. Membership is open to any Orthodox Christian who embraces the principles expressed in the above statement of purpose. Membership in no way obligates the member to a specific political position. Both members and supporters receive the Fellowship’s quarterly journal, In Communion.

The annual donation for members is $35, 35 euros, 25 pounds sterling, or the equivalent in other currencies. (For those wishing to receive our journal, In Communion, but not to join, the cost per year is $25, 25 euros, 20 pounds sterling, or the equivalent in other currencies.)

To join, go to this page:

http://incommunion.org/articles/uncategorized/membership-and-donations

Using the message form on that page, provide your name and address and indicate that you are an Orthodox Christian and wish to join the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Then use the donation button to send a membership contribution. (If you request, you can at the same time request to join the OPF List, a news and discussion forum.)

Alternately, subscription payments and contributions can be sent to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s ABN-AMRO bank account number (IBAN) NL66ABNA0563521260 using the bank identifier code (BIC) ABNANL2A.

or by post to:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Kanisstraat 5
1811 GJ Alkmaar
The Netherlands

e-mail: incommunion@gmail.com

In the USA or Canada, use this address:

OPF-North America
PO Box 76609
Washington, DC 20013
USA

OPF-North America contacts:

Alex Patico, coordinator: opfnorthamerica@gmail.com
Pieter Dykhorst, editor of the OPF journal “In Communion:=”: pietspad@gmail.com

In the United Kingdom, use this address:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship
“Birchenhoe”
Crowfield
Brackley NN13 5TW
England UK

For UK donors: Make transfers to the account of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Alliance and Leicester Commercial Bank, Bootle, GIR 0AA, sort code 72-00-04, account number 49456080.

UK contact:

Seraphim Honeywell: oxpeacefp@aol.com

Support

The Fellowship is entirely dependent on the support of its members, other sympathetic persons and those parishes which make annual collections in support of the OPF. Donors are asked to contribute as their resources allow. Contributions are tax-deductible in the US. The Orthodox Peace Fellowship depends entirely on membership fees and donations to carry on its work.

Advisory Board

Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Fr. Stephen Headley, Fr. Thomas Hopko, Fr. Heikki Huttunen, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Fr. John Matusiak, Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov, Fr. George Papademetriou, Dr. Albert Raboteau, Philip Tamoush, Fr. Steven Tsichlis, Fr. Theodoor van der Voort, Fr. Meletios Webber, Mother Raphaela Wilkinson

Officers

Deacon Michael Bakker, president
Hanna Bos, vice president
Matthew House, treasurer
Jim and Nancy Forest, co-secretaries

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Learning to be Peacemakers: A Short History of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

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The Orthodox Peace Fellowship in The Netherlands/OPF-Nederland – AMBI status:

The “Orthodox Peace Fellowship” foundation is registered as a charitable institution for Dutch fiscal purposes (AMBI) as an annexed institution of the ’Stichting Orthodoxe Kerk In Nederland’ (Foundation Orthodox Church in the Netherlands). An AMBI may use certain tax advantages in cases of inheritance and donations. Also tax benefits for donors may apply. As an AMBI, we are required to publish certain information, including an updated report on the activities carried out and a financial statement. See the links below.

De stichting ’Orthodox Peace Fellowship’ heeft een registratie als algemeen nut beogende instelling (ANBI) als annexe instelling van de ’Stichting Orthodoxe Kerk In Nederland’. Een ANBI kan gebruikmaken van bepaalde belastingvoordelen bij erven en schenkingen heeft fiscale voordelen voor donateurs. Een ANBI is verplicht tot publicatie van een aantal gegevens waaronder een actueel verslag van de uitgeoefende activiteiten en een financiële verantwoording.

1) OPF-Nederland AMBI status
2) OPF-Nederland jaar verslag 2012-2013
3) OPF-Nederland activity report 2013

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page updated: 28 Aug 2014

What can I do?

.2Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands of souls around you will be saved.” — St. Seraphim of Sarov

Become part of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

By joining the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, you become part of a community of fellow Orthodox living in many countries who are trying to apply the principles of Christian faith to situations of conflict.

Both members and supporters receive the Fellowship’s quarterly journal, In Communion.

Peacemaking in your home and parish

Pray for peace

“In peace let us pray to the Lord.” So we are reminded at every Liturgy. In your daily prayers especially remember to pray for your enemies or those whom you have trouble getting along with. Pray for the leaders of nations at war or moving toward war. Pray for those who refuse to take part in war, whose opposition to killing may result in punishment or social condemnation. Pray for those who shape public perception and opinion. Pray that God will help you become a channel of His mercy.

Suggest to your pastor inclusion in the Liturgy of special prayers for peace such as the following:

“We thank you, O Master, Lover of Mankind, King of the ages and Bestower of good things, Who destroyed the dividing wall of enmity, and granted peace to the human race, and Who now has granted peace to Your servants. Instill in them the fear of You and confirm in them love one for the other. Extinguish every dispute and banish all temptation to disagreement. For You are our peace and to You we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(Prayer for the pacification of animosity, from The Book of Needs, published by St.Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania)

See also a longer prayer for personal daily use.

Fast

Christ told his disciples that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). Let us use not only the power of prayer but of fasting to confront the powers and principalities which promote violence and division in our world.

Help the victims of war

In every war zone there are many war victims desperately in need of help: people who have fled war zones or been driven out, many who have been robbed, raped, or seen family members murdered, plus large numbers of people wounded. Arrange for special collections in your parish to benefit the efforts of International Orthodox Christian Charities or other organizations working to help war victims.

Helping women in crisis pregnancies and working for pro-life alternatives

Sometimes the smallest sign of support, encouragement and caring can save the life of an unborn child, and save the child’s mother from great sorrow later in life when she realizes what she did. Support a crisis pregnancy center in your area by money, donations of items mothers and new babies need, or volunteering. Consider participation in a prayerful, quiet presence outside an abortion clinic. You need say nothing out loud. Pray for the women going in and for those trapped in the abortion industry doctors, nurses and other staff. Become involved in a children’s home or orphanage helping meet the needs of children who are born but have been abandoned or orphaned. Consider being a foster parent. Enjoy and bless every child you meet!

Participate in projects of helping those in need

“What you did for the least person, you did for me,” we are told by Christ. We are called to live merciful lives and to take part in merciful activities, helping the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the neglected, and those in prison. Are there projects of service which you can take part in or help to start?

Practice Hospitality

With others in your parish, reach out to the homeless and hungry by starting a house of hospitality or food bank or join in helping an existing house of hospitality, food bank or other local effort to relieve suffering.

Start a study group

You can start a parish group to read together from the Gospel, liturgical texts, the lives of the saints or Orthodox theologians and historians, discussing the implications of what we are reading in our own time and place and how we can respond. OPF can provide a reading list and offer advice.

Keep informed

Many areas of conflict are hardly noticed. Local newspapers are often one-sided in their reporting and may be channels of propaganda. The Internet can give you the chance to sift through different points of view.

Talk to people

Talking starts with listening. What are friends, neighbors and co-workers saying? What can you say that builds on their concerns? Think of articles — perhaps from this web site — that you can copy and share with them.

Write letters

Perhaps once a week you could find time to contact the press, your representatives, your president or prime minister, or other officials who play a role in the war. A one-page letter is more likely to be read than two.

Broaden and deepen news coverage

An ancient Greek proverb reminds us, “In war, truth in the first casualty.” Try to influence the content of news about the war, abortion, capital punishment and actions which damage the world around us. Write and phone editors of newspapers and directors of television news programs. Bring to their attention information not being covered — you will find some of it on this web site. Provide suggestions for stories. Criticize one-sided reporting, trying to do so in a spirit which will open doors rather than lock them.

Join in public protest

If carried out in the right spirit, prayerfully and without self-righteousness, public demonstrations can also help, but take part only if you agree with both the message and the spirit of the action. For example, one form of action that emerged during the NATO bombing of Serbia were hour-long evening prayer vigils on bridges in which those taking part hold candles or stand in a circle around a candle.

OPF Resources

Subscribe to In Communion

You don’t have to be a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to receive its publication. We do ask that you make a donation at least once a year. Drop us a note with your postal address and a sample copy of In Communion will be on its way to you.

Make material available for others in the church

Order a supply of the OPF magazine, In Communion, or other OPF publications that can be sold in the parish or be available in the parish library.

Use OPF posters

One way of helping people think about the place of peacemaking in Christian life is to think about the sayings and stories of saints and other devout people who in various ways have set an example. The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has a set of mini-posters, each with a saying or story from saints and heroes of Orthodoxy.

Help us carry on our work

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship exists thanks to the spiritual and financial support of its members and supporters.

Join the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Just send an e-mail letter saying you wish to become a member to: incommunion@gmail.com and follow this up by sending a membership donation by post to:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Kanisstraat 5
1811 GJ Alkmaar
The Netherlands

in the USA tax deductible donations can be sent to:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship – North America
PO Box 6009
Raleigh, NC 27628-6009
USA

Or donate via this website — use the button in the right-hand margin.