Category Archives: Peacemaking

Peacemaking in the Parish: Seeking the Peace from Above

by Fr. Stephen Headley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006

Peacemaking in the Parish

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006

July 2006

Dear In Communion reader,

Peacemaking begins where we live, work, and worship. This issue is devoted to peacemaking in the parish.

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

We hope this issue will reach a wide readership and that the essays by its three authors may be of some assistance in helping us overcome barriers within our parishes that lock us out of the Kingdom of God. (You can order extra copies or reprint any of the essays in this issue in your parish or diocesan publication. In the coming days all of them will be on the OPF web site and can be easily downloaded.)

Would you take a moment to help keep OPF going? We need your support. Subscription payments and annual dues fall far short of our needs. We have two part-time staff members, myself and Sheri San Chico. We are paid very little for our many hours of work, but OPF’s income doesn’t justify more adequate payment. We also have a part-time web master. In addition there are all the usual expenses: office and publication costs, postage, telephone, travel, etc.

If you are one of those who makes regular donations or donate volunteer time, thank you! You are a God-send. If you aren’t, please consider becoming part of our community of committed donors. If you can’t manage a monthly or quarterly donation but can make an occasional special donation, please do so. Thank you!

We depend on our supporters to make at least one donation annually, but without those who give more than once a year, and give more than the minimum, we would have to call it a day.

Donations can be made on line. Just click the button on the right.

In Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

An Orthodox Response to a Nuclear Iran

by Alex Patico

The current administration in Washington has put Iran at the top of its foreign policy agenda. After declaring that Iran is part of an “axis of evil,” the Bush government now declares that a nuclear Iran would be the gravest conceivable threat. Reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq war, the current pressure being brought to bear on the UN Security Council comes despite a lack of evidence that a weaponization program exists within Iran. IAEA inspectors have found no such indications, and the CIA’s own intelligence estimates place such a possibility from two to ten years down the road.

Seymour Hersh, the journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib story, wrote more than a year ago that senior administration officials stressed to him that the next target after Iraq was Iran. His recent New Yorker article filled in the details of Pentagon planning for the use of nuclear “bunker-buster” bombs.

Other recent reports indicate that the Pentagon is doing assessments of the cultural fabric of Iran as it would relate to an armed incursion into Iranian territory, and providing hard-currency support for groups like the MKO, an opposition group in exile (still listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. Department of State).

One Congressman, Ron Paul, said recently: “The logic of this current push for war is much the same as was used in the argument for war on Iraq. As earlier with Iraq, this resolution demands that Iran perform the impossible task of proving a negative — in this case that Iran does not have plans to build a nuclear weapon.”

Can one speak of an Orthodox response to such events? Many people regard the Orthodox Church as too other-worldly to formulate a reaction to such a foreign policy crisis. But in fact, Orthodox Christianity has many times risen to just such challenges. It came into being among a people oppressed by a harsh and seemingly omnipotent imperial superpower. It attracted adherents even among those who had been the blood enemies of the Jewish apostles who spread the word. In the Church’s long history it has many times suffered and resisted oppressive governments. At every liturgy, the Church renews its appeal for peace and for the conditions of peace. The Gospel summons all followers of Christ to be peacemakers who “shall be called the sons of God.”

But how does this translate into practical policy for the present day? Certainly, not by playing the game the same way everyone else is playing it.

First, we have no fear; Jesus cast out fear and asks us to rise above it, too. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is remembered for remarking that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself,” while John F. Kennedy said “Never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate.” But Jesus said it first: “Do not fear, for I am with you.” Policy options tend to weigh up differently if you are assured of ultimate safety and victory, though you “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Second, as Christians, we have been freed from enmity. The reality is that we are brothers even if we are as divided from each other as Cain was from his brother Abel. It is because we are brothers and sisters that Christ taught us to say the words “Our Father.” There is no other kind of warfare than fratricidal warfare. Neither is any human being or nation free from the influence of evil. The rhetoric of designating certain nations as an “evil empire” only impedes efforts to combat evil, while blinding us to our own evils. For Christians, the rhetoric of enmity goes in the trash bin. There is no “other side” — there is only humankind.

Third, Orthodox Christians embrace an approach known as “conciliarity.” Matters of Church life and teaching are decided by the whole Body of Christ, rather than by an individual or even a respected hierarchy. The principle of conciliarity is not only useful in resolving issues within the Church; it can also help us in resolving conflicts between nations. This would require is to listen with care and respect to other nations, even those whom we regard us as mortal enemies. For Orthodox Christians, isolationism is not an option. We say: “One Orthodox Christian is no Orthodox Christian,” because we are saved together, not in isolation. We grow toward God as the leaves of a tree grow toward the sun, connected and contributing to one another.

How would the conduct of foreign policy look it were not fear-driven? If we refused to regard Iranians as permanent enemies? If we made up our mind about issues concerning Iran not on our own but in consultation with the rest of the global community? Can we credibly claim that the current U.S. or British policy is based on premises such as these? Remember the words of George Washington, the first president of the United States, as he left office:

Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.

How would we approach a state like Iran that seems so different, so hostile and so resistant to dialogue? By being unafraid to dialogue directly with those who are belligerent — Libya, Serbia, North Korea, Iran, or any other state that we regard as posing a grave threat. By treating adversaries as fellow human beings who fear as we do, and who may act on those fears as long as they have them in their hearts. By treating all other nations as legitimate partners in our working out of our own salvation, because we cannot get there alone.

So long as some nations demand the right to make and potentially use nuclear weapons, it is inevitable other states will see no convincing reason why they should not have the right. Surely, as the country that introduced this technology to the world, and used it in wartime, the United States has a special responsibility to support limitation of its proliferation, but it has no special claim, over other nations, to the wisdom needed to do that. All of us are smarter than any one of us. The United States should be setting a good example by conforming to provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which commit the U.S. to work toward “general disarmament”; instead, it modernizes and updates the weapons it has.

It may not be for faith-based groups to prescribe specific diplomatic initiatives, but it is incumbent upon us both as believers and as world citizens to ensure that the core principles being followed are ones that we can take pride in and support. America is diverse, but it is also faithful. Its Christians cannot fail to be peacemakers if they simply follow the Prince of Peace. Its Muslims need to take up their special role as people who can provide a bridge between antagonistic civilizations. Its Zoroastrians and Baha’is have their roots in, and a special feeling for, the land of Iran. American Jews should not fail to weigh the impact of continued enmity and violence within the Middle East on their co-religionists in Israel. America’s Buddhists and Taoists should be able to contribute, in their own way, to the search for peace and reconciliation. Its Hindus have ties to India, which has managed constructive dialogue with Iran despite their differences.

The Old Testament prophet foresees that in response to God’s rebuke, the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshare.” The New Testament makes clear that it is in each human heart that the blessings of God are won: through meekness, mourning, mercy and purity of heart.

Alex Patico was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran, a former advisor to Iranians for International Cooperation, and a co-founder of the National Iranian-American Council. He will be part of a peace delegation to Iran in early May.

Peace and Conflict in Scripture and History

by Father Sergei Ovsiannikov

One aspect of my job in the United Bible Societies is to be a mediator between Orthodox and Protestant translators. Sometimes it is hard to explain to non-Orthodox our Orthodox understanding that Scripture is part of Holy Tradition, not a book with its own isolated meaning. We Orthodox consider Holy Scripture in the context of Holy Tradition. The Bible for us is not just a collection of narratives and poems but it was born as a result of life in the Church. The books and the stories of the Bible were selected by the Church so that we could find our life in God, our way to God. We know quite well that life is far from being simple and well defined. And it is also not so simple to find a plain definition for “war” and “peace” just because they are realities of our life.

Let me confess that sometimes I am jealous and I would like to have the same things my Protestant colleagues have: their clear structure and simple approach to the many questions which Holy Scripture and Tradition put before us. They have a theology of war and peace. They can easily give clear answers — the meaning of words, what we should do and should not do. For us life in Christ is more complicated.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples after His resurrection, eirne umin — “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19) We know these words by heart, not only from Holy Scripture but because they are often repeated in the Holy Liturgy. “Peace be with you and upon you all!” Again and again we pray for “peace from on high and the salvation of our souls” and for “the peace of the whole world, the stability of Holy Churches of God and the union of all.”

But do we really hear these words? Do we understand that being in peace is a condition of the Holy Liturgy? To be in peace! We must be in a condition of peace in order to receive Holy Communion — peace with others and peace in our souls. We must keep the peace of Christ in our hearts. This is the reason for our custom in the Russian Church to prepare for Communion with confession, because while I have sin in my heart I am not at peace with myself or God. Confession is a stage of peace that brings me toward the real peace that is the result of community with Christ. As apostle Paul said, “Christ is our peace, He who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity…” (Ephesians 2:11-13)

But often we are not coming to the Holy Liturgy in a condition of peace. Unfortunately many of the words of Jesus Christ have become so familiar to us that we fail to recognize their meaning. They come to us like an old coin used so much that the image is worn away. We can no longer be sure whose image it is? Caesar’s? Or the image of Christ? Nowadays we hear the words “war” and “peace” so often that we can confuse a secular meaning of these words and their biblical, ecclesiastical meanings. Unconsciously we consider peace as a state of nations without war and war as just morally a bad thing, a failure of certain politicians. This is in perfect accordance with a famous definition of war given by Clausewitz: “War is a continuation of political commerce… by other means.”

But one can suggest another approach. We could recall the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said “it is necessary to know that war (polemos) draws people together, and justice is strife and all living things come into being through strife and necessity.” He insisted that “War is the father of all things and is the king of all.”

In the Holy Liturgy, we pray “for deliverance from all strife, affliction and necessity.” But for Heraclitus strife and necessity are the necessary conditions to be in this world.

Maybe it is true. Certainly it seems that way for many people just from reading Holy Scripture. If we start to read the Bible, we often find the word “war.” Sometimes people who are not in the Church are shocked by what they read about war. There are people who visit our parish in Amsterdam who confess to me, “I love the New Testament. I know it nearly by heart. But I cannot understand the Old Testament. So much blood and killing!”

What can we say? What answer can we give to such people? First of all, what they say is partly true. Sometimes we find verses in the Bible which shock not only newcomers but ourselves. In the Book of Deuteronomy we read: “Kill him. Be the first to stone him. And then let everyone else stone him too.” (13:9) If we look a few verses back we understand who we must kill: “even your brother or your son or your daughter or the wife you love or your closest friend.” (13:6) We are told we must be ready to kill the people closest to us.

Certainly these words must be shocking for us — but only on one condition: if we take them out of context and convert them into a slogan: “The Bible says so and so…” We should not ask under what circumstances are we to do this. But even if we consider the context, the problem of idolatry, the answer will still be strange for us: we are to kill our beloved friends if they try to influence us to worship other gods.

Can we really accept this command? No, we cannot. And the reason for that is quite simple — we know another command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk 12:31) Though quite often we forget that is a quotation from the Old Testament too (Leviticus): “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). And there is another reason: we do not know much about “other gods.” Shall we take this expression literally or in a metaphorical sense? We cannot find an answer while we are standing on the ground of the Old Testament alone. We cannot find an answer if we isolate the Old Testament from the New.

When we look for the word “war” in the New Testament, it is used in a different way than in the Old Testament. We find the word “war” sixteen times in the New Testament — nine times in the Book of Revelations and seven in other places.

In Revelations Christ is described as a warrior: “Now repent, turn from your sin. Otherwise I will come to you soon and wage war against them with a sword that comes out of my mouth.” (Rev 2:16) Later He is described as a warrior riding a white horse. “Out of His mouth came a sharp sword to strike the nations.” (Rev 19:11-15)

Here we see Christ is a warrior who is going to fight us and all nations for our sins. We will know His name: “His name is ‘The Word of God'” (Rev 19:13). And His word has the power of a sword. This word will be a judge and fighter on the last day.” (John 12:48)

In the Apostle Paul’s letters, we sometimes see him using war or instruments of war as metaphors of spiritual life. In the Second Epistle to Timothy, he says: “Take your part in suffering as a loyal soldier of Christ Jesus.” In the First Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul warns that just when people are talking about “peace and security, then sudden disaster comes upon them, like the labor pains of a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (Thes 5:3,8) According to Paul we do not belong to the night or to the darkness. Our only defense against this darkness, he says, is to wear the armor of faith: “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope of salvation.” (I Thes 5:8)

In the Letter to the Ephesians, in a letter written in a prisoner’s chains, he says: “Therefore put on the armor of God that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace. In all circumstances hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (6:13-17)

In several places we see St. Paul describing a Christian as a warrior ready for combat, but that is spiritual combat against the darkness and evil.

In the Book of Revelations we learned that Christ’s war is fought by the “word of his mouth.” This is in contrast to the kind of war fought by the Beast. We see the Beast starting war, being allowed by God to fight against God’s people. (Rev 13:7)

As we study all the references to war in the New Testament, we find that nearly all of them have to do with the end of the world, the Last Day, the Day of Judgment. Christ warns his followers, “Be aware, there will be wars and rumors of war.” He says, however, not to be afraid of these worldly events because He defeated the world: “I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united to Me. The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!” (John 16:33)

We see that the New Testament teaches us to obtain deeper inner sight of all things. We must be able to distinguish between metaphorical sense and literal, between the spiritual dimension of the words and their flesh. And at the same time we cannot pretend that we have no flesh but are pure spirits. We have to come again and again to the Old Testament, reminding ourselves that while we are in the world, there are many “other gods” — owing to them we might be killed.

Now, in our Bible study, we come to a complicated but revealing task that has to do with differences between Greek and Hebrew biblical texts. It will show that even the Ancient Church had no simple interpretation of the Bible text.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, there was a commandment to kill those, even members of your family, who try to lead you to other gods. This is what the Hebrew (Masoretic) text says. Keep in mind that the Hebrew text is the source of most English translations. But if we look at the Greek (Septuagint) text, we find something different. Instead of “kill him” we read “you shall surely report concerning him.” One could say that the following words are the command to stone the trespasser anyway. It is true. But shall we consider the substitution of the very word “kill” just a mistake of a translator, or is there is something more significant?

In many cases where the Hebrew text describes God as a man of war, the Septuagint has something else that gives the passage quite another meaning. Here God is no longer the man of war but He who destroys war! So in Exodus 15:3, the Masoretic text reads: “The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is His name,” but in the Septuagint we find, “The Lord is crushing war.” Again, in the Masoretic text of Isaiah 42:13, we read, “The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man… like a man of war,” while in the Septuagint it is, “The Lord God of hosts shall go forth, and crush the war.” We find similar expressions in Judith 9:7 and 16:3: “God breaks the battles.”

This clearly shows that either the members of the ancient Jewish community who produced the Septuagint translation had another understanding of the text according to which God is not the war maker but rather the destroyer of war, or the Ancient Church chose alternative readings.

In any case, we must remember that the Old Testament is valid for us only as a part of the whole, as a part of the history of revelation to the mankind — a history consisting of two parts. But One God acts in both parts. That is what we sing at the Pentecost: “When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations: but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity; wherefore with one voice we glorify the All-Holy Spirit.” (Kontakion)

Nevertheless, the idea of God as patron of wars is still held by many Christians. We see examples of this even in our war-ravaged century. We can no longer be sure whose image it is? Caesar’s? Or the image of Christ? There are biblical scholars who put stress on God as a warrior, rescuing His people out of Egypt and fighting for them in the Holy Land. We know how such texts were applied by the German biblical scholar, H. Rendtorff, in writing a manual of instruction for soldiers of the Third Reich during World War II. According to him “Christians make the best soldiers” because they are “cheerful in life and cheerful in death, friendly toward friends and courageous toward enemies.” He said that “genuine soldierhood and genuine faith in God belong together. It is no joke that on our belt buckles as soldiers the words appear: God with us!”

It is easy to use the words from Holy Scripture out of the context of both Scripture and Tradition, to turn certain verses into slogans to be put on walls and belt buckles — words from the Bible made into dead quotations. This can easily be done with a few biblical verses about war.

But let me remind you of another understanding of war expressed by the Apostle James: “From whence come wars and conflicts among you? You desire uncontrollably and cannot have. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You ask but do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:1-3)

This is Apostle James, brother of Jesus, speaking about war, but inner war. That is a clue to the word of the Old Testament Ecclesiastes (3,1; 3,8):

To every thing there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven: …

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time of war, and a time of peace.

We are called to inner peace — peace with God, peace with your brothers and sisters, peace with yourself — and at the same time battle with the world because “the whole world lies in wickedness.” (1 John 5:19) [RSV: “the whole world is in the power of the evil one.”] But let us not design an ideology that would allow people to kill each other. Let us not be mistaken. Remember the words: “He that leads into captivity, shall go into captivity; he that kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” (Rev 13:10)

The Savior’s words “Peace be with you” remind us during the Holy Liturgy that the condition of unity with God is peace with God. Jesus himself probably uttered these words as “Shalom aleichem.” Remember that “shalom” in Hebrew means not simply a condition without war but being complete, being whole, a wholeness possible only in God.

As we see, Scripture does not suggest simple answers, a scheme, an ideology. We can say we live at the same time in peace and at war, with an inner peace that equips us to be warriors, not against men but against evil. This is our history and this is our being — our being in the Church.

* * *

Father Sergei Ovsiannikov was a physicist before entering the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg. For more than a decade he worked as a translation specialist with the United Bible Societies. He is rector of St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam and a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His essay is an expanded version of a lecture given at the Syndesmos-Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference on War & Peace in Europe in Crete in October 1994.

Practical Assistance in Conflict Areas

By Sheri San Chirico

While taking a fresh look at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website, I was reminded of the OPFs three principal work areas: theological research, publications, and practical assistance in conflict areas. The first two are addressed by In Communion, our website, our e-mail discussion list, and by our conferences.

While I still have high hopes for the growth of OPF in these areas, I believe the most potential we have for growth is in the area of practical assistance in conflict areas. This is the most difficult aspect of peacemaking — it is, as they say, where the rubber hits the road.

To provide practical assistance in conflict areas first requires vigilance regarding conflict in order to know when and where it arises, and the time and energy to understand the history and nuances behind the conflict. Then time and money must be given in order to travel to where the conflict is. Finally, practical assistance demands the commitment and courage to enter into the realm of the conflict, to open ones self up to the dangers involved. For practical assistance to be useful, a clear vision of how to help overcome the conflict is needed — facilitation, negotiation, or simply a peaceful presence which refuses to allow aggression or violence to continue unchallenged.

How can a small fellowship like ours, scattered as it is throughout the world, reach the maturity necessary for this significant aspect of its work? Im not sure, but I think its time we begin learning how.

As a first step, I suggest we commit ourselves to training leaders within OPF who will not only draw on their own experience of peacemaking but who will learn a core curriculum that is uniquely OPFs. The training will include learning from other peace groups that have accumulated years of experience in conflict areas and have a track record of constructive impact. The process will also require integrating what we learn from these groups with our Orthodox faith, nourished by the Liturgy, drawing on our rich tradition of peacemaking, self sacrifice, solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and of speaking out by our actions and words in places of violence and conflict. And finally, the training will strive to further in each peacemaker the resources needed in order to stand in the place of conflict as an ambassador of Christs peace. My hope is that, step by step, as we become more capable, OPF peacemaker teams will go to the places of conflict, especially within the Orthodox world, to be a presence of peace and assistance.

The groundwork is now laid for a first step. The first OPF training session will begin this May at Matthew 25 House of Hospitality in Akron, Ohio. Might you take part? Those who make themselves available will forge the way and begin the trek toward expertise in peacemaking.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, writing on The Lords Prayer and the Beatitudes, provides an apt description of the peacemaker in his commentary on Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God:

Peacemakers are 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.

[Ancient Christian Writers series, Newman Press]

This is our challenge. If you are willing and able to take part in this first training, please contact me ([email protected]) and I will communicate with you regarding the particulars.

Sheri San Chirico is North American coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. She received her Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, has worked with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education and as a hospice chaplain. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband Kerry and daughter Lucy.

Nonviolence and Peace Traditions in Early & Eastern Christianity

 Pantocrator (Tahull Barcelona, 1123 AD)

By Fr. John McGuckin

Fr. John McGuckin is professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and professor of Byzantine History at Columbia University, both in New York City. Footnotes are indicated by brackets. [1]

Ideals of Peace in a Violent World.

Christianity has had a very checkered history in terms of its peace tradition. It is often to images of Inquisition and Crusade that the popular imagination turns when considering the darker side of the church’s imposition of control over the personal and political worlds it has inhabited over long centuries. The figure of a pacific Jesus (the poet of the lilies of the fields, and the advocator of peaceful resistance to evil, who so inspired Tolstoy and Gandhi among others) is often contrasted with a church of more brutish disciples who, when occasion presented itself, turned willingly, and quickly enough, to tactics of oppression and coercion, policies which they themselves had lamented, as being against both divine and natural justice, when applied to them in the earlier centuries of the Roman persecutions.

The common version among Church Historians of this generic tale of a progressive sinking into the “brutal ways of the world,” also points to regular cycles of renewal and repentance, when Christians are said to reappropriate the “real” meaning of their past, and renounce violent resistance in the cause of a “truly Christian” non-resistance. This, of course, is usually a matter of occasional academic protest from the sidelines, or the wisdom of the aftermath, since in times of war the ranks of those who rush to defend the Christian defensibility of hostilities are rarely short of representatives, it would seem.

The key academic studies of the Early Church’s peace tradition, for example, had to wait until the 20th century. They appeared in two clusters, both of them the immediate aftermath of the great conflicts of 1914-18, and 1939-45, followed by a longer “tail” which was overshadowed by the Cold War’s generic fears of nuclear holocaust, and which produced a more thorough-going tenor of the “suspicion of war” in academic circles. Both the main-clusters of post-war re-assessments of Christian peace tradition in antiquity, witnessed a conflicted product in the tone of the literature. All lamented the fact and experience of war, from a Christian perspective, but some justified the concept of limited war engagement (usually Catholic scholars defending the then dominant Augustine-Aquinas theory of the Just War) while others were evidently more pacifist in tone (generally Protestant scholars calling for a “reform” of defective medievalist views). The more recent work, inspired by the public sight of several disastrously “failed” military interventions (such as Vietnam and Afghanistan) and the horrific record of genocidally-tinged conflict at the end of the 20th century (one of the bloodiest and nastiest on human record, though we still like to regard the ancients as less civilized than ourselves) have, again understandably, caused the Christian witness on war and violence to come under renewed scrutiny. Today the literature on war in early Christian tradition is extensive [2], and a synopsis of the primary sources has recently been collated in a useful ready-reference volume, with a good contextualizing discussion .[3]

While the common image of a militaristic Church is still, perhaps, prevalent in popular estimation, there are nevertheless, a multitude of pacific figures who feature in the Church’s exemplary stories of the lives of the saints.

One such hagiography was the narrative on Abba Moses the Ethiopian in the Tales of the Desert Fathers who, when warned in advance of the impending attack of marauding Blemmyes tribesmen in 5th century Lower Egypt, refused to leave his cell, and (though famed as a strong man of previously violent temper) stayed quietly in prayer waiting for the fatal assault of the invading brigands. This story of his election of pacific martyrdom was celebrated as most unusual; a heroic and highly individualist spiritual act of a master (and thus not normative). All the other monks of Scete in his time were either slaughtered because they were surprised, or else had much earlier fled before the face of the storm of invasion.

In terms of pacific saints, the Russian church celebrates the 11th century princes Boris and Gleb, the sons of Vladimir, the first Christian ruler of ancient Rus (Kiev) who, in order to avoid a civil war on the death of their father (when the third son, Svyatopolk, took up arms to assert his right to monarchical supremacy), are said to have adopted the role of “Passion-Bearers.” Refusing to bear arms for their own defense, and desiring to avoid bloodshed among their people, they followed the example of their new Lord, who suffered his own unjust Passion. The image and category of “passion-bearing martyr” is one that is dear to, almost distinctive of, the Russian church, so troubled has its history been.

Nevertheless, even this celebrated example contrasts, in many respects, with the witness of other Russian saint-heroes, such as the great warrior prince Alexander Nevsky and contrasts with the witness of many other ancient churches too (such as the Byzantine, Romanian, Serbian, Nubian, or Ethiopian) who had an equally fraught pilgrimage through history, but who proudly elevated and honored the icons and examples of warrior-saints who resisted the onslaught militarily, and died in the process.

In the Romanian Church one of the great heroic founders was the warrior prince Petru Rares who slaughtered the invading Turkish armies under the guidance of his spiritual father and confessor Saint Daniel the Hesychast. The saint commanded the prince to erect monasteries on the site of the great battles, to ensure mourning and prayer for the lost souls whose blood had been shed. This was an act that was seen as a necessary expiation of Petru’s “equally necessary” violence. Both he and his spiritual mentor were heavily burdened by their perceived duty of defending the borders of Christendom. To this day Romania’s most ancient and beautiful churches stand as mute witnesses to a bloody history where Islam and Christianity’s tectonic plates collided (as often they did in the history of the Christian East). The national perception in Romania of prince Vlad Dracul (the western bogeyman of Dracula) is diametrically opposed to the common perception of more or less everyone outside. Within the country Vlad himself is regarded as a national hero and a great Christian warrior who assumed the duty of defending the Faith against the military attempts of Islam forcibly to convert Europe.

Similarly, almost all the saints of Ethiopia are either monastic recluses or warriors. The saints of the (now lost) Church of Nubia [4] were also predominantly warriors. Likewise, the frescoes of saints on the walls of the ancient Stavronikita monastery on Mount Athos, on the Halkidiki peninsula, demonstrate serried ranks of martyr protectors dressed in full Roman battle gear, in attendance on the Christ in Majesty [5]. The monks were not particularly warlike themselves, but knew at first hand the terrors of living in the pirate-infested Mediterranean. Like the Nubians, a life entirely and permanently surrounded by hostile foes, gave the Athonite monks a very practical attitude to violence, pacific resistance, and the need for defense in varieties of forms.

The western church too has its share of noble saint-warriors. In medieval English literature the warrior saint was a highly romantic figure [6]. We can also think of the famed Crusading juggernaut Louis the Pious. These, however, are noticeably not, any longer, “popular saints” (as their counterparts remain in Eastern Christianity) though this may be laid to the door of a generic loss of interest in hagiography and the cultus of the saints in contemporary Western Christianity, as much to a sense of embarrassment that the ranks of saints included so many generals of armies.

Along with its warriors, the Western Church often appealed, for an example of pacific lifestyle, to the Christ-like image of Francis of Assisi, in preference perhaps to the more robust figure of Dominic and his inquisitional Order of Preachers, although one ought not to forget that the Franciscan order itself had from its early origins a foundational charge to evangelize Muslims in the Middle and Near East; its own form of potential “Inquisition” that never had the opportunity to flourish because of Ottoman power, but which was often felt as real enough and resented greatly by the Eastern rite Christians of those places.

This macro-picture of Church History as a sclerotic decline, where simple origins are progressively corrupted into oppressive structures as the church seizes an ever-larger foothold on the face of the earth, is so familiar, almost cliched, that it hardly needs further amplification.

It is perfectly exemplified in the general presumption that the Christian movement before the age of the Emperor Constantine the Great (4th century) was mainly pacific in philosophy, but afterwards began theologically to justify the use of coercive force, and so began the long slide into all manner of corruption of power, and abandonment of the primitive spirit of the gentle Jesus [7].

The theory is problematized to some degree by the issue of “conflicted contextualization” for the notable resistance of the earliest Christian movement (2nd through to early 4th centuries) to military service: whether this was predominantly pacifist in temperament; or was related to the military requirements to worship the pagan pantheon of gods; or was simply an aspect of the fear of an oppressed and persecuted group in the face of the state’s arm of power. In early canon law the military profession had the same status as a harlot when it came to the seeking of baptism: before admission to the church was countenanced an alternative career had to be sought.

After the Pax Constantina, that prohibition was relaxed as even the Christian emperors expected their fellow-Christians to take up their station in the army. Recent historical study has progressively argued that the advancement of Christians to political and military power should not be seen as a surprisingly miraculous event (as the legend of Constantine would have it be), but the result of more than a century of prior political and military infiltration of the higher offices of state by Christians bearing arms. The earliest materials (martyrial stories of how the poor resisted the Roman imperium) tend to come from the account of the churches of the local victims [8].

The full story (why, for example, Diocletian targeted Christians within his own court and army to initiate the Great persecution of the early 4th century) [9] is less to the front: but clearly the great revolution of the 4th century which saw an internationally ascendant Church, was not simply an altruistic “gift” of power to a pacific Christian movement, but more in the terms of an acknowledgment by Constantine that his own path to monarchy lay with the powerful international lobby of Christians. The question as to “who patronized who”: Constantine the Church, or the Church Constantine, remains one that is surely more evenly balanced than is commonly thought. The military and political involvement of Christians, therefore, (as distinct from the “Church” shall we say) is something that is not so simply “switched” at the 4th century watershed of Constantine’s “conversion.”

Nevertheless, the story that from primitive and “pure” beginnings the Christian movement degenerated into a more warlike compromise with state power, is a good story precisely because it is so cartoon-like in its crudity. It ought not to be forgotten, however, that it “is” a story, not a simple record of uncontested facts. It is a story, moreover, that took its origin as part of a whole dossier of similar stories meant to describe the movement of Christianity through history in terms of early promise, followed by rapid failure, succeeded by the age of reform and repristination of the primitive righteousness.

In short, the common view of Christianity’s peace tradition, as sketched out above, is clearly a product of Late-Medieval Reformation apologetics. That so much of this early-modern propaganda has survived to form a substrate of presupposition in post-modern thought about Christian history is a testimony to the power of the apologetic stories themselves, and (doubtless) to the widespread distrust of the motives of the late medieval church authorities in western Europe at the time of the Reformation.

The common view about Christianity’s peace tradition, however, is so hopelessly rooted in western, apologetic, and “retrospectivist” presuppositions (a thorough-going Protestant revision of the Catholic tradition on the morality of war and violence that had preceded it) that it is high time the issue should be considered afresh.

The common histories of Christianity, even to this day, seem to pretend that its eastern forms (the Syrians, Byzantines, Armenians, Copts, Nubians, Indians, Ethiopians, or Cappadocians) never existed, or at least were never important enough to merit mention; or that western Europe is a normal and normative vantage point for considering the story. But this narrow perspective skews the evidence at the outset.

Accordingly, the figures of Augustine of Hippo (the towering 5th century African theologian) and Thomas Aquinas (the greatest of the Latin medieval scholastic theologians) loom very large in the normative western-form of the telling of the tale. Both theologians were highly agentive in developing the western Church’s theory and principles of a “Just War.”

In the perspectives of the eastern Christian tradition, not only do these two monumental figures not feature but, needless to say, neither does their theory on the moral consideration of war and violence which has so dominated the western imagination. Eastern Christianity simply does not approach the issue from the perspective of “Just War,” and endorses no formal doctrine advocating the possibility of a “Just War.”

Its approach is ambivalent, more complex and nuanced. For that reason it has been largely overlooked in the annals of the history of Christianity, or even dismissed as self-contradictory. It is not self-contradictory, of course, having been proven by experience through centuries of political suffering and oppression. If it knows anything, the Eastern church knows how to endure, and hardly needs lessons on such a theme; but it is certainly not a linear theory of war and violence that it holds (as if war and violence could be imagined as susceptible of rational solution and packaging). Its presuppositions grow from a different soil than do modern and post-modern notions of political and moral principles.

Christianity was, and remains at heart, an apocalyptic religion, and it is no accident that its numerous biblical references to war and violent destruction are generally apocalyptic ciphers, symbols that stand for something else, references to the “Eschaton” (the image of how the world will be rolled up and assessed once universal justice is imposed by God on his recalcitrant and rebellious creation). Biblical descriptions of violence and war, in most of Christianity”s classical exposition of its biblical heritage, rather than being straightforward depictions of the life and values of “This-World-Order” are thus eschatological allegories. To confound the two orders [10] (taking war images of the apocalyptic dimension) for instances of how the world (here) ought to be managed [11] is a gross distortion of the ancient literature. This has become increasingly a problem since the medieval period when allegorist readings of scripture have been progressively substituted (especially in Protestantism) for wholesale historicist and literalist readings of the ancient texts. [12].

This is not to say that eastern Christianity itself has not been guilty of its own mis-readings of evidences, in various times of its history, or that it has no blood on its hands, for that would be to deny the brutal facts of a Church that has progressively been driven westwards, despite its own will, by a series of military disasters, for the last thousand years. But, Christian reflection in the eastern Church has, I would suggest, been more careful than the West, to remind itself of the apocalyptic and mysterious nature of the Church’s place within history and on the world-stage, and has stubbornly clung to a less congratulatory theory of the morality of War (despite its advocacy of “Christian imperium”), because it sensed that such a view was more in tune with the principles of the Gospels. What follows in this paper is largely a consideration of that peace tradition in the perspective of the eastern provinces of Christianity, the “patristic” foundation that went on to provide the underpinning of Byzantine canon law, and (after the fall of Byzantium), the system of law that still operates throughout the churches of the East.

In the decades following the First World War, Adolf Von Harnack was one of the first among modern patristic theologians to assemble a whole dossier of materials on the subject of the Church’s early traditions on war and violence. [13]. In his macro-thesis he favored the theory of the “fall from grace,” and argued that the Church progressively relaxed its earliest blanket hostility to bloodshed and the military profession in general. The relaxation of anti-war discipline, he saw as part and parcel of a wider “corruption” of early Christian ideals by “Hellenism.”

And yet, no Eastern Christian attitudes to war, either before or after the Pax Constantina, have ever borne much relation to classic Hellenistic and Roman war theory [14], being constantly informed and conditioned by biblical paradigms (reined in by Jesus’ strictures on the futility of violence) rather than by Hellenistic Kingship theory or tribal theories of national pride.

In the second part to his study (subtitled “The Christian Religion and the Military Profession”), Harnack went further to discuss the wide extent of biblical images of war and vengeance in the Christian foundational documents, suggesting that the imagery of “spiritual warfare” however removed it might be from the “real world” when it was originally coined, must take some responsibility for advocating the sanctification of war theories within the church in later ages [15].

For Harnack, and many others following in his wake, Constantine was the villain of the piece, and not less so his apologist the Christian bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. The latter finds no problem at all in comparing the deaths of the wicked as recounted in Old Testament narratives of holy war, with Constantine’s conquest and execution of his enemies in the Civil War of the early 4th century [16]. For Eusebius, writing in 336, the cessation of the war in 324 was a fulfilment of the Psalmic and Isaian prophecies of a golden age of peace [17].

Eusebius’ fulsome rhetoric has had a great deal of weight placed upon it by those who favor the “theory of fall,” even though on any sober consideration, to extrapolate a court-theologian such as Eusebius into a marker of general opinion in the Church of the early 4th century should have been more universally acknowledged to be a serious mistake. Eusebius’ more sober thoughts on the expansion of the Church (as exemplified by Constantine’s victory over persecuting emperors, and his clear favoritism for the Christians) was really an intellectual heritage from that great theological teacher whose disciple he prided himself on being — Origen of Alexandria.

It was certainly Origen who had put into his mind the juxtaposition of the ideas of the Pax Romana being the providentially favorable environment for the rapid internationalization of the Gospel. Origen himself, however, was pacifist in his attitudes to war and world powers, and was sternly against the notion of the Church advocating its transmission and spread by force of arms [18]. In his wider exegesis Eusebius shows himself consistently to be a follower of his teacher’s lead and the Old Testament paradigms of the “downfall of the wicked” are what are generally at play in both Origen and Eusebius when they highlight biblical examples of vindication, or military collapse.

Several scholars misinterpret Eusebius radically, therefore, when they read his laudation of Constantine as some kind of proleptic justification of the Church as an asserter of rightful violence. His Panegyric on Constantine should not be given such theoretical weight, just as a collection of wedding congratulatory speeches today would hardly be perused for a cutting edge analysis of the times. In applying biblical tropes and looking for fulfillments, Eusebius (certainly in the wider panoply if all his work is taken together not simply his court laudations) is looking to the past, not to the future; and is intent only on celebrating what for most in his generation must have truly seemed miraculous — that their oppressors had fallen, and that they themselves were now free from the fear of torture and death.

Origen and Eusebius may have set a tone of later interpretation that could readily grow into a vision of the Church as the inheritor of the biblical promises about the Davidic kingdom (that the boundaries of Byzantine Christian power were concomitant with the Kingdom of God on earth, and thus that all those who lay outside those boundaries were the enemies of God), but there were still innumerable dissidents even in the long-lasting Byzantine Christian politeia (especially the monks) who consistently refused to relax the apocalyptic dimension of their theology, and who resisted the notion that the Church and the Byzantine borders were one and the same thing [19].

The Canonical Epistles of Basil of Caesarea.

Basil of Caesarea was a younger contemporary of Eusebius, and in the following generation of the Church of the late 4th century, he emerged as one of the leading theorists of the Christian movement. His letters and instructions on the ascetic life, and his “Canons” [20] (ethical judgements as from a ruling bishop to his flock) on morality and practical issues became highly influential in the wider church because of his role as one of the major monastic theorists of Early Christianity. His canonical epistles were transmitted wherever monasticism went: and in the Eastern Church of antiquity (because monasticism was the substructure of the spread of the Christian movement), that more or less meant his canonical views became the standard paradigm of Eastern Christianity’s theoretical approach to the morality of war and violence, even though the writings were local [21] and occasional in origin. Basil’s 92 Canonical Epistles were adapted by various Ecumenical Councils of the Church that followed his time. His writing is appealed to in Canon 1 of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), in Canon 1 of the 7th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787), and is literally cited in Canon 2 of the 6th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (681) which paraphrases much else from his canonical epistles. By such affirmations eventually the entire corpus of the Basilian Epistles entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Eastern Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.

Basil has several things to say about violence and war in his diocese. It was a border territory of the empire, and his administration had known several incursions by “barbarian” forces. Canon 13 of the 92 considers war:

“Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean.” [22]

The balance and sense of discretion is remarkable in this little comment, one that bears much weight in terms of Eastern Orthodox understandings of the morality of war. The “fathers” in question refers to Athanasius of Alexandria, the great Nicene Orthodox authority of the 4th century church. Athanasius’ defense of the Nicene creed, and the divine status of Christ, had won him immense prestige by the end of the 4th century, and as his works were being collated and disseminated (in his own lifetime his reputation had been highly conflicted, his person exiled numerous times, and his writings proscribed by imperial censors), Basil seems to wish to add a cautionary note: that not everything a “father” has to say is equally momentous, or universally authoritative. In his Letter to Amun Athanasius had apparently come out quite straightforwardly about the legitimacy of killing in time of war, saying:

“Although one is not supposed to kill, the killing of the enemy in time of war is both a lawful and praiseworthy thing. This is why we consider individuals who have distinguished themselves in war as being worthy of great honors, and indeed public monuments are set up to celebrate their achievements. It is evident, therefore, that at one particular time, and under one set of circumstances, an act is not permissible, but when time and circumstances are right, it is both allowed and condoned.” [23]

This saying was being circulated, and given authority as a “patristic witness” simply because it had come from Athanasius. In fact the original letter had nothing whatsoever to do with war. The very example of the “war-hero” is a sardonic reference ad hominem since the letter was addressed to an aged leader of the Egyptian monks who described themselves as Asketes, that is those who labored and “fought” for the virtuous life. The military image is entirely incidental, and Athanasius in context merely uses it to illustrate his chief point in the letter — which is to discuss the query Amun had sent on to him as Archbishop: “did nocturnal emissions count as sins for desert celibates ?” Athanasius replies to the effect that with human sexuality, as with all sorts of other things, the context of the activity determines what is moral, not some absolute standard which is superimposed on moral discussion from the outset. Many ancients, Christian and pagan, regarded sexual activity as inherently defiling and here Athanasius decidedly takes leave of them. His argument, therefore, is falsely attributed when (as is often the case) read out of context as an apparent justification of killing in time of war. He is not actually condoning the practice at all, merely using the rhetorical example of current opinion to show Amun that contextual variability is very important in making moral judgements.

In his turn Basil, wishes to make it abundantly clear for his Christian audience that such a reading, if applied to the Church’s tradition on war, is simplistic, and that is it is just plain wrong-headedness to conclude that the issue ceases to be problematic if one is able to dig up a justificatory “proof text” from scripture or patristic tradition (as some seem to have been doing with these words of Athanasius). And so, Basil sets out a nuanced corrective exegesis of what the Church’s canon law should really be in terms of fighting in time of hostilities. One of the ways he does this is to attribute this aphorism of Athanasius to indeterminate “fathers,” who can then be legitimately corrected by taking a stricter view than they appeared to allow. He also carefully sets his own context: what he speaks about is the canonical regulation of war in which a Christian can engage and be “amerced” [24]; all other armed conflicts are implicitly excluded as not being appropriate to Christian morality). Basil’s text on war needs, therefore, to be understood in terms of an “economic” reflection on the ancient canons that forbade the shedding of blood in blanket terms. This tension between the ideal standard (no bloodshed) and the complexities of the context in which a local church finds itself thrown in times of conflict and war, is witnessed in several other ancient laws, such as Canon 14 of Hippolytus (also from the 4th century) [25]. The reasons Basil gives for suggesting that killing in time of hostilities could be distinguished from voluntary murder pure and simple (for which the canonical penalty was a lifelong ban from admission to the churches and from the sacraments) is set out as the “defense of sobriety and piety.” This is code language for the defense of Christian borders from the ravages of pagan marauders. The difficulty Basil had to deal with was not war on the large-scale, but local tribal insurgents who were mounting attacks on Roman border towns, with extensive rapinage. In such circumstances Basil has little patience for those who do not feel they can fight because of religious scruples. His sentiment is more that a passive non-involvement betrays the Christian family (especially its weaker members who can not defend themselves but need others to help them) to the ravages of men without heart or conscience to restrain them. The implication of his argument, then, is that the provocation to fighting, that Christians ought at some stage to accept (to defend the honor and safety of the weak), will be inherently a limited and adequate response, mainly because the honor and tradition of the Christian faith (piety and sobriety) in the hearts and minds of the warriors, will restrict the bloodshed to a necessary minimum. His “economic” solution nevertheless makes it abundantly clear that the absolute standard of Christian morality turns away from war as an unmitigated evil. This is why we can note that the primary reason Basil gives that previous “fathers” had distinguished killing in time of war, from the case of simple murder, was “on the score of allowing a pardon.” There was no distinction made here in terms of the qualitative horror of the deed itself, rather in terms of the way in which the deed could be “cleansed” by the Church’s system of penance.

Is it logical to expect a Christian of his diocese to engage in the defense of the homeland, while simultaneously penalizing him if he spills blood in the process ? Well, one needs to contextualize the debarment from the sacrament in the generic 4th century practice of the reception of the Eucharist, which did not expect regular communication to begin with (ritual preparation was extensive and involved fasting and almsgiving and prayer), and where a sizeable majority of adult Christians in a given church would not have yet been initiated by means of baptism, and were thus not bound to keep all the canons of the Church. By his regulation and by the ritual exclusion of the illumined warrior from the sacrament (the returning “victor” presumably would have received many other public honors and the gratitude of the local folk ) Basil is making sure at least one public sign is given to the entire community that the Gospel standard has no place for war, violence and organized death. He is trying to sustain an eschatological balance: that war is not part of the Kingdom of God (signified in the Eucharistic ritual as arriving in the present) but is part of the bloody and greed-driven reality of world affairs which is the “Kingdom-Not-Arrived.” By moving in and out of Eucharistic reception Basil’s faithful Christian (returning from his duty with blood on his hands) is now in the modality of expressing his dedication to the values of peace and innocence, by means of the lamentation and repentance for life that has been taken, albeit the blood of the violent. Basil’s arrangement that the returning noble warrior’ should stand in the Church (not in the narthex where the other public sinners were allocated spaces) but refrain from communion, makes the statement that a truly honorable termination of war, for a Christian, has to be an honorable repentance.

Several commentators (not least many of the later western Church fathers) have regarded this as “fudge,” but it seems to me to express, in a finely tuned “economic” way, the tension in the basic Christian message that there is an unresolvable shortfall between the ideal and the real in an apocalyptically charged religion. What this Basilian canon does most effectively is to set a “No Entry” sign to any potential theory of Just War within Christian theology [26], and should set up a decided refusal of post-war church-sponsored self-congratulations for victory [27]. All violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be “necessary” or “unavoidable” (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never “justifiable.” Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the kathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is “be penitent.” Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church [28].

Concluding Reflections

We might today regard such early attempts by Christians as quaintly naive. They are wired through the early penitential system, clearly, and have a fundamental “economic” character about them. By Economy the early church meant the art of doing what was possible when a higher ideal standard was not sustained. In the case of war Basil and the canonical tradition are tacitly saying that when the Kingdom ideals of peace and reconciliation collapse, especially in times of war when decisive and unusual action is required, and the ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness fall into chaos in the very heart of the Church itself [29], as members go off to fight, then the ideal must be reasserted as soon as possible — with limitations to the hostilities a primary concern, and a profound desire to mark the occasion retrospectively with a public “cleansing.” While the honor of the combatants is celebrated by Basil (even demanded as an act of protection for the weak), one essential aspect of that honor is also listed as being the public acceptance of the status of penitent shedder of blood. The clergy (as with other economic concessions of morality operative in the church’s canons) are the only ones not allowed benefit of necessity. In no case is violent action permitted to one who stands at the altar of God. Even if a cleric spills blood accidentally (such as in an involuntary manslaughter) such a person would be deposed from active presbyteral office. The sight of “warrior- bishops” in full military regalia, passing through the streets of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, left its mark on contemporary Greek sources as one of the greatest “shocks” to the system, and one of the incidentals that were taken by the Greeks as proof positive that Latin Christianity in the 13th century had a serious illness at its center.

More than naive, perhaps, might we regard such a morality of war as seriously “under-developed”? Can such an important issue really be dealt with by so few canons of the ancient eastern church, and even then, by regulations that are so evidently local and occasional in character ? Well, the charges of inconsistency (praising a noble warrior then subjecting him to penance) and muddle-headedness, were raised in early times, especially by Latin theologians who wanted to press the envelope and arrive at a more coherent and all-embracing theory of war: one that balanced the apparent biblical justifications of hostility on the part of the chosen people, with the need to limit the obvious blood-lust of our species. The Latin theory of Just War was one result. Considered primarily (as it was meant to be) as a theory of the limitation of hostilities in the ancient context (hand to hand fighting of massed armies whose very size limited the time of possible engagement to a matter of months at most), it too was an “economic” theory that had much merit. It’s usefulness became moot in the medieval period when armament manufacture took ancient warfare into a new age, and it has become utterly useless in the modern age of mechanized warfare, where it could not stop the fatal transition (on which modernized mechanical warfare depends — both that sponsored by states, and that sponsored by smaller groups which we call “terrorism”) to the centrally important role of the murder of non-combatants. Be that as it may, it is not the purpose of the present essay to offer a sustained critique on Just War theory — merely to raise up a mainline Christian tradition of the ancient East which has never believed in Just War — and to offer instead of an elegant theory, a poor threadbare suggestion of old saints: that War is never justified or justifiable, but is de facto a sign and witness of evil and sin.

When it falls across the threshold of the Church in an unavoidable way, it sometimes becomes our duty (so the old canons say) to take up arms; though when that is the case is to be determined in trepidation by the elect who understand the value of peace and reconciliation, not in self-glorifying battle cries from the voices of the bloodthirsty and foolish. But in no case is the shedding of blood, even against a manifestly wicked foe, ever a “Just Violence.” The eastern canons, for all their tentativeness, retain that primitive force of Christian experience on that front. It may be the “Violence of the Just” but in that case the hostility will necessarily be ended with the minimal expenditure of force, and be marked in retrospect by the last act of the “violent Just” which will be repentance that finally resolves the untenable paradox. Ambivalent and “occasional” such a theory of War might be: but if it had been followed with fidelity the Church’s hands might have been cleaner than they have been across many centuries; and it might yet do a service on the wider front in helping Western Christianity to dismantle its own “economic” structures of war theory which are so patently in need of radical re-thinking. Perhaps the place to begin, as is usually the case, is here and now: with “Christian America” at the dawn of a new millennium, in which we seem to have learned nothing at all from generations of bitter experience of hostility: except the hubris that international conflicts can be undertaken “safely” now that other super-powers are currently out of commission. Such is the wisdom of the most powerful nation on earth, currently in an illegal state of war [30] which it wishes to disguise even from itself, even as the American military deaths this month exceeded 1000, with a pervasive silence all that it has to offer in relation to all figures of the deaths of those who were not American troops. Such is the wisdom under a leadership that is itself apparently eager to line up for a “righteous struggle” with the “forces of evil,” which so many others in the world outside, have seen as more in the line of a determined dominance of Islamic sensibilities by Super-Power secularism of the crassest order. In such a strange new millennium, perhaps the wisdom of the need to be tentative, finds a new power and authority.

1 The essay is published in: KK Kuriakose (ed). Non-Violence: Concepts and Practices Across Religions and Cultures. NY. 2005.

2 The chief sources in English are: RH Bainton. Christian Attitudes to War and Peace. A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation. Nashville. 1960; CJ Cadoux. The Early Christian Attitude to War. Oxford. 1919 (repr. NY. 1982); A von Harnack. Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries. (tr. DM Gracie. Philadelphia. 1980: original German edn. 1905; HA Deane. The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine. New York. 1963 (chs.5-6); J. Helgeland. Christians and Military Service: AD 173-337. PhD Diss. University of Chicago. 1973. (summarized in Idem. “Christians and the Roman Army. AD. 173- 337.” Church History. 43. June 1974. 149-161; JM Hornus. It is Not Lawful for me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes to War, Violence and the State . (trs. A Kreider & O Coburn). Scottsdale, Pa. 1980; HT McElwain. Augustine’s Doctrine of War in Relation to Earlier Ecclesiastical Writers. Rome. 1972; TS Miller & J Nesbitt (eds). Peace and War in Byzantium. Essays in Honor of GT Dennis. CUA Press. Washington. 1995; EA Ryan. “The Rejection of Military Service by the Early Christians.” Theological Studies. 13. 1952. 1-32; WR. Stevenson. Christian Love and Just War: Moral Paradox and Political Life in St. Augustine and his Modern Interpreters. Macon. Ga. 1987.

3 LJ Swift. The Early Fathers on War and Military Service. (Message of the Fathers of the Church. Vol. 19). 1983. Wilmington. De.

4 Byzantine in foundation and structure, until its annihilation in the late 15th century.

5 See: M Chatzidakis. The Cretan Painter Theophanes: The Wall-Paintings of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita. Thessaloniki. (published on Mount Athos). 1986.

6 Cf. JE Damon. Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors: Warfare and Sanctity in the Literature of Early England. (Ashgate press). Aldershot. 2003.

7 Helgeland (1973. p. 17.) illustrates how both Harnack and Cadoux’s works progress from this shared presupposition despite their different perspectives on the issue of pacifism as a general Christian ideal. (Cadoux regarded Harnack as having soft-pedalled the Church’s early peace witness).

8 The early martyrial acts are charged with the dramatic characterization of the martyr as the apocalyptic witness, and the condemning magistrate as eschatological servant of the Beast. The narratives often deliberately follow the literary paradigm of the Passion Story of the Gospels. The Martyrdom of Polycarp is one such example.

9 Or how it might well be the case that Christian soldiers had already taken the imperial throne by force of arms in the mid 3rd century (in the case of Philip the Arab).

10 What the ancient sources described as the “Two Ages” (This Age of turmoil that stands within the historical record and permits brutal oppression as the ultimate symbol of “the Beast,” that is evil personified, and the Other Age, which is the Transcendent “Kingdom of God” when peace will be established by the definitive ending of violent powers hostile to the good., and the comforting of the poor.

11 It is a major category mistake, therefore, for fundamentalist Christians to apply apocalyptically matrixed scriptural references to “war in the heavens spilling out on earth,” as authoritative “justifications” from the Bible for Christians to engage in violent conflict for political ends. The essence of biblical, apocalyptic, doctrine is that the Two Ages must never be conflated or confused. The “Next Age” cannot be ushered in by political victories gained in “This Age.” By this means Christianity, in its foundational vision, undercut the principles that continue to inspire Judaism and Islam with their (essentially) non-apocalyptic understandings of the spreading of the Kingdom of God on Earth in recognizable borders, and militarily if necessary.

12 As if, for example, the biblical narratives of the Pentateuch where God commands Moses and Joshua to slaughter the Canaanite inhabitants in the process of seizing the “Promised Land” were to be read literalistically — as both vindicating war for “righteous reasons,” and validating the forced appropriation of territories after conflict. Protestant fundamentalism would, of course, read the texts with that political slant (symbolically going further to adapt the text to justify Christianity’s use of violence in a just cause); whereas the ancient Church consistently reads the narrative as allegorically symbolic of the perennial quest to overcome evil tendencies by virtuous action. The Canaanites assume the symbolic status of personal vice, the Israelite armies, the status of the ethical struggle. While this allegorical symbolism still depends in large degree on a symbolic reading of violent images, it successfully defuses a wholesale biblical “sanction” for violence and war.

13 A. Harnack. Militia Christi. The Christian Religion and The Military in the First Three Centuries (Tr. D. McI. Gracie). Philadelphia. 1981.

14 Though Ambrose and Augustine take much of their views on the subject from Cicero.

15 He probably underestimated the extent to which the early Church was propelled, not by subservience to emperors, but more by the way in which the war theology of ancient Israel was passed on as an authoritative paradigm, simply by the force of ingesting so much of the Old Testament narratives in the structure of its prayers, liturgies, and doctrines. It is, nonetheless, worthy of note that formally, from early times, the war passages of the Old Testament were consistently preached as allegorical symbols of the battle to establish peaceful virtues in human hearts (not the advocating of conquest of specific territories). Harnack himself admitted (when considering the example of the Salvation Army, that this aspect of this thesis could limp badly.

16 Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History. 9.9. 5-8; Life of Constantine. 1.39.

17 Is.2.4; Ps.72.7-8.

18 See N McLynn. “Roman Empire,” pp. 185-187 in: J.A. McGuckin (ed). The Westminster Handbook to Origen of Alexandria. Louisville. Ky. 2004.

19 For a further elaboration of the argument see: J.A.McGuckin. The Legacy of the Thirteenth Apostle: Origins of the East- Christian Conceptions of Church-State Relation. St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly. 47. Nos. 3-4. 2003. 251-288.

20 The “Canonical Epistles of St. Basil,” otherwise known as the “92 canons.” They can be found in English translation in: The Pedalion or Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons by Saints Nicodemus and Agapius. Tr. D Cummings. (Orthodox Christian Educational Society). Chicago. 1957 (repr. NY. 1983). pp. 772-864.

21 Basil was the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, now a city (Kaisariye) of Eastern Turkey.

22 Basil. Ep. 188. 13; Pedalion. p. 801.

23 Athanasius Epistle 48. To Amun. full text in A Robertson (tr). St. Athanasius Select Works and Letters. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Church. Vol. 4. (1891). repr. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids. 1980. pp. 556-557.

24 That is find canonical forgiveness for the act of shedding blood: which is canonically prohibited. The background context of the canons which forbid the shedding of blood are important to Basil’s thought, and are presumed throughout. He takes it for granted that clergy are absolutely forbidden to shed blood: and even if they do so accidentally, will be prohibited from celebrating the Eucharistic mysteries afterwards. In this case, just as with the church’s canonical rules relating to the prohibition of second marriages, what began as a general rule, was relaxed in its application to wider society, although the clergy were required to sustain the original strict interpretation (see Apostolical Canons 66. Pedalion. pp. 113-116.) Today in Orthodoxy, marriage is described as a one-time occurrence: but if the marriage is broken a second (and even third) marriage can be contracted “as an economy” to human conditions and relational failures. The clergy, however, are not allowed to contract second marriages (even if the first wife has died). The economy is not permitted to them. Clergy in the Eastern tradition are still canonically forbidden from engaging in any violence, beyond the minimum necessary to defend their life (Apostolic Canon 66.)though they are censured if they do not vigorously defend a third party being attacked in their presence. For both things (use of excessive violence in self-defence, and refusal to use violence in defense of another, they are given the penalty of deposition from orders).

25 “A Christian should not volunteer to become a soldier, unless he is compelled to do this by someone in authority. He can have a sword, but he should not be commanded to shed blood. If it can be shown that he has shed blood he should stay away from the mysteries (sacraments) at least until he has been purified through tears and lamentation.” Canons of Hippolytus 14.74. Text in Swift (1983) p. 93. See also Apostolic Tradition 16.

26 As developed especially (out of Cicero) by Ambrose of Milan On Duties. 1. 176; and Augustine (Epistle 183.15; Against Faustus 22. 69-76; and see Swift:1983. pp. 110-149). But Ambrose (ibid. 1. 35.175) specifically commands his priests to have no involvement (inciting or approving) whatsoever in the practice of War or judicial punishments: “Interest in matters of war,” he says, “seems to me to be alien to our role as priests.”

27 Many churches have uneasily juggled this responsibility in times past. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously denounced the Archbishop of Canterbury’s post-Falklands-war service in 80’s London (St. Paul’s cathedral), as ” far too wet,” while other critics in the country were hard on him for not stating at the outset that the Falklands invasion did not fulfill the requirements of a “Just War” in terms of classical western theory, and so should have been more severely denounced by the Church.

28 Ordinary murder was given a 20 year debarment from the church’s sacraments as well as all accruing civic penalties. Basil’s Canon 56. Pedalion. p. 827; manslaughter received a ten year debarment. Basil’s Canon 57. Pedalion. p. 828.

29 Note that they are not querying the collapse of peace ideals outside the church as they regard the spread of hubris and violence on the earth as a clear mark of all those dark forces hostile to the heavenly Kingdom. The advocacy of war that is not a direct response to a clear and present threat of aggression is thus permanently ruled out of the court of morality in this system.

30 The conflict in Iraq, an invasion not given sanction of international law through the medium United Nations, but initiated to overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein on the pretext that he was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.

* * *

Salt of the Earth: An Orthodox Christian Approach to Peacemaking

salt“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” This verse from St. Matthew’s Gospel comes immediately after the Beatitudes.

But how many of us want to be become like salt? Perhaps we ought to advise Jesus that it’s time to revise the Sermon on the Mount? “Dear Lord, we revere your every word, but couldn’t you use more attractive metaphors? How about, ‘You are the sugar of the earth, but if the sugar should lose its sweetness, it is tossed out the doors and trodden under foot by men’?”

Living in a sugar-addicted world, surely sugar would be a much more welcome term for modern people. Salt is out-of-date. Sugar is far more appealing.

But for the time being we are stuck with the Gospel Christ gave us rather than the one we might write ourselves. He tells his followers that we are intended to be like salt, a bitter substance normally used in relatively small amounts.

Salt was more valued by our ancestors. In commentaries on this passage, the Church Fathers stress the value of salt as a preservative and thus a life-saving substance. “Salt preserves meat from decaying into stench and worms,”says Origen. “It makes meat edible for a longer period.”

St. John Chrysostom comments on the salt metaphor in these words: “It is a matter of absolute necessity that he commands all this. Why must you be salt? Jesus says in effect: ‘You are accountable not only for your own life but also for that of the entire world. I am sending you not to one or two cities, nor to ten or twenty, not even to one nation, as I sent the prophets. Rather I am sending you to the entire earth, across the seas, to the whole world, to a world fallen into an evil state.’ For by saying, ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ Jesus signifies that all human nature has ‘lost its taste,’ having become rotten through sin. For this reason, you see, he requires from his disciples those character traits that are most necessary and useful for the benefit of all.”

There is a great deal of salt in the Gospel, and not much sugar.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ identifies peacemakers as God’s own children, but peacemaking is often a bitter, salt-like undertaking. To stand against hatred and killing in time of war (and when is it not time of war?) is no sweet task. One is likely to be regarded as naive, if not unpatriotic, if not a traitor.

Yet at every service, Orthodox Christians hear the challenge: “In peace let us pray to the Lord.” We begin the Liturgy with an appeal to God not just for a private peace or the peace of our family or the peace of the parish community or the peace of our neighborhood or the peace of city or the peace of our nation, but “for the peace of the whole world and the union of all.” The Litany of Peace draws our attention to the world-embracing mission of the Church that St. John Chrysostom emphasized in the passage I just read to you. We are, he said, “accountable not only for [our] own life but also for that of the entire world.”

Prayer is not simply a request that God to do something or give something. It is a summons to responsibility. What I ask God to do implies a willingness on my part to participate in God’s answer to my prayer. If I am unwilling to help in doing what I ask God to do, can it even be thought of as prayer? Why would God do at my request what I refuse to do? We are talking then not only about what we ask God to do but what we are asking God to equip us to do. If we ask for peace, the peace of the whole world, then we must be willing to become people actively doing whatever we can that contributes to the peace of the world.

Consider three key words: Orthodox, Christian and peace.

Often the word “orthodox” is used as a synonym for rigidity. Not often is it understood in its real sense: the true way to give praise, and also true belief. Attach it to the word “Christian” and it becomes a term describing a person who is trying to live according to the Gospel. He may have far to go, but this is the direction he is trying to take. “To be an Orthodox Christian,” said Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “is to attempt to live a Christ-centered life. We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.”

To be an Orthodox Christian means belonging to the Orthodox Church. It is not possible to follow Christ and remain alone. I am part of a vast, time-spanning community of people with a collective memory that goes back as far as Adam and Eve. It is a community that includes the Church Fathers, whose words we are encouraged to read.

It is also a Church of Councils. We hold ourselves accountable to the results of those councils, even though they met many centuries ago. It means I don’t let my own opinions or those of my neighbors take charge of my faith. This requires guarding myself from the various ideologies that dominate the world I live in.

We are also a Church of saints. Day by day we remember them. We bear their names. We call on them for help. We remember what they did and sometimes what they said. We have icons of some of them in our churches and homes.

Attention to the Church Fathers and the saints can be a bewildering experience. For example we discover one Church Father showers the highest praise on marriage while another regards marriage as a barely tolerable compromise for those unable to embrace the real Christian calling: celibate monastic life. It can be disconcerting to discover that on various questions different Church Fathers may have different ideas or different emphases or just plain disagree.

Or we look at the saints and find one who was martyred for refusing to be a soldier, then the next day discover a saint who was a hero on the battlefield. Or we read about a saint who wore the rich clothing of a prince and then find another saint whose only clothing was his uncut beard. Here is a saint who was a great scholar while there is a saint who was a holy fool. Here is a saint who raced to the desert, while over there is a saint who refused to leave the city and was critical of those who did. Each saint poses a challenge and each saint raises certain questions and even certain problems. The puzzle pieces don’t always fit. We discover that neither the Church Fathers nor the saints on the calendar are a marching band, all in step and playing in perfect harmony.

Devotion to the saints solves some problems and raises others. In the details of their lives, they march in a thousand different directions. They also made mistakes. They were not saints every minute of every day. Like us, they had sins to confess. But their virtues overwhelm their faults. In different ways, each saint gives us a window for seeing Christ and his Gospel more clearly.

To be an Orthodox Christian means, as St. Paul says, that we are no longer Greek nor Jew. Nationality is secondary. It is not the national flag that is placed on the altar but the Gospel. For us, even though we find ourselves in an Orthodox Church divided on national or jurisdictional lines, it means we are no longer American or Russian or Egyptian or Serbian. Rather we are one people united in baptism and faith whose identity and responsibility includes but goes beyond the land where we were born or the culture and mother tongue that shaped us.

On to the next word: peace. This is a damaged word. It’s like an icon so blackened by candle smoke that the image is completely hidden. “Peace” is a word that has been covered with a lot of smoke from the fires of propaganda, politics, ideologies, war and nationalism. In Soviet Russia there were those omnipresent slogans proclaiming peace while the Church was often obliged to take part in state-organized and state-scripted “peace” events. And in American, as a boy growing up in New Jersey, it was almost the same. “Peace is our profession” was the slogan of the Strategic Air Command, whose apocalyptic work was work was on stage center in the film “Doctor Strangelove.” In more recent years, there was a nuclear missile officially christened “the peacemaker.”

Not only governments but peace groups have damaged the word “peace.” Anti-war groups often reveal less about peace than about anger, alienation and even hatred. Sadly it’s a surprise to find a peace group that regards unborn children as among those whose lives need to be protected.

In wartime talk of peace can put you on thin ice. I recently heard a story that dates back to the first Gulf War. Three clergymen were being interviewed on television. Two of them insisted that the war was a good and just war and had God’s blessing. The third opened his Bible and read aloud the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers… Love your enemies…” But he was cut short by a shout from the angry pastor next to him: “That’s not relevant now! We’re at war!”

War does this to us. Parts of the Gospel are simply abandoned. They are seen as temporarily irrelevant, an embarrassment to the patriotic Christian. “Peace” is put in the deep freeze, a word to be thawed out after the war is over. Thus the salt loses it savor and sugar takes its place.

Part of our job is to clean words like “peace.” It’s a work similar to icon restoration. Otherwise it will be hard to understand the Gospel or the Liturgy and impossible to translate the Gospel and the Liturgy into daily life.

The single word “peace” is one of the essential characteristics of the Kingdom of God. Consider how often and in what significant ways Christ uses the word “peace” in the Gospel: “And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.” “And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!'” “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'” “And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'” “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!'” “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” His greeting after the resurrection is, “Peace be with you.” In Mark’s Gospel, once again we come upon the metaphor of salt: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

In the Slavic liturgical tradition, the custom is to sing the Beatitudes while the Gospel Book is carried in procession through the church. Why? Because the Beatitudes are a short summary of the Gospel. These few verses describe a kind of ladder to heaven, starting with poverty of spirit and ascending to readiness to suffer for Christ and at last participation in the Paschal joy of Christ. Near the top of the ladder of the Beatitudes we come to the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Christ’s peace is not passive nor has it anything to do with the behavior of a coward or of the person who is polite rather than truthful. Christ says, in Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He means the sword metaphorically, as Luke makes clear in his version of the same passage: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” To live truthfully rather than float with the tide means most of time to swim against the tide and to risk penalties if not punishment for doing so. Christ had, and still has, opponents. Christ’s words and actions often brought his opponents’ blood to a boil. Think of his words of protest about the teachings of the Pharisees who laid burdens of others they would not carry themselves. Think of him chasing the money changers from the Temple. No one was killed or injured but God’s lightning flashed in the Temple courtyard.

Jesus speaks the truth, no matter how dangerous a task that may be. He gives us an example of spiritual and verbal combat. But his hands are not bloodstained. Think about the fact that Christ killed no one. Neither did he bless any of his followers to kill anyone. There are many ways in which Christ is unique. This is one of them. His final miracle before his crucifixion is to heal the injury of a temple guard whom Peter had wounded. He who preached the love of enemies took a moment to heal an enemy while on his way to the Cross.

In the early centuries, Christians got into a lot of trouble for their attitude toward the state. You get a sense of what that was like in this passage from Second Century hieromartyr, St. Justin: “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.”

The big problem for early Christians, a problem that so often got them into trouble, was their refusal to regard any ruler as a god. This doesn’t mean simply a ruler who claims to be a god, but the persistent tendency of so many rulers down to the present day to behave as gods and expect to be treated that way. Christians were obedient members of society in every way they could be without disobeying God, but were prepared to suffer even the most cruel death rather than place obedience to Caesar before obedience to God.

While eventually the baptismal requirements of the Church were relaxed, it was once the case that those who did not renounce killing, whether as a soldier or judge, could not be baptized. It is still the case that those who have killed another human being, even in self defense or by accident, are excluded from serving at the altar. Presumably this would also mean any person whose words incite others to kill.

What’s the problem? Killing in war is often awarded with medals. Aren’t soldiers only doing their duty, however horrible it may be? Is there not virtue in their deeds, however bloody? I am reminded of an interview with an American soldier in Iraq that I heard on television recently: “A part of your soul is destroyed in killing someone else.” He might have said, but didn’t, that a part of your soul is wounded when you kill another. The Church looks for ways to heal such wounds.

Christ is not simply an advocate of peace or an example of peace. He is peace. To want to live a Christ-like life means to want to participate in the peace of Christ. Yes, we may fail, as we fail in so many things, but we are never permitted to give up trying.

How do we give a witness to Christ’s peace, especially in time of war? There are at least seven aspects of doing this.

The first is love of enemies. Love is another damaged word. It has been sentimentalized. It has come to mean a nice feeling we have toward a person whom we enjoy seeing and being with. The biblical meaning of the word is different. Christ calls on his followers to love their enemies. If you understand love as a euphoric feeling or pleasant sentiment, fulfilling this commandment is impossible. But if you understand love as doing what you can to protect the life and seek the salvation of a person or group whom we are encouraged to fear or despise, that’s very different.

Jesus links love of enemies with prayer for them. Without prayer, love of enemies is impossible. One of the saints who gave special emphasis to this theme was the 20th century monk St. Silouan of the Holy Mountain. Silouan’s stress may have its roots in the fact that, before becoming a monk, he nearly killed another young man. Not long afterward, he went to Mount Athos. Much of his teaching later in life centered on love of enemies. “He who does not love his enemies,” he insisted, “does not have God’s grace.”

The second aspect is doing good to enemies. Jesus teaches his followers, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:28)

Jesus’ teaching about a compassionate response to enemies was not new doctrine. We find in the Mosaic Law: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under a burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5)

St. Paul elaborates: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will reap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:20-21)

Christ’s teaching to do good to enemies is often viewed as unrealistic. In fact, it is a teaching full of common sense. Unless we want to turn the world into a cemetery, we must search for opportunities through which we can demonstrate to an opponent our longing for an entirely different kind of relationship. An adversary’s moment of need or crisis can provide that opening.

The third aspect is turning the other cheek. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other also.” (Mt.5:39; Luke 6:29) Contrast this with the advice provided in the average film or novel, where the standard message might be described as “The Gospel According to Hollywood.” This pseudo-gospel’s basic message is: If you are hit, hit back. Let your blow be harder than the one you received. In fact, as we saw in the US attack on Iraq in 2003, you needn’t be hit at all in order to strike others. Provocation, irritation, or the fear of attack is warrant enough.

“Turning the other cheek” is widely seen as an especially suspect Christian doctrine, an ethic that borders on masochism. Many would say it is Jesus at his most unrealistic: “Human beings just aren’t made that way.” For a great many people the problem can be put even more simply: “Turning the other cheek isn’t manly. Only cowards turn the other cheek.”

But what cowards actually do is run and hide. Standing in front of a violent man, refusing to get out of his way, takes enormous courage. It is manly and often proves to be the more sensible response. It’s also a way of giving witness to confidence in the reality and power of the resurrection.

The fourth aspect is forgiveness. Nothing is more fundamental to Jesus’ teaching than his call to forgiveness: giving up debts, letting go of grievances, pardoning those who have harmed us, not despairing of the other. Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we are telling God that we ask to be forgiven only insofar as we ourselves have extended forgiveness to others: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

How hard it is to forgive! For we are wounded and the wounds often last a lifetime; they even spill across generations. As children, as parents, as husbands or wives, as families, as workers, as jobless people, as church members, as members of certain classes or races, as voters, as citizens of particular states, we have been violated, made a target, lied to, used, abandoned. Sins, often quite serious sins, have been committed against us. We may feel damaged, scarred for life, stunted. Others we love may even have died of evil done to them.

But we are not only victims. In various ways we are linked to injuries others have suffered and are suffering. If I allow myself to see how far the ripples extend from my small life, I will discover that not only in my own home but on the far side of the planet there are people whose sorrows in life are partly due to me. Through what I have done or failed to do, through what my community has done or failed to do, there are others whose lives are more wretched than they might have been. There are those dying while we feast.

But we prefer to condemn the evils we see in others and excuse the evils we practice ourselves. We fail to realize that those who threaten us often feel threatened by us, and may have good reasons for their fears. The problem is not simply a personal issue, for the greatest sins of enmity are committed en masse, with very few people feeling any personal responsibility for the destruction they share in doing or preparing. The words of Holocaust administrator Adolph Eichmann, “I was only following orders,” are among humanity’s most frequently repeated justifications for murder.

The fifth aspect is breaking down the dividing wall of enmity. In Christ enmity is destroyed, Saint Paul wrote, “for he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of enmity… that he might create in himself one new person in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing enmity to an end.” (Eph. 2:14-16)

Walls would have been on Paul’s mind at the time; in the same letter he mentions that he is “a prisoner for the Lord.” His words of guidance were sent from within the stone walls of a prison.

Consider Christ’s response to the centurion who asked him to heal a sick servant. It must have been hard for his more zealot-minded disciples to see Jesus responding positively to the appeal of an officer in an occupation army and galling to hear him commenting afterward, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In this brief encounter, the dividing wall of enmity collapsed.

We live in a world of walls. Competition, contempt, repression, racism, nationalism, violence and domination: all these are seen as normal and sane. Enmity is ordinary. Self and self-interest form the centering point in many lives. We tend to be a fear-driven people. Love and the refusal to center one’s life in enmity are dismissed as naive, idealistic, even unpatriotic, especially if one reaches out constructively to hated minorities or national enemies.

Many wars are in the progress at the moment. The cost in money, homes destroyed, damaged sanity, in lives and injuries is phenomenal. So many deaths, and mainly non-combatants – children, parents and grandparents, the very young, the very old, all sorts of people. Countless hideous wounds, visible and hidden. There are also less tangible costs, spiritually, psychologically, for we have become a people who make war and preparations for war a major part of our lives. We hear of many people who expect to die in a violent death and who live in a constant state of “low grade” depression. Fear and despair are widespread. Stress-relieving pills are selling better than ever in today’s world.

The sixth aspect is nonviolent resistance to evil. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” When Peter used violence to defend Jesus, he was instantly admonished, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” For several hundred years following the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were renowned for their refusal to perform military service. But for many centuries, Christians have been as likely as any others to take up the sword – and often use it in appalling ways.

The refusal to kill others can be a powerful witness, yet Christian life is far more than the avoidance of evil. It is searching for ways to combat evil without using methods that inevitably will result in the death of the innocent.

Responding to evil with its own weapons, even with the best of motives, often results in actions which mimic those of the enemy, or even outdo the enemy’s use of abhorrent methods. When Nazi forces bombed cities, there was profound revulsion in Britain and the United States, but in the end the greatest acts of city destruction were carried out by Britain and the United States.

Yet what is one to do? Christians cannot be passive about those events and structures which cause innocent suffering and death.

For centuries men and women have been searching for effective ways of both protecting life and combating evil. It is only in the past hundred years, because of movements associated with such people as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day, that nonviolent struggle has become a recognized alternative to passivity, on the one hand, and violence on the other.

Yet such acts of nonviolent protest are far from unknown in the Orthodox Church. One powerful example occurred in Constantinople in the year 842 when, opposing the iconoclast Emperor Leo V, a thousand monks took part in an icon-bearing procession in the capital city. They were exhibiting in public images of Christ and the saints which, had they obeyed the emperor, should have long before been destroyed. Their act of civil disobedience risked severe punishment. Iconographers had been tortured, mutilated and sent into exile. Thousands of icons had been destroyed. The death of the emperor later that year was widely seen as heaven’s judgment. In 843 his widow Theodora convened a Church Council which reaffirmed the place of the icon in Christian life. In The Orthodox Church, the first Sunday of Lent was set aside to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

There is one last element of peacemaking: It is aspiring to a life of recognizing Jesus in the other: In his teaching about the Last Judgment, Christ tells us, “Truly, I say to you, what you did it to one of the least of these, you did to me.” It is a scene represented in icons in many ancient churches, though not popular today.

Occasionally the question is raised: “Why are we judged together and not one by one as we die?” It is because each person’s life is far from over when he dies. Our acts of love and failures to love continue to have consequences until the end of history. What Adam and Eve did, what Moses did, what Plato did, what Pilate did, what the Apostles did, what Caesar did, what Hitler did, what Martin Luther King did, what Dorothy Day did, what you and I have done ? all these lives, with their life-saving or murderous content, continue to have consequences for the rest of history. What you and I do, and what we fail to do, will matter forever.

It weighs heavily on many people that Jesus preached not only heaven but hell. There are many references to hell in the Gospels, including in the Sermon on the Mount. How can a loving God allow a place devoid of love?

One response to that question which makes sense to me is one I first heard in a church in Prague in the Communist period. God allows us to go wherever we are going. We are not forced to love. Communion is not forced on us. We are not forced to recognize God’s presence. It is all an invitation. We can choose. We can choose life or death. Perhaps we can even make the choice of heaven while in hell. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis has a tour bus leaving daily from hell to heaven. But the bus is never full and tends to return with as many passengers as it took on the trip out of hell. Heaven is too painful, its light too intense, its edges too sharp, for those who are used to the dullness of hell. In fact the older we are, the more we live by old choices, and defend those choices, and makes ideologies, even theologies out of our choices, and finally become slaves to them.

We can say, not just once but forever, as Peter once said of Jesus, “I do not know the man.” There are so many people about whom we can say, to our eternal peril, “I do not know the man,” to which we can add he is worthless, has no one to blame for his troubles but himself, that his problems aren’t our business, that he is an enemy, that he deserves to die whether of frostbite or violence matters little.

As St. John Chrysostom said, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” If I cannot find the face of Jesus in the face of those who are my enemies, if I cannot find him in the unbeautiful, if I cannot find him in those who have the wrong ideas, if I cannot find him in the poor and the defeated, how will I find him in bread and wine, or in the life after death? If I do not reach out in this world to those with whom he has identified himself, why do I imagine that I will want to be with him, and them, in heaven? Why would I want to be for all eternity in the company of those whom I hated and avoided every day of my life?

Christ’s Kingdom would be hell for those who avoided peace and devoted their lives to division. But heaven is right in front of us. At the heart of what Jesus says in every act and parable is this: Now, this minute, we can enter the Kingdom of God. This very day we can sing the Paschal hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb he has given life!”

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Jim Forest, secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is the author of many books, including The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life and Ladder of the Beatitudes. The text is based on a lecture given 20 November 2004 at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York.

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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.