Category Archives: War

Discussion of Orthodox Perspectives on War

Chapter 6: REFERENCE TEXTS FROM CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS

REFERENCE TEXTS FROM CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS

Nation, Nationalism

Ethno-phyletism (Racism)

There have always been two races in the world; they exist today, and this division is more important than all other divisions. There are those who crucify and those who are crucified, those that oppress and those who are oppressed, those who hate and those who are hated, those who inflict suffering and those who suffer, those who persecute and those who are persecuted. It needs no explanation on whose side Christians should be.

— Christianity and Anti-Semitism (the religious destiny of Judaism), by N. Berdyayev, Paris, 1935, p. 30

Who Is Jesus Christ for Us?

When the question of the national (ethnic) origins of our Saviour comes in first position and overshadows the essence of the Christian teaching, a question naturally appears: who is Jesus Christ for us? A tribal leader, whose authority should facilitate national unification, or God, who saves us from malediction and death? For the believing mind the answer is self-evident, and those for whom Christianity is merely an ideology prefer, as Dostoevsky said, to stay with their own “truth” rather than with Christ.

For the leader of RNU, Jesus Christ is the tribal god of the Indo-Aryans, which will help us to establish a mighty national state, having placed us above all peoples. Remember: it was exactly this kind of Messiah that the majority of the Jewish people were expecting, because they had wrongly understood the prophecies of the Old Testament by giving them an exclusively earthly sense. Such an understanding fundamentally contradicts the preaching of Christ on the Kingdom of God, which is spiritual and above nature, a Kingdom which begins on earth and has no end.

By attempting to give a national character to Christianity, the leader of the RNU willingly or unwillingly attacks the very essence of Christ’s preaching. Christianity is not the national religion of the Indo-Europeans, nor is it an ideology. Christ is neither a national leader, nor a tribal chief. We believe in Christ, the God who saves us, the true, living God, the God of love. He says to us: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). And, in the reply of the human soul top this appeal, in our striving towards Him, in the words of St. Paul, already “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29).

Who needs such patriotism?

Patriotism is love for our motherland, our people with its customs and traditions, its sanctuaries and its faith. The patriotism of Mr. Barkashov has nothing in common with genuine patriotism, since it tramples on the foundations of the Orthodox faith of our people.

— In Whom Do We Believe?1, by Evgeniy Petrovskiy

(Syndesmos Eastern Europe Regional Representative)

From: Vstrecha Orthodox Student Journal, Nr. 3 (9), 1998

Ethno-phyletism and Orthodox Unity

As well as being a perversion of normal patriotic sentiment, racism is a real obstacle to cooperation between the Orthodox churches in the world and the worst enemy of the unity of the churches of the Orthodox East.

The predominance in the locally formed churches of the national character must be seen as responsible for … the dividing of peoples and churches. In principle such a division does not contradict the spirit of Christianity. But the principle of division by race, which came to prevail widely, assumed its worst possible form among some of these groups: that of pure racism or chauvinism, the worst enemy of peace, which destroys unity between the local Orthodox churches.2

… In reality, the Church organisation is based not on autocephaly, but chiefly on the principle, that one bishop stands for one church in one place. This, the local principle, makes quite plain by the unity and concord of the local church the unity of the new People of God, in which there is neither Jew or Greek, but a new creation in Christ.

— The Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church, by Metropolitan Maximus of Sardes, Thessaloniki, 1976

Orthodoxy and Identity

From a dogmatic and mystical point of view, the issue of Church and national identity is only a part of the great question of the relation of the Church with human history and cultural creation. However strange this may seem, after two thousand years of Christian history this question, notwithstanding its greatness and its actuality, has not yet found a conciliar answer within the Church. It has not found it, because it has not been raised in the Church. It has not been raised, because it has not been envisaged.

… The Eastern Orthodox non-humanistic world view experiences the tragedy of the “refusal of the world” with incomparably greater strength (than Western Christianity). Orthodox consciousness and the mysticism of Orthodox piety are deeply and essentially ascetic. The spirit of Palestinian, apostolic, eschatological Christianity, torn away from the concerns of history and resurrected in the spirit of monastic asceticism, still dominates in the heart of Orthodoxy. The century-long national-political inter-connectedness of Orthodox churches with Byzantine-style states didn’t shatter this intimate non-historicity of Orthodoxy.

… This radical asceticism of Orthodoxy seems to have little in common with its factual external history as a confession which is linked primarily, with almost pagan naivety to the life of specific nations, states and cultures. This cannot be explained by some positive inspiration of Orthodox mysticism and Orthodox ascetic piety on the tasks of human earthly history, but rather by a certain weakness and defenselessness of asceticism as such in all its forms. Christian asceticism knows an element of refusal of violent defence against evil.

… The Church should consider the values of national life according to the elementary analogy of the primacy of the spirit over the flesh. For Christianity, all is in second place to the mysteries of divine Revelation and the aims of the Kingdom of God. All other values are secondary and subject to spiritual and godly life, which is guarded by the Church. Lesser, relative values stand in opposition of the one greater and absolute value. The value of national origin is indisputable as well as the value of the self-affirmation of every individual personality, but they are relative values, easily changing into sinful egoism. They find their justification in their submission to the rule of absolute measures, the measures of the Church. From this point of view, relative values are unstable. In the judgement of the Church they may change into negative entities. Personal, natural egoism as well as national self-affirmation may from a relative good change, as a result of an orientation away from Christianity, into evil paganism.

What do we see in the reality of today? The patriarchal times when the national life of peoples would flourish and prosper under the good influence of the Church, have gone forever. The XIXth and particularly the XXth centuries have proved to be centuries of a new and stormy flourishing of national enthusiasms, but in a secular, lay and often simply an anti-Christian spirit. The recent self-affirming pathos of all small nations, not only in Europe but on all continents, is nothing but pagan nationalism. XIXth-century nationalism, although pagan in essence, in the great European nations still was only neutral in regard to the Church; it was anti-clerical and anti-church only as a result of practical and tactical clashes with the organised forces of the Church. (…) In the XXth century we witness a rather unexpected solidification of this anti-Christian lay spirit in some sort of religious paganism, with its own sort of mysticism, diametrically opposed to Christianity. Such is German racism with its resurrection of the religion of Thor, Odin and Wodan and Italian Fascism with its hysteric and artificial idolatry of the state and the physical Rome.

… In the face of this primitive and spiritually war-waging nationalism in the spirit of racism and fascism, the Church already has no grounds whatsoever for noble concessions. She is obliged to wage a tense war, if even defensive, against this demonic and perverse nationalism.

… The organisational task of the Orthodox churches is the gathering of the individual autocephalous churches, spread over tiny national areas, de facto submitted and sometimes enslaved by the state, into organised conciliar unions, capable of lifting up individual churches somewhat above the level of their nations. Fragmented as it is, Orthodoxy, particularly in our “communist” and “fascist” time, which loses no time being kind to any, let alone religious freedom, must hastily acquire some extra-territorial strength in its great ecclesial “monarchies” and ecumenical councils, as prescribed by the canons. The present moment demands for the Orthodox East to re-enter into the conciliar practice, mutual contact and extra-territorial unification, as a start by means of permanent inter-conciliar synods. This need is prescribed by the tasks of the Church as regards national life and the new dangers in this field which appear out of the forces of pagan nationalism.

— The Church and National Identity, by A. Kartachov, Paris, 1934

… While economic logic pushes in the direction of globalisation, interdependence and regional integration, political logic moves, in numerous regions, towards national fragmentation. This process is not accompanied by the decline of nationalisms. We are obliged to note that the global market and the universal Homo economicus don’t dissolve distinctive ethnic identities, either intra-national or supra-natural.

The paradox of globalisation, accompanying the development of a society of consumption and planet-wide entertainment, is that in producing homogenisation and uniformisation it exacerbates the need for distinction and recognition. The more individuals — and peoples — look alike, the more they will seek to underline their differences. The smaller the real differences are, the more their significance is underlined. To deny a similarity with the other may serve as a means for resurrecting a lost distinctive feature.

Citizenship is less and less a space for free encounters between persons. Men and women are often reduced to the roles assigned to them by the forces of the market or by those of neo-tribalism: from the one side, individuals defined by their needs and consumer capacities, from the other, the subjection of the individual to the interests — often pretended — of a community which is structured, in its head, by opposition to others.

Between relativist consumerism, including the religious level, and the re-appearance of ethnic or communitarian fanaticism, Orthodoxy is called to make its way to the future.

— Reflections on the Orthodox Identity in Today’s World, by Tarek Mitri3, Speech at the 10th congress of the Orthodox Fellowship in Western Europe, Paray-le-Monial 1999

Movements for the reaffirmation of religious identity have undergone a considerable change between 1975 and 1990. In fifteen years they have succeeded in transforming the confused reaction of their adherents to the ‘crisis of modernity’ into plans for rebuilding the world, and in those plans their holy scriptures provide the basis for tomorrow’s society. These movements have arisen in a world which has lost the assurance born in scientific and technological progress since the 1950’s. Just as the barriers of poverty, disease and inhuman working conditions seemed to be yielding, the population explosion, the spread of AIDS, pollution and the energy crises burst upon the scene — and all of these scourges lent themselves to presentation in apocalyptic terms. During the same period the great atheist messianic ideology of the twentieth century, communism, which had left its mark on most of the social utopias, went into its death throes, and finally succumbed in the autumn of 1989 when its most potent symbol, the Berlin Wall, was destroyed.

The Christian, Jewish and Muslim movements we have been observing are to be viewed in this dual perspective. Their first task was to fix labels on to the confusion and disorder in the world as perceived by their adherents, breathing fresh life into the vocabulary and the categories of religious thought as applied to the contemporary world. Next they conceived plans for changing the social order so as to bring it into line with the commands and values of the Old Testament, the Koran or the Gospels; for as they saw it, nothing else could ensure the advent of a world of justice and truth.

These movements have a great deal in common beyond mere historical simultaneity. They are at one in rejecting a secularism that they trace back to the philosophy of the Enlightenment. They regard the vainglorious emancipation of reason from faith as the prime cause of all the ills of the twentieth century, the beginning of a process leading straight to Nazi and Stalinist totalitarianism.

This radical challenge to the foundations of secular modernism is uttered by its own children, who have had access to today’s education. They see no contradiction between their mastery of science and technology and their acceptance of faith not bounded by the tenets of reason. In fact, people like Herman Branover consciously symbolise the fact that a ‘God fearing Jew’ can also be a ‘great scientist’. And the self-image favoured by Islamist militants is that of a girl student, muffled in a veil with only a slit for the eyes, bent over a microscope and doing research in biology.

All these movements agree that the modern secular city is now completely lacking in legitimacy. But while Christians, Muslims and Jews all consider that only a fundamental transformation in the organisation of society can restore the holy scriptures as the prime source of inspiration for the city of the future, they have differing ideas of what that city will be like. Each of these religious cultures has developed specific truths which, insofar as they provide the basis for a strong reapportion of identity, are mutually exclusive.

— The Revenge of God: the Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World, by Gilles Kepel

Peace

I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and I wish that it were already burning.” (Luke 12:49)

Jesus Christ claims that his mission is to cast fire upon the earth. This fire has come and it is burning. It is the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of grace and truth, of peace and joy, of justice and all embracing love. This Spirit has come. And where He breathes, there is freedom. “For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

The organisation Syndesmos exists to be a “bond” which binds together many men and movements in the single unity of the one divine Spirit, in the single burning flame of the one divine Fire. As a World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth, Syndesmos takes its name from the apostolic words: “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond — Syndesmos — of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

The world is not in peace. Neither is it in unity. The spirit of this world, which burns from the black ghettos of Chicago to the streets of Paris, from the Holy Land in the Middle East to the jungles of Africa, this spirit is not the Spirit of unity and peace. It is not a bond which can pacify and unite. It is a barrier which can only divide and destroy.

But the firm belief of Syndesmos, and its only reason for existence, is that there is a Spirit, not as this world gives, which is a power, a unity and a peace. There is a Spirit which can burn in men and movements and can empower them to go beyond every spirit of this world. This is the Spirit which Christ gives, the fire which He has cast upon the earth. And Syndesmos desires, as its only consuming desire, to be alive and burning with this spiritual fire.

— Jesus Christ in a Changing World, report of the VIIth, Syndesmos General Assembly, Introductory message, by Albert Laham, Syndesmos president, Rattvik 1968

War

The Role of the Church in Wartime

… Without doubt, from the Christian point of view, war is an evil and a sin, against which the Church is obliged to struggle. Here the Church, listening as a doctor with a stethoscope to the sick heart of the nation, should gather all the strength of its super-human impassivity and evangelic purity of consciousness, in order to show, when in moments of passionate nationalistic taking up of arms, by its non-earthly, prophetic judgement and its authoritative voice, both to its own people, to the enemy and to all mankind the way towards higher justice and towards better, nobler means to achieve it than the iron ultima ratio. This is the super-humanly difficult service the Church must render.

— The Church and National Identity, by A. Kartachov, Paris, 1934

“Just,” or “Holy” Wars

Our Church insists that religion is like a “secret balm” which should not be used by just anyone or in order to spark armed conflict. This balm is a gift of God, given to soften hearts, to heal wounds and to help persons and peoples establish bonds of brotherhood among them.

— “We pray God that peace and justice may once more reign in the Balkans”, Archibishop Anastasios of Albania, Tirana, 1999

There was another heresy as well — spiritualist this time — which tried to juxtapose itself to the materialism of the “equipment war,” to infuse it with an artificial soul. This was the ideology of a “holy war,” or a “crusade.” It had several nuances; the struggle for democracies, for freedom, for human dignity, for Western culture, for Christian civilisation, eventually for divine justice. I say “heresy,” because these ideas, although often justified by themselves, were not founded upon a living experience, They did not spring forth of a deep and healthy spring which only could have transformed them into “ideas-forces.” These words also sounded false, as all that is abstract. They sounded false especially because they wanted to present as absolute secondary and relative concepts and values. For even Christian civilisation, as a civilisation, is nothing but a product, a realisation, the exterior manifestation of an absolute reality, which is the faith of the Christian people. Holy wars are not waged over cathedrals, theological summae or missals. These are but the clothing of the Church — the clothing of Christ that was divided by the soldiers at the feet of the Cross. As for the Church, which is the source of these secondary goods, she has no need of our material defence, of our childish sword. It is useless to renew the naive gesture of Peter who cut the ear of the slave in the garden of Getsemani… War is not waged over absolute values: this was the great error of all wars we call “religious,” the main cause of their inhuman atrocities. It is not waged either over relative values which are tried to make absolute, over abstract concepts which are granted a religious character. Whether we oppose the idol of the “pure race” by the other, more humane idols of rights, liberty, humanity, — all the same these would be idols as well, hypostated and absolutised concepts; it would always remain a war of idols, not a human war… Human war, the only just (for as far as a war may be called just), is a war over relative values which are known to be relative. It is a war in which man — a being called to an absolute destiny — sacrifices himself spontaneously, without hesitation, for a relative value, which he knows to be relative: the soil, the earth, the motherland. And this sacrifice acquires an absolute imperishable value for the human person.

— Seven Days on the Roads of France (June 1940), by Vladimir Lossky4, Paris, 1998, p. 21

Conlict Between Ethnic and Religious Communities

Civilisation identity will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measures by the interaction among seven or eight major civilisations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilisation. The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilisations from one another.

… The processes of economic modernisation and social change throughout the world are separating people from long-standing local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world, religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labelled “fundamentalist”. Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. The “unsecularization of the world,” Georges Weigel has remarked, “is one of the dominant social facts of life in the late twentieth century.” The revival of religion, “La revanche de Dieu,” as Gilles Kepel labelled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilisations.

… Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. In the former Soviet Union, communists can become democrats, the rich can become poor and the poor rich, but Russians cannot become Estonians and Azeris cannot become Armenians. In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was “Which side are you on?” and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilisations, the question is “What are you?” That is a given that cannot be changed. And as we know, from Bosnia to the Caucasus to the Sudan, the wrong answer to that question can mean a bullet in the head. Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people. A person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim.

… As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an “us”versus “them” relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity and religion. The end of ideologically defined states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union permits traditional ethnic identities and animosities to come to the fore.

… The fault lines between civilisations are replacing the political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed. The Cold War began when the Iron Curtain divided Europe politically and ideologically.

The Cold War ended with the end of the Iron Curtain. As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has re-emerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of course, coincides with the historic boundaries of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the west and north of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history — feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also a line of bloody conflict.

… On the Eurasian continent, the proliferation of ethnic conflict, epitomised at the extreme in “ethnic cleansing,” has not been totally random. It has been most frequent and most violent between groups belonging to different civilisations. In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilisations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Birma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.

— The Clash of Cultures, by Samuel Huntington, from: Foreign Affairs, Volume 72 No.3, Summer 1993

Killing and Bloodshed

Not only the Jews crucified Christ. By their acts, Christians, or those who call themselves Christians, have in the long course of history crucified Christ, they have crucified Him by their anti-semitism as well, they have crucified Him by their hate and their acts of violence, by their service to the powerful of this world, by their changes and deformations of the truth of Christ in the name of their own interests. … [I]t is better, when Christ is directly and openly denied, then when His name is used as a cover to act in the interests of one own’s kingdom. When people curse and persecute Jews for having crucified Christ, they clearly stand on the point of view of blood feuds, which was characteristic of ancient peoples, including the Jewish people. But blood feuds are absolutely unacceptable for the Christian consciousness; [replacing comma with semicolon] it fully contradicts the Christian understanding of human personality, of personal dignity and personal responsibility. Moreover, the Christian consciousness accepts no form of vengeance, neither personal or hereditary. Feelings of vengeance are sinful and we should repent of [for “in”] them. Heredity, blood, vengeance; all this is completely alien to pure Christianity and is introduced into it from outside, from ancient paganism.

— Christianity and Anti-semitism (The Religious Destiny of Judaism), by N. Berdyayev, Paris, 1935, p. 20

State-Church relations

Incompatibility of the Church with Absolute Statehood

Ap. 13:1: The beast in the given case clearly indicates the state, not just in the sense of the state’s organisation of legal order, which assists mankind on its ways (about which the Apostle speaks, when he says “there is no authority, except from God”, Rom. 13:1), but totalitarian statehood, attempting to become the sole determining and all-fulfilling principle of human life. Such a state that falsely exaggerates its own importance, constitutes by the very same not just a pagan principle, but a demonic one, the earthly face of Satan or the multitude of his faces. Such a state as an earthly kingdom affronts the Kingdom of Christ, wages war against it, and by the force of things constitutes — consciously or unconsciously — an anti-Christian force, a tool of the “prince of this world,” his kingdom, and the heads of such states become his masks.

Only in the Revelation of the New Testament the antagonism and struggle between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the prince of this world reach their final incompatibility, and this is specifically expressed in the Revelation of St. John. Other texts of the New Testament, such as the letters of the Apostles Paul and Peter (Rom. 13:1-7, Tit. 3:1, 1 Tim. 2:12, Petr. 2:13-17) search and find a certain measure of reconciliation with the state, its recognition as the rightful order of things, which guarantees external peace. The state, here, serves humanity as a means and is not an end in itself; it is submitted to the norms of morality. In this sense, indeed, it was possible to say: “There is no authority, except from God.” (…) When considering the Christian state — for as far as it has ever existed and can possibly exist — or more precisely, the state of the Christians, new boundaries and tasks appear, namely: serving Christian morality. However, such a service presupposes a certain spiritual equilibrium, where the state does not go beyond its own, legal tasks. Still even this situation always remains unstable; when the state crosses these boundaries, it turns into the beast.

In general, absolute states on earth are the image of man deified, of anti-Christianity, they are the incarnation of the spirit of the prince of this world, from whom it is said: “and to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2). Even though in the days when the Revelation was written, this apparently referred to the Roman Empire as the image of state absolutism, today this may be applied to all varieties of this principle, to Bolshevism and racism (without even mentioning Japanese pagan deification of the Emperor and others). (…)

“And the whole earth followed the beast with wonder. Men worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast saying, ‘Who is like beast, And who can fight against it?'” (13:4). It is difficult to add anything to the simplicity of these words, which may be applied to the totality of world history. Today’s tsarism, both the Russian and the Germanic type, in their own way are new and almost unexpected parallels of Roman absolutism, as is its victorious self-affirmation, which leads entire peoples which are under its power to a state of madness.

— Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John, by Fr. Sergi Boulgakov5, Paris, 194, p. 100-104

Compliance with Existing National and State Structures

Christianity and the Christian churches in many ways are obliged to repent, not only on (their handling of) the Jewish issue, but also on social matters, on war, on the constant compliance to the most negative state systems.

— Christianity and Anti-semitism (the religious destiny of Judaism), by N. Berdyayev, Paris, 1935, p.6

Using all forces of the spiritual battle with the sinful world for the defence of the soul from the attacks of sin, for the endeavour of passive suffering, asceticism renounces active participation in the things of this world; it accepts them as inevitable fact in the way that the laws of nature, harmed by sin, an the worldly sinful will of men arrange them. Accepting this, asceticism finds some consolation in nations and states that accept baptism and the seal of Christianity. Under this condition, their sinful earthly national existence finds an ideal and hope, just as every individual sinner: to throw from oneself, by means of repentance and asceticism, the weight of sin, to free oneself from corruption and to approach the boundaries of a kingdom which is neither earthly nor fleshly, but already heavenly and spiritual.

This is the logic of asceticism, in its every-day, prosaic historical existence, which creates the acceptance, typical for the Orthodox churches, of all existing local national regimes and even the submission to them. In fact, a compromise is achieved which is perceived by the majority as sufficiently founded in Orthodox dogma and mysticism. meanwhile, no clear motivation for such a compromise is provided for the theological consciousness.

Thus an internal paradox in the attitude of the Orthodox Church towards the interest of national life is created; having a tragic (negative towards things of the world, ed.) ascetic principle, we see a non-tragic, passive cohabitation with national interests. In addition, simple psychology, dominated as it is, speaking in biblical terms, by “flesh and blood”, easily brings forth the leading type of ecclesial nationalism and justification of narrow, local politics by the blessing of the Church. Instead of a tragic demand posed by an ascetic Church to the pagan and natural sphere of national motives and passions, we witness not only the forbearance and tolerance of morally imperfect ways of national politics by the Church, but even a direct service to these politics, going to the extremes of the temptations of opportunism and enslavement.

— The Church and National Identity, by A. Kartachov, Paris, 1934

Spiritual Warfare

For the first time, doubt took hold of my heart. The territory of France, its expanse in space and time is restricted, limited. Is there another stronghold, another soil, unchanging and fixed for ever, a space impenetrable by enemy invasions? Hasn’t is been said: “Do not fear enemies who can kill only the body, but rather fear those who, with the body, kill your soul?” Therefore, our only expanse free of enemy invasions, our only vital space, infinite in its richness and forces, we find in God. And thus our combat will be transposed to another terrain, it will become unlimited in new resources, forgotten for centuries but always present in our spiritual sub-soil. And then it will no longer be a material war which we will have lost, it will not even be the human war we have not yet lost, but which we may lose (for man may well be a hero, he always remains limited in his forces); it will be an interior combat where God will fight on our sides, against ourselves in a purifying and salutatory combat.

— Seven Days on the Roads of France (June 1940), by Vladimir Lossky, Paris, 1998, p. 34

endnotes for chapter 6:

1 The article reacts to the claims by the leader of the organisation “Russian National Unity,” Alexander Barkashov, that real Orthodoxy proclaims Christ to be the national, Aryan leader of the Russian people.

2 Schmemann writes that “Admitting the positive value of nationalism in Christianity, we must not fall into the trap of idealising history, fixing our eyes on the light, and shutting out what is dark. The progress and earthly life of the Church is not an idyll. On the contrary, it requires struggles and a vigilant ecclesial conscience… The danger of nationalism lies in its subconsciously altering the hierarchy of values, so that the nation no longer serves Christian justice, truth or itself, and no longer evaluates its life in accordance with these qualities. Instead, Christianity itself and the Church begin to be assessed and evaluated by the extent to which they serve the state, the nation, etc.” (A. Schmemann, Tserkov’ i tserkovnoye ustroistro, in Messager de l’Exarchat du Patriarche Russe en Europe Occidentale, March 1949, XIV). H. Alivizatos was no less perceptive when he wrote : “National and nationalistic theories and an exaggerated emphasis upon nationalism in the Church have caused the individual autocephalous churches to commit unacceptable acts which destroy the ecclesiastical organism by simply making it share the nationalistic inclinations of their own people… There is no doubt that exaggerated stress upon national churches has been detrimental to the integrity of Orthodoxy, and the various churches’ unrestricted involvement in national antagonisms has damaged the great basic principles of the Orthodox consciousness in the whole of ecclesiastical life and has deeply and seriously wounded the internal unity of Orthodoxy” (H. Alivizatos, Peri tis enotitos en tis orthodoxo Ekklisia), pp. 169-170

3 Tarek Mitri is Professor of Sociology at Balamand Orthodox University in Lebanon and Head of the Office on Inter-Religious Relations of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. He is a former member of the Executive Committee of Syndesmos.

4 This book, published in 1988, contains the notes taken by one of the leading Orthodox theologians of the XXth century, Vladimir Lossky, during his attempts to join the retreating French army in June 1940. The present passage starts denouncing the “heresy” of those who tried, during those first days of the war, to reduce the “war to an industrial enterprise, a matter of capital.”

5 Fr. Sergi Boulgakov, Dean of St. Sergius’ theological Academy in Paris, wrote this commentary of the Apocalypse during the first half of the Second World War. Started as notes for his lectures, he finished a draft of the book version shortly before his death in 1944.

marginal quotation from chapter 6:

The point of view idea that there is a latent conflict between Islam and Christianity in Kosovo, and that this conflict has become one of the cause of the war, is completely wrong. Those responsible for this crisis have not acted in the name of a given religion. On the contrary, they have been raised and educated under a regime which had a deep contempt for religion. On the other hand, everyone knows that the vast majority of the NATO member countries belong the Christian tradition. It is very dangerous to exploit religious ideas and words in armed conflict. Any crime committed in the name of a religion is a crime against religion itself. Our Church insists that religion is like a “secret balm” which should not be used by just anyone or in order to spark armed conflict. This balm is a gift of God, given to soften hearts, to heal wounds and to help persons and peoples establish bonds of brotherhood among them.

— “We pray God that peace and justice may once more reign in the Balkans”, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania

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For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

Exorcising War

By Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon

Metropolitan George, of the Patriarchate of Antioch, lives in Beirut, Lebanon. The text is abridged from Sourozh, magazine of the Russian Patriarchal Diocese of Sourozh, Great Britain. The translation from the French is by Elisabeth Koutassoff.

What is most tragic about violence is its absurdity. Whoever has known the collective experience of death during long years of suffering, knows irrationality in its purest form. When you spend the better part of your existence under fire, spend months on end without water, food, light or work, the notion of “revolution,” of the “just cause” arouses only uncontrollable laughter. The only goal to strive for is existence itself. Day and night one sees oneself whirling about in a play put on by madmen. The shadows of a city in shambles perform a dance of death. One’s only memories are of a world that is no longer there. Any statement is ambiguous and disconcerting because all discourse is condemned to triviality. Hope disappears because time itself is empty, though occasionally nostalgia comes to supply the void. All boundaries between external evil and internal trials disappear. An aching body is the only impression left upon the soul. A bruised body understands the futility of things, knows the absence of God. Sin surfaces to form a hallucinatory presence. I sin, therefore I am.

Yet if one feels, in common with the dead of one’s own tribe, that one has been humiliated, the only protest is by way of arms. A weapon is a refusal, a “no,” a protest against historical inequities as one waits for a justice that is yet to come. If the witness of the Cross is felt to have been in vain, then others will have to be crucified. Their death will be proof of one’s own existence. Perhaps relations between men loyal to different causes will no longer be adulterated by the lie of what one had thought to be conviviality. One is not suffocated either by receiving or by giving death, but it is hard indeed to bear a truth that weighs down the shoulders because it has not been lived to its full potential in the gentle and peaceful light of the saints.

In the fragile shelters of Lebanon, God’s peace alone was able to triumph over violence. And it brought with it an infinite forgiveness. One felt guilty when giving way to hatred. One knew from reading of God’s mercy that the stranglers were perhaps poor ignorant people who might one day discover the beauty of God. One sensed in the dense morass of evil that no one was on the side of God, that each, in his way, was a murderer, and that henceforth we could live only in forgiveness.

God becomes an idol if one kills for his sake and when the individual believes himself to be God’s agent in a collective murder. One thinks of oneself as the defender of a “holy” nation. But moral and physical violence transform the holy nation into a sociological reality. What was once the sign of a Presence becomes merely the focus of absolute power. No other place has any meaning. The human community that once united these groups is annihilated by their mutual negation. Community is negated right from the start, and all those who try to bring it back risk death. In this situation death is the only rational support one has.

Those who start a civil war in countries where people’s mentality has not been secularised believe that they are engaging in a metaphysical struggle. Wherever social structures divide along confessional lines, as in Lebanon, any war is perceived as a religious war. And if it involves direct intervention by the West, it is called a Crusade. The trauma of the Crusades still affects the Islamic world. Even if the Islamic world knows intellectually that Western countries are far from motivated by religious considerations, it continues to perceive Europe and its cultural extension, the United States, as Christian countries.

Whether it is called a civilising mission or a campaign of pacification, it always benefits the occupier. His conscience has need of words. A myth is always needed to justify violence. War, even modern war, is a struggle between gods. It does not matter if they are dressed up with new names. And this is all the more apparent in the visceral war of a developing country. Within the different communities mythologies concerning their past, their place and their vocation infuse their knowledge of facts and condition their responses.

Such a “reading” of the facts also determines the “reading” of the other, and its inevitable consequence is his physical or moral elimination. His disappearance includes that of his history, which must have been an error. And if present efforts prove to be insufficient to eliminate him from among the living, at least by falsifying his history one can eliminate him from among the dead. He will no longer belong to the collective memory of the country, even if one might eventually tolerate his physical existence. It is essential, however, that he should have no place in the procession of the true gods, that is, in history.

In this situation it is the wish for the other’s death which underpins the ideology. There is no fundamental difference between an international and a civil war. The enemy’s country, his religion or race are so many closed, impermeable societies destined to disappear. The death myth alone is changed. Both sides deny the identity of the other, and a new history must be created to accommodate the wish. History must be set aside to meet the demands of a truth which by its very nature is absolute. Truth is characteristic of a group, of its historical existence, and of the salvation it will bring once the hostilities are over.

In civil wars there is a subtle violence which deeply corrupts those who use it. They become travesties of themselves, at home with the worst of lies, those of the heart, for it is the heart that conceives and proclaims the anathemas.

There is something worse still. It is to find justification for this lie in God, a God who deliberately chooses his lieutenants and makes them into murderers. We are then confronted with a doctrine which is unaware of that fatum of antiquity whereby gods and goddesses were subject to human passions. The death of the other becomes obligatory as soon as God is the all-mighty who drives out the devil and does not choose death as his portion, his inheritance. The only way for God to enter into dialogue with man is through renouncing his omnipotence out of infinite compassion and total respect for the freedom of his creature. God then comes forth from his voluntary death in a resurrection which gives an independent reality to man….

Was St. Bernard of Clairvaux so very different from a Moslem scholar when he said, addressing the people of England, that “the earth trembles because the God of Heaven is losing his land, the land in which he appeared among men. And now because of our sins, the enemy of the Cross is raising there his sacrilegious head and with his sword devastates that sacred, promised land”? St. Bernard probably never asked himself whether Palestine might not also be sacred land for the Moslems, since it was there that the Prophet was taken up to heaven. In all reflection of this kind, the sword validates the Word….

A Kenotic Reading of the Scriptures

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

The Old Testament attributes to God the great power deployed against the Egyptians. It is the Lord who “will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast”(Exodus 12: 12). It is also the Lord who “will drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites” and all the other people (Joshua 3: 10). And as regards the city of Ai, God’s captain Joshua says: “And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the Lord shall ye do.” (Joshua 8:8) It is God himself who is portrayed as carrying out a “scorched earth” policy. In this perspective God himself is placed at the service of Israel and its hegemony over the land of other people. It is not Israel which makes the divine thought its own, but the Lord himself who reflects the thirst for an all too human conquest on the part of a confederation of Semitic tribes….

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

In their day the Fathers of the Church adopted the typological style of exegesis because they saw that Christ is the only true image of God. Thus many acts of war, many objects and persons were considered to be symbols (or “types”) of Christ or of the Cross. Clement of Rome, commenting on the story of Rahab and the spies, said that the scarlet rope which the prostitute was to attach to the window was a symbol of the blood shed by the Lord.

Such exegesis can obscure the historic meaning of the Scriptures. That is why I would like to suggest that we adopt a “kenotic” reading of the Scriptures, borrowing the notion from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (2:6-8): “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.” In this voluntary self-annihilation Christ does not cease to be God, but his divinity is not manifest.

The dogma of the two natures of Christ governs also the status of the Scriptures, where the culture of the epoch, the opacity of its understanding, hide the truth beneath the words. The subjectivity of the author intervenes. But we ourselves need not therefore assume this subjectivity. For us following the tradition of Origen, Joshua the son of Nun, Yeshuah in Hebrew, is the model, the “type”, of Jesus, Yeshuah of Nazareth, who conquers not Canaan but the world of sin, who does not inflict death but accepts it.

There is no possible transition from the god of Joshua to the Father of Jesus Christ. The power of ancient Israel cannot prepare the way for the power of God on the Cross. The Cross alone is the Locus of divine victory, and the source of the meaning of faith. Anything in the Scriptures that does not conform to the mystery of Love is a veil over the Word. Love is the true Locus of the Word, because it alone is divine epiphany.

Christ lives in the Scriptures in a dialectic of veiling and manifestation. The Scriptures are understandable only to the extent that they can be referred to him. That is why, in fact, he was on the side of the peoples of Canaan, the conquered peoples. God has never been on the side of the armies that have trampled on his Name. It was only when Jesus was made perfect in his suffering that God’s true nature was revealed. And this clemency of God is transmitted to us by those “makers of peace” who are the blind, the maimed, and all the handicapped of the earth. They, above all others, transmit the divine gift of non-resistance to evil.

The Cross as an Instrument of Worldly Triumph

Early Christianity before St. Augustine abhorred the use of violence. In his catholic period Tertullian wrote that the Lord, by disarming Peter, had disarmed every soldier. Later Origen, citing the way Peter was forbidden to kill, said that Christians should not defend themselves against their enemies, that we no longer take up the sword against another nation, that we no longer learn war. We find the same tone among the apologists. St. Basil imposed an ecclesiastical penance on military personnel who had taken part in war.

The first Christians hoped to overcome war by prayer, faith and the power of God. But the Empire, though it was becoming Christianised, could not simply abolish the army. The Empire was not yet the Kingdom of God. It had to defend itself against the barbarians. It perceived its victories and its continued existence as a defence of the Christian cause. The Cross was becoming the instrument of a purely worldly triumph. The Byzantine liturgy is full of this ideology. Yet simultaneously that same liturgy was developing a spirituality of humility and meekness. Admittedly, no doctrine of the just war was elaborated in the East. However, it did accept the idea of a defensive war, waged against the Turks or against the “Catholic” armies whenever they invaded an Orthodox country like Russia. Pacifism as a theory was no longer known in the Christian East.

With the disintegration of the Byzantine empire, most of the Orthodox Churches outside the ancient patriarchates became autocephalous Churches whose geographical areas coincided with that of their respective nations. These “national” Churches are even imbued with nationalistic feelings and have therefore more or less explicitly blessed the wars undertaken by their respective countries. So one is Russian, Greek, Serbian or Bulgarian because one is Orthodox. In this confusion of categories the fact of war itself no longer troubles the conscience.

Justice and Peace are Inseparable

Justice and peace are inseparable. Injustice becomes entrenched in the very flesh, bringing with it despair and impatience, revolt and desire for destruction. It reveals the will to power that brings the tyrant and occupier into being and, hence, that lie which serves to cover up injustice in a state governed by the rule of law and thus institutionalises the process: injustice, revolt, repression. Hatred, suspicion, fanaticism, racism and oppression then bring all social discourse to an end.

All power politics become politicised beyond any possible witnessing. If a free or at least tolerable existence is denied me, then my inner being itself is denied me. I can accept this treatment in the witness of creative silence or martyrdom. Then, socially annihilated, I am at least known to God and nourished by the hope of the Kingdom. The community of saints can be realised even in the midst of war and persecution.

Martyrdom puts its seal on a peace with God which is beyond all politics. No force can crush someone who contemplates the light of the face of him of whom it is written: “He shall not strive, nor cry out; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, nor quench a smouldering wick.” (Matthew: 12: 19-20)

The kingdom of peace was announced by the coming of one whom the liturgy, following Isaiah, calls “the prince of peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Paul speaks in an even more startling, more intimate manner when he says “he is our peace,” adding “having abolished in his flesh the enmity.” (Ephesians 2:14)

The Logic of Holiness

The reality of history is governed by either force or law, two areas equally foreign to the logic of holiness. Law is coercive and uses force. Law is politics. Peace seen as an absence of war belongs to the realm of political reflection and ethics, and is also an offshoot of a humanistic civilisation. The politician seeks this kind of peace. And here and there he will achieve it. But he is enough of a realist to understand that the total disarmament of mankind is unthinkable, and that the war industry remains indispensable to the very fabric of the Great Powers.

We need not dwell on that source of evil, both individual and collective, which is fear. Until the end of history men will be enslaved to their fear of death. Non-violence understood merely as the absence of the use of force is not a victory over violence. And non-violence as courage and transcendence of self is not a political attitude, but a witness. Although there is no common denominator linking the saint and the politician in the essential nature of their behaviour, nonetheless the saint prays that political peace may be achieved on earth. Peace is the appropriate context for the development of man and a sign of his victory over greed. Belief in our moral obligation to seek peaceful solutions is a considerable step ahead.

However, peace at any price is often a sign of cowardice. Man does not improve simply because peace has been negotiated. Peace becomes a moral value only insofar as it expresses a genuine reconciliation between two peoples where before tension had reigned. We have then arrived at what the Byzantine liturgy calls “peace from above.” And having prayed for it, the liturgy then speaks of “peace for the whole world.” What emerges from this text therefore is that the universe can be pacified in depth only insofar as it is converted.

Peace as a call from God and as a reality to be brought to fulfilment in the Kingdom remains the divine realm to which the Lord invites us in the midst of the tribulations of our earthly existence. This vision demands unceasing effort against war among men.

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents