Category Archives: IC 55 2010

Content IC 55 2010

News: Winter 2010

Moscow Patriarchate opposes death penalty

In October, the Moscow Patriarchate called on Russia to abstain from executions. “Certainly, it’s better not to practice the death penalty,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin told reporters in Moscow. “If society is strong enough to secure itself from criminality and evil will, it can be merciful to criminals and not deprive them of life. Russia didn’t practice death penalty in its best periods and usually this restraint was directly connected with the Christian outlook.”

“Christian society always aims at maximum mercy,” he said, “to give time for repentance even to desperate sinners. This is reflected in the practice of Christian states.”

Fr. Chaplin expressed the view that “today the country has enough inner strength not to practice the death penalty.” [Interfax]


Churches seek to improve Russia, Georgia relations

At a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, the Primates of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox Churches, Kirill and Ilya, agreed to make every effort to improve relations between Russia and Georgia and to solve the Abkhazia and South Ossetia problems, it was announced November 6 by Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“It was pointed out that the friendship, mutual understanding, and cordial and fraternal relations between the two Churches,” said Fr. Balashov, “are guarantees that relations between the two peoples and states will in time be fully restored.” At the meeting, he reported, Patriarch Kirill compared the Russian and Georgian Churches to “two locomotives that will lead the relations between the two states from the impasse that they have found themselves in.” He added that “the two patriarchs met as two old friends.” [Interfax]

Debate about Stalin era continues in Russia

The Orthodox Church in Russia has expressed opposition to the reinstatement of verses praising Josef Stalin in a Moscow metro station.

Many Muscovites were startled when the Kurskaya metro station was reopened after a year of painstaking restoration.

Spelled out in gilded letters in the rotunda of the restored station was a line from the Stalin-era national anthem as it was sung when the station opened in 1950: “Stalin reared us on loyalty to the people. He inspired us to labor and to heroism,” reads the verse, words later removed.

Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, chairperson of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, said in October that public areas like metro stations “are not the place for images and quotations related to people who are guilty in the deaths of a large number of innocent people, who exterminated others without charge or trial.”

Both Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s external church relations section, drew attention for outspoken condemnations of the crimes of the Stalin era. [ENI/Sophia Kishkovsky]

Orthodox priest murdered in Moscow


Fr. Daniel Sysoyev, a priest known for his efforts to rescue young people from cult groups and also for outreach to Muslims, was killed November 19 by a masked gunman at his church, St. Thomas, in Moscow. The 35-year-old priest, father of three, died shortly after being shot in the head and chest by an unidentified assailant. The church’s choir director was also wounded.

“At present the names of the criminals are not known,” said Patriarch Kirill. “I ask all to refrain from any hasty accusations or sharp judgments against particular persons or groups.” He called on clergy and laity “not to forget that we are called by God to preserve peace among ourselves.”

Part of the work of the parish Fr. Daniel led focuses on mental health disorders, drug addiction, alcoholism, computer game addiction, all of which Fr. Daniel saw as consequences of false teachings leading to personality degradation.

Fr. Sysoyev gave lectures critical of Islam, debated Muslim leaders, worked among people from other religions, and had conflicts with pagans and various cult-like groups. He also spoke out against nationalists who followed Stalin rather than Christ. He was a teacher of the Perervensk Seminary and author of several books.

His parish community works to explain the Orthodox faith and to assist on the rehabilitation of victims of false religions and totalitarian sects. Other parish programs include service to the elderly and isolated, at their apartments and in hospitals, care for orphans, and running a free dining hall for those in need. Once a week low-income families in the area are provided with free food packages. [Sophia Kishkovsky]

Bartholomew visits US

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, on November 3, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople described himself both as a man of tradition but also something of a revolutionary.

“By calling Christianity revolutionary and saying it is dedicated to change,” he said, “we are not siding with progressives, just as, by our efforts to conserve, we are not siding with conservatives. The only side that we take is that of our faith, which today may seem to land us in one political camp, tomorrow another, but in truth we are always only in one camp, that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

During the Patriarch’s two-and-a-half week US visit, he’s spoke from the banks of the Mississippi River, where he led a conference on problems affecting the world’s major bodies of water.

He later went to New York, where he received an honorary degree at Fordham University, visited a synagogue, and led a prayer service at the United Nations.

At many stops, Bartholomew stressed the importance of caring for the environment, saying those who “tyrannize the earth” are committing sins.

“It’s very significant to have so prominent an Orthodox figure not talking just to the Church but to the world,” said Fr. Alexander Rentel, assistant professor of canon law and Byzantine studies at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, NY.

Bartholomew: one foot

in the past, one in the future

Because unity is finally a gift of God, “it demands a profound sense of humility and not any prideful insistence.”

With this call to the “never-ending search” for unity of the church, which “is also an ever-unfolding journey,” Patriarch Bartholomew opened the October 7-14 meeting of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, in Kolympari, Crete, Greece.

In an address to the 152 theologians attending the event, Bartholomew highlighted the importance of a double conversion, turning both “toward the past and the future.”

“It is crucial that we learn from the early Fathers and Mothers of the Church,” he said,

“and from those who, in each generation. maintained the integrity and intensity of the Apostolic faith. At the same time, we should turn our attention to the future, to the age to come, toward the heavenly kingdom. [Such an eschatological perspective] offers a way out of the impasse of provincialism and confessionalism … and permits us to discern [such] areas of common ministry and united mission as the preservation of creation and promotion of tolerance and understanding among religions and people in our world.”

The meeting was hosted at the Orthodox Academy of Crete. (Text of Bartholomew’s remarks: ).

Orthodox bishop explains dialogue with Catholics

In November an Orthodox archbishop defended Orthodox-Catholic dialogue despite opposition by some church members.

“All of us who participate in dialogue with the Catholic Church are giving testimony to Orthodoxy with frankness in this difficult task,” said Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas of Pergamon, a co-president of the Catholic-Orthodox International Commission for Theological Dialogue. The 78-year-old Greek-born theologian represents the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

He comments followed a meeting on the role of the papacy at Paphos in Cyprus at the end of October. During the gathering, Cyprus police arrested demonstrators who tried to disrupt the meeting, saying the participants were trying to subjugate the Orthodox Church to Rome.

Metropolitan Ioannis described dialogue with the Catholic Church as arduous. “The final outcome of our efforts rests in the hands of God, who will find a means to ensure his will ‘that all may be one’ is done,” he said. “All commission members are carrying out their churches’ instructions in conscience, and we are ready to accept any criticism since we are not infallible- but nor are those who very evidently pass judgment on us.”

Papal primacy, he said, is an ecclesiological issue, along with questions of canonical structure and church administration. “There are still so many questions to tackle the path is a long one, and the ill-willed will have plenty to react to.” He criticized those who wished to block such discussions for “providing false, misleading information.”

The next meeting of the Orthodox-Catholic commission is to take place in Vienna from 20 to 27 September 2010. [ENI/Jonathan Luxmoore]

Appeal for toleration sent to

the Republic of Macedonia

On December 10, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship appealed to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of the Republic of Macedonia to end the government’s efforts to suppress the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The letter, signed by OPF international secretary, Jim Forest, expressed “profound dismay at the recent conviction of His Beatitude Jovan, Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje, on the charge of embezzlement. Archbishop Jovan had been acquitted of these very same charges twice before but, apparently due to political factors, was brought before the court a third time. Only at this third trial was he found guilty. This conviction is but the latest in a long series of events, all with the clear intent of preventing the Serbian Orthodox Church from existing on Macedonian soil.

“For years, the Macedonian Orthodox Church has sought to secure its position as the only Orthodox Church in the land. Perhaps in part due to the heavy-handed methods being used to suppress a continuing presence of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, it does not come as a surprise the Macedonian Orthodox Church’s autocephalous status has yet to be recognized by other Orthodox Churches.

“What is surprising is that the Macedonian government has allowed itself to be drawn into an ecclesiastical dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian Churches concerning matters of canon law and jurisdiction.

“In a country that has recently endured so much violence from within and diverse political manipulations from without, we find it incomprehensible that the government of Macedonia would not make every effort to distance itself from this volatile issue and maintain a neutral position.

“If there is to be a lasting solution, it will only come about through patient, genuine dialogue between the Serbian and Macedonian Churches. Politically imposed solutions are likely to prove non-viable and unsustainable.

Consequently, it behooves prescient, democratic-minded national leaders to recognize this reality, insist that international law and human rights standards be maintained, and ensure that all citizens enjoy equal protection under the law.

“Therefore, we ask that the Macedonian government not interfere with this ecclesiastical matter, directly or indirectly, that the conviction against Archbishop Jovan be annulled, and that he be allowed to discharge his duties as an Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church without further hindrance from the government.”

Occupation a ‘sin against God’ say Palestinian Christian leaders

Palestinian Christian leaders issued a letter in Bethlehem on December 11 in which they called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, which they described as “a sin against God and against humanity.” They appealed for support from the world’s churches.

“The injustice against the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted,” they said.

“Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian, but it is resistance with love as its logic. It is thus a creative resistance, for it must find human ways that engage the humanity of the enemy.”

The initiators of the statement  “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”  referred to the text as the “Kairos Palestine” document.

Signatories include Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the region, Latin Patriarch emeritus Michel Sabbah, and the Lutheran bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan.

“Our aim is to free both [Israelis and Palestinians] from extremist positions … bringing both to justice and reconciliation,” the signers stated.

“In this spirit and with this dedication, we will eventually reach the longed-for resolution to our problems, as indeed happened in South Africa and with many other liberation movements in the world.”

The signers accused Israel of “disregard of international law and international resolutions.” Issues faced by Palestinians, they said, included the “separation wall” that cuts through Palestinian territories, Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and “daily humiliation” at military checkpoints.

Rejecting Israeli justifications that their actions were in self-defense, the signers said, if there were no occupation, “there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”

“The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity,” the signers stated, “because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.

“It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier, just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation.”

They condemned all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and called on Christians worldwide to “say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.”

Information about Kairos Palestine is on the web at [Judith Sudilovsky/ENI]

Hunger in US at 14-year high

The number of Americans living in households that lack consistent access to adequate food soared to 49 million, up 13 million from the previous year, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls “food insecurity” fourteen years ago. A report issued by the US Department of Agriculture estimated that more than half-a-million households face “very low food security”  skipped meals, cut portions, or otherwise forgoing food.

The increase was much larger than even the most pessimistic observers of hunger trends had expected and cast an alarming light on the daily hardships caused by the recession’s punishing effect on jobs and wages.

The other two-thirds typically had enough to eat, but only by eating cheaper or less varied foods, relying on government aid like food stamps, or visiting food pantries and soup kitchens.

The phrase “food insecurity” stems from years of political and academic dispute over how to describe inadequate access to food. In the 1980s, when officials of the Reagan administration denied there was hunger in the United States, the Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group, began a survey that concluded otherwise. Over time, Congress had the Agriculture Department oversee a similar survey, which the Census Bureau administers.

Analysts said the main reason for the growth was the rise in the unemployment rate. “Many people are outright hungry, skipping meals,” said James Weill, director of a food center. “Others say they have enough to eat but only because they’re going to food pantries or using food stamps. We describe it as ‘households struggling with hunger’.” ❖

Winter Issue IC 55 2010

Coversations by email: Winter 2010

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <[email protected]> or Jim Forest <[email protected]>.

Fellowship of St. Maria: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin has launched a “Fellowship of St. Maria of Paris” to focus on building a community based on service, justice, and hospitality.

Our goals include: To practice prayer, and to focus on spiritual growth, and Christian hospitality; to honor the service we each already provide and to inspire, and teach the practice of Christian service to others; to conduct outreach through collaborative service projects and to be a catalyst for Christian service in the parish; to share success stories of Christian service among members of the parish & promote the same externally; to better understand and engage our urban environment as an opportunity to serve those in our own neighborhood; to collaborate with governmental agencies, and other churches and non-profits with similar aims as our own.

To mark the Fellowship’s launching, an icon of St. Maria was placed in the narthex.

Fr. Stephen Hrycyniak

<[email protected]>

The Enemies of God: Today on the web I found myself on a blog set up by a fellow Orthodox Christian whose homepage was full of links to groups preaching the necessity of recognizing that we are in a mortal battle against “Jihadists.” There were many generalizations regarding Islam in general.

After I posting some of my concerns about the page, I received a response accusing me of an “effeminatized Christianity” shaped by “political correctness.” While he acknowledged that Christians are required to love and forgive our personal enemies, he said such love has nothing to do with “enemies of God.” He posted a quotation attributed to St. Theodosius of the Kiev Caves: “Live in peace not only with your friends, but also with your enemies; but only with your personal enemies, and not with the enemies of God.” I have no idea what this quote means. Can anyone enlighten me?

Aaron Haney

<[email protected]>

Casuistry: Your query made me think of a passage in Romans which describes all of us as “enemies of God,” who have been reconciled through Christ and will be resurrected with him. The distinction between “personal enemies” and “enemies of God” sounds like poorly wrought casuistry to me.

Eric Simpson

<[email protected]>

The enemy is me: What a sad encounter! Rather, we are in a mortal battle against the passions within ourselves… I have met the enemy, and he is me (to paraphrase Pogo). It is interesting to think of using human violence against an “enemy of God.” First of all, God really has no equal adversary. He is God of all, “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The cross and resurrection show one way He deals with enemies  a healing and transfiguring way for all who embrace it. God doesn’t needs for us to play God. He has given us the Sermon on the Mount with its Beatitudes and called us to a ministry of reconciliation.  Sally Eckert

<[email protected]>

Not being silent: Refusing to live “at peace” with the enemies of God is not the same thing as attacking them. I’ve been in a number of conversations with vocal atheists (they’re having their moment these days!), and have had to overcome the temptation to keep things smooth by saying nothing, failing to identify myself as a believer, or even leaving the impression that I agree. I believe that that sort of “living at peace” is simply unfaithful: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory.”

In such situations, even identifying oneself as a Christian can take a bit of courage, but sometimes it’s enough to make the “enemy of God” decide to keep the peace. If he (she) decides to persist, I feel we have a responsibility to give an account of the hope that is in us, as soberly and lovingly as we can.

In this sense, I’m fully in harmony with St. Theodosius’ words.

John Brady

<[email protected]>

A basic tension: The greatest struggle of my life is the tension between the way the State does business and the way we are called as Christians to live. Our history is an unbroken, uncompromised legacy of competitive self-interest seeking behavior at the community, state, nation level that involves violence of every sort, at every level, and with every means to the maximum extent that the engaged entity is able. It is daunting to even imagine changing that! Who knows what it would look like to even try? I firmly believe that no state could adopt an uncompetitive, fully cooperative, unarmed posture in the world without immediately being devoured from without or overthrown from within.

The US is indeed a “peace keeper” of sorts: our economically backed military might is a coercive force for maintaining some semblance of order and stability, without which it is hard to imagine what the alternative would be. The US can no more be expected to go pacifist than a pig can be expected to fly.

But we Christians can begin to be imaginative, we can be prophetic, and we can be faithful to the Gospel call to be peacemakers and voices who call all authorities to be accountable to the Gospel. I’m coming to terms with voting being part of that prophetic responsibility, but with no confidence that the State will ever change its spots. We cannot expect to convert the State to Christ any more than we can expect to convert a horse to being a cow. But I am convinced that we Christians cannot operate as though making our nation Christian should be a goal, much less even possible. We must be faithful peacemakers despite all that. And willing to pay the price of it all.

Pieter Dykhorst

<[email protected]>

“Pitiless” war: The idea of “pitiless” warfare is surely a redundancy. War can hardly be done in a pitying way. But the use of the word “pitiless” points up moral errors that tend to crop up in a wartime context. If a particular leader is regarded as so vile that he cannot be allowed to succeed, then (the reasoning seems to go) the war effort against him must be given no quarter. The practical implication of this is that all those who are caught up in it  lieutenants, soldiers, police forces, industrial workers, or even the common civilian population who pay taxes to his war machine become equally appropriate targets. So, we go from the “evil incarnate” target to targeting the powerless non-combatant in one swift inclusionary sweep “total war.” If the bad guys hide among the good, wipe them both out and let God do the sorting. Have I got that right?

Alex Patico

<[email protected]>

Nonviolence untried: I think we ought not be too quick in dismissing nonviolence responses on a national level as being impractical. The fact is that nonviolent alternatives have never been attempted to any great degree. Major resources have not been allocated to anything except building “better” weapons and training soldiers to kill more efficiently. It seems there is little incentive to do the hard and humbling work of building relationships with all other nations (those we like and those we don’t like) that share this planet with the sense that it has intrinsic value and not simply a handle on furthering our own (selfish) interests because we can “beat anybody up if we need to.”

This is where the OPF comes in for me. You all have been a tremendous resource for me, especially when I was deployed to Iraq and subsequently serving out my active duty time. I hope to continue to grow in “peace and love” with you all for years to come, Lord willing. Aaron Haney

<[email protected]>

Hard-headed realism: Using different time-scales, we can (sometimes) reason back from everyday common sense. If I were in a fight with someone and he was trying to knife me, the best option for me might not be to “go limp” as he was about to stab me. But how could I respond in a way that might allow both of us to walk away from the encounter alive and unbloodied?

Maybe I could first say “you know, you are a helluva fighter, I’ve got to give you that!” Then, maybe I’d add, “Ease off, let me know what it would take to let us both go home to our families.” I might also say, “In a minute, I’m going to put my knife down and stop fighting  you think about whether you want to stab an unarmed guy who isn’t going to fight back.”

Choosing which tack to take would depend on how well I knew my opponent. The more I knew about him, the better chance I’d have of hitting the right “button” to get to him and change the dynamic.

Internationally, we are in that same situation, but on a different timescale. We are locked in a war with radical Islam and other terrorists and anarchists. But 1) how in the world did we get ourselves into this? and 2) how well do we know our opponent, to even have a clue about how to defuse the situation and get it headed in another direction?

We don’t start by announcing unilateral disarmament starting next Tuesday, but we do consider how to begin a process of learning how to get our knives on the ground, and it has to be a serious one (not “you put yours down, then maybe I’ll do the same”).

This is realism informed by faith. Hard-headed idealism. Compassionate conservatism.

Alex Patico

<[email protected]>

Good intentions: Violence is always a failure, and it is made much more likely by ignorance and misinterpreting what the other says and does, giving the most favorable interpretation to one’s actions and the least to the other.

Unfortunately, we often seem to think that “good intentions” are sufficient to replace good information (in fact, the intentions are not necessarily too good).

Daniel Lieuwen

<[email protected]>

Winter Issue IC 55 2010


Recommended Reading Winter 2010

by Peter Bouteneff
Baker Academic
256 pages, $23

The question of the origin of humankind and the cosmos has perhaps never been so hotly debated as nowadays, with “evolution” and “creationism” presenting themselves as polar opposites. In this fine book, Peter Bouteneff presents a carefully researched and scholarly reading of early Christian readings of the creation account in Genesis. What emerges is a range of interlocking insights into God’s creative purpose and the human place in the cosmos. Genesis 1-3 is seen as neither a myth nor an outdated scientific account, but a poem of creation, yielding deeper meanings upon closer ponderings. Bouteneff unveils the often surprising riches of our patristic inheritance with a rare

Living with the Wolf:

Walking the Way of Nonviolence

Peter Ediger, editor

Pace e Bene Press, $15

Some people are impressive at first glance, others only as one gets to know them. Books can be the same.

Living with the Wolf is a collection of fifty essays, most of them brief. Parts of it are frustrating in their use of jargon, others are direct, personal and moving. It is for the latter that one should read this book..

Poet Denise Levertov is quoted in the foreword: peace, like a poem, / is not there ahead of itself / can’t be imagined / before it is made, / can’t be known / except in the words of its making…

This volume portrays the making of peace. Pace e Bene (peace and good) has amassed, since its founding in 1989, a record of on-the-ground performance information and promotion of nonviolence that each of us should know about. Its programs have addressed nuclear disarmament, the plight of the homeless, the School of the Americas, and relations with Iran.

The strength of this collection lies not in its cataloging of success, but in its glimpses of God working in individual lives: an Islamic leader who raises a nonviolent army, a Hispanic disk jockey integrating spiritual awareness and street dance, a family who chooses to receive their loved one’s killer with compassion and to embrace healing. It chronicles “this time of withering, and confusion … this time of transformation and indescribable grace.”

Alexander Patico

Raising Lazarus: Integral

Healing in Orthodox Christianity

Stephen Muse, editor; Holy Cross

Orthodox Press, 270 pages, $20

In the context of immense contemporary discourse about healing, finding a book that derives from the genuine sources of true healing is both encouraging and inspiring.

Raising Lazarus brings together papers given at the 12th and 13th conferences of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion, which has a strong tradition for scholarly work tracing the spiritual dimensions of health.

In an era of mechanical health care, when the triumph of depersonalization that started from medicine now threatens psychotherapy too (and alas! even pastoral care), awakening voices are quite precious to the degree that they allow us to be “baptized” in the streams of truth that flow in abundance amidst our faith and theology.

In the book’s introduction, Stephen Muse writes that “whatever our calling, whether to medicine, psychotherapy, or the priesthood, we all are called to personhood.” But how often do professional therapists these days, those in ministry included, promote personhood? Every professional must answer for himself or herself, but clearly, as Muse writes, “we desperately need healers … who themselves are struggling to enter into the fullness of relationship with God and the beloved community and so bring to the healing partnership humility, a loving awareness of the presence of God and the sanctity and mystery of everyday life.”

Perhaps this presupposition explains why such a book as this is recommended in a journal dedicated to peace. To be able to work effectively for peace in external contexts requires that we first achieve a minimum of internal peace of the soul, that we continuously cultivate a freedom from sins and serious intrapsychic conflicts.

Vasileios Thermos

Lectures in Christian Dogmatics

by Metropolitan John Zizioulas

T & T Clark International, 166 pages, $33

The mainstays of Metropolitan John’s “dogmatic hermeneutics” are collected in this volume. These include the nature of dogma, doctrine of God and personhood, creation and salvation, and the Church. His approach identifies a relational method by which dogmatics might be interpreted by every age of history, including our own.

The chapters were compiled by the author’s students across three decades of lectures delivered in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Thessalonika. The book portrays a three-decade long conversation with students, to whom the author dedicates the book.

The author contributes to dialogue between Eastern and Western Churches by casting ecclesiology in terms of faith. Faith supports differences that enrich all Christians, thus dismissing a mistaken view that differences necessarily cause division. This idea is supported by Maximus the Confessor, among others, but its application to contemporary divisions and a spirit of divisiveness gathers collective assent.

Yet there are differences which have caused division. Metropolitan John addresses one of these in his cogent argument against the introduction of the Filioque into the Creed. His approach addresses history, then delves into theology, while grounding discussion in reference to the Church.

Ioannis Freeman

The End of Memory: Remembering Right�ly in a Violent World

Wm. B. Eerdmans, 244 pages, $15

Miroslav Volf addresses a compelling question: How should a Christian recall injustices suffered and forgive those who have committed them? This is not an abstract problem for Volf. He contends with memories of torture he experienced while a conscript in the former Yugoslavia’s military 25 years ago.

In Volf’s view, the proper goal of memory of wrongs suffered re-unites perpetrator and victim in the communion of Christ’s love. Memory is thus freed of unsettled scores which otherwise crystallize into an “eternity of evil.” Salvation from such torments in memory unburdens everyone of perceived need to recollect a grudge.

Volf addresses critics who might counter that bondage to penance is not only human, but is a duty which borders on being a sacred attribute.

Volf builds his case by distilling a sermon by St. Gregory of Nyssa (“On the Soul and Resurrection”) which sees the soul moving toward the eschaton in Christ, a process which “drives out memory from its mind in its occupation with the enjoyment of good things.”

Ioannis Freeman

In the World, Yet Not of the World

by Patriarch Bartholomew

We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him.

Athenagoras of Athens

(ca. 133-190)

Athenagoras was a Greek philosopher who converted to Christianity.

John Chryssavgis, editor

Fordham University Press, 300 pages, $32

This text (subtitled Social and Global Initiatives) collects speeches and encyclicals of Patriarch Bartholomew. Many are published in English for the first time.

The text reveals a generous, self-effacing, pastoral voice capable of inspiring animated conversations not only among Orthodox Christians but among non-Orthodox Christians as well as all people of goodwill.

The editor’s introduction highlights the Patriarch’s engagement in ecumenical dialogue, bridge-building and peacemaking spanning 18 years since his enthronement. Chryssavgis groups the texts according to several themes (social insights, global perspectives and interfaith dialogue) plus a section of Bartholomew’s major declarations.

Read this book for its portraits of human freedom, faith in practice, and compassion. His writings witness “a seamless garment”  a frequent metaphor by Bartholomew of genuine relationships woven with humanizing threads.

Ioannis Freeman

Our Father: A Prayer for Christian Living

by Fr. William C. Mills

Orthodox Research Institute, 100 pages, $10

It is not a simple task keeping prayer simple, though Jesus makes prayer so accessible that even a small child quickly learns the words of the Our Father by heart and is capable of relating to the Person of the heavenly Father. The words of Our Father are few and simple, but understanding and practicing what they mean may require an entire life  for example to forgive others, and oneself, for great mistakes and grave sins. The child will eventually learn that enemies reside within himself, both inside and outside the family, and even in the Church in which we pray the Our Father with a single voice.

Each chapter concludes with “Food for Thought”  exercises and activities suitable for the individual reader or for a small group reading the book together. For example, one of the activities attached to the first chapter raises the question of how we feel and behave toward our earthly father, because this relationship influences how each of us feels and behaves toward our heavenly Father. The author suggests a seven-day plan of identifying good qualities in one’s father as a way not only of deepening our relationship with him, but of overcoming obstacles that may stand in the way of entering more deeply into the one prayer that Jesus gave to his followers, the Our Father.

As the author rightly observes, it is not simply the solitary self at issue. There is a “we” who embarks “on this path of love,” but it may take a lifetime to walk the path of love implied by the “our” in “Our Father.”

Ioannis Freeman

* * * end * * *

Winter Issue IC 55 2010


Pro-war is not Pro-life

By Metropolitan Jonah

Here are extracts from a pastoral letter written for Sanctity of Life Sunday by the newly elected head of the Orthodox Church in America:
It is the very Word of God who, by His incarnation and assumption of our whole life and our whole condition, affirms and blesses the ultimate value of every human person and indeed of creation as a whole. He filled it with His own being, uniting us to Himself, making us His own Body, transfiguring and deifying our lives, and raising us up to God our Father. He affirms and fulfills us, not simply as individuals seeking happiness, but rather as persons with an infinite capacity to love and be loved, and thus fulfills us through His own divine personhood in communion.

Our life is not given to us to live autonomously and independently. This, however, is the great temptation: to deny our personhood, by the depersonalization of those around us, seeing them only as objects that are useful and give us pleasure, or are obstacles to be removed or overcome. This is the essence of our fallenness, our brokenness. With this comes the denial of God, and loss of spiritual consciousness. It has resulted in profound alienation and loneliness, a society plummeting into the abyss of nihilism and despair. There can be no sanctity of life when nothing is sacred, nothing is holy. Nor can there be any respect for persons in a society that accepts only autonomous individualism: there can be no love, only selfish gratification. This, of course, is delusion. We are mutually interdependent.

We must repent and turn to God and one another, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Only this will heal the soul. Only by confronting our bitterness and resentment, and finding forgiveness for those who have hurt us, can we be free from the rage that binds us in despair. Repentance is not about beating ourselves up for our errors and feeling guilty; that is a sin in and of itself! Guilt keeps us entombed in self-pity. All sin is some form of self-centeredness, selfishness.

Repentance is the transformation of our minds and hearts as we turn away from our sin, and turn to God, and to one another. Repentance means to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean to justify someone’s sin against us. When we resent and hold a grudge, we objectify the person who hurt us according to their action, and erect a barrier between us and them. And, we continue to beat ourselves up with their sin. To forgive means to overcome that barrier, and see that there is a person who, just like us, is hurt and broken, and to overlook the sin and embrace him or her in love. When we live in a state of repentance and reconciliation, we live in a communion of love, and overcome all the barriers that prevented us from fulfilling our own personhood.

All the sins against humanity abortion, euthanasia, war, violence, and victimization of all kinds are the results of depersonalization. Whether it is “the unwanted pregnancy,” or worse, “the fetus,” rather than “my son” or “my daughter;” whether it is “the enemy” rather than Joe or Harry or Ahmed or Mohammed, the same depersonalization allows us to fulfill our own selfishness against the obstacle to my will. How many of our elderly, our parents and grandparents, live forgotten in isolation and loneliness?

How many Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian and American youths will we sacrifice to agonizing injuries and deaths for the sake of our political will? They are called “soldiers,” or “enemy combatants” or “civilian casualties” or any variety of other euphemisms to deny their personhood. But ask their parents or children!

Pro-war is not pro-life! God weeps for our callousness.

We have to extend a hand to those suffering from their sins, whatever they are. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, save the one we refuse to accept forgiveness for. Abortion not only destroys the life of the infant; it rips the soul out of the mother and the father! It becomes a sin for which a woman torments herself for years, sinking deeper into despair and self-condemnation and self-hatred. But there is forgiveness, if only she will ask.
We must seek out and embrace the veterans who have seen such horrors, and committed them. They need to be able to repent and accept forgiveness, so that their souls, their memories, and their lives might be healed.

Most of all, we must restore the family: not just the nuclear family, but the multi-generational family which lives together, supports one another, and teaches each one what it means to be loved and to be a person. It teaches what forgiveness and reconciliation are. And it embraces and consoles the prodigals who have fallen. In this, the real sanctity of life is revealed, from pregnancy to old age. And in the multi-generational family each person finds value. This is the most important thing that we can possibly do.

The Blessed Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty of the industrialized world is loneliness. Let us reach out to those isolated, alienated, alone and in despair, finding in them someone most worthy of love and in turn, we will find in ourselves that same love and value, and know indeed that God speaks to us in the depths of our souls: “You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”❖