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We are happy that you have registered on-line for the 2012 North American Conference of the Orthodox Peace Fellowdship, and look forward to making your acquaintance (or renewing an old relationship)! Here is some additional information to help you plan your trip:
If you let us know well in advance how you plan to come, we will try to help with transportation from the airport or station, provide driving directions or otherwise advise you. What we are able to do will depend, in part, on how arrival times and locations are distributed, but we will do our best.
Please make your reservation at the Ramada (if you plan to stay there) as soon as possible. Rooms not reserved after May 1 are liable to be given to other prospective guests. Each conferee is responsible for making their reservation with the hotel, and for any charges they may incur. (Conference organizers should be getting your name and room number from the hotel, in case you needed to be reached after-hours or in case of an emergency.)
If you are staying elsewhere, we will appreciate having your contact information there, but cannot provide transportation, unless you can make it to the Ramada to join other conferees there.
All of our meetings on Friday, June 1 and Saturday, June 2, will be held on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley. Nearer to the event, we will give you an exact location where you will check-in for the conference and be directed to the first meeting.
Sunday’s program will take place at the All Saints of North America Monastery, which is in rural Dewdney, British Columbia, about ten miles from Abbotsford. Transportation will be provided, for those who need it, from the Ramada Plaza. If you plan to attend, and need transportation — or, if you will be driving and need directions — please contact us prior to conference if at all possible.
If there is time, you will be sent a program booklet in advance, so that you can look it over at your leisure. You will also be given a hard-copy when you check-in on-site, so you don’t need to print out the program at home. All sessions are to be held in plenary (no break-out sessions), and each session will include some time for questions and/or discussion.
Upon checking in, you will be given your booklet, a name-tag and some other information. Also available, if you need them, will be pens and notepads.
Please make sure that we have an emergency contact for you, and that we know of your requirements regarding meals, architectural accessibility or other special needs. if you are slated to be a speaker, be sure that we know your requirements (projector, podium, etc.) prior to the event.
Local Conference Coordinator: Andrew Klager – [email protected]
Conference Chairman: Alexander Patico – [email protected]
Do you want to pay online for the conference? If you did not do so already, you can do so securely here: http://www.incommunion.org/secure/OPFConference2012.html
In Communion, the quarterly journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is available to all members of OPF by mail. If you’ve never read an issue, please download IC66 as a sample. If you find it of benefit and would like to receive each new issue in the mail, please consider becoming a member or simply making a donation to receive the journal (click on the “subscribe” link to the right). If you are already a member, please consider downloading the issue and sharing it with anyone you think might be intereseted or would benefit from receiving it. We think when people read In Communion once, they want to keep reading it–help us spread the word!
Dear In Communion reader,
It always surprises me, for a journal of so modest a size, how much we
manage to get into it. It’s a bit like Holland, small but densely populated.
Walking home this morning, having left the paper edition of In Communion
with the printer, I thought about the longest piece in this issue, a
selection of short commentaries from the Church Fathers about the eight
Beatitudes. It struck me that the life of the peacemaker is essentially to
live the Beatitudes. Not just one of them is about peacemaking. They all
are, and none of the eight can be crossed off the list as being less
In one way or another, each of the longer pieces in this issue has something
to do with the Beatitudes. Two dramatic examples are given in the accounts
of how two bishops acted in a way that saved many lives and changed for the
better the direction of the nations in which they lived: Metropolitan Kirill
in Bulgaria, who in 1943 was able to stop a train that would have carried
Jews to a death camp; and Patriarch Aleksy of Moscow, who in 1991 called on
soldiers not to obey orders to open fire on unarmed people surrounding the
Parliament and in the process helped prevent a KGB-led coup.
Peacemaking is rarely that dramatic. Often it’s almost invisible a parish
member who quietly works to defuse a situation which, left unattended to,
could destroy the unity of the parish; or someone who manages to talk about
a controversial issue (war, abortion, capital punishment) in such a way that
ears are opened instead of closed.
Peacemaking is rooted in our spiritual life. Without prayer, including
prayer for our enemies and opponents, how can we hope to come closer to God
and to each other? Here too there is much in this issue that we hope you
will find helpful.
*We appeal to you to help us continue the work of the Orthodox Peace
If you are not yet a member, consider joining. See this web page for
What about giving some one you care about a subscription to In Communion?
Your parish priest or to a friend?
Another way is to make a donation to OPF. Just click the donation button.
Thank you for whatever help you can manage.
In Christ’s peace,
editor and OPF co-secretary
A Palestinian Christian
Cry for Reconciliation
By Naim Stifan Ateek
Orbis Books, 224 pp, $24
Fr. Naim Ateek has played a major role in promoting Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Rejecting the misuse of scripture by both Jewish and Christian Zionists, his book offers helpful insights to biblical texts that help sustain Palestinian Christians, descendants of the first Christians.
The book may be even more important for Christians in the West, however, who often have little knowledge of scripture’s rejection of domination and the violence of empires.
The author applies his knowledge of history and culture to stories and parables with such simplicity that they can be told to children. Writing about the Book of Jonah, for example, he shows how literalism and the lack of historical knowledge robs great literature of its power and meaning. He asks if readers today understand the revolutionary nature of the story or its implications for modern-day Israel and its relationship with Palestinians?”
Ateek founded of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem as a means of taking the Gospel beyond scholarship to discipleship and witness, to checkpoints, demolished houses, refugee camps, barrier walls and prisons.
Letters and Writings from Prison
edited by Erna Putz
Orbis Books, $25, 260 pages
Franz Jäggerstätter, an Austrian farmer, devoted husband and father, was executed in 1943 for refusing to serve in the Nazi army. Before taking this stand, Jäggerstätter had consulted both his pastor and his local bishop, who instructed him to do his duty and to obey the law.
For years Jäggerstätter’s solitary witness was honored by the Christian peace movement, while viewed with discomfort by many of his fellow Austrians. Now, with his beatification by the Catholic Church in 2007, he has become better known a martyr as challenging to Orthodox Christians as he has been to Catholics.
Here is an extract from his last letter: “Dearest wife and mother, it was not possible for me to free both of you from the sorrows that you have suffered for me. How hard it must have been for our dear Lord that he had given his dear mother such great sorrow through his suffering and death! And she suffered everything out of love for us sinners. I thank our Savior that I could suffer for him, and may die for him. I trust in his infinite compassion. I trust that God forgives me everything, and will not abandon me in the last hour. … And now all my loved ones, be well. And do not forget me in your prayers. Keep the Commandments, and we shall see each other again soon in heaven!”
How could a humble farmer imagine he had a clearer conscience than those who led the Church in his homeland? We find in Franz Jägerstätter a living answer to such questions.
The Evidence of Things Not Seen
by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
Synaxis Press, 135 pages
In The Evidence of Things Not Seen, Archbishop Lazar moves with ease from specific topics in Orthodox theology to corresponding topics in physics, demonstrating that (in contrast to fundamentalist Christian religions) the Orthodox faith and modern physics are compatible.
Lazar distinguishes between facts and meaning. In a physical experiment, one can take very accurate measurements, but without interpretation they have no meaning. Lazar points out that an early astronomer, Brahe, took accurate astronomical measurements, but still ended up with an incorrect theory of cosmology. His facts were useless until they were correctly interpreted after his death by Kepler, his assistant.
Similarly the creation narrative, from the beginning up to the time of Abraham and Sarah, condenses enormous time and vast prehistoric oral tradition into a simple narrative. This narrative is about meaning, not historical or scientific detail. We are reminded that we derive our theology from meaning, not from supposed “facts.”
In comparing modern microphysics to Orthodox theology, Lazar points out that there is no separation between the observer and the observed. The observer in both instances is not extraneous to the observed, but is a participant at different levels of experience, being part of the process by seeking to understand and quantify it. In theology, the observer has intentionally involved himself, hoping to become part of it the living theology of Orthodoxy whereas in quantum physics the observer unavoidably impacts directly on the observation, becoming a part of the process being observed.
One of Lazar’s key points is that almost all apparent conflict between science and faith is the result of “models of reality” rather than of reality itself. When we become rigid and frozen in our models by, for example, using a journalistic understanding of scripture, we deprive ourselves of reality itself. As an historical example, Lazar goes to the year 1500 when the general model of reality for our universe placed a stationary earth at the center of the universe, around which the sun and other heavenly bodies were rotating. The great philosophers as well as the Scripture agreed that this was reality rather than a model of reality, so concrete as to be a dogma of faith.
But the observations of the heavens by Galileo proved the old model was wrong. Galileo came up with the more accurate model of reality in which the earth and the planets rotate around the stationary sun, which caused a conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church. Galileo’s doctrine was condemned by Rome and Galileo was forced to recant. But even Galileo’s model of reality was not the last word. The sun is no longer seen as a stationary object but a star racing through space as part of a spiral arm of a galaxy a better model, but one which may need to be modified as more discoveries are made.
“Orthodox Christianity is not an arbiter of facts,” writes Archbishop Lazar, “but the healer of humanity, the source of meaning, the path to the authenticity of life and the doorway to eternity and immortality.”
Dr. John Mavroides
The Healing Word
by Bishop Basil of Amphipolis
Darton, Longman & Todd, 13
It is not just the case that much of the universe is not seen; it cannot be seen. This was well known in patristic times, and it is consonant with biblical revelation and the tradition of the Church. In his sensitive and illuminating reading of scripture and the Fathers, Bishop Basil encourages us to look afresh at the creation by acquiring the mind of Christ through word and sacrament and membership of the Church. He is concerned to show that “the universe is ultimately a single integrated whole and in God each part of it is linked with every other.”
In “Healing in the Life of the Individual,” Basil helps us to see new truths in familiar texts by a kind of running exegesis, which assumes without laboring the insights of modern scholarship.
There follow chapters on baptism, forgiveness, the mystery of the Church and the Eucharist, ecumenism and the royal priesthood of the Church.
Bishop Basil breaks new ground in the third section, “Becoming a Healing Presence in the World,” in his use of the work of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite and of Maximus the Confessor.
Here are real treasures. I found myself putting ticks against every illuminating quotation from Maximus, just as I was putting question marks against much of Dionysius. But then so does Bishop Basil, who frequently has to fill out gaps in the Dionysian arguments himself.
“We cannot today ignore the development of science,” writes Bishop Basil, “if we are to present our case as Christians in the world in which we live.”
Dr. John ArnoldOne day, a man who was visiting Mount Athos asked several wise elders the following question: “What is the most important thing in your life?” Each time he was answered like this: “It is divine love; to love God and to love one’s neighbor.” He said: “I don’t have love, either for prayer, or for God, or for other people. What must I do?” And then he decided by himself: “I will act as if I had this love.” Thirty years later, the Holy Spirit gave him the grace of love.
Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53
Europe’s association of Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches has called on Albania to return all religious property seized from religious communities during 46 years of Communist rule that followed the Second World War.
“Even after 18 years of democracy, much of the property confiscated under Communism still has to be returned to the churches and other religious communities,” the Conference of European Churches said in a statement made public 11 February during a meeting in Tirana.
Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania hosted the meeting. He came from Greece to Albania in 1992 to head the Orthodox Church of Albania and to help rebuild its life. Since then, more than 150 new churches have been built, 70 monasteries and historical monuments restored and 160 churches repaired. At the same time, the Orthodox church has initiated activities in the fields of health, education, social engagement, agricultural development, culture, environment and interfaith dialogue. There are now about 140 clergy serving the Church in Albania.
Albania declared itself “cleansed of religion” in 1967, under its communist leader Enver Hoxha, and declared “the world’s first fully atheist state.” All religious activity, even in homes, was strictly forbidden.
The church grouping’s leaders welcomed the freedom of religion that now exists in Albania following the end of Communism in 1991. But they expressed concern about the failure of the authorities to return the property of religious communities. They urged the government to “reconsider, without delay, the return of all sacred places … with all their associated land.” [ENI]
Pope Benedict meeting Kirill before his election as Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church
Festivities in Rome in late May for the dedication of an Orthodox church, St. Catherine the Great Martyr, on the grounds of the Russian Embassy near the Vatican, attested to a marked warming of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican. If trends hold true, a meeting of the pope and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Russia may be close.
While in Rome, Orthodox clergy also conducted a service at San Clemente, one of Rome’s most ancient churches.
Pope John Paul long dreamed of visiting Russia and mending relations with its Orthodox church, the world’s largest, but he was never invited to Russia.
Relations have warmed since Patriarch Kirill’s election as the new head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In March, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to a ceremony in Bari, Italy, where the Italian government handed back to Russia a church and pilgrimage center built in the czarist era. “How could we not recognize that this beautiful church awakens in us the nostalgia for full unity and maintains alive in us the commitment to work for union among all the disciples of Christ,” he wrote.
As Metropolitan of Smolensk, in 2006 Kirill wrote the foreword to the first Russian-language edition of Pope Benedict’s book Introduction to Christianity. “The traditionalism of Benedict XVI offers a profound view, a wise insight into the essence of things,” Kirill wrote. “It is my deep conviction that this must be the approach of all Christians desiring to remain loyal to the never-aging Tradition of the Ancient Church in the face of the latest in a series of onslaughts of totalitarian relativism, which we are observing today.”
Ironically, while shared theological values unite the new patriarch and Benedict, Kirill has been under attack by Orthodox fundamentalists in Russia, in part for an outgoing style and presence that more readily recall John Paul II.
Tensions between Moscow and some of the world’s Orthodox churches are a stumbling block to relations with the Catholic Church. Moscow and Constantinople have been wrestling for centuries over jurisdictional issues, and with renewed vigor since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Moscow Patriarchate chafes especially when the Patriarch of Constantinople is described as the Orthodox pope. [Sophia Kishkovsky]
The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leapt by nearly 40 percent in 2008, according to a United Nations survey released in February. It provides the latest objective measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country.
The death toll 2,118 civilians killed in 2008, compared with 1,523 in 2007 is the highest since the Taliban government was ousted in November 2001, at the outset of a war.
The report found that the Taliban and other insurgents caused the majority of the civilian deaths, mainly through suicide bombers and roadside bombs, many aimed at killing as many civilians as possible.
But the report also found that Afghan government forces and those of the American-led coalition killed 828 people last year, up sharply from the previous year. Most of those were killed in airstrikes and raids on villages, which are often conducted at night.
Civilian deaths have eroded public support for the war and inflamed tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for their share of the rising toll.
An interview with Syed Mohammed, an elderly survivor of one raid, was published in February in The New York Times. Mr. Mohammed recalled how one day last September his son’s family was wiped out in an American-led raid.
Mr. Mohammed said he was awakened in the early morning to the sound of gunfire and explosions. In a flash, Mr. Mohammed said, several American and Afghan soldiers kicked open the door of his home. The Americans, he said, had beards, an almost certain sign that they belonged to a unit of the Special Forces, which permits uniformed soldiers to grow facial hair.
“Who are you?” Mr. Mohammed recalled asking the intruders. “Shut up,” came the reply from one of the Afghan soldiers. “We are the government.” Mr. Mohammed said he was taken to a nearby base, interrogated for several hours, then let go as sunrise neared.
When he returned home, he went next door to his son’s house, only to find that most of his family had been killed: the son, Nurallah, and his pregnant wife and two of his sons, Abdul Basit, age 1, and Mohammed, 2. Only Mr. Mohammed’s 4-year-old grandson, Zarqawi, survived. “The soldiers had a right to search our house,” Mr. Mohammed said. “But they didn’t have a right to do this.”
Bullet holes still pockmarked the Nurallah home more than four months after the attack, and the infant’s cradle still hung from the ceiling. The day after the attack, a senior Afghan official came to the door and handed Mr. Mohammed $800.
The UN report also said the airstrikes that went awry were often those called in by troops under attack.
Under such circumstances, some of the normal rules may not apply. An American attack in the western Afghan village of Azizabad last August highlighted these tensions. An American AC-130 gunship struck a suspected Taliban compound, killing more than 90 people.
In May, approximately 140 civilians died in a single US bombing error. Bombs hit houses in two villages in western Farah province in which mostly women and children were hiding. There had been Taliban forces in the area, but survivors said they had left before the bombs were dropped.
The hope that all Christians will celebrate Easter on the same day in the future was reaffirmed by an international ecumenical seminar in mid-May organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
The problem is nearly as old as the Church itself. As Christianity started to spread around the world, Christians came to differing results on when to commemorate Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, due to the different reports in the four gospels on these events.
Attempts to establish a common date for Easter began with the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. It established that the date of Easter would be the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. However, it did not fix the methods to be used to calculate the timing of the full moon or the vernal equinox.
Nowadays the Orthodox churches use the 21st of March on the Julian calendar as the date of the equinox, while the churches of the Western tradition that is the Protestant and Catholic churches base their calculations on the Gregorian calendar. The resulting gap between the two Easter dates can be as much as five weeks.
All participants at the seminar, which included Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant theologians from a variety of European countries, endorsed a compromise proposed at a World Council of Churches consultation in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997. The proposal was to keep the Nicaea rule but calculate the equinox and full moon using the accurate astronomical data available today, rather than those used many years ago.
Participants at the seminar expressed the hope that the years 2010 and 2011, when the coincidence of the calendars will produce a common Easter date, would serve as a period during which all Christians would join their efforts “to make such coincidence not to be an exception but rather a rule” and prepare for an Easter date based on exact astronomical reckoning and celebrated by all Christians on 8 April 2012.
However, the seminar entitled “A common date for Easter is possible” did not turn a blind eye to what participants considered to be “the main problem” “not the calculations, but the complex relations and lack of trust among different Christian denominations due to long divisions.”
Orthodox theologian Prof. Antoine Arjakovsky, director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, pointed out: “While the astronomic reckoning of the Nicean rule comes closer to the Gregorian calendar than to the ancient Julian one, the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches did take a step towards the Orthodox churches in Aleppo, accepting that the date of Easter should be established on the base of a cosmic calendar rather than by a fixed date as had been proposed prior to the inter-Orthodox meeting in Chambésy in 1977.”
Frequently asked questions about the date of Easter www.oikoumene.org/?id=3169
More information about the seminar: www.ecumenicalstudies.org.ua/eng/ies_ activity/one.easter/.
The Conference of European Churches has criticized Turkey’s lack of legal protection of churches, and called on European institutions to protect the country’s Syriac Orthodox Mor Gabriel monastery, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.
“The Conference of European Churches is deeply concerned about the threat to the survival of the monastery,” said Rüdiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission and associated general secretary of CEC. “We invite political leaders to do everything in their power to protect the continued existence of the monastery.”
Muslim village leaders from southeastern Turkey have begun legal action to take possession of lands belonging to the Assyrian monastery of Saint Gabriel. The monastery was established in 397 AD, and those who support its retention by its Christian inhabitants note that the monastery was founded before the birth of Islam.
In a statement issued in December, CEC urged the Turkish government to prevent the expropriation of the monastery and its land, calling on the government to respect the right for Christianity to be freely practiced within the monastery, and criticized what it described as the lack of legal protection for Christian churches in Turkey.
The Mor Gabriel monastery is in the Tur Abdin region of Turkey. The building belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Church and is headed by Archbishop Timotheos Samuel Aktas. About 60 monks, nuns and young people, who attend surrounding schools, live in the monastery. Around 70,000 guests visit the monastery every year.
CEC said that since mid-2008 it had received reports that Kurdish and Arab villagers in the neighborhood had occupied land belonging to the monastery.
Religion has been part of the problem in the Middle East, but now needs to be part of the solution, says Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of Rabbis for Human Rights.
At the end of January, the Jerusalem-based group helped to bring religious leaders of different faiths to an Israeli hospital where both wounded Israeli soldiers and wounded Gazan civilians were being treated.
“We want to be the voice of peace of every single person to stand up and speak together and to be heard at this troubling time,” said Ascherman.
Pastors, priests, rabbis and imams mourned the dead from both sides and prayed for the healing of all the wounded, the organizers said.
At a separate ecumenical church meeting, Bishop Munib Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said, “The church, with its diverse denominations, can speak in unison about economics with ethics and politics with morals.”
Calling on the church to unite around working for justice, Younan pointed to circumstances in the Palestinian region of Gaza, saying, “The situation in Gaza will not be made right by relief. It will only be made right by justice… The Lord does not call for us to sympathize with captives but to release them.”
Rabbis for Human Rights organized the 27 January gathering in partnership with Jerusalem Peacemakers, an interfaith network of peace-builders. The two groups said they brought together the leaders of different faiths to “raise our voices to express our pain over the death and destruction inflicted on both Israelis and Palestinians”.
The religious leaders met in front of Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, and representatives of the group visited both Palestinian and Israeli children wounded in the attacks.
Prayers of mourning in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions were read out and there were calls for justice, healing and reconciliation.
“There is some truth that historically religion has been part of the problem in this region and we believe it should be part of the solution,” said Ascherman.
Israeli forces withdrew on 18 January from Gaza after a three-week war that left more than 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
Israel said it had achieved its objectives of weakening Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, which controls Gaza and which had been launching missiles into Israeli southern border towns for the past eight years.
Rabbis for Human Rights and Jerusalem Peacemakers said they were asking for God’s help to do teshuvah, the Hebrew term for repentance, which means literally to “turn to God,” and cheshbon nefesh, or accounting of the soul.
The gathering was “very somber and hopeful,” said Eliyahu McClean, co-director of Jerusalem Peacemakers.
“We wanted to give a message especially in the aftermath of the war where there is so much anger and hatred between Jews and Arabs within the State of Israel, not to mention Palestinians. that religious leaders are sticking together for reconciliation and healing,” said McClean. “Our destiny is a shared one and we need to find a path forward to reconciliation.”
Summer 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53
By Jim Forest
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
– John 5:56-58
In Communion isn’t fifty years old, only an adolescent thirteen, but we are, as of this issue, fifty issues old.
Fifty is a number that provides a moment to express surprise – those of us who launched the journal were far from confident it would last this long – and also gratitude.
In Holland, where the journal has been edited since its founding, fifty is a number that has a special resonance due to a local custom rooted in a Gospel verse. Jesus was challenged by his critics for speaking of Abraham as someone he knew personally: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” The Dutch have taken this to imply that once a person is fifty, perhaps he or she is old enough to have seen Abraham.
Dutch fiftieth birthday parties are celebrated in ways that underscore the possibility. In anticipation of the upcoming event, a special Abraham or Sarah cookie is ordered from a local bakery. Using hand-carved wooden molds that in some bakeries are many generations old, spiced dough is pressed into the shape either of Abraham or Sarah. Almonds are used for decoration. Once baked, the cookie is put in a special box, wrapped and ribboned, to be solemnly presented to the one who has become old enough to see the biblical couple who hosted the three divinely-sent angels under the oak of Mamre.
It’s a large cookie – big enough to be broken into enough pieces so that everyone at the party has at least a taste. (Perhaps we need to order an Abraham cookie and have a little In Communion party sometime in the coming weeks?)
Why did we start In Communion?
From the beginning, it was obvious that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship needed an accessible way of sharing some aspects of the Orthodox tradition that have long been neglected. In the early years this was done on a smaller scale, a publication of much fewer pages, modestly dubbed The Occasional Paper. Indeed it was very occasional, perhaps two thin issues a year. Only in 1993 did we have enough economic support to move to a quarterly schedule and make the journal more substantial and give it its present name.
From the start, we had a fairly clear idea of what we wanted to do.
We Orthodox have remembered how to celebrate the Liturgy in a way that astonishes Christians of other churches; we refuse to make time-saving economies in the way we worship God. We don’t welcome clocks in our churches.
But not everything the apostolic Church meant to pass on to us has been given similar care and attention.
Over the centuries, many Orthodox Christians have made their peace with war in a way our early Christian forebears could not have imagined and would find scandalous. We are also much less noted than they were for paying attention to the needs of poor, neglected and abused members of the society we live in. Too often we are turned in on ourselves, not infrequently along ethnic lines. There are Orthodox parishes in which it must be embarrassing to hear Paul’s words read aloud about the followers of Christ being “neither Jew nor Greek.”
Our mission was not to invent anything, not to propose any innovations, but to jog our own memories, and the memories of our fellow Orthodox Christians, about what had been forgotten. It is mainly a job of dusting off what is already there. So many of the writings of the Church Fathers about our social obligations had been placed in boxes and stored in the Church’s attic, available to scholars but seldom heard of by the ordinary Orthodox believer. So many of the stories of those we see on icons in any parish church are hardly known to those who kiss those icons.
How surprised we are to discover our own past. There were saints who gave up their lives rather than kill in war? St. Basil the Great founded a “city of mercy” to care for the homeless, the abused and the sick that was regarded as one of the wonders of the world? St. John Chrysostom said we would not find Christ in the chalice unless we first found him in the beggar we encountered on the way to church?
If much has been forgotten, then In Communion should be a way of helping resurrect buried memories of forms of sanctity and patristic teaching that are desperately needed in our own day.
And why was the journal named In Communion? It was a suggestion of one of the first members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s advisory board, Fr. Thomas Hopko, now retired but in those days dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.
“My task,” he wrote in the first issue of In Communion, “is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine. Without this, there is no way that we are going to be able to carry on.”
A revised, expanded, all-color edition of Jim Forest’s book, Praying With Icons, has just been published by Orbis Books.
Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50
These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson
Letter from Pakistan: I want to thank all OPF members who, during the Nativity Fast, contributed funds to Orthodox Social Services in Pakistan to help us fulfill one aspect of our mission, giving assistance to orphans. It is thanks to your great effort that it was possible for Nadia and Rahbia to get wheelchairs. Your love, concern and sympathies will be remembered for good.
Orthodox Social Services, Pakistan
Note: Photos of Nadia and Rahbia with their new wheelchairs: www.flickr.com/photos/
The Church in Communist days: As an Orthodox from Romania of Communist days, I can testify that it was a deliberate political strategy of the state to compromise the Church in all “Eastern-bloc” countries by undermining people’s trust in them and “splitting by smearing” campaigns. The principal of “divide and conquer” was used within the general population as well, with the consequence that no one completely trusted almost anyone else.
Most clergy were contacted by KGB or its local equivalent and attempts made to recruit or at least intimidate them. Some did cave in, really, yet the degree of damage could vary greatly, from loss of trust to minor “informing” to serious betrayals. It was always tragic and always affected everyone in and around the Church.
I have known Romanian martyr-priests who were in prison and later accused of “collaborating” with the Securitate (the KGB-like Romanian secret service) or at least of watering down their sermons in response to pressure or threats. One never knew…
Others, some of whose memoirs were recently published, lived in constant fear, always trying themselves in their own conscience for not speaking up or not defending others or decisions, etc.
It remains a wounding reality that the Church in Romania (but I know it’s also true for the Russian Church) has not yet found a “public” way to speak openly about the agonizing dilemmas it had to face during the years of Communist persecution. A way must be found to confess mistakes (such as not protesting the demolition of churches and monasteries) and pray together with the wounded flock for forgiveness and healing of such long-standing affliction, which continues to affect the people’s trust in the church and faith in the Lord Whose truth it proclaims.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal a way to stand in that truth, if it is ardently desired.
Not an ethnic club: One of the issues challenging Orthodoxy in America (I’ll leave other parts of the world to speak for themselves) is that Orthodoxy has not primarily been here in a missionary capacity. Rather, in too many cases, Orthodoxy was here to help some people preserve their past, and to preserve a culture that was fading away in history.
Orthodoxy has not fully embraced the missionary task, and so spends much of its time proclaiming and recreating culture, rather than proclaiming Christ. But many people have been attracted to this “churchianity” which brings people into the flock who then go seeking others like themselves.
Orthodox mission in much of past history – whether Byzantine or Russian – was not only seeking to spread the faith but also meant to expand an earthly kingdom. When the Alaska natives converted to Orthodoxy, they were accepting the lordship of the Russian Tsar as well. The Orthodox didn’t and couldn’t distinguish between Christian mission and imperial expansion.
This has carried over into what we do as Orthodox in America.
We have never sat down and discussed what non-imperial Orthodoxy might look like – not only have we not discussed it but a fair amount of Orthodox leadership and clergy would find such a discussion to threaten Orthodoxy itself.
America presents us with the chance to realize there is a difference between the gift we have received (the Faith) and the packaging it came in. But so far we have not shown any ability to enter into this discussion and realize the opportunity God has presented to us.
I think Fathers Schmemann and Meyendorff, among others, did understand this and worked hard to help us move forward, but they were paddling against the stream and knew it.
Imperial Orthodoxy will always speak to some, but the missionary issue is whether we can understand what is the core message of our faith and live it without imperial trappings.
Fr. Ted Bobosh
A frequent convert: I have been a frequent convert in my life. I converted to Christianity when I was 17. I converted from Darwinism about the same time. I converted to patriotism when I converted my citizenship, and to super-patriotism when I became a Reagan Republican. I converted from Apartheid somewhere in my twenties (even as an American, I defended South African Nationalism. It took me a while to recognize how deep Social Darwinism infects even those who deny it when they accept certain “parent” philosophies.) I converted to conscientious objection. I vacillated and rejoined the Army. I converted to hyper-pacifism. I converted to pluralism and internationalism (and was shocked again how deep certain biases had gone when “parent” philosophies were in control). I converted back and forth from Calvinism a few times. I converted to Orthodoxy. The list goes on and covers many areas of my thinking and believing life. I finally converted from converting, thinking that I was a flake. Then I converted to thinking that I need to be converted all my life in every way and that my error was basically in two things:
1) There are only two sides, and 2) one is always wrong and one is always right.
In fact, there are many sides and truth lurks in the most unlikely places. When I choose the “right” side, I always choose against some truth.
C.S. Lewis said that the devil always sends errors into the world in pairs so that we are forced to choose the one that we like best or that offends least. It becomes the right side. The trick for Christians generally is to navigate safely between.
Re Church & Liturgy: The various Orthodox churches have managed to survive in spite of being subjected to centuries of suppression. The Romans, the Crusaders, the Turks, the Communists have all butchered Orthodox people who refused to surrender the beliefs of their ancestors. Many of us remember all too well the Soviet Union and its gulags. Most recently in Kosovo, priests have been murdered, churches, monasteries and cemeteries desecrated. Few in the West seem to know or care.
People often speak of the Orthodox Liturgy being shaped in the context of “Imperial” Byzantium but there has been no such empire for centuries. But the Liturgy itself has survived.
When I am in church, I consider the unchanged nature of the Liturgy to being an example of a small, shared miracle. I think about the desert mothers and fathers, the martyrs and how the Liturgy connects us all. That doesn’t inoculate me from feelings of discomfort and irritation when the priest looks like he’d rather be anywhere else at the moment, or when fellow parishioners make it clear that those of other nationalities should go someplace else to worship.
My only religious training prior to converting to Orthodoxy was in Tibetan Buddhism. There are many shades of practice in that tradition. On one hand, a simple glimpse of an image of the Buddha generates merit.
On the other end of the spiritual spectrum one finds rarely offered initiations and highly detailed internal visualizations of specific deities conducted in the course of multi-year solitary retreats.
One of the lessons I take away from that period of my life is that there can be many different levels of ability, dedication and degree of participatory involvement that a worshiper brings to the Liturgy – and they all can be valid.
An Orthodox priest (also a dear friend of mine) once reminded me that many parishioners become preoccupied with following the written Liturgy in their hands (or minds) in order to understand each and every word of the service, but end up missing the Liturgy itself. He told me that being part of the spiritual assembly, was more important than scholarly achievement.
He suggested that when I found myself at a point in the Liturgy where I was beginning to feel bored, or more focused on getting home in time to watch football, I should use the time to repeat the Jesus Prayer. And what better time or place to do so?
Every religion has its drawbacks. There are points where the Church and I diverge. But I believe that our Church’s underdog history has taught it a great deal about the value of compassion, and it retains a very human nature. Often it resembles a brawl at a family reunion, but I feel more at home amidst chaos. That context allows me to be more patient with whatever shortcomings I may perceive in Orthodoxy, while it continues to accept mine.
Joy and dark nights: Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not a gift of the Spirit. The gifts vary from person to person and from time to time. The fruits do not. If a person does not have any one of the fruits of the Spirit, there is something wrong in that person’s relationship with the Holy Spirit. Look at the other items in the list of the fruits. Would we ever say that God might give us love or might not? Or might give us gentleness or might not? Or might give us self-control or might not? No. All these are marks of a genuine relationship with God. They might be weak or strong depending on our willfulness or the depth of our repentance. But they should all be part of a Christian’s normal relationship with God.
So if joy is lacking in our prayer and in our worship, this is a sure sign that something is amiss. It may be that God has withdrawn from us for reasons of His own, as St. John of the Cross in the West and St. Silouan the Athonite in the East tell us. But I think that is a fairly rare experience. Much of the time, if God withdraws from us, it is because our sinfulness has forced Him to. But it also happens that our distractedness removes our joy. We are not focused on the Lord; we are not seeing the world as it is. In any case, some kind of rupture has occurred in our awareness of the presence of the Lord. He is still there, but our minds are somewhere else.
But what about dark nights? For many years I was of the opinion that God never withdraws from us – rather we withdraw from Him. This was my heritage from the Methodism in which I grew up. Wesley said that we might endure “heaviness through many temptations” and that we might even be in a “wilderness state” because of our sins. He was very uneasy with the idea that God might withdraw from us even when we are not withdrawing from Him.
So was I and so I am. But I have come to see that there are times when there are no real sins that are pulling us away from God, but that God pulls away from us all the same. I think He does this in order to force us to grow and mature. It is rather like a parent who does not go with the kids when they go into the woods to play. The kids have to learn how to deal with things without depending on the parent to solve every problem, kiss every wound, make every decision, etc. It is not a punishment or a lack of love on the parent’s part – to the contrary, it is real love. In the case of God’s dealings with us, it is His way of making us become His friends and stop being just His servants. I think this is what St. John of the Cross was getting at with his notion of the dark night of the soul (which was a long way from an ordinary depressive episode, despite the loose use of his language current nowadays). I think that St. Silouan the Athonite had much the same idea, though not with the refinement of St. John of the Cross.
Even so, I think this is seldom the case. Most of us have not arrived at this level of spiritual maturity. Most of the time we have sinned in some way, flagrantly or subtly, or we are simply not attending to the divine reality around us. Hence our loss of the sense of God’s presence. To assume that we are having a dark night experience is, as St. John of the Cross noted, often a sign of spiritual pride. It takes a discerning spiritual director to know it when he or she sees it.
Perseverance: David captures the reason why I was not disturbed by the recent revelations about Mother Theresa and her faith. In fact, I found the information regarding her barren inner life inspiring – even more inspiring than the witness of her actions with the poor and ill over so many years.
Given her tremendous and stalwart perseverance in her works of mercy, I can only suppose that this was a case of God enrolling her in the “advanced” course in holiness, one that you and I are very unlikely to have put on our schedule. She treated “the least” of her brethren with astounding compassion for decades, even as she experienced the Christ, in whose image they were made, as an absence, a blank where God should be.
This achievement, to me, far outstrips incessant prayer, perching on a column or living on air.
Absence of God: My response to Alex and David about the absence or presence of God and whether it is because of our sins or not strikes me as somehow too neat and tidy.
First of all, this sense of the “presence of God” may often simply be a sense of well being, that things are going well and so we attribute that to God. We can have just as much of a bourgeois comfort in religion as anything else.
Secondly, I would suggest that the basic condition of our life here in this world in our mortal bodies is the absence of God, at least existentially. In fact the very fact that we are having this sort of discussion points to God’s absence! If God were truly present to our consciousness, we wouldn’t be taking about him, we’d be basking in him!
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the human condition at its most anguished, at the deepest level of affliction. This is what makes Jesus truly our brother, his love for us in our most profound dereliction which is our just banishment from the life-giving presence of God. Jesus’ love for us is so total that he is willing to step into the breach for us, to experience existentially in all its horror that which is our lot day-to-day, but which sometimes we manage to avoid in its full impact.
I remember that when I first read the story of Adam and Eve, after having myself been touched by God, I wondered – how can they have stood it for even one hour, to be banished from Paradise? And then gradually I realized that God in his mercy immediately mitigated the horror of his absence. He gave them skins to wear and many other things to “veil” his absence, even make it palatable. But he no longer “walked” with them. He was absent. I would suggest that existentially that is still our present human condition. God is absent.
I would also suggest that we can’t really know God until all the mitigating compensations for God’s absence are stripped away. Perhaps in his mercy he gives a brief flash of his presence to prepare us for the long road back to him.
Anybody who has experienced the profound joy of God’s presence (such as St. Silouan), this ineffable “home coming,” can only be totally dismayed, even panicked, when it gradually slips away. No one “deserves” this Paschal experience anymore than they deserve its absence. It is a gift. Its reasons are for God’s good pleasure in the mystery of his Providence both for us and the world, a gift few knew was possible!
Do my sins block the grace of God and my ability to experience joy? Of course they do. I also think there’s more to it than that. I think that periods of darkness can happen that are both related to and unrelated to our sins at various stages of our life.
Was Mother Theresa’s dryness a sign of a higher spiritual state. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I heard she could at times be pretty nasty to her own sisters. But that’s neither here nor there. I do know that the further one goes in the love of God and neighbor, the less one is concerned with whether one is repenting for one’s own sins or that of others. Ultimately love erases all such boundaries. It certainly did for Jesus. That is the beauty of sanctity. The less one sins oneself, the more one is freed to pray/repent for the sins of others. Ultimately that can mean sharing in their dereliction. And when there is no sin than that identification becomes total. That is Jesus, the Suffering Servant.
I have always been very uncomfortable, even guilt ridden, at all this talk about joy (you know, authentic sign of God’s life in us) because quite frankly there has been so little of it in my life, certainly in the conventional Christian sense. Certainly my sins have been manifold (no pious rhetoric here) and so tendency to dejection and discouragement at my manifest weakness has been dominant. What can God possibly do with me, spiritual neurotic that I am?! At the same time I know that there is no escaping that, like Silouan, God has touched me in a way I know few others have been.
But there has been one joy that has surprised me more and more with its paradoxical power, and that is the joy of repentance.
Paul del Junco
Whole-life: A few thoughts on Fr Ted Bobosh’s essay on capital punishment (pages 4-9), one that I will be keeping for future reference.
I appreciate Fr. Ted being so candid about moving from a position of supporting the death penalty to opposing it. I have made the same journey.
However I don’t know if I can agree with his statement that he “[has] come to accept the consistent pro-life thinking,” given his earlier statement that “Armies and wars are part of this fallen world, and though an undesirable inevitability, and even an evil necessity, a necessity none-the-less.”
If mass killing is at times a lesser evil, then doesn’t it follow that other evils might also be described as undesirable but in some circumstances sadly necessary? How about, “Adultery is part of this fallen world, and, though undesirable, in certain circumstances a lesser evil”?
It seems to me that evil can only become a necessity when we are out of righteous actions. Can this happen? Why should Christians accede to any type of evil when there is always the alternative of righteousness? I am not being idealistic. I am looking at Christ’s life, not to mention many others that have followed in his footsteps when it comes to rejecting the option of mass killing as a solution.
In recent years, I have stopped calling myself “pro-life,” not because I no longer oppose abortion, but I find the word “pro-life” too spattered with the gunk of political agendas and the strange belief that being against abortion (while ignoring killing in war or the execution of prisoners, not to mention poverty, wealth and many other issues) fulfills the “pro-life” criteria. So far the best phrase I can come up with to describe my views is “whole-life.”
Orthodox-Muslim Dialogue: This response to Pieter Dykhorst’s letter in the winter issue of “In Communion” comes from Lord Hylton, member of the British House of Lords and a longtime subscriber to In Communion.
Friends, In the winter issue of In Communion, Pieter Dykhorst gave a helpful background, asking for humility on all sides and for understanding of the varying relationships between faiths and the state. I would agree with those who think that the gap between Christian and Muslim theologies is too great, for theology in itself to be a useful starting point for dialogue. John Brady’s and Alasdair Cross’s “neighborly ways” of living side by side, seem much more practical and realistic.
At local level this may involve muezzins and megaphones or church bells. Worldwide we should be discussing the details and difficulties of establishing peaceful co-existence, all the way from Israel and Palestine, via Iraq, to Indonesia and Nigeria, and elsewhere. Wherever the major faiths are living in proximity to each other, their leaders should agree to meet regularly to defuse problems before they arise and to respond non-violently to issues at the level of state or society. They will not always be able to agree, but a common mind on some moral issues and possible solutions would be very helpful.
House of Lords, London
Wonderful issue: The winter issue of In Communion was one of the best yet. I especially appreciated Jim’s article on Adam and Eve, Maria Khoury’s article from Palestine, and Frederica Mathewes-Greens’ piece on her grandson. The last really struck a chord as I have a good friend who’s son has just been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (not as severe as autism, but in the spectrum with it). It captured beautifully many of the sentiments their family has been going through. I sent it to my friend and she said she just cried as she read it. Thank you to Alex and everyone who gave their time and attention to this issue. It was a great blessing to me.
Introducing OPF: Here is an exchange of letters between an OPF member who is looking into the possibility of starting an OPF group within his parish and a response for Alex Patico, OPF secretary in North America:
“There are a number of concerns,” our member wrote, “that have stood in my way. One is uncertainty as to what type of activities would be presented to the parish. I do not believe that most parish members are comfortable with peace marches and demonstrations. Also advocacy of ‘peace activities’ in the current climate may appear to be ‘political’ and this prove to be divisive. Not everyone shares my concerns about the growing militarization of our nation and its heavy handed activities toward other nations. I would appreciate your thoughts and ideas.”
To which Alex responded:
Even all of our members do not always see eye-to-eye. What I hope distinguishes OPF is that we focus on the importance of dealing with situations where there is conflict, rather than trying to avoid looking at them. This is not to say, however, that we take any joy in antagonism. Rather, we seek to create real peace, rather than just strife that is kept out of the spotlight and hurts that are never mentioned.
First, then, take the “Hippocratic” approach – try to do no harm. That is, in introducing OPF to your parish council or other members of the congregation, you will want to identify ways in which its message and function meet current needs of your parish and enhance its corporate life, rather than to provide “in-your-face” challenges to its members.
For example, if there is a book study group, could it take up a title that would bring its members to think about what it means to be a peacemaker, following Jesus’ guidance in the Beatitudes? When there are decisions being made about social programs, can there be consideration given to aiding in the care of returning injured soldiers? When the subject is instruction of the young people in the parish, can the curriculum include tough questions about prevention of violence in the schools and the role of Christian families in that (which might later lead to discussion of prevention of violence on the international level)?
Common ground is usually the best starting point in any successful conflict management – ask yourself what you have in common with your brothers and sisters in Christ at your parish. Then, go on from there in love and honest sharing.
Let me know how it goes.
OPF Conference in Canada: On the second weekend of September, we invite not only Canadians but others to join us for a conference on “War and Peace in the Post-Human Era.”
The speakers are Timothy Cooper, a physicist, whose topic will be environmental issues; David Goa, a renowned philosopher as well as adjunct professor of Religion at the University of Alberta; Scott Fast, professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University College of Fraser Valley; Ronald Dart, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at UCFV; and Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Orthodox Christian theologian and abbot of All Saints of North America in Dewdney, British Columbia.
The gathering will take place at the monastery. The registration fee is $50. The monastery can host only eight persons with sleeping accommodation, although camping on the monastery grounds is an attractive option for some.
To register, go to the following web page:
From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49
by Nancy Forest_
These are extracts from a journal Nancy started keeping a week before donating a kidney to her husband, Jim.
October 24: What goes into making a decision like this, to offer a vital organ to someone?
It took me a long time. Several years ago, when Jim first learned that dialysis was in his future, the idea of a kidney transplant didn’t really hit me. Each time he went to the hospital for tests, we were apprehensive, then relieved to hear that his kidneys were still on the positive side. Then about twenty-one months ago the doctor told Jim he had crossed the line. Dialysis began the next day. From that day onward, Jim was at the local hospital three times a week for three-hour sessions of dialysis.
At first I reasoned that I couldn’t even begin to consider myself a possible donor because, self-employed people that we are, we simply couldn’t afford for me to be unable to work for what might be an extended period. In my darker moments, I imagined the possibility of being bedridden for months, weakened by the loss of the kidney, unable to do any translation work.
In May of 2006, a Canadian woman we had met at a conference amazed us with the offer to donate a kidney to Jim. We were touched and thrilled. She made contact with the transplant people at our hospital in Amsterdam, and they approved her offer. But some months later other factors in her life made it impossible for her to go through with it.
At that point I began to rethink my hesitations. Doing a lot of internet investigation, I learned that kidney donation is only very rarely debilitating. In fact it was more than likely that I wouldn’t be out of commission for long.
Such research is helpful and the internet makes it easy. But research isn’t the same thing as saying yes. You have to reach a certain point when you sit down, open your mouth, and say the words, “I want to donate a kidney to you.”
Recently people have told me how brave I’m being, but believe me, the bravest part of this whole process is just saying those words, getting yourself to that point where you overcome all your excuses and fears.
I kept thinking of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, who finally makes the decision to carry the ring in order to destroy it in Mount Doom. He must make this decision on his own, and when he finally says, “I’ll carry the ring,” he becomes the organizing principle for the entire story.
I have always believed that Tolkien was very deliberate in naming Frodo, and that his name could easily fit into the long etymological entry for the word “free” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Frodo – one who acts out of freedom.
Freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever you feel like if it’s in your interest, because sometimes you do things that you think are in your interest only to discover later on that you did them under some kind of compulsion – peer group pressure, fear of rejection, fear of loss. Acting under compulsion isn’t freedom. But acting out of love, sometimes doing something that’s downright dangerous, is what freedom truly is. (Interestingly enough, the word “free” and the word “beloved” and “friend” are related, as the Oxford English Dictionary makes clear.)
So I said yes. And when I did, I suddenly felt as if all the winds were blowing in the right direction, as if I had made a free decision that was somehow in line with a kind of cosmic truth. I realized that for all the months that I had been saying I couldn’t donate a kidney due to economic worries, I had made myself responsible for a kind of self-wrought logical argument that had to be constantly reinforced with my own insistence in order to stay in place. But the yes floated freely. The yes was borne up by something beyond me and my own logical arguments.
This is not to say that the coming days will be easy or that I feel confident and fearless. I’m still apprehensive. When I think about the operation, now only a week away, I feel my heart beating faster and my breathing becoming shallower. But I wouldn’t go back on this decision for anything in the world.
October 29: Yesterday, directly after the Liturgy, Fr. Sergei anointed us in preparation for the surgery just two days away. The anointing reminded me of our marriage in the church, a similar sense of standing in a zone of pure grace.
November 3: Yesterday – two days after the kidney transplant – was our 25th anniversary, Jim’s 66th birthday.
Jim is going great guns. He was doing e-mail the day after the operation.
In the evening, Dan, Wendy, Cait and Bjrn came to celebrate both the anniversaries plus the transplant. Having just decorated it, they brought me by wheel-chair down to Jim’s room. Dan took pictures and Jim showed a sonogram of his new (my old) kidney. All the indications are that the transplant was a complete success. Jim’s godson Silouan came, too, with Leonidas chocolates to pass around. Wendy brought a huge fruit basket. We’ve never had a party quite like this before!
Now that I can walk, the nurse said I would be able to go home tomorrow.
November 6: The transplant was a week ago today. I’m not yet up to spending a lot of time behind the computer, but I’m home. The plan is to veg happily and watch movies with the kids, which I think I’ll be able to stand for about a week.
November 10: It’s ten days after the operation. I’m finally beginning to feel enough energy to write. What I hadn’t realized – and should have, of course – is that along with my kidney Jim now has truckloads of energy, whereas I have to be very conservative about everything I do so I don’t wear myself out. My operation took twice as long as Jim’s, and recovery takes longer. In fact I don’t mind gliding around the house in slow motion. I had planned beforehand to take all of November off, so I don’t feel compelled to get back to work. I’m deep into the Harry Potter novels, which I’d never been able to read until now.
The post-surgery pain is over. I can easily get in and out of bed, up and down stairs. It no longer hurts to laugh or cough or sneeze. If I lift a frying pan, I can feel a kind of pressure in the wound area, but no pain. But moving around too much makes me feel a little dizzy.
My project now is to recover my strength and to try to grasp what I’ve done. The spiritual, psychological and physical hurdle of deciding to donate a kidney – and then actually doing it – is something that requires an enormous effort. Maybe that’s also contributing to the fatigue. I never had any doubts before the operation, but I remember a lot of anxiety. I also remember telling myself, “You’ll be glad you did this, and if you don’t you’ll kick yourself forever.” The night before we left for Amsterdam, I jokingly said to Jim, “Me and my big mouth,” but that’s really it – me and my big mouth. When I see him so glowing with energy, and not troubled by the terrible morning coughs that used to exhaust him, “me and my big mouth” takes on a whole different meaning.
November 24: Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving. There were ten of us around the table. It was glorious. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to manage such a feast this year, so soon after the transplant. I’m not supposed to carry anything heavy, which includes the turkey, and I’m not supposed to overexert myself. But nobody wanted to skip it, especially not this year when we’ve just come through such an intense family experience and everyone has so much to be thankful for. Cait took a day off work and organized the dinner, Anne picked up the turkey from the butcher, and everybody pitched in with the cooking and clean-up.
My mother said grace. It was hard for her to get through the tears. We loaded up our plates and sat around the living room together. Dan kept everyone laughing, as usual, and Kylie read us a Maori children’s story.
Jim told me later he has never in his life felt such a prolonged and intense sense of gratitude as he had since the transplant.
I’m grateful he’s feeling so well, grateful to all the kids for their amazing support and help all through this, grateful to the medical community both in Amsterdam and Alkmaar, for their constant care, grateful to Dr. Idu (our surgeon, whose skill is something we’ll take with us all our lives), to our friends for their cards, e-mails, phone calls and visits, to the church, both in Amsterdam and all over the world, for praying for us, for Fr. Sergei and Fr. Mel for bringing us Holy Communion, and for my translation clients who have been so patient during all this. But mostly I’m grateful to the mysterious God who gave me the opportunity to give this gift. It was the most difficult thing I have ever been called to do, and it’s almost as if my whole life had served as a period of preparation.
I am daily discovering how the transplant is affecting my sense of who I am and where I’m going. It is immensely humbling.
December 3: At last yesterday we were able to return to church. The welcome was remarkable, even from people whom we had never had occasion to speak with in the past (keep in mind that in recent years ours has become a large parish, with several hundred people present each Sunday). One of the women who speaks only Russian embraced us and, with many joyful exclamations, spoke to us at length. We understood hardly a word, but felt showered in love. An Eritrean woman who also speaks very little Dutch did the same in her native language.
December 12: It’s six weeks since the transplant. Most of the time I don’t even think about it any more. I can’t feel a thing, and the periods of fatigue have passed.
Last Wednesday we went into Amsterdam to attend our daughter Wendy’s graduation from the University of Amsterdam, where she received her Master’s Degree with glowing praise for a thesis on George Orwell. The celebration went on until late at night. We got home at midnight. I don’t think we would have been any less tired if we hadn’t had the transplant.
I’m back at work. I’ve alerted my translation clients that all is well, and the assignments have started to come in.Life goes on. The big event, which I had been awaiting with quite some apprehension, is passed. All is well.
Even the scars are barely visible.
And yet there was that thing I did. There was that yes. There was that “fiat.”
When we returned to church the Sunday before last, it happened to be a Sunday with a guest priest assisting in the sanctuary, Fr. Stephen Headley, archpriest of the Russian Orthodox church in Vezeley, France. He preached a sermon on the Mother of God, and he told us that her life is the model of how we should live out the gospel. “Fiat” is the Latin translation of what she said at the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel came to her – let it be done according to your word. She was not a deus ex machina, handily inserted at the right moment to make sure the prophecies were fulfilled. No one said a word to her about prophecies. Gabriel simply explained the situation to her, and she said yes.
I spent many hours of my recovery time reading all seven of the Harry Potter books. One of the main themes is the futility of prophecies. In her creation of a world of witches and wizards, Rowling wanted to make it clear that she was not interested in having her plot hinge on the magical fulfillment of a prophecy. She has little patience with fortune-telling. The one teacher at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft who is responsible for teaching the prophetic arts is depicted as a well-meaning but ridiculous fraud whom no one takes seriously. In the end, Harry is not the victim of a prophecy but the hero of his own freely made decision to act out of love.
Before the transplant, during the early stages of the selection process when I was still undergoing test after test to see if I was a worthy donor candidate, I was asked to meet with the hospital social worker. We talked for about a half hour, maybe longer, and basically what she wanted to know was whether I was being coerced or guilt-tripped into offering my kidney. Donations made under pressure are not accepted. Only those who offer their kidney freely can get past the AMC social worker. This is as it should be.
After having said her yes, the Mother of God – as St. Luke relates it – sings a hymn of thanksgiving, the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
What is she giving thanks for? For the fact that “henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” that her future reputation is secured? For having been chosen to be the Birthgiver of the Savior, for having won a cosmic sweepstakes? Or was she thankful for having been given the opportunity to make the decision in the first place, thankful for having been so fully challenged, thankful that God drew forth from her the full strength of her humanness, thankful that God put her in a place where she was required to fight her fears and to make a decision that was not based on what her friends might do, or what her parents might want, or what “common sense” informed by popular culture might instruct. Her yes was uttered from a deep trust that God would be with her, that her will and God’s will were aligned. This is really beyond obedience, because she didn’t surrender her will to God. She was not a victim of some almighty and unavoidable power. She decided to sing in God’s key, as it were, because she knew that it was the key of truth and love.
When you sing in that key, even if only for a moment, things can never be the same. That’s what I feel right now, even as the scars are fading.
The complete “Tale of Two Kidneys” journal, including Jim’s entries, is on the web at http://ataleof2kidneys.blogspot.com.
From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49