If you have a proposal for the OPF Journal or BLOG, please send us a note on your proposed essay or topic with the form below.
If you have a proposal for the OPF Journal or BLOG, please send us a note on your proposed essay or topic with the form below.
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
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
The account of the appearance is to be found in the Life of St. Andrew “the Fool in Christ” (died 956). It is at the church of Blachernes [in Constantinople], where the robe, the veil and part of the girdle of the Holy Virgin are preserved, that the appearance occurred. During the office of the vigil, about four in the morning, St. Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius saw a majestic woman advancing towards the ambo, supported by St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and accompanied by several saints. On reaching the center of the church, the Mother of God knelt down and remained long in prayer, her face bathed in tears. When she had prayed yet again before the altar, she took off the shining veil which enveloped her and, holding it above her head, extended it over all the people present in the church. Andrew and Epiphanius alone were able to see the appearance of the Mother of God and her veil which shone like the glory of God, but all who were present felt the grace of her protection. This invisible protection of the Mother of God, interceding with her Son for the whole universe, protection that St. Andrew could contemplate in the form of a veil covering the faithful, constitutes the central idea of the festival of October 1st: “The Virgin is today present in the church: with the choirs of the saints she prays to God invisibly for us. Angels and bishops prostrate themselves, apostles and prophets rejoice: for the Mother of God intercedes for us before the eternal God.”
The Mother of God is seen standing on a small cloud, hovering in the air above the faithful. She has both arms outstretched in a gesture of supplication, expressing her prayer of intercession. Two angels hold by either end a great veil which billows in the form of a vault over the Mother of God. The procession of saints which surrounded the Queen of the Heavens at the time of her appearance is represented by two groups of apostles and prophets with St. John the Forerunner. On his scroll: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”
To the right of the ambo, two persons in the foreground are detached from the crowd of the faithful. They are St. Andrew and St. Epiphanius, the witnesses of the appearance of the Mother of God. St. Andrew is turned towards his disciple showing him the appearance with a gesture of the right arm extended towards the Mother of God.
– from The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press
In Communion / Fall 2007 / Protection of the Mother of God
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… but the end is not yet.” So we are reminded in Matthew’s Gospel. Indeed several wars are underway, and others are threatening, as Alex Patico points out in his article on Iran in this issue. The most vulnerable members of society, the young, the old and the ill, are the most frequent casualties. Christ calls on his followers to do to the least person as we would to him. In a dark sense, we are doing exactly that: he was condemned, and so are the least, again and again and again.
We are called to love our enemies, but how rare it is to hear those words of Jesus applied to those whom we regard as enemies. In countries engaged in war, few priests would dare preach such a sermon – it might well cost them their parish.
The organs of propaganda are hard at work reminding us daily of how necessary it is to hate our enemies and, if possible, to kill them. Rare is the Christian whose way of life suggests that the Gospel is shaping his or her response to enmity and conflict. We deplore Islamic jihadists, while engaging in our own form of holy war.
It is a daily challenge to return to the basics of the kingdom of God: love and forgiveness. Yet one dares to imagine that it would be a better and safer world if Christians displayed, as did their forebears in the early Church, a genuine love of enemies. Conversions happen because of witness given rather than words spoken.
We see one such believer from the early Church in the article in this issue on Saint Marcellus, a soldier who renounced his military oath and paid for it with his life. And we see another in the example given by St. Maria Skobtsova or Paris, whose reflections on the Cross are part of this issue.
Would you take a moment to help keep OPF going? We need your support. Subscription payments and annual dues fall far short of our needs. We currently have three part-time staff members – Sheri San Chico, Alex Patico, and myself. We are paid very little for our many hours of work, but OPF’s income doesn’t justify more adequate payment. We also have a part-time web master, Michael Markwick. In addition there are all the usual expenses: office and publication costs, telephone, travel, etc. Postage costs have lately gone up.
If you have in fact made a recent gift or are one of those who makes regular donations or donates volunteer time, thank you! You are a God-send. If you aren’t, please consider becoming part of our community of committed donors. If you can’t manage a monthly or quarterly donation but can make an occasional special donation, please do so. Every gift helps.
We depend on our supporters to make at least one donation annually, but without those who give more than once a year, and give more than the minimum, we could not continue.
In Christ’s peace,
From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47
Father David Kirk died on May 23 at the age of 72. His life was dedicated to the service of the poor and to racial justice. He was, at his request, buried near Dorothy Day, who had been his great teacher.
I met him when we worked together on a book. He approached Templegate, my father’s publishing company, with the idea of a book to be called Quotations from Chairman Jesus. The title will tell you that this was in the late sixties, when Mao’s little red book was all the rage with campus radicals. I was the book’s editor, and Fr. David came to Springfield, Illinois for a few days and we got the book out in fairly short order. It was a selection from scripture and the Fathers and other sources, with an emphasis on the radical nature of Christian belief. Daniel Berrigan did the introduction, and In Communion readers may be interested to know that the dedication was to Jim Forest, then in prison for anti-war activities.
From the time I met him Fr. David, a Melkite Catholic at the time, was drawn to Orthodoxy. He suggested, knowing my own interest, that I read Bulgakov and Lev Gillet. In 2004, after years of circling the decision, he joined the Orthodox Church in America.
During the many conversations we had toward the end of his life, he was very concerned that Emmaus House, the ministry he founded, should continue as an Orthodox ministry.
He was born in Mississippi into a poor farming family. He grew up near black people and his playmates were black until that time in early adolescence when white Southern children were told that they could no longer hang out with black children, and this bothered him deeply.
He used his position as editor of his high school newspaper to attend a black high school for a month, explaining to school authorities that he wanted to do an article on the education of black youth. His real purpose was to see how it was to live black in the segregated South. The experience, he often said, radicalized him.
His involvement in the civil rights movement made him notice that many of its participants were involved in the churches. His own family background was not particularly religious, but he wound up joining a Melkite Catholic parish whose pastor encouraged his involvement in the civil rights movement.
Later David moved to New York and got involved in the Catholic Worker movement, received a Master’s Degree from Columbia, and returned to the South. After his ordination as a Melkite priest, he ran into trouble with a Roman Catholic bishop who was bothered by his desire for interracial fellowship. He wrote to Dorothy Day about this, and she answered with a note to the effect that you don’t need permission to do good – the Gospel gives it to you.
He returned to New York and wanted to start a house for the homeless on the lower East Side. Dorothy Day told him the need was greater in Harlem. He went there and, with others, founded Emmaus House, which over the years from the mid-sixties until today has been a community of homeless men and women who serve the homeless.
The work of Emmaus has involved a traveling kitchen to feed the homeless; job training; Emmaus Inns (apartments for the homeless); legal services for the homeless; and a residence for the homeless.
All of those who live at Emmaus must get the counseling they need, take some responsibility for their education, and do work to help sustain the community.
During his long final illness some of Emmaus’ activities were cut back, and donations fell off. His kidney failure and many other physical ills drained his energy, and he was very concerned about finding a successor. He was aware that in whatever time that was left to him he could do little more than suggest future courses of action.
Emmaus’ board met recently, and Albert and Julia Raboteau were elected co-chairs. The Emmaus community is determined to continue the work. I am on the board, and will be going regularly to Emmaus for a weekly Vespers service.
Emmaus needs money for its continuing operation, but also – most importantly – a director, someone willing, like Father David, to share the life of the poor.
If you are willing to consider this, please do – and in the meantime, pray for the Emmaus Community, and pray that we find someone willing to take up the important work that Father David started.
Interested in helping the work of Fr. David and the Emmaus Community continue? Please contact Fr. John Garvey at:
* * *
from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46
* * *
photo: casulties of war
The nightmares that tormented Segeant Walter Padilla after returning home from Iraq in 2004 prompted extensive treatment by Army doctors, an honorable discharge from the military and a cocktail of medication to ease his pain. Still, he could not ward off memories of the people he had killed with a machine gun while perched on his Bradley fighting vehicle. On April 1, he withdrew to the shadows of his Colorado Springs home, pressed the muzzle of a pistol to his temple, and squeezed the trigger.
Padilla had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at nearby Fort Carson Army base.
Friends and family say Padilla complained that antidepressants and painkillers were no substitute for talking with someone who understood what it was like to kill.
“He told me that the doctors weren’t helping him,” said his mother, Carmen Sierra. “He told me that they couldn’t understand him, that he was still having those nightmares.”
Veterans for America, an advocacy group that has lobbied the Army and Congress on behalf of returning soldiers, said the Army must do better, particularly at Fort Carson, where soldiers with the stress disorder have spoken of being punished by their commanders.
“Fort Carson is overwhelmed with men and women coming home from Iraq with psychological injuries from war, and there are unit commanders here who don’t understand these medical conditions,” said Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs for the group.
Col. John Cho, the base’s chief medical officer, said Fort Carson had treated 1,703 soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, since 2003. He disputed the assertion that problems at Fort Carson are widespread. “We’re never going to fully eliminate the stigma associated with PTSD, but the leadership at Carson has been fully supportive of getting soldiers the help they need.”
The Army reports seven suicides of active duty soldiers at Fort Carson since 2004 but says it does not know if any were linked to the disorder. Sergeant Padilla was not included among the seven because he died after being discharged.
Most recently, Staff Sgt. Mark Alan Waltz, who was being treated for post-traumatic stress, was found dead in his living room on April 30. An autopsy of Casualties of warSergeant Waltz, 40, is pending, but his wife, Renea, believes her husband died from a reaction to the antidepressants he was taking for stress and painkillers prescribed for a back injury. Ms. Waltz is also convinced that the psychological wounds he carried from battle played a part in his death.
Mrs. Waltz said her husband was reluctant to seek treatment after returning from Iraq in 2004 because he thought a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would cost him his rank. She said the condition was eventually diagnosed and he was referred for treatment. Even then, she said, he was “picked out, scrutinized and messed with continually” by his commanding officers. “It’s not right that our guys are going over to Iraq, doing their job, doing what they’re supposed to do, and then when they come back sick, they’re treated like garbage.”
Lt. Col. Laurel Anderson, a psychiatric nurse in charge of behavioral health at Fort Carson’s soldier readiness center, said the number of soldiers referred for mental health screenings had risen from about 12 percent of those seen at the center to 25 percent over the past year. (Based on a report for The New York Times by Dan Frosch.)
The mortality rate among Iraqi children younger than five rose 150 percent between 1990 and 2005, according to a report released in May by the humanitarian aid group, Save the Children. The group estimates that one in eight never makes it to his or her fifth birthday.
The report also said inadequate prenatal care has caused more birth defects and deaths, and that Iraq faced a grave humanitarian crisis even before the latest war. But most physicians here agree the four-year-old conflict has had an unmistakable impact.
Iraq’s child-mortality crisis is distressingly visible in Sadr City, a sprawling and embattled Shiite slum of 2 million residents in east Baghdad, home to many of the country’s poorest people.
Pediatricians at Ibn Al-Baladi said leaking sewage and the lack of potable water has contributed to a dramatic increase in such water-borne diseases as typhoid, which can place children at risk for circulatory failure, infections and possibly death if not properly treated.
Shortages of medicines, equipment and doctors have made things worse. The 34 pediatricians at Ibn Al-Baladi cope daily with hundreds of cases, often without antibiotics, intravenous drips, cardiopulmonary monitoring equipment, CT scans or MRI machines.
The British and American military presence in Iraq is worsening security across the region and should be withdrawn quickly, the UK’s former ambassador to Washington warned in June.
Sir Christopher Meyer acknowledged that leaving Iraq would be “painful,” but said the mission was not worth the death of one more serviceman. “I personally believe that the presence of American and British and coalition forces is making things worse, not only inside Iraq but the wider region around Iraq. The arguments against staying for any greater length of time themselves strengthen with every day that passes.”
He added: “I think the Iraqis are in fact sorting themselves out – often bloodily – independent of what we’re doing.”
The former diplomat was giving evidence to the Iraq Commission in London.
Acknowledging that foreign policy decisions were always “fraught with risk,” Sir Christopher noted: “It always seemed to me this was one of the key moral arguments in Iraq, that however bad things were … the overriding requirement for us was to be able to say to parents and relatives in Britain, your sons and daughters did not die in vain. I think we have now crossed the line – we now have to say the mission is no longer worth another life of a British or American serviceman.”
Sir Christopher’s book, DC Confidential, argued that the coalition failed to plan for securing and rebuilding Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion.
Four days of services marking the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church and an migr church that broke away after the Bolshevik Revolution culminated in Moscow on the 20th of May in a liturgy held at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin.
“Even in those years when the church in the Fatherland and the church abroad were not in full communion, we never forgot that we have one faith, one tradition handed down from the holy fathers, one homeland, one history,” said Patriarch Alexei II at the service in the 15th-century cathedral that is a center piece of the Kremlin and stands at the heart of Russian history. Tsars were crowned there and patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church enthroned and buried there.
An act of canonical union was signed on 17 May. It provides for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) to maintain its name and administrative structure. It will choose its own leaders, but they will be approved by Moscow.
In his greeting to Metropolitan Laurus of the ROCOR, Patriarch Alexei called the cathedral “the heart of Russian Orthodoxy,” a sacred place that helped overcome the rift that divided the churches for 80 years.
On 19 May, a service was held at Butovo, a Stalinist killing field outside the Russian capital where at least 1000 Orthodox Christians were shot for their religious faith in 1937 and 1938. Of them, 323 have already been canonized as new martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 2004, the laying of the cornerstone of a new cathedral on the site of the massacre by Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei was a catalyst in reunion talks.
Until the canonization of the martyrs in 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia had accused the Moscow Patriarchate of failing to come to terms with the Soviet past.
The churches split in 1927 after Metropolitan Sergius, in an effort to stave off further destruction of the church, declared the church’s loyalty to the Soviet state. (Sophia Kishkovsky / ENI)
Christian leaders in Iraq have been issuing increasingly desperate pleas for help as Islamist militants put them under ever-greater pressure either to convert to Islam or leave. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel Delly and Mar Dinkha IV, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, issued a joint statement denouncing an al-Qaida-led insurgent group for the rising violence.
“Christians in a number of Iraqi regions, especially those under the control of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, have faced blackmail, kidnaping and displacement,” said the statement. The Islamists were gaining ground in Baghdad “while the Government has kept silent and not taken a firm stance to stop their expansion,” it said.
Patriarch Delly, who had kept a low profile since the Iraq war began in 2003, complained earlier this month that “Christians are killed, chased out of their homes before the very eyes of those who are supposed to be responsible for their safety.” He did not spare United States military forces either, saying: “The Americans came to Iraq without our consent. God does not appreciate what you have done and are doing in our country …” He was especially critical of US forces for taking over the Chaldeans’ Babel College in Baghdad after the seminary there moved to Kurdistan for safety in January.
Reports from church sources in Iraq say the Islamists have scoured Christian areas of Baghdad, threatening residents to convert or leave and putting up posters telling women to wear the veil. Some families are told to pay a monthly protection tax of about $200. One report said families who refuse to convert must quit Baghdad immediately, leaving all possessions behind. Several families are reportedly taking refuge in local churches.
Another Islamist tactic is to force churches to remove their crosses or be burned down.
The United Nations said in January that half of the 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003 had fled the country and many of the rest were moving to “safe areas” in Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. But house-to- house searches for Christians have spread to Mosul and smaller towns in the north.
Bishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo, Syria, has also spoken out against the campaign against Iraqi Christians. “The forced emigration of Christians is terrible and not accepted by either Islam or Christianity or by reasonable human beings,” he said.
Cyprus Archbishop Offers to Mediate Between Pope and Patriarch
The Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, said in June that he might be able arrange a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“I think I can be useful for a future meeting between the pontiff and the Patriarch,” Archbishop Chrysostomos told journalists after a conversation with Pope Benedict at the Vatican.
Archbishop Chrysostomos is scheduled to meet Patriarch Alexei in Moscow on 13 July.
Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often spoke of his dream to visit Russia but met resistance from the Moscow Patriarchate, which accused the Vatican of seeking converts and infringing on its jurisdiction by creating Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia.
Italian newspapers have speculated that a meeting, if it happened, might take place neither in Moscow nor Rome but in a third city.
In a joint statement after their meeting, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Chrysostomos said the upcoming Catholic-Orthodox theological meeting in Ravenna would “face the more difficult questions which marked the history of division” of the Church. One of the issues on the agenda is the status of the papacy.
Citing the teachings of Tertullian on nonviolence as “a law of life,” Pope Benedict XVI said that the ancient writer’s works have great relevance today amid fervent debate on religions. The reflection was given at a general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 30.
“Tertullian’s work bore decisive fruits, and it would be unforgivable to undervalue them,” Benedict said. “His influence is developed on many levels: linguistically and in the recovery of the classic culture, and the singling out of a common ‘Christian soul’ in the world and the formulation of new proposals for living together.
“[Tertullian] shows the triumph of the Spirit, who pits the violence of persecutors against the blood, suffering and patience of the martyrs.
“Martyrdom and suffering for the truth are victorious in the end and more effective than the cruelty and violence of totalitarian regimes.”
Benedict noted the tragedy that Tertullian gradually left communion with the Church and joined a Montanist sect.
“From a human point of view, one can speak of Tertullian’s drama. With the passing of time he became more demanding of Christians. He expected them at all times, and above all in times of persecution, to act heroically. He rigidly held his positions, criticized many and inevitably found himself isolated…. It is evident that at the end he lacks simplicity, the humility to belong to the Church, to accept his weaknesses, to be tolerant of others and with himself.
“[Even so,] Tertullian remains an interesting witness of the first years of the Church, when Christians found themselves true subjects of a ‘new culture’ between classic inheritance and the Gospel message. His famous phrase states that our soul ‘is naturally Christian’ (Apologeticus 17:6), where Tertullian evokes the perennial continuity between authentic human values and Christian ones. And his other reflection, taken from the Gospels, says ‘the Christian cannot hate, not even his own enemies’ (Apologeticus 37), where the moral implication of the choice of faith, proposes nonviolence as the law of life: And who could not see the relevance of this teaching today in light of the fervent debate on religions.”
Risk of Nuclear Warfare Seen Rising
The world’s top military powers are gradually dismantling their stockpiles of nuclear arms, but all are developing new missiles and nuclear warheads with smaller yields that could increase the risk of atomic warfare, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in June.
In its annual report on military forces around the globe, the institute said the rising number of nations with nuclear weapons is raising the risk such arms could be used.
“The concern is that countries are starting to see these weapons as useable, whereas during the Cold War they were seen as a deterrent,” said SIPRI’s Ian Anthony.
The US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Pakistan and India are known to have nuclear weapons, while Israel is thought to have them.
For the first time SIPRI counted North Korea among the world’s nuclear countries, because of its test explosion last October.
Iran is a potential member of the nuclear club if it decides to turn its uranium enrichment program to military use, Anthony said. This is something the US and its allies suspect is the Tehran regime’s plan but Iranian leaders deny. “Iran could appear on this list, but at the earliest five years from now,” Anthony said.
The report estimated those nations had 11,530 warheads available for delivery by missile or aircraft at the start of 2007, with Russia and the United States accounting for more than 90 percent – 5,614 in Russia and 5,045 in the U.S.
Both countries are reducing their stockpiles as part of bilateral treaties, but are developing new weapons as they modernize their forces. Britain, France and China also plan to deploy new nuclear weapons.
India, Pakistan and Israel each have dozens of warheads, but their stockpiles are believed to be only partly deployed, the institute said. “India and Pakistan are both thought to be expanding their nuclear strike capabilities, while Israel seems to be waiting to see how the situation in Iran develops.”
The US remained the world’s biggest military spender last year, devoting about $529 billion to its military forces, while China overtook Japan as Asia’s top arms spender. US military spending grew from $505 billion in 2005 mainly because of the “costly military operations” in Iraq and Afghanistan, SIPRI said. “This massive increase in US military spending has been one of the factors contributing to the deterioration of the US economy since 2001.”
The US was followed by Britain and France in military spending, while China’s expenditures reached nearly $50 billion, making it the fourth biggest arms spender in the world, SIPRI said. Japan was fifth at $43.7 billion.
SIPRI estimates that Russia has spent $34.7 billion on arms.
The niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appealed in July to the national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to adopt a resolution passed by the group’s chapter in Macon, Georgia, that addresses the impact abortion has had on the African American community.
The Macon NAACP chapter urges the national body to undertake efforts to reduce the high abortion and infant mortality rates in the black community and to reduce the disproportionately high black inmate population.
“The NAACP has always been about justice,” said Dr. Alveda King. “Today, there is no greater injustice facing black people than abortion. It’s as if a plague swept through our cities and towns and took Dr. Alveda Kingone of every four blacks,” she said.
“The national leadership of the NAACP needs to address what abortion has done to the African American community and our nation as a whole, even if it means making some people in high positions uncomfortable.
“In my travels across the country, I have met countless fellow NAACP members who are praying and marching for justice for all, including justice for unborn babies,” concluded King. “The National Board of the NAACP needs to know that its membership loves our children and wants what is right for them, and what is right is for them to be allowed to live.”
King, whose father was brother to the late Martin Luther King Jr., noted that over 13 million African Americans have died as a result of legalized abortion.
In 2006, over 500,000 babies were aborted in the African community – a number of unborn lives that could have populated a whole city, according to the African American church leader Pastor Luke J. Robinson.
Although black women represent 12 percent of the female population in the country, they have one-third of all abortions, noted Peggy Harshorn, president of the crisis pregnancy group Heartbeat International. Furthermore, for every five African American women that get pregnant, three will have abortions.
“The problem is that, for many African-Americans, the pro-life movement is perceived as a white, Republican, conservative movement,” the Rev. John Ensor, “and that group is on the wrong side of the civil rights movement.”
US Catholic Bishops Urge Amnesty Int’l to Repeal Abortion Stance
US Catholic bishops appealed in July to human rights organization Amnesty International to reverse its decision to support abortion.
Following an overhaul of its policy on sexual and reproductive rights earlier this year, Amnesty has been calling for the decriminalization of abortion in all cases and says that women should be free to choose abortion particularly in cases of incest, rape or other instances of human rights violations.
Bishop William Skylstad, president of the US Bishops’ Conference, said that Amnesty International’s decision to back abortion was “deeply disappointing.” He urged AI to restore its neutral position on the issue.
“The action of the executive council undermines Amnesty’s longstanding moral credibility, diverts its mission, divides its own members, and jeopardizes Amnesty’s support by people in many nations, cultures and religions.”
Rev. Heino Falcke, an East German Protestant leader who played a leading role in the movement that led to the end of Communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989, has warned against the church becoming seduced by the “friendly embrace” of capitalism.
“What are the dominant interests in the church: self-preservation, maintaining its position, increasing its profile or service for others?” Falcke said at a conference at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in eastern Germany.
The gathering on 30 June was held to mark the 35th anniversary of a keynote speech by Falcke at a national Protestant church synod, where he spoke of the need for a “socialism that could be changed for the better.”
To the East German authorities, Falcke’s speech in 1972 sounded too much like the “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia that Warsaw Pact tanks had suppressed four years earlier. Falcke himself was placed under observation by the Stasi, the East German secret police. He was regarded as “highly dangerous.”
Falcke was the Protestant Provost of Erfurt for 21 years until his retirement in 1994. As the leader of Erfurt’s Protestant church district, he became well known for his support for opposition peace, human rights and environmental groups in East Germany.
It is now more difficult for the church to withstand being exploited by the dominant powers, Falke told the conference, than it had been under Communism, when there was mutual suspicion on both sides. The church is now challenged by the “friendly embrace” of capitalism.
“It was then a question of making socialism more human, now it’s a question of making capitalism more human,” said Falcke. “Today, capital at the international level needs to be integrated within a social framework. That’s not possible within neo-liberal principles that are in force today.”
Red Cross Report Says Israel Violates Humanitarian Law
The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a report about East Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, has accused Israel of a “general disregard” for “its obligations under international humanitarian law, and the law of occupation in particular.”
The Red Cross said Israel is using its rights as an occupying power under international law “in order to further its own interests or those of its own population to the detriment of the population of the occupied territory.”
With the construction of the separation barrier, the establishment of an outer ring of Jewish settlements beyond the expanded municipal boundaries and the creation of a dense road network linking the different Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in and outside Jerusalem, the report says, Israel is “reshaping the development of the Jerusalem metropolitan area” with “far-reaching humanitarian consequences.”
Those include the increasing isolation of Palestinians living in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and the increasing difficulty for some Palestinians to easily reach Jerusalem’s schools and hospitals.
The Red Cross committee, recognized as a guardian of humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, does not publish its reports but provides them in confidence to the parties involved and to a small number of countries. This report was obtained in May by The New York Times.
The Red Cross report notes that the separation barrier “was undertaken with an undeniable security aim,” but adds, “The route of the West Bank barrier is also following a demographic logic, enclosing the settlement blocs around the city while excluding built-up Palestinian areas, thus creating isolated Palestinian enclaves.”
One Billion May Be Displaced in the Next Four Decades
At least one billion people may have to flee their homes over the next four decades because of conflicts and natural disasters that will worsen with global warming, a relief agency warned in May.
In a report, British-based Christian Aid said countries worldwide, especially the poorest, are now facing the greatest forced migration ever, one that will dwarf those displaced by World War II.
In what at the time amounted to “the largest population displacement in modern history,” it said, 66 million people were displaced across Europe by May 1945, in addition to millions more in China.
Today there are an estimated 163 million people who have been displaced by factors like conflict, drought and flooding as well as economic development projects like dams, logging and grain plantations, it said.
“Forced migration is now the most urgent threat facing poor people in the developing world,” said John Davison, author of Human Tide: the Real Migration Crisis.
The figures include 645 million who will be forced to migrate because of development projects, and 250 million because of phenomena linked to global warming like floods, droughts and famine.
It said the conflict in western Sudan’s Darfur region, which has displaced more than two million people, was not just driven by political forces but also by competition for increasingly scarce water and land to graze animals.
Climate change, it said, will drive the growth of grain-producing plantations as rich countries will raise demand for bio-fuels over crude oil in a bid to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Christian Aid was created to help refugees from World War II.
* * *
from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46
* * *
by Catherine Brockenborough
The great eighteenth-century English jurist Sir William Blackstone said, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” Blackstone based this opinion on his understanding of the exchange between God and Abraham regarding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 18:20-33.
On May 11, 2007, some 250 years after Blackstone wrote his Commentaries, Curtis McCarty was released from an Oklahoma prison, becoming the 124th exonerated death row inmate in the United States since the modern era of capital punishment began in 1976. Of the 204 wrongfully convicted who have been exonerated after conviction as a result of DNA evidence, fifteen had been sentenced to death.
The remaining exonerations have primarily been the result of newly discovered evidence, including evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and state malfeasance. These numbers suggest that many more wrongfully convicted persons remain incarcerated and on death row. The numbers also give flesh to an underlying fear in our death penalty system – the execution of an innocent person. Indeed, substantial evidence exists that at least nine innocent people have been executed in the United States, since 1976; in 2005, Georgia issued a posthumous pardon for a woman executed in 1945.
The number of exonerated is but one of many reasons why so many Americans have come to oppose today’s system of capital punishment. Other reasons run the ideological gamut and include frustration with the length of the appeals process, the disproportionate number of black, poor and mentally ill inmates on death row, critique of “Big Government’s” ability or need to be involved in certain aspects of life, skepticism that any death penalty scheme can be fair, onerous financial costs, and disquiet with a double standard in which the democratic history and rhetoric of the United States confront the country’s membership in a club that includes the three nations of the so-called “axis of evil”: Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
In the end, these reasons are secular in nature – that is, opposition to the death penalty based on any of these reasons does not require any particular theology. I am interested in whether support of capital punishment is compatible with the Christian faith. Does belief in Christianity – specifically in Orthodox Christianity – provide a reason to oppose the death penalty that is above all theological in nature? Suppose we had a system that guaranteed no execution of innocents, that was fiscally sustainable, and that was truly free of all forms of bias – in other words, a system where all the secular concerns with capital punishment have been resolved. Is support of such a system consistent with our Faith?
This is no theoretical question. It goes to the very heart of Christianity, involves the Orthodox understanding of the natures of God and man and implicates our very salvation. As Orthodox Christians living in a world in which the death penalty is imposed and carried out, I submit that wrestling with this issue is a necessary part of our theosis. Ultimately, I believe we will discover that the most fundamental core principles of the Faith impel Orthodox Christians to reject capital punishment in any form.
Man: Icon of God: “Then God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26a.) The knowledge that man was made in the image of God lies at the very heart of Christian belief side by side with the knowledge that the Fall warped and tarnished that image while the Incarnation and Resurrection provided for its restoration. I wonder whether the very pervasiveness and elemental nature of this teaching may diminish our appreciation of its awesomeness. You have been made in the image of God. You are an icon of God Incarnate, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Recognizing this reality, St. Seraphim of Sarov greeted all whom he met with the exclamation “My joy!” Had he encountered you, he would have greeted you thus, as well.
Do you believe this of yourself? Do you believe this of others? Regardless of our belief, the truth is that everyone has been created in God’s image. While all of creation is iconic, we know from scripture that man was set apart. The presence of a soul, of the nous, makes man unique amongst God’s creations. Does it not follow that if a person is an icon of our Creator, the destruction of that person is iconoclastic? If we support such destruction by failing to oppose capital punishment, are we then not guilty of iconoclasm ourselves?
This formulation, while valid, softens the case just a bit, in that it calls to mind icons in the sense of hand-crafted pictorial
representations. But icons on wood are not living beings, even though they help us to contemplate the divine, and act as windows on heaven. Moreover, every part of creation can be seen as an “icon” in that sense, but we are able to treat plants, at least, and sometimes animals, differently than we do humans. We do not, for example, sacrifice a person at Pascha, but we may sacrifice a lamb for the feast.
Encounters with Christ: Theology relies on experience while philosophy relies on logic. Bishop Kallistos Ware tells us: “Just as the three Divine Persons live in and for each other, so man – being made in the Trinitarian image – becomes a real person by seeing the world through others’ eyes, by making others’ joys and sorrows his own.”
Russian theologian and philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev warns us that the “politico-social aspect of religion distorts the spirit, subordinates the infinite to the finite, makes the relative absolute, and leads away from the sources of revelation, from living spiritual experience…. Personality must be God-human, whereas society must be human.”
Experience reveals theological truths. It is through our encounters with others that we work out our salvation. In the context of capital punishment, we can only perceive the theological implications through experience. Debating the social pros and cons – even if invoking religious authority – can distract us from the essence of what is at stake in deciding what stand to take as Christians.
Tamara Chikunova is an Uzbek Orthodox Christian and founder of “Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture,” an association working for the abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan. Through her work with the condemned – the “children of God” as she calls them – she has seen first hand how “the death penalty creates evil and violates the most important and inalienable human right: the right to life.” She asserts: “I am a believer. I am an Orthodox Christian and I help those who are on death row because life is God’s most important gift to us.”
In my work representing death row inmates in Tennessee, I have seen how the system of capital punishment is ultimately soul-destroying for all involved. The system encourages a categorical view of humanity and the person that is alien to Orthodoxy. It encourages and brings forth the worst in fallen man: anger, a thirst for vengeance, self-righteousness. It thwarts forgiveness and reconciliation.
Earlier this year, when several events brought the issue of capital punishment to the fore in the media, The Tennessean newspaper published a letter to the editor from a local rabbi opposed to capital punishment. He wrote that his concern over the darkness the death penalty encouraged in him was the main reason for his opposition.
I have seen this darkness in my work, but I have encountered so much more light. I have witnessed the miracle of family healing, I have observed astounding courage as witnesses shared their stories of pain and I have discovered surprising generosity among people of all types and in all roles. Most importantly, I have met my death-sentenced clients – a representative collection of all the worst and best we humans have to offer. Akil amazes me with his commitment to listening to the Holy Spirit. Derek impresses me with his sensitivity. David can drive me crazy with his neediness. James S. and I discuss Shakespeare’s plays and the Masons. Roy’s stubbornness rivals my own. Tyrone’s insights are as wise as they are unexpected. I don’t understand Lee at all. James D. is an unassuming straight-talker. Kennath and Tim are talented artists. For Byron, every day is better than the day before. Glen is a wheeler-dealer while mentally retarded Gus takes pride in “treating me like a lady.” And Christa – well, Christa is simply one of my dearest friends.
Some of my clients are innocent. Some are guilty of taking another’s life in a particularly brutal way. All are precious children of God. Each of them has taught me lessons in what it means to love. That each of their lives is sacred is uncontestable. I shudder when I contemplate the evil involved in the act of killing any of them just as I shudder at the evil of the murders that brought my clients to death row. For Christians, there is no relativity when determining the sanctity of a life.
The Greatest Gift: In 1989, the Ninth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America passed a resolution on the death penalty, noting the call for Orthodox Christians to “recognize and address the deeper moral, ethical, and religious questions of the supreme value of human life in a manner consistent with our opposition to abortion and mercy killing, and in all such questions involving life and death the Church must always champion life.”
Clearly, all human life is sacred and precious, and this sacredness and preciousness are unchanging. There never comes a point in time when a person’s life loses its sanctity. When we condemn a person to die, we are telling him “You are not worthy of living. Your life has no meaning.” It seems that most of us find it easier to appreciate the depravity of killing an “innocent” in utero than to see the same depravity in the killing of a “guilty” adult, but the potential for theosis exists in the condemned and the unborn alike. The death penalty is irreconcilable with Orthodoxy’s absolute reverence for life. How are we to answer the call to appreciate the supreme value of human life, consistently and in all situations?
The answer is love, the most basic and central of all Christian tenets, yet the most difficult to embrace and live. In Matthew 5:44, Our Lord declares: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” These are not suggestions. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12.) Jesus’ love for us is the standard of measure for how we are to love others. We are to “pursue love.” (1 Cor. 14:1). Without love, our actions signify nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Indeed, if we do not love our brothers we are “not of God” (1 John 3: 10b) and we “abide in death.” (1 John 3:14b.) This love must encompass all people, friend and foe alike. (Matt. 5:46-48, Luke 6:32-36.)
Mother Gavrilia was a Greek nun who fell asleep in the Lord on March 28, 1992. The Ascetic of Love, written by one of Mother Gavrilia’s spiritual daughters, contains her life story and a collection of her teachings. The pervasive, singularly constant theme is love. As we consider those under a death sentence and the issue of capital punishment, let us reflect on the following from Mother Gavrilia:
The strange thing is that while Man often looks for Divine Inspiration in old and ruined Temples, he fails to find it in human ruins…What a pity!… I understood that there is much more to wonder at, to rescue and to love in the ruins of Man than in the most magnificent ruins of stone. . . .Courage, faith, patience, endurance and, above all, hope and joy can take root and blossom in the human heart, if it is given Opportunity, if it is given Love. The Ascetic of Love, pp. 56-57.
Catherine Brockenborough lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a native of Washington, D.C., an animal lover and a bibliophile. She is also an attorney and mitigation specialist. Catherine discovered the Orthodox Church while in law school of all places and was chrismated at Pascha in 1996, one month before her graduation and move to Nashville. She is a member of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Mission in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Vol. IV, c. 27, page 352.
In 1972, the United States Supreme Court decided three cases – referred to collectively as Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 – in which a plurality of the Court held the death penalty statutes in effect at the time to be unconstitutional. In response, state legislatures revised their capital punishment statutes to address the concerns discussed in Furman. Following a four-year suspension of the death penalty, the Court issued another group of opinions in 1976 – Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, Proffitt v. Florida 428 U.S. 242, Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 242, and Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 – setting out constitutionally acceptable parameters for an American death penalty and ruling which types of post-Furman statutes passed constitutional muster. So began the modern era of the death penalty in the United States.
See www.innocenceproject.org for more information.
For a complete list of retentionist, abolitionist and abolitionist-in-practice countries, go to www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=30&did=140.
As quoted in The Ascetic of Love, by Nun Gavrilia (Athens: Eptalofos 2000), p. 127.
Nicolas Berdyaev, “Personality,” from Slavery and Freedom (Scribner’s 1944), tr. in W. Herberg, Four Existentialist Theologians (New York: Doubleday 1958), p. 129.
* * *
from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46
* * *