Orthodox quotations file

This is an unsorted file of quotations from saints and other Orthodox Christian sources.

— Jim Forest

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As Christians we are here to affirm the supreme value of direct sharing, of immediate encounter — not machine to machine, but person to person, face to face.

— Bishop Kallistos [Ware] “The Mystery of the Human Person”

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“Most men are like shaving of wood curled around their central emptiness.”

— St. Theophan the Recluse

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“There is your brother, naked and crying! And you stand confused over choice of floor covering.”

— St. Ambrose

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“The liturgical unity of the faithful, under whatever conditions and in whatever institutions, networks and structures, is the starting point for the transformation of mass coexistence into a communion of persons, a society; for the achievement of social justice and not merely a program for it; and for liberating work from slavery to mechanized necessity and transforming it into a personal relationship, an event of communion. Only the life of the eucharistic body of the parish can give flesh to the formal idea of the ‘priestly’ character of politics, the prophetic character of science, the philanthropic character of economics and the mystical character of the family. Without the parish, all this is theory, naive idealism and a romantic utopia. Within the parish it becomes a historical reality, an immediate possibility and a concrete experience.”

— from “The Freedom of Morality ” by Christos Yannaras (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), from a chapter on the value and importance of parish life

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“You are a hopeless lot. You know the names of all the charioteers but not even the names of the evangelists.”

— St John Chrysostom

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“The desire to rule is the mother of heresies.”

— St. John Chrysostom

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“God is not a God of war and fighting. Make war and fighting to cease, both that which is against him, and that which is against your neighbor. Be at peace with all people, consider with what character God saves you.”

— St. John Chrysostom

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“Ever let mercy outweigh all else in you. Let our compassion be a mirror where we may see in ourselves that likeness and that true image which belong to the Divine nature and Divine essence. A heart hard and unmerciful will never be pure.”

— St. Isaac of Syria, Directions on Spiritual Training (Test 85. B #8)

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“Let us be satisfied simply with what sustains our present life, not with what pampers it. Let us pray to God for this, as we have been taught, so that we may keep our souls unenslaved and absolutely free from domination by any of the visible things loved for the sake of the body. Let us show that we eat for the sake of living, and not be guilty of living for the sake of eating. The first is a sign of intelligence, the second proof of its absence.”

— St. Maximos the Confessor (On the Lord’s Prayer, The Philokalia Vol. 2, pg 300)

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Christ said, ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword’ and ‘division’. Christ summoned us to war on the plane of the spirit, and our weapon is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ Our battle is waged in extraordinarily unequal conditions. We are tied hand and foot. We dare not strike with fire or sword: our sole armament is love, even for enemies. This unique war in which we are engaged is indeed a holy war. We wrestle with the last and only enemy of mankind — death. Our fight is the fight for universal resurrection.

— Archimandrite Sophrony, “His Life is Mine”

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“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

— Jaroslav Pelikan

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“Don’t trust yourself this side of the grave”

— Russian proverb

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“Has some good thought come to you? Have you felt some good impulse or inclination in your heart? Stop! Check it with the Gospel.”

— Blessed Vladyka Ignatij (Brianchaninov)

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God is invisible because he is immeasurably manifest.

— St. Dionysius the Areopagite

[Writings from the Philokalia on the Prayer of the Heart , translated by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, first published in hardcover in 1951, but later in a paperback version issued published by Faber and Faber in 1992. See page 243. This is in Part 1, Chapter 6, Callistus and Ignatius of Xanthopoulos: Directions to Hesychasts, taken from Volume V of the Philokalia.]

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St. John Chrysostom on “Honors”

I once used to deride secular rulers because they distributed honors, not on grounds of inherent merit, but of wealth or seniority or worldly rank. But when I heard that this stupidity had swaggered into our own affairs [within the Church] too, I no longer reckoned their actions so strange. For why should we be surprised that worldly people, who love the praise of the mob and do everything for money, should make this mistake, when those who claim to have renounced all these desires are no better? For although they are contending for heavenly rewards, they act as though they had to decide merely about acres of land or something else of the kind. They simply take common place men and put them in charge of those things for which the only begotten Son of God did not disdain to empty Himself of His own glory and to be made man and to receive the form of a servant and to be spitted upon and buffeted and to die the most shameful death. And they do not stop at this, but go on to other actions stranger still. . . Christians damage Christ’s cause more than His enemies and foes.

St. John Chrysostom On the Priesthood, A.D. 386

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Teachings of Saint Kosmas Aitolos:

“If you want to cure your soul, you need four things. The first is to forgive your enemies. The second is to confess thoroughly. The third is to blame yourself. The fourth is to resolve to sin no more. If we wish to be saved, we must always blame ourselves and not attribute our wrong acts to others. And God, who is most compassionate, will forgive us.”

“If a man insults me, kills my father, my mother, my brother, and then gouges out my eye, as a Christian it is my duty to forgive him. We who are pious Christians ought to love our enemies and forgive them. We ought to offer them food and drink, and entreat God for their souls. And then we should say: “My God, I beseech Thee to forgive me, as I have forgiven my enemies.” “God created woman equal with man, not inferior. My Christian, you must love your wife as your companion, and not consider her as your slave, for she is a creature of God, just as you are. God was crucified for her as much as you. You call God ‘Father,’ she calls Him ‘Father’ too. Both of you have the same Faith, the same Baptism, the same Book of the Gospels, the same Holy Communion, the same Paradise to enjoy. God does not regard her as inferior to you.”

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“He who loves God cannot but love every man as himself, although the passions of those who are not yet purified find no favor with him. Therefore, when he sees them converted and reformed, he rejoices with great and ineffable joy.”

— St Maximos the Confessor

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I have need of one hundred grams of bread a day, and God blesses it. He blesses those hundred grams, but not one gram more. So if I take 110 grams, I have stolen 10 grams from the poor.

— St Cosmas Aitilos, a great martyr and preacher in Asia Minor

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Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, “This is my body,” and made it so by his word, is the same who said, “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.” Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.

St. John Chrysostom “On the Gospel of St. Matthew”, 50, iii (PG 58, 508)

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He who honors the priest, will honor God also; and he who has learned to despise the priest, will in process of time insult God. ‘He who receives you,’ He says, ‘receives Me’ (Matt. 10:40).

‘Hold your priests in honor’ (Ecclus. 7:31), He says. For when a man is piously disposed towards the priest, he is much more so towards God. And even if the priest is wicked, God seeing that you respect him, though unworthy of honor, through reverence to Him, will Himself reward you. For if ‘he who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward’ (Matt. 10:41), then he who honors and submits and gives way to the priest will certainly be rewarded. Do you know what the priest is? He is an angel of the Lord. If you despise him, you despise not him, but God who ordained him. But how does it appear, you ask, that he is ordained of God? If God works nothing through his means, you have neither laver, nor are a partaker of the Mysteries, nor of the benefits of blessings; you are therefore not a Christian. What then, you say, does God ordain all, even the unworthy? God indeed does not ordain all, but He works through all, though they be themselves unworthy, so the people may be saved. For if He spoke, for the sake of the people, by an ass, and by Balaam, a most wicked man (Num. 22,23,31), much more will He speak by the mouth of the priest. What indeed will not God do or say for our salvation? By whom does He not act? For if He wrought through Judas and those others who ‘prophesied’ … will He not much more work through the priests? If we may not judge our brother, much less our teacher, let each attend to his own department. For if he teaches perverted doctrine, though he be an angel, do not obey him; but if he teaches the truth, take heed not to his life, but to his words. You are a sheep, do not be curious concerning the shepherd, lest you have to give account of your accusations against him. It is not he who speaks to you. It is Christ who thus admonishes you. But you say, ‘He ought to be better than I.’ Why? ‘Because he is a priest’. If he is not better, ought you therefore to destroy yourself? These are the words of arrogance. Hear what Christ says, ‘Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment’ (Matt. 12:36). Let us reverence that day on which he enlightened us. He who has a father, whatever faults he has, conceals them all. For it is said, ‘Do not glory in the dishonor of your father, for your father’s dishonor is no glory to you. And if his understanding fails, have patience with him’ (Ecclus. 3:10-12). And if this is said of our natural fathers, much more of our spiritual fathers. Approach him with pious respect. Do not say he is wicked. What of that? Does one who is wicked of himself bestow great benefits on you? By no means. Everything works according to your faith. The priest performs a symbol. The Offering is the same, whether a common man, or Paul or Peter offer it. It is the same which Christ gave to His disciples, and which the priests now minister. This is in no way inferior to that, because it is not men who sanctify even this, but the Same who sanctified the one also sanctifies the other. So the world is of one faith. The Spirit immediately fell upon Cornelius, because he had fulfilled his part, and contributed his faith.

St. John Chrysostom. Homily II on II Timothy I.

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“I have spent twenty years fighting to see all human beings as one.”

“Sayings of Those Who Grew Old in Ascesis,” quoted by Olivier Clement in “The Roots of

Christians Mysticism, p 273

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“Orthodoxy is Christianity understood as supreme Beauty.”

— Fr. Alexander Elchaninov

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“Our walls of division do not rise all the way to heaven.”

— Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

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Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!

The Harp of the Spirit: eighteen poems of St. Ephraim the Syrian. [Mother of God / Mary]

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The following anecdote is related of the venerable Elder Leonid of Optina about a century and a half ago: One day he was busy giving instructions to a group of novices when a tall, distinguished-looking man with military epaulets came walking up to him. “What can I do for you?” inquired the elder. “Well,” the man replied, I’ve heard so much about you that I just had to have a good look at you.” By way of response, the elder straightened up, squared his shoulders, brushed down long beard. After standing that way for a moment, he then turned in profile for a few seconds. “Seen enough?” he asked. The visitor, who had come to the monastery in a great spiritual turmoil, took Elder Leonid as his Father Confessor and spent the next month being counseled by him.

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On the Power and Influence of Good Deeds

It is difficult, my brethren, to dispute with an atheist; it is difficult to converse with a stupid man; it is difficult to change an embittered man. It is only with the greatest difficulty that you will convince an atheist, a stupid man or an embittered man with words. Firstly, you must sway them by your deeds. They will come, “by your good works, which they shall behold, to glorify God” (I Pet. 2:12). Do good to him who would quarrel with you, and you will win the argument. A single act of compassion will penetrate to a stupid man and soften a bitter man more quickly than hours of discussion. If atheism and stupidity and bitterness proceed from ignorance, that ignorance is like a fury that is most easily bridled by the influence of good deeds. If you argue with an atheist on his own diabolical terms, you simply strengthen the demon of atheism. If you converse with a stupid man in a spirit of derision, the darkness of stupidity will be made the greater. If you think to change a bitter man by anger, you will merely add more fuel to the fire of bitterness. But a meek and well-intentioned act is like throwing water on the flames.

Always remember the holy apostles and their behavior towards men. If an atheist challenges you, then it is not the man that challenges you but the devil, for man is by nature devout and tends Godwards. If a stupid man scoffs at you, then it is not the man who scoffs but the devil, for man is by nature intelligent. If a bitter man persecutes you, it is not the man that is doing this but the devil, for man is by nature good and well-disposed. It is the devil that challenges us in lengthy debates and fruitless discussions, but he flees from the power of good deeds. Do good in the name of Christ, and the devil will flee. You will be working with men, men who are devout and intelligent and good. Everything, therefore, that you do, be sure that you do it in the name of Christ.

The Prologue from Ochrid: Lives of the Saints and Homilies for Every Day in the Year by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic from the entry for June 30 (vol. 2, p 380)

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“When the soul betrays itself and loses the blessed and longed-for fervor, let it carefully investigate the reason for losing it. And let it arm itself with all its longing and zeal against whatever caused this. For the former fervor can return only through the same door through which it was lost.”

— “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, Step 1, Passage 12 St. John Climacus

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God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all — faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and laymen, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old — just as the effusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the seasons are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God.’

— St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1, Passage 3

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“A zealous man never achieves peace of mind. And he who is a stranger to peace is a stranger to joy. If, as it is said, peace of mind is perfect health, and zeal is opposed to peace, then the man who has a wrong zeal is ill with a grievous disease. Though you presume, O man, to send forth your zeal against the infirmities of other men, you have expelled the health of your own soul. Be assiduous, therefore, in laboring for your own soul’s health. If you wish to heal the infirm, know that the sick are in greater need of loving care than of rebuke. Therefore, although you do not help others, you expend labor to bring grievous illness upon yourself. “Zeal is not reckoned among men to be a form of wisdom, but one of the illnesses of the soul, namely narrow-mindedness and deep ignorance. The beginning of divine wisdom is clemency and gentleness, which arise from greatness of soul and the bearing of infirmities of men. For, he [the Apostle Paul] says, “let the strong bear the infirmities of the weak’, and ‘Restore him that has fallen in the spirit of meekness.’ The Apostle numbers peace and patience among the fruits of the Spirit.”

— “On the Harm of Foolish Zeal that Has the Guise of Being Divine”, St. Isaac of Ninevah

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This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God, and to expect temptation to his last breath.

— St. Anthony the Great

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad; you are not like us.”

— St. Anthony the Great

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St. Cosmas of Aetolia, who toured occupied Greece around 1750 establishing schools all over, gave us the price of the ticket of love. Starting from the most expensive, Perfect Love, he says “If you want perfect love, go sell all your belongings, give them as charity and go where you find a master and sell yourself as a slave. Can you do this and be perfect? Seems heavy…”

“You cannot do this? Do something else. Don’t sell yourself as slave. Just sell your belongings. Give them all as charity. Can you do it? Still it looks heavy…”

“Let’s go further on. You cannot give all your belongings. Give half. Give one of the three. Give one of five. Even this looks heavy.”

“Do something else. Give one out of ten. Can you do it? It still looks heavy.”

“Do something else. Don’t give charity. Don’t sell yourself as slave. Let’s move further on; don’t take your brother’s coat, don’t take his bread. Don’t persecute him; don’t eat him with your tongue. Can you not do this either?”

“Let us go even further: You found your brother in the mud and do not want to get him out. OK, you don’t want to do him good. DON’T HARM HIM. Leave him there.”

“How do we want to be saved, brothers, if one looks heavy and the other looks heavy. Where shall we go further down? We have no place even to descend. God is merciful. Yes, but he is also fair. And he has an iron rod.”

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Every birth, every entrance of a new human being into the world, every life, is a miracle of miracles, a miracle that explodes all routine, for it marks the start of something unending, the start of a unique, unrepeatable human life, the beginning of a new person. And with each birth, the world is itself in some sense created anew and given as a gift to this new human being to be his life, his path, his creation.

— Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “On the Nativity of the Mother of God” Celebration of Faith: The Virgin Mary, vol. 3 of the Sermons of Fr Alexander Schmemann translation by Fr. John Jillions, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995, p 24

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Today many people are hesitantly beginning to acknowledge that genuine answers are impossible without faith, without breaking through to what is transcendent and eternal. But even faith in God takes different shapes and can be merely some other way out, an escape, its own brand of psychological drunkenness. In other words it can be pseudo-faith, counterfeit faith. sadly, it is possible even in the name of faith and of God to hate and do evil, to pull down and not to build up. Christ himself said that “many will come in my name . . . and lead many astray” (Mt 24:5), and “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 7:21). Therefore, from its very earliest days Christianity never simply asked, “Do you believe?” for it knew that even Christ’s betrayers and crucifiers also had believed in something, in some way. No, Christianity’s question was this: How do you believe? And in what?

It is right here, in attempting to answer this question so fundamental to genuine faith, that the image of the Virgin Mary almost unconsciously and involuntarily begins to grow before our spiritual eyes. Oh, this doesn’t mean that her image somehow eclipses the image of Christ, or that she is presented to Christianity as an additional object of faith set apart from Christ. Not at all, for it is from Christ and from Him alone that we receive this image as a gift, the unfolding of all that His teaching and calling means. And so we ask ourselves, what is the strength of this image, what help does it give us?

My answer may surprise many people. What the Mother of God’s image gives us first of all is the image of a woman. Christ’s first gift to us, the first and most profound revelation of his teaching and call, is given to us in the image of a woman. Why is this so important, so comforting and so redeeming? Precisely because our world has become so completely and hopelessly male, governed by pride and aggression, where all has been reduced to power and weapons of power, to production and weapons of production, to violence, to the refusal to willingly back down or make peace in anything or to keep one’s mouth shut and plunge into the silent depth of life. The image of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mother, stand against all this and indicts it by her presence alone: the image of infinite humility and purity, yet filled with beauty and strength; the image of love and the victory of love.

The Virgin Mary, the All-Pure Mother, demands nothing and receives everything. She pursues nothing, and possesses all. In the image of the Virgin Mary we find what has almost completely been lost in our proud, aggressive, male world: compassion, tender-heartedness, care, trust, humility. We call her our Lady and the Queen of heaven and earth, and yet she calls herself “the handmaid of the Lord.”

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “On the Image of Woman” Celebration of Faith: The Virgin Mary, vol. 3 of the Sermons of Fr Alexander Schmemann translation by Fr. John Jillions, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995, pp 19-22

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“Above all things: Forget not the poor, but support them to the extent of you means. Give to the orphan, Protect the widow, and permit the mighty to destroy no man. Take not the life of the just or the unjust, nor permit him to be killed. Destroy no Christian soul, even though he be guilty of murder.” (The Primary Chronicle, A.D. 1096.)

— Vladimir Monomakh in his Testament to his children

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Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.

— St. John of Kronstadt

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“Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!”

— Elder Anthony of Optina

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The child Jesus born within us advances by different ways in those who receive Him in wisdom, in age, and in grace. He is not the same in every person, but is present according to the measure of the person receiving Him. He comes either as an infant, or a child advancing in age, or as one fully grown after the example of the cluster. Christ is never seen with the same form upon the vine, but He changes His form with time — now budding, now blossoming, now mature, now ripe and finally as wine. Thus the vine holds out a promise with its fruit. It is not yet ripe for wine, but it awaits maturity. Meanwhile it does not lack any delight, for it gladdens our sense of smell instead of our taste with its expectation of the future; by its fragrance of hope it sweetens the soul’s senses. A faith firm in a grace we hope for becomes a delight for us who wait in patience.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs.

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Holy Scripture says of the midwives who kept alive the Israelites’ male children, that through the God-fearing midwives they made themselves houses. Does it mean they made visible houses? How can they say they acquired houses through the fear of God when we do the opposite, and learn in time, through fear of God to give up the houses we have? Evidently this does not refer to visible houses but to the houses of the soul which each one builds by for himself by keeping God’s commandments. Through this Holy Scripture teaches us that the fear of God prepares the soul to keep the commandments, and through the commandments the house of the soul is built up. Let us take hold of them, brothers, and let us fear God, and we shall build houses for ourselves where we shall find shelter in winter weather, in the season of storm-cloud, lightning, and rain; for not to have a home in winter-time is a great hardship.

St. Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings

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The beginning of repentance proceeds from fear of God and heedfulness, as the holy martyr Boniface says (Lives of Saints, Dec. 19): The fear of God is the father of heedfulness, and heedfulness is the mother of inner peace, and the latter gives birth to conscience, which causes the soul to behold its own ugliness as in a certain pure and undisturbed water; and thus are both the beginnings and roots of repentance.

Spiritual Instructions of St. Seraphim of Sarov

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It is not enough to give. We must have a heart that gives. In order to give, we must have a compassion deep enough for our gift to be forgiven, because if we give dutifully, if we are charitable only in our actions, the recipient receives humiliation and sorrow and pain together with our gift.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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When the Prophetic Spirit speaks and foretells the future, he says, “‘The Law shall come out of Zion and the Lord’s word from Jerusalem. And he will judge the Gentiles and reproach many people, and they will beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning hooks. And nation will not raise its sword against nation, and they will no longer learn the arts of war.”

You can believe that this prophecy, too, was fulfilled. For twelve men, ignorant and unskilled in speaking as they were, went out from Jerusalem to the world, and with the help of God announced to every race of men that they had been sent by Christ to teach the word of God to everyone. And we who formerly killed one another not only refuse to make war on our enemies but in order to avoid lying to our interrogators or deceiving them, we freely go to our deaths confessing Christ.

— St. Justin Martyr First Apology 39.2-3

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The Jews residing in the entire island of Crete have reported to us in a loud cry and with many tears that some Christians there mistreat them. Sometimes [the Christians] unjustly and slanderously deliver them to the most honorable rulers of the island. At times the Christians unjustly plot against the Jews, as well as unreasonably injure and bother them. At times [the Christians] vehemently attack them. Furthermore, the Christians unreasonably hasten to mistreat the Jews, thinking that they [the Christians] will receive a reward from the God of all. For this reason we write this letter in the name of the Holy Spirit to declare to all those Christians who commit these unjust acts and cast false accusations against the Jews and bring unjust and unreasonable harm and destruction to them . . . . those Christians who commit these insolent acts against the Jews are excommunicated from God Almighty and are cursed and are unforgiven and remain bound even after death. Injustice and slander, regardless of whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice. The unjust person is never relieved of responsibility for these acts under the pretext that the injustice is done against a heterodox person and not a believer. As Our Lord Jesus Christ says in the Gospels, do not oppress or accuse anyone falsely…

from an encyclical letter of Metrophanes III, Patriarch of Constantinople, dated 1568 from chapter 5 of Essays on Orthodox Christian-Jewish Relations by Fr. George C. Papademetriou

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“It is the Christian duty, to look reality in the face and to keep ourselves fully conscious of it. Nothing is more unchristian than the ‘idealization’ of reality; it is precisely the Christian more than anybody else who must put aside fear whenever the exposure and condemnation of a horrible and wicked reality is called for . . . . The human body must be seen naked to know its beauty, and in the same way Christianity demands that realities be stripped of their artificial adornments.” [Christianity and Class War, Nicholas Berdyaev; Sheed & Ward, London]

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“Christians are and always have been the most serious obstacle to the spread of Christianity.”

— Fr. John Garvey (Commonweal column, 20 Dec 96)

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Here is a tale about two Novgorodian saints, both holy fools, who threw cabbages at each other either on the bridge or (not bothering with the bridge) while standing on the water adjacent to the bridge. This was back in the 14th century so I have no wire photo of the event to pass along. The tale follows:

“The Fools Theodore and Nicholas lived in Novgorod. A great bridge joined two sections of the city, Torgova and Sofia. On this bridge many horrible fights broke out between the Capuletokovs and Montaguskys (sic). Bishops often had to rush to the bridge and put a stop to the violence.

“Well, then the Fools began to fight on the bridge, to demonstrate, as only Fools can, the stupidity of violence. Theodore would not let Nicholas cross over, and vice versa. “But then a nobleman invited Theodore to cross over and visit him. And Theodore, after much begging, agreed. He crossed over, and suddenly Nicholas appeared. Nick chased Ted along the bank of the Volkhov River, then Ted ran right ONTO the river. Nick rushed into a nearby garden and grabbed a head of cabbage, and then he too ran ONTO the river. And Nick hurled the cabbage at Ted.

“Many people witnessed this event. And Blessed Nicholas was given the name ‘Kochanov’ meaning ‘head of cabbage’.”

This comes from “God’s Fools,” published by Synaxis Press (Dewdney, British Columbia).

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The birth of Elena Men’s son Alexander [later in life to become a well-known priest who died a martyr’s death in 1990] made it possible for her to come to a rapid decision. On September 3, 1935, her sister Vera took her to Father Seraphim’s house in Zagorsk [the name the Soviet government gave to Sergiev Posod, the town adjacent to the St. Sergius-Holy Trinity Lavra north of Moscow]. Here both mother and son were baptized, and Vera not long after.

Afterward Elena and Vera regularly made the trip from Moscow to Zagorsk to visit Fr. Seraphim. With some of Fr. Seraphim’s other spiritual children, the two women participated in the services he celebrated as often as they could. Vera once related the story of her first Easter night liturgy:

“Before beginning the service, the priest sent someone out into the street to make sure that the singing could not be heard. Than the paschal vigil began, and the little house was transformed into a temple of light. Everyone was united by the same incomparable feeling: the joy of the Resurrection. The procession was held outside the izba, in the vestibule and the hallway. … Is not this the way the first Christians held their services during the time of the Roman persecutions?”

from Alexander Men: A Witness for Contemporary Russia by Yves Hamant; Oakwood Publications, Torrance, California 90505-6359 USA; 1995; pp 35-36

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For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force . . . it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.

St. John Chrysostom, “Six Books on the Priesthood”

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For nothing is more grievous than wrath and fierce anger. This renders men both puffed up and servile, by the former making them ridiculous, by the other hateful; and bringing in opposite vices, pride and flattery, at the same time. But if we will cut off the greediness of this passion, we shall be both lowly with exactness, and exalted with safety. For in our bodies too all distempers arise from excess; and when the elements thereof leave their proper limits, and go on beyond moderation, then all these countless diseases are generated, and grievous kinds of death. Somewhat of the same kind one may see take place with respect to the soul likewise.

— St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew)

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It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved. To look upon another – his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects – is to look upon one who is suffering. He is suffering from negative passions, from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer. This is very important: do not look upon him with the judgmental eyes of comparison, noting the sins you assume you’d never commit. Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer, a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need. Help him, love him, pray for him, do unto him as you would have him do unto you.

— St Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783)

St Tikhon was one of the two saints who inspired the creation of the monk Zosima in Dostoevsky’s novel, “The Brothers Karamazov.”

* * *

“For love does not seek its own, it labors, sweats, watches to build up the brother: nothing is inconvenient to love, and by the help of God it turns the impossible into the possible …. Love believes and hopes …. It is ashamed of nothing. Without it, what is the use of prayer? What use are hymns and singing? What is the use of building and adorning churches? What is mortification of the flesh if the neighbor is not loved? Indeed, all are of no consequence …. As an animal cannot exist without bodily warmth, So no good deed can be alive without true love; it is only the pretence of a good deed.

— St Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724–1783)

* * *


Sometimes a word of reproof must be spoken to all in general, and sometimes to some particular person. When reproof is given in general, then one may speak strictly and sharply, that sinners listening might feel the lash of fear in their hearts, and so be wakened as from the sleep of sin. We see this in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures…When people whomever they may be, commit iniquity and you know it openly, take extreme care not to be silent, but everywhere reprove their iniquity in your speech, lest you be like a dumb dog that does not bark when thieves break into a house and loot it, and wolves fall upon the flock and devour it. Stand firm, beloved, and show your pastoral work even though you must necessarily suffer. In this work, you have as your examples the prophets, apostles and luminaries of Christ who lived in times of old.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk “On the Duties of Pastors,” Journey to Heaven, Counsels on the Particular Duties of Every Christian,

* * *

This grass is an icon; this stone is an icon; and I can kiss it, venerate it, because it is filled with God’s grace. The world is not for us to take things from, but a place where we cast off our passions and desires.

— Father Paissios, Mt Athos

* * *

“All of us who are human beings are in the image of God. But to be in his likeness belongs only to those who by great love have attached their freedom to God.” — St. Diadochus of Photike (cited in Olivier Clement’s book, “The Roots of Christian Mysticism”)

* * *

God is fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. And so, if we feel in our hearts coldness, which is from the devil — for the devil is cold — then let us call upon the Lord and He will come and warm our hearts with perfect love not only for Him but for our neighbor as well.

— Saint Seraphim of Sarov from the preface to his Spiritual Instructions for Laymen and Monks

* * *

“Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” — St. Seraphim of Sarov

* * *

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

— St Seraphim of Sarov

* * *

The only prominent public figure to condemn the [anti-Semitic] pogroms [during the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution] openly and unequivocally was the head of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Tikhon.

Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (Harville Press, 1994)

* * *

We condemn in the most categorical way every type of fanaticism, illegitimacy and violence, no matter who perpetrates them. We firmly insist upon the need for free and peaceful communication between peoples, for mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.

Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople, speech to the European Parliament, April 19, 1994

* * *

“The Russian Startzi . . . told me that it was wise before undertaking any serious work that was intended for the glory of God to find out whether it corresponded to the will of God and not merely to our own imagination and will. According to them, if a good work is commenced in the name of God one must from the very beginning observe its progress. If after the initial setbacks which come to test our will, everything goes smoothly and our soul is in peace, then the work is agreeable to God. On the other hand, if we meet more and more difficulties and lose our peace of mind, and become depressed and uncertain, it is better to give up the enterprise. However good our purpose may be this work is not for us but must be for others better equipped than we are for this work. I saw the value of this advice many times in the course of my life.”

–from a letter of Serge Bolshakoff to Father Basil Pennington, March 23, 1987

* * *

Better a straw peace than an iron fight.

— Russian Proverb

* * *

Apostolic Tradition, 16, Rome, early 3rd century: 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. (eds. Botte, 1963; Cuming, 1987)

Tesamentum Domini, 2.2, Asia Minor, mid-4th century: If anyone be soldier or in authority, let him be taught not to oppress or to kill or to rob, or to be angry or to rage and afflict anyone. But let those rations suffice him which are give n to him. But if they wish to be baptized in the Lord, let them cease from military service or from the [post of] authority. And if not let them not be received.

Let a catechumen or a believer of the people, if he desire to be a soldier, either cease from his intention, or if not, let him be rejected. For he hath despised God by his thought and, leaving the things of the Spirit, he hath perfected himself in the flesh, and hath treated the faith with contempt. (ed J. Cooper and J.A. Maclean, 1902)

Canons of Hippolytus, 13-14 (Egypt, mid-4th century): Of the magistrate and soldier: let them not kill anyone, even if they receive the order to do so. Let them not put crowns on. Anyone who has authority and does not do the justice of the gospel, let him be cut off and not pray with the bishop.

Anyone who has received the power to kill, or else a soldier, in no case let them kill, even if they have received the order to kill. Let them not utter an evil word. Let those who have received a distinction not put a crown on their head.

Let a Christian not become a soldier: A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is constrained by a chief who has a sword. Let him not take on himself the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, let him not take part in the [eucharistic] mysteries, unless he has been purified by a punishment, by tears and groans. (ed R.G. Coquin, 1966)

* * *

O heavenly Master, fervent architect of all creation, light the gaze of your servant, guard his heart and guide his hand, so that worthily and with perfection he may represent Your image, for the glory and beauty of your holy Church.

traditional prayer of the iconographer

* * *

Let us call brothers even those who hate us and forgive all by the Resurrection. –Easter verses

Always keep your mind collected in your heart. — Theofan the Recluse

He who celebrates alone in the heart of the wilderness is a great assembly. If two celebrate along the rocks, thousands and tens of thousands are present there. If three and gathered together, a fourth in among them. If there are six or seven together, twelve thousand thousand are assembled. If they range themselves in ranks, they fill the firmament with prayer. If they be crucified on the bare rock, they are marked with a cross of light. The Church is constituted when they come together. Then they come together, the Spirit hovers over their heads. When they end their prayer, the Lord rises to serve his servants.

— a hymn of St Ephraim (5th century)

* * *

St. Ephraim’s ‘Prayer of Repentance’:

O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of laziness, meddling, self-importance, and idle talk.

Instead, grace me, Your servant, with the spirit of modesty, humility, patience and love.

Lord and King, grant that I might see my own faults, and not condemn my brothers and sisters, for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

another translation of the same prayer:

Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust for power and idle talk.

But give to me, Thy servant, the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.

O Lord and King, grant to me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages.


* * *

Both the Emperor’s commands and yours (person in authority) must be obeyed if they are not contrary to the God of heaven. If they are, they must not only not be obeyed; they must be resisted.

— St. Euphemia, martyr, d. July 11, 303

* * *

Forgiveness is better than revenge.

— St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

* * *

Do violence to no man.

— St. John the Baptist, from Luke 3:14, King James Version

* * *

Contrary to the rest of men enlist for yourself in an army without weapons, without war, without bloodshed, without wrath, without stain — pious old men, orphans dear to God, widows armed with gentleness, men adorned with love. Obtain with your wealth as guardians of body and soul such as these whose commander is God.

— St. Clement of Alexandria

* * *

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.

— Brother Lawrence

* * *

The liturgy is the church and all else is, and always has been, dross. Necessary dross, but dross.

–Fr. Robert Hovda

Where else [other than at Eucharist] in our society are all of us–not just a gnostic elite, but everyone–called to be social critics, called to extricate ourselves from the powers and principalities that claim to rule our daily lives in order to submit ourselves to the sole dominion of the God before whom all of us are equal? Where else in our society are we all addressed and sprinkled and bowed to and incensed and touched and kissed and treated like somebody-all in the very same way? Where else do economic czars and beggars get the same treatment? Where else are food and drink blessed in a common prayer of thanksgiving, broken and poured out, so that everybody, everybody shares and shares alike?

— Robert Hovda, 1920-1992

* * *

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal. I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety. I should like flails of penance at my house. I should like the men of Heaven at my house; I should like barrels of peace at their disposal; I should like vessels of charity for distribution; I should like for them cellars of mercy. I should like cheerfulness to be in their drinking. I should like Jesus to be there among them. I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around us from all parts.

–St. Bridget

* * *

“Imagine the vanity of thinking that your enemy can do you more damage than your enmity.”

— St. Augustine

* * *

“All things belong to God. All our brothers and sisters. Among us it is best that all inherit equal portions.”

–St. Gregory of Nyssa

* * *

“May I be no one’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.”

–Eusebius (260-340 AD)

* * *

“On a cold night two, two under the same blanket gain warmth from each other.”

–Ecclesiastes 4:11

* * *

“‘But I say to you,’ the Lord says, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.’ Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one you loves all equally in imitation of God.”

–Maximus Confessor

* * *

“As the memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not bring about the illumination of knowledge in the soul.”

–Maximus Confessor

It is certainly a finer and more wonderful thing to change the mind of enemies and bring them to another way of thinking than to kill them, especially when we recall that the [disciples] were only twelve and the whole world was full of wolves. . . . We ought then to be ashamed of ourselves, we who act so very differently and rush like wolves upon our foes. So long as we are sheep we have the victory; but if we are like wolves we are beaten, for then the help of the shepherd is withdrawn from us, for he feeds sheep not wolves. . . . This mystery [of the Eucharist] requires that we should be innocent not only of violence but of all enmity, however slight, for it is the mystery of peace.

— St. John Chrysostom

“Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead.”

–St. John Chrysostom

* * *

Christ is risen!

If any be a devout lover of God, let him partake with gladness from this fair and radiant feast. If any be a faithful servant, let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord. If any have wearied himself with fasting, let him now enjoy his reward. If any have labored from the first hour, let him receive today his rightful due. If any have come after the third, let him celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth, let him not be in doubt, for he will suffer no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth, let him not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived only at the eleventh, let him not be afraid because he comes so late. For the Master is generous and accepts the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour in the same way as to him who has labored from the first. He accepts the deed, and commends the intention. Enter then, all of you into the Joy of our Lord. First and last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor, dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not fasted, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The calf is fatted: let none go away hungry. Let none lament his poverty; for the universal Kingdom is revealed. Let none bewail his transgressions; for the light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb. Let none fear death; for the death of the Savior has set us free.

He has destroyed death by undergoing death. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.

Hell was filled with bitterness when it met thee face to face below: filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. It received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. O death where is thy sting?

O hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art cast down. Christ is risen and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and there is none left dead in the tomb. For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those that slept. To him be glory and dominion to the ages of ages.’

— homily of St. John Chrysostom traditionally read at the Easter All-Night Vigil in the Orthodox Church

* * *

The Responsibility of Easter

“It is Easter and I am thinking about what has inspired believers in our church during the last one thousand years. Today is exactly the day when we must ask the question, like believers before us: Why are we living on the earth? Why are we working hard? Why are we trying to have a good time? Why are we suffering? What is the meaning of life? “There are many theories, many explanations from all the philosophers, but none of them fulfill us. All of them stop at the point of death. But our soul longs to keep living. It wants to be eternal. It wants to live without end. Life has meaning only if there is eternal life. If there isn’t eternal life, no matter how beautiful your life, at the end it is just poor life. “It’s a pity sometimes to stand before a dead person who worked hard in life, did good works, suffered, was in many battles, but in the end saw no meaning, and he is dead and no one can help him. Great Solomon wisely said that the living dog is more blessed than the dead human. “So we are happy, we are blessed, because we believe in eternal life. We know that the life of people is not life only until death. The soul doesn’t disappear. It lives. It lives forever. This is so whether you believe it or not and it is true whether you want it or not, true whether you are a believer or an unbeliever. So no matter what kind of life you lived before death, you enter eternal life, and not only your soul but your body. We come into eternal life in both body and soul.

“Today we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and we rejoice in it. And we see in it not only his resurrection but our resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the same as our resurrection. We believe that. We believe that in Christ each one of us will stand up. “Many people do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ or in the Resurrection of anyone. I don’t want to give them proof or argue with them. The main thing about their conviction, the thing their unbelief is founded on, is that it’s impossible for a dead person to come back to life. How can it happen? How can something that is just dust and bones live again? And what about bodies that are now only ashes? Or were cut into many pieces? Or were eaten by beasts or fish? How can such people’s bodies be made whole and come back to life? Our brain can’t overcome this dilemma. How is it possible? “But then we can ask another question: What about everything that exists? All this beauty? There are so many things we don’t understand and can’t explain. Most things we can’t explain.

What do you think? Isn’t this huge miracle we live in as big a miracle as the resurrection? Do you think creation is easier than resurrection? If God is strong enough to create everything from nothing, to create the whole world and the whole universe, do you think it is difficult to resurrect what he has already created?

“So don’t be discouraged by anyone who says it’s impossible. God has the power to create everything.

“So, brothers and sisters, we believe in eternal life. But it isn’t an easy belief. It is a belief that gives us responsibilities. We have to realize that each person, whether or not he wants God, must answer to God for his life–what he did, what didn’t do. He must stand judgment.

“It is a weakness not to believe in eternal life. Even if you don’t believe, it is no justification

when you stand before God with sins and horrible deeds. Don’t imagine that you will be unjudgeable.

“Our people have lived by great ideals. The big ideal that has been living in our people for a thousand years is to live in God’s truth. Not human truth. God’s truth. Our ancestors mostly wanted to live according to God’s truth. They suffered greatly. Many terrible things happened. There were dreadful persons. But somehow, no matter what sorrows there were, they were still trying to live according to God’s truth.

“We need this too. God’s truth has to lead us. We have to have a spiritual life even if we are surrounded by an unspiritual life. We need to have Christian families even if we are surrounded by families that are breaking down. We need to work hard and sincerely, not for praise or money, but for the heart and soul of our neighbors. We have to work for our people.

“Let us not think about bread for ourselves. Bread is something we need, yes, but the person who thinks about bread for himself has lost the spiritual dimension of life. But if he thinks of bread for his neighbors, then he is leading a spiritual life–a life of love, a life of caring for others. This is the spiritual life.

“The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a joy for us, it is a great responsibility and a great task. It leads us to prepare for the Last Judgment. Let the Resurrection fill our hearts with belief in eternal life so that truth can take root in our hearts. Let us not only think about it in our minds but feel it in our hearts.”

–Metropolitan Filaret, sermon on Easter Monday in St. Vladimir’s cathedral, Kiev, Easter 1986 (quoted from Pilgrim to the Russian Church by Jim Forest, Crossroad Books, New York City)

* * *

“However hard I try, I find it impossible to construct anything greater than these three words, ‘Love one another’ — only to the end, and without exceptions: then all is justified and life is illumined, whereas otherwise it is an abomination and a burden.”

— St Maria Skobtsova of Paris

* * *

The bodies of fellow human beings must be treated with greater care than our own. Christian love teaches us to give our brethren not only spiritual gifts, but material gifts as well. Even our last shirt, our last piece of bread must be given to them. Personal almsgiving and the most wide-ranging social work are equally justifiable and necessary. The way to God lies through love of other people and there is no other way. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked if I was successful in my ascetic exercises or how many prostrations I made in the course of my prayers. 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.

— St Maria Skobtsova of Paris

* * *

It is not the constant thought of their own sins, but the vision of the holiness of God, that makes the saints aware of their own sinfulness.

–Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer (p 11)

* * *

St Jerome said…”When the Church came to the princes of the world, she grew in power and wealth but diminished in virtue.” (quoted by Thomas Merton in “Monastic Spirituality and the Early Fathers, from the Apostolic Fathers to Evagrius Ponticus,” from Monastic Origins, p 250, volume 18, of Thomas Merton’s Collected Essays, at the Thomas Merton Study Center, Bellarmine College, Louisville, Kentucky)

“A prison provides a Christian with the same advantages that a desert gives to a prophet.”

(quoted in the above essay by TM, p 252)

* * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * *

from ASPECTS OF CHURCH HISTORY by Georges Florovsky p. 200

Chapter IV The Ways of Russian Theology

“Our theology went through the principal stages of religious thought in modern Europe…Dependence and imitation, however, did not yet mean an intimate meaning. The latter is achieved only in the freedom and equality of love…Orthodox theology hall not be able to establish its independence from Western influences unless it reverts to the patristic sources and foundations. This does not mean forsaking our time, withdrawing from history, deserting the battlefield…Orthodox thought has to feel the Western difficulties…and bear with them. We must, through creative thinking, resume and transmute all this experience of the West, its pangs and its doubts; we must take upon ourselves, as Dostoevsky used to say. `the European anguish,’ accumulated through centuries of creative history. It is only through such sympathy, such active compassion, that the divided Christian world may possibly find the way to union.”

* * *

Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sin, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer, cessation of supplication, estrangement of love, a nail stuck in the soul, pleasure-less feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness, continuous sin, unsleeping transgression, hourly malice. . . . You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you pray for he person who has offended you, not when you exchange presents with him, not when you invite him to your table, but only when, on hearing that he has fallen into bodily or spiritual misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself.

— St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

* * *


– My Christians, how are you doing here? Have you got love for each other? If you want to be saved, do not ask for anything else here, in the world, but love. Is there any of you who has got this kind of love towards his brothers? Let him rise and tell me so that I may wish him well and make all Christians forgive him. He will receive such forgiveness which he would have been unable to find had he given thousands of pounds of gold.

– Holy man of God, I love God and my brothers.

– Good, my child. You have got my blessing. What is your name?

– Costas.

– What do you do for a living?

– I am a shepherd.

– Do you weigh the cheese which you sell?

– I do.

– You, my child, have learnt to weigh cheese and I have learnt to weigh love. Is the scales ashamed of its master?

– No.

– Let me then weigh your love now and, if it is right and not false, then I shall wish you well and I shall make all Christians forgive you. How can I know, my child, that you love your brothers? Now that I am here and walk and teach the people, I say that I love Mr Costas like my eyes, but you do not believe me. You want to try me first and then believe me. I have bread to eat, you have not. If I give a piece of it to you, who have not, I show that I love you. But if I eat the whole loaf and you are hungry, then what do I show? I show that the love that I feel for you is false. I have got two cups of wine to drink, you have not. If I give you some of it to drink, then I show that I love you. But if I do not give you, my love is false. You are sad. Your mother or father has died. If I come to console you then my love is true. But if you are crying and weeping and I am eating, drinking and dancing, my love is false. Do you love that poor child?

– I do.

– If you loved him, you would buy him a shirt because he is naked so that he would also pray for your soul. Then your love would be true. But now it is false. Is not it so, my Christians? We cannot go to paradise with false love. Now, since you want to make your love gold, take and dress the poor children and then I shall make them forgive you. Will you do this?

– I will.

– My Christians, Costas understood that the love which he had till now was false and wants to make it gold, to dress the poor children. Because we have edified him I beg you to tell three times for Mr Costas, may God forgive and have mercy on him.

From the teachings of St. Cosmas of Aetolia

* * *

What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? For the same person would not regard the fetus in the womb as a living thing and therefore an object of God’s care [and then kill it] …. But we are altogether consistent in our conduct. We obey reason and do not override it.

St. Athenagoras of Athens A Plea for Christians (ca AD 177)

Our fathers did not reckon as murders the murders in war, it seems to me, giving a pardon to those who defend themselves in behalf of moderation and piety. But perhaps it is well to advise that they abstain from communion only for three years, since their hands are not clean.

— St. Basil the Great First Epistle to the Amphilochios (ca AD 375)

* * *

“Human beings have accumulated in their coffers gold and silver, clothes more sumptuous than useful, diamonds and other objects that are evidence of war and tyranny; then a foolish arrogance hardens their hearts; for their brothers in distress, no pity. What utter blindness! . . . Attend not to the law of the strong but to the law of the Creator. Help nature to the best of your ability, honor the freedom of creation, protect your species from dishonor, come to its aids in sickness, rescue it from poverty …. Seek to distinguish yourself from others only in your generosity. Be like gods to the poor, imitating God’s mercy. Humanity has nothing so much in common with God as the ability to do good.”

— St. Gregory Nazianzen
On Love of the Poor, cited on pp 295-6 of Olivier Clement’s book, The Roots of Christian Mysticism

* * *

Prayer for the Pacification of Animosity

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

We thank you, O Master, Lover of Mankind, King of the ages and Bestower of good things,

Who destroyed the dividing wall of enmity, and granted peace to the human race, and Who now has granted peace to Your servants. Instill in them the fear of You and confirm in them love one for the other. Extinguish every dispute and banish all temptation to disagreement. For You are our peace and to You we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

* * *

Other web sites of special interest

    • Arms Open Wide: Arms Open Wide: Orthodox Christian Disability Resources is a U.S. based effort to provide information and support to Orthodox Christian families with disabled members and their parish priests. It includes Orthodox Christian writings and ministries from around the world, personal stories, as well as non-Orthodox resources which serve specific, helpful purposes.
    • “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art The website has over 1,000 different icons on it. Each icon includes the appropriate troparion and story of the saint or event depicted. We have signed royalty agreements with about twenty iconographers of a variety of styles. The collection is growing all the time. We have shipped to all 50 states, and to thirty other countries on six continents. Income from sales help to support the ministry to the homeless and others in urgent need of The King’s Jubilee; see link below.
    • Ecole website: A web-based encyclopedia of the Early Church edited by OPF members Karen Rae Keck and Norman Hugh Redington. Also visit their St. Pachomius Library, which seeks to make the literature of the early Christian Church available to all in electronic form. The editors are archiving uncopyrighted English translations of the Church Fathers, the acts of the Christian martyrs, the proceedings of the Councils, the lives of the early saints, etc.
    • Frederica Mathewes-Green’s homepage: Some of Frederica’s insightful, and often funny, writings are posted here as well as information about her activities as a speaker. Frederica is a member of the OPF advisory board.
    • Holy Trinity Cathedral — the OCA cathedral in San Francisco has set up an attractive site that includes numerous helpful Orthodox resources and news links.
    • Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland. The parish web site offers many useful texts plus a long list of connections to other sites.
    • IOCC Home Page: The site introduces International Orthodox Christian Charities and its work, with information on how to take part in its projects and also to join the IOCC listserver.
    • Jim & Nancy Forest home page: A site where the co-editors of the OPF journal, In Communion, post some of their own writings, including several chapters from Jim’s books, Praying With Icons, Ladder of the Beatitudes, Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, etc.
    • The King’s Jubilee serves soup, sandwiches, pasta with meat sauce, iced tea, fruit and goodies (if we have them) to between 50 and 150 men and a few women in Center City Philadelphia every Thursday night. This is in a park, year-round. We also share toiletries, blankets and season appropriate clothing with them.
    • LifeNews.com provides the latest pro-life news and information.
    • Logos Orthodox Bookstore Based in The Netherlands, Orthodox Logos Foundation is an online Orthodox bookstore and publisher having as its mission to provide a full spectrum of Orthodox Christian materials in four languages, namely in English, French, Dutch and Russian and (since recently) in Chinese.
    • Orthodox Christian Fellowship is the official campus ministry effort under SCOBA. We are a Pan-Orthodox effort, overseen by an Executive Committee and aided by an 16 person Student Advisory Board. Our office is located in Boston, MA where full time staff develops OCF. We are here to guide and support local OCF chapters through communication with the larger Orthodox Community, our National Programs, and development of resources Orthodox college students and those interested in Orthodoxy can utilize.
    • Orthodox Christians for Life: From its beginning, the Orthodox Church has taken a strong stand for the sanctity of life and against abortion. Within these pages you will find information from throughout the life of the Church concerning what the Church has taught and teaches to this day. The site includes many resources, including a pastoral letter from Metropolitan Theodosius, quotes from the saints, a Molieban for the Victims of Abortion, and the like.
    • Orthodox Christian Resources— well-organized links to Web pages and other internet-based resources of interest to Orthodox Christians, regularly updated by site-editor Catherine Hampton.
    • The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration addresses environmental degradation in a uniquely Orthodox manner. The mission statement of the Fellowship declares, “The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration exists to hallow God’s Name on earth as it is in heaven by seeking the transfiguration of creation through the activation of the Christian calling toward transfigured life. In the context of the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church, the Fellowship seeks to extend the transfiguring activity of the sacraments into all creation through ascetic practice, the keeping of the commandments and the acquisition of virtue, thus restoring the beauty and integrity of God’s earthly temple.”
    • Orthodox Life Info Portal Provides links to Internet resources relating to Orthodox Christianity. The links are grouped in thematic sections for easy access and reference, especially for people who are not familiar with the language and traditions of Orthodox Christianity.
    • Orthodox Ministry Access — site maintained by the Greek Orthodox Church in North America.
    • Orthodox News web site — a well-organized, region-by-region news site with frequent updates.
    • Peacemakers Discussion Forum, for discussing the promotion of peace and reconciliation in situations of violence and conflict. Topics include: Theology, differences between Christians, and Christian social action; Christian mission, missiology and mission studies; African Initiated Churches; Orthodox Christianity; general discussions on various topics.
    • Pokrov: The Protection of the Theotokos web site responds to the issue of clergy and church sexual abuse. Topics confronted include rape, child abuse, molestation and spiritual abuse. The site’s goal is to reach victims of church-associated sexual abuse and protect others from becoming victims by providing education, advocacy, prayer and accountability.
    • Project Mexico: An Orthodox service project for building homes in Mexico and serving a community of orphans. For details, ..
    • St. Nicholas Uganda Children’s Fund: When Peter and Sharon Georges were working as Orthodox missionaries in Uganda in 2003, they made a decision that seemed minor at the time, but would have far-reaching consequences. They agreed to pay school fees for two orphans who were living with an elderly grandmother. Out of this small beginning grew a project now supporting more than 200 children in school, and is providing additional assistance to six needy families.
    • St. Luke’s Orthodox Mission, a Serbian Orthodox parish in Toronto, Canada, has set up a web site that includes articles by St. Nikolai of Ochrid, audio files of Serbian Orthodox chant, presentation of Serbian monasteries and churches, and various articles.
    • St. Nina’s Quarterly web site. The St. Nina Quarterly is a publication dedicated to exploring the ministry of women in the Orthodox Church and to cultivating a deeper understanding of ministry in the lives of all Orthodox Christian women and men. We profess firm faith in our Church’s teaching that each of us is created in the image of God and called to grow into His likeness. We believe that all persons are endowed with gifts of the Holy Spirit in ways that uniquely express the fullness of their humanity and contribute to the fullness of the entire community of believers. Our mission is to discover and cultivate these gifts for the nurturance of the entire Body of Christ. To this end, we strive to educate, inform, and provide space for an ongoing, creative dialogue aimed at reaching across all boundaries; to support and encourage the growth and vitality of the God-given ministries of all our sisters and brothers in Christ.
    • Society of St. Nicholas of Japan — An Orthodox mission located in southern Africa; the page is edited by OPF member Steve Hayes. Many good links to other sites.
    • St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Irvine, CA: The multi-faceted home page of a vital parish in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, with good resources and links. The pastor is Fr. Steve Tsichlis, a member of the OPF advisory board.
    • Spirit Currents: is a web site featuring S.T. Georgiou’s writing and creative work. Steve Georgiou, a member of OPF, helped to bring Robert Lax to more wider public attention through his recent book, “The Way of the Dreamcatcher.” Lax, a hermit poet and best friend of Thomas Merton, lived on the Greek island of Patmos, where Georgiou met him in 1993.
    • Syndesmos: Syndesmos was founded in 1953 in Paris by a group of young Orthodox theologians who sought to renew and unite Orthodox Christians and who understood the important role youth and young adults play in the Church’s life. Syndesmos soon received the blessing and support of all the Orthodox Churches and began its work encouraging deeper reflection, renewal and witness of Orthodox Christianity in such diverse and important areas as liturgical life, life, community involvement, missionary activity, and unity. Today, Syndesmos has grown into the world’s largest religious youth fellowship with 119 member Orthodox youth movements, organizations and seminaries in nearly 50 countries.
    • The Victim Offender Reconciliation web site is dedicated to “making things as right as possible” between the victim and the offender of crimes. Using the restorative principles as outlined on this web site, many courts in the United States are making a greater effort to approach crime and punishment in a way which takes into consideration the value of restoring human relationships.
    • Women’s Orthodox Ministries and Education Network is an international network of Orthodox Christians who actively encourage the vitality and enhancement of diverse lay ministries in parish, jurisdictional, social service, community service, and ecumenical settings. Through its conferences, retreats, publications, and website, WOMEN serves as a pan-Orthodox clearinghouse of news and resources for lay leaders, celebrates the ways women’s ministries witness for Christ, encourages women’s increased leadership in the life of the Church, and advocates for restoration of both the female and male permanent diaconate.

page updated 29 November 2010

The Resurrection of the Church in Albania

by Jim Forest

In the last decade, with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the Church in Albania has gone through dramatic changes. Albania was the first officially atheist state in the world. After 1967 all forms of religious expression, even prayer in one’s own home, were forbidden. Since the fall of communism, the Orthodox Church, the oldest and largest Christian community in Albania, has been transformed from a repressed church into a vibrant, rapidly growing and inspired force for renewal and reconciliation in the country.

Jim Forest’s narrative presents a fascinating historical background and an inspiring story of current church witness. The traditions and life of this fellowship, so clearly portrayed, will help educate the wider Christian community about Albania’s diverse religious life and also the role religion can play as a potential force for both healing and peace in the Balkan region.

The book is illustrated with 65 photos. A selection of the photos can be seen at the Albania report page.

The author: Jim Forest has written many books, including The Ladder of the Beatitudes, Confession: Doorway of Forgiveness, Praying with Icons and Religion in the New Russia. He is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and editor of the quarterly journal In Communion.

Here are several chapters from the book:


World Council of Churches

WCC Publications

P.O. Box 2100

1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

published August 2002, 128pp, illustrated.

ISBN: 2-8254-1359-3

Price: Sfr26.00, US$15.95, UK£10.95, 17 euros.

The book can be ordered via the WCC web site.

Available in the USA from:

International Specialized Book Services (ISBS)

5824 NE Hassalo Street

Portland, Oregon 97213-3644

Tel: +1 8000 944 6190, Fax: + 1 503 280 8832

E-mail: [email protected]

Website www.isbs.com

ISBS has a sliding scale discount schedule for purchases: 1-4 copies 20%, 5-24 copies 40% and 25+ 44% plus shipping which the bookstore pays. “We require prepayment from bookstores that have never ordered from us before and take various credit cards and, of course, checks. We have a toll-free customer service phone number 1-800-944-6190.”

Available in Canada from:

United Church Resource Distribution

3250 Bloor Street West, Suite 300

Etobicoke ON M8X 2Y4

Tel +1 416 253 5456

+1 800 288 7365

Fax: 1 416 253 1630

E-mail: [email protected]

Website www.united-church.ca

Available in Great Britain and Ireland from:

ORCA Book Services Ltd

Stanley House

3 Fleets Lane

Poole, Dorset BH15 3AJ

Tel: +44 1202 665 432

Fax: +44 1202 666 219

E-mail: [email protected]

Changing a society which has devalued women and de-humanized the unborn

correspondence with the Fellowship of Reconciliation on the issue of abortion

Open letter to members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation National Council

February 1998

Dear National Council Member,

The Fellowship of Reconciliation is not known for avoiding controversial issues. Since its founding it has supported those who refused to take part in war, even during periods when pacifism was regarded by many as treasonable. When racism was far more acceptable than it is today, FOR members launched campaign after campaign on behalf of interracial justice, playing an important and constructive role in changing the way Americans respond to each other. We have opposed executions no matter what the crime, how grim the circumstances and how seemingly unrepentant the murderer was. In nearly every area of life, the Fellowship’s role has never been simply to say no to violence but to seek life-affirming alternatives. Ever since our founding in 1914, we have promoted a vision of a nonviolent culture affecting nearly every area of life.

Yet there has been one notable area of avoidance. If a person knew nothing more about America than could be learned from statements and publications issued by the FOR or its program initiatives, he or she would have only the faintest awareness that the issue of abortion has divided the country for the past quarter century. So far, the FOR response has been to look the other way. The tragic irony is that one of the most pro-life organizations in US history says and does nothing to defend human life while in the womb or to support women under pressure to kill their unborn children.

The reason for this silence and passivity is that abortion is an issue dividing rather than uniting the FOR membership.

But is not passivity and silence in fact consent to abortion? If we had responded to any war or any area of social injustice with silence and without resistance, would anyone imagine we opposed what was happening or had a vision of a nonviolent alternative?

As a member of the FOR National Council, you belong of a community of people helping to give direction to the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We appeal to you to consider ways that the FOR can sensitize its members and friends to understand that, for some members of the FOR, the sanctity of human life, realized at every stage of life, is a constitutive dimension of pacifism. We believe the FOR could play a significant role in looking for ways to support women under pressure to have abortion and in the process help reduce the frequency of abortion. The FOR should promote dialogue, in small groups and via the pages of Fellowship magazine, to try to reach common ground on this critical issue.

Each of us began life in our mother’s womb and no doubt some of our mothers had a lonely struggle on our behalf in bringing us into this world. Let us see what we can do to make it a little easier for pregnant women to find the support and encouragement they need in a society which has de-valued women and de-humanized the unborn.

Yours in fellowship,

William Anderson, Faye Kunce, Shelley and Jim Douglass, Daniel Berrigan, Carol and Dick Crossed, Marie Dennis, Dan Ebener, Marie Dennis, Jim and Nancy Forest, David Grant, Anne McCarthy, Don Mosley, Will O’Brien, Anne Symens-Bucher, Richard Taylor, Jim Wallis [a few other names were later added]

* * *

on the stationery of the
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Box 271, Nyack, New York 10960
(914) 358/4601 / Fax: (914) 358/4924


Jim and Nancy Forest

Dan Ebener

March 5, 1999

Dear Jim, Nancy and Dan:

Last spring we received a letter from you, signed by eighteen persons, asking for FOR to deal with the issue of abortion in a way that seeks life-affirming alternatives and promotes the vision of a nonviolent culture. We are grateful for your concerns.

Your letter has been taken seriously by the National Council. We have entered into discussion at our subsequent Council meetings about this issue. Both in plenary sessions and in committee meetings we have sought to deal with this issue in a sensitive and compassionate way that recognizes the wide spectrum of belief about abortion, the areas of difference, as well as the areas of common concern. We have discovered and reaffirmed that persons in the FOR with varying views on abortion also share many of the same concerns and all are seeking to form opinions consistent with our shared reverence for life.

Attached is a working internal document that developed out of committee efforts over the past few months. It was discussed at the Council meeting February 26-March 1 and has been amended to reflect suggestions coming from further Council discussions. We send it to you and to others that have inquired about this issue to indicate where we are at this time. As we will be bringing it before the Council at our spring meeting in May, after further reflection, we request you not to circulate this but we are sending it to you to indicate the seriousness with which we have taken your original letter.

Yours in fellowship,

Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson
Vice Chairperson FOR National Council

* * *

attached to the letter of Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson:

Working Internal Document! Not for Circulation or Publication (3-3-99)

FOR National Council

On Recognizing and Respecting Diversity Regarding Abortion

The FOR is an interfaith, international fellowship of women and men who are committed to nonviolence and reconciliation. Coming from a wide variety of religious, national, and ethnic backgrounds, we share a common identity in our reverence for life and the search for nonviolent ways of attaining justice. We oppose killing, whether in war or capital punishment or personal violence.

There is, nonetheless, a wide variety of opinion among committed FOR members on the issue of abortion. Some believe that abortion, from the moment of conception on, is always wrong. They believe that embryonic life is the beginning of human life and therefore should be accorded full human rights. Their belief in nonviolence leads them to protect women and the unborn.

Others, equally committed to nonviolence, do not equate embryonic life with the life of the mother. They believe that, especially in the early months, fetal life should be put in a context that considers such things as the health of the mother, fetal deformity and pregnancy arising out of rape or incest. They believe the pregnant woman should make the difficult decision herself. To forbid her this decision would be to deny respect for the individual and the belief that all persons should be free to follow their own consciences and the leading of the spirit.

There are many gradations between the above beliefs in the FOR, as there are in the wider society. Many who support either a pro life or a pro choice position do not see a constitutional or legislative solution as the best effort. Amidst our differences there are areas of agreement that we share:

* we are deeply concerned about women and children and lament the tragic dimensions of abortion.

* we believe that men need to be called forth to responsibility on this issue.

* we believe that women who are pregnant deserve health care, adequate nutrition, shelter and freedom from violence.

* we affirm efforts to reduce violence against women and efforts to enhance family planning so that the frequency of abortions will be decreased.

* we see the feminization of poverty as an injustice that must be addressed

* we would all seek to protect women from being coerced into a decision for or against abortion and we believe that women should have adequate support during pregnancy from family and community

* we deplore killing of doctors and the threat of violence against abortion providers and their families and groups providing reproductive services.

We believe that there needs to be space for respectful dialogue and compassionate listening on this issue. Such an endeavor will help recognize the differences among us and enable us to respect one another and reduce the violence and hostility on this issue. This will help further Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community and the call to nonviolence and reconciliation that we have received from our elders Mohandas Gandhi, Muriel Lester, A.J. Muste, Andre and Magda Trocme.

* * *

March 10, 1999

Dear Lou Ann Ha’aheo,

Thank you for sharing with me the draft text on abortion that will be presented to the FOR Council in May.

Unfortunately I find in it no recognition that abortion inevitably involves killing human life and that it thus raises an essential issue for an organization dedicated to protecting human life and promoting nonviolence. I find in it no commitment by the FOR to take any action that would result in there being fewer abortions. It basically says: “Some see it this way, some see it that way, and we in the Fellowship of Reconciliation find both points of view equally acceptable.”

The summation of the views of opponents of abortion is oversimplified. I doubt any FOR member would say there is never a reason for abortion. As far as I know, all anti-abortion campaigners agree that abortion is permissible when the life of the mother is threatened. Thus they would not say that “abortion is always wrong.” I also think that few if any would use the phrase “embryonic life” but rather “life in the womb,” “the unborn child,” or something similar.

In the next paragraph there is this sentence: “To forbid her this decision would be to deny respect for the individual and the belief that all persons should be free to follow their own consciences and the leading of the spirit.”

Can you not easily think of situations in which this principle would not apply? If someone says he is following his conscience in shooting those who carry out abortions and is doing so at the leading of the spirit, would we not object? I’m sure many racist and anti-Semitic actions have been carried out by people who claimed they were obeying conscience.

The text states: “We believe that men need to be called forth to responsibility on this issue.” I would say yes, of course, but why are not both men and women in this sentence?

Could you explain to me the term “the feminization of poverty”? It’s new to me. Mind you, I live in Holland.

The text states: “We deplore killing of doctors and the threat of violence against abortion providers and their families and groups providing reproductive services.” I’m sure every FOR member, no matter what his opinions on abortion may be, opposes killing doctors, but the last two words are an inappropriate euphemism. In fact we’re talking about abortion services, the opposite of reproductive services.

One last question: When are you sending this draft text to the other 16 signers of the letter which led to the creation of the groups that drafted this text?

Once again, thank you for your efforts on this very tough issue. I hope we meet one day.

friendly greetings,

Jim Forest

cc: Dan Ebener, John Dear

[there was no reply]

* * *

Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1999 15:39:52 -0800
From: Dan Ebener
To: “Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson”
CC: Jim Forest , John Dear , Richard Deats , Bill Ditewig
Subject: Abortion statement

Lou Ann –

Thank you very much for your thoughtful response to our group’s pro-life letter concerning the FOR’s lack of position on abortion. I understand the situation that this issue puts you in is a tenuous one. Clearly, the FOR diversity on this issue seems reflective of the culture we live in. While we may not easily come to an agreement on abortion, it is good and just for us to dialogue about it. I have been actively involved in the most intense efforts at pro-life / pro-choice dialogue in the country, for the past three years. Out of this experience, I offer these reflections / observations:

1. I hope that we could express more clearly a critical understanding of how the search for love and truth can lead toward pro-life pacifism. (Clearly, the draft which we have received is a committee document, and for that, I can only wish you my condolences. My experiences with committee writings is that you get a lot breadth and little depth. This draft certainly reads like a committee document.)

2. The three sentences intended to express the pro-life position are very weak. It is a rather superficial expression of the pro-life position. I would be glad to re-write them completely. Better yet, they could be written out of a dialogue experience. I would be ashamed to show them to my pro-life friends in Iowa; in fact, my pro-choice friends (who are members of the FOR) here would be embarrassed for the FOR. (One of our experiences with the dialogue process is that you must be able to express the other person’s viewpoint to their satisfaction. Some of the pro-choice people here have become so articulate in expressing the pro-life position that we kid them that we want them to speak at our press conferences. Maybe they could write the pro-life section for us.)

3. I know of no pro-life person who uses phrases like “embryonic life” or “fetal life”. This is clearly pro-choice language. In our local Common Ground group, we have recognized that use of the word “fetus” is a pro-choice term, “unborn child” is the preferred description for pro-life people.

4. The 3 sentences describing the pro-life positions are qualified by phrases like “some believe” or “they believe”. The same is true for the pro-choice paragraph until the last sentence, which makes a very bold pro-choice statement without any qualification.

5. It is an over-simplification to assume that pro-life people oppose abortions in cases of rape and incest. In fact, almost every law and regulation governing abortion excludes these cases. That’s not where the real debate is, except among philosophers and theologians. Politically, it is often used as a “wedge” to polarize the issue, not to bring people together. It is the proliferation of “elective” abortions which is the common concern of most good-intentioned people. There is no mention of this in the draft.

6. Even Bill and Hilary Clinton agree that abortions should be rare. But there is no mention of whether the FOR believes that abortions should be rare. Was this considered?

7. To single out men as the only ones who need to be “called forth to responsibility on this issue” sounds like a loaded and un-explained statement. What does it mean? Should not the mother and father of the baby function as a team in responding to the crisis pregnancy? The role of men is often to push for and pay for the abortion, even when the mother does not want to abort. Perhaps what you could say is that abortion provides an easy way for men to act sexually irresponsible and destroy the consequences.

8. While most pro-life people do not promote the Human Life Amendment any longer as a realistic solution to abortion (it is too quick and too drastic), we do promote a range of legislative regulations which might place reasonable restrictions on abortion. The way I see it, the reason for the violence and inflammatory language is the same as in war: We have set up a paradigm where there has to be winners and losers. Right now, the pro-life side is losing. 26 years after Roe, the pro-life movement is stronger than it has ever been. It is not going to go away. It gets stronger every year. (If a Human Life Amendment was passed tomorrow, we would witness a huge growth in the pro-choice movement, along with more violence from the pro-choice side, just as we witnessed in the years just prior to Roe.) For the FOR to deny the possibility of further legislative solutions to the issue is to condemn the pro-life side to a losing future. The only way the pro-life side will rest its passion for this issue is for some progress to be made toward a more pro-life policy. To deny that possibility, as this draft does, is to condemn all of us to more violence.

9. To be consistent, if we are going to condemn violence against abortion providers, as we should, we should also condemn the violence occurring against Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which I would be glad to document for you. (As I’m sure you know, just because it doesn’t get reported in the secular media doesn’t mean it does not exist.) Again, we need to be balanced and fair in our statements. I realize most FOR people are probably unaware of the violence against pro-life leaders and CPC’s, but we all understand that this is becoming a civil war, and once a conflict reaches those proportions, we know that the violence goes both ways. The role of the FOR, of course, is to bridge the gaps and bring greater understanding to both sides of the humanity of the other.

10. Could we consider some action steps in the statement? Perhaps express more directly a call for dialogue and understanding?

The Iowa Common Ground group, which has been featured on ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s magazine, and many other media, would be willing to facilitate a process of dialogue on this issue for the FOR. I understand that it may seem like an overwhelming issue. It is. But I believe that it is the basis for an undeclared civil war in this country, and if the FOR is opposed to war and committed to the search for truth and the resolution of conflict, we need to be willing to step into the middle of this.

I would be glad to be helpful in whatever role you want me to play.

As requested, I have not circulated the letter to anyone. I believe that the signers of our original letter deserve a response directly from Nyack, so I have not contacted them either. They are all members of FOR and the national office would have their current addresses.

Again, thanks for your response.

In peace,

Dan R. Ebener

ph. 319-324-1911 fax: 319-324-5811

[There was no reply.]

* * *

From: Nancy Forest-Flier, [email protected]
To: Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson, [email protected]
Jim Forest, [email protected]
Dan Ebener, [email protected]
Richard Deats, [email protected]
Date: 05-04-1999 5:23 PM

RE: response to FOR statement on abortion

Dear Lou Ann,

As I am one of the three people personally addressed by FOR’s “On Recognizing and Respecting Diversity Regarding Abortion,” I would like to register my reaction to it. First, I want to thank you for your work in putting this document together and in getting such a dialogue started. It cannot be easy working with a committee to arrive at a single statement on such a divisive issue. But I think it is essential that this work be done and that it continue.

I have read both Jim’s and Dan Ebener’s responses to the statement, and I basically agree with both of them. The section that professes to express the pro-life position is quite weak and almost stereotyped. The first statement about the pro-life position (“Some believe that abortion, from the moment of conception on, is always wrong”) is grossly un-nuanced; in fact I would think that all pro-life people who are FOR members are willing to accept abortion when the life of the mother is at stake. There are loaded words used that pro-life people would never use (“embryonic life,” for instance, in the next sentence).

Finally, as Dan points out, the last sentence of the pro-choice paragraph is made without qualification (“To forbid her this decision would be to deny respect for the individual and the belief that all persons should be free to follow their own consciences and the leading of the spirit”). The problem I have with this sentence is that actually it applies to both pro-life and pro-choice people, yet you confine it to the ranks of the pro-choice. Pro-life people also believe that women should be free to make a choice; that women who believe in the sanctity of life since the moment of conception should be free to bear their child in a child-supportive, family-supportive, woman-supportive environment. But this is often not the case. It is not uncommon for women to be forced to have abortions by their partners or their parents, even when they sense that it is wrong. They may be young, they may never have thought very much about whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, yet suddenly they are supposed to make this staggering decision. The basically pro-choice society around them does little or nothing to support them. If they decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, they may be rejected by their partner or parents, or worse. They may know nothing about Pregnancy Crisis Centers. For these women, and there are many of them, such a phrase would be nothing but cynical posturing. Like the cynicism inherent in William Styron’s book “Sophie’s Choice,” the word “choice” has a hollow ring to it when it means deciding which of your children you are going to have killed.

You may be familiar with groups such as Pro-Life Feminists. These people see abortion more as a convenient way of society avoiding responsibility for women, children and families and for allowing men to behave in a way that is sexually irresponsible. The question for them is not only whether human life begins at conception, but whether the social problems that abortion represents should be offered only one solution: that woman endure a deeply invasive medical procedure that may have an enormous psychological impact on them for the rest of their lives.

I do not live in America, and the “civil war” that Dan talks about it distant from me. In Holland, where we live, the abortion rate is the lowest in the industrial world. This, the Minister of Health recently said, is something we are proud of. If lowering the abortion rate is enough to make a Minister of Health proud, then it must be worth pursuing. Holland is a country that has excellent sex education for young people, considerable social support for families, good medical coverage for everyone, and a major pro-life organization that prefers to help women in a non-accusatory, non-strident way. Perhaps the abortion rate of a country is a strong indication of that country’s social health. Look at Russia, where the abortion rate is soaring.

Finally, I wonder whether the title of the statement, “On Recognizing and Respecting Diversity Regarding Abortion,” doesn’t fail to recognize that there is a real problem here. It’s very nice to recognize and respect diversity, but the FOR also probably recognizes and respects diversity on many other issues — vegetarianism, for instance, or spanking your children, or use of alcohol or soft drugs. Should the FOR pat itself on the back for recognizing and respecting diversity on an issue that, unlike these others, is tearing the country apart?

I’d like to know whether the statement has been sent to the other signers of our letter. They should be made aware of how this discussion is progressing.

Finally, I hope that you take Dan Ebener up on his offer to be of assistance in this discussion.

Again, thank you for all you are doing.

Sincerely yours,

Nancy Forest

[There was no reply.]

* * *

On May 24, 1999, the following statement was approved by the Fellowship of Reconciliation National Council:

The FOR and Abortion

The FOR is an interfaith, international fellowship of women and men who are committed to nonviolence and reconciliation. Coming from a number of religious, national and ethnic backgrounds, we share a common identity in our reverence for life and the search for nonviolent ways of attaining justice.

There is a wide variety of opinion among committed FOR members on the issue of abortion and the beginning of human life. We have observed integrity and sincerity in members who are led to very divergent convictions on this issue, and we affirm and respect their place within the FOR.

Amidst our differences there are areas of agreement that we share:

* we are deeply concerned about women and children.

* we believe that women who are pregnant deserve health care, adequate nutrition, shelter and freedom from violence.

* we affirm efforts to reduce violence against women in a society where oppression of women, male domination and the open promotion of the subordination of women continue.

* we support efforts to enhance family planning so that the frequency of abortions will be decreased.

* we see the feminization of poverty as an injustice that must be addressed.

* we believe that women should have adequate support from family and community during and after pregnancy, and that men should be called to responsibility on this issue.

* we deplore murder and bombings directed at women’s health care clinics and their health care providers.

We believe that there needs to be space for mutually respectful dialogue and compassionate listening on this issue. Such an endeavor will help recognize the differences among us and enable us to respect one another and reduce the violence and hostility on this issue. This will help further Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community and the call to nonviolence and reconciliation.


* * *

to John Dear, executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation

June 19, 1999

Dear John,

In January, I wrote to you that I was considering resigning from the FOR because of its unwillingness or inability to recognize abortion as another form of murder similar in character to other acts of killing the FOR has opposed, or to make any initiative that would make abortion less common. You responded by asking me to hang in a bit longer in order to allow time for a dialogue on abortion at the February National Council meeting. You also asked how I could resign when the FOR has “a seamless garment advocate at the helm.”

Last night, after receiving the FOR National Council statement on abortion, it was clear to me that it was impossible any longer to remain an FOR member in the hope that the kind of change might occur which would renew my sense of connection. Thus my letter of resignation last night.

You mentioned in your letter that there would be a process of dialogue. I have to say I have had no experience of such a dialogue. I helped to write and was one of the signers of a letter to National Council members on the subject of abortion in which possible areas of FOR response were proposed — I attach a copy. So far as I am aware, only three of the letter signers (Nancy, Dan Ebener and myself) ever had a personal response to our letter. This came from Lou Ann Ha’aheo Guanson, vice chairperson FOR National Council. She sent us a draft text of a proposed declaration on abortion. She asked us not to send this to other signers of the letter. All three of us wrote back to her, among other things asking why those other FOR members who shared our concern were not allowed to see the draft. There was no response to this question or any reply to any of the more substantial comments any of us had made.

Did members of the National Council see our responses to that draft? What we said seems, so far as I can tell, to have had no influence at all in the text approved by the NC.

Is this dialogue?

It’s now 38 year since I joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I was 20 years old and living on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. I had lately left the US Navy as a conscientious objector and had become part of the Catholic Worker community (a movement that had come into existence in part because of Dorothy Day’s need to repent of an abortion she had had when she was a younger woman, though it wasn’t until I wrote a biography of Dorothy in the mid-80s that I became aware both of her abortion and its later impact on her life).

What drew me to join the FOR in the first place? Partly it was simply friendship with a staff member, John Heidbrink, who had the title Church Work Secretary. In those years membership in the FOR was probably 90-95 percent Protestant Christian. John was actively reaching out to Catholics, people like Merton, Dan Berrigan and Dorothy Day. Somehow he also wrote to me. I was excited to find a Protestant minister with such a warm heart for Catholics, something that wasn’t at all common in those pre-ecumenical years. I also came to appreciate John. He showered me with books and in many ways widened my world. We became good friends, a friendship that has lasted all these years. In 1964, he made it possible for me to take part in a small FOR group traveling to Paris, Rome, Basel, Prague and Moscow, a life-changing journey for me. He played a major role in the creation of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which during the Vietnam War brought many hundreds of Catholics into FOR membership. It was partly thanks to the CPF that the Catholic Church produced so many thousands of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.

But it wasn’t only friendship with John, and later with other staff members, that made me so deeply respect the FOR. Here was an organization that recognized the sanctity of life in a remarkable and consistent way, working tirelessly to overcome all those forces which make people enemies to each other. Agreeing fully with General Sherman’s observation that “war is hell,” the FOR encouraged people not to go to hell. It also opposed capital punishment, even in that less violent time by no means a popular position in the US. It struggled to overcome racial prejudice and injustice. It was not uncommon for Fellowship members to risk imprisonment and even violence against themselves in their effort not so much to force change but to change people. Its nonviolence was not merely something negative but what Gandhi called satyagraha: the power of truthful living.

My involvement with the FOR led me to three periods of FOR employment, first as Interfaith Associate, later as Vietnam Program Secretary, then in the mid-70s (not long after getting out of prison) as editor of Fellowship magazine, a job I left at the beginning of 1977 when I was appointed to head the IFOR in Holland. In the 11 years since leaving the IFOR staff in 1988, I’ve spent a great deal of time helping build the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. (It was experiences in Russia while working for IFOR that led me from an academic interest in the Orthodox Church to become an Orthodox Christian.) I’ve spent most of my adult life working for the FOR or its associated groups. Such a long commitment makes it not so easy to resign.

When I joined the FOR in 1961, I hardly knew there was such a thing as abortion. It wasn’t an issue I can recall people either in the Church or in any peace group discussing. It wasn’t until later in the decade, with the emergence of the women’s movement, that the issue came up. Part of an emerging consensus among feminists at that time was that a woman should not be forced to bear a child. Put that way, I couldn’t help but agree. There was at the same time growing concern about the “population explosion” — the planet and all creation was under threat because of too many human beings. The case seemed to me, as it did to many others, convincing — and it gave another reason to support abortion, not only as a woman’s right but as a way not to overfill the human lifeboat. The Catholic Church was at that time the only loud voice in society taking an opposing view and even I, a Catholic, wasn’t convinced by what the Church had to say on the subject. I was among those smiling at such one-liners as: “If priests were the ones to get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

On the other hand, I would be caricaturing myself if I said that I was an eager supporter of abortion. It seemed to me, at best, a tragic choice. I had to agree with the traditional Christian view that human life begins at the beginning — that we are no less human in the womb than out of it — and that the killing of an unborn human being was never something to cheer about. Nor could I accept the rhetoric that very often was applied to the unborn — “a clump of cells” — or the tendency among the more articulate to use technical words (embryo, etc.) to depersonalize and dehumanize the unborn.

It was only when the FOR was seriously considering expulsion of the Catholic Peace Fellowship from its list of associated groups — this because of a statement it had issued opposing abortion — that I was finally forced, reluctantly, to realize that I was letting peer group pressure get the better of me, overwhelming both truth and conscience. I began to realize that the minimum one could do was to actively look for ways to help those who were under pressure to have an abortion — and quickly discovered how much even the smallest gesture of support could mean to a pregnant woman.

During that period, the war in Vietnam came to its sudden end. Preparing the June 1975 issue of Fellowship, I wrote to a number of FOR members who had played a major role in the movement against the war, asking them to write briefly “on lessons learned … and the ways in which we can better become a peacemaking community within the world’s most violence-prone society.” Among those to respond was Dan Berrigan, your brother Jesuit priest, who had spent part of the war in prison. At the time he was teaching in Detroit and could see, he related, a billboard out the classroom window that read, “Abortions,” and provided a phone number. Dan said that whenever he looked at this sign, he recalled a question Bonhoeffer had asked: “How are the unborn to live?” The billboard made abortion seem as normal an activity as delivering groceries or selling used cars. At the time, Dan wrote, “nearly two-million nearly-born people in our midst have been so disposed of.” He went on to ask a series of questions, one of which was what can we do to “help everyone walk into the full spectrum and rainbow of life, from womb to old age, so that no one is expendable?”

Would that the National Council statement on abortion had opened with such a question and attempted to answer it!

For the last few years I have in various ways tried to raise this issue once again within the FOR, chiefly through correspondence with members of staff, finally joining with other FOR members in writing to members of the National Council, asking them “to consider ways that the FOR can sensitize its members and friends to understand that, for some members of the FOR, the sanctity of human life, realized at every stage of life, is a constitutive dimension of pacifism.” We expressed our belief that “the FOR could play a significant role in looking for ways to support women under pressure to have abortion and in the process help reduce the frequency of abortion.” We made a few modest suggestions for what the FOR could do, such as “promote dialogue, in small groups and via the pages of Fellowship magazine, to try to reach common ground on this critical issue.” In the spectrum of pro-life writings, our observations and suggestions could hardly have been more mild. But none of them have made their way into the NC statement.

I have been asked, “Isn’t it enough that we agree about certain things — let us hold together with our areas of agreement and not concentrate in our disagreements.” In general I am prepared to say yes. But for a fellowship of reconciliation (the lower case letters are intentional) not to be shocked at abortion and to fail to respond to it in a constructive way, undercuts the most basic point of all: that at no stage in life are human beings appropriate targets of violence, least of all in the womb.

This also raises the question as to whether the Orthodox Peace Fellowship should remain an associated group within the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I believe it should not and will be propose to our officers and board of advisors that we end this alliance.

This is already too long a letter. Let me end it simply by slightly revising Bonhoeffer’s question: “What can we do to help the unborn –and their mothers — to live?”

in Christ’s peace,


PS Though this is a letter first of all to you, John, I hope you don’t mind that I will be sharing it with other FOR members, hoping that it will help them better understand my reasons for resigning.

attachments: 1) group letter to the FOR National Council 2) draft text on abortion from NC working group 3) responses to that draft from myself, Nancy Forest-Flier and Dan Ebener 4) the text issued by the NC on May 24

[No reply was received.]

* * *

to Richard Deats
editor of Fellowship magazine and senior FOR executive staff member

From: Nancy Forest-Flier, forest_flier
To: Richard Deats, [email protected]
cc: John Dear, [email protected]
Date: 20-06-1999 11:22 PM
RE: abortion statement

20 June 1999

Dear Richard,

Thank you for sending the FOR statement “The FOR and Abortion”. You already have Jim’s response. I have been struggling with the contents of the statement and my own response to it for a few days now. I have been surprised with the depth of emotion that this exercise has revealed. I joined the FOR in 1974 — 25 years ago — and I recently turned 50, which means I have spent half my life as an FOR member. Jim and I met at the FOR in Nyack. Our first years here in Alkmaar were deeply entrenched in the FOR community both here and abroad. So trying to deal with the impact that this statement has had on me has meant some long, hard thinking about how much the FOR has been part of my life.

I understand that the statement on abortion is an attempt to search for areas of agreement. This is certainly admirable. At least now we know what the foundation is. But as I read down the list of articles, I realize that there is nothing in any of them indicating a courageous support of the “reverence for life”, which the first paragraph claims to be a basic part of membership in the FOR. Who indeed could not fail to agree with any of these points? You don’t have to be an FOR member, or even a pacifist, to agree with them. Having “concern” for women and children is something we expect of any normal person. The same is true for the rest of the statement. Is there any special way that the FOR, because of its “reverence for life” and aspiration for Martin Luther King’s “beloved community”, has something new and courageous to say to the world about this most important subject?

If the FOR’s aspirations were any less (say, like those of an environmental organization like Greenpeace), I would say, certainly the membership is divided on the issue of abortion. And I could live with that. But FOR’s aspirations are profound and very broad. They are nothing short of the search for truth, the establishment of a “beloved community” based on nonviolence, respect and justice.

Again, if abortion were any less of any issue (say, like vegetarianism), I would say every person is free to follow his or her own conscience. But whether you believe the unborn child is actually a child or simply a clump of cells, abortion is violent. It is profoundly violent. And no matter how I turn it, I cannot reconcile FOR’s high aspirations with this violence. I cannot. I cannot relativize the issue and say, it all depends on how you look at it. We are talking about violence and death here. Something (whatever it was) was once alive, and now it is dead, and it is dead because it was intentionally destroyed.

When I work all this into my own spiritual development, I realize that I cannot be part of a group that relativizes this issue. I cannot say on the one hand that abortion is a grievous sin, and on the other hand say “but it’s only a sin for me, because I’m an Orthodox Christian, it may not be a sin for you.” I must throw the weight of my entire life, my entire soul, my mind and my strength behind this truth and say it is a sin for everyone, no matter who they are. Otherwise my pursuit of truth is a joke, my prayers are empty, my confessions are hollow.

This is hard for me to get around. It has hit me right between the eyes these past two days. I fear that you will receive this news from me and from Jim and will say, they didn’t get what they wanted so they’re picking up their marbles and going home. But I implore you to realize that this is not the case. The fact is that I cannot be a member of an organization that claims to revere life on the one hand and then says that abortion has nothing to do with universal truth.

Richard, I am so, so saddened by this. I have felt myself growing further and further from the FOR in the last ten years. Even so, to make a definitive break, which almost seemed inevitable, is very hard. Yet I cannot continue with my membership.

love and peace,


[There was no reply.]

* * *

John Dear
Executive Secretary
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Box 271

Nyack, NY

December 4, 1999

Dear John,

This is not a letter I have been looking forward to writing but no doubt you have been expecting it.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship will be ending its formal association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation as soon we have a US account operating, which seems almost certain to occur by the end of the month.

This follows a decision made within OPF not to affiliate ourselves with organizations which do not promote a consistent pro-life ethic. This would include attention to the unborn and their mothers, who often resort to abortion not so much from choice but under intense social or, in some countries, even legal pressure. The recent FOR National Council statement made it clear that the FOR and OPF take a very different view on this matter, which for us is central to our reason for being: protection of human life at every stage of development, from the womb to the death bed.

We will welcome opportunities to cooperate with the FOR on specific projects of common interest, insofar as we are able. The informal link is unbroken. We greatly admire many areas of FOR achievement and activity.

in Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest
Orthodox Peace Fellowship

* * *

Getting From There to Here

by Jim Forest

jim forest (1)
Jim Forest in Oxford

My parents were people radically out of step with the America of the cold-war fifties. In those days they both belonged to the Communist Party. I was a “red-diaper baby.” Yet religious inspiration played a major part in the lives of my parents as long as I can remember.

An orphan raised by a Catholic farming family in western Massachusetts, my father became active in the local Catholic parish, serving as an altar boy. Inspired by a saintly pastor, he was preparing to become a priest. But the old priest was sent to another parish and his successor was a rigid man who ordered my father to resign from the local Protestant-sponsored Boy Scout troop. His strict eyes picking out my father at Mass on Sunday, he preached against Catholic contact with those who were not in communion with Rome. My father walked out on Mass that day and never returned. Yet I gradually became aware that underneath the bitterness he had acquired toward Catholicism was grief at having lost contact with a Church which, in many ways, had shaped his conscience. Far from objecting to my own religious awakenings, he cheered me along.

My mother had been raised in a devout Methodist household but was also disengaged from religion. When I was eight, I recall asking her if there was a God and was impressed by the remarkable sadness in her voice when she said there wasn’t. Some years later she told me she had lost her faith while a student at Smith College when a professor she admired told her that religions were only myths but were nonetheless fascinating to study. Again, as she related the story, I was struck by the sadness in her voice. Why such sadness?

I wonder if my parents’ love of wild life and wilderness areas had to do with a sense of God’s nearness in places of natural beauty? For their honeymoon, they had walked a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Our scrap books were full of photos Dad had taken of national parks, camps sites, and forest animals. Mother used to say that Dad was a wonderful hunter, except the only thing he could aim at an animal was a camera. The idea of owning a gun was anathema to both of them.

They had a similar reverence for human beings, especially those in need or in trouble. In this regard they were more attentive to the Gospel than many who are regularly in church. Christ taught that what you do for the least person you do for him even though you may not realize it or believe in him. In this regard, my parents were high on the list of those doing what God wants us to do even if their concern for the poor had led them away from churches and into the political left. A great deal of their time went into helping people.

While I often felt embarrassed coming from a family so different from others in the neighborhood, my spiritual life was influenced by my parents’ social conscience far more than I realized at the time. They helped make me aware that I was accountable not only for myself, my family, and friends, but for the down-and-out, the persecuted, and the unwelcome.

My parents were divorced when I was five. Afterward my mother, younger brother and I moved from Colorado to New Jersey. Our new home was in the area in which my mother had grown up, though not the same neighborhood as her wealthy parents (both were dead by the time of her return).

Mother’s identification with people on the other side of the tracks had brought us to live on the other side of the tracks, in a small house in a mainly black neighborhood where indoor plumbing was still unusual and many local roads still unpaved. One neighbor, Libby, old as the hills and black as coal, had been born in slavery days. Earlier in her life she had worked in my grandparents’ house.

Among my childhood memories is going door-to-door with my mother when she was attempting to sell subscriptions to the Communist paper, The Daily Worker. I don’t recall her having any success. This experience left me with an abiding sympathy for all doorbell ringers.

We received The Daily Worker ourselves. It came in a plain wrapper without a return address. Occasionally Mother read aloud articles that a child might find interesting. But as the cold winds of the “McCarthy period” began to blow, the time came when, far from attempting to sell subscriptions, the fact that we were on its mailing list began to worry Mother. It was no longer thrown away with the garbage like other newspapers but was saved in drawers until autumn, then burned bit by bit with the fall leaves.

One of the nightmare experiences of my childhood was the trial and electrocution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple accused of helping the Soviet Union obtain US atomic secrets. My parents were convinced that the Rosenbergs were scapegoats whose real crimes were being Jews and Communists. Their conviction, Mother felt, was meant to further marginalize American Communists, along with other groups critical of US structures, for the government wasn’t only after “reds” but “pinkos.” The letters the Rosenbergs sent to their children from prison were published in The Daily Worker and these Mother read to my brother and me. How we wept the morning after their death as she read the press accounts of their last minutes of life.

Music was part of our upbringing. Mother hadn’t much of a voice, but from time to time sang with great feeling such songs as “This Land is Your Land,” “Joe Hill” and “The Internationale” with its line, “Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the earth, for justice thunders condemnation, a better’s world’s in birth.” On our small wind-up 78 rpm record player, we played records of Paul Robeson, the Weavers, Burl Ives (who was a bit to the left in those days), and, of course, Pete Seeger. From these recordings I also learned many spirituals. The music of the black church was the one acceptable source of religion in the American left. I sometimes heard spirituals when I walked slowly past a nearby black church.

Despite my mother’s alienation from religion, she missed the Methodist Church in which she had been raised. During the weeks surrounding Easter and Christmas, her religious homesickness got the best of her and so we attended services, sitting up in the church balcony. One year she sent my brother and me to the church’s summer school. While this was a help for her as a working mother (she was a psychiatric social worker at a mental hospital), I have no doubt she hoped my brother and I would soak up the kind of information about the deeper meaning of life that she had received as a child.

The minister of the church, Roger Squire, was an exceptional man whose qualities included a gift for noticing people in balconies and connecting with children. His occasional visits to our house were delightful events. Only as an adult did it cross my mind how remarkable it was that he would make it a point to come into our neighborhood to knock on the kitchen door of a home that contained not church-goers but a Communist.

One of the incidents that marked me as a child was the hospitality of the Squire family to two young women from Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had survived the nuclear bombing but were badly scarred. American religious peace groups had brought them and others to the United States for plastic surgery and found them temporary homes in and near New York City not an easy undertaking for the hosts in the fifties when the word “peace” was almost a synonym for “Communism” and when many people had no desire to think about, not to say see with their own eyes, what American nuclear bombs had done to actual people. In fact, I could only guess at the results myself, as the two women were draped with veils of silk. I had an idea of faces partly melted. Through the Squires’ guests, I learned about the human cost of war and the effects of nuclear weapons, and through the Squire family I had a sturdy idea of what it meant to conform one’s life to the Gospel rather than to politics and the opinions of neighbors.

Yet the Methodist Church as such didn’t excite me. While I prized Rev. Squire and enjoyed the jokes he sprinkled in sermons to underline his points, long-time sitting was hard work for a child. I felt no urge to be baptized. Neither was I won over by the nearby Dutch Reformed Church which for some forgotten reason I attended for a few weeks or months and which I remember best for its unsuccessful attempt to get me to memorize the Ten Commandments.

The next big event in my religious development was thanks to a school friend inviting me to his church in Shrewsbury. It was among the oldest buildings in our region, its white clapboard scarred with musket balls fired in the Revolutionary war. The blood of dying soldiers had stained the church’s pews and floor, and though the stains could no longer be seen, it stirred me to think about what had happened there.

What engaged me still more was the form of worship, which was altar rather than pulpit centered. It was an Episcopal parish in which sacraments and ritual activity were the main events. (Being a parent has helped me realize that ritual is something that children naturally like; for all the experiments we make as children, we are born conservatives who want our parents to operate in predictable, patterned, reliable ways. We want meals to be on the table at a certain time and in a specific way, and in general like to know what to expect. We want the ordinary events of life to have what I think of now as liturgical shape.)

The parish was “high church” — vestments, acolytes, candles, processions, incense, liturgical seasons with their special colors, fast times, plain chant, communion every Sunday. I got a taste of a more ancient form of Christianity than I had found among Methodists. I loved it and for the first time in my life wanted not just to watch but to be part of it. It was in this church that, age nine or ten, I was baptized. I became an acolyte (thus getting to wear a bright red robe with crisp white surplice) and learned to assist the pastor, Father Lavant, at the altar. I learned much of the Book of Common Prayer by heart and rang a bell when the bread and wine were being consecrated. In Sunday school after the service I learned something of the history of Christianity, its sources and traditions, with much attention to Greek words. I remember Father Lavant writing Eucharist on the blackboard, explaining it meant thanksgiving, and that it was made up of smaller Greek words that meant “well” and “grace.” The Eucharist was a well of grace. He was the sort of man who put the ancient world in reaching distance.

But the friendship which had brought me to the church in the first place disintegrated sometime that year. I no longer felt welcome in my friend’s car, and felt awkward about coming to their church under my own steam though it would have been possible to get there by bike.

Perhaps the reason the car-door no longer opened to me was my friend’s parents became aware of our family’s political color. Given the times, it would have been hard not to know.

I had little grasp of the intense political pressures Americans were under, though I saw the same anti-communist films and television programs other kids saw and was painfully aware that my parents were “the enemy” — the people who were trying to subvert America — though I couldn’t see a trace of this happening among the real live Communists I happened to know.

It was about that time that the FBI began to openly exhibit its interest in us, interviewing many of the neighbors. One day, while Mother was out, two FBI agents came into our house and finger-printed my brother and me. Such were the times.

My father’s arrest in 1952 in St. Louis, where he was then living, was page-one news across America. Dad faced the usual charge against Communists: “conspiracy to advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force and violence.” I doubt many read this hair-raising assembly of phrases closely enough to notice that in fact the accused were not being charged with any violent or revolutionary actions or even with advocating such activities, but with being part of a conspiracy to advocate them.

The afternoon of Dad’s arrest, my Uncle Charles drove up to our house, came to the door, and yelled at my mother while waving a newspaper that had the banner headline: Ten Top Reds Arrested in Missouri. He stormed off the porch, got back into his car, a black Buick, and drove away. I never saw him again. Until then he had been a frequent visitor though I was aware Mother took pains to avoid political topics when we were with him.

Dad was to spend half a year in prison before being bailed out. Several years passed before the charges against him were finally dropped.

While it was never nearly as bad for dissenters in the US as it was in the USSR — no gulag, no summary executions, no Stalin — nonetheless I have come to feel a sense of connection with the children of religious believers in Communist countries; they too know what it is like to have their parents vilified by the mass media and imprisoned by the government.

Though it was bad enough that Dad was in prison, I was still more aware of the pressures my mother was facing. The FBI had talked with her employers. Many Communists were losing or had lost their jobs; she took it for granted it would happen to her as well. This expectation was a factor in her not buying a car until well after my brother and I were full-grown, even though we lived pretty far off the beaten track. She took the bus to work and back again, or found colleagues who could give her a lift. When I pleaded with her to get a car, she explained we shouldn’t develop needs that she might not be able afford in the future.

Her only hope of keeping her job was to give her employers no hook on which to justify dismissal. Night after night for years she worked at her desk writing case histories of patients with whom she was involved. No matter how sick she might be, she never missed a day of work, never arrived late, never left early. I doubt that the State of New Jersey ever got more from an employee than they got from her. And it worked. She wasn’t fired.

My religious interest went into recess. Within a year or two I was trying to make up my mind whether I was an atheist or an agnostic. I decided on the latter, because I couldn’t dismiss the sense I often had of God being real. Like my parents, I loved nature, and nature is full of news about God. Wherever I looked, whether at ants with a magnifying glass or at the moon with a telescope, everything in the natural order was awe-inspiring, and awe is a religious state of mind. Creation made it impossible to dismiss God. But it was a rather impersonal God — God as prime move rather than God among us.

It wasn’t until 1959, when I was turning 18, that I began to think deeply about religion and what God might mean in my life.

At the turning point in his life, St. Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus. The equivalent moment in my own life is linked to a more prosaic setting: Saturday night at the movies. Just out of Navy boot camp, I was studying meteorology at the Navy Weather School at Lakehurst, New Jersey. The film at the base theater happened to be The Nun’s Story, based on the autobiography of a young Belgian who entered a convent and later worked at a missionary hospital in the African Congo. In the end, the nun (played by Audrey Hepburn) became an ex-nun. Conscience was at the heart of the story: conscience leading a young woman into the convent and eventually leading her elsewhere, but never away from her faith. I later discovered the film was much criticized in the Catholic press for its portrayal both of loneliness and of the abuse of authority in religious community.

If it had been Hollywood’s usual religious movie of The Bells of St. Mary’s variety, it would have had no impact on my life. But this was a true story, well-acted and honestly told, and without a happy ending, though in the woman’s apparent failure as a nun one found both integrity and faith. Against the rough surface of the story, I had a compelling glimpse of the Catholic Church with its rich and complex structures of worship and community.

After the film I went for a walk, heading away from the buildings and sidewalks. It was aware, clear August evening. Gazing at the stars, I felt an uncomplicated and overwhelming happiness such as I had never known. This seemed to rise up through the grass and to shower down on me in the starlight. I felt I was floating on God’s love like a leaf on water. I was deeply aware that everything that is or was or ever will be is joined together in God. For the first time in my life, the blackness beyond the stars wasn’t terrifying.

I didn’t think much about the film itself that night, except for a few words of Jesus that had been read to the novices during their first period of formation and which seemed to recite themselves within me as I walked: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have great treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.”

I went to sleep that night eager to go to Mass. I knew I wanted to be a Christian and was strongly drawn to the Catholicism.

The next morning I went to a nearby Catholic church but found the Mass disappointing. I feel like an anthropologist observing a strange tribal rite. I had only a vague idea what was happening. There seemed little connection between the priest and the congregation. Most of the worship was in mumbled, hurried, automatic Latin, except for the sermon, which probably I would have preferred had it been in Latin. People in the pews seemed either bored or were concentrating on their rosaries. At least they knew when to sit, stand, and kneel. I struggled awkwardly to keep up with them. At the end of Mass, there was no exchange of greetings or further contact between people who had been praying together. Catholic worship seemed to have all the intimacy of supermarket shopping.

Still resolved to become a Christian, I started looking for a church where there was engagement and beauty and at least something of what I had hoped to find in Catholicism. The Anglo-Catholic segment of the Episcopal Church, which I had begun to know as a child, seemed the obvious choice, and it happened that another sailor at the Weather School had been part of a high church parish. He shared his Book of Common Prayer with me and in the weeks that followed we occasionally read its services of morning and evening prayer together.

After graduating, I spent a two-week Christmas leave in an Episcopal monastery on the Hudson River not far from West Point, a joyous experience in which I thought I had found everything I was hoping for in the Catholic Church: liturgy, the sacraments, and a religious community that combined prayer, study and service. Stationed with a Navy unit at the Weather Bureau in Washington, DC, I joined a local Episcopal parish, St. Paul’s, which the monks had told me about.

Those months were full of grace. So why am I not writing an essay on “Why I am an Episcopalian”? One piece of the answer is that I had never quite let go of the Catholic Church. I could never walk past a Catholic church without stopping in to pray. A hallmark of the Catholic Church was that the Blessed Sacrament was reserved on or near the altar awaiting anyone who came in. Its presence meant this wasn’t just a room that came to life from time to time but a place where many of the curtains that usually hide God were lifted, even if you were the only person present. The doors of Catholic churches always seemed open.

Another factor were books that found their way into my hands Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

There were negative elements as well. One of these was an experience at the Episcopal monastery I occasionally visited. On the last day of an Easter stay one of the monks asked to see me. Once in the visiting room, he pulled me into a closet and embraced me. I struggled free and left the monastery in great confusion. Back in Washington, I wrote to the prior of the community, telling him what had happened. His reply wasn’t helpful. He might have pointed out that monks, like everyone else, suffer loneliness and have sexual longings of one sort or another and sometimes don’t manage it very well. Rather he said that homosexuality was often an indication of a monastic vocation. As my own sexual orientation was of the more common variety, I wondered if the prior meant I wasn’t the right sort of person to be visiting. After his letter, I had no desire to return. The experience underscored my growing doubts about remaining in the Episcopal Church.

Yet I still had reservations about becoming Catholic and so began to explore the varieties of Christianity in Washington, visiting every sort of church, black and white, high and low. Among them was a Greek Orthodox cathedral, but it seemed a cool, unwelcoming place; I sensed one had to be Greek to be a part of it. I returned several times to the black church on the campus of Howard University, a friendly place with wonderful singing, but felt that, as a white person, I would always be an outsider. If I could have changed skin color by wishing, I would have turned black in the Howard chapel.

As the weeks went by I came to realize that the Catholic churches I so often stopped in to pray were places in which I felt an at-homeness I hadn’t found anywhere else. On November 26,1960, after several months of instruction, I was received into the Catholic Church.

What had most attracted me to Catholicism was the Liturgy. Though in some parishes it was a dry, mechanical affair, there were other parishes where the care taken in every aspect of worship was profound. While for some people, worship in an ancient language is a barrier, in my own case I came to love the Latin. I was happy to be participating in a language of worship that was being used simultaneously in every part of the world and which also was a bridge of connection with past generations. I learned many Latin prayers by heart, especially anything that could be sung, and still sing Latin prayers and hymns. “To sing is to pray twice,” one of the Church Fathers says. How true!

In the early stages of liturgical change following the Second Vatican Council, I felt a complex mixture of expectation and anxiety. Despite my private love of Latin, I could hardly disagree with the many arguments put forward for scrapping it. I didn’t want to hang onto what apparently got in the way for others.

The Englishing of the Liturgy was not carried out by poets. We ended up with the English language in its flattest state. We lost not only Latin but Gregorian chant, a great pity. Most of the music that took its place was pedestrian at every level, fit for shopping malls and Disneyland. The sand blasting had also removed incense. The body language of prayer was in retreat. The holy water fonts were dry. Many bridges linking body and soul were abandoned.

Yet, again like most Catholics, I uttered few words of complaint. I knew that change is not a comfortable experience. And I thought of myself as a modern person; I was embarrassed by my difficulties adjusting to change. Also I had no sense of connection with those who were protesting the changes. These tended to be the rigid Catholics of the sort who were more papal than the Pope. (I had never been attracted to that icy wing of Catholicism that argued one must be a Catholic, and a most obedient Catholic, in order to be saved.)

If one has experienced only the modern “fast-food” liturgy of the Catholic Church, perhaps the typical modern Mass isn’t so disappointing. But for me there was a deep sense of loss. For many years I often left Mass feeling depressed.

All this said, there was a positive side to Catholicism that in many ways compensated for what was missing in the Liturgy. For all its problems, which no church is without, the Catholic Church has the strength of being a world community in which many members see themselves as being on the same footing as fellow Catholics on the other side of the globe; in contrast many Orthodox Christians see their church, even Christ, primarily in national terms. The Catholic Church also possesses a strong sense of co-responsibility for the social order, and a relatively high degree of independence from all political and economic structures.

This aspect of the Catholic Church finds many expressions. I joined one of them, the Catholic Worker movement, after receiving a conscientious objector discharge in 1960.

Founded by Dorothy Day in 1933, the Catholic Worker is well known for its “houses of hospitality” — places of welcome in run-down urban areas where those in need can receive food, clothing, and shelter. It is a movement not unlike the early Franciscans, attempting to live out the Gospels in a simple, literal way. Jesus said to be poor; those involved in the Catholic Worker struggle to have as little as possible. Jesus said to do good to and pray for those who curse you, to love your enemies, to put away the sword; and Catholic Workers try to do this as well, refusing to take part in war or violence. The Catholic Worker view of the world is no less critical than that of the Prophets and the Gospel. There was a remarkable interest in the writings of the Church Fathers. One often found quotations from St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen, Saint Basil and other voices of the early Church in movement’s widely read publication, The Catholic Worker.

I found in Dorothy Day a deep appreciation of its richness and way of worship of the Eastern Church. She also had a special love for Russian literature, most of all the work of Dostoevsky. At times she recited passages from The Brothers Karamazov that had shaped her understanding of Christianity; mainly these had to do with the saintly staretz Father Zosima (a figure modeled in part on Father Amvrosi who was canonized by the Russian Church in 1988) and his teaching on active love. Dorothy inspired me to read Dostoevsky. It was Dorothy who first took me into a Russian Orthodox Church, a cathedral in upper Manhattan where I met a priest who, many years later, I was to meet again in Moscow, Father Matvay Stadniuk. (In 1988 he launched the first public project of voluntary service by Church members since Soviet power had launched its war on religion.) At a Liturgy she took me to I first learned to sing the Old Slavonic words, “Gospodi pomiloi “Lord have mercy, the main prayer of Orthodoxy.

One evening Dorothy brought me to a Manhattan apartment for meeting of the Third Hour, a Christian ecumenical group founded by a Russian émigré, Helene Iswolsky. The conversation was in part about the Russian word for spirituality, dukhovnost. The Russian understanding of spiritual life, it was explained, not only suggests a private relationship between the praying person and God but has profound social content: moral capacity, social responsibility, courage, wisdom, mercy, a readiness to forgive, a way of life centered in love. Much of the discussion flew over my head. At times I was more attentive to the remarkable face of the poet W.H. Auden, a member of the Third Hour group. I recall talk about iurodivi, the “holy fools” who revealed Christ in ways that would be regarded as insanity in the west, and stralniki, those who wandered Russia in continuous pilgrimage, begging for bread and reciting with every breath and step the silent prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

One of the people Dorothy was in touch with was the famous Trappist monk and author, Thomas Merton, whose autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, had been a factor in my becoming a Catholic. Through Dorothy I came to be one of his correspondents and later his guest at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Besides many letters, Merton used to send me photographs of Russian and Greek icons. Icons had played an important part in his conversion to Christianity and, as I was to discover in writing a book about him, in his continuing spiritual life.

Thanks to Merton and Dorothy Day, I was more aware than many western Christians of the eastern Church, but Orthodoxy seemed to me more an ethnic club than a place for an American with a family tree whose roots stretched from Ireland to the Urals, more a living museum than a living Church. My eyes were slow in opening to icons. While the music in Russian churches was amazingly beautiful, Orthodox services seemed too long and the ritual too ornate. I was in a typical American hurry about most things, even worship, and had the usual American aversion to trimmings. Orthodoxy seemed excessive.

As much of my life has been spent editing peace movement publications, one might imagine such work would have opened many east-west doors for me. Ironically, however, through most of the Cold War the peace movement in the United States was notable for its avoidance of contact with the Soviet Union. Perhaps because we were so routinely accused of being “tools of the Kremlin,” peace activists tended to steer clear of the USSR and rarely knew more about it than anyone else. Even to visit the Soviet Union was to be convicted of everything the Reader’s Digest had ever said about KGB direction of peace groups in the west.

In the spring of 1982, after five years heading the staff of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in Holland, I was on a speaking trip that took me to twenty American cities. At the time the Nuclear Freeze movement was gathering strength. It advocated a bilateral end to nuclear testing, freezing the manufacture of nuclear weapons, and halting development of new weapons systems. Millions of people, both Democrat and Republican, supported the Freeze. Yet I came back to Holland convinced that its prospects for success were slight.

The Freeze, like many peace campaigns during the Cold War, was built mainly on fear of nuclear weapons. Practically nothing was being done to respond to relationship issues or fear of the Soviet Union. All that was needed was one nasty incident to burst the balloon, and that came when a Soviet pilot shot down a South Korean 747 passenger plane flying across Soviet air space. The image of the west facing a barbaric and ruthless enemy was instantly revived. The Freeze movement crashed with the 747 jet.

The trip brought home to me that both in the peace movement and in the military, we in the west knew more about weapons than the people at whom the weapons were aimed. I began to look for an opportunity to visit the Soviet Union.

At the time it wasn’t easy to find an opening. The Soviet Union was at war in Afghanistan, an event sharply condemned by the organization I was working for. A seminar we had arranged in Moscow was abruptly canceled on the Soviet side. An editor of Izvestia whom I met in Amsterdam candidly explained that Kremlin was guarding itself from western pacifists unveiling protest signs in Red Square.

In October 1983, a few representatives of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation met several leaders of the Christian Peace Conference for a dialogue on the subject of “Violence, Nonviolence and Liberation.” We met in Moscow in an old wooden building used at that time by the External Church Affairs Department of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The meeting would have been useful no matter where it had happened. But for me it had an unexpected spiritual significance because it was in Russia. I experienced a particular sense of connection with the Russian Orthodox believers and longed to have the chance for more prolonged contact.

A year later I was in Moscow once again, this time for an exchange (sadly not real dialogue) with hardline Communists in the Soviet Peace Committee. For me the primary significance of the trip was the contact with Orthodox believers.

The high point was the Liturgy at the Epiphany Cathedral. This isn’t one of the city’s oldest or most beautiful churches, though it has an outstanding choir. The icons, coming from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were a far cry from Rublev and Theofan the Greek. And yet being in that throng of devout worshipers was a more illuminating experience than I have had in far more beautiful churches. The place became beautiful for me simply because it was such a grace to be there.

The church was crowded as a church in the west would be only on a major feast day. As is usual in the Russian Orthodox Church, there were no pews. There were a few benches and chairs along the walls for those who needed them, but I found it freeing to be on my feet. Though at times it was uncomfortable to be standing up for so long, being upright made me more attentive. It was like a move from the bleachers to the field. (I’d like one day to learn how chairs and benches made their way into churches. Is it connected with the Reformation’s re-centering of services around the sermon? Perhaps it happened when people got bored.)

I was fascinated by the linking of spiritual and physical activity. Making the sign of the cross and half bows were ordinary elements of prayer. Orthodox believers seemed to cross themselves and bow almost continually. As I watched the rippling of bowing heads in the tightly packed congregation, I was reminded of the patterns the wind makes blowing across afield of wheat.

All the while two choirs, in balconies on either side of the huge cupola, were singing. For the Creed and Our Father, the congregation joined with the choirs, singing with great force.

At first I stood like a statue, though wanting to do what those around me were doing. It seemed so appropriate for an incarnational religion to link body and soul through these simple gestures. It must have taken me most of an hour before I began to pray in the Russian style.

The sense of people being deeply at prayer was as tangible as Russian black bread. I felt that if the walls and pillars of the church were taken away, the roof would rest securely on the prayers of the congregation below. I have very rarely experienced this kind of intense spiritual presence. In its intensity, though there are many superficial differences, I can only compare it to the black church in America.

The experience led me to write Pilgrim to the Russian Church, a book which required a number of Russian trips; on one of these I was joined by my wife, Nancy.

In the course of my travels I came to love the slow, unhurried tradition of prayer in Orthodoxy, deeply appreciating its absent-mindedness about the clock. The Liturgy rarely started on time, never ended on time, and lasted two or three hours, still longer on great feasts. I discovered that Orthodox believers are willing to give to worship the kind of time and devotion that Italians give to their evening meals.

I became increasingly aware of how deep and mindful is Orthodox preparation for communion, with stress on forgiveness of others as a precondition for reception of the sacrament.

I enjoyed watching confession in Orthodox churches. The penitent and priest weren’t tucked away in closets but stood in front on the iconostasis, faces nearly touching. There is a tenderness about it that never ceases to amaze me. (While I still don’t find confession easy, I don’t envy those forms of Christianity that do without it.)

I quickly came to appreciate Orthodoxy for taking literally Jesus’ teaching, “Let the children come to me and hinder them not.” In our Catholic parish in Holland, our daughter Anne had gone from confusion and hurt to pain and anger after many attempts to receive communion with Nancy and me. She hadn’t reached “the age of reason” and therefore couldn’t receive the instruction considered a prerequisite to sacramental life. But a child in an Orthodox parish is at the front of the line to receive communion.

I came to esteem the married clergy of Orthodoxy. While there are many Orthodox monks and nuns and celibacy is an honored state, I found that marriage is more valued in Orthodoxy than Catholicism. Sexual discipline is taken no less seriously, yet one isn’t left feeling that the main sins are sexual.

I came to cherish the relative darkness usual in Orthodox churches, where the main light source is candles. Candle light creates a climate of intimacy. Icons are intended for candlelight.

Praying with icons was an aspect of Orthodox spirituality that opened its doors to us even though we weren’t yet Orthodox. During a three-month sabbatical in 1985 when we were living near Jerusalem, we bought a small Russian Vladimirskaya icon of Mary and Jesus and began praying before it. The icon itself proved to be a school of prayer. We learned much about prayer by simply standing in front of our icon.

All the while Nancy and I were continuing our frustrating search for a Catholic parish that we could be fully a part of in our Dutch town.

On the one hand there were parishes that seemed linked to the larger Church only by frayed threads; parishes were abandoning rituals, traditions and lines of connection which seemed to us worth preserving, and going their own way. There were other parishes that, in ritual life, were clearly part of a larger church but where there was no sense of welcome or warmth.

Finally Nancy and I became part of a parish where, by joining the choir, we felt more a part of a church community. But we were far and away the youngest members of the choir and still felt apart. None of our children were willing to come.

How we envied Russian Orthodox believers! Oddly enough it didn’t occur to me that there might be a similar quality of worship in Orthodox churches in the west. I thought that Orthodoxy was like certain wines that must be sipped at the vineyard. I also had the idea that Russian parishes in the west must be filled with bitter refugees preoccupied with hating Communists.

Then in January 1988, at the invitation of Father Alexis Voogd, pastor of the St. Nicholas of Myra Church in Amsterdam, Nancy and I took part in a special ecumenical service to mark the beginning of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Millennium celebration: a thousand years since the baptism of the citizens of Kiev. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, we were packed into the tiny church for a service that was a hodge-podge of speeches by clergy from various local churches interspersed with beautiful Russian hymns sung by the parish choir.

If it was just that ecumenical service, perhaps we might not have returned. But at the reception in the parish hall that followed, we were startled to experience a kind of interaction that I had rarely found in any church in any country, not to say in prudent, restrained, understated Holland.

Walking to the train station afterward, we decided to come back and see what the Liturgy was like. The following Sunday we discovered it was every bit as profound as it was in Russia. And that was that. We managed only once or twice to return to Mass in our former Catholic parish. Before a month had passed we realized that a prayer we had been living with along time had been answered: we had found a church we wholeheartedly could belong to and couldn’t bear not going to even if it meant getting out of bed early and traveling by train and tram to Amsterdam every week.

On Palm Sunday 1988, I was received into the Orthodox Church; Nancy made the same step on Pentecost.

In many ways it wasn’t such a big step from where we had been. Orthodoxy and Catholicism have so much in common: sacraments, apostolic succession, the calendar of feasts and fasts, devotion to the Mother of God, and much more. Yet in Orthodoxy we found an even deeper sense of connection with the early Church and a far more vital form of liturgical life. Much that has been neglected in Catholicism and abandoned in Protestant churches, especially confession and fasting, remain central in Orthodox life. We quickly found what positive, life-renewing gifts they were, and saw that they were faring better in a climate that was less legalistic but more demanding.


The religious movement in my life, which from the beginning was influenced by my parents, also influenced them. While neither followed me into Catholicism or Orthodoxy, in the early sixties my mother returned to the Methodist Church and remains much a part of her church to this day; she had resigned from the Communist Party at the time the Soviets put down the Hungarian uprising. Despite her age and failing eyesight, she continues in her struggle for the poor, much to the consternation of local politicians and bureaucrats. While my father never left “the Party” (to the end of his life he wore rose-colored glasses when looking at the USSR), he eventually became a Unitarian. He enjoyed the joke about Unitarians believing at most in one God. In the last two decades of his life he was especially active in developing low-income and inter-racial housing projects in California. A cooperative he helped found in Santa Rosa was singled out for several honors, including the Certificate of National Merit from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Always deeply supportive of my religious commitment, I recall with particular happiness hearing him reading aloud to my step-mother from my book, Pilgrim to the Russian Church. On his death bed in the spring of 1990, he borrowed the crucifix I normally wear around my neck. It was in his hands when he died.

Jim Forest is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and editor of its quarterly journal, In Communion. His most recent books are Praying With Icons and The Ladder of the Beatitudes (both published by Orbis). Earlier books include Religion in the New Russia, Pilgrim to the Russian Church, Love is the Measure: a biography of Dorothy Day, and Living with Wisdom: a Life of Thomas Merton. A book on the resurrection of the Orthodox Church in Albania is scheduled for publication by the World Council of Churches in the Fall of 2001. Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness will be published early in 2002. He has lived in the Netherlands since 1977 and is a member of the St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam. The essay is reprinted from Toward the Authentic Church, edited by Thomas Doulis (Minneapolis: Light & Life Books, 1996). Photo taken in Oxford, May 2001, by Nancy Forest.

Jim Forest: an alphabet of his own design

Photo of Jim Forest Jim Forest’s activity as a writer began in New Jersey at age five, in 1946, when he produced a handwritten family newspaper using an alphabet of his own design. It was an excellent publication whose only shortcoming was that no one could read it.

A few years after achieving literacy, he was often found hanging around the office of the town’s weekly newspaper, watching linotypers set type from molten zinc, a form of typesetting now associated with Dark Ages if not the Paleolithic Era. Before long he was hawking The Red Bank Register on Broad Street, delivering newspapers door to door, and starting his own mimeographed publication using an alphabet that others could read.

His engagement in Christianity began about the same time that he was selling newspapers. At age 12 he was baptized in an Episcopal parish in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, though it wasn’t until he was in the U.S. Navy that he began to see his vocation in religious terms.

In 1960, while working at the U.S. Weather Bureau headquarters near Washington as part of a Navy meteorological unit, he joined the Catholic Church.

In 1961, after obtaining an early discharge from the Navy on grounds of conscientious objection, he joined the Catholic Worker community, led by Dorothy Day, in New York City; during that period he became managing editor of The Catholic Worker.

Later he was a reporter a New York City daily newspaper, The Staten Island Advance, and worked for Religious News Service, a press bureau.

Another dimension of Jim’s life has been peace work.

In 1965, he founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship, a group whose work in making known the option of conscientious objection was a factor in the remarkable fact that no religious community produced so many conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War as the Catholic Church.

In the late sixties, Jim was responsible for Vietnam program activities of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. One aspect of his work was to travel with and assist Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and poet.

In 1969-70, Jim was imprisoned for thirteen months as a consequence of his involvement in the “Milwaukee Fourteen,” a group of Catholic priests and lay people who burned draft records. After leaving prison, he was a member of the Emmaus Community in East Harlem, New York.

Starting in 1973, he was appointed editor of Fellowship, the magazine of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

In 1977, he moved to Holland to head the staff of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. He was IFOR’s General Secretary for twelve years.

In connection with work on two books about Russian religious life, in the 1980s Jim traveled widely throughout the former Soviet Union and was a witness to the final days of the USSR. His experiences in Russia were a factor in his becoming, in 1988, an Orthodox Christian. Jim is now international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and edits its quarterly publication, In Communion.

Jim is the author of many books, including The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, Praying with Icons, The Ladder of the Beatitudes, The Wormwood File: E-Mail from Hell, and Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness. He has written two biographies that remain in print: Living With Wisdom: a biography of Thomas Merton; and Love is the Measure: a biography of Dorothy Day. Earlier books include Religion in the New Russia, Pilgrim to the Russian Church, and Making Friends of Enemies. He has written several children’s books, most recently a true story about a community of rescuers in Nazi-occupied Paris: Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue. With Tom Cornell and Robert Ellsberg, he co-edited A Penny a Copy: Readings from The Catholic Worker. Translations of his books have been published in Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Korean, Japanese, and Romanian.

An occasional teacher, in the early seventies, Jim taught at New York Theological Seminary and the College of New Rochelle. In 1985, during a sabbatical, he taught at the Ecumenical Institute, Tantur, near Jerusalem, and in 1999 was part of the summer faculty of the Department of Religion at the University of Dayton.

Jim has led retreats in the USA and England and has lectured at hundreds of parishes, theological schools, colleges and universities.

An influential factor in Jim’s life was his friendship with Thomas Merton, who dedicated Faith and Violence to Jim. Merton’s letters to Jim have been published in The Hidden Ground of Love.

In 1989, he received the Peacemaker Award from Notre Dame University’s Institute for International Peace Studies. He is also the recipient of the St. Marcellus Award presented annually by the Catholic Peace Fellowship.

After several years of being treated by kidney illness, in October 2007 Jim received a transplanted kidney donated by his wife, Nancy.

He is the father of six children and grandfather of five.

Since 1977 his home has been in Alkmaar, Holland, a city northwest of Amsterdam.

Want to know more?

Here’s an autobiographical essay, “Getting From There to Here.”

[Photo by Beth Forest, taken at The Cloisters, New York City.]

page updated in September 2009

Calendar for Jim Forest's Fall 2004 lecture trip

(as updated September 25, 2004):

Oct 26: fly to San Francisco via Minneapolis

Oct 27: talk after Vespers on “Everyday Mysticism” at Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral on Green Street in San Francisco

Oct 28: Erasmus seminar at USF, 2 pm

Oct 29-31: Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference, St. Nicholas Ranch, Dunlap, California

Nov 2: University of California, Santa Barbara; conatct Fr. Jon-Stephen Hedges

Nov 7: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Orthodox Peace Fellowship/Fellowship of St George meeting

Nov 8: Winona, Minnesota

meeting with the local Catholic Worker community

Nov 11: lecture “Peace Is the Way” — Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Kaufman House, Bethel College, 2515 College Avenue, PO Box A, North Newton, KS 67117

Nov 12:

breakfast talk sponsored by People of Faith for Peace; contact Allison Lemons

morning talk to a class at Bethel

evening: book signing and talk at Eighth Day Books in Witchita

Nov 13: St. George Cathedral, Witchita

?? Nov 14 sermon at St. George Cathedral, Wichita ??

Nov 20: St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary, arrive by lunch time

Nov 22: fly back to Amsterdam

Practical questions…

How much does it cost?

I try to clear $1200 a day ($2500 for weekends) plus travel costs. Some hosts can manage more; sometimes I agree on less. While my default setting is yes, keep in mind the biblical injunction: “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” Also bear in mind that it isn’t just the time I’m speaking. A great many hours of preparation go into these trips. (Travel costs are shared out between hosts.)


At least a few weeks beforehand, place an order with Orbis so that copies of my recent books can be on hand: The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, The Ladder of the Beatitudes, Praying With Icons, Living With Wisdom, and Love is the Measure. Orbis will send them at a bookseller discount with the right to return unsold books. To place an order, call the marketing department at Orbis: (914) 941-7636, ext. 2575. (For details about ordering my book on the resurrection of the Church in Albania, see the corresponding article.)

Promotional resources

If you need a speaker photo and/or a biography, two are available on this web site: “Jim Forest: an alphabet of his own design” — a short biography, and “Getting From There to Here” — a longer biography of Jim Forest.

What sort of accommodation is required?

I try to avoid hotels and, even more, motels, preferring to stay in a host family’s guest room.

Special dietary needs?

Apart from being on a low salt diet, I am not a fussy eater.

Other needs?

It is helpful to have some quiet times for prayer, reading and correspondence between speaking events. If an art museum is not too distant, and there is time to visit it, I always welcome such opportunities.

Reflections on Marriage

by Nancy Forest

Having become Orthodox in the course of our marriage, Jim and I were blessed with the sacrament of marriage on September 10, 1995, at the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra in Amsterdam. After the ceremony I spoke with several women, all of them non-Orthodox, who had had quite some difficulty with part of the wedding service.The part that caused the problems was the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33):

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and bejoined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Icon of Saints Anne and Joachim I was concerned that the people who had difficulty with this passage would let it overshadow all the things that they found good and beautiful about the wedding service and about Orthodoxy in general. So I decided to write a brief letter to them to try to address some of these problems.

The idea of women submitting to their husbands, and of a husband being “the head of the wife”, is admittedly not the sort of thing that you might read in most modern literature on the subject. It seems to advocate a kind of marital state in which women’s opinions are secondary to their husbands’, a situation which the women’s movement has been trying to correct for several decades now.

Because it was our wedding, and because I feel strongly that the truth of this passage does not deny “women’s rights”, I want to write something about what it means to me. I am not a theologian, and my knowledge of Orthodox theology is not strong. But Jim and I were married by civil authorities thirteen years ago, so we had many years of experience as a married couple before we were married in the church.

First of all, I think there are a couple of ways that you can easily dismiss the whole passage. You can simply say that it’s a matter of translation. One friend who objected to the passage told me that she had trouble with the Dutch word “onderdanig”, which sounds much stronger than the English “be subject to”. And when I looked the passage up in our biblical concordance I learned that there are several words in Greek that convey the idea of obedience and submission. The word used in this particular passage is exactly the same word that is used to convey submission to God. It is, in fact, a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troopdivisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. But in ordinary, non-military use the word was used to mean “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”. There is another word used in the Epistles which is translated in English as “submit”, but this word suggests yielding and weakness. The word in the marriage ceremony, however, does not suggest weakness; it suggests cooperation.

By contrast, there are two other sections in chapter 6 in which Saint Paul discusses the obedience of children to their parents, and the obedience of slaves to their masters, and here he uses yet another word. So he chose his words carefully. He chose a word which suggests sharing burdens and cooperating, not yielding as the weaker party. We don’t have this kind of flexibility in English (or in Dutch).

One might also dismiss the passage on the basis of cultural differences. After all, Saint Paul also tells slaves to obey their masters, and today we all recognize the injustice of slavery. So might we not also say that Paul’s understanding of women is as outdated as his understanding of slavery? I suppose we might, but he clearly makes a distinction between his discussion of marriage (with the different verb) and his discussion of other kinds of obedience. The key sentence is “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” For Paul, there was a vital link between marriage and the love of Christ for the church. He does not say that the relationship of children to parents, or slaves to masters, reflects the love of Christ for the church. It’s only in marriage.

I think there are two important issues at stake here. One is the importance of freedom in Christian life. The other is the radical change that Jesus brought to hierarchical structures (although he did not eliminate them).

In his brief sermon after the wedding ceremony, Father Sergei Ovsiannikov talked about how essential it is that people who marry be free people. He said that in ancient times, slaves were not permitted to marry; this was a rite that was reserved for free people only. Both men and women enter into marriage out of freedom, out of a desire to submit to each other and a willingness to sacrifice their singularity and to create a new thing, a married couple, a single unit. This doesn’t mean obliterating their selves, but it implies a freely-chosen state in which there is a constant, active submission to each other. Freedom is important because it means that both men and women should struggle to make intelligent, mature, responsible decisions, to listen to each other, to have the courage to admit mistakes and to defer to their partner at times. People who are not free don’t behave like this. Women who are not free never disagree with their husbands and support them even when they are wrong. This isn’t a Christian marriage.

The word “free” is an interesting one among the Indo-European languages. If you could trace it back through linguistic history to the ancient Indo-European language, the mother language of all modern Western languages, you would find some root word that is no longer spoken today. The scholarly guess is that the Indo-European root word of “free” was “pri”, which meant “to love”. In ancient English, “free” implied a relationship. It meant someone who was “dear to the chief” and who fought for the tribal chief out of allegiance and love, not for money or because of coercion. The freeman was not a conscript or a mercenary. “Free” implied sacrifice and submission as well. It didn’t mean that you were “free” of all ties, as it does today. It meant that your ties were freely chosen because of your feelings of love for the person to whom you gave your allegiance.

If you trace the evolution of the Indo-European root word as it passed into other Western languages you would be surprised at what you find: all sorts of words that have to do with loving relationships: friend, “freund,” “vriend,” “vrijen,” and dozens of words in other languages, even to an Old Slavonic word “prijateli,” or friend, and the Sanskrit words “priya,” dear, and “prn” to delight or endear. So the connection between freedom and love has been deeply imbedded in our culture.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to return to that Greek word which was translated as “submit”. The definition of that word is “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” There’s the same stress on freedom and the decision of the free person to give in to the other and to help bear a burden.

But to say that both husband and wife must be free people, loving people, may not satisfactorily address the problem of the husband being called the “head” of the wife, and of women being instructed to be “subject to their husbands in all things”. I think we can’t look at this problem simply from our Western, post-Enlightenment way of thinking; we can’t just insist that both the husband and the wife be regarded as separate, unique, equal individuals and leave it at that. The relationship, or the flow of love, or the dynamic that is always taking place in a marriage has to be described somehow.

Several times in this passage Paul says that the marital relationship is like the love that Christ has for the Church; he says, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers toChrist and the church.” There is no other kind of relationship that is described in this way in the Bible — not the Platonic love between men or the love of a subject to a king or the love between mothers and children or even the love of a spiritual leader for his flock, although these all are profoundly deep forms of love. None of them “refer to Christ and the church” as marriage does. It’s almost as if Paul were saying that a married couple is an icon, a way of actually seeing the mystical truth of Christ and the church. So to say that the man is the “head” isn’t just a reference to traditional patriarchal sexist hierarchy; it’s a way of describing the structure of the marriage to reflect the mystical truth to which it refers. This doesn’t give men the license to lord it over their wives and beat them into submission; it should serve to direct the attention of the man and the woman to the relationship that serves as their model — the love between Christ and the church. So what is that model like?

This, I think, is where the second issue comes in, the radical change that Jesus brought to hierarchical structures, and the question of power and submission. I’m not a New Testament scholar, and I don’t have my finger on all the particular references in the New Testament, but I do know that the whole life of Christ was the story of the Son of God humbling himself and sacrificing himself for humankind. He was born in a stable, he lived in humble circumstances, he scandalized people by associating with the lower classes, he washed his disciples’ feet under their great protest. So the model of Christ’s love for the church is one of humility and sacrifice, not one of power and control.

There are many passages in the Gospel in which the relationship between Christ and the church is described in terms of a bridegroom and a bride. I’m often reminded of this during the Liturgy, because it seems to me that the whole physical structure of the church itself and the movement of the Liturgy keep pointing to this relationship. The people coming into the church bearing candles (like the story of the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom), the priest comes out from the sanctuary bringing the bread and wine — the bridegroom — to the church, and the church comes forward to receive him. The parallel between this and marriage is profound (as Paul says) and intensely physical at the same time.

I think that Paul insisted that in marriage we must understand the man as the “head” of the woman because he felt very deeply that the mystery of marriage is a real mirror of the mystery of Christ’s love for the church. In saying this, then, Paul is implying that a man’s love for his wife should be as humble, as complete, and as self-giving as Christ’s is; and in saying that women should “submit” to their husbands, Paul, in his choice of words, is implying that women should voluntarily, in freedom, consent to listen, cooperate, and bear their share of the burden of the marriage.

We have to face the fact that as children of our age, passages like this one are going to be very difficult for us, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. Submission is not a popular attitude today. So perhaps we have to go further than studying the etymologies of the words in Paul’s epistle. Perhaps we, as women, have to examine our own reaction to being told to submit, to acknowledge someone else as our “head”. This is admittedly a very difficult thing for intelligent, educated, healthy people to do. We bristle at the very thought. In Western culture today, intelligent women are those who recognize their own individual worth; many women refuse to change their names as a way of asserting their individuality; women demand to be recognized as equal before the law. So when it is suggested that we submit to our husbands, men ought to understand what an extremely difficult thing is being asked of us. But it is being asked of us, because without our submission the icon of marriage is incomplete.

When I discussed this with a friend of ours recently, a priest with a broad understanding of Islam, he reminded me that in Islam the highest thing one can aspire to is submission, that “Islam” itself means submission to God. And when we look to the Mother of God, who should be our model of the perfect response to God’s will, we see the same attitude of submission. But that’s submission to God, you say, and we’re talking about submission to husbands, to ordinary human beings. Perhaps this is where the mystery of marriage lies, and this is what Paul was talking about when he said that no other relationship bears the stamp of Christ’s love for the church. The submission of a woman to her husband is not a one-way street, because husbands are enjoined to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, that is, with the kind of sacrificial love that is full of respect and honor.

There is the temptation here to see marriage as a kind of balance, with husband and wife cautiously playing their submission and sacrifice cards in an ultimate effort to protect themselves and flatter their own egos: “I’ll submit to you if you sacrifice to me”; “I’ve done something selfless for you to show you how saintly I am, and I expect something in return.” But this isn’t the way Christ loves the Church. If you enter into marriage with the idea that you’re going to struggle to protect your self, even by balancing out your acts of mutual sacrifice, you’ll never have a marriage at all. Marriage isn’t a deal. The flow of submission and sacrifice is a reflection of the flow of love among the persons of the Holy Trinity. We regard the Trinity not as three separate gods who love each other, but as one God who is Love itself. And perhaps here is the mystery: Paul is telling women to submit to their husbands, not primarily out of a sense of self (either submission as a way to enhance one’s ego or submissionas a confirmation of one’s poor self-esteem) but without a consideration of self at all. The challenge of marriage for both women and men is that the marriage must become the primary source of identity for both of them, and that the energy that holds this thing together and keeps it alive and vital is submission on the part of the wife and sacrificial love on the part of thehusband.

We are often given to understand that the challenge of marriage today is for the two partners to try to maintain their own identities. But it may be that this is a very questionable goal, and that indeed just the opposite is true. The challenge of marriage today is that in the face of a culture that forces us to dwell within the fortress of our own personality, with all the exhausting protection that such an enterprise entails, we are asked to tear down the walls and build something new with someone else. The enormous comfort of St. Paul’s epistle is his assurance that in doing so we are reflecting the love of Christ himself.

Out of the Darkness

The voice of Marika Cico

Despite the extreme religious repression that reigned in Albania for so many years, thousands of people lived a carefully-hidden religious life. A few even dared to organize hidden churches, among them two sisters living in Korça, the principal city in the southeast of Albania. One of the sisters is still alive — Marika Cico (pronounced Tsitso), 95 years old when I met her. The Cico home — an old house behind a small courtyard in the center of Korça — was the location of many secret liturgies, baptisms, chrismations, confessions and marriages. These events normally happened late at night in a back room in which religious activity would least likely be noticed.

The trip from Tirana to Korça (19 km from the Greek border) was an unforgettable, at times nerve-wracking, experience, providing my first substantial encounter both with Albania’s mountains and the devastated condition of Albania’s roads. Though occasionally we encountered European-financed road improvement projects that provide a glimpse of a future day when travel will not be such a trial, for drivers at present travel in Albania is an endless search for that elusive part of the road that is least pitted.

But we had our rewards. There were amazing — also terrifying — vistas from narrow mountain ridges of unfolding valleys and other, still more dramatic peaks in the distance. Occasionally we looked down abrupt drops not just on one side of the road but both. It was along the narrow, winding route between Tirana and Elbasan that a young priest, Father Sotiri, his wife Marianna and one of their two sons was killed when their car plunged over the unguarded ledge of a cliff. (Remarkably, their other son survived the accident and is now living at the seminary near Durres.)

Later, driving along the edge of Lake Ochrid toward Pogradec, we stopped at a small restaurant, Shen Naumi, and ate freshly grilled koran, a fish for which Lake Ochrid has been famous since ancient times. A local fisherman had caught only three koran that morning.

It was in the late afternoon, after a first short visit with Metropolitan John, that my translator, John Lena, and I rang the bell of the Cico house.

Opening the door, Marika Cico crossed herself before leading us inside, bringing us into the kitchen. She was wearing a back dress and cap, in mourning not for a deceased husband — she never married — but for her dear sister Demetra who died in 1996. Yet there was no trace of sorrow or mourning in her face. Nearly blind, her wide eyes were made all the wider by the thickness of her glasses. She knew John already, clearly regarded him as a near relative, and assumed the very best of me as well. As it happened, there were two other visitors in the house, Frangji Kosti, a sister-in-law, and her niece, Anne Fiku.

“It is a blessing you came!” she said as we sat down at the kitchen table. She made her sign of the cross once again, then rested her hand on mine.

“First I wanted to thank God for two people, my parents. I thank God who made my mother and father faithful and who gave us a religious education. Our mother was very religious and gave all of us this joy. Mother always wanted a church here dedicated to Saint Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin, and now it is being built in the center of the city! It is a miracle. We suffered but God held us up high.

“Whatever we suffered we always remained happy because we had God. When we were little girls, my mother often read to us — she read the Gospels, not the newspapers. The important things in our lives were parents, Gospel, Church. We all suffered — Turks, King Zog, wars, many trials, Communists, property taken away — but God was always with us in our suffering.”

She sent Franji to bring a photo of her mother so we could see her face. As it happened, she and her sister Demetra were on either side of their mother in the photo.

“Also I thank God for my sister.” Again she crosses herself. “Until she died, she had the Gospel in her hand day and night. She was a woman of great wisdom and strength. She was able to strengthen me and many others.”

I mentioned to her the admiration Archbishop Anastasios has for her and her late sister.

“There is no bishop like this anywhere. He is a new saint God has sent to Albania. When he arrived, we were so happy we flew! He saved Orthodoxy in Albania. He brought us out of darkness. He has done so much for us — built churches, given us priests, helped people who were suffering. When refugees came from Kosovo, he helped them. The government wanted to kick him out but he is still with us! We could hardly believe it when we heard a bishop was coming here. My nephew said, ‘Make yourself ready. The bishop is coming.’ We three sisters — myself, Demetra and Berta, our sister in Christ — went to meet him. Then we were introduced to him! He embraced us with tears.” Again she crossed herself. “And when he saw we had health problems — eyes, heart, throat — he sent us to Athens for healing.”

Her niece Anne interrupted to pour tea, but Marika hardly paused.

“I must tell you more about my mother. When I was little, I had a very poor memory. I couldn’t remember any of the things I was supposed to learn in school though I tried and tried. I started crying. My mother heard me, came and gave me a blessing. ‘Why are you crying?’ she asked. When I told her, she said to go to the church and ask the Virgin Mary to help me remember things. I did as she said. I went to the church, prayed before the icon of the Mother of God, took courage — and my memory became better! After that I stopped in the church every morning. Of course in those days the church still existed and the doors were always open. You could pray day and night.

“But in 1967 they came and told us that the church would be closed. My sister heard it first — she was a chanter in the church. Now there would be no churches to sing in! They told us to get rid of the icons, so we hid them all right here — behind curtains, in drawers. Later they searched, but God made them blind and they didn’t find them! Then a theologian we knew brought us a statue of Jesus the Italians that left in Korça. We hid this also, right in the closet behind some clothing. Again they searched and even then they didn’t find it! God closed their eyes. God did not allow them to see what was under their noses. Because they were frightened, other people brought icons to us and we hid these as well.”

I asked how it was possible that liturgies were celebrated in their house.

“It happened that a friend from Vlora came and told us about a faithful priest, Father Kosmas [Qirjo], and asked if we would like to meet him. We learned it was his custom once a week to wake at midnight, walk to another house, sometimes as much as 10 km away, to read from the Bible with others and to celebrate a secret liturgy. The windows were covered with blankets and the candle put under rather than on the table.

“In 1967 he watched as his church was burned down — the Church of the Five Martyrs in the village of Bestrova, near Vlora. Afterwards, with his wife and two sons, he was sent to do forced labor on a cooperative farm. Finally they were allowed to return to their village but he had to do manual labor 14 hours a day beginning at 6 AM, often working in bare feet.

“He was very poor. His black raisa [priest’s robe] was so faded, it was almost white. He had seven children and lived in a muddy hut with only one window. It was a very poor family, but when we talked with him we realized he was an apostle. He talked with us all night long — night was the only time one could have such a conversation. We asked him what he needed and helped him and his family in every way we could. He had not been well-educated but he read the Bible by the light of the moon and God enlightened him. Like other priests in those years, he became a laborer, but he never gave up being a priest. ‘I am a priest,’ he said, ‘and I will remain in the church even if the church has no building. In my house I will dress as a priest, outside I will wear pants’.”

A cookie tin was opened and more tea poured.

“People wanted to be baptized, people wanted to be crowned [married], people wanted to confess — they would go to him in the middle of the night. He was far from here, on the other side of Albania near the Adriatic Sea. We could not easily communicate. We would send him a message — ‘Please find wool from the sheep so Frangji can make clothing for the children.’ This meant we are fasting — can you bring us Holy Communion? In the beginning there were about ten women in our group, all fasting through the week. On Thursday we would make candles and prosphora [bread for the Eucharist]. This was the day when Father Kosmas would arrive. Then on Friday night we could receive Communion!

“Five or six times a year, especially in the summer, he was able to come to Korça — to celebrate the Liturgy, baptize, bless marriages, hear confessions, and teach. One time he was stopped by the police and taken to the police station but they never looked in his bag — if they had, they would have found his vestments. God closed their eyes.”

Marika held her hand over her glasses so that I might see what God had done.

I asked how often Father Kosmas managed to come to Korça.

“When he came, the children would come very close to him. ‘Talk to us! Talk to us!’ they said. They didn’t want to leave him. They went to sleep. Our friends would arrive, coming one by one so as not to be noticed. The door was locked and the windows were closed with blankets. We slept a short time, then my sister made a table into an altar. She had everything that was needed. Father Kosmas would bring the wine. Then we did the Liturgy, celebrating until three in the morning. It was so beautiful. We were in heaven!”

Marika crossed herself three times.

“When we finished, we ate a little bread. Then one at a time, so that no one would notice, those who had come would go home. Sometimes there were baptisms, sometimes crownings. We did this regularly, contacting Father Kosmas whenever he was needed, though it was not easy to come — travel was difficult and there were always dangers.”

She told me that Father Kosmas had become the second Albanian-born bishop after the Communist time (the first was Metropolitan John of Korça, a spiritual child of Father Kosmas).

“Archbishop Anastasios wanted very much to have bishops who were born here, but when he arrived there were not even twenty priests still alive, many of them very weak, some close to death. It is the Orthodox rule that a bishop should be living a monastic rather than a married life. But in 1998 Father Kosmas and his wife embraced a celibate life, living apart so that he could serve as a bishop. Our dear Father Kosmas died on August 11, 2000, and we miss him. He lived the Liturgy every day. We were one body, this life we were living. I believe he was a saint.”

Marika paused. Tears were glistening in her eyes.

“For 23 years, from 1967 to 1990, this is how we lived. There was not one church open in all of Albania. Of course for many years before 1967 it was difficult — arrests, people exiled, even people shot — but still many churches were open.”

One of the people whom she had met before 1967 was Bishop Irineos, who was then living in exile.

“He was an educated man. He had studied in Belgrade. The Communists had taken everything from him. My sister sent me to him with olives and cheese. He was so happy when he saw me! So we sat at the table and talked and talked. I said, ‘With your blessing, please teach me something. Tell me what we should do, how we should act.’ It was because of this question that Bishop Irineos suggested to me what he called unsleeping prayer. He said there was a monastery in Yugoslavia that was in danger of being destroyed by a forest fire and that we should do unsleeping prayer to save it. I asked him, ‘What is unsleeping prayer? How can we do this? How is it possible with Communists all around?’ He said it was something we could do in turns. If you have 24 people, each person has one hour in the day — it could be 12 to 1 at night, for example. One hour, one person. When there are 12, each takes two hours. I returned to Korça and we agreed to do what he said. We did unsleeping prayer and on the sixth day the fire changed direction and the monastery was not destroyed. Even after the fire changed direction, we continued our prayer day and night for 40 days.”

She paused to sip her tea and catch her breath.

“That was the beginning — that was when churches were still open in Albania. When they were closed, many times afterward we did unsleeping prayer that the churches would reopen — and now they have! But we had to wait many years.”

I asked what actions they had undertaken in 1967.

“When the evil time came, I said, ‘Let us do unsleeping prayer again.’ We did it with twelve people and experienced a joy we had never felt before! We suffered many things, but still we were saved! One of my two brothers was sent into exile for five years in the worst village in Albania, but he survived. We also fasted. God took fear away from us! My brother said we must be careful, and we were, but we never stopped. This is how we were saved. And now, thank God, Communism has died and we are alive! And God gave us a big gift, these two bishops [Archbishop Anastasios and Metropolitan John of Korça]!”

Was their activity only in Korça, I asked.

“Sometimes we would go looking for mountain churches. There was an old villager who showed the way to one but he warned us to be careful — ‘They are listening!’ he said. We found the rocks where the church had been and we saw a woman kneeling there, praying in tears. She was frightened when she saw us but we told her not to be scared, we were also believers and we too had come to pray. In the night the old man who showed us the way let us stay in his own simple shed, an earth floor covered with hay. He said, ‘You sleep here.’ He shared his bread with us. In the morning we woke up early and said our prayers.”

A major event in the life of Korça’s hidden church was the arrival of Theofan Popa.

“Theofan Popa was a strong Christian well educated in theology and art history and employed with the Ministry of Monuments. He was able to save many churches by having them classified as monuments of culture. It was too obvious to his superiors that he was a Christian. As punishment, he was sent from Tirana to exile in Korça — but for us his arrival was a gift from God. At first he stayed in a hotel and there he asked someone he met in the hotel restaurant if there was anyone religious in the town and in this way he heard about my sister and me. We two were a choir, he was told. We came to our house and we talked for three hours. After that, we told him, ‘This is your house. Come whenever you wish. Don’t even ask.’ He was an angel to us. He was able to save many churches by having them recognized as monuments — also many icons were saved as ‘works of cultural importance’ because of him. They are still in the museum here in Korça. Had it not been for him, they would have been destroyed.”

The future bishop of Korça also found his way to the choir-of-two, the Cico sisters, and the hidden church that had formed around them.

“His name was Fatimir when we first met him — John after his baptism. He worked in a mental hospital because this was a place where he could do some good. When Father Kosmas baptized him, he said, ‘You will be like Saint John the Theologian.’ This is why he gave him the name John, and this is what happened — he became a theologian. I love him like a son.

“I remember there was an old woman in the hospital where he worked who wanted her legs washed — otherwise she would go crazy, she said. So he stayed at the end of each day to care for her. When a doctor found him staying late, he was surprised but respected the motives and gave him support afterward when support was needed. He even was ready to help him go to another country to study medicine at a time when travel abroad was almost impossible but he didn’t want to leave. He said, ‘But who will care for them? It is better to stay here. I can do more.’ And today he is Metropolitan John!”

She paused, crossed herself, and then remembered another important member of their community.

“I must not leave out our dear Papa Jani. We pray for him every day. Now he is a priest, one of the very first ordained after the time of no churches. In the hard years, he worked in a metal factory where he was able secretly to make crosses which he left in churches for visitors to find and take away.”

I asked when she could first sense the prohibition against religious life would finally end.

“Sometimes we would go in secret to roofless churches with no icons, only ruins, and pray in them. Once we did this when we had a sick nephew — we prayed and slept in a ruined church and he got better. That night there were two other people who came secretly with a candle to pray there and so discovered us. They were so frightened. The man was someone high in the government. We reassured them, ‘We are here for the same reason. You have nothing to fear.’ So we prayed together in that mountain church. The man told us that in one year the government would allow churches to be open again — we were so happy to know this! We started kissing his hand. But he said we must not tell anyone. It was a secret. I only told Father Kosmas.

“Finally [in 1990] the Communist time began to end. We were so happy, but all the churches were closed. In response to our request, the government in Korça decided we could have one church back and that we would be permitted to have the Liturgy there. The first service we prepared was for Theophany on the 6th of January in 1991. We had been preparing everything but we needed a bell! Then we found the solution, a large brass mortar used for grinding garlic! It rang perfectly.”

Franji got the mortar and together they demonstrated what a fine bell it could be in place of a real bell. Marika was beaming.

“You see how God helps us! But it was not possible for Father Kosmas to come to Korça for this event. We turned to another priest who lived near us in Korça, Father Kosta Kotnani. He had been afraid to act as a priest in the Communist time. He wanted to say yes to us but his sons were too frightened what might happen to their father if he served in public as a priest. They were not sure the danger was past. We had to pull Father Kosta out of the house. You could say we kidnapped him! Then in Korça everyone came out to take part. They heard the bell. The roads were filled. Everyone was trying to touch Father Kosta. Everyone was blessed with water, the whole city.”

“I am 95 years old and I no longer have any strength. I have little education but I have faith and love. Who knows why God has allowed me to live so long. It is a miracle. I would like to die in a monastery. I always wanted to live a monastic life but it was not possible. I can die tonight, I can die tomorrow. Blessed be God! I love you very much. God kept me alive so that I could talk to you, and I have never talked so much! God does wonders!”

Once again Marika crossed herself three times, tears spilling down her face. Then she led me by the hand into the book-lined room which had been used for liturgies so often from 1967 until 1990. We prayed silently in front of the icon corner before I took a photo of Marika, Franji and Anne.

“Now you are a person always welcome in our house,” she said as I left. “You are part of our family. God makes miracles!”

Extract from The Resurrection of the Church in Albania by Jim Forest, published in 2002 by the World Council of Churches; do not reprint without the author’s permission.