Category Archives: Peacemaking

Peace in Orthodox Liturgy and Life

by Philip LeMasters

Originally published in Worship 77/5 (September 2003): pp 408-425. Portions of the essay were presented at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s North American conference in the summer of 2002. The author is Professor of Religion and Chairman of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at McMurry University, Abilene, Texas. His fourth book, Toward a Eucharistic Vision of Church, Family, Marriage, and Sex, was published by Light & Life in 2004. Other essays and reviews have appeared in St. Vladimir’s Quarterly Review, Theology Today, Worship, Perspectives in Religious Studies, and The Christian Century. He serves as deacon at St. Luke Antiochian Mission in Abilene, Texas.

Liturgy in Amsterdam, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church Anyone who has ever attended an Orthodox worship service has heard petitions for peace. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the first petitions of the Great Ektenia are for “the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls” and “the peace of the whole world; for the good estate of the churches of God, and for the union of all men…” Congregants then pray in this opening litany for their parish, the clergy and laity, the officials of the civil government, “for our armed forces everywhere” and their “victory over every enemy and adversary,”their city and all cities, “for peaceful times,” travelers, the sick, the suffering, “captives and their salvation,” and “our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity.” The litany concludes with a plea for God to “Help us; save us; have mercy on us,” and keep us by His grace. Finally, we remember the Theotokos and “commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”

Orthodox Christians find this listing of petitions so familiar than many would be surprised to notice their direct relevance for peace on earth. For these are not simply words sung at the beginning of each Liturgy; neither are they prayers which refer merely to the inner tranquility of worshipers, nor to an entirely future Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, they embody an Orthodox vision of salvation and call upon the Lord to help us experience His heavenly peace right now in every dimension of life: personal, public, religious, temporal, and political. Whoever prays these prayers is asking already to participate in the Kingdom of God on earth, to find the healing and blessing of salvation in every dimension of one’s life — indeed, in every aspect of God’s creation.

The entire Liturgy is an epiphany or manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth. The priest begins the service with a proclamation, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages,” which declares that the assembly is now participating in the worship of Heaven. The Church is raised to the life of the Kingdom as her members gather to glorify and commune with the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ often used the image of a wedding feast or banquet for the Kingdom of God. The Divine Liturgy makes present the Wedding Feast of the Lamb described in the Book of Revelation. Endnote It is the celebration and enactment of our sharing in Christ’s resurrected life and victory over death. As we prepare to receive the medicine of immortality, we pray that the Lord’s salvation will come upon all those created in the image and according to the likeness of God. Because we believe in the Incarnation and the goodness of God’s physical creation, we pray for peace and salvation upon people in “real life” situations of peril and suffering, for deliverance from the kinds of calamities and hardships that beset our mortal bodies in this life. Because we believe that human beings are persons created for communion with God and others, we pray for those who govern, protect the innocent, and endure the social and political realities of war and oppression. Endnote

The peace for which we pray is holistic, including every dimension of our existence before the Lord. God created us for communion with Himself in all aspects of our personhood: body, soul, and spirit. Christian salvation entails the resurrection of the complete, embodied self in the blessed communion of Heaven and the transformation of the entire creation in subjection to the Holy Trinity.

The peace for which we pray is our participation in that all-inclusive salvation. There is no true peace other than that found in the healing and transformation brought to human beings by the God-Man in whom our humanity is united with the divine. Since God intends to save us all in every dimension of our existence, His healing concerns the full range of human life. Even as bread and wine become the means of our communion with the Lord, we are to offer every bit of ourselves and of this world to the Father in union with the sacrifice of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We will then find life-giving communion with the Holy Trinity in everything we say and do; our life will become a eucharistic offering as we grow in holiness and union with God.

If the Liturgy is a participation in the eschatological peace of the Kingdom of God, it is fair to ask whether the members of the Church recognize and live out this vision of heavenly peace. An immediate note of realism comes to mind, as the members of the Church are sinners who have not manifested fully the new life of Christ. Nonetheless, the presence of the Holy Spirit enables the Church to embody a foretaste of the eschatological peace of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is much in the history and ongoing life of the Church which witnesses to the saving peace of God here and now. Though there is some apparent ambiguity in the Church’s teaching on Christian participation in war, the Orthodox vision of peace prizes selfless love and forgiveness over violence, viewing war in some situations as a lesser, necessary evil with damaging spiritual consequences for all involved.

In contrast with Orthodoxy, it is easier to describe the traditional Western Christian justifications of war, which include both the granting of plenary indulgences to those who fought in the crusades and the affirmation of just-war theory. The former envisioned the killing of infidels as such a righteous act that the crusaders were released from all temporal punishments for their sins, including exemption from purgatory. The latter, which has been widely influential in western culture, provides moral sanction to wars which meet certain philosophical criteria. In contrast to these endorsements of war, Orthodoxy has never embraced the crusade ethic, and Canon XIII of St. Basil the Great prescribes exclusion from the chalice for three years for those who kill in war. Endnote Orthodoxy has viewed war always as an evil, “but a sometimes necessary evil for the defense of justice and freedom. The only normative ideal is that of peace, and hence the Orthodox Church has never made rules on the subject of ius belli and of ius in bello.” Endnote Moral rules do not remove the harm to one’s soul of killing another human being, even in war. To take life is to fall short of the norm of Christlike love, and exclusion from Communion for a period may be necessary to allow time for the spiritual healing which is necessary for one to commune worthily with the Lord. Endnote It is debatable, however, whether the Church has traditionally enforced this discipline. Endnote

Father Alexander Webster agrees that a theory of justified war “has never been systematically elucidated in Orthodox moral theology,” and he describes participation in such a war as “a lesser moral option than absolute pacifism, for those unwilling or unable to pay the full price of prophecy.” He suggests that Orthodox criteria for a just war include a “proper political ethos,” meaning that the nation going to war should follow “the natural-law ethic and have positive relations with the Orthodox community.” The war should also take place for the “defense of the People of God” from injustice, invasion, or oppression “by those hostile to the free exercise of the Orthodox faith.” A proper “spiritual intent” should also lead to “forgiveness and rehabilitation” of enemies as persons who bear the image of God, and not “mere revenge, self-righteousness, or conquest.” Webster states that

Whereas the pacifist seeks to emulate Jesus as the Good Shepherd who allowed Himself to be slain unjustly by and for sinners, the just warrior perceives a higher duty: to defend the relatively innocent from unjust aggression. If the Orthodox pacifist can never do anything evil even for a reasonably just end, the Orthodox warrior cannot preserve his personal holiness by allowing evil to triumph through his own inaction.

Though the Christlike response of “turning the other cheek” to assaults is the spiritual ideal, the Orthodox Church does not prescribe pacifism or nonviolence as a legal requirement of the Christian life. The Church’s moral guidance serves the goal of theosis, of guiding the members of Christ’s Body to growth in holiness and union with the Trinity. The canons of the Church are applied pastorally in order help particular people find salvation as they seek to be faithful in the given set of challenges and weaknesses which they face. The Church’s experience is that temporal authority and the use of force are necessary to restrain evil and promote good in our fallen world. Though the witness of the early Church was largely — but not exclusively–pacifist, the Byzantine vision was of symphonia or harmony between God’s Kingdom and earthly realms. Hence, Christian emperors and armies fought wars and sustained a social order that sought to embody faithfulness to the Lord in all areas of life. Church and empire were to be united “even as the divine and human natures of Christ are united in the One Person of the Incarnate Son of God.” Endnote That high-minded vision was never fully realized in Byzantium; human sinfulness corrupted its political and ecclesiastical leaders in many ways.

There have remained in Orthodoxy, however, indications of the ideal of peace. Monks and clergy, for example, may not serve in the armed forces and are forbidden to use violence even in cases of self-defense. Endnote Canon V of St. Gregory of Nyssa “states that should a priest ‘fall into the defilement of murder even involuntarily (i. e. in self-defense), he will be deprived of the grace of the priesthood, which he will have profaned by this sacrilegious crime.'” Endnote Those who hands have shed blood may not be the icons of Christ which priests are called to be, and are not suited to serve at the altar. Endnote Even as the sacramental priesthood is a special vocation to which not all are called, the straightforward embodiment of Christlike, nonviolent love — which is incumbent upon priests — is not canonically required of all believers. In keeping with the practice of economia, the norm of nonresistant love may not be directly applicable to those whose vocations in our broken world require the defense of the innocent. These may grow in holiness by fighting justly, even as they mourn the harm done to themselves and others by their use of violence.

Greater harm, indeed, might befall them and others if they refused to defend the innocent from attack and abuse. In a fallen world populated by sinful people, every Christian’s journey to the Kingdom will be marked by a measure of spiritual brokenness, and repentance is the only road to healing. Endnote A sixth-century Byzantine text on military strategy begins with a note of realism about war:

I am well aware that war is a great evil, and even the greatest of evils. But because enemies shed our blood…, because everyone has to defend his homeland and his fellow citizens…, we have decided to write about strategy.

Particular countries and peoples — such as Byzantium, the Balkan states, and Russia — have historically been so closely identified with the Orthodox faith that their defensive wars against Islamic invaders, though not western-style crusades, may be described as “a difficult and painful defense of the Cross.” The appeal for “victory over their enemies” at the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and other martial imagery in the liturgies, has at times been corrupted into a “national Messianism” in which the soldier becomes a martyr and the evil of war is forgotten.

It would be a mistake, however, to suggest that Orthodoxy has enthusiastically endorsed war. Even in cases of the defense of a Christian people from Islamic invasion, the spiritual gravity of warfare has not been forgotten. For example, St. Sergius of Radonezh in the fourteenth century gave his blessing to Grand Prince Dimitri to fight a defensive war against the Tatar Khan only after he received assurances that the prince had already exhausted every possible means of reconciliation. Kutuzov’s strategy in response to Napoleon’s invasion was similar, abandoning Moscow to the French and merely harassing Napoleon’s forcing during their withdrawal, “having no other aim than to drive him back to the frontier.” Endnote Not examples of unbridled militarism, these are instances which reflect the reluctant acceptance of war at times as a necessary evil.

These notes of realism should not be allowed to obscure the Church’s insistence that “non-retribution, the avoidance of violence, the returning of good for evil…and the harmony of peoples” are a holistic “normative good which Christians must seek with God’s help.” Endnote Father Stanley Harakas observes that “the Eastern Patristic tradition rarely praised war, and to my knowledge, almost never called it ‘just’ or a moral good….The peace ideal continued to remain normative and no theoretical efforts were made to make conduct of war into a positive norm.” Endnote It is not difficult to compile a list of Fathers who stressed the superiority of peace to war, including St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom , St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Clement of Rome, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Endnote The evidence for widespread pacifism in the Church is strongest before St. Constantine, when the Empire was pagan, persecuted Christians, and often required soldiers to participate in the worship of false gods. Even after the Christianization of the Empire, with the eventual requirement that only Christians could be in the army, there remained teachers of pacifism in the Church, such as Pope St. Damasus, Prudentius, and St. Paulinus of Nola. Webster remarks that St. Paulinus in the fifth century was “the last great Church Father who addressed in explicit detail the moral problem of war from an absolute pacifist perspective.” Endnote From then on, pacifist sensibilities would manifest themselves in other contexts, such as the requirement of clerical and monastic nonresistance.

The contrast between the canonical requirement of pacifism for the clergy and the acceptance of military service by the laity requires further comment. Webster notes that the identification of clergy with the nonviolent norm and the allowance of participation in war on the part of the laity implies a bifurcated ethic with a higher and a lower class of Christians, which could be taken to imply that the clergy are necessarily holier than the laity. More faithful to Orthodox ecclesiology would be the affirmation that the norm now embodied by the clergy will at some future point become normative for all Orthodox. Here we are dealing with a point of eschatological tension that will be resolved in the Kingdom of Heaven, when all will be pacifists, for violence and other evils will be destroyed. In the present, the clergy are “expected to demonstrate the attainment of an advanced spiritual and moral state to which all Orthodox Christians are [ultimately] called.”

The recognition of pacifism as an ultimate norm or goal for all Christians should not be surprising. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ calls his followers to theosis, to growth in holiness and perfection before God. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) This teaching is the conclusion of a section focusing on the love of enemies, which is immediately preceded by the Lord’s repudiation of resistance against evil. “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (5:39) These passages indicate that the repudiation of violence in self-defense is a sign of growth in holiness. Our Lord’s example of offering Himself nonresistantly on the cross for our salvation is the paradigmatic epiphany of the selfless love in which human beings are to participate as they come to share by grace in the life of the Trinity.

Though not absolute pacifists, some saints chose to accept death in a Christlike manner, and thus manifested their holiness. For example, the Passion of St. Edmond, who reposed in the ninth century, reports that this king of East Anglia offered himself for death to the invading Danish king in order to save the lives of his subjects. St. Edmund is reported to have “declared that he would follow the example of Christ and ‘refrain from staining my pure hands.'” St. John Vladimir, an eleventh century Serb, handed his sword to his Bulgarian foe, declaring, ” Take it and kill me, for I am ready to die, as were Isaac and Abel.” Though St. John had been a fierce warrior in the past, there is a “perfect, non-violent, Christ-like quality” apparent in his death. Endnote The famous Saints Boris and Gleb of Kiev accepted death without resistance at the hands of their ambitious royal brother’s assassins in the eleventh century. As Webster notes, “St. Boris offered himself as a voluntary, Christ-like sacrifice for the sins of the assassins and consequently made no attempt to resist the lethal violence visited upon his person.” An experienced warrior, St. Boris made “a conscious choice… to reflect the ideals of nonresistance and expiatory sacrifice modeled originally by Christ.” These saints are paradigmatic examples of “the moral life in Christ. Theirs was preeminently a witness on behalf of the redemptive value of innocent suffering and the transformative power of nonresistance to evil.”

In considering the relevance of these saintly examples to the question of peace, we should remember that Orthodoxy does not separate morality from theosis, from the salvation of the whole person in the Kingdom of God. We will not find the healing of our corrupted selves and world in moral theory of any kind. Instead, the focus of Orthodox thought is on the person who is invited to participate by grace in the eternal life of the communion of Persons called the Trinity. We journey to that blessed communion as sinners who live amongst other sinners in the brokenness of our fallen world. Hence, the healing of our infirmities will have to take account of the particular set of limitations, weaknesses, and corruptions that beset us and those around us. We need therapy for spiritual strength, not a free-standing ethic of any kind.

Though the nonresistant love of Christ is the ultimate norm for the Christian in response to evil, the Church recognizes that we live in a corrupted world in which the use of force is sometimes mournfully necessary to restrain evil, protect the innocent, and foster a humane social order. Some who inhabit such a world are called to the pacifistic vocation of the cleric or the monk. Others find themselves with a set of responsibilities as soldiers, police officers, or public officials which precludes their straightforward embodiment of that ideal. They are not to be condemned, however, for they too serve God’s purposes for the protection and care of persons who inhabit a fallen world. Not a matter of abstract moral philosophy, the question of the vocation to which a particular person is called is a matter of noetic knowledge: of a spiritual, personal encounter with the Trinity. As we grow in our participation in the ascetical and sacramental dimensions of the Christian life, we will grow in unity with God and know more fully the path to salvation which we are to take. The discernment of vocation is not, however, an individual matter; it is a personal endeavor of growing in unity with the Trinity through the direction of a spiritual father or mother and a life lived in full communion with the Church. Personhood has nothing to do with the isolated individual of modern western culture, but requires a shared life in which we achieve the likeness of God, who is not an isolated monad but a community of Persons.

As we have seen in the lives of the saints, a successful soldier may hear the call to lay down his life nonresistantly as an epiphany of Christ’s selfless love in the world. Some, whether former soldiers or not, may advance in holiness to the point where anything less than complete pacifism is unthinkable and would amount to turning away from Christ. There is no ground for condemning the soldier, however, who after proper discernment offers his life to God and neighbor by mournfully using force to protect the innocent. The Church does not reject the particular form of dying to self to which he is called, as it may be necessary for his growth in holiness in the particular mix of broken circumstances which he faces.

The Canons do stipulate, however, that one who kills in war find spiritual healing through repentance before approaching the chalice. The rationale for this standard is not so much moral in the sense that a code has been broken. To take the life of a human being — created in the image and according to the likeness of God — is a grave matter which, regardless of the circumstances, threatens to do profound damage to one’s soul. The Church’s wisdom is that the appropriate therapies must be applied before the soldier communes with Christ in the Eucharist, for the risk of receiving the Holy Mysteries unprepared is great. As we pray before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, “Not unto judgment nor unto condemnation be my partaking of Thy Holy Mysteries, O Lord, but unto the healing of soul and body.”

Since we are created and redeemed for communion with the Holy Trinity, we are intended for the peace and harmony of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are to grow in holiness by offering the entirety of ourselves and world to the Father in union with the sacrifice of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The one who takes life, who kills another created in the image and according to the likeness of God, participates in a paradigmatic sign of the estrangement of humankind from this eschatological harmony. Granted, to kill in war may well be an involuntary sin which is regrettably necessary as a lesser evil in a case of national self-defense. Nonetheless, to do so is to fall short of the mark of the fulfillment of God’s intentions for our personhood. The same could be said of those who support or benefit from wars. They too are involved in the corruption of the human condition, and need the spiritual therapy of the Church for their involuntary sin as they continue the journey of theosis.

The wisdom of the Orthodox view of war as a lesser evil is apparent from a sober reading of the application of just-war theory. Only the very naive would ignore how national self-interest and lust for power corrupt every instance of warfare. Political and military leaders typically control the information necessary to evaluate their own actions in war, and subsequently are their own judges in the matters in which they have the greatest self-interest. It is hard to imagine any nation, regardless of the form of government, preferring to lose a war when certain violations of just-war standards would increase the likelihood of victory or save the lives of their own soldiers. For example, the Allies during World War II destroyed any number of civilian population centers in Germany and Japan, and killed untold numbers of noncombatants, in the name of winning the war and saving the lives of Allied servicemen. Certainly, the Allied victory was as just as any military victory in human history; far greater harm would have come to millions of persons who bear the image of God from an Axis victory. It remains the case, however, that the Allied victory was a lesser and necessary evil in which all involved had at least some blood on their hands. The Church shows great wisdom in viewing war as an occasion for repentance and spiritual healing regardless of its place on a measuring stick of moral justification. Orthodoxy is ultimately concerned about the salvation of persons, not moralism.

The petitions for peace in the Ektenia of the Prothesis and the Ektenia Before the Lord’s Prayer shed light on these issues. In both petitions, we pray that “the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless,” and that “we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance.” These are descriptions of the kind of life that is most conducive to spiritual growth. A day of military combat is hardly perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless. Likewise, to complete the course of one’s life in peace and repentance would seem very difficult for one who is engaged in or preparing for war. Killing in war, no matter how morally justified and necessary it may be under the circumstances, falls short of the ideal embodied in these litanies.

When the gifts are brought through the royal doors in preparation for the Eucharist, we journey with Christ to Jerusalem. Having put aside all earthly cares, we prepare to commune with the One who raises our human nature to the eternal peace of God’s Kingdom. The priest prays that we will be made worthy to partake of the Eucharist “with a pure conscience: unto remission of sins, unto forgiveness of transgressions, unto communion with the Holy Spirit, unto inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, unto boldness towards Thee, and not unto judgment nor unto condemnation.” Those whose vocations include the taking of human life will likely need special spiritual counsel in order to lay aside their earthly cares and approach the chalice with confidence in God’s mercy. It is not uncommon to meet veterans who are tormented for the rest of their lives by the horrors of war. I recall the father of a childhood friend who suffered from nightmares thirty years after the conclusion of his military service during World War II. Those who are trained to kill sometimes have difficulty returning to the mores of civilian life, not to mention the life of theosis. When we join ourselves to Christ’s eucharistic sacrifice, we participate in a victory that is not of this world and which came through the nonresistant, selfless love of the Lord. The victory of the Kingdom is not that of an earthly soldier, but of the Lamb who was slain. Killing in war may be a necessary evil in the world as we know it, but it falls short of the way shown by Christ.

The Eucharist is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, a celebration of the eternal life of eschatological peace, not of worldly strife; and we must be prepared to receive it unto our healing and salvation, not to judgment and condemnation. A crucial dimension of preparation for communion is reconciliation with those whom we have offended or who have offended us. The Lord fulfills the Old Testament commandment against murder by extending it to the passion of anger. Hence, to have anger in one’s heart toward another is a violation of the commandment against murder. It should not be surprising that a murderer would need spiritual healing before being prepared to commune unto salvation. Jesus Christ told His disciples, “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there and before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23-24) To attempt to commune with the Lord when we are not in communion with our neighbors is a travesty, an attempt to smuggle corrupting passions into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It also a refusal to forgive others even as we seek the Lord’s forgiveness of our sins. We receive the Eucharist “unto the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.” We pray that God will “forgive us our trespasses even as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus Christ’s parable on forgiveness concludes that severe judgment will come upon those who expect God’s forgiveness while not forgiving others. (Matt. 18:35) Those who undertake military combat will likely face great challenges to forgive those who tried to kill them and their comrades in war. The horrors of the shedding of blood, and other atrocities often associated with war, may make forgiveness difficult for whole nations who suffered at the hands of their enemies. Such experiences create obstacles for communion and growth in holiness, and are an indication that war falls short of the spiritual norm of the Kingdom.

Webster observes that the Church’s mystical, ascetic spirituality includes points of emphasis which hardly seem compatible with war. More important here is a life of spiritual warfare against temptations. Participation in violence would likely provoke anger and pride, and hinder the development of Christlike patience, forgiveness, and humility. Endnote Nonviolence, nonresistance, voluntary kenotic suffering, and universal forgiveness are characteristics of the Orthodox spiritual life that are in marked contrast to the mentality of military strategy and tactics. Endnote An Orthodox pacifist may claim that the complete rejection of violence flows naturally from foci on theosis, asceticism, unlimited love for others, and the eschatological peace made present in the Holy Mysteries. Endnote Webster cautions that “the disvalues” of such pacifism are also apparent, for “The cost of discipleship — the cross — is often borne more painfully by the ‘innocent’ victims of the aggressor than by their righteous pacifist brethren.” The pacifist who refuses to oppose evil with violence “must grapple with the involuntary human suffering by others that results from his voluntary kenotic moral decision.” Pacifists, he notes, look to the victory of the Lamb in the eschatological future as the answer to the present injustice of the world. Endnote

Webster is correct to conclude that absolute pacifists will have to come to terms with the results of their refusal to use force as a means to combat evil. If war is at times a necessary evil for the protection of the innocent, those who refuse to participate may well be asked why they do not do that which is morally necessary. A key consideration, however, is that of vocation; namely, how is one called to respond to evil in a way that will help one participate more fully in the holiness of God? Clergy, monks, and some laity have the vocation to make of their lives epiphanies of the selfless love of Christ, regardless of whether their actions are of immediate help in the resolution of a given political or military crisis. That vocation is a matter of noetic knowledge, of spiritual discernment which we find as we grow in holiness in the context of the life of the Church. Those who know that their path to salvation has no place for the violence of warfare will be pacifists, not because of moral theory, but because that is what God wants of them. That is how they are called to offer their lives to the Lord, to grow in union with the Holy Trinity.

At the same time, those who discern that their path to holiness requires them mournfully to take up arms in a given circumstance will do so in the context of the brokenness of the world. They will risk the spiritual damage done by warfare for the sake of serving God’s purposes for the protection of the innocent and the vindication of justice. Their military service will also be a matter of offering themselves to God, of progressing on the journey of theosis in the way in which the Lord has called them. They will need special spiritual guidance in order to find the healing of the Kingdom, but the way of salvation is certainly not closed to them. The petitions of the Liturgy on behalf of the civil authorities and armed forces indicate that they have a legitimate place in the Christian life. We pray for persons involved in these endeavors, even as we pray for all who need God’s healing and peace. As St. Cyril of Alexandria notes, we pray and offer “the spiritual sacrifice” of the Eucharist “for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succor…” The Church offers God’s great mercy to all those who share in the corruption of our fallen world.

It is notable that many of the Church’s saints are soldier-martyrs who accepted death rather than commit idolatry to the pagan gods of Rome. Endnote The soldierly virtue of courage is certainly evident in the witness of martyrs who endured terrible suffering for the sake of a faith which they refused to deny. A Russian author has claimed that “military language expresses better… than any other the ways of the Christian life… For the first Christians, the army was not something to abhor but rather one of the centers where the virtues of Christianity were prepared.” Endnote There are also saints who renounced the military vocation because of its incompatibility with the way of Christ, such as St. Martin of Tours. Webster notes that the saints’ martyrdom, not the particular details of their relationship to the military, was of decisive importance. The accounts of their martyrdom likely reflect different perspectives on the propriety of military service by Christians. Endnote Nonetheless, all Orthodox-pacifists and soldiers alike–venerate these saints as those who achieved great holiness by dying to self out of love for God.

The Orthodox Church prays for peace for the whole world and for the armed forces of our nations. We have saints who were pacifists and saints who were great military leaders. We do not have the precise moral categories about war which are characteristic of western Christianity. The focus of the Orthodox is on the salvation of persons by their growth in holiness and union with the Holy Trinity. All those persons are sinners who live in a world full of sinners; hence, it should not be surprising that wars and other conflicts arise which require violence for their earthly resolution, and even for the protection of the innocent and the vindication of justice. Some are called to fight in those wars, even as they mourn the involuntary sin of taking the lives of enemy soldiers as a lesser, necessary evil. They fall short of the nonresistant way of Christ, and the Church will provide the spiritual therapies necessary for their healing. Others-whether clergy, monastics, or laity-grow in holiness to the point that their lives become epiphanies of the selfless love of Christ in turning the other cheek. Their prophetic witness is a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven, and reminds those who take up arms of the corruption of a world which has not yet found the peace of God.

The tension which we find in Orthodoxy between the norm of peace and the allowance of war is precisely an eschatological tension. When the Kingdom comes in its fullness, there will be no wars. Until then, we must grow in holiness, each of us being at a different point on the journey to the theosis. For some, that journey will involve the mournful taking of life; for others, it will not. Still, we will pray “for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls.”

Go Forth in Peace

The Liturgy After the Liturgy

by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

At the end of Bright Week last year, Bishop Kallistos led a retreat on “Sacraments of Healing” for members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our host was the Orthodox parish in the village of Vzelay, France. This is a shortened version of the fifth of six lectures. Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way.

Last night we spoke about the use of the word “peace” in the Divine Liturgy: “In peace let us pray to the Lord, for the peace from above, for the peace of the whole world.” We reflected also on the meaning of the celebrant’s greeting, “Peace be with you all” and saw how the priest is not just transmitting his own peace, but is transmitting the peace of Christ. Peace is a gift from God.

There is one phrase from the Liturgy in which the word peace figures prominently which I didn’t mention, the phrase that comes after Holy Communion shortly before the final dismissal: “Let us go forth in peace.”

There are many commandments in the Liturgy, many things that we are told to do such as “Lift up your hearts,” “Give thanks to the Lord.”

“Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not merely a comforting epilogue. They are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.

This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, everywhere sees Christ and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.

“I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was in prison.” Of everyone who is in need, Christ says, “I.” Christ is looking at us through the eyes of all the people whom we meet, and especially those who are in distress and who are suffering. So, we go out from the Liturgy, seeing Christ everywhere. But we are to return to the world not just with our eyes open but with our hands strengthened. There is a hymn I remember as an Anglican that we used to sing at the end of the Eucharist, “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken.” It was noted in the hymn book that this was from the Syrian liturgy. We are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ, to minister to him, in all human persons.

Let us reflect on what happened at the Last Supper. First there was the Eucharistic meal, where Christ blessed bread and gave it to the disciples, “This is my body,” and he blessed the cup, “This is my blood.” Then, after the Eucharistic meal, Christ kneels and washes the feet of his disciples. The Eucharistic meal and the foot washing are a single mystery. We have to apply that to ourselves, going out from the Liturgy to wash the feet of our fellow humans, literally and symbolically. That is how I understand the words at the end of the Liturgy, “Let us go forth in peace.” Peace is to be something dynamic within this broken world. It’s not just a quality that we experience within the church walls.

Let’s remind ourselves of the way in which St. John Chrysostom envisages this liturgy after the Liturgy. There are, he says, two altars. In the first place, there is the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from the church, there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.

Developing the meaning of the command, “Let us go forth in peace,” let us think of the Liturgy as a journey. This is Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s key image for the Liturgy. We may discern in the Liturgy a movement of ascent and of return. That kind of movement actually happens very frequently. We can see it in the lives of the saints — such saints as Antony of Egypt or Seraphim of Sarov. First, in the movement of ascent, if you like, or flight from the world, they go out into the desert, into the wilderness, into solitude, to be alone with God. But then there is a moment of return. They open their doors to the world, they receive all who come, they minister and they heal.

There is a similar movement of ascent within the Liturgy. We go to church. It’s pleasant to walk there, though some people have to use cars. I like to walk from my home to church before the Divine Liturgy, to walk alone if I can. It’s only about ten minutes for me, but it’s quite important, I find, to have that movement, a sense of going to church, a sense, if you like, of a separation from the world and starting on a journey. I walk to church, I enter the church building, I enter within sacred space and sacred time. This is the beginning of the movement of ascent. We go to the church. Then, continuing the movement of ascent, we bring to the altar gifts of bread and wine, and we offer them to Christ. The movement of ascent is completed when Christ accepts this offering, consecrates it, makes the bread and wine to be his body and his blood.

After the ascent comes the return. The bread and wine that we offered to Christ, he gives back to us in Holy Communion as his body and blood.

But the movement of return doesn’t stop there. Having received Christ in the Holy Gifts, we then go out from the church, going back to the world to share Christ with all those around us.

Let’s develop this idea a little. Receiving Christ’s body, we become what he is. We become the body of Christ. But gifts are for sharing. So we become Christ’s body, not for ourselves, but for others. We become Christ’s body in the world and for the world. So the Eucharist impels believers to specific action in society, an action that will be challenging and prophetic. The Eucharist is the start of cosmic transfiguration, and each communicant shares in this transfiguring work.

Now this afternoon’s talk has a very ambitious title. I can’t possibly deal with all the things suggested by it. That’s the great danger — you think of the titles before you think of what you’re actually going to say. So I just want now, in the light of what I’ve said about “Let us go forth in peace,” to pose a few questions about the different levels of Eucharistic healing and transfiguration in the world.

First a question about our parish life. Perhaps this is not true of Vzelay, but it’s true of some parishes that I’ve known elsewhere. I’ve often wondered why our parish council meetings, and more particularly the annual general meetings of parishes, are such a disappointment? To me it’s very surprising that often there’s a rather dark spirit at work in the annual general meetings of parishes. The picture given of our parish life is actually deeply misleading. All the good things seem to be hidden — perhaps that’s as it should be — but we get a very distorted picture. There seems often to be an atmosphere of tension and hostility at annual general meetings in parishes.

I’ve often wondered why that is. How to bring a truly Eucharistic spirit into such gatherings? How can we bring the peace of the Divine Liturgy into the other aspects of our parish life? I don’t have an easy answer, but I think behind this first question there lurks another question. How can we make the Divine Liturgy more manifestly a shared and corporate action? In my own experience, the parish where I am, we began worshiping just in a room, and at that time it was not difficult to have a very strong feeling of the Liturgy as a unified action in which everybody was sharing because we were all so close to one another, and were only a few of us.

Some of the most moving Liturgies I’ve ever attended have not been in churches with great marble floors and huge candelabra but in small house chapels in a room or even in a garage. Gradually our community has grown. Twenty-five years ago, we built ourselves a church, and now that church is too small and we’re working towards enlarging the church in order to be able to have room for all the worshipers. Now that is, in a sense, encouraging, but there is a real struggle here. As a parish grows larger and as it acquires a larger building, it becomes much harder to preserve the corporate spirit, the sense of a single family, the sense of all of us doing something together.

I haven’t got any easy answers here, but that is one level on which I ask, “How can we bring peace and healing into a community that’s growing larger all the time, and therefore that is bound to lose its sense of close coherence, unless we struggle to preserve it?”

There is another level of healing that occurs to me quite frequently at the Divine Liturgy. We often have present non-Orthodox Christians and we are not able to give them Holy Communion by the rules of our Church. Now, I’m sure you’ve all of you reflected on the reasons why the Orthodox Church takes this straight line over inter-communion. The act of Communion, we say, involves our total acceptance of the faith. It involves our total life in the Church. Therefore we cannot share in Communion with other Christians whom, however much we may love them, we recognize as holding a different understanding of the Christian faith, and who are divided from us.

This is, we know, the argument why we cannot have inter-communion. But I think we should constantly ask ourselves if we are right to take this position? In fact I think we are, but I would say to go on asking yourself in your heart if it’s the right thing to do. We Orthodox are becoming increasingly isolated on this issue. In my young days, most Anglicans would have taken the same view, and would have said they could not have Communion with Protestants. That’s certainly not the case now in the Anglican Church. Also, Roman Catholics held this view very strictly, but since Vatican II, whatever the official regulations may be, in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church there is widespread inter-communion. But we Orthodox continue as we were. Are we right? And if we do continue to uphold a strict line on inter-communion, in what spirit are we doing this? Is it in a spirit of peace and healing?

I remember at the beginning of my time as priest — the first occasion, and I still feel the wound inwardly — when persons came up for Communion whom I knew were not Orthodox. I felt that it was my duty as priest not to give them Communion. I was really interested in the reaction of two different parishioners. One said to me, “You did quite right! We cannot give Communion to these heretics. The Orthodox Church is the one true church.” He saw that in triumphalist terms. That made me feel even worse. But then another parishioner came up, and he said, in a very different tone of voice, “Yes, you were right, but how tragic, how sad, that we had to do this.” Then I thought, yes, we do have to do this, but we should never do it in an aggressive spirit of superiority but always with a sense of deep sorrow in our hearts. We should mind very much that we cannot yet have Communion together. (Incidentally, both of those two parishioners are now Orthodox priests themselves. I think the first one, over the years, has grown less triumphalist. I hope we all do, but I’m not sure whether that always happens.)

Then I’d like to reflect on a third level of healing. Let me take as my basis here the words said just before the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, at the heart of the Liturgy. The deacon lifts the Holy Gifts, and the celebrant says, “Thine own from thine own, we offer thee.” In the usual translation, it continues, “in all and for all.” But that translation could be misleading. It could be understood as meaning “for all human persons, for everyone.” In fact in Greek, it is not masculine, it is neuter — “for in all things, and for all things.” At that moment, we do not speak only about human persons but about all created things. A more literal translation would be, “In all things and for all things.”

This shows us that the liturgy after the Liturgy involves service not just for all persons, but ministry to the whole creation, to all created things. The Eucharist commits us to an ecological healing. That is inherent in our prayers in the Liturgy for “the peace of the whole world.” This means, Fr. Lev Gillet points out, peace not just for humans, but all creatures — for animals and vegetables, stars, for all nature. Cosmic piety and cosmic healing. Ecology has become mildly fashionable now. It often has quite strong political associations. We Orthodox must involve ourselves fully in the movement on behalf of the environment, but we must do so in the name of the Divine Liturgy. We must put our ecological witness in the context of Holy Communion.

I’m very much encouraged by the initiatives taken recently by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Some ten years ago, the then Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios issued a Christmas encyclical saying that when we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, his taking of a human body, we should also see that as God’s blessing upon the whole creation. We should understand the incarnation in cosmic terms. He goes on in his encyclical to call all of us to show, and I quote, “towards the creation an ascetic and Eucharistic spirit.” An ascetic spirit helps us distinguish between wants and needs. The real point is not what I want.

The real point is what do I need? I want a great many things that I don’t in fact need. The first step towards cosmic healing is for me to make a distinction between the two, and as far as possible, to stick just to what I need. People want more and more. That’s going to bring disaster on ourselves if we go on selfishly increasing our demands. But we don’t in fact need more and more to be truly human. That’s what I understand to define an ascetic spirit. Fasting indeed can help us to distinguish between what we want and what we need. It’s good to do without things, because then we realize that, yes, we can use them, but we can also forego them. We are not dependent on the constant accumulation of material things. We have freedom.

If we have a Eucharistic spirit, we realize all is a gift to be offered back in thanksgiving to God the Giver. Developing this theme, the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, followed by his successor, the present Patriarch Bartholomew, have dedicated the first of September, the New Year in the Orthodox calendar, as a day of creation, when we give thanks to God for his gifts, when we ask forgiveness for the way we have misused those gifts, and when we pray that we may be guided for the right use of them in the future. There’s a phrase that often comes to my mind from the special service “When in danger of earthquake”: “The earth, though without words, yet cries aloud, ‘Why, all peoples, do you inflict upon me such evil?'” And we are inflicting great evil on the earth. How interesting to see earthquakes as the earth groaning because of what we do to it.

Finally I ask you to think for a moment about this morning’s Gospel. What happens when the risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday appears to his disciples? Christ says first to the disciples, “Peace be unto you.” The first thing that Christ says after rising from the dead is peace. Then what does he do? He shows them his hands and his side. Why does he do that? For recognition. Yes, to show that here he is, the one whom they saw three days before crucified, here he is, risen from the dead in the same body in which he suffered and died. But there’s surely more to it than that. What he is doing is to show that, though he is risen from the dead, yet he still bears upon him the marks of his suffering. In the heart of the risen and glorified Christ, there is still a place for our human suffering.

When Christ rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he does not disengage himself from this broken world. On the contrary, he still carries on his body the marks of his suffering and he carries in his heart all our burdens. When he says before his ascension, “See I am with you, even to the end of the world,” surely he means, “I am with you in your distress and in your suffering.” Glorified, he is still with us. He has not rejected our suffering, nor disassociated himself from us.

We see from today’s Gospel how peace goes with cross bearing. Having given peace to his disciples, the risen Christ immediately shows them the marks of the Cross. As I said in my first talk, peace means healing and wholeness, but we have to add, peace also means vulnerability. Peace, we might say, doesn’t mean the absence of struggle or temptation or suffering. As long as we are in this world, we are to expect temptation and suffering. As St. Antony of Egypt said, “Take away temptation and nobody will be saved.” So peace doesn’t mean the absence of struggle, but peace means commitment, firmness of purpose, clarity of vision, an undivided heart, and a willingness to bear the burdens of others. When Paul says, “See, I bear in my body the marks, the stigmata, of Christ crucified,” he is describing his state of peace.

Bishop Kallistos is in the process of revising and correcting his six lectures, which in time we look forward to publishing. In their present form, they are posted on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site. Our thanks to Peter Brubacher for transcribing this tape.


Want to add a useful word to your vocabulary? The term etho-phyletism (meaning love of the race, tribe or ethnically-defined nation) was coined at the Holy and Great pan-Orthodox pan-Orthodox Synod that met in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) in 1872. The meeting was prompted by the creation of a separate bishopric by the Bulgarian community of Istanbul for parishes only open to Bulgarians. It was the first time in Church history that a separate diocese was established based on ethnic identity rather than principles of Orthodoxy and territory. Here is the Synod’s official condemnation of ecclesiastical racism, or “ethno-phyletism,” as well as its theological argumentation. It was issued on the 10th of August 1872.

We renounce, censure and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds and dissensions within the Church of Christ, as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers which “support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it and lead it to divine godliness.”

A section of the report drawn up by the special commission of the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Constantinople in 1872 reviewed the general principles which guided the Synod in its condemnation:

The question of what basis racism that is discriminating on the basis of different racial origins and language and the claiming or exercising of exclusive rights by persons or groups of persons exclusively of one country or group can have in secular states lies beyond the scope of our inquiry. But in the Christian Church, which is a spiritual communion, predestined by its Leader and Founder to contain all nations in one brotherhood in Christ, racism is alien and quite unthinkable. Indeed, if it is taken to mean the formation of special racial churches, each accepting all the members of its particular race, excluding all aliens and governed exclusively by pastors of its own race, as its adherents demand, racism is unheard of and unprecedented.

All the Christian churches founded in the early years of the faith were local and contained the Christians of a specific town or a specific locality, without racial distinction. They were thus usually named after the town or the country, not after the ethnic origin of their people.

The Jerusalem Church consisted of Jews and proselytes from various nations. The Churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, Rome and all the others were composed of Jews but mainly of gentiles. Each of these churches formed within itself an integral and indivisible whole. Each recognized as its Apostles the Apostles of Christ, who were all Jews. Each had a bishop installed by these Apostles without any racial discrimination: this is evident in the account of the founding of the first Churches of God….

The same system of establishing churches by locality prevails even after the Apostolic period, in the provincial or diocesan churches which were marked out on the basis of the political organization then prevailing, or of other historical reasons. The congregation of the faithful of each of these churches consisted of Christians of every race and tongue….

Paradoxically, the Church of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Moldavia and so on, or less properly the Russian Church, Greek Church, etc., mean autocephalous or semi-independent churches within autonomous or semi-independent dominions, with fixed boundaries identical with those of the secular dominions, outside which they have no ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They were composed not on ethnic grounds, but because of a particular situation, and do not consist entirely of one race or tongue. The Orthodox Church has never known racially-based churches… to coexist within the same parish, town or country…

If we examine those canons on which the Church’s government is constructed, we find nowhere in them any trace of racism. … Similarly, the canons of the local churches, when considering the formation, union or division of ecclesiastical groupings, put forward political reasons or ecclesiastical needs, never racial claims…. From all this, it is quite clear that racism finds no recognition in the government and sacred legislation of the Church.

But the racial principle also undermines the sacred governmental system of the Church…

In a racially organized church, the church of the local diocese has no area proper to itself, but the ethnic jurisdictions of the supreme ecclesiastical authorities are extended or restricted depending on the ebb and flow of peoples constantly being moved or migrating in groups or individually… If the racial principal is followed, no diocesan or patriarchal church, no provincial or metropolitan church, no episcopal church, not even a simple parish, whether it be the church of a village, small town or a suburb, can exist with its own proper place or area, containing within it all those of one faith. Is not Christ thus divided, as He was once among the Corinthians, by those who say: “I am for Paul, I am for Apollo, I am for Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12)? …

No Ecumenical Council would find it right or in the interests of Christianity as a whole to admit an ecclesiastical reform [whose membership was based on ethnic identity] to serve the ephemeral idiosyncrasies of human passions and base concerns, because, apart from overthrowing the legislative achievements of so many senior Ecumenical Councils, it implies other destructive results, both manifest and potential:

First of all, it introduces a Judaic exclusiveness, whereby the idea of the race is seen a sine qua non of a Christian, particularly in the hierarchical structure. Every non-Greek, for instance, will thus be legally excluded from what will be called the Greek Church and hierarchy, every non-Bulgarian from the Bulgarian Church, and so on. As a Jew, St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, could only have been a pastor in one nation, the Jewish. Similarly, Saints Cyril and Methodius, being of Greek origin, would not have been accepted among the Slavs. What a loss this would have entailed for the Church! …

Thus the sacred and divine are rendered entirely human, secular interest is placed above spiritual and religious concerns, with each of the racial churches looking after its own. The doctrine of faith in “one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” receives a mortal blow. If all this occurs, as indeed it has, racism is in open dispute and contradiction with the spirit and teaching of Christ.

Reprinted from For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism, edited by Hildo Bos and Jim Forest.

Letters Spring 2002

Attitudes to Islam

I found the last In Communion rich and thought-provoking, in particular Jessica Rose’s article, but the unsigned essay, “A Christian Perspective on Islam,” requires a rejoinder.

Some of the author’s statements correspond to what I have observed in visiting Muslim countries in the eastern Arab world. The author’s experience of living among Muslims rings true, for instance, in his description of the image of the Muslim community at prayer throughout the world. It reminds me of Egyptian Muslim friends explaining their sense of being part of a world-wide community during Ramadan, where as darkness falls across the globe the faithful break their fast.

But I could not agree with much of what the author said. In the first place, he appears to believe that “Allah” is an exclusively Muslim name for God. In fact “Allah” is the Arabic word for God, used by Muslims and Christians alike; the phrase “Bism illah” (In the name of God) may be followed by “al-Rahman al-Rahim” (the Compassionate, the Merciful) but also by “al-Ab wa-l-Ibn wa-l-Ruh al-Quddus” (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). The names of God, and the language which Islam has developed to talk about God, are far less remote from Christian theology than the author states. While the concept of the Trinity is indeed alien to Islam, Christians and Muslims share much thinking about the attributes of God.

This was brought home to me clearly last summer at a conference on Middle Eastern Christianity from 750 to 1100 AD. One of the speakers discussed the style and language of a section from a treatise in Arabic by a Christian theologian of the 11th century. It was the section on God, where the writer uses many terms and expressions which can also be found in the Quran and in Muslim texts about God. At the end of the paper the chairman of the session, a Muslim, said to the speaker, a Christian: “I wish your paper could have gone on longer. It was so beautiful to hear God being talked about like that.”

Like Christianity, Islam is spread over different regions of the world and consequently takes on very diverse forms. Senegalese, Omanis, Indonesians, Iranians, Muslims settled in the US and Tatars do not live their Islam in the same way, and the differences may be compounded if one takes account of whether the people concerned are villagers or city-dwellers. It is just as hard to generalize about Islam if one looks at how it is lived in these different countries as it is to generalize about Christianity if one looks at it in, say, Scandinavia, Nigeria, Brazil, South Korea and Kerala.

An easy way to realize this is to look at aspects of society, such as political participation of women. In Saudi Arabia they are completely excluded from political activity, in Iran they can be members of parliament, in Egypt they can be government ministers, in Pakistan and Bangladesh they are, or have been, heads of government. Yet all these countries describe themselves as Muslim. I do not doubt the author’s good faith, but statements like “Islam is a man’s world where women must stay in the background, not seen in mosques, coffee bars, or public life” have to be set against facts like this, and also against shots of streets in Cairo or Jakarta on TV news films.

This is not to say that women do not suffer restrictions on their freedom in Muslim countries, depending on the country concerned, the woman’s social position and so on. But one cannot generalize about this matter, nor can one claim that it is something specific to Islam. A few decades ago, how many women did one see in Greek cafes or Greek public life?

Some of the features which the author ascribes to Islam belong more to what is often called a traditional society than to a specifically Muslim one. When he describes traditional Muslim education, his remarks remind me of accounts of the early school experience of some Arab Muslim writers — but also some Arab Christian ones, where it was the local priest, not the imam, who was the teacher. The Lebanese Orthodox journalist, historian and novelist Jurji Zaidan paints a bitter picture of his first school in Beirut in the second half of the 19th century, run by an ignorant and authoritarian priest. (Instead of the Quran, the Psalms were the text the pupils had to learn).

The Palestinian poet, painter and critic Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, who grew up in the Syrian Orthodox community of Bethlehem in the 1920s, came off better in church schools, for the teachers were not authoritarian. But only when he went to the state school did he really start to develop intellectually. His teachers there, some of whom were Christians, others Muslims, were committed to preparing their pupils for building a modern democratic state after the end of the Mandate. And if it were true that the “forms of educational instruction and thought in Islam” do not guide Muslims “to become active and responsible, but to submit … passively to [their] fate”, how could one explain the intellectual achievements of medieval Muslim civilization, the movements of resistance in different Muslim countries to British, French, Russian, Dutch or Italian colonization, or the success of a project like the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which has provided credit for small-scale projects to hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, whom ordinary banks will not consider lending to?

The author does not allow for a diversity of opinions within Muslim societies, yet diversity exists. Fr. Stephen Headley gives examples from Indonesia. Elsewhere one can note that Khomeini’s ideas have always been controversial in Iran, contested not only by secularly oriented thinkers, but also by sections of the clergy who disapprove of the involvement of the religious establishment in politics. And they have refused to accord his successor, Khamenei, the same authority as he enjoyed. (In any case Khomeini is a reference only for Shiites, about 10 percent of Muslims.)

The Sunni Muslim world, like the Orthodox Christian one, does not have a single central authority, and so debates on ethical issues can, and do, take place, as one can see if one follows the decisions given by the Shaikh of al-Azhar or the Chief Mufti in Cairo, who do not always agree with each other.

Muslims living in Europe and America, facing the challenge of living in a non-Muslim and even an entirely secular society, are developing a variety of responses to the new situation they find themselves in. Some Muslims are very critical of those who claim to represent them. I have a Lebanese friend who refuses to make the Pilgrimage because he considers that the regime in Saudi Arabia makes a farce of Islamic values. Public expression of dissident views such as this is difficult in most Muslim countries but it can be found in all but a few. As in other countries, where freedom of expression is severely limited, literature is often the vehicle of critical reflection. Indeed, one good way to discover something of how Muslims live, of the role their faith plays for them (or does not play — there are nominal Muslims, just as there are nominal Christians), and of how many other factors determine the choices they make in their lives, is to read literature — novels, short stories, poetry — from Muslim countries.

Admittedly, it is not easy to write about another religion, especially if one has suffered at the hands of some of its adherents, as may well be the case with the author. But as followers of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we must be committed to seeking for truth, whether in our own lives or our relations with others, or whether truth in the academic sense is concerned. To make sweeping and sometimes denigrating statements about the beliefs and behavior of millions of people all over the world (“Muslim emotions often flare up uncontrollably”) does not help the cause of truth; rather, it contributes to false images and hostility.

The Gospels give some guidelines about how to approach people of another religion. It may be worth reflecting on those passages where Samaritans are mentioned. In the time of Christ the Jews regarded them as holding wrong beliefs because they had their own temple and did not worship in Jerusalem. But Christ saw Samaritans as persons. He recognized that they could be capable of extraordinary good, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. When He healed ten lepers, the only one to come back and thank Him was the Samaritan. And when Christ met the Samaritan woman at the well, he approached her not as a faceless adherent of a false religion but as a person deserving of respect, with her own spiritual needs. He did not raise the issue of what the right beliefs were; she did, once they had been talking for some time and she had realized that this was no ordinary meeting.

To combine a commitment to truth with respect for the persons who hold other beliefs — but who may still have been touched by the Holy Spirit — is a starting point for approaching the mystery of the existence of different religions in the world.

Hilary Waardenburg

Pursuing peace

It is important to pursue peace. I think that this is required of us. I join the rest of you in finding peaceful ways to solve problems. I start with my own attitude towards others (the log in my own eye). I think that our individual witness of Christ’s love to those around us is more important than our words. This is not an accusation but a simple statement. I know that many of you are more engaged in this kind of face-to-face witness and service than I am!

It is important to point out that this or that war is “unjust”, but we cannot let it distract us from the harder and greater tasks before us. Are we working toward a Christian world when we denigrate those with whom we disagree? It is one thing when our Church offers an unambiguous answer to a question (“Thou shalt not kill”), it is another when it seems to offer contradictory commands (Don’t kill, but …). Rather than assuming we know more than our betters, why not learn from this? Certain things may at first seem contradictory, but the task of reconciling them might just make us wiser.

I may never be placed in a situation where I am asked to kill another person. Lord help us, few of us have or will. But every day, I am faced with the temptation to hate another person, and I think this is the standard of murder Christ has given us. War and violence are symptoms and indicators — two of many — that I am not the only one tempted to murder others.

Doug Perkins

Just wars?

During the course of this past week public radio aired the comments of a prominent Roman Catholic theologian as he expounded upon the principles of a “just war” as they applied to our present War on Terrorism. Augustine held that wickedness must be restrained, by force if necessary, and that the sword of the civil authorities is divinely commissioned to this end.

Historically speaking, theorizing on just or unjust killing only became a matter for consideration after the Church was no longer at odds with the civil authority about the 4th century. During the period which preceded that, while the Church was still the object of the state’s oppression or outright persecution, no Christian writing left to us condoned Christian participation in war. It was commonly held in the Christian community that all bloodshed, whether as soldiers or executioners, was unlawful according to Christ’s commandments. In order to fully appreciate their position we should recognize that it was not infrequently Christian blood that was being shed!

Hippolytus (c.170-c.260), who compiled a canon of apostolic tradition, maintained that a soldier who wished to join the Church must refuse to kill men even if ordered to do so. The historian Kenneth Scott Latourette says: “So clear was the opposition of the early Christians to bearing arms that Celsus (2nd cent. Pagan philosopher), in his famous attack on them, declared that if all were to do as did the Christians the Empire would fall victim to the wildest and most lawless barbarians.” This remains today the primary argument. The response of the Church was that if all were to become Christians, the barbarians too would also be Christian, and even then, while Christians were in the minority, their love, labor, and prayers were doing more to preserve the Roman Empire than the Roman army.

Nevertheless, when we contemplate what the world might be like if all Orthodox Christians attempted to live faithfully all of the Gospel Commandments like that early Christian community, we are faced with the problem of evil and violence, intolerance and prejudice all around us. St. Augustine attempted to address that problem with his theory of the Just War. St. John Chrysostom, on the other hand, wrote “A Treatise to Prove That No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself.” In that famous treatise St. John argues that neither sickness, poverty, nor any other injury, nor even death itself can take from man what it is that our Lord has commanded us to store up as treasurers in heaven. Only a man himself can do such terminal injury to himself.

We may never know what the world might have been if Christians throughout every century had sought, even at the cost of their own blood, to live the Gospel Commandments of love like that early Church. As Celsus contended, perhaps the barbarians would have prevailed. But we the faithful of St. Nicholas of South Canaan Orthodox Church do have the present to discover what effect such living might have in our own city. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself exemplified for us the truly human life and left us His Commandments of unconditional love. At the end of His earthly life He was crucified at the hands of evil, but it is His resurrection, and our own, that we celebrate every Pascha.

Fr. Joseph O’Brien

The Lord of the Rings

I had a letter from a friend who comments that Lord of the Rings is a fantastic work of imagination that somehow taps into something very deep within our collective western psyche but “there is something fundamentally non-Christian about it… The interplay of good and evil is fundamentally different from the gospel of Jesus.”

As I see it, the pivotal idea of Lord of the Rings is that weakness, foolishness, self-giving love and the renunciation of power are at the heart of the life God intends for us. Frodo, and Sam with him, in effect embrace the Cross. They even experience a death and resurrection on the side of Mount Doom after the ring of power’s destruction.

Jim Forest

Tolkien sometimes seems to be going out of his way to avoid a Christian “message” in his book — Middle-earth is devoid not only of Christianity but, to a notable degree, of any religion: no worship, no temples, no priests/shamans/etc. Events are guided by a larger, hard-to-discern purpose, a “doom,” as Tolkien likes to say, using an older sense of the word, but he’s very careful not to suggest more.

Tolkien wants to set his Christian commitment aside in the telling of this story so that, without violating or contradicting it, he can talk about things in another way. As it says in the Silmarillion, “In that hour was put to the proof that which Mithrandir (Gandalf) had spoken, and help came from the hands of the weak when the Wise faltered.” But all the warriors making their stand “beyond hope” (another favorite Tolkien phrase) play an essential part in Frodo and Sam’s work, so it would be a distortion of Tolkien to say that Frodo’s path is held up as the “right” model for dealing with evil in the world — it’s an essential part of a larger picture. The world-view that most strongly informs Lord of the Rings, it seems to me, is that of the Norse mythology that Tolkien knew and loved so well.

Lord of the Rings is a meditation on how evil works in this world: Evil is real. Peace is not a norm. It is a blessing, achieved only rarely, temporarily, and at the cost of great pain, sacrifice and sorrow. There is no way out of dealing with the world’s evil, or with the world’s great events. (This is hardest for me, since I’ve always had a stay-out-of-it attitude toward “politics”). Frodo and Sam (Sam in particular) are people with no interest in glory, desiring only to live quiet lives, who are nonetheless called out to play a part in huge events. They don’t like it or really understand it, but they are faithful.

Faithfulness: I think that if there is one thing that moves us today about Lord of the Rings above all others, it’s the book’s emphasis on faithfulness, loyalty, true friendship, fealty. Faithfulness to friend, master, lady, land, duty, expressed by unwavering commitment to a way of conduct expressing that faithfulness, held to even “beyond hope,” is, I think, something that sets off a great yearning in us; it’s not what our world values, but our hearts long for it.

The book’s treatment of the working of the power in the world is very deep, and I don’t think I’ve really understood it. On the one side, it’s perilous and corrupting… that’s what the imagery of the rings, and the Ring, is all about. On the other hand, the book’s politics, if they can be called that, are monarchist (Tolkien’s were too — see Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien): the only chance of good in the world is rule by a noble king, who is hard to find and tragically corruptible.

Those who imagine that Lord of the Rings gives us a black-and-white treatment of evil can be cured by reading the story of Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring: a man corrupted by his desire for good, destroyed because a good end became so important to him that he was willing to use forbidden means to attain it. Perhaps not many in OPF would agree with Tolkien on what “good means” are, but his commitment is clear: no good end will come by bad means, no matter what the threat.

I’d be curious to know how, in your friend’s words, “the interplay of good and evil is fundamentally different from the gospel of Jesus.” Is it because humans (and elves, dwarves and hobbits) seem so completely responsible for whether good or evil triumph in the world, that divine help seems lacking? Is it because violence seems to “work” in combating evil?

As for people being somehow on their own in doing good and fighting evil: some readers have missed the fact that, in Tolkien’s mythology the wizards, including Gandalf, are divine beings — angels — sent to aid the world in its peril. In a letter to a friend, Tolkien wrote “Gandalf is an angel.” From the Silmarillion: “Even as the first shadows were felt in Mirkwood there appeared in the west of Middle-earth the Istari, whom men called the Wizards … afterwards it was said among the Elves that they were messengers sent by the Lords of the West to contest the power of Sauron, if he should arise again, and to move Elves and Men and all living things of good will to valiant deeds.” Perhaps it’s a measure of Tolkien’s view of the corruptibility of all things that even some of the Wizards become corrupt.

Tolkien is describing the world before Christ — he said that Middle-earth is meant to be our own world in an earlier, forgotten age. I believe that, in all he wrote, he was pondering how divine providence works itself out, and sometimes reveals itself, in a world that does not know Christ. We could with as much (and, thank God, as little) justification say that the interplay of good and evil in the Old Testament is “fundamentally different from the Gospel of Jesus.”

All of Tolkien’s work is suffused with a sense of the goodness and rightness of the natural order, to a degree that many will dismiss as “medieval.” Pay attention to how often Sauron and his minions express their evil by twisting or tampering with the natural. A favorite Lord of the Rings quote of mine comes from Gandalf, when he is confronting the corrupted Saruman. He might as well be speaking to the scientists and engineers who define our world: “He who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

The question was raised: Is Frodo a “Christ figure?” In literature, what we call Christ figures are rarely meant simply to be Christ in disguise. They present some shining of Christ’s nature into the world, usually mixed up with their mortality, fallibility, sinfulness. Frodo might, at least, fit this description, yes? In Orthodox spirituality, Christification is the goal of every believer; in this life, we hope that it can be attained, by grace, in some degree, not that we will become equivalent to Christ, or Christ by nature — a demonic goal.

My son just located one of the key passages in Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo says of Gollum, “He deserves death.” Gandalf replies: “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many — yours not least.”

John Brady

Gandalf’s wisdom

When we forget that this is a story and try to test out its parallel or lack thereof with the Gospel, we get into trouble. There are many beautiful, teaching moments where Tolkien portrays an aspect of humanity which may/will connect to others’ experience of the God we as Christians know. This combined with the childlike imagination and world of journeys and adventures of fantasy creatures is a fantastic story and a great way to both relax and learn. We must not get totally lost from reality, however, and remember that it is a story. Yes, one that we may love and cherish, one that may help to form our lives; yet to pick it apart in order to understand it or not fear it, well, to quote Gandalf, “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

Sheri Bunn San Chirico

Not Narnia

Tolkien himself warned pointedly against the interpretation of his work literally or as allegory. This is not Narnia. Events, characters and things in the story aren’t supposed to have a one-to-one relationship with things in our world. And war is a reality — even the nonviolent are engaged in struggle. Take the struggle in Lord of the Rings any way you want to. It could be the good guys against the bad guys, or it could be a monk, or even a faithful Christian, struggling against sin or passions.

Matthew R. Brown

Purity of heart

Let me tell you about the “Purity of Heart” session I led for teen-agers of our parish.

In preparing it, I used the Philokalia, the Orthodox Study Bible, and Jim Forest’s book on the Beatitudes. After defining what a “Gospel” is, we talked about what Matthew the Apostle might have been like. We also talked about how the children how feel about their parents — how badly they would feel if something happened to their mother/father. We discussed their feelings when they told their parents good night and then said their prayers. This was a type of purity of heart since it is totally bound up in love with no thought of gain, anger, jealousy and so forth.

We went around the room in a roundtable discussion with each teen saying what they thought “purity of heart” is. A common answer was that when they sensed purity of heart within themselves when they were most happy and felt that those most inward feelings defined who and what they were; in other words “my heart — in purity — is who I really am.”

We also talked about going to confession, fasting and communion as methods to restoring purity of heart when we felt we had “lost it.”

It was a morning well spent.

Deacon Benedict Mann

Traditional Christian Peacemaking

by Mark Pearson

athos10There can be no doubt about the absolute demands that the gospel of Christ makes upon an Orthodox believer. The Church of Holy Tradition is total in its claim. The goal of the spiritual life is the transformation of the believer, inwardly and outwardly. Body and soul are intimately linked in this salvitic process. For a person to be a peacemaker, a son of God, he must be prepared to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ. It is not good enough for us to want to change the world; Dostoevsky said “everybody wants to change the world, but nobody thinks about changing himself”. If we want to transform the world we must start by looking at ourselves.

St Seraphim of Sarov said, “acquire inward peace and thousands around you will be saved” and it is in the acquisition of that inward peace that we become peacemakers in the world and not only for the salvation of our own souls but for others with whom we come into contact. Becoming a peacemaker starts then with our acknowledgment of our personal unpeacefulness, our fractured nature, our own fallenness. In this time of spiritual effort of Lent we are given a number of Biblical examples on which to pattern our lives which help us to shovel away the roadblocks to a peaceful heart. And so Christ gives us the parable of the publican and the pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). And the Church takes prayer of the publican, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”, and makes it the refrain of our lives. We sing :

Let us, the faithful, flee the boastfulness of the pharisee,

Let us repeat in reverence the publican’s prayer:

May our thoughts not be poisoned by pride, O Lord;

Grant us the grace to cry aloud from the depths of our hearts:

God, be merciful to us sinners!

(Matins Hymn of Light, Sunday of Publican and Pharisee)

Have mercy on us O Lord, have mercy on us. This is the Lenten refrain as we seek to purify our souls by repentance and gain the kingdom that is within. But we find that we do not even measure up either to the pharisee or the publican:

I surpass the publican in transgressions,

But do not even compete in his repentance!

I have not accomplished the good deeds of the pharisee,

Yet I boldly out-do his boasting!

By your infinite humility, o Christ God.

Establish in me the good deeds of the one,

And the humility of mind of the other,

Confirming in me the good intentions of each,

And save me, o Savior!

(Tuesday Vespers Apostikha in Tone 3, fourth week of Lent)

And humility of heart grants us great joy and peace, for “the gift of God and knowledge of Him is not a cause for turmoil or clamor; rather this gift is entirely filled with a peace in which the Spirit, love and humility reside” and “the heart brought close to hope … makes it peaceful and pours joy into it” as St Isaac the Syrian teaches us.

But still we judge others, we condemn the unworthy, we are filled with self-righteous anger at the wrongs in the world. How can we presume to make peace when we are filled with violent passions? Anger grips my soul and the devil roars in triumph. How can we possibly judge others when we are so deserving of condemnation ourselves? So the wise St Isaac reminds us, “Have clemency not zeal with respect to evil. Lay hold of goodness not justice. Do not find pleasure in judging…. if we become castigators, chastisers, judges, investigators, vindicators, and faultfinders, in what respect does our life differ from the life of the secular world? …. If you love gentleness be peaceful. If you are deemed worthy of peace, you will rejoice at all times. Seek understanding not gold. Clothe yourselves with humility not fine linen. Gain peace not a kingdom.” For God is a God of mercy not judgement. “Do not speak of God as “just’,” St Isaac tells us, “for His justice is not evident in his actions towards you.” And he goes on to say:

How can you call God just when you read the gospel lesson concerning the hiring of the workmen in the vineyard? How can someone call God just when he comes across the story of the prodigal son who frittered away all his belongings in riotous living — yet merely in response to his contrition his father ran and fell on his neck, and gave him authority over all his possessions? Where then is this “justice” in God, seeing that, although we were sinners, Christ died for us? If he is so compassionate in this, we have faith he will not change.

We acknowledge this in the communion prayer of St John Chrysostom when we confess with Simon Peter that “thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God” and we put ourselves first in line when we continue, “who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first”.

We struggle to follow Christ’s way; “the path to God is a daily cross. No-one has ascended to heaven by way of ease. We know where the easy way leads!”, advises St Isaac the Syrian. The path to peacemaking is the way of the cross. We cannot acquire a peaceful soul until we have acquired the virtues of the flesh; humility, repentance, self-denial, compassion, and of course love.

The timeless Lenten spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving give us the means of cleansing our souls. And once again, that wise Syrian sage of the seventh century, St Isaac, tells us, “prayer is the mother of all virtues; capture the mother and she will bring you the children”. And so we pray. And if we cannot pray, still we pray the prayer of the publican, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”.

And with prayer comes fasting. Jesus assumed that fasting was a part of a person’s spiritual life; “When you fast … ” He tells his disciples, and when they were unable to heal an epileptic boy, He tells them that some demons need to be driven out with prayer and fasting. Fasting fortifies the soul, self denial strengthens the body, humility heals the heart.

We pray from the Lenten Triodion:

The fast is here, the mother of chastity

“The accuser of sins, the advocate of repentance …

Faithful, let us cry:

O God, have mercy on us!

Again we cry:

Let us humble the flesh by abstinence,

As we follow the divine path of pure fasting.

With prayers and tears let us seek the Lord who saves us.

Let us put an end to anger, crying out:

Save us who have sinned against you!

Save us, O Christ our king, as you saved the men of Nineveh,

And make us partakers of your heavenly kingdom, o compassionate one!

Let us begin the fast with joy!

Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts!

Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh!

(Forgiveness Sunday vespers, “Lord I call” in tone 2

And again:

Let us begin the pure fast, O people,

Which is the salvation of our souls.

Let us serve the lord with fear;

Let us anoint our heads with the oil of good deeds.

Let us wash our faces with waters of purity.

Let us not use empty phrases in prayer,

But as we have been taught, let us cry out:

Our Father in heaven, forgive us our trespasses,

For you are the lover of mankind.

(Apostikha in Tone 3, Tuesday Matins, First Week of Lent)

And with prayer and fasting we practice “almsgiving”. Peacemaking by another name, almsgiving is founded on compassion. As Christ, in His infinite love and mercy had compassion on those around him at the feeding of the five thousand, as He wept over Jerusalem, as he healed the woman of Samaria, so we too are called to compassion.

“What is a compassionate heart”, asks St Isaac, “it is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the animals, for the demons, for all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart; because of his deep mercy he cannot bear to hear or to look upon any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation”.

And again, the Lenten prayer book, the Triodion, offers us invaluable counsel; “Come, faithful”, we are urged, “Let us perform the works of God in the light!”


Come, let us purify our souls with alms and mercy to the poor,

Not blowing a trumpet, or publishing what we do in charity,

Lest our left hand know what our right has done,

And vainglory steal from us the fruit of alms.

(Apostikha in Tone 8, Sunday Vespers, first week of Lent).

If we set our hands to doing good,

The effort of lent will be a time of repentance for us,

A means to eternal life,

For nothing quite saves the soul as much as giving to those in need.

Alms, inspired by fasting, deliver man from death.

Let us embrace this, for it has no equal;

It is sufficient to save our souls!

(Apostikha in Tone 8, Thursday Matins, second week of Lent)

By these means we struggle to carry our crosses to Golgotha. There we cry “remember me O Lord in Thy kingdom’, there like the wise thief we repent of our sins, of our sinfulness, and we turn to Christ. And we receive joy and peace. For, “through the cross joy has come into all the world”, the joy of the resurrection brings inexpressible peace to our souls.

I have talked about the process of acquiring inward peace, an effort involving body and soul. But I have not touched upon the subject of salvation. For the Orthodox Christian Christ, the Savior of our souls, is our teacher, He is the victor over death (expressed by the icon of the resurrection), but first and foremost He heals — “the physician of our souls and bodies’ as we pray in the Divine Liturgy. We are healed by becoming “sharers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). God became incarnate in the form of a man to save not only individuals, not only the church, but all creation; the whole cosmos. And it is in this saving plan that the peacemaker plays a role.

I would like to conclude by telling a wonderful story. The Second World war was the occasion of suffering on an incomprehensible scale. We are familiar with the gut rending story of the Holocaust of European Jewry. But in the West we are almost wholly ignorant of the suffering endured by the countries of Eastern Europe as a whole. Twenty million people died in Russia alone by conservative estimates; censuses reveal that the population of Russia did not recover until the mid Seventies. With the background of shattered cities, starving people, haunted by terror, we come across the following story of forgiveness:

In 1944, the mother of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, one of the most loved Russian poets, took him from Siberia to Moscow. They were among those who witnessed a procession of twenty-thousand German war prisoners marching through the streets of Moscow:

The pavements swarmed with onlookers, cordoned off by soldiers and police. The crowd was mostly women — Russian women with hands roughened by hard work, lips untouched by lipstick, and with thin hunched shoulders which had borne half of the burden of the war. Every one of them must have had a father or a husband, a brother or a son killed by the Germans. They gazed with hatred in the direction from which the column was to appear.

At last we saw it. The generals marched at the head, massive chins stuck out, lips folded disdainfully, their whole demeanor meant to show superiority over their plebeian victors.

“They smell of perfume, the bastards,” someone in the crowd said with hatred. The women were clenching their fists. The soldiers and policemen had all they could do to hold them back.

All at once something happened to them. They saw German soldiers, thin, unshaven, wearing dirty blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades; the soldiers walked with their heads down. The street became dead silent — the only sound was the shuffling of boots and the thumping of crutches.

Then I saw an elderly women in broken-down boots push herself forward and touch a policeman’s shoulder, saying, “Let me through.” There must have been something about her that made him step aside. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a colored handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier, so exhausted that he was tottering on his feet. And now from every side women were running toward the soldiers, pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people.

[Quoted in Making Friends of Enemies by Jim Forest; Crossroads, New York]

Mark Pearson, a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, directs the Computer Center at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and is a member of St. Paul’s Orthodox Church in Dayton, Ohio.

Mark Pearson / 806 College Ave. / Richmond, IN 47374 / e-mail: [email protected]

text written: March 1997 / posted on the OPF web site March 22, 1997

Advice on Peacemaking from the Early Church

From Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, “The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn,” might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.

— St. Justin Martyr (100-165), First Apology, Chapter 39

We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each throughout the whole earth changed our weapons of war — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified.

— St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, Ch 110

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; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? …

With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbors as themselves … 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? … But we are altogether consistent in our conduct…

— Athenagoras of Athens (second half of the 2nd century), Legatio 11, 34-35

This is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; and to those that disobey, judgement. The loud trumpet, when sounded, gathers 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? By His blood and word, He has gathered an army that sheds no blood and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven. The trumpet of Christ is His Gospel. He has 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,” let us sharpen.

So the apostle in the spirit of peace commands. These are our invulnerable weapons: armed with these, let us face the evil one; “the fiery darts of the evil one” let us quench with the sword-points dipped in water, baptized by the Word, returning grateful thanks for the benefits we have received, and honoring God through the Divine Word.

— Clement of Alexandria (died 215), Protrepticus XI, 116

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

— St. Cyprian of Carthage (200?-258), On the Lord’s Prayer, Chapter 24

The world is going mad in mutual bloodshed. Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse. The offenders acquire impunity by increasing their ravaging.

— St. Cyprian of Carthage, To Donatus, chapter 6

The Savior has taught men what they could never learn among the idols. It is also no small exposure of the weakness and nothingness of demons and idols, for it was because they knew their own weakness that the demons were always setting men to fight each other, fearing lest, if they ceased from mutual strife, they would turn to attack the demons themselves. For in truth the disciples of Christ, instead of fighting each other, stand arrayed against demons by their habits and virtuous actions, and chase them away and mock at their captain the devil. Even in youth they are chaste, they endure in times of testing and persevere in toils. When they are insulted, they are patient, when robbed they make light of it, and, marvelous to relate, they make light even of death itself, and become martyrs of Christ.

— St. Athanasius the Great (296-37)3, On the Incarnation, Chapter 8, 52

Both the Emperor’s commands and yours [any 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, d. July 11, 303

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

— St. Martin of Tours (316?-397), explaining his refusal to go to war

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

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: for they are ignorant of what this being serviceable is, who think nothing useful, nothing advantageous, but that which can be held by the hand; and this alone cannot be held, because it may be snatched away….

God, in prohibiting killing, discountances 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.

— Lactantius (260?-339?), the Divine Institutes, Book 6 [Lactantius was tutor of the son of St. Constantine.]

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 (329-379, Letter 203,2

Someone who has defiled himself with murder — be it involuntarily — is considered impure through his impure deeds and the canon considers such a person unworthy of the grace of priesthood.

— St. Gregory of Nyssa (335?-394?), Canonical Epistle to St. Letoius of Melitene

“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, On The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes

If you are a Christian, no earthly city is yours. Of our City “the Builder and Maker is God.” Though we may gain possession of the whole world, we are withal but strangers and sojourners in it all. We are enrolled in heaven: our citizenship is there! Let us not, after the manner of little children, despise things that are great, and admire those which are little! Not our city’s greatness, but virtue of soul is our ornament and defense. If you suppose dignity to belong to a city, think how many persons must partake in this dignity, who are whoremongers, effeminate, depraved and full of ten thousand evil things, and at last despise such honor! But that City above is not of this kind; for it is impossible that he can be a partaker of it, who has not exhibited every virtue.

— St. John Chrysostom (347-407), Homily 17 on the Commissioners

As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! “Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!” ….

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart.

— St. John Chrysostom, Homily 20

How great punishment must they deserve, who, far from forgiving, 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.

— St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on St. Matthew: On the Lord’s Prayer

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 (525-606), The Ladder of Divine Ascent

When our hearts are reluctant we often have to compel ourselves to pray for our enemies, to pour out prayer for those who oppose us. Would that our hearts were filled with love! How frequently we offer a prayer for our enemies, but do it because we are commanded to, not out of love. We ask the gift of life for them even while we are afraid that our prayer may be heard. The judge of our soul considers our hearts rather than our words. Those who do not pray for their enemies out of love are not asking anything for their benefit.

Jesus, our advocate, has composed a prayer for our case. And our advocate is also our judge. He has inserted a condition in the prayer that reads: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sometimes we say these words without carrying them out. Thus our words bind us more tightly.

— St. Gregory the Great (540-604), “Be Friends of God”

“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 (580-662), Centuries on Charity

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

I see that you are unusually disturbed, and that you are closely watching me. I wonder what the reason is? Is it that you saw or heard that I had received an imperial order at the hands of the tribunes, to the effect that I was to go hence, whither I would, and that all who wished might follow me? Were you afraid that I should desert the Church and forsake you in fear for my own safety? But you could note the message I sent, that the wish to desert the Church had never entered my mind; for I feared the Lord of the universe more than an earthly emperor; and if force were to drag me from the Church, my body indeed could be driven out, but not my mind. I was ready, if he were to do what royal power is wont to do, to undergo the fate a priest has to bear….

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

— St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397), Sermon On the Giving up of the Basilicas [In the year 385 Ambrose refused to obey an imperial decree ordering him to turn over basilicas to Arians. He led the people in peacefully resisting the decree.]

Some ask whether, in case of a shipwreck, a wise man ought to take away a plank 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 up thy sword, for every one that taketh the sword shall 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.

— St. Ambrose of Milan, Duties of the Clergy 3,4,27

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

— St. Theodore Studite (759-826), Small Catechism

Note: A larger collection of patristic quotations is posted on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site.


In 1968, a Syndesmos General Assembly took place at the very moment that the established order in Western Europe seemed about to be shaken. In his address to the Assembly, Syndesmos President Mr. Albert Laham from Lebanon stated

The world is not in peace. Neither is it in unity. The spirit of this world, which burns from the black ghettos of Chicago to the streets of Paris, from the Holy Land in the Middle East to the jungles of Africa, this spirit is not the Spirit of unity and peace. It is not a bond which can pacify and unite. It is a barrier which can only divide and destroy. But the firm belief of Syndesmos, and its only reason for existence, is that there is a Spirit, not as this world gives, which is a power, a unity and a peace. There is a Spirit which can burn in men and movements and can empower them to go beyond every spirit of this world. This is the Spirit which Christ gives, the fire which He has cast upon the earth. And Syndesmos desires, as its only consuming desire, to be alive and burning with this spiritual fire.

In 1973, the Syndesmos General Secretariat had to be evacuated from Beirut following the Lebanese civil war. Ten years later, political turmoil still prevented Syrian and Lebanese delegates from taking part in the XIth Syndesmos General Assembly in Crete. The XVIth General Assembly of 1999 took place under the sign of tensions in former Yugoslavia, the Russian Federation, the Holy Land, Georgia and other places where Orthodox live.

Many Orthodox young people today live near conflict areas or are directly touched by war. Every day, thousands of believers face some of the most difficult of questions: Am I allowed to kill in combat? May I fight injustice by violent methods? When the demands of my country seem at odds with the demands of the Kingdom of God, how do I respond to this conflict?

Rarely do we find simple answers to such questions. Thus we search for help in Holy Scripture, the Canons, the writing of the Fathers of the Church, and reflect on the lives of the Saints.

We hope this resource book can help, drawing as it does on the experience of our fathers and forefathers. They teach us examples to follow and attitudes to reject. The Tradition of the Orthodox Church has much to give to its faithful who are caught up in the vicissitudes of Twentieth-Century warfare.

Nonetheless, we cannot simply copy what other have done in the past. Different eras have found different attitudes, and many of today’s problems never existed before. Yet knowledge of Sacred Tradition may help us find ways out of the dead ends that many communities experience today.

His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, a former Syndesmos Vice-President, says: “All religious communities must turn to the very depth of their doctrine and to the best pages of their respective traditions in order to find the principles of a sacred anthropology which puts the emphasis on sincere respect of the whole human person.”

This is the aim of this book.

The present Resource Book attempts to provide original resource texts concerning Orthodoxy, War, Peace and Nationalism. In compiling the book, we have attempted to gather documents that express well the variety of points of view on the theme. These texts do not necessarily express the point of view of the editors or of Syndesmos.

The Syndesmos Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism was supported by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.

Syndesmos expresses its deep gratitude to all those who have made this book possible. In the first place, we thank His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos for providing his speech at the 1994 Conference on Peace and Tolerance. We also thank His Beatitude Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, His Eminence Bishop Irineaus of Backa, Fr. Stanley Harakas, Archimandrite Grigorios (Papathomas), Mr. Olivier Clément, Mr. Tarek Mitri, Mr. Yevgeniy Petrovskiy and the Service Orthodoxe de Presse for their kind permission to use their texts. Finally, this book would not have been possible without the support of many others: Deacon John Sewter, Mrs. Hélene Klépinine-Arjakovsky, Mrs. Cathérine Aslanoff, Mr. Michael Bakker, Mr. Alexander Belopopsky, Mrs. Tatiana Bos-Arjakovsky, The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Poland, Syndesmos Secretary-General elect Ms. Rebecca Hookway, Mr. André Lossky, Syndesmos Secretary-General Mr. Vladimir Misijuk, Mr. Spiridon Tsimouris and Mrs. Svetlana Yerchova.

November 1999

Hildo Bos, Vice-President, Syndesmos

Jim Forest, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship


For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

The Orthodox Church and Peace

Some Reflections

By Olivier Clément

The spiritual and eschatological meaning that Scripture and Christ Himself give to the word “peace” characterizes the Orthodox Church as it does all Christian communities, although she is perhaps more wary than others of secularizing reinterpretations. The Biblical shalom which the Septuagint translates as eirene indicates the gift, the coming, the presence of God himself, for God is the one and only source of peace. The Messianic title ‘Prince of peace’ that we find in Proto-Isaiah1 applies in its fullness to Christ, the ‘king of peace’.2 In the New Testament, the ‘peace of Christ’ is a synonym for that life stronger than death which is brought to us by the Resurrection. Peace, life and joy are thus almost synonymous. ‘Peace on earth’, the message of the angels, is in fact accomplished by Christ — and in Him — for He reunites God and humanity by triumphing over death and hell. He ‘makes peace by the blood of his cross’.3 In rooting Himself in the Church, Body of Christ, place of an ever-continuing Pentecost, the Christian, to the extent of his ascesis, an ascesis of trust and humility, is able to experience — whatever the changes and chances of his life, despite ‘wars and rumours of war’4 — that deep peace which is the foreshadowing within him of the Kingdom. ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’, writes St Paul to the Thessalonians.5 Similarly, Peter points to the ‘gentleness’ and ‘peace’ of the ‘hidden man of the heart.’6

Nevertheless this peace is not a withdrawal into oneself. Man is called to share in the very life of the Trinity: ‘That they may be one, even as we are one,’7 said Jesus to His Father whom He has made ours. Our personal peace is realized in the peace of communion. The Christian, wherever he finds himself, has to become a peacemaker of human and cosmic existence — ‘Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’, we are told in the Epistle to the Hebrews.8 The eucharistic community, which in the first centuries was called agape in Greek, caritas in Latin, ought to become, perhaps above all, a seed of peace in the world. The key text here is the Beatitude about the peacemakers, those who work to make peace9 — who ‘shall be called sons of God’, adopted in the Son, therefore literally ‘deified’. Thus the disciples of Jesus are ‘to be at peace with one another’10 and with all men.11

The first Christian communities are to be found in a ‘universal’ Empire which is a vast area of peace. They pray therefore for its preservation, while refusing to divinise the power of Rome and of the Emperor. But this refusal, which discloses the area of the free personal conscience between the Kingdom of God and that of Caesar, does not express itself through rebellion but through martyrdom, that is to say, through a non-violent stance, which has remained characteristic of the Christian East to this day.

The following text from the First Letter to Timothy12 has been almost entirely integrated into the eucharistic liturgies of St Basil and of St John Chrysostom which are still used today in the Orthodox Church: ‘I exhort… that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.’ The Christians of the first centuries felt very strongly, as do many Eastern Christians today, that the Church covers the world through her presence and her prayer (Paul Evdokimov goes as far as to say that ‘in the mystery’ it is the world which is in the Church and not the other way around); that she preserves peace, delays the Parousia in its aspect of destruction, hastens it in its aspect of transfiguration. ‘What the soul is in the body, such are Christians in the world’, says the second century Letter to Diognetes.13 They sustain and support the world of which they are a fundamental element of its internal cohesion, life and peace. ‘I have no doubt at all that it is because of the intercession of Christians that the world continues to exist’, writes Aristides in his Apologia.14 Such is the priestly role of the entire Christian people, plainly indicated by the Sermon on the Mount: ‘You are the salt of the earth,’15, which refers back to Leviticus: ‘With all your offerings you shall offer salt,’16 and through to Revelation and the First Letter of Peter, which applies to the members of the Church the promise once made by the mouth of Moses to the chosen people: ‘You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’17

The Fathers of the Church, of whom, as is well known, the Orthodox are always very much aware, emphasized that peace, as the anticipation of the Kingdom, had not only a spiritual but also a dynamic and communicable character. St Clement of Rome in his Letter to the Corinthians18 insists that ‘peace is the aim that has been proposed to us from the beginning.’ ‘A deep and joyful peace has been given to us for all men, with an insatiable longing to do good and an abundant outpouring of the Spirit.’ St Basil recalls that ‘Christ is our peace’, and hence ‘he who seeks peace seeks Christ… Without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.’19 ‘The love which Christ bears for mankind spreads his peace among them,’ writes St Dionysius the Areopagite.20 Barnabas describes Christians as ‘children of love and of peace.’21 The saying of Christ is quoted constantly: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you,’22 — that peace ‘which passes all understanding’.23 The peace of Christ comes to birth in man’s heart, it flows forth, becomes responsible and creative love, acquires a social dimension. Christians are the peaceable race (eirenikon genon) remarks Clement of Alexandria.24 Christ calls them to be ‘soldiers of peace’.25 ‘Nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace,’ writes Saint Basil.26 The fight for peace cannot be separated from the fight for justice. The great boldness of the Fathers in social matters is well known. For St John Chrysostom, the ‘sacrament of the altar’ is nothing if it does not extend itself in the ‘sacrament of the poor’.

In the period before Constantine, the Church expected Christians to adopt a position that was fundamentally pacific (but not pacifist in the systematic and ideological sense that the word has taken on). In the second century, at the height of the Roman Peace an apologist like Justin could take the view that the Messianic age prophesied by Isaiah, when swords would be beaten into ploughshares, had arrived with Christianity, for Christians, he says ‘refuse to make war with their enemies’.27 The army is a professional army and ecclesiastical authors, for the most part, consider that the military profession is among those that Christians should not take up. Tertullian gives two reasons for this: because the cult of Rome and of the Emperor is obligatory for legionaries and because the ‘sons of peace’ cannot be soldiers, ‘Can a son of peace take part in a battle?’28 In the third century, when Christianity was beginning to become a widespread religion and there were Christian soldiers, the Apostolic Tradition acknowledges that they maintain order and guard the frontiers, but forbids them to kill. If they do so, they must be excluded from the Church.29 Origen mentions that although Christians can pray for the Emperor in wartime — the situation had become dangerous for the Empire — ‘they may not themselves bear arms against any nation nor learn the art of war. For the fact is that Jesus has made us sons of peace’.30 However, it should be noted that from the third century, the Church prays for the authorities engaged in defensive wars when it is a matter of preventing invasion, chaos and the shedding of innocent blood.

The psychological climate changes with the conversion of the Emperors, the end of persecution, state support for the Church (without which the Ecumenical Councils could not have taken place) and the embedding of Christian values in imperial legislation. Christians are to be found in the highest positions, and the Church is called upon to take, as it were, direct responsibility for the course of events. However, an overriding requirement for peace continued to be a vital element in the Christian conscience. ‘God is not the God of war,’ writes St John Chrysostom. ‘To make war is to declare oneself against God as well as against one’s neighbour. To be at peace with all men is what God, who saves them, requires of us. “Blessed are those who work for peace, for they shall be called the sons of God.” How are we to imitate the Son of God? By seeking peace and pursuing it.’31 The pacific stance of the early Church then falls back to liturgical prayer and to the role of exemplars and intercessors allotted to monks (still laymen in the East), and to the clergy. Fr Michel Evdokimov has already very well presented the theme of peace as it appears in the Orthodox Liturgy. As for monks and clergy, not only must they refuse to serve in armies but they must also forgo the right of legitimate self-defence. The 5th canon of Gregory of Nyssa, which is still in force, states that should a priest ‘fall into the defilement of murder even involuntarily (i.e. in self-defence), he will be deprived of the grace of the priesthood, which he will have profaned by this sacrilegious crime.’

The prohibition32 against clergy and monks serving in the army is paralleled by the canons forbidding them to take office in the administration or government of the State.33 These two injunctions of non-violence and of non-power are combined in the 7th canon of the Council of Chalcedon: ‘Those who have entered the clergy or who have become monks must no longer serve in the army or accept civil office.’ Henceforth, it is the monks who take upon themselves the universal priesthood of working for peace among mankind and the whole of creation, which formerly fell to all Christians. From the mid-fourth century, Serapion of Thmuis, the friend of St Antony, did not hesitate to apply to monks that saying of Christ: ‘You are the light of the world.’ ‘Because of you’, he comments, ‘by your prayers, the universe is saved.’34

Or rather the peace-making service of the universal priesthood is ascribed both to the monks and to the Emperor. The myth of Christian Empire meant a lot to the Orthodox Church, at least until the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. The conversion of Constantine, linked to the apparition of a ‘sign in the sky’, has been thought of as an inauguration of the eschaton. For Eusebius of Caesarea, the union of the Church and Empire ‘converted the whole human race to peace and friendship, since from now on, men mutually recognize one another as brethren and discover their natural unity (in the sense of one human nature gathered up in Christ)’. This for Eusebius is a sign that the Scriptural prophecies have been fulfilled.35 In the Byzantine view, Christian mankind, constantly extended through missions, ought to constitute a kind of ‘city’ politeuma, headed by the Emperor, which he had to keep in peace. His role was to be fulfilled symbolically and by reciprocal agreement rather than by domination. For example, the Emperor sent Clovis, the King of the Franks, consular titles, which integrated him into the politeuma without calling into question his independence. In the Middle Ages, when the Slav and Caucasian nations asserted themselves — thanks in part to evangelization from Byzantium in their own languages — the Empire organized the politeuma as a kind of Christian ‘commonwealth’. It is also true, unfortunately, that the confrontation of Bulgarians and Byzantines, and later of Serbs and Byzantines, for the imperial title led to exhausting wars.

After the fall of Constantinople the Empire passed to Russia. In the nineteenth century, she made very great efforts — and often disinterested ones — for the protection and freedom of the Orthodox of the Balkans. Even so, the division of Christendom was a major obstacle to the reconstitution of a politeuma. After the defeat of Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I entered Paris and all he asked in compensation for the burning of Moscow was that the Easter Liturgy should be celebrated in the very square, now called ‘La Place de la Concorde’, where King Louis XVI had been guillotined. And he tried to reconstitute the politeuma by the creation of a ‘Holy Alliance’ (which should not be confused with the Realpolitik of Metternich’s reactionary Quadruple Alliance). The idea was to bring lasting peace to Europe through an understanding — in all but words an ‘ecumenical’ understanding — between Orthodox Russia, Lutheran Prussia, Anglican England and Catholic Austria and France. The dream was of a Christian society of European nations capable of reconciling tradition and liberty. The rise of secular nationalism in Europe doomed the project to failure. However, it should not be forgotten that in 1901 Tsar Nicolas I proposed and obtained the creation of the International Tribunal of The Hague, to which he would have wished to give a greater capacity to act to prevent future conflicts

This whole long history, as is well known, has not gone by without wars. The Orthodox Church has become intimately linked to every people among whom she has taken root, to whom she has given a script, whose language she has blessed by using it for her Liturgy, whose culture she has safeguarded, and whose Christian ways she has upheld during periods of foreign domination (e.g. of the Ottomans in South East Europe and of the Mongols in Russia). She has thus been totally involved in movements of resistance and wars of liberation. To limit oneself to Greece (although analogous examples could be found in the history of Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria), the banner of insurrection during the terrible war of independence was raised by the Archbishop of Patras. Half the Athonites left the Holy Mountain, monks though they were, to fight the Ottomans (oppressors and, I shall return to the point, Muslims). One should not forget that under Turkish domination (the ‘Turkokratia’) the bishops were regarded, in the Islamic conception of the occupying power, as religious and civil leaders, without distinction, of the milet, namely of the Christian ‘people’. This explains the role assumed by Archbishop Makarios as virtual ‘ethnarch’, i.e. ‘leader of the people’, during the liberation of Cyprus!

However the Orthodox Church has never elaborated a doctrine of the ‘just war’ as the Christian West did following St Ambrose and St Augustine. The latter, let us not forget, designated as Manichean heresy — and he was a past master in the field! — the affirmation that war is intrinsically evil and contrary to the Christian understanding of love. The Christian East, on the other hand, has always thought of war as an evil but a sometimes necessary evil for the defence of justice and freedom. The only normative ideal is that of peace, and hence the Orthodox Church has never made rules on the subject of ius belli and of ius in bello. To kill in war is permitted by a kind of commiseration but, for the Fathers, it is still a sin which must be forgiven! In his 13th canon, St Basil notes: ‘Our fathers have not, in fact, held the homicides committed in warfare to be murders, thus pardoning, it seems to me, those who have taken up the defence of justice and of religion. However, it would be good to advise them to abstain from communion for three years since their hands are not pure.’ Killing in war is relevant to a significant concept of Eastern canon law, that of ‘involuntary sin’.

From this point of view, the only war permitted by the Church as a lesser evil is a defensive war, or a war of liberation. Byzantine treatises on tactics and strategy begin by affirming that war is an evil. Thus, an anonymous sixth century author writes: ‘I am well aware that war is a great evil, and even the greatest of evils. But because enemies shed our blood…, because everyone has to defend his homeland and his fellow citizens…, we have decided to write about strategy…’36 However, the work is concerned only with defensive strategy. It recommends ruses, manoeuvres and subterfuges to avoid battle and to lead to the enemy’s withdrawal. The Strategikon of Maurice, another handbook on the art of war,37 advises against complete encirclement, which would drive a cornered enemy to fight to the end, and recommends always allowing him an outlet to take flight. For the aim is to get him to withdraw, not to slaughter him.

Byzantium, the Balkan countries, Russia at the time of the Mongols, have all been attacked by Islam, an Islam rougher, often far more opaque, than that of the Arabs. Nevertheless it would be wrong to speak of ‘crusades’, but rather of a difficult and painful defence of the Cross. This attitude is imprinted in the liturgical texts and they still have a strange actuality, I have been told, for Greek Cypriots. Certainly, there was a great temptation to identify the Christian people with a particular historic nation. For example, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, on 14 September, we sing: ‘Lifted up of Thine own will upon the Cross, O Christ God, do Thou bestow Thy mercy upon the new commonwealth that bears Thy Name. Make our faithful kings glad in Thy strength, giving them victory over their enemies: may Thy Cross assist them in battle, weapon of peace and unconquerable ensign of victory’.38 In this context, where eschatology runs the risk of being borne off to the advantage of national Messianism, the ancient canon distancing the warrior from communion is quite forgotten. He who fights in defence of his land and his faith is henceforth regarded as a martyr. ‘God will account our blood as that of the martyrs’, said one of the ‘holy Princes’ of Russia, to whom it went against the grain to take up arms, and yet who fought to save their people, and sometimes accepted humiliation and death at the court of the Tatar Khan by freely offering themselves as hostages. In 1380, the Khan marched on Moscow. The Grand Prince Dimitri went to ask the advice of St Sergius of Radonezh, the restorer of the monastic life and therewith of the moral and cultural life of Russia. ‘Your duty demands that you defend your people’, said Sergius. ‘Be ready to offer your soul and to shed your blood. But go first of all before the Khan as his vassal and try to hold him back by submitting to him in all loyalty. Holy Scripture teaches us that if our enemies require our glory, if they want our gold or silver, we can let them have it. We only give up our lives and shed our blood for the faith and in the name of Christ. Listen, Prince, let them have your glory and your wealth, and God will not let you be defeated. Seeing your humility, He will come to your aid and will abase their indomitable pride.’ The Grand Prince made it clear that he had done all that he could to appease the Khan, but in vain. ‘So fight then, they will perish. God will come to your aid. May His grace be with you.’ And he gave Dimitri two of his monks to fight with him. The Russian victory at Kulikovo was decisive. What we have here is neither a theology of violence nor a theology of non-violence, but the unmistakable savour of the Bible, which becomes evangelic when history becomes tragic.

The same conception of warfare is found in the strategy of Kutuzov in the face of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. The battle of Borodino was purely defensive. On its eve, everyone fell to their knees before a particularly venerated icon of the Virgin. Kutuzov then abandoned Moscow to the invader. And when Napoleon, overtaken by winter, withdrew, Kutuzov limited himself to harassing him, having no other aim than to drive him back to the frontier. Tolstoy, who was later to become non-violent, has described these events magnificently in War and Peace.

Since the disappearance of the last Orthodox Empire, that of Russia in 1917, and of the last Catholic Empire, that of Austria in 1918 — the latter deliberately destroyed by anticlerical France — the dream of a Christian politeuma has completely vanished. (It is true that a good number of the notions of John Paul II spring from an ‘imperial’ charisma, rather than from a ‘pontifical’ charisma, but that is another story). This has accentuated the national character of the different Orthodox Churches. During the Second World War, they were at the side of their respective peoples. The Patriarch of Serbia was behind the 1941 plot to dismiss the Regent for having granted free passage to the German armies. He was sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis. In Russia, on news of the German attack, when Stalin floundered and an attitude of wait-and-see was growing in a good many quarters, it was the head of the Russian Church, the Metropolitan, and future Patriarch, Sergius, who called for national resistance. Subscriptions from the faithful enabled the Church to offer the State an armoured column, which flew the flag of Holy Russia and bore the name of the victor of Kulikovo and friend of St Sergius, Dimitri Donskoy. During the 900-day siege of Leningrad, the Church made a decisive contribution through prayer, exhortation and social assistance. But previously, unlike, for example, the Spanish Church, the Russian Church had refused to participate in civil war. Patriarch Tikhon did not give his blessing to the White armies. He himself offered the State the wealth of the Church to combat the famine, and he simply exhorted the faithful to non-violent resistance; while Lenin, having refused his offer, ordered the confiscation even of the things needed for public worship. This was the time when Starets Alexis Metchev opposed the calls for an anti-Bolshevik crusade made by some emigre bishops, and declared that a powerful spiritual renewal was the only way in which Russia would be able to overcome anti-theism.

So, historically, the Orthodox Church has accepted warfare sorrowfully as a sometimes necessary evil, but without concealing that it is an evil which must be avoided or limited as much as possible. Her spiritual men and women have never ceased to pray for peace. St Silouan, who died in 1938 on Mount Athos, carried the whole of mankind in his prayer; and he, a Russian, interceded especially for the persecutors of his Church; persecutions, to which the response was martyrdom — of tens of millions of Martyrs, many of whom died praying for their tormentors.

Today, in a context which has become global and extremely precarious, there are two signs which appear to make specific the position of the Orthodox Church: one is her stance in the war in Lebanon, and the other is the text on Peace worked on by the Third Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, which met at Chambésy near Geneva from 28 October to 6 November 1998.

In Lebanon, the Orthodox community, which is one of the most significant in terms of numbers, economic importance and cultural influence, was the only one to refuse to take up arms and form a militia. The Orthodox Youth Movement of the Patriarchate of Antioch, inspired, above all, by Metropolitan George Khodr, has always put into practice the non-violence of the Gospel, going to the assistance of victims on all sides and developing a dialogue with Islam, which could be of great future importance.

The Third Pre-conciliar Conference has drawn up a long text on ‘the contribution of the Orthodox Church to the achievement of peace.’ This text offers a definition of peace which is that of Scripture and of the Fathers. The basis of peace can be none other than unconditional respect for the human person who, being in the image of God, is rooted beyond this world and, in Christ, becomes irreducible. At the same time, the human person is fulfilled in communion, for the Church as ‘mystery’ of the Risen Christ, makes the person a participant of the love of the Trinity. The Trinity would thus appear, in its radiance of unity and diversity, as the guiding image for a humanity which is unifying but does not want to become uniform. Christ’s Gospel is the Gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15). Christ has become ‘our peace’ (Eph.2:14). The peace ‘which passes all understanding’ (Phil. 4:7), as Christ himself said to his Apostles at the Holy Supper — peace which is broader and more essential than the peace which the world promises. On this point, the Conference quotes the text of Clement of Alexandria on the ‘peaceable race’ to which we have already made reference. Peace is inseparable from justice, which is the social aspect of communion; and from freedom, where the mystery of the image of God is inscribed. The Conference therefore makes a vehement appeal on the one hand, for respect for persons and for minorities and on the other, for justice on the planetary scale.

However, it is only in the Church (and this is why the Church must be the Church) that evil, the root of all discord, can be healed radically by the Life-giving Cross, whose sanctity alone can radiate the strength to do so. Here we discover again the meaning of a peace-making priesthood of all the faithful as in the pre-Constantinian Church. The Church constitutes a force for peace quite different from that of international organizations or States. This ‘force for peace’ is infectious, it is ‘caught’ and spreads through the communion of Eucharistic communities, through prayer, service, and the active love of people who become capable, as St Paul requires, of ‘making Eucharist in all things’ (1 Thess. 5:8).

In this way a creative spirituality is defined which involves all Christians — people of the Resurrection — in the struggle against death as it ravages society and culture in all its dimensions. As regards war in particular, the text reads:

‘Orthodoxy condemns war in general, for she regards it as a consequence of the evil and sin in the world. Out of commiseration she has allowed wars, undertaken to re-establish justice and freedom where they have been trodden underfoot.’

Today, however, the risk of the self-destruction of mankind and of the annihilation of all life on earth through a nuclear war can no longer be a matter of a lesser evil. At this point, politics becomes ‘metapolitical’ and addresses the problem of the meaning of existence itself. The text then condemns armaments of all kinds, especially nuclear and space weapons ‘wherever they come from’. (It is not a question of unilateral disarmament as in pacifist movements).

‘The consequences of a nuclear war would be terrifying, not only because it would cause the death of an incalculable number of human beings, but because the life of those who survived would be intolerable. Incurable diseases would appear, and genetic mutations would occur with dire effects for future generations, assuming that life on earth continued. In the opinion of scientists, one result of nuclear war would be the so-called nuclear winter — climatic disturbances on our planet the end result of which would be the disappearance of all life. Consequently, nuclear war is unacceptable from all points of view, environmental and ethical. It would be a crime against humanity, a mortal sin against God, whose work would be destroyed.’

Confronted by this threat, by the no-less-suicidal progressive destruction of the environment and by famine in so many regions of the Third World, while ‘the economically developed countries live in a regime of opulence and waste, committing themselves to a sterile policy of armaments,’ only a spiritual leap can open the paths of the future. The Conference summons Christians to adopt a new lifestyle based on voluntary limitation, sharing, and sympathetic respect for Nature. The Conference text concludes:

‘Because we know the meaning of salvation, we have the duty of striving to alleviate illness, unhappiness and anxiety; because we have access to the experience of peace, we cannot remain indifferent when peace is lacking in contemporary society; because we are blessed with the justice of God, we have to strive for more complete justice in the world and for the disappearance of all oppression… Because we are nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord in the holy Eucharist, we feel the need of sharing the gifts of God with our brethren — we understand better what hunger is and we strive for its abolition. Because we are preparing for a new earth and a new heaven where justice will reign, we struggle here and now for the vivifying and the renewal of man and of society.’

First published as “L’Altra Pace” in the volume “La Pace come metodo,” Milano 1991

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents