Category Archives: War

Discussion of Orthodox Perspectives on War

Peacemaking As Vocation: Toward an Orthodox Understanding by Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Peacemaking As Vocation:

Toward an Orthodox Understanding

by Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.   (James 3:16-18)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

                                                                                                       (Matthew 5:9)

In an increasingly complex and violent world, Christian Churches have come to recognize that working for peace constitutes a primary expression of their responsibility for the life of the world. This responsibility is grounded on the essential goodness of all human beings and of all that God has created, continues to sustain, and desires to redeem and make whole. For Orthodoxy, peace—as gift and vocation—is inextricably related to the notions of justice and the freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Peace and peacemaking as a gift and vocation provide opportunities to connect theology with ethical witness, faith with social transformation. The dynamic nature of peace as gift and vocation does not allow its identification with stagnation or passivity or with the acceptance of injustice.

While the Orthodox Church affirms that peace is an integral and indispensable element of the Christian gospel, it has not sufficiently reflected––in a morally consistent manner––on the nature of peace and peacemaking and what peacemaking requires, in practical terms, of their life and witness to the world. Orthodox theologians have noted that offering simply a theoretical presentation of the Orthodox understanding of peace is not a sufficient expression and witness:

It is not enough for us simply to theologize, to describe and to prescribe regarding the Orthodox vision of justice and peace. We must also mobilize and work together for God’s purpose to defeat injustices and to establish justice wherever possible, as well as to overcome the forces which threaten peace on earth.*

The contextualization of peace and peacemaking and the critical appreciation of the ecclesial actions or inactions for the advancement of peace compel the Orthodox Church to explore different but complementary ways to relate liturgical and spiritual experience and faith with the complex and conflictual issues of the world. Such a move evokes accusations that the Church moves from the spiritual realm to politics, an “activism” that would be alien to Orthodoxy. Commenting on the reluctance of the various Orthodox Churches to address issues of public life, Metropolitan John Zizioulas believes that they are right to give preeminence to those elements of their tradition that refer to the centrality of eschatology but they are wrong to disconnect eschatology from history, theology from ethics, and generally to be indifferent in finding and witnessing God in the historical realm.

St. Vladimir's quarterlyOrthodox theologians, because of close association of many Orthodox Churches with the State and their long oppression by totalitarian regimes, have not adequately and critically reflected on either the reflexive relationship of self and society or the Christian imperative of the simultaneous transformation by God’s grace as well as of Christian discipleship of both. Oppressive, unjust, and violent social structures in the past jeopardized the humanity of the oppressed, but now the possibility of just societies is put at risk by unjust, greedy, and self-centered individuals. Fr. Stanley Harakas notes the undeveloped status of social ethics in Eastern Orthodoxy most especially on peace studies:

There are few Orthodox writers and thinkers who have dealt deeply and thoughtfully with these issues. Still fewer, if any, have provided theoretical underpinning for a consistent and authentic Orthodox Christian Social Ethic. Because of this there is the danger that our social concern will become subject to mere sloganeering and, worse yet, the tool of alien forces. For example, Peace as an ideal for the Christian Church is almost self-evident. Yet there is no such thing as a coherent body of Orthodox peace studies. Few, if any, Orthodox theologians have concerned themselves with the problems of pacifism, disarmament, nuclear war, just war theory, peace movements, etc. There is a danger on this issue that we will allow ourselves simply to be used as a propaganda outlet.

Despite this lamentable situation, opportunities for Orthodox theologians to reflect on issues of justice and peace have arisen. Among them, the military invasion of Iraq generated among Orthodox in the USA an interesting debate on whether the war was just, and whether judged by the standards of the Orthodox Church, war can ever be “Just,” or may sometimes be considered a “lesser good” or a “lesser evil.” All three views are problematic. Orthodoxy has never conceived a theory of Just War or the notion that any war may be just; further, violence is neither fully legitimized when it is viewed as a lesser good nor unconditionally renounced when it is considered as a lesser evil. Rather, most Orthodox theologians have defended the peaceable nature of the Orthodox Church and at the same time have conceded that the use of force is sometimes an inevitable tool of statecraft, while some evidence exists that the Byzantines at times attempted to place elements of strict and yet meaningful moral restraint on the execution of war. The theological assessment of violence, however, remains an issue of contestation.

Does the eschatological nature of the Christian faith allow us to give a condition-al theological legitimacy to violence? While the eschatological orientation of the gospel teaches us that a fully reachable earthly shalom is unattainable in history, it places the world in a dynamic process of transformation by the Holy Spirit that moves the world closer to the peaceable reign of God. Eschatology is thus a subversive principle questioning every necessity that legitimates violence. As Gregory Baum states:

Replying to the question “Can society exist without violence?” in the negative gives permission for societies to reconcile themselves with the violence they practice. Replying yes to the question, in the name of divine promises, challenges every society to review its practices and reduce its reliance on violence.

Peace, of course, is more than the absence of violence. It does not deny conflict, an intrinsic element of human relationships, but neither does conflict necessitate violence. Violence is not the only way to resolve conflicts. Peacemakers are con-stantly seeking creative applications of peacemaking principles to conflict situations whereby people and communities can resolve their differences without resort to physical violence. Peacemaking is a dynamic process, often without an absolute end point, that either strengthens conditions that prevent violence or introduces new elements that lead toward greater freedom and justice and away from violence.

Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, living in a Muslim country and having experience with the cruelties of religion-sanctioned wars and strife, argues that the Church cannot exercise its vocation of peace and peacemaking and hold onto war:

In the church, a vision of inwardness where peace becomes our vocation is plausible only if war can be exorcised….Nothing can be accomplished until the biblical foundations of violence are shattered. For us the error lies not in history but in theology.

Alongside the image of a bloodthirsty God, there arises the image of a merciful God whose voice speaks through prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea and in the Song of the Servant in Isaiah. We are confronted here with two irreconcilably opposed faces of the Lord in the same Scripture.

Metropolitan George argues that these incompatible images of God must be understood through a “kenotic” reading of Scripture and suggests that the “the Cross alone is the locus of divine victory, and the source of the meaning of faith. Anything in the Scripture that does not conform to the mystery of Love is a veil over the Word.” Other Orthodox scholars, risking the accusation of being Marcionites, tend to bypass the violent texts of the Old Testament as earlier stages in under-standing God’s revelation that the New Testament has surpassed. In the Patristic tradition the violent texts of the Scripture have been interpreted through the allegorical method to describe “Spiritual personal struggles against evil and sin.”

However, the renunciation of violence and war as destructive of human lives, unjust, and oppressive becomes a credible expression of the Church’s faith only when it is complemented with ethical practices that point to their prevention. The peaceable witness of the Church in situations of conflict and war cannot be limited only to its ethical judgment about the legitimacy and rules of conduct of war or even its unconditional renunciation. Peace requires much more than either military action or passive pacifism. If our ethics focus only on when a military action is right or wrong, their scope is limited to the exclusion of preventive actions. A remedy to this limitation is for the Church to develop “just peacemaking” practices that move its ethical discourse from theories that justify or regulate the use of violence to preventive actions that contribute to the building up of a culture of peace.

The Church’s witness may not always prevent war, and Christians may continue to disagree on the justification of a particular war, but it must be possible to work together and reach consensus on what practices of violence prevention and peacemaking the Church should support. Orthodox pacifists have a particular moral obligation to address situations of aggression, injustice, and violent conflicts to contribute to the invention of peaceful means and actions by which justice, peace, and reconciliation are served and not simply to renounce violence and war.

The concern of the Church for peace and its active participation in movements of peace is a testing ground of its faith about the origins, essential goodness, and future of the world. The Church, as the sacrament of God’s peace to the world, must find ways to actively support all human efforts that aim to identify more effective ways of resolving disputes without resorting to violence. The Church’s peacemaking vocation, through prayer and action, is to transform the conditions that breed violence and to help those whom violence and war have put asunder to find wholeness in God’s peace and justice through reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness.

If we do not see the Church as a vessel bringing peace to a violent world, it becomes in effect merely a lifeboat adrift in the wind.
If we do not see the Church as a vessel bringing peace to a violent world, it
becomes in effect merely a lifeboat adrift in the wind.

Theological Foundations for a Culture of Peace: The Orthodox Church understands peace and peacemaking as an indispensable aspect of its faith and of its mission to the world. It grounds this faith conviction upon the wholeness of the Biblical tradition as it is properly interpreted through the Church’s liturgical experience and practice. The Eucharist provides the space and the perspective by which one discerns and experiences the fullness of the Christian faith and is the witness of the Church as it bears its mission for the life of the world. Robert F. Taft concludes that since the formation of the Byzantine liturgy, peace had assumed a central importance as a greeting and prayer that expresses the Church’s understanding of God’s Kingdom. The peace of God in the Liturgy is referred to as “peace from on high,” as in the angelic greeting “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk. 2:14). In the Liturgy, people receive the peace of God through unity with Christ once they enter, by the Eucharist through the work of the Holy Spirit, into unity with God. Finally, at the end of the liturgy, the people are sent away in peace and as bearers of peace to the world.

Peace in Scripture as well as in the liturgy is a greeting and a dynamic, grace-giving word: God Himself is Peace and peace is His gift; peace is a sign of communion with God, who gives peace to those who serve him; peace grants freedom from fear and is inseparable from righteousness without which there is no real peace—in short, “peace” is practically synonymous with salvation; peace is communion with God and Jesus Christ is our peace since, as the bond of communion, “We live in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”; peace is granted to the world and to the Church by the operation of the Holy Spirit, the active presence of God within the world that guides the Church into unity “in one place with one accord” and grants to all peace, justice, love, and joy (Jn. 20:19-21, Jgs. 6:24, Ps. 85:8-13, Rom. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:23, Eph. 2:14-17, Rom 5:1, Acts 2:1, Rom. 14:14).

Christians, as it is reflected in the liturgy, place primary emphasis on the eschatological peace that God grants to them as a gift of communion with Christ. Yet, they do not ignore the conflicts, power struggles, and violence they presently experience in the world. Although the early Christian Church of the first three centuries was primarily pacifist, grounding its attitudes on the Sermon of the Mount, the Fathers of the Church later––without abandoning the pacifist attitude of the early Church––justified defensive wars without developing theories of Just War or giving theological legitimacy to violence. Still, the Orthodox Church gave far more attention to the question of how to establish and maintain peaceful and just societies than it did to justify, or even tolerate, any instance of war. It remains that the Church has a dynamic commitment to the praxis of peace.

In every dimension of life, the Church invites us to embody the way of Christ as fully as we can in the circumstances that we face: to forgive enemies; to work for the reconciliation of those who have become estranged; to overcome the divisions of race, nationality, and class; to care for the poor; to live in harmony with others; to protect creation and to use the created goods of the world for the benefit of all. Advocacy for peace must not stop with praying the litanies of the Liturgy. We can pray these petitions with integrity only if we also move beyond prayer and offer ourselves as instruments for God’s peace in the world, ready to live the petitions out in relation to the challenges to peace that exist among peoples and nations, believing that God has destined the world to live in peace. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas states: “Christians, as disciples of Christ who made all things for peace, are to be ‘craftsmen of peace.’ They are called a peaceable race, since ‘nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace.’” The Third Pre-Conciliar Pan Orthodox Conference (1986) exhorts Orthodox Christians to be active peacemakers grounded in their faith:

We, Orthodox Christians, have—by reason of the fact that we have had access to the meaning of salvation—a duty to fight against disease, misfortune, fear; because we have had access to the experience of peace we cannot remain indifferent to its absence from society today; because we have benefited from God’s justice, we are fighting for further justice in the world and for the elimination of all oppression; because we daily experience God’s mercy, we are fighting all fanaticism and intoler-ance between persons and nations; because we continually proclaim the incarnation of God and the divinization of man we defend human rights for all individuals and all peoples; because we live God’s gift of liberty, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ, we can announce more completely its universal value for all individuals and peoples; because, nourished by the body and blood of our Lord in the holy Eucharist, we experience the need to share God’s gifts with our brothers and sisters, we have a better understanding of hunger and privation and fight for their abolition; because we expect a new earth and new heaven where absolute justice will reign, we fight here and now for the rebirth and renewal of the human being and society.

There remains, then, a need to learn practical ways, develop pastoral projects, and create opportunities that allow Orthodox people and the Church to participate in movements of social transformation and contribute to a culture of peace. For, as the Christian understanding of peace and how it is advanced in the life of the world is guided by the eschatological peace that God grants to the world––the reality of being with God and participating in the glory of His reign––it remains primarily a gift and a vocation, a pattern of life. It discloses the life of those who have been reconciled and united with God. It is primarily this unity that enables Christians to embrace in love all human beings because of the active presence of God’s spirit in them. Since peace is constitutive of the Christian Gospel, Christian believers are involved in a permanent process of becoming more conscious of their responsibility to incarnate the message of peace and justice in the world as a witness of the authenticity of their faith. This is clearly stated by St. Basil: “Christ is our peace,” and hence “he who seeks peace seeks Christ…without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.”

The Orthodox Church insists that the root cause for violence, injustice and oppression in the world reflects the pervasive presence and impact of the still active operation of the “principalities and powers” of the fallen world. Evil, violence, injustice, and oppression reflect the disrupted communion of human beings with God, the fallible nature of our human actions, and the failure to discern and do the will of God in the midst of the ambiguities of history. Violence has multiple manifestations: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless, and innumerable other acts of inhumanity between individuals and groups of every organizational type. In the midst of violence and injustice, Christian faith recognizes the active presence of God’s Spirit, the subversive reality that enables the world, and in particular the suffering victims of injustice, aggression and oppression, to begin a process of liberation and movement towards a culture of peace and justice. A tension between the already given reality of peace and its not-yet-fulfilled reality characterizes the key theological stance of Christians involved in the struggle for peace. The awareness that peace is an eschatological gift of God and of the active presence of God’s Spirit in history makes it impossible for the Church to accept either the historical fatalism that makes wars, lesser clashes, and other violence an unshakable reality or to embrace the possibility of a permanent peace in this world by relying on simple human-centered ideologies.

The Christian notion of Peace in the Public Space: The Christian gospel invites the faithful to a continuous spiritual struggle that leads, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, towards greater justice and peace. Every Christian is called to be a peacemaker and a worker for justice. This calling is nourished through prayer and repentance, by allowing Scripture to form our human consciousness, in participating in the Eucharist, and through recognizing the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed as living icons of Christ.

This calling is noble, and Christians, through the above mentioned devotional practices, receive the gift of God’s peace as the basis of their involvement in the life of the world. They are peacemakers because of their participation in God’s mission. Here it is important to differentiate between the gift of God’s peace and how this gift is received, acknowledged, and communicated by the Church and the faithful. While the gift of God’s peace is given through the Church to all by virtue of their identification with Christ, it is not equally true that the faithful are always the vehicles of God’s grace and peace to the world. Christian responses to situations of violence are always subject to God’s judgment that compels the Church and the faithful to repentance and asking for God’s forgiveness for all their failures to act as agents of His peace to the world.

Orthodox theologians have recognized that there is a need to “lift up in the consciousness of the Church the peacemaking character of Christianity and the Christian duty to serve the cause of peace and Justice.” Articulating only abstract theological truths, which nevertheless are normative for the Church’s identity and mission, cannot raise the consciousness of the Church. There is a need to enhance and concretize these theological ideals with insights about social injustice, oppression, and violence that the social sciences provide. As the report of the Orthodox Perspectives on Justice and Peace states:

It is important that we not only speak about justice and peace, but also develop projects and contribute practically in programs and sustained organized activity on behalf of the concrete realization of the values of justice and peace in our ecclesial life. In this regard the Church must learn to dialogue especially with non-Church bodies to find the most suitable common ways for the implementation of justice and peace.

We carefully note, however, that dialogue between opposing sides is not simply a means to reach agreement. The Orthodox Church should exercise its peacemaking mission through its active participation in peace dialogues seeking to end wars between and within states, resolve violent disputes of all kinds within society, and defeat racism, discrimination, and exploitation of the weak and the poor. The very presence of the Church in dialogue with others is witness to God’s love for all humanity and affirms the dignity of all human beings as well as affirms that dialogue itself is part of a reconciliation process. The Orthodox should defend not only dialogue on peace as such but also the inclusion of people who are very often neglected in crucial deliberations. Those who partner in true dialogue with open and sincere minds, ready to listen and not only to speak, are already on the way to peace.

Harrowing Hell
A defensive Church will never be a victorious Church; a Church that engages the world on its
terms will always be a defeated Church; only when the Church “wages peace” on the Gospel’s
terms will the violence of Hell be defeated and Hell’s gates sundered.

On the basis of the theological understanding of peace, the various Orthodox Churches should participate in movements of peace and justice. However their involvement will not be credible unless they first liberate themselves from ethno-nationalisms that reflect the history of the long identification of church-nation-state relationship in most Orthodox countries where the Churches had been considered as national institutions. Ethno-nationalism has in some instances reduced the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to a “national” church, restricted geographically and shaped by a particular culture, shared history, worldview, language, and other idiosyncrasies that serves the political purposes of a state while helping to preserve its nationalist, racist, and chauvinist ideologies. The suggested liberation of the Orthodox Churches from ethno-nationalism does not mean that their members cannot be patriotic or love their nation. What is objectionable is the exclusive identification of God with a particular nation and the triumphalism that attaches to that. The partiality of ethno-nationalism not only hinders the Orthodox contribution to peace movements, but it debases basic tenets of the Orthodox faith.

The Church must learn to express its deep-rooted commitment to justice in concrete ways relevant in our time. We must continue to affirm, loudly and clearly, the truth that God’s image is present in every human being. We need to seek out and actively cooperate with all forces of good working for the eradication from God’s creation of all forms of prejudice and discrimination. We ourselves must teach our people to respect the integrity and dignity of all peoples of every nation, economic condition, race, sex, and political affiliation, so that reconciliation and tolerance may replace coercion and violence in our relationships. Our goal is nothing less than the reign of God’s love among all peoples.

Is it possible for Orthodoxy to justify wars in defending the dignity, the rights, the freedom and the liberation of oppressed people? As the report on Orthodox Perspective on Justice and Peace states:

The Orthodox Church unreservedly condemns war as evil. Yet it also recognizes that in the defense of the innocent and the protection of one’s people from unjust attack, criminal activity and the overthrowing of oppression, it is sometimes necessary, with reluctance, to resort to arms. In every case, such a decision must be taken with full consciousness of its tragic dimensions. Consequently, the Greek fathers of the Church have never developed, a just war theory, preferring rather to speak of the blessings of and the preference for Peace.

The Church, while it supports all human efforts to repudiate the logic of violence and war, must not forget its greater mission to lead the world to address the deeper issues. Peace is not a moral good in and of itself; it is linked with the most basic human values and practices as a permanent improvement of the human condition on all levels. Defending the dignity of every human person and the sanctity of life cannot be disengaged from the quest for greater justice and freedom as the foundation, source, and origin of real and permanent peace. “No society can live in peace with itself, or with the world, without the full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person, and of the sacredness of all human life.” The Church must be hesitant to fully support those peace movements that disregard fundamental human values like justice and freedom for the sake of merely avoiding the last explicit negation of peace, i.e. massive armed war and lesser applications of violence. Certainly, a Christian would always share in the efforts to avoid bloodshed because life is the most precious God-given gift, but he would try to remind people that when attempting to avoid war and keep peace they should critically examine what kind of peace they represent.

One has to speak of the Christian peace concept and its contribution to the general peace movement not as an absolute one in a general religious, self-sufficient sense but as a radical particularity which is unique in that it goes dynamically deep into the primary causes of war and violence and calls for thorough understanding in shaping a praxis of peacemaking. Particularity here refers to a uniqueness relating to Christ as our Peace, presenting God’s Peace as a paramount gift to the whole of humanity. There are good attempts in the secular realm regarding peace, and a Christian should affirm them as a first point of contact with God’s peace: “Whenever we see harmony, justice, forgiveness, respect for human dignity, generosity, and care for the weak in the common life of humanity, we witness a blessing of the Lord and catch a glimpse—no matter how dim and imperfect—of the peace of Christ.” Then the uniqueness of Christian peace could definitely become a necessary and positive counterbalance against all kinds of unilateral, human-centered and godless peacemaking.

Finally, the contribution of the Orthodox Church in advancing peace with justice and freedom depends upon the unity of all Orthodox Churches in their total commitment to the Gospel of love and reconciliation and on their courage to speak and act accordingly beyond any kind of temporary affiliations in the socio-political realm. Its contribution will, however, be truly Christian, if it is offered in all humility and in that spirit of repentance and forbearance which is the key prerequisite of true peacemakers.  IC

Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis is Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology at Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, MA where he has taught since 1985. In Communion thanks Fr. Emmanuel for his invaluable contribution to our ongoing quest to promote peacemaking not just as an ideal, an eschatological end point, or for those inclined to activism but as necessary for the whole Church. His essay has been edited here for length. The unedited essay with full notes and references may be found at: www.goarch.com

* To save space, all footnotes and references have been removed throughout this issue. Any article is available, with full notes, to anyone upon request.

In Communion / Winter 2013

Healing in the Parish and the World: Let Us Go Forth in Peace by Bishop Kallistos Ware

Healing in the Parish and the World:

Let Us Go Forth in Peace

by Bishop Kallistos Ware

Our theme is the liturgy after the Liturgy. Consider the word “peace” in the Divine Liturgy: In peace let us pray to the Lord, for the peace from above, and for the peace of the whole world; and also the meaning of the celebrant’s greeting, “Peace be with you all.” We know the priest is not just transmitting his own peace, but he is transmitting to the congregation the peace of Christ. And peace, we know, is a gift from God.

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There is one phrase from the Liturgy in which the word peace figures pro-minently: “Let us go forth in peace.” There are many commandments in the Liturgy, things that we are told to do such as “Lift up your hearts,” “Give thanks to the Lord.” But, “Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not a comforting epilogue, they are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.

This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who, wherever he or she looks, sees Christ everywhere and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.

“I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was a stranger. I was in prison.” Of everyone who is in need, Christ says, “I.” Christ is looking at us through the eyes of all the people whom we meet, especially those who are in distress and who are suffering. We go out from the Liturgy, seeing Christ everywhere. But we are to return to the world not just with our eyes open but with our hands strengthened. I remember a hymn as an Anglican that we used to sing at the end of the Eucharist, “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken.” So, we are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ in all human persons.

Let us reflect on what happened at the Last Supper. First there was the Eucharistic meal, where Christ blessed bread and gave it to the disciples, “This is my body,” and he blessed the cup, “This is my blood.” Then, after the Eucharistic meal, Christ kneels and washes the feet of his disciples. The Eucharistic meal and the foot washing are a single mystery. So, we have to apply that to ourselves. We go out from the Liturgy to wash the feet of our fellow humans, literally and symbolically. That is how I understand the words at the end of the Liturgy, “Let us go forth in peace.” Peace is to be something dynamic within this broken world. It’s not just a quality that we experience within the church walls.

Let’s remind ourselves of the way in which St. John Chrysostom envisages this liturgy after the Liturgy. There are, he says, two altars. There is, in the first place, the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from the church, there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.

Developing the meaning of the command, “Let us go forth in peace,” let us think of the Liturgy as a journey, Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s key image for the Liturgy. We may discern in the Liturgy a movement of ascent and of return. That kind of movement actually happens very frequently. We can see it in the lives of the saints, such as Antony of Egypt or Seraphim of Sarov. First, in the movement of ascent, if you like, or flight from the world, they go out into the desert, into the wilderness, into solitude, to be alone with God. But then there is a moment of return. They open their doors to the world, they receive all who come, they minister and they heal.

There is a similar movement of ascent within the Liturgy. We go to church. It’s pleasant to go there; though some people must use cars, I like to walk from my home to church before the Divine Liturgy, to walk alone if I can. It’s only about ten minutes, but I find it quite important to have that movement, a sense of going to church, a sense, if you like, of a separation from the world and starting on a journey. I walk to church, and I enter the church building, into a sacred space and sacred time. This is the beginning of the movement of ascent: we go to the church. Then, continuing the movement of ascent, we bring to the altar gifts of bread and wine and offer them to Christ. The movement of ascent is completed when Christ accepts this offering, consecrates it, makes the bread and wine to be his body and blood.

After the ascent comes the return. The bread and wine that we offered to Christ, he then gives back to us in Holy Communion as his body and blood.

But the movement of return doesn’t stop there. Having received Christ in the Holy Gifts, we then go out from the church, going back to the world to share Christ with all those around us.

Let’s develop this idea a little. Receiving Christ’s body, we become what he is. We become the body of Christ. But gifts are for sharing. We become Christ’s body not for ourselves but for others. We become Christ’s body in the world and for the world. So the Eucharist impels believers to specific action in society, action that will be challenging and prophetic. The Eucharist is the start of cosmic transfiguration, and each communicant shares in this transfiguring work.

Our title suggest a connection between peace and healing in the parish and the world, and I can’t possibly deal with all the things suggested by it. But let me, in light of the bit about “Let us go forth in peace,” pose a few questions about the different levels of Eucharistic healing and transfiguration in the world.

First a question about our parish life. Perhaps this is not true everywhere, but it’s true of some parishes I’ve known. I’ve often wondered why our parish council meetings, and more particularly the annual general meetings of parishes, are such a disappointment? To me it’s very surprising that often there’s a rather dark spirit at work in the annual general meetings of parishes. The picture given of our parish life is actually deeply misleading. All the good things seem to be hidden—perhaps that’s as it should be—but we get a very distorted picture. There seems often to be an atmosphere of tension and hostility at annual general meetings in parishes.

I’ve often wondered why that is. How to bring a truly Eucharistic spirit into such gatherings? How can we bring the peace of the Divine Liturgy into the other aspects of our parish life? I don’t have an easy answer, but I think behind this first question there lurks another question. How can we make the Divine Liturgy more manifestly a shared and corporate action? In my own experience, the parish where I am, we began worshiping just in a room, and at that time it was not difficult to have a very strong feeling of the Liturgy as a unified action in which everybody was sharing because we were all so close to one another, and there was only a few of us.

Some of the most moving Liturgies I’ve ever attended have not been in churches with great marble floors and huge candelabra but in small house chapels in a room or even in a garage. Now, gradually our community has grown. Twenty-five years ago, we built ourselves a church, and now that church is too small and we’re working towards enlarging the church in order to be able to have room for all the worshipers. Now that is, in a sense, encouraging, but there is a real struggle here. As a parish grows larger and as it acquires a larger building, it becomes much harder to preserve the corporate spirit, the sense of a single family, the sense of all of us doing something together. It becomes much harder to preserve that.

hristos-mirele-1
Christ the Prisoner

I haven’t any easy answers, but that is one level on which I ask, “How can we bring peace and healing into a community that’s growing ever larger, and therefore that is bound to lose its sense of close coherence, unless we struggle to preserve it?”

There is another level of healing that occurs to me quite frequently at the Divine Liturgy. We often have present non-Orthodox Christians and we are not able to give them Holy Communion by the rules of our Church. Now, I’m sure all of you have reflected on the reasons why the Orthodox Church takes this straight line over inter-communion. The act of Communion, we say, involves our total acceptance of the faith. It involves our total life in the Church. Therefore we cannot share in Communion with other Christians who—however much we may love them—we recognize as holding a different understanding of the Christian faith, and are therefore divided from us.

This is, we know, the argument why we cannot have inter-communion. But I think we should constantly ask ourselves if we are right to take this position? In fact I think we are, but I would say go on asking yourself in your heart if it’s the right thing to do. We Orthodox are becoming increasingly isolated on this issue. In my young days, most Anglicans would have taken the same view, and would have said they could not have Communion with Protestants. That’s certainly not the case now in the Anglican Church. Also, Roman Catholics held this view very strictly, but since Vatican II, whatever the official regulations may be, in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church there is widespread inter-communion. But we Orthodox continue as we were. Are we right? And if we do continue to uphold a strict line on inter-communion, in what spirit are we doing this? Is it in a spirit of peace and healing?

I remember at the beginning of my time as priest, the first occasion, and I still feel the wound inwardly, when persons came up for Communion whom I knew were not Orthodox. I felt that it was my duty as priest not to give them Communion. I was really interested in the reaction of two different parishioners. One said to me, “You did quite right! We cannot give Communion to these heretics. The Orthodox Church is the one true church.” He saw that in triumphalist terms. That made me feel even worse. But then another parishioner came up, and he said, in a very different tone of voice, “Yes, you were right, but how tragic, how sad, that we had to do this.” Then I thought, yes, we do have to do this, but we should never do it in an aggressive spirit of superiority but always with a sense of deep sorrow in our hearts. We should mind very much that we cannot yet have Communion together. Incidentally, both of those two parishioners are now Orthodox priests themselves. I think the first one, over the years, has grown a little less triumphalist. I hope we all do, but I’m not sure whether that always happens.

 

Homeless Christ
Homeless Christ

Then I’d like to reflect on a third level of healing. Let me take as my basis here the words said just before the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, at the heart of the Liturgy. The deacon lifts the Holy Gifts, and the celebrant says, “Thine own from Thine own, we offer Thee.” And in usual translation, it continues, “in all and for all.” But that translation could be misleading. It could be understood as meaning “for all human persons, for everyone.” In fact in Greek, it is not masculine, it is neuter—“for in all things, and for all things.” At that moment, we do not just speak about human persons, we speak about all created things. A more literal translation would be, “In all things and for all things.”

This shows us that the liturgy after the Liturgy involves service not just to all persons, but ministry to the whole creation, to all created things. The Eucharist, thus, commits us to an ecological healing. That is underlined in the words of Fr. Lev: “Peace of the whole world.” It means, says Fr. Lev, peace not just for humans, but all creatures—for animals and vegetables, stars, for all nature. Cosmic piety and cosmic healing. Ecology has become mildly fashionable and often has quite strong political associations. We Orthodox, along with other Christians, must involve ourselves fully on behalf of the environment, but we must do so in the name of the Divine Liturgy. We must put our ecological witness in the context of Holy Communion.

I’m very much encouraged by the initiatives taken recently by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Twenty some years ago, the then Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios issued a Christmas encyclical saying that when we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, his taking of a human body, we should also see that as God’s blessing upon the whole creation. We should understand the incarnation in cosmic terms. He goes on in his encyclical to call all of us to show, and I quote, “towards the creation an ascetic and Eucharistic spirit.” An ascetic spirit helps us distinguish between wants and needs. The real point being not what I want.

The real point, then, is what I need. I want a great many things that I don’t in fact need. The first step towards cosmic healing is for me to make a distinction between the two, and as far as possible, to stick just to what I need. People want more and more. That’s going to bring disaster on ourselves if we go on selfishly increasing our demands. But we don’t in fact need more and more to be truly human. That’s what I understand to define an ascetic spirit. Fasting indeed can help us to distinguish between what we want and what we need. Good to do without things, because then we realize that, yes, we can use them, but we can also forego them, we are not dependent on material things. We have freedom.

If we have a Eucharistic spirit, we realize all is a gift to be offered back in thanksgiving to God the Giver. Developing this theme, the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios, followed by his successor, the present Patriarch Bartholomew, have dedicated the first of September, the New Year in the Orthodox calendar, as a day of creation, when we give thanks to God for his gifts, when we ask forgiveness for the way we have misused those gifts, and when we pray that we may be guided for the right use of them in the future. There’s a phrase that often comes to my mind from the special service “When in danger of earthquake.” “The earth, though without words, yet cries aloud, ‘Why, all peoples, do you inflict upon me such evil?’” And we are inflicting great evil on the earth. Interesting to see earthquakes as the earth groaning because of what we do to it!

Finally, I ask you to think for a moment about one of our Gospel readings. What happens when the risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday appears to his disciples? Christ says first to the disciples, “Peace be unto you.” The first thing that Christ speaks after rising from the dead is peace. Then what does he do? He shows them his hands and his side. Why does he do that? For recognition. Yes, to show that here he is, the one whom they saw three days before crucified; here he is, risen from the dead in the same body in which he suffered and died. But there’s surely more to it than that. What he is doing is showing that, though he is risen from the dead, yet he still bears upon him the marks of his suffering. In the heart of the risen and glorified Christ, there is still a place for our human suffering. When Christ rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he does not disengage himself from this broken world. On the contrary, he still carries on his body the marks of his suffering and he carries in his heart all our burdens. When he says before his ascension, “See I am with you, even to the end of the world,” surely he means, “I am with you in your distress and in your suffering.” Glorified, he is still with us. He has not rejected our suffering, nor disassociated himself from us.

We see from the Gospel how peace goes with cross bearing. Having given peace to his disciples, the risen Christ immediately shows them the marks of the Cross. Peace means healing and wholeness, but we have to add, peace also means vulnerability. Peace, we might say, doesn’t mean the absence of struggle or temptation or suffering. As long as we are in this world, we are to expect temptation and suffering. As St. Antony of Egypt said, “Take away temptation and nobody will be saved.” So peace doesn’t mean the absence of struggle, but peace means commitment, firmness of purpose, clarity of vision, an undivided heart, and a willingness to bear the burdens of others. When Paul says, “See, I bear in my body the marks, the stigmata, of Christ crucified,” he is describing his state of peace.  IC

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Metropolitan Ware lives in England. This essay was edited from a talk given at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, France in April 1999.

 

In Communion / Winter 2013

Finding Peace

by Father Lev Gillet

As we endure these difficult times and suffering, we experience a

Fr Lev Gillett
Fr Lev Gillett

range of emotions, including despair, anger, and restlessness. The Lord has blessed us with His peace and promised us victory over all evil.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” (Jn 14:27) Jesus gives His peace. He does not loan it; He does not take it back. The peace that is in Jesus – “My peace” – becomes the disciples’ final possession. At the beginning of each day, it is possible for me to be confirmed in the Saviour’s peace, no matter what anxieties the day brings.

The Saviour gives His disciples His peace at the moment when His Passion is about to begin. When He is confronted with the vision of immediate suffering and death, He proclaims and communicates His peace. If at such moments, Jesus is the Master of Peace, then the strength of this peace will not abandon the disciple in moments of lesser strife.

“But I say to you, do not resist evil.” (Matt 5:39). How scandalous and foolish is this statement in the eyes of men, and especially of unbelievers? How do we interpret this commandment – about turning the left cheek to the one who struck the right, giving our cloak to the one who took our tunic, walking two miles with the one who forced to go one mile already, giving a blessing to him who curses us? Have we explored the ways and means of loving our enemy – whether he be a personal or public enemy? “You do not know of what spirit you are…” (Lk 9:55)

No, it is a question of resisting the Gospel. The choice is not between fighting and not fighting, but between fighting and suffering. Fighting brings about only vain and illusory victories, because Jesus is the absolute reality. Suffering without resistance proclaims the absolute reality of Jesus. If we understand this point, we see that suffering is a real victory. Jesus said: “It is enough” (Lk 22:38) when His disciples presented Him with two swords. The disciples had not understood the meaning of Christ’s statement, “He who does not have a purse, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” (Lk 22:36) What Christ meant was that there are times when we must sacrifice what seems the most ordinary thing, in order to concentrate our attention on the assaults of the evil one. But defense and attack are both spiritual.

Jesus goes out to the front of the soldiers, who with their torches and weapons, want to lay hands on Him. (Jn 18:4) He goes freely, spontaneously, to His passion and His suffering.

Jesus cures the servant whose right ear had been cut off by the sword of a disciple. (Matt 26:51) Not only is Jesus unwilling that His disciple defend Him by force, but He repairs the damage that the sword has caused. It is the only miracle that Jesus performed during His passion.

The example of non-resistance that Jesus gave does not mean that He consents to evil, or that He remains merely passive. It is a positive reaction. It is the reply of the love that Jesus incarnates – opposed to the enterprises of the wicked. The immediate result seems to be the victory of evil. In the long run, however, the power of this love is the strongest.

The Resurrection followed the Passion. The non-resistance of the martyrs wore out and inspired the persecutors themselves. It is the shedding of blood by the martyrs that has guaranteed the spread of the Gospel. Is this a weak and vague pacifism? NO – it is a burning and victorious flame. If Jesus, at Gethsemane, had asked His Father for the help of twelve legions of angels, there would have been no Easter or Pentecost – and no salvation for us.

* * *

This article is an excerpt from a larger work entitled “A Dialogue with the Saviour.” Fr Lev Gillet is best known as “A Monk of the Eastern Church,” as he often preferred not to identify himself by name in his writings, such books as “The Year of Grace of the Lord” (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press).

* * *

Peace and Peacemaking as an Interfaith and Ecumenical Vocation: An Orthodox View

Peace and Peacemaking as an Interfaith and Ecumenical Vocation: An Orthodox View 

Mar 9, 2011

Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis 

Abstract[1]

For Orthodoxy, peace is inextricably related to the notion of justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit as a gift and vocation. The peaceable witness of the Church in situations of war cannot be limited only to its ethical judgment. She won’t prevent wars. Peace requires much more than a military action or passive pacifism. The Christian gospel invites the faithful to a continuous spiritual struggle and public actions that leads, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, towards greater justice and peace.

General Remarks

In an increasingly complex and violent world, Christian churches have come to recognize, along with other communities of living faiths, that working for peace constitutes a primary expression of their responsibility for the life of the world. This responsibility is grounded on the essential goodness of all human beings and of all that God has created, continues to sustain, and is leading towards unity and a greater future. For Orthodoxy, peace is inextricably related to the notion of justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit as a gift and vocation.[2] Peace and peacemaking as a gift and vocation provide opportunities to connect theology with ethical witness, faith with social transformation. The dynamic nature of peace as gift and vocation does not allow its identification with stagnation, passivity and the acceptance of injustice.

While the Orthodox churches affirm that peace is an integral and indispensable element of the Christian gospel, they have not sufficiently reflected – in a morally consistent manner – on the nature of peace and peacemaking and how peace affects in practical terms, their life and witness to the world.[3] Orthodox theologians have noted that offering simply a theoretical presentation of the Orthodox understanding of peace is not a sufficient expression and witness:

It is not enough for us (Orthodox) simply to theologize, to describe and to prescribe regarding the Orthodox vision of justice and peace. We must also mobilize and work together for God’s purpose to defeat injustices and to establish justice wherever possible, as well as to overcome the forces, which threaten peace on earth.[4]

The contextualization of peace and peacemaking and the critical appreciation of the ecclesial actions or inactions for the advancement of peace compel the Orthodox Church to explore different but complementary ways to relate their liturgical and spiritual experience and faith with the complex and conflictual issues of the world. Such a move evokes accusations that the Church moves from the spiritual realm to politics, an “activism” that is alien to Orthodoxy. Commenting on the reluctance of the Orthodox churches to address issues of public life, Metropolitan John Zizioulas believes that they are right to give preeminence to those elements of their tradition that refer to the centrality of eschatology but they are wrong to disconnect eschatology from history, theology from ethics, and generally to be indifferent in finding and witnessing God in the historical realm.[5]

Orthodox theologians because of close association of many Orthodox Churches with the State and their long oppression by totalitarian regimes have not adequately and critically reflected on the reflexive relationship of “self and society,” and the Christian imperative of the simultaneous transformation by God’s grace as well as of Christian discipleship of both. Oppressive, unjust, and violent social structures jeopardized the humanity of the oppressed and a just society is at risk of being corrupted by unjust and greedy self-centered individuals. Fr. Stanley S. Harakas regretfully notes the undeveloped status of social ethics in Eastern Orthodoxy most especially on peace studies:

There are few Orthodox writers and thinkers who have dealt deeply and thoughtfully with these issues. Still fewer, if any, have provided theoretical underpinning for a consisted and authentic Orthodox Christian Social Ethic. Because of this there is the danger that our social concern will become subject to mere sloganeering and worse yet, become the tool of alien forces. For example, Peace as an ideal for the Christian Church is almost self-evident. Yet there is no such thing as a coherent body of Orthodox peace studies. Few, if any, Orthodox theologians have concerned themselves with the problems of pacificism, disarmament, nuclear war, just war theory, peace movements, etc. There is a danger on this issue that we will allow ourselves simply to be used as a propaganda outlet.[6]

This lamentable situation in the words of another Orthodox Scholar, Grant White, “must not become an excuse for inaction in the face of suffering of incomprehensible proportions.”[7]

The World Council of Churches since the early 90s has provided opportunities for Orthodox theologians to reflect on the issues of justice and peace.[8] The military invasion of Iraq by the United States has generated among Orthodox theologians in the USA an interesting debate on whether Just War, judged by the standards of the Orthodox Church, is a “lesser good” or a “lesser evil.”[9] Violence is neither fully legitimized from the perspective of the Church when it is viewed as a “lesser good” nor is unconditionally renounced when it is considered as a “lesser evil.” Most Orthodox theologians have defended the peaceable nature of the Orthodox Church and at the same time have conceded that the use of force is sometimes an inevitable tool of good statecraft provided that it is guided by a set of strict and yet meaningful moral restrains in its practical application.[10] The theological assessment of violence however seems to remain an issue of contestation.

Does the eschatological nature of the Christian faith allow us to give a conditional theological legitimacy to violence? The eschatological orientation of the gospel while it teaches us that a fully reachable earthly shalom is unattainable in history, it places the world in a dynamic process of transformation by the grace of the Holy Spirit that moves the world closer to the peaceable reign of God. Eschatology is a subversive principle that questions every necessity that legitimates violence. As Gregory Baum states:

Replying to the question ‘can society exist without violence?’ in the negative gives permission for societies to reconcile themselves with the violence they practice. Replying Yes to the question, in the name of divine promises, challenges every society to review its practices and reduce its reliance on violence.[11]

Peace, of course, is more than the absence of war. It does not deny conflict, an intrinsic element of human relationships, but neither does it identify conflict with violence. Violence is not the only way to resolve conflicts. Peacemakers are constantly groping to find ways in which people and communities can resolve their differences without physical violence. Peace is a dynamic process not an absolute end point. Genuine peace means progress toward a freer and more just world.

Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, living in a Muslim country and having personally experienced the cruelties of religion-sanctioned wars and strife, addressing this issue of religious sanctioned violence has argued that that the Church cannot exercise its vocation of peace and peacemaking in a plausible manner if it cannot exorcise war. He notes:

In the church a vision of inwardness where peace becomes our vocation is plausible only if war can be exorcised. How can it have come about that pure and pious men like the inquisitors had such a bad theology? This constitutes one of the tragedies of our past. Nothing can be accomplished until the biblical foundations of violence are shattered. For us the error lies not in history but in theology. Violence is justified, fed by the belief that God of the Bible led Israel from victory to victory and that he willed all nations to submit to it…

Alongside this bloodthirsty God, there arises the image of a merciful God whose voice speaks in prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea and in the Song of the Servant in Isaiah. We are confronted here with two irreconcilably opposed faces of the Lord in the same Scripture.[12]

He argues that for Christians these incompatibles image of God must be read and interpreted through a “kenotic” reading of the Scripture and suggests that the “The Cross alone is the locus of divine victory, and the source of the meaning of faith. Anything in the Scripture that does not conform to the mystery of Love is a veil over the Word. Love is the true locus of the Word, because it alone is a divine epiphany.”[13] Other Orthodox scholars risking the accusation of being Marcionites tend to bypass the violent texts of the Scripture especially of the Old Testament as early stages of understanding God’s revelation that the New Testament has surpassed. In the Patristic tradition the violent texts of the Scripture have been interpreted through the “allegorical method” to describe “Spiritual personal struggles against evil and sin.”[14]

The renunciation of the violence, war, and terrorism as destructive of human lives, unjust and oppressive becomes a credible expression of the Church’s faith only when it is complemented with ethical practices that point to their prevention. The peaceable witness of the Church in situations of conflict and war cannot be limited only to its ethical judgment about the legitimacy and rules of conduct of war or even its unconditional renunciation. Peace requires much more than a military action or passive pacifism. If our ethics focus only on when a military action is right or wrong it limits our concern to a military action and does not encompass preventive actions. A remedy to this limitation is for the churches to develop just peacemaking practices that move their ethical discourse from theories that justify or regulate the use of violence to preventive actions that contribute to the building up of a culture of peace.[15]

The peaceable witness of the churches won’t always prevent wars and Christians may continue to disagree on when, if ever, war and military force are justified. But it is possible for them to work together and even reach consensus on the question: “what practices of violence prevention and peacemaking should they support?” Even if they believe in the justification of some wars, they still need an ethic that enables them to think clearly about initiatives of peacemaking. Pacifists, also, have the moral obligation in situations of aggression, injustice and violent conflicts not simply to renounce violence and war but to invent peaceful means and actions by which justice, peace and reconciliation is served.[16] Depending on local situations and cultural or theological sensitivities, peacemaking efforts may be crafted differently. However, what is important is that the Churches complement their ethical judgments with peacemaking and peace-building actions.

The Church, as the sacrament of God’s peace to the world, actively supports all human efforts that aim to identify more effective ways of resolving disputes without resorting to violent conflicts. The concern of the Church for peace and its active participation in movements of peace and social justice is a testing ground of its faith about the origins, essential goodness and future of the world. It is Her vocation to be a peacemaker through prayer and action that transform the conditions that cause violence. The Church enables those human beings whom violence and war have put asunder to find their unity in God’s peace and justice through reconciliation, reparation and forgiveness.[17]

The Peaceable Vocation of the Church in a Global World

Peace and justice are notions that call the churches to contextualize their message. Christian churches cannot ignore that the world today is highly complex, interdependent, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and irreversibly pluralistic. In such a context, in order to be agents of reconciliation and peace they must find ways to communicate and to collaborate with people and communities of other living faiths, ideologies, cultures and beliefs. Such collaboration cannot be just an exchange of ideas and a comparing of different theologies nor a matter of political expediency. It requires religious communities not to abandon their particular unique claims about the origins of peace and how it can be fully established in the life of the world but to develop a theology of involvement and cooperation with other religious communities. Religious communities need to reflect on how the fullness of the world in all its irreducible diversities reflects the dynamic presence of God’s transforming grace. Religious and cultural plurality is a fact and communities of living faiths should teach and convince their followers to accept this fact.

An interfaith collaboration in peacemaking and peace building efforts presupposes that the communities of living faiths have acquired and developed the necessary theology and conversational skills that enable them to recognize and respect the integrity of other people’s beliefs, practices and communal life. The Third Pan Orthodox Preconciliar Conference (1986) encourages the Orthodox churches to move towards this wider collaboration:

The local Orthodox churches in close collaboration with the peace-loving faithful of other world religions consider it their duty to work for peace on earth and the establishment of fraternal relations between peoples. The Orthodox churches are called upon to contribute to joint effort and collaboration between religions, and thereby combat fanaticism anywhere; in this way work for reconciliation between peoples, the triumph of the values represented by freedom and peace in the world, service to humanity today regardless of race or religion…[18]

Peace has no religious frontiers. Religious communities through interfaith dialogue and collaboration must strive to overcome misunderstandings, stereotypes, caricatures and other prejudices, inherited or acquired. Their voices in favor of peace must be heard in the public realm (political life, media, and marketplace) and together must take initiative that promotes justice and peace in the world. The universal message of peace, that each religious faith community espouses, should enable their followers and other people to see one another, not as enemies, but as brothers and sisters across religious, national, racial and cultural frontiers.

Religious communities along with other movements of social transformation become credible agents of peace after they have examined and assessed critically their past and present performance in situations of conflict. Such a critical approach would humble them and help them to recognize that their declarations about peace are not always commensurate with their passivity, indifference or actions in situations of conflict and injustice. A critical assessment of their present and past performances could free them from multiple ideologies (nationalistic, political, racial, and economic) that have used the passion that religious faith evokes for the purpose to advance their own goals, values and interests.

The complicity of religious believers and communities in acts of violence is also greatly influenced by collective and personal insecurities and fears that guide their interpretation of religious texts and traditions. It is not uncommon for people in violent situations and conflicts to profess faith in God’s peace and at the same time to give legitimacy to their violent acts as their contribution to God’s cause for the world. In all these situations such people and their religious communities have forgotten that wars and divisions between people are the most immediate and visible expressions of sin and evil.

Orthodox ascetical tradition insists that violence and war begins primarily in people’s hearts with pride, rancor, hatred and desire for revenge, before it is translated into armaments, open violence and wanton destruction. Thus, peace starts with the formation of consciousness, with conversion of hearts. Consequently, an indispensable aspect of interfaith dialogue and cooperation for advancing a culture of peace is for communities of living faiths to join hands and educate the human heart in honesty, love, benevolence, compassion, solidarity, self control and especially respect for the rights of others. Violence is not overcome by further violence. Neither the politics of fear or of terror can bring peace and justice in the world. Hatred must be overcome by love, by conversion of heart, and by removal of the causes of war, which are injustice, selfishness, envy and indifference to human suffering and oppression.

Those who have studied the role of religion in violent conflicts throughout the world urge religious leaders and theologians to become more proactive in addressing the sources of violence that emanate from within their communities.

They can no longer disown their coreligionist extremists by simply dismissing their actions as being unreflective of the real values of their faith tradition. Religious extremists justify the atrocities that they pursue in the name of their God by taking advantage the ambivalence towards violence that is found in each of the different traditions. There is a need for a strong, unambiguous and clear articulation of those elements of religious faith that advance peace and justice for all human beings, repudiating those coreligionists who use their faith to incite communal strife and global terror. Such a declaration must necessarily affirm the dignity and the sacredness of human life and embrace religious freedom and diversity as an indispensable social right.[19]

Theological Foundations for a Culture of Peace

The Orthodox churches understand peace and peacemaking as an indispensable aspect of their faith and of their mission to the world. They ground this faith conviction upon the wholeness of the Biblical tradition as it is properly interpreted through the Church’s liturgical experience and practice. The Eucharist provides the space and the hermeneutical perspective by which one discerns and experiences the fullness of the Christian faith. It provides the norm for the witness of the Church in the life of the world. Robert F. Taft, reviewing the history of the formation of the Byzantine liturgy, concludes that since its formation peace had assumed a central importance as a greeting and prayer that expresses the Church’s understanding of God’s Kingdom.[20] Peace in Scripture as well as in the liturgy is a greeting and a dynamic grace-giving word (Jn. 20.19-21). God Himself is Peace (Jgs. 6:24) and peace is His gift. Peace is a sign of communion with God, who gives peace to those who serve him (Ps. 85.8-13). It grants freedom from fear and threat by enemies and it is inseparable from righteousness without which there is no real peace. In short, “peace” is practically synonymous with salvation (Rom 16.20; 1 Thes5.23). Peace is communion with God and Jesus Christ is our peace, since He is the bond of communion (Eph 2.14-17): “We live in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom5.1). The peace of God in the Liturgy is referred as “peace from on high, “as in the angelic greeting of Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men”. It is granted to the world and to the Church by the operation of the Holy Spirit, the active presence of God within the world that guides all into unity: “in one place with one accord” (Acts 2:1 and grants to all peace, justice, love, and joy (Rom. 14:14). In the Liturgy, people receive peace of God in their unity with Christ through the work of the Holy once they enter, through the Holy Spirit, into unity with God.[21] Peace once sealed the liturgy of world[22] and at the end of the liturgy the people are sent away in peace.

Christians, as it is reflected in the liturgy, give primary emphasis on the eschatological peace that God grants to them as a gift of communion with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, they do not ignore the conflicts, the power struggles and the violence that one experiences in the world. Although the early Christian church of the first three centuries was primarily pacifist, grounding its attitudes on the Sermon of the Mount (Mt. 5-7; Mt 26/52), the Fathers of the church later in situations of conflict without abandoning the pacifist attitude of the early Church, had justified defensive wars without developing theories of just war or giving theological legitimacy to violence.

The Orthodox Church gives far more attention to the question of how to establish and maintain peaceful and just societies than it does to justify, or even tolerate, any instance of war. It has rather a dynamic commitment to the praxis of peace.

In every dimension of life, the Church invites us to embody the way of Christ as fully as we can in the circumstances that we face: to forgive enemies; to work for the reconciliation of those who have become estranged; to overcome the divisions of race, nationality, and class; to care for the poor; to live in harmony with others; to protect creation and to use the created goods of the world for the benefit of all. Advocacy for peace must not stop with praying the litanies of the Liturgy. We can pray these petitions with integrity only if we offer ourselves as instruments for God’s peace in the world, only if we live them out in relation to the challenges to peace that exist among peoples and nations.

Placing the tradition of the Orthodox Church on peace in the context of the development in peace studies, Orthodoxy has never developed elaborate theories of just war nor it has embraced absolute pacifism. As such it is radically different in orientation from the quietist tradition of some religious sects, whose members tended to withdraw from public life and cede to the State the realm of practical politics. The absolute or “purist” pacifism is distinct from the more widely accepted tradition of pragmatic or conditional pacifism, which opposes war in principle but accepts the possibility of using force for self-defense or the protection of the vulnerable.[23] Pacifism is not just a philosophy, a set of abstract ideas and beliefs, but a passionate commitment and political program for social change. A Pacifist is someone who is personally committed to take action, to work for peace and reduce the level of violence. The ethos of Orthodoxy is much more related with pragmatic or conditional pacificism. The Orthodox people do not only pray for peace and believe that God has destined the world to live in justice, peace and unity, but as a result of their faith they are called to be active peacemakers as St. Nicholas Cabasilas states: “Christians, as disciples of Christ who made all things for peace, are to be ‘craftsmen of peace – τεχνίτες ειρήνης.”[24] They are called a peaceable race (εἰρηνικόν γέννος) since “nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace.”[25] The Third Preconciliar Pan Orthodox Conference (1986) exhorts Orthodox Christians to be active peace makers grounded in their faith:

We, Orthodox Christians, have – by reason of the fact that we have had access to the meaning of salvation – a duty to fight against disease, misfortune, fear; because we have had access to the experience of peace we cannot remain indifferent to its absence from society today; because we have benefited from God’s justice, we are fighting for further justice in the world and for the elimination of all oppression; because we daily experience God’s mercy, we are fighting all fanaticism and intolerance between persons and nations; because we continually proclaim the incarnation of God and the divinization of man we defend human rights for all individuals and all peoples; because we live God’s gift of liberty, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ, we can announce more completely its universal value for all individuals and peoples; because, nourished by the body and blood of our Lord in the holy Eucharist, we experience the need to share God’s gifts with our brothers and sisters, we have a better understanding of hunger and privation and fight for their abolition; because we expect a new earth and new heaven where absolute justice will reign, we fight here and now for the rebirth and renewal of the human being and society.[26]

The Third Pre-conciliar Pan Orthodox Conference provided a theological manifesto that should guide the public witness and involvement of the Orthodox people. But still there is a need to develop and learn practical ways, pastoral projects and opportunities that allow Orthodox people and the churches to participate in movements of social transformation and contribute to a culture of peace.

The peace that God bestows to the world is given not only to humanity but also to the whole created world. Nature and history are, for the Christian faith, ontological realities bearing the marks of sinfulness as separation, division, opposition, ethical and natural evil, as well as the realm, the space, in which the drama of the salvation of the whole world is unfolding through the dynamic presence of God’s Spirit in them. Christians participate in the process of salvation as they embrace, in love, all human beings, who constitute an indivisible unity by virtue of their common origins, partaking of God’s breath, and living in His love. Hatred and divisions are not simply moral mistakes, resulting from the wrong ethical choice of a person, but they reveal the abyss of being-without-God.

Thus the Christian understanding of peace and how it is advanced in the life of the world is guided by the eschatological peace that God grants to the world, the reality of being with God and participating in the glory of His reign. It is primarily a gift and a vocation, a pattern of life. It discloses the life of those who have been reconciled and united with God. It is primarily this unity that enables Christians to embrace in love all human beings because of the active presence of God’s spirit in them. Since peace is constitutive of the Christian Gospel, Christian believers are involved in a permanent process of becoming more conscious of their responsibility to incarnate the message of peace and justice in the world as a witness of the authenticity of their faith. This is clearly stated by St. Basil: “Christ is our peace,” and hence “he who seeks peace seeks Christ…without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.”[27]

The Christian Church insists that the root cause for violence, injustice and oppression in the world reflects the pervasive presence and impact of the still active operation of the “principalities and powers” of the fallen world. Evil, violence, injustice and oppression reflects the disruptive communion of human beings with God, the fallible nature of our human actions, and the failure to discern and do the will of God in the midst of the ambiguities of history. Violence has multiple manifestations: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless and innumerable acts of inhumanity. In the midst of violence and injustice, Christian faith recognizes the active presence of God’s Spirit: the subversive reality that enables the world, and in particular the suffering victims of injustice, aggression and oppression, to begin a process of liberation and movement towards a culture of peace and justice. A tension between the already given reality of peace and its not-yet-fulfilled reality characterizes the key theological stance of Christians involved in the struggle for peace. The awareness that peace is an eschatological gift of God and of the active presence of God’s Spirit in history makes it impossible for the churches to accept a historical fatalism of wars and clashes as unshaken reality or that it is possible to have a permanent peace in this world by relying simply on human-centered ideologies.

Communicating the Christian Notion of Peace in the Public Space.

The Christian gospel invites the faithful to a continuous spiritual struggle that leads, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, towards greater justice and peace. Every Christian is called to be a peacemaker and a worker for justice. This calling is primarily nourished through prayers and repentance; allowing Scripture to form our human consciousness; participating in the Eucharist; and recognizing the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed to be the living icons of Christ.

This calling is noble and Christians, through the above mentioned devotional practices receive, the gift of God’s peace as the basis of their involvement in the life of the world. They are peacemakers because of their participation in God’s mission. Here it is important to differentiate between the gift of God’s peace and how this gift is received, acknowledged and communicated by the Church and the faithful. While the gift of God’s peace is given through the Church to all by virtue of their identification with Christ, it is not equally true that the faithful are always the vehicles of God’s grace and peace to the world. Christian responses to situations of violence are always subject to God’s judgment that compels the churches and the faithful to repentance, asking God’s forgiveness for all their failures to be active agents of His peace to the world.

Orthodox theologians have recognized that there is a need to “lift up in the consciousness of the church, the peace-making character of Christianity and the Christian duty to serve the cause of peace and Justice.”[28] Articulating only abstract theological truths, which nevertheless are normative for the Church’s identity and mission, cannot raise the consciousness of the Church. There is a need to enhance and concretize these theological ideals with insights about social injustice, oppression and violence that social science provides. As the report of the Orthodox Perspectives on Justice and Peace states:

It is important that we not only speak about justice and peace, but also develop projects and contribute practically in programmes and sustained organized activity on behalf of the concrete realization of the values of justice and peace in our ecclesial life. In this regard the church must learn to dialogue especially with non-church bodies to find the most suitable common ways for the implementation of justice and peace.[29]

On the basis of the theological understanding of peace, the Orthodox churches are encouraged to participate in movements of peace and justice. However their involvement in movements of social change will not be credible unless they first liberate themselves from “ethno-nationalism,” which reflects the history of the long identification of church-nation-state relationship in most Orthodox countries where the churches had been considered as national institutions. Ethno-nationalism has reduced in some instances the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to a “national” church restricted geographically and unduly influenced by civilizations, language, idiosyncrasy and serving political purposes, dictated by nationalism, racism and chauvinism of people and states.[30] The suggested liberation of the Orthodox churches from “ethno-nationalism” does not mean that their members cannot be patriotic, or love their nation. What is objectionable is the exclusive identification of God with a particular nation. The partiality of Ethno-nationalism does not only hinder the Orthodox contribution to peace movements, but it debases basic tenets of the Orthodox faith.[31]

The Orthodox churches should exercise their peace-making mission through their active participation in all peace dialogues between states which are at war, between ideologies and political trends fighting each other for the sake of justice and freedom in their respective countries, between the political status quo and liberation movements, as well as in all dialogues intending to defeat racism, sex discrimination and any kind of exploitation of the weak and the poor. It is the mission of the church in its participation and dialogue with the others to witness God’s love for all humanity and affirm the dignity of all human beings.

For this the church has to express its deep-rooted commitment to justice in concrete and relevant ways in our time. We must affirm, loudly and clearly, the truth that God’s image is present in every human being. We need to seek out and actively cooperate with all forces of good working for the eradication from God’s creation of all forms of prejudice and discrimination. We ourselves must teach our people to respect the integrity and dignity of all peoples of every nation, economic condition, race, sex, political affiliation, so that reconciliation and tolerance may replace coercion and violence in our relationships. Our goal is nothing less than the reign of God’s love among all peoples.[32]

Dialogue between opposing sides is not simply a means to reach/achieve agreement. The dialogue itself is part of a reconciliation process. The Orthodox should defend not only the dialogue on peace as such but also the inclusion in it of people who are very often neglected in crucial deliberations. Those who become partners in true dialogue with open and sincere minds, and are ready to listen and not only to speak are already on the way to peace.

Christians in the public realm join their efforts and contribute their resources to all efforts that intend to stop or minimize violence, loss of life, human suffering and deprivation. All actions that aim to save human lives and/or uphold the dignity of all human beings in the midst of violent conflict are acts that promote peace in a provisional but necessary manner. They are actions taken to avoid the immediate threat of armed conflict, massive bloodshed and cruelty but they do not address or eliminate the deeper issues and causes that generate violence and war.

Is it possible for Orthodoxy to justify wars in defending the dignity, the rights, the freedom and the liberation of oppressed people? As the report on Orthodox Perspective on Justice and Peace states:

The Orthodox Church unreservedly condemns war as evil. Yet it also recognizes that in the defense of the innocent and the protection of one’s people from unjust attack, criminal activity and the overthrowing of oppression, it is sometimes necessary, with reluctance, to resort to arms. In every case, such a decision must be taken with full consciousness of its tragic dimensions. Consequently, the Greek fathers of the Church have never developed, a ‘just war theory’, preferring rather to speak of the blessings of and the preference for Peace. [33]

Christians can never admit that resorting to violence or to any kind of war could resolve conflicts and bring peace and harmony to the world. But as long as we live in this world this principle is not unshakeable and cannot –unfortunately – be absolutized. The “pacifist” option, although it is closer to the ethos of the Orthodox Church, cannot become an absolute principle for solutions to conflicts without condoning the world’s conditions and human sin, as well as the predicament of history. It is not possible to adopt one position only and apply it in all situations, at all times and in all places. There is always a need for careful discernment of the signs of the times. One may argue that whenever people or communities resort to violent to resolve their conflicts, they are putting at risk their unity with God and they are in danger of losing their humanity. Violence reflects realities and means of the world and not of God’s kingdom and as such cannot receive theological legitimacy.[34] All kinds of tortures, the holding of innocent persons as hostages, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians harm the life of the victims and dehumanize the victimizers.

It is important to differentiate “pacifism” from “non-violent” resistance to situations of injustice and oppression. Non-violence especially when it is organized as a pressure movement against power centers should not be identified with an entirely passive attitude to evil.[35] Non-violence provides a pragmatic alternative to absolute pacifism, a way of overcoming injustice and realizing political objectives while remaining true to moral principles. In all armed conflicts, there are possibilities of non-violent actions for reaching a solution or an agreement. A Christian always seeks and suggests such means instead of adopting an absolute, unilateral position.[36]

The Christian churches, while they support all human efforts that repudiate the logic of violence and war, must not forget their greater mission to lead the world to address the deeper issues. Peace is not a moral good in and of itself; it is linked with the most basic human values and practices as a permanent improvement of the human condition on all levels. Defending the dignity of every human person and the sanctity of life cannot be disengaged from the quest for greater justice and freedom as the foundation, source and origin of real and permanent peace. “No society can live in peace with itself, or with the world, without the full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person, and of the sacredness of all human life (Jas. 4.1-2).”[37] The Christian churches would be hesitant to fully support those peace movements that disregard fundamental human values like justice and freedom for the sake of merely avoiding the last explicit negation of peace, i.e. massive armed war and the application of violence. Certainly, a Christian would always share in the efforts to avoid bloodshed because life is the most precious God-given gift, but he would try to remind people that when attempting to avoid war and keep peace they should critically examined what kind of peace they represent.

One has to speak of the Christian peace concept and its contribution to the general peace movement not as an absolute one in a general religious, self-sufficcient sense but as a radical particularity which is unique in that it goes dynamically deep into the primary causes of war and violence and calls for thorough study and actions for peace. Particularity here refers to a uniqueness relating to Christ as our Peace, presenting God’s Peace as a paramount gift to the whole of humanity. There are good attempts in the secular realm regarding peace, and a Christian should affirm them as a first point of contact with God’s peace: “Whenever we see harmony, justice, forgiveness, respect for human dignity, generosity, and care for the weak in the common life of humanity, we witness a blessing of the Lord and catch a glimpse –no matter how dim and imperfect – of the peace of Christ.”[38] Then the uniqueness of Christian peace could definitely become a necessary and positive counter-balance against all kinds of unilateral, human centered and godless peace making.

Finally, the contribution of the Orthodox churches in advancing peace with justice and freedom depends upon their total commitment to the Gospel of love and reconciliation and on their courage to speak and act accordingly beyond any kind of temporary affiliations in the socio-political realm. Their contribution will, however, be truly Christian, if it is offered in all humanity and in that spirit of repentance and forbearance which is the key prerequisite of all true peacemakers.

Forgive Us…as We Forgive: Forgiveness in the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer, by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

Forgiveness in the Psalms: In order to deepen our appreciation of the mystery of forgiveness, let us turn both to the Old Testament and to the New; and let us consider how forgiveness is understood first in the Psalms and then in the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the central place that the Psalms have occupied in the liturgical life of the Church, in both the East and the West, the testimony that they bear to the meaning of forgiveness is particularly significant.

First, the Psalms contain a number of striking passages in which the worshipper pleads to God for forgiveness. The best known and most eloquent of these pleas is Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness,” recited no less than four times daily in the Byzantine Divine Office: at the Midnight Service, Matins, the Third Hour, and Compline. Another such plea is Psalm 130, “Out of the deep …”:

If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could abide it? (vs. 4)
The same urgent cry for forgiveness recurs in many other Psalms:
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord,
Be merciful to my sin, for it is great (Ps. 25:10)
Deliver me from all mine offences…;
Take Thy plague away from me (Ps. 39: 9, 11)
I said, “Lord, be merciful unto me;
Heal me, for I have sinned against Thee” (Ps. 41:4)
O remember not our past sins, but have mercy upon us, and that soon:
For we are come to great misery (Ps. 79:8)

These and similar passages of the Psalms make it abundantly clear how greatly we need the healing grace of divine forgiveness. Without God’s mercy we are helpless. It is also made clear that we have no claims upon God. Helpless as we are, we can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s mercy, nothing to oblige or constrain Him to forgive us. We can do no more than wait in patience and humility for His free gift of pardon. “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait for Him … A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise” (Ps. 130:5; 51:17).

Second, the Psalms repeatedly insist that these pleas for divine forgiveness do not remain unheard. The Lord is a God of loving-kindness and tender love, ever eager to show mercy and grant healing. This is the theme in particular of Psalm 103, used daily at Matins in the Orthodox Church, and also regularly in the Divine Liturgy:

Praise the Lord, O my soul:
And all that is within me praise His holy name …
Who forgiveth all thy sin:
And healeth all thine infirmities …
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:
Long-suffering and of great goodness …Like as a father hath compassion upon his children,
So hath the Lord compassion upon them that fear Him (vs. 1, 3, 8, 13).

In a memorable phrase, it is said that God covers our sin:
Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven:
Even he whose sin is covered (Ps. 32:1).

Elsewhere it is said that our sins are blotted out:
To Thee shall all flesh come to confess their sins:
When our misdeeds prevail against us, in Thy mercy do Thou blot them out (Ps. 65:2).

A leitmotif in the “historical” Psalms is the way in which, again and again in the story of salvation, the people of Israel have gone astray, and yet God in His faithful love has forgiven them (Ps. 78:38, 106:43-44, 107:13-16, cf. 85:1-3). God, it is said elsewhere, is like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep (cf. Matt. 18:12; Luke 15:4):

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost;
O seek thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments (Ps. 119:176).

Yet we are not presumptuously to take God’s forgiveness for granted, for His mercy goes hand in hand with His justice (cf. Rom. 11:22):

My song shall be of mercy and justice (Ps. 101:1).

Third, if we are in this way forgiven by God, then we in our turn are called to extend forgiveness to our fellow humans. This is not in fact affirmed in the Psalms very clearly or very frequently, but there are occasions in which it is at least implied, in the context of money-lending:

The ungodly borroweth and payeth not again:
But the righteous giveth and is bountiful …

The righteous is ever bountiful and lendeth:
And his children shall be blessed (Ps. 37:21, 26).

It is good for a man to be generous when he lendeth (Ps. 112:5).

This can perhaps be enlarged to include not only generosity over debts but other forms of remission and forgiveness. At the same time, a restriction has to be noted. We cannot grant forgiveness on behalf of others, in regard to offences that have been committed not against us but against them:

But no man may deliver his brother:
Nor pay a price unto God for him (Ps. 49:7).

Sadly, however, it has to be noted that there are grave limitations in the Psalms concerning the scope of forgiveness. If, as we have seen, there are only a few places where it is suggested that we should forgive others, there are unfortunately many other passages in which the Psalmist curses his enemies and prays for their destruction. God is invoked as a God of vengeance (Ps. 54:1; 94:1). We are to hate our enemies with a “perfect hatred” (Ps. 139:22). Particularly cruel is the punishment called down upon the daughter of Babylon:

Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children:
And throweth them against the stones (Ps. 137:9).

Most notably, Psalm 109 contains an imprecation daunting in its cruelty:
Let his days be few:
And let another seize his possessions.
Let his children be fatherless:
And his wife become a widow.
Let his children be vagabonds and beg their bread:
Let them be driven out even from their desolate places …
Let there be no man to pity him:
Or to have compassion upon his fatherless children (vs. 7-9, 11).

Such a passage does not stand alone: compare, for example, Ps. 83:9-17, 129:5-8, and 140:8-10. I have noted altogether over thirty passages in the Psalms asking God to inflict pain and suffering upon others, and this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. It is of course possible to explain away such passages by interpreting them symbolically, as referring not to our fellow human beings but to our evil thoughts or to the demons. But such was not their original intention.

Seventy Times Seven: When we turn, however, from the Old Testament to the New, we are at once impressed by a manifest and remarkable contrast. Nowhere in the Gospels does Christ instruct us to hate our enemies: He tells us, on the contrary, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). The law of retaliation is firmly abrogated: we are not to “resist an evildoer,” but to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). There are to be no limits to our forgiveness: we are to forgive our brother “seven times a day” (Luke 17:4), and not only that, but “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). We do not find such statements in the Psalms. Nor, indeed, do we find in the Psalms the statement that occupies such a prominent place in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). The Lord’s Prayer is comprehensive but extremely concise. If, then, in such a short prayer, nearly a quarter—no less than 13 words in the Greek text, out of 57—is devoted to the theme of forgiveness, this shows how crucially important it is in God’s sight that we should forgive and be forgiven.

This is certainly the view of Origen. If Christ places such strong emphasis upon forgiveness in the model prayer that He has given us, this is because there cannot be any true prayer at all unless it is offered in a forgiving spirit. St. Gregory of Nyssa goes so far as to claim that the clause “Forgive us … as we forgive” is the culminating point in the entire prayer; it constitutes “the very peak of virtue.” He adds, however, that—fundamental though the clause is—its true sense is not at all easy to grasp: “The meaning surpasses any interpretation in words.”

A valuable insight into the significance of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer is provided by the literal sense of the verb “ forgive” in verse 12. The primary idea conveyed by this word is “let go,” “set aside,” “leave behind.” It denotes such things as release from captivity, the cancellation of a debt, or the remission of punishment. Unforgiving people grasp, retain, and hold fast; forgiving people let go. Yet, if we let go the memory of an offence, does this not suggest that we condone the evil that has been done? That, surely, cannot be the correct meaning of forgiveness. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what has happened seriously and not minimizing it.” To condone an evil is to pass over it, to ignore it, or else it is to pretend that it is not an evil, to treat it as if it were good. But to forgive is something altogether different. There can be no genuine forgiveness that is not truthful and realistic. Let us not practice any evasion. If an evil has been done, then this has to be frankly admitted.

Moreover, if the process of forgiveness is to be brought to full completion, the evil has to be frankly admitted by both sides, by aggressor as well as victim. It is true that, when we suffer wrong, we should endeavor to forgive the other immediately, without any delay, not waiting for the other to acknowledge the wrong. It was precisely in this spirit that Jesus prayed at His crucifixion, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:24). If, however, the forgiveness is to come to proper interpersonal fulfillment, more is required. Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered; and the one who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.

If forgiveness, in the sense of letting go, is not the same as condoning, should we say that to forgive is to forget? Shall we make King Lear’s words our own, “Pray you now, forget and forgive”? The answer seems to be yes and no. All depends on what we remember (or forget) and how we do so. Certainly there is no point in clinging to the memory of trivial misunderstandings and injuries. We should rather allow them to slip quietly away into oblivion, for we have better things with which to occupy our minds. There are, however, events in our personal lives, and in the lives of our communities, that are far too important simply to be forgotten. It would not be right to say to the members of the Armenian nation, “Forget the massacres of 1915,” or to the Jewish people, “Forget the Shoah in the Second World War.” These are matters that, for the sake of our shared humanity, none of us should forget, not least so as to ensure that such atrocities may never be allowed to happen again.

More decisive than what we remember is how we do so. We are not to remember in a spirit of hatred and recrimination, or for the sake of revenge. Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, has rightly said: “Remember the past … but do not be held captive by it. Turn it into a blessing, not a curse; a source of hope, not humiliation.” Our memories are not to be repressed or negated, but at the same time they must be purified and healed. We need to remember, yet not self-righteously or with aggressive accusations, but in a spirit of compunction and mourning. We need to remember with love. But that is difficult.

Forgiveness, it can even be said, begins not with an act of forgetfulness, but with an act of mindfulness and self-knowledge. We have to recognize the harm that has been done, the wound that we or the other carry in our heart. Only after this moment of truthful recognition can we then begin to let go, not in the sense of consigning to oblivion, but in the sense of no longer being held prisoner by the memory. We must remember, but be free.

Responsible for everyone and everything: A dominant theme in the Patristic interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer is the unity of the human race. The early Fathers are in full agreement with the words of Julian of Norwich, “In the sight of God, all man is one man, and one man is all man.” They agree equally with John Donne “No man is an Island, entire of itself.” Our need to forgive and to be forgiven springs directly from the fact that we are all of us interdependent, members of a single human family. Indeed, this insistence upon coinherence is to be seen, not only in the clause “Forgive us … as we forgive,” but in the Lord’s Prayer as a whole. St. Cyprian of Carthage notes how the prepositions in the Prayer are consistently in the plural, not the singular: not “my” but “our,” not “me” but “us.”

We do not say “My Father who art in heaven,” or “Give me this day my bread,” nor does each one ask that only his own debt be remitted, nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation or may be delivered from the evil one. Prayer with us is public and common, and when we pray, we do not pray for one person but for the whole people, because the whole people are one.

This perception of our human unity, in Cyprian’s view, has its foundation in the Christian doctrine of God. We believe in God the Trinity, who is not only one but one-in-three, not only personal but interpersonal. We believe in the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so we human beings are saved, not in isolation, but in communion one with another.

This unity that marks us out as human persons, while underlined throughout the Lord’s Prayer, is particularly evident in the clause concerning forgiveness. In the words of Clement of Alexandria, when we say “Forgive us … as we forgive,” we are proclaiming that “all humankind is the work of one Will.” This is a point emphasized by St. Maximos the Confessor in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. Unity and mutual love, he says, constitute “the principle (logos) of nature” by which we human beings have been created. When, therefore, we pray for forgiveness, we are bringing our human will into harmony with the logos of our nature. Conversely, to withhold forgiveness is to “sunder human nature by separating ourselves from our fellow humans, even though we are ourselves human.” Our refusal to live in union with each other through mutual forgiveness is therefore self-destructive: “Failing such union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s divine and ineffable gift of Himself.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa likewise sees the refusal of forgiveness as self-destructive: “In condemning your neighbor, you thereby condemn yourself.” Giving a wide-ranging application to the notion of human unity, Gregory maintains that it extends through time as well as space. When saying “Forgive us” in the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking forgiveness not only for our own personal sins but also for the debts that are common to our nature, and more particularly for the ancestral sin that the whole human race inherits from Adam. Even if we keep ourselves free from personal sins—in fact, as Gregory comments, none of us can claim this of ourselves, even for an hour—we would still need to say “Forgive us” on behalf of Adam:

Adam lives in us … and so we do well to make use of these words Forgive us our trespasses. Even if we were Moses or Samuel or someone else of pre-eminent virtue, we would nonetheless regard these words as appropriate to ourselves, since we are human; we share in Adam’s nature and therefore share also in his fall. Since, then, as the Apostle says, “we all die in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22), these words that suitably express Adam’s penitence are likewise appropriate for all those who have died with him.

A similar line of thought is found in St. Mark the Monk. In his opinion, we are called to repent not only “for our own sin” but also “for the sin of transgression,” that is to say, for the ancestral sin of Adam. Repentance is vicarious: The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbor, for without active love they cannot be made perfect … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.

Even though there is no explicit reference here to the Lord’s Prayer, Mark’s line of argument can surely be applied to the petition “Forgive us … as we forgive.” If we can repent for the sins of others, then we can and should also ask forgiveness on their behalf. The principle of mutual solidarity applies equally in both cases: “we are each of us assisted by one another.” No one is forgiven and saved in isolation.

These statements by Gregory and Mark fall far short of a fully developed theology of original guilt, such as we find in St. Augustine. Mark specifically excludes the view that, in a juridical sense, we are guilty of Adam’s sin, considered as an act of personal choice. Yet, on a level more profound than legal culpability, there exists a mystical solidarity that unites us all one to another; and it is of this that Gregory and Mark are speaking. “All man is one man,” and so we are each “responsible for everything and everyone,” to use the phrase of Dostoevsky’s Starets Zosima. Even if we are not personally guilty, nevertheless we bear the burden of what Adam and all the other members of the human family have done. They live in us, and we in them. Here as always the vital word is we, not I. None of us falls alone, for we drag each other down; and none of us is forgiven and saved alone. Forgiveness is not solitary but social.

How far can the notion of vicarious forgiveness be legitimately extended? Can I forgive or accept forgiveness on behalf of others? So far as asking forgiveness is concerned, it is surely reasonable to request forgiveness on behalf of others, when those others are joined to me in some way, for example by kinship, nationhood, or religious allegiance. If, tracing back our ancestry, we become aware that our family tree is tainted with unresolved tensions and alienation, we can and should pray for the forgiveness and healing of our forebears. By the same token, the descendant of a slave-trader might rightly feel impelled to ask forgiveness in his heart—and perhaps by some external gesture as well—from the families of those whom his ancestor took captive and sold into bondage. Pope John Paul II acted as a true Christian when, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome in June 2004, he asked the Patriarch’s forgiveness for the sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders eight hundred years previously. How I long for an Orthodox Church leader to ask forgiveness in the same way from the Catholics, for the many evils that we Orthodox have inflicted upon them! And all of us, Orthodox and Catholics alike, have to seek forgiveness from the Jews, God’s Chosen People, for the heavy sins that, over the centuries, we have committed against them.

Have we the right, however, not only to ask forgiveness on behalf of others, but also to offer it on their behalf? Here there is reason for us to be much more hesitant. For myself, I agree with the late Rabbi Albert Friedlander, and with Psalm 49:9, that one cannot forgive offences that have not been committed against oneself. It would be inappropriate, and indeed presumptuous, for me as a non-Jew to claim authority to forgive the suffering inflicted upon the Jews during the Shoah in the Second World War. It is not for me but for the Jews themselves to decide how those sufferings should be remembered, and how and when they should be forgiven. In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, “… as we forgive those who have trespassed against others,” but “… as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Issuing an Order to God: What light do the Fathers shed upon the central word in the forgiveness petition—indeed, the most puzzling word in the whole of the Lord’s Prayer—the word “as” in “Forgive us … as we forgive”? “No word in English,” states Charles Williams, “carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word “as” in that clause; it is the measuring rod of the heavenly City, and the knot of the new union. But also it is the key of hell and the knife that cuts the knot of union.” Truly it is a hazardous prayer. We dare to apply to ourselves with unmitigated rigor the principle laid down by Christ “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matt. 7:2). “What you do,” warned St. Cyprian, “that you will also yourself suffer.” As St. John Chrysostom put it, “We ourselves have control over the judgment that is to be passed upon us.”

Not only is it a hazardous request to God but also a very strange one. It is as if we were issuing an order to God and instructing Him how to act. “If I do not forgive others,” we are saying to Him, “then do You withhold forgiveness from me.” Nowhere else in the Lord’s Prayer do we issue orders in this way. St. Gregory of Nyssa attempts to spell out the paradox in terms of what may be called “mimetic inversion.” Under normal circumstances, he observes, it is we who are called to imitate God; as St. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). This is particularly the case when we forgive others. Since in the last resort, God alone has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:7), it is only possible for us to forgive others if we imitate God. We cannot genuinely forgive, that is to say, unless we have been taken up into God and have ourselves “in some sense become God,” in Gregory’s phrase. The one who forgives needs to be “deified” or “divinized”; there can be no effective forgiveness without theosis. That is the normal pattern. But in the case of the Lord’s Prayer—and Gregory admits this is a “bold thing” to say—the customary order is reversed. On this occasion, we serve as an example to God. Instead of ourselves imitating Him, we are telling Him to imitate us: “What I have done, do You likewise; imitate Your servant, O Lord …. I have forgiven; do You forgive. I have shown great mercy to my neighbor; imitate my loving-kindness, You who are by nature loving-kind.”

Yet, in this clause “Forgive us … as we forgive,” precisely how strong a sense should be attached to the conjunction “as”? Should it be understood as causative, proportionate, or conditional?

Is the sense causative? In that case, we are saying to God, “Forgive us because we forgive”; our forgiveness causes His. This is indeed the way some Patristic authors interpreted the phrase. Clement of Alexandria suggested that, by forgiving others, we somehow compel God to forgive us. Yet a causative interpretation of this kind presents grave difficulties. As Calvin has rightly insisted, forgiveness comes from the “free mercy” of God. It is an unmerited gift of divine grace, conferred solely through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection; it is never something that we can earn or deserve. God acts with sovereign liberty, and we have no claims upon Him. As Paul affirmed, quoting the Pentateuch: “For God says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16; cf. Exod. 33:19). This is rendered abundantly clear in Christ’s parable concerning the laborers in the vineyard: to those who complain about their wages, the master replies, “Have I not the right to do as I choose with what is my own?” (Matt. 20:15). Moreover, the initiative rests with God and not with us. He does not wait for us to forgive others before He extends His forgiveness to us. On the contrary, His act of free and unrestricted forgiveness precedes any act of forgiveness on our part: “God proves His love for us, in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

If the word “as” cannot be causative, is it proportionate? Does it signify “to the same degree,” “according to the same measure”? Once more, this can hardly be the true sense. Between our forgiveness and God’s, there can be no common measure. He forgives with a fullness and generosity far beyond our wildest imagining: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). The transcendent and incomparable character of divine forgiveness is underlined in another Matthaean parable, that of the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). In relation to God, we are like the slave who owed ten thousand talents (a talent being equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages received by a laborer), whereas in relation to each other we are like the slave who owed a hundred denarii (a denarius being the usual day’s wage for a laborer). Even St. Gregory of Nyssa, after suggesting that in His act of forgiveness God is imitating us, at once goes on to qualify this by asserting that our sins against God are immeasurably heavier than any sins by others against us. Later he refers for confirmation precisely to the parable of the two debtors.

If, then, our forgiveness is neither the cause nor the measure of God’s forgiveness, what further alternative remains? There exists a third possibility: it is the condition. Forgiveness is indeed unmerited, but it is not unconditional. God for His part is always overwhelmingly eager to forgive. This divine eagerness is movingly expressed in the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15 : 11-32), which is read at the Orthodox Liturgy on the Sunday two weeks before the Sunday of Forgiveness. The father does not simply sit and wait passively for his son to return home. We are to imagine him standing day after day outside his house, anxiously scanning the horizon in the forlorn hope that at long last he may catch sight of a familiar figure. Then, as soon as the prodigal comes into view, while he is still far off, the father rushes out to meet his son, embracing and kissing him, and inviting him into the feast. Such is God’s great willingness to forgive us and to welcome us home. Later in the story the father again goes out, this time in the hope of persuading his elder son to come and share the feast. This double going-out on the part of the loving father is of primary significance if we are to appreciate the quality of divine mercy.

Yes, indeed, God is always eager to forgive—far more than we are to repent. In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian, “There exists in Him a single love and compassion that is spread out over all creation, a love that is without alteration, timeless, and everlasting.” Calling to mind Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane and His death on the Cross, we ask ourselves: What more could God incarnate have done to win us back to Himself, that He has not done? Forgiveness, however, has not only to be offered but to be accepted. God knocks at the door of the human heart (Rev. 3:20), but He does not break the door down: we for our part have to open it.

Here precisely we find the true meaning of the word “as” in the Lord’s Prayer. It is not that God is unwilling to forgive us. But if, despite God’s unfailing eagerness to forgive, we on our side harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness to others, then quite simply we render ourselves incapable of receiving the divine forgiveness. Closing our hearts to others, we close them also to God; rejecting others, we reject Him. If we are unforgiving, then by our own act, we place ourselves outside the interchange of healing love. God does not exclude us; it is we who exclude ourselves.

Our forgiveness of others, then, is not the cause of God’s forgiveness towards us, but it is certainly the condition without which God’s forgiveness cannot pass within us. Divine pardon is indeed a free gift that we can never earn. What concerns us here, however, is not merit but capacity. Our relation to God and our relation to our fellow humans are strictly interdependent. As St. Silouan of Mount Athos affirmed, “Our brother is our life.” This is true not in a sentimental but in an ontological sense. Love for God and love for neighbor are not two loves but one.

“Forgive us … as we forgive”: when we say these words, so Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has rightly cautioned us, “we take our salvation into our own hands.”

Four Words of Counsel: As we begin to cross the Red Sea of forgiveness, let us remind ourselves of certain practical guidelines.

Do not delay, but do not be in haste. Do not delay: the time for forgiveness is always now. Maximize the moment. The devil’s weapons are nostalgia and procrastination: he tells us “Too late” or “Too soon.” But, where the devil says “Yesterday” or “Tomorrow,” the Holy Spirit says “Today.”

We are not to think within ourselves, “First, I will change for the better; then I will be ready to forgive.” Still less are we to think (what is far worse), “First, I will wait to see whether the other is really sorry for the wrong that he has done, and whether he has really changed for the better; then I will decide whether to forgive him.” Let us, on the contrary, be like the loving father in the story of the prodigal. Let us take the initiative and run out to meet the other. Forgiveness has to come first; it is the cause of the change in ourselves and in others, not the effect. To adapt a phrase of the Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, “In so far as I am not forgiven, I am unintelligible to myself.”

Yet there is another side to the question. Forgive now, in your heart; but in your outward actions do not be overhasty. Forgiveness signifies healing, and healing often takes time. Premature requests for forgiveness can make the situation worse. If we force ourselves upon the other, before seeking through imaginative empathy to discover what the other is thinking and feeling, we may widen rather than bridge the gulf that separates us. Without putting things off, often we need to pause—not with passive indifference but waiting with alertness upon God—until the kairos, the moment of opportunity, has become clear. Emperor Augustus was right: Festina lente.

Forgive the other, but also be willing to accept the forgiveness that the other is offering to us. It is hard to forgive; but often it is even harder to acknowledge that we ourselves need to be forgiven. Let us be humble enough to accept the gift of another’s pardon. As Charles Williams wisely observed, “Many reconciliations have unfortunately broken down because both parties have come prepared to forgive and unprepared to be forgiven.”

Forgive others, but also forgive yourself. Have we not sometimes said, or heard others say, “I will never forgive myself for that”? Yet how can we accept forgiveness from others, if we will not forgive ourselves? In the words again of Charles Williams, by remaining in this state of “half-anger, half-anguish,” we create for ourselves “a separate hell.” Judas regretted what he had done, but in his case self-knowledge brought him not to fresh hope but to despair; unable to accept God’s forgiveness, and therefore unable to forgive himself, he went out and committed suicide (Matt. 27: 3-5). Peter on the other hand took a different path. Brought to self-knowledge by the crowing of the cock, he wept bitter tears of remorse; yet this remorse did not reduce him to despair. Rather, seeing the risen Christ at the lakeside, he did not turn away from Him into a “separate hell,” but drew near with hope. Accepting Christ’s forgiveness, forgiving himself, he began anew (Matt. 26:75; Jn. 21:15-19).

Pray. If we cannot yet find within our heart the possibility of forgiving the other, then let us at least pray for them. In the words of St. Silouan, “If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you.” Let us ask God that we may not make the other’s burden more heavy, that we may not be to them a scandal and a cause of stumbling. And if, as we pray, we cannot yet bring ourselves to the point of actually forgiving, then let us ask God that we may experience at least the desire and longing to forgive. There are situations in which truly to want something is already to attain it. Like the man who brought his sick child to Christ and cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9 : 24), let us also cry out with tears: “Lord, I forgive; help my unforgivingness.” Slowly, gradually, there will come at last the moment when we are able to remember with love.

By invoking God’s help in prayer and by admitting our own helplessness, we are reminded of the all-important truth that forgiveness is a divine prerogative. It is not simply our action, but the action of God in us. To forgive, in a full and genuine sense, we need to be “in God.” “It is God who has shone in our hearts … the all-surpassing power is from Him and not from us” (2 Cor. 4 : 6-7). This all-surpassing power of God is communicated to us above all through the mysteries or sacraments of the Church; and, in the Patristic interpretation of “Our Father,” at least two of these mysteries are mentioned implicitly in the course of the Prayer. When we say, “Give us today our daily bread,” we are to think not of material bread alone but of the bread from heaven, the Eucharist . Then, in the petition that follows, “Forgive us … as we forgive,” we are to recall the forgiveness of sins that we have received in Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Prayer, according to St. Augustine, is in this way a continual renewal of Baptism: reciting the words that Christ has given us, “daily we are washed clean.” Our forgiveness, then, does not depend merely upon our feelings, or upon the decision of our will. It has an objective basis in the sacrament of our baptismal washing.

Flying Kites: After Orthodox Christians have knelt before each other at the Vespers of Forgiveness, asking and granting pardon, what do they do on the next day, the first day of Lent, known as “Clean Monday” (Kathara Devtera)? In many places it is still the custom to go out on the hills and have a picnic; and on this, the first open-air festival of the year, both children and grown-ups fly kites in the spring breeze. Such can also be our inner experience when we begin to forgive one another. To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. It is to emerge from gloom into the sunlight, from self-imprisonment into the liberty of the open air. It is to ascend the hills, to let the wind blow on our faces, and to fly noetic kites, the kites of imagination, hope, and joy.

As his son said of the priest Papastavros, “He is free because he forgives.” IC

This article is the second of a two part series. The first part appeared in the Fall 2011 issue. The entire essay was presented as a paper by Met. Kallistos at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Study Day in Amsterdam in 2010 and will soon be made available by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in booklet form (the booklet will include all footnotes that are part of the original paper). It appears as a chapter in a book of essays by several authors called Meditations of the Heart: The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice. Essays in Honour of Andrew Louth. The book was published by Brepols Publishers in August, 2011.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012

For the Peace From Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism

51gV5M+Pk4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_For the Peace From Above:
An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism

edited by Fr. Hildo Bos and Jim Forest

The online version of the book is made from the first edition, published in Poland by Syndesmos in 1999. A much-expanded second edition (see below) has now been published by the Orthodox Research Institute.

Click here to view the table of Contents

The contents of the online first edition of the Resource Book may be reproduced freely, with reference to the source: For the Peace From Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism (1999 edition: Orthodox Peace Fellowship/Syndesmos Books).

* * *

Regarding the new edition:

publisher:
The Orthodox Research Institute
ISBN: 978-1-933275-56-7
$24.95 plus hipping and handling (USD)

For the Peace from Above is a unique resource tool offering a wealth of information:

  • reference texts from Scripture, Church canons, the Fathers, liturgical texts and contemporary authors
  • official Orthodox Church statements on racism, nationalism and on specific wars
  • essays by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemeos, Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Bishop Irenaeus of Backa, Olivier Clément, Fr. Sergi Tchetverikoff, and many other authors
  • clear and challenging definitions from dictionaries, Fathers of the Church and contemporary authors
  • study tools for workshops and group activities

Table of contents:

Introduction — iii
Chapter One: Defining Terms — 1
Chapter Two: Reference Texts from Holy Scripture — 15
Chapter Three: Canonical and Synodical Reference Texts — 43
Case Study 1: The Definition of Religious Nationalism (Ethno-Phyletism) — 69
Case Study 2: The 1986 Chambésy statement — 73
Case Study 3: Church, Nation and State — 88
Chapter Four: Reference Texts from Authors from the Patristic Period 99
Case Study 4: Acts of the Martyrdom of Early Christian Soldiers — 147
Case Study 5: Christian Soldiers in the Roman Army before Constantine — 152
Chapter Five: War, Peace and Nationalism — 155
Case Study 6: Prayer for Peace in the Liturgy — 177
Case Study 7: Commemoration of Warrior Saints — 179
Chapter Six: Reference Texts from Modern Authors — 199
Study 8: Orthodoxy, Culture and Nationalism — 233
Case Study 9: The Serbian Church and Milosevic — 238
Chapter Seven: Various Recent Official Statements — 243
Case Study 10: Orthodox Americans, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and Iraq — 287
Chapter Eight: Essays and Texts — 303
Chapter Nine: Study and Action Guide — 451

The book’s authors or persons quoted at length include:

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Nicholas Berdyaev
Fr. Hildo Bos
Fr. Sergi Bulgakov
Bishop Irenaeus Bulovic of Backa, Serbia
Olivier Clément
John H. Erickson
Jim Forest
Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon
Fr. Lev Gillet
Fr. Stanley S. Harakas
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk
Fr. Thomas Hopko
Anton Kartashov
Vladimir Lossky
Metropolitan Maximus of Sardes
Fr. John McGuckin
Fr. John Meyendor
A. Schmemann
St. Maria Skobtsova
Louis J. Swift
Gregory Trubetzkoy
V. Rev. Dr. Georges Tsetsis
Charles C. West

* * *

To order from the publisher, Orthodox Research Institute:
http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/store/books/bos_forest_peace.html

Forgive Us…as We Forgive: Forgiveness in the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer by Met. Kallistos Ware

by Met. Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me.As our dear Redeemer said:“This the Wine, and this the Bread.”—William BlakeThe stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgivebut do not forget.—Thomas Szasz

HE IS FREE because he forgives. In the book by Kevin Andrews, The Flight ofIkaros, there is a story that sums up the essence of forgiveness. Andrewswas studying medieval fortresses in Greece. The year was 1949. He wastraveling through a land devastated by the German occupation during the SecondWorld War and cruelly divided by the post-war struggle between Communists andanti-Communists that had only just drawn to a close. Arriving one evening in a village,he was given hospitality by the parish priest Papastavros. The priest’s house had beenburned down, and so he received his guest in the shed that was now his home.

Gradually Andrews learnt the priest’s story. His two eldest sons had joined theResistance during the German occupation. But, some villagers betrayed their hidingplace: They were captured and never seen again. About the same time, his wife diedfrom starvation. After the Germans had left, Papastavros was living alone with oneof his married daughters and her baby son. She was expecting her second child in afew weeks. One day he returned home to find his house in flames, set on fire byCommunist partisans. “I was in time,” he recounted to Andrews, “to see them dragmy daughter out and kill her; they shot all their bullets into her stomach. Then theykilled the little boy in front of me.”

Those who did these things were not strangers coming from a distance, but theywere local people. Papastavros knew exactly who they were, and he had to meetthem daily. “I wonder how he has not gone mad,” one of the village women remarkedto Andrews. But the priest did not in fact lose his sanity. On the contrary, he spoketo the villagers about the need for forgiveness. “I tell them to forgive, and that thereexists no other way,” he said to Andrews. Their response, he added, was to laugh inhis face. When, however, Andrews talked with the priest’s one surviving son, thelatter did not laugh at his father, but spoke of him as afree man: “He is free because he forgives.”

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Two phrases stand out in this account: “There exists no other way,” and “He is freebecause he forgives.” There exists no other way. Certain human situations are socomplex and intractable, so fraught with anguish, that there exists only one way outbut to forgive. Retaliation makes the problem worse, as Mahatma Gandhi observed, “An eye for an eye leavesthe whole world blind.” Solely through forgiveness can we break the chain of mutualreprisal and self-destroying bitterness. Without forgiveness, there can be no hopeof a fresh start. So Papastavros found, faced by the tragedies of enemy occupationand civil war. Surely his words apply also to many other situations of conflict, notleast in the Holy Land.

He is free because he forgives. In the words of the Russian Orthodox starets StSilouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938), “Where there is forgiveness…there is freedom.”If only we can bring ourselves to forgive—if we can at least want to forgive—thenwe shall find ourselves in what the Psalms call a “spacious place” or “a place ofliberty”: “We went through fire and water, but Thou broughtest us out into a placeof liberty” (Psalm 66:12). Forgiveness means release from a prison in which all thedoors are locked on the inside. Only through forgiveness can we enter into what StPaul terms “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

Yet how hard, how painfully hard, it is to forgive and to be forgiven! To quoteanother Russian Orthodox witness, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003),“Forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: Ithas breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea.” “Do not think that you have acquired virtue,”said the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus (346-99), “unless you have struggled for itto the point of shedding your blood.” The same can be said of forgiveness. Sometimesthe struggle to forgive is indeed nothing less than an inner martyrdom, to the pointof shedding our blood.

FORGIVENESS SUNDAY IN the Orthodox Church: How shall we set out in ourexodus across the “Red Sea” of forgiveness? Let us consider first the way inwhich the Orthodox Church offers to its members an annual opportunity tomake a fresh start on what is known as “The Sunday of Forgiveness.” This will leadus to look more closely at forgiveness in the Psalms and especially in the Lord’s Prayer.What, we may ask, is the meaning of the Greek verb aphimi used in the Lord’s Prayerfor forgive, “let go”? Does this mean that to forgive is to condone, or at any rate toforget? Next, taking as our guide the early Fathers, we shall see how the phrase“Forgive us…as we forgive” underlines the fundamental unity of the human race.Finally, we shall try to appreciate what is signified by the word “as” in the forgivenessclause of the Lord’s Prayer: “…as we forgive.” Why should the scope of God’sforgiveness be seemingly restricted by my own willingness to forgive? We shall endwith four practical guidelines.

The Sunday of Forgiveness occurs immediately before the seven-week Fast of Lent,the “Great Fast” in preparation for the “Feast of Feasts,” the Lord’s Resurrection atPascha. The human animal, it has been said, is not only an animal that thinks, ananimal that laughs and weeps, but much more profoundly an animal that expressesitself through symbolic actions. With good reason, then, the Orthodox Church affordsits members the chance each year to externalize their longing for forgiveness,through a liturgical rite that is both corporate and personal.

On the morning of Forgiveness Sunday, the appointed Gospel reading isMatthew 6:14-21, beginning with Christ’s words, “If you forgive others theirtrespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgiveothers, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Then in the evening, atthe end of Vespers, there comes a ceremony of mutual pardon. Usually the priest gives a homily, concluding with anappeal to his flock to forgive him for all his mistakes and shortcomings in the pastyear. Then he comes down the sanctuary steps to the floor of the nave where thepeople are standing, for there can be no genuinely mutual forgiveness unless I putmyself on the same level as the other. Kneeling before the congregation, he says,“Forgive me, a sinner.” The people likewise kneel before the priest, answering,“May God forgive you. Forgive us.” To this the priest responds “God will forgive,” or “MayGod forgive and bless us all.” After that the people come up one by one to the priest,and each kneels before him as he in turn kneels before each of them; and theyexchange the same words, “Forgive me….God will forgive.” Then, having first kneltbefore the priest, the members of the congregation go around the church kneelingbefore one another, each asking and granting pardon. All this, for obvious reasons,is easier to carry out if, as in traditional Orthodox practice, the church is not clutteredup with pews.

There is of course a danger that a ceremony such as this may become over-emotional, in which case the results will probably prove ephemeral. Forgiveness,after all, is not a feeling but an action. It involves not primarily our emotions but ourwill. It is a decision, which then requires to be given practical effect. There is alsothe opposite danger that some worshippers, growing accustomed to this ceremonyyear by year, will go through it in a manner that is merely formal and automatic.

Ritual can all too easily become ossified.Nevertheless, when full allowance has been made for the dangers of emotionalismand formalism, it remains true that for very many Orthodox Christians, this annualservice of mutual pardon is deeply healing. On the basis of my personal experience,after more than forty years of pastoral work in a parish, I can testify that again andagain it has a transfiguring effect upon relationships within the local church family.It is an occasion that many of our people approach with the utmost seriousness. Letus not underestimate the power of ritual. Even if there are times when it becomesossified, on other occasions it can and does act as a potent catalyst, enabling us togive expression to what would otherwise remain unacknowledged and repressed.Those too hesitant or embarrassed to call at one another’s homes and embark on alengthy verbal explanation can make a new beginning within the framework of sharedprayer. The Vespers of Forgiveness serves in this way as a genuine breakthrough, thesudden vision of a fresh landscape.

The burden of unhappy memories means, not surprisingly, that the Vespers ofForgiveness is somewhat subdued and somber. We cry out in sorrow, “Turn not awayThy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble. Hear me speedily, hearken unto mysoul and deliver it.” Yet, along with sorrow, there is also a note of glad expectation.“Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast,” we sing in one of the hymns,and a little later we add, “Thy grace has shone forth and given light to our souls.” Asthe mutual pardon is being exchanged between priest and people, in many churchesthe choir sings the Resurrection hymns that will be used seven weeks later at Paschalmidnight—to forgive is to rise again from the dead. St John Climacus, abbot of MountSinai in the seventh century—whose book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is speciallyappointed for reading in Lent—has a phrase that exactly describes the spirit of theVespers of Forgiveness: charopoion penthos, meaning “mourning that causes gladness”or “joy-creating sorrow.”

Sometimes people have told me that they find the phrase commonly used at theservice, “Forgive me….God will forgive” to be problematic and even evasive. Surely,they object, when someone asks for forgiveness, it is not enough for us to assurethem that they are forgiven by God, for they already know that. What is required isthat we should forgive them. This, however, is to overlook an essential point.Forgiveness is first and foremost a divine act, for “Who can forgive sins but Godalone?” (Mark 2:7). If, then, I am to forgive someone else, and the other person is toforgive me, in the last resort this is possible only in so far as we are both of us inGod. More specifically, we are able to forgive each other solely because we are bothof us already forgiven by God. Our forgiveness is rooted in His, and is impossiblewithout it, for “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Since, therefore, forgiveness is not primarily our human action but a divine actionin which we humans participate, it is vitally important that in the process of mutualforgiveness, we should allow space for God to operate. At the beginning of theEucharistic service in the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to thepriest, “It is time for the Lord to act” (see Psalm 119:126), thereby affirming that thetrue celebrant at the Holy Mysteries is not the priest but Christ Himself. The phraseapplies equally to our mutual forgiveness. Here, too, it needs to be said, “It is timefor the Lord to act.” Our attempts at reconciliation often fail precisely because we relytoo much upon ourselves and do not leave proper scope for the action of the Lord.With St. Paul we need to say, “not I, but Christ in me” (Gal. 2:20). Such, then, is thespirit in which we reply at the Vespers of Forgiveness, “God will forgive.”

(This was the first part of a three part series. The next two parts will appear inin the next two issues. We are seeking permission to print the whole article as a booklet,which we will produce after the third part is published. The entire essay was presented as apaper by Met. Kallistos at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Study Day in Amsterdam last year.It appears as a chapter in a book of essays by several authors called Meditations of the Heart:The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice. Essays in Honor of Andrew Louth. Thebook was published by Brepols Publishers in August, 2011.)


❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011

 

Of Whom I am First: on the death of Osama Bin Laden

By Ágúst Symeon Magnússon

A news stand in Boston: covers of news magazines in mid-May 2011 (photo: Jim Forest)[
A news stand in Boston: covers of news magazines in mid-May 2011 (photo: Jim Forest)[

At the time of this writing most of the world’s newspapers and television channels are reporting on the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden at the hands of a special-operations Navy Seal Team. After ten years on the run following his involvement in the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, Bin Laden was finally found in a high-security compound in Pakistan. Bin Laden had become a potent symbol for militant Islamic extremism and countless terrorist groups throughout the world. The news of his death met with mixed reaction in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda operatives threatened retaliation and vengeance, Hamas condemned the killing, calling it a “continuation of the United States policy of destruction,” while the reaction of other governments in the area ranged from hesitant to jubilant.

In the West, especially in the United States, the news was met with nothing less than festal enthusiasm. Great crowds took to the streets of many cities, especially Washington D.C. and New York – both targets of the horrors of September 11 – cheering and waving flags, chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” as if at a sports event. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented that “Justice has been done,” and newspapers reported on Bin Laden’s death with a range of journalistic flair, from the relatively understated “U.S. Forces Kill Osama Bin Laden” of The Wall Street Journal to the more robust “GOT HIM! Vengeance at last! U.S. nails the bastard!” in The New York Post and the words “ROT IN HELL!” superimposed over a picture of Bin Laden in The Daily News.

All of these reactions are perfectly understandable. Bin Laden was generally seen as leader of an organization whose terrorist activities have cost the lives of thousands of men, women and children in the past decade. The bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 killed almost three thousand. The bombings on the public transit systems of London and Madrid, in 2005 and 2004 respectively, resulted in 247 deaths. Aside from these attacks on European and American soil, al-Qaeda has terrorized and murdered countless Muslim men, women and children in the past decade all throughout the Middle East, denying people their basic human rights and dignity in order to promulgate a philosophy of hatred, religious fundamentalism and death.

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Understandable as the jubilant reaction to Bin Laden’s death may be, it is nonetheless not a Christian one. Christianity demands of us an orientation towards a reality that is both supremely difficult and strange, a reality of mercy and love. This reality is the Life of God, the shared love of the Holy Trinity, and it stands in direct opposition to any worldly ideas we may have about justice, vengeance or retribution. We are told by the great seventh-century poet St. Isaac the Syrian that all the sins of the world are like a few grains of sand cast into the ocean of God’s infinite mercy. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that we may be assimilated to this mystical reality, entering into it by forgiving each other our sins so that we may fully be able to experience the mystery of God’s forgiveness. And in the sixth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Christ tells us to love our enemies and to neither judge nor condemn but rather to forgive absolutely and unconditionally.

What then would a proper Christian response to Bin Laden’s death be? Do we forget the horrors he inspired? Is our God not a God of justice as well as mercy? In thinking about such questions and exploring the mystery that lies behind them, perhaps we will come to better understand the mystical reality of God’s mercy. If nothing else, this event may be a catalyst for examining what lies at the center of these mysteries of forgiveness, repentance and communion. To enter into such a questioning is to take up the challenge given to us by Christ in the gospels to reconsider our relationship to one another and our understanding of good and evil.

To begin with we must be absolutely clear on the fact that the teachings of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church unequivocally state that evil is very real and that it permeates the very fabric of our existence due to the consequences of the Fall. The only way to reorient our lives towards God and to accept the salvation that He so freely offers us in and through his Son, the divine Logos who became incarnate as Jesus Christ. God does not force his mercy upon anyone. If he did, his mercy would no longer be love. This means that the salvation of our souls is in fact dependent upon our own free will and to what extent we choose to orient our lives towards the Good. And this is exactly why it is more 1 than likely that someone like Osama Bin Laden would find himself in a place that is the metaphysical realization of the life he lived on this earth, a life that was defined by suffering and pain and the inability to love one’s fellow human beings, irrespective of their religion, nationality or past sins. Yet in accepting the reality of evil, we, as Christians, also believe in its ultimate defeat. Christ frees us from violence, hatred and death, opening a door towards a way of life (a Tao/Logos) that we can appropriate and assimilate ourselves to through the grace of God that He so mercifully grants to us. The question then becomes how we enter upon this path and become conduits for God’s love and mercy instead of proliferating yet more suffering for both ourselves and our brothers and sisters. The answer, mysterious and indefinable as it must be, seems to always center on the mystery of repentance.   Repentance is among the most difficult and complex spiritual and philosophical realities in the entire Christian tradition. It is the beginning of the spiritual life, the first commandment of both John the Baptist and Christ in the gospels, our entrance into the Kingdom that is “at hand” (i.e. among us – present in the here and now). To begin our treatment of this difficult subject we might examine a prayer that is both beautiful and bizarre in its implications. It is a prayer said by Eastern Orthodox Christians moments before they receive the body and blood of Christ in the mystery of Holy Communion in the Divine Liturgy:

I believe O Lord and I confess, that you are truly the Christ, the living God who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am first. Moreover I believe that this is truly your most pure body and that this is truly your own precious blood.

“To save sinners of whom I am first.” What astoundingly strange words. Surely there have been worse people than I – murderers, rapists, dictators and despots. People like Osama Bin Laden. Even though I fully acknowledge that I am sinful and that I struggle with a great many passions in deed, word and thought, I nonetheless have a hard time thinking of myself as the chief of sinners, as the worst of the worst. Is this perhaps a kind of psychological flagellation, a “woe is me a sinner” attitude so that we may feel our unworthiness in the face of the holy sacraments?

Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to begin to understand these strange words, we need to break down our preconceived notions regarding repentance and communion. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, repentance, confession and sin were never thought of in legalistic terms, nor was juridical language ever applied to these realities, which was a tendency that sometimes tended to dominate Latin thinking on these matters. Rather, these spiritual realities were – and still are – understood in terms of a kind of spiritual anthropology, a language grounded in the language of medicine and healing as opposed to rules and regulations. Sin is understood as a spiritual sickness from which all of us suffer, a metaphysical condition that permeates the entire cosmos and from which God in his infinite mercy has freed us through the loving grace of his only begotten Son and his Holy Spirit. Repentance, in turn, becomes not a matter of psychological guilt, nor of feeling as if one is unworthy or tainted. Rather, it is a matter of a spiritual reorientation. The Greek word is metanoia, literally a “change of mind” or a “turning around” of the soul. As Metropolitan Kallistos writes in The Orthodox Way:

Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with hope – not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light.

When Plato in the Cave Allegory in the Republic describes the freeing of the prisoner in the cave who then turns away from illusion and suffering towards the light of truth and beauty he uses this very word metanoia. There is a turning around of the soul from the realm of shadows towards the divine. Such is repentance of the Christian who now sees him or herself in the light of the Resurrection and the mercy of God. This opening of the spiritual eyes, the cleansing of the nous – as it was known to both the Greek philosophers and Church Fathers – lies at the center of the mystery of repentance. It not only changes our perception of ourselves but of every living thing, the entire cosmos, but primarily it affects how we view our brothers and sisters. No longer are we subject to the individualism and egotism that ensconce us ever deeper in the mires of sin where we constantly measure ourselves against each other, whether materially or spiritually. Instead, our eyes are opened to the love that is the very being of God, a reality where humility, sacrifice and compassion direct the course of our lives rather than our desires and passions.

What is paradoxical about this reorientation is that in opening our eyes to the beauty and goodness of God that permeate this world we also become ever more aware of the reality of suffering and pain and all the repercussions of the Fall. In repenting of our own sins, especially through the sacrament of confession, we become ever more cognizant of the spiritual sickness that permeates the very fabric of our world, the alienation, separation, violence, disease, hunger and pain.

Repentance is a softening of the heart and an opening up of the human being, a path that makes us more sensitive and humane, more aware of the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Through this mystery we break down the illusion of individualism where we view ourselves as separate atoms, each pursuing our individual gain apart from one another. Instead we enter into the life of God where love and communion become the very essence of our life, just as they do for the persons of the Trinity. To repent is to begin to understand our very being as communion, to borrow a phrase from the Orthodox philosopher and theologian John Zizioulas.

Through repentance we begin to experience God’s mercy, the healing salve that cures the world of violence and hate. (The Greek word eleos, usually translated in English as “mercy,” has the same root as the word for olive oil, one of the most common medicinal balms of the ancient Greek world.) Hatred, in fact, makes true repentance impossible. It turns us away from the reality of God’s love towards a reality that is entirely our own construct, a reality characterized by discord and separation. This is why we are told not to approach the Holy Eucharist unless we have purged our hearts of hate. The reality made manifest in the Gifts is entirely antithetical to hatred and to being controlled by fear, for it is primarily through fear that we begin to hate.

The response to Bin Laden’s death is one that is primarily characterized by fear. In many ways it is a justifiable fear, one based on the immense pain and suffering that this man had wrought upon the world. Yet fear, in all its forms, is a passion, something that separates us from God. If left unchecked, like all passions, it can lead towards an ever-deepening cycle of suffering, both for ourselves and those around us. Hatred begets only hate. Violence begets more violence. It is a cycle as old as humanity itself. Al-Qaeda has already promised revenge for the slaying of Bin Laden. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rage on. The jubilant response to Bin Laden’s death, even though it is understandable to an extent, is nonetheless primarily symbolic of the anger and hatred that feeds this cycle of violence and despair.

Repentance is the way out of this cycle. Repentance is to not only look at our individual sins and shortcomings, but to open ourselves up to the mercy of God. It is then up to us to extend that mercy to others. By telling us to love our enemies, Christ obviously did not mean for us to “like” them nor did He mean we should overlook the evil they have done. Rather, in loving them we are to manifest the Kingdom of God where our primary concern is not retribution or “justice,” but rather mercy as healing.

In realizing our own sins, our own entanglement in the web of suffering and pain, we free ourselves of the bonds of our sins through God’s mercy and in turn become more sensitive to the suffering of those around us. It is only at that point that we can begin to extend the healing of God to others, first and last through prayer but also through direct involvement and actions.

It is then that we can begin to address the injustice of this world, the innocent victims of terrorists such as Bin Laden as well as those who suffer because of the political machinations of foreign powers. Bin Laden’s death, instead of being an opportunity for revelry and glee, could have been one of quiet contemplation and prayer and a call to action for Christians that we do everything in our power to help those who suffer and to put an end to war, violence and economic oppression.

Among the revelry following news of Bin Laden’s death, there were also images of a very different kind – photos of people who came together to pray for the victims of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Perhaps some were also praying for Bin Laden himself. Images of people at peace, of candles being lit, heads bowed, orienting their minds towards God and their brothers and sisters, mindful of their suffering and the healing that is so desperately needed in this world. In the faces of people at prayer and in the silence that surrounded them one could see an alternative path to that of fear and hate– a Way given to us by the God of mercy and love.

Ágúst Symeon Magnússon is a philosopher, teacher, writer, husband and father who currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he works and studies at Marquette University. A native of Reykjavik, Iceland, he joined the Orthodox Church in 2005. His favorite pastimes are reading, drinking coffee and playing on the floor with his son Jóakim.

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1. The details surrounding the theological debate on universal salvation and to what extent the Orthodox Church has advocated such a position (at least as favoring a certain kind of theologoumenon) falls outside the boundaries of this text. There are various scholarly expositions on the matter, but Orthodox works of the catechetical sort usually address the issue in a succinct and intelligent manner. In The Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes: “Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have nonetheless believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God…. We must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception. No one must be excluded from our loving intercession. ‘What is a merciful heart?’ asked Isaac the Syrian. ‘It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for humans, for birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures.’ Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the devil.” (The Orthodox Church, new edition., p. 262).

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011

The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West

The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West

Alexander F.C. Webster and Darrell Cole, Regina Orthodox Press, 2004

reviewed by Fr. Andrew Louth

review published in In Communion, Spring 2004,  issue 33

This book is a work of polemic. The opening chapter is a clarion call to the Christian West to realize the danger of militant Islam and gird itself to fight back and defeat it. “Nine-Eleven” is presented as a belated moment of awakening for the West, and the purpose of this book is to convince Christians of the “virtue of war,” as the title puts it: that is, to demonstrate that in certain circumstances (which include the present circumstances of an Islamic attack on Western civilization) war is not only a regrettable necessity, but a positive good, in which good ends are achieved by the virtuous means of warfare.

The book is co-written by an Orthodox priest and theologian, Fr. Alexander Webster, and a Western theologian, of probably Protestant credentials, though with a deep and articulate sympathy for the Western Catholic tradition of the just war. The aim is to demonstrate broadly-based Christian support for an offensive war against evil, and especially to include the Orthodox tradition, that has often been presented as viewing war in deeply mistrustful terms. The opening chapter, as part of its clarion call, presents an alarming account of Islam, centrally and essentially committed to jihad in military terms, in the course of which there are several references to Orthodoxy’s long familiarity with Islam, as compared with the West.

This might be a good place to begin an assessment of the book, as it is certainly true that the Orthodox have a long familiarity with Islam, reaching right back to the beginnings of that religion. In the centuries since, Orthodox have often had Islamic states as close neighbors, and also lived cheek-by-jowl with Muslims, in Palestine and later under the Ottomans and the states that succeeded that empire. At times this relationship has been sharply antagonistic; so it was in the first century or so of Islam, when the Umayyad Empire sought to take Constantinople. But more often, the Orthodox have found a modus vivendi with their Muslim neighbors, as the Western crusaders found out to their annoyance, when they discovered that the Byzantine Emperor was engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the Muslims, to their mind simply enemies of the faith.

Plenty more examples could be cited for this Orthodox quest for a modus vivendi: Manuel Komnenos’ modification of the rite of conversion for Muslims, making it clear that Orthodox and Muslim worshiped the same God, however different their conceptions of him; Gregory Palamas’ favorable impressions of the mullahs with whom he met and engaged in theological discussion during the couple of years he spent as a prisoner of the Sultan (only Palamas’ more conventional, “apocalyptic” view of Islam is cited here).

In contrast, the West has tended to see Islam in terms of extremes: either the infidel, against whom one waged crusades, or a representative of an alluring “orientalism,” explored by the late Edward Said in his famous book of that name. Fr. Alexander, in his chapters in this book, seems anxious that the Orthodox should not be left out of this crusading drive against Islam, which is very much the fruit of such extremes of perception on the part of the West.

The chapters by Fr. Alexander are not a little confused. He seems to accept the virtual pacifism of the Church before Constantine, and seems uneasily aware that the Byzantine attitude to war was ambivalent; he speaks of a “penitential gloom” in Orthodox attitudes to war, but it is this that he seeks to dispel. His argument advances along several lines. First, he draws attention to the bloodthirsty God of the Old Testament. He is certainly right to warn against the potential Marcionism of opposing a God of love in the New Testament to a God of armies in the Old, but in his resolution he seems to obscure the prevailing impression left by the Lord’s teaching.

The canonical tradition poses a fairly daunting challenge. As he admits, there is virtually no exception to the canonical requirement of penance for any Christian soldier who killed in war before the eleventh century, and it is only thereafter in the West that this requirement comes to be forgotten. He might have mentioned, but does not, how the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Phokas – disturbed that Muslim warriors went into war with the promise of eternal bliss if they fell in battle, whereas Christian warriors had no such promise, but rather faced penance if they killed – pleaded with the patriarch and the bishops to change this canonical regulation, but in vain. Instead, Fr. Alexander tries to suggest that the canon of St. Basil requiring three years’ penance (that is, three years’ exclusion from communion) is in some way ambivalent.

Another argument draws attention to the Byzantine military martyrs: but what is striking about these martyrs is that none of them died in battle, indeed in many cases their military careers are largely, or entirely, posthumous (e.g., the historical Procopios or Demetrios). These are not glorified combatant soldiers, but rather notable participants in the struggle against evil, and defenders of Christian cities and peoples.

Fr. Alexander draws attention to prayers for the armed forces in the Divine Liturgy; true, he mentions the threefold petition for peace at the beginning of the Great Ekteny, but not the fivefold petition for peace in what the Greeks call the Eirenika. It is clear on which side the weight falls. A good deal is made of the services for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Here we touch on something that needs to be brought out into the open. There is no question that, in the wake of the conversion of Constantine, the Church, both in the East and the West, lent not only its prayers for the peace and prosperity of the Empire, but also its blessing (within the limits noted above) to armed defense of the Empire.

But is this part of the Church’s tradition, or a betrayal of it? The way in which the cult of the Holy Cross became part of the Imperial cult was dangerously close to idolatry, even if it is reflected in prayers and songs we still use. The way in which these remnants of the Christian imperial cult have come to serve a questionable role in modern Orthodox nation states might be regarded as one of the more dire consequences of “phyletism,” condemned, at least notionally, as a heresy by all Orthodox Christians.

I have concentrated in this review on Fr. Alexander’s contribution, because this is an Orthodox journal (and, indeed, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is singled out for criticism by Fr. Alexander). The rest of the book presents the Western case. There we have a fine presentation of the Western case for a just (or justifiable) war, and an exploration of its history. Some good points are made, notably that the idea of a just war in which the virtue of the warrior is displayed and tested actually provides a means by which justice in war can be maintained. It is still the case, however, that Dr. Cole favors quite a hawkish conception of the “just war”; he is unhappy with the idea of such a war as a “mere” last resort. His position here leaves this reviewer with the impression that for him a just war can actually be a good thing, something that can be pursued with enthusiasm, rather than regret.

Whatever the merits of some of the arguments advanced, this book’s wider purpose is to justify a modern crusade against Islam – even though it recognizes, though to no noticeable effect, that Islamic terrorism is not actually a tautology – and calls on Western civilization to commit itself to such a crusade. This seems to me to leave no ground for questioning the right of the United States, or any other state powerful enough, to set itself up as a world policeman, the consequences of which seem to me profoundly alarming.

For a world power to take upon itself the role of being a world policeman raises Cicero’s question: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos – who will guard the guards themselves? The damage that well-intentioned people can do with the resources of a state (especially one so wealthy and powerfully armed as the US), as opposed what terrorists can do (and I certainly am not defending terrorism, or minimizing the guilt of terrorist action), seems to me immense. Consider Kosovo.

Look even at Iraq, where it more and more looks as if the military action there has destabilized the country and region in ways that are likely to have unfortunate long-lasting consequences. Simply in terms of numbers (which are ultimately irrelevant), the body count from allied action in Iraq exceeds that of the terrorists – and there is also the question, still quite unresolved, as to whether attacking Iraq had any impact on al Qaedi, or even was ever expected to. The metaphor of the policemen makes one think of friendly people keeping the peace. But the reality depends on who you are.

Here in England there is growing consciousness of the dangers of “institutionalized racism”: the policeman is not perceived as friendly – and often isn’t – if you are a black and living in South or East London. I know about this from teaching in South London for ten years. Similarly in Iraq: for a great many people there, the American “policemen” are not welcome, and thus are finding it more and more difficult to fulfill a police role. The atrocities in the Shia holy cities, almost certainly the work of Sunnis, are blamed by the Shiites on the Americans.

But are such factors irrelevant to the book, The Virtue of War? They would be (or only tangentially relevant) if the book confined itself to a discussion of the question of war and the Christian conscience, but it doesn’t. The first chapter – drawing on a one-sided use of Huntingdon’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis – is, as I said above, a clarion call for Christians to support the American attack on militant Islam, supported by arguments that Islam as a whole is potentially militant.

It is interesting to see what Christos Yannaras makes of the Huntingdon thesis, which sees Orthodoxy as a separate civilization from the West, something Yannaras welcomes with undue enthusiasm, though I think he is right in saying that Orthodoxy has at least as much in common with Islam as with the West. This might lead one to the conclusion, which Yannaras does not seem to draw, that we Orthodox are in an unusual position to mediate in what could become a fatal fault-line for the history of the 21st century.

Fr. Andrew Louth is an Orthodox priest of the Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain and Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, UK.

A related text:

Here is a response by Jim Forest to an essay (published in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly in 2003) by Fr Alexander Webster in which he argued that war should be recognized as a “lesser good” rather than a “lesser evil.”

Jim Forest

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St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly vol 47 / 1 (2003) pp 65-67

War a “Lesser Good”?

by Jim Forest

In Fr Alexander Webster’s argument that the Orthodox Church should regard war as “a lesser good” rather than “a lesser evil,” it is striking how meager is his attention to the New Testament. Does he really imagine Jesus sanctioning war and obliging his followers to take part in it? The Savior became incarnate in a country enduring the humiliation of military occupation, yet failed to side in word or action with the Zealot opposition. There is no Gospel account of him sanctioning anyone’s death. In the one instance we know of when an issue of capital punishment was brought before him, he succeeded in saving the life of a woman who might otherwise have been stoned to death. When the apostle Peter used a sword in an attempt to defend Jesus from arrest, the injury Peter caused was healed by Christ—his final healing miracle before crucifixion. Jesus responded to Peter with words Fr Alexander has omitted from his essay: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus’ only act of violence in the New Testament narrative was to use a whip—not a life-endangering weapon—to cleanse the Temple. The only sword he wields is the sword of the truth. Again and again he insists on forgiveness. In the Beatitudes he blesses the merciful and refers to peacemakers as children of God. Following the way of the Cross, Christ gives the example of nonresistance. Quite literally he gives himself for the life of the world.

In the first three centuries Christians were notable for their refusal to kill, a situation that was problematic for converts in the military or in certain governmental positions. Catechetical texts coming down to us from the early Church put a special stress on the obligation not to kill either in war or through abortion. Substantial penances were established for those who broke this discipline. Even after Constantine’s conversion and the end of anti-Christian persecution, it remained obligatory for priests, deacons and iconographers not to kill anyone, not even in self-defense. These canons survive unchanged into our own day.

However convinced Fr Alexander may be that certain wars may be regarded as justifiable or even good, he would be forbidden by Church law to serve at the altar if he were to kill in such a “good” war—a prohibition one would assume should also prevent a priest from encouraging or blessing others to kill. Fr Alexander seems oblivious to the values that stand behind this prohibition. Does the Church forbid its priests doing what it regards (according to Fr Alexander) as “a lesser good”? What do these canons reveal about eucharistic life?

Canons do not, however, always solve the problem of what to do in the crucible of life. Many Christians faced with evil forces, such as St Alexander Nevsky, have found no nonviolent option in responding to attack but armed resistance—though later in life, struggling to avoid calamitous defeat, the same prince lost the respect of many fellow Russians for prudent compromises he struck with the Golden Horde.

Since the age of Constantine, time and again faithful Christians of every rank have found themselves drawn into war. Soldiers and their weapons have been blessed by pastors and bishops. We must recall, however, that often the wars on which blessings have been showered were not events which can be regarded as bringing any moral credit on those who fought in them, however heroic and patriotic the soldiers may have been: wars for the expansion of empire, wars of national hubris, wars of manifest destiny, wars of ethic cleansing, wars to gain valuable resources.

Consider what might be regarded as the very best of recent wars: World War II. Here there was an aggressive enemy driven by totalitarian and racist ideology willing to kill not only opposing soldiers but large categories of noncombatants. Many people could find no way to respond to the war imposed on them but to fight back with whatever weapons they had. At last the Allied counter-attack resulted in city bombing, fire storms and finally the use of nuclear weapons. There were hundreds of thousands of noncombatant deaths which, in today’s “Newspeak,” would be regarded as “collateral damage.” Many of those who fought against Hitler and his allies, though possessing medals for heroism on the battlefield, have had to live with nightmarish memories of the killing of noncombatants and other terrible memories of what occurs in the actuality of war. They may well regard the war in its overall objectives as justifiable and unavoidable, but certainly not good. Indeed, one cannot even speak of the killing of the guilty as good deeds.

For all his interest in what in the Roman Catholic Church has come to be known as the Just War Theory or Doctrine, Fr Alexander seems to take little interest in one of the key elements of that doctrine: the protection of noncombatants. In the reality of modern war, it is the noncombatant who is the typical casualty. In the age of St Alexander Nevsky soldiers fought soldiers, but in our world when bullets fly and bombs fall, it is the most defenseless members of society who are the most likely to die or be maimed. Can anyone, least of all a follower of the Gospel, speak of events which claim the lives of so many innocents—mainly women, children and the aged—as “a lesser good”?

Were states to call on Orthodox Christians to take part in the destruction of churches or the wholesale burning of icons, there would be organized resistance by the faithful with the hierarchy speaking out boldly. But when it is the destruction of human beings, bearers of the image of God, what is most striking is the cooperation of the faithful in it and the near silence of their shepherds. True, one does occasionally discover theologians who raise questions about war. One of them, Fr Stanley Harakas, is briefly if dismissively referred to in the Webster essay. But one rarely meets an Orthodox Christian who has heard about such debate regarding these questions. The questions are raised in academic journals and forums and, sadly, there they tend to remain.

[end]

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Orthodox Perspectives on Peace, War and Violence

Ecumenical Review / March 2011

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-6623.2010.00093.x/abstract

by Fr. Philip LeMasters

Christ admonishing Peter: "Put away your sword, for they who live by the sword will perish by the sword."
Christ admonishing Peter: “Put away your sword, for they who live by the sword will perish by the sword.”

As an American convert to Orthodoxy, I am well aware that this dimension of the life of the Eastern Church is obscure. Outside of traditionally Orthodox nations and cultures, even most well-educated people have never heard or seen a public statement or act by the church (or her members) that demonstrates a commitment to peace or a distinctive stance on any public issue.2 The Orthodox community is a small minority outside of its traditional locations and, especially in such contexts, focuses more on the practical demands of sustaining diocesan and parish life than on public statements or acts of prophetic witness.

Traditionally Orthodox nations offer a wide variety of models of interaction between the church and public affairs. Greek, Russian and Serbian national identity, for example, are closely tied to Orthodoxy. It is not surprising in such contexts to encounter prayers for the blessing of weapons, military regiments with patron saints, and other practices that endorse participation in warfare. In majority Muslim nations, the Orthodox have had a range of historical experiences, including exclusion from military service, mandatory conscription and the possibility of pursuing a successful military career. In none of these examples, however, do the Orthodox appear to provide a distinctive vision of the moral and spiritual matters at stake in the use of violence, much less to make a bold witness for peace in the public realm.

There is no question that early Christianity was characterized far more strongly by practices of nonviolence and reconciliation than by those of bloodshed and warfare. With the conversion of Constantine and the gradual “Christianization” of the Empire, however, the dynamics of sustaining a suitable peace in the world took priority over a straightforward witness to the non-resistant love of Christ. Canon law, however, required – and continues to require – clergy and monastics to embody nonviolence. Their example is a sign to the church of the paradigmatic practice of turning the other cheek. The dominant experience of Orthodoxy is within empires and nations where the church had a definite and subservient relationship with the ruling political powers. Hence, it is not surprising that the church has tolerated war as a broken, tragic necessity of collective life in the world.3

Orthodox canon law has maintained, however, the recognition of the spiritual gravity of taking life in war. St Basil the Great recommended that those who kill in war should abstain from taking communion for three years. Soldiers were not sanctioned with nearly the same severity as murderers, but were given time to repair the damage done to their souls by killing through a period of repentance before communing. This canon may never have been applied strictly, and clearly has often been ignored in the practice of the church. Still, it stands as a reminder that war is not unambiguously good; the taking of the life of a fellow human being is a grave matter that threatens to impair one’s relationship with the Lord, the church and one’s neighbours.4

Past and current experience with the psychological and moral damage done by participation in warfare reveals the wisdom of St Basil’s canon. It is often a great struggle to heal from war’s traumatic effects. The author of a recent letter to the editor of the newspaper of my city makes this point: “I kept remembering the 300,000 old men and women and young pregnant mothers and children wild-eyed with fear who were killed when we firebombed Tokyo, and then there was what we did at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And I loaded the fuses for those bombs and have lain awake in the night wondering if there is forgiveness.”5 After 65 years, the wounds of war apparently still trouble the author of that letter. The sinfulness of bloodshed may manifest itself through a lifetime of guilt and sleepless nights. This man’s words witness to the wisdom of directing those who kill to pursue healing through the spiritual therapy of repentance.

In contrast with Western Christianity, there is no explicit just war theory in Eastern Orthodoxy. Certainly, the Byzantine Empire and other Orthodox nations have had rules of conduct for soldiers and expectations about when and how it was appropriate for nations to go to war. But even observance of the strictest moral or professional code does not make war good. Not only is participation in warfare often a spiritually and emotionally shattering experience for soldiers, it is inevitably tied to abuse and injustice. Ethnic cleansing, rape, oppression of religious minorities, abuse of prisoners and refugees, and other horrors often arise in the chaos of warfare. As Fr John McGuckin notes, war “remains what it has always been, one of the curses of the human race, dragging after it … death, orphans, widows, disease, destruction of the environment and cities, rape, forced prostitution, and all manner of human wickedness and misery.” Even wars fought in the name of justice “have led to many instances of the just finally acting as badly as the wicked, and losing sight of their goal”.6

That war is inevitably tragic and corrupt is apparent from a sober reading of the application of just war theory. National self-interest and a desire for dominion have corrupted every known instance of warfare. Political and military leaders routinely take actions that they know will result in the deaths of noncombatants. These leaders usually also control the very information necessary to evaluate the morality of their own actions in war. True transparency and accountability in government are recent and rare developments, and many wartime leaders are in effect accountable only to themselves. Even a nation with a legal commitment to fight justly will probably lack the political will to submit to defeat when certain violations of just war standards would bring victory or save the lives of their own soldiers.

In the American mythos, for example, the Second World War is often thought of as “The Good War”, a reassuring example of the virtue of the nation and its “greatest generation” of soldiers and citizens. It is obvious, however, that the unjust provisions of the Treaty of Versailles sowed the seeds of World War II. Though the Allies had opportunities to preclude further Nazi aggression by the discriminate use of force in the 1930s, they did not do so. The Allies did, however, intentionally destroy many large civilian population centres in Germany and Japan, which killed untold numbers of noncombatants. These actions were taken for the sake of winning the war and preserving the lives of their own countrymen. Victory was also achieved through an alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union, which then imposed its oppressive hegemony over millions of Eastern Europeans. The very outcome of this war set the stage for the Cold War, which threatened the planet with nuclear annihilation and gave rise to wars between client states in Korea, Vietnam and other nations around the world.

The Allied victory surely produced more favourable results for humanity than an Axis victory would have done. All involved in the war had, however, at least some blood on their hands and endured at least some damage to their souls. The circumstances surrounding the conflict do not remove the destructive spiritual effects of the actions taken by both sides. This statement does not affirm moral equivalency between the actions of the Allies and the Axis powers during the war. It does, however, indicate that spiritual brokenness is an evitable characteristic of warfare, which by its very nature falls short of the selfless, non-resistant love of Jesus Christ. The often shattered lives of military veterans and of civilians on all sides of war bear witness to the tragic effects of armed conflict on those created in the divine image and likeness. Violent death and dismemberment, displacement from one’s homeland, and torture certainly do not embody God’s salvific intentions for humanity.

Orthodox Christianity is not concerned fundamentally with morality as an end in itself. The vocation of humanity is for deification, participation in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. Human beings are to become by grace all that God is by nature. A common image for theosis is an iron left in a fire until it takes on the qualities of the fire. It then glows red hot and transmits heat to anything that it touches. Likewise, human beings are called to shine with the light and life of God, to participate fully in the healing and fulfillment that the incarnate Son of God has brought to the world. All are called to embrace and be transformed by the holiness of God, to become saints.7

In this light, it is not hard to see why warfare, and any taking of human life, is fraught with spiritual peril. Death comes into the world as the result of sin. Christ has come to conquer death, to raise humanity to the eternal life for which humanity was created. To kill a human being is to do the work of death, to involve oneself in a paradigmatic act of spiritual brokenness and of estrangement from God and neighbour. Granted, some instances of killing may be tragically necessary, such as the actions of a soldier in defending his or her nation from invasion by a conquering power. Killing in such circumstances may be understood in light of the Orthodox category of “involuntary sin”, which includes actions that damage the soul despite the fact that they are done without malice and out of necessity. The church knows that killing does not have to be murder for it to be spiritually damaging.8

Repentance is understood therapeutically in Orthodoxy. The focus is not on paying a legal penalty for one’s sins, but instead on finding healing by reorienting one’s life towards God. The soldier who has killed in war needs repentance not because of breaking a law, but because taking life presents many profound challenges to spiritual health. It is obviously difficult to grow in holiness while killing people, regardless of the circumstances.

The prayers for peace before the Our Father in the Divine Liturgy provide a stark contrast to the practices and attitudes associated with physical violence. At this point in the service, the church prays that “the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless” and that “we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance”. A day during which one has killed others who bear the image of God is hardly perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless. Those engaged in or preparing for war will find it hard to complete the course of their lives in peace and repentance. Though particular instances of warfare may be necessary, and even legally and morally justified by certain standards, they fall well short of the vision of a holy life described in these prayers.

Orthodox Christians have often failed to proclaim the severe tension between the use of violence and a life of holiness. Serbia, however, provides a recent example of the church opposing the abuse of the faith in support of war. In the midst of the Bosnian civil war, Patriarch Pavle proclaimed that “the Church must condemn all atrocities that are committed, no matter what the faith or origin of the person committing them may be. No sin committed by one person justifies a sin committed by another. We will all face the Last Judgment together where each of us must answer for his sins. No one can justify his sins by saying someone else is guilty of a crime.” The Serbian bishops declared that “The way of nonviolence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God.” They also added the following petition to the Liturgy: “For all those who commit injustice against their neighbours, whether by causing sorrow to orphans, spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and their hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even toward their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.”9

The canons of the church are applied pastorally to repair the damage done by sinful actions. Soldiers, police officers and others may at times have no choice but to use violence to defend the innocent from abuse. Their roles and responsibilities preclude them from a straightforward manifestation of Christ’s nonresistant love for the enemy. They serve to protect the innocent from harm, and risk their own spiritual brokenness for the sake of others. Despite their “involuntary sin”, it is still possible for them to advance toward theosis by using force in as limited and just a manner as possible, while doing what is possible to guard themselves against the damaging effects of the passions that are often aroused in situations of violence. Passions are disordered attachments of the soul that tempt people to sinful actions. Hatred is a passion often aroused during war, for it is hard to kill without a hatred that dehumanizes the enemy. When human beings “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”, a great many passions are unleashed that often lead to the abuse and slaughter of innocents. Alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and suicide are not uncommon symptoms of the ruin that such passions may wreak upon the lives of those who have shed blood.

Nonetheless, it is possible for a soldier to fight these passions successfully and to grow in holiness, even becoming a saint. According to the Passion of St Edmund, the king of East Anglia gave his life sacrificially in the ninth century at the hands of the invading Danish king in order to save his subjects from death. St Edmund “declared that he would follow the example of Christ and ‘refrain from staining my pure hands.’” The 11th-century Serb St John Vladimir gave his sword to a Bulgarian enemy and said, “Take it and kill me, for I am ready to die, as were Isaac and Abel”; a “perfect, non-violent, Christ-like quality” shines through his death, even though St John had previously fought as a brave solider.10 Also in the 11th century, Boris and Gleb of Kiev did not resist death at the hands of their ambitious royal brother’s assassins. As Fr Alexander Webster comments, “St Boris offered himself as a voluntary, Christ-like sacrifice for the sins of the assassins and consequently made no attempt to resist the lethal violence visited upon his person.” A seasoned soldier, St Boris took “a conscious choice … to reflect the ideals of nonresistance and expiatory sacrifice modeled originally by Christ.” These saints are shining examples of “the moral life in Christ. Theirs was pre-eminently a witness on behalf of the redemptive value of innocent suffering and the transformative power of nonresistance to evil.”11

Orthodoxy does not canonize saints simply on the basis of military prowess or the fact that one died in battle, even for an Orthodox nation or in defense of the faith. St Basil’s Canon 13, which excludes from communion for three years those who have killed in war, demonstrates the church’s repudiation of holy wars or crusades. Patriarch Polyeuktos appealed to this canon to reject an imperial appeal in the 10th century to canonize as saints the Byzantine soldiers who died defending the Empire.12 This example is an indication that the shedding of blood calls for repentance, not for an automatic recognition of holiness.

In Orthodox moral theology, one simply does not find theoretical justification for war as good endeavour, let alone pronouncements that war is holy. Orthodoxy does not require nonviolence or pacifism as essential characteristics of the Christian life; neither, however, does it sacralize war. Instead, the church merely tolerates war as a sometimes tragically necessary or unavoidable endeavour for which repentance for “involuntary sin” is appropriate. The soldier is not condemned as a murderer, but should receive pastoral guidance towards the end of healing from the damaging spiritual effects of taking life.

The apparent ambiguity of Orthodox teaching and practice on this issue reflects the dynamics of Orthodox canon law. Through oeconomia, canons are applied pastorally in order to help particular people find spiritual healing and advance in holiness. Even as a physician takes into account the given challenges to physical health faced by a patient, the church takes into account the spiritual, moral, social and practical dynamics encountered by penitents. The peace of Christ – and the non-resistant, forgiving love by which Christ brought salvation to the world – remains the norm of the Christian life. Unfortunately, the peace of the world as we know it inevitably relies on imperfect arrangements of political, social, economic and military power, which both reflect and contribute to the brokenness of human souls and communities. The lives and well-being of those created in the image and likeness of God depend upon the institutions of human society operating with a measure of justice; otherwise, the powerful will mercilessly exploit and abuse the weak. The church does not simply condemn these realities or ask Christians to pretend that they do not live in the world as we know it. Instead, Orthodoxy calls everyone to work toward peace, reconciliation and justice for their neighbours. When doing so requires involvement in warfare, the taking of human life, or other endeavours that damage the soul, the church provides spiritual therapy for healing and guidance for growth in holiness.

The Divine Liturgy itself reflects the legitimate role of governmental and military power in our world. At the very high point of the Liturgy, in the Anaphora of St Basil the Great, the priest prays for God to “be mindful … of all civil authorities and of our armed forces; grant them a secure and lasting peace … that we in their tranquility may lead a calm and peaceful life in all reverence and godliness.” Immediately following are similar appeals for God to “be mindful” of the victims of violence and oppression: “those who are under judgment, in the mines, in exile, in bitter servitude, in every tribulation, necessity and danger …”

These petitions indicate that the church itself benefits from a stable and just social order that enables the Christian community to live in peace. Of course, the church has endured with remarkable faithfulness terrible periods of persecution from wicked governments; nonetheless, “a calm and peaceful life in all reverence and godliness” is preferable to all-consuming strife that inflames passions, tempts people to apostasy, and makes the demands of communal survival so pressing that evangelism and other ministries suffer greatly. It is surely at least in part through just and peaceable social orders that God is mindful of prisoners, exiles, refugees, victims of crime, and other displaced and marginalized persons. The social and political orders within which the church ministers, and within which human beings live, have great spiritual and moral significance; indeed, they serve God’s purposes for the sustenance of human life. Strong temptations lurk within these orders, but they are not intrinsically evil and Christians may serve within them.

Orthodox Christianity is not a form of Gnosticism. The church affirms the essential goodness of all dimensions of creation, including the embodied social existence of humanity. Salvation is not a matter of escaping the limits of the creaturely world or pretending that suffering in the flesh and in society is not real. The Son of God became incarnate to heal fallen humanity, died on a cross, was buried in a tomb, descended to Hades, and then rose again as a completed, glorified person – as the Victor over death. The Christian hope for salvation includes the resurrection of the body, a new heaven and earth, and the fulfilment of all dimensions of creation in the eschatological kingdom of God, which has not yet come in its fullness. In our life “between the times” of the inauguration and consummation of the kingdom, the imperfect peace of the kingdoms of this world plays a vital role in God’s providential care for the collective life of humanity and the flourishing of the church. As Orthodox Christians pursue a dynamic praxis of peace, they do well not to downplay the significance of real-life struggles for justice and peace faced by nations and societies in the name of an abstract spirituality. To relegate God’s blessings and requirements to an ethereal realm unrelated to the present conditions of life on earth is to fall prey to the ancient Gnostic and Manichaean tendencies to condemn creation as evil. This attitude views the collective life of humanity as profane, possessing only a negative spiritual significance.

Orthodoxy, in contrast, views all dimensions of creation eucharistically. The offering of the Divine Liturgy is the paradigm for human life in the world as we fulfill our vocation as the priests of creation.13 Bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ through which the church participates already in the heavenly banquet of the kingdom of God. Communicants are then to live the Eucharist by offering all aspects of their lives to the Father in union with the sacrifice of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such a life should be characterized by peacemaking, forgiveness and reconciliation; a non-violent approach surely provides the most straightforward witness to the life of kingdom as revealed in Jesus Christ.14 Nonetheless, the process of theosis is dynamic and open to everyone in all walks of life and vocations; hence, the soldier, the police officer and others involved in the use of deadly force for the protection of the innocent may grow in holiness and find salvation. They do not fight holy wars and will not become saints simply due to their success in killing enemies. Indeed, their participation in violence will probably produce a variety of obstacles for their faithful pursuit of the Christian life. They will need the spiritual therapies of the church in order to find healing for their souls from the harms they have suffered. But as the many saints from military backgrounds indicate, it is possible for them to overcome the damaging effects of bloodshed and to embody the holiness of God. Fr John McGuckin notes that “most of the soldier saints … went voluntarily to their deaths, as passion-bearers, or martyrs; and some of them were actually martyred for refusing to obey their military superiors”.15 Those who returned home as “righteous vindicators” did so because they conquered not only a worldly enemy, but also “the very chaos and wickedness” of warfare and bloodshed.16

In conclusion, Orthodoxy’s distinctive stance on peace, war and violence does not view war as unambiguously good or holy. Orthodoxy has neither a crusade ethic nor an explicit just war theory. Instead, the church tolerates war as an inevitable, tragic necessity for the protection of the innocent and the vindication of justice. The canons of the church suggest a period of repentance for those who have killed in war, which indicates both that taking life is spiritually damaging and that bloodshed falls short of Christ’s normative way of non-resistant, non-violent love. Peacemaking is the common vocation of all Christians, but the pursuit of peace in a corrupt world at times inevitably requires the use of force. In such circumstances, the church provides spiritual therapy for healing from the damaging effects of taking life. In every Divine Liturgy, the church prays for the peace of the world and all its inhabitants, and participates in the heavenly banquet of the kingdom to which all – soldier and pacifist alike – are invited.

Footnotes

1See the statement “Called to Be ‘Craftsmen of Peace and Justice’”, Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Consultation Towards the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, Leros, Greece, 15–22 September 2009: http://www.overcomingviolence.org (Accessed 09.12.10). The Saidnaya conference produced “An Orthodox Contribution Toward a Theology of Just Peace.”http://www.overcomingviolence.org The present author was an editor of and contributor to these statements; hence, points of similarity in thought and wording should not surprise the reader.

2An important resource for Orthodox perspectives on peacemaking is the website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship: http://www.incommunion.org.

3Marian Gh. Simeon, “Seven Factors of Ambivalence in Defining a Just War Theory in Eastern Christianity” in Proceedings: The 32ndAnnual Congress of the American Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Polytechnic International Press, Montreal, 2008, p. 537, comments that “Christian theologians generally agree that the Orthodox Church does not share a Just War Theory in the Western sense …”. See also Olivier Clement, “The Orthodox Church and Peace – Some Reflections” in H. Boss and J. Forest, For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace, and Nationalism, Syndesmos, Bialystok, 1999, p. 173; Fr Stanley S. Harakas, “The Teaching on Peace in the Fathers” in For the Peace from Above, p. 190–91; Fr John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2008, pp. 402–08; Grant White, “Orthodox Christian Positions on War and Peace” in Segma Asfaw, Guillermo Kerber, and Peter Weiderud, The Responsibility to Protect: Ethical and Theological Reflections, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 2005, p. 38; and Fr Philip LeMasters, “May Christians Kill?” in The Goodness of God’s Creation, Regina Orthodox Press, Salisbury, MA, 2008, p. 69ff.

4See St Basil the Great, Canon 13 of the 92 Canonical Epistles, as quoted in Fr John McGuckin, “St Basil’s Guidance on War and Repentance” in In Communion (Winter 2006:2); Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1994, p. 86–88; “Canons of St Basil the Great” in For the Peace from Above, p. 45; Fr Alexander F. C. Webster, The Pacifist Option, International Scholars Publications, Lanham, MD, 1998,pp. 84–87.

5Henry A. Buchanan, letter to the editor, Abilene Reporter-News, June 15, 2010, p. 5C.

6Fr John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 402.

7See, for example, St Gregory Palamas: The Triads, Fr John Meyendorff (ed) Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 1983, p. 83; Bishop Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, The Orthodox Church, Penguin Books, New York, 1997, p. 231ff.

8H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr, The Foundations of Christian Bioethics, Swets & Zietlinger Publishers, Lisse, 2000, pp. 325–26.

9Jim Forest, “The Serbian Orthodox Church: Not What We have Been Led to Believe.”http://www.incommunion.org/2004/12/12/the-serbian-orthodox-church (Accessed 09/12/10).

10Fr Alexander F. C. Webster, The Pacifist Option, p. 189–91.

11Fr Alexander F. C. Webster, The Pacifist Option, p. 191–95.

12Fr John Erickson, “An Orthodox Peace Witness?” in Jeffrey Gros and John D. Rempel. Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peacemaking, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2001,p. 48ff.

13See Fr Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1998.

14His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today, Doubleday, New York, 2008), pp. 207, 227, stresses the centrality of the pursuit of peace to the Christian life.

15Fr. John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 402.

16Fr. John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 402.

The Reverend Dr Philip LeMasters is Dean of Social Sciences and Religion at McMurry University, Abilene, Texas. He is the priest of Saint Luke Antiochian Orthodox Church in Abilene, and a member of the Society of Christian Ethics, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and the Board of Trustees at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. His publications address applied issues in Orthodox moral theology, including sexuality, marriage, environmental stewardship, poverty, and peacemaking.