Category Archives: War

Discussion of Orthodox Perspectives on War

Conscience and War

by Alexander Patico

Advocates of going to war often speak of honor, duty and patriotism. Those who plead for peace often stress conscience and faith. Why the dichotomy? Is peace dishonorable? Are warriors without conscience? Does duty point us in one direction only? Does our faith preclude patriotism? Is peace unpatriotic? Can one imagine a border marking the point at which conscience ends and duty takes over? Is there any situation in life in which conscience should be ignored, however acute the tension may be between private and public, faith-based and secular?

Such questions sharpen analysis of “conscience.” Its Latin roots are con (with) plus the verb scire (to know). My dictionary has the additional information that “conscience” replaced the Middle English word inwit – “knowledge within.”
Entries that define conscience in Webster’s New World Dictionary include: “a knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right; moral judgment that opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle and that leads to feelings of guilt if one violates such a principle.” To be “conscientious” is to be: “governed by, or made or done according to, what one knows is right; scrupulous; honest; showing care and precision; painstaking.”

Above Image: Rembrandt painting of Jacob wrestling with an angel

Conscience is often described as “the still, small voice” of God in our heart and is sometimes depicted as an angelic figure seated on one shoulder. In the Disney film of a puppet brought to life, the tiny figure of Jiminy Cricket is assigned to serve as Pinocchio’s conscience in his struggle to become “a real boy.”

When a hard decision has to be made, we often speak of “wrestling” with conscience, just as, in Genesis, Jacob wrestled with an angel.

In the case of deciding whether or not to take part in war, patriotism may dictate participation for some, while a careful examination of conscience (which for many people might mean simply reflecting on basic moral teachings) may steer others toward refusal and resistance.

The issue of conscience was at the core of the discussion at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War held this March at Riverside Church in New York City. “When rendering unto Caesar and unto God, God should be given the benefit of the doubt,” said one of the speakers. A retired military chaplain from the Christian Reformed Church wrote, “The imperative ‘to obey one’s government’ is a generalization and not a universalization (‘obey them in all things that are not in conflict with God’s Word’).”

In the conscientious objection case of prizefighter Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), who had refused to take part in the Vietnam War, Federal Justice John Noonan, ruling in Clay’s favor, took note of James Madison in his drafting the religion clauses in the U.S. Constitution: “In the ultimate and absolute relation of each individual to God lies the limitation on civil society and civil government on which Madison insists. Without that relation, why should the individual not be absorbed by the community? With that relation to a Creator, Governor, Judge in existence for each individual, with that personal responsibility to a personal God, a government of human beings must be a government of limited powers.”

Interestingly, a Quaker policy statement holds that “whether allied to faith or not, the active conscience belongs to mature citizenship; neither individuals nor society can thrive without it … Quakers support freedom of conscience as both a human right and a social necessity.” (This is not to say that the Society of Friends does not recognize the centrality of Christ’s influence on their morality. In 1661, the founder of the Society, George Fox, rejected a commission in the militia not on the basis of societal benefit, but as evidence of his conversion: “I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.”)

At the Truth Commission hearings, Joshua Casteel, former Army Interrogator at Abu Ghraib Prison who withdrew from the Iraq War after becoming a conscientious objector, recalled being concerned, during basic training, with the chants of “Kill, kill, kill without mercy!” Casteel thought he “could make a difference – someone like me, with a conscience, should be in a position of authority, instead of someone who only wanted to drop bombs. But there is no private conscience. What you believe and what you do must be in accord with one another.”

In his writings about conscience, Casteel reminds his readers of the definition of conscience that was approved by the Second Vatican Council:

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. (Rom 2:15-16) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. (Mt 22:37-40; Gal 5:14) … The more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from individual ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares little for truth and goodness, or for conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, section 16)

The Commission’s host, Rev. Herman Keizer, Jr., retired Army chaplain and former chairman of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, said the military “teaches just war principles from basic training up through its war colleges. Yet current regulations prevent soldiers from using these ideas when called to deploy in a war.”

Others who testified in the New York hearings underscored the view that conscience necessarily has a social aspect and political implications. In Orthodoxy we say “one Christian is no Christian” – we work out our salvation in relation to other human beings. Conscience links us to others and thus is more than a voice of private moral guidance, even though, as a voice within, we may perceive it as private. Part of Eucharistic participation is each person’s regular examination of conscience, not merely as a means to individual soul-cleansing and guidance, but as a part of our preparation for communion – something we do not do alone, but with the other members of the Church and with God. Communion is an act of union, with God and with each other.

If we are honest with ourselves, tough questions arise: How do I know when I am heeding conscience, rather than just fabricating a self-serving rationale? Am I following my conscience or conforming to my peer group? Am I being honest to God or reciting a politically correct sentiment? What must I do when my conscience diverges from that of others? How dare I follow my conscience when people better informed than I, with access both to expert advisers and top secret data, order me to go in another direction?

In the U.S., the law allows for the exercise of conscience in decisions about military service, but with severe limits. One is not allowed to object to a particular war, but must reject all wars. Though most people would agree that there are both just and unjust wars, and many would endorse the traditional criteria for distinguishing one from the other, there is no legal recognition of those who object in conscience to a particular war now going on. It’s all or nothing. Many have been forced to go to prison or leave for another country because they weren’t recognized as objectors to all war.

One Truth Commission witness’s stark question – “Are the members of the military slaves?” – was taken up by Eda Uca-Dorn of the Christian Peace Witness. The military, she says, does indeed act as a slave-master when those whom it employs “lose the freedom to exercise moral agency” – that is, when they are required, under threat of severe penalties, to act contrary to the dictates of their conscience.

“Selective conscientious objection,” Uca-Dorn continued, “is a little-understood path – dismissed by some for not being perfect enough in its rejection of violence and dismissed by others as an ‘easy way out’ of combat. Soldiers who make no argument against all war but who cannot in conscience fight in some wars – especially if they change their mind after voluntary enlistment – are often accused of cowardice and opportunism: ‘Well, if you weren’t going to fight, then what did you sign up for? If you were truly for peace, you would reject the whole military industrial complex! Oh sure, you’ll take the job benefits, but when it’s time to do your duty, you run.’”

Ever since the Nuremberg Tribunal, at which war criminals were tried following World War II, there has been a growing body of international agreements rejecting the idea that a soldier has no alternative but to obey orders or be punished for failing to do so. One of the lessons of Nuremberg is that each of us is accountable. To say “I was just following orders” is no defense.

Pope Benedict XVI, who as a young man saw the genocidal consequences of totalitarian ideology and blind obedience in his native Germany, has written a book on conscience in which he sees “morality of conscience and morality of authority” as “two opposing models … locked in struggle with each other.”

Is it possible that patriotism and conscience may more nearly coincide than is these days admitted? George Washington, America’s first president said: “Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.” Can we claim that this standard has been consistently upheld in modern times? Washington’s successor, Thomas Jefferson, said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

Above Image: a soldier in training: a scene from the film “Soldiers of  Conscience”

James Madison, principal author of the U.S. Constitution and the fourth U.S. president, wrote: “War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” If Madison was right, then, is selective conscientious objection not a legitimate way to help safeguard a democratic society?

Fundamental to our attitude toward conscience and war is our conception of the moral status of war itself. One can view war in one of five ways:

• War is of its nature a sin and thus is never morally justifiable (what is usually termed the “pacifist” approach).
• War is sometimes necessary, in defense of one’s nation, but never just (the lesser of two evils).
• War can be morally tenable, but only under specified circumstances (the “just war” approach).
• War, while lamentable, is sometimes unavoidable and must be fought even if it does not meet the traditional criteria for a just war (the position espoused by most political leaders today).
• War can be, and often is, a positive good, a powerful force as a tool of statecraft in defense of order and one’s national interest (a pragmatic, realpolitik approach).

In the latter two, private conscience may play no part at all. One belongs to one’s society and is obliged to do what that society requires. In the first three, conscience (or at least an agreed-upon set of moral axioms) is an essential part of the decision-making process.

Individual conscience is less and less in the foreground as we go down the list of items above, and the last most closely approximates the unqualified “military mindset” – rulers decide and subjects obey, period. War is packaged as peacemaking. All military programs, no matter how far from our borders, are acts of “national defense,” and all soldiers, no matter what they do, are “peacekeepers.”

In contrast with such a military mindset, we are challenged by the witness of the early Church. In the first age of martyrdom, it would have been a rare Christian who didn’t agree with Tertullian’s declaration that “in disarming Peter, Christ disarmed every soldier.” In Tertullian’s view, any Christian who took part in war was a person serving two masters, thus “turning his back on the scriptures.” One of the great saints of those early times, St. Martin of Tours (316-367), at the time still an unbaptized catechumen in the Roman army, told Caesar he could not take part in a battle that was about to occur: “I am a soldier of Christ,” he explained. “To fight is not allowed for me.” (It must be counted as a miracle that Martin was discharged rather than executed.)

In a recent paper, Marian Simion, a member of the faculties of the Boston Theological Institute, Hellenic College and Boston College, concluded that “one could argue that the Orthodox Church has a rather ambiguous record in its endorsement of defensive violence. … By remaining loyal to the teachings on non-retaliation, inherent into the Gospel (Mt 5:38-42), the Orthodox Church made strong efforts to resist temptations for a unanimous justification of violence and an adoption of the Just War theory.”

There is the case of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who was beheaded in Berlin in 1943 for refusing to be part of Hitler’s army. Jim Forest, secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, commented on the failure of the Catholic Church in Germany and Austria to support Jägerstätter at the time, though now he has been beatified. “What can we do,” Forest asked, “to help the Church respond positively to those who refuse to take part either in war in general, or in a particular war?” It is a matter, he said, that goes beyond individual moral responsibility: “Protest is not an end in itself, nor is it the most important aspect of peacemaking. When protest is called for, how can it be carried out in a way that makes it more likely for those with opposing views to rethink their position?”

Writer and film-maker Jennifer Rawlings, one of the speakers at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, reported on the case of an Army sergeant from her home town in Kansas who committed suicide earlier this year rather than be redeployed to Iraq. The sergeant put a gun to his head and killed himself in front of his wife and their four children.
“Suicide rates among soldiers are the highest they have been in nearly three decades,” Rawlings says. “There are months when there are more suicides among soldiers than troops killed in the line of duty, with an average of five soldiers a day trying to take their own lives.”

Perhaps those rates of self-destruction may have occurred solely based on the stress and carnage of battle and the variety of strains to which ordinary Americans are susceptible, but to suppose that moral misgivings and agonies of conscience figured into them to some extent seems reasonable. The costs of war are rediscovered in each generation, as much as we try to forget them. It is difficult to know the costs of widespread conscientious objection, as this has never been tried.    ❖

Alex Patico, secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America, took part in the Truth Commission meetings. The complete testimony given at the Truth Commission can be found at: www.theriversidechurchny.org/news/article.php?id=337. Also see The Center on Conscience and War web site at www.centeronconscience.org. A prize-winning documentary, Soldiers of Conscience, is available from: www.socfilm.com/buyDVD.htm .

Make Peace, Not War

by Fr. Philip LeMasters

4305861269_f639d99f20There is no question that we Orthodox Christians would prefer to make peace instead of war, but even in the context of Christian ethics, it is difficult to shift the categories of discussion from “just war” to “just peace.” Unfortunately, like so many others, we too are in the habit of giving more serious attention to the question of when war is justified, or can be tolerated, than to the moral imperative of building a peace among nations and peoples that is based on justice and protects human beings from harm. The well-established centrality of peace within Orthodoxy provides the proper context for discourse about pacifism, just-war theory, the crusade, and other stances on the use of military force. Rather than abstract moral theories, these orientations point to the tensions experienced by those who seek to bring peace in our fallen world. Orthodoxy does not have an abstract theory of peace so much as a commitment to the praxis of peace, a dynamic project which is compatible with the vision espoused by advocates of “just peace.”

It is well established that, in contrast to churches in the West, Orthodoxy does not have an explicit just-war theory  there is certainly no “crusade” ethic  and sees the taking of life in war, even in wars that might be regarded as necessary and unavoidable, as a tragic, broken undertaking for which repentance is required. The Church does not require pacifism in the sense of renouncing all use of violence or force, though the normative Christ-like response to evil is to turn the other cheek and forgive. (The root meaning of the word “pacifism” is peace, from the Latin word pax.) However, while the Church views war as an unsuitable undertaking for the clergy or members of monastic communities, participation in war is not canonically prohibited for the laity.

While peace is the norm for human relations, the imperfect peace that sometimes exists among us is sustained by arrangements of political, social, economic and military power. Rather than condemn these dynamics, our challenge is to do what we can to make peace within the context of the realities we face.

Orthodox Christians should embody a true pacifism which engages the dynamics of human society in order to work for a peace based on justice that is pleasing to God. Our concern should not be whether the use of violence is ever acceptable, but whether we are doing the things that make for peace. The question is: Are we living as the peacemakers who will be blessed in God’s Kingdom?

Orthodox Christianity rejects the Gnostic view of salvation as escape from the world, as well as Manichean dualism. These ancient heresies are not dead museum pieces from the early centuries of Christian thought. They represent enduring temptations which are especially powerful when we consider the relationship between the “peace from above” and the broken realities of politics and international relations. We will not bear witness to God’s peace by fleeing to an imaginary, disembodied realm of spirituality that ignores the suffering of those who bear the image of God or by demonizing the less appealing dimensions of humanity’s collective life. Instead, our calling is to offer all dimensions of our creaturely reality to the Holy Trinity as best we can for blessing, healing, and transformation.

In the Divine Liturgy, the many petitions for peace reflect a holistic vision of a world participating in God’s peace. Immediately after the priest’s opening exclamation of the blessedness of the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity, the deacon exhorts the people to pray in peace. The biblical roots of this peace are in the Hebrew shalom, understood not merely as the absence of war but as freedom from fear and threats. In the New Testament, peace becomes a synonym for salvation.

The first petitions of the Liturgy are for our participation in God’s peace and salvation, including “the peace of the whole world” and “the union of all.” We pray for government authorities, healthful seasons, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times, as well as deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity. We pray for peace both as the absence of war and strife, and as God’s eschatological gift of salvation.

It would be possible to identify many other examples from the Liturgy which indicate the centrality of peace to Orthodox views of both worship and salvation. It is enough, however, to note that in the liturgical center of our faith, we pray for a peace characterized by justice for all nations and peoples, including those with political and military power as well as those who suffer from the abuse of such power. We pray for God’s peace and blessing upon all the peoples of the world in the circumstances they face. We look forward to the fulfillment of this peace in the reign of God, a peace the Church already experiences in the Liturgy.

The peace we seek is not removed from the challenges posed by nationalism, weapons of mass destruction, the scarcity of natural resources, and the many other geopolitical and ideological causes of conflict among peoples and nations. To separate God’s peace from these challenges would be to succumb to an almost Gnostic temptation to escape the creaturely realities of life in God’s world for a salvation that concerns only a privileged few who somehow rise above it. As Father John Chryssavgis has noted, “Christians ought to show an interest in, and zeal for, the fundamental needs of people, and not despise them from the heights of their spirituality. There can be no justification for those who find a way of sitting comfortably on the cross as if in an armchair. The life of a Christian is lived out on a cross in a creative tension between the world as we have it now and the world as we hope and pray for it.”

The peace of Christ cannot be identified with any political arrangement or social order. Jesus Christ is our peace, our salvation, our healing, our fulfillment and our transformation as we become partakers of the Divine Nature and share by grace in the Divine Energies of the Holy Trinity. Theosis is a dynamic process of sharing more fully in the eternal life, blessedness, and peace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We participate in Christ’s healing and divinization of our humanity in His Body, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through ongoing ascetical struggle and the nourishment of the Holy Mysteries, we grow in the peace of our Lord and His Kingdom.

St. Justin Martyr taught that all who use reason are, in a sense, Christians, for the Word of God is the source of all truth. Whenever we see harmony, justice, forgiveness, respect for human dignity, generosity, and care for the weak in the common life of humanity of, we witness a blessing of the Lord and catch a glimpse of the peace of Christ. Orthodox Christians should work for and welcome even broken and obscure manifestations of “just peace” which fall short of the fullness of the eschatological Kingdom of God.

In the Divine Liturgy, we pray for such mundane matters as good weather, the well-being of travelers and the salvation of captives, our deliverance from danger and necessity, and for the peace of the whole world. These petitions indicate that there is no dimension of creation for which God’s blessing and peace are irrelevant. If we see no connection between Christ’s peace and our response to present social conditions, we will find ourselves wondering why we pray for peace and blessing upon people who suffer from violence and injustice in the world as we know it. If the “peace from above” has no relationship at all to present wars, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hard to see why Orthodox would involve themselves in any way in contemporary political and social debates.

In the account of the last judgment in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus Christ identified Himself with the most miserable of human beings. The righteous in the parable were rewarded for caring for the Lord in “the least of these my brethren,” even though they did not know that they were thereby serving Jesus. Surely, those who bring even a small measure of peace to suffering human beings today also serve Him in some way. Those who pray “for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls” must accept the challenges of working for a more just peace for the living icons of Christ in the less than ideal situations in which they find themselves. If we do not, we risk identifying ourselves with those condemned for ignoring the sufferings of Jesus in their wretched neighbors.

Advocates of just peacemaking seek to discover methods of peacemaking that can make a difference in the “real world” and are in accord with the Gospel  for example, supporting cooperative conflict resolution, nonviolent direct action, sustainable economic growth, the development of grassroots peacemaking groups, a reduction of offensive weapons, acknowledgment of responsibility for injustice, and seeking forgiveness.

This approach calls for a variety of social, political, and international institutions to be proactive in building a world in which the causes of violence are mitigated. It is not an idealistic or utopian movement that dreams of a peace so far removed from the lives of peoples and nations that we cannot imagine how it will be achieved or sustained.

This perspective does not necessarily rule out the use of military force, either as an intervention to protect human rights or in national self-defense, but it would place the use of force within the larger context of sustaining a peace based upon justice, rather than within the moral trajectory of the just war. There is a preference in this school of thought for multinational discernment as to when the responsibility to protect a population from grave harm should be invoked, as well as for “collective, multilateral intervention” to guard against “self-interested interventions thinly cloaked in humanitarianism.” Such an approach addresses a weakness identified by Fr. Stanley Harakas in just-war theory, the tendency to rationalize “that ‘our side’ is always justified, thus allowing the legitimization of military exploits, precisely and paradoxically as it seeks to reduce the excesses of war.”

Advocates of “just peace” do not, however, envision simply an internationalist interpretation of just-war theory. A representative collection of essays by scholars in this field includes nine chapters on nonviolent practices that foster peace and only one that focuses on a multinational responsibility for military intervention. [Just Peacemaking, Glen Stassen, ed., The Pilgrim Press, 2008]

Since we pray for peace for the whole world and everyone in it, and uphold our Lord’s love and forgiveness as the ultimate example of how to respond to evil and to our enemies, Orthodox Christians should find much common ground with the proponents of the “just peace.” Surely, our faith calls us to give 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.

Fr. Harakas appeals to the doctrine of “synergy” to emphasize the obligation of Orthodox to cooperate with the work of others in bringing peace, and especially in addressing the economic and social injustices that often amount to “the real causes of war.” He calls Orthodox to “organize ourselves in realistic, practical, and down-to-earth projects for social renewal. Where there is less pain, less suffering, where there is less hunger, the likeliness of war is lessened.” In taking such action, we are to manifest “the theology of the transfiguration” as we help others and ourselves see more clearly the spiritual significance of these projects for peace. Fr. Chryssavgis agrees that “we can and must look to the real causes of war which are to be found in the economic and social injustices abounding in our world” [and] respond to them in a spiritually responsible way.

This stance also places the possible use of military force to maintain peace in its proper context. Questions of the necessity of war find their setting in the moral trajectory of establishing, at least imperfectly, the peace for which we pray and in protecting vulnerable populations. Fr. John McGuckin places Canon 13 of St. Basil the Great in precisely such a context, arguing that he responded with oikonomia to soldiers defending “Christian borders from the ravages of pagan marauders” for “passive non-involvement betrays the Christian family (especially its weaker members who cannot defend themselves but need others to help them) to the ravages of men without heart or conscience to restrain them.” In this context, “a limited and adequate response … will restrict the bloodshed to a necessary minimum,” even as repentance is required for soldiers who kill.

His Eminence Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon strikes a similar note of realism about the Byzantines, for “The Empire, though it was becoming Christianized, could not simply abolish the army. The Empire was not yet the Kingdom of God. It had to defend itself against the barbarians.” The Empire could not avoid defensive wars; the acceptance of the necessity of such wars indicated that “pacifism as a theory was no longer known in the Christian East.”

I find it more fitting to say that Orthodoxy does not have so much a theory on pacifism, just-war, or the crusade as we have a dynamic commitment to the praxis of peace. In every dimension of life, we are called 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; and to use the created goods of the world for the benefit of all. Our advocacy for peace must not stop with praying the litanies of the Liturgy. We may 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.

In this context, the Church may at times tolerate war as a lesser evil, a tragic necessity for the defense of justice and the preservation of the imperfect, yet still imperative, peace that is possible among the nations and peoples of the world in given situations. But even the use of force to protect people from genocide falls short of the fullness of the peace of Christ, for such projects involve soldiers in the work of death and open them to the terrible passions inevitably inflamed by war. Soldiers who shed blood, even in the most humanitarian military intervention, stand in need of the spiritual therapy of repentance. Still, such military interventions may be necessary practical steps for building a peace that protects the weak from aggression and abuse.

In this light, we recall that St. Basil’s Canon 13 is not an abstract theoretical statement on the morality of warfare. Instead, it concerns the restoration to full participation in the sacramental life of the Church of those who have killed in war. It is a pastoral statement on the appropriate guidance given to those whose souls have been damaged by doing what was necessary to protect their fellow Christians and subjects from destruction. Patriarch Polyeuktos used the canon in the tenth century to reject an imperial appeal to recognize as saints Byzantine soldiers who died in battle. Not an abstract theoretical statement, this application of the canon responded to a challenge to the Church’s stance on the spiritual significance of warfare. For even a necessary war is not a crusade; the imperfect peace sustained by war is not identified with the peace of the Kingdom. And canon law continues to prohibit clergy and monastics from serving in the military, holding government office, and shedding blood.

Orthodoxy does not present the world with abstract theories of pacifism, just war, or the crusade. Instead, it calls the members of the Church to work for the practical realization of a peace based on justice for all the peoples of the world. This dynamic practice of peace is the true pacifism which is incumbent upon all those who pray “for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls.” Orthodox Christians have a moral imperative to support practices and structures that build a “just peace” in the world as we know it, even though this peace falls short of the fullness of God’s eschatological reign.

While military intervention may be tragically necessary to sustain a just peace in given circumstances, such uses of force fall short of normative Christ-like ways of responding to evil. An advantage of “just peacemaking” over just-war theory is that it places discussion of any possible use of force within the moral trajectory of sustaining peace rather than within that of justifying war. The advocates of “just peace” give much greater attention to nonviolent practices that sustain peace than to discourse about the morality of war. The same should be true of the Orthodox peace witness. Though the historical distinctions between pacifism, the crusade, and just-war theory remain quite relevant for many other Christian bodies, none of them fits perfectly with Orthodoxy.

Perhaps that lack of fit is an indication that the Church’s prayer, witness, and work are not fundamentally about war, but about a peace which is not yet fully present in this world. The “peace from above and the salvation of our souls” are not yet wholly realized. In a corrupt world in which most peoples and nations do not intentionally seek the peace of Christ, even some wars are opaque works of peace. Orthodox Christians should place far greater stress, however, on nonviolent practices that help to sustain peaceful societies, reconcile enemies, and prevent wars and other conflicts. In doing so, we will bear witness to a peace that is not of this world, but which at the same time is the only true answer to the world’s strife.

Fr. Philip LeMasters is professor of religion and director of the Honors Program at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. A priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, he serves at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Abilene. He is the author of The Goodness of God’s Creation (Regina Orthodox Press).
Winter Issue IC 55 2010
IN COMMUNION 55 / FEAST OF ST. BASIL THE GREAT / JANUARY 2010

Patristic reflections: Not an eye for an eye but love of enemies

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Matthew 38-46

Do not return evil for evil: A law prescribing an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, has this foundation: Each will spare the other as long as one fears for one’s own limbs. It was thereby imagined that no evil person would be found. But woe to the earth for its failures! For as long as we live in this world, over which the devil rules, slanderers, fighters and persecutors will necessarily abound. If therefore we begin, according to the mandate of the law, to return evil for evil to everyone, we are all made evil, the foundation of the law is dissolved, and what results? While the law wanted to make the evil good, it also made the good evil. If, however, following the mandate of Christ, we do not resist evil, then even if the evil ones are not harmed, still the good will remain good. Thus through the mandate of Christ, the mandate of the law is also filled. For one who fulfills the mandate of the law does not at the same time fulfill that of Christ; but one who fulfills the mandate of Christ at the same time fulfills that of the law. Anonymous. (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 12. The Greek Fathers, 56:699)

Tolerate injury: The Lord wishes that the hope of our faith, extending into eternity, be tested … so that the very toleration of a hidden injury should be a witness of our future judgment. The law used to hold unfaithful Israel within a boundary of fear and contained the desire for injury by the threat of injury returned. Faith, however, does not permit resentment for injuries, nor does it wish for revenge …. There is in the judgment of God a greater consolation for those who have suffered injury and a punishment more dreadful than injuries returned. Therefore the Gospels not only warn us away from iniquities but also drive out the latent desire for vengeance. For if we have received a blow, we ought to offer the other cheek….The Lord who accompanies us on our journey offers his own cheek to slaps and his shoulders to whips, to the increase of his glory. Hilary (On Matthew 4.25)

Resist not evil: For this reason Jesus has also added, “But I say to you, do not resist the evil one.” He did not say “do not resist your brother” but “the evil one”! We are authorized to dare to act in the presence of evil through Christ’s influence. In this way he relaxes and secretly removes most of our anger against the aggressor by transferring the censure to another. “What then?” one asks. “Should we not resist the evil one at all?” Indeed we should, but not in this way. Rather, as Jesus has commanded, we resist by surrendering ourselves to suffer wrongfully. In this way you shall prevail over him. For one fire is not quenched by another, but fire by water. Chrysostom. (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 18.1)

Be removed from every lawsuit: Beyond the tolerance of physical injury, the Lord wants us also to have contempt for things of this world and to be so far removed from every lawsuit or contest of judgment. If by chance a slanderer or tempter comes forward to initiate a lawsuit for the sake of testing our faith and desires to rob us of the things which are ours, the Lord orders us to offer willingly not only the things that the person goes after unjustly but even those not demanded. Chromatius. (Tractate on Matthew 25.2.1)

 

Joseph’s flight: Just as Joseph lost his cloak in the hand of the prostitute and fled dressed with a better cloak, so throw your cloak into the hands of the slanderer and flee with the better covering of justice. If not, while you want to reclaim the clothes of the body, you may squander the most precious clothing of the soul. If the unbelievers see you, a Christian, repay injuries with worse injuries by worldly means and hammer earthly judgments against a lawless plunderer even to the destruction of your soul, how should they believe in reality of the hope of the heavenly kingdom that Christians preach? For they who hope for heavenly things easily spurn earthly things. Yet I doubt that those who strongly embrace worldly things believe firmly in heavenly promises. Anonymous. (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 12, The Greek Fathers)

The second mile: Do you grasp the excellence of a Christian disposition? After you give your coat and your cloak, even if your enemy should wish to subject your naked body to hardships and labors, not even then, Jesus says, must you forbid him. For he would have us possess all things in common, both our bodies and our goods, as with them that are in need, so with them that insult us. For the latter response comes from a courageous spirit, the former from mercy. Because of this, Jesus said, “If any one shall compel you to go one mile, go with him two.” Again he leads you to higher ground and commands you to manifest the same type of aspiration. For if the lesser things he spoke of at the beginning receive such great blessings, consider what sort of reward awaits those who duly perform these and what they become even before we hear of receiving rewards. You are winning full freedom from unworthy passions in a human and passible body. Chrysostom (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 18.3)

Mission and the second mile: Some believe that this section, “He who is pressed into service for one mile, let him go with that man as far as another two,” is to be understood spiritually in this fashion: If a nonbeliever, or one who has not yet followed the knowledge of the truth, makes mention of the one God the Father, the founder of all things, as if coming to God by the way of the law, go with that one the second mile. That is, after his profession of God the Father, lead this same person, by the way of truth, to the knowledge of the Son and the Holy Spirit, showing that one is to believe not only in the Father but also in the Son and the Holy Spirit. Chromatius (Tractate on Matthew 25.3.2)

Freely give to those who beg: It is folly, it is madness, to fill our wardrobes full of clothes and to regard with indifference a human being, a being made in the image and likeness of God, who is naked, trembling with cold and almost unable to stand. You say: “But the fellow is pretending to tremble and not to have any strength.” So what? If that poor fellow is acting, he is doing it because he is trapped between his own wretchedness and your cruelty. Yes, you are cruel and guilty of inhumanity. You would not have opened your heart to his destitution without his play-acting. If it were not necessity compelling him, why should he behave in such a humiliating way just to get a bit of bread? The made-up tale of a beggar is evidence of your inhumanity. His prayers, his begging, his complaints, his tears, his wandering all day long round the city did not secure for him the smallest amount to live on. That perhaps is the reason why he thought of acting a part. But the shame and the blame for his made-up tale falls less on him than on you. He has in fact a right to be pitied, finding himself in such an abyss of destitution. You, on the other hand, deserve a thousand punishments for having brought him to such humiliation. Chrysostom (On the First Letter to the Corinthians 21, 5; PG61, 177)

 

Give so that others need not beg: I have children, one says, and I am afraid [to give] lest I myself be reduced to the extremity of hunger and want and myself stand in need. I am ashamed to beg. For that reason therefore do you cause others to beg? I cannot, you say, endure hunger. For that reason do you expose others to hunger? Do you know what a dreadful thing it is to beg, how dreadful to be perishing by hunger? Spare also your brethren! Are you ashamed, tell me, to be hungry, and are you not ashamed to rob? Are you afraid to perish by hunger, and not afraid to destroy others? And yet to be hungry is neither a disgrace nor a crime; but to cast others into such a state brings not only disgrace, but extreme punishment. Chrysostom (Homilies on 1 Thess. 10)

The rich and the poor: The rich man cannot be tested or proved through physical suffering. No one will likely do him violence. Rather, he is tested and proved by generosity. Anonymous (Incomplete Work on Matthew, The Greek Fathers)

You tear yourself apart by hating: We have seen how murder is born from anger and adultery from desire. In the same way, the hatred of an enemy is destroyed by the love of friendship. Suppose you have viewed a man as an enemy, yet after a while he has been swayed by your benevolence. You will then love him as a friend. I think that Christ ordered these things not so much for our enemies as for us: not because enemies are fit to be loved by others but because we are not fit to hate anyone. For hatred is the prodigy of dark places. Wherever it resides, it sullies the beauty of sound sense. Therefore not only does Christ order us to love our enemies for the sake of cherishing them but also for the sake of driving away from ourselves what is bad for us. The Mosaic law does not speak about physically hurting your enemy but about hating your enemy. But if you merely hate him, you have hurt yourself more in the spirit than you have hurt him in the flesh. Perhaps you don’t harm him at all by hating him. But you surely tear yourself apart. If then you are benevolent to an enemy, you have rather spared yourself than him. And if you do him a kindness, you benefit yourself more than him. Anonymous (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 13, The Greek Fathers)

Pray for those who persecute you: Which [of the pagan philosophers] have so purified their own hearts as to love their enemies instead of hating them; instead of upbraiding those who first insult them (which is certainly more usual), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against them? . With us, on the contrary, you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who, though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but give evidence with their good deeds. When struck, they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbors as themselves. We cannot endure to see a man being put to death even justly We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him. Athenagoras of Athens (Legatio 11, 34-35)

 

Joint heirs with Christ by adoption: “That you may be children of your Father who is in heaven” is to be understood in the sense in which John also speaks when he says, “He gave them the power of becoming children of God.” For there is One who is the Son by nature, and he absolutely knows no sin. But since we have received the power to become sons, we are made sons insofar as we fulfill the precepts that have been given by the Son. “Adoption” is the term used by the apostle to denote the character of our vocation to the eternal inheritance, in order to be joint heirs with Christ. By spiritual regeneration we therefore become sons and are adopted into the kingdom of God, not as aliens but as his creatures and offspring. Augustine (Sermon on the Mount 1.23.78)

The sun and the rain: Since he calls us to adoption as sons through the only begotten Son, he calls us to his own likeness. For, as the Lord at once adds, “He makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Now, if you would understand the expression “his sun” to mean not the sun that is visible to bodily eyes but his wisdom, to which the following expressions refer “ “he is the brightness of eternal light” and also “The sun of justice is risen upon me” as well as “But to you that fear the name of the Lord, the sun of justice shall arise” “ then you must also understand the rain as a watering by the teaching of truth, because that teaching has become manifest to the good and to the evil. But you may prefer to understand it as the sun that is manifest to the bodily eyes of beasts as well as people and to understand the rain as the showers that produce the fruits that God has given us for the perfection of the body. I believe this to be surely the more probable meaning, since the other “sun” does not rise except on the good and the holy, for this is the very thing that the unjust bewail in the book that is called the Wisdom of Solomon: “And the sun [of understanding] has not risen upon us.” And the spiritual rain refreshes only the good, for the vine signifies the bad of whom it is said, “I will command my clouds not to rain upon it.” Augustine (Sermon on the Mount 1.23.79)

The destiny of the just and unjust is linked: He put it carefully when he said “over the just and the unjust,” not “over the unjust as over the just,” because God puts all good things on the earth, not on account of all people but on account of the few holy ones. He is more content that sinners should enjoy the benefits of God against their deserving than that the just should be robbed of his benefits against their deserving. Likewise, when the Lord is irritated by sinners, he sends his punishment not on account of the good but only on account of the sinners. Nevertheless it touches the just in equal measure with the sinners. For as in prosperity he does not separate the sinners from the just, so he does not separate the just from the sinners in hard times. He does not separate the sinners from the just in prosperity, lest, being separated, they should know themselves to be cast down and despair. He does not separate the just from the sinners in hard times, lest, being separated, they should know themselves to be chosen and boast. Above all, prosperity should not benefit the evil but rather hurt them, nor should difficult times harm the good but rather benefit them. Anonymous (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 13, The Greek Fathers)

The perfection of loving the enemy: He who loves his friends loves them for his own sake, not on account of God, and therefore he has no treasure. The loving itself delights him. However, he who loves his enemy loves not for his own sake but on account of God. Hence he has great treasure, because he goes against his own instincts. For where labor sows the seed, there it reaps the fruit. “Be ye therefore perfect, just as your Father is perfect.” He who loves his friend does not in fact sin but does not work justice. It is half a good that one depart from evil and not pursue good. It is perfect, however, that one not only flee evil but also accomplish good. So he said, “Be perfect,” so that you might both love your friends on account of shunning evil and love your enemies on account of possessing justice. The former frees us from punishment; the latter leads us into glory. For a representative of God is not perfect who does not resemble God through his or her works. Anonymous (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 13)

All things are perfected by goodness: The law used to demand that your neighbor be loved and allowed hatred against an enemy. Faith, rather, requires that enemies be cherished. It breaks the tendency we have to be peevish and urges us to bear life’s difficulties calmly. Faith not only deters anger from turning into revenge but even softens it into love for the injurer. It is merely human to love those who love you, and it is common to cherish those who cherish you. Therefore Christ calls us into the life of heirs of God and to be models for the just and the unjust of the imitation of Christ. He distributes the sun and the rain through his coming in baptism and by the sacraments of the Spirit. Thus he has prepared us for the perfect life through this concord of public goodness, because we must imitate our perfect Father in heaven. Hilary (On Matthew 4.27)

The law of gospel love: The Lord has shown that we cannot have the good work of perfect love if we love only those from whom in turn we know the return of mutual love will be paid in kind. For we know that love of this sort is common even to nonbelievers and sinners. Hence the Lord wishes us to overcome the common law of human love by the law of gospel love, so that we may show the affection of our love not only toward those who love us but even toward our enemies. Thus we may imitate the example of true piety and our Father’s goodness. Chromatius (Tractate on Matthew 21.2.1)

The authors

Athenagoras (+176/180) was an early Christian philosopher and apologist from Athens, who wrote “A Plea Regarding Christians” that was addressed to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodius. In it, Athenagoras defended Christians from the common accusations of atheism, incest and cannibalism.

St. Augustine (354-430) was a pivotal figure in the development of Christianity in the West. Born in North Africa, he went to Carthage at age 17 to continue his education and later taught in the same city. In 383 he moved to Rome, and the following year to Milan to teach in the imperial court. The influence of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, plus the impact of reading a life of St. Anthony, brought him to baptism in 387. He quit his teaching position in Milan and devoted himself to serving God. In 388 he returned to Africa, sold his patrimony, giving the money to the poor, keeping only enough to convert his family house into a monastery. In 396 he became bishop of Hippo.

Anonymous: Not all the names of the authors of ancient New Testament commentaries have survived. However, recognizing the value of their writings, surviving fragments have been preserved in collections of the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers.

St. Chromatius of Aquileia (+406/407), one of the most celebrated prelates of his time, was in frequent correspondence with his illustrious contemporaries, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. Himself a scholarly theologian, he urged his friends to the composition of learned works, St. Ambrose to write exegetical works and St. Jerome to undertake translations and commentaries. In the bitter quarrel between Jerome and Rufinus, Chromatius sought to make peace between the disputants. Chromatius opposed the Arian heresy with zeal and gave loyal support to St. John Chrysostom when he was suffering oppression from the imperial court.

St. Hilary of Arles (+449) came from a notable family of Northern Gaul but, at the urging of St. Honoratus of Arles, abandoned honors and riches and embraced the ascetic life. After the death of St. Honoratus, the people of Arles drafted Hilary as their new archbishop. He assisted at church councils held at Riez, Orange, Vaison, and Arles.

St. John Chrysostom, born in Antioch in 347, was famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciations of abuse of authority in the Church and in government. He was nicknamed chrysostomos, Greek for “golden mouthed.” Baptized in 370, he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. In 398 he was called, against his will, to be the bishop in Constantinople. Concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor, in his sermons he emphasized almsgiving and living modestly. He often spoke out against the abuse of wealth and refused to host lavish entertainments. An irritant both to the imperial court as well as to worldly prelates, he died in exile in 407. His final words were “Glory be to God for all things!” He is regarded as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.

Note: All but one of these commentaries are taken from Matthew 1-13, edited by Manlio Simonetti, in the series The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (InterVarsity Press).

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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Pro-war is not Pro-life

By Metropolitan Jonah

Here are extracts from a pastoral letter written for Sanctity of Life Sunday by the newly elected head of the Orthodox Church in America:
It is the very Word of God who, by His incarnation and assumption of our whole life and our whole condition, affirms and blesses the ultimate value of every human person and indeed of creation as a whole. He filled it with His own being, uniting us to Himself, making us His own Body, transfiguring and deifying our lives, and raising us up to God our Father. He affirms and fulfills us, not simply as individuals seeking happiness, but rather as persons with an infinite capacity to love and be loved, and thus fulfills us through His own divine personhood in communion.

Our life is not given to us to live autonomously and independently. This, however, is the great temptation: to deny our personhood, by the depersonalization of those around us, seeing them only as objects that are useful and give us pleasure, or are obstacles to be removed or overcome. This is the essence of our fallenness, our brokenness. With this comes the denial of God, and loss of spiritual consciousness. It has resulted in profound alienation and loneliness, a society plummeting into the abyss of nihilism and despair. There can be no sanctity of life when nothing is sacred, nothing is holy. Nor can there be any respect for persons in a society that accepts only autonomous individualism: there can be no love, only selfish gratification. This, of course, is delusion. We are mutually interdependent.

We must repent and turn to God and one another, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Only this will heal the soul. Only by confronting our bitterness and resentment, and finding forgiveness for those who have hurt us, can we be free from the rage that binds us in despair. Repentance is not about beating ourselves up for our errors and feeling guilty; that is a sin in and of itself! Guilt keeps us entombed in self-pity. All sin is some form of self-centeredness, selfishness.

Repentance is the transformation of our minds and hearts as we turn away from our sin, and turn to God, and to one another. Repentance means to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean to justify someone’s sin against us. When we resent and hold a grudge, we objectify the person who hurt us according to their action, and erect a barrier between us and them. And, we continue to beat ourselves up with their sin. To forgive means to overcome that barrier, and see that there is a person who, just like us, is hurt and broken, and to overlook the sin and embrace him or her in love. When we live in a state of repentance and reconciliation, we live in a communion of love, and overcome all the barriers that prevented us from fulfilling our own personhood.

All the sins against humanity abortion, euthanasia, war, violence, and victimization of all kinds are the results of depersonalization. Whether it is “the unwanted pregnancy,” or worse, “the fetus,” rather than “my son” or “my daughter;” whether it is “the enemy” rather than Joe or Harry or Ahmed or Mohammed, the same depersonalization allows us to fulfill our own selfishness against the obstacle to my will. How many of our elderly, our parents and grandparents, live forgotten in isolation and loneliness?

How many Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian and American youths will we sacrifice to agonizing injuries and deaths for the sake of our political will? They are called “soldiers,” or “enemy combatants” or “civilian casualties” or any variety of other euphemisms to deny their personhood. But ask their parents or children!

Pro-war is not pro-life! God weeps for our callousness.

We have to extend a hand to those suffering from their sins, whatever they are. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, save the one we refuse to accept forgiveness for. Abortion not only destroys the life of the infant; it rips the soul out of the mother and the father! It becomes a sin for which a woman torments herself for years, sinking deeper into despair and self-condemnation and self-hatred. But there is forgiveness, if only she will ask.
We must seek out and embrace the veterans who have seen such horrors, and committed them. They need to be able to repent and accept forgiveness, so that their souls, their memories, and their lives might be healed.

Most of all, we must restore the family: not just the nuclear family, but the multi-generational family which lives together, supports one another, and teaches each one what it means to be loved and to be a person. It teaches what forgiveness and reconciliation are. And it embraces and consoles the prodigals who have fallen. In this, the real sanctity of life is revealed, from pregnancy to old age. And in the multi-generational family each person finds value. This is the most important thing that we can possibly do.

The Blessed Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty of the industrialized world is loneliness. Let us reach out to those isolated, alienated, alone and in despair, finding in them someone most worthy of love and in turn, we will find in ourselves that same love and value, and know indeed that God speaks to us in the depths of our souls: “You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”❖

May Christians Kill?

By Fr. Philip LeMasters

Eastern Christianity does not view morality in fundamentally legal terms or within the context of abstract philosophy, but as part of the holistic vocation of humanity for theosis: participation by grace in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. Hence, the Orthodox vision must be considered on its own terms, and not distorted by the imposition of Western categories. The question for the Orthodox is not, “What approach to warfare is most persuasive rationally or incumbent upon all Christians as a matter of moral law?” Instead, the East asks, “In light of the human vocation for growth in holiness and communion with God, how should Christians respond to the prospect of warfare?”

The prominence of petitions for peace in the Liturgy sheds light on the Orthodox response to war. Since the Church believes that the Liturgy is a participation in the worship of heaven, and grounds the knowledge of God in worship and mystical experience, it is fitting to place the issue of war and peace within the context of the liturgical life of Eastern Christianity, for it is in worship that the Church participates most fully in communion with the Holy Trinity.

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the first petitions of the Great Ektenia are for “the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls” and “the peace of the whole world; for the good estate of the churches of God, and for the union of all.” At every Liturgy we pray for our parish, the clergy and laity, for government officials and all those in public service, for the place we live and for all towns and cities, for peaceful times, for travelers, the sick, the suffering, for captives and their salvation, and for our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and need. “Help us; save us; have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Your grace,” we beg, finally commending “ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”

These are not simply decorative words. Neither are they prayers which refer merely to the inner tranquility of worshipers, nor to an entirely future Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, they embody an Orthodox vision of salvation and call upon the Lord to enable us to experience his heavenly peace right now in every dimension of life: personal, public, religious, temporal, and political. Whoever prays these prayers is asking already to participate in the Kingdom of God on earth, to find the healing and blessing of salvation in every dimension of one’s life indeed, in every aspect of God’s creation.

The entire Liturgy is an epiphany of God’s Kingdom on earth. The priest begins the service with a proclamation, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages,” which declares that the assembly is now participating in the worship of Heaven. The Church is raised to the life of the Kingdom as her members gather to glorify and commune with the Holy Trinity.

Because we believe in the Incarnation and the goodness of God’s physical creation, we pray for peace and salvation upon people in “real life” situations of peril and suffering, for deliverance from the kinds of calamities and hardships that beset our mortal bodies in this life.

The peace for which we pray includes every dimension of our existence before the Lord. God created us for communion with Himself in all aspects of our personhood: body, soul, and spirit. Christian salvation entails the resurrection of the complete, embodied self in the blessed communion of Heaven and the transformation of the entire creation in subjection to the Holy Trinity.

The peace for which we pray is our participation in that all-inclusive salvation. There is no true peace other than that found in the healing and transformation brought to human beings by the God-Man in whom our humanity is united with divinity. Since God intends to save us in every dimension of our existence, his healing concerns the full range of human life. Even as bread and wine become the means of our communion with the Lord, we are to offer every bit of ourselves and of this world to the Father in union with the sacrifice of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. We will then find life-giving communion with the Holy Trinity in everything we say and do; our life will become a eucharistic offering as we grow in holiness and union with God.

If the Liturgy is a participation in the eschatological peace of the Kingdom of God, it is fair to ask whether the members of the Church recognize and live out this vision of heavenly peace. An immediate note of realism comes to mind, as the members of the Church are sinners who have not manifested fully the new life of Christ. Nonetheless, the presence of the Holy Spirit enables the Church to embody a foretaste of the eschatological peace of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is much in the history and ongoing life of the Church which witnesses to the saving peace of God here and now.

Though there is some ambiguity in the Church’s teaching on Christian participation in war, the Orthodox vision of peace prizes selfless love and forgiveness over violence, viewing war, in some situations, as a lesser evil with damaging spiritual consequences for all involved.

In contrast with Orthodoxy, it is easier to describe the traditional Western Christian justifications of war, which have included both the granting of plenary indulgences to those who fought in the crusades and the affirmation of a just-war theory. The former envisioned the killing of infidels as such a righteous act that the crusaders were released from all temporal punishments for their sins, including exemption from purgatory. The latter, which has been widely influential in Western culture, provides moral sanction to wars which meet certain philosophical criteria.

Orthodoxy has never embraced the crusade ethic. Orthodoxy has viewed war always as an evil, even if, as the theologian Olivier Clément expressed it, “The Church has accepted warfare sorrowfully as a sometimes necessary evil, but without concealing that it is an evil which must be avoided or limited as much as possible.” Elsewhere he notes, “The only normative ideal is that of peace, and hence the Orthodox Church has never made rules on the subject of ius belli and of ius in bello.”

Canon 13 of St. Basil’s 92 Canonical Epistles states:

Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean.

Father John McGuckin observes that St. Basil refers to St. Athanasius as the father who wrote, in his “Letter to Amun,” that killing the enemy was legitimate in wartime. McGuckin argues, however, that St. Athanasius was advising Amun on the question of the sinfulness of nocturnal emissions. “In fact the original letter had nothing whatsoever to do with war… The military image is entirely incidental, and Athanasius in context merely uses it to illustrate his chief point in the letter,” which is to show that the moral significance of actions may not be discerned without reference to the contexts in which they occurred.

Against any simplistic readings of the letter as a blanket justification of killing in war, St. Basil places the issue in a specific context. As McGuckin writes on St. Basil in “War and Repentance,” “what he speaks about is the canonical regulation of war in which a Christian can engage and find canonical forgiveness for a canonically prohibited act…”

Killing in war had been forbidden completely in earlier canons, such as Canon 14 of Hippolytus in the fourth century, which states:

A Christian is not to become a soldier. A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is compelled by a chief bearing the sword. He is not to burden himself with the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, he is not to partake of the mysteries, unless he is purified by a punishment, tears, and wailing. He is not to come forward deceitfully but in the fear of God.

St. Basil distinguishes between outright murder and killing “for the defense of Christian borders from the ravages of pagan marauders.” By limiting fighting to such circumstances, he sought to “restrict the bloodshed to a necessary minimum.” In contrast to the lifelong exclusion from the sacraments imposed on murderers, St. Basil recommends three years of exclusion from the chalice, thus providing a public sign that the Gospel standard is violated by war.

The Christian soldier who has killed in war is to “undergo the cathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance… Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years, seemingly harsh to us moderns, was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.” (It is not uncommon to meet veterans who are tormented for the rest of their lives by the horrors of war. I recall the father of a childhood friend who suffered from nightmares thirty years after the conclusion of his military service during World War II. Those who are trained to kill sometimes have difficulty returning to the mores of civilian life, not to mention the life of theosis.)

McGuckin concludes that this canon of St. Basil excludes the development of just war theory in Orthodoxy. Though particular wars may be necessary or unavoidable, they are never justified, as shedding the blood of other human beings is contradictory to the way of the Kingdom of God.

In his book, The Price of Prophecy, Fr. Alexander Webster agrees that a theory of justified war “has never been systematically elucidated in Orthodox moral theology.” He describes participation in such a war as “a lesser moral option than absolute pacifism, for those unwilling or unable to pay the full price of prophecy.” He suggests that Orthodox criteria for a just war include a “proper political ethos,” meaning that the nation going to war should follow “the natural-law ethic and have positive relations with the Orthodox community.” The war should also take place for the “defense of the People of God” from injustice, invasion, or oppression “by those hostile to the free exercise of the Orthodox faith.” A proper “spiritual intent” should also lead to “forgiveness and rehabilitation” of enemies as persons who bear the image of God, and not “mere revenge, self-righteousness, or conquest.” Webster states that

Whereas the pacifist seeks to emulate Jesus as the Good Shepherd who allowed Himself to be slain unjustly by and for sinners, the just warrior perceives a higher duty: to defend the relatively innocent from unjust aggression. If the Orthodox pacifist can never do anything evil even for a reasonably just end, the Orthodox warrior cannot preserve his personal holiness by allowing evil to triumph through his own inaction.

It is curious for Webster to suggest that the just warrior follows a “higher duty” than that of the pacifist, especially when the clear norm for the Church is the selfless, forgiving, nonresistant way of Christ. Likewise, the enumeration of moral categories for a justified war and the reference to governments which follow an ethic of natural law raise the question of whether this interpretation places questions of war and peace more within the context of human moral reasoning than in that of the journey to theosis. It is fair to ask whether Webster’s formulation gives sufficient attention to the spiritual vision of Orthodoxy, as opposed to the greater reliance on an ethics of human reason in Western Christianity.

Though Christlike response of “turning the other cheek” to assaults is the ideal, the Orthodox Church does not prescribe pacifism or nonviolence as an absolute requirement of the Christian life. The Church’s moral guidance serves the goal of theosis, of guiding the members of Christ’s Body to growth in holiness and union with the Trinity. The canons of the Church are applied pastorally in order to help particular people find salvation as they seek to be faithful in the given set of challenges and weaknesses which they face. The Church’s experience is that temporal authority and the use of force are necessary to restrain evil and promote good in our fallen world.

Though the witness of the early Church was largely, but not exclusively, pacifist, the Byzantine vision was of symphonia, or harmony, between God’s Kingdom and earthly realms. Hence, Christian emperors and armies fought wars and sustained a social order that sought to embody faithfulness to the Lord in all areas of life. Church and empire were to be united, in Webster’s words, “even as the divine and human natures of Christ are united in the One Person of the Incarnate Son of God.” In practice, however, that vision was never fully realized in Byzantium; human sinfulness corrupted its political and ecclesiastical leaders in many ways.

There have remained in Orthodoxy, however, indications of the ideal of peace. Monks and clergy, for example, may not bear arms and are forbidden to use deadly violence even in cases of self-defense. Canon V of St. Gregory of Nyssa “states that should a priest ‘fall into the defilement of murder even involuntarily (i.e., in self-defense), he will be deprived of the grace of the priesthood, which he will have profaned by this sacrilegious crime.'”

Those whose hands have shed blood are no longer the icons of Christ which priests are called to be, and are not suited to serve at the altar. As Webster writes in The Pacifist Option, “An Orthodox priest is supposed to be an exemplar for the Christian community, a man with a personal history free from all serious or grievous offenses including the taking of a human life for any reason.”

Even as the sacramental priesthood is a special vocation to which not all are called, the straightforward embodiment of Christlike, nonviolent love incumbent upon priests is not canonically required of all believers. In keeping with the practice of economia, the norm of nonresistant love may not be directly applicable to those whose vocations in our broken world require the defense of the innocent. These may grow in holiness by fighting as justly as possible, even as they mourn the harm done to themselves and others by their use of violence.

Whatever choices we make in our efforts to defend the innocent from attack and abuse, none are perfect. In a fallen world populated by sinful people, every Christian’s journey to the Kingdom will be marked by a measure of spiritual brokenness, and repentance is the only road to healing.

Particular countries and peoples have been so closely identified with the Orthodox faith that their defensive wars against Islamic invaders, though not Western-style crusades, have been described as “a difficult and painful defense of the Cross.” The appeal for “victory over their enemies” at the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and other instances of martial imagery in the liturgies, has at times been corrupted into a “national Messianism” in which a soldier who dies in battle is regarded as a martyr and the evil of war is forgotten.

It would be a mistake, however, to suggest that Orthodoxy has enthusiastically endorsed war. Even in cases of the defense of a Christian people from Islamic invasion, the spiritual gravity of warfare has not been forgotten. For example, St. Sergius of Radonezh in the fourteenth century gave his blessing to Grand Prince Dimitri to fight a defensive war against the Tatar Khan only after he received assurances that the prince had already exhausted every possible means of reconciliation.

Kutuzov’s strategy in response to Napoleon’s invasion was similar, abandoning Moscow to the French and merely harassing Napoleon’s forces during their withdrawal, having no other aim than to drive the invader back to the frontier.

Far from being examples of unbridled militarism, these are instances which reflect the reluctant acceptance of war at times as a necessary evil.

These notes of realism should not be allowed to obscure the Church’s insistence that “non-retribution, the avoidance of violence, the returning of good for evil … and the harmony of peoples” are a holistic “normative good which Christians must seek with God’s help,” in the words of Olivier Clément.

Fr. Stanley Harakas observes that “the Eastern Patristic tradition rarely praised war, and to my knowledge, almost never called it ‘just’ or a moral good…. The peace ideal continued to remain normative and no theoretical efforts were made to make conduct of war into a positive norm.”

The evidence for widespread pacifism in the Church is strongest before St. Constantine, when the Empire was pagan and Christians, including converts within the army, were persecuted for refusing to participate in the worship of false gods. Even after the Christianization of the Empire, with the eventual requirement that only Christians could be in the army, there remained teachers of pacifism in the Church, such as Pope St. Damasus, Prudentius, and St. Paulinus of Nola. Webster remarks that St. Paulinus, in the fifth century, was the last Church Father who explicitly addressed the moral issue of war from a pacifist perspective. From then on, pacifist sensibilities would manifest themselves in other contexts, such as the requirement of clerical and monastic nonresistance.

The contrast between the canonical requirement of pacifism for the clergy and the acceptance of military service by the laity requires further comment. Webster notes that the identification of clergy with the nonviolent norm and the allowance of participation in war on the part of the laity implies a two-tier ethic with a higher and a lower class of Christians, which could be taken to imply that the clergy are necessarily holier than the laity.

More faithful to Orthodox ecclesiology would be the affirmation that the norm now embodied by the clergy will at some future point become normative for all Orthodox. Here we are dealing with a point of eschatological tension that will be resolved in the Kingdom of Heaven, when all will be pacifists, for violence and other evils will be destroyed. In the present, as Webster writes in The Pacifist Option, the clergy are “expected to demonstrate the attainment of an advanced spiritual and moral state to which all Orthodox Christians are [ultimately] called.”

The recognition of pacifism as an ultimate norm or goal for all Christians should not be surprising. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ calls His followers to theosis, to growth in holiness and perfection in union with God. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) This teaching is the conclusion of a section focusing on the love of enemies, which is immediately preceded by the Lord’s repudiation of resistance against evil. “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (5:39)

These passages indicate that the repudiation of violence in self-defense is a sign of growth in holiness. Our Lord’s example of offering Himself on the cross for our salvation is the paradigmatic epiphany of the selfless love in which human beings are to participate as they come to share by grace in the life of the Trinity.

Fr. Philip LeMasters is professor of Religion and director of the Honors Program at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. A priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, he serves at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Abilene. This is an abridged version of a chapter in his book, The Goodness of God’s Creation (Regina Orthodox Press). The Patristic texts cited here and many others, plus essays by a number of Orthodox theologians, can be found in For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism, Hildo Bos and Jim Forest, editors, Syndesmos, 1999. The full text of the book is posted on the OPF web site: http://incommunion.org/articles/for-the-peace-from-above/first-page

Winter 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 52

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The Georgia Russia Mini-War

by Jim Forest

The recent Georgia Russia mini-war in and around South Ossetia was definitely not a religious war, but serves as a reminder that religious identity doesn’t come in first place when issues of national identity are at issue. While the battle raged, most soldiers – and casualties – on both sides were Christians.

In both countries, the Orthodox Church – in practice, though not officially – functions as the national church. Russia has an icon of St. George at the center of its national coat of arms; the average Russian atheist regards himself as an Orthodox atheist. Georgia prides itself on having adopted Christianity in the 4th century, six centuries before the baptism of Russia.

No matter how borderless Christianity is in theory (Aneither east nor west, neither Greek nor Jew”), in practice, national borders are as solid in church as outside.

The Orthodox churches in Russia and Georgia – led by Patriarch Alexei in Moscow and Patriarch Ilya in Tbilisi – are no exception. It’s rare for either church to stand in opposition to its government. The Russian Orthodox Church has been especially notable for being quick to bless Russia’s military – and has been all but silent in voicing criticism about Russian actions, no matter how brutal. Patriarch Ilya also has been equally silent about post Soviet Georgia’s deepening association with the United States and the US sponsored military buildup that has resulted.

Thus it has been a surprise to note the efforts made by the leaders of both churches first to prevent the recent war and then, their efforts having failed, to speed its end.

Ilya seems to have been the one who took the first step. In April he sent a letter to Alexei in which he noted the potential Arole and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

While Alexei’s response has not been made public, is likely that he intervened with Russia’s president and prime minister (he is on close terms with Medvedev and Putin) in hopes of encouraging renewed diplomatic efforts to prevent conflict.

But when Georgia’s military bombarded Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on the night of August 8, hopes to prevent war were shattered. (What lay behind Georgia’s action is baffling. It was something like Connecticut opening fire on New York. The Russians had already made clear what would happen in such a case. Georgia’s small army hadn’t a chance against Russian forces. Was President Saakashvili imagining that America, his military sponsor, would join the battle? Had he even been encouraged to open fire? I’d love to know.)

What is remarkable in the context of the days that followed was Patriarch Alexei making a public appeal to the Russian state to declare a cease-fire.

“Today blood is being shed and people being killed in South Ossetia,” he said, Aand my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox people, called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love, confront each other.”

In a sermon given in Tbilisi two days later, Patriarch Ilya said that Aone thing concerns us very deeply B that Orthodox Russians are bombing Orthodox Georgians.” Speaking with journalists, he said, “Any Georgian who kills another person shames his nation.”

Note that when Alexei made his appeal, he was definitely not acting as the Russian government’s amen chorus. At the time, Russia’s leaders were strongly resisting international pressure for a cease-fire. It seems likely Russia was hoping, war having begun after years of tension, to seize the moment to bring South Ossetia, bitterly with odds with Georgia for many years, into actual rather than ex officio inclusion in Russia – a goal Russia is still pursuing, but at present without warfare with Georgia.

Will the two churches make more vigorous efforts to prevent renewed conflict? And if so how? How willing are the two churches to prevent the cross from being used as a flag pole?

* * *

Jim Forest is editor of In Communion and secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Fall 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 51

Saint Marcellus: Military Martyr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passion of Saint Marcellus

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

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

 

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

Marcellus: I cannot. You know I cannot.

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

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

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

Marcellus: They are children of God.

Lucius: They’ve killed our friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Marcellus refuses; all salute as guards arrive.]

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

Marcellus: I am at his command.

[All walk briskly to the court set.]

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

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

Agricolanus: Let it be read out.

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

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

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

Marcellus: I did.

Agricolanus: Were you serving as a centurio ordinarius?

Marcellus: I was.

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

Marcellus: No madness possesses him who fears God.

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

Marcellus: I did.

Agricolanus: Did you hurl down your weapons?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47

‘Step Back from the Brink of War’: OPF’s Iran Appeal

The following statement has been sent to President Bush and members of the US legislature:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Christ spoke these words not just to the crowd assembled before him, but to all men and women of all nations and all times – including those dealing with international relations in the 21st Century. The current state of affairs between the United States and Iran causes American members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to speak out before it is too late to step back from the brink of war.

This is a crisis with larger dimensions. The interests of Israel, China, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations are involved, but the focus of this perilous standoff is a line drawn in the sand between Tehran and Washington. If a solution is not found there, it will not be found.

The current impasse was reached by a road littered with misunderstanding, insults, provocations and meddling. The US helped to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953, aided Saddam Hussein in his brutal war against Iran during the 1980s, and threatened to use nuclear weapons against Iran in 2006. This is not to ignore transgressions by other nations, especially Iran, such as the taking of hostages in Tehran , systematic violation of human rights within Iran, or recent inflammatory statements by the Iranian government.

Actions lead to reactions in a cycle of ever-escalating hostility. The first step on the way to peace, however, must always be putting one’s own house in order. To do that – to show the forbearance and compassion Christ asks of us, rather than the bellicosity of those who “live by the sword” – we urge that the following policies be adopted by our government:

Telling the Truth:

Our leaders should admit that they do not, in fact, know whether or not there is a nuclear threat from Iran, that nuclear enrichment is not in itself an offense, and that human rights abuses have occurred and do occur on our side, not only on theirs. The New Testament makes clear that it is in each human soul that the blessings of God are won: through meekness, mercy, and purity of heart. If – as Abraham Lincoln noted during our Civil War – we would hope to be on God’s side, we must avoid deception, spin and disinformation.

Inclusiveness:

The Orthodox Christian tradition of conciliarity (decision-making by the whole Church, rather than a single leader or a small group) can also be helpful in international relations. The US must not just pressure our allies to see the world as we see it, but needs to be prepared to listen to and consider their perspectives.

Moreover, there are many other countries, not on the UN’s Security Council or members of the ‘Nuclear Club’, whose destinies are affected by whatever more powerful nations decide. We need to heed their voices as well.

Seeking Common Ground:

There must be direct negotiations among affected parties. America has legitimate needs; so does Iran. Neighboring nations need to be reassured that they will not be the unwilling victims of regional chaos. The conflict in Iraq , a resolution of the world-wide ‘peak oil’ crunch and many other challenges would be immeasurably easier with a constructive US-Iran relationship in place.

Commitment to Reducing Nuclear Risk:

So long as some nations claim a right to stockpile and use nuclear weapons in their own self-interest, it is inevitable that other nations will see no reason not to follow suit. Since the recent tests by North Korea, nine nations are known to possess nuclear weapons. As the only country which has used such weapons in war, the US has a special responsibility to work for their reduction and eventual elimination. Realistic humility leads us Americans to see that we have no special claim to the wisdom needed for this reduction. Every nation and all our children are at risk, and all must be part of the solution.

Since the credibility of the US was damaged at home and abroad after we invaded Iraq on the false claim that the Saddam government was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, it is no wonder that there is now a widespread and non-partisan lack of confidence in their government among the American people. Staying the course is a good idea only if the course is right. The recent elections demonstrate a growing consensus that a new direction must be found.

If President George W. Bush desires to forge a legacy of real statesmanship, it is not too late to step back from the brink. With a genuine will to find alternatives to war, they can surely be found.

Have we the will to wage peace?

Partial list of signers of the Iran Appeal:

Bishop Basil of Amphipolis

Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos

Bishop Tikhon, Retired Bishop of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the West; Orthodox Church in America

David A. Beck

Fr Ted Bobosh,St. Paul Church, Ad junct Professor, the University of Dayton

Dr. Peter Bouteneff,Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology, St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

Archpriest John Breck

Eleni Cambourelis-Benedikt

Alice Carter

Mary Dibs

Jim Forest,OPF international secretary

Aaron Haney, MD

Archpriest Stephen C. Headley

Dr. John D. Jones, Professor, Marquette University

Carol M. Karos

Joel Klepac

Monica Klepac

Maria C. Khoury, Taybeh, Palestinian Occupied Territories, author

Dr. Kevin Lawrence,Chair, String Department, North Carolina School of the Arts

Allison and Don Lemons, Wichita, KS

Dr. Jacques-Jude Lepine, Media Center Director Profile School

Dr. Daniel F. Lieuwen

Michael Markwick, artist berlin,netherlands

Frederica Mathewes-Green, author and columnist

Joe May, Director, Matthew 25 House, Akron , Ohio

Fr. John McGuckin. Professor of Byzantine Christianity, Columbia University

Archpriest George Morelli,Ph.D., Coordinator, Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Ministry, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese

Joanna Novac, Irvine, CA

Archpriest Michael J. Oleksa, adjunct faculty, Alaska Pacific University

John W. Oliver, Professor Emeritus, Malone College

Kimberly Pandorf

Fr. Harry Pappas,faculty, St. Vladimir’s Seminary

Alex Patico

Fr. Michael Plekon, St Gregory the Theologian Church, Professor, Baruch College of the City University of New York

Dr. Albert Raboteau,professor, Princeton University

Mother Raphaela, abbess, Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, Otego, NY

Cathy Rusyniak

Sheri San Chirico, coordinator, OPF- North America

Monk James Silver, member OPF-NA Steering Committee

Eric Simpson

Sbdn. Matthew Spoonemore

James Weave, Bellingham, Washington

Renee Zitzloff,coordinator, OPF Minnesota chapter

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

Love Your Enemy As Yourself

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

by Jim Forest

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

– Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:44)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about these two important words, love and prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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