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Conversations by e-mail: Winter 2007

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

Pacifism: There was a letter last week from a new OPF member who had hesitated to join because she could not call herself a pacifist. “I confess I still have trouble with pacifism,” she wrote, “not so much with an individual being pacifist within his or her own individual circumstances, but with national defense.”

I responded by pointing out that in fact one does not have to be a pacifist to belong to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. I went on to say that the aspiration to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution is something all sane people have in common, yet few would say that they would never use violent methods to protect the innocent. All we can do is attempt to find ways of responding to injustice that are consistent with the Gospel. Clearly nonviolent methods are to be preferred to violent. In working for peace, I don’t think it helps to describe ourselves as pacifists. It’s enough to say that we are attempting to be Christian peacemakers. Pacifism is a modern word. In the Oxford English Dictionary, which organizes its definitions historically (oldest first, most recent last) and also provides examples of word usage, it is not surprising to find the earliest examples of the words “pacifist” and “pacifism” are from the first decade of the 20th century. Pacifism is defined as “the policy or doctrine of rejecting war and every form of violent action as a means of solving disputes, especially in international affairs.” It is also “the belief in and advocacy of peace- ful methods as feasible and desirable alternatives to war.” A pacifist is a person “who rejects war and violence as a matter of principle” or “advocates a peaceful policy as the first and best resort.”

I find dictionary definitions helpful and use dictionaries almost daily, but people do not hear dictionary definitions. They hear sounds which may suggest very different meanings. The major problem with the word “pacifist” is that it sounds like “passive-ist.” Yet there is nothing passive about peace-making. To work for the healing of a divided society is not just watching with folded hands from a safe distance.

The ideological charge that words ending in “ism” have is also a problem. Christianity is not an ideology. It’s a way of life in which love of God is impossible without love of neighbor.

We need not label ourselves pacifists, but peacemaking is not something optional for Christians.

Jim Forest

[email protected]

Peace in the parish: Our parish’s patron is St. Nicholas of Myra, which means not only that the temple is dedicated to him but that he is literally a patron and protector of it. When I’m aware of any trouble in the parish, I try to remember to pray to St. Nicholas to intercede for our church and to guide and protect us in the conflict we face. All of us, including me, could do more of this.

While “fleeing the situation” sounds cowardly or irresponsible, I believe that there’s a “holy fleeing” too. In every parish, there seem to be some who see the Church and its local manifestation in relatively worldly, political terms. Structural problems, differences between factions in the church, tend to seem very important to them, and they want you to see them as very important too – in brief, to take sides, to have an opinion in whatever the conflict is. It’s difficult not to get sucked into that worldview and that agenda, but in my view it’s worthwhile.

John Brady [email protected]

Global warming film: Tonight we had a public showing of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the film on global warming made by Al Gore. I’m not sure how many the theater holds, but every seat was taken and around 100 people were turned away, and this was in a small suburb of Vancouver. This is the fourth event we have participated in representing the Canadian branch of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and I believe the most successful.

By popular demand, we’ll have a second showing this week. OPF-Canada is also arranging with the David Suzuki Institute for a special program on Global Warming to be held jointly, one session at the Monastery and one at the local University College. This event will take place in February.

+Archbishop Lazar

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The Atlantic Divide: Since living in Europe, I have been impressed by how much more environmentally conscious Europeans are than Americans – that is, more concerned about genetically modified food, more intensive use of public transport, more interest in fair trade, and generally in better physical condition. Oddly, this conscious- ness seems to not apply to smoking. At least here in Romania, it is nearly impossible to find a smoke free restaurant to eat in while in the US, we have whole states where each restaurant is totally non-smoking, yet we pollute the world with our gas guzzlers, eat the most unhealthy of foods, and inject our livestock with synthetic hormones and chemicals. Why the contradiction on both sides? Strange.

Monica Klepac

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Depression: It would be good to remember that the effectiveness of anti-depression drugs is regularly exaggerated or even falsified by their promoters; and that some kinds of “talk therapy” and even exercise programs have been proven to be as effective as drugs for many sufferers.

The depressed person often isn’t in a position to be a “smart shopper,” but his loved ones may be doing him a service by looking up the available interventions and the numbers that support them before automatically filling that prescription. John Brady [email protected]

Failed strategy: I find the question of depression of personal interest, as I have been inclined to depression throughout my life. I have never taken drugs to deal with it. I’ve come to agree wholeheartedly that drug therapy, especially as the first and primary resort, is a failed strategy. It avoids dealing with the real causes, whatever they may be. It is quick, easy, and oh so American. By examining my own life, I’ve found three things that contribute to bouts of depression. First, I think some people are inclined by temperament toward a more melancholy disposition. I am. I tend to slide to the dark side for a number of reasons, some of which I have identified, some not. I have friends who claim, astonishingly, to never have suffered a minute of depression! Second, there are numerous environmental factors that contribute to depression. They may range from what I had for breakfast or how well I slept, to the state of my relation- ships, to what is in the air and how much sunshine I enjoy, all the way to socio-cultural factors that I can’t understand or control. Third, there are spiritual factors. Sin matters. Worship matters. My orientation to God, others, and life all matter. By prioritizing spiritual things, I secondarily affect my depression. Whenever I realize I’m being affected by depression, I try to run down a mental checklist to find if there is something I’m overlooking in one of those three categories.

My tendency toward depression does not obviously involve any kinds of physical or chemical abnormalities that should be treated medically. I have had a great deal of success in “treating” myself through attention to the primary causes of my own depression. Whatever residual depression I suffer from still, I think I’m predisposed to, and I can live with that.

A further insight that may be helpful is that it seems to me from what I’ve learned that we can experience happiness and sadness, joy and grief, and suffering and blessing all at the same time. I’m therefore not sure that the goal is to rid ourselves completely of things like depression. Depression can actually be part of our giftedness and can be made a useful tool in whatever God has given us to accomplish. Accepting that has actually given me some joy – I think the way I’ve experienced God is in large part a function of what I’ve suffered, including from depression. That must be a good thing.

Pieter Dykhorst

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Psychiatric pharmacology: My mother was wrongly diagnosed as depressed for forty years. It was only toward the end of her life that she was correctly diagnosed as bi- polar and appropriately medicated, so her last years were comparatively normal. I doubt she would have had the emotional or even the physical wherewithal to do without her medications. I have great respect for sensitive and appropriate psychiatric pharmacology.

I’d like to share with you a comment made by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, himself a medical doctor and psychiatrist: “A great many mental illnesses could be avoided by a sincere confession early on.” Now, this is true psychiatry, whose etymology yields “healing of the soul.” In my experience, the “talking cure” applied in many schools of non-pharmacological psychotherapy is a first cousin to spiritual direction, since it’s rooted in the affect, or the area of choices we make based on what we think we know.

As such, it could take a longer or shorter time, but I’m always happier with short-term psychotherapy than with any approach which takes more than six months or so, and I think that Freudian psychoanalysis is completely useless.

Generally, I’d rather rely on active-directive psychotherapeutic models with the client’s needs clearly in focus than with any one-size-fits-all theory. We are individuals, each of us reflecting something of the divine image unique to ourselves, and we should appreciate each other as such, no matter the context. And this is exactly how we must do spiritual direction, too.

Monk James Silver

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Drug withdrawal: It is human instinct to alleviate suffering, indeed to escape it, and our culture has certainly taken that to an extreme. After years of struggling with the meaning of my depression, looking for causes, psychological family history, spiritual perspectives, and so on, I finally succumbed to my own weariness and the voice of our medical culture that said it was biochemical and genetic, and started taking anti- depressants. I really wanted a “fix.” All I got over three years was a minor reduction in morbidity and a lot more tiredness. The last year I was getting desperate, trying several different drugs, and finally at my worse moment, I thought: maybe I’m just supposed to bear it. This is my thorn in the flesh, this is my “karma.” It is simply who I am. Was it not possible that all my obvious family history of mental illness (two suicides in my immediate family!) had a spiritual meaning as well, that in fact we can’t separate the spiritual from the physical/psychic? Spiritually, I was simply bearing the sins of my father. (Medically, it was an inherited condition that with the right treatment could be eliminated or at least controlled, like diabetes – so doctors told me). With my spiritual father’s approval (he was psychiatrist as well), I gradually with- drew from drugs and have now been drug free for eight years, apart from one six- month period.

And here is the paradox: That if I really give my assent to this cross of mine (but there is no faking this assent), if I really let it pierce me in all it’s personal horror, then in the long run I’ll “feel better” because I know that I have the incredible privilege of being joined to Christ’s own act of redemption. For only he took on the full weight of the human condition. But because he did it, now we can too, our own personal share of it.

Paul del Junco

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Beatitude of mourning: I just spent the whole train ride back from Amsterdam thinking about the Beatitudes, in particular “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (We’re having a series of discussion on the Beatitudes at church, and this is the one I’m going to be discussing.) Could this be what Christ was saying – to assent to the thing that’s causing you pain? Does it have to do with exercising the full extent of one’s personal freedom in Christ, to accept the cross and ride it out to the very end? And that this is the key to “comfort” – the root meaning of which is to be strengthened – in Christ?

Nancy Forest

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From Pakistan: I have just received the Fall issue of In Communion. I have gone through Jim Forest’s article, “The Healing of Enmity,” and found it impressive and thoughtful. If you agree, I would like to translate it into our local language for publication in our Christian newspaper, so that our readers may read its beauty and inspirational teaching.

Rev. Fr. Andrew Mushtaq

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D. C. Road, Narowal – 51600, Pakistan

Soup kitchen: I do some dishwashing one night a week at the Catholic Neighborhood Center in Wheeling. It serves three meals a day to about thirty to 100 guests. The Wheeling Soup Kitchen, a non-denominational operation a few blocks away, does comparable business.

Some of the clientele look like “street people”; others wouldn’t attract any special attention on the street. I’ve been told that very few are literally homeless – many live in subsidized rooming houses, etc. Quite a few are unemployed families or elderly people whose government checks run out before the next one arrives. It’s painful to see a young couple with kids coming to a soup kitchen.

One of the Neighborhood Center’s services is a small medical and dental clinic staffed by volunteer doctor/dentists. (I wonder how do they get liability coverage?). In this part of the world, missing teeth are pretty much the norm and wouldn’t set someone apart. The Neighborhood Center also has washing machines and showers. Good thinking.

John Brady

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Christian disunity: I’ve often thought that Christian disunity is a crime against humanity. If the world will know that the Father has sent Christ by our love for one another, what will the world think about Jesus and the Father by our schism? Probably what so many do think. Sad. More than sad, it’s disgusting, and no reason or excuse is good enough to justify the greatest failure of our history. Good will may not be enough alone, but without enormous good will to start, it will be utterly impossible – probably why it hasn’t happened. God bless the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew as they lead their flocks in the creation and showing of such good will, and may it lead to the hard work required to atone for our great sin of division and bring us back together as one body to show the world that the Father has indeed sent the Son.

Pieter Dykhorst

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A tragic wound: The first searing experience I had of this very real and sinful rift was in 1988, when I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem for the first time. I felt a tragic wound was being inflicted daily on the Body of Christ by allowing division lines to go straight through that space, the very topos marking His saving sacrifice. In that church one beholds the fruits of separation – a fragmentation of heart and purpose, the implicit violence of derailed loyalty to split traditions…The suspiciousness and absence of love are palpable for any visitor.

To this day, when I think of that Church I am overwhelmed with a tragic sorrow for our having alienated our own brothers and I want to repent for the sin of fratricidal rejection among those bearing the Name of Christ.

Ioana Novac

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Barred at the border: When I returned to Canada from my year of study in Lebanon, one of the first things I did was get a new passport. In addition to my time in Lebanon, I also had the opportunity to visit Egypt, Turkey, and Syria. In November, I was invited to give a guest lecture at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY. A friend of mine teaches a course in world religions there. He thought I’d be a good person to talk about eastern Christianity. Since I’m working midnights now, my brother offered to come along with me to drive so that I could sleep in the car.

Those who have met my family know that my brother is a different race than I am, since my parents adopted him when he was a newborn. The last time we did a road trip to the States was in early November. The immigration officer we spoke with on that trip was satisfied with the explanation. (Perhaps it helped that she seemed to have been the same race as my brother.)

On our most recent trip, however, we were told to park the car and report to the immigration office. When we walked in, we both noticed that I was the only white person on the wrong side of the counter. Everyone else waiting to speak with an immigration officer was “a person of color.”

For reasons known only to himself, the officer we spoke with decided that he did not believe me and my brother. Apparently his view was that the whole thing was simply a ruse to allow my brother to stay illegally in America. We were held at the border for over two hours. We were insulted and berated. We were threatened with arrest and huge fines. We were fingerprinted and photographed. Our rental car was searched. Finally we were sent back to Canada.

My brother was mortified, since he had only come along to help me out. My friend was mortified, since his extension of hospitality had been so brutally trampled upon. I was infuriated that my brother had been accused of being a liar and a person of poor moral character in front of me, and I didn’t dare open my mouth to defend him.

I contacted the US Consulate in Toronto two days after our return, and after wading through the automated voice mail system was finally instructed to call the Toronto airport branch of US Customs. I have yet to reach a human being at that number. For now, the monasteries that my friends and I visit in America are off-limits to me. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend this year’s graduation ceremony at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. Any church conferences are similarly off-limits to me unless they are being held in Canada. It’s really a shame to see what America is becoming.

Peter Brubacher

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Thinking about war: Attitudes toward war and peacemaking are quite varied, even in the Orthodox community, in this country, at least. Our church community here in Alaska has been together for many years, yet the Orthodox canonical development with respect to war has never been discussed. I know that the priests and deacons have considered it, but the laity has never thought about it until the past year, to my knowledge. That is sad; it would have been nice had we considered it before the country found itself at war and some of our children have gone off to serve for the most honorable reasons.

Still, we grow as we grow. We are ignorant of our blind spots. We stay under the influence of the biases we have known as we have matured.

Abortion and euthanasia have been considered already. At some point, because of God’s love, some of us begin to question the matter of war. For me this came because of an increasing awareness of what our country is doing and how very dramatically it is at odds with what God shows me in the Liturgy, as I bow to others in mutual love, respect, forgiveness; and with what He shows me in the scriptures and the homilies.

Sally Eckert

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Violence against women: Today is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, in which a deranged misogynist shot dead a number of female university students. This anniversary will be commemorated across Canada with vigils and workshops on domestic violence.

Violence against women remains a serious problem, not only in “third world” nations, but in Canada as well. We have all read of the attempts of some cultural groups to justify “honor killings” of women who marry without parental consent, who divorce abusive husbands or marry “beneath the families status,” and for other reasons. At the same time the savage and cruel practice of female circumcision continues in many parts of Africa, and the sexual torture of women in Darfur, the Congo and other places rages unabated.

The fact that most domestic violence is carried out by men against women is certainly not comforting. Indeed, it would seem that men should be in the forefront of striving to bring an end to all these acts of brutality. We should be deeply offended that our gender is being defined in some part, in so many places, by acts of cruelty and violence against women.

I would like to respectfully suggest that it might be a good subject for clergy to discuss with young people in their parishes. Those who are inclined to, might also in some small way, observe this day, which has become a semi-official memorial day for women who have lost their lives in domestic violence and in the violation of the humanity of women.

+Archbishop Lazar

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Execution in Iraq: My heart was heavy yesterday with the news of Saddam’s hanging and what it might mean for the continued cycling of violence here. What I hadn’t realized was the significance of where I’ve been living for the past few months. I was walking with Colonel T and he mentioned being in “Saddam’s hometown.” “Tikrit is his hometown?” I asked. “Yes, haven’t you heard his full name, Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti? ” I had not been aware of that. I subsequently was told that all movement to and from our base had been canceled for the next few days because of the anticipation of increased attacks.

This information became particularly pertinent today at the chapel. I was up with the choir and we were standing in the front of the congregation, facing them, off to one side. Father K stood behind the congregation at the back entrance where he signals the choir to start the service so that he can walk down the center aisle to the altar as we sing. Today he waved at us to begin with his trademark big smile and… BOOM!!! The building shuddered. Everyone froze. The choir did not begin singing. Faces all around were wide-eyed and some looked frightened. I looked back again to Father K and he seemed uncertain of what to do. There was dead silence for several seconds that seemed like several minutes. He reached over to a small basin of holy water, dipped his fingers into it, and crossed himself. A few more moments of silence and then Father K smiled sheepishly and waved at us to begin again. Captain H snapped out of her own reverie after a few seconds and announced the song. After the service we all agreed it must have been a controlled detonation somewhere in the vicinity, otherwise an alert would have gone out. Regardless, as I came out of the chapel I half expected to see a smoldering crater nearby. I was struck by just how focused I’d been in those timeless moments. Priorities were clear, all things superfluous were instantly burned away. The unspoken challenge to myself seemed to be one of “how do I get that back?” and “how does one maintain such a state?” How is it that I so seldom feel the realness of what is real? I think I must be amassing questions here that I’ll have the rest of my life to try and answer.

Aaron Haney

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Eternal memory: George Zarifis, 80, a longtime member of our Minnesota Chapter of Orthodox Peace Fellowship, died in his sleep on January 12, 2007. Despite his age, it was unexpected – just like George himself.

George was a founding member and our secretary, recording the notes for our OPF meetings each month. I have the notebook in which he kept track of the life of our little group. I’m glad we have them now, not just to remember what our group has discussed and done, but to remember George.

More than just our secretary, George was a guiding light and tireless worker in our chapter as we have pursued our desire to open an Orthodox house of hospitality in the Twin Cities area. He has had a hand in every event and project we have sponsored or supported, sharing his time, money, talent and generous love in so many ways.

The last time I visited with him was shortly before Christmas at a prayer retreat sponsored by his parish, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis. He was involved in many ways in the life of the Church, including being an usher and greeter with a warm smile and kind heart.

It grieves me that George did not live to see the day that our Orthodox house of hospitality for the poor will open in Minnesota. He truly believed in this shared vision of our small chapter. Frequently he would ask in a bewildered way, “Why don’t more people join us?” I was never able to answer that question. Would that the words “peace” and “hospitality” would draw a crowd. Perhaps George, with his background in the military and his own life of outreach, had a deeper sense of the essence and interconnectedness of these two words, and the need for them to be lived out in concrete ways.

In my tears I draw hope from the sense that George has gone to be with the Lord. I pray that he is interceding for us who still struggle on earth for peace, justice and salvation.

The thoughts, prayers and compassion of all of us in the Minnesota OPF chapter go out to George, his wife Cleo and his family. It will be awhile before we again see his smile, feel his warm hug, his gentle laugh and words of wisdom.

Memory Eternal, dearest George. You are missed. Pray for us as we pray for you.

Rene Zitzloff

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In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

News: Winter 2007

An Orthodox Appeal Against New Nuclear Weapons

In December Dn. John Chryssavgis, representing Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, presented testimony before a hearing at the US Department of Energy, the agency responsible for nuclear weapons. He opposed development and production of a “new generation” of nuclear weapons. Extracts from his statement follow:

“As theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, I have observed how environmental protection and peaceful coexistence among nations define his worldwide ministry, as witnessed most recently by his joint declaration with Pope Benedict during the Papal visit to Turkey.

“Why is increasing nuclear armament still uncritically considered a viable option when the sheer costs are exorbitant: human, financial, environmental and moral? … If taxpayers continue subsidizing weapons development, nuclear waste disposal, insurance against accidents (human and ecological), and the decommissioning of older facilities, then the financial expense alone of nuclear arms removes them from contention.

“Nuclear weaponry absorbs enormous intellectual and physical resources, directing scientific research away from the promotion of authentic human values toward the production of destructive devices…

“Submitting to the temptation of nuclear solutions betrays the moral fabric of the soul that directs us to solutions that benefit the whole world (environmentally) in the long-term, not the few (economically) in the short-term…

“Not only is nuclear weaponry unsustainable; it is primarily destabilizing. With the increasing danger of international terrorism – and with the US’s rightful insistence against the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran – the sheer vulnerability of nuclear facilities and weapons, combined with their leverage in the acquisition of further nuclear weapons, ought not simply to encourage the reduction, but also to oblige the elimination of nuclear arms. Nuclear dissuasion (based on the logic of fear) is no longer a valid policy or strategy.

“At the level of security, it is time to move beyond refinement to reduction of arms; and to move beyond mere deterrence to elimination of nuclear weapons. How can we ever imagine a future of peace when interests and investments increase in production of nuclear weapons and the development of facilities? Simply put, security based on force is no more legitimate than peace based on terror…

“It is not only a matter of adhering to religious principles of peace, which is justifiably the primary focus of religious institutions. It is a matter of common sense. Our world has received glimpses of the threat of nuclear destruction. Yet, we continue to blunder along the present path with all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. A ‘Reliable Replacement Warhead’ program can be neither reliable nor responsible. What will it take for us to realize that it is not … ‘modernization’ but a return to outdated politics of fear and power. It does not simply affect specific regions or states, but ultimately threatens the security of the nation as a whole and indeed the entire planet.

“The question is … how serious we are as a nation to lead the world with an alternative vision, which interprets power differently and promotes peaceful coexistence globally. And the US surely has a unique and historical role to play for the sake of the planet’s survival and the life of future generations. At our present moral and strategic crossroads, the world needs to see the US enforce a step-by-step … reduction and even prohibition of nuclear facilities and weapons – not their replacement or refurbishment. It needs to see the US initiate cooperative security measures, not increasingly military security policies. Instead, what do they see? They see an unrestrained drive to impose absolute global superiority in weaponry. Yet, US action will invariably encourage and invite reaction from other nations. Perhaps it is time for self-reflection, for reconsideration of our grave political and moral responsibility on a global level.

“In spite of any skepticism regarding the efficacy of international institutions and instruments, building peace presupposes trust and cooperation. It implies perceiving the other as a partner and not as a threat, committing jointly to constraint and regulation. I have to wonder sometimes if the US cannot itself restore authority to international agencies and agreements. Have these agencies and agreements lost their credibility, or have we undermined this credibility?…

“Progressive and concerted decommissioning is the only viable pledge for long-term, moral, and courageous leadership.”

Iraqi Death Toll Exceeded 34,000 in 2006

The United Nations reported in January that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed in violence last year, a figure that represents the first comprehensive annual count of civilian deaths and a vivid measure of the failure of the Iraqi government and American military to provide security.

The report was the first attempt at hand- counting individual deaths for an entire year. It was compiled using reports from morgues, hospitals and municipal authorities across Iraq, and was nearly three times higher than an estimate for 2006 compiled from Iraqi ministry tallies by The Associated Press earlier this month.

Numbers of civilian deaths have become the central indicator for the trajectory of the war, and are extremely delicate for both Iraqi and American officials. Both follow the tallies, but neither will release them. The UN said it used only official sources, most of which relied on counts of death certificates. A vast majority of Iraqi deaths are registered, at least to local authorities, so that Iraqis can prove inheritance and receive government compensation. Some deaths still go unreported, however, and the United Nations tally may in fact be lower than the true number of deaths nationwide.

About Face: Soldiers Call for Iraq Withdrawal

For the first time since Vietnam, a robust movement of active-duty US military personnel has publicly surfaced to oppose a war in which they are serving. Those involved are petitioning Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq. Sixty percent of the signers have served in the Iraq war. Their statement is brief: “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.”

The appeal’s initiators are Jonathan Hutto and David Rogers. Hutto, 29, works in communications on an aircraft carrier. Rogers, 34, is quartermaster on a frigate. They’ve been friends since boot camp three years ago.

The petition was presented in January to Congressman Dennis Kucinich in January. “Just because you joined the military doesn’t mean your constitutional rights are suspended,” said Hutto, a petty officer third class and 1999 Howard University graduate. “True patriotism is having a questioning attitude about the government.”

The idea for the within-the-ranks antiwar group came after Hutto read Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War by David Cartwright. Hutto showed the book to Rogers. They invited Cartwright to come to Norfolk.

“I was so impressed by the seriousness of the discussion,” said Cartwright, who teach- es at the University of Notre Dame. He said “it takes guts for active military members to speak out, but they do it respectfully.”

Signers include:

Kevin Torres, 23, from Brooklyn, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne who has served two tours in Iraq. “I felt like with our being there, we were making more enemies,” he said. “The people hated us. They wanted us out of the city.”

Liam Madden, 22, a Marine sergeant from Vermont, spent seven months on the ground in Iraq. “I saw Iraq struggling to get on its feet and failing to do so – despite the best efforts of American military,” he said. “I have nothing against the military or my experience. It’s the policy I oppose.” One of the signers, Navy Lieut. Commander Mark Deaden of San Diego, enlisted in 1997 and is still considering the possibility of a Navy career. “So this was a very difficult decision for me to come to. I don’t take this decision lightly,” he says, but after two deployments in Iraq, he said that signing the Appeal was not only the right thing to do but also gave him personal closure. “I’m expressing a right of people in the military to contact their elected representatives, and I have done nothing illegal or disrespectful.”

Pope, Ecumenical Patriarch unite in Istanbul on “Christian Europe”

On a visit to Istanbul, Pope Benedict XVI prayed with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that progress would be made in overcoming ancient divisions.

“The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel,” said Benedict at a service on 30 November with Bartholomew. They met in the Church of St George on the feast of St. Andrew, the apostle and brother of St. Peter who preached after the death of Jesus in Constantinople, which is now Istanbul. Benedict and Bartholomew signed a joint declaration in which both noted the need to “preserve Christian roots” in European culture while remaining “open to other religions and their cultural contributions.”

In his homily, Bartholomew said, “We confess in sorrow that we are not yet able to celebrate the holy sacraments in unity.” Pope Benedict said his four-day trip to Turkey was aimed at resuming the process to full unity between the two oldest paths for Christianity, which remained divided, particularly over the degree of papal authority. The Ecumenical Patriarch has a special role among Orthodox bishops, though other Orthodox churches note his title in Latin is “primus inter pares” – first among equals. Part of their declaration was posted on the web site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate ( In it, the Pope and Bartholomew said, “We evaluated positively the path towards the shaping of the European Union. The key players in this huge endeavor will surely take into account all … non-negotiable rights, especially religious freedom, which is proof and assurance of respect for all other freedoms…

“In every initiative for union, minorities, with their cultural rights and religious distinctiveness, should be protected. In Europe, both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, while remaining open to other religions and their contribution to culture, should unite their efforts to safeguard Christian roots, traditions and values, in order to preserve respect for history and to also contribute to the culture of a future Europe.”

Pope, Greek Orthodox Leader Forge Anti-Secular Alliance

Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, agreed in December to join forces in defending Christian values against growing secularism in Europe.

In a joint declaration signed at the Vatican, the two leaders called for “constructive theological dialogue” on the road to Christian unity, appealed for an end to religious violence and reaffirmed the Churches’ opposition to abortion and euthanasia.

“We come,” Archbishop Christodoulos said, “to visit the eminent theologian and university professor, the assiduous researcher of ancient Greek thought and of the Greek Fathers of the East; but also the visionary of Christian unity and cooperation of religions to ensure the peace of the whole world.”

He said his visit offered the opportunity “to undertake a new stage on the common path of our Churches to address the problems of the present-day world.”

He expressed his commitment to “overcome the dogmatic obstacles that hinder the journey of unity in faith” until Orthodox and Catholics attain “full unity,” and can “commune in the precious Body and Blood of the Lord in the same Chalice of Life.”

“Europe,” Pope Benedict said, “cannot be an exclusively economic reality. Catholics and Orthodox are called to offer their cultural, and above all spiritual, contribution. It is necessary to develop cooperation between Christians in each country of the European Union, so as to face the new risks that confront the Christian faith, namely growing secularism, relativism and nihilism.”

The meeting was the first at the Vatican between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and Greece’s most senior cleric. Pope Benedict gave Archbishop Christodoulos two links of the chain with which Apostle Paul was held as a prisoner.

Met. Kirill Urges Orthodox to Stay with World Council of Churches

A senior Russian Orthodox bishop said in November that it was important for the Church to continue its participation in the World Council of Churches. Self-isolation would not serve the Church, he said in a radio interview in Moscow.

Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Department of External Church Affairs, told Radio Mayak that the World Council of Churches is the best forum for the Russian Orthodox Church to bear witness and understand the state of contemporary Christianity. “On that platform,” he said, “we have the opportunity to immediately, instantaneously, see what is happening in the Christian world … to form a clear understanding of where contemporary Christianity is heading, to bear witness to our position and convince others.” He was responding to a listener’s question during a call-in as part of the broadcast. Kirill spoke of the dangers of cutting ties with the world, both in the religious arena and beyond.

“If you take it further, then Russia should go into isolation, withdraw from the UN, from regional organizations,” he said. “Can we live in isolation in the modern world? This is suicide.”

Kirill described in Biblical terms the only acceptable reason for withdrawal from the WCC: “When we understand that the World Council of Church is ‘the council of the wicked’, then we will leave, but for now one doesn’t get this impression,” he said. [Sonia Kishkovsky/ENI]

British Christians, Muslims Unite to Keep Religion in Christmas

Britain’s Christian-Muslim Forum has strongly criticized moves to take the religious message out of Christmas in the country on the grounds that offence might be caused to members of other faiths. The forum, launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to promote interfaith relations, draws half its membership for the Muslim community.

It warned that attempts to remove religion from the Christmas festival acted to encourage right-wing extremism. Some local governments have tried to excise references to Christianity from Christmas. One renamed their municipal celebrations “Winterval”. The statement was signed by forum leaders including the Anglican Bishop of Bolton, David Gillett and Ataullah Siddiqui, director of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education. It noted that some local authorities had decided that Christmas should be called by another non-religious name. “As Muslims and Christians together we are wholeheartedly committed to the retention of specific religious recognition for Christian festivals,” their statement said, “Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we wish this significant part of the Christian heritage of the country to remain an acknowledged part of national life. The desire to secularize religious festivals is offensive to both communities.”

“Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianize British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme right. They provoke antagonism towards Muslims and others by foisting on them an anti-Christian agenda they do not hold.”

Some church leaders have criticized the British Post Office for issuing Christmas stamps with no Christian theme.

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the second highest person in the Church of England hierarchy, attacked “illiberal atheists, who under the cloak of secularism, insist that religion must be a private matter.”

Catholic and Orthodox Leaders Jointly Bless Icon

Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders in San Francisco came together in late November to bless an icon, and, in the process, help bridge a millennium-old divide. The two hierarchs together blessed a mosaic icon depicting the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Prior to the event, no Catholic archbishop of San Francisco is known to have participated in a service exclusively with a Greek Orthodox metropolitan, the equivalent of an archbishop. Both churches have been working for years to remedy their longtime tensions.

“We’re the spiritual children of our mother churches,” said Fr. Michael Pappas, pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco, where the event was held. Speaking before the service, Pappas said the local leaders’ actions were “a reflection of what is happening in Constantinople” (where Pope Benedict was visiting Patriarch Bartholomew).

“This is, after all, what Jesus instructed his disciples to do at the last supper,” Archbishop George Niederauer said in an interview before the service.

“That his followers be one, just as he and the father are one. We are trying to respond to that from our own perspective.”

Christian Population Shrinking in Holy Land

The death threat came on simple white fliers blowing down the streets at dawn. A group calling itself “Friends of Muhammad” accused a local Palestinian Christian of selling mobile phones carrying offensive sketches of the Muslim prophet.

While neighbors defended the merchant saying the charges in the flier were bogus, the frightened phone dealer went into hiding. Now he is thinking of going abroad.

The steady flight of the tiny Palestinian Christian minority that could lead to the faith being virtually extinct in its birthplace within several generations – a trend mirrored in many dwindling pockets of Christianity across the Islamic world.

But Christian populations are in decline nearly everywhere in Muslim lands, most notably in the Holy Land.

For decades, it was mostly economic pressures pushing Palestinian Christians to emigrate, using family ties in the West. The Palestinian uprisings – and the separation barrier started by Israel in 2002 – accelerated the departures by turning once-bustling pilgrimage sites such as Bethlehem into relative ghost towns.

The growing strength of radical Islamic movements has added distinct new worries. During the protests after the pope’s remarks in September, some of the worst violence was in Palestinian areas with churches fire- bombed and hit by gunfire.

“Most of the Christians here are either in the process of leaving, planning to leave or thinking of leaving,” said Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust, a Bethlehem-based peace group. “Insecurity is deep and getting worse.”

The native Palestinian Christian population has dipped below 2 percent of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem, down from at least 15 percent in 1950. The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land said Christians could become “extinct” in the region within 60 years. “It certainly doesn’t look good for us,” said Mike Salman, a Palestinian Christian who has conducted studies on demographic trends.

“Here is where Jesus was born and over there, across the hill in Jerusalem, is where he was crucified,” a Christian restaurant owner, Ibrahim Shomali, said. “We Christians now feel like we are on the cross.” Some are trying to change the momentum. Groups dedicated to Muslim-Christian cooperation are active.

During the protests over Benedict’s remarks, militiamen from Islamic Jihad vowed to protect a West Bank church. A poll released Oct. 18 by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found 91 percent of respondents opposed attacking churches to protest Benedict’s comments.

These days Palestinian Christians – dominated by Greek Orthodox and Latin rite churches – face questions about whether their hearts lie in their homeland or in the West. It gets even more complicated because of the strong support for Israel and Jewish settlers from American evangelical Christians.

“We are stuck in no man’s land,” said a leading Palestinian Christian activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of reported death threats.

“In the eyes of the West, we are Arabs. In the eyes of Arabs, we are a fifth column.” At the St. Theodosius Monastery, a site with a Christian history dating to the fifth century, the Greek Orthodox caretaker, Father Ierotheos, said he mostly remains behind the walls. He claims he was harassed by “Muslim fanatics” for speaking about Christian fears on a local television show. “It’s a jungle for us now,” he said.

US Prison Population Sets Record

In the USA, a record 7 million people – one in every 32 U.S. adults – were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to a Justice Department report released in Decameter.

Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year, according to the report. More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005. Prison releases are increasing, but admissions are increasing more.

Men still far outnumber women, but the female prison population is growing faster. Over the past year, the female population in state or federal prison increased 2.6 percent and the number of male inmates rose 1.9 percent. By year’s end, 7 percent of inmates were women.

The study found that racial disparities among prisoners persist. In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men – about one in 13 – are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men.

The figures are similar among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and more than three times as likely as white women to be in prison.

From 1995 to 2003, inmates incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth.

OCA “Stunned” by Extent of Financial Abuse

Leaders of the Orthodox Church in America, who had long resisted calls for an investigation, acknowledged in December a history of financial abuse at church headquarters in Syosset, NY.

“Large amounts of church funds were used to improperly pay for personal expenses,” said a statement issued by the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council, a governing body of clergy and laity.

Church leaders heard from attorneys and accountants hired in March to investigate allegations raised by a former church treasurer and others. Their statement said they were “stunned by the magnitude of today’s revelations.”

“The severity of some of the problems could not be fully determined due to a lack of documentation. However, these abuses of church trust were determined to be centered on and around one individual and were not found to be widespread among the employees of the church,” the statement said. The report said financial controls had been circumvented since at least 1998. It cited “numerous unsubstantiated cash withdrawals.”

It said credit cards were abused, trips were reimbursed without proper documentation, there were attempts to divert money from charities and financial reports were poorly documented, untimely and sometimes even falsified.

“The Metropolitan Council will oversee the implementation of appropriate accounting procedures in the OCA’s accounting office, which will include the replacement of antiquated accounting systems,” the statement said.

“But the new direction is clear – changes need to be made in order to bring the church to the high level of accountability that is expected of it.”

The investigation will continue under a special committee led by Archbishop Job of Chicago. It will include Greg Nescott, a Pittsburgh attorney.

Mark Stokoe, a layman from Dayton, Ohio, whose Orthodox Christians for Ac- countability had documented the allegations on its Web site, was jubilant. He said he expected more details when the investigating committee reports next year.

“It’s a great day for the OCA,” he said. “It’s beginning to restore integrity to the institutions that have really been challenged. A lot of people had been losing hope that things could be changed. This shows they can be.”

Survey: 744,000 People Homeless in US in 2005

There were 744,000 homeless people in the United States in 2005, according to the an estimate issued in January by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

A little more than half were living in shelters, and nearly a quarter were chronically homeless. A majority of the homeless were single adults, but about 41 percent were in families.

The group compiled data collected by the Department of Housing and Urban Development from service providers through- out the country. It is the first national study on the number of homeless people since 1996.

Counting people without permanent addresses, especially those living on the street, is an inexact process. But the new study provides a baseline to help measure progress on the issue.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

OPF Report to North American Bishops

Here is the report I gave to the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) at their conference last summer. It was a good time to become acquainted with the hierarchs. They asked about our focus, noting we have a wide umbrella of concerns, whether or not we are political, and, if we were to send peacemaking teams into conflict area for practical assistance, how we would approach this in the long term. They also asked to be kept informed about our conferences and other initiatives. I said that we are encouraging local chapters by creating start-up kits and developing an organized support system and that our long-term goal is to provide more practical assistance in areas of division and conflict. I stressed that we are not political, though we work to be sensitive to issues involved our responses to issues that generate division and conflict. The bishops were encouraging. I look forward to reporting to them again.

Sheri San Chirico

Coordinator, OPF-North America

Your Eminence, Your Beatitude, your Eminences, and your Graces. I come before you as the North American coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God, also known as OPF. I bring greetings from our international secretary, Jim Forest, who lives in The Netherlands. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you who we are as a fellowship of Orthodox Christians, our projects for the last year, and our hopes for the coming year.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is an association of Orthodox Christians belonging to different nations and jurisdictions trying to live the peace of Christ in day-to-day life, including situations of division and conflict. We publish a quarterly journal, In Communion, maintain an online fellowship and discussion group of our members, and hold regular conferences and workshops. We also have local chapters, the most active of which is in Minneapolis, currently raising funds to open a house of hospitality.

Issues of In Communion often have a theme, and our most recent was on Peace- making in the Parish. Hopefully you all have picked up a copy from the display table. It included three articles entitled, “Parish Ethics and the Teaching of Jesus,” “When Taking Cover Is Not Enough,” and “Seeking the Peace From Above.” In Communion also often includes excerpts both from the news articles which are shared on our online fellowship and from the discussions that ensue.

In July 2005 we held our most recent conference at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. Our theme was “Salt of the Earth, Light of the World,” and we brought together ministries from the eastern half of North America that were actively ministering to marginalized people. Joe May, Director of Matthew 25 House in Akron, Ohio, and Fr. Paisius Altschul, Director of Reconciliation Ministries in Kansas City, Missouri, were our main speakers, and the ministries provided workshops during the day that taught the participants both about the vision of their ministries as well as the nuts and bolts of how the ministry began and was conduct- ed on a day to day basis.

This past May, we held a peacemaking workshop at Matthew 25 House through which a small group learned from a long time peacemaker and member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. He and his wife both travel yearly to Palestine and Iraq witnessing to the need for peace in violent and often dangerous situations. We learned techniques of peacemaking from him and spent much time sharing with each other about the foundations of peace in the Orthodox tradition, drawing on the Scriptures, the Fathers, and from wider Church history.

Peacemaking can mean many things. So let me briefly describe some of the peacemaking techniques that we learned. We learned how to befriend over time the very soldiers that were harassing Palestinians, and how to connect with an angry aggressor so that he or she will not attack. We discussed the need to face our own possible sacrifices in putting ourselves in areas of conflict, and how our Orthodox faith gives us examples of saints who have done so and theology that backs up this action.

We have stated in OPF that our three main tenants are theological research, publications, and practical assistance in areas of conflict. Our challenges ahead are mostly comprised of ways to increase the third area of practical assistance. As our members are spread across the continent and world, and many are committed to living simply, it is difficult to gather together due to the costs of travel. Our workshop in May was a first step in training our members in how to offer practical assistance. We learned ways to be a presence in violent areas without becoming a third party in the violence. We will continue to conduct training projects in order to increase availability to our members in the hopes that we will be ready to provide this practical assistance in areas of conflict. This is our long term goal.

OPF is also looking toward the continued development of local chapters in order to further our mission. In fact, the creation of local chapters represents a relatively new endeavor for OPF North America. We are now developing start-up kits to provide better support for members who are interested in starting their own local chapters. We hope that through these local chapters, projects will be initiated and will reach out to the marginalized people in their own community. Our goal is that these chapters and projects will be connected to the parishes to which the OPF members belong.

Finally, we are planning a conference in Portland, Oregon, where there is interest in beginning a local chapter, for spring 2007 with the theme “Living Peacefully, Locally.” I’ll finish by reading an excerpt from Fr. John Breck’s article, “Parish Ethics and the Teaching of Jesus,” in our last In Communion.

Unless our parish life reflects at its deepest level that most fundamental concern for love, then we cannot claim that our parish is truly “of the Church” at all. That love, however, needs to be directed to the inner life of the church community as much as to those who live beyond its walls. Within the parish dwell both the Publican and the Pharisee, both the Prodigal and the Older Son. Yet only God can judge the category into which any of us falls. It is never our place to attempt to do so. Parish life – communal life within the Body of Christ – is appropriately marked by an ongoing struggle on the part of each of its members to move from hypocrisy and sinfulness, to repentance and humility. Because we live in communion with one another, that movement or spiritual growth involves not only ourselves as isolated individuals. It involves us together as a living community, united in faith and love in the Name and in the Person of Jesus Christ. This most simple and basic truth has momentous implications for specific relationships, and the resolution of specific problems, within any parish setting.

I read this quote because it highlights that our fellowship is committed to peace not only on the big scale, concentrating mainly on war, but within each person, in the family, in the parish, in the nation, internationally, and in the environment. We are committed to seeing peace as our ongoing struggle to move from sinfulness and hypocrisy to repentance and humility, especially in how we interact with others in our families, parishes, nations, internationally, and in the environment. Thank you for the support you’ve given us over the last two years. Thank you also for the gracious reception you have given to my daughter Lucy over the past few days. It has been a joy to be with you. OPF looks forward to continuing our efforts with your blessing in the years ahead.

Sheri San Chirico is coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

Promoting Harmony in the Choir

Peacemaking in the Parish

by James Chater

On the first Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we hear in the Gospel reading how Jesus recruited his disciples. Addressing Himself to Nathaniel, Jesus says: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you!” Jesus’ foreknowledge of Nathaniel’s approach moves the latter to his joyful affirmation of Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus replies: “You will see greater things than these… hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51).

The Sunday of Orthodoxy also commemorates the triumph over iconoclasm and the restoration of the veneration of icons. Icons, like the ladder to which Jesus compares Himself in his exchange with Nathaniel, provide a bridge linking heaven and earth. The liturgical texts and their musical clothing also constitute a ladder, a bridge between heaven and earth, along which an exchange is carried out between God and his creatures. Our services re-enact and relive God’s Word and his loving actions towards us, and our prayers and celebration reflect these back in repentance and thanksgiving. God descends to us, so that we can ascend to Him.

But each ladder has a dark side. As the icons of St. John Climacus remind us, wherever there is a ladder, there is the danger of being dragged from it by demons. And the ladder that music provides can be especially slippery. It is a well-known fact that music is often a bone of contention in parishes. There is the saying: “The devil makes his entry into the church through the choir.”

In many parishes, musical issues can be a source of heated argument because of passionately held opposing views and tastes, and sensitive, easily bruised egos. Music is capable of projecting great spiritual power, and in the New Testament we often read how the presence of great spiritual power attracts evil. One only has to think of Jesus’ encounters with those possessed by demons, or the slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination who harassed St. Paul (Acts 16:16-18). Problems with music within a parish are often related to wider problems, so let us now stand back and try to understand how these problems can affect music.

Each parish has its growing pains. Parishes start out small: typically the founding members consist of the priest and his family plus several other families. In such a situation, the priest not only directs things himself but also often carries out several of the tasks himself. Delegation is not a complicated issue, as there are few people to delegate to, and the number of possible human interactions is limited. The picture changes when the parish attracts new members – converts from the host country and immigrants choir from abroad. Ideally the new members integrate, find their place in the church and participate in all the tasks that have to be carried out. This requires more delegation and more communication, as the number of possible human interactions increases. I know one former “family” parish that is now flourishing as a large parish because of the high degree of lay participation that was initiated when the clergy realized that they could not and should not do everything themselves. However, it can happen that the leaders of the church do not adapt fast enough to the new situation. The leaders and the small group of old-timers remain closely bound to each other and the more recent arrivals form another group. Loyalties and allegiances develop independently of the priest and the old-timers. The danger arises of opposing factions forming, one supporting the parish leadership and the other opposing it, or at least feeling alienated from it.

An attendant danger is that newcomers will feel that their talents are under-used. They may feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are as well qualified to read the Epistle, for example, as the person who has been doing it for the last ten years. The gift of discerning other people’s gifts is as rare as it is crucial for a well-functioning parish. However, this does not always happen: one of the greatest forms of waste in our parishes (and indeed in our society) is the failure to assign tasks to the people best fitted to perform them.

This is an issue which needs to be addressed, especially by the clergy. There is a clear pastoral necessity not only for discerning, encouraging and developing the gifts of newcomers but in explaining to the old-timers how their role should be changing as the parish grows.

In practical terms, this may mean getting that person who has been reading the Epistle for the last ten years to select and train two or three other people for this task. Conversely, it is also the responsibility of newcomers to offer their gifts in the service of the Church.

In my experience (restricted to parishes in England, France and the Netherlands), I note we often do a poor job in attracting and developing musical talent in our churches. This is due to a number of factors, including issues of church governance, lack of training, discouragement and a culture of excessive conservatism. Let me give some examples. A new person wants to join the choir, but no one is available, capable or willing to train that person; after floundering about with neumes and wrestling with the eight tones for a few weeks, that person drifts away. Or an aspiring newcomer to the choir is simply terrified by the director, a formidable person who speaks fluent Russian, sings in perfect Slavonic and is severely critical of anyone who doesn’t come up to his/her level. That person leaves the choir and perhaps even the parish. Or a musically trained person wishes to contribute more to the music, but is considered “too intelligent.”

It can happen that a good musician is rebuffed because he or she is seen as a threat to those in charge, and so the very people needed to raise standards are put off and may be driven to find musical fulfilment outside the church. You then have a vicious circle of deteriorating standards, limited repertoire, tolerance of poor singing driving good musicians away, thereby intensifying the problem still more. How do you turn that round into a virtuous circle? How as a choir director do you send out a message that you are serious about a varied repertoire, high standards and a high level of alertness and commitment on the part of the singers, thereby attracting better singers, raising standards further, and attracting even better singers?

I do not claim to have the answer to all these questions, but a crucial part of the answer lies with the choir director, at least in the Russian tradition, with which I am most familiar. This extremely demanding role requires a variety of gifts. The most important is that he or she should have a good relationship with the priest. (Perhaps for this reason, this role is often filled by the wife of the priest.) A good priest will not attempt to micro-manage the singing, and will leave the director to run the choir as he or she thinks fit, restricting himself to broad guidelines. No one should be expected to assume the role of choir director unless they have a free hand in the choice of repertoire and of singers and the detailed direction of the choir. The golden rule here is: never accept responsibility without authority.

In addition, there are at least four gifts a choir director should possess. First, this person should have a strong faith and be an integral member of the parish. Secondly, he or she should know the services. Third, musical literacy is required, including at least good sight-singing and score-reading. Fourth, such a person must be able to get on with people, combining tact with firm leadership.

Strong faith, knowledge of the services, musical literacy and interpersonal skills – how many of us, I wonder, know any choir directors who possess all these qualities? Personally, I know very few. For this reason I think choirs should, where possible, be directed by some form of joint leadership which would combine the abilities of several musicians, making available a number of complementary skills. To paraphrase St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (12:44ff):

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. … for to one is given the ability to memorize the order of service, to another the gift of a beautiful voice, to another the gift of composing and arranging, to another the gift of rehearsing and correcting intonation problems…

In regions where there is a shortage of musical talent, we should not always expect a choir director to possess all these gifts. A discerning choir director will recognize his or her limitations and delegate.

Delegation implies sharing, and the concept of shared leadership is well established in the choir of one parish I know, with some success. In this parish a group of about two or three people take it in turns to direct the choir during services, under the overall supervision of one choir director. This has at least three advantages: it encourages greater participation, it maximizes the use of available talent, and it means that potential future choir directors are being trained continuously.

One common source of tension in choirs and parishes is persistent bad singing on the part of one singer. The difficulty here is that it may concern someone with whom most people in the parish are on very familiar terms. Usually the problem is poor intonation, but it can sometimes be a bad habit such as a glissando between every note.

Often the director lacks the willingness or the ability to help the singer overcome bad habits, which is then talked about behind the singer’s back. Thus a lie is introduced into the parish music, one that grows larger over time. Some may say: our prayers are addressed to God, so if it sounds disagreeable to the human ear, it doesn’t matter. I think this view is profoundly mistaken, and in support of this I would invoke the two-way ladder image with which I began. It is not only that we are addressing God, but also that God is speaking to us.

Singing standards do matter; however, this is an obvious case where both firmness and tact are required from the choir leader. Only after persistent efforts to solve the problem have failed, and only after an attempt has been made to make the singer realize and correct the problems he or she is causing, should that person be asked to leave the choir.

In my paraphrase of St. Paul I mentioned one gift that is rarely talked about in the countries where I have served as a church musician: composing. In recent years the services have become available in English, French, Dutch and other West European languages. However, new music based on native-language translations of liturgical texts is hardly ever to be heard in the parishes of western Europe.

When the issue is raised it is sometimes pointed out that there is as yet no universally recognized translation which could serve as the text for these new settings. However, I do not think this is as great an obstacle as some people think. There are pastoral factors to be considered when introducing new or unfamiliar music. The purpose of music is to help the faithful to pray; indeed, church is prayer. But the choir will not be able to support the prayer, or pray themselves, if they are confused or stressed. Any changes in repertoire should therefore be introduced gradually.

Congregational singing is one point to consider. Most congregations have members, particularly older members, who know the services almost by heart, and who are likely to be disturbed if a melody they do not know is introduced. Part of the problem here is that in our services there is no hard and fast distinction between parts of the service reserved for the choir and moments where the congregation is expected to sing.

Nevertheless, in places like the Trisagion or the Our Father, where the congregation often sings, it seems a good idea to consult the congregation when introducing new settings. This can be done by announcing proposed changes and arranging meetings where the congregation (led by the choir) can be introduced to the new music. (Let me note that a varied repertoire is contrary to some church music traditions, which have prescribed melodies for almost every circumstance. In practice, however, small parishes use only a minuscule portion of the available music, so the repertoire could be expanded a great deal by introducing a greater proportion of the traditional music.)

To sum up: discernment of gifts, sharing, delegation and consultation emerge as some of the factors that play a role in dispelling tension both in the parish and on the kliros. Indeed, being called to serve as a musician in the church means, ipso facto, being called to collaborate, to share.

James Chater studied music at the University of Oxford, where he obtained his BA (1973) and D.Phil. (1980). He has sung in the choirs of Orthodox churches in Amsterdam and Deventer (the Netherlands) and London. He has written several articles about the history of music, and has composed and arranged music for liturgical use in the Orthodox Church. Some of his work has been performed in Finland and Russia.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007


by Mother Raphaela

We, with the whole of creation, are fallen. Along with the writers of the Old Testament, we can take that for granted. Scandal, corruption, violence, betrayal – that whole list – should not surprise us – not in ourselves, in others or in our surroundings. Our surprise and joy are found as we discover the Gospel faith that God meets us where we are, builds bridges over the walls we have constructed around ourselves in our fallen attempts to live our own lives in spite of others (including God) and by these bridges, brings us to eternal life and salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This Gospel faith – this bridge-building by God – is what we call revealed religion. One who has experienced such a revelation cannot deny it; one who has not experienced it cannot begin to comprehend it. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Peter, but my Father in heaven…” There is a uniqueness in revelation: a choosing and a calling. “You have not chosen Me,” Christ says to His followers, “but I have chosen you.”

If God has touched us in this way, if we have experienced something of Him through His calling of us, we will know that “our ways are not His ways” (cf. Isaiah 55:8). The experience of the Christian saints down the ages has been that we cannot look at ourselves to discover what we are to be like, but at God in Whose image and likeness we are made.

Yet to look at God is to enter the realm of poetry. The saints who used many words to speak about Him remind us that no words are adequate: whatever we may think or say, His reality remains far greater and beyond our grasp. When we think He fits into our intellectual constructs, we have rather produced an idol which He will delight in destroying. Many people’s loss of faith is actually a step in the right direction – their god was too small and its destruction is sometimes the first step towards a relationship with the true God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the main reasons for the crucifixion of Jesus was that those around Him could not accept that God could or would use a man to build a bridge to His creation. God could not be walking in their midst. To claim to be God, as Jesus did, was at best lunacy, at worst blasphemy.

Indeed, it took Christians over 300 years to gradually develop a vocabulary to describe their experience of God’s revelation in Jesus. Then as now, Christians have begun with the reality of the three different persons, with the fact that men and women have experienced Jesus and known Jesus. With Peter and with Martha of Bethany, they have come to see Him as “the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 16:16, John 11:27). With the apostle Thomas they have come to an overwhelming

realization that He is their Lord and their God (John 20:28). With John the Theologian, they have heard Jesus speak to Philip and say, “He who has seen Me has seen My Father” (John 14:9). They are aware that Jesus said, “I and My Father are One” (John 10:30). At the same time, they have heard Jesus pray to His Father and speak of the Spirit as totally other than Himself: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will but as You will…” (Matt. 26:39) “But when the Counselor comes, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to Me” (John 15:26). At first, they weren’t sure how to describe all this in what we today call the language of theology. There were too many paradoxes; too many facts they could not deny yet which did not fit their view of reality. Indeed, as we continue to grow into our life in Christ, each of us goes through the same process of breakdowns in what we believe.

We do believe that God is love and that it is the nature – not just the choice – of love to pour itself out on the other. For this reason we believe God must have others as part of His very being. While some might say that creation is the other, we believe that creation mirrors what already exists within God Himself, Trinity in Unity. This mirrors our view of human persons made in the image and likeness of God: the unity of humanity does not compromise the uniqueness and integrity of persons; true bridges do not violate boundaries.

Another image of God’s revelation – His bridge-building with His creation – is found in the Biblical theme of love and marriage. In the Old Testament, the Song of Songs and the marriage of the prophet Hosea are examples of this allegory of the nature and love of God. St. Paul is explicit in the New Testament as well – for example, see Ephesians 5:31-32. To use words of theology: in love, God begets the Son and sends forth the Spirit.

Creation is seen by some as a mysterious result of the union of the Divine Son and the Spirit, just as the marriage of a man and woman normally results in the begetting of children. Nevertheless, there is a very long debate on the nature of this union that goes back at least as far as Origen and that has not yet been resolved.

Some, with Origen, have taught that intercourse between Adam and Eve was only a result of the fall; that before then, the unity they had with one another in the Garden of Eden precluded sexual relations. Those who favor this approach still teach that Christians should not have sexual relations except as a matter of catering to weakness and then only to beget children.

There is another equally venerable and Orthodox reading of Scripture, however, which teaches that human intercourse was part of God’s original plan, that love indeed always pours itself out and is by nature creative. In this view, the union of a man and women in marriage reflects the joining of God to His creation, i.e. the “other” who is created and then redeemed to share in the essence of God in theosis, without being destroyed personally. Marriage is seen as a matter of mutual support, love and respect. If children are given in response to such sharing it can only be a blessing. While a choice not to bear children could be sinful depending upon the reasons, to participate in God’s love and creativity can mean an infinite number of other things as well.

When Christian marriage (and community life) shows such a reflection of the love of the Trinity, unity is found in the harmony of differences. Even people who are close enough to know pretty well what the other is thinking and anticipate reactions and behavior, will continue to be strong individuals, not pretending that boundaries don’t exist or trying to obliterate them. Such families, communities and friendships will indeed be fruitful and rejoice as their offspring grow up, move on, become their own persons. They expect them to do different and perhaps even greater things than they are doing and understand that the main heritage they have given them is life in the Church, the Body of Christ.

The Church as well rejoices in her offspring: new missions, monasteries, national churches. Each of these groupings, when it is truly animated by the Holy Spirit, reflects the uniqueness of its time and place as well as the particular people who are called to be part of it. When the first assembly in Jerusalem saw that the gentiles who previously had been far from the Church had received the same Holy Spirit, it recognized that this new situation called for an entirely different framework if the Body of Christ was to flourish with these new members. The Church, speaking through St. James of Jerusalem, refused to place on them the full burden of the laws and traditions of Judaism (Acts 10-11). Thus was laid the groundwork for the unique, autonomous national churches which have ever since characterized the Orthodox Church, with a world-wide apostolic hierarchy descended from that assembly in Jerusalem balancing the local authority within the boundaries of each group.

For us fallen people, however, ignoring and violating boundaries comes natural- ly; building bridges does not. While as St. Paul tells us, God has been revealing Himself through His creation from the beginning of time (cf. Romans, Chapter 1), our natural fallen response is not to use creation as such a bridge to God, but rather to idolize it; to turn it into an end in itself. This is one of the chief reasons Jews and Christians have needed to place appropriate boundaries between themselves and others, so as not to lose their identity as God’s “Chosen People”; not to bow down in worship to the surrounding society or its false gods.

Yet how do we reach out to others without losing what we have to share with them? How can we make sure we are not used by those things which are meant to be used by us?

Forgiveness seems to me to be the key. Without a truly robust understanding and practice of forgiveness, Christian life is a sham, whether in marriage or community. Forgiveness cannot be something tacked on after all else fails; it is the way Christians approach life, for it is the way our God approaches us. Forgiveness means being able to look clearly at the world and those around us in true detachment, seeing that all is not well (even within ourselves) and loving in spite of that. It does not mean going through life in denial that anything is ever wrong, nor in being scandalized when it becomes obvious that evil has been perpetrated by known individuals.

Such a life of forgiveness demands letting go of control – or the illusion of control that revenge and constant defensiveness bring. It is the way to be sure that we build bridges rather than fortifications and not violate or ignore boundaries. Forgiveness is truly life-giving. Only one who has been truly seen as he or she is and then forgiven can fully understand the gift of grace. For ourselves as well, this means letting go of justification, of the desire to appear better than we are. If we do not let our God and others know us (not just know about us), we cannot know the wholeness and healing of forgiveness. And what we have not received we do not have to give to others.

There are reasons bridge-building and forgiveness are not popular and widely practiced, however. It can mean not only true detachment but also the sacrifice of everything, including the crucifixion of ourselves. It can, in actual practice, mean laying down our life for another or “for the many” as our Lord did.

For those not ready to take on such forgiveness themselves, this can be very threatening. Paradoxically, the way of bridge-building, like the way of the Cross, can be a very lonely one at times on this earth. Christ built the only true and eternal bridge for mankind to heaven when he ascended the Cross, yet that was the time when He knew Himself most forsaken by both God and man.

Death was the only right way of reaching out to us and to the world, yet it was also the way of His leaving us and the world in the flesh. While others do not always see such a leave-taking as bridge-building, when leaving is an authentic response to God as was that of Jesus, it is indeed the most fully loving action possible. Jesus knew He belonged elsewhere and could continue to love those He was leaving only by going to the Father.

For us, the Church and its liturgical life are powerful tools in making forgive- ness central to our lives. To be fully members of the Church, we must choose and make time to gather as the people of God, to “come out of the world” for definite periods. Making the choice to come faithfully for Sunday Divine Liturgy may be a real sacrifice for some, yet for the Orthodox Christian it is a necessary first step. As we are present at the liturgy, we bring our lives, ourselves, our loved ones, the whole world to offer in sacrifice – to make holy – before God.

We learn as we do this that the truest relationship we can have with others is to allow them to be themselves and to place them in God’s hands. Liturgy teaches us that this is true prayer. It is the way of radically letting go rather than always attempting to control.

Christians, called into the priesthood of all believers as the Body of Christ offering the liturgy on behalf of all and for all, become by that action the bridge between God and the world. This is a divine reality that transforms in time and eternity both those who participate and all they bring with them. We can forget this reality, for we remain ourselves, with our own personal boundaries and limitations, just as bread and wine remain bread and wine yet truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. To catch even a glimpse of this reality, however, is enough to know the God Who creates and sustains the whole universe at every instant of its being. No one can prove this truth to another. It is something that can be proven only in the crucible of life’s experience. Yet as we continue, our times of prayer will take on the force of reality and move beyond the hours of liturgy. We will continue to grow into God’s own life and will learn how to bring ourselves, one another and the whole world before God as we go about our daily lives.

We will eventually discover that the acceptance of boundaries and the building of bridges through the life-giving grace of forgiveness slowly replaces our fallen approach to life. We will find ourselves on the road to heaven with those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, holding all others up to God in prayer.

Mother Raphaela Wilkinson is the Abbess of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in Otego, New York. She is the author of Living in Christ: Essays on the Christian Life by an Orthodox Nun and Growing in Christ, both published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

St. Xenia of St. Petersburg:

Early in her long life Xenia had been married to an army colonel who drank himself to death and who may have been an abusive, violent husband. Soon after his funeral, she began giving away the family fortune to the poor, a simple act of obedience to Christ’s teaching: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor … and come, follow me.” In order to prevent Xenia from impoverishing herself, relatives sought to have her declared insane. However the doctor who examined her concluded Xenia was the sanest person he had ever met.

Having given away her wealth, for some years Xenia disappeared, becoming one of Russia’s many pilgrims walking from shrine to shrine while reciting the Jesus Prayer. Some- where along the way during those hidden years, she became a Fool for Christ. When Xenia finally returned to St. Petersburg, she was wearing the threadbare remnants of her late husband’s military uniform – these are usually shown in the icons of her – and would answer only to his name, not her own. One can only guess her motives. In taking upon herself his name and clothing, she may have been attempting to do penance for his sins. Her home became the Smolensk cemetery on the city’s edge where she slept rough year-round and where finally she was buried. Xenia became known for her clairvoyant gift of telling people what to expect and what they should do, though what shesaid often made sense only in the light of later events. She might say to certain persons she singled out, “Go home and make blini [Russian pancakes].” As blini are served after funerals, the person she addressed would understand that a member of the family would soon die. She never begged. Money was given to her but she kept only an occasional kopek for herself; everything else was passed on to others.

When she died, age 71, at the end of the 18th century, her grave became a place of pilgrimage and remained so even through the Soviet period, though for several decades the political authorities closed the chapel at her grave site. The official canonization of this Fool for Christ and the re-opening of the chapel over her grave in 1988 were vivid gestures in the Gorbachev years that the war against religion was truly over in Russia.

Why does the Church occasionally canonize people whose lives are not only completely at odds with civil society but who often hardly fit ecclesiastical society either? The answer must be that Holy Fools dramatize something about God that most Christians find embarrassing, but which we vaguely recognize is crucial information.

It is the special vocation of Holy Fools to live out in a rough, literal, breath-taking way the “hard sayings” of Jesus. Like the Son of Man, they have no place to lay their heads, and, again like him, they live without money in their pockets (thus Jesus, in responding to a question about paying taxes, had no coin of his own with which to display Caesar’s image). While never harming anyone, Holy Fools raise their voices against those who lie and cheat and do violence to others, but at the same time they are always ready to embrace these same greedy and ruthless people. They take everyone seriously. No one, absolutely no one, is unimportant. In fact the only thing always important for them, apart from God and angels, are the people around them, whoever they are, no matter how limited they are. Their dramatic gestures, however shocking, always have to do with revealing the person of Christ and his mercy.

-Extract from the Holy Fools chapter of Praying with Icons (Jim Forest, Orbis Books)
In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

Holy Wisdom, Holy Foolishness

January 2007

st. xenia

Dear In Communion reader,

On the cover of this issue of In Communion is an icon of one of the Holy Fools on the church calender, St. Xenia of St. Petersburg. In the summer of 1988, while attending a Council of the Russian Orthodox Church at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery north of Moscow, I had the privilege of witnessing the canonization of nine saints, of which St. Xenia was one. At the time I knew nothing about her, but was impressed by the surge of joy that filled the hall when her icon was carried through the assembly. That day I began to know her and at the same time started on a journey of better understanding the importance of Holy Fools in the life of the Church.

It was St. Paul who asked: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

Peacemakers are sometimes seen as being among the world’s fools. The “real world,” we are told, is a world of war and preparation for war; the sane are those who have made their peace with conflict and lose no sleep over the casualties of violence. “Blessed are they who mourn” is made over into “Blessed are the well adjusted” and “Blessed are they who march where they are told.”

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has a role to play in encouraging the vocation of Christ-revealing foolishness, the divine foolishness of resisting the contagion of enmity.

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. In addition there are all the usual expenses: office and publication costs, postage, telephone, travel, etc.

If you have in fact made a recent gift or are one of those who makes regular donations or donate 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. Thank you!

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 would have to call it a day.

In Christ’s peace, Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

Love Your Enemy As Yourself

[Lecture delivered at St Herman’s Orthodox Church in Edmonton, Canada, 15 October 2006]

by Jim Forest

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

– Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:44)

Passenger planes taken by terrorists fly into the two towers of the World Trade Center; the buildings collapse and thousands are killed. Many more are wounded. Still more now suffer from having breathed in the toxic airbourne debris.

During the Second World War, entire cities – London, Manchester, Birmingham, Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki – become targets of war. Everyone without exception was a target – children, the ill, grandparents, ordinary people. They died in countless thousands.

In the Soviet era, millions were taken away, some to labor camps in which it was a miracle not to die of disease, exposure, abuse, or execution. I recall visiting a place of executions in a Belorussian forest. Here, during the Stalin years, people were brought by the truck-load each day and one by one were shot in the back of the head and thrown into deep pits. When one pit was filled, another was dug. There were many pits and many similar places of execution.

We still aren’t sure how many millions were killed under the Hitler regime – Jews, gypsies, political dissidents, homosexuals, Christians who dared to resist or people simply regarded as inconvenient. As in the Soviet gulag, many died simply of the consequences of living in such condition and being worked like slaves. A vast number were simply executed. The murders were done not only in concentration camps but also in hospitals. In the latter, people regarded as genetically or mentally inferior were killed. It was regarded as “mercy killing.”

In Communist Albania it became a criminal activity to make the sign of the cross, to have an icon in one’s home or to dye an egg red at Easter. Every church, monastery and seminary without exception was closed. The smallest indication of religious belief could be severely punished. Most priests and many lay people died in concentration camps.

One could spend hour upon hour briefly describing, country by country, the many horrors of violence that human beings have suffered just in the past hundred years. I mention a few examples only to point out that, when we talk about Christ’s commandment to love one’s enemies, the beginning point is the recognition that we have enemies and that evil deeds occur every minute of the day. Often times nationalistic, racial or ideologically-driven movements develop in such a way that enormous numbers of people find themselves in grave danger.

There are people who seem to have entirely lost any sense of the sacredness of life and abuse and murder innocent people, even children – some on a large scale, others as a kind of hellish past-time. I think of my stepmother, Carla, who was shot and killed by sniper as she stepped off the bus one evening in San Francisco in 1966 after a day of service in a center for alcoholics. Such events were once rare; in more recent years they have become more common. While the rate of homicide is much lower in Canada than in the USA, probably here, too, most of us have stories to tell of awful things that happened – grave danger, abuse, or violence – to ourselves or to people we know. I am equally sure that many of us have memories of dreadful things we have done or said to others, under obedience, out of fear, or in a state of rage.

The reality of enmity is a cental theme in the Gospels. The peaceful, star-illumined Bethlehem we see in Christmas cards tells us nothing at all about the hard life the people lived there were enduring when Jesus was born. The years of Christ’s life described in the Gospels occurred in a small land under heavy, often brutal, military occupation. There was no concept of human rights. Torture and crucifixion were not rare punishments. It’s no wonder that there was a serious movement of Jewish armed resistance, the Zealots, and that conflict between Israel and Rome not many years later resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the enslavement of thousands of Jews.

So when Jesus instructed his followers, as he did in his Sermon on the Mount, to love their enemies and pray for them, it was not a teaching that would have been offered in a state of naivet by someone living in an oasis of peace, nor was it a teaching that would have been easily embraced by the suffering people who were listening to him. It’s not a teaching anyone, even in situations of relative social tranquility, takes to easily. What most of us do when we are abused by others is look for a way to return the abuse, even doing so in double measure. Say an irritating word to me and I’ll give you irritation back, multiplied by two. Hit me and I’ll hit you twice as hard. Few Jews had a kind thought regarding the uninvited Romans. Occupation troops are resented and despised. They often become the targets of deadly violence. (We see this even in cases where an occupation is meant to be humanitarian. Though on a mission that is in principle meant to be one of peacemaking and reconstruction, many Canadian soldiers have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan.)

Jesus is never just a man of words. Can you think of anything he taught that he didn’t give witness to in the way he lived and interacted with other people? I cannot.

He urged his followers to be peacemakers. In the Beatitudes, he says they will be known as God’s own children. In his own life, again and again we see both courage and nonviolence. He repeatedly gave the witness of refusing to return evil for evil. His most violent action was to use a whip of chords to chase money-lenders from the Temple because they were profaning sacred space. Many were upset, but no one was harmed. The only life endangered by his action was his own. The total number of people killed by Jesus Christ is zero.

While many people are driven by anger and vengeance, Christ taught forgiveness and again and again gave the example of forgiving others. When asked by his disciples if they must forgive as much as seven times, Christ replied: seventy times seven. Forgiveness is one of the main themes of the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask God to forgive us only insofar as we have forgiven others. Perhaps nothing is more impressive than seeing Christ praying for his enemies as he hung nailed to the cross: “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Indeed, it seems that none of those involved in crucifying him had any idea what they were doing. The idea that Jesus was king of the Jews and son of God was nothing more than a joke. For some, a heretic was being punished. For others, he was a threat to the Jewish people. For the Roman soldiers, it was simply a grim duty they were under orders to perform.

Jesus also gave the witness of healing. Healing is another word for peacemaking. Peacemaking is the healing of damaged or broken relationships. On one occasion an act of healing was done in response to an appeal not from a fellow Jew but from an officer of the Roman occupation forces, the centurion who appealed to Jesus on behalf of a critically ill servant. Jesus was prepared to come to the soldier’s home, but the officer said there was no need for that; Jesus’s word was all he needed. Jesus later said that he hadn’t seen such faith in all of Israel. Can you imagine how annoyed, even scandalized, some of the witnesses to this exchange would have been? Doing a good deed for a Roman? Then speaking admiringly of a Roman’s faith?

If you take Jesus’s teaching about love of enemies out of the Gospel, you have removed the keel from the ship.

But then how do we go about loving an enemy? The answer is given to us by Christ. He doesn’t simply command us to love our enemies, but to pray for them.

Without praying for our enemies, how would it be possible to love them?

Think about these two important words, love and prayer.

The love so often spoken of by Christ is not romantic love. Love is not about how we feel regarding the other but how we respond to the other. If you say you love someone, but you let him starve to death when it is in your power to give him food, in fact you do not love him. love. If you say you love God, but you abandon your neighbor, you love neither God nor neighbor.

Love is not the acquisition of pleasant feelings for an enemy, the kind of feeling we have for a sweetheart, a member of your family, or a cherished friend. The love Christ speaks of has very little to do with feelings and much to do with actions. Love is to do what you can to preserve another life and to bring that person toward salvation. Christ uses a metaphor: God’s love is like the rain falling equally on both wheat and weeds; or it is like the sun shining on both the just and the unjust. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t distinguish between the just and the unjust; but so long as a person lives, the possibility of repentance and conversion lives.

Think about the word prayer. Prayer is the giant step of taking into your heart, the center of your life, your appeal to God for the well-being and healing of another person’s life. It is not a sentimental action but an act of will and an obedience to God, knowing that God seeks the well-being and salvation of each person. After all, each person, no matter how misguided, no matter how damaged, is nonetheless a bearer of the image of God. If it pains you to imagine the intentional destruction of an icon, how much more distress should we feel when an human being is harmed or killed?

I’m talking now about the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – not the Gospel according to Hollywood. The latter provides us with a never-ending parade of stories about evil people killed by good people. The basic story tempts us to prefer heroism to sanctity, or to confuse the two. A basic element of The Gospel According to Hollywood is that the evil people are so evil that there is no real solution short of hastening their death. Confronted by such pure evil, what else can one do?

But the teaching of Christ is not to kill enemies but to overcome enmity. It’s like the transformation of water into wine that Christ performed at the wedding feast in Cana. We are commanded to convert our enmity into love, and it starts with prayer.

But to pray for an enemy is no small or easy step. The fact is that the last people in the world we want to pray for are the people we fear or hate or regard with disgust. You know you have an enemy whenever you discover a person or community of people for whom you hesitate to pray. But once you recognize enmity, take note of it. Keep a list of the people you find it hard to pray for and then pray for them anyway. Do it as a religious duty.

Prayer is an invisible binding together. The moment I pray for another person, a thread of connection is created. I have taken that person into myself. Praying for him means to ask God to bless him, to give him health, to lead him toward heaven, to use me to help bring about his salvation. As soon as this occurs, my relations with that person or community of people is changed. You look differently at a person you are praying for. You listen differently. It doesn’t mean you will necessarily agree. You may disagree more than ever. But you struggle more to understand what is really at issue and to find solutions that will be for his good as well as your own. In fact, the saints tell us, that the deeper we go in the life of faith, the freer we become from worrying about our own welfare, and the more we worry about the welfare of others.

Some years ago, at a conference on the Greek island of Crete, I gave a talk in which I summarized Orthodox teaching about war. I pointed out that the Orthodox Church has never embraced the just war doctrine, a doctrine that evolved in the west. The Orthodox Church, I said, regards war as inevitably sinful in nature even in cases where no obvious alternative to war can be found. No one has ever been canonized for killing. Priests, deacons and iconographers are forbidden by canon law to kill or cause the death of others. Under all circumstances and at all times, every baptized person is commanded by Christ to love his enemies.

There was nothing remarkable in what I said, no novel doctrines, nothing borrowed from non-Orthodox sources, yet the lecture stirred up a controversy not only in the hall in which I was speaking but into the city itself as my talk and the translator’s words were being broadcast live over the diocesan radio station.

The debate continued that night when the local bishop, Metropolitan Irinaios, and I took part in a radio conversation with listeners phoning in with their comments or questions. Responding to a man who called in to denounce Turks as barbarians who only understood the language of violence, I summarized what Christ had to say on the subject of loving one’s enemies. “That’s all very well,” the caller responded, “but now let me tell you about a real saint.” He proceeded to tell me about a priest who, in the 19th century, played a valiant role in the war to drive the Turks off the island. I suggested he not dismiss the teaching of Jesus so readily and asked if he wasn’t perhaps confusing heroism and nationalism with sanctity.

In fact we have soldier saints, like Great Martyr George. But when we study their lives in order to find out why the Church canonized them, it was never for their courage and heroism as soldiers, but for other factors. Most were martyrs – people who died for their faith without resistance. There are saints who got in trouble for refusing to take part in war, in some cases dying for their disobedience. St. George dared to confess his faith publicly during a time of imperial persecution. The “dragon” he irritated was Caesar. One saint, Martin of Tours, narrowly escaped execution after refusing to take part in battle; he went on to become a great missionary bishop. There is Ireland’s renowned Saint Columba, who is on the Church calendar not because he was co-responsible for a great battle in which many were slaughtered, but because he went on to live a life of penance in exile, in the process converting many to Christ.

All of what I’m saying probably sounds fine. It isn’t hard to admire saints. Most people realize that the Gospel is not a summons to hatred or violence. But what about our ordinary selves living here and now? What does this have to do with how we carry on our lives?

A beginning point is to admit we are only partial Christians – that is to say, our conversion has begun but is far from complete. When we go to confession, many of us don’t even try confessing all of our sins because no priest in the world would have time to hear them all. We try to identify the main ones, the sins that are most urgent and problematic, and focus on them, saving other sins for a later confession. Each of us is painfully aware that we have far to go. As the cartoon character Pogo used to say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

One of the great obstacles were up against is that it’s easier to be more nation-centered than Christ-centered. The culture we live in is a powerful influence. One is less likely to be shaped by the Gospel than by the particular economic, social, political and cultural milieu we happen to be part of.

If I am a German living in Germany in the 1930s, there is a good chance I will gravitate toward Nazism. If I am a white South African living in the era of apartheid, it’s more than likely that I will accept the justifications for racism, and the benefits that come from being part of a racist society. Our thoughts, values, choices, our “life style” – all these tend to be formed by the mass culture in which we happen to be born and reared. If we are Christians, we will try to adjust Christ and the Gospel to the national flag and the views of the people around us.

Yet we have in the Church many saints who provide us with models of what it means to follow Christ wholeheartedly – without holding anything back, without compromising with the demands of money or politics.

One such saint – canonized only two years ago – is Mother Maria Skobtsova, a Russian refugee in France who devoted herself to the care of the homeless and destitute, and also to the renewal of the Church. She and the community she was part of helped save the lives of many people, especially Jews, when France was occupied by the Third Reich. On one occasion she managed to smuggle children awaiting deportation out of a stadium in which thousands of Jews had been rounded up. It is hardly surprising that eventually she was arrested and ended her life in a German concentration camp, Ravensbrk, dying on Good Friday. Yet we find in her many letters, essays and the acts of her brave life not a trace of hatred for Germans or Austrians, even those who were captive of Nazi ideology. She was part of the resistance to Nazism and Hitlerism, but was no one’s enemy, not even Hitler’s. Her small community produced three other martyrs: the priest who assisted her, Fr. Dimitri Klepenin, her son, Yuri, who was then just entering adulthood, and her good friend Ilya Fondaminsky, a writer, editor and publisher.

At the core of their lives and many courageous actions was the conviction, as Mother Maria put it, that “each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.” This is not some new idea that was discovered by a few saintly Christians in Paris in that grim time, but what C.S. Lewis referred to as “mere Christianity.” It is because each person is an icon of God that everyone in the church is honored with incense during the Liturgy.

Mother Maria had been married and become a mother before taking the monastic path. Before that happened, her husband left her and one of her children died of illness. She embraced a celibate vocation, but her understanding of monastic life was not the traditional one of withdrawal. Her desert was the city. She was opposed to living a life that might impose “even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.” Like any Orthodox Christian, the Liturgy was at the heart of her life, not as an end in itself but because it gave daily life a divine imprint.

“The meaning of the Liturgy must be translated into life,” she said. “It is why Christ came into the world and why he gave us our Liturgy.”

She was determined to live a life in which the works of mercy were central. As she wrote: “At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.”

No one has lived in a more violent time than she, a time in which there were powerful temptations to keep one’s head down and quietly survive. Yet instead she and those who worked with her give us a model of centering one’s life on those whose lives are threatened.

In Europe in those days it was especially the Jews. In our time the list of those in danger is much longer, including not only the born but the unborn as well as those who are handicapped or old. We live in what many people have come to identify as a culture of death. The only question each of us must struggle with is where to focus our life-saving activity. It is not just a question of saving lives but making clear to others, through our response to them, that they bear God’s image – thus we proclaim that there is a God, and that God is love.

We have met the enemy and he is us, as Pogo said. But the self is no small foe. In the days when India was struggling for independence, Gandhi sometimes said he had only three enemies – the British nation, his favorite enemy; the Indian people, a much more difficult adversary, and finally a man named Gandhi, the hardest enemy of all.

Each of us sees our most difficult enemy when we look into a mirror. Yet if we will only cooperate in Christ’s mercy, struggling day by day to die to self, day by day our conversion will continue, which will be good not only for ourselves but good for everyone else as well.

Let me close with these words from St. Cyprian of Carthage:

You have many things to ponder. Ponder paradise, where Cain, who destroyed his brother through jealousy, does not return. Ponder the kingdom of heaven to which the Lord admits only those of one heart and mind. Ponder the fact that only those can be called the sons of God who are peacemakers, who, united by divine birth and law, correspond to the likeness of God the Father and Christ. Ponder that we are under God’s eyes, that we are running the course of our conversion, and life with God Himself looking on and judging, that then finally we can arrive at the point of succeeding in seeing Him, if we delight Him as He now observes us by our actions, if we show ourselves worthy of His grace and indulgence, if we, who are to please Him forever in heaven, please Him first in this world. [“On Jealousy and Envy”, chapter 18]

Christ called on his followers to be peacemakers, calling such people the children of God. May each of labor to become the peacemaker Christ intends. My each of us become people who love our enemies and pray for them with fervor.

Pro-Life Resources

From the early days of Christianity, the protection of human life — from the womb to old age — has been a major priority for the Church. Safeguarding unborn children is a topic that has often been addressed in the pages of In Communion. A partial list of articles and essays on this topic follows. (For a complete listing, use the site’s search engine, inserting the word “abortion”.)

Abortion and the Early Church

The Sacredness of Newborn Life

The Bitter Price of Choice

Many Offering Death

Treehouse: Saving Lives One by One

True Free Choice

Zoe Means Life

On Homicide

The Troublesome Word “Murder”

Victims and Heroes

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Changing a Society Which has De-Valued Women and De-Humanized the Unborn

On Abortion and Over-Population

Learning to Be Peacemakers

The Other As Icon

The Great Human Rights Issue of Our Time

On Behalf of Unborn Children

Cleansing By Tears

Pro-Life Resources

From the early days of Christianity, the protection of human life — from the womb to old age — has been a major priority for the Church. Safeguarding unborn children is a topic that has often been addressed in the pages of In Communion. A partial list of articles and essays on this topic follows. (For a complete listing, use the site’s search engine, inserting the word “abortion”.)

Abortion and the Early Church

The Sacredness of Newborn Life

The Bitter Price of Choice

Many Offering Death

Treehouse: Saving Lives One by One

True Free Choice

Zoe Means Life

On Homicide

The Troublesome Word “Murder”

Victims and Heroes

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Changing a Society Which has De-Valued Women and De-Humanized the Unborn

On Abortion and Over-Population

Learning to Be Peacemakers

The Other As Icon

The Great Human Rights Issue of Our Time

On Behalf of Unborn Children

Cleansing By Tears