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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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The Execution of Philip Workman

by Fr. John Oliver III

Vigil outside the prison the night of Philip Workman’s execution. Photo by Harry Simpson.

Shortly after the sun set, the evening routine in our house is well underway. Dinner dishes litter the kitchen counters; children rifle through drawers looking for pajamas; and my wife and I scour the corners of our being in search of enough energy to complete the day. But the whole routine, tonight – May 8th, 2007 – seems stained with absurdity: for after I tuck my giggling children into bed, I will leave the house to stand vigil with others at our local federal penitentiary, where Philip Workman is scheduled to be executed at 1:00 a.m, for a crime he probably did not commit.

For the heart of the Christian – open, warm, and breakable – that last detail is, in one sense, irrelevant. Not because guilt and innocence do not matter, but because a human being is about to die. Competent legal minds on both sides of this case – and all capital punishment cases – weave together a dizzying tapestry of facts to establish guilt or innocence. Competent Christian minds on both sides of this case – and all capital punishment cases – struggle with conscience, with Old Testament law and New Testament transcendence of the law; they struggle with a state’s right to take a life and how a believer in God, the Giver of Life, should feel about that. But after all struggle, after all consideration and debate, surely one thing must remain and unite all Christians: mourning.

We remember St. Isaac the Syrian for, among other things, his description of a merciful heart: “It is a heart burning for the sake of the entire creation,” he writes in his eighth homily, “for humanity, for birds, for animals, for every created thing. From the mercy which grips his heart, the merciful man is humbled and cannot bear to hear or see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason, he continually offers up tearful prayer, even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy.”

It is now 10:35 pm. I drive through the night and finally see the distant floodlights of the prison. Police cars are everywhere, and guards have blocked the entrance to the prison, keeping things orderly. Peace on the outside; pain on the inside. News vans, each with an antenna spiraling up from the roof, idle by the entrance.

Beyond the prison, a fenced-in field holds about eighty persons who have gathered quietly to protest the state-sponsored execution of Philip Workman. They appear as young as twenty and as old as eighty. They look like musicians and office people and housewives and college students and grandparents. Many look sleepy. Most folks cluster in groups of three or four, while some individuals kneel near the fence-line facing the prison, presumably in prayer. Every once in a while, there is laughter.

Two hours before the execution, and there is not much newsworthy. The screaming and sign-waving between pros and cons that often mark controversial events are totally absent here. If anyone supports this execution, he or she is keeping it secret. Speakers address us in quiet tones about how wrong the state is in doing this, about the exonerating evidence the state refuses to consider. We hear from persons who have lost loved ones to murder – one woman, her only son; another man, his mother – yet say they do not hate and do not wish to see the killers killed. The victim and his family – who, interestingly, share my last name – are remembered, too; peace and closure are hoped for them.

For those protesting outside an execution, possibilities are measured in minutes. The last time Philip Workman was scheduled to die, a stay of execution was granted thirty-seven minutes before the needle was to enter his vein. Thirty-seven minutes. It happened before, this crowd reasons, it should happen again. Appeals are made into the night that the governor, the state supreme court, common sense, or God Himself intervene.

It is now 12:32 am. The mood has grown serious and accepting. Candles, with circular drip protectors, are being passed among us. We have been asked by the vigil organizers to maintain silence from now until we hear some news. I wish the generators behind us, powering the floodlights, would cooperate. A man begins reading Psalms into the microphone: “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are they who rise up against me! Many there are who say, ‘there is no help for him in God’.”

12:40. 12:47. 12:51. I foolishly try to imagine what Philip Workman must be experiencing right now, on the other side of that fence, behind those prison walls – foolishly, because I have no idea what he is experiencing, and it is an insult to him even to pretend as if I could. He has a daughter. I wonder: was he able to see the sun set tonight? Did he know he would never again see it rise?

12:57. 12:58. 1:00 a.m. No sound but the generators. Some people sway, some wipe away tears, some stare into the flames of their candles. 1:04. 1:11. 1:15. No sound and no news.

Bodies begin to move restlessly. It is now almost 1:45 a.m. and we have heard no report. A woman standing beside me, a lawyer who worked on capital punishment appeals, says in a quiet and concerned voice, “The lawyer in me kicked in about twenty minutes ago; I wonder if something went wrong.” With the chemical procedure, she means. Some people huddle around a transistor radio.

A few more minutes pass. Then, one of the organizers gets a call on his cellphone. He lowers his head. He closes his phone and reaches for the microphone, pausing for a few moments as if searching for the right words. “Philip Workman,” he says, “is dead.”

Several years ago, as part of seminary training, I visited a maximum security prison once each week. I met plenty of men who spoke eloquently about their innocence. Then, one week, I met a man who spoke eloquently about his guilt. He told me that he wanted to come to terms with the pain he caused people, and somehow find a way to make it up to them. He walked slowly, with a cane, and smiled easily. Toward the end of our time together, I asked him, “What is one thing that you want those on the outside to know about those on the inside?” He thought for a moment, face toward the floor. Then, he looked up and said, “That there are no throw-aways.”

C.S. Lewis wrote, “You have never met a mere mortal.” He wrote that in defense of the unconditional dignity and transcendent value of the human person. “Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

After arriving at home, I pass through the hallway near where my children lay sleeping. I mourn that the bubble they’re in now won’t last much longer. I mourn for Philip Workman, whether guilty or innocent. I mourn for a culture that is losing all sense of what life is, where it comes from, and what it is for. I even mourn that I do not know how to mourn rightly.

Fr. John Oliver is the priest of St. Elizabeth Orthodox Christian Church, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He is the author of Touching Heaven: Discovering Orthodox Christianity on the Island of Valaam, published by Conciliar Press. He also has a weekly podcast that can be heard at www.ancientfaithradio.com. A graduate of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, he joined the faculty as instructor in Old and New Testament and American Religious History. He and his wife Lara have three daughters and one son. To learn more on the Philip Workman case, see: www.justicedenied.org/philip.htm and www.tcask.org/ cases/workman/workman.html.

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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Doing Justice, Loving Mercy

by Catherine Brockenborough

The great eighteenth-century English jurist Sir William Blackstone said, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” Blackstone based this opinion on his understanding of the exchange between God and Abraham regarding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 18:20-33.

On May 11, 2007, some 250 years after Blackstone wrote his Commentaries, Curtis McCarty was released from an Oklahoma prison, becoming the 124th exonerated death row inmate in the United States since the modern era of capital punishment began in 1976. Of the 204 wrongfully convicted who have been exonerated after conviction as a result of DNA evidence, fifteen had been sentenced to death.

The remaining exonerations have primarily been the result of newly discovered evidence, including evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and state malfeasance. These numbers suggest that many more wrongfully convicted persons remain incarcerated and on death row. The numbers also give flesh to an underlying fear in our death penalty system – the execution of an innocent person. Indeed, substantial evidence exists that at least nine innocent people have been executed in the United States, since 1976; in 2005, Georgia issued a posthumous pardon for a woman executed in 1945.

The number of exonerated is but one of many reasons why so many Americans have come to oppose today’s system of capital punishment. Other reasons run the ideological gamut and include frustration with the length of the appeals process, the disproportionate number of black, poor and mentally ill inmates on death row, critique of “Big Government’s” ability or need to be involved in certain aspects of life, skepticism that any death penalty scheme can be fair, onerous financial costs, and disquiet with a double standard in which the democratic history and rhetoric of the United States confront the country’s membership in a club that includes the three nations of the so-called “axis of evil”: Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

In the end, these reasons are secular in nature – that is, opposition to the death penalty based on any of these reasons does not require any particular theology. I am interested in whether support of capital punishment is compatible with the Christian faith. Does belief in Christianity – specifically in Orthodox Christianity – provide a reason to oppose the death penalty that is above all theological in nature? Suppose we had a system that guaranteed no execution of innocents, that was fiscally sustainable, and that was truly free of all forms of bias – in other words, a system where all the secular concerns with capital punishment have been resolved. Is support of such a system consistent with our Faith?

This is no theoretical question. It goes to the very heart of Christianity, involves the Orthodox understanding of the natures of God and man and implicates our very salvation. As Orthodox Christians living in a world in which the death penalty is imposed and carried out, I submit that wrestling with this issue is a necessary part of our theosis. Ultimately, I believe we will discover that the most fundamental core principles of the Faith impel Orthodox Christians to reject capital punishment in any form.

Man: Icon of God: “Then God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26a.) The knowledge that man was made in the image of God lies at the very heart of Christian belief side by side with the knowledge that the Fall warped and tarnished that image while the Incarnation and Resurrection provided for its restoration. I wonder whether the very pervasiveness and elemental nature of this teaching may diminish our appreciation of its awesomeness. You have been made in the image of God. You are an icon of God Incarnate, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Recognizing this reality, St. Seraphim of Sarov greeted all whom he met with the exclamation “My joy!” Had he encountered you, he would have greeted you thus, as well.

Do you believe this of yourself? Do you believe this of others? Regardless of our belief, the truth is that everyone has been created in God’s image. While all of creation is iconic, we know from scripture that man was set apart. The presence of a soul, of the nous, makes man unique amongst God’s creations. Does it not follow that if a person is an icon of our Creator, the destruction of that person is iconoclastic? If we support such destruction by failing to oppose capital punishment, are we then not guilty of iconoclasm ourselves?

This formulation, while valid, softens the case just a bit, in that it calls to mind icons in the sense of hand-crafted pictorial

representations. But icons on wood are not living beings, even though they help us to contemplate the divine, and act as windows on heaven. Moreover, every part of creation can be seen as an “icon” in that sense, but we are able to treat plants, at least, and sometimes animals, differently than we do humans. We do not, for example, sacrifice a person at Pascha, but we may sacrifice a lamb for the feast.

Encounters with Christ: Theology relies on experience while philosophy relies on logic. Bishop Kallistos Ware tells us: “Just as the three Divine Persons live in and for each other, so man – being made in the Trinitarian image – becomes a real person by seeing the world through others’ eyes, by making others’ joys and sorrows his own.”

Russian theologian and philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev warns us that the “politico-social aspect of religion distorts the spirit, subordinates the infinite to the finite, makes the relative absolute, and leads away from the sources of revelation, from living spiritual experience…. Personality must be God-human, whereas society must be human.”

Experience reveals theological truths. It is through our encounters with others that we work out our salvation. In the context of capital punishment, we can only perceive the theological implications through experience. Debating the social pros and cons – even if invoking religious authority – can distract us from the essence of what is at stake in deciding what stand to take as Christians.

Tamara Chikunova is an Uzbek Orthodox Christian and founder of “Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture,” an association working for the abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan. Through her work with the condemned – the “children of God” as she calls them – she has seen first hand how “the death penalty creates evil and violates the most important and inalienable human right: the right to life.” She asserts: “I am a believer. I am an Orthodox Christian and I help those who are on death row because life is God’s most important gift to us.”

In my work representing death row inmates in Tennessee, I have seen how the system of capital punishment is ultimately soul-destroying for all involved. The system encourages a categorical view of humanity and the person that is alien to Orthodoxy. It encourages and brings forth the worst in fallen man: anger, a thirst for vengeance, self-righteousness. It thwarts forgiveness and reconciliation.

Earlier this year, when several events brought the issue of capital punishment to the fore in the media, The Tennessean newspaper published a letter to the editor from a local rabbi opposed to capital punishment. He wrote that his concern over the darkness the death penalty encouraged in him was the main reason for his opposition.

I have seen this darkness in my work, but I have encountered so much more light. I have witnessed the miracle of family healing, I have observed astounding courage as witnesses shared their stories of pain and I have discovered surprising generosity among people of all types and in all roles. Most importantly, I have met my death-sentenced clients – a representative collection of all the worst and best we humans have to offer. Akil amazes me with his commitment to listening to the Holy Spirit. Derek impresses me with his sensitivity. David can drive me crazy with his neediness. James S. and I discuss Shakespeare’s plays and the Masons. Roy’s stubbornness rivals my own. Tyrone’s insights are as wise as they are unexpected. I don’t understand Lee at all. James D. is an unassuming straight-talker. Kennath and Tim are talented artists. For Byron, every day is better than the day before. Glen is a wheeler-dealer while mentally retarded Gus takes pride in “treating me like a lady.” And Christa – well, Christa is simply one of my dearest friends.

Some of my clients are innocent. Some are guilty of taking another’s life in a particularly brutal way. All are precious children of God. Each of them has taught me lessons in what it means to love. That each of their lives is sacred is uncontestable. I shudder when I contemplate the evil involved in the act of killing any of them just as I shudder at the evil of the murders that brought my clients to death row. For Christians, there is no relativity when determining the sanctity of a life.

The Greatest Gift: In 1989, the Ninth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America passed a resolution on the death penalty, noting the call for Orthodox Christians to “recognize and address the deeper moral, ethical, and religious questions of the supreme value of human life in a manner consistent with our opposition to abortion and mercy killing, and in all such questions involving life and death the Church must always champion life.”

Clearly, all human life is sacred and precious, and this sacredness and preciousness are unchanging. There never comes a point in time when a person’s life loses its sanctity. When we condemn a person to die, we are telling him “You are not worthy of living. Your life has no meaning.” It seems that most of us find it easier to appreciate the depravity of killing an “innocent” in utero than to see the same depravity in the killing of a “guilty” adult, but the potential for theosis exists in the condemned and the unborn alike. The death penalty is irreconcilable with Orthodoxy’s absolute reverence for life. How are we to answer the call to appreciate the supreme value of human life, consistently and in all situations?

The answer is love, the most basic and central of all Christian tenets, yet the most difficult to embrace and live. In Matthew 5:44, Our Lord declares: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” These are not suggestions. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12.) Jesus’ love for us is the standard of measure for how we are to love others. We are to “pursue love.” (1 Cor. 14:1). Without love, our actions signify nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Indeed, if we do not love our brothers we are “not of God” (1 John 3: 10b) and we “abide in death.” (1 John 3:14b.) This love must encompass all people, friend and foe alike. (Matt. 5:46-48, Luke 6:32-36.)

Mother Gavrilia was a Greek nun who fell asleep in the Lord on March 28, 1992. The Ascetic of Love, written by one of Mother Gavrilia’s spiritual daughters, contains her life story and a collection of her teachings. The pervasive, singularly constant theme is love. As we consider those under a death sentence and the issue of capital punishment, let us reflect on the following from Mother Gavrilia:

The strange thing is that while Man often looks for Divine Inspiration in old and ruined Temples, he fails to find it in human ruins…What a pity!… I understood that there is much more to wonder at, to rescue and to love in the ruins of Man than in the most magnificent ruins of stone. . . .Courage, faith, patience, endurance and, above all, hope and joy can take root and blossom in the human heart, if it is given Opportunity, if it is given Love. The Ascetic of Love, pp. 56-57.

Catherine Brockenborough lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a native of Washington, D.C., an animal lover and a bibliophile. She is also an attorney and mitigation specialist. Catherine discovered the Orthodox Church while in law school of all places and was chrismated at Pascha in 1996, one month before her graduation and move to Nashville. She is a member of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Mission in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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Notes:

Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Vol. IV, c. 27, page 352.

In 1972, the United States Supreme Court decided three cases – referred to collectively as Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 – in which a plurality of the Court held the death penalty statutes in effect at the time to be unconstitutional. In response, state legislatures revised their capital punishment statutes to address the concerns discussed in Furman. Following a four-year suspension of the death penalty, the Court issued another group of opinions in 1976 – Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, Proffitt v. Florida 428 U.S. 242, Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 242, and Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 – setting out constitutionally acceptable parameters for an American death penalty and ruling which types of post-Furman statutes passed constitutional muster. So began the modern era of the death penalty in the United States.

See www.innocenceproject.org for more information.

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See www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?&did=2238

For a complete list of retentionist, abolitionist and abolitionist-in-practice countries, go to www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=30&did=140.

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As quoted in The Ascetic of Love, by Nun Gavrilia (Athens: Eptalofos 2000), p. 127.

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Nicolas Berdyaev, “Personality,” from Slavery and Freedom (Scribner’s 1944), tr. in W. Herberg, Four Existentialist Theologians (New York: Doubleday 1958), p. 129.

www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=2093

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www.deathpenaltyreligious.org/education/statements/orthodox.html

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from the Summer 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 46

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Dear In Communion reader,

Summer issue / July 2007

Dear In Communion reader,

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

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

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

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

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

www.incommunion.org

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

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

In Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr: from Palace to Mine Shaft

by Lily Emilia Clerkx

Elizabeth Feodorovna was born in 1864, a German Hessian princess. Her maternal grandmother was Queen Victoria. At age 20, Elizabeth married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, brother of Czar Alexander III. She at once began to study the Russian language in order to become familiar with the culture and religion of her adopted homeland. She and her husband lived on a country estate in Ilinskoe, near Moscow, and there attended church regularly. It was here that young Elizabeth, shocked by the poverty of the peasants, first began her response to the poor. Aware that many children died soon after birth, Elizabeth convinced her husband to bring a midwife to serve the district.

In 1891 Elizabeth announced her decision to become Orthodox, assuring her Lutheran father that she had not been pressured by her husband, but was taking this step of her own free will. Her decision was not a response to the “outer charms” of the Church, she assured her brother, but rather was due to “pure conviction — feeling [Orthodox Christianity] to be the highest religion.”

Czar Alexander III appointed her husband governor of Moscow, after which the couple moved to the city. Elizabeth now had many social obligations — attending balls and concerts, receiving guests — but also visiting hospitals, old age homes, orphanages and prisons. Each day she was confronted by the enormous contrast between the luxury of court life and the terrible poverty in which large sections of the population lived. Putting her large income to good use, she did all that was in her power to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

In 1894 Nicholas, heir to the throne, became engaged to Elizabeth’s younger sister, Alice. Elizabeth rejoiced at her coming to Russia and did all she could to help her sister prepare for her role as empress. Unfortunately this could not be done gradually. The same year Czar Alexander III died suddenly. The following day Princess Alice was received into the Orthodox Church and was given the name of Alexandra Feodorovna. Her marriage to Nicolas took place a week later.

At the end of the 19th century, many changes were taking place as a consequence of industrialization, the rapid growth of an impoverished urban working class, and the growing influence of Western ideas. Many lived in expectation of social reform when the new czar was crowned. Nicholas, however, though a gentle and compassionate man, held fast to his belief in absolute monarchy.

In rapid succession four daughters were born to the imperial couple, and finally, in 1904, a son, a successor to the throne. Unfortunately it was soon apparent that he suffered from hemophilia.

During the war with Japan in 1904, Elizabeth organized relief for soldiers. Taking possession of halls in the Kremlin Palace, she set up workshops where thousands of women worked at sewing machines and packing tables, gathering clothes, food, medicines, gifts, icons and prayer books to be sent the front.

War enthusiasm quickly turned to war bitterness as reverse followed reverse in the contest with Japan. As casualty lists arrived from the front, social tensions rose sharply. There was increasing poverty and hunger, as well as renewed activity to promote social reform. Protests, strikes and terrorist actions were met with increased police and military repression. There were also plots to murder members of the royal family.

On February 4, 1905, with a climate of revolution gripping the city, Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated when a bomb was hurled into his carriage. Elizabeth hastened to the place of the tragedy and knelt by the mutilated body of her husband and embraced it. On the day of the funeral, she arranged that free meals be served to the poor of Moscow. Three days later, Elizabeth secretly visited the imprisoned murderer of her husband. She offered forgiveness on her husband’s behalf, begging him to repent of his sin and to seek a pardon. The man, however, regarded his act as a virtuous deed. Elizabeth left a Bible and an icon in his cell. Czar Nicholas rejected her plea for mercy. Eventually the man was hanged. Elizabeth had a large crucifix erected over the place of her husband’s death, with the text, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Affliction brought about a profound change in Elizabeth’s soul. She withdrew from social life, renounced luxury, and no longer ate meat. Her bedroom in the Nicholas Palace was done over in such austerity that it resembled a nun’s cell. She opened a hospital in Ilinskoe where she herself served men who had been injured in the war, then opened another small hospital in Moscow.

Two-thirds of her jewelry she gave away; the rest was used to buy a property with five buildings at Ordynka on the far side of the Moscow River where she resolved to found a religious community for women who would serve the poor.

She dedicated the community to Saints Martha and Mary in the hope that the sisters would “combine the lofty destiny of Mary — given to hear words of eternal life — with Martha’s service to Our Lord through the least of His brethren.” The community’s rule drew inspiration from the words of the Savior: “I was hungry and you fed me . . . sick and you cared for me.”

Elizabeth moved into a few simply furnished rooms. For several years she was busy furnishing the buildings so they could function as a church, hospital, polyclinic, a home for the nuns, school, orphanage, library, and priest’s residence. From the beginning, she made herself available to every person in need.

She hoped her work might help revive the ancient institution of deaconess: women ordained to carry on merciful service. Since her vision of religious life differed from what was then customary in Russia, which placed its stress on monastic withdrawal from the world, at first she did not receive the approval of the church authorities; one bishop accused her of Protestant tendencies. Finally Czar Nicholas II signaled his support with an imperial decree. The Church Synod gave its endorsement of the community’s typicon. (The Czar’s sympathy had not been easily obtained. From letters Elizabeth wrote to her brother-in-law, it is clear he found her vocational decision hard to accept. As she wrote to him: “Forgive me living differently than you would have wished, forgive that I cannot often come to see you [in St. Petersburg] because of my duties here. Forgive … and pray for me and my work.”)

On February 10, 1909, Elizabeth’s took off her widow’s habit and put on the robes of the Sisters of Love and Mercy. At the same time she was officially appointed Abbess of the community — only six women at the time. On the occasion she said, “I am leaving the brilliant world where I occupied a high position, and now, together with all of you [my sisters], I am about to ascend into a much greater world, the world of the poor and afflicted.”

Gradually more sisters joined the community. Their spiritual father was the greatly revered priest, Father Mitrofan Serebrenski, who moved with his wife into the priest’s house.

The daily schedule resembled that of a monastery: Liturgy, vespers and matins were celebrated daily, and on Saturday, the vigil. An akathist was prayed four times a week. The nuns’ tasks were to nurse the sick, visit the poor, and care for children. They also were given an education. While organizing the work, receiving guests, and writing many letters, each day Mother Elizabeth helped attend to the sick, sometimes staying at a bedside until dawn. She lived in strict accordance with the rule and was obedient to her spiritual father. Her life was a sober one and she prayed a great deal, with the Jesus Prayer at its core. Though her life was ascetic, she took pains to reassure relatives that she was in no way harming herself. “Some kindhearted busybodies are afraid I will end by breaking down my health, don’t eat enough, don’t sleep enough …. That is not true. I sleep eight hours, I eat with pleasure, I feel physically marvelous, well and strong.”

Since the turbulent years following the uprising of 1905, Russia’s circumstances had gradually become calmer. The Czar’s power was curtailed with the establishment of a State Duma. A number of civil rights were recognized. After 1910 the economy began to recover. Production increased, foreign companies invested in Russia, farming land was reclaimed in Siberia. Such stars of the Russia opera, theater, and ballet as Chaliapin, Pavlova and Diaghilev were acclaimed at home and abroad.

The Convent of Martha and Mary also flourished. The best medical specialists of Moscow worked at the free hospital. There was an orphanage and a soup kitchen. Mother Elizabeth herself went into the poorest neighborhoods, offering care and education in the convent to abandoned children who had been living on the street. Though the economy was improving, poverty was greater than ever. Every year in Moscow, thousands of babies were abandoned.

News of the outbreak of the First World War caused her to weep; she saw in it the destruction of Russia. When the casualties began to arrive, Mother Elizabeth and her growing community devoted themselves to the care of the wounded. Russian troops suffered staggering losses.

Mother Elizabeth kept in contact with the imperial family by mail. Her relationship with her sister, however, was strained by the Rasputin affair. The Czarina felt personally responsible for her son’s incurable hemophilia, an illness that mothers transmit to their male children. In desperation she consulted not only doctors but charlatans. The last was Rasputin, a peasant whom many regarded as a holy man. He alone seemed able to stop the hemorrhages of the Czarevitch. The Czarina saw him as God’s answer to her prayers. In time, through the Czarina’s influence, Rasputin became influential in state affairs.

In this matter Elizabeth again showed great spiritual insight. In vain she implored her sister to free herself of Rasputin, but talks with her sister only resulted in a cooling of their relationship, for the empress credited Rasputin with her son’s survival; she saw Rasputin as a “maligned saint.” Mother Elizabeth’s efforts to speak on this matter with the Czar also failed; he was about to leave for the front and had no time. In these events, Mother Elizabeth foresaw the end of the imperial rule. That same year Rasputin was murdered by members of the nobility, who blamed Russia’s defeats on the front on Rasputin’s influence in St. Petersburg. The situation in Russia was chaotic. There were millions of dead to lament; the economy was in tatters; there was a shortage of food everywhere. Rebellion, strikes, terrorist actions and repression increased.

During the February revolution of 1917, the convent was stormed by an angry mob convinced Mother Elizabeth was a German spy. In response, Father Mitrofan with Elizabeth and her nuns held a moleben in the church. At last the crowd left the convent. Mother Elizabeth was unharmed but her peril was obvious. Several times diplomats offered her a chance to escape, but she refused, determined to share the fate of Russia.

In March 1917, Czar Nicholas abdicated, and shortly thereafter, the family was interned in the Summer Palace. When Mother Elizabeth heard that they were arrested, she said, “This will serve for their moral purification and will bring them closer to God.”

For a few months after the Bolsheviks seized power in October, the Martha and Mary Convent was spared and was even provided with food and medicines, but the sisters no longer went outside. The daily schedule was not changed, although the prayers were longer. During the Liturgy the church was crowded.

Each day saw radical changes. Factories and private property were expropriated. In February the “new” (secular) calendar was introduced. In March the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty was signed. For the first time since the rule of Peter the Great, Moscow became the capital. Red flags were raised over cathedrals. The Czar, his wife and children, a doctor and three servants were deported to Ekaterinburg where they were closely guarded and roughly treated. Resignedly, Nicholas and his family accepted all humiliations.

In April 1918 Mother Elizabeth was arrested. Attempts by Patriarch Tikhon to obtain her release failed. She was taken away with Sister Barbara, who chose to share her abbess’s fate. On the way to prison, she was able to smuggle a letter to the community: “The Lord has found that it is time for us to bear His cross,” she said. “Let us try to be worthy of it. . . .Blessed be the name of the Lord for evermore.” She spent the last months of her life in prison in Alapayevsk, not far from Ekaterinburg. Other members of the Czar’s family and of the imperial household were imprisoned with her.

On July 18, 1918, the day after the Czar and his family were murdered, Mother Elizabeth and the other prisoners with her were thrown alive into an old mine shaft. When the executioners hurled her into the 60-meter pit, they heard her say, “Lord, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Because of ledges and projecting logs, not all died in the fall. A peasant who witnessed what happened said he could hear voices in the shaft singing the Cherubic Hymn from the Holy Liturgy. The executioners threw in one hand grenade, then another.

The following year priests were able to recover the bodies of Elizabeth and Barbara. Two years later, after long wanderings, the coffins were brought to the Russian convent at Gethsemani just outside Jerusalem. In 1991 the martyrs, Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara, were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. The feast day of Elizabeth is 5/18 July.

The convent survived for another seven years although the Communist authorities prohibited the community continuing its charitable work. The hospital became a state-run institution. Father Mitrofan and his wife were arrested in 1926 and died in the Gulag.

After the collapse of Communism, many brotherhoods and sisterhoods based on the example of the community of Martha and Mary, were established which are now devoting themselves to health care, relief of the poor and education.

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If we look deep into the life of every human, we discover that it is full of miracles. You will say, “Of terror and death, as well.” Yes, that also. But we do not clearly see why the blood of these victims must flow. There, in the heavens, they understand everything and, no doubt, have found calm and the Truer Homeland — a heavenly Homeland.

We on this earth must look to that Heavenly Homeland with understanding and say with resignation, “Thy will be done.” Completely destroyed now is the “Great Russia without fear or reproach,” but “Holy Russia,” the Orthodox Church, the Church against which “the gates of hell shall not prevail,” exists and exists as never before; and those who believe, who have no doubts, have an “inner sun” that illuminates the darkness of the thundering storm,”

— from a letter of St. Elizabeth to her brother-in-law, the former Czar, when he was living under house arrest in April 1918

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Lily Emilia Clerkx is an iconographer and a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship living in Amsterdam. Her essay uses material included in Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia by Lubov Millar, published by the Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society.

posted: January 27, 1998 / text published in the Theophany 1998 issue of In Communion

Icon: Sergey Proskunov http://www.iconpublish.com