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Healing and Peacemaking

We are called by Christ to be peacemakers. Those who make peace are witnesses to the Kingdom of God and are regarded by Christ as God’s own children. We see in Christ’s life a constant witness to what peacemaking involves and, paradoxically, the dangers to which one is exposed by refusing to be anyone’s enemy. Another word for peacemaking is healing. What peacemakers attempt to do in a sicksociety is similar to what physicians attempt to do in caring for the sick. Sickness is a kind of war within the body just as division, injustice, crime, violence, conflict and war are social illnesses. The peacemaker is someone working to heal damaged or broken relationships, whether in the home, the community, the work place, between religious groups in conflict, and between nations. In this issue of In Communion we are looking at aspects of illness, healing and peacemaking.

The engraving on the right, in recalling Christ’s healing of the man born blind, is also a reminder of a more widespread blindness: our inability to see the image of God in the those around us. May Christ heal our eyes. St. Ambrose of Milan, a bishop of the fourth century, uses the metaphor of healing in this passage from an essay on the duties of the clergy:

“Some ask whether, in case of a shipwreck, a man of wisdom should have first right to a plank rather than an ignorant sailor. Although it seems better for the common good that a wise man rather than a fool should survive ship-wreck, yet I do not think that a Christian, a just and a wise man, ought to savehis own life by the death of another; just as when he meets with an armed robber he cannot return his blows, lest in defending his life he should stain his love toward his neighbor. The verdict on this is plain and clear in the books of the Gospel. ‘Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish with the sword.’ (Mt 26:52) What robber is more hateful than the persecutor who came to kill Christ? But Christ would not be defended from the wounds of the persecutor, for He willed to heal all by His wounds.”

Wisdom from St. John Chrysostom

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As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion…. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! Let no one who has an enemy draw near the sacred Table or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Do not draw near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Gifts!

– Homily 20

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. – Homily 20

Praying against one’s personal enemies is a transgression of law. – Homily: Against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren

How great punishment must they deserve, who, far from themselves forgiving, do even entreat God for vengeance on their enemies, and as it were diametrically transgress this law; and this while He is doing and contriving all, to hinder our being at variance one with another? For since love is the root of all that is good, He, removing from all sides whatever mars it, brings us together, and cements us to each other.

– Homily 19: On St. Matthew: On the Lord’s Prayer

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye, and the feet, and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ears by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?

– Homily III:8 On the Statutes

For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force … it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.

– Six Books on the Priesthood

Wisdom from St. John Chrysostom

johnchrysostom

As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sa-

cred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy

Communion…. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! Let no

one who has an enemy draw near the sacred Table or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one

who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Do not draw near! Do you wish to

draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Gifts! – Homily 20

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled!

But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. – Homily 20

Praying against one’s personal enemies is a transgression of law.

– Homily: Against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren

How great punishment must they deserve, who, far from themselves forgiving, do even

entreat God for vengeance on their enemies, and as it were diametrically transgress

this law; and this while He is doing and contriving all, to hinder our being at variance

one with another? For since love is the root of all that is good, He, removing from all

sides whatever mars it, brings us together, and cements us to each other.

– Homily 19: On St. Matthew: On the Lord’s Prayer

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him.

If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but

also the eye, and the feet, and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the

hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the

eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ears by not

listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our broth-

ers?

– Homily III:8 On the Statutes

For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force

… it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither

have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know

how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force,

but by choice.

– Six Books on the Priesthood

Cover letter for In Communion issue 31

Cover letter for the Fall 2003 issue of In Communion:

November 2003

It may be the most familiar of all icons: the Vladimir Mother of God. The Church regards this as one of the icons actually painted by the hand of St. Luke. The original is kept in a bullet-proof glass case in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. Even in a museum setting, it inspires prayer.

The copy reproduced at the left — a lacquered paper print mounted on a thin piece of dark wood — has its own special history. It was a gift to OPF founder Mariquita Platov when she visited Russia in 1928. Quita — a young woman fresh out of college — had decided to visit the Soviet Union. It was then only a decade since the Revolution. The smoke from civil war was still in the air. Stalin was fully in charge. A nightmare time was underway in which Christians were suffering the worst persecution of the past two thousand years.

Quita was deeply touched by the wordless message of the icon: Christ embracing his mother; his mother supporting her son while drawing our attention to him; Christ’s bare feet — feet that walked on the same troubled world that we stand upon; the climate of love. Even in a copy, one can sense the history of Russia in the icon’s battered surface.

Until that trip, Quita had given very little thought to Orthodox Christianity. What most impressed her were not the Communist posters promising an earthly paradise but rather the way suffering believers gathered in any church that was still open, and the intensity with which they prayed. Her experience of Christianity in Stalin’s Russia marked the beginning of her journey to Orthodoxy. She was chrismated in New York City ten years later. (The icon was Quita’s gift to me when I was chrismated in 1988, not long before she asked me to serve as OPF secretary. For more of the story of OPF’s history, see the article “Learning to be Peacemakers” that starts on page 9 of the latest In Communion.)

It seems appropriate that this issue also includes an article about a Russian whose family was driven to the West by the Revolution. Metropolitan Anthony was one of the Church’s most remarkable bishops of recent times. An influence in shaping the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, he wanted us to be not pacifists but “men and women of peace.” You will see what he meant by this distinction in the article that starts on the first page.

While writing, let me once again appeal for your help to keep the Orthodox Peace Fellowship going. Subscription payments alone are not enough. Especially now that we have a staff person on each side of the Atlantic, we need to substantially enlarge our base of support. Please send a donation. There is already a community of donors who make monthly or quarterly donations. Might you join that core group? Without their help, OPF would have achieved much less. Could you manage 15 euros a month? Or 20? It would make such an enormous difference in our capacity to serve the Church.

Please help us take the next step forward.

in Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

Cover letter for In Communion issue 31

Cover letter for the Fall 2003 issue of In Communion:

November 2003

It may be the most familiar of all icons: the Vladimir Mother of God. The Church regards this as one of the icons actually painted by the hand of St. Luke. The original is kept in a bullet-proof glass case in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. Even in a museum setting, it inspires prayer.

The copy reproduced at the left — a lacquered paper print mounted on a thin piece of dark wood — has its own special history. It was a gift to OPF founder Mariquita Platov when she visited Russia in 1928. Quita — a young woman fresh out of college — had decided to visit the Soviet Union. It was then only a decade since the Revolution. The smoke from civil war was still in the air. Stalin was fully in charge. A nightmare time was underway in which Christians were suffering the worst persecution of the past two thousand years.

Quita was deeply touched by the wordless message of the icon: Christ embracing his mother; his mother supporting her son while drawing our attention to him; Christ’s bare feet — feet that walked on the same troubled world that we stand upon; the climate of love. Even in a copy, one can sense the history of Russia in the icon’s battered surface.

Until that trip, Quita had given very little thought to Orthodox Christianity. What most impressed her were not the Communist posters promising an earthly paradise but rather the way suffering believers gathered in any church that was still open, and the intensity with which they prayed. Her experience of Christianity in Stalin’s Russia marked the beginning of her journey to Orthodoxy. She was chrismated in New York City ten years later. (The icon was Quita’s gift to me when I was chrismated in 1988, not long before she asked me to serve as OPF secretary. For more of the story of OPF’s history, see the article “Learning to be Peacemakers” that starts on page 9 of the latest In Communion.)

It seems appropriate that this issue also includes an article about a Russian whose family was driven to the West by the Revolution. Metropolitan Anthony was one of the Church’s most remarkable bishops of recent times. An influence in shaping the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, he wanted us to be not pacifists but “men and women of peace.” You will see what he meant by this distinction in the article that starts on the first page.

While writing, let me once again appeal for your help to keep the Orthodox Peace Fellowship going. Subscription payments alone are not enough. Especially now that we have a staff person on each side of the Atlantic, we need to substantially enlarge our base of support. Please send a donation. There is already a community of donors who make monthly or quarterly donations. Might you join that core group? Without their help, OPF would have achieved much less. Could you manage 15 euros a month? Or 20? It would make such an enormous difference in our capacity to serve the Church.

Please help us take the next step forward.

in Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

Cover letter

Cover letter for the Fall 2003 issue of In Communion:

November 2003Quita's icon

It may be the most familiar of all icons: the Vladimir Mother of God. The Church regards this as one of the icons actually painted by the hand of St. Luke. The original is kept in a bullet-proof glass case in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. Even in a museum setting, it inspires prayer.

The copy reproduced at the left — a lacquered paper print mounted on a thin piece of dark wood — has its own special history. It was a gift to OPF founder Mariquita Platov when she visited Russia in 1928. Quita — a young woman fresh out of college — had decided to visit the Soviet Union. It was then only a decade since the Revolution. The smoke from civil war was still in the air. Stalin was fully in charge. A nightmare time was underway in which Christians were suffering the worst persecution of the past two thousand years.

Quita was deeply touched by the wordless message of the icon: Christ embracing his mother; his mother supporting her son while drawing our attention to him; Christ’s bare feet — feet that walked on the same troubled world that we stand upon; the climate of love. Even in a copy, one can sense the history of Russia in the icon’s battered surface.

Until that trip, Quita had given very little thought to Orthodox Christianity. What most impressed her were not the Communist posters promising an earthly paradise but rather the way suffering believers gathered in any church that was still open, and the intensity with which they prayed. Her experience of Christianity in Stalin’s Russia marked the beginning of her journey to Orthodoxy. She was chrismated in New York City ten years later. (The icon was Quita’s gift to me when I was chrismated in 1988, not long before she asked me to serve as OPF secretary. For more of the story of OPF’s history, see the article “Learning to be Peacemakers” that starts on page 9 of the latest In Communion.)

It seems appropriate that this issue also includes an article about a Russian whose family was driven to the West by the Revolution. Metropolitan Anthony was one of the Church’s most remarkable bishops of recent times. An influence in shaping the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, he wanted us to be not pacifists but “men and women of peace.” You will see what he meant by this distinction in the article that starts on the first page.

While writing, let me once again appeal for your help to keep the Orthodox Peace Fellowship going. Subscription payments alone are not enough. Especially now that we have a staff person on each side of the Atlantic, we need to substantially enlarge our base of support. Please send a donation. There is already a community of donors who make monthly or quarterly donations. Might you join that core group? Without their help, OPF would have achieved much less. Could you manage 15 euros a month? Or 20? It would make such an enormous difference in our capacity to serve the Church.

Please help us take the next step forward.

in Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

* * *

Advice on Peacemaking from the Saints

Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sin, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer… You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you pray for the person who has offended you, not when you exchange presents with him, not when you invite him to your table, but only when, on hearing that he has fallen into bodily or spiritual misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself.

– St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Who are these? Those who imitate the Divine love of others, who show forth in their own life the characteristic of the Divine energy. The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness. This work He ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart. Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed. For as light follows the departure of darkness, thus also these evil things are replaced by the fruits of the Spirit: by charity, joy, peace, benignity, magnanimity, all the good things enumerated by the Apostle (Gal 5:22). How then should the dispenser of the Divine gifts not be blessed, since he imitates the gifts of God and models his own good deeds on the Divine generosity? But perhaps the Beatitude does not only regard the good of others. I think that man is called a peacemaker par excellence who pacifies perfectly the discord between flesh and spirit in himself and the war that is inherent in nature, so that the law of the body no longer wars against the law of the mind but is subjected to the higher rule and becomes a servant of the Divine ordinance.

– St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes

“But I say to you,” the Lord says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.” Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.

– St. Maximus the Confessor

I have heard that there were two old men who dwelt together for many years, and who never quarreled, and that one said to the other, “let us also pick a quarrel with each other, even as other men do.” Then his companion answered and said unto him, “I know not how a quarrel cometh,” and the other old man answered and said unto him, “Behold, I will set a brick in the midst, and will say, ‘This is mine,’ and do thou say, ‘It is not thine, but mine’; and from this quarreling will ensue.” And they placed a brick in the midst, and one of then said, “This is mine,” and his companion answered and said after him, “This is not so, for it is mine”; and straightaway the other replied and said unto him, “If this be so, and the brick be thine, take it and go.” Thus they were not able to make a quarrel.

– Sayings of the Desert Fathers

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006

Recommended Reading – Summer 2006

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006

Recommended Reading

Silence and Honey Cakes

by Rowan Williams

Lion Hudson, 125 pp, €7

ISBN 0745951708

Once known mainly in the Orthodox Church, the desert saints of the early church are increasingly being discovered by Christians in the West.

Helen Waddell’s classic, The Desert Fathers, published in 1936, was perhaps the first book on the subject to reach a wide ecumenical readership.

Four decades ago, there was Thomas Merton’s still popular collection of “words” of the desert monks: Wisdom of the Desert.

Over the past thirty years Sr. Benedicta Ward has published English translations of the principal collections that come down to us from the early centuries of desert monasticism.

Now there is this fine new addition by Rowan Williams: Silence and Honey Cakes.

Williams begins with one of the sayings of St. Anthony the Great, : “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against God.”

It is advice, as Williams points out, that comes from the heart of the primitive monastic witness – “the impossibility,” as he says, “of thinking about contemplation or meditation or ‘spiritual life’ in abstraction from the actual business of living in the Body of Christ, living in concrete community….

“The desert monastics have an uncompromising message for us: a relationship with eternal truth and love simply doesn’t happen unless we mend our relations with Tom, Dick and Harriet.”

One need not be a monk or feel a call to desolate places to find these meditations on wilderness voices become an oasis in the desert of modern life.

Christ at Work:

Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Vocation

edited by Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides

Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 230 pp, $20

ISBN 1885652879

It is a common task for teenage students to be asked to write a paper on their future “careers.” The English word “career,” if you check your dictionary, has its roots in the Latin word carrus, a kind of Gallic wagon. Interesting. A career is indeed a kind of wagon that we purchase with our education and hope will provide not only for our future economic needs but also give us some actual satisfaction, though in fact oftentimes the chosen career turns out to be a this-life experience of purgatory. The money may come, but there is often very little real satisfaction or sense of being blessed.

“Vocation” is a word that also has a Latin root: vox, voice. The voice referred to in this case is God’s. To have a sense of vocation means to be continually exploring in the theater of one’s own life what God has in mind for each of us.

One of the book’s author, Deborah Malacky Belonick, sees Mary as a primary image of vocation. “Though not called to be the mother of God,” she writes, “we are called to a life that is lived in relation to God, a life that is hidden with Christ in God.”

For Paul Meyendorff, the recovery of a sense of vocation is the recovery of the priesthood of all believers. Christianity sees priesthood not only in terns of the few who are called to preside at the altar. It refers to a vocation belonging to all baptized people: “to offer sacrifices and to serve as the intermediary between God and humanity.”

Thus he writes: “We are called to live out our priesthood in day to day life” for it is precisely in the world and not only ion church that “the priestly role of the laity is most important.”

Among the Dead Cities

by A.C. Grayling

Bloomsbury, 384 pp, €20

ISBN 0747576718

The book’s subtitle is “Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime?” While looking closely at the arguments pro and con, the author (professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London) concludes that the massive intentional bombing of civilians was indeed a war crime.

The Allied bombing of Axis cities made smoking ruins of Dresden, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Grayling concentrates on Britain’s “area bombing” of entire German cities, a strategy adopted initially because bombers couldn’t hit smaller sites, and then continued as a deliberate attack. Grayling carefully considers the justifications for area bombing (it would shorten the conflict by destroying Germany’s economy, it would undermine civilian morale, civilian workers were also combatants, etc.) and finds each of them wanting. British bombing, he finds, in fact did little damage to the German war effort while in the process killing and maiming vast numbers of people. In contrast, American pinpoint bombing of industrial and military targets succeeded in paralyzing the German economy with few civilian casualties, yet in the last months of the war American also resorted to area bombing in its devastating air campaign against Japanese cities.

Grayling is thorough in his research and provides the reader with a flowing, lucid narrative. Drawing on firsthand accounts by professional soldiers, strategists, architects, victims and opponents of area bombing, he places historical data within a rigorous philosophical framework. Black-and-white photos show the effects of the campaign.

In the book’s final section, Grayling laments the failure of Allied airmen to refuse to obey orders to bomb civilian targets.

On Human Being: Spiritual Anthropology

by Olivier Clment

New City Press, 155 pp, $15

ISBN 1565481437

Rooted in the experience and writings of the early Christian centuries, Olivier Clment (professor of patristic studies at St. Serge Theological Institute in Paris) reflects on human nature, its challenges, its wounded nature, its joys and fulfillments.

He begins by exploring a response to the dysfunctional aspects of human nature, and then looks at how we are persons made in the image of the divine and in communion with one another. In the light of what emerges, the author discovers fresh understandings of sexuality, politics, the role of humanity in the cosmos and the power of beauty.

Clment challenges all Christians not only to be open to the treasures of the Orthodox Christian East but also to recover these traditions, which Clment expresses in existential terms, and through them enrich and revitalize Christianity in the West.

“Before love is even mentioned, the first thing is humility, and what humility becomes when it is exercised towards another person is respect,” Clment writes in the chapter “Persons in Communion.” The author’s own humility, no less than his respect for the reader, illuminates each page.

Denys the Areopagite

by Andrew Louth

Continuum, 133 pp, $30

ISBN 082645772X

The writings of Denys – or Dionysius – the Areopagite (his actual identity remains a mystery) appeared in the sixth century and ever since have been deeply influential on Christian thinking in both East and West. Fr. Andrew Louth examines all the traditions on which Denys’s work draws: the fourth century Greek theologians, pagan philosophy and Syrian Christian thought. He also documents and comments on Denys’s compelling vision of the beauty of God’s world and his revelation, together with his profound awareness of the ultimate mystery of the unknowable God who utterly transcends all being.

Fr Alexander provides valuable insights into the thought of a mystical theologian whose insights played a major role in the development of liturgical theology. The voice of Denys remains as fresh today as when he was putting pen to paper fifteen hundred years ago.

Encounter

by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Darton Longman & Todd, 317 pp, €10

ISBN 0232526001

Until his death three years ago, the late Metropolitan Anthony not only led the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, but for many years was one of the most persuasive Christian voices of the late twentieth century. Via his weekly BBC Russian Service broadcasts, he was the most important spokesman for Christianity in what was then the Soviet Union. His books on prayer, in numerous translations, continue to be widely read by Christians of many traditions.

Encounter between God and man, person and person, is the golden thread running through this collection of essays, sermons and interviews. “If you examine the Gospels anew,” he writes, “if you read them with new eyes, if you look at how they are constructed, you will see that apart from encounter there is nothing else in the Gospels. Every tale in an encounter.”

Meeting Metropolitan Anthony was an unforgettable encounter for all who had the good fortune to do so. He is one of those rare people whose presence, faith and wisdom survive in the printed word. This makes his few books an important part of any library, large or small.

Conversations by E-Mail – Summer 2006

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006

Conversations by E-Mail

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 — jhforest[at]cs.com.

Poor Excuse: It’s clear that the Gospel puts rich and poor in different categories. I recall a book by Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, on the Gospel’s world-view. After mentioning the Gospel’s preference for the poor, Kraybill notes that, in applying it, we should always put ourselves in the position of the rich. True, I think. This seems to me to mean two things at least:

œ We’re never entitled to puff ourselves up or see ourselves as having some moral superiority, even if we do it by saying “I’m one of the poor!”

œ No amount of objective poverty exempts us as Christians from founding our lives on love and service toward others. We’d consider Christ and the disciples poor – it seems they lived as wandering beggars (with a few un-poor donors) – but when speaking of “the poor” they typically meant not themselves but those that they were to serve. And the poor widow is praised for giving her last coin, putting herself in the position of the giver.

In our class-bound world it’s very hard for us with money and security to establish any kind of personal fellowship/friendship with poor people, and the temptation is to turn them into an abstaction.

John Brady

[email protected]

Backlash: There’s a vague backlash within Christianity idealizing the poor, but it sure doesn’t last very long or get much beyond the superficial. Most people don’t truly idealize anything about the poor. I have seen very few people in my life that learn from the poor, or find solidarity with the poor, or seek out the poor, or even accept the poor. Usually this “perfect poor” language is a way for one to feel better about not dealing with the scriptural texts dealing with money or is an attempt at a loophole, giving something of value to the poor and therefore not having to pay them any more attention – i.e., they are the spiritually rich, so why change their situation?

I remember working at a state psychiatric hospital for a year. I worked with the people that were rejected from society for many reasons, mostly stemming from their illness. One day at a chapel service, I looked over the group and had a sense that these people were the ones for whom God has a special place, the apple of His eye, if you will. I must admit, I had trouble understanding why. They didn’t always act lovingly to each other, they weren’t pure as people often want to make them, they were often undisciplined and repulsive. Perhaps it was just because they too are human, and yet we have so much trouble accepting that and treating them well. Perhaps it is just like a teacher looking at a class full of students and seeing them treat one student so badly because of the way she dresses, or because he may learn a bit more slowly. The teacher can see that they are really not very different, but the students think that they are vastly different. Perhaps God sees that we are not very different at all, but we treat the mentally ill as the worst members of our society, indeed we try to forget that they are a part of our society.

I think we do the same to the poor, either abstractly or individually.

Sheri San Chirico

[email protected]

Beyond individualism: The idea that salvation comes to us exclusively as individuals and that our wealth or poverty are irrelevant factors is not Orthodox. Since when do we enter as individuals, one at a time? Where is koinonia? Doesn’t the lesson of Matthew 25 say that our fates, the rich and the poor are intrinsically tied to the other? Where is our understanding of Eucharist or of incarnational theology here? Do we not pray for every corner of Creation in the Divine Liturgy?

This is a very tired conversation to say that “the church is not a social agency-or-who does or does not get a free pass to Heaven.” Shouldn’t we rather be talking about the scary consumption in this country and what a sin it is? Anyone who has been to the third world and seen first-hand the suffering that poverty brings will find it really hard to ever fully fit in any consumer society.

I am uncomfortable with any discussion that cannot see past the grace vs. works argument to know that the reason to pour oneself out for the least is because we are disciples of the Teacher of Poverty, Jesus. We do it because we love. It is the requirement of love. When it is pointed out that “everyone has to repent,” does that not mean that the rich need to repent from greed or oppression, as St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom so often warned? I don’t know what good comes out of a rich person telling everyone that the poor need to repent. Most of the poor that I have walked with, worked with and lived for years with are already painfully aware of their sins. We could learn a great deal from their humility.

Joe May

[email protected]

Romanian perspective: We mystify the poor in strange ways. Our experience of Orthodox culture in Romania tells us that. It is common to see beggars with an open hand and an icon of the Theotokos in the other. When receiving a gift, the beggar is expected to say a prayer or blessing. The donor feels vindicated and maybe more lucky, or less guilty, about not visiting a relative’s grave, but little is done for the root causes of poverty. Both rich and poor tend to be exploited and neither is doing anything out of relationship.

Someone said that for the poor, poverty is an economic problem, but for the rich poverty is a moral problem. I do believe Christ prefers the poor only in the way a mother “prefers” whichever child is in need at the time. It does not mean she loves one more, just differently.

Christ calls us to a spirituality which puts us in relationship with the poor. And in these encounters where the presence of Christ is sensed and the veil is lifted, rich and poor no longer exist and we are all only children of God in solidarity in our common human suffering. I do believe the poor can be “salvific” in the sense of purification and theosis. Relationship with the poor can get us in touch with our true neediness for God, call us to our knees, and get us to pray in new ways, “Let Your Kingdom Come… Give us this day our daily bread.” It is never the poor who save us rich people, but the suffering Christ, who is co-mingled in the suffering of the poor.

There is a certain pride in charity and helping out the poor guy. When they become your brother and you are powerless to really help them yet you stand with them before God crying out for them, them you are able to share in their powerlessness before God and cry out for His Kingdom to come. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

I agree that every person, no matter how poor, will enter as individuals, but again their poverty is only an economic problem, not a moral problem as it is for most of us.

God help us and save us.

Joel Klepac

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In Communion: I just wanted you to know that I have really enjoyed the Spring issue of In Communion so much. And not just for the colorful cover. The articles were very timely for me and seemed maybe more down to earth and practical than other issues. I really appreciate all the work you and others do to put together a wonderful publication that I am proud to receive. I am thinking of translating parts of John Jones’ article on stigmatization for our Romanian newsletter. We want to do an issue on the Romani (Gypsy) people who are often the objects of stigmatization.

Monica Klepac

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OPF meetings: I attended the OPF conference at St. Vladimir’s last summer and the OPF workshop in Akron with Sheri, Joe, Noel and others last weekend. We had a grand time together and with the folks not from OPF who joined us.

My recommendation is that we continue to arrange such gatherings. We need to think of “hubs” or “capitals” for OPF around the country, and go to those places as often as we can in a year. I doubt that I am alone in saying that I feel very alone sometimes, and the friendship and support of others in the OPF is very precious to me.

As for the weekend just past, the best part of it for me was the fellowship with other Orthodox. The workshop leader, Art Gish of the Church of the Brethren, was very gifted and insightful. I doubt that he agreed with all that we Orthodox believe, but he was very respectful of and curious about our tradition. He never said anything that contradicted our beliefs. Most of what he had to say was of a practical nature.

For me the most moving moment of the workshop was a remark from a Byzantine Catholic bishop who joined us for a couple of hours on Sunday. When our workshop presenter was introduced to the bishop, he said, “Thank you for giving a martyr to the Church.” He referred to one member of a peacemaking team in Iraq who was held hostage and finally murdered. How seldom do I risk anything for the Gospel!

David Holden

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OPF’s Akron gathering: A quick report: The first day began with reasons for peacemaking from the Old and New Testaments, some of which I had not understood in the texts before or had not seen in the same light. In the afternoon, Art Gish taught us about Christian Peacemaker Teams, its history, and his own history with them (he winters in Palestine and has for many years now). The second day was practical techniques of peacemaking, especially focusing on ways to interact with aggressors to defuse or deflect their attack in loving ways.

The most important thing for me was to understand more fully how much we as a society depend on violence and military strength to bring about peace.

Let me know if you have an interest in taking part in the next such meeting.

Sheri San Chirico

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DaVinci Code: It has been good to see reports that not only Christians but Muslims have been critical of The DaVinci Code. Muslims see it as an oblique attack on Islam. As a moderator of soc.religion.islam list, I get to see a lot of questions from Muslims asking why Christians are not more active in objecting to such books and films.

I started reading soc.religion.islam in 1989, when I decided to learn something about Islam after working on several human right cases involving people in Islamic countries. In 1995, I was asked to help moderate. I have, in fact, been one of the moderators since about six weeks before my baptism and chrismation as an Orthodox Christian, over a decade ago.

Catherine Hampton

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Jurisdictionalism: Whenever I read any church history, I’m reminded that Orthodoxy continues by God’s grace, not thanks to human endeavor. The organizational history of the church is one long tale of treachery, greed, ambition, bribes, illicit political influence, occasional murders, etc. The positive side is the realization that, as bad as our “political” dimension looks right now, it’s really no worse than it ever was.

My opinion about the “organizational” canons is that they presuppose a Christian empire ruled by a Christian emperor. Trying to apply them helpfully in our time is almost useless. (A priest with whom I spoke about some of these issues said that the age of Christian emperors ended with Nicholas II.)

I took a Canon Law class at our diocesan seminary a few years ago. The teacher started out by saying that in Orthodoxy the word “law” probably shouldn’t be applied to the canons at all.

One section was devoted to the jurisdictional situation in North America. First we considered the claims of Constantinople, Russia, etc. with their various canonical justifications. The teacher concluded that, in his opinion, we have a new situation that was never anticipated by the canons and to which none of them apply – which would mean that the Church needs to get together and come up with a solution rather than keep making competing “canonical” claims. But this is unlikely to happen, he said, because the various churches would have to humble themselves in ways that he couldn’t imagine they ever would. I suppose this describes the situation in Western Europe as well as in North America.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on jurisdictionalism, and here’s how it seems to me at the moment: we all say jurisdictionalism is a problem, uncanonical, bad for the church. But in our hearts we love it. It suits our modern notions of freedom as the ability to shop for what we want. If I don’t like my bishop I can get a new one without even changing my address! It’s a little more difficult than changing my cell phone provider, but not much. So if our hierarchs got together, sat down, and came up with a proper system where each region was served by exactly one bishop, I wonder if, when we realized some of the consequences, we’d accept it.

John Brady

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[end]

Peacemaking in the Parish: Seeking the Peace from Above

by Fr. Stephen Headley

Most of us, as Orthodox Christians, have experienced the pain of waiting for members of the parish, a parish priest or a bishop to cease to behave in ways that are decidedly not Christian. Their behavior, their actions, strike us as failing to praise God as he deserves through humility, gentleness and mercy. The possibility that they have some good reason to behave as they do helps us to be patient until such time as we better understand their motives. When, as sometimes is the case, we imagine that their behavior is best explained by their weaknesses, the problem becomes more difficult. Shouldn’t we, as St. Paul suggests in his writings about teachers of false doctrine, correct them fraternally by prayer and supplication, and later, if need be, exclude them from our midst? So far as common sense is concerned, we feel justified. Nevertheless, a nagging voice of conscience should tell us that to take this course is to wander from the higher road to peace, aggravating the difficulties others have in dealing with us.

We have many strategies by which we fail to bring a genuinely Christian perspective to the problem of anger and enmity within both parish and family life. All these strategies seem to exclude the Cross. The faith with which Christ bears all that is unbearable leads finally to his death on the Cross. This Cross-centered perspective is the horizon we need to make our own. Unless we do, we will be deprived of our hope in Christian freedom and fall into a self-induced cynicism. Sooner or later we will conclude that the Beatitudes are fine ideals but do not apply to our daily lives.

Until such time as our sense of self-vindicating outrage subsides, in reality it is we, not they, who are ceasing to be Christian. This loss of sincerity, of openness to the destiny that God has offered us, occurs because of our refusal to be vulnerable to the other, even if the other seems to be persecuting us. In fact it is then that we are in great spiritual danger. In these moments we may not realize that our actual Christian dignity in fact resides in the patient suffering described in the seventh and eight Beatitudes:

Blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake … for so did they persecute the prophets who were before you. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

The problem is that we don’t recognize that the thoughts that are passing through our minds and hearts fail to reflect the revelation of Christ to us in his Sermon on the Mount. The superiority of values in the Beatitudes as a personal, ascetic path to Christ is only clear to those who actually enter the path. St. Dionysios, a Syrian monk of the sixth century, gave us the term hierarchy, meaning a sacred order, a progressive bestowing of God’s grace upon us in our ascent to heaven. If we bear our lot, we discover that the elevating effect of such a gracious hierarchy raises us to a higher level of vision and brings us into proximity with Christ. We are able to see the difficulties that hem us in as constituting our very own cross. We begin to carry that cross as a free choice.

The aspiration to patience helps us see the supposed “evil” of the other in a new light. We are no longer obliged to correct the other. I don’t say this moralistically. It has come to me after numerous mistakes and injustices committed by me in parishes in which I served, always because I had come to the point of feeling justified in saying “enough is enough.”

But what was I feeling? What had I had enough of? Enough of the other? Enough of being a Christian? Were my parishioners unworthy of my dedication? Why should I define their behavior by the limits of my comprehension? If a Christian way of life has any meaning, if it is in fact a witness of Christ’s passion, it is because my relations with others are not defined by my needs. Do I want to live a truly Christian life? If so it requires that I constantly seek to do to others as I would have them do to me.

Several times in my life my closest friends in the Church, persons toward whom I had great respect and with whom I shared an intimacy created by their qualities, since they lifted me to a higher plane of vision regarding my own life – these important friends have done things I would never have thought they were capable of. I was crushed. I grieved for months over what I thought was the destruction of our friendship, a brotherly bond which I felt had been destroyed by my friend’s misdeeds. I had needed him in order to be myself. The person I was sure he was gave me a stronger faith. He had offered me a hand up to a purer plane of existence.

At each Vespers we read Psalm 103 in which we hear that the Lord makes of his servants “flames of fire.” I had previously found that flame of the holy Spirit in my friend, but now where was it? I retreated and turned my back on him and denied him. It was as if I was a better judge of his soul than God, in whom he had put his trust, who was clearly in a position to pardon him, if pardon was needed, in His own time. I let the confidence I had placed in him slip through my fingers and in so doing, I lost confidence not only in him, but also in God.

Suffering misfortune with patience is perhaps the highest expression of confidence in the Lord. This is not because it punishes and purifies us from our sins in a sadistic manner, but because it gives us the opportunity to participate in the same fortitude that Christ manifested in responding to the constant and unrelenting adversity that he experienced. While being hounded from Galilee to Judea, Christ never wavered in proclaiming the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God in our midst. The horizon of his Father’s calling was never closer than when, on his knees in the garden of Gethsemane, he was enveloped in anguish and prayed to fulfill his Father’s will. As St. Maximos the Confessor showed, because of the Fall, our “gnomic will” (ƒÆƒÉƒÅƒÊƒ¿), as opposed to out natural will, no longer permits us to spontaneously choose the good which God offers us. The human-divine person of Christ presents us with the model of the redemption of our fallen will; henceforth human will is free to commune fully with God’s will for us.

If complaining makes cowards of us, long-suffering makes us clear-headed about how a fallen world operates. Much of human communication takes place on the level of provocation, usually over inconsequential matters. This is tiring. But if this is so, it is because the other cannot yet see us as a dependable friend. By testing our patience, he or she is trying to see how long we are willing to put up with him. Are we ready to “share spaces” with him, as Jessica Rose puts it in her book Sharing Spaces: Prayer and the Counseling Relationship? And what can we say inside ourselves while this is going on? Psalm 142, which is prayed every morning at Matins, shows us a path forward:

Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.

In the course of several decades I have served under five or six bishops, and I must admit that only one of them met my expectations – and finally even the failings of this exception were hard for me to accept. Why were “worthy bishops” so hard for me to find? I have of course obeyed them all, but I could have collaborated more fruitfully if I had been able to give them my confidence. Why was I withholding my confidence? I believe now that I had not realized that the confidence I failed to place in them would have emerged if I had gone ahead and collaborated whole-heartedly with these bishops rather than standing back and waiting until they proved their qualities to me. After all, they must have seen my own limitations, yet even so that did not prevent them from placing their trust in God when they ordained me deacon and later priest.

This was despite the fact that I had already learned some basic lessons when seeking out a “good” confessor. Early on, when my own confessor was far away, I had adopted the habit of going to confession with the priest for whom I had the least esteem. This exercise proved fruitful, for these men never failed to give me good advice and to sincerely pray for me. The need to respect a person, or to judge him as worthy of my admiration, had found a fitting limit, since even I had to confess that such judgment of others was incompatible with asking for forgiveness from God.

All this is formulated in the final exhortation of the Apostle James’s epistle, if one cares to read it with a open, undefended heart:

Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation. Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

The Greek word ƒÊƒ¿ƒÈƒÏƒÍƒÆƒÒƒÊƒ¿, often translated weakly as “patience,” might better be rendered as “long-suffering.” This has to do with forging the future by waiting on the Lord. As we read in Proverbs: “Do not lose heart, because the Lord will be coming soon. Do not make complaints against one another, brothers, so as not to be brought to judgment yourselves… You have heard of the patience of Job, and understood the Lord’s purpose, realizing that the Lord is kind and compassionate.” (Proverbs 3:34)

The Apostle James exhorts us not to swear by heaven or by earth, which I understand to mean not to finalize our judgments. Rather he proposes that we should sing psalms with the joyful, and pray for those in trouble. So like Elijah, who prayed for rain until it did rain, we are encouraged to pray with our faith for the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again (whatever that “up” may be), and he will be forgiven. Saving a soul from death due to his or her sins, says St. James, covers a multitude of sins, presumably including our own. So here is the “reason” not to judge: so that we will not be judged and so that our sins will be forgiven.

To sum up, we have been in a critical situation ever since we were old enough to blame others for our own limitations. The fact that others have their own limitations does not change anything. We are constantly in danger of being hemmed in by the way we view others, by the ways we (and they) become disappointed and aggressive.

For a Christian, daily life is best compared with that of the Hebrews fleeing Pharaoh’s armies across the Red Sea. The only thing that could save them was their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their ability to follow Moses across this sea and into the desert was what kept the walls of water from drowning them. If they had believed that the waters of that passage were more dangerous to them than Pharaoh’s charioteers, if they had harbored their own fears rather than trusting in the call of Moses to escape Egypt, they would have had no prospect of salvation.

Peter had the same experience as he attempted to walk towards Christ on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The moment he turned his gaze away from Christ, he began to sink. The security of our own expectation was decried by Jesus:

It is the pagans of this world who set their hearts on these things. Your Father well knows you need them. No, set your hearts on his kingdom, and these thing will be given you as well. There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the Kingdom. (Luke 12:22)

Each time we put the cross around our neck, it is recommended that we say the words of Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

This self-giving loss of life is the way to the deep self-knowledge that Christ has promised us: “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” (Luke 6:47-48)

The rock is God’s divine law. Not the civil law, which is often little more than a screen hiding our collective sins that are the ruin of society, what the French call a cache-misre, but a law that, for those who follow it, makes us free and thankful to God for revealing his justice to us.

The whole of the Psalm 118 (119) describes how the Christian “treasures your promises in my heart … be good to your servant and I shall live … exile though I am on earth … my soul is overcome with an incessant longing for your rulings … I am sleepless with grief, raise me up as your word has guaranteed … I run the way of your commandments since you have set me free…”

The long-suffering patience of the psalmist derives its strength from waiting for the Lord to save him, an offer of loving intervention that gives him life. That life is God’s justice. God is just in all his works and does justice to his servant. We ask God to teach us his statutes. What does that mean? The Greek word for justice (ƒƒÇƒÈƒ¿ƒÊƒ¿) means both acts of justice towards man, justification of his creature, and God’s judgment regarding our acts.

In this sense the whole set of contemporary political proposals of universal human rights glosses over the more fundamental fact that it is God who has rights over man. It is this that makes the Beatitudes a realistic program for daily life. It is possible to be long-suffering since the Lord of great goodness is long-suffering with us. Herein lies the peace from above we have been thirsting after! Here is the peace that the life-giving Cross brings us, “for the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

Fr. Stephen Headley is rector of the parish of St. Etienne the Proto-martyr and St. Herman of Auxerre (Moscow Patriarchate) in Vzelay, France. He is a researcher in social anthropology in the French National Center of Scientific Research, Paris, and a member of the board of advisors of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. The author of several books on religion in Indonesia, Fr. Stephen is currently involved in research on “The Transmission of the Orthodox Faith in contemporary Moscow.”

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006