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Saint Marcellus: Military Martyr

[Photo: The relics of St. Marcellus are preserved within the altar of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana.]

In the ancient Roman Empire, many Christians refused to serve in the imperial armies, finding it was in conflict with their baptismal vows and the teaching and example of Jesus.

In The Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, written in the second century and attributed to one of the first Bishops of Rome, renunciation of killing is a precondition of baptism: “A soldier under authority shall not kill a man. If he is ordered to, he shall not carry out the order, nor shall he take the oath. If he is unwilling, let him be rejected. He who has the power of the sword or is a magistrate of a city who wears the purple, let him cease or be rejected. Catechumens or believers, who want to become soldiers, should be rejected, because they have despised God.” (Canon XVI: On Professions)

But what about soldiers who were converted to following Christ? One could not simply walk away from the Roman army. To be a soldier was like any other trade: it was not done for a few years but throughout adulthood, until one was too old or infirm to continue. Some were fortunate – their duties did not require the exercise of deadly force. A few – for example, St. Martin of Tours – were able to obtain a special discharge. Some took the path of martyrdom.

St. Marcellus the Centurion, after some years of army service, found he could no longer continue in military obedience. One day in 298, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, Marcellus’s unit in northern Africa was celebrating the pagan emperor’s birthday with a party. Suddenly Marcellus rose before the banqueters and denounced such celebrations as heathen. Casting off his military insignia, he cried out, “I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors and I scorn to worship your gods of wood and stone, which are deaf and dumb idols.”

Marcellus was immediately arrested for breach of discipline. At his trial, he admitted that he had done that of which he was accused. He declared that it is “not right for a Christian man, who serves the Lord Christ, to serve in the armies of the world.” Found guilty, he was immediately beheaded. According to the ancient testimonies, he died in great peace of mind, asking God to bless the judge who had condemned him.

As part of a protest against military training on campus, last year a play about

St. Marcellus was performed at Notre Dame by members of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. The text, by Tom Hostetler, closely follows the actual trial transcript.

The Passion of Saint Marcellus

Lucius, the narrator, comes out with helmet in hand, standing on the grassy knoll, north of a gazebo. The crowd gathers around.

What is the price of conscience? How far will a Christian go to be obedient to the teachings and example of Jesus? And how long will a faithful witness be remembered? Today we present the drama of St. Marcellus, a centurion in the Roman Battalion, who laid down his sword in order to serve Jesus Christ, and laid down his life in order to be faithful. It is presented briefly, and in the simplest form, from what is known in the historical records, so that you may know of his courage, sacrifice, and conviction. It is a true story, from the year 298 A.D., and one that belongs to all Christians. I invite the crowd to come closer, so that you may hear, and to follow us from place to place as the scene changes. In this drama, I portray the part of Lucius, Marcellus’s friend and fellow soldier. Let us begin.

[Photo: Diocletian, emperor at the time of Marcellus’s martyrdom bust in the Istanbul Archeological Museum]

Lucius: Marcellus, I beg you to take back this sword.

Marcellus: I cannot. You know I cannot.

Lucius: If you go in there and tell them this, they won’t understand. I don’t understand!

Marcellus: Lucius, you’ve been my friend for eight years in the Legion. I thank you for that. Never has there been a more loyal companion in any battalion. We’ve fought together, marched together, been ready to die together every day in service to the Empire. We’ve spilled rivers of blood, and I, just as you, thought of the enemies of Rome as little more than dogs to be slain.

Lucius: But they are enemies. Even if you are now a Christian, you can’t tell me that you love them now.

Marcellus: They are children of God.

Lucius: They’ve killed our friends.

Marcellus: As we’ve killed theirs. And God is willing to forgive.

Lucius: Well, the vice-praetorian prefect is right over there, and he’s not going to be forgiving.

Marcellus [placing a hand on Lucius’s shoulder]: It doesn’t matter. Christ is my commander now, and I will not betray him. You have heard the words of the Master; how he said to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Now that I belong to Him, I must turn the other cheek.

Lucius: Marcellus, this will end badly. You will pay with your life.

Marcellus: Perhaps… I pray not… But still, my life is a small thing. Since my Lord has surrendered His life for me, can I now withhold my own? The Lord Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those that can kill the body, but fear the one who owns body and soul.”

Lucius [as guards approach]: They’re coming. Marcellus, take back the sword!

[Marcellus refuses; all salute as guards arrive.]

Guard: Centurion Marcellus, you are ordered to appear before lord Aurelius Agricolanus, the vice-praetorian prefect.

Marcellus: I am at his command.

[All walk briskly to the court set.]

Herald: Come near to the court of our lords the Augusti and Caesars on this third day before the calends of November, to state business before lord Aurelius Agricolanus, the vice-praetorian prefect. Let all those who wish justice to be served announce their presence.

Cecilius: My lord, I am the consular official Cecilius, sent by the praeses Fortunatus, with a letter concerning this centurion before you.

Agricolanus: Let it be read out.

Cecilius: Yes my lord. [reads from scroll] “Manilius Fortunatus sends greetings to his lord Agricolanus. On the most happy and blessed anniversary of our lords the Augusti and Caesars, when we were celebrating the festival, this centurion Marcellus, seized by what madness I do not know, wantonly disgirded himself of belt and sword and decided to hurl down the staff which he was carrying before the very headquarters of our lords.

Marcellus stated before me these words: “I tell you today, loudly and in public, before the standards of this legion, that I am a Christian and cannot observe this oath unless to Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God.” I have decided that it was necessary to report what was done to your power, even for him to have been sent to you also. My lord, this man is so presented to you.

Agricolanus: Did you do those things which are recorded in the praeses’s record?

Marcellus: I did.

Agricolanus: Were you serving as a centurio ordinarius?

Marcellus: I was.

Agricolanus: What madness possessed you to cast aside your oath and say such things?

Marcellus: No madness possesses him who fears God.

Agricolanus: Did you make these separate statements which are recorded in the praeses’s record ?

Marcellus: I did.

Agricolanus: Did you hurl down your weapons?

Marcellus: I did. It is not proper for a Christian man, one who fears the Lord Christ, to engage in earthly military service. What I have stated before to the praeses Fortunatus, I now state before you. I am a Christian, and call only upon the true God and King, Jesus Christ, whom I love more than all the honor and riches of this world. By His law and command, we are forbidden to take another man’s life or even to bear arms. By His example, we are taught to forgive those who harm us, and have mercy upon our enemies. Those who call upon His name are children of peace, with no ill will toward anyone upon earth. Those who are conformed to the image of Christ know of no weapons other than patience, hope and love – and these are only weapons to break the flinty hearts that never have been affected by the heavenly dew of the holy word. We know of no vengeance, however we may be wronged. We do not ask for vengeance, but with Christ we pray, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Agricolanus: Do you not remember that you took your military oath, in rites over which all the gods presided, when you confessed the Emperor’s deity. Have you forgotten how you received the standards upon which the image of the gods themselves were placed for your protection?

Marcellus: I will no longer sacrifice to gods and emperors, and I disdain to worship your wooden and stone gods, who are deaf and dumb idols. I serve Jesus Christ, the everlasting King! So far am I from seeking to escape suffering for the name of Christ, that I, on the contrary, consider it the highest honor which you can confer upon me.

Agricolanus: Enough! [Standing, addressing the crowd] Marcellus’s actions are such that they must be disciplined. It therefore pleases (the court) that the Christian Marcellus, who defiled the office of centurion which he held, by his public rejection of the oath and, furthermore, according to the praeses’s records, gave in testimony words full of madness, should be executed by the sword. Let the record so state. Take him away.

Agricolanus [to the guard and Lucius]: You both will carry out the sentence immediately.

[Agricolanus, Herald, and Cecilius exit. The guard takes Marcellus offstage (out of sight) and Lucius begins to go with them, but pauses midstage and turns to the crowd.]

Lucius: Marcellus was martyred for the cause of Christ and Christian conscience on that very day. His heart was steadfast and valiant. He did not fear death; nor was his life taken from him, but was changed into a better one. Among all of those who laid down their lives for the testimony of Christ, Marcellus produced within me a desire to know His Master, and to take his confession upon myself.

I do not know if others will follow this path he has forged, but I am ready now to lay down my own sword, and call only upon the true God and King, Jesus Christ.

[Lucius throws down his sword and staff and exits stage.]

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47

Iran: The Next Evil Empire?

by Alex Patico

Children playing at the Fin Garden in Kashan, Iran. photo by Tilo Driessen

To us in the West, Iran has been known as a place of ancient trade routes, exotic images and romantic poetry, and more recently as a place of religious and political movements that we struggle to understand. The road to the present impasse between the US and Iran has been as hard to navigate as the bus route from Zanjan to Sanandaj in northwestern Iran – magnificent views and pastoral scenes, but the ever-present danger of a precipitous fall into a rocky abyss.

Americans have been both heroes and villains to Iranians. A Treaty of Friendship and Commerce was signed during the presidency of James Buchanan, and the first US legation was set up in Tehran in 1883. Americans played a midwifery role in Iran’s first attempt at constitutional government in Iran between 1906 and 1925; other Americans were at the heart of innovations in Persian governance and development in the years that followed.

In his book Iran and America: Rekindling a Love Lost, Dr. Badi Badiozamani wrote, “Between 1830 and 1940, hundreds of Americans had established through their good and impressive activities a vast ocean of goodwill between Iran and the United States.” This goodwill has lasted even until today among the people of Iran.

Then came World War II. Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran. Iran appealed to Roosevelt “to take efficacious and urgent humanitarian steps to put an end to these acts of aggression.” The appeal fell on deaf ears. In 1943 the US Secretary of State advised Roosevelt, “From a more directly selfish point of view, it is to our interest that no great power be established on the Persian Gulf opposite the important American petroleum development in Saudi Arabia” – unless, of course, it would be the US. Thus began a long tug-of-war over Middle Eastern “black gold.”

George V. Allen, who assumed the post of US Ambassador to Tehran in 1946, wrote back to the Department of State, “The best way for Iran to become a decent democracy, it seems to me, is to work at it, through trial and error. I am not convinced by the genuinely held view of many people that democracy should be handed down gradually from above.” But, as Dr. Badiozamani observes, “Unfortunately, neither Allen nor his successors followed this advice. Time and again, when the Shah took a critical step toward autocratic rule, they either applauded and justified his action or maintained an approving silence, explaining their behavior as ‘non-interference.'”

In 1953 came the event that more than any other colors Iranian perceptions of the government of the US and its intentions toward Iran. When the elected leader of Iran, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, rejected the exploitative arrangements that governed Iran’s supplying oil to the West and nationalized its oil resources, he was overthrown in a coup orchestrated in part by the American CIA. The operation (acknowledged publicly by the US government decades later) was called “Probably the most egregiously sinister policy the US pursued in the Middle East” by Lee Smith, a journalist associated with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The monarchy was reestablished, and would endure, with its secret police aided by intelligence from the US and Israel’s Mossad, until the “Islamic Revolution” in 1979. Never again would American motives be taken at face value by Iranians.

American antagonism toward Iran stems largely from the taking of hostages in Tehran in the early days of the Islamic Revolution. America became the “Great Satan.” Iran was viewed first with shock and bewilderment, later with fear and hatred, by many Americans. We failed to gauge correctly the anger of ordinary Iranians sparked by US support of the semi-democratic and often brutal reign of the Shah. It was their own loved ones who had been informed upon by the secret police, who had suffered in the Shah’s prisons and had been broken by his torturers. When the hostages were taken, it was not just a political or even religio-political move; it was also personal. The US came to stand for dictatorial rule as well as for economic exploitation, ill-considered modernization and cultural discord.

Now the situation is still more grave. A National Security document of March 16, 2006 asserted, “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.” The document states as fact that Iran possesses weapons of mass destruction, though the IAEA has found no evidence of such. Again the abyss of war beckons.

Schoolgirls visiting the Chahel Sotun Palace

in Esfahan, Iran, May 2006.

According to Michael Chossudovsky, writing last year for the Global Research organization, the US military has “war-gamed” doomsday scenarios involving Iran. World war may be difficult for most of us to imagine, but it is always an item on someone’s to-do list. For the non-military reader, the current US presence in the Persian Gulf is hard to visualize. Just nine of the ships deployed there this year carry some 17,000 US personnel, added to 20,000 already in the area. According to reliable reports, the Pentagon has drawn up plans for a military blitz that would strike 10,000 targets in the first day of attacks. The proposed targets include airports, rail lines, highways, bridges, ports, communication centers, power grids, industrial centers, and even hospitals and public buildings.

A February 2006 analysis by the UK-based Oxford Research Group describes the likely scenario: “An air attack would involve the systematic destruction of research, development, support, and training centers for nuclear and missile programs and the killing of as many technically competent people as possible. A US attack, which would be larger than anything Israel could mount, would also involve comprehensive destruction of Iranian air defense capabilities and attacks designed to pre-empt Iranian retaliation. This would require destruction of Revolutionary Guard facilities close to Iraq and of regular or irregular naval forces that could disrupt Gulf oil transit routes…” An element of surprise would be considered critical. This means that there will be no opportunity for people to move away from likely target areas.

Why should it have been impossible, during the almost thirty years of the Islamic Republic’s existence, for us to have developed a way for our two governments to communicate? Neither country is the same as it was when the Islamic Revolution took place, yet leaders of both act as though frozen in time.

However, a policy shift has taken place. It presents, as former President Carter has said, “a radical departure from all previous administration policies” in its aggressive unilateralism and its embrace of preemptive or preventive action. Though a majority of Americans consistently favor limiting attacks by states to self-defense, this is not reflected in the administration’s approach to Iraq and Iran.

The two countries are hardly two peas in a pod. Scott Ritter, former IAEA arms inspector and a US Marines officer, made his first trip to Iran in 2006. He wrote in The Nation, “I recently returned from a trip to Iran, where over the course of a week…. I had my eyes opened…. Iran is nothing like Iraq. I spent more than seven years in Iraq and know firsthand what a totalitarian dictatorship looks and acts like. Iran is not such a nation…. [It is] a vibrant society that operates free of an oppressive security apparatus such as the one that dominated Iraqi life in the time of Saddam Hussein…. Iran has functioning domestic security apparatus, but it most definitely is not an all-seeing, all-controlling police state…”

The signals coming from Iran over the past few years have shown both assertiveness and flexibility, both stubbornness and hints – sometimes broad hints – of possible compromise. But can we get past the one, in order to build on the other?

Recent indications are that we cannot. Though little has changed between our two countries since the 80s, the drum beats of war grow ever louder. Suddenly, women’s dress codes and human rights concerns seem to matter far more than in the past. Yet these concerns are, in truth, based on meager substantive knowledge. Not only is our hard intelligence on military, political and technical matters sorely lacking, but our direct familiarity with contemporary Iranian culture, and especially with the individuals who sit across the bargaining table, is nearly non-existent.

A February 2007 report by Network 2020 stated, “In the context of tensions between the US and Iran, American Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told us that the US and Iran maintain only limited back-channel contacts. Burns reported that he himself has never been in a room with an Iranian official and that the State Department does not have a cadre of Farsi speakers. ‘There is no one in my generation who’s ever served in Iran,’ Burns said. ‘There’s no one in my generation who has ever worked with the Iranians in any way, shape or form.'” More recently, in a June 8 roundtable with The Wall Street Journal editorial board, Condoleeza Rice “confessed that she couldn’t figure Iran out.” “I think it’s a very opaque place,” Rice said, “and it’s a political system I don’t understand very well.” Rice is our most senior foreign policy official.

I flew to Iran last May as part of a peace delegation of 22 Americans. After changing planes in Paris, I spoke with a young Iranian man on his way home. He had just visited a cemetery in Paris where several noted Iranian writers are interred, including one we both admired, the novelist Sadegh Hedayat. I recalled to him the opening line of Hedayat’s dark novel, Blind Owl: “In life there are sores that tear and eat at the soul, like cancer.” We agreed that the will to make war is one of these sores. Balancing the voices of bellicosity, there must be heard voices of charity and humanity. A young anthropologist in the group said, “If all I have done as a result of this trip is begin to dispel the myths that circulate about Iranians, then I have done a lot. And if I can hold up a mirror, then I have done even more. Violence begins in the smallest of spaces. Peace then, must as well.”

But instead, within America, there has been a disturbing sea-change in what has become acceptable in the public sphere. Such conservative TV commentators as Bill O’Reilly voice the opinion that Iran should be bombed into non-existence. Talking about the crash of an Iranian airliner, Don Imus remarked, “When I hear stories like that, I think: who cares?” Senator John McCain, now running for president, answered a reporter’s question on policy toward Iran by chanting, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Many in his audience cheered. An internet merchandiser is selling T-shirts, sweat-suits and underwear with a map of Iran emblazoned with the words “NUKE ‘EM!”

What is happening here? Isn’t it the process that Chris Hedges warned about in his book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning – the need to demonize the enemy before the launching of an attack can become psychologically supportable? It was done with “the Japs,” “the Huns,” “the Gooks” and “the Towel Heads”; now it is the “Axis of Evil.” In this process, the other becomes a creature unworthy of our compassion.

While we are busy tarring the Islamic Republic with the brush of malevolence, the US has reached an all-time nadir in terms of how we are regarded outside our borders. We who dare to call ourselves Christians should be known, per the scriptural standard, according to how we “love one another,” yet we have a reputation as people who hate all those who are not like us. In poll after poll, fewer and fewer people around the world look up to us as a country with something of value to teach the rest of the world. A Pew Center poll, done in May 2006, showed that people in six Muslim countries – Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey – perceive the “Christian” West as “selfish, arrogant, immoral and greedy.”

For we who are Christians, the single criterion for evaluating any action or attitude is this: does it conform to the example of Jesus Christ? We are to refrain from focusing on the “speck” in the eye of the other, in this case the Iranians, without first remembering to take the “plank” out of our own eyes. Better to err in the direction of forbearance than to tilt toward smug and superior chauvinism.

Some will worry that pursuing such a path carries a risk that the adversary will take advantage of our delay. But could that not be said about any conflict situation? When, exactly, would it be prudent to “turn the other cheek”? The law of love represents a higher calling than prudence or even self-preservation. Looking at the full biblical context, we must admit that Jesus’ approach was truly radical: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:38-44)

The monk and author Thomas Merton, in his essay “St. Maximus the Confessor on Nonviolence,” wrote: “The love of enemies is not simply a pious luxury, something that [the Christian] can indulge in if he wants to feel himself exceptionally virtuous. It is of the very essence of the Christian life, a proof of one’s Christian faith, a sign that one is a follower and an obedient disciple of Christ.” (Passion for Peace: The Social Essays of Thomas Merton, Crossroad, 1995)

Alex Patico is co-secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America. His text is condensed from a forthcoming book, Reining in the Red Horse: An American Christian Looks at Iran. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran 1968-69. He is a member of the US Committee for the Decade to Overcome Violence, a co-founder of the National Iranian American Council, and a congregant of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church, Linthicum, Maryland. His most recent visit to Iran was in May 2006.

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47

St. John Chrysostom, Almsgiving, and Persons with Disability

by Ephrem Gall

St. John Chrysostom, having sought the face of God through the strictest forms of asceticism in the mountains near Antioch, only to find his health fail in the process, returned to the city. He rose through the deaconate of service to the poor to the priesthood, where his gift for preaching made him “the right hand man” of the archbishop. His faith and talents were noticed. Eventually he was chosen for the archbishop’s throne in Constantinople.

Among the vices which he encountered in the capital, St. John found that the many destitute persons of the city were being neglected or altogether ignored. He responded by delivering sermons that to this day remain among the most powerful expositions of the Christian faith. One of his major themes was the challenge to recognize Christ in the poor.

Many were brought to repentance, but St. John also made many powerful enemies, including the Empress. Eventually he was sent into exile. His fragile health failed on the way to a remote place of banishment. His life in this world ended on September 14, 407.

St. John usually worked his way through a book of Holy Scripture from beginning to end. In the latter part of each homily, he would apply the Scriptural content to an aspect of contemporary life. Two of his major subjects were, negatively, denunciations of time wasted on entertainment, especially the theater, which some preferred to Church services, and, positively, the encouragement of almsgiving, not only in the monetary sense, but the gift of time and attention to those in need.

It’s not difficult to relate his exhortations to those tempted by the allurements of popular culture. As to the other matter, the poor are still very much with us. So let us pay attention to his words on almsgiving.

While many of St. John’s exhortations encourage giving money to the destitute, one also finds passages in his sermons that bring out the deeper aspects of almsgiving, involving a more comprehensive approach to the support of those with special needs, such as persons with developmental disabilities.

Commenting on the text in First Corinthians: “Not many mighty, not many noble are chosen. Rather, God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise,” St. John says, “Persons of great insignificance are chosen to pull down boasting.” He warns the self-confident that it is faith that saves, not one’s reasoning ability. In fact, lines of reasoning can lead one into subtle traps away from God. “The Faith, received with trust, is a sure foundation. As the Lord says, we must become like a child.” And so the “insignificant,” simpler people are not objects of pity, but the bearers of a frame of mind that is essential for all of us to acquire.

As Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). St. John comments that jostling for position, vanity, and ambition are foreign to a childlike disposition. Children are generally uncomplicated and humble, and eager to be taught. St. John says the Lord means by “children” grown men and women who are “simple and lowly, and abject and contemptible in the judgment of the common sort.”

Those of us who work in group homes and other settings with persons having developmental disabilities can attest to the way that the simple, straightforward, and trustingly appreciative character of these people brings us down to earth. While there are irritations involved, in the end we receive, within ourselves, more than we give. Simply the words, “Good night, I love you,” repeated night after night, water a seed within our souls.

Persons with developmental disabilities typically exemplify, into their adult years, the childlike qualities Jesus calls for. They are icons by which these qualities may be learned. But often their simplicity is despised in the community, for cleverness serves to advance selfish ambitions that retain a fierce grip on the heart unless the cross and the Kingdom are seized “with violence.” Persons with developmental disabilities thus often suffer neglect to the detriment of their sense of belonging and their development, or socialization, and those who ignore and neglect them, unless they repent, face the judgment of God.

St. Paul, speaking of roles in the Body of Christ, writes, “The parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor. 12:22). In a homily on that text, St. John asks, “What in the body is more insignificant than a hair?” Yet the removal of eyelashes or eyebrows not only endangers the eyes, but endangers their function. Showing greater honor is urged toward weaker members, St. John says, so “that they might not meet with less care.” The result is “equal sympathy.” But these dynamics do not operate automatically; effort is needed.

The gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are a non-exhaustive list that shows the dimensions of almsgiving. St. John asks, in homily 32 on 1 Corinthians, “What is, ‘helps?’ … To support the weak … this too is a gift of God.” Helping, he says, must flow from real sympathy, which leads to a bond of charity and a thorough, mutual fervency between helper and helped, resulting in friendship.

Friendship Community residents in Millersville, Pennsylvania

Money sent to pan-Orthodox ministries is certainly almsgiving, but it cannot take the place of face-to-face involvement in one’s family, parish, and community. “By developing such bonds of hand and heart,” St. John says, “one becomes “a loving and merciful soul, a fountain for all his brethren’s needs.”

Day-to-day life and friendship with persons with developmental disabilities has its moments of mutual fervency and celebration – birthday parties are major events – as well as its stresses, but these stresses can ultimately be related to the Cross, through which “joy comes into all the world.”

The efforts that are made in a group home to honor all the successes which our friends with disabilities struggle to achieve in daily living provide a premonition of the disproportionate “eternal weight of glory” our Lord has promised to His faithful strugglers. In saying “Well done!” to the proper setting of a dinner table, we see the great Banquet of God coming into view. Frequent, sincere commendations of our friends as well as asking their forgiveness when we have misunderstood them have been key elements to the maintenance of our mutual fervency.

In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, St. John identifies the dealers of oil as the poor, and the oil is alms. He warns against wasting goods for “luxury and vainglory. For before Christ’s judgment seat you will have need of much oil … Let us contribute wealth, diligence, protection, and all things for our neighbor’s advantage. Nothing pleases God so much as to live for the common good.”

St. John refers to the parable of the sheep and the goats before Christ’s glorious throne of judgment (Matt. 25) as “this most delightful portion of Scripture, unto which we do not cease continually revolving.” He asks why brethren would be called “least,” and responds that “the lowly, the poor, and the outcast” are the sort that the Lord most greatly desires to “invite to brotherhood.” The Lord’s way of valuing people is contrary to what is typical in human society.

In his homily on St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, St. John Chrysostom asks whether his hearers would rather take part in a sumptuous banquet with the rich and famous or enjoy a simple meal with the poor and those with disabilities. He gives his reasons for choosing the latter. I encourage you to find and read that homily in its entirety, to discover his entire answer and to enjoy a full meal of St. John’s golden words. (“Chrysostom” means golden-mouthed.)

Almsgiving affects one’s personal transformation as well. St. John says, “There is no sin, which alms cannot cleanse; it is a medicine adapted to every wound.” Genuine, sympathetic almsgiving heals the giver as well as the receiver. He also says, “Let us hold fast to Mercy: she is the teacher of that higher Wisdom.”

He explains that habitual attention to suffering leads to being able to bear slights, and finally, to the love of enemies. “Let us learn to feel for the ills our neighbors suffer, and we shall learn to endure the ills they inflict.” Contributing to the full socialization of others, including persons with developmental disabilities, leads to one’s own transformation into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. (Homilies 14 and 25 on the Acts of the Apostles)

St. John Chrysostom exhorts us all:

If you ever wish to associate with someone, make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, in critical circumstances, who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation. Put a high value on associating with these, for from them you shall receive much profit, and you will do all for the glory of God. God Himself has said: I am the father of orphans and the protector of widows [Ps. 67:6]. (Baptismal Instructions, 6.12; Paulist Press, 1963)

There is much in St. John Chrysostom’s words for us to reflect upon. He expresses an Orthodox Christianity that is robust and compassionate. A fuller study of his exhortations reveals a standard of personal commitment, relinquishment, and community that has monastic roots. Yet, while he could be thunderous in his denunciations, he often gently gave suggestions on how to approximate the narrow way he held high, such as recommending a simple, no-frills lifestyle focused on generosity, and the monastic life for those who are able to accept that calling. Much more could be said on his practical exhortations to married couples and families. See St. John Chrysostom on Marriage and Family Life (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press).

We are all disabled in some way, by sin and in our weaknesses, which mercifully drive us from narcissism to community. And we all have a special intelligence given to us by God to contribute to the community. As we discern our communion in the Body of Christ, let us remember this aspect as well.

Ephrem and his wife Margaret are house parents of a Friendship Community group home for persons with developmental disabilities in Millersville, Pennsylvania. They are also members of St. John Chrysostom Orthodox Church in York, where they were chrismated in 2000. Ephrem has written a thesis for the Antiochian House of Studies, “St. John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disabilities,” which is available on the “About” section of the web log “Arms Open Wide: Orthodox Christian Disability Resources” ( A good resource on St. John Chrysostom’s life and writings is found online at

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47

The Protection of the Mother of God

The account of the appearance is to be found in the Life of St. Andrew “the Fool in Christ” (died 956). It is at the church of Blachernes [in Constantinople], where the robe, the veil and part of the girdle of the Holy Virgin are preserved, that the appearance occurred. During the office of the vigil, about four in the morning, St. Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius saw a majestic woman advancing towards the ambo, supported by St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and accompanied by several saints. On reaching the center of the church, the Mother of God knelt down and remained long in prayer, her face bathed in tears. When she had prayed yet again before the altar, she took off the shining veil which enveloped her and, holding it above her head, extended it over all the people present in the church. Andrew and Epiphanius alone were able to see the appearance of the Mother of God and her veil which shone like the glory of God, but all who were present felt the grace of her protection. This invisible protection of the Mother of God, interceding with her Son for the whole universe, protection that St. Andrew could contemplate in the form of a veil covering the faithful, constitutes the central idea of the festival of October 1st: “The Virgin is today present in the church: with the choirs of the saints she prays to God invisibly for us. Angels and bishops prostrate themselves, apostles and prophets rejoice: for the Mother of God intercedes for us before the eternal God.”

The Mother of God is seen standing on a small cloud, hovering in the air above the faithful. She has both arms outstretched in a gesture of supplication, expressing her prayer of intercession. Two angels hold by either end a great veil which billows in the form of a vault over the Mother of God. The procession of saints which surrounded the Queen of the Heavens at the time of her appearance is represented by two groups of apostles and prophets with St. John the Forerunner. On his scroll: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”

To the right of the ambo, two persons in the foreground are detached from the crowd of the faithful. They are St. Andrew and St. Epiphanius, the witnesses of the appearance of the Mother of God. St. Andrew is turned towards his disciple showing him the appearance with a gesture of the right arm extended towards the Mother of God.

– from The Meaning of Icons by Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

In Communion / Fall 2007 / Protection of the Mother of God

Dear In Communion reader,

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… but the end is not yet.” So we are reminded in Matthew’s Gospel. Indeed several wars are underway, and others are threatening, as Alex Patico points out in his article on Iran in this issue. The most vulnerable members of society, the young, the old and the ill, are the most frequent casualties. Christ calls on his followers to do to the least person as we would to him. In a dark sense, we are doing exactly that: he was condemned, and so are the least, again and again and again.

We are called to love our enemies, but how rare it is to hear those words of Jesus applied to those whom we regard as enemies. In countries engaged in war, few priests would dare preach such a sermon – it might well cost them their parish.

The organs of propaganda are hard at work reminding us daily of how necessary it is to hate our enemies and, if possible, to kill them. Rare is the Christian whose way of life suggests that the Gospel is shaping his or her response to enmity and conflict. We deplore Islamic jihadists, while engaging in our own form of holy war.

It is a daily challenge to return to the basics of the kingdom of God: love and forgiveness. Yet one dares to imagine that it would be a better and safer world if Christians displayed, as did their forebears in the early Church, a genuine love of enemies. Conversions happen because of witness given rather than words spoken.

We see one such believer from the early Church in the article in this issue on Saint Marcellus, a soldier who renounced his military oath and paid for it with his life. And we see another in the example given by St. Maria Skobtsova or Paris, whose reflections on the Cross are part of this issue.

Would you take a moment to help keep OPF going? We need your support. Subscription payments and annual dues fall far short of our needs. We currently have three part-time staff members – Sheri San Chico, Alex Patico, and myself. We are paid very little for our many hours of work, but OPF’s income doesn’t justify more adequate payment. We also have a part-time web master, Michael Markwick. In addition there are all the usual expenses: office and publication costs, telephone, travel, etc. Postage costs have lately gone up.

If you have in fact made a recent gift or are one of those who makes regular donations or donates volunteer time, thank you! You are a God-send. If you aren’t, please consider becoming part of our community of committed donors. If you can’t manage a monthly or quarterly donation but can make an occasional special donation, please do so. Every gift helps.

We depend on our supporters to make at least one donation annually, but without those who give more than once a year, and give more than the minimum, we could not continue.

In Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47

Orthodoxy and Peace

by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

“In peace, let us pray to the Lord.” This prayer opens the Orthodox Eucharistic assembly. It follows one which invokes the Spirit: “You who are everywhere, fulfilling everything.” The prayer for peace, for the highest messianic gift, the fullness of life, a foretaste of the Kingdom of God which comes and which is already here in Jesus Christ, is at the heart of Orthodox prayer. Christ is celebrated as the “prince of peace” (Is 9:6), as “the rising star come from on High towards people who are in the shadows and the darkness of death to guide our feet along the path of peace.” (Lk 1:79)

The Great Litany at the beginning of the eucharistic liturgy, gathers all the intentions of this prayer: “For peace from on high and the salvation of our souls, for peace throughout the world, for the well-being of the holy Churches and the union of all … for the clergy and all the faithful … for the sick, the prisoners, for all those who are suffering … for peaceful times and abundance of the fruits upon the earth, let us pray to the Lord.”

It is a prayer for reconciliation of humanity with God, of every person with their neighbor, divine peace reaching out to the whole cosmos, to our relation with the earth that we are called to cultivate and which in turn provides us with our food.

Greeting his disciples, the resurrected Christ proclaims: “Peace be with you.” In the same way, the Orthodox priest, at the most solemn moments of the liturgy, addresses the faithful, proclaiming: “Peace be with you all.” As the exchange of the kiss of peace by the celebrants signifies, it is only in a spirit of peace and mutual love that it is possible to confess the common faith and to draw near, “without judgement and condemnation,” to the mystery of communion in the body given and the blood spilt by Christ for all people. The Eucharist is “a mystery of peace,” emphasized Saint John Chrysostom.

The great mystical prayer movement, which through the centuries, has never ceased to vitalize Orthodox piety, carries the name “hesychasm.” “Hesycha” means in Greek, “rest, tranquillity.” Of course it is not a matter of a mere tranquility of the spirit, of hardening the heart, of spiritual sleep. The hesychast, in the assured abandon of faith, in Christ whose name, joined to the breath, is in some way “breathed” unendingly, thereby strengthening the communion in him to God united in Three Persons. Trinitarian love is the source, the paradigm of all human peace and communion. Far from encouraging lazy quietism, Orthodox mysticism calls one to spiritual combat: struggle, in the mysterious synergy of divine grace and human will which becomes aware of itself, in the face of selfish urges, and “passions” which can destroy interior peace and peace in the world. The peace received from God can shine on the world through men and women who have experienced prolonged self-discipline or an enlightening event, living out peace and reconciliation. “Acquire peace and thousands around you will be saved,” taught by the great Russian mystic Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833). Originally the monks’ movement, hesychasm and “the prayer of the heart” associated with it experienced a significant diffusion amongst the Orthodox laity as the famous The Way of the Pilgrim testifies.

Nevertheless, different questions are raised: the priority given to interior pacification, does not that lead to the temptation of a certain dualism? Does it not serve as an excuse to resigned acceptance of, indeed compliance, with so-called “exterior” violence: the inevitable catch, existence in a world to which the Christian declares himself a stranger but to whose laws, hypocritically or cowardly, he submits himself? The historical Orthodox Churches, along with other Churches, have blessed armies that go to war. The deep links that have been forged between them and nations, in which the Churches have sometimes played the role of midwife to the nations, enriching their culture, do these links not tend to degenerate into nationalism tinted with religiosity which justify warring conflicts? Orthodox believers must examine their own consciences at this point. An honest, historical enquiry could be a useful tool, as the perceptive theologian and historian Father John Meyendorff has written. A simple allusion will have to suffice here.

The Orthodox Church has not worked out a theory or ideology of the “just war” Orthodox “holy war” and has abstained from preaching in support of crusades. She maintains her place in the continuity of the Church of the first centuries, which opposed her violent persecutors by means of the powerful gentleness of the martyrs. In the beatitudes sung at each Sunday Liturgy, she proclaims: “Happy are the mild of heart, for they shall inherit the earth,” namely the eschatological kingdom. Nevertheless, seen in a historical context, the Church (which lives on through the Orthodox Church) finished by admitting that war, in certain circumstances, could constitute a lesser evil. She no longer condemned carrying weapons to be incompatible with the Christian faith.

A marked turning point was reached in the Constantinian era with the institution not of caesarian-papism (of which the Church of Byzantium was wrongly accused) but with the arrival of the idea or the utopia of the “Christian empire,” the empire seen as the temporal home of the Church, called to protect and defend the “real faith.” The emperors saw this cementing of the unity of a State as a multicultural act. The teaching of Orthodox faith belongs to the Church. The state, whose legitimacy the Church admits, believes it has to impose it by a coercion which, alas, she sometimes invokes: a fatal error, largely responsible — as is recognized nowadays — for the disastrous schism which separated the imperial Church from the ancient, eastern, non-chalcedonian Churches, wrongly called on one hand “nestorians” and on the other “monophysites.”

Born out of the missionary growth of the Church of Byzantium, the new Christians, who settled in the Balkans and at the eastern confines of Europe at the dawning of the Middle Ages, inherited the idea and thinking from the Christian Empire, adapting it to new and different historical contexts.

The formation of the Russian state, first Kievan then Muscovite, bears the mark of this influence. In the thirteenth century, Kievan Orthodox Russ suffered devastating raids by heathen or islamized people of the steppes in the east and south while there was growing pressure in the West from the Teutonic knights (missionaries armed with Latin Catholicism). The Church, protector of nations, was seen as guarding the unity of the Russian people. In the following century, Saint Sergius of Radonezh, a great monk from Northern Russia, urged the rival Russian princes to gather outside Moscow in order to chase the Tartars. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the myth of “Moscow, the third Rome” was born and spread through Russian monastic communities. At first with a hint of apocalyptism, it developed into the idea of Russia’s vocation as a great imperial power, if not imperialistic.

In the eighteenth century, the reforms of Peter the Great transformed the now headless Russian church — she no longer had a patriarch — into an imperial administrative department. However, paradoxically, the secularized Russian state set itself up as protector, first of all to Orthodox subjects in the Ottoman Empire, then to “Orthodox” states born out of the dislocation of this empire, a pretension which justified many wars. Again in 1914, Tsar Nicholas II, with great hesitation, believed himself obliged to declare war on Catholic Austrian-Hungary which was threatening Orthodox Serbia. However, at the very interior of the Russian Church, an evangelical current, personalist, universalist and mystical — a current which was persecuted by the official Church and therefore often underground — did not cease rising up against the conscription of the Church by the State. It is represented in the fifteenth century by St. Nil Sorski, promoter of Russian hesychasm, whose disciples refused to associate themselves with the hunting down of heretics called “Jews”; by St. Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow, assassinated at the order of Ivan the Terrible for daring to protest; later by the daring “fools of Christ” from the sixteenth and seventeenth century that an English traveler compares to the “lampoonists” in his own country. Although officially condemned, Tolstoyism perhaps constituted one of the manifestations of this evangelical protest, a concept which is also expressed by a humble monk, the Archimandrite Spiridon, author of My Missions in Siberia.

Deep links between Balkan peoples — Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Rumanians — and the Orthodox Church have become knotted up during a long and tragic history. After the fall of Constantinople, after the disappearance of the short-lived Serbian and Bulgarian kingdoms and the battles lost, like that of Kosovo whose mythical memory the Serbs preserve, these people lived for centuries under Ottoman domination, sometimes Austro-Hungarian. It is the Church that, through the Christian faith transmitted essentially by the liturgy celebrated in a tongue close to the vernacular, allowed them to preserve their essence and their popular culture. Orthodoxy was not, however, a permanent foyer of insurrection during this period. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, on whom the local Orthodox Churches depended canonically, put up with the regime which was both protective and restrictive of the “milet” given by Islam to the “Christian people” whose patriarch became the head of both civil and religious affairs. It is only at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth, that Orthodoxy truly becomes, according to the expression of Olivier Clment, “the fertile product of the nations’ development” in the Balkans. This occurred, partly, under the influence of ideas originating in the West: from the French revolution and from German romanticism. It was an Orthodox prelate, Archbishop of Patras, who, raising the standard of revolt, called the Greeks to combat “for faith and the fatherland” in 1821. From the victorious insurrection came forth both modern Greece and the autocephalous Church of Greece. In the last century, other Balkan races reached the same independence by similar means, not without intervention by foreign powers. This independence was crowned by obtaining the sometimes difficult autonomy of their “national” Churches. The Patriarchate of Constantinople obtained the censure of phyletism from the assembly of Orthodox Churches called to Council in 1872. Phyletism, literally love of the tribe, was condemned as an “introduction of national rivalries within the Church of Christ.”

It still exists today, after two world wars which have created more victims in traditionally Orthodox countries of Eastern and southeastern Europe than elsewhere, after decades of atheist, communist regimes aimed at cutting the ties between people, the nation, and the Church. Consequently the Orthodox Church has undergone a geographical fragmentation following various political cataclysms. In light of these events, what is the attitude of the Orthodox Churches confronting efforts to promote international peace? It must be recognized that the picture is a contrasting one. I must content myself with summary information.

Primus inter bares, first among equals, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, as the title indicates, has a supranational vocation and appears agreeable to peace initiatives, whether from the Vatican or the World Council of Churches. (He has only a small number of faithful in Turkey itself, where even the existence of the Patriarchate is under threat.) This attitude was found among the ancient Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria, whose role was important within the Council of Christian Churches in the Middle East, as well as in the context of Islamic-Christian dialogue. Prompted by Arab solidarity, these Churches appear more reserved with regard to the state of Israel.

The Church of Greece, on the other hand, feels called to defend Christian hellenism against an Islam which asserts itself in Turkey and also in Cyprus and, it thinks, in the Balkans.

The great and tumultuous Russian Church is crossed by conflicting currents, some characterized by a national identity withdrawal, others open to the positive values of the West: democracy, tolerance and respect for human rights. The Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II, himself remains well anchored in the World Council of Churches, participating through such representatives as the Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk in the movement “for Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation.” Patriarch Alexis has condemned the war in Chechnya.

Among the dispersed Orthodox communities, some remain very attached to the national churches from where they came and are therefore threatened, on the lookout for nationalist reactions. But others in Europe and America, are integrated into Western culture. Enriched by the thought of the great theologians from the Russian emigration, the Orthodox diaspora has been the place in the twentieth century for a powerful awareness of the spiritual catholic heritage of the Orthodox Church, in the sense of symphonic universality. This movement is nowadays taken over by Orthodox theologians of differing ethnic origins who, by a creative return to sources, to Scripture and the Fathers, aspire to the liberation of national Orthodoxies.

One of the greatest contemporary Orthodox theologians, Archimandrite Lev Gillet (better known under the pseudonym “a monk of the Eastern Church” with which he signed his books), was a pioneer of ecumenical dialogue, Judeo-Christian dialogue together with inter-religious dialogue. His reflections and prophetic messages play a growing role within Orthodoxy.

We cannot talk about Orthodoxy in relation to the ideal of peace between nations, Church and State, without calling to mind the tragedy of ex-Yugoslavia. In their judgement of this disastrous conflict, the western media and intellectuals are often proof of the ignorance of the complex and sorrowful history of the people concerned. It would not be a matter of justifying the horrors committed by some Serbs today in the name of the suffering inflicted on the Serbian people in the past — the genocide committed by the Croat Ustashis, and before that the tyrannous demands of the Ottoman period. But it would seem rash to ask the Serbs simply to forget. As Mara Dropovitch has written, true reconciliation will be the fruit, not of a forgotten past, but of its incorporation in a spirit of penitence and mutual forgiveness. All Churches can and should contribute to this difficult process of purification of the memory. The Serbian Orthodox Church today appears ready to follow this route. It has broken the solidarity not with its people that are also suffering, but with the ambiguous politics of Milosevi.

“Evil and hatred create only new evil and hatred,” Patriarch Pavle declared last May. “If this war proceeds, the only victors will be the devil and evil, not peoples and nations.”

An Orthodox peace movement, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, has been born in recent years and is gradually becoming more active. It has members in Serbia as in many other countries.

May the God of peace defeat the powers of darkness and division.

Elisabeth Behr-Sigel is a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Her books include The Ministry of Women in the Church (Oakwood Publications, 1991). Publication of an English translation of her biography of Archimandrite Lev Gillet is expected in 1996. She lives in Paris. This essay, in a slightly different form, was first published by Rforme. The translation is by Rachel Mortimer of Logos Communications, Northampton, England. The text was published in issue 3 of In Communion (Nativity Fast 1995).

A Conversation in Volos about Church and State

by Jim Forest

[photo: Metropolitan Ignatios, bishop of Volos]

Fifty Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Christians from Europe and the United States met in Volos, Greece in mid-May for a discussion of “Forgiveness, Peace and Reconciliation.” Our host was Metropolitan Ignatios, the local bishop. The conference was organized by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

The most important and difficult issue speakers addressed was the relationship of church and state.

Because of space limitations, I will concentrate here on what the Orthodox speakers had to say.

Among those challenging an uncritical relationship between state and church was Metropolitan Neofytos of Morfou, Cyprus, an island divided between Greeks and Turks for more than three decades. He spoke of the need for self-criticism within the Church as a way of initiating “a process of healing.” This is a question of discovering the truth, however painful, “because only the truth is liberating.”

He described the negative impact of national ideas being transferred from Greece to Cyprus in the sixties. “Belonging to the Greek nation was regarded as equal to or even above being Orthodox. The Church was seen as acting for the splendor of the nation. Faith was regarded not as the path to Christ the Savior but the realization of national ideals. Basic Christian teaching was marginalized. I don’t mean to suggest that the Church should be indifferent to national issues. It has a part to play. We are taught to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But in Cyprus we lost the golden balance point. We came to see ourselves primarily as a political organism, with our politicians turning to the Church with the expectation of hearing the correct political words and phrases. There was an absence of forgiveness, an erosion of confession. We made the grave mistake of not praying for the enemy. Indeed there are Orthodox Christians who are scandalized even to be asked to forgive. We lost our way. Christian identity should never to used to divide.”

Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, director of Volos Academy for Theological Studies, argued that wars, even when occurring in the name of religion, “are nothing but a result of the exaltation of collective egoisms. They only witness to the absence of real repentance, the denial of the Cross. Behind any conflict, we can easily discern an idolization of religion, tribe and nation, an odd paganism of earth, soil, homeland or of the ‘God-bearing’ people, of a claim of exclusivity, which is a real temptation.”

Dr. Vletsis Athanasios spoke of the problem “of unrepented sins committed collectively by Orthodox people, or even the failure to identify sins we have committed. The illumination of memory is needed. Otherwise we are doomed to persist in committing past sins.”

In a lecture on the Orthodox view of human rights, Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis of Holy Cross Greek School of Theology in Boston, pointed out that, while “Orthodox Christianity does not have a complete system of understanding the human person … It is wrong to assume that the ethos of Orthodoxy does not permit the development of human rights sensitivities and advocacy. Quite the contrary, the Orthodox view of human dignity supports the idea of human rights. The possibility for a greater sensitivity and advocacy of human rights issues by the Orthodox churches is highly probable since under the pressure of historic challenges people often find new meaning in traditional ideas.”

Dr. Athanasios Papathanasiou, editor of the quarterly journal Synaxis, published in Athens, spoke about war in the Orthodox tradition. “It is interesting to see how the tension between the historic necessity and the gospel criteria is depicted in the canons of the Orthodox Church,” he said. “I believe that the Church does not represent a compact body with a common view and unanimity throughout history. It is always formed by several trends, with various sensibilities and priorities; trends which are often in agreement, divergence or even in conflict.” Thus one finds, even among the Church Fathers, a range of views about war.

Dr. Petros Vassiliadis, professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, agreed that the religious factors have been a driving force in nearly every war. “All the shortcomings of Christianity,” he said, “are rooted in bad Christology. I have problems whenever we absolutize our own mission.”

Fr. Zivko Panev, professor at the St. Serge Institute in Paris, discussed the influence of the state on church life in Serbia following the restoration of the Serbian patriarchate, with the consequence that “national identity merged with church identify.” In fact, many Serbs who would identify themselves as Orthodox don’t believe what the Church teaches. Some are even convinced atheists. The problem in Serbia is made more complex because of an “idealization of religion that followed the collapse of communist ideology, with the Church perceived as being the principal guardian of national identity.”

Dr. Alexei Bodrov, director of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute in Moscow, spoke of various problems in Russia. These include the “traditional lack of tolerance – in principle we have tolerance, in practice we do not. There is still widespread anti-Semitism. Even the concept of human rights is regarded as highly suspect, having a much lower priority than state or national interest. There is in Russia today a highly politicized Orthodoxy that has little in common with Christian Orthodoxy. One notes the many ties between church and the military, church and police, church and other state bodies. This is partly due to Orthodoxy being made to take the place of Marxist ideology following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet though a high percentage of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox, in fact less than four percent occasionally take part in church services.”

Fr. Vassilios Thermes, an Orthodox priest and psychiatrist living in Athens, said “there is no greater sin than war with its violence, hatred, cruelty, murder and fanaticism. Any kind of violence and hostility is an assault on the Holy Spirit. Who are the peacemakers that Christ calls on his followers to become? They are the ones that help us to overcome hatred. Each peacemaker is a carrier of the Holy Trinity. He is a child of God because he imitates God. You cannot convey to others what you don’t have.”

My own lecture emphasized the importance of the Church recovering the memory of its own resistance to violence in the early centuries of Christianity. “We Orthodox certainly have remembered how the early Church celebrated the liturgy. To the astonishment of other Christians, we are happy to stand in the church for very extended periods. But sadly we have forgotten a great deal of the social teaching and practice of the early Church and have become deaf to much that the saints had to say.”

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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Remembering Fr. David Kirk

by Fr. John Garvey

Father David Kirk died on May 23 at the age of 72. His life was dedicated to the service of the poor and to racial justice. He was, at his request, buried near Dorothy Day, who had been his great teacher.

I met him when we worked together on a book. He approached Templegate, my father’s publishing company, with the idea of a book to be called Quotations from Chairman Jesus. The title will tell you that this was in the late sixties, when Mao’s little red book was all the rage with campus radicals. I was the book’s editor, and Fr. David came to Springfield, Illinois for a few days and we got the book out in fairly short order. It was a selection from scripture and the Fathers and other sources, with an emphasis on the radical nature of Christian belief. Daniel Berrigan did the introduction, and In Communion readers may be interested to know that the dedication was to Jim Forest, then in prison for anti-war activities.

From the time I met him Fr. David, a Melkite Catholic at the time, was drawn to Orthodoxy. He suggested, knowing my own interest, that I read Bulgakov and Lev Gillet. In 2004, after years of circling the decision, he joined the Orthodox Church in America.

During the many conversations we had toward the end of his life, he was very concerned that Emmaus House, the ministry he founded, should continue as an Orthodox ministry.

He was born in Mississippi into a poor farming family. He grew up near black people and his playmates were black until that time in early adolescence when white Southern children were told that they could no longer hang out with black children, and this bothered him deeply.

He used his position as editor of his high school newspaper to attend a black high school for a month, explaining to school authorities that he wanted to do an article on the education of black youth. His real purpose was to see how it was to live black in the segregated South. The experience, he often said, radicalized him.

His involvement in the civil rights movement made him notice that many of its participants were involved in the churches. His own family background was not particularly religious, but he wound up joining a Melkite Catholic parish whose pastor encouraged his involvement in the civil rights movement.

Later David moved to New York and got involved in the Catholic Worker movement, received a Master’s Degree from Columbia, and returned to the South. After his ordination as a Melkite priest, he ran into trouble with a Roman Catholic bishop who was bothered by his desire for interracial fellowship. He wrote to Dorothy Day about this, and she answered with a note to the effect that you don’t need permission to do good – the Gospel gives it to you.

He returned to New York and wanted to start a house for the homeless on the lower East Side. Dorothy Day told him the need was greater in Harlem. He went there and, with others, founded Emmaus House, which over the years from the mid-sixties until today has been a community of homeless men and women who serve the homeless.

The work of Emmaus has involved a traveling kitchen to feed the homeless; job training; Emmaus Inns (apartments for the homeless); legal services for the homeless; and a residence for the homeless.

All of those who live at Emmaus must get the counseling they need, take some responsibility for their education, and do work to help sustain the community.

During his long final illness some of Emmaus’ activities were cut back, and donations fell off. His kidney failure and many other physical ills drained his energy, and he was very concerned about finding a successor. He was aware that in whatever time that was left to him he could do little more than suggest future courses of action.

Emmaus’ board met recently, and Albert and Julia Raboteau were elected co-chairs. The Emmaus community is determined to continue the work. I am on the board, and will be going regularly to Emmaus for a weekly Vespers service.

Emmaus needs money for its continuing operation, but also – most importantly – a director, someone willing, like Father David, to share the life of the poor.

If you are willing to consider this, please do – and in the meantime, pray for the Emmaus Community, and pray that we find someone willing to take up the important work that Father David started.

Interested in helping the work of Fr. David and the Emmaus Community continue? Please contact Fr. John Garvey at:

[email protected]

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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News: Summer 2007

The War After the War That Rages in Soldiers’ Heads

photo: casulties of war

The nightmares that tormented Segeant Walter Padilla after returning home from Iraq in 2004 prompted extensive treatment by Army doctors, an honorable discharge from the military and a cocktail of medication to ease his pain. Still, he could not ward off memories of the people he had killed with a machine gun while perched on his Bradley fighting vehicle. On April 1, he withdrew to the shadows of his Colorado Springs home, pressed the muzzle of a pistol to his temple, and squeezed the trigger.

Padilla had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at nearby Fort Carson Army base.

Friends and family say Padilla complained that antidepressants and painkillers were no substitute for talking with someone who understood what it was like to kill.

“He told me that the doctors weren’t helping him,” said his mother, Carmen Sierra. “He told me that they couldn’t understand him, that he was still having those nightmares.”

Veterans for America, an advocacy group that has lobbied the Army and Congress on behalf of returning soldiers, said the Army must do better, particularly at Fort Carson, where soldiers with the stress disorder have spoken of being punished by their commanders.

“Fort Carson is overwhelmed with men and women coming home from Iraq with psychological injuries from war, and there are unit commanders here who don’t understand these medical conditions,” said Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs for the group.

Col. John Cho, the base’s chief medical officer, said Fort Carson had treated 1,703 soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, since 2003. He disputed the assertion that problems at Fort Carson are widespread. “We’re never going to fully eliminate the stigma associated with PTSD, but the leadership at Carson has been fully supportive of getting soldiers the help they need.”

The Army reports seven suicides of active duty soldiers at Fort Carson since 2004 but says it does not know if any were linked to the disorder. Sergeant Padilla was not included among the seven because he died after being discharged.

Most recently, Staff Sgt. Mark Alan Waltz, who was being treated for post-traumatic stress, was found dead in his living room on April 30. An autopsy of Casualties of warSergeant Waltz, 40, is pending, but his wife, Renea, believes her husband died from a reaction to the antidepressants he was taking for stress and painkillers prescribed for a back injury. Ms. Waltz is also convinced that the psychological wounds he carried from battle played a part in his death.

Mrs. Waltz said her husband was reluctant to seek treatment after returning from Iraq in 2004 because he thought a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would cost him his rank. She said the condition was eventually diagnosed and he was referred for treatment. Even then, she said, he was “picked out, scrutinized and messed with continually” by his commanding officers. “It’s not right that our guys are going over to Iraq, doing their job, doing what they’re supposed to do, and then when they come back sick, they’re treated like garbage.”

Lt. Col. Laurel Anderson, a psychiatric nurse in charge of behavioral health at Fort Carson’s soldier readiness center, said the number of soldiers referred for mental health screenings had risen from about 12 percent of those seen at the center to 25 percent over the past year. (Based on a report for The New York Times by Dan Frosch.)

One in Eight Iraqis Dies Before Fifth Birthday

The mortality rate among Iraqi children younger than five rose 150 percent between 1990 and 2005, according to a report released in May by the humanitarian aid group, Save the Children. The group estimates that one in eight never makes it to his or her fifth birthday.

The report also said inadequate prenatal care has caused more birth defects and deaths, and that Iraq faced a grave humanitarian crisis even before the latest war. But most physicians here agree the four-year-old conflict has had an unmistakable impact.

Iraq’s child-mortality crisis is distressingly visible in Sadr City, a sprawling and embattled Shiite slum of 2 million residents in east Baghdad, home to many of the country’s poorest people.

Pediatricians at Ibn Al-Baladi said leaking sewage and the lack of potable water has contributed to a dramatic increase in such water-borne diseases as typhoid, which can place children at risk for circulatory failure, infections and possibly death if not properly treated.

Shortages of medicines, equipment and doctors have made things worse. The 34 pediatricians at Ibn Al-Baladi cope daily with hundreds of cases, often without antibiotics, intravenous drips, cardiopulmonary monitoring equipment, CT scans or MRI machines.

UK and US Must Quit Iraq Quickly: Former Ambassador

The British and American military presence in Iraq is worsening security across the region and should be withdrawn quickly, the UK’s former ambassador to Washington warned in June.

Sir Christopher Meyer acknowledged that leaving Iraq would be “painful,” but said the mission was not worth the death of one more serviceman. “I personally believe that the presence of American and British and coalition forces is making things worse, not only inside Iraq but the wider region around Iraq. The arguments against staying for any greater length of time themselves strengthen with every day that passes.”

He added: “I think the Iraqis are in fact sorting themselves out – often bloodily – independent of what we’re doing.”

The former diplomat was giving evidence to the Iraq Commission in London.

Acknowledging that foreign policy decisions were always “fraught with risk,” Sir Christopher noted: “It always seemed to me this was one of the key moral arguments in Iraq, that however bad things were … the overriding requirement for us was to be able to say to parents and relatives in Britain, your sons and daughters did not die in vain. I think we have now crossed the line – we now have to say the mission is no longer worth another life of a British or American serviceman.”

Sir Christopher’s book, DC Confidential, argued that the coalition failed to plan for securing and rebuilding Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion.

Russian Church Reunion

Four days of services marking the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church and an migr church that broke away after the Bolshevik Revolution culminated in Moscow on the 20th of May in a liturgy held at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin.

“Even in those years when the church in the Fatherland and the church abroad were not in full communion, we never forgot that we have one faith, one tradition handed down from the holy fathers, one homeland, one history,” said Patriarch Alexei II at the service in the 15th-century cathedral that is a center piece of the Kremlin and stands at the heart of Russian history. Tsars were crowned there and patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church enthroned and buried there.

An act of canonical union was signed on 17 May. It provides for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) to maintain its name and administrative structure. It will choose its own leaders, but they will be approved by Moscow.

In his greeting to Metropolitan Laurus of the ROCOR, Patriarch Alexei called the cathedral “the heart of Russian Orthodoxy,” a sacred place that helped overcome the rift that divided the churches for 80 years.

On 19 May, a service was held at Butovo, a Stalinist killing field outside the Russian capital where at least 1000 Orthodox Christians were shot for their religious faith in 1937 and 1938. Of them, 323 have already been canonized as new martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 2004, the laying of the cornerstone of a new cathedral on the site of the massacre by Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexei was a catalyst in reunion talks.

Until the canonization of the martyrs in 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia had accused the Moscow Patriarchate of failing to come to terms with the Soviet past.

The churches split in 1927 after Metropolitan Sergius, in an effort to stave off further destruction of the church, declared the church’s loyalty to the Soviet state. (Sophia Kishkovsky / ENI)

Patriarchs plead for protection from Islamists

Christian leaders in Iraq have been issuing increasingly desperate pleas for help as Islamist militants put them under ever-greater pressure either to convert to Islam or leave. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel Delly and Mar Dinkha IV, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, issued a joint statement denouncing an al-Qaida-led insurgent group for the rising violence.

“Christians in a number of Iraqi regions, especially those under the control of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, have faced blackmail, kidnaping and displacement,” said the statement. The Islamists were gaining ground in Baghdad “while the Government has kept silent and not taken a firm stance to stop their expansion,” it said.

Patriarch Delly, who had kept a low profile since the Iraq war began in 2003, complained earlier this month that “Christians are killed, chased out of their homes before the very eyes of those who are supposed to be responsible for their safety.” He did not spare United States military forces either, saying: “The Americans came to Iraq without our consent. God does not appreciate what you have done and are doing in our country …” He was especially critical of US forces for taking over the Chaldeans’ Babel College in Baghdad after the seminary there moved to Kurdistan for safety in January.

Reports from church sources in Iraq say the Islamists have scoured Christian areas of Baghdad, threatening residents to convert or leave and putting up posters telling women to wear the veil. Some families are told to pay a monthly protection tax of about $200. One report said families who refuse to convert must quit Baghdad immediately, leaving all possessions behind. Several families are reportedly taking refuge in local churches.

Another Islamist tactic is to force churches to remove their crosses or be burned down.

The United Nations said in January that half of the 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003 had fled the country and many of the rest were moving to “safe areas” in Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. But house-to- house searches for Christians have spread to Mosul and smaller towns in the north.

Bishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo, Syria, has also spoken out against the campaign against Iraqi Christians. “The forced emigration of Christians is terrible and not accepted by either Islam or Christianity or by reasonable human beings,” he said.

Cyprus Archbishop Offers to Mediate Between Pope and Patriarch

The Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, said in June that he might be able arrange a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“I think I can be useful for a future meeting between the pontiff and the Patriarch,” Archbishop Chrysostomos told journalists after a conversation with Pope Benedict at the Vatican.

Archbishop Chrysostomos is scheduled to meet Patriarch Alexei in Moscow on 13 July.

Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often spoke of his dream to visit Russia but met resistance from the Moscow Patriarchate, which accused the Vatican of seeking converts and infringing on its jurisdiction by creating Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia.

Italian newspapers have speculated that a meeting, if it happened, might take place neither in Moscow nor Rome but in a third city.

In a joint statement after their meeting, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Chrysostomos said the upcoming Catholic-Orthodox theological meeting in Ravenna would “face the more difficult questions which marked the history of division” of the Church. One of the issues on the agenda is the status of the papacy.

Nonviolence a Law of Life, Says Pope Benedict

Citing the teachings of Tertullian on nonviolence as “a law of life,” Pope Benedict XVI said that the ancient writer’s works have great relevance today amid fervent debate on religions. The reflection was given at a general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 30.

“Tertullian’s work bore decisive fruits, and it would be unforgivable to undervalue them,” Benedict said. “His influence is developed on many levels: linguistically and in the recovery of the classic culture, and the singling out of a common ‘Christian soul’ in the world and the formulation of new proposals for living together.

“[Tertullian] shows the triumph of the Spirit, who pits the violence of persecutors against the blood, suffering and patience of the martyrs.

“Martyrdom and suffering for the truth are victorious in the end and more effective than the cruelty and violence of totalitarian regimes.”

Benedict noted the tragedy that Tertullian gradually left communion with the Church and joined a Montanist sect.

“From a human point of view, one can speak of Tertullian’s drama. With the passing of time he became more demanding of Christians. He expected them at all times, and above all in times of persecution, to act heroically. He rigidly held his positions, criticized many and inevitably found himself isolated…. It is evident that at the end he lacks simplicity, the humility to belong to the Church, to accept his weaknesses, to be tolerant of others and with himself.

“[Even so,] Tertullian remains an interesting witness of the first years of the Church, when Christians found themselves true subjects of a ‘new culture’ between classic inheritance and the Gospel message. His famous phrase states that our soul ‘is naturally Christian’ (Apologeticus 17:6), where Tertullian evokes the perennial continuity between authentic human values and Christian ones. And his other reflection, taken from the Gospels, says ‘the Christian cannot hate, not even his own enemies’ (Apologeticus 37), where the moral implication of the choice of faith, proposes nonviolence as the law of life: And who could not see the relevance of this teaching today in light of the fervent debate on religions.”

Risk of Nuclear Warfare Seen Rising

The world’s top military powers are gradually dismantling their stockpiles of nuclear arms, but all are developing new missiles and nuclear warheads with smaller yields that could increase the risk of atomic warfare, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in June.

In its annual report on military forces around the globe, the institute said the rising number of nations with nuclear weapons is raising the risk such arms could be used.

“The concern is that countries are starting to see these weapons as useable, whereas during the Cold War they were seen as a deterrent,” said SIPRI’s Ian Anthony.

The US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Pakistan and India are known to have nuclear weapons, while Israel is thought to have them.

For the first time SIPRI counted North Korea among the world’s nuclear countries, because of its test explosion last October.

Iran is a potential member of the nuclear club if it decides to turn its uranium enrichment program to military use, Anthony said. This is something the US and its allies suspect is the Tehran regime’s plan but Iranian leaders deny. “Iran could appear on this list, but at the earliest five years from now,” Anthony said.

The report estimated those nations had 11,530 warheads available for delivery by missile or aircraft at the start of 2007, with Russia and the United States accounting for more than 90 percent – 5,614 in Russia and 5,045 in the U.S.

Both countries are reducing their stockpiles as part of bilateral treaties, but are developing new weapons as they modernize their forces. Britain, France and China also plan to deploy new nuclear weapons.

India, Pakistan and Israel each have dozens of warheads, but their stockpiles are believed to be only partly deployed, the institute said. “India and Pakistan are both thought to be expanding their nuclear strike capabilities, while Israel seems to be waiting to see how the situation in Iran develops.”

The US remained the world’s biggest military spender last year, devoting about $529 billion to its military forces, while China overtook Japan as Asia’s top arms spender. US military spending grew from $505 billion in 2005 mainly because of the “costly military operations” in Iraq and Afghanistan, SIPRI said. “This massive increase in US military spending has been one of the factors contributing to the deterioration of the US economy since 2001.”

The US was followed by Britain and France in military spending, while China’s expenditures reached nearly $50 billion, making it the fourth biggest arms spender in the world, SIPRI said. Japan was fifth at $43.7 billion.

SIPRI estimates that Russia has spent $34.7 billion on arms.

M.L. King’s Niece Urges Anti-Abortion Resolution

The niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appealed in July to the national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to adopt a resolution passed by the group’s chapter in Macon, Georgia, that addresses the impact abortion has had on the African American community.

The Macon NAACP chapter urges the national body to undertake efforts to reduce the high abortion and infant mortality rates in the black community and to reduce the disproportionately high black inmate population.

“The NAACP has always been about justice,” said Dr. Alveda King. “Today, there is no greater injustice facing black people than abortion. It’s as if a plague swept through our cities and towns and took Dr. Alveda Kingone of every four blacks,” she said.

“The national leadership of the NAACP needs to address what abortion has done to the African American community and our nation as a whole, even if it means making some people in high positions uncomfortable.

“In my travels across the country, I have met countless fellow NAACP members who are praying and marching for justice for all, including justice for unborn babies,” concluded King. “The National Board of the NAACP needs to know that its membership loves our children and wants what is right for them, and what is right is for them to be allowed to live.”

King, whose father was brother to the late Martin Luther King Jr., noted that over 13 million African Americans have died as a result of legalized abortion.

In 2006, over 500,000 babies were aborted in the African community – a number of unborn lives that could have populated a whole city, according to the African American church leader Pastor Luke J. Robinson.

Although black women represent 12 percent of the female population in the country, they have one-third of all abortions, noted Peggy Harshorn, president of the crisis pregnancy group Heartbeat International. Furthermore, for every five African American women that get pregnant, three will have abortions.

“The problem is that, for many African-Americans, the pro-life movement is perceived as a white, Republican, conservative movement,” the Rev. John Ensor, “and that group is on the wrong side of the civil rights movement.”

US Catholic Bishops Urge Amnesty Int’l to Repeal Abortion Stance

US Catholic bishops appealed in July to human rights organization Amnesty International to reverse its decision to support abortion.

Following an overhaul of its policy on sexual and reproductive rights earlier this year, Amnesty has been calling for the decriminalization of abortion in all cases and says that women should be free to choose abortion particularly in cases of incest, rape or other instances of human rights violations.

Bishop William Skylstad, president of the US Bishops’ Conference, said that Amnesty International’s decision to back abortion was “deeply disappointing.” He urged AI to restore its neutral position on the issue.

“The action of the executive council undermines Amnesty’s longstanding moral credibility, diverts its mission, divides its own members, and jeopardizes Amnesty’s support by people in many nations, cultures and religions.”

East German theologian warns on ‘friendly embrace’ of capitalism

Rev. Heino Falcke, an East German Protestant leader who played a leading role in the movement that led to the end of Communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989, has warned against the church becoming seduced by the “friendly embrace” of capitalism.

“What are the dominant interests in the church: self-preservation, maintaining its position, increasing its profile or service for others?” Falcke said at a conference at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in eastern Germany.

The gathering on 30 June was held to mark the 35th anniversary of a keynote speech by Falcke at a national Protestant church synod, where he spoke of the need for a “socialism that could be changed for the better.”

To the East German authorities, Falcke’s speech in 1972 sounded too much like the “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia that Warsaw Pact tanks had suppressed four years earlier. Falcke himself was placed under observation by the Stasi, the East German secret police. He was regarded as “highly dangerous.”

Falcke was the Protestant Provost of Erfurt for 21 years until his retirement in 1994. As the leader of Erfurt’s Protestant church district, he became well known for his support for opposition peace, human rights and environmental groups in East Germany.

It is now more difficult for the church to withstand being exploited by the dominant powers, Falke told the conference, than it had been under Communism, when there was mutual suspicion on both sides. The church is now challenged by the “friendly embrace” of capitalism.

“It was then a question of making socialism more human, now it’s a question of making capitalism more human,” said Falcke. “Today, capital at the international level needs to be integrated within a social framework. That’s not possible within neo-liberal principles that are in force today.”

Red Cross Report Says Israel Violates Humanitarian Law

The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a report about East Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, has accused Israel of a “general disregard” for “its obligations under international humanitarian law, and the law of occupation in particular.”

The Red Cross said Israel is using its rights as an occupying power under international law “in order to further its own interests or those of its own population to the detriment of the population of the occupied territory.”

With the construction of the separation barrier, the establishment of an outer ring of Jewish settlements beyond the expanded municipal boundaries and the creation of a dense road network linking the different Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in and outside Jerusalem, the report says, Israel is “reshaping the development of the Jerusalem metropolitan area” with “far-reaching humanitarian consequences.”

Those include the increasing isolation of Palestinians living in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and the increasing difficulty for some Palestinians to easily reach Jerusalem’s schools and hospitals.

The Red Cross committee, recognized as a guardian of humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, does not publish its reports but provides them in confidence to the parties involved and to a small number of countries. This report was obtained in May by The New York Times.

The Red Cross report notes that the separation barrier “was undertaken with an undeniable security aim,” but adds, “The route of the West Bank barrier is also following a demographic logic, enclosing the settlement blocs around the city while excluding built-up Palestinian areas, thus creating isolated Palestinian enclaves.”

One Billion May Be Displaced in the Next Four Decades

At least one billion people may have to flee their homes over the next four decades because of conflicts and natural disasters that will worsen with global warming, a relief agency warned in May.

In a report, British-based Christian Aid said countries worldwide, especially the poorest, are now facing the greatest forced migration ever, one that will dwarf those displaced by World War II.

In what at the time amounted to “the largest population displacement in modern history,” it said, 66 million people were displaced across Europe by May 1945, in addition to millions more in China.

Today there are an estimated 163 million people who have been displaced by factors like conflict, drought and flooding as well as economic development projects like dams, logging and grain plantations, it said.

“Forced migration is now the most urgent threat facing poor people in the developing world,” said John Davison, author of Human Tide: the Real Migration Crisis.

The figures include 645 million who will be forced to migrate because of development projects, and 250 million because of phenomena linked to global warming like floods, droughts and famine.

It said the conflict in western Sudan’s Darfur region, which has displaced more than two million people, was not just driven by political forces but also by competition for increasingly scarce water and land to graze animals.

Climate change, it said, will drive the growth of grain-producing plantations as rich countries will raise demand for bio-fuels over crude oil in a bid to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Christian Aid was created to help refugees from World War II.

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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The Wounded Torturer

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

They buried my spiritual father last November. I have never seen a body in a casket look so not-there; the indistinct pale husk he left behind looked like something a breeze could lift up and carry away. It was the contrast, I suppose. Few people in life are as radiant and vigorous as Fr. George Calciu, or as full of joy. He was a few days short of his 81st birthday, still full-time pastor of a church in the suburbs of Washington, DC, still traveling world-wide to those who sought him as a teacher and spiritual father, still diligently reaching out to the poor and unchurched around him.

Fr. George’s radiance was a lasting rebuke to the darkest intentions of torturers. In his native Romania he was imprisoned twice by the Communist authorities, for a total of 21 years. He was a survivor of the brief but appalling “Pitesti Experiment,” the most intensive program of brainwashing to take place.

The plan at the prison in the Romanian city of Pitesti was to take promising young men, 18 to 25 years old, and utterly break them down, then rebuild them into the ideal “Communist man.” In the book Christ is Calling You! (St. Herman Press, 1997), Fr. George explained to an interviewer that the Pitesti experiment involved several distinct steps.

Incoming prisoners would be handed over to a team of guards and experienced prisoners, who would beat them and kill one or two, whoever appeared to be a leader. Then the “unmaskings” began, in which prisoners were required under torture to renounce everything they believed. Fr. George recalled being compelled to say, for example, “I lied when I said ‘I believe in God.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my mother and my father’.” This was extremely painful, as it was designed to be. The intention was to undermine the prisoner’s memory and personality, to infiltrate his consciousness with lies until he came to believe them.

A few months ago I was able to talk with another survivor of Pitesti, Fr. Roman Braga, when I visited the Michigan convent where he now is in residence. The Communists had arrested Fr. Roman on an inventive charge: he was accused of trying to overthrow the government by discussing the writings of St. Basil the Great, St. John Climacus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. He spent his first year in solitary confinement. In the dark, narrow cell, he could not tell one season from another, nor could he look out the small, high window and see a horizon. “You had to go somewhere; you had to find an inner perspective,” he said, “because otherwise you would truly go crazy.”

Fr. Roman told me that religious beliefs were particularly mocked. Tormenters would set obscene lyrics to the tunes of familiar hymns, and celebrate parody liturgies designed to break believers’ hearts. His sole clue that Christmas or Pascha (Easter) might be near would be the appearance of their themes in the torturers’ arsenal.

One way guards particularly taunted Christians was by telling them that Christ and Mary Magdalene had had a sexual relationship. Fr. Roman noted, laughing, that in Romania this constituted torture, but in America people line up to pay for it in movies and books.

Neither man would describe what they’d endured. “It is secret, intimate,” Fr. Roman said, “I saw saints fall, and I saw the simple rise and become saints.” Fr. George admitted that he gave way under torture. When a victim is out of his mind with pain, he doesn’t know what he is saying. Fr. George told his interviewer, “It was a spiritual fight, between good spirits and evil spirits. And we failed on the field of battle; we failed, many of us, because it was beyond our ability to resist … The limit of the human soul’s resistance was tried there by the devil.”

This emotional and spiritual damage was even worse than the physical pain. Fr. George went on, “When you were tortured, after one or two hours of suffering, the pain would not be so strong. But after denying God and knowing yourself to be a blasphemer – that was the pain that lasted … We forgive the torturers. But it is very difficult to forgive ourselves.” At night a wash of tears would come, and with it, returning prayer. “You knew very well that the next day you would again say something against God. But a few moments in the night, when you started to cry and to pray to God to forgive you and help you, was very good.”

Fr. George once attempted to write a memoir of his Pitesti experience, but found it impossible: “Sometimes I was hammering at one word, timidly, then persistently, then intensely, to madness. The word became nothing other than a sequence of letters or sounds. It had no meaning. It didn’t tell me anything. I would say: ‘beating’ or ‘pain’ or ‘prayer’ or ‘curse’ … and I would substitute one for another without any change; none told me anything! I would say ‘cell’ and the word would not speak. I could say instead ‘lelc’ or ‘clel’ or ‘ellc’ with the same result. Everything was mute and absurd.

“And suddenly a curse from that time would resound in my mind, or a song somebody sang during the unmaskings, and the whole atmosphere would install itself with a painfully striking character and with a reality more real than it was then. Affective memory! Proust was a genius in his intuitions, a part of the literature he wrote.”

Yet the worst was still to come. In order to demonstrate that they had truly become “the Communist man,” in order to fully embody the persona demanded of them, these mentally and physically battered prisoners were required to become torturers. They were compelled to assist in the “re-education” of new prisoners, and any reluctance or leniency was cruelly punished.

“This was the most difficult part,” Fr. George said, “for under terror and torture one can say, ‘yes, yes, yes.’ But now, to have to act? It was very difficult. It was during this part that the majority of us tried to kill ourselves.” In his case, “I was on a big staircase, three stories high. The moment I tried to climb over it to throw myself down, a friend of mine caught me and saved me.”

It may sound surprising that being a torturer was so much more painful and soul-destroying than being a victim. Yet the pattern holds in other realms. In her book, Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (Praeger, 2002), Rachel MacNair examines a number of situations in which a person may be more distraught over harming someone – even if it’s socially sanctioned or in self-defense – than by being harmed personally. This sounds reasonable enough in the case of a policeman who kills someone in the line of duty, or of the person whose sad role it is to carry out a death sentence.

Yet even soldiers, who have been trained to kill and may well be themselves in mortal danger, can feel great distress about the violence they do to others. In “The Price of Valor” (The New Yorker, July 12 & 19, 2004), Dan Baum examines this puzzle. He spent a week with amputees at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and “was struck by how easily they could tell the stories of the horrible things that had happened to them. They could talk about having their arms or legs blown off in vivid detail, and even joke about it, but, as soon as the subject changed to the killing they’d done, a pall would settle over them.” When he asked a Vietnam vet how often he experienced flashbacks of killing villagers, he first said, “Every ten minutes,” but then corrected himself: “Really, it’s more like I’m always looking at a double image.”

The Army’s textbook for the medical corps, War Psychiatry, notes that “casualties the soldier inflicted himself on enemy soldiers were usually described as the most stressful events” and quotes a company commander that it is easier for a soldier to accept the death of a friend than to cope with the fact of having shot someone.

MacNair considers evidence for Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress among a number of groups – soldiers, executioners, police, criminals, and abortion providers – and presents some unusual information about the Nazi “Einsatzgruppen.” These were the soldiers who were charged with shooting Jews lined up at the edge of a pit – an act of unspeakable callousness. But, from the perspective of Nazi efficiency standards, the soldiers weren’t able to be callous enough. Because they shot their victims in the back they were spared the memory of the victims’ faces, yet found their nightmares haunted by those vulnerable, individual necks. Adolf Eichmann wrote that many of them, “unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad. Most of the members of these Kommandos had to rely on alcohol.”

When Heinrich Himmler observed a shooting squad in action, it disturbed him so much that he ordered a “more humane” approach be found; the result was the gas chambers, which allowed the killer to avoid seeing his victims die. An officer in charge of the Einsatzgruppen, von dem Bach-Zelewski (who would himself later succumb to hallucinations), insisted to Himmler, “Look at the eyes of the men in this Kommando, how deeply shaken they are! These men are finished for the rest of their lives.”

The torture he endured did not “finish” Fr. George; it made him courageous enough to defy the authorities, and even accept a second term of imprisonment as the price of preaching the gospel. Fr. Roman says that, in fact, his time in prison brought him an unexpected blessing, because it was there that he first discovered the depths of prayer. “I was forced to find myself in prison,” he writes in his book, Exploring the Inner Universe (HDM Press, 1996). “Only then was I able to discover how beautiful the interior life of man is … We will never reach the same spiritual level of life as in Communist imprisonment.”

I asked Fr. Roman whether he was able to forgive his torturers. “Those who suffer much, forgive,” he said. “Those who do not forgive become victims. I embraced my torturers, once I saw that they were controlled by the devil. The devil is real, not a bedtime story.”

That would be one piece of the puzzle which Orthodox Christians would bring to a discussion of torture. We still believe in a real devil. Not a pitchfork-and-tail cartoon, but a vicious malevolence who gorges on human suffering. The person who feels an inner compulsion to acts of sadism is not being driven by human nature.

As Fr. Roman concluded, “Man is a sacrament; he is a mystery, too. We do not know what we are.”

Frederica Mathewes-Green is the khouria of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland. She is a columnist and movie reviewer, and author of several books, including most recently, The Lost Gospel of Mary: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts (Paraclete Press). Her essay is reprinted with the author’s permission from The Review of Faith & International Affairs.

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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