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Wisdom from St. John Chrysostom

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

— St. John Chrysostom, Homily 20

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

— St. John Chrysostom, Homily 20

Prayer for our enemies is the very highest summit of self-control.

— St. John Chrysostom, Homily 18 on the Gospel of St Matthew

Many, throwing themselves prostrate, and striking the ground with their forehead, and pouring forth hot tears, and groaning bitterly from the heart and stretching out their hands, and displaying much earnestness, employ this warmth and forwardness against their own salvation. For it is not on behalf of their own sins that they beseech God; nor are they asking forgiveness of the offences committed by them; but they are exerting this earnestness against their enemies, doing just the same thing as if one, after whetting his sword, were not to use the weapon against his enemies, but to thrust it through his own throat. So these also use their prayers not for the remission of their own sins, but about revenge on their enemies; which is to thrust the sword against themselves.

— St. John Chrysostom, Homily against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren

Christ Harrowing Hell

This is the first issue of In Communion with a color cover. Bright Week seems just the right moment to make this change. The cover icon — Christ harrowing hell — carries us into that crack in time between Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ is standing on the shattered doors of hell, a kingdom that had been ruled by the prince of darkness. His first action is to raise our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, from their tombs. Adam and Eve, whose unfortunate choices unleashed a tidal wave of disaster. Behind them are gathered David and Solomon, Moses, Daniel, Zechariah and John the Baptist. Beneath the gates of hell, Satan, warden of hell, is plummeting into an abyss of darkness amidst a blizzard of broken locks and useless keys.

It’s an image for the most radical reversal one can imagine. The undoing of death is the undoing of all that keeps us in a state of fear. After all, it’s death we spend our lives resisting and delaying. It’s fear of death that stands in the way of actually living. Dig away at other fears and we discover the dread of death. This icon reminds us that death doesn’t have the last word and that we need not live our lives entombed in fear. It’s also an icon of forgiveness. If Adam and Eve can be forgiven, who is beyond forgiveness?

There is a Paschal impulse behind the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our Christ-centered work is part of the struggle to overcome the rule of death in our lives.

To carry on our work we have two part-time staff members, myself and Sheri San Chico, plus a number of volunteers. Sheri and I are paid very little for our many hours of work, but OPF’s present income doesn’t justify more adequate payment.

More than ever we need the help of our members and friends to keep OPF going.

If you are one of those who makes regular donations, thank you! You have been a God-send! If you aren’t, please consider becoming part of that community of committed donors.

If you can’t manage a monthly or quarterly donation but can make an occasional special donation, please do so. Thank you!

We hope our supporters will make at least one donation annually, but without those who give more than once a year, and give more than the minimum, we would have to call it a day.

In Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

Bright Week 2006

Note: The icon is on the ceiling of the sanctuary of a chapel in the Church of the Savior at Chora, Istanbul, Turkey.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: Will the Ecumenical Ship Sink?

Excerpts from the interview

Q: Doesn’t membership in the World Council of Churches (WCC) obligate acceptance of its fundamental principles which contradict Orthodox ecclesiology?

Membership in the WCC does not require from any Church the recognition of all the other member churches of the WCC as churches in the literal sense of the word. This is stated in the foundational documents of the Council. If we call one Protestant community or another a “church,” which in our point of view has lost all the main traits of church-ness, then it is only because this community calls itself a church. Among the members of the WCC there are more than a few such groups, which in our view long ago lost the fundamental properties of church-ness or which never possessed them in the first place. We are speaking here of such properties as apostolic succession of the hierarchy, the mysteries, faith in the reality of the Eucharist, etc.

At the same time, the WCC is not simply a council of some charitable agencies or organizations with some church ties. This is a council of Christian communities which consider themselves churches and respect each other’s ecclesiological self-recognition. The respect Protestants hold for Orthodox ecclesiological principles is expressed in particular by the fact that the WCC does not accept church groups which, from the point of view of Orthodox, are schismatic (for example, the “Kiev Patriarchate”). The Orthodox Churches form a unified, almost autonomous group within the WCC, for whom 25% of the places in any leading organ of the Council are reserved. These 25% form a sort of “Orthodox lobby” which counteracts the non-orthodox majority. Included in the group of Orthodox member Churches in the WCC are the pre-Chalcedonian churches, which, though they are not in Eucharistic unity with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, share their theological, ecclesiological and moral positions.

Also, there are certain theological criteria in the WCC which are required for acceptance as Council member. A church group seeking membership in the WCC must confess faith in the Triune God-the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, confess Christ as God and Saviour, share the theological tenets of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Organizations that do not meet these criteria cannot become members of the WCC. Despite all the differing positions, viewpoints, ecclesiological tenets, moral principles between Orthodox and Protestants, faith in the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ as God and Saviour remain as the platform which unites the member churches of the WCC.

Q: What is the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to the “branch theory?”

The attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church towards the “branch theory” is defined in no uncertain terms in the same document “Basic Principles of Towards the Non-Orthodox,” as follows: “The Orthodox Church cannot accept the thesis that despite historical divisions, the essential, profound unity of Christians allegedly remained inviolate and that the Church must be perceived as coinciding with the entire “Christian world,” that Christian unity exists above denominational barriers and that the fragmentation of the churches is simply a result of the imperfect level of human relations. This concept states that the Church remains one, but that this unity is insufficiently apparent externally. In this model of unity, the task of Christians is not seen as re-establishing lost unity, but expressing unity which exists and cannot be taken away. This model repeats the teaching borne of the Reformation of the “unseen church.” Just as unacceptable is the concept, connected with the above idea, of the so-called “branch theory,” which supports the normalcy and even providential nature of the existence of Christianity as separate “branches.” It would be difficult add to this definition.

Q: Why has the General Assembly in Porto Alegre gone practically unnoticed by Orthodox society?

I wouldn’t say that it went unnoticed. Some Orthodox and church- focused media outlets commented. One internet site posted a photo- gallery entitled “Hot sun, warm sea, the embrace of ecumenical friends.” There was no warm sea at Porto Alegre, of course: the city is two hundred kilometres from the sea. But the sun was indeed hot. There were long hours of meetings over the course of ten days, and tense discussions, and the exhausting flights of the delegates from Europe and Latin America and back. If anyone thinks that this is all entertainment and leisure, he is deeply mistaken. This is work – difficult work, draining and thankless. It is thankless because within the “ecumenical concordance” you are considered either a retrograde or a conservative, and they quarrel with you and criticize you, while “at home,” you are accused of betraying Orthodoxy for the mere fact of participating in such an event.

The photo-gallery on that site was aimed at demonstrating a deliberately anti-Orthodox and frivolous spirit of the event. For instance, the camera photographed a normal discussion: people sitting on a chair and talking. The caption, however, reads: “Orthodox delegates during an ecumenical prayer.” Or a photograph depicting Brazilian dancing (during breaks in the meetings, in fact, local dance groups did perform). The caption reads: “Fire worship becomes a mandatory rite of ecumenism.”

It goes without saying that when the Russian Orthodox Church’s participation in inter-Christian dialogue is portrayed by the press in this manner, there is a concrete aim in mind: to spur mistrust for the hierarchy, to coax schismatic feelings. Such propaganda, as a rule, comes from the various schismatic structures: for example, the Old Calendar Greeks, or the “alternative Orthodox structures” at home. In the past, such propaganda caused no small trouble in the relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and I am truly happy that at the present time we have the opportunity to discuss this problem face to face, in open and good-willed dialogue.

Q: Why does the ROC/MP continue to participate in the WCC?

The Moscow Patriarchate continues to participate in the WCC for a whole series of reasons. Some of them I mentioned in my previous explanation. In deciding the question of whether to remain in the WCC or withdraw, the Moscow Patriarchate is guided by the following tenets of the “Basic Principles of the Attitude Towards the Non-Orthodox,” namely: “In the matter of membership in various Christian organizations, the following criteria are to be met: the Russian Orthodox Church cannot participate in international (regional/national) Christian organizations in which a) the by-laws, rules or traditions require a rejection of the teaching or traditions of the Orthodox Church; b) the Orthodox Church does not have the opportunity to bring testament that it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; c) the method of decision-making does not take into account the ecclesiological self-recognition of the Orthodox Church; d) the rules and procedures assume the force of “majority opinion.” The level and forms of participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in international Christian organizations must consider the internal dynamics, the agenda, priorities and character of these organizations as a whole. The scope and measure of the participatin of the Russian Orthodox Church in international Christian organizations is determined by the Hierarchy based on notions of benefit to the Church.”

At the present time, the WCC does not fall under any of the four categories listed as criteria which make the participation of our Church in an international Christian organization impossible. We recognize the fact that in the period between the Harare and Porto Alegre Assemblies, the WCC did everything possible to address the wishes and demands of the Orthodox Churches with full responsibility. In this situation, withdrawal from the WCC would have been unfounded.

This does not mean that the Russian Orthodox Church will always remain members of the WCC. This organization is evolving: today it suits us more, tomorrow it may suit us less. In that case, membership will once again be an acute problem, as it was in the mid-1990’s.

I would like to share one observation I made over my ten years of participation in the WCC and other inter-Christian dialogues. Today, the Christian world is more clearly divided into two groups. On one hand is the group of Churches which insist on the need to follow Church Tradition: this group includes, mainly, the Orthodox Churches, the pre-Chalcedonian Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. On the other end of the spectrum are those Protestant communities in which following Tradition was never the norm, in which there is a rapid liberalization of doctrine, of moral principles and church practice. The latter group includes in particular, the majority of Protestant communities of the North. The chasm between the “churches of Tradition” and the churches of a “liberal bent” is now so significant, and it is widening so quickly, that it is difficult for me to foresee how this “inter-Christian collegiality” can be preserved in the near future.

The fact that our church already broke dialogue with the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Church of Sweden attests to the fact that the inter-Christian community, if you will, is “bursting at the seams.” It is difficult to doubt that other Northern Protestant Churches will follow the lead of the American Episcopalians and Swedish Lutherans, and that soon the bonds will tear on a regular basis. In this case, one fine day, “the union of Protestants and Orthodox,” as the WCC is today, will simply not bear the weight of accumulated differences, and the “ecumenical ship” will sink.

There are now two obvious essentially-differing versions of Christianity — the traditional and the liberal. The abyss that now exists divides not so much the Orthodox and Catholics, or the Catholics and Protestants, as the “traditionalists” and “liberals” (with all the conventions of such labels). Of course, there are defenders of traditional values in the Protestant camp (especially in the Southern churches, that is, Africa, Asia, Latin America). But a liberal attitude prevails among the Protestants.

In this situation, I suppose that a consolidation is needed in the efforts of those churches which consider themselves “Churches of Tradition,” that is, the Orthodox, Catholics and pre-Chalcedonians. I am not talking about the serious dogmatic and ecclesiological differences which exist between these Churches and which can be considered within the framework of bilateral dialogue. I am talking about the need to reach an agreement between these Churches on some strategic alliance, pact, union for defending traditional Christianity as such — defense from all modern challenges, whether militant liberalism, militant atheism or militant Islam. I would like to underline that a strategic alliance is my own idea, not the official position of the Moscow Patriarchate.

We do not need union with the Catholics, we do not need “intercommunion,” we do not need compromise for a doubtful “rapprochement.” What we do need, in my opinion, is a strategic alliance, for the challenge is made to traditional Christianity as such. This is especially noticeable in Europe, where de-Christianization and liberalization are occurring as persistently as the gradual and unswerving Islamization. The liberal, weakened “Christianity” of the Protestant communities cannot resist the onslaught of Islam; only staunch, traditional Christianity can stand against it, ready to defend its moral positions. In this battle, the Orthodox and Catholics could, even in the face of all the differences accumulated over the centuries, form a united front.

The strategic alliance I propose must first of all defend traditional moral values such as the family, childbirth, spousal fidelity. These values are subjected to systematic mockery and derision in Europe by liberals and democrats of all types. Instead of spousal fidelity, “free love” is promoted, same-sex partnerships are equated with the union of marriage, childbirth is opposed by “planned families.” Unfortunately, we have serious differences in these matters with most Protestants, not to speak of fundamental theological and ecclesiological character.

I will use as example a conversation with a Lutheran bishop, held within the framework of a theological dialogue with one of the Northern Lutheran churches. We tried to prepare a joint document in the defense of traditional values. We began to talk about abortion. I asked: “Can we put in the joint document that abortion is a sin?” The Lutheran bishop responded: “Well, of course, we don’t promote abortion, we prefer contraception.” Question: “But abortion is in the opinion of your church, a sin, or is it not?” Reply: “Well, you see, there are various circumstances, for example, the life of a mother or child could be in danger.” “Well, if there is no threat to either the mother or the child, then is abortion a sin, or not?” And the Lutheran bishop could not concede that abortion is a sin.

What is there to talk about then? Abortion is not a sin, same-sex marriage is fine, contraception-wonderful. There it is, liberal Christianity in all its glory. Besides Orthodox Christians, only the Catholics preserve the traditional view of family values in Europe, and in regard, as in many others, they are our strategic partners.

Q: In your opinion, what forms of ecumenism are acceptable, and which are utterly unacceptable in church life?

Intercommunion is unacceptable, the performance of “ecumenical services” together with churches with which we do not have Eucharistic communion is unacceptable, the “branch theory” is unacceptable, unacceptable are any compromises in theological, ecclesiological or moral matters. Unacceptable is theological syncretism, when the foundations of the Christian doctrine are diluted, when the fundamental postulates of the Orthodox faith are questioned.

Allowable, and necessary, are those forms of inter-Christian dialogue which give the Orthodox Church the possibility of freely witnessing the truth in the face of the non-orthodox world. One shouldn’t forget what the “Basic Principles” states: “Witness cannot be a monologue, since it assumes the existence of listeners and therefore of communication. Dialogue implies two sides, a mutual openness to communication, a willingness to understand, not only an “open mouth,” but also a “heart enlarged” (II Cor. 6:11).

Source: The Official Website of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Cherishing enemies

The law used to demand that your neighbor be loved and allowed hatred against an enemy. Faith, rather, requires that enemies be cherished. It breaks the tendency we have to be peevish and urges us to bear life’s difficulties calmly. Faith not only deters anger from turning into revenge but even softens it into love for the injurer. It is merely human to love those who love you, and it is common to cherish those who cherish you. Therefore Christ calls us into the life of heirs of God and to be models for the just and the unjust of the imitation of Christ. He distributes the sun and the rain through his coming in baptism and by the sacraments of the Spirit. Thus he has prepared for us the perfect life through this concord of public goodness, because we imitate our perfect Father in heaven.

— St. Hilary of Poitiers (315-367):

On Matthew 4,27; SC 254:146-48

Recommended Reading – Winter 2006

Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit

by Herman A. Middleton

Protecting Veil Press, 2004

The Precious Vessels are eight 20th-century Greek elders, each presented in a short biographical essay followed by a collection of sayings. Modern-day elders are not all tucked away in caves. Several lived in the world, and one, Elder Epiphanios, was a parish priest in Athens.

Their counsels are rich, deep and varied: slow and prayerful reading of each of them might be a Lenten reading program. Some might easily be taken for extracts from the Philokalia; others are recognizably of our own time, though timeless in their origins: Elder Paisios says There are no people more blessed than those who have made contact with the heavenly television station and who are piously connected to God.

The interplay between monastic separation from the world and love for the world runs as a motif through the book. Consider this from Elder Amphilochios of Patmos: My children, I don’t want Paradise without you. Whoever plants a tree, plants hope, peace, and love and has the blessings of God.

A foreword by Geogios Mantzaridis stresses that a transformed world comes about through transformed people, and that the monk plays a pivotal role in the world’s re-unification: Universality as a qualitative category is not realized through the agreement of people, not even of all the people in the world, but through their inclusion and union in every particular human person… Divided people are not able to form a unified world… The center of… division is found in the heart of man, in the inner man… Universal humanity is the result of the appearance of universal people…

Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos continues the theme: The monk flees far from the world, not because he detests the world, but because he loves the world, and in this way he is better able to help the world through his prayer, in things that don’t happen humanly but only through divine intervention. In this way God saves the world.

— John Brady

Listening to Islam

by John H. Watson

Sussex Academic Press, $25, 109 pages

In a quartet of essays, Fr. John Watson of the Royal Asiatic Society, writes about Christian-Muslim dialogue. The first two essays are on Christians, Thomas Merton and Kenneth Cragg.

Mertons point of entry to Islam was his interest in the mystical tradition of the Sufis. Cragg, a translator and analyst of the Quran, is a scholar who has devoted much of his life to the Arabic language and its people.

Watson then focuses on two Muslim writers, Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian radical ideologue of the Moslem Brotherhood, and Ziauddin Sardar, a contemporary Islamist philosopher. Qutb, who claimed, Islam is the solution that should be imposed by force, is contrasted with Ziauddin Sardar, who describes himself as a skeptical Muslim in search of Paradise.

War and the Christian Conscience

by Joseph J. Fahey

Orbis, $15, 205 pp.

This primer on war and the Christian conscience begins in an imaginary college classroom as students react to news that the draft has been reinstated. Why cant I finish college? asks one student. Why do I have to go? These urgent and personal questions offer the entry to a clear and comprehensive outline of the basic Christian responses to the problem of war. As Fahey shows, the Christian tradition has supplied a variety of answers: pacifism, just war teaching, the ethic of total war, and the vision of a world community. How do we decide which one is right? How does one go about forming his personal conscience? Fahey offers a well-constructed, concise and practical guide.

Blessed Among All Women

by Robert Ellsberg

Crossroad, $20, 316 pp.

In All Saints, Robert Ellsberg gave us a portrait of a holy man or woman for each day of the year. In The Saints Guide to Happiness, he dug deeply into the holy life — the tools of sanctity, the struggles, questions, the ways in which people have lived a godly life. Now Blessed Among All Women takes us into the personalities, the lives and accomplishments of a wide range of holy women, many of whom have been overlooked. Using the Beatitudes as a framework, Ellsberg presents such women of valor as Etty Hillesum, Adrienne von Speyer, Cornelia Connelly, Mother Maria Skobtsova, Dorothy Day, Xenia of St. Petersburg, Brigit of Ireland, and dozens more martyrs, prophets, teachers, and reformers. His descriptions of their conversions are among the most moving passages in the book. For some, transformation comes after long prayer, while others are changed by their work with the poor, a transforming friendship, a reckoning with illness, or an encounter with Christ after an experience of loss. In finely crafted short biographies, Ellsberg provides us with many inspiring models of holiness, each providing a challenge to the reader.

— Fr. Michael Plekon

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality As a Christian Tradition

by Christine D. Pohl

Eerdmans, $18. 205 pp.

Although hospitality was once central to Christian identity and practice, Christians in the West today tend to know little about its life-giving and sacramental character. Making Room revisits the Christian foundations of welcoming strangers and explores the necessity, difficulties, and blessings of hospitality. Pohl traces the eclipse of this Christian practice, showing the centrality of hospitality for Christians in the early Church, then turning to such contemporary models of hospitality as the Catholic Worker, LAbri, and LArche. Pohl shows how understanding the key features of hospitality can better equip us to faithfully carry out the practical call of the Gospel. Pohl does not gloss over the cost in providing hospitality. She discusses the question of boundaries and limits in the practice of hospitality. Hospitality, she writes, is the hallmark of sanctity in the modern world. The books cover is most appropriate: an icon of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah to their angelic visitors under the oak of Mamre.

War and the Iliad

by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff

121 pp, $14.95, New York Review Press

Two essays by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, both written during World War II and long out of print, are brought together in this small book, both profound responses to Homers poem about the disaster of war.

Rachel Bespaloffs essay, written partly in response to Weil, illuminates the complexities of Homers characters, with a focus on the existential drama of choice and a difficult awareness that at times, war is the only option.

Simone Weils essay is one of the uncompromising mystic moralists most famous and powerful works, a reading of Homer which is also a nightmare vision of war as a machine in which all humanity is lost. It has served as a manifesto of pacifism.

Force, as defined by Weil, is that x which turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing.

Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Consequences of Killing

by Rachel M. MacNair

Praeger, $55, 198 pp.

Very few studies of posttraumatic stress disorder have focused on people who have killed others. Psychologist Rachel McNair, a researcher into connections between various social issues of violence, has taken a giant step in filling the gap.

Sufferers of Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress may be soldiers, executioners, abortionists, or police officers — men and women in roles in which it is socially acceptable or even required for them to injure or kill other human beings. Scattered evidence of PITS is consolidated, its implications are explored, and potentials for future research are suggested.

Compared to the more widely understood Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, there appears to be greater severity and different symptom patterns for those affected by PITS. Obvious differences to be explored for those who kill include questions of context, guilt, meaning, content of dreams, and sociological questions, leading to special implications for therapy and violence prevention efforts. This is a groundbreaking study.

The author is director of the Institute for Integrated Social Analysis, a research organization specializing in the connections between various social issues of violence. She was also editor of the journal, Studies in Prolife Feminism, published by Feminists for Life.

Conversations by e-mail – Winter 2006

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPFs e-mail discussion list.

A life based in experience

Orthodoxy, being a way of life that is based in experience rather than in merely repeating formulated doctrines, calls each person to live their faith.

In contrast to the pure individualism of Enlightenment Protestantism, I think Orthodoxy makes a strong appeal to the fact that we are relational beings, and so everything doesnt hinge on what one person thinks/believes, but rather each persons thoughts, experience, beliefs are tested by Tradition — that collective experience of the people of God. That is the conservative principle in Orthodoxy.

And here I think it is worth us considering whether total and absolute personal freedom — the ability to do and think whatever we want, whenever we want to do or think it — is not actually opposed to the Christian notion of love. Can a person really love (where love is something directed to another, or places the other first) if they are determined to always do what they want when they want to do it? Does not love in the end require surrendering some personal freedom in order to love the other? And are not we as humans actually given that great freedom: the ability to deny the self in order to love the other?

Orthodoxy has had a creative response to the many challenges and contingencies which it has faced during its history. Its leaders and saints have not responded only with pat formulas, but by keeping in mind the past experience of the Church in its members, and thus the saints in every generation bring forward the collective and refined experience of the Church to deal with new challenges and the need for new ways of presenting the faith in order to stay faithful to the tradition. Repeating pat formulas is not the same as staying faithful to the living Tradition of the Church.

When one looks at Tradition in the big picture of history one sees that there was often a great outpouring of creativity in the church. The hymnology and the canons are very creative traditions that emerge in time. The cathedral rite emerged over time replacing earlier liturgical forms and then, when times changed, was replaced by the monastic rite.

But Orthodoxy in general still relied on the real experience of its faithful — in the sacraments, in hesychasm, etc. — to carry the faith forward. Formulas and rubrics were not all important, valued though they were. Somehow the dogmas and liturgical life brought forward to a new generation the recognized experiences of the saints for new generations to learn from and to which to compare their own experiences.

In Orthodoxy if we experience our Tradition (listen to and try to live by what we pray in liturgy — even as simple as let us pray to the Lord, Let us attend!, Let us stand aright, let us bow our heads to the Lord, let us love one another) — then we might have some greater awakening of the consciences of our members.

Fr. Ted Babosh

Neither liberal nor conservative

As Orthodox Christians, our every striving, our very bones seek the will of God and to become and live as Christians. It is not my striving to be liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. None of these labels cuts the mustard. None of these things is the calling of my eternal soul. Christ is, however, and living his precepts is a huge and very real challenge in this world. And, conversely, contrary to many peoples opinions on both sides of the aisle — to be a liberal Democrat does not equate with being a good Christian any more than does being a conservative Republican equate with the faith of our Fathers.

Once I heard a story shared by the poet Maya Angelou. She shared that once she met some folks and they came up to introduce themselves. They said, Were Christians. Her reply was, Already?!

Perhaps if we think about ourselves first as Christians in process and dis-attach ourselves from party politics and all of their inherent guises and blinders, even in this fallen world and through the darkened glass we peer through, we might be able to not only see ourselves much more clearly, but also, we may be able to see and discern better our brothers.

Matushka Elizabeth Perdamo

A shift in priorities

Being in Holland, I live far from the American scene and dont know how things are shaping up regarding the Orthodox church and OPF support in the US, but is it really true that the majority of OPF support tends to come from the liberal camp? That surprises me.

I wonder if something isnt happening in American politics in recent years that is characterized by a major shift in priorities and values, not only between the Democrats and the Republicans but within the two parties themselves? I find myself much less sympathetic with the Democrats and far less likely to regard myself as a liberal than I did thirty years ago. I hear the occasional Republican voice that really resonates with where my head is at — and has been since I became Orthodox. But I hear a great deal in both parties that sends me running for cover. I wonder if this sort of thing isnt happening for many Orthodox, who find themselves alienated by both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Nancy Forest

Selling all

Sell all you have and give to the poor. I have long been haunted by this Gospel passage and felt not only challenged but judged and condemned by it.

I talked about this in confession some time ago with our the rector, Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov. He urged me not to think of the text only in economic terms. To sell all and give the proceeds to the poor should be understood as an open-ended invitation to self-giving love. While this has a financial aspect, it equally involves being more attentive to others, listening more closely, giving time and attention even though I may feel I have no time, praying more for others, etc. He was concerned that I was looking at the Gospel through too narrow a keyhole: money.

Judas was scandalized that valuable perfume was wastefully poured over Jesus; according to him, it should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. It must have seemed to Judas that Jesus was violating his own teaching. (Perhaps Judas was a person preoccupied with money?)

I dont think Fr Sergei was trying to get me off the hook but rather to deepen my understanding of what selling all and giving might mean in my life.

Jim Forest

Small steps

Theres an overused expression the perfect is the enemy of the good — and I fear that I sometimes let commandments like sell all serve as excuses for complete inaction. I cant imagine giving all, so Im less likely to give some…

But Ive found that giving some is a self-lubricating process. We do a little, discover that not only are we still alive to tell the tale, but that weve benefitted — so were strengthened to do a little more.

So I find that in practice the best way for me to read sell all and the like is to take them as commandments to do something. When Ive done something, more somethings seem possible.

Ive just been reading the lives of the Righteous Joachim and Anna (Sept. 9), parents of the Most Holy Theotokos, and was struck by this line from the Prologue:

They lived devoutly and quietly, and of all their income they spent one third on themselves, distributed one third to the poor and gave the other third to the Temple, and they were well provided for.

Something we might bring to mind when we murmur about unrealistic calls to give a mere tenth of our income to the Church and the poor.

John Brady

In Communion

The Fall In Communion arrived yesterday. What a beautiful, beautiful issue! I sat down and read it from cover to cover last night. I stayed up late because I found it so greatly encouraging that I just couldnt put it down.

Thank you so very much for the wonderful article on conscientious objection. How very helpful it is! As a child of a bellicose nation, I really needed some help understanding the ancient Churchs perspective. I plan to order extra copies.

Sometimes I am touched by a mysterious grace and find myself unable to sleep. Reading this issue affected me that way, and I was awake all night in joy. I think my holy angel embraces me somehow when this happens. I do not end up a basket case the next day, either. Its very puzzling, but I am getting accustomed to it now and just enjoy it when it happens. It turns out to be a night of joyful silence.

Sally Eckert

On poverty

Im at work on a book about poverty and think Im beginning to make some good progress on understanding this from an Orthodox point of view. The traditional teachings about almsgiving and care for the poor are just that — traditional and very powerful and demanding, especially when one focuses on the writings of the Three Hierarchs.

On a more practical matter, I was delighted to find a group seriously discussing a basic income guarantee for the US:

I had thought that this sort of discourse had gone by the wayside in the US after all of the welfare reform movements of the 90s in which the Democrats under Clinton joined with the Republicans to effectively sell out the poor — at least in terms of governmental anti-poverty policy.

Im convinced that such a guarantee has got to be part of any effective and comprehensive anti-poverty policy in the US given that we have never been able to generated enough private sector jobs so that all of those who are expected to work can do so on a full-time basis and live above the US poverty line.

What astounds me is that most Christian response to poverty in this country virtually ignores this sort of discourse. To the extent that any of various Orthodox Churches in this country address poverty, the same situation arises.

A basic problem in the US is that the economy seems unable to produce enough jobs. Nor is the problem of poverty always solved by those who have jobs. Granted that an increase in the minimum wage would help some of these people. One has to remember that more that half of the people in poverty in the US live on incomes that are less than half of the poverty line for the family. Except in rare periods, unemployment rates hover around 5-6 percent. When combined with underemployment — increasing low wage part time jobs — there simply are not enough jobs to go around so that all of the people the US expects to work can find jobs at living wages — above the poverty line (which is far too minimal to begin with). More education and job training are great, but you have to have to jobs for that to work.

The stigma of poverty is inherent in capitalism for the simple reason that capitalism promises to deliver the goods — if you work hard enough, you will not be poor. Acknowledging massive structural causes of poverty — inherent problems with unemployment — implicitly critiques capitalism as an economic system. The stigma of the poor is a buffer against that sort of guarantee; it is rampant in our society and in the policies we formulate. (The one possible exception was during the great depression when there were too many good white folk unemployed to believe this particular myth of capitalism.)

The welfare system in this country is degrading to the poor not because of too many benefits but because it is effectively designed to reproduce the poor through policies that are inherently defective in terms of anti-policy poverty whether in principle of because of inadequate funding.

The welfare reform movements of the 90s, which were supposed to end welfare as we know it, continue this tradition. The poverty rates have climbed as unemployment rates have climbed and the economy has soured. It astounds me that people are surprised about this failure of the welfare reforms.

But then these reforms were effectively geared not to eliminate poverty, but simply to get people off the dole, for the simple reason that none of the welfare to work programs ever dealt with the problems of a sufficient number of jobs for people. Those programs were created during an economic boom when unemployment was low. Even then people moved off welfare often to live in dead-end low paying jobs. Why was any one surprised when things got worse when unemployment dramatically increased and the low-wage labor market grew bigger.

John Jones,

Professor, Department of Philosophy, Marquette University

A European perspective

My impression is that Orthodox Christians in Europe are committed to the existence of the strong social net that has been created in the post-war years: subsidies for children, housing subsidies for those in need, post-high school educational support, universal health care, support for the unemployed and handicapped, public transportation, etc.

Due to my kidney illness, I have good reason to be grateful that Im in Europe rather than the US. When I go into the local pharmacy for medication that would cost us hundreds of dollars a month in the US, I bring home what I need without paying a penny. Nor is there any question in Holland of being deprived of health insurance or good medical care because of ones economic condition, having chronic illness, etc. Sickness here is not an economic catastrophe that quickly reduces the victim to poverty.

Jim Forest


I agree with John about the welfare system being counter-productive and self-perpetuating.

The one factor everyone keeps not noticing is that the poorest of the poor are assumed to be stupid, incapable of education. Having worked in a proprietary school (in the 1970s, before I entered the monastery), I was acutely aware of how much the poor — especially the Black poor — were counting on job training to get them out of the slums. As Dr. Jones rightly observes, this helps only if there are jobs.

But I noticed something else. Most of these people couldnt speak, let alone write a coherent sentence. Their math skills were virtually non-existent. And this wasnt because they were stupid. Its because they were ignorant — by which I mean uneducated. And that was transparently the fault of an inadequate public school system.

Nearly all of the students in my school were subsidized by federal grants, and took on government guaranteed loans besides. There was a less than stellar completion rate, and the schools placement office got to work only with actual graduates of the 9 to 18 month programs intended to prepare them for work as medical records clerks, or as medical and dental assistants. Yet they could barely use the English language or do the calculations needed for prospective employment, so the instructors had to give a lot of attention to remedial details before they could successfully teach their courses technical content.

But proprietary schools are businesses whose main interest is making money, which they get paid regardless of the graduation rate or employment of their graduates. In a way, this is also true of the public school system in the ghettoes.

It became easy for me to predict which students would graduate, and which would find jobs they could keep. It took me a while to catch on to the cynical business attitude of the industry, but not long at all to gauge new students chances of success based on their use of language and their ability to understand even the simple calculations of their grants and loans.

So I take a dim view of job training per se. I want there to be better school education and I want to see more poor kids do well academically in high school so they can be successful in college and then find a good job.

Federal subsidies ought to be channeled into this endeavor, along with federal support for a greatly increased minimum or living wage, which should be indexed by annual — not hourly — income.

Fr. James Silver

An appeal

This letter was e-mailed to Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, on the 8th of December:

Years from now, when you look back on your years as governor of California, you will no doubt have quite a number of painful memories. In the column of memories that will comfort you, let one of them be your decision to save the life of Stanley Williams.

Trials are far from a perfect mechanism. Time and again innocent people are found guilty and even executed for crimes that were in fact committed by others. In making a life-saving decision in this case, you will be sending a positive message to many young people whose lives have been influenced for the better by Mr. Williams books.

Jim Forest, secretary,

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Note: Williams was executed December 13.

Doing Unto Others

Ive been thinking a lot about nonviolence versus violence. For me the dichotomy is not between the communal and the personal but rather between this world and the next, between our mortal life and eternal life.

I think nonviolence is clearly an eschatological witness. Jesus death on the cross is the ultimate paradigm of this nonviolent eschatological witness. But is it a paradigm for the smooth functioning of government, of nation states, even for cities or neighborhoods? I doubt it.

There was a bumper sticker in the 80s and 90s that said something like imagine a world without violence or visualize world peace. I could never do that. All I could manage was envisioning the end of the world as we know it. Imagining a world without violence is like imagining a world without sin, like imagining the world before the fall of Adam and Eve. I cant do it except as an act of faith and hope in the life of the world to come, in the universal resurrection of which Jesus resurrection is the prototype.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote about the tension between this world and the world to come. We live in the world but are not of it. We live for the sake of the world, its salvation and theosis, but our spirit is not of this world. The Gospel proclaims that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that the end of the world is upon us, the eschaton, and yet we continue eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, doing business, acquiring property — and using all available means to protect it!

Aside from a few radicals and saints, we err on the side of this world! And the Church as well, even more so. After all, the Church is us.

So far as I can tell nations, cities and communities need at least the threat of violence to maintain something that we recognize as minimum order. Does that mean there is no place for Christians refusing military service, or refusing to retaliate, or witnessing to unconditional love? Absolutely not. We need to witness Christs love, which is the love at the end of the world, the love of the Second Coming. We need to pray for the end of the world as we know it because, for all its beauty, there is something terribly wrong with it. We need to pray that precisely because we love the world so much, because we cant stand the status quo with its acceptable levels of violence, with its destitute poor, with all its broken minds and broken hearts.

Paul del Junco

Preventing war in Iran

I have been asked to take on co-coordinator duties in the US for an effort to forestall military intervention in Iran. I wanted to direct those who are interested to our website and ask your prayers and advice, from any of you who would want to offer them, or who know someone whom I should be contacting.

Those who are particularly interested can let me know, and Ill share the list of peace groups and others that I have thought are logical ones to reach out to for support or possible collaborations. You may have additional suggestions about how to get this effort into high gear fast enough to make a difference, now that the referral of Iran to the Security Council seems all but assured, and things may pick up speed on the path to war.

Alex Patico

OPF in Minnesota

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is alive and well in Minnesota. We have a small but faithful group that has been meeting every month now for almost two years. We have an ecumenical advisory board of eight people that is still growing. Here is a quick run down of who we are and some of our accomplishments and goals:

We chose a patron saint — Mother Maria of Paris.

We had Jim Forest come and speak twice — once at the inception of our chapter, and once to speak on the topic of Christian Discourse in Politics.

We helped out with a group in our area called Families Moving Forward that works with local churches in opening up their space to homeless families.

We planned and held a Love Celebration on Valentines Day last year at a local homeless shelter. We will be doing this again this year.

We have arranged talks about OPF at local Orthodox churches.

We have gone to many meetings and locations to assess the needs of the poor in the Twin Cities metro area and find out what is being done to help them and what other needs there may be.

We have held an advisors dinner to bring our advisors together and further clarify our goals and needs.

OPF members from Minnesota took part in the OPF national conference at St. Vlads last summer as well as the conference on Violence and Christian Spirituality at Holy Cross in October.

We spent many hours talking about, investigating and trying to educate ourselves and others on how to open an Orthodox House of Hospitality in this area. This includes phone calls and visits to Catholic Worker houses in Minnesota.

We have had regular meetings the first Tuesday of every month for the last two years.

We have produced three newsletters.

We have raised $3650.00 as a down payment on a house of hospitality.

We are in the process of planning a Lenten Retreat on serving the poor in which we hope to have Joe May of Matthew 25 house come and speak on his experience founding and running a house of hospitality.

In addition to this, I have taken a position as a volunteer and am serving on the executive board of a homeless shelter in the area called Peace House.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Renee Zitzloff

OPF in Kansas

I just bought a copy of For the Peace From Above from Eighth Day Books. It looks like a wonderful resource for our little Peace Fellowship Group. Our group seems to have developed in an interesting way. We are getting some interest from older people in the congregation. For some it may be first of all a social outlet — but I think it is a good sign that they feel comfortable with the conjunction of Orthodox and peace.

Don Lemons

Conscientious objection

Let me tell you how something I did this week made me appreciate OPF all the more. With my 14-year-old daughter, I attended a presentation on conscientious objection given by a local mother who is a peace activist and draft counselor. Among other things, we learned how to begin building a file of supporting documentation for a conscientious objection claim. The presenter and several attendees were Mennonites. I was reminded, wistfully, of how nice it is to have the kind of support and affirmation they have from their church for their anti-war efforts — and CO status claims, should that become necessary. Whereas in the Orthodox Church, well, you know how it is; acceptance of militarism is probably about the same as in the general population, and many Orthodox have a low opinion of conscientious objectors.

I was glad to notice that the conscientious objection essay on the OPF web site includes discussion of saints who were COs of their time.

One of the things my daughter mentioned on the way home was how difficult it is to want to reject the thinking represented by the Marine chant, Blood Makes the Grass Grow (we watched the video with that title), to feel the profoundly anti-Christian nature of such an outlook, and yet to know that many Orthodox Christians support war and criticize those who refuse. I feel inadequate to the task of helping my kids sort all this out, being rather bewildered by it myself, and really appreciate the help OPF offers.

So I came home feeling inspired to make a donation to OPF. And I was happy to find that youve added a PayPal button for donations to the website. That makes it marvelously easy, and thats important. Viva OPF! How I hope OPFs message will spread further and that more Orthodox will attend to it.

Diane Boardman

On our web site: Orthodox Christians and Conscientious Objection

Memories of Margot

Nancy Forest with Margot Muntz

Margot Muntz, one of the founders of the Orthodox parish of St. Nicholas in Amsterdam and a former president of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, fell asleep in the Lord on July 11, 2005. An account of her life is posted at:

News Winter 2006

Iraq War: body counts revived

Eager to demonstrate success in Iraq, the US military has abandoned its previous refusal to publicize enemy body counts and now cites such numbers to show the impact of some counterinsurgency operations.

The Pentagon has admitted for the first time that it is counting civilian casualties in Iraq. The figures, slipped into a bar graph in a report to the Congress, show that the number of Iraqi casualties has more than doubled in the past 18 months.

Nearly 26,000 Iraqis have been killed or wounded in attacks by insurgents, with an estimated 26 casualties a day between January and March of last year, rising to 64 a day in the run up to the referendum on the new constitution.

On October 16, the US military reported 20 insurgents killed and one captured in raids on five houses suspected of sheltering foreign fighters in a town near the Syrian border. Six days earlier, the 2nd Marine Division issued a statement saying an estimated 70 suspected insurgents had died in the Ramadi area as a result of three separate air strikes by fighter jets and helicopters.

That statement reflected some of the pitfalls associated with such statistics. The number was immediately challenged by witnesses, who said many of those killed were not insurgents but civilians, including women and children.

During the Vietnam War, enemy body counts became a regular feature in military statements intended to demonstrate progress. But in the end the statistics proved to be poor indicators of the wars course. Pressure on US units to produce high death tolls led to inflated tallies, which tore at Pentagon credibility.

In Vietnam, pursuing a strategy of attrition, body counts became the measure of performance for military units, said Conrad Crane, director of the military history institute at the US Army War College. But the numbers got so wrapped up with career aspirations that they were sometimes falsified.

Italy plans Iraq troop withdrawal

Italy will withdraw 1,000 of its 2,600 troops in Iraq by June and aims to finish its mission there by the end of this year.

Defense Minister Antonio Martino told a parliamentary committee in January that Italy will gradually end its military presence and phase into a presence that would be substantially civilian in nature.

Italy, with the fourth largest foreign contingent in Iraq, faces a general election next April where the unpopular Iraq war is likely to become an issue.

Most Italians and all opposition parties were opposed to the troop deployment.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that all the troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2006.

UN official: terrorism fight hurts torture ban

The US-led fight against terrorism is eroding the international prohibition of torture and other forms of cruel or degrading treatment of prisoners, the top UN human rights official said in December in a statement issued on Human Rights Day.

Louise Arbour, the UNs High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that holding suspects incommunicado in itself amounts to torture.

She also expressed concern about efforts by some US policymakers to exempt CIA interrogators from elements of the UN Convention Against Torture. Vice President Cheneys office has sought to block efforts to subject CIA personnel to the 1984 conventions ban on the use of cruel or degrading treatment of detainees.

Arbours statement said that the absolute ban on torture, a cornerstone of the international human rights edifice, is under attack. The principle once believed to be unassailable — the inherent right to physical integrity and dignity of person — is becoming a casualty of the so-called war on terrorism.

Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, while not specifically naming the US in her statement, criticized two elements of US counter-terrorism policy: the use of severe interrogation techniques, and the rendition, or transfer, of suspected terrorists to countries known to have engaged in torture.

She questioned the value of obtaining diplomatic assurances from governments that they will not torture such individuals. There are many reasons to be skeptical about the value of those assurances, she said. If there is no risk of torture in a particular case, they are unnecessary and redundant. If there is a risk, how effective are these assurances likely to be?

Arbour said that moves to water down or question the absolute ban on torture, as well as on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are particularly insidious. She added that governments in a number of countries are claiming that established rules do not apply anymore: that we live in a changed world and that there is a new normal.

Bartholomew: the Green Patriarch

Down a narrow alleyway in a quiet corner of Istanbul, is the residence of Patriarch Bartholomew. As a Christian leader living in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey, many Turkish citizens do not even know of his existence or his office. Yet internationally Bartholomew is considered one of the most socially-engaged religious leaders of our time, championing environmental awareness and interreligious dialogue.

The Patriarchate traces its lineage back to St. Andrew the Apostle. It has remained in Constantinople up to the present day, long after the Turkish conquest of Byzantium in 1453. Conditions have often been hard, especially during periods of nationalist conflict between Greece and Turkey. The Greek community of Istanbul, 150,000 strong a century ago, now numbers around 3,500. The Church of Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest churches and architectural masterpieces in history, was first converted into a mosque and now is a museum.

Religious minorities in Turkey have been the victim of statewide stifling of religious pluralism. The famed Greek Orthodox theological school of Halki was closed by the Turkish government in 1971, at the time of the Cyprus crisis, to combat what was claimed to be anti-Turkish rhetoric and religious propaganda.

In order to enter the Patriarchal Residence, one must walk through a metal detector because of bomb attacks by Muslim zealots and Turkish nationalists.

These conditions, Bartholomew says, give him the resolve to encourage interreligious dialogue with his fellow Muslim neighbors and to transform his church into a global institution.

Since his inauguration in 1991, Bartholomew has been an outspoken critic of environmental abuse and has worked closely with scientists and ecologists to make environmental concerns a central religious concern. Pollution, he says, is a sin against creation and a sacrilege of the duties given to mankind to protect earth and nature.

In an address given in Venice in 2002 before signing a declaration for environmental awareness with Pope John Paul II, Bartholomew argued, We are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our consumption of food and natural resources. Each of us is called to make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say, No or Enough will we rediscover our true human place in the universe… Greed and avarice render the world opaque, turning all things to dust and ashes. Generosity and unselfishness render the world transparent, turning all things into a sacrament of loving communion — communion between human beings with one another, communion between human beings and God. This need for an ascetic spirit can be summed up in a single key word: sacrifice. This exactly is the missing dimension in our environmental ethos and ecological action.

He backs efforts to combat global warming. Climate change is more than an issue of environmental preservation, he said at a UN conference in Montreal in November. It is a moral and spiritual problem. Unless we take radical and immediate measures to reduce emissions stemming from unsustainable — in fact unjustifiable, if not simply unjust — excesses in the demands of our lifestyle, the impact will be both alarming and imminent.

Environmental destruction also takes place within our own bodies, he says. Whether we commit physical acts of self-inflicted violence in the form of drug abuse or mental violence in the form of over-consumption and vainglorious narcissism, we pollute our bodies as much as our rivers, oceans, forests and air.

He also condemns the pollution of religion in the form of selfish and unscrupulous theologians and demagogues of all faiths who dump religious waste into our churches, mosques and synagogues.

In 1994, the Patriarch spearheaded what has become known as the Bosphoros Declaration, denouncing all forms of religious fundamentalism that embraces violence, xenophobia, warfare and the physical harm of others, especially toward women and children. Standing with Muslim and Jewish colleagues, Bartholomew called for an end to all violence perpetrated in the name of God, declaring that a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion.

Turkish Istanbul, much like Byzantine Constantinople, stands as a bridge between Europe and Asia, between Greece and Turkey, between East and West, between Christianity and Islam. Bridges, the Patriarch says, do not divide people, but unite them. [Michael Rossi]

Patriarch Theophilos enthroned in Jerusalem

The new Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, Theophilos III, was enthroned in November in a ceremony at Jerusalems Church of the Ascension.

The enthronement was attended by Greek President Karolos Papoulias and representatives of all the Orthodox Churches and Patriarchates, including Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens.

In his enthronement speech, Theophilos referred to the recent problems experienced by the Jerusalem Patriarchate and stressed the difficult task that lay before him in his efforts to emerge from the sea of corruption and fraud.

President Papoulias said the day marked the start of a new course. The Jerusalem Patriarchate recently underwent major upheavals that momentarily threatened to turn it aside from its path. Your unanimous election trumpeted the desire of the Holy Sepulchers Brotherhood to fight to restore it to the glorious position it deserves in the modern world, Papoulias said.

The ousted former Patriarch Irineos, who remains shut in his quarters at the Patriarchate, issued a statement claiming that he was still the rightful Patriarch and that those putting a new Patriarch on the throne were acting illegally. Irineos was removed by the Jerusalem Patriarchates Holy Synod following a scandal that implicated him in the long-term lease and sale of Patriarchate land in the Old City of Jerusalem to Israeli interests.

Theophilos is the 140th Patriarch of Jerusalem, Palestine, Syria, beyond Jordan River, Cana of Galilee and Holy Zion.

He was born in 1950 in Messinia, Greece. In 1964, he went to Jerusalem. He served as archdeacon for then Patriarch Benediktos. From 1991 to 1996, he was a priest in Cana in Galilee, which had a predominantly Israeli Arab flock.

In 1996, he was one of the first Christian clergymen in centuries to develop a relationship with the Wahhabi Islamic society of Qatar, historically under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.

He subsequently served as Exarch of the Holy Sepulcher in Qatar. From 2000 to 2003, he was church envoy to the Patriarchate of Moscow. Before becoming patriarch, Theophilus served for a short time as the Archbishop of Tabor. He was consecrated to the episcopacy in January 2005.

Israeli authorities have not yet acknowledged the new Patriarch. Under Church law and custom, any new patriarch must be approved by the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Palestine and Jordan approved Theophilos election in September.

Monks on Mount Athos trade blows in latest siege

On Mount Athos in Greece, violence erupted between monks during the latest attempt to evict a group of Orthodox monks who are bitterly opposed to dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.

A police spokesperson said no one was injured in the fight. Footage shown on Greek television depicted the rival groups of monks trading blows, kicking one another and pulling each others hair.

A spokesperson for the Esphigmenou Monastery said workmen and rival monks tried to knock down the monastic communitys offices at Karyes on Mount Athos.

They used pickaxes, spades and crowbars to try to break down the door, the spokesperson, Fr. Neophytos told journalists after the fracas on 24 November. They were trying to throw us out.

The dispute dates back more than 30 years. The rebel monks have been accused by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos of attempting to create a schism in the church. They in turn have called him a heretic for the Orthodox churchs policy of engaging in dialogue with the Vatican.

The rebel monks were ordered to leave Mount Athos in 2003 but refused to do so.

Conference on Violence

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, held a weekend conference in October on Violence and Christian Spirituality. Topics ranged from Nonviolence in Orthodox Tradition, Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Patristic Tradition, Ecumenism, Inter-religious Dialogue, Human Rights, to Domestic Violence.

Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, delivered the keynote address on A Christian Spirituality of Peace and Justice in a Violent World. His condemnation of violence was based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the early church and such saints and martyrs such as Stephen, Paul and Silas. He noted that justification of violence leads to greater violence.

One of the most concrete sessions was the time allotted to the crucial issues of domestic abuse by a panel of four speakers. They noted that abused women are often told to go home and pray or go home and be a better wife by those they seek counseling from inside the church structure. Dr. Kyriaki FitzGerald also referred to the problem of clergy misconduct and sexual abuse and noted that for systems of violence and abuse to change, each individual within the community needs to change, as these types of betrayal are a problem of the heart.

It was noted that the primary vehicle for the transfer of violence from one generation to another is the abuse of the mother. In homes where the mother is abused, there is often child sexual abuse. We were told that on Super Bowl Sunday more domestic abuse occurs than any other day of the year and that more animal shelters exist in the US than shelters for abused women.

Paulette Geanocopoulos reported that hospitals have developed systems to screen incoming patients for signs of domestic abuse. This can and should be done in other contexts, including the Church. Victims have a better chance of healing, she said, when the legitimacy of their grievances are recognized by the Church. [Renee Zitzloff]

Orthodox witness at rally for life in US capital

Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America and veteran spokesman for the sanctity of life, once again lead hundreds of Orthodox Christian marchers at the 33rd annual March for Life in Washington, DC, on January 23, 2006.

Metropolitan Herman addresses March for Life rally

The annual march laments the US Supreme Courts Roe v. Wade decision of January 22, 1973, that legalized abortion on demand in the US.

Metropolitan Herman has participated in the event for nearly two decades, leading hundreds of Orthodox Christians in prayerful witness to the sanctity of life from the moment of conception.

Perhaps the greatest gift God has given us is life, Herman said in an encyclical letter. When He spoke to Moses in the burning bush, God revealed that He is the very Source of Life — Life and Existence Itself.

All life is an extension of and a participation in His life.

As such, life must be respected, honored, seen for what it is: a revelation of the One Who is Life Itself, a gift given to mankind that ultimately leads us to become partakers of his divine nature, as Saint Peter reminds us.

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to wisely steward the precious gift of life.

This means … that any diminishing of lifes importance must be shunned, any willful acts that prematurely or unnaturally bring human life to an end must be loudly rejected and condemned.

One cannot be a wise steward of Gods gift of life while, at the same time, supporting agendas that minimize this gift or see life as something expendable, unimportant, or cheap.

An entire generation of Americans has experienced — and, sadly, has come to accept — the notion that life is something held in mankinds hands, rather than Gods.

Every day, the number of innocent children being aborted grows. The acceptance of euthanasia as a means of providing death with dignity for those who are beyond medical help or terminally ill is gaining momentum.

The call to expand the use of capital punishment is growing louder by the year. In the meantime, appropriate care for the elderly, the poor, the institutionalized, and the disenfranchised is becoming harder to find and is seen as a secondary issue.

More photos of the rally as well as the full text of the encyclical are on the OCA web site.

Waking Up Under a Green Sky

By Maria C. Khoury

Driving to school the day after the Palestinian elections and seeing green flags everywhere was an overwhelming shock. I had been complacent about what the results would be. No matter how corrupt and negligent the Fatah Party of the late Yasser Arafat had been in the past ten years, I assumed it would, as a moderate party willing to negotiate with Israel, retain control of the Palestinian Parliament. We voted and went to sleep with these comforting thoughts and woke up with 76 out of the 132 seats in the legislative council going to Hamas, the extreme Islamic Resistant Movement.

The Hamas victory simply means that the people were fed up with leaders who did nothing for them. They wanted a change and had limited choices. Hamas was, after all, renowned for its social services. Perhaps Hamas could do something about the poor health care, the Israeli occupation, the 60 percent unemployment, the complete absence of social security? For many people, voting for Hamas seemed the only way to punish the Fatah for forgetting about the people and living the good life while the majority survive on a few dollars a day.

Even in a small Christian village like Taybeh, 28 votes went to Hamas! I was shocked. How could a Christian vote for a fundamental Islamic party? The answer is that it was the only way voters could tell Fatah that they were fed up, that Fatah had failed the people.

As a Christian woman living under a Hamas government, I am not worried that I may have to veil up and wear long skirts. This is the least of my problems. In order to keep walking the footsteps of the Lord, I will follow these superficial rules. What worries most people is which way Hamas will focus. Will they opt for a moderate point of view and become statesmen? Or will they initiate an extreme Islamic rule.

Assuming Hamas wants the international community to continue support for Palestine, Hamas has no choice but to move in a moderate direction and accept living side by side with Israel.

Ramallah is currently one of the few cities in Palestine that is modern, open in culture and thought, and has some type of a night life. Most of us want to see Ramallah maintain its way of life. Women walking the streets in western clothing have been acceptable. Men and women sitting together in cafes and restaurants do not turn heads. If Hamas wants to be accepted by the world and survive in the long term, it must adjust its fundamentalist viewpoint.

If Hamas insists on strict enforcement of the rules of the Koran, my husband had better work on a new non-alcoholic Taybeh Beer recipe fast or the Taybeh Brewing Company will be shut down, as were several breweries in Iran.

If Hamas opts for a strict Islamic position, it will cut Palestine off from the financial and moral support that the international community has offered since even before the Oslo Agreement. It will greatly affect our educational system if the Ministry of Education does not allow the current freedom of choice when it comes to religion. In private schools, Christian students currently have the choice to take Christian religion instead of Islamic religion.

What worries me more is the struggle that could play out while members of Hamas and others members of the Palestinian Parliament struggle to influence the leadership. We could be on the brink of a civil war.

The first indication of this battle revealed itself the moment Hamas members took down the Palestinian Flag in Ramallah and replaced it with their green flag. Shooting followed. Such fighting among Palestinians scares me even more than seeing Israeli soldiers putting guns to my sons head on the way to school.

For the moment, we are waiting. Pray for us. We are facing not only the Israeli occupation but the possibility of strict Islamic rule. May the ramifications of this political earthquake be bearable.

Either way the Christian response is found in the Gospel: Love your enemies; Do good to those who hate you; Bless those who curse you; Pray for those who abuse you; Turn the other check to those who strike you.

Dr. Khoury is the chairperson of the Taybeh Orthodox Housing Project which has started to build twelve homes for Orthodox Christian families in Taybeh-Ramallah to help maintain the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, 1907-2005

by Jerry Ryan

On November 26, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel died while reading in bed. She was 98. Until the end she was alert, ever-curious and active. She had just returned from Oxford, England, where she had been invited to give a talk on her friend and mentor, Fr. Lev Gillet, whose life had been the subject of one of her books.

Fiercely independent, she lived alone in a two-room flat overlooking the Seine in the suburbs of Paris. Her apartment was cluttered with books, reviews, journals and photos of friends long deceased but ever-present for her as well as those of her many descendants. Friends also found a supply of red wine in one of the cupboards. She was no stylite except, she noted, when the elevator in her building broke down.

Elisabeth Behr-Sigel on the day of Mother Marias canonization

She occupies a unique place in Western Orthodoxy. For 70 years she helped guide a church dispersed and uprooted from its cultural heritage towards its adaptation to its new situation, challenging it to overcome its divisions and also to enlarge the role of women. Her background predisposed her to such a mission. She was born in Alsace; her father was Protestant, her mother Jewish. She received a masters degree in theology at the Protestant Faculty of Theology of Strasbourg and became the first woman authorized by the Reformed Church of Alsace-Lorraine to preach and exercise a pastoral ministry.

Her ministry lasted but a year. Already, as a student, she had been captivated by the beauty of the Orthodox liturgy and spirituality. At the age of 24, she officially embraced Orthodoxy. In time she married an exiled Russian engineer, Andrý Behr. They would have three children who would provide an impressive number of descendants. (Andrý died in 1968.)

During the Second World War, the family was living in Nancy where Elisabeth taught in the public school system. She would later refer to this period as her real apprenticeship in ecumenism — when people of different traditions formed a tight-knitted group of spiritual resistance to Nazism. They put together a network to shelter Jews and provide escape routes.

After the war she followed free courses at St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris which, at that time, did not allow women. She later returned to St. Sergius as a professor. While in her 70s, she obtained a doctorate in history from the University of Nancy. She taught at the Catholic Institute of Paris, the Ecumenical Institute of Tantur near Jerusalem, the Dominican College of Ottawa, and St. Sergius. She was a regular contributor to many reviews and helped to revive the Orthodox theological journal Contacts. She was the author of books on Orthodox spirituality, on the role of women in the Orthodox Church, and a biography of Fr. Lev Gillet. She was much in demand for workshops and conferences.

As important as her writings and classes may have been, they reflected only one aspect of her activity. She thought it critical that Orthodoxy open itself to the riches of its sister churches and root itself in the local culture. The various Orthodox jurisdictions in France, for example, should become the Orthodox Church of France. She saw the divisions in Christianity as constituting an authentic scandal. While fiercely defending what is essential, Orthodoxy must present the Gospel to the contemporary world.

After retiring, Elisabeth devoted much time and energy to the promotion of women in the Orthodox Church — respectfully, almost humbly, but with firm conviction and solid theological arguments. She helped create an awareness that women had been relegated to an inferior status that was not according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and had to change.

Though challenging Orthodoxy on many fronts, she was always a faithful and loving daughter of her church — without stridency or bitterness or animosity and often with a mischievous sense of humor which kept her opponents off guard.

The presence of Elisabeth in all this was discreet, constant and pacifying. She considered herself a very minor and unimportant part of things. She would enjoy speaking at length of the great and imposing personalities who surrounded her but was very reticent about her own role — as if it were the grandeur of others that mattered and her only worth came from having known them.

From the time of the refounding of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in 1988, she participated in its work both as a member of its advisory board and participant in all the OPF conferences that met in France.

She was far from an imposing physical presence; she appeared fragile, as if a good gust of wind would blow her away. When, after her death, people were arranging her apartment, they found her driver’s license which she had renewed at the age of 90 without telling anyone. Friends related that she was pulled over by the police several times because they couldn’t see anyone behind the steering wheel — her line of vision was just above the dashboard.

Last year she had the joy of participating in the canonization of Mother Maria Skobtsova, whose writing and work Elisabeth so greatly admired.

Elisabeth’s ecumenism was not simply theoretical. She moved with ease among the different Christian traditions, always seeing the positive, always curious and ready to learn. Her 95th birthday was celebrated in the Carmelite convent of St. Elie in Central France with the presence of two Orthodox bishops, a Greek Catholic Bishop, the vicar generals of three Catholic dioceses and several eminent Protestant pastors. This, in itself, was a magnificent testimony of their esteem for this diminutive grandmother whose love embraced them all and brought them together. It was a way of recognizing that, in her, the Christian unity so desired and prayed for had been realized — hopefully, prophetically.

Learning Forgiveness in Narnia

by Eric Simpson

Recently I took my son to see the film version of C.S. Lewis novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. More than its message of redemption, the film, like the book, powerfully illustrates the simplicity of forgiving others. The younger brother, Edmund, betrays his brothers and sisters through lies and deceit, but once redeemed by the sacrifice of Aslan, he is forgiven, and humbly reconciled with them.

There have been times when I have struggled with my concept of forgiveness. I have thought of it as the absence of punishment, not seeking to punish others for the sins they have committed against me. This is a good beginning, but I think it falls short of understanding what authentic forgiveness is, and what it can become. Forgiveness is not an absence; it is the presence of something that eradicates all pain, and that destroys barriers of communion. It is more than a negative extension of mercy; it is an active energy radiating from the presence of love. True forgiveness yearns for something more than mere restraint.

When a person repents, as does Edmund, he should certainly forgive, which includes refraining from punishment. One problem that results from seeing forgiveness as an absence rather than a presence is the idea that one might attempt to forgive without the presence of divine love. It is possible to refrain from punishing another person without actually forgiving him. Having been traumatized, deeply wounded, one thinks he should forgive, but does not seek or find the healing that can only be found in the presence of love. One might not authentically forgive just as one might not really repent. We may think we can relent from punishment but continue to judge the person who has hurt us.

Love that forgives is not primarily an emotion, nor is it merely the absence of punishment, but it is the presence of divine personality. This kind of love cannot exist without self-knowledge, which provides one with the ability to know the other, the subject of ones love. The love of God is a consuming fire; love always seeks to eradicate barriers to communion. It is radical in its willingness to completely release others from their offenses.

This doesnt mean that one needs automatically to trust an offender again, putting him or her in a position where re-offense is possible, in order to truly forgive. An obvious illustration might be the habitual cycle of abuse that occurs in domestic violence cases. Through divine love, a victim can authentically forgive the person who has been abusive without reconciliation.

If someone harms my kids, I may be empowered by Christ to forgive, but that doesnt mean Im going to let them hang out with my kids again. In such cases, certainly a person must prove himself to be repentant over time before responsibility in the relationship is returned, if it is ever returned, or before trust is regained. Trust is earned. Yet authentic forgiveness strives for the mutual knowledge that defines love, and for spiritual reconciliation.

If we truncate our understanding of forgiveness so that it becomes a negative act, the withdrawal of punishment rather than the full release of the person who has injured us, authentic repentance and reconciliation become more difficult. A person can no longer simply repent, cannot experience a change or transformation of heart, cannot turn away from sin, cannot go and sin no more as did the woman caught in adultery, cannot come to his senses as did the prodigal son. Edmund would not be crowned Edmund the Just, the twisted personality that has been made straight, but he would have to spend years proving himself, perhaps indefinitely, before being allowed into the court of his brothers and sisters, which may be understood as spiritual reconciliation in the kingdom of God. The prodigal son would be given into the care of his elder brother, who would not punish him, but would not give him the fatted calf either.

Simplicity of heart and true freedom results when I forgive others. It actually allows me not only to love my neighbor as myself, but to love my enemy, the person who continues to wound me and is not repentant. Forgiveness annihilates bitterness, and liberates my relationship with God.

I remember often that unless I forgive others, I will not be forgiven by God. Also, I know that forgiveness, like repentance, is a gift. When it comes to complex situations, there are degrees of forgiveness. What is just in each case depends on the persons involved in the measure of faith each has and the grace each person is given. In any case, however, there is no border dividing offenders from forgivers. We are all offenders and we are all forgivers. Repenting and forgiving is like walking, the daily exercise of grace. We have the saints and martyrs to uphold us and serve as examples.

Sometimes I think that forgiveness is really the easiest thing in the world to do because it does not depend on the person who is being forgiven, or on any outside circumstance (such as whether or not the person seeks it), but it is entirely dependant on my own interior state and willingness to forgive. By the same token, forgiveness is sometimes the most difficult thing in the world to do, and impossible if I do not constantly seek to be transformed by the presence of love. It takes this presence to authentically repent. It is also necessary to truly forgive.

Eric Simpson is a freelance writer. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where he is a member at St. Sophia Orthodox Church.