Category Archives: IC 55 2010

Content IC 55 2010

Dear In Communion reader,

Dear In Communion reader,

This first issue of the year 2010 makes a special link with St. Basil the Great, one of the towering figures of fourth-century Christianity, a saint who not only helped lay the theological foundations of Orthodox Christianity, but also provided an astonishing model of what love of neighbor involves.

Down though the centuries there have been countless Christians who have responded in remarkable ways to the needs of suffering people accounts of several contemporary examples are featured in this issue but I can think of no other saint who founded not only houses of hospitality but a city of hospitality. It was known throughout the Christian world as the Basilead.

In his funeral oration for St. Basil, St. Gregory the Theologian described the legacy of Basil’s endeavors in these words: “Go forth a little way from the city, and behold the New City, the storehouse of piety, the common treasury of the wealthy where disease is regarded in a religious light, and disaster is thought a blessing, and sympathy is put to the test.”

It is a rare Orthodox parish without an icon of St. Basil, but it is nearly as rare to find an Orthodox Christian who knows about the heroic efforts Basil undertook, demonstrating in so extraordinary a way that love of God is impossible apart from love of neighbor.

A major part of the work of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship has been to help revive the memory of what such saints as Basil said and did and to explore the implications in the world today. How many people estranged from Christianity would think of the Church in a different light if it gave a Basil-like example of hospitality to those desperately in need.

We cannot carry on our work without your help. One way to do this is to make more than one donation per year to OPF, or give more than the minimum. (We are deeply grateful to those who are manage to make monthly or quarterly donations such help makes a huge difference.) Or you might consider giving someone a friend? your parish priest? a subscription to In Communion.

Thank you for whatever you can manage.

In Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest
Winter Issue IC 55 2010

Forgiveness and healing­

 Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (1636)

To forgive does not mean to forget what has happened, but to shoulder the weight of another person’s frailty or even another person’s evil. St. Paul says, “Learn to carry one another’s burdens.” These burdens are often the failure of each of us to be worthy of our calling our incapacity to love one another, to accept one another, to serve one another, to help one another on the way that leads to God. Let each of us pass a judgement on our whole soul, on our whole life, judge ourselves honestly, and ask forgiveness not only from God but from our neighbor, which is sometimes much harder than asking forgiveness from God.

Image: Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (1636)

We are all frail. We are all in need of support. Do we give this support to one another? Or do we choose those whom we want to support because we like them, because supporting them is a joy, because supporting them means that they also respond to us by gratitude, by friendship? Let us avoid seeking reasons not to forgive.

I remember a man who said to me, “I can forgive every person who has sinned against me, I can even love them, but I must hate the enemies of God.” I thought of something which is told to us in the life of one of the saints, in which a priest was praying to God to punish those who betrayed Him by their lives if not by their words. And Christ appeared to him and said, “Never pray for the punishment or the rejection of any one. If there was only one sinner in the world, I would choose to be incarnate again, and again to die upon the cross for this only sinner.”

Remember, if we do not forgive our brother, it is not only he who goes away with pain and tears in his heart, but we are wounded. If we do not forgive, we are ourselves not healed. The evil that occurred to us at the hands of another person remains with us, damaging our soul, destroying us.

Let us learn to forgive, so that others may be healed, but also that we may be healed ourselves. Come and bow down before the icon of Christ and of the Mother of God, and then turn to one another with the readiness to be forgiven and to forgive, whatever the cost to us.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh

from a Forgiveness Vespers sermon given in 1999

Winter Issue IC 55 2010


Lunch with Mother Maria


by Bev Cooke

Sandwich Saturday in downtown Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Sandwich Saturday in downtown Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

It’s time for lunch! Deacon Kevin grabs a sack of sandwiches. The rest of us grab the table and boxes of drinks, granola bars and fresh fruit, then truck them over to the tree on Harris Green. People start moving toward us even before we’ve set up the table. I see Anthony weaving his way down the street. His ultimate aim is the table, but it may take a while. His eyes are glassy and he probably hasn’t slept in a couple of days. There’s Donald, neat, thin and always polite. When panhandling, he introduces himself and offers a handshake. He’ll stick around for talk. He knows Edward and me. Others approach whom I recognize but whose names I don’t yet know.

We grab peanut butter sandwiches, fruit and juice and stuff them into paper lunch bags as fast as we can. The first five or ten bags are handed out right away, along with a soupçon of conversation.

Once they get their lunches, they scatter. It’s quiet so we concentrate on packing more bags. People come up in ones and twos, talk for a bit and often ask for an extra bag “for a friend” or their wife or husband. Sometimes it’s for later. That’s okay Monday, when the soup kitchens open, is almost 48 hours away.

Someone wants another juice box no problem. Someone else wants to know if they can have a banana instead of an apple no teeth. That’s a problem because we don’t have any bananas today. How about an extra sweet roll? Fine. Someone else wants to exchange their granola bar. He doesn’t like almond flavor. Okay, what about the blue package? That’s okay.

Part of me resists. We’re giving them food. Take it and be grateful! But then again why shouldn’t our guests get what they want, my more-baptized self asks? If someone doesn’t like almond granola bars, best he has what he likes.

I scan the area while giving out lunches. Mama D isn’t here yet. She doesn’t come every week and I look forward to seeing her. I know nothing about her, except what I see  a tiny woman, age indeterminate. She looks older than me, except her hair isn’t gray. It’s a lovely soft black, done up neatly in a bun. She’s bent double with a disability, and speaks in a voice so soft I can hardly hear her. I have to bend double myself just to get my ear close to her mouth, and even then I miss most of what she says. But something about her went straight to my heart the first time I saw her, and I love her  it’s that simple.

More people come up for the lunches. We talk among ourselves or with someone who likes to discuss theology.

A man I call the “God shouter” comes up. He declines a lunch bag because, he says, we are the dupes and lackeys of authority, and to do so would … I’m not sure what. He gets incoherent at that point. He lives in a reality of which I have no idea, and his intersects ours only by chance. God told him that we are the lackeys. Apparently God is angry at us. He quotes God – God walks right beside him, along with a host of invisible-to-us beings. This makes conversation hard. We’re never sure if he’s talking to us or one of his companions. He scares me because he is so angry and violence seems so close. But Deacon Kevin is somehow able to connect. Our visitor wanders off with a juice box.

A couple come up and accept a lunch. My divided self pipes up again: Obviously they aren’t homeless or poor, not with that gem on her finger. Surely they have a place to sleep. Why are they taking food not meant for them? My other half answers: If they want one of our peanut butter sandwiches, then they have a need. It’s just not as visible as Anthony’s or Mama D’s. Appearances can be misleading. Anyway, it’s not for us to decide who “needs” a bag lunch.

I check my watch. I have to be going. I have an appointment in half an hour, and I need to decompress. Being here touches me deeply, too deeply for me to see how it touches me. Being here changes the way I see the world. Being here touches me in ways I suspect are going to change me profoundly, forever.

We’ve been doing Sandwich Saturdays for half a year. A bakery gives us their leftovers. On Friday night, we gather at the Saint Maria Skobtsova Center to make sandwiches. Then on Saturday afternoon, we gather at “the tree” on Harris Green in downtown Victoria, British Columbia. We set up a table and put the sandwich bags together to give to the homeless and needy who come by.

The Center and Sandwich Saturday are the brainchildren of three men and one saint; Father John Hainsworth and Deacon Kevin Miller, respectively the rector and the deacon of All Saints of Alaska Orthodox Church, and Edward Seraphim, one of our parishioners. I harbor deep suspicions that Saint Maria Skobtsova had long been lying in wait for these three to meet.

Edward lived on the streets for years  a homeless addict before getting clean and returning to God seven or so years ago. When Edward was given credit at a local Catholic bookstore in exchange for doing a computer repair, he chose the Orthodox Study Bible. “It has more books in it than any other Bible I’d ever seen,” he jokes. He was amazed by the Study Bible’s contents. He began e-mail correspondence with two Orthodox priests who advised him to get in touch with a local priest, Father John, and he did.

The two met for coffee and talked. And talked. Then Edward met Deacon Kevin and the three of them got together, talked, and talked some more. Both the Saint Maria Center and Sandwich Saturdays came out of those talks. Another consequence was that Edward was baptized into the Orthodox faith.

Both Father John and Edward have a deep interest in society’s poor and homeless. “I always wanted to do something for the streets,” Father John explains. “That all began in 2003, but it was also around then that I started turning all my energies into the parish.” What he doesn’t mention is that, besides starting a new parish (All Saints) in 2002, he also began a university chaplaincy, and a province-wide, pan-Orthodox youth summer camp. That left scant time to begin outreach to the poor. But he didn’t forget it. “That was always in my mind and we started handing out bags of things to homeless people after the liturgy on Saint Nicholas day. That was really a good thing to do, but very small.”

Edward knew the streets, and could teach Father John and Deacon Kevin about the level and depth of need that existed. With Edward acting as guide, the three were able to navigate the established aid organizations as well as meet some of the people using them.

Once they met him, street people began to flock to Father John for prayer and counseling. When asked what they needed, they said food on Saturdays. Most soup kitchens close on the weekend. A secular activist group (Food not Bombs) hands out food on Sundays but that left Saturday. “They especially wanted food you can take away and eat in the middle of the night,” Edward explained.

Thus was Sandwich Saturday born, something small and manageable “that could be kept going for decades,” says Father John.

At about the same time a downtown physical space for outreach became a reality. The parish had been, for several months in an “ebb situation.” The parish council decided to fight the ebb with its own flow and the deacon was delegated to research ideas.

One idea was to emulate the model of a small, suburban church, similar to ours, which had set up a bookstore and outreach center in a downtown area of another city in order to enhance their visibility. But the idea “hung in the background” until Edward arrived. Deacon Kevin remembered the downtown bookstore and outreach center, but dismissed the idea as All Saints had no money. Yet he thought, “there’s gotta be somewhere in Victoria where there’s a little nook.” The intent gradually became a resolve. “And we’re not only going to have books and a chapel,” Deacon Kevin recalls, “but also get involved in the community downtown. Outreach to the homeless would be part of it.”

Then came the inspiring example of St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris and the house of hospitality she founded in Paris in 1932. Our idea evolved from helping the disadvantaged to following her example by creating a pan-Orthodox gathering place, an Orthodox presence downtown.

The search began. We found space on the second floor of an old livery stable. The owner agreed to a rent so far below market value that it felt like a miracle. (Another miracle is that the rent for fourteen months has since been guaranteed by an anonymous donor.) Spiros Spanos, a member of the Greek Orthodox community and a general contractor, gave many hours of labor to renovate the space into a chapel, office, kitchen and sitting area with bookshelves. Thanks to a building demolition next door, we inherited enough electrical supplies to rewire and light the space, a set of slate floor tiles and good flooring. Paint was donated by another member of the Greek Orthodox community. To cap the entire thing, a gifted mosaic artist has agreed to donate a mosaic for the chapel floor.

Because of the pan-Orthodox interest in the center, a board of directors has been set up, with representation drawn from four parishes: Ukrainian, Greek, Orthodox Church in America, and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

So how does Saint Maria figure into this?

Father John was the first to stumble across her. “I first encountered Saint Maria in 1997 when I moved to Scotland and began encountering the wider Orthodox world,” he says. She stayed pretty much in the background until two years ago when he found a copy of her book, Essential Writings. “Matushka Jenny and I were totally taken by her and her life and what she went through.”

Deacon Kevin found her through Jim Forest’s children’s book, Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria and the Trash Can Rescue. He bought the book two years ago and read it to his children. “I thought it was cool that we had someone who did something so brave during the Nazi occupation. I was awed.” A year later, he attended a lecture Jim gave in Victoria, then went home and re-read the book.

I was introduced to her through my godson, Matthew Christopher Davidson, a poet and musician. He’d been doing some reading about beauty and worship and had found some of Saint Maria’s essays on line.

He forwarded the link in January 2008 and I was amazed at her words: “The most terrible thing is that it may well be that the guardians of beauty … will not comprehend Christ’s beauty, and will not let him into the church because behind him there will follow a crowd of people deformed by sin, by ugliness, drunkenness, depravity and hate. Then their chant will fade away in the air … and Someone will say to them: ‘I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me’.”

Later Matthew said, “at the time I was trying to exegete and defend beauty at all costs in worship. I was really challenged by what Saint Maria said, a warning not to become so lost in the beauty of the Liturgy that you lose Christ and love. She talks about how the poor are broken and just need God and love but are ignored by people who see beauty only in church services.”

Saint Maria wrote: “Love is a very dangerous thing. At times it must reach down into the fathomless lower levels of the human spirit, it must expose itself to ugliness, to the violation of harmony. There is no room for it where beauty, when once discovered and sanctioned, reigns forever.”

Edward was introduced to her by Father John. Of all of us, he had read the least about her, yet in many ways, he captures her vision of work with the poor and the disadvantaged most closely. “The reason they are where they are is that nobody gives a shit,” he says. “If you feed somebody, they’re hungry tomorrow. If you clothe them, the clothes wear out. But if you give them a sense of self-worth, if even for a second they can experience unconditional love, God’s love, you’ve added something they can carry with them for ever. But nobody wants to look at them. For the most part people are there because they have nobody to go home to. Not that they don’t have a home to go to, but that they don’t have anyone at home. Nobody wants them, not even their families. What good is a lonely, miserable apartment? They need people to treat them as an equal.”

Saint Maria said, “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.” She insisted that we need “to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God” in those we meet, even if they are wearing unwashed, slept-in clothing and need a shower.

We don’t know where we’re going. Even the coming year is clouded for us. We don’t have an agenda. We aren’t going to become a “major player” in the downtown aid community. We aren’t out to make ourselves famous. We don’t have any new theories about how to help people. The center needs furnishings. At present we have no income other than the donation that covers rent.

Perhaps Edward captures the feeling best: “Sandwich Saturday is a first step. The next step is up to God, and he hasn’t told us yet. For me, personally, as long as we’re going in the right direction, God will guide us to the center. God will make sure we stay on the road as long as we’re moving forward.”

All we can do is try to love those whom most people try to avoid, to love them as Christ loves us all, to venerate them as bearers of the image of Christ  even the “God shouter” who still scares me and try to give them what they say they need, which right now is a bag lunch, a smile, and, in the case of Mama D, a big hug whenever we see each other.

I have a feeling that they are helping us as much as we are helping them, and maybe more. ❖

Bev Cooke is a Canadian author whose books include Royal Monastic and Keeper of the Light, both from Conciliar Press, and Feral (Orca Book Publishers). Her home is in Victoria, British Columbia. She is on the board of directors for the Saint Maria Center: .
Winter Issue IC 55 2010

‘I Was in Need and You Helped Me’

By Fr. Justin Mathews


God calls us to share in His love, a love which expresses itself in acts of compassion for all who are broken-hearted and in need. In doing this, we become God’s own hands. Such practical service changes lives and transforms our world, one person at a time.

Participation in God’s compassion is more than a human rights issue. In taking up this task we work out our own salvation and affirm the “very good” that God has already spoken over each human being.

This awareness resulted in the founding in 2009 of a new Orthodox organization intended to help parishes better express Christ’s love for the hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick and imprisoned. Called FOCUS (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve), we link like-minded Christians who are working out their salvation by sharing with others, just as Christ shared of Himself without holding back “for the life of the world,” becoming poor to make the poor rich.

Every person is a living icon of God, more worthy of our veneration than the holy icons we reverence in church and at home. FOCUS promotes the Orthodox practice of venerating everyone whom God has made by serving anyone in need. Our veneration through practical service helps to restore the perfect image of the Creator, both in the people we serve and in ourselves, as well.

Among saints of modern times, we draw great inspiration from the ministry and witness of Mother Maria Skobtsova, now recognized as St. Maria of Paris. “There is no doubt that the Christian is called to social work,” she said, “called to organize a better life for the workers, to provide for the old, to build hospitals, care for children, fight against exploitation, injustice, want, lawlessness.” She went on to say that this kind of Christian social work can only be based on love for our neighbors, not for career or material advancement, reminding us that we will be held accountable in the Last Judgment for our treatment of the hungry, imprisoned, naked and sick.

Her words strike the heart, especially when we consider the staggering statistics about the hungry and homeless in so many places. Here in the US one in 50 children is homeless. The unemployment line continues to grow & the number of Americans without jobs is overwhelming. It is estimated that 49 million Americans are now living without consistent access to adequate food, the highest count since the Department of Agriculture began tracking “food insecurity” fifteen years ago. Forty-nine million people!

FOCUS is trying to help answer God’s call by doing all we can to meet basic needs for food, shelter and employment, with a special focus on providing resources to help people in need better care for themselves. The result is that we are witnessing many lives changed through the grace of God.

FOCUS stands not only for “Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve” but also for Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding and Shelter.

We are a non-profit charitable organization; contributions are tax-deductible. We serve those in need by providing aid through our programs and partners, supporting Orthodox Christian social action ministries, agencies, professionals and volunteers; and supplying parishes and others with the education, resources and training to initiate social action ministries in their own communities.

Our pilot program is in Kansas City, Missouri, where, at Reconciliation Services, we serve 14,000 meals a year with the help of 200 volunteers from local Orthodox Churches. Volunteers buy food, prepare meals and serve meals to each person who comes looking for food, refuge and often God. We stock our own food pantry and clothing closet, as well as provide counseling and case-management services. We also support neighboring social-service ministries through our FOCUS partner-ministry program. In 2009 alone, fifteen grants, totaling almost $50,000, were given to our partners. When you combine our ministry with that of our partners, we are now serving 425,000 meals a year at the cost of only $1.92 per meal.

Future plans envision establishing FOCUS centers in 50 cities and rural areas. The next center is slated to open in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area of Minnesota. We then hope to launch centers in Orange County (California), the Appalachian Mountain region, Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), and Chicago. We are humbled and eager to work as God’s hands in a mission to restore living icons.

We are excited to see Christ in the work we do, as people eat wholesome food and earn a living again.

Tawana is a good example of a changed life. When she arrived at Reconciliation Services in Kansas City, Tawana was homeless and separated from her child, in part due to chronic schizophrenia. Our case management managed to secure her a place to live, meals served with love, and assistance to access public mental-health services. Tawana started turning her life around. Later she volunteered in the food pantry, and participated in our back-to-work initiative to recover her own vital documents such as Social Security card and state-issued photographic identification – without these, many doors are locked. Now she stable housing, is reunited with her son, and is prepared to get a car..

An organization like FOCUS is only as strong as the team and volunteers who keep it going. Our board is pan-Orthodox (made up of members from Greek, Antiochian, Orthodox Church in America, Carpatho-Russian and Serbian jurisdictions) is chaired by Charles Ajalat, co-founder of IOCC. Our advisory board is headed by the former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios. I serve as director. Prior to seminary, I worked with the Nashville Rescue Mission in Tennessee, which housed 1,000 homeless at a time and served 500,000 meals a year with the help of 10,000 volunteers.

Let me share one more testimony. This comes from our partner ministry, Abba Moses Medical Clinic, in Anniston, Alabama:

A 40-year-old woman came into the clinic crying. Her mother, who had dangerously high blood pressure, was in urgent need of help. Her daughter responded, giving up her job and health insurance in order to move in with her mom. In order to come to the Abba Moses Free Medical Clinic, she arranged for a neighbor to watch her mom. As she entered the clinic, she noticed a sign, “If you want the doctor to pray for you, ask.” Relieved to be in a place where prayer was spoken of openly, she asked for prayer. Besides the support of prayer, she was provided with diet guidelines, an exercise program and blood pressure medicine for her mother. On the way out, she asked to borrow an Orthodox book. She entered with sadness but departed in joy.

And so it goes. We serve people who, like this woman, are not only worthy of our service but a blessing to us. She experiences God’s love through us and we experience God’s love through her; and we are all changed.

So we continue a mission to which we all are called. With great joy we press on. Each day, we anticipate God will do great things. God never disappoints.❖

Please consider helping us help living icons of our brothers and sisters in need. Donations can be made online at Checks can be made out to “FOCUS North America” and sent to Box 30117, Kansas City, MO 64112. Thank you!
Winter Issue IC 55 2010

On Mercy and Justice

by St. Basil the Great (or a follower)


The following text, often attributed to St. Basil the Great, is now regarded by some scholars as the work of one of Basil’s followers. This translation is the work of C. Paul Schroeder and is included in his collection of St. Basil’s writings On Social Justice, newly published by St. Vladimir’s Semi­nary Press.

The world that forgets God, brothers and sisters, is ruled by injustice toward neighbors and inhumanity toward the weak. As the Apostle Paul says, “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, crafti­ness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Rom 1:28-30) God restores such people to proper reverence, teaching them to abstain from evil and pursue mercy toward their neighbors. Just as the Prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, taught, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” (Is 1:16-17) The Mosaic Law also contained many commandments regarding not harming one’s neighbor, as well as many precepts enjoining kindness and mercy. If someone abandons the practice of the one, the other will not suffice for that person’s restoration. Acts of charity made from unjust gains are not acceptable to God, nor are those who refrain from injustice praiseworthy if they do not share what they have. It is written concerning those who commit injustice and then attempt to offer gifts to God, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” (Prov 15:8) With regard to those who fail to show mercy, however, it says, “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.” (Prov 21:13)

It is for this reason that Proverbs instructs, “Honor the Lord with your just labors, and offer as first fruits your righteous works.” (Prov 3:9 LXX) But if you plan to make an offering to God out of the fruits of injustice and exploitation, you should know that it would be better for you neither to possess such things nor to make any offering from them. A pure gift gives wings to prayer; as it is written, “The prayers of the upright are acceptable to God.” (Prov 3:9 LXX) Conversely, if you possess what you have as a result of just labor, yet make no offerings to God for the support of the poor, exploitation is reckoned against you, according to what was spoken by the prophet Malachi, “The first fruits and tithes remain in your possession, and the gains of exploitation shall be in your house.” (Mal 3:8, 10 LXX)


It is therefore necessary for you to blend mercy and justice, possessing with justice and dispensing with mercy, according to what is written, “Preserve mercy and justice, and ever draw near to God.” (Hos 12:6 LXX) God loves mercy and justice; therefore, the one who practices mercy and justice draws near to God. It follows that every person should make a thorough self-examination. The rich should carefully consider their means, from which they intend to make offerings, in order to make certain that they have not wielded power over the poor, or used force against the weak, or committed extortion against those in a subordinate position. We are commanded to maintain justice and equity even toward slaves. Do not use force because you rule, nor commit extortion because you are able to do so, but show the qualities of justice even while the means of authority are available to you. It is no proof of reverence for God if you obey when you cannot do otherwise, but rather when you have the ability to transgress, and do not. If, after taking what belongs to the poor, you give back to the poor, you should know that it would have been better if you had neither extorted from them nor given to them.

Why do you taint your wealth, contaminating it with unjust gains? Why do you make your offering an abomination, attempting to show mercy to one poor person by offering what you have taken from another through injustice? Show mercy rather to the one you have wronged. Lavish your kindness on that person; give to the one you have wronged, and you will fulfill mercy with justice. God has nothing to do with greed; neither is the Lord a companion of thieves and extortioners. It is not because God is powerless to feed the poor that he has left them for us to care for, but rather because he desires that we should be fruitful in justice and kindness through our own good works.

Mercy does not come from injustice, nor blessing from a curse, nor goodness from tears. God says to those who cause the tears of the oppressed, “What I hate, you do; you cover my altar with tears, weeping and groaning.” (Mal 2:13 LXX) Show mercy from your own earnings, and not from injustice; do not even think of bringing unjust gains to God under the pretext of showing mercy. Such displays are empty glory. They focus on the things that bring human praise, not the praise that comes from God. For this reason, the Lord well said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” (Mt 6:1) If you wish to perform works of mercy in the sight of God, take care not to do so out of greedy gains, knowing that God takes no joy in beholding such things.

This is the reason we perform works of mercy: in order to receive back mercy from God. God gives back to those he approves, and he approves no greedy person. Gifts offered to God are no gifts at all if in acquiring them you have made your brother or sister sorrowful. The Lord says, “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Lk 19:9) Remember Zacchaeus the tax collector, who proposed to give back fourfold if he had defrauded anyone of anything, as well as distributing half of his remaining possessions to the poor. He wished to receive Christ as a guest, and he knew that Christ would not accept his extravagance towards the poor unless he first gave back the gains taken from others through injustice. Thus, Christ also received his sincere amendment, and said, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” (Lk 19:9.) This example was given for all those who do works of mercy, but do not first seek to reestablish equity. But to those who guard against injustice while neglecting to practice mercy, it is said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Mt 3:10) Such a tree will never be pleasing to the heavenly gardener, who said, “I came seeking fruit and found none,” and thus commanded that it should be cut down, so as not to use up the soil. (Cf. Lk 13:6-9)

It is also apparent that anyone who does not return an item taken from the poor as a pledge is condemned by God; a terrible judgment is pronounced against such a person: “The one who has not received back a pledge will cry out to me, and I will listen, for I am merciful.” (Ex 22:27 LXX) According to the Law, it was not permitted to glean one’s fields, or make a second pass through the vineyards, or thoroughly beat the fruit from the olive trees. (Cf. Deut. 24:19-22) These were to be left for the poor.

If such commands were given to those under the Law, what shall we say of those who are in Christ? To them the Lord says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20) For this reason, the Apostle exhorts us to give to those who have nothing not only out of our crops and produce, but also from the works of our hands. “Do good work with your hands, so that you may have something to give to those in need.” (Eph 4:28)

To those who wished to follow him, the Lord introduced the practice of selling all one’s property for the benefit of the poor, and so to follow him in this way. To his perfect followers, he enjoined the entire and complete fulfillment of mercy, so that, having finished their service to others by means of possessions, they might embark upon service by means of word and spirit. To the rest, he ordained allot­ment and sharing of what they have, so that in this way they might be seen as imitators of the kindness of God, showing mercy and giving and sharing. As the Scripture says, “Give, and it will be given to you.” ( Lk 6:38)

By such acts God promised that they would become his companions. These are the ones who stand at the Lord’s right hand, to whom the King says when he appears, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and in prison, and you came to me.” (Mt 25:34-36) Then the righteous will be amazed and say, “When did we do this for you, Lord?” And he will say to them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

Eagerness to serve holy people is accounted as reverence for Christ, and the one who eagerly ministers to the poor is shown to be a companion of Christ. This is the case not only of those who divest themselves of a great amount, but also of those who bring forward some small thing, even if they give only a cup of cold water because he is a disciple. (Cf. Mt 10:42) The disciples’ poverty, as the world con­siders it, is an opportunity for you to acquire true wealth, you rich people. Through such actions you will become co-workers of Christ. You feed soldiers of Christ, and do so freely, not under any compulsion. The Heavenly King does not use compul­sion, nor does he demand payment, but accepts those who serve eagerly, so that in giving they may receive, and in showing honor they may be honored, and in sharing what is temporal they may be invited to share in what is eternal.

These things should be a constant reminder to us; we should place them before the very eyes of our soul, so that we may not neglect the opportune moment, nor pass over the present time, waiting for some other chance, lest we should be lost in the end on account of our hesitation and delaying. May the Lord grant that we may be found fruitful and vigilant, mindful of his commands, ready and unimpeded at his glorious appearing; in Christ himself our God, to whom be glory, might, and honor, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always, and forever and ever.

What will you answer to the Judge? You gorgeously array your walls, but you do not clothe your fellow human beings. You adorn horses, but turn away from the shameful plight of your brother and sister. You allow grain to rot in your barns, but do not feed those who are starving. You hide gold in the earth, but ignore the oppressed!
St. Basil the Great, “To the Rich”

Winter Issue IC 55 2010

God Knows There’s Need

by Michael Taylor

Susan Holman is a scholar of the social justice tradition in the early church. Her new book is God Knows There’s Need: Christian Responses to Poverty (Oxford University Press). She also wrote The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia.

Holman, a research writer and editor at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, sets out on a formidable task: to put ancient Christian texts which address issues of social justice into the hands of modern practitioners. “These essays,” Holman writes, “occupy the space between two worlds, between historical textual studies and contemporary social action, between the life of the academic library and the life which strains toward effective prayer.” However, until recently, many of these early Christian texts about poverty, hunger, physical sickness and other social calamities were forgotten and unheard. It is these Holman helps resurrect.

The work at hand, therefore, is to engage in closing the gap between the aspects which Holman describes. However, this demands that we first become familiar with such texts. Engaging in the work of patristic studies is not always easy, and can seem a task for an elect few. However, I think of those such as Saint Maria of Paris, who often drew deeply on patristic texts while running the day to day operations of her house of hospitality.

How is it possible that such important material for framing Christian responses to social injustice as Holman draws upon are so little read and even now exist chiefly in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic? I think it is first to educate a wider public that such texts exist and that they are relevant for those who study medicine, national and international public health, policy issues, and social services. Beyond this, Holman offers a number of suggestions. One issue which Holman identifies is that existing patristic collections in English are far less complete than those interested in patristic literature may realize collections, though valuable, that were shaped by theological trends of the late nineteenth century. Those of us in the English-speaking world may be familiar with the compilation that grew out of the New Oxford Movement and the legacy of John Henry Newman.

“Most of Newman’s spiritual heirs,” Holman writes, “like Newman himself, display little passion for patristic texts on social welfare. Therefore, few such texts were translated into English in the series inspired by Newman’s legacy and vision.” It was only in nineteenth-century France that Jacques-Paul Migne produced his massive Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca. Migne, whose collections censored nothing, played a formidable role in the creation of modern French laws regarding human rights and matters of social justice.

Restoring these texts as an integrated part of current social practice is only part of the battle, however. The more difficult challenge is establishing a method from which to apply these texts to the work of our daily lives. We live in a world with vastly different socio-economic realities than existed in the fourth century.

While St. Gregory and others in fourth-century Cappadocia worked to establish great houses of hospitality, they lived in a world in which slavery was unquestioned. Some of the saints of our church owned slaves and spoke of the poor as the soil which “may be worked for our personal salvation.” Such examples help us to realize that, while there are jewels, these texts were developed in an era in which perceptions and responses to issues of poverty and justice were not necessarily similar to our own.

For us in the Orthodox Church, imagining slave-owning saints is not welcome news. There is a particular pride in our faith, but there is always a work of context that needs to be undertaken. Seeking to provide such a context, Holman offers three paradigms for us to use when approaching these texts: “sensing the poor, sharing the world, and embodying the sacred kingdom.” She sees these three concepts and pragmatic ideas as encompassing “particular categories which might be used to apply bits of the complex past to present issues while respecting ancient nuances and cultural differences. These paradigms are not fixed ideological systems but constructive tools for discussing and interpreting these texts in light of later or contemporary issues.”

In reference to the first paradigm, sensing the poor, Holman proposes first remembering one’s own story and the needs we have noticed in the communities in which we live.

She speaks of her work as a public health educator in an inner-city clinic: “I will never forget Luella Mae from Mississippi. Twenty-one years old and in her first pregnancy, Luella Mae was four feet seven inches tall, weighed 75 pounds, and could not read. Her mother’s perpetual drunkenness before Luella Mae was born had left her with the mild retardation of fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as many congenital abnormalities that required surgery. One of her siblings, born without legs, died. Luella Mae came north to live with a foster ‘aunt,’ but she had been sexually active back home, her aunt said, ‘for food.’ Luella Mae had few choices about the situation life dealt her. People always told her she would die if she got pregnant, she told me, because she was so small.”

It was this kind illustrative sensing of need that the Cappadocian Fathers often used to encourage their listeners to be more sensitive of the issues of social justice within the world in which they lived.

One of the passages which Holman highlights is from a homily of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew.

If you wish to honor the body of our Savior, then do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in Church wearing the finest vestments while outside the doors the body of Christ is numb with cold. When Jesus said, “This is my body,” he demanded that we care for the body of others. Honor Christ, then, through sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices, but golden souls.

Holman encourages us to use such images, these icons, to form our lives as a point of reflection for entering into love and care for God’s creation.

This is a work that involves more than sympathy. As Holman writes, “The stories in this book are discussed using an approach that I have called empathetic remembering. The word ’empathy’ is from the Greek en (in) and pathos (passions), meaning the capacity to participate in the visceral emotions or thinking of another. It differs from sympathy, which is a slightly more distanced feeling alongside the other person. To sympathize is to feel for, while to empathize is to feel in.”

In the second paradigm, “sharing the world,” Holman emphasizes the incarnational reality which flows from sensing the world. However, just as sensing is not the same as seeing, sharing is not the same as giving. Sharing is an act which implies both giving and receiving.

In the sixth chapter of her book, “Maria’s Choice,” Holman writes of the lives of Maria of Amida and her mother Euthemia, followers of Jacob of Sarug and a persecuted religious minority of Syrian Christians who lived in exile in what is now Turkey. In Lives of the Eastern Saints, St. John of Ephesus recounts their story. “Euphemia had been wed as a girl and she had a daughter to whom she had given religious instruction since she was quite small. When her husband died this Euphemia and her young daughter had arranged their life so that Euphemia came to move away altogether from a secular existence, turning to the inner world and the example of her sister [Mary]. Euphemia took up a regulated life of devotion and wore the garb of a religious, while learning the psalms and teaching them to her daughter, who had been thoroughly instructed since early youth in psalmody, the Scriptures, and writing. … Euphemia set herself fixed times for reciting the services and for prayers, both night and day. She served two orders together, asceticism and reception of the afflicted.”

Euphemia and Maria went on to become financially independent through the production of linen. They housed and supported a men’s monastic community and provided for the poor, whom Maria would often go out and meet in the streets.

This example reminds me of the stories of many in the Catholic Worker movement whom I know, and also of the house at 77 Rue de Lourmel in Paris established by St. Maria Skobtsova before the outbreak of the Second World War. This model of social justice in the Christian tradition is never one of simple giving. It requires the equitable sharing of all for a sustainable community. The example Holman provides of Euphemia and her daughter Maria suggests a context from which to develop similar models in our own living out of the Gospels.

For Holman, the work of “embodying the sacred kingdom” is the work of the eschaton: the great and final moment. Holman speaks of this work as “bringing the body and its brokenness into direct relation with that divine finale, the Kingdom of God.” This work, accomplished through the celebration of the liturgy, presents both an inward and outward reality.

As St. Maria of Paris wrote about the continuation of the liturgy in daily life:

The liturgy outside of the church is our sacrificial ministry in the church of the world, adorned with living icons of God, our common ministry, an all human sacrificial offering of love, the great act of the man befriending God. The work of the united breath of our spirit … and it seems to me that this mysticism of human communion is the only authentic basis for any external Christian activity. … Who can differentiate the worldly from the heavenly in the human soul, who can tell where the image of God ends and the heaviness of the human flesh begins! In communing with the world in the person of each individual human being, we know that we are communing with the image of God, and, contemplating that image, we touch the Archetype, we commune with God. [Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, pp 75-83]

In the three paradigms that Holman offers to us, we can begin the work of developing a method and bridging the gap to bring a more complete understanding and application of the writings of the Fathers and Mothers within the context of our current lives and practice. They help us to ground the beliefs and actions of our daily lives more fully in the context of the life of the Church.

These paradigms are not independent of one another. They rely on our full presence and awareness of ourselves in each moment as they flow in relationship to one another. Like the work of the Holy Trinity, they point to some definite end which connects us with God.

Michael Taylor lives in Milwaukee’s inner-city, where he lives and works in solidarity with the poor. Previously, he has served base communities in Venezuela and Peru. He is a member of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Church, an urban parish dedicated to community outreach.


Patriarch Pavle: A Saint Who Walked

by Danny Abbott

Orthodox Christians lost a fearless bishop with the death November 15 of Patriarch Pavle, long-time leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church. A man of exceptional humility and a tireless voice for peace in the Balkans, he was widely regarded by his fellow Serbs and many others as a living saint.

Born Gojko Stojcević in Croatia, orphaned in childhood, he was raised by an aunt. He graduated from a Belgrade gymnasium, then studied at the seminary in Sarajevo. During World War II, he took refuge in the Holy Trinity Monastery in Ovcar. After the war, he worked as a construction worker in Belgrade, then entered monastic life at Blagoveštenje monastery in Ovcar where he took the name Pavle. He lectured at Prizen Seminary, then went to Athens for two years of study of the New Testament and Liturgics, writing prolifically on the latter subject.

In 1957, he was ordained archimandrite and later that year consecrated bishop of the Diocese of Raška and Prizen. At this time, he began speaking of the trouble brewing in the Balkans and of the plight of Kosovo. In 1990, he was made Patriarch. (Strips of paper with the names of three candidates were placed on the altar. Two were blown away ( his alone was left; thus his selection.)

One of the most striking indications of his commitment to ascetic life was his refusal to have or use a car. He declared he would own a car only after the last person in Kosovo had one. As a result, he was often referred to as “the saint who walks.” As Patriarch, Pavle was noted for appearing late to parish visits because he insisted on taking the bus.

In 1989, at a time when relations between ethnic Albanians and Serbs were getting more tense, he was beaten by a group of Albanians and hospitalized for several months. He refused to press charges against the assailants.

In the years of violent conflict in the Balkans, the western press, ignoring Pavle’s words and actions, often accused him of failing to speak out against unbridled Serbian nationalism.

“If we live as people of God,” he said in one widely unreported statement, “there will be room for all nations in the Balkans and in the world. If we liken ourselves to Cain who killed his brother Abel, then the entire earth will be too small even for two people. The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to be always children of God and love one another.”

Pavle’s desire for inter-ethnic peace in the Balkans was evident and apparent to all who knew or met him. When Jim Forest, as secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, first met him in 1994, Pavle recalled his long-standing friendships with Jews and Muslim going back to his youth, especially when he lived in Sarajevo. He stressed his readiness “at any moment” to meet with anyone who could help bring the Balkans “a centimeter closer to peace.”

While there were Serbian clergy who were partisans in the conflicts that broke up Yugoslavia, Pavle never condoned or authorized anyone to take sides with any group shedding blood or sanctioned any priest’s blessing of anyone’s weapons. He stated in 1995, “In the context of ongoing events occurring in neighboring republics of former Yugoslavia, the blessing of weapons can only be regarded as sanctioning the use of weapons in a fratricidal war.”

On occasion he broke with the Church’s tradition of neutrality regarding the government by openly opposing Milošević.

In the early 90s, Vuk Drašković, now Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister, was among the first Serbian politicians to accuse the Milošević government of war crimes. He and his wife were badly beaten and jailed for their stand. In 1993, Pavle wrote to Milošević pleading for Drašković’s release. In 1997, the Patriarch led an anti-government march, preventing a police attack on protesting students.

In 2000, Pavle called upon Slobodan Milošević to resign. Once the Milošević-led government was removed from power, Pavle welcomed the new government.

Patriarch Pavle’s contributions to the Orthodox Church are difficult to measure. The amount of material he wrote on various topics such as liturgics and feasts could fill many books. Moreover, he oversaw a Serbian translation of the New Testament in 1984. He was able to heal the Serbian Church’s schism with the Free Serbian Orthodox Church and actively sought to heal the schism with the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

The last two years of Pavle’s life were spent in hospital while his duties were carried out by Metropolitan Amfilohije. Patriarch Pavle’s death was followed by a national three-day period of mourning.

Upon his death, condolences were sent by Pope Benedict, Jewish and Muslim leaders, and leaders representing the entire Orthodox world. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople remarked: “None in this noisy era spoke so softly and yet was heard so widely as he. None spoke less and yet said more. None in our delusional age confronted truth with such calmness as he.”

Danny Abbott received his law degree from the University of Arkansas. He is a member of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Orthodox Christian Church in Murfreesboro Tennessee.

Winter Issue IC 55 2010

Peacemaking as Mission

by Jim Forest
The Beatitudes include the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Christ himself bears witness to what peacemaking looks like. He sought out both those who were drawn to him and were threatened by him. We see his love of enemies in his readiness to respond to the appeal of a Roman officer to heal his servant. We see it again is his appeal on the cross to forgive those who were responsible for his execution. After his resurrection, he greets his followers with the words, “Peace be with you.”

Yet in our time the word “peace” is often a suspect word, used by governments and advocates of war as a kind of cosmetic slogan: war presented as a means of peacemaking. But the word “peace” has also been abused by peace movements, which often turn out not to be very peaceably inclined when it comes, for example, to the unborn. All too often, peace groups have turned a blind eye to suffering and violence when it was being carried out by countries, or for purposes with which they sympathized. It isn’t only governments that have double-standards.

How then might an Orthodox Christian define “peace” and “peacemaking”?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has suggested “healing” is the best synonym. “Healing means wholeness,” he said at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat he led in France several years ago. “I am broken and fragmented. Healing means a recovery of unity. Let us each think that I cannot bring peace and unity to the world unless I am at peace and unity with myself. ‘Acquire the spirit of peace,’ says Saint Seraphim of Sarov, ‘and thousands around you will find salvation.’ If I don’t have the spirit of peace within myself, if I am inwardly divided, I shall spread that division around me to others. Great divisions in the world between nations and states spring from many divisions within the human heart of each one of us.”

One of the best ways to better understand peacemaking is to study the lives of the saints. We see in them the countless forms that the healing occasioned by peacemaking can take witnesses far too diverse for peace to be compressed into an ideological or political system.

Consider just two of the physician saints of the early Church, Saints Cosmas and Damian, and the important role they played in the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. It is significant that the first Christian church in Rome that was established in the city center, on the grounds of the Forum rather than near the edge, was dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian. They were brothers who, following their conversion, became unmercenary physicians doctors who cared for the ill without any payment. According to legend, their rule against accepting any reward was so strict that there was a brief period when one brother refused to speak to the other because he had accepted an apple from the family of one of those whom he had aided.

Their day-by-day merciful deeds proclaimed both Christ’s compassion for those who are sick and suffering and also, in their refusal of money, the fact that wealth gives no one advanced placement to enter the kingdom of God. Their lives proclaimed their love of enemies, for they were as eager to serve those who persecuted Christians as they were to assist their fellow believers. Like others who shared their faith, they refused to defend themselves when they became targets of persecution. Dying as martyrs, they gave witness to Christ’s death and resurrection. No wonder so significant a church, placed in the heart of Rome, bears their names. These two physicians, who eagerly served others without fee, not only healed and consoled many, but also helped convert them to Christ.

Similar examples are given in our own day in many places. I think especially of the witness being given by the Orthodox Church in Albania.

Albania is Europe’s poorest and, in many ways, most damaged country. No regime in recent centuries has been so thorough in its attempt to completely stamp out every trace of religious life. During the Communist period, every place of worship was closed and either destroyed or turned to other uses. Ironically, many churches became armories, thus turning plowshares into swords. Even to make the sign of the cross, to dye an egg red as Pascha, or to hang an icon on the wall was seen as a criminal act during those long years of suffering. In 1991, of the 440 Orthodox clergy who had served the Church 60 years, only 22 were still alive. All were old and frail, and some were close to death.

Yet once the Communist political order began to collapse, the Church began to rise from the ruins. Under the leadership of missionary-minded Archbishop Anastasios, liturgical life resumed with astonishing speed. “Many times in the first months the Liturgy was conducted out of doors as no indoor place of worship was available,” he recalls, “but preferably in a place where a church formerly existed.”

At the very same time, healing services to others began, no matter what their faith or lack of faith or attitude regarding Christianity. At first the work was improvisational, then strengthened by the introduction of church-sponsored structures of health care, education (both religious and secular) and environmental repair. All this was done under the umbrella of Diaconal Agapes ( Service of Love )officially launched as a Church department by Archbishop Anastasios in 1992. So many non-believers have been served by the Church that Archbishop Anastasios is occasionally called the Archbishop of Tirana and All Atheists (rather than All Albania).

“I am everyone’s archbishop,” he told me a few years ago. “For us each person is a brother or sister. The Church is not just for itself. It is for all the people. As we say at the altar during each Liturgy, it is done ‘on behalf of all and for all.’ We pray ‘for those who hate us and for those who love us.’ Thus we cannot have enemies. How could we? If others want to see us as enemies, it is their choice, but we do not consider others as enemies. We refuse to punish those who punished us. Always remember that at the Last Judgment we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person. The message is clear. Our salvation depends upon respect for the other, respect for otherness. This is the deep meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan  we see not how someone is our neighbor, but how someone becomes our neighbor. It’s a process. We also see in the parable how we are rescued by the other. What is the theological understanding of the other? It is trying to see how the radiation of the Son of God occurs in this or that place, in this or that culture. This is much more than mere diplomacy. We must keep our authenticity as Christians while seeing how the rays of the Son of Righteousness pass through another person, another culture. Only then can we bring something special.”

Part of the missionary witness of the Church in Albania is to set an example of forgiveness. “This begins within the Church in the way we respond to those who denied or betrayed the Church, in the Communist period,” Anastasios explains. “I have often been asked, what do we do when such people want to rejoin the Church after having been apostates? Our response must be to forgive and receive them back, not to turn anyone away. Following the fall of communism, the first church we opened in Berat has an inscription above the central door which says, ‘Whoever comes to me, I will not cast away’.”

Forgiveness finds further expression in the Church’s willingness to meet with and even cooperate with those who once sought to eradicate religion from Albanian life. “We not only believe it possible that hardened atheists can change, we have seen it happen. In each person there is the possibility of conversion. In fact each person in the Church has experienced conversion. If such a thing can happen in my life, surely it can happen in the lives of others. But this partly depends on how I as a Christian meet others, including my enemies, and how I respond to them.”

In a country that is part of the Moslem world, Christian witness means refusing to demonize Muslims, the religion that, in the pre-Communist time, was dominant in Albania. Archbishop Anastasios never overlooks opportunities to meet with Muslims, whether leaders or unlettered individuals. I recall one poor man in the latter category who timidly approached the Archbishop at a place where we had stopped for lunch. “I am not baptized,” the man said. “I am a Moslem. But will you bless me?” The man received not only an ardent blessing, but was reminded by Anastasios that he too was a bearer of the image of God.

Archbishop Anastasios might have retired years ago from his missionary labors, yet he carries on, giving daily witness to Christ’s love not only for the baptized, but for one and all, “those who love us and those who hate us.” One result has been the steady enlargement of the Christian community in Albania.

But what about myself? How, in my time and place, can I better witness to Christ’s peace? What are the areas of brokenness in my own life and in the lives of people I am close to? What I can I do to overcome, with God’s help, my own fractiousness? My own greed and vanity? The fears that imprison me? Are there things that I do and say that feed the fires of enmity? Do I admit my own sins, or am I always justifying whatever I do? Are there people I refuse to forgive?

Parish life is often marked by conflict and division. Am I a peacemaker in my own parish? Am I someone who is looking for common ground? Do I help to repair damaged relationships? Do I turn a deaf ear to gossip? Do I belong to one of several bickering camps within my parish?

“Community” life is rarely peaceful. Neighbors are often at odds with neighbors. While Christians are urged by Christ not to resort to courts in resolving conflict, in practice Christians are just as likely as atheists to be found glaring at each other across courtrooms. Am I too carried along by the currents that have created a society able to employ so many lawyers? Am I open to mediation when there are inter-personal or community issues that require resolution?

Consider the world as a whole from ancient times to the present moment. History seems mainly to be a record of almost continuous warfare  human beings killing each other and destroying all that makes life possible. In the early Church the refusal of Christians to take part in war was something of a scandal to the pagan world. It surprises us to hear of saints who were, in today’s terminology, conscientious objectors. Today it’s hard to imagine that killing in war was a matter that could, centuries ago, result in lengthy periods of repentance and exclusion from the sacramental mysteries. Indeed our canons still bar anyone from serving at the altar who has killed another human being for any reason. But when it comes to the laity, it seems we rarely even wonder whether killing in war might be an issue worth thinking about long and hard. We are not even surprised at the spectacle of Christians killing each other simply because of their separation by national borders. Am I satisfied that I have thought deeply enough about war in the light of the Gospel and the witness of the saints? Are there ways in which I might contribute to preventing wars or hastening their end? Do I pray daily for peace? Does my life bear witness to my prayers?

The basic question is: To what extent does my life reveal or hide the light and peace of Christ? To what extent am I bearing witness to the kingdom of God?

Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include Ladder of the Beatitudes, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, and The Resurrection of the Church in Albania.

Winter Issue IC 55 2010

Make Peace, Not War

by Fr. Philip LeMasters

4305861269_f639d99f20There is no question that we Orthodox Christians would prefer to make peace instead of war, but even in the context of Christian ethics, it is difficult to shift the categories of discussion from “just war” to “just peace.” Unfortunately, like so many others, we too are in the habit of giving more serious attention to the question of when war is justified, or can be tolerated, than to the moral imperative of building a peace among nations and peoples that is based on justice and protects human beings from harm. The well-established centrality of peace within Orthodoxy provides the proper context for discourse about pacifism, just-war theory, the crusade, and other stances on the use of military force. Rather than abstract moral theories, these orientations point to the tensions experienced by those who seek to bring peace in our fallen world. Orthodoxy does not have an abstract theory of peace so much as a commitment to the praxis of peace, a dynamic project which is compatible with the vision espoused by advocates of “just peace.”

It is well established that, in contrast to churches in the West, Orthodoxy does not have an explicit just-war theory  there is certainly no “crusade” ethic  and sees the taking of life in war, even in wars that might be regarded as necessary and unavoidable, as a tragic, broken undertaking for which repentance is required. The Church does not require pacifism in the sense of renouncing all use of violence or force, though the normative Christ-like response to evil is to turn the other cheek and forgive. (The root meaning of the word “pacifism” is peace, from the Latin word pax.) However, while the Church views war as an unsuitable undertaking for the clergy or members of monastic communities, participation in war is not canonically prohibited for the laity.

While peace is the norm for human relations, the imperfect peace that sometimes exists among us is sustained by arrangements of political, social, economic and military power. Rather than condemn these dynamics, our challenge is to do what we can to make peace within the context of the realities we face.

Orthodox Christians should embody a true pacifism which engages the dynamics of human society in order to work for a peace based on justice that is pleasing to God. Our concern should not be whether the use of violence is ever acceptable, but whether we are doing the things that make for peace. The question is: Are we living as the peacemakers who will be blessed in God’s Kingdom?

Orthodox Christianity rejects the Gnostic view of salvation as escape from the world, as well as Manichean dualism. These ancient heresies are not dead museum pieces from the early centuries of Christian thought. They represent enduring temptations which are especially powerful when we consider the relationship between the “peace from above” and the broken realities of politics and international relations. We will not bear witness to God’s peace by fleeing to an imaginary, disembodied realm of spirituality that ignores the suffering of those who bear the image of God or by demonizing the less appealing dimensions of humanity’s collective life. Instead, our calling is to offer all dimensions of our creaturely reality to the Holy Trinity as best we can for blessing, healing, and transformation.

In the Divine Liturgy, the many petitions for peace reflect a holistic vision of a world participating in God’s peace. Immediately after the priest’s opening exclamation of the blessedness of the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity, the deacon exhorts the people to pray in peace. The biblical roots of this peace are in the Hebrew shalom, understood not merely as the absence of war but as freedom from fear and threats. In the New Testament, peace becomes a synonym for salvation.

The first petitions of the Liturgy are for our participation in God’s peace and salvation, including “the peace of the whole world” and “the union of all.” We pray for government authorities, healthful seasons, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times, as well as deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity. We pray for peace both as the absence of war and strife, and as God’s eschatological gift of salvation.

It would be possible to identify many other examples from the Liturgy which indicate the centrality of peace to Orthodox views of both worship and salvation. It is enough, however, to note that in the liturgical center of our faith, we pray for a peace characterized by justice for all nations and peoples, including those with political and military power as well as those who suffer from the abuse of such power. We pray for God’s peace and blessing upon all the peoples of the world in the circumstances they face. We look forward to the fulfillment of this peace in the reign of God, a peace the Church already experiences in the Liturgy.

The peace we seek is not removed from the challenges posed by nationalism, weapons of mass destruction, the scarcity of natural resources, and the many other geopolitical and ideological causes of conflict among peoples and nations. To separate God’s peace from these challenges would be to succumb to an almost Gnostic temptation to escape the creaturely realities of life in God’s world for a salvation that concerns only a privileged few who somehow rise above it. As Father John Chryssavgis has noted, “Christians ought to show an interest in, and zeal for, the fundamental needs of people, and not despise them from the heights of their spirituality. There can be no justification for those who find a way of sitting comfortably on the cross as if in an armchair. The life of a Christian is lived out on a cross in a creative tension between the world as we have it now and the world as we hope and pray for it.”

The peace of Christ cannot be identified with any political arrangement or social order. Jesus Christ is our peace, our salvation, our healing, our fulfillment and our transformation as we become partakers of the Divine Nature and share by grace in the Divine Energies of the Holy Trinity. Theosis is a dynamic process of sharing more fully in the eternal life, blessedness, and peace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We participate in Christ’s healing and divinization of our humanity in His Body, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through ongoing ascetical struggle and the nourishment of the Holy Mysteries, we grow in the peace of our Lord and His Kingdom.

St. Justin Martyr taught that all who use reason are, in a sense, Christians, for the Word of God is the source of all truth. Whenever we see harmony, justice, forgiveness, respect for human dignity, generosity, and care for the weak in the common life of humanity of, we witness a blessing of the Lord and catch a glimpse of the peace of Christ. Orthodox Christians should work for and welcome even broken and obscure manifestations of “just peace” which fall short of the fullness of the eschatological Kingdom of God.

In the Divine Liturgy, we pray for such mundane matters as good weather, the well-being of travelers and the salvation of captives, our deliverance from danger and necessity, and for the peace of the whole world. These petitions indicate that there is no dimension of creation for which God’s blessing and peace are irrelevant. If we see no connection between Christ’s peace and our response to present social conditions, we will find ourselves wondering why we pray for peace and blessing upon people who suffer from violence and injustice in the world as we know it. If the “peace from above” has no relationship at all to present wars, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hard to see why Orthodox would involve themselves in any way in contemporary political and social debates.

In the account of the last judgment in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus Christ identified Himself with the most miserable of human beings. The righteous in the parable were rewarded for caring for the Lord in “the least of these my brethren,” even though they did not know that they were thereby serving Jesus. Surely, those who bring even a small measure of peace to suffering human beings today also serve Him in some way. Those who pray “for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls” must accept the challenges of working for a more just peace for the living icons of Christ in the less than ideal situations in which they find themselves. If we do not, we risk identifying ourselves with those condemned for ignoring the sufferings of Jesus in their wretched neighbors.

Advocates of just peacemaking seek to discover methods of peacemaking that can make a difference in the “real world” and are in accord with the Gospel  for example, supporting cooperative conflict resolution, nonviolent direct action, sustainable economic growth, the development of grassroots peacemaking groups, a reduction of offensive weapons, acknowledgment of responsibility for injustice, and seeking forgiveness.

This approach calls for a variety of social, political, and international institutions to be proactive in building a world in which the causes of violence are mitigated. It is not an idealistic or utopian movement that dreams of a peace so far removed from the lives of peoples and nations that we cannot imagine how it will be achieved or sustained.

This perspective does not necessarily rule out the use of military force, either as an intervention to protect human rights or in national self-defense, but it would place the use of force within the larger context of sustaining a peace based upon justice, rather than within the moral trajectory of the just war. There is a preference in this school of thought for multinational discernment as to when the responsibility to protect a population from grave harm should be invoked, as well as for “collective, multilateral intervention” to guard against “self-interested interventions thinly cloaked in humanitarianism.” Such an approach addresses a weakness identified by Fr. Stanley Harakas in just-war theory, the tendency to rationalize “that ‘our side’ is always justified, thus allowing the legitimization of military exploits, precisely and paradoxically as it seeks to reduce the excesses of war.”

Advocates of “just peace” do not, however, envision simply an internationalist interpretation of just-war theory. A representative collection of essays by scholars in this field includes nine chapters on nonviolent practices that foster peace and only one that focuses on a multinational responsibility for military intervention. [Just Peacemaking, Glen Stassen, ed., The Pilgrim Press, 2008]

Since we pray for peace for the whole world and everyone in it, and uphold our Lord’s love and forgiveness as the ultimate example of how to respond to evil and to our enemies, Orthodox Christians should find much common ground with the proponents of the “just peace.” Surely, our faith calls us to give far more attention to the question of how to establish and maintain peaceful and just societies than it does to justify, or even tolerate, any instance of war.

Fr. Harakas appeals to the doctrine of “synergy” to emphasize the obligation of Orthodox to cooperate with the work of others in bringing peace, and especially in addressing the economic and social injustices that often amount to “the real causes of war.” He calls Orthodox to “organize ourselves in realistic, practical, and down-to-earth projects for social renewal. Where there is less pain, less suffering, where there is less hunger, the likeliness of war is lessened.” In taking such action, we are to manifest “the theology of the transfiguration” as we help others and ourselves see more clearly the spiritual significance of these projects for peace. Fr. Chryssavgis agrees that “we can and must look to the real causes of war which are to be found in the economic and social injustices abounding in our world” [and] respond to them in a spiritually responsible way.

This stance also places the possible use of military force to maintain peace in its proper context. Questions of the necessity of war find their setting in the moral trajectory of establishing, at least imperfectly, the peace for which we pray and in protecting vulnerable populations. Fr. John McGuckin places Canon 13 of St. Basil the Great in precisely such a context, arguing that he responded with oikonomia to soldiers defending “Christian borders from the ravages of pagan marauders” for “passive non-involvement betrays the Christian family (especially its weaker members who cannot defend themselves but need others to help them) to the ravages of men without heart or conscience to restrain them.” In this context, “a limited and adequate response … will restrict the bloodshed to a necessary minimum,” even as repentance is required for soldiers who kill.

His Eminence Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon strikes a similar note of realism about the Byzantines, for “The Empire, though it was becoming Christianized, could not simply abolish the army. The Empire was not yet the Kingdom of God. It had to defend itself against the barbarians.” The Empire could not avoid defensive wars; the acceptance of the necessity of such wars indicated that “pacifism as a theory was no longer known in the Christian East.”

I find it more fitting to say that Orthodoxy does not have so much a theory on pacifism, just-war, or the crusade as we have a dynamic commitment to the praxis of peace. In every dimension of life, we are called to embody the way of Christ as fully as we can in the circumstances that we face: to forgive enemies; to work for the reconciliation of those who have become estranged; to overcome the divisions of race, nationality, and class; to care for the poor; to live in harmony with others; and to use the created goods of the world for the benefit of all. Our advocacy for peace must not stop with praying the litanies of the Liturgy. We may pray these petitions with integrity only if we offer ourselves as instruments for God’s peace in the world, only if we live them out in relation to the challenges to peace that exist among peoples and nations.

In this context, the Church may at times tolerate war as a lesser evil, a tragic necessity for the defense of justice and the preservation of the imperfect, yet still imperative, peace that is possible among the nations and peoples of the world in given situations. But even the use of force to protect people from genocide falls short of the fullness of the peace of Christ, for such projects involve soldiers in the work of death and open them to the terrible passions inevitably inflamed by war. Soldiers who shed blood, even in the most humanitarian military intervention, stand in need of the spiritual therapy of repentance. Still, such military interventions may be necessary practical steps for building a peace that protects the weak from aggression and abuse.

In this light, we recall that St. Basil’s Canon 13 is not an abstract theoretical statement on the morality of warfare. Instead, it concerns the restoration to full participation in the sacramental life of the Church of those who have killed in war. It is a pastoral statement on the appropriate guidance given to those whose souls have been damaged by doing what was necessary to protect their fellow Christians and subjects from destruction. Patriarch Polyeuktos used the canon in the tenth century to reject an imperial appeal to recognize as saints Byzantine soldiers who died in battle. Not an abstract theoretical statement, this application of the canon responded to a challenge to the Church’s stance on the spiritual significance of warfare. For even a necessary war is not a crusade; the imperfect peace sustained by war is not identified with the peace of the Kingdom. And canon law continues to prohibit clergy and monastics from serving in the military, holding government office, and shedding blood.

Orthodoxy does not present the world with abstract theories of pacifism, just war, or the crusade. Instead, it calls the members of the Church to work for the practical realization of a peace based on justice for all the peoples of the world. This dynamic practice of peace is the true pacifism which is incumbent upon all those who pray “for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls.” Orthodox Christians have a moral imperative to support practices and structures that build a “just peace” in the world as we know it, even though this peace falls short of the fullness of God’s eschatological reign.

While military intervention may be tragically necessary to sustain a just peace in given circumstances, such uses of force fall short of normative Christ-like ways of responding to evil. An advantage of “just peacemaking” over just-war theory is that it places discussion of any possible use of force within the moral trajectory of sustaining peace rather than within that of justifying war. The advocates of “just peace” give much greater attention to nonviolent practices that sustain peace than to discourse about the morality of war. The same should be true of the Orthodox peace witness. Though the historical distinctions between pacifism, the crusade, and just-war theory remain quite relevant for many other Christian bodies, none of them fits perfectly with Orthodoxy.

Perhaps that lack of fit is an indication that the Church’s prayer, witness, and work are not fundamentally about war, but about a peace which is not yet fully present in this world. The “peace from above and the salvation of our souls” are not yet wholly realized. In a corrupt world in which most peoples and nations do not intentionally seek the peace of Christ, even some wars are opaque works of peace. Orthodox Christians should place far greater stress, however, on nonviolent practices that help to sustain peaceful societies, reconcile enemies, and prevent wars and other conflicts. In doing so, we will bear witness to a peace that is not of this world, but which at the same time is the only true answer to the world’s strife.

Fr. Philip LeMasters is professor of religion and director of the Honors Program at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. A priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, he serves at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Abilene. He is the author of The Goodness of God’s Creation (Regina Orthodox Press).
Winter Issue IC 55 2010

An Experience of Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue

by Fr. Steven Tsichlis

4305862091_f90292e0acIn September 2000, at the turn of the third millennium, 25 parishioners from St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church and St. John Neumann’s Roman Catholic Church in Irvine, California, began gathering monthly for a Christian book club that has provided an opportunity to pray and study together, to explore our common roots in the first thousand years of Christian history, and to engage in dialogue at a grassroots level.

Led by Eugene O’Toole, the recently retired director of adult ministry from St. John Neumann’s, and myself, pastor of St. Paul’s, these meetings have been a structured attempt to explore a common path for Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians in living more prayerful, Christ-centered and Spirit-filled lives. Each meeting begins with a half hour of prayer, as Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians pray the Psalms and read the Scriptures together while remembering the saints of the first millennium that are shared by both communities. Over the years, the group has included people from many different backgrounds: lay leaders from both traditions; former Roman Catholic religious; converts to Orthodoxy from evangelicalism; parochial school teachers; both Latin and Eastern Rite Catholics; and seekers exploring the wisdom of the ancient Christian faith.

“Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians have spoken to each other more in the past fifty years, since Vatican II, than in the previous 500,” O’Toole commented. “With the symbolic gesture of lifting the mutual excommunications of 1054 by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on December 7, 1965, a new era of dialogue began that has been carried forward by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios, as well as by Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI.”

Over the past decade participants have read more than 80 books. Among them have been modern Catholic writers on the spiritual life like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, Paula Huston and James Martin, and such contemporary Orthodox writers as Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Thomas Hopko, Olivier Clément, Jim Forest and Kyriakos Markides. We have read books by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as well as by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. We have read about St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris, St. Silouan of Mount Athos, St. Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We have read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, The Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure, the anonymously written Way of a Pilgrim, and The Life of St. Anthony the Great by St. Athanasios of Alexandria. We’ve read St. Augustine of Hippo and St. John Chrysostom.

Our effort has borne fruit in a number of ways. First, the two parishes began doing ministry and outreach together. The people of St. Paul’s have gotten involved in the work of Isaiah House, a Catholic Worker house providing shelter for the homeless in Santa Ana. We have hosted a luncheon to provide scholarships to Catholic elementary schools for impoverished children. The people of St. John Neumann have helped raise funds for the building of an Orthodox Church in the Tanzanian village of Kobunshwi by St. Paul’s and also for St. Innocent’s Orphanage, an Orthodox ministry for homeless boys outside Tijuana, Mexico.

Second, participants have come to recognize the shared roots both traditions have in the first millennium. Jim Cordes, a longtime participant in the program from St. John Neumann, said, “I didn’t realize how similar we are in our practice of Christianity. I’ve come to realize that in so many ways we are more similar to one another than we are different.” And Dorothea Love, a member of St. Paul’s, added “I’ve had a deep respect for the Roman Catholic faith all my life and as a result of this class my respect and love have only increased. Many of us have been together now for ten years, since the beginning of our study, and we share the love of Christ as brothers and sisters, truly respecting and caring for one another.”

Third, in looking more deeply at one another’s histories, Roman Catholics have learned of the many challenges that Orthodox Christians have faced practicing their faith in Muslim countries and the terrible persecution of the Church during most of the twentieth century under Communism; and Orthodox Christians have learned more about the history of Roman Catholicism and the effects of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation on Roman Catholic life, history and thought, as well as the history of western Europe and America.

The books we read together have “given me a heightened awareness of how shallow my prayer life was and that I needed to make my relationship with Christ a deeper one,” said Ms. Love. “It’s changed the way I pray and I now spend greater time in study and reading of the Scriptures.”

Doris Wintrode, a Catholic high school teacher, summed up: “We’ve all been enriched by our time together. These years of dialogue have been a true gift.”

Fr. Steven Tsichlis is pastor of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, California; a member of the board of directors of Project Mexico; president of the Archdiocesan Presbyters Council and a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship .

Winter Issue IC 55 2010