In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul speaks about “the law written on our hearts” which often inspires even those ignorant of the law to “do by nature what the law requires.” Yet we who know the law of love as revealed by Christ – how often do we disobey that law, turning a deaf ear to conscience?
Conscience is one of the topics in this Paschal issue of In Communion, with Alex Patico reflecting on a conference he took part in on conscience and war at which former soldiers were among those testifying. These included a friend of mine, Joshua Casteel. In his high school days, Joshua was president of the Young Republicans Club. At age 25, while working as a U.S. Army interrogator at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, his faith led him to become a conscientious objector. “To take another’s life is to destroy the possibility of reconciliation and redemption,” Joshua explained. He was fortunate to get a special discharge. If he had been a conscientious objector only to the Iraq War, he would now be in a military prison, as current regulations only recognize those who object to all war in principle. “Sadly enough our laws don’t allow the conscience the full scope of freedom,” says Joshua. “You can’t object to a particular war on the grounds of it being unjust. Basically, once you’ve taken the military oath, you become an indentured servant. If you follow your conscience, probably you will pay a heavy penalty.”
Issues of conscience enter into every area of life. Surely all of us are conscientious objectors to many things: nurses and doctors who refuse to perform abortions, shopkeepers who refuse to carry products they regard as harmful, parents who refuse to buy certain toys for their children — one could make book-length list. Yet conscience — its formation, its exercise, the price that may be paid for obeying it — is rarely discussed even in churches.
It is a subject of ongoing significance for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
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“This is the day which the Lord has made: let us keep it with gladness and rejoicing.” Why should we do so? Because the sun is no longer darkened; instead everything is bathed in light. Because the veil of the temple is no longer rent; instead the Church is recognized. Because we no longer hold palm branches; instead we carry the newly enlightened [those who have just been baptized]. This is the day in the truest sense: the day of triumph, the day custom consecrates to the resurrection, the day on which we adorn ourselves with grace, the day on which we partake of the spiritual lamb. This is the day on which milk is given to those born again, and on which God’s plan for the poor is realized. Let us keep it with gladness and rejoicing, not by running off to the taverns, but by hastening to the martyrs’ shrines; not by esteeming drunkenness, but by loving temperance; not by dancing in the marketplace, but by singing psalms at home. This is the day on which Adam was set free and Eve delivered from her affliction. It is the day on which cruel death shuddered, the strength of hard stones was shattered and destroyed, the bars of tombs were broken and set aside. It is the day on which the bodies of people long dead were restored to their former life and the laws of the underworld, hitherto ever powerful and immutable, were repealed. It is the day on which the heavens were opened at the rising of Christ the Lord, and on which, for the good of the human race, the flourishing and fruitful tree of the resurrection sent forth branches all over the world, as if the world were a garden. It is the day on which the lilies of the newly enlightened sprang up, the streams that sustained sinners ran dry, the strength of the devil drained away and demonic armies were scattered.
— Unknown Greek Author of the Fifth Century, Easter Homilies 51.1-3
Advocates of going to war often speak of honor, duty and patriotism. Those who plead for peace often stress conscience and faith. Why the dichotomy? Is peace dishonorable? Are warriors without conscience? Does duty point us in one direction only? Does our faith preclude patriotism? Is peace unpatriotic? Can one imagine a border marking the point at which conscience ends and duty takes over? Is there any situation in life in which conscience should be ignored, however acute the tension may be between private and public, faith-based and secular?
Such questions sharpen analysis of “conscience.” Its Latin roots are con (with) plus the verb scire (to know). My dictionary has the additional information that “conscience” replaced the Middle English word inwit – “knowledge within.”
Entries that define conscience in Webster’s New World Dictionary include: “a knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right; moral judgment that opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle and that leads to feelings of guilt if one violates such a principle.” To be “conscientious” is to be: “governed by, or made or done according to, what one knows is right; scrupulous; honest; showing care and precision; painstaking.”
Above Image: Rembrandt painting of Jacob wrestling with an angel
Conscience is often described as “the still, small voice” of God in our heart and is sometimes depicted as an angelic figure seated on one shoulder. In the Disney film of a puppet brought to life, the tiny figure of Jiminy Cricket is assigned to serve as Pinocchio’s conscience in his struggle to become “a real boy.”
When a hard decision has to be made, we often speak of “wrestling” with conscience, just as, in Genesis, Jacob wrestled with an angel.
In the case of deciding whether or not to take part in war, patriotism may dictate participation for some, while a careful examination of conscience (which for many people might mean simply reflecting on basic moral teachings) may steer others toward refusal and resistance.
The issue of conscience was at the core of the discussion at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War held this March at Riverside Church in New York City. “When rendering unto Caesar and unto God, God should be given the benefit of the doubt,” said one of the speakers. A retired military chaplain from the Christian Reformed Church wrote, “The imperative ‘to obey one’s government’ is a generalization and not a universalization (‘obey them in all things that are not in conflict with God’s Word’).”
In the conscientious objection case of prizefighter Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), who had refused to take part in the Vietnam War, Federal Justice John Noonan, ruling in Clay’s favor, took note of James Madison in his drafting the religion clauses in the U.S. Constitution: “In the ultimate and absolute relation of each individual to God lies the limitation on civil society and civil government on which Madison insists. Without that relation, why should the individual not be absorbed by the community? With that relation to a Creator, Governor, Judge in existence for each individual, with that personal responsibility to a personal God, a government of human beings must be a government of limited powers.”
Interestingly, a Quaker policy statement holds that “whether allied to faith or not, the active conscience belongs to mature citizenship; neither individuals nor society can thrive without it … Quakers support freedom of conscience as both a human right and a social necessity.” (This is not to say that the Society of Friends does not recognize the centrality of Christ’s influence on their morality. In 1661, the founder of the Society, George Fox, rejected a commission in the militia not on the basis of societal benefit, but as evidence of his conversion: “I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.”)
At the Truth Commission hearings, Joshua Casteel, former Army Interrogator at Abu Ghraib Prison who withdrew from the Iraq War after becoming a conscientious objector, recalled being concerned, during basic training, with the chants of “Kill, kill, kill without mercy!” Casteel thought he “could make a difference – someone like me, with a conscience, should be in a position of authority, instead of someone who only wanted to drop bombs. But there is no private conscience. What you believe and what you do must be in accord with one another.”
In his writings about conscience, Casteel reminds his readers of the definition of conscience that was approved by the Second Vatican Council:
In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. (Rom 2:15-16) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. (Mt 22:37-40; Gal 5:14) … The more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from individual ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares little for truth and goodness, or for conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, section 16)
The Commission’s host, Rev. Herman Keizer, Jr., retired Army chaplain and former chairman of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, said the military “teaches just war principles from basic training up through its war colleges. Yet current regulations prevent soldiers from using these ideas when called to deploy in a war.”
Others who testified in the New York hearings underscored the view that conscience necessarily has a social aspect and political implications. In Orthodoxy we say “one Christian is no Christian” – we work out our salvation in relation to other human beings. Conscience links us to others and thus is more than a voice of private moral guidance, even though, as a voice within, we may perceive it as private. Part of Eucharistic participation is each person’s regular examination of conscience, not merely as a means to individual soul-cleansing and guidance, but as a part of our preparation for communion – something we do not do alone, but with the other members of the Church and with God. Communion is an act of union, with God and with each other.
If we are honest with ourselves, tough questions arise: How do I know when I am heeding conscience, rather than just fabricating a self-serving rationale? Am I following my conscience or conforming to my peer group? Am I being honest to God or reciting a politically correct sentiment? What must I do when my conscience diverges from that of others? How dare I follow my conscience when people better informed than I, with access both to expert advisers and top secret data, order me to go in another direction?
In the U.S., the law allows for the exercise of conscience in decisions about military service, but with severe limits. One is not allowed to object to a particular war, but must reject all wars. Though most people would agree that there are both just and unjust wars, and many would endorse the traditional criteria for distinguishing one from the other, there is no legal recognition of those who object in conscience to a particular war now going on. It’s all or nothing. Many have been forced to go to prison or leave for another country because they weren’t recognized as objectors to all war.
One Truth Commission witness’s stark question – “Are the members of the military slaves?” – was taken up by Eda Uca-Dorn of the Christian Peace Witness. The military, she says, does indeed act as a slave-master when those whom it employs “lose the freedom to exercise moral agency” – that is, when they are required, under threat of severe penalties, to act contrary to the dictates of their conscience.
“Selective conscientious objection,” Uca-Dorn continued, “is a little-understood path – dismissed by some for not being perfect enough in its rejection of violence and dismissed by others as an ‘easy way out’ of combat. Soldiers who make no argument against all war but who cannot in conscience fight in some wars – especially if they change their mind after voluntary enlistment – are often accused of cowardice and opportunism: ‘Well, if you weren’t going to fight, then what did you sign up for? If you were truly for peace, you would reject the whole military industrial complex! Oh sure, you’ll take the job benefits, but when it’s time to do your duty, you run.’”
Ever since the Nuremberg Tribunal, at which war criminals were tried following World War II, there has been a growing body of international agreements rejecting the idea that a soldier has no alternative but to obey orders or be punished for failing to do so. One of the lessons of Nuremberg is that each of us is accountable. To say “I was just following orders” is no defense.
Pope Benedict XVI, who as a young man saw the genocidal consequences of totalitarian ideology and blind obedience in his native Germany, has written a book on conscience in which he sees “morality of conscience and morality of authority” as “two opposing models … locked in struggle with each other.”
Is it possible that patriotism and conscience may more nearly coincide than is these days admitted? George Washington, America’s first president said: “Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.” Can we claim that this standard has been consistently upheld in modern times? Washington’s successor, Thomas Jefferson, said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
Above Image: a soldier in training: a scene from the film “Soldiers of Conscience”
James Madison, principal author of the U.S. Constitution and the fourth U.S. president, wrote: “War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” If Madison was right, then, is selective conscientious objection not a legitimate way to help safeguard a democratic society?
Fundamental to our attitude toward conscience and war is our conception of the moral status of war itself. One can view war in one of five ways:
• War is of its nature a sin and thus is never morally justifiable (what is usually termed the “pacifist” approach).
• War is sometimes necessary, in defense of one’s nation, but never just (the lesser of two evils).
• War can be morally tenable, but only under specified circumstances (the “just war” approach).
• War, while lamentable, is sometimes unavoidable and must be fought even if it does not meet the traditional criteria for a just war (the position espoused by most political leaders today).
• War can be, and often is, a positive good, a powerful force as a tool of statecraft in defense of order and one’s national interest (a pragmatic, realpolitik approach).
In the latter two, private conscience may play no part at all. One belongs to one’s society and is obliged to do what that society requires. In the first three, conscience (or at least an agreed-upon set of moral axioms) is an essential part of the decision-making process.
Individual conscience is less and less in the foreground as we go down the list of items above, and the last most closely approximates the unqualified “military mindset” – rulers decide and subjects obey, period. War is packaged as peacemaking. All military programs, no matter how far from our borders, are acts of “national defense,” and all soldiers, no matter what they do, are “peacekeepers.”
In contrast with such a military mindset, we are challenged by the witness of the early Church. In the first age of martyrdom, it would have been a rare Christian who didn’t agree with Tertullian’s declaration that “in disarming Peter, Christ disarmed every soldier.” In Tertullian’s view, any Christian who took part in war was a person serving two masters, thus “turning his back on the scriptures.” One of the great saints of those early times, St. Martin of Tours (316-367), at the time still an unbaptized catechumen in the Roman army, told Caesar he could not take part in a battle that was about to occur: “I am a soldier of Christ,” he explained. “To fight is not allowed for me.” (It must be counted as a miracle that Martin was discharged rather than executed.)
In a recent paper, Marian Simion, a member of the faculties of the Boston Theological Institute, Hellenic College and Boston College, concluded that “one could argue that the Orthodox Church has a rather ambiguous record in its endorsement of defensive violence. … By remaining loyal to the teachings on non-retaliation, inherent into the Gospel (Mt 5:38-42), the Orthodox Church made strong efforts to resist temptations for a unanimous justification of violence and an adoption of the Just War theory.”
There is the case of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who was beheaded in Berlin in 1943 for refusing to be part of Hitler’s army. Jim Forest, secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, commented on the failure of the Catholic Church in Germany and Austria to support Jägerstätter at the time, though now he has been beatified. “What can we do,” Forest asked, “to help the Church respond positively to those who refuse to take part either in war in general, or in a particular war?” It is a matter, he said, that goes beyond individual moral responsibility: “Protest is not an end in itself, nor is it the most important aspect of peacemaking. When protest is called for, how can it be carried out in a way that makes it more likely for those with opposing views to rethink their position?”
Writer and film-maker Jennifer Rawlings, one of the speakers at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, reported on the case of an Army sergeant from her home town in Kansas who committed suicide earlier this year rather than be redeployed to Iraq. The sergeant put a gun to his head and killed himself in front of his wife and their four children.
“Suicide rates among soldiers are the highest they have been in nearly three decades,” Rawlings says. “There are months when there are more suicides among soldiers than troops killed in the line of duty, with an average of five soldiers a day trying to take their own lives.”
Perhaps those rates of self-destruction may have occurred solely based on the stress and carnage of battle and the variety of strains to which ordinary Americans are susceptible, but to suppose that moral misgivings and agonies of conscience figured into them to some extent seems reasonable. The costs of war are rediscovered in each generation, as much as we try to forget them. It is difficult to know the costs of widespread conscientious objection, as this has never been tried. ❖
● Whenever you want to subdue your high and proud thoughts, examine your conscience carefully: Have you kept all the commandments? Have you loved your enemies and been kind to them in their misfortunes?
– Abba Or (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)
● Do not disregard your conscience, which always counsels you of the best. It puts before you divine and angelic advice; it frees you from the hidden stains of your heart…
– St. Maximus the Confessor (The Four Centuries on Charity)
● When God created man, He breathed into him something divine, as it were a hot and bright spark added to reason, which lit up the mind and showed him the difference between right and wrong. This is called the conscience, which is the law of his nature…. To this law of conscience adhered the patriarchs and all the holy men of old before the written law, and they were pleasing to God. But when this law was buried and trodden underfoot by men through the onset of sin, we needed a written law, we needed the holy prophets, we needed the instruction of our Master, Jesus Christ, to reveal it and raise it up and bring to life through the observance of the Commandments that buried spark.
– Dorotheos of Gaza (Discourses and Sayings)
● Conscience in men is nothing else but the voice of the omnipresent God moving in the hearts of men, as He Who alone Is and has created everything, the Lord knows all as Himself … ‘His eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men’ (Jer 32:19). ‘Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
– St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ, Part 1)
● Do not be double-tongued, saying one thing when your conscience says another. For Scripture places such people under a curse.
– St. Kosmas Aitolos (17th-century priest-monk)
● We come to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to defend the right of Christians to defend whatever political idea that pleases them. Christians do not have the right to … be opposed to the Gospel spirit of love, mercy and the brotherhood of people.
– Nikolai Berdyaev
Journal Put’, No. 59, February-April 1939
This is an extract from the last chapter of a newly published book, Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village, a work that explores the cosmological and religious ideas in the region of north Evia. The author uses material gathered from the village between 1966 and 1973, but also draws on people’s memories of the past. The book is a sequel to Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village, which discussed the ideas and values of the same village but from the perspective of the village’s social organization and institutions current at the time. Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy seeks to illuminate the villagers’ fundamental relationship with God and the world – with the divine and the diabolical, with earth and water, work and bread, house and stranger, time and death. The overlap between the “folk” culture and the tradition embedded in the liturgical offices of the Orthodox Church emerges as considerable, although there are areas in which pre- or non-Christian beliefs still exercise an influence. This extract illustrates the tension between the fallen and unfallen visions of the world which underlie the depth, variety, and extraordinary vitality of the villagers’ understanding of life. (Editor’s note: These pages have been edited to conform to our house style.)
In exploring first the symbolism which serves to order the main course of life in Ambeli, I have taken as my starting point a village cosmos which at first sight could be taken for a static three-dimensional map of the world – something whose relevance to village life might seem far from clear. But the map has turned out, as pre-Copernican cosmologies often do, to be something more – a plan for a journey towards the good.
The nature of the journey becomes evident when the story of the fall from paradise is told: paradise, in village thought, is our origin and (in a different form) our destiny, but the fallen world in which we find ourselves has intervened, and our task is to redeem the consequences of the fall and to keep re-making this world as the garden which it still, in glimpses, is.
Thus time is also part of this cosmology, and liturgical time in particular, which, as a “moving image of eternity,” is intended to link the present moment with our origin and destiny in the eternal world.
These ideas about the cosmos, paradise and fall, and time, are therefore preconceptions which set the context for the villagers’ collective enactment of symbols, which tell them where they are and what at each point they must do – symbols which guide the meaning given to work, marriage, hospitality, kinship, community, death, mourning, and their relationship with the natural and the divine worlds. So in order to see the force of these central symbols, it is necessary to retrace, in brief, the nature of the cosmic preconceptions which form their context.
The most important function of the village cosmos is to define the dual world of good and evil where man is placed, and at the same time to identify those aspects of the cosmos which give hope that these all-pervading opposites can be reconciled.
This dualism exists within a cosmos which is perceived on three levels: the divine powers in the heavens above the earth, the demons in the caverns below, and the world of nature between the two which is the dwelling-place of man and the meeting ground of God and the devil. In this sacred cosmos, holiness is increasingly present towards the further reaches of the sky, and evil increasingly towards the depths of the earth: God has his habitation at the outer limits of the universe among the sun, moon and stars, whereas Satan, the author of evil, lies down in the center of the earth. While God is One, however, the Almighty and Creator of All, “everywhere and at all times” (παντού καὶ πάντα) as the people say, his power is also diffused in an infinity of spiritual presences – saints and angels, seraphim and cherubim. Satan also is not confined to a single unique presence but has under his command legions of demons who speed about the world doing his bidding after which, as it is said, they report back to him and are awarded medals for good work.
There is in this way a hierarchy according to which spiritual good and spiritual evil inhabit the highest and the lowest levels of the universe, and these areas again consist of a number of subordinate levels inhabited by ranks of angelic or infernal powers, and also, both above and below, by what is termed “the other world,” that is to say the world of the hallowed or unhallowed dead. The darkness of the earth is the first destination of the newly-dead, where the body, now symbolically dissociated from the blood which is the defining substance of fleshly life, is given over to corruption. By contrast, however, the bones of the long dead, cleaned and purified by the earth, are brought up “into the air” and their souls by the same action freed to go “elsewhere.” …
The middle world of man and society thus has a complex spiritual nature, for at the same time as being man’s home in the universe it is a place of physical and spiritual danger, highly charged with divine or diabolical influences, a place morally and spiritually ambiguous where the outcome of the battle between the various forces is from moment to moment uncertain. Even though the devil is not autonomous but exists only by permission of God, his existence is real enough as part of the freedom God gives to man to decide whether he will follow the good or the evil path. At either end God or the devil, heaven or hell, are the final outcomes of the battle for each individual soul.
However, this uncertainty built into the cosmos is, ultimately, relative only, for an essential part of its ordering is the absolute dominion of God over all things including the power of evil. And this reality, too, enters the structure of the cosmos in that while the devil cannot enter the heavens, the voice of God is able to penetrate the underworld and summon the skalikandzoúria (dialect for kalikándzari, hobgoblins) from their work of destruction, and even in his dominion in the center of the earth the devil is said to lie “bound.”
Again, in the world of men, the devil’s power is always defeated if Christ is summoned. Thus for all the tension that exists between good and evil, both in the ordering of the cosmos itself and in the battle between God and the devil within it, there is an in-built presumption in favor of the supremacy of the good and the triumph of life over death. The universe, although harboring demons and devils and containing awesome powers of destruction, is a place also where man can at all times receive blessings, and can find rest.
With man’s cooperation, too, the reign of God, already supreme in the upper level, can also be extended over the middle level of the cosmos, presaging the final defeat of the demonic hosts beneath the earth; and this consummation can be realized through the communication which exists between these cosmic levels. Not only do incorporeal beings such as the saints, the angels, and the dead, find passage between them, but also the spirit of man, in prayer and in visionary or prophetic experience. Means of access allowing vision into the other worlds through wells and from mountain tops figure in the symbolism of communication between the worlds, and at certain random moments, and at midnight in particular, the veil separating the middle world from the divine world is especially thin.
These channels are built into the cosmos, even if such communication between the visible and the invisible worlds remains for the living incomplete, a question of partial vision, an orientation towards the good, but one which always confronts the uncertainties of living and the mystery of the other world.
This orientation towards the spiritual world is one which pervades daily life, in a number of oppositions which comprise a symbolic language for openness to good or evil – describing things which are up or down, straight or squint, right or left, oriented towards order or chaos. The demons issuing from holes in the ground present man with a realm of seductions, dangers and temptations; the angelic powers entering the world from on high help to repel these evils both by direct assistance and by calling man’s attention to the divine world in which alone his good is to be found. Man, desperately weak but placed nevertheless in charge of his world as the “the superior intelligent creature,” stands at the center of the battleground, capable of orienting himself either towards the higher or the lower worlds, providing the link between the natural world and God, or the link between the natural world and the devil. In this way man, a feeble but free being at the center of the cosmos, caught up in the moral and spiritual drama being played out within it, and with the power to choose between good and evil, is the pivot on whom all things turn.
Man’s freedom is, however, compromised by the fall. Central to the cosmos is its original nature as paradise in which Adam and Eve, representing the human race, lived in a communion with God which held all things in harmony. Snakes walked upright, trees bore fruit in abundance, the world gave food without work, stones were bread and there was abundant water. But with the eating of the fruit, that is to say with the wilful separation of human will from the will of God – in village terms the seduction of Eve by the serpent and of Adam by Eve – paradise was lost, and man became an outcast in the creation of which he had been intended to be the head. The natural processes of the earth were set against men, the process of birth against women, relations of power and authority of the stronger over the weaker became part of the natural order.
Human rebellion against God thus precipitated the rebellion of the rest of the created world against man, and instead of an easeful and blessed life in a paradise in harmony with itself, toil and sweat in a divided world, pain and suffering, became the hallmark of man’s struggle for existence.
This view of things underpins the villagers’ life, especially in their work in fields and forest, and, because of the theme of gender in the story of the fall, in sexual relations. It is a view which above all claims realism. For the origin of man’s present plight, people look no further than God’s judgement, “With toil and with sweat shall you till the fields,” for the comment this evokes is unanswerable: “Do we have things otherwise now?”
In relations between the sexes the association with the fall is expressed with still greater disillusion. Women are referred to – and refer to themselves – as “Eves,” imaging their prototype who betrayed her man and initiated the loss of paradise. Thus women are thought by nature to lack responsibility and self-control, showing a tendency to gossip and quarrel, and revealing the consequences of the fall directly in the “disgrace” of their menstrual periods.
The exercise of self-discipline and obedience within a life-long marriage is seen (with the rare exception of entry into the monastic life) as the only answer to this innate weakness in woman’s character, and in this marriage she must be in all things subordinate to her husband.
Man as “Adam” is also associated with the fall, and his toil in fields and forest that resist him is an image of this. But in contrast to Eve’s opportunism and weakness, he is felt to retain an element of intelligence and moral strength, and to regain his due place in the order of creation he must exercise the authority which he abandoned in the fall – tilling his fields, providing for his family and children, and keeping control of his wife.
It is a scheme of things in which relations between the sexes are unequal, dominated by men’s use of physical and economic power; and while this can be for the protection of women it is also easily misused, leading to a society in which young brides can be systematically overworked and neglected, and wives must accept without question their husbands’ sexual demands, and may have to absorb as a matter of course the irritation and blows of a husband who happens to be drunk, anxious, or displeased.
These power relations between men and women do not occur in isolation, for they are part of an entire world view of which sin against God is the basis, so alongside the struggle between man and nature and that between the sexes runs also the struggle against neighbors for limited resources, the battle against death, and a view of sacred relations in which the Almighty Power rules by a dictate whose logic, known only to himself, is inspired not only by justice but also by whim.
Within the house, aside from the possibility of initial tensions between in-laws, mutual trust and support are expected and in the main achieved, and it is the house which defines the sacred center around which all revolves. Thereafter, however, relations with people outside the house become subject increasingly to some degree of competition, either over tangibles like land or intangibles like reputation and honor, and though this can be fiercest between siblings and over inheritance, it becomes more prevalent as “kinship decreases.” Thus with “strangers” – those who have passed beyond blood relationship at second or third cousin – competition becomes the norm, so much so that the many quarrels and disturbances of village life are described by the people as due to the “enmity” which they feel to be endemic to their society.
In this scheme of things, marginal theft – of sheep, of land by shifting a boundary stone, of firewood or random articles left lying around – is all part of the way life goes on, and scandalous accusation, speculative gossip, or laughter at others’ expense, is part of the spice of everyday conversation.
All this is the product of a view of life as continual struggle, of one man’s harm being another man’s good and vice versa, of survival as involving the conquest of the weaker by the stronger, and of the pursuit of “self-interest” as a morally justified activity even if it involves damage to others.
Yet self-interest itself is ultimately pointless in the face of the archenemy, death, who comes with drawn sword on his black horse, deaf to cries for mercy, slaughtering old and young and consigning their bloodless shades to the underworld. In the face of this ultimate reality, the world in all its color, violence, passion, and beauty is shown to be “deluding” or “false,” a world that tricks people with an appearance of permanence, and then snatches all away.
This reality, which is the reality of the fallen world, must in this view be faced unflinchingly. Survival is a prize gained in the teeth of competition from others, and the answer to death is a life lived with panache in glorious defiance of its inevitable end. The earth that will eat the dancers must be trodden down under their feet while they still have strength to do so, for in the end there is no avoiding the embrace of the earth’s “black mantle” and the dancer’s own reduction to “a handful of little bones,” and even the soul is in peril from desecration of the body by animals or by a careless action between death and burial.
Life is a struggle, intense but ultimately doomed, and it reaches its tragic culmination in the great image from Greek folk poetry – the “struggle” with Charos on the marble threshing floor.
Just as in this fallen view of the world death is victorious, so in the same view relations between man and God tend to be seen in terms of power play in which man is invariably the loser. God Almighty who made a world innately predisposed for the survival of man and beast, nevertheless permits the devil to operate within it, and gives man free will to make his own choices.
While mercy is built into this economy in the idea that “God doesn’t lose you,” so too is justice in the idea of punishment for the wrong choice: “Is that what you’re like? Take that!” And since there is in the fallen world such a strong predisposition in man to sin, what might from one perspective be seen as justice, in another is seen as the exercise of tyranny, so that a common reaction to the hardships of life comes in the form of the reflection, “That’s how God has made us – to suffer.”
This is the God who himself appears to be the author of man’s calamities, who exacts retribution from those who are too fortunate, and acts through motives so inscrutable as to turn men simply into objects of his play.
This idea of an unpredictable and all-powerful God is given its most complete articulation in the idea of fate, where every detail of a person’s life is “written” at birth and “cannot be unwritten.” All characteristics and events, however random and unconnected, are in the last resort explained by this force acting in the lives of men, a force inseparable from God himself. Thus ordained, a person’s fate – his or her share of fortune and misfortune – carries with it a kind of acceptance simply because it is to do with that element in God which is beyond argument or resistance.
This, then, is the fallen world, and it is in this world and with the attitudes consistent with it that people live for much of the time. This view is dominated by the idea of the hostility of nature to man; the dominance of men over women; the competition of neighbors; subjection to an inscrutable and tyrannical God or fate; and the triumph of death.
Yet this world is perpetually countered, challenged, and penetrated by another world, and another view of things, in which all these elements are configured differently. The presence of this other world within the fallen world reveals the fallen world not as the final reality but as something waiting to be transformed; and in this way it exposes the realism of the fallen world as transitory and ultimately insubstantial – as itself a fallen consciousness which produces the reality that it describes. A greater reality transcends this fallen world and its characteristic view of things, and it is made present by liturgy – that is to say, the creation of a way of life as a symbolic whole, a “work of the people,” made manifest in all those areas of life where village symbolism echoes the liturgy of the Church.
The first vital shift which liturgy makes between these two views of the world is in the understanding of time. The fall as a once-and-for-all event trapping succeeding generations into a causal sequence of sin and punishment gains its power in part because in this mode it is seen as an event in the past, inevitably conditioning all events which follow it.
The power of the liturgical understanding, however, lies in the way it apprehends a many-dimensional reality through its freedom from sequential, or linear, time. It does not negate the reality of the fall, but it presents against it the reality of the kingdom of God, and it places both the fall and the kingdom of God in the present, as opposite poles in a continuing drama in the life of each person.
The key to this understanding of the presence of the kingdom of God, not in some unthinkably mysterious future but pervading this present world, is the practice, both in village life and in the liturgy, of returning through a circle of time to a familiar moment, and of doing so in cycles which nest one inside the other, so that the day, the week, the year, and cycles within the year, each come back to the same sacred event and to the same company of sacred persons who enact that event.
These are the circles of eternity in time, through which a remembrance takes place which is not a memory of the past, but a recovery of an encounter with the divine which is ever-present, continually unearthed from the forgetfulness engendered by the fall – the recovery which is intimated in the Greek and English Church term anamnesis.
The entry into linear time of the sacred persons of the eternal world thus occurs through the inter-penetration of the two orders of time, first in the story of Christ, and then in the nested cycles of the liturgical year by which his life, death, and resurrection and the lives of the Mother of God and the saints are celebrated and seen to be reflected in the material world. The concurrence of these two time schemes opens up for those involved in them two worlds of experience – fallen and unfallen, which are themselves two ways of looking at the world.
Both world views are simultaneously available, so that from moment to moment each person can slip into the one or the other, and it is this that allows deeply contrasting philosophies of the destiny of man to co-exist in a vital symbiosis, and this that is amongst the factors that provide the extraordinary vitality and complexity of conversation and discussion and argument in the village.
In a café, for instance, the edict of fate counterposed with the idea of personal responsibility can occasion a roar of the most lively debate about unforeseen results from apparently chance circumstances, or mention of life after death can provoke a prolonged discussion in which a natural scepticism about the destiny of the soul after death – “No one’s come back to tell us” – will find in another habitual sceptic an unexpected rebuttal: “There are all these teachings and writings in the Church, they wouldn’t be there for nothing. Something exists.”
At a memorial service a bystander will rebuke a mourner who bursts into a moirológi for her son, arguing that it “doesn’t do” to sing a lament “in front of Christ,” but arouse a scornful rejection of such reticence from the mourner, sotto voce, later on, “A lot she knows.”
In a house, a woman, weighing the speculative enjoyments of divination by throwing beans against an uneasy sense that this is forbidden, ponders: “Is it a sin? Isn’t it? I don’t know. I haven’t an idea.” And then, in decision: “Shall we?”
Again, people will ponder the value of spells, which they carry out themselves and which they feel certain are effective, against the value of the “reading” from the priest which is enjoined by confessors, at the same time weighing the presentiment that they should desist from incantations if they are getting old and nearing death, or wish to take communion, which “takes precedence.” Or in discussion they may follow out with ruthless honesty the implications for salvation of sins in which they know they are complicit: “Will Christ save us?” “Only if we are good and follow Christ’s road.” “Do we follow Christ’s road?” “We don’t.”
This rich awareness of opposing choices arises in part from the complexity of a culture which has long roots back into the pre-Christian past, though its insights have to a great extent been incorporated and baptized by Christian tradition; it also arises from knowledge of the fundamental choices posed by human life in any circumstances, which are especially clear in the circumstances of subsistence living face to face with the natural world.
The fallen world, then, is a living presence alongside the unfallen one; but it is felt to be possible at any time to make a reconnection with the timeless world beyond this middle ground of the cosmos and of time, and this in turn brings about a series of radical transformations. ❖
It happened years ago, but I remember it vividly. I was sitting in a class on the philosophy of religion, and the professor let fly a real zinger – one of those brilliant just-in-passing remarks. She noted that philosophers differ from one another not only in the content of their thought – that is, one of them says this while another says that – but also because one philosopher takes a certain area of thought as basic, whereas another philosopher sees another area as more basic. For example, one philosopher might regard epistemology (theory of knowledge) as primary and then use the results of the epistemological inquiry as axiomatic in philosophy of science, ethics, and politics. Another might start with a metaphysical system and base everything else on that. Yet another might start with ethics and see respect for persons as most fundamental. So even when two philosophers say “all the same things,” their viewpoint might be very different. Whatever field served as the foundation for everything else would be, for them, “first philosophy.” I filed this zinger away for later use, not really knowing what to do with it.
Prior to hearing that off-hand observation, I had taken it for granted that the expression “first philosophy” was equivalent to “metaphysics.” I had seen that usage, after all, in philosophers as diverse as Aristotle and Descartes. The issue, though, was not merely one of words and synonyms – no, the potential of much larger implications opened up before my eyes, though at that time I didn’t see what they might be or where they might apply. All I could say then was that one brief remark had helped to pry me free from any simplistic notion that there was a given and settled structure of knowledge which corresponded fairly straightforwardly to the structure of reality, and that nothing remained but to determine the details.
Clearly a big question remained open: What might be the most basic among all the things I knew from experience, revelation, reasoning, and all other sources?
And since this epiphany occurred while I was sitting in a course on the philosophy of religion, it led to further questions: Could there be various ways – each faithful to the apostolic tradition – to arrange the teachings of the Church? Could it be that further experience in the life of the Church, in prayer, meditation, and worship, would suggest that some parts of the revelation are more basic than others? Could it be that seemingly unrelated aspects of the Church teaching might come together for me in unexpected ways?
I don’t have a system of metaphysics or first philosophy to offer here. What does occur to me, though, is that this insight might offer a way to pull together things in Orthodox Christianity that have already struck me as important and basic. We know that love occupies an important place in our faith, and we find it expressed in various ways and various connections.
I’ll ask for your indulgence before we proceed. It might appear that I’m about to repeat something we all know already. After all, isn’t it well established that certain theologians and spiritual writers – whether eastern or western – placed great stress on the yearning of the soul for union with God? Didn’t they draw on the Platonic concept of eros as they took a mystical and sometimes esoteric understanding of the relationship between the soul and God or between the Church and God? Isn’t the place of love within our tradition already well documented? That’s true – but I’m talking about something a little bit different.
First of all, I’m thinking of love as agape, overflowing love which seeks to give without conditions; second, it may be that agape permeates Orthodox Christianity to such a degree that it is worth looking at the many ways it underlies seemingly unrelated aspects of our theology and spirituality.
Though the Fathers developed some of these matters at length, I’ll keep this discussion simple and confine myself to passages from the New Testament. Since the Fathers themselves focused on the New Testament and used it as a key to the Old Testament, the connections we will see there serve as a good preliminary overview to the possibility that love can be seen as something like a first principle throughout Orthodox Christianity.
We can start with the idea that God is love. (1 John 4: 16) Whatever else we mean by this, it includes the idea that the three persons of the Trinity love one another. The theme of love, then, runs through Triadology, or the theology of the Trinity.
In His earthly ministry, Jesus talks about how He loves the Father and the Father loves Him. We see this expressed in verses of scripture such as “I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14: 31) and “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all that He Himself is doing; and greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel.” (John 5: 20) Not only do we notice the love of the three persons of the Trinity for one another and the love between the Father and the Son as expressed during the Son’s earthly ministry, then, but we also notice it expands into an important theme in Christology. We see further evidence of this in Jesus’ statements that He loves His disciples, and that the Father loves them, too, for example, where He says, “for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from the Father.” (John 16: 27)
Does it look like we have some connections? What about the Incarnation and the Passion? Well, let’s consider John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse declares that the Father’s love for us is the reason for the Incarnation. As for the Passion, Christ says, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 13) – so love also explains voluntary submission to crucifixion.
A connection between our love for God and our love for others is given, not by Jesus Himself, but by a lawyer who questions Him. The lawyer asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10: 25) Jesus asks him what the law tells him. The lawyer responds with a summary of the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10: 27) When he goes on to ask who his neighbor is, Jesus recounts the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable tells us that we should love anyone in need.
One of the accounts of the Last Judgment gives us the sort of thing we always wanted when we were in school. That is, Jesus tells us what the questions will be which will appear on the final exam. In other words, He informs us that our salvation depends on the degree to which we practice unselfish love:
Then the King will say to those at His right hand, “Come, O blessed of 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me. I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25: 34-40)
Jesus posits love, then, as the foundation of Christian social ethics. Elsewhere He extends love’s requirements to a demand that we love others whether they love us or not:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5: 43-8)
By requiring that we grow toward the same perfection in love of others as He and the Father have for us, Jesus lays out a spiritual path for us. As we open ourselves to God’s love and at the same time love even those who do not love us, we become by grace what God is by nature. In other words, love represents the explanatory principle of theosis. Only this radically unconditional love can make possible the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in the garden before His arrest:
I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and Thou in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me and hast loved them even as Thou hast loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, may be with Me where I am, to behold My glory which Thou hast given Me in Thy love for Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known Thee, but I have known Thee; and these know that Thou hast sent Me. I made known to them Thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17: 20-6)
Here we see love as the basis for ecclesiology. In fact, Christ’s prayer urges us to grow in unity and love to become more and more fully the Body of Christ. The vision of unity in love contained in this prayer also suggests a mystical and spiritual understanding of eschatology. Do we dare to say that the Kingdom is a Kingdom of Love?
If we find love as a theme everywhere from the most sublime cosmic themes to our everyday dealings with one another, something must be going on. I don’t have a first philosophy to propose – certainly not in any detail – but I wonder if it would prove fruitful in the spiritual life to regard love as something like a first principle. Nor would I urge that we see it as the basis for “systematic theology” – which is foreign to the Orthodox approach to faith and life. Nor again would I propose that we view the connections offered here to the exclusion of others we might see. But you may find, as I have, that it is worth contemplating these implications for the ways they bring together otherwise seemingly unrelated aspects of Church teaching and (perhaps) enrich the life of prayer, meditation, and worship.
If God is love and if we are created in His image and after His likeness, could it be that the theme of love underlies more of our thought and experience as Orthodox Christians than we realize? ❖
Monk Cosmas Shartz is a member of the brotherhood of the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco in Manton, California, where his duties include translation, editing, and writing book reviews for Divine Ascent Press. He also heads up the monastery’s efforts to correspond with prisoners.
The relationship of Christians to the death penalty has a long history. It is not as simple as finding a passage in the Bible that allows or forbids capital punishment. It is much more the overall message of Christ – he who came to destroy death – which allows Christians to proclaim the sanctity of human life. Christ died on the cross to save sinners, not to condemn or kill them. In conquering death, He didn’t intend for those following him to make death into a tool for overpowering the nations of the world.
St. Paul portrayed the Christian struggle as the defeat of spiritual powers and principalities (Eph 6:12), rejecting any idea that our warfare is with flesh and blood. Christianity does not seek to conquer the world with the police and military, but has to engage in a spiritual warfare for the hearts and minds of all people.
The Scriptures that specifically sanction the death penalty are all part of the 613 laws of the Jewish Torah. The keeping of these Laws was understood by the Jews to be the only way to be righteous in the eyes of God. For Christians, on the other hand, righteousness is no longer attained through the keeping of the Torah, nor does Christianity see the keeping of the Torah as possible or even desirable. The basic stance of the New Testament is that the Law never enabled anyone to become righteous. The basic Christian message is that grace, truth, salvation and righteousness come through Jesus Christ, not through the keeping of the Law.
For the first 325 years of Christianity, Christians were a persecuted minority who had no share in government power. Christians were acutely aware that Christ’s Kingdom was not of this world, a Kingdom with neither capital punishment nor armies. They saw killing of any kind as incompatible with Christian values.
Once emperors began to accept Christianity, a serious tension was created between the state and the values of Christianity. As a result, numerous public officials (Constantine being the prime example) put off baptism until retirement or the end of life, as they saw no way to carry out their duties without taking life, or ordering events in which deaths were inevitable. At the beginning of the fourth century, it was forbidden for Christians to be in the army. By the end of the fourth century, the Roman government required everyone in the army to be Christian.
Christians struggled with their new role and status in society. Many were not comfortable with it. The monastic movement to a large extent can be seen as a protest movement against the imperial-state Church. Many who fled to the desert considered the values of the Kingdom of God were incompatible with the values and methods of the Roman Empire.
Many Church leaders refused to be silent about the incompatibility of the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. St. John Chrysostom remarked, “Our warfare is to make the dead live, not to make the living dead.”
Even once the empires embraced Christianity, there was a real struggle with the Christian message and Christian ideal about life and how it relates to such issues as capital punishment. The Canons of the Church require bishops, as part of their normal duties, to go to the courts and plead for mercy for prisoners and for the condemned. Church buildings throughout the empire became sanctuaries, where persecuted and condemned people could take refuge to seek protection by the Church against the state.
I know of no Orthodox jurisdiction that advocates the death penalty. This does not mean the Church ignores the fact that we live in a fallen world, in which not only do people do evil, but evil is a force to be reckoned with both by the Church and by governments. Governments have a duty to protect their citizens from murderous people.
Since the basic message of Christianity is forgiveness, mercy, love, peace, and the defeat of death itself, Christians have had a remarkably consistent belief in the sanctity of human life and have never “baptized” killing, either of enemies or criminals, as a means of giving witness to Christ and his Kingdom. Christ did not bless or teach his disciples to kill anyone, nor, unlike Muhammad, did he advocate killing as a means to spread His faith. The early Christians conquered the Roman Empire without having any army or police on their side and without shedding anyone’s blood.
A personal note: I have not always opposed executions. Only slowly have I come to accept consistent pro-life thinking and to realize that the execution of prisoners is incompatible with the Gospel. This has occurred in me even though I know there are terrorist groups that would kill me in a second simply for being a Christian and an American. But I do not want to become like them, nor to embrace their values or methods. I want to be more Christ-like – a disciple of the Crucified Christ, not of those who crucify. ❖
Patristic commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount, continued…
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, “You fool!” shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
– The Gospel According to Matthew: 5:21-26
Moving to a higher level: It was [Jesus] himself who also gave those laws, but in an indirect manner. If on the one hand he had said, “You have heard that I said to those of ancient times,” the saying would have been hard for his present hearers to believe and would have been a roadblock for their understanding. If on the other hand, after Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times by my Father,” he had added, “But I say,” he still would have seemed to be taking yet more on himself.
So he simply states the commandment, attempting to make only one point: to demonstrate that at the right time he had come to clarify this requirement. For by the words “it was said to those of ancient times” he pointed out the length of time since they had received this commandment. He did this to shame those hearers who were still reluctant to advance to the higher levels of his teachings. Jesus spoke much like a teacher to a lazy student: “Don’t you know how much time you have spent learning syllables?” He also covertly intimates this through his use of the expression “those of ancient times.” For the future, Jesus summons his hearers to a loftier order of instruction. It is as though he had said, “You have spent enough time on these lessons. It is now time to press on to lessons higher than these.”
It is fitting that Jesus does not disturb the order of the commandments but begins with the earlier ones, those with which the law began, to point to the harmony between them. [St. John Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 16.5]
The law’s deeper meaning: This is what the Lord said: “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” In other words, to accentuate what was considered least; that is to say, to reform for the better the precepts of the law. For this reason the holy apostle says, “Do we, then, overthrow the law by this faith?” By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. The law commands us not to murder. The gospel commands us not to get angry without reason, that we may remove every root of sin from our hearts, because anger can even lead to homicide. [Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 21.1.1-2]
Christ and the law: Christ’s commandment is not contrary to the law but broader than the law. Christ’s commandment contains the law, but the law does not contain Christ’s commandment. Therefore whoever fulfills the commandments of Christ implicitly fulfills the commandments of the law. For one who does not get angry is much less capable of killing. But one who fulfills what the law commands does not completely fulfill what Christ commands.
Often a person will not kill because of the fear of reprisal, but he will get angry. Do you see then that the fulfilled law has the benefit of not being abolished? Consequently, without these commandments of Christ the commandments of the law cannot stand. For if the freedom to get angry is allowed, there are grounds for committing murder. For murder is generated by anger. Take away the anger, and there will be no murder. Therefore whoever gets angry without cause commits murder with respect to the will, even if he does not actually do so out of fear of reprisal. The remorse may not be the same as if he had committed the deed, but such a sin matches the one who gets angry. Thus John, in his canonical epistle, says, “Everyone who hates his brother without cause is a murderer.” [Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 11]
Taming the tongue: Consider this analogy from the animals that we tame. A horse does not tame itself; a camel does not tame itself; an elephant does not tame itself; a snake does not tame itself; a lion does not tame itself. So too a man does not tame himself. In order to tame a horse, an ox, a camel, an elephant, a lion and a snake, a human being is required. Therefore God should be required in order for a human being to be tamed. [Augustine, Sermon 55.2]
Put aside anger: How greatly the Lord esteems fraternal love we know from this, for he makes clear that a gift offered to God is not acceptable unless the giver of a gift to his brother puts aside his anger and becomes reconciled to him. Furthermore, we learn that the gifts offered by Cain were rejected by God. He failed to observe charity toward his brother and harbored anger in his heart. Hence, not without good reason does the Lord in the Gospel indicate in many places the prime necessity of fraternal charity when he says, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” And again: “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Rightly so, the Lord also spoke through Zechariah: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother.” Through David he likewise declared: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!” [Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 21.3.1-3]
Offering your gift at the altar: What goodness! What all-surpassing love is shown to humanity! Showing no regard for the honor rightfully his, he calls us to pour forth love toward our neighbor. He explains that he did not speak his earlier threatening words out of hatred or desire to punish but from the most tender affection. For what can be more gentle than these words? “Interrupt the service you are offering me,” he says, “so that your love may continue. To be reconciled to your brother is to offer sacrifice to me.” Yes, this is the reason Jesus did not say “after the offering” or “before the offering.” Rather, precisely while the very gift is lying there, when the sacrifice is already beginning, he sends you at that precise time to be reconciled to your brother. Neither after removing nor before presenting the gift, but precisely while it lies before you, you are to run to your brother.
What is his motivation in making such an immediate command? It seems to me he has two ends in mind toward which he is hinting and preparing. First … he desires to show how highly he values love and considers it to be the greatest sacrifice. So he does not even receive the sacrifice of worship without the sacrifice of love. Next, he is imposing such a necessity for reconciliation that it admits of no excuse. The person who has been commanded not to offer sacrifice to God before one is reconciled will hurry to the one who has been grieved and eradicate the enmity between the two. He does so that his sacrifice may not lie unconsecrated. [Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 16.9]
Loving the wounded brother: The statement “if you should bring your gift” shows that this is conceived as a means of salvation and as an escape from punishment for sinners. For this God invented repentance. One will avert punishment, however, who tends to the feelings of another who has been wounded. But one who does not love his brother does not love the Lord. Hence it is fitting that whoever bears hard feelings toward his brother is not accepted, since he does not approach the Lord in truth. [Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment 50]
First reconcile with your brother:To give assent to sin is already a completed evil, even if someone does not actually commit the deed. And by this saying our Savior, hurling us away from the cause of sins, endeavors to cut sin off completely. For when this intention is not present in our souls, neither shall the action accompany it. [Origen, Fragment 103]
Let brotherly peace come first: He did not say, “If you have anything against your brother” but “If your brother has anything against you,” so that a greater need for reconciliation is imposed on you. As long as we are unable to make peace with our brother, I do not know whether we may offer our gifts to God. [Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 1.5.23]
Leave your gift at the altar: In the spiritual sense therefore we may understand faith as an altar in the inner temple of God, to which the visible altar symbolically points. Whatever gift we offer to God – whether it be prophecy, or doctrine, or prayer, or a hymn, or a psalm, or whatever other spiritual gifts of this kind may come to mind – cannot be acceptable to God unless it is held up by sincere faith and firmly and immovably fixed on it, so that our words may be pure and undefiled. [Augustine, Sermon on the Mount 1.10.27]
Be first to ask pardon: Do not counter with “He offended me; I didn’t offend him. He ought to square up with me, and not I with him.” If for the sake of your salvation the Lord orders you to make friends, though you are the one who has been more offended, you must apologize, that you may have double credit: first, because you have been offended and, second, because you were the first to apologize. For if you have offended someone and then ask pardon of him, the Lord will forgive you for your offense because you were the first to ask pardon. You will have no reward, however, if you are found to be the guilty person and have asked pardon. But if one has done wrong by you and you are the first to apologize, you will have a great reward. Hurry therefore to be the first one to make friends. Otherwise, if you should delay, he may be the first to apologize and may snatch from your hands the reward of love. If he has offended you and asked your pardon, your friendship is fruitless. For what righteousness do you have before the Lord if you receive an apology and are thereby placated? Certainly the Lord does not want you to grovel for forgiveness, but he orders you to be the first to apologize. [Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 11]
Make friends with your accuser: In this life, this way traveled by all, you do well to accept and not ignore the suggestions of the conscience. But if you are inconsiderate and negligent in this life, conscience itself, assuming the role of a prosecutor, will accuse you before the judge. Conscience will subject to the juryman’s decision, and you will be handed over to incurable punishments. Such things you would not have suffered, if along the way you had in fact acquired goodwill toward your accuser, accepting his reproaches as offered out of goodwill. For this also the divine Evangelist John says in his letter: “If our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” [Origen, Fragment 102]
Make friends quickly: Having mentioned first the judgment, then the council, then hell, and having spoken of his own sacrifice, Jesus then adds, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court.” That is, don’t be saying, “What if I am the injured party? What if I have been plundered and dragged before the tribunal?” Even this kind of circumstance fails to qualify as an excuse or occasion for refusing to be reconciled. Jesus commands us even in these circumstances not to be at enmity with others. Then, since this command was so significant, he illustrates his counsel with examples drawn from daily affairs. Less intelligent people, after all, are more apt to respond to present realities than future ones. “What is that you are saying?” he asks. “So your adversary is stronger and has wronged you? He will wrong you even more if you don’t make it right and he ends up taking you to court. In the former case, by giving up some money, you keep yourself free. Once a judge has passed sentence, however, you will be thrown in jail and pay a stiff fine. If you stay out of court, you will reap two benefits. First, you won’t have to suffer anything painful. Second, the good you end up doing will be your own doing and not something you have been forced to do. But if you refuse to be convinced by these words, you are wronging yourself more than your opponent.” [Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 16.10]
❖ The Authors ❖
St. Augustine (354-430) was a key figure in the development of Christianity in the West. Born in North Africa, he went to Carthage at age 17 to continue his education and later taught there. In 383 he moved to Rome, and the following year to Milan to teach in the imperial court. The influence of St. Ambrose of Milan plus the impact of reading a life of St. Anthony brought him to baptism in 387. In 388 he returned to Africa. After converting his family home into a monastery, he sold his patrimony and gave the money to the poor.
Anonymous: Not all the names of the authors of ancient New Testament commentaries have survived. However, recognizing the value of their writings, the Greek and Latin Fathers preserved surviving fragments in collections of their own writings.
St. Chromatius of Aquileia (+406/407), one of the most celebrated prelates of his time. He urged St. Ambrose to write exegetical works and St. Jerome to undertake translations and commentaries. In the bitter quarrel between Jerome and Rufinus, Chromatius sought to make peace between the disputants. He gave loyal support to St. John Chrysostom when he was suffering oppression from the imperial court.
St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) wrote several exegeses, including Commentaries on the Old Testament, Thesaurus, Discourse Against Arians, Commentary on St. John’s Gospel, and Dialogues on the Trinity.
St. Jerome, born in Stridon about 340-2, went to Rome about 360, where he was baptized. He next went to Trier to begin his theological studies. About 373 he traveled to the East, first settling in Antioch, where he heard Apollinaris of Laodicea, one of the first exegetes of that time. Ordained priest at Antioch, he went to Constantinople (380-81), where a friendship sprang up between him and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. From 382 to 385 he again sojourned in Rome, then returned to the East, reaching Bethlehem in 386, where he led a life of asceticism, study, correspondence, writing and translation. He is best known for his translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. He died in Bethlehem in 420.
St. John Chrysostom, born in Antioch in 347, was famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciations of abuse of authority in the Church and in government. He was nicknamed chrysostomos, Greek for “golden mouthed.” Baptized in 370, he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. In 398 he was called, against his will, to be the bishop of Constantinople. Concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor, he emphasized almsgiving and modest living in his sermons. He often spoke out against the abuse of wealth and refused to host lavish entertainments. An irritant to the imperial court as well as to worldly prelates, he died in exile in 407. His final words were “Glory be to God for all things!” He is regarded as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.
Origen (185-254) grew up in a Christian family in Alexandria. He was 17 when his father died a martyr’s death. After their property was confiscated, Origen supported his family by teaching. Taking the place of Clement of Alexandria, Origen assumed direction of the city’s catechetical school while also devoting himself to studying Plato and the Stoics. In his late 40s, he settled in Palestine, where he founded a school. During the persecution of Maximinus (235-37), he stayed with friends in Cappadocia. Origen was over 60 when he wrote his “Contra Celsum” (his defense of Christian refusal to serve in the army) and his “Commentary on St. Matthew.” The persecution of Decius in 250 brought about Origen’s imprisonment. He died in 254, never having recovered from torture. For centuries his tomb in the cathedral of Tyr was visited by pilgrims.
Note: These commentaries are taken from Matthew 1-13, edited by Manlio Simonetti, in the series The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (InterVarsity Press).
When he moved back home to Ash Grove, Missouri, in 1998, Father Moses Berry – an African-American Orthodox priest – wanted to settle down to small-town life with his wife and two children. He did not intend to become a one-man racial reconciliation committee. But some residents of this nearly all-white, rural town of 1,400 people say that he has done just that. He has not only founded a parish but also a black history museum. He has tried to remind people of a part of the region’s often-forgotten past, and to open up hearts and minds along the way.
“He brings peace to people. I’ve seen it,” said Gail Emrie, a local history buff who helped get the Berry family’s 135-year-old cemetery – one of the region’s few black cemeteries not on a plantation – listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “It is reconciliation, and it is his mission, reconciliation of our history between the races.” She is grateful for the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum that Father Moses opened in 2002. “Every little town down here could use this.”
“The cool thing about him is that anybody who has trepidation about the subject, he’s instantly disarming, so he gets people to open up a lot about it,” says neighbor Dakota Russell. “There’s an assumption when it’s a black person talking about racial issues that it’s going to come down to you versus us. But as it says on his museum’s web site, it’s a ‘shared heritage’.”
Father Moses, 59, has spent much of his life on a spiritual quest that began in San Francisco in the late 1960s. He was ordained in 1988 by an Orthodox church that he now regards as uncanonical. In 2000 he became a priest of the Orthodox Church in America.
He returned to the family home in 1998 after inheriting a 40-acre farm. At the time, he had no plan of starting an Orthodox church in a town, still less of opening a museum. “We thought my wife would teach while I studied to become an emergency medical technician.”
After he told a few friends that he wanted to have a prayer service in a shed at the cemetery, and a dozen people showed up, he decided to start the Theotokos “Unexpected Joy” Orthodox Church. It has grown into a congregation with about 50 members that holds services in a new cypress building on three acres of his farm.
The historical work also came unexpectedly, he said, when he started showing the memorabilia his family had collected over the years, and people responded positively.
He sees his church and his historical work as inextricably linked. “It’s all bound up in my faith,” he said. “That is, that we are all children of God and that we do have a shared heritage and not just a national heritage.”
The work has not been easy. When he first broached the idea of the museum, some relatives and friends said it might be a dangerous undertaking. Indeed, some locals were not happy, said Larry Cox, the town barber, who is white. “People would say, ‘Hey, that’s in the past. Why does he have to talk about it? We can’t do nothing about it’.”
Father Moses’ original idea was to put the museum inside the town’s former black school. He acquired the unused building and had it dismantled into sections, but as yet he hasn’t been able to raise the $15,000 needed to reconstruct it on his land. The pieces now sit in a field by his home with the museum housed in a storefront downtown.
Father Moses personally escorts visitors through the museum, showing his family’s photos on the walls and explaining the history behind each, including his account of how his great-grandmother Marie Boone, of mixed race, was born a slave.
There are quilts Marie Boone made to help those traveling north on the Underground Railroad and a slave neck iron that Father Moses’ great-grandfather kept after he was freed.
Father Moses always puts the eight-pound iron around his own neck first before inviting to visitors to try it on.
“I don’t want other people to run this museum because it’s too delicate, this issue of slavery,” he said. “I’ve tried having other people run this, but they get stuck on, ‘Oh, this is a horrible thing the white man did,’ which causes resentment. I want to explain it and bring them from suffering to freedom.” [Sean D. Hamill / NY Times]
Moscow fans exchange Paschal greeting at sports match
On Easter, fans exchanged Paschal greetings with each other at a Sunday evening soccer match at Moscow’s Lokomotiv Stadium.
At the beginning of the second half of the match thousands of fans of Dynamo team started chanting “Christ is Risen!” Thousands of fans of Lokomotiv team, on the opposite side of the stadium, responded by chanting “Truly He is Risen!” The exchange took place several times.
An Interfax correspondent who has attended soccer matches for almost 50 years said it was the first known occurrence of this kind in the history of Russian soccer.
Georgia: Convicts trade prison cells for monastic life
As part of a plan to reduce overcrowding in prison, well-behaved convicts in the Republic of Georgia are being offered the chance to finish their sentences in a monastery. One such prisoner, Tariel Maizeradze, now takes part in daily services, even assisting in the sanctuary. Tariel, 50, was sentenced in 2006 to seven years for offences he had committed while working as a policeman. After four years behind bars and barbed wire, he is now free to roam the monastic grounds – a pine forest on the outskirts of the city – as one of the first candidates in a government-led rehabilitation programme.
“I start every day in prayer,” he told a BBC reporter in March. “Then I feed the chickens and sheep. During the afternoon I usually sit together with the other monks and we discuss our faith.” He also takes part in Bible study, bee-keeping, gardening and playing with the monks’ pet bear.
Father Saba, the abbot, says he is ready to accept anyone prepared to ask for forgiveness, including murderers. “With God’s help, we are ready to welcome criminals who confess their sins and want to become better people.”
Although the scheme is being organized and funded by the Georgian government, the initiative came from the Georgian Orthodox Church. The government sees this project as a better way to rehabilitate some of Georgia’s 22,000 prisoners. Tato Kelbakiani of Georgia’s penitentiary department said that jails need reform.
Serbian Church Elects New Patriarch
The bells at Belgrade’s Cathedral Church rang out in January to announce the election of Bishop Irinej of Nis as new patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The 79-year-old bishop promised he would carry the “burden and all the problems of my awesome and difficult duty together with my fellow bishops.”
He succeeds Patriarch Pavle, who died in November at the age of 95. Pavle had headed the church for almost 20 years, a period that included the ethnic wars of the 1990s, which accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Irinej will have to face long-lasting issues such as relations with the Vatican and churches in Macedonia and Montenegro that are seeking independence. Irinej has said he will not oppose a visit to Serbia by Pope Benedict, a welcome not all bishops support.
Bartholomew responds to ‘ecumenical heresy’ charge
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued an encyclical in February in which he vigorously stressed the need for increased dialogue between churches, countering accusations that ecumenism is heresy.
“Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world,” said Bartholomew. “The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue.”
The Church does not protect itself from heresy, Bartholomew said, by refusing to talk to those outside the Church. “If Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the ‘catholic’ and ‘ecumenical’ Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a ‘ghetto” on the margins of history…
“Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. This dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible.”
The aim of dialogue, he said, “is to discuss, in a spirit of love, whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.
“These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in a fanatical way … by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy, as if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church…
“Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue.”
A-bombed statue of the Virgin Mary brought to New York
The remains of a statue of the Virgin Mary that survived the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki 65 years ago will be exhibited in New York in May during a 26-day international conference in New York which will work to curb arms proliferation.
Nagasaki was and remains the national center of the Catholic Church in Japan. Apart from the head, the wooden statue, which once stood in city’s Urakami Cathedral, was destroyed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. The cathedral was reduced to rubble. Hiroshima was the first city to suffer a nuclear bombing. Nagasaki suffered a similar fate three days later. The statue will first be seen during Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 2 May. The service will form part of a visit to New York by Nagasaki’s Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, himself an A-bomb survivor.
In February, Takami and the Catholic bishop of Hiroshima, Joseph Atsumi Misue, appealed to world leaders for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
Takami was born in Nagasaki in March 1946. His mother was pregnant with him when the city was bombed, causing the death of about 74,000.
The two bishops said that the sin of the atomic bombings in the two cities “should be borne not only by the United States” but “also the other countries, including Japan, which have kept on waging wars throughout their history.”
Russian and Polish churches initiate talks
In March, Poland’s Catholic Church launched its first dialogue with Russian Orthodox leaders in an effort to rebuild relations between the two countries. Archbishop Muszynski said that the Warsaw talks had been arranged at the “personal initiative” of Moscow Patriarch Kirill, and had focused on the “special duties of both churches towards their societies” as majority denominations in their countries.
“Both churches must recognize,” the archbishop said, “that the Polish and Russian nations are divided by very difficult, unresolved issues from the past, as well as by great misunderstandings… I am sure we will nevertheless be able to prepare a joint historic document together which will serve as a common testimony of our churches.” Both churches, he said, shared the experience of Communist-era sufferings and held similar positions on social and moral issues.
“Although these were introductory talks, key problems of mutual interest were discussed, and it was agreed to start work on a joint document about our churches’ contribution to the labor of reconciliation,” representatives of the two Churches said in a joint statement.
Themes for future dialogue had been agreed upon, which would be handled by a bilateral commission of both churches.
Poles have often criticized Russia’s silence regarding mass deportations and executions which followed the occupation of their country by the Soviet Army during the Second World War.
Christians, Muslims issue religious freedom plan
Christian and Muslim leaders from the United States, the Vatican and the Middle East issued a “plan of action” in March to address religious freedom and peace-building after a three-day summit at Washington National Cathedral. Areas of common ground include commitment to the sacredness of human life, overcoming terrorism and violence, and the right to religious convictions. A follow-up conference is planned for next year.
“The worship of God who demands serious moral purpose is at the very core of Christianity and Islam,” the statement reads. “Therefore, religious leaders must cooperatively work with each other and the political leaders in their respective countries in response to these crises.”
At a news conference, leaders of the summit said their three days of discussion included disagreements, but resulted in a statement on shared principals.
“I think this is a demonstration that religion is not something abstract,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Tauran described “proselytism” as imposing, rather than proposing, tenets of a faith.
Ahmad El Tayeb, president of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, said that, while “we don’t have a magic stick to solve all these problems,” the dialogue helped build tolerance among the different faiths even as tensions remain.
The final statement urges religious advocacy “particularly in situations where formal diplomatic talks have stalled.” It also opposes moral relativism, the oppression of women and children, and attacks on sacred places.
“To dismiss or demean another faith tradition, to impose a system of belief on others, or to proselytize them to change their beliefs, is a violation of the sacred dignity of the human person.”
Orthodox Church in Russia increases work with prisoners
The Russian Orthodox Church has introduced a special clergy department to help improve the notoriously oppressive situation in the country’s prisons, Patriarch Kirill announced in March.
About 900,000 prisoners are currently held in the country’s prisons. The new department will work to create parishes in each penitentiary
“It often happens that in prison a man who once lost his footing turns into a recidivist, a person who can’t imagine living in society,” Kirill said.
“The Church must work for each prisoner’s conversion.”
The new department is headed by Bishop Krosnogorsky Irinarkh, previously in charge of the Perm and Solikamsk episcopates.
European campaign to keep Sunday free of work
More than 70 organizations , including churches, trades unions and civil society groups, met in the European Parliament in Brussels in March for the first European Conference on a work-free Sunday. The meeting concluded with an appeal to the heads of governments, due to meet the following day in the European Council, for a Sunday free of work for all European citizens.
Rev. Rüdiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission of the European churches, argued that work-free Sundays also benefitted secular society:
“The protection of a work-free Sunday is of paramount importance for workers’ health, for the reconciliation of work and family life, as well as for the life of civil society as a whole. This common weekly day of rest serves to strengthen social cohesion in our societies, a cohesion severely undermined by the current economic crisis. More than any other day of the week, a free Sunday offers the opportunity to be with family and friends. Common free time is an important precondition for a participatory society, which allows its members to engage in civil activities.”
Earlier in March, Martin Kastler, a European Parliament member for Germany’s co-governing Christian Social Union, launched the EU’s first international citizens’ referendum to restore Sunday as a day for rest and family life. “This is the right time to show that, as European citizens, we want to involve ourselves not only through elections but also in other ways,” said Kastler. “Europe should be the most child-friendly region in the world, so people from different political and social backgrounds should rally behind the protection of Sunday.”
In Germany, a public campaign has been launched which has as its theme, “Mum and Dad belong to us on Sunday.” This campaign, Kastler said, “should build up huge public pressure. In this way, no one will be able to ignore us. The work-free Sunday is part of our European culture. We need time for our families and relationships, for civil society and religion. A life full of working days is unlikely to be fulfilling.”
Calls for the preservation of work-free Sundays have increased in the 27 countries of the European Union, where many shops and businesses now routinely require staff to turn up on weekends without extra pay.
A Europe-wide campaign, “Mum and Dad belong to us on Sunday,” has been launched.
‘Banker to poor’ urges new financial structures
At a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, held in April, Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for championing microcredit loans to the poor, called for a the re-invention of global financial systems to reduce poverty and protect the underprivileged. A new system, he said, could allow those excluded from mainstream banking to access credit that would enable them to live in dignity.
“We want to make sure our fellow human beings can stand on their feet with pride and dignity no matter where they live,” Yunus said at the opening of the four-day Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit. 1500 delegates from 75 countries, including representatives of Christian-based microcredit organizations, such as the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund, attended the meeting.
Yunus said that microfinance is providing lessons in how the lives of the poor could be changed. If lending to the poor was brought to the level of other financial products, he said, more people would escape poverty. “It is the time we made possible what has been thought of as impossible,” he said.
Yunus began his microcredit initiative 30 years ago with a $27 loan to a group of women in Chittagong. Since then, the movement has grown widely and delivered millions of small loans to poor people with no access to mainstream banking services.
African microfinance organizations, some church-based, said they hoped to learn from the success and growth of similar institutions in Asia, where more than 150-million people have benefitted from microfinance.
Anger Harms the Heart
The saying that chronic anger is like an acid that does more harm to the bottle that contains it than to that which it is poured upon turns out not only to be spiritually but also medically true.
Frequent anger might raise the risk of heart disease significantly, reports Dr. Laura Kubzansky, associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She led a study of the role of stress on cardiovascular disease.
Negative, irritable, raging and intimidating personality types worry heart researchers and doctors alike. “We’re talking about people who seem to experience high levels of anger very frequently,” says Kubzansky.
However, expressing anger in “reasonable” ways can be healthy. “Being able to tell people that you’re angry can be extremely functional,” she says. But people frequently in a state of rage or harboring suppressed rage are at greater risk of heart disease.
“You get high cortisol and high adrenaline levels and that is the cardiotoxic effect of anger expression,” says Jerry Kiffer, a heart-brain researcher at the Cleveland Clinic’s Psychological Testing Center. “It causes wear and tear on the heart and cardiovascular system.” Frequent anger may speed up the process of atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up in arteries.
The heart pumps harder, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure surges, and there are higher levels of glucose in the blood and more fat globules in the blood vessels. All this can cause damage to artery walls. “A change of mind can lead to a change of heart,” Kiffer says.
An analysis of findings from 44 studies published last year in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology confirms a link between emotions and heart disease.
“We’re really good at treating heart attacks, but we’re not that good at preventing them,” says Holly Andersen, MD, cardiologist at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“Stress is not as easy to measure as your cholesterol level or your blood pressure, which are clearly objective. But it’s really important that physicians start taking care of the whole person – including their moods and their lives – because it matters.”
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 <markp -at- earlham.edu> or Jim Forest <jhforest -at- gmail.com>.
Prayer for peace: The following brief prayer was composed in an effort to bring into the liturgical life of the Church, and into the spiritual awareness of its members, the need for focused prayer concerning the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is particularly relevant for those jurisdictions which have parishioners actively involved in these conflicts. Worded so as to fit well into the opening section of the Liturgy of Fervent Supplication, it asks not only for peace, but also for that repentance which leads to peace.
“Also, we pray Thee for a speedy end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that all who are entangled in their violence as participants or supporters may embrace the riches of Thy kindness, forbearance and patience, and enter into that godly grief which leads to repentance; vouchsafe that our hearts and theirs may turn to works of reconciliation, to mercy and compassion for all, and to a thirst for that peace from above which heralds the drawing near of Thy Kingdom, we pray Thee, O Lord, hearken and have mercy.”
This prayer was referred by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, and was discussed at the meeting of the Holy Synod in March. The prayer was recognized as voicing a legitimate aspiration for peace. The Synod then left it to the discretion and authority of each diocesan bishop as to whether to include it in the Divine Liturgy.
If you believe that prayer is the best beginning for any action and think this prayer would be a good way to act spiritually on behalf of peace, would you bring this prayer to the attention of your bishop?
Haiti: Some prominent Christian ministers have blamed the terrible earthquake in Haiti that caused so much death and destruction on the Haitians themselves. The earthquake, so they claim, was God’s punishment for Haitians having made a pact with the devil in 1791 in order to be freed from France. (Note that there is no reliable historical source behind the claim.)
Actually I agree that a pact with the devil was an element in this multi-faceted tragedy, but the pact I am thinking has to do with the European colonialists’ lust for gold. They got the idea that in the lands beyond the uncharted ocean great riches were there for the taking. So they braved the unknown and landed on the island of Hispaniola, as it was then called, and proceeded first to enslave the native Taino people and, when those enslaved failed to meet their needs, to annihilate them.
The next step was to import slaves. Have you ever noticed how the Haitians we see on the news are, well – black? Why is that? Because once the native people were eliminated, Europe turned to Africa for slave labor to dig not only for gold but to work the fields for the “gold” of sugar cane. More ships, more guns, more death. This was the price of gold – and this is the real pact with the devil. The pact the European slave masters made with the devil was for their own profits and their own power.
Crown jewel: It was worse in Haiti than just about anyplace else. Haiti was the crown jewel of the French Empire, producing vast sums from sugar cane. The slaves were mostly male. Life expectancy was about seven years from a slave’s arrival until his death. Early abolitionists boycotted sugar because almost all sugar was produced by slave labor.
Tribalism: I’ve been thinking about this, with its layers of implications; ethnic enclaves, Orthodoxy and other Christian groups, Christianity and other world religions, just to mention three.
I have received much inspiration from (Roman Catholic) Jean Vanier’s books on life in community with persons with developmental disability.
I suppose the reason why we Orthodox Christians as a whole shy away from cooperation with Catholic missions like the Catholic Workers and L’Arche is the fear of being seduced – is that the right word? – into a false peace and unity through ongoing efforts like these.
Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier address needs that we Orthodox haven’t focused on very much. Just as the Lord stopped the disciples from preventing a person not with them from casting out demons, saying “He who is not against us is on our side,” (Luke 9:50) we can learn from such as these.
What would be the harm in cooperating with such efforts when we have so little in place to address such real needs in many areas in which we live? One could start an Orthodox mission, I suppose, but in many places we lack the resources to do this, and the need is there, right now.
As long as we understand why we are Orthodox Christians, as opposed to the other varieties, would such cooperation threaten us? When we know why we are what we are, we can cooperate without compromise. Clarity can be maintained while cooperating in meeting needs in the world.
By cooperation, I mean efforts toward the material needs of people. In our efforts in regard to evangelism and church planting we must remain true to who we are, how we worship, what we believe, as Orthodox Christians.
My Father, Not Yours: My thought of the day: Anything that can be tribalized will be tribalized – not excluding God. Isn’t it astonishing how often, when we say “Our Father,” we actually mean “Our group’s Father, not their group’s Father – My Father, not your Father”?
Words with bullets in them: The escalation of political rhetoric in the US has led many people to wonder if the stage isn’t being set for violent acts. My normal inclination would be to dismiss such worries, but something about all this anger gives me pause.
I live in the Midwest and know many people who are conservative Evangelical Protestants. These are some of the nicest and most giving people you’d ever want to meet, but there is this dark side that I am confronted with periodically that is driven by a theological necessity grounded in their perceived notion of God’s “justice.”
Recently a friend encouraged me to join a group on Facebook called “I support Israel’s right to defend herself.” Here I found a lot of posts filled with stories of “Arabs” who are “full of hate” and “want to destroy Israel.” I told him about my concerns that these kinds of groups were mostly forums to justify the use of violence and more part of the problem than the solution. He responded that Israel is the “apple of God’s eye” and we should support her no matter what because of her special place.
Another friend, a person who has done a lot of selfless work, tells me that she “loves the sound of A-10’s” (a variety of jet fighters) training in the skies overhead – this is, she says, “the sound of freedom.” I wondered how many others have heard that sound with sheer terror just before their family or friends were obliterated. She views America as “a Christian nation” founded on “Biblical principles.” Its enemies are her enemies.
A last example concerns a relative with whom I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, a few years ago. While there, he picked up a folder about prominent cultural figures in German society during the Hitler period who were killed because of their being gay. “It’s sad,” he said, “but they deserved it.” He seemed to think their deaths were justified because God hates “that sort of thing.”
Such instances – I have limited myself to just three – seem to reveal a vulnerability in the very heart of the American middle class to violence. Maybe not a personal use of violence to kill, but at least a complicity when seeing it done by others in the “right” circumstances.
Right-wing voices: Though I now live in the States, after a decade living in Romania I often feel like a foreigner as I try to understand the strange American ways. The popularity of right-wing radio and TV preachers and political commentators is one of those things. I catch bits of these broadcasts on the radio when I go shopping and occasionally see clips on TV. Our small town in the “Bible Belt” is pretty conservative. I have friends who have deep, rich spiritual lives and yet believe wholeheartedly in what such commentators say.
From observation and conversations, I believe that what makes the ideas of such commentators so appealing is how they reduce the current economic upheaval to black-and-white terms. A lot of people are scared, out of work, and insecure about the future. They want someone or some group or party to blame. It’s not enough to point a finger at the many forces and structures that came together to create the mess we’re in. People want to have one big, menacing evil to fight. Painting President Obama and all Democrats as socialists and marxists, however ridiculous this is in reality, provides an enemy we fight with letters, phone calls, rallies, etc. It also feeds into the American self-perception of being independent, hard working pioneers.
Saints who said no: I came across the following footnote in The Year of Grace of the Lord by “a Monk of the Eastern Church,” as Fr. Lev Gillet signed himself. In this case, he was writing about the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste – executed for refusing to participate in the pagan cult required for all soldiers:
“We [also] come across cases of soldiers put to death as ‘conscientious objectors.’ Their objection was directed against the fact of carrying arms rather than against official idolatry. Violence and the shedding of blood seemed to them incompatible with the Gospel.
“Texts that contain the judicial proceedings against them, the interrogations and their sentences, have survived to our day. Among these conscientious objectors, we can name the soldiers Tipasius, Julius, Fabius, Maximilian of Carthage, and, much later, when Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire, Martin of Tours and Victrice of Rouen.
“The Church of the first four centuries canonized as authentic martyr saints those soldiers who suffered death for refusing military service. Their stand was the same as the stand of the Church, as can be seen from ecclesiastical texts such as the Canons of Hippolytus, which forbade the military profession to Christians.
“Many Christian writers, among them Origen and Tertullian, considered there was something irreconcilable between Christ and the bearing of arms. Later on, when the Empire was somehow baptized in the person of Constantine, this attitude changed. The Church made military service and war legitimate. Even so, however, this approval was not general. St. Basil, who lived in the empire after it had become Christian, deprived all soldiers who had taken part in a war of the sacraments for nine years.”
Responding to tragedy: The tragedy of one people is the tragedy of all of us. So many human tragedies occur around the world in a given year that it is impossible to know of all of them, and of the ones well known, sometimes they seem so great that many people just shut them out. Yesterday, Haiti, today Chile, everyday Darfur. And then there is the ever-present tragedy of our own wounded “street people.”
The tragedy of one human being is the tragedy of all human beings. There is so little we can actually do to relieve the suffering of these tragedies – mainly make financial donations that seem so tiny compared to the need. Yet we need to do what we can.
Sometimes all we can do is to acknowledge in our hearts the tragedies of our fallen humanity, but it also would not be without significance for each of us to light a candle in church in prayer for the people who are suffering and to offer special prayers for each of the events we are aware of, as a way of acknowledge our common humanity, the fact that all mankind shares in a common human nature that binds us together – that every human being is God’s creation and each bears not only the wounds of the fall, but also the image and likeness of God.
It is not possible that a prayer offered in love will have no effect, no matter how unseen. Whatever else we can do, and actually undertake, let’s all light a candle, from the heart, for those enduring these tragedies.