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Fifty issues of In Communion

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

Conversations by email: Pascha / Spring 2008

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson or Jim Forest .

Letter from Pakistan: I want to thank all OPF members who, during the Nativity Fast, contributed funds to Orthodox Social Services in Pakistan to help us fulfill one aspect of our mission, giving assistance to orphans. It is thanks to your great effort that it was possible for Nadia and Rahbia to get wheelchairs. Your love, concern and sympathies will be remembered for good.

Fr. Andrew

Orthodox Social Services, Pakistan

Note: Photos of Nadia and Rahbia with their new wheelchairs: www.flickr.com/photos/

jimforest/sets/72157603834615537/

The Church in Communist days: As an Orthodox from Romania of Communist days, I can testify that it was a deliberate political strategy of the state to compromise the Church in all “Eastern-bloc” countries by undermining people’s trust in them and “splitting by smearing” campaigns. The principal of “divide and conquer” was used within the general population as well, with the consequence that no one completely trusted almost anyone else.

Most clergy were contacted by KGB or its local equivalent and attempts made to recruit or at least intimidate them. Some did cave in, really, yet the degree of damage could vary greatly, from loss of trust to minor “informing” to serious betrayals. It was always tragic and always affected everyone in and around the Church.

I have known Romanian martyr-priests who were in prison and later accused of “collaborating” with the Securitate (the KGB-like Romanian secret service) or at least of watering down their sermons in response to pressure or threats. One never knew…

Others, some of whose memoirs were recently published, lived in constant fear, always trying themselves in their own conscience for not speaking up or not defending others or decisions, etc.

It remains a wounding reality that the Church in Romania (but I know it’s also true for the Russian Church) has not yet found a “public” way to speak openly about the agonizing dilemmas it had to face during the years of Communist persecution. A way must be found to confess mistakes (such as not protesting the demolition of churches and monasteries) and pray together with the wounded flock for forgiveness and healing of such long-standing affliction, which continues to affect the people’s trust in the church and faith in the Lord Whose truth it proclaims.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal a way to stand in that truth, if it is ardently desired.

Ioana Novac

[email protected]

Not an ethnic club: One of the issues challenging Orthodoxy in America (I’ll leave other parts of the world to speak for themselves) is that Orthodoxy has not primarily been here in a missionary capacity. Rather, in too many cases, Orthodoxy was here to help some people preserve their past, and to preserve a culture that was fading away in history.

Orthodoxy has not fully embraced the missionary task, and so spends much of its time proclaiming and recreating culture, rather than proclaiming Christ. But many people have been attracted to this “churchianity” which brings people into the flock who then go seeking others like themselves.

Orthodox mission in much of past history – whether Byzantine or Russian – was not only seeking to spread the faith but also meant to expand an earthly kingdom. When the Alaska natives converted to Orthodoxy, they were accepting the lordship of the Russian Tsar as well. The Orthodox didn’t and couldn’t distinguish between Christian mission and imperial expansion.

This has carried over into what we do as Orthodox in America.

We have never sat down and discussed what non-imperial Orthodoxy might look like – not only have we not discussed it but a fair amount of Orthodox leadership and clergy would find such a discussion to threaten Orthodoxy itself.

America presents us with the chance to realize there is a difference between the gift we have received (the Faith) and the packaging it came in. But so far we have not shown any ability to enter into this discussion and realize the opportunity God has presented to us.

I think Fathers Schmemann and Meyendorff, among others, did understand this and worked hard to help us move forward, but they were paddling against the stream and knew it.

Imperial Orthodoxy will always speak to some, but the missionary issue is whether we can understand what is the core message of our faith and live it without imperial trappings.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

[email protected]

A frequent convert: I have been a frequent convert in my life. I converted to Christianity when I was 17. I converted from Darwinism about the same time. I converted to patriotism when I converted my citizenship, and to super-patriotism when I became a Reagan Republican. I converted from Apartheid somewhere in my twenties (even as an American, I defended South African Nationalism. It took me a while to recognize how deep Social Darwinism infects even those who deny it when they accept certain “parent” philosophies.) I converted to conscientious objection. I vacillated and rejoined the Army. I converted to hyper-pacifism. I converted to pluralism and internationalism (and was shocked again how deep certain biases had gone when “parent” philosophies were in control). I converted back and forth from Calvinism a few times. I converted to Orthodoxy. The list goes on and covers many areas of my thinking and believing life. I finally converted from converting, thinking that I was a flake. Then I converted to thinking that I need to be converted all my life in every way and that my error was basically in two things:

1) There are only two sides, and 2) one is always wrong and one is always right.

In fact, there are many sides and truth lurks in the most unlikely places. When I choose the “right” side, I always choose against some truth.

C.S. Lewis said that the devil always sends errors into the world in pairs so that we are forced to choose the one that we like best or that offends least. It becomes the right side. The trick for Christians generally is to navigate safely between.

Pieter Dykhorst

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Re Church & Liturgy: The various Orthodox churches have managed to survive in spite of being subjected to centuries of suppression. The Romans, the Crusaders, the Turks, the Communists have all butchered Orthodox people who refused to surrender the beliefs of their ancestors. Many of us remember all too well the Soviet Union and its gulags. Most recently in Kosovo, priests have been murdered, churches, monasteries and cemeteries desecrated. Few in the West seem to know or care.

People often speak of the Orthodox Liturgy being shaped in the context of “Imperial” Byzantium but there has been no such empire for centuries. But the Liturgy itself has survived.

When I am in church, I consider the unchanged nature of the Liturgy to being an example of a small, shared miracle. I think about the desert mothers and fathers, the martyrs and how the Liturgy connects us all. That doesn’t inoculate me from feelings of discomfort and irritation when the priest looks like he’d rather be anywhere else at the moment, or when fellow parishioners make it clear that those of other nationalities should go someplace else to worship.

My only religious training prior to converting to Orthodoxy was in Tibetan Buddhism. There are many shades of practice in that tradition. On one hand, a simple glimpse of an image of the Buddha generates merit.

On the other end of the spiritual spectrum one finds rarely offered initiations and highly detailed internal visualizations of specific deities conducted in the course of multi-year solitary retreats.

One of the lessons I take away from that period of my life is that there can be many different levels of ability, dedication and degree of participatory involvement that a worshiper brings to the Liturgy – and they all can be valid.

An Orthodox priest (also a dear friend of mine) once reminded me that many parishioners become preoccupied with following the written Liturgy in their hands (or minds) in order to understand each and every word of the service, but end up missing the Liturgy itself. He told me that being part of the spiritual assembly, was more important than scholarly achievement.

He suggested that when I found myself at a point in the Liturgy where I was beginning to feel bored, or more focused on getting home in time to watch football, I should use the time to repeat the Jesus Prayer. And what better time or place to do so?

Every religion has its drawbacks. There are points where the Church and I diverge. But I believe that our Church’s underdog history has taught it a great deal about the value of compassion, and it retains a very human nature. Often it resembles a brawl at a family reunion, but I feel more at home amidst chaos. That context allows me to be more patient with whatever shortcomings I may perceive in Orthodoxy, while it continues to accept mine.

David Golden

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Joy and dark nights: Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not a gift of the Spirit. The gifts vary from person to person and from time to time. The fruits do not. If a person does not have any one of the fruits of the Spirit, there is something wrong in that person’s relationship with the Holy Spirit. Look at the other items in the list of the fruits. Would we ever say that God might give us love or might not? Or might give us gentleness or might not? Or might give us self-control or might not? No. All these are marks of a genuine relationship with God. They might be weak or strong depending on our willfulness or the depth of our repentance. But they should all be part of a Christian’s normal relationship with God.

So if joy is lacking in our prayer and in our worship, this is a sure sign that something is amiss. It may be that God has withdrawn from us for reasons of His own, as St. John of the Cross in the West and St. Silouan the Athonite in the East tell us. But I think that is a fairly rare experience. Much of the time, if God withdraws from us, it is because our sinfulness has forced Him to. But it also happens that our distractedness removes our joy. We are not focused on the Lord; we are not seeing the world as it is. In any case, some kind of rupture has occurred in our awareness of the presence of the Lord. He is still there, but our minds are somewhere else.

But what about dark nights? For many years I was of the opinion that God never withdraws from us – rather we withdraw from Him. This was my heritage from the Methodism in which I grew up. Wesley said that we might endure “heaviness through many temptations” and that we might even be in a “wilderness state” because of our sins. He was very uneasy with the idea that God might withdraw from us even when we are not withdrawing from Him.

So was I and so I am. But I have come to see that there are times when there are no real sins that are pulling us away from God, but that God pulls away from us all the same. I think He does this in order to force us to grow and mature. It is rather like a parent who does not go with the kids when they go into the woods to play. The kids have to learn how to deal with things without depending on the parent to solve every problem, kiss every wound, make every decision, etc. It is not a punishment or a lack of love on the parent’s part – to the contrary, it is real love. In the case of God’s dealings with us, it is His way of making us become His friends and stop being just His servants. I think this is what St. John of the Cross was getting at with his notion of the dark night of the soul (which was a long way from an ordinary depressive episode, despite the loose use of his language current nowadays). I think that St. Silouan the Athonite had much the same idea, though not with the refinement of St. John of the Cross.

Even so, I think this is seldom the case. Most of us have not arrived at this level of spiritual maturity. Most of the time we have sinned in some way, flagrantly or subtly, or we are simply not attending to the divine reality around us. Hence our loss of the sense of God’s presence. To assume that we are having a dark night experience is, as St. John of the Cross noted, often a sign of spiritual pride. It takes a discerning spiritual director to know it when he or she sees it.

David Holden

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Perseverance: David captures the reason why I was not disturbed by the recent revelations about Mother Theresa and her faith. In fact, I found the information regarding her barren inner life inspiring – even more inspiring than the witness of her actions with the poor and ill over so many years.

Given her tremendous and stalwart perseverance in her works of mercy, I can only suppose that this was a case of God enrolling her in the “advanced” course in holiness, one that you and I are very unlikely to have put on our schedule. She treated “the least” of her brethren with astounding compassion for decades, even as she experienced the Christ, in whose image they were made, as an absence, a blank where God should be.

This achievement, to me, far outstrips incessant prayer, perching on a column or living on air.

Alex Patico

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Absence of God: My response to Alex and David about the absence or presence of God and whether it is because of our sins or not strikes me as somehow too neat and tidy.

First of all, this sense of the “presence of God” may often simply be a sense of well being, that things are going well and so we attribute that to God. We can have just as much of a bourgeois comfort in religion as anything else.

Secondly, I would suggest that the basic condition of our life here in this world in our mortal bodies is the absence of God, at least existentially. In fact the very fact that we are having this sort of discussion points to God’s absence! If God were truly present to our consciousness, we wouldn’t be taking about him, we’d be basking in him!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the human condition at its most anguished, at the deepest level of affliction. This is what makes Jesus truly our brother, his love for us in our most profound dereliction which is our just banishment from the life-giving presence of God. Jesus’ love for us is so total that he is willing to step into the breach for us, to experience existentially in all its horror that which is our lot day-to-day, but which sometimes we manage to avoid in its full impact.

I remember that when I first read the story of Adam and Eve, after having myself been touched by God, I wondered – how can they have stood it for even one hour, to be banished from Paradise? And then gradually I realized that God in his mercy immediately mitigated the horror of his absence. He gave them skins to wear and many other things to “veil” his absence, even make it palatable. But he no longer “walked” with them. He was absent. I would suggest that existentially that is still our present human condition. God is absent.

I would also suggest that we can’t really know God until all the mitigating compensations for God’s absence are stripped away. Perhaps in his mercy he gives a brief flash of his presence to prepare us for the long road back to him.

Anybody who has experienced the profound joy of God’s presence (such as St. Silouan), this ineffable “home coming,” can only be totally dismayed, even panicked, when it gradually slips away. No one “deserves” this Paschal experience anymore than they deserve its absence. It is a gift. Its reasons are for God’s good pleasure in the mystery of his Providence both for us and the world, a gift few knew was possible!

Do my sins block the grace of God and my ability to experience joy? Of course they do. I also think there’s more to it than that. I think that periods of darkness can happen that are both related to and unrelated to our sins at various stages of our life.

Was Mother Theresa’s dryness a sign of a higher spiritual state. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I heard she could at times be pretty nasty to her own sisters. But that’s neither here nor there. I do know that the further one goes in the love of God and neighbor, the less one is concerned with whether one is repenting for one’s own sins or that of others. Ultimately love erases all such boundaries. It certainly did for Jesus. That is the beauty of sanctity. The less one sins oneself, the more one is freed to pray/repent for the sins of others. Ultimately that can mean sharing in their dereliction. And when there is no sin than that identification becomes total. That is Jesus, the Suffering Servant.

I have always been very uncomfortable, even guilt ridden, at all this talk about joy (you know, authentic sign of God’s life in us) because quite frankly there has been so little of it in my life, certainly in the conventional Christian sense. Certainly my sins have been manifold (no pious rhetoric here) and so tendency to dejection and discouragement at my manifest weakness has been dominant. What can God possibly do with me, spiritual neurotic that I am?! At the same time I know that there is no escaping that, like Silouan, God has touched me in a way I know few others have been.

But there has been one joy that has surprised me more and more with its paradoxical power, and that is the joy of repentance.

Paul del Junco

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Whole-life: A few thoughts on Fr Ted Bobosh’s essay on capital punishment (pages 4-9), one that I will be keeping for future reference.

I appreciate Fr. Ted being so candid about moving from a position of supporting the death penalty to opposing it. I have made the same journey.

However I don’t know if I can agree with his statement that he “[has] come to accept the consistent pro-life thinking,” given his earlier statement that “Armies and wars are part of this fallen world, and though an undesirable inevitability, and even an evil necessity, a necessity none-the-less.”

If mass killing is at times a lesser evil, then doesn’t it follow that other evils might also be described as undesirable but in some circumstances sadly necessary? How about, “Adultery is part of this fallen world, and, though undesirable, in certain circumstances a lesser evil”?

It seems to me that evil can only become a necessity when we are out of righteous actions. Can this happen? Why should Christians accede to any type of evil when there is always the alternative of righteousness? I am not being idealistic. I am looking at Christ’s life, not to mention many others that have followed in his footsteps when it comes to rejecting the option of mass killing as a solution.

In recent years, I have stopped calling myself “pro-life,” not because I no longer oppose abortion, but I find the word “pro-life” too spattered with the gunk of political agendas and the strange belief that being against abortion (while ignoring killing in war or the execution of prisoners, not to mention poverty, wealth and many other issues) fulfills the “pro-life” criteria. So far the best phrase I can come up with to describe my views is “whole-life.”

Renee Zitzloff

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Orthodox-Muslim Dialogue: This response to Pieter Dykhorst’s letter in the winter issue of “In Communion” comes from Lord Hylton, member of the British House of Lords and a longtime subscriber to In Communion.

Friends, In the winter issue of In Communion, Pieter Dykhorst gave a helpful background, asking for humility on all sides and for understanding of the varying relationships between faiths and the state. I would agree with those who think that the gap between Christian and Muslim theologies is too great, for theology in itself to be a useful starting point for dialogue. John Brady’s and Alasdair Cross’s “neighborly ways” of living side by side, seem much more practical and realistic.

At local level this may involve muezzins and megaphones or church bells. Worldwide we should be discussing the details and difficulties of establishing peaceful co-existence, all the way from Israel and Palestine, via Iraq, to Indonesia and Nigeria, and elsewhere. Wherever the major faiths are living in proximity to each other, their leaders should agree to meet regularly to defuse problems before they arise and to respond non-violently to issues at the level of state or society. They will not always be able to agree, but a common mind on some moral issues and possible solutions would be very helpful.

Raymond Hylton

House of Lords, London

Wonderful issue: The winter issue of In Communion was one of the best yet. I especially appreciated Jim’s article on Adam and Eve, Maria Khoury’s article from Palestine, and Frederica Mathewes-Greens’ piece on her grandson. The last really struck a chord as I have a good friend who’s son has just been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (not as severe as autism, but in the spectrum with it). It captured beautifully many of the sentiments their family has been going through. I sent it to my friend and she said she just cried as she read it. Thank you to Alex and everyone who gave their time and attention to this issue. It was a great blessing to me.

Monica Klepac

[email protected]

Introducing OPF: Here is an exchange of letters between an OPF member who is looking into the possibility of starting an OPF group within his parish and a response for Alex Patico, OPF secretary in North America:

“There are a number of concerns,” our member wrote, “that have stood in my way. One is uncertainty as to what type of activities would be presented to the parish. I do not believe that most parish members are comfortable with peace marches and demonstrations. Also advocacy of ‘peace activities’ in the current climate may appear to be ‘political’ and this prove to be divisive. Not everyone shares my concerns about the growing militarization of our nation and its heavy handed activities toward other nations. I would appreciate your thoughts and ideas.”

To which Alex responded:

Even all of our members do not always see eye-to-eye. What I hope distinguishes OPF is that we focus on the importance of dealing with situations where there is conflict, rather than trying to avoid looking at them. This is not to say, however, that we take any joy in antagonism. Rather, we seek to create real peace, rather than just strife that is kept out of the spotlight and hurts that are never mentioned.

First, then, take the “Hippocratic” approach – try to do no harm. That is, in introducing OPF to your parish council or other members of the congregation, you will want to identify ways in which its message and function meet current needs of your parish and enhance its corporate life, rather than to provide “in-your-face” challenges to its members.

For example, if there is a book study group, could it take up a title that would bring its members to think about what it means to be a peacemaker, following Jesus’ guidance in the Beatitudes? When there are decisions being made about social programs, can there be consideration given to aiding in the care of returning injured soldiers? When the subject is instruction of the young people in the parish, can the curriculum include tough questions about prevention of violence in the schools and the role of Christian families in that (which might later lead to discussion of prevention of violence on the international level)?

Common ground is usually the best starting point in any successful conflict management – ask yourself what you have in common with your brothers and sisters in Christ at your parish. Then, go on from there in love and honest sharing.

Let me know how it goes.

Alex Patico

[email protected]

OPF Conference in Canada: On the second weekend of September, we invite not only Canadians but others to join us for a conference on “War and Peace in the Post-Human Era.”

The speakers are Timothy Cooper, a physicist, whose topic will be environmental issues; David Goa, a renowned philosopher as well as adjunct professor of Religion at the University of Alberta; Scott Fast, professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University College of Fraser Valley; Ronald Dart, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at UCFV; and Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Orthodox Christian theologian and abbot of All Saints of North America in Dewdney, British Columbia.

The gathering will take place at the monastery. The registration fee is $50. The monastery can host only eight persons with sleeping accommodation, although camping on the monastery grounds is an attractive option for some.

To register, go to the following web page:

www.orthodoxcanada.org

Archbishop Lazar

[email protected]

From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49

Saying Yes

by Nancy Forest_

These are extracts from a journal Nancy started keeping a week before donating a kidney to her husband, Jim.

October 24: What goes into making a decision like this, to offer a vital organ to someone?

It took me a long time. Several years ago, when Jim first learned that dialysis was in his future, the idea of a kidney transplant didn’t really hit me. Each time he went to the hospital for tests, we were apprehensive, then relieved to hear that his kidneys were still on the positive side. Then about twenty-one months ago the doctor told Jim he had crossed the line. Dialysis began the next day. From that day onward, Jim was at the local hospital three times a week for three-hour sessions of dialysis.

At first I reasoned that I couldn’t even begin to consider myself a possible donor because, self-employed people that we are, we simply couldn’t afford for me to be unable to work for what might be an extended period. In my darker moments, I imagined the possibility of being bedridden for months, weakened by the loss of the kidney, unable to do any translation work.

In May of 2006, a Canadian woman we had met at a conference amazed us with the offer to donate a kidney to Jim. We were touched and thrilled. She made contact with the transplant people at our hospital in Amsterdam, and they approved her offer. But some months later other factors in her life made it impossible for her to go through with it.

At that point I began to rethink my hesitations. Doing a lot of internet investigation, I learned that kidney donation is only very rarely debilitating. In fact it was more than likely that I wouldn’t be out of commission for long.

Such research is helpful and the internet makes it easy. But research isn’t the same thing as saying yes. You have to reach a certain point when you sit down, open your mouth, and say the words, “I want to donate a kidney to you.”

Recently people have told me how brave I’m being, but believe me, the bravest part of this whole process is just saying those words, getting yourself to that point where you overcome all your excuses and fears.

I kept thinking of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, who finally makes the decision to carry the ring in order to destroy it in Mount Doom. He must make this decision on his own, and when he finally says, “I’ll carry the ring,” he becomes the organizing principle for the entire story.

I have always believed that Tolkien was very deliberate in naming Frodo, and that his name could easily fit into the long etymological entry for the word “free” in the Oxford English Dictionary. Frodo – one who acts out of freedom.

Freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever you feel like if it’s in your interest, because sometimes you do things that you think are in your interest only to discover later on that you did them under some kind of compulsion – peer group pressure, fear of rejection, fear of loss. Acting under compulsion isn’t freedom. But acting out of love, sometimes doing something that’s downright dangerous, is what freedom truly is. (Interestingly enough, the word “free” and the word “beloved” and “friend” are related, as the Oxford English Dictionary makes clear.)

So I said yes. And when I did, I suddenly felt as if all the winds were blowing in the right direction, as if I had made a free decision that was somehow in line with a kind of cosmic truth. I realized that for all the months that I had been saying I couldn’t donate a kidney due to economic worries, I had made myself responsible for a kind of self-wrought logical argument that had to be constantly reinforced with my own insistence in order to stay in place. But the yes floated freely. The yes was borne up by something beyond me and my own logical arguments.

This is not to say that the coming days will be easy or that I feel confident and fearless. I’m still apprehensive. When I think about the operation, now only a week away, I feel my heart beating faster and my breathing becoming shallower. But I wouldn’t go back on this decision for anything in the world.

October 29: Yesterday, directly after the Liturgy, Fr. Sergei anointed us in preparation for the surgery just two days away. The anointing reminded me of our marriage in the church, a similar sense of standing in a zone of pure grace.

November 3: Yesterday – two days after the kidney transplant – was our 25th anniversary, Jim’s 66th birthday.

Jim is going great guns. He was doing e-mail the day after the operation.

In the evening, Dan, Wendy, Cait and Bjrn came to celebrate both the anniversaries plus the transplant. Having just decorated it, they brought me by wheel-chair down to Jim’s room. Dan took pictures and Jim showed a sonogram of his new (my old) kidney. All the indications are that the transplant was a complete success. Jim’s godson Silouan came, too, with Leonidas chocolates to pass around. Wendy brought a huge fruit basket. We’ve never had a party quite like this before!

Now that I can walk, the nurse said I would be able to go home tomorrow.

November 6: The transplant was a week ago today. I’m not yet up to spending a lot of time behind the computer, but I’m home. The plan is to veg happily and watch movies with the kids, which I think I’ll be able to stand for about a week.

November 10: It’s ten days after the operation. I’m finally beginning to feel enough energy to write. What I hadn’t realized – and should have, of course – is that along with my kidney Jim now has truckloads of energy, whereas I have to be very conservative about everything I do so I don’t wear myself out. My operation took twice as long as Jim’s, and recovery takes longer. In fact I don’t mind gliding around the house in slow motion. I had planned beforehand to take all of November off, so I don’t feel compelled to get back to work. I’m deep into the Harry Potter novels, which I’d never been able to read until now.

The post-surgery pain is over. I can easily get in and out of bed, up and down stairs. It no longer hurts to laugh or cough or sneeze. If I lift a frying pan, I can feel a kind of pressure in the wound area, but no pain. But moving around too much makes me feel a little dizzy.

My project now is to recover my strength and to try to grasp what I’ve done. The spiritual, psychological and physical hurdle of deciding to donate a kidney – and then actually doing it – is something that requires an enormous effort. Maybe that’s also contributing to the fatigue. I never had any doubts before the operation, but I remember a lot of anxiety. I also remember telling myself, “You’ll be glad you did this, and if you don’t you’ll kick yourself forever.” The night before we left for Amsterdam, I jokingly said to Jim, “Me and my big mouth,” but that’s really it – me and my big mouth. When I see him so glowing with energy, and not troubled by the terrible morning coughs that used to exhaust him, “me and my big mouth” takes on a whole different meaning.

November 24: Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving. There were ten of us around the table. It was glorious. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to manage such a feast this year, so soon after the transplant. I’m not supposed to carry anything heavy, which includes the turkey, and I’m not supposed to overexert myself. But nobody wanted to skip it, especially not this year when we’ve just come through such an intense family experience and everyone has so much to be thankful for. Cait took a day off work and organized the dinner, Anne picked up the turkey from the butcher, and everybody pitched in with the cooking and clean-up.

My mother said grace. It was hard for her to get through the tears. We loaded up our plates and sat around the living room together. Dan kept everyone laughing, as usual, and Kylie read us a Maori children’s story.

Jim told me later he has never in his life felt such a prolonged and intense sense of gratitude as he had since the transplant.

I’m grateful he’s feeling so well, grateful to all the kids for their amazing support and help all through this, grateful to the medical community both in Amsterdam and Alkmaar, for their constant care, grateful to Dr. Idu (our surgeon, whose skill is something we’ll take with us all our lives), to our friends for their cards, e-mails, phone calls and visits, to the church, both in Amsterdam and all over the world, for praying for us, for Fr. Sergei and Fr. Mel for bringing us Holy Communion, and for my translation clients who have been so patient during all this. But mostly I’m grateful to the mysterious God who gave me the opportunity to give this gift. It was the most difficult thing I have ever been called to do, and it’s almost as if my whole life had served as a period of preparation.

I am daily discovering how the transplant is affecting my sense of who I am and where I’m going. It is immensely humbling.

December 3: At last yesterday we were able to return to church. The welcome was remarkable, even from people whom we had never had occasion to speak with in the past (keep in mind that in recent years ours has become a large parish, with several hundred people present each Sunday). One of the women who speaks only Russian embraced us and, with many joyful exclamations, spoke to us at length. We understood hardly a word, but felt showered in love. An Eritrean woman who also speaks very little Dutch did the same in her native language.

December 12: It’s six weeks since the transplant. Most of the time I don’t even think about it any more. I can’t feel a thing, and the periods of fatigue have passed.

Last Wednesday we went into Amsterdam to attend our daughter Wendy’s graduation from the University of Amsterdam, where she received her Master’s Degree with glowing praise for a thesis on George Orwell. The celebration went on until late at night. We got home at midnight. I don’t think we would have been any less tired if we hadn’t had the transplant.

I’m back at work. I’ve alerted my translation clients that all is well, and the assignments have started to come in.Life goes on. The big event, which I had been awaiting with quite some apprehension, is passed. All is well.

Even the scars are barely visible.

And yet…

And yet there was that thing I did. There was that yes. There was that “fiat.”

When we returned to church the Sunday before last, it happened to be a Sunday with a guest priest assisting in the sanctuary, Fr. Stephen Headley, archpriest of the Russian Orthodox church in Vezeley, France. He preached a sermon on the Mother of God, and he told us that her life is the model of how we should live out the gospel. “Fiat” is the Latin translation of what she said at the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel came to her – let it be done according to your word. She was not a deus ex machina, handily inserted at the right moment to make sure the prophecies were fulfilled. No one said a word to her about prophecies. Gabriel simply explained the situation to her, and she said yes.

I spent many hours of my recovery time reading all seven of the Harry Potter books. One of the main themes is the futility of prophecies. In her creation of a world of witches and wizards, Rowling wanted to make it clear that she was not interested in having her plot hinge on the magical fulfillment of a prophecy. She has little patience with fortune-telling. The one teacher at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft who is responsible for teaching the prophetic arts is depicted as a well-meaning but ridiculous fraud whom no one takes seriously. In the end, Harry is not the victim of a prophecy but the hero of his own freely made decision to act out of love.

Before the transplant, during the early stages of the selection process when I was still undergoing test after test to see if I was a worthy donor candidate, I was asked to meet with the hospital social worker. We talked for about a half hour, maybe longer, and basically what she wanted to know was whether I was being coerced or guilt-tripped into offering my kidney. Donations made under pressure are not accepted. Only those who offer their kidney freely can get past the AMC social worker. This is as it should be.

After having said her yes, the Mother of God – as St. Luke relates it – sings a hymn of thanksgiving, the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

What is she giving thanks for? For the fact that “henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” that her future reputation is secured? For having been chosen to be the Birthgiver of the Savior, for having won a cosmic sweepstakes? Or was she thankful for having been given the opportunity to make the decision in the first place, thankful for having been so fully challenged, thankful that God drew forth from her the full strength of her humanness, thankful that God put her in a place where she was required to fight her fears and to make a decision that was not based on what her friends might do, or what her parents might want, or what “common sense” informed by popular culture might instruct. Her yes was uttered from a deep trust that God would be with her, that her will and God’s will were aligned. This is really beyond obedience, because she didn’t surrender her will to God. She was not a victim of some almighty and unavoidable power. She decided to sing in God’s key, as it were, because she knew that it was the key of truth and love.

When you sing in that key, even if only for a moment, things can never be the same. That’s what I feel right now, even as the scars are fading.

The complete “Tale of Two Kidneys” journal, including Jim’s entries, is on the web at http://ataleof2kidneys.blogspot.com.

From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49

Removing the Wall Between Mary & Martha

by Mother Raphaela

Vermeer’s painting of Mary and Martha with Christ

Again and again during the year we hear the story of the sisters Mary and Martha being visited by Jesus. While Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching, Martha was busy in the kitchen. Finally she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”(Luke 10:38-42)

I’ve always had a hunch that, before the Lord arrived, Mary was right there with Martha getting all the food ready and cleaning the house. Martha’s problem was that she didn’t know how to enjoy her parties. My guess is that Mary was a good hostess, the kind who prepares everything ahead of time so that, when the guests arrive, she can sit down and enjoy them. But Martha was sure her guests needed to be waited on hand and foot. The Lord rightly corrected her.

Martha’s error is one many of us fall into, especially if we are task oriented. In our effort to be perfect, we end up doing things that don’t need to be done. While we may gain the satisfaction of seeing many tasks or projects completed, we may lose companionship along the way.

Because of St. Luke’s story, Mary has come to stand for the contemplative life, while Martha stands for the active life. But when we talk this way, we are taking one small episode in the lives of these sisters out of context, assuming that Martha spent her entire life busy serving while Mary was always listening.

Church tradition tells us that both women went on to be Myrrhbearers. Later, according to ancient local traditions in France and England, they became apostles and evangelists.

We see Martha in a different light in St. John’s Gospel. Here she makes the same confession of faith as Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Lord had taught her a lesson and she learned it.

We should emulate both women, combining in ourselves both their good qualities. In an early story of desert monasticism, we are told of visitors who came to the monastery but were scandalized when they were asked to help with work. They complained that they had come to pray. So, the story goes, they were given use of a room in which to pray, but were not called when it was time to eat.

It doesn’t take long for humans to discover that they are not quite up to a totally non-material angelic life. St. Paul tells us that those who choose not to work should not eat. On an empty stomach, work begins to look good.

For the healthy and able, there is no such thing as a contemplative life stripped of all activity. Balancing the two is the key to life.

Priests’ wives have often told me that they embraced their marriage not only because they loved the husband, but also because they love God and the Church and were eager to combine married life with a deeper engagement in the liturgical life of the Church. But instead of living this wonderful life of constant Church services and prayer, and perhaps even serving the poor and otherwise helping mankind, they found themselves at home changing diapers, wiping dripping noses, and listening to parishioners’ complaints.

Novices sometimes make similar complaints. We have a farm at our monastery which means hard work. We also have a guest house to clean, meals to prepare, lawns to mow, snow to plow, bills to pay, finances to manage, furnaces and plumbing and roofs that need maintenance – and we must do it all without husbands or children to help. Plus we’re the ones responsible for making sure that services are sung in our chapel on a daily basis, usually without benefit of a priest.

So how do we manage to be contemplative nuns? It’s a problem not very different than that faced by many priests’ wives. How can we be both converted Marys and Marthas, holding together the good qualities of both?

Whatever our calling, we need to be fed with the Word of God in both Scripture and Sacraments, but if that food does not give us the eyes to see and the hands to work and the hearts to love whomever and whatever God wills to send us each day, then something major is missing. Because truly, every Christian vocation requires us to live one day at a time before God, accepting that He allows whatever happens to be for our salvation. This can seem hard.

The spiritual life does not mean spending 24 hours a day in church, but we do have to choose to take the spiritual, mental and physical nourishment we need in God’s providence to live the lives we have chosen. And indeed it is true that “not to decide is to decide.”

This means learning that we have choices about saying “no” to certain things around us. Far too many people seem to feel they have no choice – they “must” watch television, must play computer games, must get their children to every sports or school event, etc. Living such a life, there is indeed no room for prayer, or for time spent together as a family, little or no time for church, no time for learning about the faith and the saints who have gone before us.

Consider not only Mary, the sister of Lazarus, but Mary, the Mother of God. It is in the mother of Jesus that we find our best example of becoming a Christian. In St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation, after hearing the news from the Archangel Gabriel that she would be the Mother of God, Mary’s response was to go to stay with her cousin Elizabeth, then in her sixth month of pregnancy. She stayed three months, no doubt helping out until John was born.

Beneath all the glowing poetry the Orthodox Church has heaped upon the Theotokos is a sober and practical veneration for her. She is so important in the Church because her created humanity received the uncreated fullness of God.

At the Council of Ephesus, St. Cyril of Alexandria fought for her title, Theotokos, in order to make sure that the Church would never forget that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, was born as a human infant to a fully human mother.

This may not seem so important an issue in our time, but earlier generations found it hard to accept that God could walk on this earth as a human person.

We still have a touch of this. We have one way of relating to the “real world” and another way of being when we shift into a “religious” mode. Being able to weave it all together, to see Mary as both a wife and mother whose feet were planted firmly on the ground, and at the same time to realize that she brought God into the world – that her womb became “more spacious than the heavens;” this really is a stretch for us, perhaps even more than for our ancestors.

As she always has been since the day she met the Archangel Gabriel, Mary is the way to God for us. In her own person, she combines the two “Mary and Martha” vocations of contemplation and activity. It is crucial to have a healthy relationship with her as our spiritual mother.

With Mary, we realize that God needs women. He set up His creation in such a way that He could not enter it as a man without a woman. When one tries to throw Mary out, as so many Protestants have done, we may get the impression of a God who can do just fine without women.

Even in the Orthodox Church we find people who have this attitude. It can lead, for example, to those who think the Church needs only spiritual fathers and that everything is about power. If they are the ones with that power, they should rule the Church, and if they do not have that power, they should challenge those who do.

It may never even occur to such people that women (and often lay men as well) can and should be taken into account and be given more to do than show up for services, bake pieroghis or baklava, clean the church, give money, organize parish festivals, and repair cassocks.

Provided women continue to be mothers, spiritual motherhood is a reality that is urgently needed in the Church. Women can also be excellent administrators, task completers, etc.

Whether men or women, we all need to become saints: While monks in this country are frequently named after American saints, we can’t do the same for our nuns. Sadly, there are as yet no recognized female American saints.

Many of the so-called (and sometimes rightly so-called) “oppressive patriarchal attitudes” in the Church are in fact relatively late developments in Orthodox culture. Historically, widows and deaconesses had official ministries in the Church for hundreds of years.

We nuns who serve at the altar in our own chapels and do some teaching are the remnants of part of that ancient practice. St. Elizabeth, the New Martyr of Russia, consciously revived the aspect of the serving diaconate when she founded her order of deaconnesses in the early 20th century. We also see an example of this in the life of another modern martyr, St. Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris.

A deaconess is different from a deacon. I am not advocating that we women be ordained as clergy. That is another issue. I will say, however, that I think the desire that some express to have women priests in the Orthodox Church comes in part from the vacuum created by the exclusion of women from legitimate ministries.

Mary and Martha, as the women they became, provide a strong corrective to many of our misshapen ideas and impressions. Both sisters were not averse to serving as handmaidens. Both were also women of faith. Both stand in prayer with the Theotokos and share in the same glory and honor of the Queen of all creation.

All of us are called to serve, as St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians: “He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph 4:10-13).

In the light of our varied callings to prayer and service in both the Church and the world, let us seek Mary, the Mother of Jesus, together with the sisters Mary and Martha of Bethany. These three women continue to be here with us as strong, active and praying presences, challenging our view of ourselves as well as our view of them and of our God.

Mother Raphaela Wilkinson is abbess of the Community of the Holy Myrrhbearers in Otego, New York. Her books include Living in Christ and Growing in Christ: Shaped in His Image, both from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. She is also a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49

Living on the Wrong Side of the Wall

by Maria C. Khoury

The other side of a 27-foot wall is not a place I imagined I would be when I started my middle class family in Boston. In those days, we were going to hockey games to make sure we were keeping up with the Americans and Greek School to keep up with the Greeks – all the politically correct activities to fit into a society never meant for me. Having been married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian, fate had a different life awaiting me.

When, in 1993, the Oslo Peace Agreement brought hope to Israelis and Palestinians, we were one of the first families living in the US to arrive, invest and live in Palestine. We wanted to help boost the economy.

After seven years of severe and awful conditions and the total failure of the Oslo Peace Agreement to deliver a just peace for all people, we were one of the few families willing and able to survive the harsh conditions that had developed. We refused to leave.

Even what we had considered “normal life” under the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories stopped September 28, 2000. Normal life ceased to exist.

September 28 was the day Ariel Sharon, accompanied by a small army of soldiers, visited the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock, the principal Islamic holy site in Jerusalem. Sharon’s message was “Jerusalem is Jewish.”

In fact, Jerusalem is a city holy to the people of three great religions – not only to Jews, but to Muslims and Christians.

Muslims comprise 98 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. Many of them responded to Sharon’s provocative action with protest. Young Palestinians were willing to protest at checkpoints and risk injury or even death in order to bear witness to their faith, to defend its holy sites, and to uphold the idea that Jerusalem is sacred to three religions, not just one.

In the terrible conflict which began with the creation of Israel in 1948, so many have perished. For those displaced by the event, the establishment of the State of Israel meant the Catastrophe of Palestine, with over five hundred Palestinians villages and towns destroyed and over four million Palestinians made refugees, pushed into a stateless limbo where they remain to this day. Just in the past seven years, more than 30,000 people have been injured and 6,800 have lost their lives – 5,600 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis. Christ, have mercy!

Those of us who believe in nonviolent methods of struggle were stunned when Palestinians began to blow themselves and others up in the middle of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other places. The “Apartheid Wall” was the Israeli response to such extreme actions. The Wall not only isolates Palestinians and Israelis from each other, but it also makes life on the Palestinian side even harder than it was.

Among the many problems with the Wall (paid for by American taxpayers) was that it did not follow any recognized, internationally accepted border or even the 1967 Green Line referred to in UN Security Council Resolution 242; rather, it enlarged Israeli territory still farther and suffocated an entire population in retaliation for the violent actions of a small minority. Truly, it is making us lose our minds.

The Wall, erected entirely at the discretion of Israel, was a prison wall for the Palestinian people. Impeding or altogether stopping everything that makes life normal, it cut them off from their schools, work, hospitals, and grandparents. Even contacts with relatives in another town became difficult or impossible.

Some may joke that being cut off from your mother-in-law might not be such a bad idea, but in reality such intra-family barriers are a tragedy.

The simple things made possible by freedom of movement – the easy access that other people take for granted – are things that Palestinians now need military permits to accomplish. To go to Jerusalem, to the airport, to a seaport – all such simple, ordinary tasks require hard-to-obtain permits.

The actions of the Israeli army seem to be designed to clear the land of any remaining Palestinians and, in the process, to prevent the ever-shrinking Christian community from existing in the land where Christianity began 2,000 years ago.

Since the building of the Wall, life on the ground is pure misery. The conditions of our enclosure are dreadful and devastating. We find ourselves captives within an open prison.

Over the past fourteen years of living in the Holy Land, I have often felt I was psychologically and emotionally incarcerated; but in the last few years, the Israeli army has created an actual physical prison, complete with its towering concrete wall. The Wall is 450 miles (720 kilometers) long.

The result is psychological torture.

Hoping someone might want to boost the Palestinian economy by buying some of my books, I traveled to an Israeli post office to send four boxes in time for Christmas delivery. (Palestinian mail delivery takes three months.) After dropping them off at the post office, I tried to enter Ramallah for a World Vision gathering only to discover the gate I had used in the past has now been locked.

Looking for the next entrance to get to the other side, I began driving along the Wall. How frustrating a search it was to drive mile after mile and get lost in a maze of small zigzag roads! I felt I was in a labyrinth without an exit.

It’s a day-to-day torment just to move around for the most simple, everyday things. Each day I am faced by every panel of the Wall with its seeming message: “Wouldn’t you be happier in some other part of the world? Why stay here? We Jews will make good use of your land, your homes, your olive trees. The sooner you leave, the better.”

In a time and age where we should be building bridges of greater understanding and celebrating and appreciating our diversity, the Israeli government has succeeded in locking us up and imposing still greater suffering on all of us who live on the “other side” of the Wall; in destroying what is left of our fragile existence and reducing us to abject despair.

Even so, we Christians in Palestine continue to place our hope in Christ our Savior. We try to continue our witness.

We continue to hope and pray for walls to fall and bridges to appear.

May the light of Christ shine through us in a land of so much darkness.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

May Christians, Jews and Muslims together share in the work of reconnection and healing.

Maria Khoury is Greek American married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian who now serves as mayor of the town where they live, Taybeh, near Ramallah, in the West Bank. She is the author of Witness in the Holy Land and eight children’s books, including Christina Goes to the Holy Land and Coloring with Christina, a new coloring book about the holy sites in Palestine.

Note: Steve Leicester has produced a timely video on the Wall, especially the section that encloses Bethlehem. Here is a YouTube link www.youtube.com/profile?user=SteveLeicesterUK. A link can also be found on Steve’s website: www.amostrust.org.

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

The Barrier Wall

by Alexander Patico

One of the sources of Arab discontentment has been the erection of the “Defensive Wall,” as Israelis call it, separating parts of the West Bank from other parts, and creating hardships for those, both Christian and Muslim, who reside and work in the areas thus fractured. For example, the 170,000 residents of Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, cannot move freely in and out of their own town.

The International Court of Justice (an institution little known in the United States) ruled in 2004 that, under international law, the wall is illegal. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and others have called for removal of much of the structure.

The man who actually designed the Wall, Jewish settler Dan Tirza, has been quoted as saying, “There is a problem with hatred…The main problem now with this separation is that they don’t know us any more.”

Azmi Bishara, until recently a member of the Israeli Knesset, wrote: “Most of our children attend schools that are separate but unequal. According to recent polls, two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live next to an Arab and nearly half would not allow a Palestinian into their home.”

“A shrinking number of Israelis and Palestinians are studying each other’s language,” reported Scott Wilson in The Washington Post of April 1.

A teacher in a Palestinian cultural center in Hebron told the reporter that there used to be hundreds enrolled in his Hebrew courses. “Now, you can count them on one hand.”

The founder of a department of Arabic at Tel Aviv University was quoted as saying, “The attitude on both sides toward the other language, and by extension those who speak it, is very disappointing. Both sides are just very afraid of each other.”

In the Jerusalem area, thousands of Christians, including those whose families have been Christian since Jesus himself spread the Gospel there, are cut off from the churches, convents and monasteries that serve them.

The difficulties for Muslim Arabs are even worse. In May, at a Unitarian Church in Maryland, a local peace activist described her recent visit among the Palestinian people in a dozen communities. She described one Palestinian mother whose house happened to be adjacent to a dividing line. They had their front door (which now suddenly faced on “Israeli” territory of the West Bank) welded shut by soldiers. It was reopened after several months, but she then had to obtain a special permit (renewable after three months) to use the door of her own home; her mother was required to have her own permit as well.

Some 193 miles of roads on the West Bank are closed to cars with Palestinian license plates.

An Israeli poet, Alharon Shabti, wrote about the newly-erected barrier, calling it “a wall of fear, of hate, of incomprehensibility.” The wall is being built, said Shabti, “within the people themselves.” As it is a “barrier” for some, a “protection” for others, an “insult” to still others, Shabti says; the use of words in today’s Israel “ruins the fabric of the language itself.”

His critique is the same that George Orwell was known for – one that points to the signals and symbols that reflect inner attitudes and telegraph changes in values.

Katherine Von Schubert, author of Checkpoints and Chances: Eyewitness Accounts from an Observer in Israel-Palestine, wrote in an Easter 2006 e-mail:

A few hundred Palestinian Christians made their way yesterday – Good Friday – along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem to walk as Jesus did, carrying his cross on route to his death. Many Palestinians from Ramallah and Bethlehem can no longer join the annual procession in their holy city because they are prevented from traveling by checkpoints and a pernicious permit system. The checkpoint around the corner from where I lived in East Jerusalem, for example, has permanently closed the road into Jerusalem for tens of thousands of Palestinians from the North who have had their ‘Jerusalem ID’ card taken away. The enormous concrete Wall has now shut off access to the Old City for many other Palestinians living in East Jerusalem dividing the heart of the city into many fragmented enclaves. Jerusalem has long been dying. So have Bethlehem and many other Palestinian towns….That the Wall’s route was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice has fallen on deaf ears. We have stood by and done nothing… Thousands of Palestinians are on the brink of survival. This is not a foundation for peace.

Alex Patico is the new coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America and guest editor of this issue of In Communion. He is a member of the U. Committee for the World Council of Churches Decade to Overcome Violence. His text is excerpted from Reining in the Red Horse, a forthcoming book.

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Young Adam

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

Last summer we had a houseful at the beach, with our children and their spouses and the seven (soon to be nine) little grandchildren. The cousins don’t see each other much, so they splashed and ran and shouted, the wind tearing at their voices. But Adam, then four, stayed by himself. He moved along the edges of the dunes, circling the family like a silent satellite. Last year, Adam received a diagnosis of autism.

Adam is a beautiful child with a cream-and-rose complexion and clear blue eyes. He wasn’t quite two when, at a backyard party, he walked over to the cars parked in the yard and began reading aloud the license plate letters and numbers. No one had taught him this. He developed a fascination with the alphabet, words and numbers, maps and globes, and any repeating pattern (he loves M. C. Escher images). When he was evaluated at three-and-a-half, his cognitive level was that of a seven-year-old.

Ever since his toddler days, Adam has surprised us by coming out with things no one could recall teaching him, and it was sort of unnerving. I kept thinking we were going to find a bill from the University of Phoenix in his crib.

But talking – that’s different. When Adam began trying to talk, the strain was evident in his face and tender eyes. In photos from his first birthday, he looks worried and lost. Sometimes words would come out too loud, sometimes too soft, usually flat and expressionless, always halting and reluctant. Adam looks like someone who doesn’t speak English and is laboring to translate word-by-word in his head. I told his mom, “When God made him, he must have put in the Japanese module by mistake.”

So there’s a ring of silence around beautiful Adam. He doesn’t interact much. If you ask him a question, he’s likely to repeat it, or just ignore it. He isn’t interested in other children, and doesn’t have friends outside the family. He is remote, a space station overcharged with data, orbiting silently, far away.

The silence is what hurts. Parents don’t only love their children, they also crave to know their children. I’ve heard moms in the delivery room say to their newborns, “Open your eyes so I can see you!” – though they can see every inch of the baby but his eyeballs. A baby is a present you can’t unwrap all at once. It takes years of reading his eyes, learning what makes him laugh, watching him run and tumble with friends, hearing his bedside prayers. But with an autistic child much of this can be impossible.

When you think about it, language is a pretty tricky operation. It’s the thing that allows us to communicate, but also the thing that makes communication frustrating. The speaker must hike down to his scrambled storehouse of words and pick out ones that fit, more or less; then he hauls them back up and tips the bucket into the empty air between him and the hearer. The hearer receives the words sequentially, as each pebble hits the ground. He must gather them up and cart them back down to his own dictionary-storehouse; there they will jostle meanings and associations unanticipated by the speaker.

What a cumbersome muddle all of this is, and so complex that it’s amazing anybody ever gets it right. You can understand why an autist, finding this even more difficult than we do, might opt simply to withdraw.

Adam announces, “I am going to go off of the world.” He is going to be an astronaut, and go away in a space ship. This is his latest interest. “You” – here he pokes a forefinger into your arm – “you will stay here.”

Adam plans to go far away from this confusing, difficult place. Sometimes even non-autists can find that idea appealing. There are so many ways for us to misunderstand and hurt each other, and even when things are at their best a sense of separateness shadows our joy. We look at others from the outside, making guesses what they’re thinking about. We reach out, and the very skin that allows us to touch is the barrier that keeps us apart. The most that two people can be is two planets in a common orbit, and it’s at the happiest of times that we recognize this limitation. Maybe that’s why people cry at weddings.

The problem that autists have with other people is just an extreme form of the alienation that troubles us all. Autists have a bad case of the Human Condition.

Parents of autists may feel: if even the best human relationships are sadly limited, what hope is there for my child? A tragedy some years ago gave me unexpected light on another way – the only effective way – to be deeply connected with those we love.

When my father died in a car accident, I was 29. Our relationship still had lots of knots and tensions from my teen years – a different kind of communication difficulty than parents of autistic children have, but still a sad example of the pain that all humans who try to love each other know. But as I listened to the prayers and Scriptures at his funeral, it hit me that, from his perspective, all the confusion was over. He was standing in the searching light of God, where all things are made clear and all truth is known. That meant that, from his perspective, our relationship was for the first time perfect and whole, in a way it could never have been on earth.

Though I don’t yet have that perspective, I can still grasp its truth. The only place I can ever meet my father again is in the presence of God, who understands us both, perfectly – much better than we can understand ourselves. And even though he sees right through us, his response is endless love.

When we’re bewildered, lonely or hurt, when the futility of efforts to connect is too painfully obvious, we can relinquish our confusion to the Lord. He knows every heart from the inside, and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). His love is the life streaming through all Creation. So even in this life we are connected with those we love through God, something we can barely grasp now, but which will one day flood our awareness.

Parents are pained by their inability to reach an autistic child; he’s only a few feet away at the other end of the sofa, but might as well be circling the dark reaches of space.

But he is known by God. He is transparent to the light of God, who shines through us all, who understands us and our children, and everyone we know, and everyone we don’t. Only in him will we one day love each other the way we want to, the way he already does. St. Paul writes, “Then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Cor. 13:12). We have been fully understood, even the least explicable among us, and one day we will rest in tranquil full communion.

Adam says, “I am going to go off the world. You will stay here. But I will come back to you. I will come back soon.”

Frederica Mathewes-Green, khouria to a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, is the author of many books – most recently The Lost Gospel of Mary: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts (Paraclete Press). Her article is excerpted from “Loving a Child with Autism” published on Beliefnet, April 13, 2007. She is a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

llustrations by Michael Mojher,from The Diaries of Adam & Eve by Mark Twain

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Boundaries and Bridges

by Mother Raphaela

Most of us have heard the proverb “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Concern for boundaries is ancient and not confined to human beings. Animals, too, set up territories for themselves with boundaries they may even defend to the death. The sense of “boundaries that cannot be passed” is a Biblical theme as well. Even land, sea and air were separated by God with boundaries when He created the world from nothing. (cf. Genesis 1; Psalm 104).

Creation is an ordered affair. The universe has laws which form the basis for the whole of modern science. It is not surprising to discover that the first scientists were deeply religious people who believed in such laws and boundaries, nor that some of the best contemporary scientists continue to be so, as well.

Partly, perhaps, to reinforce this sense of boundaries, the Old Testament set up many rules against mingling: Plant only one crop in a field; do not weave a mixture of linen and wool; do not remove a neighbor’s landmark… (cf. Lev. 19:19; Deut. 19:14, Hosea 5:10). Indeed, we human beings are set in our own environment, apart from other creatures, living as individuals, families, communities, ethnic groups and nations. This is spelled out in many ways in most religions.

All of these boundaries create a livable environment for our existence. The life of a human being alone, without protection, would be snuffed out quickly.

Perhaps greatest of all is the boundary God placed between Himself and His creation. Since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden for their rebellion, we are reminded by Genesis that “man cannot look upon the face of God and live.”

The story of the Tower of Babel is a tale of men taking the raw materials of creation to build a proud assault against this boundary.

Today we find ourselves living once more in such a Babel-like cultural building, where God Himself is challenged and questioned, along with any boundaries of God’s making. If a technology exists, there are those who feel they should use it, no matter what may be destroyed in the process. We see terrorism, mass killing, genocide and global warming as the first signs that this modern tower of Babel will fall as surely as have all of its predecessors.

Human history is made up largely of following the growth, development, stunting and, at times, brutal destruction of boundaries – boundaries that begin with the first self-awareness of an emerging nation; a new group; an infant; the realization that one is no longer simply an extension of one’s parent.

On the level of churches, nations, communities or any human group, adults who fail to develop a healthy sense of boundaries create anew all of the sins catalogued in the Old and New Testaments. Those in authority may be tempted to see the people under them, even their own children, simply as extensions of themselves, existing to serve them as their own hands and feet serve them, if perhaps with less respect and care than they treat their own hands and feet.

Those not in authority, especially in a democracy, may have a similar temptation, seeing those elected to positions of responsibility as extensions of themselves, with the expectation that they will please them and carry out their will in every way. God Himself would not be capable of pleasing everyone.

Yet we hear Christ calling on those in authority, “the greatest,” to be the servants of all (Mat. 20:26; 23:11).

In fact it is appropriate for everyone at times to follow the instructions of others, to allow himself or herself to be trained.

None of us however – master, comrade, servant or disciple – will be able to accomplish our best if we cannot take responsibility for our own actions, perceptions and strengths. Wise masters gave even slaves the authority and tools to carry out work and obligations.

There is a saying that peoples, communities and groups get the leaders they deserve. I nod my head when I hear that said. Both leaders and people can enable each other in irresponsibility, corruption and abuse; can hobble each other into crippling inactivity, or, when we are at our best, inspire each other to greatness.

On a more intimate level, many of us have experienced families without proper boundaries between members. All sorts of abuse – physical, verbal and emotional – may go on when each person is seen as part of the undifferentiated family persona. The only boundary that may not be broken is that which shields this familial persona from the world. In public, each family member is expected to behave as if everything is perfect. Members of such families often have an outstanding presence in public. They do all they can to keep up the image of being part of a perfect family. On the outside, they seem to be charming, warm and compassionate, loving and considerate to all.

While it is good they have this side, this behavior creates great incredible pressure on those caught within. If a person tries to break free of the family secret, “blow the whistle” on what is sometimes even criminal behavior, the family will quickly retaliate, accusing them of lying. Outsiders may well reinforce this as well, preferring to see only a model family, with each member a “nice person.”

It is a well-known phenomenon amongst “twelve step” groups that often the spouse and children of an addict may seem crazier in public than the addict himself. The addict is able to switch behavior on and off instantaneously, often leaving other family members to appear to an outsider as very flawed, while the actual addict is regarded as a lovely, sensitive person who has been “driven to drink” or to some other dysfunctional behavior by a spouse or other family member.

One who marries into such a family is in for a nasty shock. Until he or she is seen by the others as irrevocably one of the family, the sick, abusive family behavior may never manifest itself.

In 19th-century literature, this is a classic theme, with the sheltered, sweet Victorian bride who had known only sweetness and light, discovering on her marriage night that she has entered a nightmare world with no exit.

Communities and religious groups can also fall into this same type of behavior. We reflect on the Lord’s well-known accusation: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Mat. 23:15).

And the reverse may happen: a relatively healthy, peaceful and happy family or group may be joined by someone who perhaps even unknowingly projects their own abusive standards and behavior onto those he or she is with.

This happens in monasteries as well. Especially people who come from abusive backgrounds may not be aware that they have these “two sides,” for denial may have been the only tool they had as children to survive in such an environment. Such people appear wonderful and charming as visitors and perhaps even for their entire period of probation. When they begin to feel secure in their community position, however, things begin to change. While guests and outsiders will still see the wonderful person, the community will begin to see an irrational display of depression, anger and jealousy, normally accompanied by accusation of others, since such a person has been formed truly to be blind to him or herself.

When I first entered the monastery, I recall being told by a wise old nun that every time I was bothered by observing what seemed to me someone else’s wrong words or behavior I was probably seeing in them what I was unwilling to see in myself, to the extent that they might not even be thinking, saying or doing what I thought I felt, heard and saw: I was projecting what I would be thinking, saying and doing if I were in their position. I have since then learned that this wisdom comes straight from the Desert Fathers.

Until we are able to learn proper boundaries, we build instead the walls of our own prison. When we do not love ourselves enough to accept our own healthy boundaries and limitations, along with our many gifts and talents, we cannot love others properly.

Proper boundaries allow us to see another person with true detachment – and love. Without them, we will tend to swing between two extremes: we may feel totally “at one” with others, when they behave as we feel they should, seeing them as extensions of ourselves; or, when they speak or act in ways that make us feel threatened, we will feel totally alienated, needing to defend ourselves with ever greater physical, emotional or spiritual barriers.

When others try to live with us, they soon realize that they have no clues as to what “set us off” that time. They find themselves in a mine field, never knowing when the next step will cause yet another explosion, while we will be feeling all the while misunderstood, frightened, angry, and unable to face what we may unconsciously fear as hugely destructive forces within ourselves.

This is where blind trust and obedience can be life-saving for us. Some of us literally cannot see where we end and another person begins.

May we be given the grace to pray to begin to see this blindness of ours; to begin to accept at least some of what others tell us of their own vision. We need to find at least one other person whom God has led to health and trust them as blindly as we have previously followed our own destructive path, even when that person’s words may seem to strike painfully at the very roots of our own sense of self and identity.

Such a healing process should not last forever, but it will need to last as long as our blindness exceeds that of our guide.

I believe it is good to seek such a healing process, although we should use every possible means first to be sure that we are truly choosing a doctor and not a fellow patient; a ship’s captain, not just another drunken sailor, as St. John Climacus says of finding a monastic guide in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Step 4:6).

While it is wonderful when we can find such a guide or mentor in our community, parish or church, we should seek out such a person wherever he or she may be found, however distant. That person need not be an authority in every area of our life. We may not need their training in theology, choir directing, bread baking or writing essays. But we do need to accept that in those areas where we are still “babes in our thinking,” as St. Paul says (I Cor 14:20), we must start from the beginning in all humility.

What we are seeking is the ability to reach out in a healthy way to build godly bridges that in eternity will cross over boundaries to unite people, churches, nations in the unity of the Kingdom of God.

Mother Raphaela Wilkinson is abbess of the Community of the Holy Myrrhbearers in Otego, New York. Her books include Living in Christ and Growing in Christ: Shaped in His Image, both from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. She is also a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Her text is a condensed extract from a two-part essay, “Boundaries and Bridges.”

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Wanderings and Wonderings About Women and Walls

By Demetra Velisarios Jaquet

The common purpose of the Eucharistic community is to listen and respond with gratitude, love and obedience to God’s call to holiness.

God created the first human community, Adam and Eve, who through disobedience separated themselves from God and ushered in an era of fallen human nature, where discord and blame cause men and women to seek domination over each other. When one person dominates, the other loses identity. The call to holiness is a call back to full relationship with God, and with others, thereby fulfilling our potential for full human personhood and sacred community.

Our theological anthropology of harmonious complementarity between male and female somehow has not played out successfully in our parishes. The cathedral of theology which we paint so well conceptually so often looks more like a shanty when we view it through the lens of actual praxis.

It is true that the rich diversity of women’s informal ministries has adorned the Church for centuries – building family life, educating youth, helping and visiting the needy. Women have become saints, martyrs, confessors, witnesses, teachers, prophets, evangelists, and monastics, just as men have.

In recent times, women in many parishes have been welcomed by their parish priests onto parish councils and into leadership roles in the life and ministry of the laity within the community. Their participation in diocesan and archdiocesan committees, in International Orthodox Christian Charities and in the Orthodox Christian Mission Center has grown, and for decades women have enjoyed access to theological education at many Orthodox seminaries.

Nevertheless, many women today report that affirmation and blessing of their own and other women’s service within the Church is highly uneven, depending variously on pressure placed by influential parish members, sinful incursions into Church communities of sexual stereotyping or discrimination, ethnic and cultural tensions within the parish, reaction against more radical forms of feminism, or occasionally the arbitrary inclinations of local clergy or the arbitrary fiat of a local bishop. The age-old sins of sexism and hardness of heart continue to infiltrate our Church communities.

After fifteen years chairing the international group Women’s Orthodox Ministries and Education Network, I have heard dozens of stories from women who offered their gifts and talents within the Church, but who too often were met with the tacit message, “We really don’t need you after all.”

Few women have been tonsured as readers, or allowed to hold the cloth at the distribution of communion, to carry a fan in a procession, or assist liturgically in any way. Most parishes still carry infant boys into the altar area at the forty-day churching, but not infant girls. Little examination and no renewal of liturgical language and prayers demeaning to women has been accomplished.

Even worse, it is appalling to hear from women that they are still having to deal with myths and demeaning local practices with regard to issues of the “uncleanness of women,” barring them from communion at certain times of the month, and barring them from reading the Epistle or chanting.

Many women in today’s Church are feeling the call to explore emerging ministries to meet the needs of our time, and they are eager for the Church to welcome, support and encourage them in these ministries. Women are volunteering and engaging in training for formal ministry as hospice and hospital chaplains, pastoral counselors, parish nurses, pastoral care-givers, social workers, prison and nursing home chaplains, as well as studying and teaching theology and religious studies, and engaging in ecumenical work and dialogue. Sadly, all seems threatening to some our fellow Orthodox Christians.

Women are also deeply serious about their sense of being called to offer both pastoral and liturgical assistance in the parish. A welcome sign of the times is that the restoration of the ancient order of Deaconess is being discussed more and more by Orthodox laity and being studied by Orthodox bishops.

At a conference at the Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania in 2004, Orthodox women from all jurisdictions in America were polled. Over 63 percent of the women believed that defining and reinstating the Order of the Deaconess was “very important” while an additional 12 percent thought it “important.”

These women expressed a longing for more support from the Church for their ministries, but in a number of cases reported problems in acceptance of their ministries in local parishes. Yet they also revealed that, while they are distressed about these problems, in many cases they were not discussing them with their priests and bishops. Often they share their difficult experiences within the Church only with other women. The question arises: why keep these problems confidential?

Silence when it is time to speak: Few women have dared to speak up or make any effort at dialogue on these issues within Orthodoxy. Many are silenced by being told that to do such-and-such “is not the Orthodox way.” Some find it difficult to pursue spiritual growth within a community that avoids addressing their concerns as women. Others experience the chronic discouragement they encounter as just too much, causing them to minimize community engagement or even leave the Church.

One cannot absolve women themselves of the burden of their complicity in bad outcomes in the parishes by putting all the responsibility on those in leadership positions. Sometimes choosing to avoid the tensions of lay leadership allows the layperson to evade the baptismal demand to live in witness and mission for Christ.

Speaking out about the anti-feminine biases which so often creep into the Church is too daunting a task for many women. Not wanting to cause conflict or to risk being regarded as trouble-makers, they often opt for silence. Or they don’t want to lose the unacknowledged benefits of acquiescing to the status quo, choosing to preserve responsibilities assigned to them without the accompaniment of due authority, even at the expense of their own integrity.

There are women who shy away from developing a more active role in parish life because they fear they will be seen as less female. Women are often expected to maintain a certain “innocence” and trustfulness, at least pretending to leave it to the men to know “the ways of the world.” If they let it be known that they are just as aware as men about how to navigate in the real world, they are frequently told that they have let their intellect undermine their faith.

There is a difference between being child-like and childish.

“Childish” means never to grow up, never to be fully aware of the reality of one’s own surroundings, to remain ignorant or unaware of difficult subjects, and to avoid coming to terms as responsible persons with the world around one.

On the other hand, the Gospel quality of being “child-like” means innocence with wisdom, acceptance of the honor and the burden of perpetuating hope, joy and faith by wading into the deep water of life with all its complexities, and doing so with openness and love.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for many women is to acknowledge – to confess – that many of our wounds are self-inflicted by our own unwillingness to state our case squarely, with honesty and love. We women must assume our share of responsibility for tolerating cultural norms of competition and dominance which beget the evils of sexual discrimination. We can and must act courageously and speak openly, regardless of rebuffs or attacks, and we must do so with trust, precisely because the body of Christ is dedicated to a transfigured life. To invite transformation, we must identify within ourselves and our communities the obstacles that make a mockery of Saint Paul’s words that, in Christ’s body, there is “neither male nor female.”

Obstacles to dialogue: Too often, we handle flawed customs in the Church by denying they exist; instead we attempt to focus on what we all are grateful for. We try to avoid all conflict. This is a time-tested strategy for salvation, but does little to help average folks in a parish resolve disagreement or conflict in a healthy way, let alone fulfill their potential for living as one sacred community.

Again and again we fail to address the difficult tensions that come with diversity and to experience conflict within the Church in a transformational way. While we acknowledge the unique distinctions between men and women, we fail to move on to the obvious conclusion that therefore some distinct ministries by women may be appropriate today, as they were in the early Church, and that the uniqueness of women’s insights might be necessary for the Church’s fullness. In parishes that are shrinking or simply not growing, we avoid discussing some of the possible reasons for our lack of growth as a community. By our silence, we make an idol of the status quo.

There are areas in which welcome change is obvious. In recent years Orthodox jurisdictions have paid serious attention to the need for accountability regarding sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy. Few priests any longer counsel women to “go home where they belong” when women reveal in confession that they are being violently abused by their husbands. But instances of more subtle abuse are often met with less sensitivity and less concern for victims of abuse.

Dialogue stoppers: There are many tools for avoiding subjects that are too risky or scary to talk about. Among these are dialogue stoppers. The most popular way to silence a Christian woman who finds the courage to speak is to say something like, “Let’s not talk about women’s concerns. Let’s talk about human concerns instead. There are already too many things that divide us. Rather than focus on the ways in which we’re different, let’s focus on the ways we’re alike.”

Unfortunately, the only persons who can really afford the comfort these sentiments intend are those who have power over others, who do not need to explore differences because they run the system.

When women are deprived of the freedom of exploring what it means to grow up female in a male-dominated Church, they are robbed of their experiences and a part of themselves. Our theology reminds us that our differences are part of what gives us our unique identity. Once we are dissuaded from embracing the uniqueness of our differences by backing off from our own issues and focusing on “common” concerns, we restore the status quo and relegate women to playing a subservient role in a male-dominated system. This does nothing to help anyone become more Christ-like.

Another way to stop dialogue is for men to shake their heads and say patronizingly, “You women are so mysterious – we men can never understand you!” The implication in this statement is, “So why try?” It sounds like flattery, but actually it’s dismissal.

Women are often silenced in the presence of a man who considers himself a champion of women’s equality and a trailblazer in supporting it. He bridles if he is informed of a sexist attitude or behavior on his part. How can he be so misunderstood? Doesn’t he say all the right things? Doesn’t the fact that he tries so hard mean anything? After all, he is one of the few men who really tries to understand and support women. The message is: if what we are saying or doing upsets or threatens him, we ought to stop.

Another time-tested method of preventing dialogue is to accuse those women who are seen as asking questions that ought not to be asked of “not being a true Orthodox Christian.” This is effective whether used against a cradle Orthodox, who ought to know better, or against a convert, who clearly is still under the pernicious influence of a “non-Orthodox upbringing.” A variation is to accuse Orthodox women active in ecumenical settings of being “polluted by the Protestants.”

But being a true Orthodox does not mean never having a differing opinion or never having a conflict. Even the Church Fathers had their disagreements! When you back off from your own perceptions and convictions, the Church loses the uniqueness of your contribution.

What all dialogue stoppers have in common is that they open the cavern of fear and insecurity, and abort the process of dialogue. These techniques of distraction, discounting, and avoidance are commonly used when the stress and anxiety of staying in real dialogue is getting too high and someone needs a way out. Usually people will try several times to stop dialogue and then either give up and leave the room for some “emergency,” or lose control, get angry, and begin shouting.

Dialogue stoppers by definition inhibit growth and change, and maintain a closed system at the expense of the people within it. Dialogue stoppers are key tools for building and stabilizing walls between people. However, once named and calmly faced, they lose their power.

Recognizing dialogue stoppers is just the first step toward letting down walls within parishes. Our memories of past hurts, and our expectations of being hurt again, tend to drive us apart and keep us apart. Refusing to sink hopelessly into the status quo, we must forgive those responsible for past hurts and stay calmly present in the dialogue. This takes preparation by drinking deeply of the waters of contemplative prayer and opening ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

Sanctified opposition: To dismantle the walls, we must encourage what I call “sanctified opposition” within our church. This means we must explore our differences and admit to the specks we discern in the other’s eyes while humbly remembering the forest of logs in our own. We need not dwell on evil, but neither do we dare to ignore it. Choosing dialogue with continued prayer in an engaged atmosphere of encouragement, openness and trust sanctifies conflict.

Sanctified opposition doesn’t just bless conflict as a tool for use in healing. It is more than healthy conflict utilization. Sanctified opposition is a prayerful engagement wherein both parties invite the presence of the Holy Spirit Who helps us, emptied of ego, to interact with the other deeply, entering into the other’s sacredness and being changed by it. Sanctified opposition within the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action within us is the mysterious process by which God’s grace transforms the very nature of our differences into a sacred shared communion of being with God.

The effort to be lovingly honest in continuing dialogue even when that means loving our way through disagreement could pull down walls. Sanctified opposition, when conscientiously practiced under the umbrella of prayer, can become a sacrament of healing for both persons and communities.

Walls of dear: The walls which most need to be pointed out between men and women are primarily the walls of fear, defensiveness and ego which we have built around ourselves, causing us to harm others on a sliding scale from occasional minor offenses to extreme and chronic paralyzing abuse. From behind those walls emanate arrows of accusation, domination and forced submission which are an affront to God and to God’s spirit and action within us.

Dr. Demetra Velisarios Jaquet, D.Min., M.Div., is a retired pastoral counselor and spiritual director in Denver, Colorado, USA. She teaches religious studies at Regis University, Denver, and trains chaplains and chaplain supervisors at the Rocky Mountain Center for Education and Training. She is chair of the Women’s Orthodox Ministries and Education Network (www.OrthodoxWomensNetwork.org) and President of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion (www.ocampr.org). She can be contacted at [email protected] Portions of this paper have been published previously in “Women in Orthodox Christian Traditions” in The Encyclopedia of Women in Religion in North America, Indiana University Press, 2005.

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Conversations by email: Fall 2007

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson markp [at] earlham.edu or Jim Forest Memories of Fr. David Kirk:

We appreciated Fr. John Garvey’s article about the late Fr. David Kirk that was in the summer issue. We knew him well. He was a large, burly man whose speaking voice was surprisingly gentle but firm with a soft Southern accent. His manner of speaking also betrayed his Southern roots. Contrary to our usual linear style, he spoke by circling around a topic, as if we had all the time in the world, and he spoke in stories, delightfully entertaining but craftily pointed stories. We would wonder “Where is he heading?” and suddenly be brought up short by the aptness of the comment he was making right to the point. Though his health was failing and his energy limited, Fr. David was clearly a man who loved the art of conversation, which is, after all, a

form of communion.

After his death, the staff members and friends of Fr. David told story after story, some of them poignant with grief, others filled with humor, about him.

Two consistent themes kept repeating over and over. Fr. David had an amazing ability to forgive – to forgive repeatedly, even those who stole from him, who lied about him, who betrayed him, who were ungrateful to him. He always forgave. And he had the ability to look at others and to see in them the beauty and goodness that they often could not see in themselves.

It was clear from our conversations that Fr. David loved and was deeply influenced by Dorothy Day. He deliberately bought a plot for himself close to her grave at Holy Resurrection Cemetery on Long Island. It was fitting and touching that we were able to place a wreath from his grave on Dorothy’s grave a few paces away. He recalled that during his first days at the Catholic Worker House in New York, he simply followed her around, observing everything she did closely from peeling potatoes to welcoming guests. Finally someone observed “Kirk, you don’t do any work.” He remarked to us that “I was determined to model myself upon Dorothy.”

There is a beautiful Orthodox chapel just as you come into Emmaus House. Father David’s large black cassock still hangs on a hook on the back of the door. It is a reminder that this house of hospitality was driven by a man of the cloth, and as a priestly father whose word was imbued with a spiritual dimension he attempted to empower his residents. As Albert and I spend more and more time at the house with everybody, I am aware of how fatherly he was on the earthly plane as well. Like all good fathers, he wants his “children” to do well, personally challenging and directing their potential, encouraging them to reach further than they thought they could go and making these goals possible with concrete suggestions. Today, though still without a director, they are adhering to his legacy, continuing to hold a weekly food pantry, attending classes in the city, pursuing their GEDs.

Fr. David frequently spoke about the need to recall the social justice tradition of Orthodoxy, a tradition that he observed in the ancient church fathers’ adamant concern for the poor.

Fr. David had an immense love for food. He was often present in the kitchen, wondering what was cooking, offering Southern recipes and relishing Popeye’s fried chicken [Cajun-style chicken fried in cayenne pepper batter] whenever he could get it.

Albert and Julia Raboteau

raboteau @princeton.edu

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Fr. David Kirk web site:

I’m excited to announce the online version of Father David’s archive: www.fatherdavidkirk. org. This first release represents a small portion of the content that will eventually be hosted on the site. I envision this website to be a collaborative effort from many of Father David’s friends. Please send photos, letters, etc. that would enhance the archive.

Kirk A. Barrell

kbarrell @flash.net

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Orthodox-Jewish relations:

I have been involved in Jewish-Christian Relations for over thirty years, the last twelve in and with the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania – www.muhlenberg.edu/cultural/ijcu/ – where for two years I edited an online preaching resource called Other Images.

One of the problems in Orthodox-Jewish relations is that we do not use the same lectionary as the Western churches. Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and others use a three-year lectionary. Resources such as the one I edited are not as relevant as they could be for Orthodox usage, since they are based on the cycles of the Revised Common Lectionary. The principle, however, remains solid: the commentators offered resources for preaching the texts from a Jewish perspective and with suggestions for Jewish sources, i.e. Talmudic and rabbinic writings and tales. The point of the series was not to offer alternative interpretations so much as it was to enrich preaching through the inclusion of resources from our mothering faith.

Short of such resources, let me offer some suggestions:

1. Pray to be delivered from anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, which are two different prejudicial patterns, which overlap but can work in a person’s heart separately. Repent of the failures of understanding in your own life and resolve, with God’s help, to move forward into a new day of interfaith understanding and peace.

2. Hook up with a center that works in Jewish-Christian relations, should you be fortunate enough to live in such an area; short of that,

3. Forge a working relationship with a local synagogue and rabbi. Most rabbis offer Torah study as a regular part of their ministry in their congregations. It can be very useful to spend some time in such a group to discover how Jews hear scripture.

4. Discover some of the many written resources on the market to enable Christians to locate Jesus Christ in his historical setting as a Jew. The writings of Geza Vermes and James Sanders do this well, from a Jewish and a Christian perspective.

5. Understand that Christianity is always tied to Judaism and begin to think from that perspective. The “New Testament” is based on the “Old Testament.” Much of the New Testament is puzzling if you don’t understand the Old Testament background, beginning with the concepts of sacrifice that surround and inform the figure of Christ.

6. Connect with one of the main online resources in Jewish-Christian relationships, for example http://www.jcrelations.net/en/.

Fr. Gabriel Rochelle

gabrielcroch @aol.com

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Amnesty and abortion:

Despite pleas from many supporters, Amnesty International has now adopted a new policy which ignores human rights documents it has historically advocated for. The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child states that every child “needs special safeguards and care, including legal protection, before as well as after birth.” AI has stated that abortion should be decriminalized and the governments should see that there is access to it in particular cases. While it maintains its previous stand against blatantly forced abortions, the pressures that coerce and abandon women to abortion have been ignored. AI decision-makers appear unaware that women who have had abortions make up one of the largest constituency groups of the anti-abortion movement.

The AI International Executive Committee took this action despite indications that substantial numbers of members disapproved. Internal polling in AI’s U.K. chapter showed a plurality against it. The results of an on-line vote of members in the United States last Fall have yet to be announced. A member who tried to leaflet other members on this issue at the U.S. national conference on March 24 was barred, and when she asked if she was being censored, she was told yes. For more details and documentation, see www.consistent-life.org/ai.html.

Rachel MacNair

[email protected]

[email protected]_________________

We’ve got a date!

A date has been set for the kidney transplant operation: October 31st. Nancy is the donor, I’m the recipient. We don’t yet know how many days we’re going to be in the hospital, but we’ll at least be able to start making definite plans for help here at home. By the way, November 2 is my 66th birthday – and our 25th anniversary. We’ll be celebrating in the hospital! Please keep us in your prayers.

Our daughter Cait has helped us set up a blog re the transplant:

http://ataleof2kidneys.blogspot.com.

Jim Forest

jhforest @gmail.com

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A compromised hierarchy?

In Exploring the Inner Universe, the Romanian Orthodox priest, Fr. Roman Braga, says that when they were in prison they would pray that the hierarchy would “do something” to keep the churches open. While he has referred to the hierarchs as “weak,” he didn’t condemn them. As he wrote:

“When we were in prison we used to pray for the hierarchy, hoping that they would do something to keep the churches open. I do not know the difference between the hierarchs under the Communist regime and St. Genadius the Scholar, who, when Constantinople was conquered by Mohammed II, signed the great compromise not to ring the bells, not to have processions on the streets with holy relics, not to have services outside the church building – and he is a saint in our calendar. Our hierarchy, though, who managed to keep all the churches open during the Communist occupations are blamed and condemned. What is the difference between one situation and the other? I strongly believe that if the Sacramental life of the Church was guaranteed by the hierarchy during the Communist regime it was the Spirit of God which worked through them. What is more important than to save this Sacramental life, which is in fact the salvation of the people?”

About the Church confessing faults under Communism: I think we have no ground to judge what that was like. What Fr. Roman said is accurate: in other ages, people were called saints who found a way to live and keep the Church alive under oppression. It’s not our place to judge, decades later, from our comfortable armchairs. We have no idea what they suffered. It’s a place for us to be humble. I’m sure there were tragic injustices, but it’s really not our place to judge. We could never gather adequate information, if nothing else.

Frederica Mathewes-Green

frederica @aol.com

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Betrayal:

Does a priest’s betrayal of others invalidate the sacraments? I have had some experience with this question, in that our former priest did betray people close to me, and it led to our family’s leaving his parish – in part because of the prospect of accepting communion at the hands of a “non-priest” as we have come to see him.

I know this may not be good theology, but there is something very problematic about a person who is too flawed and is continuing to administer holy rites, isn’t there? Would a priest who abused your son be a person from whose spoon you would comfortably take wine and bread? Forgiveness is another issue; I accept that forgiveness of that man is a duty and pray for the grace to do that. But we are talking about a special relationship when we talk of the church’s mysteries.

Having said that, I suppose I do not believe that the sacrament is itself invalidated, because it is a gift from God, who can use any instrument He chooses; but still….

Alex Patico

alexanderpatico @aol.com

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The hand of God:

I’ve spoken to Fr. Roman several times through the years. I suspect he would see the hand of God in everything. I vividly recall his thanking God for the Communists who imprisoned him, as that imprisonment formed him a monk.

I’m not sure of my personal reaction to a priestly betrayal, although I know all priests are sinners. I rather think that just as one would leave an abusive father, one should also leave an abusive priest, yet that doesn’t make him less of a father in the process. Just as parental rights can be terminated, so too can canonical “rights” (using the term loosely) be terminated, resulting in the recognition legally that the paternal relationship no longer exists.

Marty Watt

marty @wattfamily.org

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Purity of faith:

I wonder if there are different meanings of the word “sacrament” in this exchange. I take Father Roman to refer to the fact that the churches were kept open and thus access to the sacraments continued when he speaks of saving the sacramental life. Betrayal of individuals is of course a serious issue, but the fact that a priest or hierarch betrayed any number of people would not of itself invalidate the sacraments in any sense, would it? I suppose an analogy (and forgive me for this) might be the way in which members of armed forces salute the rank, not the individual.

A priest or hierarch in good standing remains a priest or hierarch, no matter how wicked or venal we may believe him to be…

The purity of faith is God’s gift, I think, and precious little to do with our efforts.

Alasdair Cross

alasdairx @mac.com

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Valid sacraments:

I think maybe two things are being mixed up in this conversation. Obviously an abusive or otherwise immoral priest ought to be deposed or removed from the parish, or at least disciplined in some appropriate way, and the Church is clear about this in its canons. But the question of “validity of the sacraments” – to use a very Western phrase – is different. Suppose your priest, unknown to you and your fellow-parishioners, has secretly been a gross sinner for 20 years – say, abusing children. (Not unheard of, as we know.) Does that mean that for 20 years you haven’t actually been receiving the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ at the chalice? God forbid. Of course you’ve truly been receiving the Eucharist, otherwise your whole life in Christ would be damaged, unknown to you and for reasons you knew nothing about.

John Brady

hamartolos @gmail.com

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Not passing judgment:

It’s just not possible for us, remote from the people and pressures and events during the Communist persecutions of Christians (among others!) in the last century even to have any opinion about the actions of churchmen and lay believers alike – let alone pass moral judgment on them.

For myself as an old celibate monk, I think it would be relatively easy for me to take torture and death (which is coming soon for me, anyway) rather than to collaborate with the enemies of Christ or compromise the Church.

But if I were a 35-year-old married priest with a wife and family, and the commissars said that I’d have to cooperate with them or they’d torture my kids and prostitute them and my wife – or worse – I can’t say for sure what I’d do. I just don’t know.

I can make choices only for myself at the same time as I’m obliged to protect people who depend on me, and that remains just as true in both theoretical scenarios. I might choose a martyr’s suffering and death for myself, but I have no authority to co-opt anyone else’s choice either way.

If the Lord gives me strength to remain faithful to him as a monk and a Christian, and if my example then inspires my spiritual children, friends, and acquaintances to follow me to martyrdom – well, wonderful! And glory to God!

And if as a married man (priest or not) my wife and children were to do the same – well, wonderful! And glory to God! But that would be up to them.

Monk James Silver

frjsilver @optonline.net

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Dr. John Boojamra:

I notice that Dr. John Boojamra was a founding member of OPF. I have been doing extensive research on education within the Orthodox Church, and have been thick in his book Foundations for Christian Education for probably two years now. I have been frustrated by the lack of biographical information available on him that would help me understand him more as a person as well as a scholar and laborer of the Lord. Does anyone know of a biography or other resource that could help with this?

Today, I printed a short bio written by Bishop Basil upon Dr. John’s departing, as well as Jim Forest’s text on the history and mission of OPF, which I see contains some references. I’m looking for something with dates listed for significant transitions in his life and work, the wheres and whens. Thank you for any help!

Seraphima Sierra Butler

St. Athanasius Church

Santa Barbara, CA

sbutler @westmont.edu

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A good man:

I had classes with him at St. Vladimir’s He was a good man and very principled. Some of his ideas about education in church were a little impractical (like that we could preach with blackboards). But I remember him having a strong sense of economic justice and a strong concern for kids’ psychology (e.g., he had grave reservations about bringing gay issues into the psycho-sexual confusion of the high school he worked in as science teacher). He was deeply wounded by his wife’s premature death. I ran into him when he was traveling for some talk or something when we were living in San Francisco Bay area, and found him searching for a church kid he knew from out East who was in some sort of trouble. A good man!

Fr. Elijah Mueller

elijahnmueller @sbcglobal. net

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A new OPF treasurer:

We have a new treasurer for OPF-North America, Amber Raggie. Many thanks to Elizabeth Tutella, who has been our treasurer for the past three years.

Amber is a member of All Saints Orthodox Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her career has included archaeology, museum management, web site design, nonprofit administration, and web analytics. She joined the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in 1998 and is thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute her time and bookkeeping talents to the organization.

OPF’s new address is North America:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship-North America

PO Box 6009

Raleigh, NC 27628-6009

Sheri San Chirico

sherihopesc @yahoo.com

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OPF group on Flickr:

A web site for OPF-related photos now exists: www.flickr. com/groups/opf/. Suggestions, photos, comments are all welcome.

Peter Brubacher

phool4xc @gmail.com

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47