Category Archives: The Orthodox Church and Society

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship: An Introduction, IC70

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship: A Fellowship of Orthodox Christian Peacemakers.

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24).

Let us call brothers even those who hate us and forgive all by the Resurrection (Easter verses, Orthodox Liturgy).

FraAngelicoSword-1005x1024 the OPF
“The Capture of Christ,” by Fra. Angelico, c. 1440

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God is an association of Orthodox Christian believers seeking to practice the Christian peacemaking vocation in every area of life, to bear witness to the peace of Christ by applying the principles of the Gospel to situations of division and conflict at every level of human relationship, and to promote prayer and worship, acts of mercy and service, and love for all human beings and for all of creation. We are not a political association and support no political parties, agendas, or candidates, and we promote no ideology other than that we should “repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Were we to attempt to formulate an ideology, we could not improve on the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount.

From the earliest days of the Church, followers of Jesus have sought to live out their Christian faith in its fullness, working to build communities of worship, providing for those lacking the necessities of life, loving not only neighbors but enemies, seeking conversion of adversaries rather than victory over them, and practicing repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation as normal virtues of sacramental life.

This has never been easy. Each generation has had to confront the problem of evil and combat its structures and also has had to suffer the tension that exists between membership in the Church and citizenship in a political entity, be that an empire or a nation-state.

Often the teachings of Jesus have been dismissed, even by believers, as too idealistic. Yet every generation, even in the era of Hitler and Stalin, has been blessed with heroic witnesses to membership in “an army that sheds no blood,” as Clement of Alexandria described the Church.

Among the principles that guide us:
  • Aware that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, we seek recovery of a sense of familial connection which, while respecting national identity, transcends every tribal, ethnic, and national boundary. This is the oneness the Church mirrors when it is gathered before the Holy Table.
  • We use our vocation and whatever special gifts and resources God has given us, especially our participation in eucharistic community, as we strive to undertake constructive action on behalf of those who are endangered, from the child in the womb to the aged awaiting death, in every circumstance of life and across all boundaries.
  • We aspire to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution, and we promote resolution of conflicts by mediation, negotiation, and other forms of nonviolent action.
  • We pray that, while no one can be certain that he or she will always find a nonviolent response to every crisis that may arise, God will show us in each situation ways of resistance to evil that will not require killing opponents.
  • We offer support to those whose conscience leads them to refuse participation in war and who struggle against evil in non-military ways. We believe conscientious objection to participation in war is consistent with the Gospels and Holy Tradition.
  • We respect those who disagree with us and may choose to serve in their country’s armed forces. We do not promote the naive notion that a nation may be pacifist as a national defense strategy and acknowledge that in our fallen world people often feel compelled to choose collective violence in response to evil. Nevertheless, we find no basis for a Just War theology in Orthodox tradition and, consistent with the earliest teaching of the Church, consider all war sin. Rather than seek to justify war, we are encouraged to exhaust all efforts to seek peace. We believe more wars would be prevented by focusing on doing peace well before war rather than waiting for war to arrive to argue how to do it well.
  • We encourage the compassionate treatment of prisoners and their rehabilitation, with special attention to restitution by wrong-doers to victims of their crimes. We reject the execution of criminals as incompatible with the teachings of Christ.
  • We commit ourselves to pray for all, especially fellow believers, who suffer around the world from all forms of violence, evil, oppression, and injustice that they may be delivered from evil, healed from their wounds, and enabled to find renewed ways to live in peace and safety.
  • We further commit ourselves to prayer for enemies and endeavor to communicate God’s love for them, recognizing our own violence and praying that, through Christ’s saving death on the Cross, we will be reconciled with God and with each other.

Thus we strive to avoid bitterness in dealing with controversy, seeking conversion both of ourselves and our adversary. Aware that we are in need of conversion not only in the way we relate to other people but to the world God has put into our care, we try to change our lives in order to live as priests of God’s world, asking continuously for the Holy Spirit to descend and transfigure the earth. We seek to cooperate with efforts to protect and preserve the environment which do not involve violence, coercive methods of population control, the promotion of particular political agendas, or violations of the sanctity of human life.

Our work includes:

Theological research: Much needs to be done within the Church to better understand ways in which Orthodox Christians should respond to division, conflict, injustice, war, and the relationship of the believer to the state. We encourage research on peace in the Bible, peace in the Liturgy, examples of ways Orthodox people and churches have responded to war from ancient to modern times, and the collection of relevant quotations and stories from the Fathers and the saints. One significant result of this effort is the book, For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource book on War, Peace, and Nationalism, edited by Hildo Bos and Jim Forest and published by Syndesmos, the international association of Orthodox youth. The full text of this reference book is also on the OPF web site.

Publication: Our quarterly journal, In Communion, not only provides its readers with helpful essays and news but serves as a forum for dialogue. The main articles from past issues of In Communion plus many other resources are made available via our web site: OPF members are also invited to take part in the OPF List, a news and discussion forum.

Practical assistance in conflict areas: As one of our members, a priest in the Republic of Georgia, points out: “Activity of the OPF is of particular importance in those Orthodox countries going through war and the horror of national conflict. The OPF can help Orthodox people to practice peace and tolerance and to show that war and national conflict are satanic traps.”

Structure: The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has members in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Its international secretariat is in The Netherlands. Decisions are made by the OPF secretaries and officers in consultation with each other, with counsel from members and the Fellowship’s Board of Advisors. Our largest branch at present is in North America. There are occasional meetings and conferences in the United States and Canada as well as in Europe. We encourage the formation of local and national chapters.

A description of our vocation:

We are faithful sons and daughters of the Church, not the Church’s rescue committee. Fr. John Meyendorff once said to a member of a schismatic Orthodox group, “We do not save the Church. The Church saves us.” Our modest task is not to invent anything or announce a new theology or reorganize the Church but simply to reopen forgotten or neglected Church teachings regarding day-to-day life in a world in which enmity is always a problem, in which millions suffer from hunger, thirst, and homelessness, and in which war is rarely not occurring somewhere on our small planet.

The Church has preserved the Liturgy down through the centuries. It has preserved the Bible and the Creed. It has preserved the writings of the Church Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. It has developed and maintained a calendar of sacred time. But it has been somewhat less attentive to calling us to account for the teaching it has preserved. Over the centuries, when state and faith were in conflict, we have more often been obedient citizens than obedient Christians.

We believe in a hierarchy of identities. We are not first people of a certain country, then Orthodox Christians. It is the other way around. We are first Orthodox Christians, then people of a particular state, national, or tribal affiliation. We renounce none of these identities nor do we ignore any of their obligations, but when the requirements of one identity clash with another, we are required to know which comes first.

We try to remind ourselves and our neighbors that there is no such thing as a good or holy war––that it defames God and the Gospel to use adjectives associated with sanctity and heaven in that most hellish of all activities, the organized killing of human beings and the destruction of the environment upon which all life depends. Every possible effort must be made to avoid war, but not by cowardly avoidance or failure to recognize evil for what it is and to resist it. Chamberlain was not a peacemaker. Those who fail to see and resist evil are its accomplices. Yet we believe that prayer and fasting are also weapons of struggle, that there is such a thing as spiritual combat, and that what we seek is not the killing of evil people—such a task would require a holocaust that would destroy the human race—but their conversion, which is also our conversion, for the line dividing good from evil runs not between people or classes but, as Solzhenitsyn reminds us, right through each and every human heart.

We are people attempting, with God’s help, to love our enemies as Christ commands his followers to do. This is not a sentimental undertaking but a soul-saving quest to be liberated from enmity. In the seventh century, St. Maximus the Confessor put it in these words: “‘But I say to you,’ the Lord says, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.’ Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger, and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.”

Our concern about the sanctity of human life is not limited to war. We seek to protect the lives of the unborn—not by denouncing women who feel they have no other choice, but to help them bring their children safely into this world and to do whatever is in our power to make the world more welcoming. With the same motives, we do not regard euthanasia as an acceptable solution for those whose illnesses seem to be incurable or who are severely handicapped. We do whatever we can in support of hospices for the dying, including effective pain relief for those who are suffering. At the same time we oppose taking extraordinary measures to prolong life when in the natural order a person is beyond hope of recovery.

Our view of peace is not borrowed from secular ideologies or political movements. It is not based on the life of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or any of the heroes of nonviolence, even though we greatly admire such people and learn from them. It comes from the Gospel. We understand peace both through the words of Jesus and through his actions. We experience peace in the Liturgy and the eucharistic mystery and try to bring it with us when we return to ordinary life. Day by day we discover peace as the mystery of healing—within ourselves and between each other—the healing that comes from forgiveness, repentance, and love.

Peacemaking is not an idea or principle. It is how we live. It is Christ’s life in us. It is less a refusal to do terrible things to others than doing those things which communicate the love and mercy of God.

We have heard it many times, but let us never stop remembering what Jesus teaches us about the Last Judgement: What we do to the least person we do to him. May God preserve us from harming the least person. May God give us the love which empowers us to be merciful to the least person.

Peacemakers are not rare. We find them everywhere: the parent sorting out a dispute within his or her family, the parish council member finding a solution to a conflict that might tear a parish to shreds, the priest hearing confessions who helps a penitent experience God’s mercy, the missionary who helps awaken faith in another and points the way to baptism, the volunteer who lives a life of hospitality in a neighborhood others avoid, the driver who responds to dangerous actions on the highway with a prayer rather than a gesture of hatred. We could spend the rest of our lives noting acts of peacemaking.

Our fellowship exists to give witness that peacemaking is something absolutely ordinary. It is an integral part of everyday life. It has to do with how we pray, for whom we pray, how we listen, how we speak, what we do with our anger and frustration, our willingness to forgive, and our attempts to serve as a bridge between those who hate each other.

May God give us strength to persevere in being instruments of the divine mercy.

Must I be a pacifist to join the Orthodox Peace Fellowship?

No. Pacifism is not a Christian ideology. The term was coined in the late 19th century as a political philosophy and has since been used to describe a wide variety of philosophical and political attitudes toward various forms of violence at different levels of relationship from personal to international. The Gospel of Jesus Christ predates and excludes all political ideologies even while many are influenced by Christian teaching. Pacifism as is generally understood is a Western idea formed in a Christian civilizational milieu and often bears marks of Christian virtue but does not capture or fully reflect the ethos of the Gospel peacemaking vocation. But in its most simple definition, “the belief that all conflict should be resolved peacefully,” pacifism is a great idea! The OPF does not reject the idea but does not endorse pacifism in any form. Some OPF members are pacifists; some are not. Instead, we simply look to Christ and our Orthodox faith and tradition for guidance in becoming fully Christian peacemakers.

The aspiration to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution is something all sane people have in common, yet few would say that they would never use violent methods to protect the innocent. All we can do is attempt to find ways of responding to injustice that are consistent with the Gospel. Clearly nonviolent methods are to be preferred to violent.

Peacemaking is not something optional for Christians. A major element of Christ’s teaching is his call to become peacemakers. They are among the blessed and are witnesses to the Kingdom of God. To be a peacemaker, Christ says, is to be a child of God. In the years of Christ’s life described in the Gospel, one of the most notable aspects is that he killed no one but healed many. He is not a warrior king. Caesar rides a horse while Christ enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Even when he clears the Temple of people who have made a place of worship into a place of commerce, he does so using nothing more than a whip of cords, not a weapon that can cause injuries; the only life endangered by his action was his own. His final instruction to Peter before his crucifixion is, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword.” Saying that, he healed the wound Peter had inflicted on one of the men arresting him.

In the chapters prior to the story of Jesus and his disciples in the garden, Matthew records Jesus describing in several narratives what life on earth would be like, what the Kingdom of God is like, about the end and his return, and the final judgement. Then after the Last Supper came the Garden, where Peter, thinking he had finally put all the pieces together, drew his sword. After telling him to put it away, Jesus said a remarkable thing that is frequently left out in telling this story but when taken in full context, frames Jesus words about living and dying by the sword. Jesus asked Peter “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

When we consider the choice Jesus faced in the garden, we see it was not either swallow hard or chicken out, but was rather a choice between implementing God’s way of salvation or…what would the other choice have been? The alternative had to include slaughtering his enemies! The plan Satan offered Jesus in the desert involved glory, bounty, and bloodshed; surely the world’s template for victory remained an option for Jesus here. Indeed, it seems we too face the legitimate option of violence in dealing with our enemies. Jesus seems to have said not that we have no right to choose, but rather “How will scripture be fulfilled if you do it your way?”

And then, on the cross, far from calling down his Father’s vengeance on those who participated in his execution, Jesus appeals for mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Again and again, throughout his earthly life Christ gives his followers a witness of making peace and restoring communion through forgiveness, love, mercy, and sacrifice.

There is quite a lot on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site that helps clarify what Christian peacemaking involves and its implications in one’s own life. Visit us at for resources that include past essays from the journal, membership options, and new postings.

Becoming a member:

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship links Orthodox Christians from different traditions and is not under the sponsorship of any jurisdiction. Membership is open to those who embrace the principles of the OPF and that the OPF is rooted in the Orthodox Church and Tradition. Those who wish to receive our journal but not to become members may specify so when they pay the annual donation amount. The annual donation for members and donors is $35, 35 euros, or 25 pounds sterling. Anyone may donate to receive In Communion.

What Has Love Got To Do with It? A Reflection by Fr. John D. Jones, IC70

What Has Love Got To Do With It?

7 coptic last supper the OPF
Reflection on John 15:8-13

by Fr. John D. Jones

My Father is glorified by this: that you should bear much fruit and come to be my disciples. As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15: 8-13).

“Love one another as I have loved you.” Or, as Jesus said to his followers another time: “Be merciful as your Father is merciful,” or “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36). Jesus exemplifies this mercy and compassion throughout his own life and in various parables: In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father moved by compassion rushes out to welcome his wayward son home. So too, moved by compassion the Good Samaritan takes immediate steps to alleviate the suffering of the man who was beaten and robbed. Drawing on very early Christian theology, Orthodox Christian icons of the parable of the Good Samaritan always represent the Good Samaritan by Christ. St. Clement of Alexandria observes that “we call the savior our neighbor because he drew near to us in saving us” (Stromata IV.7). And Blessed Theophlyact develops this idea: “Our Lord and God…journeyed to us…. He did not just catch a glimpse of us as He happened to pass by. He actually came to us and lived together with us and spoke to us. Therefore, He at once bound up our wounds” (Commentary on Luke 10:29-37).

Mercy and compassion are not trivial or incidental characteristics of God. Before Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law for the second time, he audaciously asked God to see His glory. On Mount Sinai, God displays his glory and goodness to Moses making Himself present to Moses by calling on His own name: “The Lord, the Lord, compassionate, gracious, long suffering, full of mercy and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Throughout the Old Testament, God makes clear that because of his compassion and mercy, he will not abandon the Israelites, but in solidarity with them, promises that he will restore them to the fullness of life.

In Isaiah, God promises to extend this compassionate restoration to all people through the suffering servant, the prototype for Christ in the Christian faith. The Son of God fulfills this promise in His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. The express image of the Father, the Son of God incarnate as Christ reflects and radiates the glory of the Father among us. Abiding in the love of the Father, Christ radiates and reflects that love, his love, to us. It is through this love that we are saved––that is, healed from sinfulness, death, and estrangement and brought into the fullness of life in communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with one another in the communion of saints. Salvation is never merely personal but always a matter of koinonia––communion and fellowship with God and others.

But as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes, “While Christ’s victory over death and sin…is indeed complete and definitive…, [our] personal participation in that victory is as yet far from complete” (How We are Saved, p.4). Put simply, we have free will. God won’t drag us into the fullness of life––eternal life—with him. God cannot compel us to love him. We must freely consent to the gift of life that he offers. This consent involves both faith and the fruit of works. As Blessed Theophlyact writes, “Faith truly comes alive only when accompanied by God-pleasing actions.… Likewise, works are enlivened by faith. Apart from one another, both are dead” (Commentary on Gospel of John 9:30-33.)

Why? We are created in the image (ikon) of God: We are created as icons of God. More specifically, we are created as icons of the Son of God, the express image of the Father, who is incarnate as Jesus Christ. The icons that Orthodox Christians produce always represent Christ, His Mother, and the saints in a transfigured state in which the glory of God, the Trinity, infuses and transforms earthly reality. All of our icons are painted or produced to reflect the uncreated light and glory of God: the compassion, grace, patience, mercy, and humility of God. That glory is manifest in the icon for the Nativity of Christ, His resurrection, and His Crucifixion. It is manifest in the icon of the extreme humility of Christ. We venerate icons because we venerate those persons in whom we have found the glory of God to be manifest amongst us. It is no accident that we refer to saints as our god-bearing fathers and mothers.

We produce painted icons only because the Son of God becomes incarnate and because we ourselves are living icons. As Christ abides in and reflects the glory of the Father, so we are created to abide in the love of Christ and to reflect that love in our loves. But in doing so, we are created to reflect the very glory of God––God’s compassion, graciousness, patience, and mercy—in our own lives. “God crowns us with compassion and mercy” (Ps. 103:4). In one sense, this means that God abundantly blesses us with the actions that flow from His compassion and mercy. But there is another, deeper sense to this crowning, as illustrated in an Orthodox Christian wedding service.

The sacramental highpoint of this service is found in the crowning of the bride and groom to and for one another. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the bride and groom symbolically receive martyrs’ crowns. It might seem odd and depressing to bestow martyr-like crowns at a wedding ceremony. But a martyr, first of all, is one who bears witness to someone or something and who also is willing to lay down his or her life in response to that witness. At their crowning, the bride and groom are given grace by the Holy Spirit to mutually bear witness to one another of the self-sacrificial love that Christ has shown to them. They are given the grace to abide in Christ’s love and to bear the cross of a true self-sacrificial love. Thus, in their own love for one another, they are called to die to mere self-interest; they are called to mutually reflect Christ’s love for one another and any children which they might have in creating the community or communion of a family.

Being created in the image of God, all of us are crowned by him with his compassion and mercy. He shares something of Himself––we Orthodox Christians would say his “energies”––with us. But compassion always moves us away from ourselves to others. As parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan show, compassion for others expresses itself in actions for others and on their behalf. In being crowned with mercy and compassion, we are all of us, at the core of our reality, crowned to another. We are created to bear witness to the love, compassion, and mercy that Christ has shown us by laboring to reflect it through the love, compassion, and mercy that we show to others. As Christ says in the opening scripture text here “My Father is glorified by this: that you should bear much fruit and come to be My disciples.” We are called to do all things for the glory of God. But we are also called to reflect that glory––His compassion and mercy––in our own lives. We do so in our own small ways by, borrowing a phrase from Marquette’s Jesuit heritage, “becoming men and women for others.”

Being a living icon of God is a bit like being a wind spinner. The wind blows, the spinner turns, and it passes the wind on. A well-made spinner doesn’t try to hold onto the wind or hoard it. It responds to all breezes. But we humans have to be very vigilant about the “winds” and “breezes” to which we respond. There are the many breezes of our own passions and thoughts as well as the seductive influences of our society. These breezes blow us away from God and our neighbors into the prideful individualism of seeking our own self-interest above everything else. If we respond to these breezes, we become obsessed “selfies” cut off from any fullness of life. Rather, we must attend to the breeze, the wind, of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us and renews our lives. For that wind directs us to the kingdom of heaven, which Christ tells us is even now at hand, in which we are enabled to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds, and to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Allowing ourselves to be directed by the grace of the Holy Spirit is the ongoing struggle that we call repentance. Repentance involves a change of mind and heart and a desire for healing in which, with God’s grace, we open ourselves to really abide in Christ’s love and accept what it means to be a living icon of Christ. We are, however, living icons of Christ in community with others. Crowned to one another with God’s compassion and mercy, we are created to find salvation or fullness of life in communion with God, the Trinity, and in community with one another. Compassion is not a kind of feeling that we switch on and off. Compassion is an attunement to others without boundaries. This is the principal lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The true neighbor is a neighbor to all.

For St. John Chrysostom, being compassionately attuned to others “is most especially characteristic of the saints. No glory, nor honor, nor anything else is more precious to them than their neighbor’s welfare and salvation.” Compassion takes us beyond our own interest to the welfare of others and, implicitly, to the welfare of the communities in which we live—local and global. In reflecting Christ’s love in our own lives, compassion should make us attuned to the common good of all.

It is as St. John Chrysostom writes:

But how may we become imitators of Christ? By acting in everything for the common good, and not merely seeking our own…. Let no one therefore seek his own good. In truth, a person (really) seeks his own good when he looks to that of his neighbor…. What is their good is ours; we are one body, and parts and limbs one of another. Let us not live though we were torn apart. Let no one say, “such a person is no friend of mine, nor relation, nor neighbor, I have nothing to do with him, how shall I approach, and how address him?” Though he be neither relation nor friend, yet he is a human being, who shares the same nature with you, has the same Master. He is your fellow-servant, and fellow-sojourner, for he is born in the same world (Commentary on Gospel of St. John).

For nothing is so pleasing to God, as to live for the common advantage or good. For this end God gave us speech, and hands, and feet, and strength of body, mind, heart, and understanding, that we might use all these things, both for our own salvation, and for our neighbor’s advantage and good (Commentary on Gospel of St. Matthew).  IC

This essay was delivered orally at Marquette Mission Week 2015 by Prof. John D. Jones, Department of Philosophy, MU. Fr. John is an Orthodox Christian Chaplain and is Associate Priest, Sts. Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church (OCA).

Rachel’s Lament: In Communion on Abortion

Rachel’s Lament: In Communion on Abortion

8 thevisitationicon Lament

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is pro-life but not exactly in the way the term is typically used. Pro-life movements are normally associated with particular political agendas that differ across countries where they are active, but within our fellowship we simply self-identify as children of the Orthodox Church who seek to have our worldviews shaped therein. We recognize the inherent impotence of political ideology in transforming lives and would rather bring our Orthodoxy to our political activities than the other way around. The life of the unborn was cherished by Christians long before modern political realities came into being and will be long after they, as they inevitably will, fade into the past.

In 2000, In Communion published a special issue dedicated to the topic of abortion that was introduced by a letter written by Jim and Nancy Forest:

“Jaroslav Pelikan, distinguished Christian scholar and longtime professor at Yale University, also a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship advisory board, speaks of abortion as “the great human rights issue of our time.” Sadly, many do not see it that way. Even in some parts of the Christian community, traditional opposition to abortion has slowly been transformed to toleration or even abortion advocacy.”

No less surprising, those active in peace organizations—people who might be found protesting at military bases or at prisons where executions are about to occur—are rarely found engaging in efforts to make abortions less common. (On the other hand, it must be noted that many who campaign for the right to life of the unborn child often seem much less disturbed by war and executions.)

For the vast majority of feminist groups, endorsement of abortion has been a litmus test. Anyone troubled by abortion, who speaks of an “unborn child” in the womb rather than using Latin terms with a dehumanizing effect—embryo or fetus—is someone to be denounced. At all costs, the unborn must not be recognized as human beings with as much claim on social respect and protection as their parents. (Yet how readily an unborn child is recognized and celebrated as human by those who look forward to any child’s birth.)

In this issue, we follow with a few paragraphs from Michael Gorman’s excellent essay surveying the early Church Fathers’ view of abortion, which itself succinctly states our pro-life attitude. Next we offer an excerpt from an article by Frederica Mathewes-Green. The section finishes with an article by Nancy Forest.

Michael Gorman

The earliest specific written references to abortion in Christian literature are those in the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. The Didache combines a code of Christian morality with a manual of church life and order, while the Epistle of Barnabas is a more theological tract on Christian life and thought. While both of these probably date from the early second century, they most likely drew on Christian sources which had their origins in the late first century.

Both these writings also contain a section based on a Jewish oral and written tradition known as the “Two Ways.” This tradition contrasts the two ways of Life or Light and Death or Darkness. Athanasius notes that it was used extensively in the early church, either as a separate document or as part of the Didache , especially for the training of catechumens and new converts.

The Didache maintains that there is a great difference between these two ways. In an exposition of the second great commandment (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) as part of the Way of Life, the author makes a list of “thou shalt not” statements obviously modeled on, and in part quoting, the Decalogue of the Septuagint. Literally, it declares: “Thou not murder a child by abortion.”

Similarly, the Epistle of Barnabas, in its practical section on the Way of Light, repeats the same words in a list of “thou shalt (not)” statements including, just before the abortion prohibition, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor more than thy own life.” The fetus is seen, not as a part of its mother, but as a neighbor. Abortion is rejected as contrary to other-centered neighbor love.

Frederica Mathewes-Green

A woman with an unplanned pregnancy faces more than “inconvenience”; many adversities, financial and social, at school, at work, and at home confront her. Our mistake was in looking at these problems and deciding that the fault lay with the woman, that she should be the one to change. We focused on her swelling belly, not the pressures that made her so desperate. We advised her, “Go have this operation and you’ll fit right in.”

What a choice we made for her. She climbs onto a clinic table and endures a violation deeper than rape—the nurse’s hand is wet with her tears—then is grateful to pay for it, grateful to be adapted to the social machine that rejected her when pregnant. And the machine grinds on, rejecting her pregnant sisters.

It is a cruel joke to call this a woman’s “choice.” We may choose to sacrifice our life and career plans, or choose to undergo humiliating invasive surgery and sacrifice our offspring. How fortunate we are—we have a choice! Perhaps it’s time to amend the slogan: “Abortion: a woman’s right to capitulate.”

If we refused to choose, if we insisted on keeping both our lives and our bodies intact, what changes would our communities have to make? What would make abortion unnecessary? Flexible school situations, more flex-time, part-time, and home-commute jobs, attractive adoption opportunities, safe family planning choices, support in handling sex responsibly––this is a partial list. Yet these changes will never come as long as we’re lying down on abortion tables 1,600,000 times a year to ensure the status quo. We’ve adapted to this surgical substitute, to the point that Justice Blackmun could write in his Webster dissent, “Millions of women have ordered their lives around” abortion. That we have willingly ordered our lives around a denigrating surgical procedure—accepted it as the price we must pay to keep our life plans intact—is an ominous sign.

For over a hundred years feminists warned us that abortion is a form of oppression and violence against women and their children. They called it “child-murder” (Susan B. Anthony), “degrading to women” (Elizabeth Cady Stanton), “most barbaric” (Margaret Sanger), and a “disowning [of] feminine values” (Simone de Beauvoir). How have we lost this wisdom?

Abortion has become the accepted way of dealing with unplanned pregnancies, and women who make another choice are viewed as odd, backward, and selfish. Across the nation, three thousand crisis pregnancy centers struggle, unfunded and unrecognized, to help these women with housing, clothing, medical care, and job training before and after pregnancy. These volunteers must battle the assumption that “they’re supposed to abort”—especially poor women who hear often enough that their children are unwanted. Pro-choice rhetoric conjures a dreadful day when women could be forced to have abortions; that day is nearly here.

More insidiously, abortion advocacy has been poisonous to some of the deeper values of feminism. For example, the need to discredit the fetus has led to the use of terms that would be disastrous if applied to women. “It’s so small,” “It’s unwanted,” “It might be disabled,” “It might be abused.” Too often women are small, unwanted, disabled, or abused. Do we really want to say that these factors erase personhood?

A parallel disparaging of pregnancy itself also has an unhealthy ring. Harping on the discomforts of pregnancy treats women as weak and incompetent; yet we are uniquely equipped for this role, and strong enough to do much harder things than this. Every woman need not bear a child, but every woman should feel proud kinship in the earthy, elemental beauty of birth. To hold it in contempt is to reject our distinctive power, “our bodies, ourselves.”

Nancy Forest-Flier

In a recent letter, a friend explained his reluctant acceptance of abortion with the statement: “I also believe that the human race is overrunning the planet and destroying our Mother the Earth.” While recognizing abortion as a moral problem, he saw it as the lesser of two evils. The cost of saving the planet is to reduce the human population. This is a widely accepted notion, and there are many who have succeeded in making us believe that over-population is the problem and that birth control and abortion are the answers.

Population control is often an attempt by Western, wealthy nations to impose their values on poor, usually non-white nations, and these countries are not happy about it. At a 1998 Population Consultation of the UN NGO Committee on Population and Development in New York, the ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez, shocked the audience with a speech in which she sharply criticized groups such as Zero Population Growth and Planned Parenthood for trying to reduce fertility in countries that don’t want it (and thinking that it’s for their own good, etc.). She accused the West of targeting poor and darker-skinned countries, such as her own. “It used to be,” she pointed out, “that older women could depend on their adult children to care for them in old age. In 1960, for example, a Jamaican woman had an average of six children; by 1990 she was likely to have fewer than three. Now typically she has two. Who will supply the support system for this mother when she is old?”

Even more amazing was the speech by Dr. James McCarthy, Head of the Center for Population at Columbia University, who called himself a “recovering demographer” and told the audience that “population doesn’t matter.”

In her book Sex and Destiny, feminist Germaine Greer comments, “we [should] abandon the rhetoric of crisis for we are the crisis. Let us stop worrying about a world crammed with people…stop counting the babies born every minute…use our imagination to understand how poverty is created and maintained…so that we lose our phobia about the poor. Rather than being afraid of the powerless, let us be afraid of the powerful—the rich, sterile nations who have no stake in the future. More ‘unwanted’ children are born to us, the rich, than to them, the poor.”

Although there are clearly some over-populated places in the world, this does not mean that the world is over-populated. There are many, many factors involved. Someone told me recently that the entire population of the world, if it agreed to live at the same density as New York City, could fit into the state of Texas. Not a very savory prospect, but interesting.

Justifying abortion by the population-control argument boils down to saying that we should encourage the use of abortion as birth control. But there are already countries that use abortion as birth control—Russia and other former East bloc countries—and the women there are in despair. Some women have several abortions in their lifetime because the birth control possibilities are so limited, and they are urgently demanding better conditions so that they don’t have to resort to abortion just to limit births. So this argument just doesn’t hold water. Not only do the poor countries not want population control, not only is the whole over-population argument questionable, but individual women who are forced to control births through abortion are crying for help.

I would be surprised if any woman ever had an abortion for the sake of the planet or because of her concern for over-population. Among the women I have known who had abortions, none of them, at that terrible point in their lives, cared a hoot about over-population. Women have abortions because they feel cornered, abandoned, hopeless, scared, manipulated. At least my friends all felt this way and, after the abortion, mourned deeply. They may still be mourning. Frederica Mathewes-Green, in her book Real Choices, explains the psychological after-effects of abortion: if they had it to do over again, most women admit that they would choose not to abort.

My personal feeling is that abortion is just as much a feminist issue as it is a pro-life issue. I think women have been sold a very shoddy bill of goods. Radical feminist leaders have played right into the hands of Hugh Hefner types: abortion is a wonderful solution for both of them. Women are expected to make the “right” choice as soon as a problem pregnancy comes along (at least the playboy philosophy hopes they will).

The other argument one hears is that abortion is a more merciful solution for the children of the poor than growing up in destitution. My friend asked: “Isn’t poverty and isolation a slow, cruel death as opposed to an operation that deals with the new life before it can actually think and breathe?”

Not necessarily. That’s implying that poor people should consider abortion when they get pregnant, because it’s sure better than raising children in poverty and isolation. But there are lots and lots of poor women who curse their poverty, and then on top of it all they feel driven to the abortion clinic when they get pregnant, just because society has few other options.

With all our collective intelligence, with all our social science, with all our money, society in the West should be able to come up with a better solution for dealing with problem pregnancies (not medical problems) than abortion. Abortion leaves far, far too many psychological scars. But it’s the cheap way out. What abortion does is pressure the most vulnerable—scared pregnant women—into “getting rid of the problem” so that society doesn’t have to deal with it.

My friend wrote: “I shudder to think of our making common cause with the so-called ‘Christian’ right who are militantly against abortion but endorse war, sexism, and capital punishment.” But must we be inconsistent simply because others are inconsistent? Just because the far-right seems to have co-opted the pro-life argument doesn’t mean that nobody else can endorse it. This calls for a little bit of courage. I urged my friend not to let the agenda of the far right limit his agenda. If you think abortion is wrong, oppose it bravely!

Here in the Netherlands we have the lowest abortion rate in the entire Western world. And, says the Minister of Health, “we’re proud of it.” Proud to have a low abortion rate? That must mean that lowering the abortion rate, or trying to, is a thing worth doing. What I’m saying is, let’s try to lower the abortion rate everywhere. Let’s not abandon women to their own private darkness where they have to make these impossible decisions alone (and then face a society that shrugs its shoulders).

William Styron’s book Sophie’s Choice is about such an impossible choice. On one level it’s about the Holocaust, but on another level it’s about the pressure to decide which of your children you will allow to live and which you will abandon to the hand of violence. Sophie could not live with her choice and finally took her own life.

One can find women who are no more troubled about an abortion they had than they are troubled about a missed bus, but for every woman who is blasé about having abortions you will find many more who wish they hadn’t had to do violence to their unborn children and to their consciences. I’m not insisting that the laws be changed (although it would be good if it did eventually happen), or that all women be forced to go through with their pregnancy no matter what (even if their health is at risk), or that we abandon women to back-street butchers. I’m saying, let’s work from the other side. Let’s try to create a society in which abortion is unthinkable. A society that forces the weak and frightened to shoulder the burden of a social problem should be ashamed of itself.

How do we do it? That’s a good question. My hope is that peace organizations will at last begin to explore rather than ignore the problem, to start some dialogues, to try to cut through the rhetoric and terrible division and to address a problem that everybody can rally around.  IC

National Identity and Unity: From Babel to Pentecost

National Identity and Unity: From Babel to Pentecost

by Archbishop Makarios of Kenya

9 tower-of-babel1 national identity

Despite many areas of progress, the last one hundred years has been the most brutal age in the history of humanity. What is most shocking about modern conflicts is that it is not the combatants who have been the main victims, but rather the most vulnerable members of society: children, women, the elderly, the sick. This is due not only to violence but also to malnutrition and disease made worse by armed conflict. Wars disrupt food supplies, destroy crops and agricultural infrastructure, wreck water and sanitation systems, and disable health services. Wars displace whole populations, tearing families and communities apart.

Most modern wars are principally instigated or manipulated by what might be called the “phyletistic personality syndrome,” a phenomenon which pits humans against humans in the most violent of confrontations in the name of national or tribal identity, ethnic cleansing, racial supremacy, or cultural exclusivism, often with distinct religious components.

Nationalism, in the sense of fanatical patriotism, is an obsessive sense of national superiority over other nations and a belief in one nation’s inherent and pre-determined glorious future destiny. Ethnocentrism gives rise to tribal or racial intolerance and leads to the perception that one must eliminate, exclude, or dominate the “lesser tribe.” In the case of cultural-ideological exclusivism, the values and norms of one’s culture are regarded as superior to all others and must therefore be adopted by others or imposed on them. To better understand the phenomenon of ethnic and national identities and cast some light upon the search for human unity, it is necessary for us to explore the biblical and theological explanations for our propensity toward tribalism and nationalism.

In the period immediately preceding construction of the Tower of Babel, we learn that all people were of one race and spoke one language. The diversification of human languages was a consequence of human sin incurred during the building of the Tower of Babel, a rebellion against God’s ordinances, the ambition of “making a name for one’s self” by constructing a human empire and culture independent of the will and assistance of God.

Despite the post-Babel second human Fall, the freshly diversified global situation provided humans with the freedom either to identify with a wise and blessed sense of ethnic affiliation in a theocentric direction or to let their differences degenerate into demonic anthropocentric-nationalism, ethnocentrism and tribal pride. Clearly, the latter path was taken.

The step from ethnic identity to fanatical ethnocentrism, and from national identity to obsessive nationalism, which lies behind most of our violent conflicts, must be understood through a theological, biblical prism as a fallen, corrupt human state, a spiritually dysfunctional condition, which must be condemned by the Church.

How then can the Church assist in the search for the path of human unity? Can the Church be effective? I believe the answer is yes.

A Byzantine kontakion chanted on the Sunday of Pentecost is most illuminating in terms of the post Tower of Babel potential for a unified human condition initiated by Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit:

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the all-holy Spirit!

The Pentecost event in the Upper Room is God’s reversal of the punitive measures taken at Babel. Through the “tongues of fire” and the speaking in various human tongues, the potential for reunification of humanity is made possible through the unify-ing operations of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit possesses a creative force to transform and renew. The Pentecost event transformed the disciples into bold witnesses for Christ by renewing their hearts and minds. This transforming “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is capable of transfiguring human hearts and making former enemies into friends and brothers. In our search for human unity, we need to consistently experience the empowering anointing of Pentecost, becoming faithful instruments of the Holy Spirit.

The initial celebration of the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated not as an individual institution but within a communal setting, that is within the messianic or ecclesial community presided over by Jesus among his disciples. He formed a new, united community dedicated to loving and serving one another as well as “giving thanks” to Him who established it. The partaking of the holy Body and Blood of Christ by the ecclesial community becomes a source of growth in the image and likeness of Christ and the ultimate bond of spiritual and social unity, for it doesn’t discriminate against gender, class, or race in its sanctifying energy. In this way we are made ready to “receive one another as Christ received us.”

The challenge we face is eradication of phyletism within the Church. Sadly, we Church members are often guilty of promoting nationalism at the expense of our catholic (in the sense of universal) identity. Churches constituted on national lines often involve themselves in national wars, even blessing weapons before battle, and even encouraging war and nationalism in the name of Jesus Christ! While nationalistic church leaders are certainly well intentioned, in reality they oppose the work of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ.

It is significant that, at a time of heightened nationalism, a pan-Orthodox Synod held in Constantinople in 1872 condemned ethno-phyletism as a heresy: “We renounce, censure and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds and dissensions within the Church of Christ, as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed Fathers which support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it and lead it to divine godliness.”

As the Orthodox canon lawyer, Grigorios Papathomas, explains, “the Church must not be confused with the destiny of a single nation or a single race.”

In Pauline terms, we may say that nationalism is the direct consequence of a “fleshly” anthropocentric disposition rather than a spiritual and theocentric human orientation. Nationalism remains in the realm of the “flesh” rather than the “spirit” as a manifestation of the powers and principalities at work in the “present evil age.” In his letter to the Galatians, Paul insists that among Christ’s followers there is “no longer Greek nor Jew” but only the unity, peace, and blessedness that derives from membership in the new “Israel of God,” the Church. This unity however can only be perceived, appropriated, and accomplished in a theocentric manner by those who are reconciled in Christ. It can only be made manifest by those who bring forth the “fruits of the Spirit.” It is in this way that we may receive one another as Christ receives us and thus aspire toward authentic human unity. History is littered with the failed scraps of torn anthropocentric peace treaties, international accords, and cease-fire agreements.

If the Church is to accomplish the task of human unity, it must practice its God-appointed calling. This requires that we abandon ethnic ghettos. We have been appointed to participate in Christ’s great commission, the evangelization and baptism of all nations. This global evangelization mission of the Church bearing the message of unconditional love and forgiveness will eventually enable humans to “Receive one another as Christ received us” (Rom. 15:7).

I end with this question: Who is Jesus Christ for us? Is he merely a tribal leader who facilitates national unification? Or is he God, who saves us from malediction and death? For the believing mind, the answer is self-evident.  IC

This essay is based on a paper presented in 2004 in Malaysia at a conference of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission of the World Council of Churches.

Orthodox Approaches to Nonviolent Resistance

St. Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of John the Evangelist, martyred in Rome about 107 AD

by Fr. Philip LeMasters

The Christian faith began in the context of political and military occupation, in a situation where violent acts, both by the oppressor and the oppressed, were common. It is in such a context that the movement begun by Jesus of Nazareth took shape. Not only did Christ teach his disciples to love their enemies, turn the other cheek and go the extra mile with them, but he also boldly spoke the truth to the religious and political leaders of Palestine, for which they crucified Him. Even though Christ’s kingdom was not of this world, conventional political rulers were threatened by his prophetic words and deeds. His ministry may be described as an act of nonviolent resistance against dominant religious, social and political ideologies in Palestine, then under occupation by the Roman Empire. This Messiah was not the Davidic warrior-king expected by many Jews – nor can he be reduced in our own day to a mere social activist.

The incarnate life of the Son of God provides a paradigmatic example of how to respond to evil with nonviolent resistance. The One who is both human and divine lived under military occupation and, precisely in that context, brought salvation to the world in a nonviolent way. Unlike the Zealots and others using violent methods, Christ embodied a more radical critique that went beyond shifting power from one group to another or reversing the roles of the victor and the vanquished. He created among his apostles, disciples, and followers an inclusive and peaceable society that brought Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, men, women, rich, poor, slave and free into the communion of his Body, the Church.

Nonviolent Resistance in the History of the Church: For the first few centuries, the Church’s life was deeply marked by the experience of persecution from the Roman Empire. Christians who would not worship the gods of Rome were considered traitors guilty of “hatred of the human race” for not fulfilling their civic obligation of serving the deities who were thought to guarantee the well-being of the Empire. We know the stories of these martyrs and continue to honor them for their steadfast commitment to Christ in the face of torture, mutilation and execution.

Some Christians served in the Roman army before the conversion of Constantine, including such martyrs as Saints George, Demetrius and Theodore the General. They refused to obey the commands of their military superiors and thus undertook nonviolent resistance to the dominant religious and political ideologies of the Empire. Like Christ, they suffered violence at the hands of the state for their refusal to place service to a worldly kingdom over obedience to the kingdom of heaven. As St. Peter said when forbidden to preach, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” The martyrs’ refusal to worship false gods, Olivier Clément commented, “does not express itself through rebellion but through martyrdom … through a nonviolent stance, which has remained characteristic of the Christian East to this day.”

Examples of nonviolent resistance to evil do not cease with the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Saint Athanasius’ struggles against Arianism resulted in successive exiles, while Saint John Chrysostom’s denunciation of imperial abuses led to his death. Saint Maximus the Confessor endured mutilation for his opposition to the Monothelite heresy, and the iconoclastic controversy also produced martyrs and confessors. These are only a few well-known examples of nonviolent resistance in the Byzantine Empire to both political and religious authority.

The first two saints of Kievian Rus’, Boris and Gleb, chose not to defend themselves against the assassins sent by their brother and rival for the throne. In The Pacifist Option, Fr. Alexander Webster notes that they died “not for the true faith in Christ, as was customary in the early Church and in the rest of the Orthodox world, but rather for the moral life in Christ. Theirs was preeminently a witness on behalf of the redemptive value of innocent suffering and the transformative power of nonresistance to evil.”

During the Ottoman period, simply to profess the Orthodox faith was a form of nonviolent resistance to the dominant ideology and entailed a second-class existence within set religious, social, political and economic boundaries. The limits of Ottoman toleration were evident in the example of the new martyrs who refused to embrace Islam and were killed for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Nonviolent Resistance in the Twentieth Century: In 1905, over 100,000 people marched in the streets of St. Petersburg under the leadership of an Orthodox priest – some carrying icons – to protest their miserable circumstances and to beg the help of Czar Nicholas. Their petition stated: “Oh Sire, we working men and inhabitants of St. Petersburg, our wives, our children and our parents, helpless and aged women and men, have come to You our ruler, in search of justice and protection. We are beggars, we are oppressed and overburdened with work, we are insulted, we are not looked on as human beings but as slaves. The moment has come for us when death would be better than the prolongation of our intolerable sufferings. We are seeking here our last salvation…. Destroy the wall between yourself and your people.” Tragically, with the czar’s permission, soldiers fired on the crowd, killing and wounding hundreds in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Like Boris and Gleb, those who perished were not killed because of their faith; they did, however, respond nonviolently to injustice and lost their lives as a result.

During the decades of Communist rule, innumerable martyrs and confessors undertook nonviolent resistance by rejecting atheistic ideology and refusing to abandon or hide the faith, enduring poverty, imprisonment, exile, torture and execution in ways that mirrored the witness of the Church in pagan Rome. Opposing civil war in Russia following the Bolshevik coup, Patriarch Tikhon refused to bless the White armies and instead appealed to the laity for nonviolent resistance. “This was the time,” wrote Olivier Clément, “when Starets [Elder] Alexis Metchev opposed the calls for an anti-Bolshevik crusade made by some émigré bishops and declared that a powerful spiritual renewal was the only way in which Russia would be able to overcome anti-theism.” Many martyrs died praying for their tormentors.

Less well known is the nonviolent resistance of Saints Dimitri Klépinin and Mother Maria Skobtsova and other members of “Orthodox Action” who aided Jews during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. They violated various unjust laws in order to save the lives of innocent people and themselves died in concentration camps as a result. Mother Maria wrote of Hitler as a “madman …who ought to be confined to a madhouse” and tore down posters urging Frenchmen to work in German factories. She spoke forthrightly of the incompatibility of Christianity and Nazi ideology even to persons who were likely Nazi agents. When thousands of Jews were held in an athletic stadium July of 1942, she managed to enter the stadium, providing what comfort she could to the captives and, with the aid of garbage collectors, rescued a number of children. “If the Germans come looking for Jews [in our house],” she said once, “I’ll show them the icon of the Mother of God.” She, Fr. Dimitri and two co-workers died in concentration camps. They were canonized in 2004.

In the same period another example of nonviolent resistance is provided by an Orthodox layman, Alexander Schmorell, co-founder of “the White Rose,” a student group which distributed anti-Nazi leaflets in Germany in 1942-43. One White Rose leaflet stated that “The only available [means of opposition] is passive resistance. The meaning and the goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism.” Another leaflet contained the only known public protest by any German resistance group specifically against the Holocaust as well as criticism of the apathy of citizens “for allowing such crimes to be committed by ‘these criminal fascists’.” Schmorell, having served as a medic on the Eastern Front, had resolved never to kill an enemy. He went to his execution peacefully and stated that “This difficult ‘misfortune’ was necessary … to put me on the right road and therefore was no misfortune at all.” Before his execution, Schmorell said that “I’m convinced that my life has to end now, early as it seems, because I have fulfilled my life’s mission. I wouldn’t know what else I have to do on this earth.” Archbishop Mark of Berlin has announced his intention to canonize Schmorell. (For more information, see Jim Forest’s article “Alexander Schmorell and the White Rose” in issue 59 of In Communion. )

Though this brief survey of Orthodox nonresistance is neither comprehensive nor systematic, the examples cited demonstrate that nonviolent resistance has been present in the Church from its earliest days until the present. Martyrs and confessors, both ancient and contemporary, have disobeyed laws and other directives that they discerned to be contrary to their faith and conscience. Some have done so when governments commanded them to commit idolatry or embrace heresy. Others have refused to obey unjust laws by protecting the innocent or calling for social and political change, rejecting passivity or submission in the face of evil. These are examples of deliberate acts of resistance and of refusal to allow corrupt worldly powers to control the conscience and actions of Christians.

Nonviolent Resistance and Contemporary Political Action: These examples do not present nonviolent resistance as a merely prudential tactic to achieve a political goal that might also be accomplished by violent means. Instead, these types of nonviolent action grow from the heart of the Christian faith: the selfless, suffering, forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ whereby we are reconciled to Him and to one another, even our enemies. Christ spoke and acted prophetically, denouncing evil and challenging social and religious structures that were contrary to God’s will for human beings. Orthodox nonviolent resistance to evil follows Christ’s example.

The martyrs and saints are not motivated by political efficacy but, as Fr. Alexander Webster comments, by “a distinctive Orthodox mode of pacifism” that resists “evil of a strictly demonic origin.” Indeed, the martyrs and confessors we have cited did not criticize social orders, promote change or refuse to obey unjust laws simply due to a conventional political agenda or a desire for power. At the same time, nonviolent resistance to evil inevitably occurs in given social and political contexts where moral and spiritual values have been corrupted in particular ways. When Christians speak the truth about these corruptions and refuse to cooperate with or endorse them, they denounce evil and call prophetically for a new set of circumstances that more closely embodies God’s purposes for human beings. Indeed, they have a responsibility to do so, even to the point of civil disobedience. As Fr. Stanley Harakas noted in Living the Faith:

In cases of particularly harmful laws, the Christian has the responsibility of disobedience. Historically, some injustices that have attacked the Christian identity itself have not been tolerated. The example of the early Christian refusal to worship the Emperors led to civil disobedience and martyrdom for thousands of Christians. There is a line between the advisability of bearing injustices and the duty of refusing to do so. Circumstances must be considered in each case. Both the Christian as an individual and the Church as a whole need to be ever ready to make the decision and accept the consequences when civil disobedience is the correct Christian action.

Archbishop Iakovos with Martin Luther King

All members of the Church are called to participate in economic, social, political and cultural life in ways that reflect a Christian vision of human relations and community before God. Consequently, Orthodox may well take part in nonviolent marches or demonstrations protesting evils – racism, genocide, environmental degradation, militarism – that are clearly contrary to God’s will. Archbishop Iakovos, leader of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America, set an example when he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., at Selma, Alabama. A photograph of the Archbishop, Dr. King, and the labor leader Walter Reuther was on the cover photograph of Life magazine on March 26, 1965.

In 1997, in the Milosevic period, Patriarch Pavle of Serbia led an anti-government march, preventing a police attack on protesting students. He had earlier appealed to the authorities for the release of political prisoners.

Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America recently led a delegation from “Orthodox Christians for Life” in the “March for Life” in Washington, D. C., a rally to protest the acceptance of abortion in American society.

Nonviolent Resistance in Palestine: Another example of nonviolent resistance is found in the work of the Holy Land Trust, which “seeks to strengthen and empower the Palestinian community in developing spiritual, pragmatic and strategic approaches that will allow it to resist all forms of oppression and build a future that makes the Holy Land a global model and pillar of understanding, respect, justice, equality and peaceful coexistence.” One of the participants is Archbishop Theodosius Atallah Hanna, the only Palestinian archbishop in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a well-known opponent of the Israeli occupation and an outspoken advocate of the unification of the Palestinian people.

There has also been Orthodox involvement in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, an ecumenical project that provides an international nonviolent presence, offering a degree of greater protection to people under military occupation through reporting and monitoring, for example at military checkpoints, while providing solidarity with people struggling against the Israeli occupation.

In situations where the very existence of the Christian community is under attack, as in Palestine, simply to maintain the life of the Church is a form of nonviolent resistance to the intentions of the occupying power. For example, Dr. Maria Khoury describes the witness of Orthodox Palestinians in the village of Taybeh as a peaceable presence in stark contrast to the ongoing war between Israelis and Muslims: “We Palestinian Christians don’t believe in the violent struggle and we don’t believe in suicide bombings, but because we live the same frustrating life – our human dignity is violated every single day – we understand why this leads people to violence. Nevertheless, as Christians we have to be above these natural responses, and this is why our presence is so important.”

Dr. Khoury draws attention to nonviolent protests against the wall around Bethlehem “that has taken so much of the [Palestinians’] farmland and denies the farmers access to their own fields,” as well as protests against illegal Israeli settlements. Nonviolent resistance has often had a heavy cost for Palestinian Christians. For example, when the largely Christian town of Beit Sahour refused to pay taxes in 1989 to protest their lack of political representation, the Israeli military authority blocked food shipments for 42 days, cut phone lines, barred reporters and leveled over 350 homes, seizing millions of dollars in money and property.

International Orthodox Christian Charities has sustained many projects in education, agriculture, emergency relief and economic development for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Though we rarely think of charitable efforts as types of nonviolent resistance, they certainly are in situations where they frustrate the efforts of dominant powers to destroy a community and a people.

A group of Christians under the name of Kairos Palestine declares that nonviolent resistance to injustice is a right and a duty for all Palestinians, including Christians. Kairos Palestine has been blessed by Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and the hierarchs of Armenian, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox and other churches. Palestinian Christians are called to see in their enemies the image of God as they enact “active resistance to stop the injustice and oblige the perpetrator to end his aggression” and return their “land, freedom, dignity and independence.” Such resistance opposes “evil in all its forms with methods that enter into the logic of love and draw on all energies to make peace.” Promoting civil disobedience and respect for life, the Kairos document calls for “individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation,” the purpose of which “is not revenge but rather to put an end to the existing evil, liberating both the perpetrators and the victims of injustice.”

Such contemporary examples of activism, and of cooperation with other religious, political and social movements, demonstrate that Orthodox nonviolent resistance is not reserved for the classic martyr or confessor who suffers for refusing to commit apostasy or heresy. Whenever Orthodox use nonviolent means to protest injustice or to work toward the creation of a social and political order more in keeping with God’s purposes for humanity, they are rightly understood to be involved in nonviolent resistance as a legitimate form of witness and action.

Theological Considerations: Olivier Clément cautions against making “nonviolence into a system” which forgets that Christ was crucified. In other words, there is an innate tension between Orthodox nonviolent resistance and the dynamics of human societies. Taking up the cross is rarely a way to achieve power and success as defined by the world. “The life of Gandhi was so fruitful precisely because of his constant willingness to lay it down, and the same was true of Martin Luther King.” In his book, On Human Being, Clément notes that


It is the Church’s business not to impose methods, even nonviolent ones, but to witness in season and out of season to the creative power of love. The problem is not one of violence or non-violence at all; and the solution, which can never be more than partial, lies in the ability to transform, as far as possible and in every circumstance of history, destructive violence into creative power. The cross which, as Berdyaev memorably said, causes the role of worldly existence to bloom afresh, here signifies not resignation, but service; not weakness, but creative activity.


“Fools for Christ” have provided some of the most creative activity in the history of the Church, and their example sheds light on the calling to nonviolent resistance. As Christos Yannaras explained in The Freedom of Morality, Holy Fools show “that salvation and sanctity cannot be reconciled with the satisfaction that comes from society’s respect and objective recognition.” They challenge “conventional standards and ideas of a world which measures the true life and virtue of man with the yardsticks of social decorum and ontology.” Their witness “manifest[s] prophetically the contrast between ‘the present age’ and the age of the Kingdom, the basic difference in standards and criteria.” Their complete abandonment of the ego enables them to accept their “own sin and fall, without differentiating it from the sin and fall of the rest of mankind” and to “transfigure this acceptance into…a life of incorruption and immortality.”

To take up the path of nonviolent resistance is usually to appear foolish and irresponsible in the eyes of the dominant culture and perhaps also of many in the Church. To suffer execution, torture, imprisonment, exile, unemployment or even a significant inconvenience in lifestyle as a result of refusing to endorse or cooperate with evil is irrational according to the dominant thinking of humanity. Pilate could not understand Christ, and the idea of a Messiah who died on a cross was simply foolishness to the Jews. To the present time, the risks to one’s safety and success associated with nonviolent resistance call for those who accept them to abandon their egos, to become fools for Christ’s sake.

In such humility, however, there is unparalleled freedom. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware wrote in The Orthodox Way, the Holy Fool “combines audacity with humility. Because he has renounced everything, he is truly free. Like the fool Nicolas of Pskov, who put into the hands of Tsar Ivan the Terrible a piece of meat dripping with blood, he can rebuke the powerful of this world with a boldness that others lack. He is the living conscience of society.” Orthodox who undertake nonviolent resistance may look to the Fools for Christ as models of the kind of dying to self that enables one to point out the imperfections and contradictions of present social orders in light of the Kingdom of God. Nonviolent activists provide an eschatological critique of the brokenness and partiality of even the best attempts to manifest social justice. And rather than making their enemies suffer, they will take upon themselves the consequences of turning the other cheek even to those who have no hesitation in using violence in order to get their way.

Such a vocation is a way of ascesis, of fighting to overcome one’s passions for self-righteous judgment and vengeance. Even in the pursuit of nonviolent resistance, there is the temptation to pride and self-righteousness – being on the side of the angels – unlike one’s opponents. Those who engage in nonviolent action require ongoing spiritual vigilance so that they will embrace their work as a selfless offering of themselves on behalf of their neighbors, and not as a monument to their own moral and spiritual purity. Resistance to evil must always begin with resistance to the evil of one’s own sins and passions, with taking up the cross and following the Lord in humility.

In Encountering the Mystery, Patriarch Bartholomew stresses the spiritual roots of nonviolent resistance, stressing that it “can never be reduced to an anxious attempt to prevent something terrible from happening to us. On the contrary, the resistance of silence can serve as a forceful ‘no’ to everything that violates peace…. Peace rests in the undoing of fear and develops on the basis of love. Unless our actions are founded on love rather than on fear, they will never be able to overcome fanaticism or fundamentalism…. Only those who know – deep inside the heart – that they are loved can be true peacemakers.” Such peacemaking is “deeply rooted in the all-embracing love of God” and makes “a radical response” that “threatens policies of violence and the politics of power” and gives “the ultimate provocation” by loving and refusing to intimidate the enemy. Through the silence of prayer and turning away from “our pride, passions, and selfish desires,” human beings become capable of participating in the “love and generosity” of Christ as they respond actively to situations of injustice. In these ways, the Ecumenical Patriarch identifies nonviolent resistance and peacemaking as practical manifestations of Orthodox theology that grow from the very heart of the faith. ❖

Fr. Philip LeMasters is priest at St. Luke Antiochian Orthodox Church, Abilene, Texas, and teaches Christian Ethics at McMurry University. He is the author of The Goodness of God’s Creation (Regina Orthodox Press) and has participated in Orthodox consultations on peace ethics in Greece, Romania and Syria. This is a shortened version of a soon-to-be published paper presented in June at the Volos Academy for Theological Studies in Greece.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011

The Teaching on Peace in the Fathers

By Fr. Stanley S. Harakas

The following essay will appear as chapter 6 of Fr. Stanley Harakas’ forthcoming book, Wholeness of Faith and Life: Orthodox Christian Ethics, in Part One, “Patristic Ethics.” The publisher is Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Originally published in “Un Regard Orthodoxe sur la Paix”, Chambésy, Geneva: Editions du Centre Orthodoxe du Patriarcat Oecuménique, 1986.


It has been customary when approaching the social teachings of the Fathers of the Church, to speak of the patristic teaching on the topic of war rather than to speak of the Church Father’s teaching on peace. Nevertheless, it is certainly more within the spirit of the tenth topic of the forthcoming Great and Holy Council, as presently formulated, to speak of peace, rather than war, even though the two topics are far from being unrelated.

In 1978, I published a small, popular study on the topics of the forthcoming Great and Holy Council to which I would like to refer briefly in these introductory remarks1.This study referred to an agenda item on the list of topics for the forthcoming pan-Orthodox Council: item ten was “the contribution of the local Orthodox Churches to the adoption of the Christian ideals of peace, freedom, brotherhood and love among the peoples of the world and the elimination of racial prejudice.”

The inclusion of this topic in the list of agenda topics was heartening to me because it reflected a need of the Orthodox Church to address the problems of our age from the perspective of the Orthodox Christian truth, a truth which is not merely a sectarian affirmation, but which the Church teaches is, in fact, the actual description of the human condition and the response of God to it.

Until now, it has been a bit disheartening, however, to note that only two of the Orthodox Churches, Greece and Czechoslovakia, offered to address the topic. To my knowledge only Czechoslovakia’s Orthodox Church has responded to it with a significant and substantial document. In a sense, this is quite sorrowful, for the potential of an Orthodox contribution is significant in this area. Nevertheless, individual studies have been made and conferences have been organised over the past few years on some of these topics, notably on the topic of “Peace,” with the Orthodox Churches in socialist countries taking the lead on this topic.

In some of my comments on the tenth topic after the publication of my little work on the forthcoming Great and Holy Council, I have tried to show the wisdom and balance with which it was formulated, especially as it appealed to the social concern interests shown by the First, Second and Third Worlds. Though all nations in the world have a vested interest in the maintenance of peace and the avoidance of the nuclear holocaust, it is in large part resolvable only by the major First World powers. Anyone who has travelled knows that the Peace topic has become a favourite popular cause in the socialist nations, who accuse the Western democracies of promoting war, a charge denied and reciprocated by the West.

The favourite popular cause in the capitalist countries, in contrast, is the issue of personal freedom. The West charges the Eastern bloc nations with a suppression of freedom, a charge vehemently denied by the socialist nations. Second and Third World nations find themselves particularly resonant with the issues raised in the tenth topic of the forthcoming Great and Holy Council under the rubrics of brotherhood and the struggle against racism, charging both of the blocs with insensitivity to the need for a more corporate world concern for the requirements of the less powerful nations and peoples of the world, and with intemperate and degrading racism.

The topic, therefore, in my judgement is well formulated, and it is particularly welcome at this time that the Patriarchal Centre at Chambésy should choose to focus on one of its chief elements, “Peace.” The topic calls for the “adoption of the Christian ideal of peace….” And so it is appropriate to concern ourselves with its clarification and study.

In my brief discussion of the topic of “peace” in the above mentioned book, I wrote the following words of caution:

There are very few Orthodox writers and thinkers who have dealt deeply and thoughtfully with these issues. Still fewer, if any, have provided the theoretical underpinnings for a consistent and authentic Orthodox Christian Social Ethic. Because of this there is the danger that our social concern will become subject to mere sloganeering and, worse yet, become the tool of alien forces. For example, Peace as an ideal for the Christian Church is almost self-evident. Yet there is no such thing as a coherent body of Orthodox peace studies. Few, if any, Orthodox theologians have concerned themselves with the problems of pacifism, disarmament, nuclear war, just war theory, peace movements, etc. There is a danger on this issue that we will allow ourselves simply to be used as a propaganda outlet2.

It is for this reason that the sustained study of the topic of peace in this seminar is most welcome, and I am sure will supply the Orthodox world with some worthwhile resources for the development of the tenth topic of the forthcoming Great and Holy Council. Without question a development of an uniquely Orthodox Christian approach to the issue of peace in our day cannot take place without some study of the Patristic teachings on peace, and the related issue of the Christian approach to war. In this paper, unfortunately, only the surface can be dealt with; neither can this presentation be one of the “in depth studies” which I called for in the quotation above, because of the breadth of the topic. We are, however, fortunately assisted in our work by a number of new writings on the topic3.

In this paper, I propose to survey the subject by treating the topic in three parts. In the first, I will survey and illustrate the stance of the Fathers of the Church on the ideal of peace, as a normative and determinative patristic stance. Part two will seek to apply the peace bias of the Fathers to its military dimensions. In the third part, the paper will delineate Eastern and Western Church approaches to the peace ideal in the post-Constantinian period. I would remind you that the treatments of these topics cannot be exhaustive, and can only, at this stage, be suggestive and illustrative.

The Pro-peace Patristic Stance

The Background

The concern for peace as a desired spiritual, moral, social and political good did not begin with the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church. Both the cultural environment of the Roman Empire and its Greek philosophical tradition, on the one hand, and the Old Testament and Jewish roots of the Christian tradition, on the other, provided significant antecedents for the Fathers of the Church regarding their views on peace4.

Among the ancient Greeks, the fundamental characteristic of the use of the term eirene was to denote the state or condition of non-war, the interlude, so to speak, between stages of almost continuous war. The Romans provided, with their term “Pax”, an instrumental connotation to the same goal with its understanding as “a reciprocal legal relationship between two parties”, thus used in phrases such as a “treaty of peace”, “the conclusion of peace,” and the “conditions of peace5.” As “absence of war,” peace took on metaphorical meanings as applied to the individual, essentially signifying the absence of hostile feelings, a sort of Stoic Aataraxia.”

The Old Testament term “Shalom” is an extremely rich and variegated word, fertile with multiple levels of meaning. It certainly connotes more than “peace.”

At its root, “Shalom” means “well-being”, with a heavy emphasis on the material side of life. As such, it often refers to bodily health, or to the nation enjoying prosperity. Numerous Old Testament passages use the term — by extension — to indicate a relationship between political entities, as well as among persons, rather than just as a state of being. It follows that the word “Shalom” found occasional use to connote the practice of making covenants. By extension, thus, it referred to the inner dispositions of those involved in them. For example in Isaiah 54:10 we read: “My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed”.

A few other things need to be noted about “shalom”. It was always seen as a gift of Yahweh, and as such connected with the saving and redeeming work of God. Often genuine prophets would condemn false prophets who were inspired by self-interest and not God, as proclaiming “peace, peace, when there was no peace”, in truth (Jeremiah 6:14). The term, however, also carries with it, in the Old Testament, elements of eschatological anticipation. It expresses an expectation of a final condition of unending peace, both on earth and in heaven. And significantly, the Messianic King in Proto-Isaiah carries as one of his titles, the appellation “Prince of Peace”, but all of the titles can be subsumed or closely related to the broad term “Shalom” (Isaiah 9:6). What is notably missing, however, in the Old Testament, is a specifically spiritual connotation to the word, the inner disposition of the soul as spiritual. In fact, “Shalom” in the Old Testament is an almost exclusive public and social term.

Regarding the Septuagint let it suffice to say that the Hebrew word was translated in most cases as eirene and that the Septuagint served admirably to convey to the Greco-Roman world the senses of well-being and of salvation characteristic of the Hebrew understanding of the term. The social dimension is strong, as well, however, as the absence of war. The Septuagint conveys as well the source of peace as being God.

“Shalom”, widely used in rabbinical literature as a frequent greeting, connotes “well-being.” Seen as a gift of God, it is a summary word for the blessings of the messianic period, with almost exclusive limitation to concord within Israel. What is new, however, in the rabbinical literature is that peace is also strongly applied to individual relations, and not just as among nations. Thus, the Rabbis frequently refer to the making of peace among men. It is the judgement of some scholars that “peacemaking” in the sense of eliminating strife among persons in Judaism takes on the same significance which the love commandment has for the New Testament and subsequent Christianity. Strife and enmity among people is contrary to God’s will. The rabbinical literature also focuses strife and peace on the relationship of humanity with God. Sin creates strife and the proper relationship of God and man restores peace between them.

In the Apocryphal writings, eirene, of course, is used with variety. Of interest is that in some writings, such as the Testament of the 12 Patriarchs and the Ethiopian Enoch, the opposite of peace is not “strife between God and Israel or humanity”, as is found in the rabbinical literature, but “the judgement of God”, conceived in much more personal terms. Peace is the absence of the judgement of God upon the righteous. Philo, strongly within the Greek philosophical tradition, sees peace as the political state of the absence of war and the inner rest which is the absence of desire, with the inner conflict deemed worse, even, than the outer lack of peace.

In the New Testament, there is a continuation of the rabbinical tradition in terms of greetings. Also, eirene as salvation, as peace with God, and as concord among people, are prominent in the New Testament. Further, the New Testament presents peace as the appropriate and fitting normal state of things under God. The opposite of disorder is peace, for, as in I Corinthians, 14:33, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace”. Eirene is also a catchword for “the eschatological salvation of the whole man”6. Thus the angelic announcement of “peace on earth” is incarnational and salvific peace, neither limited nor primarily focusing on social or political peace. Thus Jesus Christ gathers together for the New Testament the major senses of peace. He is “the King of Peace” (Hebrews 7:2).

In the framework of salvation, sanctification and peace are closely aligned and we are instructed to seek them. “Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Eirenen diokete meta panton, kai ton aghiasmon, ou choris, oudeis opsetai ton Kyrion) (Hebrews 12:14). Further, the New Testament closely associates the term eirene with the powerful salvific term zo, life, which serves almost as a summary term for the whole consequence of Christ’s saving work, the very opposite of thanatos, death. Its positive, personal, social, holistic and eschatological dimensions are expressed powerfully in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Rarely, the New Testament understands eirene as “peace with God”, mostly in the sense of salvation and the result of reconciliation, katalage between sinful humanity and God. Not absent, as well, from the New Testament is the sense in which eirene is concord, harmony and order among human beings, for the Kingdom is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). But there is also the sense of “eirene” as inner peace, much richer than the Greek and Stoic sense of the absence of disturbance, ataraxia. Peter speaks of the “inner person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit” (I Peter 3:4). The wisdom which comes from above is “peaceable,” according to James 3:17.

By its association with joy, hara (Romans 15:13) and in the context of the salvation meaning of peace, as the normative human condition, peace of soul points to the content of the spiritual and moral life, and its reflection in our relations with others. Thus in I Timothy the Christian’s goal is to “lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way (2:2). Thus the disciples are instructed “to keep the peace” (eireneuete) among themselves (Mark 9:50), and with all people (Romans 12:18, 2 Corinthians 13:11). Hebrews teaches that the heavenly Father’s and the earthly parent’s discipline yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Most significantly, Jesus’ Beatitudes call blessed those who are peacemakers, as establishing peace and harmony among people, in imitation, in the likeness of, and parallel to Christ’s work of salvation and reconciliation, according to which He makes “peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19). Thus the making of peace between God and humanity and among human beings becomes a function of the loving and salvific work of God for us, but also a reflection of the will of God for the relations of human beings among each other. On this basis, the Fathers of the Church build their teachings on peace.

The Patristic Teaching on Peace

The Christian emphasis on love, brotherhood, reconciliation, and peace rooted itself in the moral standards of the Christ-like and Christ-ordered life in the early Church. The Evangelical Ethic7 picks up many of these themes in the focus on peace in the patristic corpus. It must, however, be seen as providing the background for the patristic desire for peace, and also for the sense of its harmony with the spiritual and moral character of Kingdom living. The Sermon on the Mount commandments of non-resistance to evil, the return of good for evil, the spirit of reconciliation and brotherhood underpin for the Fathers the reference to, and the understanding of, peace. In the synoptic account which I am going to present now, I will not focus on the issue of peace as contrasted to war, but on the broader based conceptions as delineated in the background material which we have just surveyed. I will follow this with a more careful attention to the issue of peace and war.

For the Fathers of the Church the source of peace, and its fundamental meaning, come from God as a gift to humanity. Clement of Rome’s 1st Epistle serves as a patristic example:

…let us run on to the goal of peace, which was handed down to us from the beginning. Let us fix our eyes on the Father and Creator of the universe and cling to his magnificent and excellent gifts of peace and kindness to us… Let us consider how free he is from anger toward his whole creation8.

In the same vein, Chrysostom teaches that “the true peace is from God”.9 Clement of Rome also attributes the source of peace to Christ and associates it with the Holy Spirit. He says: “Content with Christ’s rations… you were all granted a profound and rich peace and an insatiable longing to do good, while the Holy Spirit was poured out upon you all10.”

St. Basil says in his Homily on the Psalms “he who seeks peace, seeks Christ, for he is the peace…” When commenting on the Lord’s farewell gift of peace to His disciples, he adds “I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ12.” In the Divine Names of Dionysios the “reopagite several paragraphs are committed to the discussion of the name of peace as attributed to God and its embodiment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. There, he writes:

Now, the first thing to say is this: that God is the Fount of True Peace and of all Peace, both in general and in particular, and that He joins all things together in an unity without confusion… There is no need to tell how the loving-kindness of Christ comes bathed in Peace, wherefrom we must learn to cease from strife, whether against ourselves or against one another, or against the angels, and instead to labour together even with the angels for the accomplishment of God’s Will, in accordance with the Providential Purpose of Jesus Who works all things in all and makes Peace, unutterable and foreordained from Eternity, and reconciles us to Himself, and, in Himself, to the Father13.

As such, since God is the source of all good, peace is taught by Gregory of Nyssa to be an essential good, a necessary concomitant to every other good in which the faithful participate14. Thus the Letter of Barnabas calls the Christians “children of love and peace15,” and Chrysostom says that the peace from God is the Christian’s “nurse and mother”, arising from spiritual harmony in the Christian from the “peace which is in accordance with God16 .”

One of the major emphases in the patristic corpus which does not appear strongly in the earlier traditions described above is the patristic emphasis upon peace as a personal spiritual phenomenon. Seen from the perspective of the inner spiritual life, with some clear philosophical overtones, is Origen’s expectation that the mind and reason of Christians must be formed with God’s “free co-operation … when the soul is quiet and in the enjoyment of that peace which passes all understanding, and when she is turned away from all disturbance and not buffeted by any billows17.” Similarly referring to the “peace which passes all understanding,” St. Basil holds that if such a peace “guards our hearts, we will he able to avoid the turbulence… of the passions18.” Thus, for Basil, spiritual peace is “the most perfect of blessings,” which he defines as a “kind of stability of the rational ability19.” The ascetic side of Basil is highlighted, nevertheless, when he emphasises the view that “true inner peace comes from above… and that one should “seek peace, which is the separation from the turbulences of this world… so as to obtain the peace of God20.”

That this inner peace should express itself in outward behaviour and external relationships, as a function of the proper relationship with God, and the control of the passions, as well as love and forgiveness, is the next emphasis of the patristic tradition on peace. Thus the following progression in Theodore of Mopsuestia’s commentary on Romans serves to illustrate the point: “peace is release from invisible enemies, from whom Christ frees us, and for the body not to rebel against the thoughts of the soul’s dispositions, and the pious harmony with others21.”

Thus the patristic understanding of eirene has a decided social and moral application as well. Clement of Alexandria identifies eirene and dikaiosyne in the Stromateis 22. He denotes the Christians as the “peaceable generation”, (eirenikon genos 23) and identifies the moral role of the believer in establishing peace: “man is a pacific instrument … the one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honour God is what we employ24.” Therefore, for Clement, Christ uses the Christians as his soldiers of peace:

This is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; to those that disobey, judgement. The loud trumpet, when sounded, collects the soldiers, and proclaims war. And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? Well, by His blood and by the word, He has gathered the bloodless host of peace, and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven25.

As His soldiers, the Christians fight evil for the sake of bringing about a moral and spiritual peace. Thus, writing in his 114th letter, To Cyriacus, at Tarsus, enjoining steps for the reunion of divided Christians, St. Basil opines that “nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker, and for this reason our Lord has promised us peacemakers a very high reward”. And before him, the Didache admonished, “You must not start a schism, but reconcile those at strife (eireneueseis de machomenous )26.

The striving for peace among men, of course, is not unconnected with the other virtues, such as justice and righteousness, but in particular, as we have noted above, it is intimately related with the chief of the Christian virtues, love. Chrysostom thus teaches, “if there be peace, there will also be love; if love, there will be peace, also” in his Homilies on Ephesians (24, v.23).

When this range of patristic thought is coupled with the teachings of the Gospels on non-retribution, the avoidance of violence, the returning of good for evil, it forms a holistic view which sees peace, peacemaking, and the harmony of peoples among themselves as a normative good which Christians must seek to realise with God’s help. This is the background for seeking to understand the patristic stance toward civil peace, and peace among nations.

Peace and War in the Early Church

The teaching of the Fathers of the pre- and post-Constantinian Church on War in general, on Christian participation in the military, and on whether the early Church was pacifist or not, has a huge bibliography. Important studies have exhaustively grappled with these issues. Certainly we cannot, nor is there need to reproduce here, what has been fully and adequately described in great detail elsewhere27.

The Pacifist Strand

Let it suffice to briefly document what we can properly call a pro-peace stance of the Fathers of the Church. A few examples are all that is needed for this purpose. Around the end of the first century, in the 1st letter of Clement, there are petitions to God for the civil rulers of the Roman Empire. We read: “It is you, Heavenly Master, Ruler of the Ages, who give to the sons of men glory, honour and power over earthly things. Guide their decisions yourself, O Lord, according to what is good and acceptable in your eyes, so that by dutifully wielding in peace and gentleness the authority you gave them, they may gain your favour28.” Obviously based on the New Testament injunctions regarding the Christian attitude toward the civil rulers in Romans and the pastoral epistles, such prayers focusing on the role of civil rulers in the maintenance of peace are fairly common in the second century. Justin Martyr perceives the messianic period prophesied by Isaiah when the peoples will beat their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning hooks, as having arrived with the Christians, for the Christians, he says, “who formerly killed one another… refuse to make war on (their) enemies.”29 In his treatise On the Crown, Tertullian makes a sustained argument against the idea of Christians serving in the military of the pagan empire. Arguing both from the idolatry connected with that service and the taking of life, he holds that “the sons of peace” cannot be soldiers: “Will a son of peace who should not even go to court take part in a battle? Will a man who does not avenge wrongs done to himself have any part in chains, prisons, tortures and punishments?” Tertullian asks rhetorically30.

In a third century document attributed to Hippolytos of Rome, there is the expectation that lower rank soldiers may not obey orders to kill anyone, and if they do, that they are to be expelled from the Church31.

In his writing To Donatus St. Cyprian of Carthage decries war:

…everywhere wars have broken out with the ghastly bloodletting of the camp. The world is drenched with mutual bloodshed. When individuals slay a man, it is a crime. When killing takes place on behalf of the state it is called a virtue. Crimes go unpunished not because the perpetrators are said to be guiltless but because their cruelty is so extensive32.

In this same spirit, Origen maintains the total impropriety of Christians going to war themselves, but he does commend the rightness of the Roman emperor in waging war “in a just cause”. Nevertheless, Origen notes in his Against Celsus, that Christians do support the effort with their prayers: “We do not go out on the campaign with (the emperor) even if he insists, but we do battle on his behalf by raising a special army of piety through our petitions to God33.”

Elsewhere he says of the Christians, that “we no longer take up the sword against any nation, nor do we learn the art of war any more. Instead,… we have become sons of peace through Jesus our founder34.”

Other pre-Constantinian writers such as Lactantius also clearly present to the reader a sense of the wrongness of war, and a bias toward peace. No less so, does this same predilection for peace and against war continue into the post-Constantinian patristic period. Eusebius of Caesarea, Constantine’s staunch supporter, praises the pax Augusti that permitted the uninhibited spread of Christianity35. For Eusebius, the coming together of the Church and the Empire meant that “the whole human race was converted to peace and friendship when all men recognised each other as brothers and discovered their natural kinship,” a sign for him that the Constantinian synthesis was the fulfilment of scriptural prophesies for peace on earth36. Thus, the priority of peace for the Christian conscience remained strong. No less a figure than Chrysostom embodied this patristic bias for peace in his writing and preaching. In his 14th Homily on Philippians, Chrysostom states:

God is not a God of war and fighting. Make war and fighting to cease, both that which is against Him, and that which is against thy neighbour. Be at peace with all men, consider with what character God saveth them. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ Such always imitate the Son of God: do thou imitate Him too. Be at peace. The more thy brother warreth against thee, by so much the greater will be thy reward. For hear the prophet who saith, ‘With the haters of peace, I was peaceful’ (Psalm 120, 7, Septuagint). This is virtue, this is above understanding, this maketh us near God; nothing so much delighteth God as to remember no evil. This sets thee free from thy sins, this looseth the charges against thee: but if we are fighting and buffeting, we become far off from God: for enmities are produced by conflict, and from enmity springs remembrance of evil37.

The Endorsement of Christian Involvement in War

My purpose in bringing these few quotations is to emphasise the patristic commitment to peace. I have not entered into the debate as to whether the pre-Constantinian Church was pacifistic. I tend to agree with modern scholarship which rejects — as overly simplifying the issue — the view that the pre-Constantinian Church was fully pacifist, and that the post-Constantinian Church compromised its peace principles. Scholarship, which focuses not only on the patristic writings but also on Christian practice, such as that of Helgeland38, Daly and Burns39, Ryan40 and Swift41, seems to show that the early Church had elements in its teaching which supported a pro-peace, but not a pacifist position. Considerations founded on the stories of soldier saints and martyrs, the goodness of the state, the rightness of the exercise of the sword by the state, prayers for the state and spiritual support of military actions of defence, as well as the need for the defence of order and the protection of the innocent, lead to the view that these pre-existing factors came to the fore when the danger of pagan pollution and compromise was eliminated and the Christians and their Church assumed responsibilities of governing.

Nevertheless, my point is that in the patristic mind, the bias for peace continued. How that bias for peace was handled, however, differed in the East and in the West.

Eastern and Western Patristic Approaches to Peace and War

It is clear that the early Fathers saw war as an evil in which it was perceived that Christians should not participate. It is also clear that they recognised the important and necessary role of the state to use “military force for the protection of the temporal order as a function proper to the governance of the empire,” in the words of one new study of the subject42.

Pacifistic Emphasis Retained: Liturgy and the Clergy

The exuberant enthusiasm of Eusebius of Caesaria for the new situation, as it impacted on peace and war perspectives of the newly established Church, did not find much endorsement in the rest of the patristic conscience. On the other hand, the benefits of the end of persecution, the establishment of the Church, the support for the spread of the Gospel, the eradication of heresies, and the incorporation of Christian values into the legal and social system of the Empire, seemed great enough benefits for the Church so as to outweigh some of the concerns which the earlier Church found so ready to promote in a radically different social, religious and moral climate43.

Nevertheless, in both East and West, there were efforts to preserve in the life of the Church a witness to the earlier emphasis which did not approve of military service for Christians. This is to be seen in the Church’s disapproval of military service by the clergy and by the continued heavy emphasis in the liturgy of the Church on the theme of peace. In the latter case, there is an unbroken liturgical tradition based on the Old Testament, Rabbinical, New Testament tradition of the “giving of peace” in the form of blessings. For example, the blessing “May the peace of God be with you all” is to be found in the Liturgy of the Apostolic Constitutions. There is no need, I believe, to document the continued tradition of prayer on behalf of peace both within and outside the Church in the liturgies of both East and West to this day.

The continuity of the pro-peace bias of the Church can be recognised in the ready agreement of the consciousness of today’s Church with the early second century sentiments of St. Ignatius. As he was being escorted by a military guard on the way to his judgement, taught, according to his Letter to the Ephesians, that “There is nothing better than peace, by which all strife in heaven and earth is done away44.” Involvement in the empire’s public life meant for the post-Constantinian Church an enhanced appreciation of those elements in the Christian tradition which affirmed the need for order, the punishment of evil doers, defence of the innocent and other such conditions. These new conditions also permitted and even enjoined the involvement of Christians in the military, though there were steps to preserve, in the life of the Church, the earlier pacifistic tendencies of the pre-Constantinian Church.

In addition to the liturgical emphasis on peace, this was accomplished by what I have called elsewhere the “stratification of pacifism” with the canonical requirement that at least the clergy not be involved in military service45.

In seeking to deal with these two tendencies in the revelatory teaching upon which it based its life, that is, the moral repugnance of war and all it stands for, and the need to support order and defend and protect life, one solution was to embody the peace ideal in its fullest sense in the clergy:

…the Church decided to require monks and clergy to be the pacifists in a Church which spoke for the whole of society. Thus, canon 83 of the Apostolic Canons says that a priest or bishop may not engage in military matters. Also prohibited to clergy is government service (Apostolic Canons 6 and 81, canon 3 of the 4th Ecumenical Council and canon 10 of the 7th Ecumenical Council), because one thereby compromises his priesthood. Canon 7 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council combines both injunctions: “We have decreed in that those who have once been enrolled in the Clergy or who have become Monks shall not join the army nor obtain any secular position of dignity. Let those be anathematised who dare to do this and fail to repent, so as to return to that which they had previously chosen on God’s account46.

While a solution of sorts, it also reflects serious problems, not the least of which is the ecclesiological problem of the place of the laity in the Church for whom no such requirement is made, and who must meet the question of participation in war by Christians on the basis of different criteria. This stratification of the pacifistic tendencies of the early Church was common, and continues to be common to Eastern and Western Christianity, at least, to Roman Catholicism.

Variant Responses in East and West

Not shared, however, in my judgement, are the theological rationales used in the East and the West in dealing with the participation of Christian laity in the military. It is not necessary at this point to delineate the development of the “Just War” tradition in the West. I believe that it is sufficiently familiar47. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine are its clear founders. These two Western Fathers drew on the scriptural and patristic sources which in one way or another validate the participation of Christian laity in government and in military service. These two seminal writers led the Western Church, not only to an acceptance of the military role by Christians, but its enhancement into a positive virtue through the development of criteria by which a war could be distinguished from an unjust war, and be called “just.”

It is my contention that the East developed a different approach to the issue. Rather than seek to morally elevate war and Christian participation in it so that it could be termed “just,” the East treated it as a necessary evil. I have previously developed this idea in an evaluation of the United States Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops’ recent encyclical letter on war and peace48. I present here a somewhat revised version of that argument.

Contrary to Augustine, “who called it a Manichaean heresy to assert that war is intrinsically evil and contrary to Christian charity49,” the Eastern Patristic tradition rarely praised war, and to my knowledge, almost never called it “just” or a moral good. Two cases, only, are known to me where it might be implied that, in passing, wars were characterised as possibly just. These references are to be found in Origen and Eusebius. Origen, in an argument specifically rejecting Christian participation in the military service of the Empire, appears to acknowledge the possibility of just wars. He says, “Though they keep their right hands clean, the Christians fight through their prayers to God on behalf of those doing battle in a just cause and on behalf of an emperor who is ruling justly in order that all opposition and hostility toward those who are acting rightly may be eliminated50.” In the same manner, in his Demonstration of the Gospel, Eusebius, while speaking of the distinction of the clergy and laity life styles in the Church, refers by way of illustration only, and in passing to “practical rules for those “serving in the army, according to justice”51.

Whatever meaning and value these passages may have, they do not seem to be in the mainstream of Eastern thinking on the matter. I believe that Louis Swift is correct in substance, but wrong in tone and implication, when he notes that “the whole problem of public and private responsibility in this area and the moral limits surrounding the ius belli and the ius in bello were never serious topics of interest in the minds of eastern writers52.” The East did not seek to deal with just war themes such as the correct conditions for entering war, and the correct conduct of war on the basis of the possibility of the existence of a “just war,” precisely because it did not hold to such a view of war. Its view was different from that of the West. The East’s approach to war was that it was a necessary evil. The peace ideal continued to remain normative and no theoretical efforts were made to make conduct of war into a positive norm.

The locus classicus illustrating this view is the 13th canon of St. Basil from his first Canonical Letter to Amphilochius . The canon struggles to free killing during war from the ethical judgement of being equivalent to murder, while concurrently refusing to call the act good or just. Here is the text:

“Our Fathers did not consider murders committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defence of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that they are not clean handed53.”

The major early patristic passage, which Basil may have been referring to, is found in St. Athanasius’ Epistle to Amun 54. In passing, and by way of illustration, as he seeks to show that circumstances serve to modify moral judgements, St. Athanasius refers to killing in war: “…thus it is not right to commit murder, but to kill enemies in war is lawful and praiseworthy55.”

His conclusion, however, does not place him so far from Basil as might first appear. “Therefore, the same thing on the one hand according to which at one time is not permitted, is on the other, at appropriate times permitted and is forgiven56.”

The inclusion of “forgiveness” needs to be understood as reflective of the strong tradition in Eastern Christianity of the concept of “involuntary sin”. This widely documented teaching acknowledges the lack of direct and willed responsibility for an act, while concurrently acknowledging the involvement of the moral agent in an act which in itself is not good and not in accordance with the divine will. In fact, St. Basil’s 13th canon follows on a canon where this concept is discussed in the context of “involuntary murder”. In the case of “involuntary murder”, Basil imposes a penance of abstinence from communion for eleven years (not a small period, compared to twenty years for a voluntary murderer), because “the man who struck had no intention of killing him”. Nevertheless, he adds, “we deem the assailant a murderer, to be sure, but an involuntary murderer57.”

Clearly, Basil, like Athanasius, evaluates killing in war to be less of an evil than a face-to-face killing between non-military persons, albeit involuntary, since in canon 13 he provides for three years of abstinence from Communion, rather than eleven years of abstinence in the preceding canon58. Other Patristic sources for the concept of “involuntary sin” are the 5th Canon of St. Gregory of Nyssa59, and Canon 23 of Ancyra (c. 314-331)60.

This view is characteristic of Byzantine society, even the military establishment. In an anonymous manual of strategy, written in the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Justinian I, war is acknowledged to be “the greatest of evils”, though often necessary.

I know well that war is a great evil, even the greatest of evils. but because enemies shed our blood in fulfilment of an incitement of law and valour, and because it is wholly necessary for each man to defend his own fatherland and his fellow countrymen with words, writings, and acts, we have decided to write about strategy, through which we shall be able not only to fight but to overcome the enemy61.

A careful study of the chapters of this work will show that most military definitions are couched in defensive language. Further, it will be seen that the majority of tactics espoused seek to embody subterfuge, cunning, deception, tricks, and hoaxes in order to avoid battle, and to cause the enemy to withdraw of his own volition. The Byzantines also preferred the payment of tribute rather than the doing of battle.

This is not the only evidence. Walter Kaegi, a historian of Byzantine military strategy, summarises a late 6th or early 7th century major Byzantine strategic treatise, known as the Strategikon of Maurice, which shows that every means possible was used to avoid open warfare62.

The author of the Strategikon advises his readers to fashion craftiness and cunning in war and to avoid open battles, that it is often preferable to strike the enemy “by means of deceptions or raids or hunger” instead of open battle.

He cautions against using open warfare. The object of warfare is the defeat and disruption, not necessarily the slaughter, of the enemy. In fact, the author of the Strategikon counsels against using the technique of encirclement because it would encourage the enemy to remain and to risk battle. He advises that it is better to allow an encircled enemy to flee to avoid forcing him to take a life-or-death stand, which would be costly in casualties to the encircling party. There is no more eloquent testimony to the desire to avoid decisive battle63.

We are not here primarily interested in Byzantine military strategy, of course. The purpose of quoting the passages above is to show that, both religiously and militarily, the East recognised the necessity for war, as well as its evil and the need and desire to mitigate its consequences. Though one might question the practical outcome of such a view, it is considered by some to have been an important contributing factor to the long life of the Byzantine Empire64. In the last analysis, it would appear that the Eastern approach served to limit and reduce war and its evil consequences, in practice, while neither making it into a good, nor following the path of pacifism.

I believe that these approaches express well the viewpoint of the Eastern Orthodox Church on war. Thus in a strict sense it cannot speak of a “good war”, or even a “just war.” There are, of course, problems on both sides of this issue. For example, seeing war as a necessary evil, rather than as a “just” and thus morally approved practice, raises the question of motivation for the waging of war, since calling it a necessary evil can hardly be encouraging to a strong military élan. Consequently, some might be motivated to charge the Eastern approach as guilty of contributing to the possibility of defeat and failure by fostering the begrudging taking up of arms. Nevertheless, it is perhaps because of some such considerations (with the possible exception of Heraclius’ Persian campaign), that crusades were noticeably absent from Byzantine imperial military policy. All that this does, however, is to re-emphasise the great difficulties for the Church in dealing with the pro-peace bias in a world fraught with sin, evil and injustice. My point is that the East has responded to the issue in a way that is different from that of the West.


All the evidence, I believe, points to the realisation that the patristic sources see peace as an integral aspect of the Christian truth. For the Fathers, whether one speaks of the inner world of the soul, the intimate relationship of the soul with God, the life in the Church, the social relationships among believers, the encounter of believers with the world at large, the enforcement of justice within societies, or the defence of nations from external threat, there is a bias for peace.

That emphasis on peace is an ongoing and permanent focus of the Christian teaching as it addresses the issues of today’s nuclear-threatened world, and justifies its inclusion in the topics of the forthcoming Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church.

endnotes for this essay:

1 Stanley S. Harakas, Something is Stirring in World Orthodoxy. Minneapolis: Light & Life Publ. Co., 1978.

2 Ibid., p. 65.

3 In English, three volumes are of particular interest: Louis J. Swift, The Early Fathers on War and Military Service, Vol.19; 1983 and Peter C. Phan, Social Thought, Vol.20, 1984, in the series Message of the Fathers of the Church. Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, Inc. See also the study, by John Helgeland, Robert J. Daly, and S. Patout Burns, Christians and the Military: The Early Experience. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

4 I am here closely following Gerhard von Rad and Werner Foerster, in Gerhard Kittel, ed Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol.11. Tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964, pp. 400-420.

5 Ibid., p. 401.

6 Ibid., p. 412.

7 Stanley S. Harakas, Toward Transfigured Life: The Theoria of Eastern Orthodox Ethics. Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Co, 1983, chapter 7.

8 19:2, 3.

9 Homily I on 1st Corinthians.

10 op. cit., 2,2.

12 Letter 203, 2.

13 II,2,4

14 On the Beatitudes, 7.

15 21, 9

16 Against the Jews, 3, 6.

17 Commentary on John, 6, 1.

18 Homily on Psalm 29.

19 Homily on Psalm 28.

20 Homily on Psalm 33.

21 1:7.

22 4, 25.

23 Instructor, 2, 2.

24 ibid., 2, 4.

25 Exhortation to the Heathens, II.

26 4, 3.

27 A few representative titles in English are: Cecil J. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War, Oxford, 1919; _________,The Early Church and the World. A History of the Christian Attitude to Pagan Society and the State down to the Time of Constantinius, Edinburgh, 1925; C.E. Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords. Berkeley, 1979; H.A. Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine. New York, 1963; A. von Harnack, Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries. Philadelphia, 1980; G. Zampaglione, The Idea of Peace in Antiquity. Notre Dame, 1973.

28 28 61, 1-2.

29 First Apology, 39:3.

30 II, 1-7.

31 Apostolic Tradition, XVI.

32 6.

33 7, 73.

34 5, 33.

35 Demonstration of the Gospel, 3, 7, 140; Preparation for the Gospel 1, 4.

36 In Praise of Constantine, 2, 3.

37 On v. 8.

38 Christians and the Roman Army: A..D. 173-337, Church History, 43, 1974, pp. 149-163.

39 Christians and the Military: The Early Experience, op. cit.

40 “The Rejection of Military Service by the Early Christians”, Theological Studies, 13, 1952, pp. 1-32.

41 The Early Fathers on War and Military Service, op. cit.

42 Helgeland, Daly, Burns, op. cit., p.89 of the page proofs. I am grateful to Fr. Robert Daly who made the page proofs available to me, shortly before the publication of the book.

43 8, 13, 1.

44 13, 2.

45 Stanley S. Harakas, “The Morality of War”, Joseph J. Allen, ed. Orthodox Synthesis: The Unity of Theological Thought. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1981, pp. 67-94.

46 Ibid, p.85. See also Swift, op. cit. pp.88,92-93.

47 See bibliographical references above.

48 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. Washington, DC, 1983. The paper, under the title “The NCCB Pastoral Letter: ‘The Challenge of Peace’ — An Eastern Orthodox Response” was published in 1985 by the Catholic University of America Press.

49 Quoted in footnote 31, The Challenge of Peace, Sec. 82.

50 Against Celsus, 8’73

51 1,8.1 do not think that Swift’s translation “practical rules for those fighting in a just war” is adequate.

52 Ibid., p.96.

53 The Rudder, Chicago: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1957, p.801.

54 MPG, 26, 1169-1180.

55 Ibid., 1173B.

56 Ibid. Emphasis mine.

57 Canon 11, ibid., p.800.

58 For more on “involuntary sin”, see Stanley S. Harakas, Toward Transfigured Life. op. cit., p. 84.

59 “Canonical Epistle to Letoius, Bishop of Melitine.” Canon V. The Pedalion. Ibid., pp. 874-875.

60 Ibid., p. 502.

61 “Der Byzantiner Kriegswissenschaft”, 4.2 in Griechische Kriegsschriftsteller, ed. H. Koechly and W. Rustow. Leipzig, 1855, vol. 2, p. 56.

62 Das Strategikon des Maurikios, ed. George T. Dennis and German translation by E. Gamillscheg, and the Dennis English translation, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

63 Walter Emil Kaegi, Jr., “Some Thoughts on Byzantine Military Strategy,” Brookline, Ma.: Hellenic College Press, 1983, p. 8.65.

64 Ibid., pp.9-10.

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

XI. Personal and national health

XI. 1. At all times the Church has been concerned for the human health, both spiritual and physical. From the Orthodox perspective, however, the physical health divorced from spiritual is not an absolute value. Preaching by word and deed, the Lord Jesus Christ healed people, taking care not only of their bodies, but above all of their souls, and as a result of the integrity of the personality. According to the Saviour Himself, he healed “a man every whit whole” (Jn. 7:23). The preaching of the gospel was accompanied with healing as a sign of the power of the Lord to forgive sins. Healing was an integral part of the apostolic preaching as well. The Church of Christ, endowed by her Divine Founder with every gift of the Holy Spirit, was from the beginning a community of healing, and today too, in her rite of confession she reminds her children that they have come into an infirmary to come out healed.

The biblical attitude to medicine is expressed most fully in the Book of Jesus the Son of Sirach: “Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him… For of the most High cometh healing The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. And he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvellous works. With such doth he heal [men,] and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth, My son, in thy sickness be not negligent: but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole. Leave off from sin, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness…Then give place to the physician, for the Lord hath created him: let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time when in their hands there is good success. For they shall also pray unto the Lord, that he would prosper that, which they give for ease and remedy to prolong life.” (Sir. 38:1-2, 4, 6-10, 12-14). The best representatives of the ancient medicine, included in the community of saints, gave a special example of holiness the holiness of disinterested and miracle-working people. They were glorified not only because they often suffered martyrdom, but also because they accepted the medical calling as Christian duty of mercy.

The Orthodox Church has always treated the medical work with high respect as it is based on the service of love aimed to prevent and relieve people’s suffering. The recovery of the human nature distorted by illness appears as the fulfilment of God’s design for man. “May the very God of peace sanctify you wholly and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 5:23). The body, free from slavery to sinful passions and illnesses as their consequences, should serve the soul, while the spiritual powers and abilities, transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, should aspire for the ultimate goal and calling of man which is deification. Every authentic healing is called to be part of this miracle of healing accomplished in the Church of Christ. At the same time, it is necessary to distinguish the healing power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, given in the faith in One Lord Jesus Christ through participation in the church Sacraments, from conjuration, incantation and other magic manipulations and prejudices.

Many illnesses are still incurable and cause suffering and death. In the face of such illnesses, the Orthodox Christian is called to rely on the all-good will of God, remembering that the meaning of life is not limited to earthly life which is essentially the preparation for eternity. Suffering is a consequence of not only personal sins, but also the general distortion and limitation of the human nature and as such should be endured with patience and hope. The Lord voluntarily accepts suffering so that the human race may be saved: “with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5). This means that God was pleased to make suffering a means of salvation and purification, possible for every one who endures it with humbleness and trust in the all-good will of God. According to St. John Chrysostom, “whoever has learnt to thank God for his illnesses is not far from being holy”. This does not mean that a doctor or a patient should not struggle with illness. However, when human resources are exhausted, the Christian should remember that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness and that in the depths of suffering he can meet Christ Who took upon Himself our infirmities and afflictions (Is. 53:4).

XI. 2. The Church calls upon both pastors and her faithful to bear Christian witness to health workers. It is very important that medical teachers and students should be introduced to the bases of the Orthodox teaching and Orthodox-oriented biomedical ethics. (see, XII). The Church’s spiritual care in the sphere of healthcare lies essentially in the proclamation of the word of God and the offer of the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who suffer and those who take care of them. Central to it are the participation of patients in the salvific Sacraments, creation of an atmosphere of prayer in clinics and the comprehensive charitable support of their patients. The church mission in the medical sphere is a duty not only for the clergy, but also for the Orthodox medical workers called to create all the conditions for religious consolation to be given to the patients who ask for it either directly or indirectly. A believing medical worker should understand that a person who needs his help expects from him not only appropriate treatment, but also spiritual support, especially if he upholds a worldview revealing the mystery of suffering and death. The duty of every Orthodox medical worker is to be for the patient the merciful Samaritan from the Gospel parable.

The Church gives her blessing upon the Orthodox brotherhoods and sisterhoods working in clinics and other healthcare institutions and helping to found hospital churches, as well as church and monastery hospitals, so that medical aid in all stages of treatment may be combined with pastoral care. The Church urges the laity to give all possible support to the sick to relieve human suffering with gentle love and care.

XI. 3. For the Church, the problem of personal and national health is not an external and purely social, because it has a direct bearing on her mission in the world damaged by sin and infirmities. The Church is called to participate, in collaboration with state structures and concerned public circles, in the development of such a conception of national healthcare whereby every person would exercise his right to spiritual, physical and mental health and social welfare under maximum life expectancy.

The doctor-patient relationships should be built on respect for the integrity, free choice and dignity of the personality. It is inadmissible to manipulate him even for the best purposes. The Church cannot but welcomes the development of doctor-patient dialogue taking place in medicine today. This approach is definitely rooted in the Christian tradition, though there is a temptation to reduce it to a purely contractual level. At the same time, it should be admitted that the traditional “paternalistic” model of doctor-patient relations, rightly criticised for frequent attempts to justify the doctor’s arbitrariness, can also offer a truly paternal approach to the patient, determined by the morality of the doctor.

Without giving preference to any organisational model of medical aid, the Church believes that this aid should be maximum effective and accessible to all members of society, regardless of their financial means and social status, also in the situation of limited medical resources. To make the distribution of these resources truly equitable, the criterion of “vital needs” should prevail over that of “market relations”. The doctor should not link the measure of his responsibility for giving medical aid exclusively with the financial reward and its amount, turning his profession into a source of enrichment. At the same time, worthy payment for the work of medical workers appears to be an important task for society and state.

While acknowledging the benefit of medicine becoming more oriented to prognosis and prevention and welcoming the integral conception of health and illness, the Church warns against attempts to make a particular medical theory absolute, reminding of the importance of keeping the spiritual priorities in the human life. On the basis of her age-old experience, the Church also warns of the danger that may be brought by attempt to introduce the occult-magic practice under the guise of “alternative medicine”, as this practice subjects the will and consciousness of people to the power of demonic forces. Every person should have the right and a real opportunity to reject those methods of influencing his organism which contradict his religious convictions.

The Church reminds the faithful that physical health is not self-sufficient, since it is only one of the aspects in the integral human being. It should be admitted, however, that in order to maintain the personal and national health it is important to take preventive measures and to create real conditions for people to engage themselves in physical culture and sports. Competition is natural for sports. Its extreme commercialisation, however, and the ensuing cult of pride, ruinous drug-taking and, all the more so, the contests in which severe injuries are purposefully inflicted cannot be approved.

XI. 4. The Russian Orthodox Church has to state with deep concern that the peoples she has traditionally nourished are in the state of demographical crisis today. The birth rate and the average life expectancy have sharply decreased, with the population continually decreasing in number. Life is threatened by epidemics, growing cardiovascular, mental, venereal and other diseases, as well as drug-addiction and alcoholism. Children’s illnesses, including imbecility, have also grown. The demographical problems lead to deformation in the social structure and decrease in the creative potential of the people and become one of the causes of the weakening family. The primary causes of the depopulation and health crisis of these peoples in the 20th century are wars, revolution, hunger and massive repression the consequences of which have aggravated the social crisis at the end of the century.

The Church has been continually occupied with demographic problems. She is called to follow closely the legislative and administrative processes in order to prevent decisions aggravating the situation. It is necessary to conduct continuous dialogue with the government and the mass media to interpret the Church’s stand on the demographic and healthcare policy. The fight with depopulation should be included in the effective support of medical research and social programs intended to protect motherhood and childhood, the embryo and the newborn. The state is called to support the birth and proper upbringing of children.

XI. 5. The Church regards mental diseases as manifestations of the general sinful distortion of the human nature. Singling out the spiritual, mental and bodily levels in the structure of the personality, the holy fathers drew a distinction between the diseases which developed “from nature” and the infirmities caused by the diabolic impact or enslaving human passions. In accordance with this distinction, it is equally unjustifiable to reduce all mental diseases to manifestations of obsession the conception ensuing in the unjustifiable exorcism of evil spirits, and to treat any mental disorder exclusively by medical means. More fruitful in psychotherapy is the combination of the pastoral and the medical aid with due delimitation made between the jurisdictions of the doctor and the priest.

No mental disease diminishes the dignity of a person. The Church testifies that a mentally ill person, too, is a bearer of the image of God, remaining our brother who needs compassion and support. Morally inadmissible are the psychotherapeutic approaches based on the suppression of a patient’s personality and the humiliation of his dignity. Occult methods of influencing the psyche, sometimes disguised as scientific psychotherapy, are categorically unacceptable for Orthodoxy. In special cases, the treatment of the mentally ill requires both isolation and other forms of coercion. However, in choosing the form of medical intervention, the principle of the least restriction of a patient’s freedom should be observed.

XI. 6. The Bible says that “wine maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15) and “it is good… if it be drunk moderately” (Sir. 31:27). But we repeatedly find both in Holy Scriptures and the writings of the holy fathers the strong denunciation of the vice of drinking, which, beginning unnoticeably, leads to many other ruinous sins. Very often drinking causes the disintegration of family, bringing enormous suffering to both the victim of this sinful infirmity and his relatives, especially children.

“Drinking is animosity against God Drinking is a voluntarily courted devil Drinking drives the Holy Spirit away”, St. Basil the Great writes. “Drinking is the root of all evils The drunkard is a living corpse Drinking in itself can serve as punishment, filling as it is the soul with confusion, filling the mind with darkness, making a drunk prisoner, subjecting one to innumerable diseases, internal and external Drinking is a many-sided and many-headed beast Here it gives rise to fornication, there to anger, here to the dullness of the mind and the heart, there to impure love Nobody obeys the ill will of the devil as faithfully as a drunkard does”, St. John Chrysostom exhorted. “A drunk man is capable of every evil and prone to every temptation Drinking renders its adherent incapable of any task”, St. Tikhon Zadonsky testifies.

Even more destructive is ever increasing drug-addiction the passion that makes a person enslaved by it extremely vulnerable to the impact of dark forces. With every year this terrible infirmity engulfs more and more people, taking away great many a life. The fact that the most liable to it are young people makes it a special threat to society. The selfish interests of the drug business help to promote, especially among youth, the development of a special “drug” pseudo-culture. It imposes on immature people the stereotypes of behaviour in which the use of drugs is seen as a “normal” and even indispensable attribute of relations.

The principal reason for the desire of many of our contemporaries to escape into a realm of alcoholic or narcotic illusions is spiritual emptiness, loss of the meaning of life and blurred moral guiding lines. Drug-addiction and alcoholism point to the spiritual disease that has affected not only the individual, but also society as a whole. This is a retribution for the ideology of consumerism, for the cult of material prosperity, for the lack of spirituality and the loss of authentic ideals. In her pastoral compassion for the victims of alcoholism and drug-addiction, the Church offers them spiritual support in overcoming the vice. Without denying the need of medical aid to be given at the critical stages of drug-addiction, the Church pays special attention to the prevention and rehabilitation which are the most effective when those suffering participate consciously in the eucharistic and communal life.

Continue on to XII. Problems of Bio-Ethics from The Orthodox Church and Society