Category Archives: Peacemaking

Advice on Peacemaking from the Saints

A selection of challenging quotations for meditation assembled by Alexander Patico, secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America

First Century

For he is our peace, who has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. … He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. … Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather set aside wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, declares the Lord. Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink.

St. Paul

Let us praise with reverent hymns of peace the Divine Peace. … God is the fount of all peace, who joins all things together in an unity without confusion. … There is no need to tell how the loving-kindness of Christ comes bathed in peace. Therefore we must learn to cease from strife, whether against ourselves or against one another, or against the angels, and instead to labor together even with the angels for the accomplishment of God’s Will, in accordance with the providential purpose of Jesus who works all things in all and makes peace, unutterable and foreordained from eternity, and reconciles us to Himself, and, in Himself, to the Father. Concerning these supernatural gifts enough has been said with confirmation drawn from the holy testimony of the scriptures.

Dionysius the Areopagite

Second Century

They [the Christians] love all men, and they are persecuted by all. … They are put to death, and yet they are endowed with life. … They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonored, and yet they are glorified in their dishonor. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good, they are punished as evil-doers; being punished, they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life.

Mathetes

What, then, are these teachings in which we are reared? “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust. … “Who [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them … and to pray for those who plot against them? … We cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly. … We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him. So we have given up [gladiatorial] spectacles. … What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God?

Athenagoras of Athens

“For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, only twelve in number, who, by the power of God, proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God. We who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.

St. Justin Martyr

Third Century

The question is now whether a member of the faithful can become a soldier and whether a soldier can be admitted to the Faith … how will a Christian do so? … The Lord, by taking away Peter’s sword, disarmed every soldier thereafter. … We [the Christians] started yesterday and already we have filled the world and everything that belongs to you the cities, apartment houses, fortresses, towns, market places, the camps themselves, your tribes, town councils, the imperial palace, the Senate, the Forum. The only thing we have left to you are the temples. We can count your armies; there is a greater number of Christians in a single province! What kind of war would we, who willingly submit to the sword, not be ready or eager for … if it were not for the fact that according to our doctrine it is more permissible to be killed than to kill.

Tertullian

Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker. … I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ.

St. Basil the Great

It is well known that Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus, who brought the mass of mankind under a single sovereignty. The existence of many kingdoms would have hindered the spread of Jesus’ teachings over the whole world because everywhere men would have been forced to serve in the army and go to war on behalf of their country How could this peaceful teaching, which prohibits a man from avenging himself even against his enemies, have gained sway if the whole world situation at the time of Jesus had not been made more peaceful,

Origen

God, in prohibiting killing, discountenances not only brigandage, which is contrary to human law, but also that which men regard as legal. Thus participation in war will not be legitimate to a just man; his “military service” is justice itself. … What are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation? that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence. … How can a man be just who injures, hates, despoils and puts to death? Yet they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things.

Lactantius [tutor of Crispus, the son of St. Constantine the Great]

The loud trumpet, when sounded, collects the soldiers, and proclaims war. And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? … He has gathered the bloodless host of peace. … The trumpet of Christ is His Gospel. He hath blown it, and we have heard. “Let us array ourselves in the armor of peace, putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and taking the shield of faith, and binding our brows with the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” So the apostle in the spirit of peace commands. These are our invulnerable weapons: armed with these, let us face the evil one. … 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. … The Church is an army that sheds no blood.

Clement of Alexandria

The world is soaked with mutual blood. When individuals commit homicide, it is a crime; it is called a virtue when it is done in the name of the state. Impunity is acquired for crimes not by reason of innocence but by the magnitude of the cruelty. … Man is killed for the pleasure of man, and to be able to kill is a skill, is an employment, is an art. Crime is not only committed but is taught. What can be called more inhuman, what more repulsive? It is a training that one may be able to kill, and that he kills is a glory … they adorn themselves for a voluntary death, wretched they even glory in their wicked deeds.

St. Cyprian of Carthage

Fourth Century

I am a soldier of Christ. To fight is not permissible for me.

St. Martin of Tours

Both the Emperor’s commands and yours [person in authority] must be obeyed if they are not contrary to the God of heaven. If they are, they must not only not be obeyed; they must be resisted.

St. Euphemia

It is good to live in peace, for the wise person practices perpetual prayer. … However, you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accident, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts … attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees, and all members … dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray. But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away.

Amma Theodora

If force is used, I cannot meet it. I shall be able to grieve, to weep, to groan; against weapons, soldiers, Goths, my tears are my weapons, for these are a priest’s defense. … I ought not, I cannot resist in any other way, for to flee and forsake the Church is not my way, lest any one should suppose I did so from fear of some heavier punishment. You yourselves know that I am wont to show respect to our emperors, but not to yield to them, to offer myself freely to punishment, and not to fear what is prepared for me. … Some ask whether, in case of a shipwreck, a wise man ought to take a plank away from an ignorant sailor. Although it seems better for the common good that a wise man rather than a fool should escape from shipwreck, yet I do not think that a Christian, a just and a wise man, ought to save his own life by the death of another; just as when he meets with an armed robber he cannot return his blows, lest in defending his life he should stain his love toward his neighbor. The verdict on this is plain and clear in the books of the Gospel. ‘Put away your sword, for every one that takes up the sword shall perish by the sword.’ What robber is more hateful than the persecutor who came to kill Christ? But Christ would not be defended from the wounds of the persecutor, for He willed to heal all by His wounds.

St. Ambrose of Milan

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

Arnobius

Praying against one’s personal enemies is a transgression of law. … How great punishment must they deserve, who, far from themselves forgiving, do even entreat God for vengeance on their enemies, and as it were diametrically transgress this law; and this while He is doing and contriving all, to hinder our being at variance one with another? For since love is the root of all that is good, He, removing from all sides whatever mars it, brings us together, and cements us to each other. … To conquer enemies does not render kings so illustrious, as to conquer wrath and anger. For, in the former case, the success is due to arms and soldiers; but here the trophy is simply your own, and you have no one to divide the glory of your moral wisdom. You have overcome barbarian war, overcome also Imperial wrath! … Just as maniacs, who never enjoy tranquility, so also he who is resentful and retains an enemy will never have the enjoyment of any peace.

St. John Chrysostom

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Who are these children? Those who show forth in their own life the characteristic of the Divine energy. … This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart. … For as light follows the departure of darkness, thus also these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit: by charity, joy, peace, benignity, magnanimity, all the good things enumerated by the Apostle. How then should the dispenser of the Divine gifts not be blessed, since he imitates the gifts of God and models his own good deeds on the Divine generosity? … But perhaps the beatitude does not only regard the good of others. I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

Fifth Century

I have heard that there were two old men who lived together for many years, never quarreling, and that one said to the other, “Let us also pick a quarrel with each other, even as others do.” His companion answered, “I don’t know how to start a quarrel.” The other man answered and said to him, “Look, I will place a brick between us and will say, ‘This is mine,’ and then you say, ‘It is not yours, but mine’; and from this quarreling will begin. They placed a brick between them and one of them said, “This is mine,” and his companion answered and said after him, “This is not so, for it is mine.” Straightaway the other replied and said to him, “If this be so, and the brick is yours, take it and go.” Thus they were unable to quarrel.

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Sixth Century

Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sin, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer. You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you pray for the person who has offended you, not when you exchange presents with him, not when you invite him to your table, but only when, on hearing that he has fallen into bodily or spiritual misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself.

St. John Climacus

Seventh Century

“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. St. Maximus the Confessor

Ninth Century

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

St. Theodore Studite

Eleventh Century

Above all things: do not forget the poor, but support them to the extent of your means. Give to the orphan, protect the widow, and permit the mighty to destroy no man. Take not the life of the just or the unjust, nor permit him to be killed. Destroy no Christian soul, even though he be guilty of murder.

St. Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles

Fifteenth Century

Our head, Christ our God … does not tolerate that the bond of love be taken from us…

St. Mark of Ephesus

Eighteenth Century

If the matter is solved with war, you will suffer much destruction. … If they find silver in the street, they will not bend down to take it. But for an ear of wheat, they will kill each other trying to take it first. … In the city [Constantinople], so much blood will be spilled that a three-year-old calf will swim in it. … After the war, a man will have to run half an hour to find another human being to join him in fellowship.

St. Cosmas the Aetolian

Nineteenth Century

God is fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. And so, if we feel in our hearts coldness, which is from the devil … then let us call upon the Lord and He will come and warm our hearts with perfect love not only for Him but for our neighbor as well. … You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. … Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Twentieth Century

It is easier for a feeble straw to resist a mighty fire than for the nature of sin to resist the power of love. We must cultivate this love in our souls, that we may take our place with all the saints, for they were all-pleasing unto God through their love for their neighbor.

St. Elizabeth, the New Martyr

The bodies of fellow human beings must be treated with greater care than our own. Christian love teaches us to give our brethren not only spiritual gifts, but material gifts as well. Even our last shirt, our last piece of bread must be given to them. … The way to God lies through love of other people and there is no other way. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked if I was successful in my ascetic exercises or how many prostrations I made in the course of my prayers. I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners: that is all I shall be asked. … Christ’s love does not know how to measure and divide, does not know how to spare itself. Our love should not be any different.

St. Maria of Paris

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

St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow

Twenty-First Century

If we live as people of God, there will be room for all nations in the Balkans and in the world. If we liken ourselves to Cain who killed his brother Abel, then the entire earth will be too small even for two people. The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to be always children of God and love one another. We should remember the words of St. Paul: “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.”

Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church

Any Georgian who kills another person shames his nation.

Patriarch Ilya of Georgia

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…

Patriarch Aleksy of Russia

Winter 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 52

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Boundaries and Bridges

by Mother Raphaela

Most of us have heard the proverb “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Concern for boundaries is ancient and not confined to human beings. Animals, too, set up territories for themselves with boundaries they may even defend to the death. The sense of “boundaries that cannot be passed” is a Biblical theme as well. Even land, sea and air were separated by God with boundaries when He created the world from nothing. (cf. Genesis 1; Psalm 104).

Creation is an ordered affair. The universe has laws which form the basis for the whole of modern science. It is not surprising to discover that the first scientists were deeply religious people who believed in such laws and boundaries, nor that some of the best contemporary scientists continue to be so, as well.

Partly, perhaps, to reinforce this sense of boundaries, the Old Testament set up many rules against mingling: Plant only one crop in a field; do not weave a mixture of linen and wool; do not remove a neighbor’s landmark… (cf. Lev. 19:19; Deut. 19:14, Hosea 5:10). Indeed, we human beings are set in our own environment, apart from other creatures, living as individuals, families, communities, ethnic groups and nations. This is spelled out in many ways in most religions.

All of these boundaries create a livable environment for our existence. The life of a human being alone, without protection, would be snuffed out quickly.

Perhaps greatest of all is the boundary God placed between Himself and His creation. Since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden for their rebellion, we are reminded by Genesis that “man cannot look upon the face of God and live.”

The story of the Tower of Babel is a tale of men taking the raw materials of creation to build a proud assault against this boundary.

Today we find ourselves living once more in such a Babel-like cultural building, where God Himself is challenged and questioned, along with any boundaries of God’s making. If a technology exists, there are those who feel they should use it, no matter what may be destroyed in the process. We see terrorism, mass killing, genocide and global warming as the first signs that this modern tower of Babel will fall as surely as have all of its predecessors.

Human history is made up largely of following the growth, development, stunting and, at times, brutal destruction of boundaries – boundaries that begin with the first self-awareness of an emerging nation; a new group; an infant; the realization that one is no longer simply an extension of one’s parent.

On the level of churches, nations, communities or any human group, adults who fail to develop a healthy sense of boundaries create anew all of the sins catalogued in the Old and New Testaments. Those in authority may be tempted to see the people under them, even their own children, simply as extensions of themselves, existing to serve them as their own hands and feet serve them, if perhaps with less respect and care than they treat their own hands and feet.

Those not in authority, especially in a democracy, may have a similar temptation, seeing those elected to positions of responsibility as extensions of themselves, with the expectation that they will please them and carry out their will in every way. God Himself would not be capable of pleasing everyone.

Yet we hear Christ calling on those in authority, “the greatest,” to be the servants of all (Mat. 20:26; 23:11).

In fact it is appropriate for everyone at times to follow the instructions of others, to allow himself or herself to be trained.

None of us however – master, comrade, servant or disciple – will be able to accomplish our best if we cannot take responsibility for our own actions, perceptions and strengths. Wise masters gave even slaves the authority and tools to carry out work and obligations.

There is a saying that peoples, communities and groups get the leaders they deserve. I nod my head when I hear that said. Both leaders and people can enable each other in irresponsibility, corruption and abuse; can hobble each other into crippling inactivity, or, when we are at our best, inspire each other to greatness.

On a more intimate level, many of us have experienced families without proper boundaries between members. All sorts of abuse – physical, verbal and emotional – may go on when each person is seen as part of the undifferentiated family persona. The only boundary that may not be broken is that which shields this familial persona from the world. In public, each family member is expected to behave as if everything is perfect. Members of such families often have an outstanding presence in public. They do all they can to keep up the image of being part of a perfect family. On the outside, they seem to be charming, warm and compassionate, loving and considerate to all.

While it is good they have this side, this behavior creates great incredible pressure on those caught within. If a person tries to break free of the family secret, “blow the whistle” on what is sometimes even criminal behavior, the family will quickly retaliate, accusing them of lying. Outsiders may well reinforce this as well, preferring to see only a model family, with each member a “nice person.”

It is a well-known phenomenon amongst “twelve step” groups that often the spouse and children of an addict may seem crazier in public than the addict himself. The addict is able to switch behavior on and off instantaneously, often leaving other family members to appear to an outsider as very flawed, while the actual addict is regarded as a lovely, sensitive person who has been “driven to drink” or to some other dysfunctional behavior by a spouse or other family member.

One who marries into such a family is in for a nasty shock. Until he or she is seen by the others as irrevocably one of the family, the sick, abusive family behavior may never manifest itself.

In 19th-century literature, this is a classic theme, with the sheltered, sweet Victorian bride who had known only sweetness and light, discovering on her marriage night that she has entered a nightmare world with no exit.

Communities and religious groups can also fall into this same type of behavior. We reflect on the Lord’s well-known accusation: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Mat. 23:15).

And the reverse may happen: a relatively healthy, peaceful and happy family or group may be joined by someone who perhaps even unknowingly projects their own abusive standards and behavior onto those he or she is with.

This happens in monasteries as well. Especially people who come from abusive backgrounds may not be aware that they have these “two sides,” for denial may have been the only tool they had as children to survive in such an environment. Such people appear wonderful and charming as visitors and perhaps even for their entire period of probation. When they begin to feel secure in their community position, however, things begin to change. While guests and outsiders will still see the wonderful person, the community will begin to see an irrational display of depression, anger and jealousy, normally accompanied by accusation of others, since such a person has been formed truly to be blind to him or herself.

When I first entered the monastery, I recall being told by a wise old nun that every time I was bothered by observing what seemed to me someone else’s wrong words or behavior I was probably seeing in them what I was unwilling to see in myself, to the extent that they might not even be thinking, saying or doing what I thought I felt, heard and saw: I was projecting what I would be thinking, saying and doing if I were in their position. I have since then learned that this wisdom comes straight from the Desert Fathers.

Until we are able to learn proper boundaries, we build instead the walls of our own prison. When we do not love ourselves enough to accept our own healthy boundaries and limitations, along with our many gifts and talents, we cannot love others properly.

Proper boundaries allow us to see another person with true detachment – and love. Without them, we will tend to swing between two extremes: we may feel totally “at one” with others, when they behave as we feel they should, seeing them as extensions of ourselves; or, when they speak or act in ways that make us feel threatened, we will feel totally alienated, needing to defend ourselves with ever greater physical, emotional or spiritual barriers.

When others try to live with us, they soon realize that they have no clues as to what “set us off” that time. They find themselves in a mine field, never knowing when the next step will cause yet another explosion, while we will be feeling all the while misunderstood, frightened, angry, and unable to face what we may unconsciously fear as hugely destructive forces within ourselves.

This is where blind trust and obedience can be life-saving for us. Some of us literally cannot see where we end and another person begins.

May we be given the grace to pray to begin to see this blindness of ours; to begin to accept at least some of what others tell us of their own vision. We need to find at least one other person whom God has led to health and trust them as blindly as we have previously followed our own destructive path, even when that person’s words may seem to strike painfully at the very roots of our own sense of self and identity.

Such a healing process should not last forever, but it will need to last as long as our blindness exceeds that of our guide.

I believe it is good to seek such a healing process, although we should use every possible means first to be sure that we are truly choosing a doctor and not a fellow patient; a ship’s captain, not just another drunken sailor, as St. John Climacus says of finding a monastic guide in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Step 4:6).

While it is wonderful when we can find such a guide or mentor in our community, parish or church, we should seek out such a person wherever he or she may be found, however distant. That person need not be an authority in every area of our life. We may not need their training in theology, choir directing, bread baking or writing essays. But we do need to accept that in those areas where we are still “babes in our thinking,” as St. Paul says (I Cor 14:20), we must start from the beginning in all humility.

What we are seeking is the ability to reach out in a healthy way to build godly bridges that in eternity will cross over boundaries to unite people, churches, nations in the unity of the Kingdom of God.

Mother Raphaela Wilkinson is abbess of the Community of the Holy Myrrhbearers in Otego, New York. Her books include Living in Christ and Growing in Christ: Shaped in His Image, both from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. She is also a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Her text is a condensed extract from a two-part essay, “Boundaries and Bridges.”

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Walls

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It is an old proverb, which embodies an agrarian respect for one’s fellows and their rights of property. But Frost was not providing guidance to his readers when he included the line in his poem, “Mending Wall.” He began the poem, in fact, by saying, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” And, later, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense. / Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / That wants it down.”

Walls were a malady that Frost may have recognized a bit earlier than other students of our culture. He wrote his poem in the early years of the last century, at a time when walls, trenches and lines of muddy men were being constructed, shifted and obliterated across large parts of Europe. He wrote his poem before people had read Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, Sartre’s play No Exit (“Hell is other people”), and before most people knew of Marx’s theory of alienation. But he described things that most folks could feel, whether or not they put a name to them – our apprehensions about getting close to others; our desire, nonetheless, to be close to other human beings; and the fear that this might not be possible.

The 13th-century Persian mystic poet, Mowlana Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, known in the West as Rumi, told the story of Moses admonishing a simple shepherd who he thought had spoken too familiarly to the unapproachable Almighty. God, in Rumi’s tale, chides Moses, saying, “What really matters is to stay connected …you have come in order to connect.” Readers of Howard’s End, the wonderful novel by E.M. Forster, if they retain anything at all from that book written some seven hundred years after Rumi’s birth, remember two words: “Only connect.” Dr. M. Scott Peck points out, “The word religion comes from the Latin religio, [one meaning of which is] ‘to connect’.”

The theme for this issue of In Communion is “walls.” If religion is about connecting, writing is another way to make connections, to be in communion with others. Our authors have written about walls that keep groups apart and walls that are meant to protect. Physical walls of steel and stone, and walls that exist only in our feelings or attitudes. What is peacemaking, really, but finding ways to build bridges instead of walls?

– Alexander Patico, guest editor

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

A Conversation in Volos about Church and State

by Jim Forest

Fifty Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Christians from Europe and the United States met in Volos, Greece in mid-May for a discussion of “Forgiveness, Peace and Reconciliation.” Our host was Metropolitan Ignatios, the local bishop. The conference was organized by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

The most important and difficult issue speakers addressed was the relationship of church and state.

Because of space limitations, I will concentrate here on what the Orthodox speakers had to say.

Among those challenging an uncritical relationship between state and church was Metropolitan Neofytos of Morfou, Cyprus, an island divided between Greeks and Turks for more than three decades. He spoke of the need for self-criticism within the Church as a way of initiating “a process of healing.” This is a question of discovering the truth, however painful, “because only the truth is liberating.”

He described the negative impact of national ideas being transferred from Greece to Cyprus in the sixties. “Belonging to the Greek nation was regarded as equal to or even above being Orthodox. The Church was seen as acting for the splendor of the nation. Faith was regarded not as the path to Christ the Savior but the realization of national ideals. Basic Christian teaching was marginalized. I don’t mean to suggest that the Church should be indifferent to national issues. It has a part to play. We are taught to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But in Cyprus we lost the golden balance point. We came to see ourselves primarily as a political organism, with our politicians turning to the Church with the expectation of hearing the correct political words and phrases. There was an absence of forgiveness, an erosion of confession. We made the grave mistake of not praying for the enemy. Indeed there are Orthodox Christians who are scandalized even to be asked to forgive. We lost our way. Christian identity should never to used to divide.”

Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, director of Volos Academy for Theological Studies, argued that wars, even when occurring in the name of religion, “are nothing but a result of the exaltation of collective egoisms. They only witness to the absence of real repentance, the denial of the Cross. Behind any conflict, we can easily discern an idolization of religion, tribe and nation, an odd paganism of earth, soil, homeland or of the ‘God-bearing’ people, of a claim of exclusivity, which is a real temptation.”

Dr. Vletsis Athanasios spoke of the problem “of unrepented sins committed collectively by Orthodox people, or even the failure to identify sins we have committed. The illumination of memory is needed. Otherwise we are doomed to persist in committing past sins.”

In a lecture on the Orthodox view of human rights, Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis of Holy Cross Greek School of Theology in Boston, pointed out that, while “Orthodox Christianity does not have a complete system of understanding the human person … It is wrong to assume that the ethos of Orthodoxy does not permit the development of human rights sensitivities and advocacy. Quite the contrary, the Orthodox view of human dignity supports the idea of human rights. The possibility for a greater sensitivity and advocacy of human rights issues by the Orthodox churches is highly probable since under the pressure of historic challenges people often find new meaning in traditional ideas.”

Dr. Athanasios Papathanasiou, editor of the quarterly journal Synaxis, published in Athens, spoke about war in the Orthodox tradition. “It is interesting to see how the tension between the historic necessity and the gospel criteria is depicted in the canons of the Orthodox Church,” he said. “I believe that the Church does not represent a compact body with a common view and unanimity throughout history. It is always formed by several trends, with various sensibilities and priorities; trends which are often in agreement, divergence or even in conflict.” Thus one finds, even among the Church Fathers, a range of views about war.

Dr. Petros Vassiliadis, professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, agreed that the religious factors have been a driving force in nearly every war. “All the shortcomings of Christianity,” he said, “are rooted in bad Christology. I have problems whenever we absolutize our own mission.”

Fr. Zivko Panev, professor at the St. Serge Institute in Paris, discussed the influence of the state on church life in Serbia following the restoration of the Serbian patriarchate, with the consequence that “national identity merged with church identify.” In fact, many Serbs who would identify themselves as Orthodox don’t believe what the Church teaches. Some are even convinced atheists. The problem in Serbia is made more complex because of an “idealization of religion that followed the collapse of communist ideology, with the Church perceived as being the principal guardian of national identity.”

Dr. Alexei Bodrov, director of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute in Moscow, spoke of various problems in Russia. These include the “traditional lack of tolerance – in principle we have tolerance, in practice we do not. There is still widespread anti-Semitism. Even the concept of human rights is regarded as highly suspect, having a much lower priority than state or national interest. There is in Russia today a highly politicized Orthodoxy that has little in common with Christian Orthodoxy. One notes the many ties between church and the military, church and police, church and other state bodies. This is partly due to Orthodoxy being made to take the place of Marxist ideology following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet though a high percentage of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox, in fact less than four percent occasionally take part in church services.”

Fr. Vassilios Thermes, an Orthodox priest and psychiatrist living in Athens, said “there is no greater sin than war with its violence, hatred, cruelty, murder and fanaticism. Any kind of violence and hostility is an assault on the Holy Spirit. Who are the peacemakers that Christ calls on his followers to become? They are the ones that help us to overcome hatred. Each peacemaker is a carrier of the Holy Trinity. He is a child of God because he imitates God. You cannot convey to others what you don’t have.”

My own lecture emphasized the importance of the Church recovering the memory of its own resistance to violence in the early centuries of Christianity. “We Orthodox certainly have remembered how the early Church celebrated the liturgy. To the astonishment of other Christians, we are happy to stand in the church for very extended periods. But sadly we have forgotten a great deal of the social teaching and practice of the early Church and have become deaf to much that the saints had to say.”

* * *

from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

* * *

Peacemaking in the Parish: Selected Articles

The Liturgy begins with the exclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” All too often the Christ-revealing peace of the Kingdom of God seems far from parish life. Factions thrive. Group is set against group. We kiss the icons, but there are some in the parish whom we prefer not to greet and whose departure might cause us to quietly rejoice. “What a fine parish this would be if it weren’t for certain people.”Love and forgiveness, even respect, all too often seem to elude us.

We hope this collection of essays from past issues of In Communion will prove helpful in overcoming barriers within our parishes that lock us out of the Kingdom of God.

Jim Forest

editor

(photo credit: Aaron Haney)

CONTENT

Promoting Harmony in the Choir

Peacemaking in the Parish

by James Chater

On the first Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we hear in the Gospel reading how Jesus recruited his disciples. Addressing Himself to Nathaniel, Jesus says: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you!” Jesus’ foreknowledge of Nathaniel’s approach moves the latter to his joyful affirmation of Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus replies: “You will see greater things than these… hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51).

The Sunday of Orthodoxy also commemorates the triumph over iconoclasm and the restoration of the veneration of icons. Icons, like the ladder to which Jesus compares Himself in his exchange with Nathaniel, provide a bridge linking heaven and earth. The liturgical texts and their musical clothing also constitute a ladder, a bridge between heaven and earth, along which an exchange is carried out between God and his creatures. Our services re-enact and relive God’s Word and his loving actions towards us, and our prayers and celebration reflect these back in repentance and thanksgiving. God descends to us, so that we can ascend to Him.

But each ladder has a dark side. As the icons of St. John Climacus remind us, wherever there is a ladder, there is the danger of being dragged from it by demons. And the ladder that music provides can be especially slippery. It is a well-known fact that music is often a bone of contention in parishes. There is the saying: “The devil makes his entry into the church through the choir.”

In many parishes, musical issues can be a source of heated argument because of passionately held opposing views and tastes, and sensitive, easily bruised egos. Music is capable of projecting great spiritual power, and in the New Testament we often read how the presence of great spiritual power attracts evil. One only has to think of Jesus’ encounters with those possessed by demons, or the slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination who harassed St. Paul (Acts 16:16-18). Problems with music within a parish are often related to wider problems, so let us now stand back and try to understand how these problems can affect music.

Each parish has its growing pains. Parishes start out small: typically the founding members consist of the priest and his family plus several other families. In such a situation, the priest not only directs things himself but also often carries out several of the tasks himself. Delegation is not a complicated issue, as there are few people to delegate to, and the number of possible human interactions is limited. The picture changes when the parish attracts new members – converts from the host country and immigrants choir from abroad. Ideally the new members integrate, find their place in the church and participate in all the tasks that have to be carried out. This requires more delegation and more communication, as the number of possible human interactions increases. I know one former “family” parish that is now flourishing as a large parish because of the high degree of lay participation that was initiated when the clergy realized that they could not and should not do everything themselves. However, it can happen that the leaders of the church do not adapt fast enough to the new situation. The leaders and the small group of old-timers remain closely bound to each other and the more recent arrivals form another group. Loyalties and allegiances develop independently of the priest and the old-timers. The danger arises of opposing factions forming, one supporting the parish leadership and the other opposing it, or at least feeling alienated from it.

An attendant danger is that newcomers will feel that their talents are under-used. They may feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are as well qualified to read the Epistle, for example, as the person who has been doing it for the last ten years. The gift of discerning other people’s gifts is as rare as it is crucial for a well-functioning parish. However, this does not always happen: one of the greatest forms of waste in our parishes (and indeed in our society) is the failure to assign tasks to the people best fitted to perform them.

This is an issue which needs to be addressed, especially by the clergy. There is a clear pastoral necessity not only for discerning, encouraging and developing the gifts of newcomers but in explaining to the old-timers how their role should be changing as the parish grows.

In practical terms, this may mean getting that person who has been reading the Epistle for the last ten years to select and train two or three other people for this task. Conversely, it is also the responsibility of newcomers to offer their gifts in the service of the Church.

In my experience (restricted to parishes in England, France and the Netherlands), I note we often do a poor job in attracting and developing musical talent in our churches. This is due to a number of factors, including issues of church governance, lack of training, discouragement and a culture of excessive conservatism. Let me give some examples. A new person wants to join the choir, but no one is available, capable or willing to train that person; after floundering about with neumes and wrestling with the eight tones for a few weeks, that person drifts away. Or an aspiring newcomer to the choir is simply terrified by the director, a formidable person who speaks fluent Russian, sings in perfect Slavonic and is severely critical of anyone who doesn’t come up to his/her level. That person leaves the choir and perhaps even the parish. Or a musically trained person wishes to contribute more to the music, but is considered “too intelligent.”

It can happen that a good musician is rebuffed because he or she is seen as a threat to those in charge, and so the very people needed to raise standards are put off and may be driven to find musical fulfilment outside the church. You then have a vicious circle of deteriorating standards, limited repertoire, tolerance of poor singing driving good musicians away, thereby intensifying the problem still more. How do you turn that round into a virtuous circle? How as a choir director do you send out a message that you are serious about a varied repertoire, high standards and a high level of alertness and commitment on the part of the singers, thereby attracting better singers, raising standards further, and attracting even better singers?

I do not claim to have the answer to all these questions, but a crucial part of the answer lies with the choir director, at least in the Russian tradition, with which I am most familiar. This extremely demanding role requires a variety of gifts. The most important is that he or she should have a good relationship with the priest. (Perhaps for this reason, this role is often filled by the wife of the priest.) A good priest will not attempt to micro-manage the singing, and will leave the director to run the choir as he or she thinks fit, restricting himself to broad guidelines. No one should be expected to assume the role of choir director unless they have a free hand in the choice of repertoire and of singers and the detailed direction of the choir. The golden rule here is: never accept responsibility without authority.

In addition, there are at least four gifts a choir director should possess. First, this person should have a strong faith and be an integral member of the parish. Secondly, he or she should know the services. Third, musical literacy is required, including at least good sight-singing and score-reading. Fourth, such a person must be able to get on with people, combining tact with firm leadership.

Strong faith, knowledge of the services, musical literacy and interpersonal skills – how many of us, I wonder, know any choir directors who possess all these qualities? Personally, I know very few. For this reason I think choirs should, where possible, be directed by some form of joint leadership which would combine the abilities of several musicians, making available a number of complementary skills. To paraphrase St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (12:44ff):

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. … for to one is given the ability to memorize the order of service, to another the gift of a beautiful voice, to another the gift of composing and arranging, to another the gift of rehearsing and correcting intonation problems…

In regions where there is a shortage of musical talent, we should not always expect a choir director to possess all these gifts. A discerning choir director will recognize his or her limitations and delegate.

Delegation implies sharing, and the concept of shared leadership is well established in the choir of one parish I know, with some success. In this parish a group of about two or three people take it in turns to direct the choir during services, under the overall supervision of one choir director. This has at least three advantages: it encourages greater participation, it maximizes the use of available talent, and it means that potential future choir directors are being trained continuously.

One common source of tension in choirs and parishes is persistent bad singing on the part of one singer. The difficulty here is that it may concern someone with whom most people in the parish are on very familiar terms. Usually the problem is poor intonation, but it can sometimes be a bad habit such as a glissando between every note.

Often the director lacks the willingness or the ability to help the singer overcome bad habits, which is then talked about behind the singer’s back. Thus a lie is introduced into the parish music, one that grows larger over time. Some may say: our prayers are addressed to God, so if it sounds disagreeable to the human ear, it doesn’t matter. I think this view is profoundly mistaken, and in support of this I would invoke the two-way ladder image with which I began. It is not only that we are addressing God, but also that God is speaking to us.

Singing standards do matter; however, this is an obvious case where both firmness and tact are required from the choir leader. Only after persistent efforts to solve the problem have failed, and only after an attempt has been made to make the singer realize and correct the problems he or she is causing, should that person be asked to leave the choir.

In my paraphrase of St. Paul I mentioned one gift that is rarely talked about in the countries where I have served as a church musician: composing. In recent years the services have become available in English, French, Dutch and other West European languages. However, new music based on native-language translations of liturgical texts is hardly ever to be heard in the parishes of western Europe.

When the issue is raised it is sometimes pointed out that there is as yet no universally recognized translation which could serve as the text for these new settings. However, I do not think this is as great an obstacle as some people think. There are pastoral factors to be considered when introducing new or unfamiliar music. The purpose of music is to help the faithful to pray; indeed, church is prayer. But the choir will not be able to support the prayer, or pray themselves, if they are confused or stressed. Any changes in repertoire should therefore be introduced gradually.

Congregational singing is one point to consider. Most congregations have members, particularly older members, who know the services almost by heart, and who are likely to be disturbed if a melody they do not know is introduced. Part of the problem here is that in our services there is no hard and fast distinction between parts of the service reserved for the choir and moments where the congregation is expected to sing.

Nevertheless, in places like the Trisagion or the Our Father, where the congregation often sings, it seems a good idea to consult the congregation when introducing new settings. This can be done by announcing proposed changes and arranging meetings where the congregation (led by the choir) can be introduced to the new music. (Let me note that a varied repertoire is contrary to some church music traditions, which have prescribed melodies for almost every circumstance. In practice, however, small parishes use only a minuscule portion of the available music, so the repertoire could be expanded a great deal by introducing a greater proportion of the traditional music.)

To sum up: discernment of gifts, sharing, delegation and consultation emerge as some of the factors that play a role in dispelling tension both in the parish and on the kliros. Indeed, being called to serve as a musician in the church means, ipso facto, being called to collaborate, to share.

James Chater studied music at the University of Oxford, where he obtained his BA (1973) and D.Phil. (1980). He has sung in the choirs of Orthodox churches in Amsterdam and Deventer (the Netherlands) and London. He has written several articles about the history of music, and has composed and arranged music for liturgical use in the Orthodox Church. Some of his work has been performed in Finland and Russia.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

Parish Peacemaking in a Consumer Society

by Fr. Ted Bobosh

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At least in America, the parish is part of a larger matrix of the consumer attitude. When someone is really unhappy with the parish, he often simply moves on to “greener pastures.” What is revealed in this is the way in which a parish as community is very tenuous.

Parishioners often have the same relationship to the church building that birds have to a bird feeder. Birds of all kinds flock to the feeder, but they stay only long enough to be fed. They don’t live at the feeder. They nest elsewhere. They come to the feeder to be nourished but then get on with their lives and their day. It is also true of many parishes that the coffee hour is a more attractive than the liturgy itself. People flock to the coffee hour and enjoy the fellowship of close friends, then disperse to their homes and families. Of course there are some who want more community, or more in-depth

relationships, but this is hard to establish in commuter parishes, especially in a culture which values independence and individualism.

In some ways parish communities never get past the state of what Dr. Scott Peck referred to as “pseudo-community.” In pseudo-community, there is not a real commitment of people to each other. Divisive issues are avoided, swept under the rug, ignored, because the members fear a real discussion of the issues will only lead to a division within the community, or worse, a dissolution of community. So some uneasy state of passivity (rather than “pacifity,” if I might coin a word) is attained. People are reluctant to rock the boat. In such a state it is hard to make real decisions as real discussion is discouraged.

A stalemate is attained which somehow holds all powers in check and helps prevent threatening issues or people from coming to the foreground. In this state, “peacemaking” largely means accepting the status quo. Sometimes the departure of someone from the parish is the most obvious

route to peace. One contentious person in the community can be remarkably destructive. He or she can be an unfruitful branch on the vine. Sometimes the way to peace is to allow (even encourage) that person to leave. Jesus says in John’s Gospel that his Father prunes away unfruitful branches.

It may even be that the contentious person has raised an essential issue and the community may have to deal with that issue once the difficult person is gone. But it is possible that keeping that person will actually block resolution.

I think this is the most common way parishes in the West come to peace – they allow the difficult persons to leave.

Sometimes communities resolve tensions and disagreements by acknowledging that there is a bigger vision which is guiding each of them. This might happen during a church building project. Each parishioner may have an idea as to what the new building should be, but if everyone agrees on the goal, it is possible that each person can come to the conclusion that the project is

more important than their own individual ideas. Sometimes having a vision, or proper goals, can lessen problems or help the community resolve differences between members. In some ways this does bring about some self-sacrificial love, as people lay aside their personal wants in favor of what is good for the community as a whole.

Parish communities are not quite the same as monastic communities. In a monastic community, at least ideally, the members of the community share a space and their lives 100 percent of the time. Monastics cannot get away with putting on a “church face” when they show up for services. Others in the community know the individual, warts and all. They are therefore forced to deal with each others foibles, faults, debts and sins. (I didn’t say deal successfully; sometimes dealing may be denial, pretend, closing one’s eyes, looking askance, etc). They not only go to church together, but they work, eat and live together. But what can happen in such a community is that the members have to deal honestly with who the others are. They are forced to deal with others and, within themselves, with their attitudes towards these others, as the others are not going to go away at the end of liturgy.

In many parishes, people put on a “church face,” acting in a particular way with the other people at church, then resume being their usual selves when leaving the church. Sins, problems, worries, addictions, illnesses, concerns, attitudes, etc, are left outside, and thus are left untouched by the Body of Christ. They come in unwhole and leave unhealed. Parish life often encourages this duality. We come to the church to be “holy” rather than whole, leaving our unholy selves outside.

Many parishioners are not sure that they are ready or willing to deal with all that others might be bringing to church, because they each have so many burdens of their own which they are already carrying. They want someone to deal with their problems rather than have to take on the problems of others.

Often, the parish as community is not mature enough to learn about the sins and problems of everyone else. Thus parishioners, rather than coming to the parish, go to various help groups to reveal their problems and seek healing. Parishioners like to imagine that those they meet in the parish are “healthy” and “normal” folk with whom they can share interests and trust that their kids

will be okay, not people with serious sins and faults and addictions – not sinners among who “I” am the first! The parish is not viewed as a hospital for sinners and the sick, but rather a health spa. We carefully avoid the things that could lead to conflict and require reconciliation. What passes for peace

in the parish, in that case, is simply avoidance.

Fr. Ted Bobosh has been a priest for 26 years in the Orthodox Church in America.

He has been a priest at St. Paul Church, Dayton, Ohio, for 20 years. He is also an

adjunct professor at the University of Dayton.

IN COMMUNION / FALL 2006

Healing and Peacemaking

We are called by Christ to be peacemakers. Those who make peace are witnesses to the Kingdom of God and are regarded by Christ as God’s own children. We see in Christ’s life a constant witness to what peacemaking involves and, paradoxically, the dangers to which one is exposed by refusing to be anyone’s enemy. Another word for peacemaking is healing. What peacemakers attempt to do in a sicksociety is similar to what physicians attempt to do in caring for the sick. Sickness is a kind of war within the body just as division, injustice, crime, violence, conflict and war are social illnesses. The peacemaker is someone working to heal damaged or broken relationships, whether in the home, the community, the work place, between religious groups in conflict, and between nations. In this issue of In Communion we are looking at aspects of illness, healing and peacemaking.

The engraving on the right, in recalling Christ’s healing of the man born blind, is also a reminder of a more widespread blindness: our inability to see the image of God in the those around us. May Christ heal our eyes. St. Ambrose of Milan, a bishop of the fourth century, uses the metaphor of healing in this passage from an essay on the duties of the clergy:

“Some ask whether, in case of a shipwreck, a man of wisdom should have first right to a plank rather than an ignorant sailor. Although it seems better for the common good that a wise man rather than a fool should survive ship-wreck, yet I do not think that a Christian, a just and a wise man, ought to savehis own life by the death of another; just as when he meets with an armed robber he cannot return his blows, lest in defending his life he should stain his love toward his neighbor. The verdict on this is plain and clear in the books of the Gospel. ‘Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish with the sword.’ (Mt 26:52) What robber is more hateful than the persecutor who came to kill Christ? But Christ would not be defended from the wounds of the persecutor, for He willed to heal all by His wounds.”

Advice on Peacemaking from the Saints

Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sin, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer… You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you pray for the person who has offended you, not when you exchange presents with him, not when you invite him to your table, but only when, on hearing that he has fallen into bodily or spiritual misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself.

– St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Who are these? Those who imitate the Divine love of others, who show forth in their own life the characteristic of the Divine energy. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart. Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed. For as light follows the departure of darkness, thus also these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit: by charity, joy, peace, benignity, magnanimity, all the good things enumerated by the Apostle (Gal 5:22). How then should the dispenser of the Divine gifts not be blessed, since he imitates the gifts of God and models his own good deeds on the Divine generosity? But perhaps the Beatitude does not only regard the good of others. I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.

– St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes

“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.

– St. Maximus the Confessor

I have heard that there were two old men who dwelt together for many years, and who never quarreled, and that one said to the other, “let us also pick a quarrel with each other, even as other men do.” Then his companion answered and said unto him, “I know not how a quarrel cometh,” and the other old man answered and said unto him, “Behold, I will set a brick in the midst, and will say, ‘This is mine,’ and do thou say, ‘It is not thine, but mine’; and from this quarreling will ensue.” And they placed a brick in the midst, and one of then said, “This is mine,” and his companion answered and said after him, “This is not so, for it is mine”; and straightaway the other replied and said unto him, “If this be so, and the brick be thine, take it and go.” Thus they were not able to make a quarrel.

– Sayings of the Desert Fathers

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006

Seeking the Peace from Above

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006

Peacemaking in the Parish:

Seeking the Peace from Above

by Fr. Stephen Headley

Most of us, as Orthodox Christians, have experienced the pain of waiting for members of the parish, a parish priest or a bishop to cease to behave in ways that are decidedly not Christian. Their behavior, their actions, strike us as failing to praise God as he deserves through humility, gentleness and mercy. The possibility that they have some good reason to behave as they do helps us to be patient until such time as we better understand their motives. When, as sometimes is the case, we imagine that their behavior is best explained by their weaknesses, the problem becomes more difficult. Shouldn’t we, as St. Paul suggests in his writings about teachers of false doctrine, correct them fraternally by prayer and supplication, and later, if need be, exclude them from our midst? So far as common sense is concerned, we feel justified. Nevertheless, a nagging voice of conscience should tell us that to take this course is to wander from the higher road to peace, aggravating the difficulties others have in dealing with us.

We have many strategies by which we fail to bring a genuinely Christian perspective to the problem of anger and enmity within both parish and family life. All these strategies seem to exclude the Cross. The faith with which Christ bears all that is unbearable leads finally to his death on the Cross. This Cross-centered perspective is the horizon we need to make our own. Unless we do, we will be deprived of our hope in Christian freedom and fall into a self-induced cynicism. Sooner or later we will conclude that the Beatitudes are fine ideals but do not apply to our daily lives.

Until such time as our sense of self-vindicating outrage subsides, in reality it is we, not they, who are ceasing to be Christian. This loss of sincerity, of openness to the destiny that God has offered us, occurs because of our refusal to be vulnerable to the other, even if the other seems to be persecuting us. In fact it is then that we are in great spiritual danger. In these moments we may not realize that our actual Christian dignity in fact resides in the patient suffering described in the seventh and eight Beatitudes:

Blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake … for so did they persecute the prophets who were before you. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

The problem is that we don’t recognize that the thoughts that are passing through our minds and hearts fail to reflect the revelation of Christ to us in his Sermon on the Mount. The superiority of values in the Beatitudes as a personal, ascetic path to Christ is only clear to those who actually enter the path. St. Dionysios, a Syrian monk of the sixth century, gave us the term hierarchy, meaning a sacred order, a progressive bestowing of God’s grace upon us in our ascent to heaven. If we bear our lot, we discover that the elevating effect of such a gracious hierarchy raises us to a higher level of vision and brings us into proximity with Christ. We are able to see the difficulties that hem us in as constituting our very own cross. We begin to carry that cross as a free choice.

The aspiration to patience helps us see the supposed “evil” of the other in a new light. We are no longer obliged to correct the other. I don’t say this moralistically. It has come to me after numerous mistakes and injustices committed by me in parishes in which I served, always because I had come to the point of feeling justified in saying “enough is enough.”

But what was I feeling? What had I had enough of? Enough of the other? Enough of being a Christian? Were my parishioners unworthy of my dedication? Why should I define their behavior by the limits of my comprehension? If a Christian way of life has any meaning, if it is in fact a witness of Christ’s passion, it is because my relations with others are not defined by my needs. Do I want to live a truly Christian life? If so it requires that I constantly seek to do to others as I would have them do to me.

Several times in my life my closest friends in the Church, persons toward whom I had great respect and with whom I shared an intimacy created by their qualities, since they lifted me to a higher plane of vision regarding my own life – these important friends have done things I would never have thought they were capable of. I was crushed. I grieved for months over what I thought was the destruction of our friendship, a brotherly bond which I felt had been destroyed by my friend’s misdeeds. I had needed him in order to be myself. The person I was sure he was gave me a stronger faith. He had offered me a hand up to a purer plane of existence.

At each Vespers we read Psalm 103 in which we hear that the Lord makes of his servants “flames of fire.” I had previously found that flame of the holy Spirit in my friend, but now where was it? I retreated and turned my back on him and denied him. It was as if I was a better judge of his soul than God, in whom he had put his trust, who was clearly in a position to pardon him, if pardon was needed, in His own time. I let the confidence I had placed in him slip through my fingers and in so doing, I lost confidence not only in him, but also in God.

Suffering misfortune with patience is perhaps the highest expression of confidence in the Lord. This is not because it punishes and purifies us from our sins in a sadistic manner, but because it gives us the opportunity to participate in the same fortitude that Christ manifested in responding to the constant and unrelenting adversity that he experienced. While being hounded from Galilee to Judea, Christ never wavered in proclaiming the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God in our midst. The horizon of his Father’s calling was never closer than when, on his knees in the garden of Gethsemane, he was enveloped in anguish and prayed to fulfill his Father’s will. As St. Maximos the Confessor showed, because of the Fall, our “gnomic will” (ƒÆƒÉƒÅƒÊƒ¿), as opposed to out natural will, no longer permits us to spontaneously choose the good which God offers us. The human-divine person of Christ presents us with the model of the redemption of our fallen will; henceforth human will is free to commune fully with God’s will for us.

If complaining makes cowards of us, long-suffering makes us clear-headed about how a fallen world operates. Much of human communication takes place on the level of provocation, usually over inconsequential matters. This is tiring. But if this is so, it is because the other cannot yet see us as a dependable friend. By testing our patience, he or she is trying to see how long we are willing to put up with him. Are we ready to “share spaces” with him, as Jessica Rose puts it in her book Sharing Spaces: Prayer and the Counseling Relationship? And what can we say inside ourselves while this is going on? Psalm 142, which is prayed every morning at Matins, shows us a path forward:

Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.

In the course of several decades I have served under five or six bishops, and I must admit that only one of them met my expectations – and finally even the failings of this exception were hard for me to accept. Why were “worthy bishops” so hard for me to find? I have of course obeyed them all, but I could have collaborated more fruitfully if I had been able to give them my confidence. Why was I withholding my confidence? I believe now that I had not realized that the confidence I failed to place in them would have emerged if I had gone ahead and collaborated whole-heartedly with these bishops rather than standing back and waiting until they proved their qualities to me. After all, they must have seen my own limitations, yet even so that did not prevent them from placing their trust in God when they ordained me deacon and later priest.

This was despite the fact that I had already learned some basic lessons when seeking out a “good” confessor. Early on, when my own confessor was far away, I had adopted the habit of going to confession with the priest for whom I had the least esteem. This exercise proved fruitful, for these men never failed to give me good advice and to sincerely pray for me. The need to respect a person, or to judge him as worthy of my admiration, had found a fitting limit, since even I had to confess that such judgment of others was incompatible with asking for forgiveness from God.

All this is formulated in the final exhortation of the Apostle James’s epistle, if one cares to read it with a open, undefended heart:

Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation. Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

The Greek word ƒÊƒ¿ƒÈƒÏƒÍƒÆƒÒƒÊƒ¿, often translated weakly as “patience,” might better be rendered as “long-suffering.” This has to do with forging the future by waiting on the Lord. As we read in Proverbs: “Do not lose heart, because the Lord will be coming soon. Do not make complaints against one another, brothers, so as not to be brought to judgment yourselves… You have heard of the patience of Job, and understood the Lord’s purpose, realizing that the Lord is kind and compassionate.” (Proverbs 3:34)

The Apostle James exhorts us not to swear by heaven or by earth, which I understand to mean not to finalize our judgments. Rather he proposes that we should sing psalms with the joyful, and pray for those in trouble. So like Elijah, who prayed for rain until it did rain, we are encouraged to pray with our faith for the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again (whatever that “up” may be), and he will be forgiven. Saving a soul from death due to his or her sins, says St. James, covers a multitude of sins, presumably including our own. So here is the “reason” not to judge: so that we will not be judged and so that our sins will be forgiven.

To sum up, we have been in a critical situation ever since we were old enough to blame others for our own limitations. The fact that others have their own limitations does not change anything. We are constantly in danger of being hemmed in by the way we view others, by the ways we (and they) become disappointed and aggressive.

For a Christian, daily life is best compared with that of the Hebrews fleeing Pharaoh’s armies across the Red Sea. The only thing that could save them was their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their ability to follow Moses across this sea and into the desert was what kept the walls of water from drowning them. If they had believed that the waters of that passage were more dangerous to them than Pharaoh’s charioteers, if they had harbored their own fears rather than trusting in the call of Moses to escape Egypt, they would have had no prospect of salvation.

Peter had the same experience as he attempted to walk towards Christ on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The moment he turned his gaze away from Christ, he began to sink. The security of our own expectation was decried by Jesus:

It is the pagans of this world who set their hearts on these things. Your Father well knows you need them. No, set your hearts on his kingdom, and these thing will be given you as well. There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the Kingdom. (Luke 12:22)

Each time we put the cross around our neck, it is recommended that we say the words of Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

This self-giving loss of life is the way to the deep self-knowledge that Christ has promised us: “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” (Luke 6:47-48)

The rock is God’s divine law. Not the civil law, which is often little more than a screen hiding our collective sins that are the ruin of society, what the French call a cache-misre, but a law that, for those who follow it, makes us free and thankful to God for revealing his justice to us.

The whole of the Psalm 118 (119) describes how the Christian “treasures your promises in my heart … be good to your servant and I shall live … exile though I am on earth … my soul is overcome with an incessant longing for your rulings … I am sleepless with grief, raise me up as your word has guaranteed … I run the way of your commandments since you have set me free…”

The long-suffering patience of the psalmist derives its strength from waiting for the Lord to save him, an offer of loving intervention that gives him life. That life is God’s justice. God is just in all his works and does justice to his servant. We ask God to teach us his statutes. What does that mean? The Greek word for justice (ƒƒÇƒÈƒ¿ƒÊƒ¿) means both acts of justice towards man, justification of his creature, and God’s judgment regarding our acts.

In this sense the whole set of contemporary political proposals of universal human rights glosses over the more fundamental fact that it is God who has rights over man. It is this that makes the Beatitudes a realistic program for daily life. It is possible to be long-suffering since the Lord of great goodness is long-suffering with us. Herein lies the peace from above we have been thirsting after! Here is the peace that the life-giving Cross brings us, “for the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

Fr. Stephen Headley is rector of the parish of St. Etienne the Proto-martyr and St. Herman of Auxerre (Moscow Patriarchate) in Vzelay, France. He is a researcher in social anthropology in the French National Center of Scientific Research, Paris, and a member of the board of advisors of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. The author of several books on religion in Indonesia, Fr. Stephen is currently involved in research on “The Transmission of the Orthodox Faith in contemporary Moscow.”