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Dear In Communion reader,

Summer issue / July 2007

Dear In Communion reader,

This issue goes to the printer on the 16th of July. We hope it will be on its way to subscribers by the 20th, which on the Church calendar is the commemoration of St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris, along with several collaborators (Fr. Dmitri Klpinin, Yuli Skobtsov, and Ilya Fondaminksi) who also gave up their lives for daring to rescue Jews and others being sought by the Nazis in occupied France.

Behind Mother Maria’s brave actions was her conviction that each person bears the image of God. “If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person,” she wrote, “he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him – one that will demand his most dedicated efforts …. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil …. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.”

Though I am unaware of her having written specifically on the topic of capital punishment, I have no doubt that she would welcome this special issue of In Communion with enthusiasm. As she said, even when the divine image is disfigured by the power of evil, it is still present. So long as a person remains alive, there is the possibility of repentance.

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 have two part-time staff members, myself and Sheri San Chico. 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, postage, telephone, travel, etc.

Note that donations can now be made via the OPF web site:

www.incommunion.org

If you have 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,

Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

Dear In Communion reader,

May 2007

Dear In Communion reader,

In the Orthodox Church, one would be hard-pressed to find a baptized person over the age of five who doesn’t know at least fragments of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by heart. It’s not necessary to belong to the choir. From infancy onward, week after week we hear the service that bears his name. We reverence his memory and would regard a church without his icon as incomplete. Yet few of us are familiar with Chrysostom’s writings or the writings of other Church Fathers, as we call the body of theologians who not only defended Orthodox doctrine in the face of heresies, but endowed the Church with clear teaching about the social obligations of baptized people. For example here are a few challenging sentences from John Chrysostom that are quoted in this issue of In Communion:

Let us therefore, both poor and rich, cease from taking the property of others. For my present discourse is not only to the rich, but to the poor also. For they too rob those who are poorer than themselves. And artisans who are better off, and more powerful, outsell the poorer and more distressed, tradesmen outsell tradesmen, and so all who are engaged in the market-place. So that I wish from every side to take away injustice.

Not only are such writings largely unknown, but it’s a rare day when such themes are taken up in sermons.

Part of the work of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is to search for ways to make the words and examples of the saints better known, so that when we see their icons, we are reminded of how they lived and what they had to say to their contemporaries – and to us. May we become such people in our own time.

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 have two part-time staff members, myself and Sheri San Chico. 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, postage, telephone, travel, etc. (Once again, postal rate have gone up.)

If you have in fact made a recent gift or are one of those who makes regular donations or donate 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.

Jim Forest, editor

PS Donations can now be made via the OPF web site…

* * *

News: Spring 2007

In Communion / issue 45 / Spring 2007

Patriarch Bartholomew on unity

Speaking in Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople urged all Christians to overcome division and work for unity.

“Separated and split, Christianity loses its credibility,” Bartholomew said in a speech in March after being given the Cardinal Koenig Prize, an Austrian award given annually to honor attempts at tolerance and reconciliation between religions.

“We can live in unity and harmony, without suppression, without fanaticism, without exploitation, without polemics and without arguments,” he said. He appealed to all branches of Christianity “to overcome the scandal of division and strive for the unity Jesus himself desires.”

Bartholomew spoke of Pope Benedict as “our very much-loved brother.”

“Now, in this phase of the reorganization of Europe, we must help Christians and churches together.”

He called on believers to assist the 100 million Europeans living in poverty.

Bartholomew expressed concern about climate change and pollution, rebuking the faithful “for letting God’s creation, which today suffers so much, become an object of exploitation.”

“The clock is already striking twelve! If we do not immediately recognize the signs of the times and act accordingly, we can expect ever more devastating natural catastrophes for which egocentric humans alone are responsible.”

US economy leaving record numbers in severe poverty

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation’s “haves” and “have-nots” continues to widen, according to a study published in February.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 – half the federal poverty line – was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005 – 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period.

The review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large US counties, and similar increases in 28 states.

Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation’s 37 million poor people into deep poverty, the highest rate since at least 1975.

About one in three severely poor people are under age 17, and nearly two out of three are female. Female-headed families with children account for a large share of the severely poor.

Nearly two out of three people (10.3 million) in severe poverty are white, but blacks (4.3 million) and Hispanics of any race (3.7 million) make up disproportionate shares. Blacks are nearly three times as likely as non-Hispanicwhites to be in deep poverty, while Hispanics are roughly twice as likely.

Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe in January, Bartholomew said that dialogue between followers of different religions is essential, “especially in times such as ours when our planet is facing many warfronts all over the world.” Both in the past and in the present, “religious reasons were put forth to edge individuals, or even entire peoples, to warfare.”

Bartholomew noted that “the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek-Orthodox minority in Turkey feel that they still do not enjoy full rights.” Still, he said, “remarkable steps” had been taken by Turkey in recent years. “We have always supported the European perspective of Turkey in anticipation of the remaining steps to be taken according to the standards of the European Union.”

Canonical conflict resolved

Speaking on behalf of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk announced that the canonical conflict centered on Bishop Basil “has come to an end.”

“The problem arising from the transfer of Bishop Basil Osborne to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople,” said Kirill on 27 March, “has now been canonically completely regularized. The problem arose because Bishop Basil moved to the Patriarchate of Constantinople of his own accord, without any request coming from Constantinople, and without the consent of the Moscow

Patriarchate. Now Constantinople has asked for his personal file, in which it is normal to include a letter of release. This means that the Moscow Patriarchate has granted canonical release to Bishop Basil. The canonical conflict has come to an end.”

“We release Bishop Basil. He will now legitimately represent the Constantinople Church. We shall be able to concelebrate with him,” said Metropolitan Kirill.

Kirill noted that the resolution of the “canonical misunderstanding” was the result of the meeting in Geneva this winter between a delegation from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and a delegation from the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Israeli precondition for Patriarch’s appointment

Israel is demanding that the Greek Orthodox patriarchy conduct a census of all church property in Israel and the Palestinian territories ahead of its sale or long-term lease, and to give Israel the first right of refusal on the property. Israel is also asking that the property purchased by Jewish organizations in the area of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate will “remain in the hands of the Israeli lessees,” according to a document that has reached journalists at the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz.

The document shows that a central issue for Israel is how to ensure that Greek Orthodox assets will be sold to Jewish bodies or to the state.

The document bears the signature of attorney Renato Yarak, a former senior State Prosecution official, attesting to the fact that Minister Rafi Eitan gave it to him. Eitan is a member of the ministerial committee dealing with matters pertaining to the patriarchy.

Yarak, the former head of High Court petitions in the State Prosecutor’s Office, and another attorney, Rami Mugrabi, said Eitan gave them the document on January 18. The two represent Theophilos, who was elected patriarch by the Greek Orthodox Synod about a year and a half ago, and who has since then been working to obtain Israel’s recognition as patriarch. Sources close to Theophilos said his attorneys were told that the acceptance of the clauses in the document were a condition to Israel’s recognizing him as patriarch. Theophilos’ attorneys rejected the conditions as an “illegal and extraneous” intervention in church matters.

The most problematic clause is the one dealing with properties at the Jaffa Gate. It states that the patriarch and the writer of the document must arrive at a process by which “the hotel” at the Jaffa Gate will remain in the hands of its Israeli lessees.

The property, consisting of three hotels, was sold to a company in the Virgin Islands, with members of the Ateret Kohanim association, which settles Jews in the Old City, acting as intermediaries.

The legality of the deal has been challenged in courts. Patriarch Irineos, who was dismissed from his post by the Greek Orthodox Synod after the sale of the hotels to Israelis came to light, claimed that he and the Synod had not approved the power of attorney as required by law. The demand by attorney Micha Kirsch, representing Irineos, that the deals be canceled, is now before the District Court in Jerusalem.

Catholic Peace Fellowship delegation to the Vatican

On the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, three American Catholic peace activists paid a discreet but significant visit to the Vatican. The representatives of the Indiana-based Catholic Peace Fellowship were in Rome in mid-March to promote the issue of conscientious objection to war.

“It’s been a miraculous trip,” said Joshua Casteel. “We’ve received great support and open ears here. It’s encouraging to see that we are part of a tradition that’s very sensitive to peace issues.”

Casteel served in an Army intelligence unit in Iraq in 2004 and was an interrogator at the Abu Ghraib prison. After concluding that systematic torture was being used against mostly innocent people and that his own participation in the war was compromising his Christian witness, Casteel applied for and received conscientious objector status and left the Army after six years in uniform.

Casteel met Pope Benedict XVI on March 14, along with two other CPF representatives, Tom Cornell and Michael Griffin. Benedict has repeatedly expressed opposition to the war in Iraq.

Cornell, Griffin and Casteel proposed that the Vatican take a new look at the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on war and conscientious objection. The catechism notes that public authorities should provide for alternative service for those who refuse to bear arms for reasons of conscience. But it says the main responsibility for evaluating the conditions of a just war “belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

Griffin said that wording seems to imply that public authorities alone decide a war’s morality. It gives too little weight to an individual’s responsibility to evaluate the legitimacy of war in his or her own conscience, he said.

The CPF also visited the Congregation for Saints’ Causes to ask about progress in the cause of Franz Jgersttter, an Austrian farmer who was executed as a conscientious objector to service in the army of Adolf Hitler.

Jgersttter had a wife and three daughters. Many, including a priest and a bishop, advised him to think of his family and forget about resisting the military machine. He was also told he should follow the political authorities who had responsibility for such decisions. But Jagerstatter refused to serve, and after a military trial in 1943 he was beheaded. Before being executed, he wrote: “I am convinced that it is best that I speak the truth, even if it costs me my life.”

Conscientious objection focus of Vatican congress

Conscientious objection can be a testimony of help and service to life, said the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life at a conference – The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life – held in the Vatican in February.

“Not only is there a legitimate place for the Christian conscience in the pluralist society,” said Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy, but it is useful “for the whole society when the Christian conscience can express itself and offer its contribution.” This requires “among believers true, certain and upright consciences, conditions that in no way can be taken for granted, or that are the result of improvisation, but rather of reflection, dialogue and at times of valiant effort.”

He pointed out that conscientious objection “is not the only instance of the Christian conscience in the health field,” but that above all “conscience calls for positive testimony in the service” for life. “But precisely because of the service to life, an honor that corresponds to every living man, it is necessary to avoid evil and, when it occurs, to activate conscientious objection and protest,” the Vatican official said.

It is specifically in “the sector of life and holiness” where a whole series appears “of new situations where doctors and other figures linked to their activities are called to activate the claim of objection,” he said. “In a society that wishes to be genuinely democratic, conscience must be able to speak for those who do not have a voice or are unable to express themselves. The aim of Christians, therefore, is also this: to give voice also to those who do not have an electoral voice, or economic power, but who have the same dignity as each one of us.”

Mandela backs Gandhi’s nonviolence approach

Nelson Mandela, who spent 28 years in prison for fighting apartheid before leading South Africa to multi-racial democracy as the country’s first black president in 1994, joined Nobel laureates and elder statesmen in calling for the “reinvention” of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent approach to solving conflicts. At a conference in New Delhi, India, in January, Mandela said Gandhi’s nonviolent approach, which won India freedom from British colonial rule 60 years ago, was an inspiration.

“His philosophy contributed in no small measure to bringing about a peaceful transformation in South Africa and in healing the destructive human divisions that had been spawned by the abhorrent practice of apartheid,” said Mandela.

Referring to Gandhi as “the sacred warrior,” Mandela said the Mahatma combined ethics and morality with a steely resolve that refused to compromise with the oppressor, the British Empire.

“In a world driven by violence and strife, Gandhi’s message of peace and nonviolence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century,” said Mandela. “He rightly believed in the efficacy of pitting the sole force of the satyagraha against the brute force of the oppressor and in effect converting the oppressor to the right and moral point.”

Global warming means millions of climate refugees

A decade or so ago, environmentalists coined the term “climate refugees” to describe future victims of global warming. Today, experts say such refugees may already number in the millions and could reach 200 million by the century’s end, stoking conflict.

They point to Inuit communities undercut by melting ice in North America and Greenland to the thirsty peoples around central Africa’s fast-shrinking Lake Chad and the many thousands displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. In the future, these ranks could be swollen by refugees fleeing flooded homes, parched farmland or wrecked economies, from small island states in the Pacific to tropical Africa and the Mediterranean rim.

“The issue of environmental refugees promises to rank as one of the foremost human crises of our time,” said Norman Myers, an Oxford University professor.

“There is going to be a lot of population movement linked to climate,” said Thomas Downing, director of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Oxford. “Not all will be permanent refugees, but when you add climate to other forces that push people beyond the capacity to cope, the numbers will increase.”

A Red Cross and Red Crescent study in 2000 said 25 million people had left their homes because of environmental stress, roughly as many as the refugees from armed conflict.

Myers, an expert on the link between climate change and forced migration, says the number could double by 2010 and reach as high as 200 million “once global warming kicks in.”

For fragile island nations such as Tuvalu in the South Pacific and Maldives in the Indian Ocean, global warming poses a triple threat. Warmer seas spell a threat to the coral upon which islanders depend to attract both fish and tourists; decreasing rainfall threatens drinking water supplies; and higher sea levels pose a threat by storm flooding or even inundation.

In the densely populated flood-plains of Bangladesh, rising seas will not only ruin fertile flood plains but stoke the storm surges that periodically ravage the low-lying nation.

Drought or water stress is another problem. According to one study, the crippling heatwave that struck Western Europe in 2003 and left tens of thousands dead is likely to be commonplace by 2100, a scenario that is especially bleak for people on the Mediterranean coast and its hinterland.

754,000 homeless Americans

The United States has three-quarters of a million homeless people, filling emergency shelters through the year and spilling into special seasonal shelters in the coldest months, according to a government report published in February.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated there were 754,000 homeless people in 2005, including those living in shelters, transitional housing and on the street. That’s about 300,000 more people than available beds in shelters and transitional housing.

The 2000 Census pegged the number of homeless people at 170,700, but it was widely regarded an undercount.

Among the findings for people in shelters and transitional housing: nearly half were single adult men, nearly a quarter were minors, less than 2 percent were older than 65, 59 percent were members of minority groups, about 45 percent were black, and about a quarter had a disability.

Emergency shelters are more than 90 percent full on average nights, the report said. They would be over capacity if not for seasonal shelters.

“We ought to be looking for ways to move people from shelters into permanent housing,” said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Building shelter beds doesn’t result in these people being housed, but clearly, short of housing, everybody should have a roof over their head. This points out that we are not there, either.”

A quarter of US war vets diagnosed with mental disorders

A quarter of the Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans treated with US government-funded health care have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to a study published in March by The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

When psycho-social disorders such as domestic violence were included, the number of war veterans suffering from mental illnesses rose to 31 percent.

The instances of mental illness among recently discharged troops and members of the National Guard are significantly higher than those of a study published last year which examined active duty troops, the lead researcher told Agence France Presse.

That study found that while a third of returning troops were accessing mental health services, only 12 percent were diagnosed with a mental illness or psycho-social disorder.

“That’s a big difference,” said Karen Seal, a physician and researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The most common diagnosis was post-traumatic stress disorder among 13 percent of troops, followed by anxiety and adjustment disorders among six percent of troops and depression and substance abuse among five percent of troops.

Of significant concern was the finding that 56 percent of those diagnosed had more than one mental illness, Seal said. “When people have more than one diagnosis they become more challenging to diagnose and, more importantly, we believe are more challenging to treat.”

With a backlog of more than 860,000 medical claims and waiting times of up to a year for treatment, many of those coming home are not getting the help they urgently need, said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“War changes everybody and everybody is going to have to deal with it in one way or another. The military is not doing enough on the preventative side or the treatment side because the military’s role is to patch them up and send them to the VA [the Veterans Administration]. The VA is not doing enough because they did not prepare for the huge influx of new customers coming in from the wars and they haven’t budgeted for it.”

The researchers examined the records of 103,788 veterans of these operations who were first seen at Veterans Affairs facilities between September 30, 2001, and September 30, 2005.

About 29 percent of war veterans accessed VA health care facilities, the study found.

The troops most at risk were those aged 18 to 24, the study found, but mental illnesses were common among all subgroups.

New features on the OPF web site

A section has been added to the OPF web site that places on one page the articles on Peacemaking in the Parish that were published in recent issues of In Communion:

http://incommunion.org/articles/previous-issues/peacemaking-in-the-parish-2

A similar page – Pro-Life Resources – has been added with links to numerous articles on the protection of human life from the womb to old age:

http://incommunion.org/articles/essays/pro-life-resources-5

Also, it’s now possible to get an update message whenever new material is added to the OPF web site. Sign up at:

http://incommunion.org/feed

Our thanks to Michael Markwick, who maintains the OPF web site.

Hate Breeds Hate

By Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo)

Asullen, somber young man goes to a gun store in Virginia, where he will have no difficulty purchasing handguns. He is seriously mentally ill and many people around him are aware of it, but no one has succeeded in placing him under professional care; perhaps no one has tried. The clerk at the gun store has no obligation to know whether or not the man is mentally ill. There is no program for assessing who may buy a handgun. The only real requirement is that the buyer be at least eighteen years of age. A while later, the young man has massacred more than thirty classmates and teachers, then committed suicide.

The first thing that stands out among the details of this matter is how many people knew that this young man was seriously ill and yet apparently did nothing about it. On the surface, it looks as if some people cared; but the fact is that of the dozens of people who say they knew, and of the several who were in positions of authority, it seems no one took any action to intervene in his situation. The demons in this young man’s head were not of his own making. They only mirror the world of paranoia, fear and violence around him. His psychiatric condition inclined him to personalize all this.

His symptoms are well known. One should have expected some kind of violence from him, but perhaps no one looked carefully enough at him to be able to see it. We have twice had young men much like him show up at the monastery, and we got them into mental health care situations very quickly. I wonder how many tragedies might we would avoid if only we could open ourselves to the grace of God to be good Samaritans to the very troubled?

If we speculate about why things like this happen, it is often because human beings do not care enough about each other to prevent them from happening. In our society there is more to it than this, however. Violence has been given a value in culture and society. Television has made it graphic and the value given to it has made it difficult to distinguish heroes from anti-heroes. Victors in violent actions are noble, losers are evil, but there is little to distinguish them except which one won and which one lost. In the arena of actual warfare, it is only the losers who are guilty of war crimes, while the winners put them on trial, but in reality both committed atrocities, killed innocent civilians and wrought immense destruction.

Such episodes of personal violence as school and university mass murders can happen almost anywhere, but happen much more easily in the US because there is an almost idolatrous worship of guns. In the state of Virginia, one can own a rifle or shotgun at the age of twelve and one can legally purchase a handgun at the age of eighteen. How many people in those age ranges do you know whom you would want to have such weapons?

In a world and society which has in so many ways separated itself from God, it is difficult to ask “why does God allow…?” When many prominent religious leaders in the US are backing the death penalty, supporting war and even acting as advocates for the gun lobby, while almost openly hoping for Armageddon, practically reducing morality down to only sexual behavior, when the nation’s leaders think that violence and sowing death and destruction is the way to handle conflicts, who is listening to God anyway?

Moreover, when many Orthodox Christians no longer observe those ordinary ascetic disciplines of Church life which God has given us to teach and exercise us in self-control, what should we expect of the rest of the world? Look at how many Orthodox Churches actually sponsor meals that violate the fasts, and do so in parish halls. Too many Orthodox Christians, those who are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the lights set upon lampstands for the rest of the world to see, do not take the Christian life seriously. They reduce the faith to some philosophical positions or customs, but have no desire to apply the living faith to life itself in a transforming way. And yet, without the ingredient of self-control and self-discipline, how can violence and injustice be avoided? If we, who claim to have the truth, the “faith once delivered,” have no desire to learn or to teach our children self-discipline and self-control, what should we, then, expect of the world around us, or even of our own children?

How can we stop all this? We cannot avoid violence in this world. So long as Satan has the ear and heart of so many, we cannot stop it. We can pay more attention to each other and watch for symptoms in others that would alert us to the fact that they urgently need help, but we cannot stop violence in a fallen world in which violence itself appears to have value, a world in which we are taught by the example of national leaders and whole nations that violence is the solution to violence.

Stopping violence to a greater degree would require that we diligently search for root causes of the violence and seek, aided by prayer and fasting, for the Grace of the Holy Spirit to heal the root causes, not simply to bomb and shoot those whom we feel are responsible (we ourselves never are responsible, of course) for the violence. So long as nations and the leaders of nations deal with problems by resorting to violence and state terrorism, we have no reason to suspect that people who are mentally or emotionally unbalanced will not follow their example. Children tend to imitate adults, alas!

Prayer does have a healing power. We need to pray sincerely, and not just “because one is supposed to pray,” for the healing of mankind, for the healing of our world, and we should not neglect to pray for the young man who committed this most recent massacre.

What else can we do? Let us begin by trying to recapture the meaning of our Orthodox Christian life, the actual meaning of the parish, to discover again the sweet mystery of the parish, how the parish itself is intended to promote the healing of the fallen human nature and our assimilation into the life in Christ.

Physically, the only thing we can do to protect ourselves is to be alert. We live in a world that is dangerous, and we need to be aware of that, to pray about it and to live our lives in such a way that we do not contribute to it. We place our hope in God for our own lives. We must make proper use of our Christian faith as a source of healing in the world, not as a source of judgment, division and enmity toward others.

The less we endorse violence, the more we observe the disciplines of Orthodox Christian life, the more we can contribute to love, peace and healing in the world around us. We do so need to learn to love “the other,” those who are not “us” and not “like us.”

How shall we, as Orthodox Christians, make such contributions to the world if we cannot have peace, harmony, self-control and self-discipline even in our own parishes, among neighboring parishes of the same jurisdiction and among the local national Orthodox Churches? Did our beloved father St. Paul not tell us that though we may speak with the tongues of men and of angels, know all mysteries and even give our bodies to be burned in martyrdom, but do not have love, we are only clanging brass and it does not profit us anything?

We must see the image of the creator in every other human being, not merely in those whom we see as being also an image of our own selves, those who agree with us and think and act as we do. The Church has even given us a program of prayer and fasting to help us accomplish this. If we do not strive to accomplish it, then we become part of the problem rather than the seed of healing in a troubled and suffering world.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo is Civil Liaison for the Orthodox Church in America, Archdiocese of Canada. He is founder and abbot of the Monastery of All Saints of North America near Vancouver, Canada. He is educated in physics as well as theology, and lectures internationally on science and religion. He is Canadian secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and director of the Canadian Institute for Biblical and Patristic Studies. He is the author of more than 40 books.

Prisoners We are Forbidden to Visit

by Paul Grenier

“I was in prison, and you visited Me.” These words from the Gospel remind us that Christianity is not a set of dogmas to be believed, but is a truth to be lived and practiced. Visiting those who are in prison is simply an extension of the foundational Christian practice – loving one’s enemies. The ideologue, by contrast, urges us to hate our enemies. The ideologue is always bent on destroying “once and for all” evils that exist outside his favored group. But Christ was not an ideologue and Christianity is not an ideology.

The New Testament is instead the antidote to ideological perversions of thought, and as such it focuses attention on the struggle against evils inside my own self. Apparently the most certain way of succeeding in this struggle is by practicing forgiveness and charity toward those whom we find repellant – toward those who are, in fact, our enemies, and who for that very reason tend to end up in our prisons.

Today, however, we Christians in America are often not allowed to visit Christ in prison. The Bush administration has declared that there are those in our prisons whom no one may visit, not even a lawyer. It is said that these secret prisoners must not be visited because the “alternative methods of interrogation” being used against them are among the United States’ “most sensitive national security secrets.”

One would think that every American would immediately rise up in indignation against such policies and demand an accounting from those who ever dared initiate them. And yet almost the opposite has happened. For the most part, we go about our lives as if all this was no big deal.

What has happened? It would appear that the following has happened. We have become a nation of security ideologues. We want “national security,” yes, but especially and at all costs we want guarantees of our personal security.

That is why we feel little distress about the millions of men and women who fester in our bulging prisons. And just as we spend more on military systems than any other country – indeed, than all other countries combined – so too we hold more humans in our prison system than any other country.

And yet, the most humane and wise of Christian voices have always held that the first task of a civilization, when it comes to the treatment of its prisoners, is to do its best to restore the moral and intellectual good health of the persons being punished. To be sure, the protection of society is also a crucial function of prisons; but in a Christian civilization, this task is subordinated to the first.

There is no time here to elaborate on this complicated subject. Suffice it to say that a just punishment always serves to increase rather than decrease the dignity of the prisoner. It might be added that, were our society to provide more security to its workers, and give greater emphasis to the moral and intellectual improvement of its children, there would be fewer domestic prisoners in the first place. But that too is a matter for another essay.

What must be addressed first – both in this essay and as a matter of public policy – is the treatment of “enemy combatants” captured during America’s current “war on terrorism.”

The barbarity of such practices as “extraordinary renditions,” and other cruel practices at locations known and unknown, would be just as great if these detainees were all guilty as charged. Yet many are clearly not guilty – or if they are, it is very strange, because many have never even been charged. They are simply being held.

What if they are guilty, and truly are our enemies? Such a circumstance should only increase our concern for their welfare. At any rate, that is what Christ said.

And to find out which of these detainees deserve this special measure of Christian concern, it behooves us to insist that our government at long last allow lawyers and courts to thoroughly investigate each of these cases according to a credible system of justice. This will have the additional benefit of allowing those who have been simply picked up by accident to be immediately released.

In the interests of fairness, it must be emphasized that cruelty is far from being an eternal truth about Americans. It is, rather, an alien trait we have acquired by falling prey to a spiritual temptation-the temptation of making security the final goal of our existence.

Indeed, it is this same all-consuming quest for security that induces so many of us to remain silent. With perfect logic we think to ourselves: “If they have treated other defenseless human beings this way, what will keep them from treating me with similar cruelty if I speak out?”

There is only one way to respond to this fear, and no one has formulated it better than the fearless Simone Weil: “To die for God is not a proof of faith in God. To die for an unknown and repulsive convict who is a victim of injustice, that is a proof of faith in God.”

Paul Grenier, a writer and cultural geographer, is the founder of The Common Task – http://www.thecommontask.org. The Common Task is a research center devoted to the humanization of culture, cities and economies. He is a member of St. Nicholas Cathedral parish, Orthodox Church in America, in Washington, DC.

Voluntary Simplicity in the Bible

By W. David Holden

In the 20th and 21st centuries the practice of voluntary simplicity has rightly become a central virtue for Christians and others for whom social justice and environmental stewardship are vital concerns. The concept and practice of voluntary simplicity, however, are much older. Voluntary poverty has been a central tenet of monasticism since the days of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century. Voluntary poverty received renewed emphasis in the poverty movements of the Western Church in the late Middle Ages, most notably the asceticism of St. Francis of Assisi and his order of “lesser brothers.” The Mennonites, among whom are the Amish, and the Society of Friends (better known as Quakers) also made it a central practice of their traditions.

While the phrase “voluntary simplicity” is modern, the concept is to be found in the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.

The writers of the Bible taught that human beings are to treat the earth as a garden, and in the past century it has become obvious that the earth will not be a garden for long if we continue to practice unbridled consumerism.

The Bible’s authors taught that wealthy people have obligations toward the poor. They also taught that gluttony, greed, and vainglory are obstacles in the relationship of human beings with God. These vices contradict Biblical teaching about wealth, which is always a gift to human beings from the boundless riches of God. They also refute the trust that the Lord will provide for human beings.

When researching biblical concepts, students customarily explore key words, in this case the terms “simple” and “simplicity” and the like, to see whether they refer to voluntary simplicity in a way similar to the way that phrase is used today.

The words “simple” and “simplicity” do in fact occur in English translations of the Bible, but they do not refer to voluntary simplicity in the sense that we have come to understand it in the past century. In the New Revised Standard Version, for example, the English word “simple” translates forms of the Hebrew word peti (). This word comes from a verb that means “open.” It refers to a person who is open to outside influences, whether for good or for bad. As an illustration of this meaning, Proverbs 14:15 reads, “The simple believe everything, but the clever consider their steps.” The same translation also has the adverb “simply” in three passages and the noun phrase “simple-minded” in one, but never in reference to the virtue of voluntary simplicity.

If the concept of voluntary simplicity is to be found in the Bible, it is more elusive than finding a word or word-family. If it is to be found, it must be embedded in other teachings. It seems to the present writer that it is found in three contexts: in the those passages that might be called the simplicity proverbs, in teachings about modesty, and teachings about quietness.


The Simplicity Proverbs:

The writers of the Bible taught the concept of voluntary simplicity in sayings in the wisdom literature that I call the simplicity proverbs. These are found in the books of Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Sirach. All of these proverbs declare that it is better to live a simple life than to perpetuate some kind of evil. Here are four such proverbs.

Proverbs 15:16: “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” The fear of the Lord is, as Scripture says several times, the beginning of wisdom. The “trouble” referred to here is of a very particular kind. The Hebrew word is mehumah (), which refers to a tumult or uproar. The meaning here is perhaps indicated by Amos 3:9-10,10 which reads:

Proclaim to the strongholds of Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, “Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what great oppressions are in its midst.” They do not know how to do right, says the Lord, Those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.

The point of the proverb is that obeying the divine commands to do justice to others may require one to lead a simple life.

Proverbs 17:1: “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” The second half of this proverb has been paraphrased in the New Revised Standard Version. The Hebrew literally says, “than a house full of the sacrifices of strife.” The ancient Israelites ate little meat. Livestock were more important for wool, milk, and work than for meat. To kill one’s livestock was unthrifty; one would do so only for good reasons. One reason to kill an animal was as an act of worship. When an animal was offered in sacrifice, the person who offered it usually ate it. Therefore, a house full of sacrifices would be a house full of feasting on choice food. But strife ruins any feast. The proverb means that a very simple meal, the merest mouthful of dry bread, when accompanied by some prosperity and peace and quiet, is to be preferred over delicacies with conflicts and legal disputes.

Psalm 37:16: “Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked.” (Septuagint: 36:16) The word for “wicked” (reshaim, ) can also be translated “cruel.” The proverb means that if a person obedient to God owns only a little bit, it is to be preferred to the wealth of many people who oppress others.

Ecclesiastes 4:6: “Better is a handful with quiet than two handfuls with toil, and a chasing after wind.” The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to have regarded all work as no more meaningful than a child’s game of catching shadows. He said, “I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another.” While he may overstate his case, to the extent that envy motivates someone to work, his next observation is certainly on the mark: “This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.” The toil to which he refers is meaningless, pointless work. In this proverb the Septuagint is somewhat more literal in its understanding of the Hebrew than is the English. The Septuagint reads, “Better is a handful of rest than two handfuls of trouble and waywardness of spirit.” The meaning is that it would be better to have a single handful of anything than twice that much gained from a meaningless task.


Modesty:

The terms “modest” and “modesty” are rare in Scripture. They are not used in the New Revised Standard Version in its translation of the Hebrew Bible. The terms are used, however, to translate Greek terms in the books that Protestants call the Apocrypha and in the New Testament. Four Greek terms lie behind the English word, all of which may be translated with other English terms. Aidos in I Timothy 2:9 is a sense of shame; the cognate verb aideomai in II Maccabees 15:12 and IV Maccabees 8:3 means “to be ashamed to do something” or “to stand in awe, fear, or respect of someone.” These terms are used of both men and women: Paul in his letter to Timothy refers to the modesty of women, while the writers of the Books of Maccabees refer to the modesty of men. Another Greek term is aischynteros. which in Sirach 26:15 and 32:10 is an adjective meaning “bashful.” Also in Sirach (in 26:24) is the term euschemon, which means “elegant in figure,” “graceful,” or “becoming.” St. Paul uses the term for the virtue of temperance, sophrosyne, with the meaning of modesty in I Timothy 2:15.13
Clearly, the concept of voluntary simplicity can be derived from other teachings in the Scriptures. In the case of the teaching on modesty, however, St. Paul realized these implications himself. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes” (I Timothy 2:9). The logic here is: If you are going to practice the virtue of modesty, then you must to some degree practice the virtue of voluntary simplicity. St. Peter gave a very similar instruction, but without referring directly to modesty. St. Peter, addressing the women in his churches, wrote, “Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight” (I Peter 3:3-4). In other words, if you wish to have a quiet and gentle spirit, then you must to some degree embrace voluntary simplicity.

Clearly, the concept of voluntary simplicity can be derived from other teachings in the Scriptures. In the case of the teaching on modesty, however, St. Paul realized these implications himself. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes” (I Timothy 2:9). The logic here is: If you are going to practice the virtue of modesty, then you must to some degree practice the virtue of voluntary simplicity. St. Peter gave a very similar instruction, but without referring directly to modesty. St. Peter, addressing the women in his churches, wrote, “Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight” (I Peter 3:3-4). In other words, if you wish to have a quiet and gentle spirit, then you must to some degree embrace voluntary simplicity.

These verses, especially when combined with St. Paul’s teaching about the length of hair that is appropriate to the two sexes and to the propriety of a head covering for women, have fueled controversies about how men and women should dress, in church and elsewhere. Some Christian traditions have been very strict, insisting that women should never cut their hair, never do anything with it other than wash and comb it, and never wear any kind of jewelry or make-up. Other traditions have been less strict, but have still taught that male-female differences should be mirrored in dress and grooming. The questions raised are not merely relics of the ancient world. Modesty for both men and women is connected with the practice of voluntary simplicity. However cultures may differ on the details of modesty, the practice of voluntary simplicity as it is understood by the Apostles will be expressed in clothing as well as other aspects of ordinary life.

Quietness:

The simplicity and modesty texts already noted connect the virtue of living simply with the virtue of living quietly.

Proverbs 15:16: “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.”

Proverbs 17:1: “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” The word translated “quiet” is not common in the Hebrew Bible. The word is shalvah and it refers to being in a state of quiet, abundance, prosperity, or peace. The Septuagint reads, “Better is a morsel with pleasure in peace [meth’ hedones en eirene].”The term in the Septuagint (and the concept in the Hebrew text) connects voluntary simplicity with peace and peacemaking, one of the central concepts of the theology and ethics of the entire Bible.
Psalm 37:16: “Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked.” Hamon is the Hebrew word translated “abundance.” The word also means “sound,” “murmur,” “rush,” or “roar.” It suggests loud and ostentatious wealth.

Ecclesiastes 4:6 contrasts quietness with trouble and futility: “Better is a handful with quiet than two handfuls with toil.” The author uses the Hebrew term nachat – more often translated “rest” than “quiet.” This noun is related to the verb nuach, which the Fourth Commandment uses in reference to the rest of the Lord after creating the world. The Septuagint translates that Hebrew word in Ecclesiastes with the Greek word anapausis, ordinarily translated “rest” in English. In the Fourth Commandment, the Septuagint uses a similar Greek term, katapauo. The Greek term in Ecclesiastes is also used in the great invitation of the Lord Jesus: “Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Ecclesiastes connects voluntary simplicity with the Sabbath, itself a foretaste of the Kingdom yet to come.
St. Peter, in his teaching on the dress appropriate to women, says that women should seek “the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (I Peter 3:4). The word translated “quiet” is the adjective hesychios. St. Paul used the verb related to this adjective when he said, “Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands” (I Thessalonians 4:11). In other passages of the New Testament the English versions translate it and its cognates not only with the term “quiet,” but also with the terms “cease,” “hold one’s peace,” “rest,” “silence,” and “peaceable.” This term is especially beloved to Orthodox Christians, who have developed a profound system of prayer and ascetic practice around the cultivation of inner quietness.

Living quietly and simply are not, strictly and logically speaking, the same thing. It is possible for a person to live simply, but also very much in the public eye. But the passages under consideration teach that this is not ordinarily the case. Ordinarily people who seek to live simply will also seek to live quietly, out of the view of the public and the powerful. Voluntary simplicity is therefore not only about avoiding sin and wrongdoing and expressing solidarity with the poor. It is a way to embody peace and peacemaking, to anticipate the Sabbath rest of the coming Reign of God over the world, and a way to practice the deep silence of attentive listening to God.


Conclusion:

No single word or phrase in the Bible teaches the concept of voluntary simplicity. Concepts are not always designated, however, by single words or phrases. Sometimes people hold to a concept without using these linguistic conveniences.

Voluntary simplicity is such a concept. Voluntary simplicity is taught in some of the proverbs and in connection with the concept of modesty. Furthermore, when the concept of voluntary simplicity is presented in the Bible, it is often connected with the concept of quietness, which itself has connections with the great Biblical themes of peace, Sabbath, and silence before God. In this light, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that while voluntary poverty may be a special calling, a way of life that only a few people are to follow, voluntary simplicity is a universal obligation for those who already live prosperously.

The slogan “Live simply, that others may simply live” and similar modern sayings are more than worthy sentiments. Living simply, from a biblical viewpoint, is an ethical obligation of a high order.

W. David Holden studied biblical languages at Duke University and received a Master of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. His spiritual journey brought him to Orthodoxy in August 1999. He is a professional counselor and clinical addictions specialist. He and his family live in the country outside Boone, North Carolina.

St. George the Great Martyr

True stories become legends and legends are compressed via symbols into myths. The St. George of myth was a knight in armor who fought a dragon to save a princess. The real George never saw a dragon nor did he rescue a princess in distress. We are not even sure he had a horse, possessed a sword, or was a soldier. It is possible he was a farmer – the name “George” means tiller of the soil, which explains why St. George is a patron saint of agriculture, herds, flocks and shepherds.

A Christian convert who was born late in the third century after Christ and died early in the fourth century, George was one of the victims of the anti-Christian persecution ordered by the Emperor Diocletian that began in February of the year 303. Churches were destroyed and biblical texts burned. All Roman subjects were ordered to make ritual sacrifices to Rome’s gods. Those who refused risked loss of property and severe punishment. Many were sent into exile as slave laborers in quarries and mines in Egypt and Palestine. Thousands were tortured and many executed. Finally in 311 the attack ended. With Diocletian in retirement and the emperor Galerius critically ill and close to death, Galerius published an edict of toleration allowing Christians to restore their places of worship and to worship in their own way without interference, provided they did nothing to disturb the peace.

What made George a saint among saints was the fearless manner in which he proclaimed his faith during a period of persecution when many other Christians were hoping not to be noticed. According to one ancient account, George went to a public square and announced, “All the gentile gods are devils. My God made the heavens and is the true God.” For this George was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded. The probable date of his martyrdom is April 23, 303, in the town of Diospolis, later known as Lydda, in Asia Minor – Turkey as it is known today. His courageous witness led to the conversion of many and gave renewed courage to others already baptized.

In the oldest icons of St. George, he is shown dressed as a soldier and holding the cross of martyrdom.

It was only in later centuries that the dragon legend emerged. It has been told in many variations, but in its most popular form it concerns a dragon living in a lake who was worshiped by the unbaptized local people, who in their fear sacrificed their children to appease the creature. Finally it was the turn of the king’s daughter, Elizabeth, to be sacrificed. While going toward the dragon to meet her doom, Saint George appeared riding a white horse. He prayed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then transfixed the dragon with his lance. Afterward Elizabeth led the vanquished creature into the city.

According to the Legenda Aurea written by Blessed James de Voragine, the wounded dragon followed Elizabeth “as if it had been a meek beast and debonair.” Refusing a reward of treasure, George called on the local people to be baptized. The king agreed, also promising to maintain churches, honor the clergy, faithfully attend religious services, and show compassion to the poor.

– an extract from Praying with Icons (Jim Forest, Orbis Books)

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Peacemaking in the Parish: Selected Articles

The Liturgy begins with the exclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” All too often the Christ-revealing peace of the Kingdom of God seems far from parish life. Factions thrive. Group is set against group. We kiss the icons, but there are some in the parish whom we prefer not to greet and whose departure might cause us to quietly rejoice. “What a fine parish this would be if it weren’t for certain people.”Love and forgiveness, even respect, all too often seem to elude us.

We hope this collection of essays from past issues of In Communion will prove helpful in overcoming barriers within our parishes that lock us out of the Kingdom of God.

Jim Forest

editor

(photo credit: Aaron Haney)

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