Freedom

The voice of Metropolitan John Pelushi

My first encounter with Metropolitan John was at the seminary, an impressive complex of new stone buildings on a hilltop a short distance inland from the port city of Durres. Though his main responsibilities are in Korça, he comes to teach at the seminary as often as he can manage the six-hour journey. For several years he had been the seminary’s director before his other responsibilities became too heavy. He has translated a number of books into Albanian including On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil, The Orthodox Faith (a four-volume catechism by Father Thomas Hopko), and a collection of writings by and about Saint Silouan of the Holy Mountain. Currently he is at work on an introduction to dogmatic theology, the first volume of which is now ready for publication. Two more are awaited. Born the first of January, 1956, he looks even younger than he is with his dense black hair and beard. His English is fluent. No translator was needed. He had studied for several years at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School near Boston in the United States.

I asked how he had been able to study in the USA.

“I went there thanks to a scholarship established by Albanians in America in memory of Bishop Fan Noli. During this period, when I heard that Archbishop Anastasios had arrived in Albania, I contacted him. He was very receptive, encouraging me to return to Albania in order to meet him. I was very impressed with his person and his devotion for the cause of the Church in Albania. During this meeting, I even happened to be present at his enthronement on August 2, 1992.

“The following year, after graduating from Holy Cross with a Master’s of Theological Studies, I returned to Albania and the Archbishop appointed me to teach theology at the seminary, as well as serve in other capacities within the Church. He ordained me as a deacon on February 27, 1994, then as a priest on December 4 the same year. In 1995 I received a scholarship from him and returned to the United States to pursue further studies. When I returned in 1996, I was appointed as director of the seminary as well as elevated as an archimandrite on November 19th. On July 18, 1998, I was elected as Metropolitan of Korça and enthroned two days later.”

I mentioned how impressed I was with the architecture and stone construction of the various buildings crowning the hill where we met.

“If you had seen this hilltop a decade ago, you could not have imagined that it would soon be a church, monastery and theological school. It had been an important monastery, a place of pilgrimage, in the past, but in 1967 everything was destroyed. Only a fragment of one building survived — part of two walls but no roof — and a few trees. You could not even discern the shape of the former church, though secretly people continued to climb the hill at night in order to pray. It was recognized as a sacred place. All that you see here has been built through the continuous effort of the Archbishop.

“My life in some ways is like this hilltop. I was converted to Christianity in 1975 during my last year at high school after a friend — an underground Orthodox Christian — loaned me a copy of the New Testament in French. He said it was to help me learn French, but he was really an evangelist.

“Part of my journey to faith was through reading. There were many religious books in the main library in Tirana. Luckily I knew the librarian and was able to borrow them discreetly — books by Orthodox, Catholic, Moslem and Jewish authors — to me it didn’t matter. Anyone who believed in God was somehow my ally, just as for the state anyone who believed in God was an enemy. The state was at war God, nothing less.

“The next step was becoming part of a small underground church group. It was such a different time! Not only you but your whole family could pay dearly if you were found praying with another person. Yet it was such a great joy! At last came the day when Father Kosmas baptized me. Until then I was called Fatmir (which means, “good luck”). In baptism I received the name John, after John the Theologian.

“It’s amazing. When he was made a bishop, I — so much younger, his spiritual child, one of the people he had baptized — was one of the consecrating bishops! It was in 1979 that he baptized me — a dangerous time to do such a thing. There have been Albanian priests executed for that. It was in the cellar of his house. His son stood outside on guard, watching. Now he is a priest, Fr. Ilia.

“Our small community used to meet mostly at the home of the Cico sisters in Korça, though we only had liturgy and communion rarely. Some used to take Holy Communion once a year and some others four or five times a year. Once we managed to go to Father Kosmas’s village where there was a liturgy in the middle of the night.

“We had to be very cautious. The years 1974-81 were the worst period for believers, though the anti-religious repression had started in a serious way in 1967. The atheist campaign intensified in 1974 after a so-called secret group was ‘found’ — these supposed ‘enemies of the state’ gave the government the occasion to launch a campaign of terror.

“When I left school I got a job organizing occupational therapy at a psychiatric clinic — very good cover for me! What better task for a follower of Christ than care of the sick? In fact the ‘insane’ were sometimes not insane — a family member would declare a person insane to prevent him being arrested and condemned.

“I know so many people who went to prison. My father was in jail in 1944 — ‘an enemy of the state.’ Many times they nearly arrested me. Once the secret police were going to raid my office — someone told them I had a Bible — but the director of the clinic was able to stop them. He had sympathy for me — and because he was a cousin of the director of the secret police he could protect me.

“We have so many people in our country who have suffered persecution and now must try to prevent the persecuted from becoming persecutors. This is why learning to forgive is so important in our country. In the Kanon of Lek — a medieval text that remains a monument in our culture — it is written, ‘If you forgive, it is an act of courage.’ I am happy to say that last year a committee in the north of the country, with Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim representatives, were able to get 800 families to agree to reconciliation. There was a big event in Lezha to mark this achievement.

“It was important that the three main religious communities took part in this effort. The religions in Albania must co-exist. We don’t meet enough but at least we have contact on each other’s feast days. If you know someone, it is hard to fight him! In our small country we already have so many divisions, we don’t need any more.

“I come from a Bektashi family, a form of Shia Islam, actually a kind of crypto-Christianity, a form of Islam not far from open Christianity. Bektashis have a kind of baptism, a kind of communion, even three ranks of clergy just as we have. They venerate saints. They use icons. They drink wine. Clearly some of their roots are Christian. However there are also many Gnostic elements, including belief in reincarnation. Less than two centuries ago, after several centuries of Orthodox Christianity, my region became Bektashi so that they wouldn’t have to pay the tax that Christians were forced to pay in the Ottoman Empire, yet keep many Christian elements and maybe ease their conscience a bit. But they are somewhat suspect in the view of some other Moslems. Today, many of them are coming back to the Church.

“People often say they are this or that religion because of their name. If you have a certain name, you are Muslim, another name you are a Christian. But in fact you may be a nothing or an atheist. We have many atheists with Christian names, many with Moslem names! We have so many nothings — especially people between 40 and 60. A lost generation. It is very hard for them. They have nothing.

“The church concentrates its efforts on the young but it can happen that the young rescue their parents and even grandparents. I was told the strange story of a grandfather who became Orthodox because his grandchild said it was a pity he didn’t pray and cross himself before he ate his food. ‘They won’t let me eat unless I make the sign of the cross!’ the grandfather told me. He finally decided not only to make the sign of the cross but to be baptized!”

Our next meeting was in Korça, first in his office, a room that also held the core of his substantial library, later over the table as his guest for a Lenten meal. I expressed my surprise at the huge church that was under construction on the western edge of the city’s main square. It was not simply impressive and ideally located, but a work of art that inspires prayer.

“This church was built while I was teaching at the seminary. Through Archbishop Anastasios’ initiative, we finally received land in the center of the city — but it was not easy. We had previously accepted another plot of land, not nearly as well located, but the government took it away from us after some controversy. Following much prayer and effort by many, we received the best possible piece of land in the city — right in the center, next to city hall. For us, this was a miracle. We could not have asked for a better place to build our cathedral.”

I asked about the building where we were meeting, both the administrative center of the diocese and, in several rooms on the top floor, his residence.

“It was built by the church in the pre-Communist time and was used in the same way. Then in the Hoxha years it became the local Communist Party training center! Now it has been returned to us — there is no more Communist Party. This also was restored by the Archbishop.

“We have a great deal to do here. There are now 200 churches in this diocese — a very heavy administrative load. On the other hand, there were 400 churches in the diocese before 1967. Being a bishop is not easy. You have to make a lot of decisions, you need a lot of prayer. Thank God there are some stupid — or perhaps crazy — people willing to be bishops. Bishops today must no longer live like princes. We are no longer living in the Byzantine Empire. We must be close to the people. An episkopos must be someone who guides, not a ruler.”

I asked if he hadn’t been tempted to stay in the United States after his studies were completed. The large Albanian community there would have certainly found a parish for him.

“It was suggested to me a number of times. I have other family members who moved to the US, but I decided to come back to Albania. This is my country. This is the Church that really needs me. Here I can make a difference. Yes, it is difficult here, but where is it not difficult? I was baptized here and had my first communion here. There were many good friends there who thought I was crazy to return, and there are people here who think the same — even people who say I am a CIA spy or that I get a lot of money by being a bishop. Otherwise why would I have come back? They cannot imagine any motive but financial gain.

“But what can we offer to the world as Orthodox Christians? Not money, but the spirit of sacrifice. We must teach the people the responsibility that comes with freedom — the Albanian word is liria. Such an important word!

“In a recent sermon I tried to explain that the Lord’s commandments are not the enemy of freedom — I compared the commandments to the barriers on mountain roads which help prevent cars from falling off cliffs. Now we are in the process of understanding that freedom is not mass debauchery. Freedom is not just to do as you please with no thought of consequences, no care for others. It is not a life free of love. The Prodigal Son thought he would become free and ended up as a slave. Without transformation and asceticism, freedom is not possible.

“Instead of a culture of freedom, we are in a culture of addictions. We find many people more and more addicted. Everything becomes uniform. Here in Albania it used to be done by force while in the west it was done voluntarily. Now we are following the western style. We think we achieve freedom by money.”

He went on to speak about obstacles to the spiritual life.

“The great sin is fear of the other. In a state of fear, everyone seems to be a threat. There are many symptoms of fear among Christians. The real meaning of the English word ‘gospel’ is good news, but one can find those who are more attracted to the Bad News Gospel. You can find religious circles more interested in the anti-Christ than in Christ, more interested in the number 666 than the Holy Trinity. This is a fear-driven, bad news orientation. Where such a mentality thrives, the Christian contribution to society is meager. Where faith, hope and love flourish, transformation occurs. Faith changes life. If life doesn’t change, clearly there is no faith. Saint John Chrysostom, preaching to perhaps 400 people in Antioch, told them, ‘If all of you were Christians, there would be no more pagans in the world.’ If you want to understand how Christianity spread so rapidly in the early centuries, it was because Christians were Christian.

“Sadly, in our time, we have lost the idea of the holy. Pagans at least understood the holy. They had a sense of the sacred. We have lost this capacity. This is our tragedy because more than ever the world needs the light of Christ, the genuine light.”

I asked how the Church in Albania communicates the faith to others? Metropolitan John laughed.

“We try everything! If you have a suggestion, we will try that too. This is why the Church is doing so many things that are valuable and useful in themselves but not essential, you might think, to the life of the Church. For example we are now preparing to offer an English course for young people in the region of Prespa. It is not an essential task of the Church to teach languages but this is another way of trying to make contact with young people who have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and cannot imagine pushing open the door of the Church. Of course this sometimes irritates people in the government. They wonder what the church has to do with school. Their idea is that we should only stand at the altar.

“It is not that we are trying to manipulate others into belief through this or that project. What we are trying to do is help young people see certain possibilities, certain paths. Our task is to guard their freedom so that they can choose their own path. In general they want to be told what to do. This is the fear of freedom. But they imagine they are free and that the Church is an enemy of their freedom.”

I noticed on a bookshelf several collections of stories and saying of the early monks, the Desert Fathers.

“For me these men and women of the desert have been a constant source of inspiration. For example there is the story of an elder and his young disciple going to Alexandria to preach. They shopped. They walked about. Finally the elder said to the younger monk, ‘Let’s return to our cells.’ The disciple said, ‘But weren’t we going to preach?’ And the elder said, ‘But we preached all day long — how we walked, how we spoke, how we ate. What more could we say?’

“Then there is the story of the theologian who went to St. Anthony the Great. He asked about the meaning of a certain text. Anthony said, ‘What is your opinion?’ The theologian gave a very detailed answer. Then Anthony asked another monk, ‘Abba Joseph, what is your opinion?’ He responded, ‘I don’t know.’ To this Anthony replied, ‘Blessed are you, Abba Joseph, you have understood because you said I don’t know.’

“The words ‘I don’t know’ are wonderful! This is why in the Orthodox Church we refer to any sacrament with the Greek word mysterion — mystery. We do this because there is the danger of putting boundaries to God. It is the academic danger: to pretend — to imagine — that you know. In reality the more you know, the more you don’t know.

“It is not through scientific investigation that you know another person. It is only through love. Only love can discover something unique. If you don’t love, you cannot discover the person. Love is a state of being. Love is a sacrament of being. The moment you feel a need to explain, love is gone.

“A problem we face is the cult of individualism. The Church doesn’t exist to make individuals but persons. An individual is someone in a state of separation, someone out of communion. A person is unique but at the same time exists in relationship with others. You cannot divide him from the whole. A person is a being who can never be repeated yet whose being includes others — without the other, the person does not exist. Without communion there is no being.”

I asked if he could imagine if, after all these years of destruction of faith, that Albania could become a religious society.

“I am not a staretz [spiritual elder, often a person who can foretell events yet to happen] — I cannot see the future. We must do what we can and not be overly attached to achieving results.”

I wondered if monastic life had been a hard choice for him.

“I didn’t see becoming a monk as a choice. It was for me what I must do — not to be better than others! — but because no other life seemed to fit me. I never encourage young people to embrace a celibate life. You do this only if you find that you have no other choice. But a celibate vocation is only possible if you live an ascetic life. This is why we have no TV in the house. Even if you are strong, it’s better not to put yourself in the path of temptation. When an ascetic discipline is missing, there is the problem of extreme loneliness suffered by many celibates. If you are full of the love of the Holy Spirit, you do not need other kinds of love.”

He told me a story of a community of exceptionally holy monks who, unfortunately, were also terrible singers.

“They sounded like a chorus of crows. But a gifted singer happened to visit. The monks were so impressed by his fine voice that they wouldn’t let him leave. He would sing the services so that heaven would no longer have to suffer from their awful singing. Days and days passed. Each service was beautifully sung by the professional singer. But one night an angel appeared in a dream to one of the monks and asked why they no longer heard the monks’ prayers. What had happened? The monk said the angel was a mistaken — ‘There is now a wonderful singer offering the prayers so much better than we can!’ ‘All the same,’ said the angel, ‘we hear nothing in heaven.’ The monk told the brothers his dream. Afterward the monks resumed their singing.

“I am like one of these monks with an awful voice, but it is the only voice I have and I must use it as best I can.”

He commented that one of the problems for priests in the modern world is a tendency to be embarrassed by the priestly vocation.

“We have to take care that in our desire to be close to people we try to become so like them that they hardly see us. The priest has to be visible, though taking care not to obstruct Christ’s presence.”

I asked about people and events that had shaped his life.

“I think this can be divided in two periods, first when religion was forbidden, and then when the church regained its freedom. In the first period, one of the most important persons for me was a man named Petro Zhei. I met him through providence. He was a translator but, more than that, he was a genius, an erudite man with a deep experience in the spiritual life. I was about 18 years old when a friend introduced us. He was 25 years older than I was. Despite the difference in age and experience, we had many deep conversations. The exchanges with him opened so many doors within me.

“In school I went through a very deep spiritual crisis. It brought on a kind of melancholy — depression — the feeling I was losing my childhood. I was reading books about psychology and philosophy that were really killing childhood. What finally saved my childhood was the Gospel. Reading it, I felt again a childlike happiness. I rediscovered something. Thank you, Gospel, for saving my childhood. Thank you for giving me back real joy. You can become an expert but it is of no value if you lose the joy. The Gospel so moved me whenever I read it. Even the memory of it moved me. As a child I had always loved adventure books — the Gospel was the fulfillment of this love. This was the ultimate adventure book. Perhaps someday I can find time to write about the theology of adventure stories and fairy tales.

In the second period, the one who most influenced me was Archbishop Anastasios. It happens both he and Petro Zhei were born in the same year. Often it’s not enough to have a clear idea and dedication, a spirit of sacrifice. We also need models to see our ideals actualized. The Archbishop was such an example for me. Through him I was able to see a concrete example of how to combine our dedication to God and man.

Our conversation shifted toward Church response to the poor, the homeless and the sick.

“There is no Christian community where there is no service of love. If we fail to respond to those who suffer, we turn our back on Christ. I will not be congratulated by God for writing a fine book about theology. I will be asked: ‘What about that poor old woman you ignored?’

“This is why we opened the ‘Service of Love’ free restaurant just across the street, to give one example. You can see it out the window. This was opened two times a week in 1995, through the initiative of the Archbishop. We have expanded it now to five meals a week. Normally we have forty to eighty people for lunch. All this is done by volunteers, a mixture of young and old, four or five in each group. Next we want to start a home for the elderly — people who are often completely alone. We are already helping old people in their homes or apartments, for example an old woman who had surgery and had no one to care for her. But they give us more than we give them. At the same time, we cannot romanticize the service of love. Often people with needs are somewhat mentally disturbed. They may curse you, curse the Church, even threaten you.

“There is the spiritual danger of seeing people as if they were carvings — it is a break in communion. The closer you get to another person, the more you understand this could be you. Everything can become a sacrament, the mystery of God’s presence.

“We look for many ways to help — we can never say we have finished. A week ago Sunday the Gospel of the Last Judgement was read during the liturgy — ‘What you did to the least person, you did to me.’ In my sermon I asked for volunteers to help us expand our Service of Love program — after the liturgy there were 28 volunteers, many of them young people. This means we can do more.

“You will not be saved by doctrine if you don’t practice it. If you believe in the power of medicine but only keep it in bottles, it will not save you. Saint Gregory the Theologian said that the knowledge of God starts with obeying the commandments; if you begin the journey you will experience the mysteries — the sacraments. Like Moses, we are granted an oblique view of God. This is a quest that surpasses every fairy tale, every legend.

“One of the things we learn in any project of service is that we cannot do it alone. Christ said he will be present whenever there are at least two or three gathered in his name — one is not enough.

“From such work we also learn gratitude. This is essential. The deep meaning of the word Eucharist is thanksgiving. Complaining is the disease of our time. Our sin is not being grateful. I visited recently an 83-year-old woman who had been blind since she was three. I have never met anyone as grateful as she is, someone so thankful. Whenever you met the Cico sisters, you would notice that each time they mentioned Christ, their faces were illuminated. Such gratitude! They have lived in the other world — they have enjoyed it and we experience their joy. This kept them alive. But in our present world if you don’t complain you are regarded as an idiot.”

I was reminded of the words a French Catholic poet, Leon Bloy, who said that joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.

“Yes! One Christmas I went to a cave in the mountains near here, a place many people were afraid to go to because of superstitions about ghosts. I built a small a fire and prayed. In that cave I was so full of joy! People who have not had such an experience cannot imagine. Joy? Joy in a cold cave in the middle of winter? They will think you are crazy. But I felt a great joy, and within me overflowed a deep prayer. This joy overwhelmed me for days — I could hardly work.”

Our conversation returned to the Hoxha years, when one would be very lucky to be regarded as crazy rather than criminal.

“Those years of persecution were hard but helpful. You certainly didn’t get a medal for being religious! In 1948 the head of our Orthodox, Archbishop Kristofor, was arrested and confined to the church of St. Prokopios in Tirana. Four years later, it was reported in the press that the bishop he had been found dead, but it is generally assumed he was poisoned. He died a martyr’s death.

“Another bishop, Irineos, had the courage to refuse to ordain as bishop a person nominated by the government and for this was exiled to the Ardenica monastery. Bishop Irineos was from Skodra in the north of Albania. He studied theology in Paris and Belgrade.

Irineos never wanted to be a bishop or even to be ordained as a deacon or priest, but accepted it during the Italian occupation of Albania to prevent a Uniate bishop being imposed on us. The Italians had intended to put a Uniate in the Synod as soon as there was a vacancy. After a week of prayer, Irineu accepted the proposal though he was a layman at the time. He was quickly ordained deacon, then priest, then bishop, all in one week! He served as bishop in Kosovo and part of Macedonia. Bishop Irineu was arrested and exiled to the Ardenica Monastery where he died in 1973.

“Religious life was something dangerous for many years. But in those days I felt strongly that you cannot live without religion. Such a life is a mutilated life. Now we have the impression that we can live without religion or that religion can be a hobby. We lived through a time of collective madness. You were condemned for any form of religion — it was a war against the idea of the holy, the idea of God.

“Yet to tell the truth, I often felt sorry for the persecutors — and still feel sorry for them. Really, they were the victims. They became sub-human. I don’t know how they feel now, but they have been badly damaged. Hell is life apart from God — it begins in this life. If we don’t become familiar with God in this life, how will we do it in the next?”

I mentioned that some of those who once persecuted religion are not only alive and well but still in government.

“Our sad history in the Balkans — so many invasions and occupations and acts of cruelty — taught people not to trust. Here there has always been war. It is regarded as normal. We who are Christians have to stop these endless cycles of hatred.”

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.

Only With Love

The voice of Raimonda Shqeva

Since 1995 Raimonda Shqeva has worked full-time with the Service of Love Women’s Group, which has its office in a small building adjacent to the Annunciation Cathedral in Tirana. In her late thirties, she has black hair and large brown eyes that communicate immense sensitivity. She immediately made me a cup of coffee. As I drank it, she showed me photos of some of the group’s activities: women bringing clothes and money to orphans in Elbasan, assisting at the summer girls’ camp at the Monastery of St. John Vladimir, visiting people at an old age home who have no family to assist them.

“Here we are with street children and beggars. We found about 40 children who had no parents. Now they have a place to live and a family. And here is a photo of a group baptism — 27 people!”

I asked what led her to the Church and to such activity.

“I grew up in a believing family. I remember my childhood with deep emotion — the carefulness of my father who believed so much in Jesus even in those very hard times. It was not in his nature to be silent about his faith but he had to tell me it was best not to speak to others about our faith. In 1967, when I was seven, all the churches were closed — not even one was left open. Thank God, I can remember the church before it was closed.

“When I was little, my father would tell me Bible stories but without explaining they were from the Bible. Time after time he told me the story of the Prodigal Son, always with so much love.

“I remember once asking my father about God, ‘This Father of all the world that you talk about — where does he live?’ My father was not an educated man and could not give clever answers, but he loved Jesus very much. I remember how red his face got when I asked my question, the anger he felt that I was thinking in such a way about God. ‘You must not ask such a question,’ he told me. ‘It is a mystery. No one knows where God lives. Only when you think about God, ask yourself, “Can you make yourself? Can you build something without work? How can things exist by themselves.” ‘ He spoke with conviction and feeling, in a simple way. I will never forget what he said! I hope I can pass on to my son and daughter, Spiro and Maria, the same fire in the heart. They are 11 and 9 years old.

“My father loved the Virgin Mary and always celebrated the Dormition on the 15th of August. He would explain, ‘This is the mother of all creation. We must pray especially to her because she can speak for us.’

“There were many promises I made to him about what I would do, how I would live. Sadly I did not keep all these promises. Now I try to keep them.

“When the Church reopened, I was 30 years old. By then my father had died and I had the fire of the loving God in my heart. I felt as if someone was pushing me forward, to some height. I dedicated myself to the Christian life.

“My husband is also a strong Christian. He never objects to the time I spend in church or involved in church projects — and it takes a lot of time!

“In 1994 I began my journey into diaconal service through involvement in the catechism program that was led by a nun from Athens, Sister Galini. She started this in 1992. This gave us confidence to bring the Gospel to others who don’t know it. Maybe they came from Orthodox families but they never heard the Gospel or only tiny fragments. We also began going to asylums for the blind, to people with other disabilities, to the very old, to prisoners.

“This is how our women’s group began. In the first year there were only seven of us, all very strong believers — now we are 25. Part of our work is cooking free meals and assisting needy and sick persons. We have special activities for Christmas and Easter. Also we organize special excursions to places like the Monastery of St. John Vladimir — the one with a church that was burned in the German time and which the government still refuses to return but where a few other buildings have been returned. We had a trip there not long ago for a group of blind people. We provide catechism lessons in several towns and villages to help people better understand the mysteries — the sacraments. You know there are many people who make the sign of the cross and kiss icons but don’t really understand the meaning of the cross or the meaning of icons. We also explain confession — how it is a way to clean yourself of sins. We explain the power of holy communion. We want people to see that it is possible to change the heart from a place of darkness to a place of light, to receive power from Christ so that you can follow his teaching.

“When Mother Theresa came to Tirana, I went to meet her and received her blessing. I am glad to be Orthodox and I believe the truth is in the Orthodox Church, but I respect all Christians. I don’t look down on anyone. It is a blessing to know Christians from other churches — some of them are very inspiring.

“Sometimes they are surprised I am Orthodox and ask me questions like why do we have icons? I tell them if you keep a photo of your father or mother or your children, you can also have an image of Jesus and his mother or those who followed him even to martyrdom. Sometimes I am asked why we Orthodox fast and I try to explain how this gives us strength to struggle against temptations and evil spirits. As Jesus said, there are some demons that can only be defeated through prayer and fasting. Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays helps us remember the betrayal and suffering of Jesus.

“Sometimes I teach others how to bake prosphora bread for use in the Liturgy. It is more than a recipe or a method — certain ingredients or the stamp on the top with the cross. You have to bake with love and prayer!

“It is sometimes hard to learn not to hate, not to attack — you can convert only with love. We must be very careful of each other and never use force. If someone cannot hear us, then let us pray for him. We each go at our own speed. St. Constantine was baptized only at the end of his life. Our archbishop has taught us that each person is an icon of God. We must not judge others! We must help anyone in need no matter what.”

I asked what problems the women faced in their charitable work.

“A big problem for us is deciding how much to help a particular person or family. You can help too much, so that the person lives entirely from charity and takes no initiative, but you can also help too little. We don’t want people to become completely passive, but there are people who are so damaged that sometimes there is very little they can do for themselves. Not everyone is capable of having a job. Sometimes we spend hours discussing a particular person’s situation and how much help we should give. My own tendency is that it is better to give too much than too little. My father taught me never to judge someone who begs, never to think he may just be pretending. Just be a Christian and try to live the Gospel. When people say we give too much, I think that at the Last Judgement no one will be condemned for giving too much or for forgiving too much.”

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.

A Long Honeymoon

Father Luke and Faith Veronis

Father Luke Veronis arrived in Albania in January 1994. He and Faith married the following August, a few months before his ordination. Both had been drawn to a mission vocation at a time when there were few Orthodox missionaries. Like so many others collaborating with Archbishop Anastasios, their first encounter with Orthodox mission work had been in East Africa. Both grew up in a Greek Orthodox parish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Luke’s father is pastor. Archbishop Anastasios ordained Luke to the priesthood soon after his arrival in Tirana. He is now co-rector of the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy near Durres, Orthodox chaplain at the University of Tirana, one of the spiritual advisor for the youth movement of the Church, an assistant to Archbishop Anastasios, and often serves at the cathedral. Faith has been active with the Church’s pre-school program, catechism department, English language program, youth ministries, an abandoned babies program, and the women’s groups with its many projects of service to people in need. Both speak fluent Albanian. They have two children, Paul and Theodora.

“My husband often jokes that he took me to Albania for our honeymoon,” Faith told me, “and seven years later we’re still here! Not many people have a honeymoon that long.”

“My life changed during my last year of university,” Father Luke told me. “It was then that I went to East Africa on a short-term mission for the first time. God touched me in a dramatic way through the people of Kenya, the faith and love I witnessed while I was there, and the example of several missionaries, especially Archbishop Anastasios. That experience led me to change my life’s direction from being a math teacher to studying theology and committing my life to serve in the mission field. My later studies at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and then Fuller’s School of World Mission opened my eyes to understand this call in a deeper way. Twenty-six percent of the world’s people have never even heard the Gospel. What are we doing about this? I realized indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ. This is what made us ask Archbishop Anastasios if we could help in Albania.

“Faith and I have been fortunate. I won’t say that we haven’t had to face difficulties — lack of water and electricity shortages, mud everywhere in the winter and dust in the summer, political crises in Albania every few years — but the blessings have far outweighed any negative experience. We truly feel as if Albania has been our special home these past seven years.

“Now we have a nice apartment on the ground floor with a garden, but before this we lived in a cold-water flat five flights up. But the location was good, only a 15-minute walk to the cathedral. Of course the roads I had to walk along weren’t in great shape — I would sometimes arrive at the church in a very muddy state! — but at least the church wasn’t far away.”

“We have had some times of testing in the seven years since we arrived. The death of a parent, two miscarriages, being evacuated by the U.S. Marines in 1997 when the country fell into total anarchy and having to be apart from Luke for several months,” said Faith. “But these are so small compared to what others face. At the time the Kosovo War broke out, I was involved in an abandoned babies program at the local maternity hospital. I saw firsthand the plight of pregnant refugees and their newborns. These women had nothing when they arrived at the hospitals. I responded by gathering clothing from friends. Then, our Church began offering clothing and supplies, as well as necessary medical and emergency assistance. By the end, we helped more than 300 women and babies. Some of my visits turned into special friendships, which even continue today. From these women, I witnessed another side of motherhood — a painful, uncertain, yet courageous side. I will never forget these women.

“Paul was born in 1998 and then last year we were blessed with Theodora. I was carrying here during the time of the Kosovo War.

Motherhood deepened my bonds with many women from our church. I have developed a great respect for the Albanian mother — she is strong, sacrificial, protective, loving and caring.

“For us, being missionaries hasn’t been a great sacrifice. The hardest aspect for us is simply being far from our families. Yet I remind myself that such sacrifices can never compare with the crosses borne by early missionaries.

“Some people think that we sacrifice our children by living in Albania. True, our children do not have all the material possessions that many American children have, but they live in a unique setting, learning about life in a developing country, appreciating a new culture, and being surrounded by an abundantly loving Albanian and missionary community. I appreciate the simplicity of life here. It reminds me of my mother’s stories of village life in Greece. Such forced asceticism makes it easier to lead a spiritual life — with less distractions and temptations.”

“Visitors who come here are sometimes shocked about what they refer to as Albania’s ‘low standard of living’,” Fr. Luke said. “The Albanians may be poor in economic terms but in certain ways they are richer than people living in wealthy societies. I don’t know if you will ever be among people who are more hospitable. When refugees were flooding into Albania from Kosovo, an Albanian family with three rooms might take in as many eight or even twelve refugees. Roughly half the refugees were received into Albanian homes.

“I have learned so much from Albanians about courage and perseverance in the face of persecution and also what it means to live a eucharistic life. I recall a 98-year-old woman who heard there was a priest who would be celebrating the Liturgy. Despite her age, she fasted for two days so that she could receive communion for the first time in 30 years. It happened that we saw her coming to the church. She fell down and could not continue. We told her to return to her house and said we would bring communion to her after the Liturgy. I will never forget the joyful tears with which she received communion. She died within a year.

“Especially younger Albanians are ready to believe in God and are open to the Gospel. I have witnessed so many conversions. In my seven years as a priest, I have presided at more than a thousand baptisms, almost all young people and adults — sometimes thirty at a time. Every sort of person from every ethnic background and every condition of life, including beggars. In one case, we got to know a group of beggars when our youth arranged a special lunch for people begging outside our church. Through this outreach, we came to know them as friends, people we knew by name. We began visiting their homes and eventually performed some of our most moving baptisms with them.

“Although the Kosovo War was a terrible tragedy for many people, in fact it was a unique opportunity for our Church. The students at the Academy learned to see these mostly Muslim refugees as Christ in disguise. We visited their camps, volunteered help, gave aid to thousands housed in the village around the seminary. Our students began with fear and uncertainty toward Kosovars, but they discovered love and joy in newfound relationships. Some very special relationships formed. There was one Muslim family that was so grateful for the help the Orthodox Church gave that a week after returning to Kosovo, the father, Ramadan, came back to Tirana to give me an oil painting as a sign of gratitude for all the church had done for him. He said, ‘Through your work, I have come to understand what a Christian truly is.

“Another Moslem family of refugees allowed their daughters to go to the Orthodox summer camp so that they could be away from the refugee camp. These girls were afraid the first day of camp when they saw campers making the sign of the Cross. They had never interacted much with Christians and had a biased view against Orthodox from their experience in Kosovo. After two weeks, these girls cried as they departed. They told their parents, ‘We have never met people like this before.” Their father even told me, ‘Our contact with you have given us hope for the future of humanity. Muslims and Christians, even Albanians and Serbs, can live together, if people practice a faith like we witnessed here.”

I asked what is at the heart of being a missionary.

“To follow God means going where God calls you, no matter what the sacrifice, and that’s where you will find the greatest peace. This is what’s lacking in our comfortable western Christianity. We don’t like the Gospel message, ‘Sacrifice everything!’ we should never forget that the majority of saints lived lives of struggle, persecution, and self-denial, not of comfort and a pursuit of pleasure and happiness.

“Not everyone drawn to missionary service is able to adjust to culture shock, but for us it hasn’t been difficult. It has been a challenge, an adventure, full of blessings. What you need is humility and love. We can’t have the attitude that we are the savior, ready to help the poor people. Instead, we must see ourselves as co-sojourners in the walk of life. Let us go hand in hand, helping one another. Therefore, we must have a readiness to learn from the others. You need a readiness to adapt, respect for the people, a willingness to accept everything good in the culture. If your house burns down, you adapt. If you get robbed, you adapt.”

Indeed, while I was in Tirana, Father Luke was robbed by a pickpocket and his house was badly damaged in a fire caused by a defective transformer.

“Albania is not just where we live. It is home to us. What would be difficult for us would not be staying here but leaving.

“We have been asked to help at the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in Florida and are thinking about whether this is God’s will. We love Albania and its people. They are an integral part of our family. It’s a hard decision. Faith and I worry that if we go back to America the temptation will be so strong to simply adapt to the consumer life. The pressures are so powerful. Are we strong enough? We want to return only when we believe that we are strong enough to live a life based on our understanding of the Gospel, no matter how different or crazy it may appear to others. In some ways, it is easier to be a Christian in Albania.”

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.

A Candle in Front of the Savior

The voice of Archbishop Anastasios

Archbishop Anastasios has a white beard and moustache. His hair is silver. His glasses have tortoise-shell frames with gold stems and thick lenses, though what you notice most of all is the twinkle in his welcoming brown eyes. His words are often echoed by hand gestures. While he never seems to hurry, he leads a busy life, as I was to see at close range during many days of travel at his side or visiting him at his office at the archdiocesan headquarters in Tirana. He rarely glances at his watch, but when he does it is not so much to know the hour as to signal that it’s time for the next thing he has to do.

When Archbishop Anastasios flew to Tirana from Athens on July 16, 1991, he was arriving in what had until recently been the world’s most militant atheist state. The 440 clergy that had served the Orthodox Church 60 years earlier had been reduced to 22, all old and frail, some close to death.

While Archbishop Anastasios could recall occasionally citing Albania as providing one of the most extreme examples of religious persecution since the age of Diocletian, it had never crossed his mind that Albania might one day become his home and that he would become responsible for leading a Church that most of the world regarded as not only oppressed but extinct.

Born November 4, 1929, in Piraeus, Greece, it was by no means certain Anastasios Yannoulatos would become more than a nominal Christian. He grew up in a period when life seemed mainly shaped by secular ideologies, wars, politics and economics, with many of his peers regarding the Orthodox Church as little more than a decorative social vestige of the past.

When he was six, an army-backed dictatorship lead by General Ioannis Metaxas was established in Greece. Metaxas liked the titles “First Peasant,” “First Worker” and “National Father.” He led a fascist regime, though one independently minded and non-racist, resisting alliances with its counterparts in Germany and Italy. From bases in Albania, Italy invaded Greece in 1940. Anastasios was ten. While Italian forces were quickly pushed back into Albania, the following year the German army arrived in force. Greeks found themselves subject to a harsh tripartite German, Italian, and Bulgarian occupation, with civil war breaking out between factions of the resistance — the royalist right versus the Marxist left — even before occupation troops began to withdraw late in 1944. Anastasios was nearly 20 when civil conflict in Greece finally ended, the United States having weighed in on the side of democratic forces.

“I have many memories of the Second World War and the civil war in Greece that followed,” he told me. “This made me ask: Where is freedom and love? Many found their direction in the Communist movement, but I could not imagine that freedom and love could result from the Communist Party or any other party. Very early in my life there was a longing for something authentic. During the war we had no school — we were more free. I read a lot, so many books! Not all of them helped my faith — Marx, Freud, Feuerbach. But there was a turning point. I can remember as if it were yesterday kneeling on the roof of our home, saying, ‘Do you exist or not? Is it true there is a God of love? Show your love. Give me a sign.’

“When you say such a prayer, the answer comes. It does not come with angels singing but you realize God is there, in front of you and what He says is ‘I ask for you — not something from you.’ You understand in such a moment what is important is not to give but to be given.

“That prayer was when I was a teenager. You can see why I have such a respect for teenagers. It can be a time when you ask the most important questions and are willing to hear the answer that is without words. Love and respect is shown to young people not in words but in the way you approach them, how you see them. It is the same with very old people in difficult times, people who are suffering.”

In his teens Anastasios studied at a gymnasium in Athens. His main strength was in mathematics, but he had excellent grades in all his subjects. He graduated first in the school. “A certain path in life seemed obvious to everyone, but within myself there was a sense of being called toward the Church, not something everyone I knew sympathized with! At a critical moment, wrestling with the question what is essential, I turned toward freedom and love. It was a turn toward Christ, in whom I saw the only answer.”

Finally he applied for the Theological Faculty of Athens University. “It was, of course, the age of technology. My decision to become a theology student was a scandal. What a waste! This is what many of my friends and teachers thought at the time.”

While studying theology, he found himself drawn into Orthodox youth activities through which opportunities arose to meet young Orthodox Christians from other countries, an experience which made him realize that Christianity was far larger than Greece.

After being drafted into the Greek army for a term, where he served as a communications officer, he returned to academic life, now going further with developing communication skills — homiletics and journalism. At the same time youth work continued, which always included religious education. He began training other catechists, finally writing text books for a three-year program of religious education for youth. More than a quarter century and eight editions later, the books remained a standard in Greek Sunday schools.

I asked him about sources of inspiration in his childhood.

“As a young person I had been deeply moved by stories of Father Damian, a Catholic priest who served lepers in Hawaii, and also Albert Schweitzer. I asked myself whatever happened to our missionary tradition in the Orthodox Church? Where were the Orthodox missionaries? What are we doing to share our faith with others? What are we doing to reach all those people who have never heard the Gospel? I realized that indifference to missions is a denial of Orthodoxy and a denial of Christ. How had it happened that a Church called to baptize the nations was so indifferent to the nations? Saint Paul brought the Gospel to Greeks. Who were we bringing it to?”

It was a pivotal question that would shape the rest of his life.

In 1959 he founded a quarterly bi-lingual (Greek and English) magazine, Porefthendes (Go Ye), devoted to the study of the history, theology, methods and spirit of Orthodox mission. “With all my talk about mission, I was regarded at first as very romantic, but gradually people began to understand that a Church is not apostolic if it is not involved in mission activity. Apostolic means to be like the apostles, every one of whom was a missionary.” The journal lasted only a decade but its existence occasioned the resurrection of the mission tradition in the contemporary Orthodox Church.

In 1961, thanks to decisions made at the fifth assembly of Syndesmos, the Orthodox youth movement, a center also named Porefthendes was established in Athens with Anastasios as director. This in turn involved him in international ecumenical meetings on mission, events often organized by the World Council of Churches. Anastasios became a member of the WCC’s Working Committee on Mission Studies. He has since held a number of WCC leadership positions.

It was the desire to serve the Church as a missionary that finally brought him to ordination as a priest. “When I was 33, at Christmas time, I went to a remote monastic skete on the island of Patmos. This is a period of the year when there are few if any tourists. You experience absolute silence and isolation. During this time I again considered returning to missionary activity. The question formed in my mind: What about the dangers you will face? Then came the response: “Is God enough for you? If God is enough for you, go! If not, stay where you are.” Then a second question followed: “If God is not enough for you, then in what God do you believe?”

“In the evening of the day I was ordained a priest in May 1964, I flew to Uganda, which I had thought about so often and with such longing. I thought Africa would be my home for the remainder of my life, but malaria ended that dream. It was the malaria of the Great Lakes, which can attack the brain. The first symptom was loss of balance. Then I had a fever of 40 degrees. It was my first experience of being close to death. I remember the phrase that formed in my thoughts when I thought I would die: ‘My Lord, you know that I tried to love you.’ Then I slept — and the next day I felt well! But this was only a providential remission. There was a second attack when I went to Geneva to attend a mission conference. Fortunately doctors there were able to identify the illness and knew how to treat it. But I had a complete breakdown of health. When I was well enough to leave the hospital they said I must forget about returning to Africa.

This was like a second mortal wound for me. Friends said to me. ‘You don’t have to be a missionary — you can inspire others to be missionaries through your teaching.’ But it had always been clear to me that what you say you must also do — how could I teach what I wasn’t living?”

In the end Anastasios returned to his scholarly studies, but did not forget Africa. He received the prestigious “Alexander von Humboldt” scholarship and pursued post graduate studies at the Universities of Hamburg and Marburg, Germany from 1965-69. He specialized in the History of Religion, but also studied ethnology, missiology, and Africanology, with a main interest in studying African symbolism from the Orthodox perspective. His dissertation was entitled, The Spirits Mbandwa and the Frame of their Cult: A Research on the African Religion of Western Uganda.

In 1969, the WCC called Archimandrite Anastasios to accept a position created for him in the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism as the “Secretary for Research and Relation with the Orthodox Churches.”

By 1972 he was elected by the Faculty of Theology of Athens University as associate professor of the History of Religions. The same year, in recognition of the importance of his academic work, with his emphasis on mission, he was ordained Bishop of Androussa, with a special responsibility to be the general director of Apostoliki Diakonia of the Church of Greece. Four years later he became full professor.

Throughout the decade of the 1970s, he published four original studies on African religions, emphasizing the special respect we owe to the African past, and the necessity to properly understand it for any Orthodox witness among the Africans. He also made a special effort among his students to instill a sincere love and respect for the African people, and to understand the worldwide responsibility for an Orthodox witness. (Today, a number of these former students, including His Beatitude, Patriarch Petros, presently serve as Metropolitans under the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Africa.)

During this decade, he also became the first scholar in Greece to publish a general survey of Islam, a book in which he strongly advocated inter-religious dialogue, especially between Orthodoxy and Islam.

At the same period, he was involved in the ecumenical movement, serving as a member of the WCC’s theological working group on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies (1975-83). He later became the first Orthodox moderator of the Commission for Mission and Evangelism (1984-91), presiding over the San Antonio World Mission Conference in 1989.

In 1981, the Orthodox Church in East Africa was in a state of division and severe crisis. Patriarch Nicholas of Alexandria asked Bishop Anastasios for help restore the local African Church and become the acting archbishop of East Africa. In order to fulfill this task, he received permission from the University of Athens to restrict his academic work to one semester per year, and used the other semester, plus his vacation time, to live and work in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

After a fruitful decade in Africa, he could begin to contemplate eventually returning to the University of Athens and devoting himself to teaching and writing. Instead something altogether unimagined intervened in his life: neither Africa nor Athens but Albania.

In January 1991, one month after the government in Tirana had allowed the formation of non-Communist political parties, the Ecumenical Patriarchate took the initiative to re-establish the Church of Albania. Two months after his 61st birthday, Anastasios received a telephone call from the patriarchate in Constantinople asking if he would be willing to go to Albania as Exarch to see what if anything was left of the Orthodox Church. It was at the time intended not as a permanent assignment, only a reconnaissance effort to see if and how the local Church could be revived. It would require, however, a substantial interruption of his work in Africa.

After a time of prayer, he said yes, though it would take six months before the reluctant authorities in Tirana finally issued a visa, and that was only for one month. “The Communist times were over, but not completely. Attitudes formed in the course of many years of propaganda do not change quickly. However, once in the country, my visa was extended.”

Anastasios showed me several photos taken the day he arrived in Tirana. “It was a wonderful experience stepping off the airplane and being received by the people who had come to welcome me. It was a bright summer day, but the light seemed mainly to come from faces rather than the sun. Such joy!”

Delaying his arrival at an official reception arranged by Albania’s president, Anastasios’ first action was to visit Tirana’s temporary cathedral, though still in a devastated condition with a large hole in the roof. The old cathedral on the city’s main square had been demolished years before to make way for a hotel. The one church in Tirana that was beginning to serve as a place of public worship had been a gymnasium since 1967. Though the Easter season was past, on his arrival Anastasios gave everyone present the Paschal greeting, “Christ is risen!”, lit a candle and embraced local believers. “Everyone was weeping,” he remembers, “and I was not an exception.”

It was a far from easy life for Anastasios and those working with him. “When I first came to Tirana, I stayed in a hotel the first month. There was no other possibility. After that I was able to rent a small house with two floors, two rooms on each floor. I had a small office and bedroom above and a kitchen and meeting room below. There was a lack of water, lack of heat, lack of electricity. For me the cold was the most difficult. This was our Archdiocese at that time. I recall how surprised the government was that I had no bodyguards. It amazed them that I wasn’t interested in such ‘security’!”

He quickly discovered that in this corner of Europe a degree of poverty existed which he had not encountered before. “Of course there was great poverty in East Africa, but at least most people there had their own garden. Here that isn’t the case. Like so many Albanians, my diet that summer in Albania was chiefly watermelon, bread, tomatoes and oil.”

He had no idea when he stepped off the plane in Tirana that July day he had arrived at what would be his home for the rest of his life. “My mission as Exarch was only to discover what if anything of the local Church had survived the decades of extreme repression and to see if there were suitable candidates for consecration as bishops who had survived. Only later was I asked by authorities of the Patriarchate if I would be willing to accept election as Archbishop of Albania. After a period of reflection and prayer, I was open, depending on three conditions. The first was that it must be clear that this was the wish of the Orthodox in Albania. Second, that this was the desire of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Third, that the Albanian authorities would accept this decision. Otherwise the situation of the Church would only be made more difficult. My answer was much less than yes! I was like Jonah looking for a path of escape! But inside my prayer was, ‘Your will be done.’

“The Orthodox people were indeed pressing me to stay. They made it clear day after day. And how could I refuse them? How could I say I had a different plan for the rest of my life? Remaining in Albania would mean putting aside all the ideas I had about what I would be doing with the remainder of my life — a peaceful retirement in Greece, giving occasional lectures at the university and writing books. I had collected a vast amount of material on the history of religion in various countries and had a scholarly desire to elaborate and publish all that material. I knew that if I stayed I would have to give my undivided attention to Albania. All other plans and interests would have to be put completely aside.”

“On June 24, 1992, following the proposal of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate unanimously elected me as head of the Orthodox Church of Albania. After overcoming serious difficulties, I accepted the appointment by giving the “Great Message” on July 12. The enthronement occurred on August 2, in the presence of all the clergy and lay leaders of Albania. In fact I was not so much accepting a throne — that sounds rather comfortable! — but embracing the Cross.

“Remarkably, the Berisha government had acceded to my election, but between their acceptance and the event itself around a month later, there was a renewed government-backed attack on the Church and on me personally.

“It was a time of constant crisis. Every day there was a critical decision. My constant prayer in those days was, ‘Illumine me Lord to know your will, give me humility to accept your will, and give me strength to obey and take the consequences’.”

The situation was to grow more critical. He was often the target of severe criticism and false reports in the Albanian press– a “verbal crucifixion,” in the words of one of the archbishop’s co-workers. A law was almost passed that would have forced any non-Albanian bishop to leave the country. His life has been repeatedly threatened. It is one of many Albanian miracles that he is still alive and well.

“The fact that I was Greek, not Albanian, was a daily theme in hostile press articles, speeches in Parliament and television reports. The message was very simple: If you are a Greek, you must be a spy. How else could an Albanian whose mind was shaped in the Hoxha period think? A mind entirely formed by an atheistic culture? Each person was seen exclusively in social-economic terms. You cannot imagine that a man in his sixties could be coming here because of love! Therefore, we cannot complain about such people. Their way of thinking is not their fault. It is an algebraic logic in which numbers exist below zero. But how to respond to hatred? Here you learn that often the best dialogue is in silence — it is love without arguments. Only remember you cannot love without cost, neither Christ nor anyone.”

The decisive attempt to remove the Archbishop was made in the Autumn of 1994. The intended means was the proposed insertion of a special paragraph in the new draft of the state Constitution. “At a certain point, when our situation seemed absolutely hopeless, I was packed and ready to depart the following morning, only trying to prepare others to carry on in my place while I did whatever was possible living outside Albania. It seemed to me and many people nothing less than a miracle that the new constitution was rejected in the national referendum in November 1994. This was not the result anyone expected!”

Another serious problem for the local church, that created numerous disputes, troubles and pain for several years, was the re-establishment of the Holy Synod.

“This issue was finally settled in July 1998, following persistent negotiations by representatives from the Ecumenical Patriarchate (especially Metropolitans Evangelos of Perges and Meliton of Philadelphia), the Church of Albania, and the Albanian authorities. In the end, Metropolitan Ignatius from Greece took his see in Berat, and two Albanians were chosen, Archimandrite John Pelushi as Metropolitan of Korça, and Fr. Kosma Qirio as Bishop of Apollonia. This solved a crucial problem for the proper functioning of an autocephalous Church.

“For the first seven hard years, I had to struggle alone as bishop, surrounded only by a General Ecclesiastical Council composed of thirteen clergy and lay members. Demanding needs in all dioceses and parishes were pressing. From this point onwards, I would continue the uphill road in communion with precious brothers. A Holy Synod, in which we are being, thinking and acting in His name, is a real divine gift and a spiritual security.”

His difficulties were not simply of a political nature. One of the hardest challenges was to overcome divisions within the Church. “There used to be great division within the Church. Our people come from various ethnic backgrounds. Our first goal was to create unity among Orthodox Christians. After so much persecution, we could no longer allow division. I recall in Korça saying, ‘Do you think the forest is more beautiful if there is only one kind of tree?’ All the various trees must grow freely under the rays of the sun.’ The key to proper development is love and freedom.”

One element in the process of breaking down borders inside the Church had to do with how the Church refers to itself.

“We do not call ourselves the Albanian Orthodox Church, but the Orthodox Church of Albania. In fact, we look upon ourselves as the Orthodox Church in Albania. We are part of the world Church. The Orthodox Church is not a federation of churches; the one Orthodox Church fully exists in particular places. We are going toward the kingdom of God together. No one can be an island, not even Britain, not even huge China. You cannot be isolated. On the other hand we point out that we are autocephalous, a word that means self-standing. We govern ourselves — our autocephalous status was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1937. But we had to resume Church life after a long interruption, a process in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate played a vital role. The Orthodox in Albania are grateful to Patriarch Bartholomew for his continuous interest during these critical years.”

He struggled personally to give an example through the use of the Albanian language. “It has been important for me not only to learn Albanian but to take care that whenever I say something I say it not just in a way that can be understood but say it well. I must carefully pronounce each word and phrase. The first words I learned were, ‘Krishti u ngjall, Zoti eshte me ne, lavdi Zotit!’ — ‘Christ is risen, God is with us, Glory to God!’ It has been very important to use Albanian even in situations where the majority speak Greek, as is the case in many towns and villages in the south. I recall in Saranda, very close to the Greek border and in sight of the Greek island of Corfu, we had our first public prayer in the open air near the shore. It was suggested it could be done entirely in Greek — almost everyone would understand. But I said that even if only two persons need Albanian, we shall have Albanian.”

One of the most pressing tasks for Archbishop Anastasios was directing the effort to provide places for worship in a country in which churches had been methodically destroyed or turned to secular functions. His most visible achievements are all the churches erected or restored since his arrival. By the middle of 2001, 80 new churches have been build, 70 churches restored from ruin, more than 140 repaired, and five monasteries brought back to life.

In addition, more than twenty large buildings have been erected or renovated to house the theological academy in Durres, the office of the archdiocese in Tirana and diocesan centers and bishops’ residencies in Korça, Berat and Gjirokaster, the Holy Cross High School in Gjirokaster, a diagnostic center in Tirana, dispensaries, guest houses, schools, and the complex “Nazareth” housing the candle factory, printing house, icon atelier, restoration workshop and other church service facilities.

He recalled a recent visit to a place where local people come to pray even though not a single wall of the church that once stood there survives.

“Often you see with the Albanian people how a church still exists in a certain place even when you see only scattered fragments. It is amazing how people will treat a church as a church no matter how ruined it is — no matter what had been done to the building, no matter what else it was — it remains a church, it remains connected to the holy. Even in the times when it was dangerous, people went to places where churches once stood to pray and light candles.

“Many times in the first months the Liturgy was conducted out of doors as no indoor place of worship was available, but preferably in a place where a church formerly existed. Of course this was only possible when the weather cooperated.

“In the very beginning we had no alternative but to put up a number of prefabricated temporary churches in various locations, but in the years since then the churches are permanent structures built mainly of stone each with its own character. In some cases these are restored, often from a state of ruin, while others are built from the foundations up. Our goal has been not simply to put up adequate buildings but to make beautiful churches. Through the architecture of the church buildings we try to say something not only about the present but the future. It is work coordinated by the technical office, under the direction of Father Theologos, an Athonite monk who studied architecture, together with a staff of local, skilled collaborators. We have spent millions of dollars on church construction and restoration. The majority of these funds are donations from people in other countries, including some of my former students who have done well in their work and are able to be generous or who are active in trusts and foundations that can assist us. Sometimes I say I am an international beggar! We are a poor Church, but very rich in friends. And we are deeply grateful for all of them.”

The Church is, however, not rich in friends within the government.

“Rarely have the political authorities been quick to return confiscated church property in those cases where churches hadn’t been completely destroyed, or even land with church ruins on it. This is a problem that impedes us in many locations to this very day. Sometimes the only practical solution is to buy back what was stolen from us.”

Church building often involves more than just a structure for worship. “When we build or restore a church or monastery, often we also have to rebuild the road. I was once asked what gift I would like — I think they meant an icon. I said, ‘I would like a bulldozer.’ They were surprised! ‘But what can you do with a bulldozer?’ ‘We can make roads in the remote areas so that we make more humane the life of our people.”

“With all our construction projects, the Church has become a significant factor in the economic development of Albania. We are one of Albania’s most serious investors and job creators.”

There is not only the on-going task of providing church buildings where needed but helping those drawn to the church to learn to pray together after a long exile from church life in a rigidly secular society.

“Sometimes it was very difficult to conduct the Liturgy. Often people came more to watch than pray. It was like having the Liturgy in a place where cars are being repaired or where a football game was going on. Often it was impossible to have silence. Many times I was severe. I refused to go further with the Liturgy until the people were silent. I didn’t mean the children. Let them chatter like birds. But let the rest of the people pay attention to the service and not carry on as if they were in the market.”

At a Liturgy in a remote mountain village, in a cemetery church which had survived the Hoxha years by serving as a weapon depot, I saw how readily Archbishop Anastasios adapted himself to the enthusiasm of children, not only the noises they make but their eagerness to be close to him. One child approached him for a blessing and immediately all the children wanted the same thing. With so many children present, this meant a delay in the start of the service, but that was no problem.

Related to the task of restoring the physical church and the understanding of what it means to pray together is the reformation of understanding the co-responsibility of each person in the Church for the life of the Church.

“We have three basic principles that I speak of again and again. The first is local leadership, next local language, and finally local finance. It is only on the last that we have had to compromise. The profound poverty of Albania has required help from outside to rebuild the churches and to undertake projects to relieve suffering. But even in this area we never undertake a project without financial sacrifice from Albanians as well. In order to receive God’s blessing, we have to offer what we have. Only zero cannot be blessed. With only two fish and five loaves, Christ fed 5,000 — but there had to be gift of what little people had.

“One of the most memorable gifts I received for the diaconal work of the Church came from two elderly women whose brother was killed during the Second World War in southern Albania. For fifty-five years these women carefully saved money to be used in some good way in memory of their brother. Fifty-five years! When I met them they presented all the money they had saved — also some flowers. I used the money for our girls’ high school near Gjirokaster and in the same village put the flowers they gave me at the base of a memorial for those who died in the war.”

Another immediate task was to do all that was possible to relieve suffering in Europe’s poorest country. The Church began to set up clinics in major population centers. There are programs to assist the disabled, a women’s rural health program, an agriculture developmental program, work with prisoners and the homeless, free cafeterias, and emergency assistance to the destitute. Most of this work is carried out through the Diaconal Agapes (Service of Love), a Church department set up by Archbishop Anastasios in 1992 and first led by Father Martin Ritsi [who now heads the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in the US], later by Penny Deligiannis, and now by an Albanian, Nina Gramo Perdhiku. These projects were never intended simply to benefit Orthodox Christians alone but any person in need, no matter what his or her faith — or lack of faith.

“We keep working to improve the standards of health care,” said Archbishop Anastasios. “The Annunciation Clinic here in Tirana now meets the highest European standards. People come from all over the country to use it.”

Another model project is a dental clinic housed in a large white van that travels from town to town. While accompanying Archbishop Anastasios on a visit to the Monastery of Ardenica, we happened to encounter the mobile clinic parked in the field of a nearby village. The archbishop decided not only to stop and greet the many local children waiting in line outside the van but to test the dental chair himself and invite the dentist to inspect his teeth under the bright light. The children watched with delight. Archbishop Anastasios quickly became a beloved uncle.

While his official title is Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania, Anastasios has occasionally been called the Archbishop of Tirana and All Atheists. It isn’t a title he objects to. “I am everyone’s archbishop. For us each person is a brother or sister. The Church is not just for itself. It is for all the people. As we say at the altar during each Liturgy, it is done ‘on behalf of all and for all. Also we pray ‘for those who hate us and for those who love us.’ Thus we cannot have enemies. How could we? If others want to see us as enemies, it is their choice, but we do not consider others as enemies. We refuse to punish those who punished us. Always remember that at the Last Judgment we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person. The message is clear. Our salvation depends upon respect for the other, respect for otherness. This is the deep meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan — we see not how someone is my neighbor but how someone becomes a neighbor. It is a process. We also see in the parable how we are rescued by the other. What is the theological understanding of the other? It is trying to see how the radiation of the Son of God occurs in this or that place, in this or that culture. This is much more than mere diplomacy. We must keep our authenticity as Christians while seeing how the rays of the Son of Righteousness pass through another person, another culture. Only then can we bring something special.”

I noticed while traveling with him how each day he gives an example of love of non-Orthodox neighbors. To give but one instance, when we visited the Ardenica monastery, one of the very few religious centers to survive the Hoxha period with little damage (it had become a tourist hotel).

There was a group on Albanian tourists visiting when we arrived one of whom approached the Archbishop. “I am not baptized,” he said. “I am a Moslem. But will you bless me?” The man received not only an ardent blessing but was reminded by the archbishop that he was a bearer of the image of God.

Educational work was another key area of concern, first of all to prepare both men and women for service in the Church. “We are struggling with the problem of the shortage of priests. The young generation was raised in an atheistic climate, and after that came the capitalist dream, which made many decide to go to other countries. The scent of money is very powerful. Gradually some people realize money does not bring happiness, that happiness can only come from something deeper.

“To develop local leaders, in 1992 we immediately started a seminary, renting a hotel in Durres. What a place it was! Much of the time it had no heat, no electricity, no running water. But we were able to overcome the difficulties for several years, until our own seminary building was ready in October 1996. It was suggested we send our seminarians to study in Greece and America, but decided their formation should be here. In order to have a new forest, you plant the trees where they will grow, not somewhere else. Since the seminary was opened, there have been 120 ordinations.

“It is not easy finding promising candidates. In the Communist time many efforts were made to ridicule the clergy as an uneducated lower class, if not evil people, and still there are people who defame the clergy, though it has become more and more difficult to imagine priests as uneducated. But finding suitable candidates and giving them a good theological education is hard, tiring work.

“In earlier times the priest was at the center of village and town life — teacher, healer, judge, reconciler, a person who could call things by their true names. We hope in the future something of this tradition can be restored. Not to offend politicians, but the priest is a permanent silent leader.

“We need serious young people, capable of leadership, who will realize that being a priest is not a second of third choice and that it is a vocation that can make an enormous difference, no less significant than a physician or engineer.

“As you will have noticed, there are not only men but also women at the seminary, about a third of the enrollment. It used to be the vocation of women was mainly in the home, but now they have a public life and the Church must use their gifts. Women exercise another form of church service. There are many women who have graduated from the seminary and who are playing an important role in the activities of the Church in Albania — diaconal works of mercy, teachers, administration, mission activity, and so forth. We would have achieved much less without them.”

In addition to the seminary, schools have been started to meet other needs. A post-secondary “Institute for Professional Training” was recently opened in Tirana. In Gjirokaster for several years there has been a high school for boys and one for girls in a nearby town. Twelve kindergartens have been opened in various towns and cities. There are summer camps and many youth programs.

“Our first priority is children. We have opened many kindergartens, nurseries and schools. Our only regret is that we cannot help more young people. We do what we can with the staff and space we can afford.”

Archbishop Anastasios points out that education is far more than books to read and facts to memorize. The goal must be to help shape people who are not only capable intellectually or skilled in certain specializations, but motivated by respect and love rather than greed and fear. As he says: “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power. Those who fear God fear nothing else.”

But Albania is still a country in which fear and greed shape many people’s lives.

“To get results we need people — holy people — people who don’t change things but change themselves. The Church has the power to create people capable of love and sacrifice, people above vendettas, people capable of forgiveness. Reconciliation is not easy. It needs help from the Church. Forgiveness and reconciliation are an essential part of the Christian life, especially during Lent. It gives us the power to forgive the other. More forgiveness, more community!

“The young generation was educated with systematic Communist propaganda. It was a culture of fear. Look at all the many bunkers littering the country that were built in the Communist era. Each one is like a large skull. When you see many of them near each other, it is like a cemetery of exposed bones. In the Hoxha period, the creation of enemies was essential to maintaining the discipline of the people. It was a diabolic method, the formation of a culture of fear. Fear, once learned, is hard to unlearn. Many people still are paralyzed by fear.

“Now they are subject to another propaganda — the idea that status in society equals having money. The new system says that the more money you have, the more important you are. But without love and sacrifice, people become wild animals. Today, without religious communities, there is no hope. Otherwise they cannot understand sacrifice motivated by love, by belief in Christ. It is a pity so many are held captive by the belief that happiness comes from money. Young people must know there is something more behind life. Now when such people look at those who are living sacrificial lives, they assume the other person is getting some secret material benefit. Often they imagine our helpers from other countries are making more money assisting us here than they would in their home country! Otherwise why would they be here? But finally they begin to see that our collaborators give up a great deal in coming to Albania — that the motive is not at all financial. In some cases this discovery gives young Albanians the motivation to stay here.

“I often ask people I meet, ‘What would you like to do?’ And often the answer is, ‘Emigrate!’ They don’t say what they want to do — only that they want to leave. At the present time there are about half a million Albanians in Greece alone, all arriving in the last decade, some going legally, many illegally. There are so many Albanians in other countries, in many cases not happy where they are, but thinking they have no alternative. Some of them are trying to help those who remain here. Of course often they are tempted to leave as so many of their friends have done. They ask me, ‘What about the future?’ Of course, I share their concern, but I emphasize, ‘Let us look at the present. Let us do our duty, only doing whatever is an expression of love of one for the other. This will shape the future.”

Still another dimension of the Church’s task is to teach forgiveness.

“This begins within the Church in the way we respond to those who denied or betrayed the Church, in the Communist period. Especially in earlier years, I was sometimes asked, what do we do when such people want to rejoin the Church after having been apostates? Our response must be to forgive and receive them back, not to turn anyone away. Following the fall of communism, the first church we opened in Berat has an inscription above the central door which says — ‘Whoever comes to me, I will not cast away.’ However difficult it is, we must be willing to forgive and forget. There can be no true forgiveness without forgetting.”

There have been several other areas of development in bringing the Church fully back to life. “We started a radio station and newspaper, both called Ngjallja — Resurrection. The newspaper is monthly, the radio station is on the air 24 hours a day. It broadcasts a mixture of spiritual programs, music, news and other programming. There is now a children’s hour. Recently an antenna was set up so that broadcasts can now reach the southern part of the country. Also we have a center just outside Tirana called Nazareth where icon painting and restoration are taught. In the same building there are also a printing house and a candle factory. The sale of candles provides local parishes with a steady source of income.”

He sees as another area of activity for the Church developing projects to foster local environmental responsibility.

“This year, we started an environmental protection program which includes training 15 post-graduate students, who have completed degrees in biology and forest or environmental engineering. They will set up programs to protect the eco-system in three areas of Albania. We are even establishing garbage management programs in two cities. Part of the vocation of the parish is to keep the village, town and city clean. We need to inspire the idea of a clean environment. Albania used to have it but it was imposed by a police state. Now it is not imposed but needs to be chosen.”

“What is necessary is that the Church should be present in all areas of life — with pilot programs in health care, education, social and relief efforts, developmental programs, culture and environmental concerns — all those things which are essential to civilization. In each area of life we must implant a spiritual dimension. Culture is more than technology! Most of all it is respect for the dignity of people. Culture requires respect for God’s creation. Where it exists, there is beauty.”

He paused to reflect on the importance of foreign volunteers in the work the Church is doing in Albania. So far they come mainly from Greece and the United States. Some come continually over a period of years, perhaps teaching in the seminary or taking key roles in church projects, others coming from time to time for specific tasks, like the architect Eva Papapetrou from Athens.

“Among our biggest blessings are the gifted people who have come to assist us, though it is not a success in every case. All who offer their services want to help, but not all who come are able to cope with the problems of daily life in Albania. It is not easy being here! We cannot romanticize it. Not everyone has the necessary patience. There are others who are full of their own ideas and too eager to import solutions. This only creates confusion. I ask people from abroad who come not to come with answers to all our problems but rather to come and see and listen and to discover first how to live when things are not working — when the water and electricity are not flowing. First they need to learn not why some people leave — that’s easy enough to understand — but why so many people stay even though they could easily emigrate. The list is too long to mention, and you already met some of them, but I feel the need to express, again and again my deep gratitude for the long-term collaborators who have stayed with us.”

One crucial dimension of life for the archbishop is helping maintain good relations between the several religious communities. During my stay there was a visit with national leaders of the Moslem community — “part of the normal rhythm of my life,” he explained, “and not only since arriving in Albania. During my long journey I have learned one must always respect the other and regard no one as an enemy. We must help each other for the sake of our communities. Tolerance is not enough — there must be respect and cooperation. If we turn our backs on each other, only atheism benefits. We also have to meet with respect those who have no belief.”

There are similar visits with Catholic bishops, clergy and lay people. Archbishop Anastasios helped welcome Mother Teresa when, in her old age, the Albanian-born nun was able to visit post-Communist Albania. It pleases him that one of the main streets in Tirana has been renamed in her honor and a postage stamp is graced with her portrait. (While visiting the Orthodox Church’s Annunciation Clinic in Tirana, I happened to meet one of the sisters from Mother Teresa’s community, the Missionary Sisters of Charity. The city’s Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals are nearly side by side.)

The Archbishop spoke about the ecumenical vision he is trying to transmit among the Orthodox in Albania.

“Beyond a Balkan, European perspective, we are trying to respectfully and lovingly embrace the whole church and the entire world that Christ himself has raised, redeemed and enlightened by His cross and resurrection. The ecumenical vision offers a special power, endurance and perspective — for every local and concrete situation. Besides this, the emphasis on the ecumenicity and catholicity of the church, and the gaze on the incarnate word of God in the Holy Spirit, offers to the Orthodox thought and conscience an open horizon with boundless majesty.”

Interfaith dialogue, he pointed out, is not simply exchanges of words.

“It helped being in the World Council of Churches’ committee for dialogue with other religions, but what we did was academic. Here you learn that often the best dialogue is in silence — it is love without arguments.”

His task, he has discovered, is not only to lead the Orthodox Church in Albania.

“You must bear in mind that Albania has had very little experience of being an independent country and even less experience of freedom. The Albanian state was created in 1912-13. Then there were 25 years of trying to build up that state in the poorest country in Europe.

“Killing here is not something rare — it easily happens that someone ‘disappears.’ There are complex rules of revenge that are still operative in many places. In such a setting it is necessary to think in larger terms, about social development as a whole, to think not in terms of decades but centuries. We must think not about luxuries but necessities and endurance. We must think what it means to be free.

“A passport does not give freedom. If God does not free us, we will have no freedom. I sometimes pray, ‘O Lord, free me from myself. Free me from fear! Let me be a free person in Christ.’ God is always a God of love and freedom. Love and freedom must come first in our lives and they lead us to God Himself. You cannot love the other if you are not free from yourself. It is not easy. It is never finished. It may happen that you are only free a small part of the time. I was free part of yesterday.”

As democracy was originally a Greek idea, perhaps it should not be surprising that a Greek bishop is not only a Christian missionary but a missionary of democracy.

“Part of my vocation here is to encourage fermentation in the society. We must ask the question how can Albania become a truly democratic society? Democracy is a complex phenomenon. It cannot be just one party which happens to be in power imposing its will. It is more than coming to power via elections. Democracy means respect for truth, respect for the other. It means not confusing words and slogans with reality. It means not thinking your violence is good, their violence is a crime. Words change but unfortunately the syntax remains as it was. We suffer from a vacuum of values and from a very rough form of capitalism — the capitalism you meet in Oliver Twist.”

Not all Albania’s calamities occurred before the end of the rigid Communism in 1991. In 1997, Albania was plunged into anarchy after the collapse of pyramid investment schemes in which many Albanians had risked and lost their life savings.

“The country was on the verge of civil war,” Archbishop Anastasios recalled. “It was a major disaster revealing all the fear and violence that had accumulated in so many people’s hearts. People who had come from other countries in most cases fled abroad or were airlifted out. During this period the Church provided emergency aid to 25,000 families and tirelessly repeated our appeal, ‘No to arms, no to violence’. We said that no act of violence can be justified by the Church.”

Ignoring the advice of many friends both in Albania and elsewhere, he refused to leave the country.

“Many had to leave but I realized I must stay and invited those to stay with me who were willing. In my own case, I am the captain of the ship. For me leaving was not an option. But the danger was very real”

He showed me a bullet that had lodged itself in the double-pane glass of his office, smashing the outer pane but being stopped by the inner pane.

“It was strange to see a bullet that had been halted like that! I’ve kept it there as a souvenir of those times in which we were tested, when each day could have been our last. In those days I was sleeping on the office floor in a corner below the windows.”

Carefully pulling the curtain further back, he drew my attention to a grey pigeon tending a single egg in a flower pot. “A bullet and an egg!” he commented. “Perfect symbols of Albania at the crossroads.”

“We must in every situation choose life and refuse the temptation to hate and harm others,” he said. “Many times, not only in 1997, I have repeated the message, ‘The oil of religion should be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to ignite the fires of hatred’.”

Expanding on the theme of healing, he commented on the Gospel story in which Christ heals a paralytic who was lowered by friends through a hole in the roof when a crowd blocked the way.

“Notice that Christ heals the man not because of his faith but their faith. It is a revealing phrase, ‘seeing their faith.’ Faith is collaboration: thinking together, praying together, acting together. The Church is not the place of my prayer but of our prayer. We pray together and are responsible for each other. Paralysis is not only a physical condition. Some people are paralyzed in their inability to love, to believe in God, to forgive, to collaborate. To move from only doing this for my own benefit to acting in a way that benefits the community — this is being healed of paralysis. Then we become responsible for each other. Christ’s healing goes to the depth of life, to our need for forgiveness. Healing is another word for peace — Christ is the one who heals our brokenness.”

Another time of testing came in 1999, when NATO attacked Yugoslavia, bombing many targets in Serbia and Kosovo.

“Half a million Kosovar refugees fled to Albania in that period. The Church could not turn its back on them. While the majority of refugees were quickly taken into Albanian homes, we took responsibility for 32,000 people, and are still operating the last refugee camp in the country. It didn’t matter to us that few if any of the refugees were Christian. For some time we stopped classes at the seminary so all the students could participate in emergency work with the refugees.” I knew from photos that the archbishop was not only sending others to help but was also doing so himself, unloading boxes of food and medicine. “In this period, perhaps it became clearer to our critics that the Church is not here only for itself but for everyone.”

The Archbishop recalled how, at that time, some of the seminary students were initially afraid, worried some of the refugees might be hostile to Orthodox Christians, even if they were there to help.

“I said we must go in the middle of the crisis and see the face of Christ in those who suffer. There was one student who asked, ‘But will the cross I am wearing provoke some?’ I said to him that it was enough to wear the cross in his heart. More important than speeches about Orthodoxy are Orthodox actions. Obey the God of love, don’t be afraid. Don’t let fear become an idol. It is impossible to do theology without involvement.”

Late in my stay in Albania, sitting next to him one night as we drove along a narrow, winding mountain road, I asked if he could tell me about the prayer life that sustains him. After a long silence, he began to answer my question.

“The roots must remain hidden. There is a Trinitarian emphasis in my short repetitive prayers. I start with the verse in the Book of Revelation, ‘O Lord, who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty, Glory to Thee.’ Then I continue with the Jesus Prayer — ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ And I finish with the invocation, ‘O Holy Spirit, give me your fruit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23].’ Notice that Paul says ‘fruit’ — not ‘fruits.’ Communion with the Holy Spirit gives birth to all these qualities.

“The experience of St. Paul in his apostolic endeavors remains a basic refuge and inspiration, while my prayer for my people and me culminates in his prayer — Ephesians 3:14-21. There is a special music in the Greek text that I don’t hear in translations, but the meaning is always clear. Our life is to be a ray of the Holy Spirit, to be used by Him. It is not our own activity that is important but what He does through us.

“Prayer summarizes a longing. The problem is that so often we become ego-centered, lacking humility. Thus it is good to pray, ‘Oh Lord, deliver me from myself and give me to Yourself!’ — a cry of the heart. It is similar to the prayer, ‘Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.’ Often it is necessary to pray for forgiveness.

“Many times in my life there is no time for long prayers, only time to quickly go into what I call the ‘hut of prayer’ — very short prayers that I know by heart or to make a very simple request — ‘Show me how to love!’ Or, when you have to make a decision, ‘Lord, help me make the right estimation and come to the right judgment, to make the right action.’ Then there is the very simple prayer, ‘Your will be done.’ I have also learned, in Albania, what it means to be a foreigner, to come from a country many regard with suspicion. This, however, can help one become more humble. It helps one pray with more intensity, ‘Use me according to Your will.’ Often I pray, ‘Lord, illumine me so that I know your will, give me the humility to accept your will, and the strength to do your will.’ I go back to these simple prayers again and again.

“Many times the Psalms are my refuge. You realize that in the spontaneous arising of certain phrases from the Psalms you are hearing God speak to you. Perhaps you are reciting the psalm, ‘My soul, why are you so downcast…’ And then another phrase from the Psalms arises which is a response. It is an ancient Christian tradition that a bishop should know many psalms by heart. The Psalms provide a spiritual refuge. In each situation there is a psalm that can help you, in those critical moments when you have no place of retreat. Perhaps you remember the words, ‘Unless the Lord guards the house, they who guard it labor in vain.’ You are reminded that your own efforts are not decisive. You also come to understand that your own suffering is a sharing in His suffering. It is a theme St. Paul sometimes writes about. You come to understand that the resurrection is not after the Cross but in the Cross.

“Often in prayer we have no time to think what each word means. But prayer is not an analytical activity. It is in our intention, in our longing. You know you are far away from the ideal and you reach out in prayer. God does not need a detailed report about our efforts. Sometimes the only prayer that is possible is the prayer of silence, silence and cries of the heart asking the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.

“I have a secret corner, a tiny chapel next to my apartment, a place for thinking, praying, appealing for strength, for overcoming frustration, so that I can try to understand God’s will, and then find the humility and strength to obey.”

Archbishop Anastasios also spoke about what he called “Theotokos spirituality.”

“Theotokos simply means Mother of God or God bearer. This is Mary, Christ’s mother. Think of her! She became the first and best disciple and sets the perfect example for anyone who is trying to follow her Divine Son. There are three main elements in her witness. She said to the archangel, ‘Be it done to me according to your word.’ God’s will, not my own! She gives us this example and through it Christ enters our lives. She also said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ We are asked to center our lives on the Lord, not ourselves. And she says, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ We learn from her another type of freedom — the freedom to be free of your own plans. We realize He becomes present in our lives, as he became present in hers, through obedience. It is the obedience of love, a gift of the Holy Spirit. In her silence, in her capacity to quietly consider events in her heart, we also learn much about prayer — face-to-face conversations with God in silence. Contemplating the Mother of God is a great help and is itself a form of prayer.”

The day I left Albania, there was time for one last conversation with the archbishop before Father Luke Veronis took me to the airport. I reminded him that he had been reluctant at first to make his home in Albania. This made him laugh. “People look at the difficulties of life here and say to me, ‘How can you stand it? It is so ugly!’ But for me it is so beautiful! It is God’s blessing to be here — not the blessing I imagined but the one I received.

“My origins are not with the humble people, but I learn from them to become more simple, more true, more honest, more ready to forgive and let go of past injuries. Humility is not an achievement but a development, a contiguous dynamism in our life. So often you meet here in Albania persons who absorb every word, every gesture. Their faces are like a thirsty land ready to absorb every single drop of rain. It is a surprising providence to be sent to serve such people, people you never knew, never expected to meet, and yet who receive you with such confidence. Thank God I was sent to live among such people, to be helped by them.”

“People sometimes ask me about my expectations, but I don’t know about the future! You can only do your job with love and humility. I am not the savior of Albania, only a candle in front of the icon of the Savior.”

The word most often used to describe the church in Albania is resurrection — ngjallja. Everywhere you turn in the Church, the word or one of its icons awaits you. The church’s seminary is dedicated to the resurrection. The church newspaper is called Resurrection. Many churches have been given the same name.

During my final visit with the archbishop before returning home, Archbishop Anastasios took me to the small chapel — his “hut of prayer” next to his apartment on the top floor of the Metropolia — and gave me a newly painted Resurrection icon.

“Let this remind you of Albania. The original model for this version of the icon comes from an ancient church in Istanbul, Chora. You have noticed the emphasis we have on resurrection. The power of the resurrection is linked to bearing and sharing suffering. The theme is Christ conquering death. You see Christ standing on the destroyed gates of hell while pulling Adam and Eve from their tombs. Adam and Eve represent the entire human race in which each woman is a daughter of Eve, each man a son of Adam, and all linked to each other in Christ. The icon also mirrors the experience of the Church in Albania. It too has been pulled out of the tomb. It is also an icon for the biblical text, ‘Unless the wheat falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bring forth new life’.”

He showed me the reverse side of the bishop’s pendant he wears. There was a simple engraving of the cross surrounded by two shafts of wheat — the same symbol I had noted on his stationery. “The image represents this Gospel text — Christ is the wheat that has been buried. His dying gives birth to the resurrection. People sometimes think of the cross as a death symbol, or as a stop along the way to the resurrection, a dark doorway leading toward the light. But the resurrection is not beyond the cross. It is in the cross.”

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.

Purity of Heart: an essential for peacemaking

by Albert S. Rossi

Walled Garden (wood engraving by Eric Gill)

Purity of heart may contain a key to a personal position on the issue of war and peace, going beyond cultural words like hawk or dove. Purity of heart is stunningly counter-cultural.

My position on war has evolved from being a peacenik in the 1970s to a more thoughtful response to the war in Iraq and the Middle East. I am convinced that killing another human in any form is totally unacceptable. This includes abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty and war killings. At the same time, some wars, though deplorable, may be a lesser evil. On any specific war issue, or a response to a particular war procedure like surgical strikes, persons of good will can hold different positions. Positions on war and peace contain ambiguities and contradictions on both sides of the debate.

A personal position on war and peace emerges from deeper convictions, including one’s own level of peacefulness or lack thereof.

Ideally, if a person takes an anti-war position, that same person has achieved a relatively stable peacefulness, devoid of belligerence, excessive anger and divisiveness. Otherwise, the person doesn’t have much to say, and can only give mixed and contradictory messages.

Some of the angriest people I’ve ever met were leading peace protests, using the bullhorn to shout words of peace in rage-filled tones. It is also true that some of the saintliest people I’ve ever met were in the peace movement, but they were more eloquent and quiet. For me, there is a significant difference between the quiet prayer vigils protesting an imminent death sentence and the anti-war protests. All this has made me allergic to the recent peace protests at Berkeley and the Ivy League universities over the war in Iraq. Too much anger.

Peacemaking begins at home, in the chambers of my heart. Before I can be for or against surgical bombing of strategic military sites, I must prayerfully purify my heart of the darkness in my ego called anger, thymos in Greek.

Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God ? at the end of time and in the present moment. Perhaps a person can be pure of heart and favor war movements, or be pure of heart and resist war movements. The opposite can also be true. In a sense, it doesn’t matter what one’s position is regarding the war if that position is darkly self-serving through anger and defensiveness.

Thirty years after my involvement with the peace protests which included being maced in a peace protest in the nation’s capitol, I am now convinced that peaceniks did as much moral damage to our country as did the hawks of those days. I’ll try to explain.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship rests as much on how the Fellowship proceeds as on which particular position it adopts.

Purity

Pure means free from impurities or adulterants, full strength, containing nothing inappropriate or unnecessary, total and complete. An example of adulteration, making impure, would be to take a plate of Italian pasta with meat sauce, and pour ketchup on it. As persons we are called to be pure as the driven snow, pure as the feeling after taking a shower with Irish Spring soap. Since we are already contaminated by sin, the task is to allow God to remove the impurities.

Purity, then, is a process of subtraction. Christ lives deep inside our heart. We become pure by allowing the Lord to remove the admixtures, beginning with our busyness, eliminating the noise in our lives.

The claim is that the pure of heart will see God, in the eschaton as well as here and now, gradually and progressively.

Heart

The spiritual heart is located in the bodily heart, yet beyond it. The heart is the earth where the grain of mustard seed is sown, the sanctuary where fire burns, the field where the treasure is hidden, and the inner spring from which comes life giving water. The heart is the inner chapel where Jesus and I co-exist, where we co-habitate. Jesus and I have the same dwelling place, my heart.

Bishop Kallistos Ware says that we contain within our person the universe, not merely the galaxies light years away but the great universe of the inner space of the heart, which is incomparably greater than the outside universe and is in the depth within the human heart.

In the Orthodox view, the heart is the center of reasoning, where our thoughts begin and end, passing through the cerebral cortex on the way. Our society prizes the latest discovery in brain research, and neural circuitry.

The Orthodox view of heart is rather fully counter-cultural.

Purity of heart

The wide definition of purity of heart includes everything. Kierkegaard said purity is focusing on one thing, one thing at a time. Society today seems to idolize persons who can be multi-tasked, doing multiple tasks at the same time. The counter-cultural position would be to focus on one thing sequentially after another.

The narrow definition of purity of heart refers to sexual cleanliness. Some prominent theologians claim that sexual issues are the defining moral and ethical conflicts of our culture in our age.

Sexual Purity

I am now convinced that much of the damage done by the peace movement of the early ’70s was its embrace of lust, euphemistically called free love.

The Fathers, and depth psychology, teach us that porneia (lust or impurity) is tightly knotted to thymos (anger or violence, war and killing). Porneia and thymos are two sides of the same coin, two manifestations of the same demonic passion surging outward. Where either porneia or thymos is, the other is close at hand, ready to erupt and damage other persons as well as oneself.

We live in a sex-saturated culture. We only have to watch an evening of prime-time TV, both programs and ads, or read the newspaper headlines about the sex-abuse by priests, or notice the lingerie ads on the back of a bus. Worse would be to go to almost any movie with the mandatory sex scene, or watch MTV for an evening, which many of our children do. We all swim in these cultural waters, and can’t help but swallow some water as we live, and swim. We all have personal sexual demons, which we have to face.

There is one totally lost virtue, inside and outside Orthodoxy. That virtue is modesty. Just visit any swimming pool or beach for a wake up call.

The Orthodox believe that sex is good, but so good that it is only sacred in marriage, otherwise sex becomes vile. Orthodox Christians are not Puritans who teach that sex is inherently bad, and won’t talk about it. The Orthodox vision sees sex within marriage as intimate, sacred and at times a robust act of loving another human person.

We all have a long, long way to go to acquire “purity of heart.”

Facing Our Hidden Sexual Demons

Hidden demons can be consciously concealed from others, or hidden, unconsciously concealed from ourselves. We are clueless of their existence, like a latent, deadly virus in our bloodstream.

Many of us have become numb to sexual exploitation. As one theologian says, “Our threshold of tolerance toward sexual explicitness and exploitation has been lowered dramatically … The spiritual and psychological toll exacted by this situation is incalculable.”

We may not be doing something sexually sinful, but that does not guarantee that our minds and hearts are sexually pure. Perhaps we need to reflect on the enjoyment we experience during some of the TV love scenes, off color jokes, and sensual banter.

We may not be engaged in sinful, sexual behavior, but that doesn’t mean that we zealously fight to teach chastity as leading to sanity, or zealously fight against sexual exploitation in so many ways. When was the last time we made a phone call or sent an e-mail to make our voices heard against offensive advertisements, some of which use children to send sexual messages?

Our youth need to know that we are appalled by sexual scenes, nudity and excessive violence. Our youth need to know this by our actions.

My personal commitment is to avoid films that feature nudity, sexual activity or excessive violence. My adult children now say to me, “Dad, I saw a good movie and even you can see it.”

Our culture today lacks elders, adults who live by traditional values and try to teach those values to the youth they love. Elders are sorely lacking today.

Sexual explicitness, and permissiveness affects males and females. I believe that, basically, males are much more damaged by the sexual openness of today. The fire of male testosterone is inflamed, out of control, without sufficient vision of what is right and wrong, and without sufficient safeguards to provide sanity. Of course, females then become the objects of these emotionally-blind narcissists and, consequently, females suffer much more sexual abuse in childhood. Males can become love-cripples faster and easier than females.

I am also convinced that many women are totally oblivious to the severity of this damage in males. I’ve heard women say, “Oh well, boys will be boys,” lightly dismissing the problem. This is too easy, because it excuses females from expressing disdain for such activities. Women’s opinions are very important to men, especially about what is right and wrong sexually. In the meantime, males are fighting a cancer of the soul, which will eventually cripple their ability to relate to real women. Everyone then loses.

Women, especially young women, need to have their moral voices heard by men, especially young men. Women need to say, clearly and forcibly, “I really don’t like those kind of movies … I hate it when you talk like that … Please don’t ever do that again when I’m around.”

Perhaps we need to radically change our choices in entertainment, as a start, towards purity of heart. Perhaps we need to radically alter the movies, TV and music we choose. Perhaps our own hidden sexual demons have contributed to the breakdown in modesty and purity in our families and parishes. Perhaps our hidden ? or not so hidden ? sexual demons radically skew our position on peace and war, one way or the other.

How do we begin to acquire purity of heart?

St. Isaac the Syrian says that it is better to acquire purity of heart than to convert whole nations from error. Bishop Ware says that St. Isaac means that unless and until we have gained some measure of inner silence, it is improbable that we will succeed in converting anybody to anything. St. Isaac also says that the only way to pray better is to pray more. That’s the beginning. We acquire purity of heart by more quiet prayer.

What can we expect when we try to pray more? We can expect massive resistance. St. John Chrysostom says that when we try to pray more we “rouse the snake within us.” He goes on to say that if we persist we “lay the snake low.”

Prayer requires a certain kind of effort. The effort is delicate, not like making a New Year’s resolution. The effort is a softening, an acceptance of a gift graciously given. Prayer demands weakness in order to become strong. Prayer stops our driven-ness and prompts us to yield to God’s voice. God’s voice is infinitely delicate and always resistible.

We might say, then, that prayer is a gift we open ourselves to. Prayer has more to do with yielding than with striving. Prayer is something the Lord does through us as we freely want to pray, to be prayed through. In this sense, we pray and we are prayed through by the Lord.

Non-Stop Prayer

The Fathers tell us that the “how” of living in God’s Presence is “arrow prayer.” Arrow prayer means shooting pointed arrows at God all day and all night long. When we rise in the morning or awaken during the night, the first thing we do is intentionally put our mind into our heart. One way is to say the classical Prayer of the Heart, the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Some prefer the shorter version: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

We also need to spend some quiet time for a few moments every day, sitting in a chair with our bodies relaxed and eyes closed. Bishop Kallistos Ware says that if we spend ten or fifteen minutes a day in silent, repetitive prayer, our entire day would be transformed.

Unending Warfare

When we try to pray and live a pure life, we become embattled. The prayer of Christ is always happening around and in us, and a fierce battle against prayer is always happening around and in us. We cannot fight valiantly alone.

What do we do? By prayer we put our sword into God’s hand, that He should fight our enemies, and overcome them.

The pilgrim in the Way of the Pilgrim said that, for him, ceaselessly repeating the Jesus prayer, was “sweeter and more precious” than anything in the world.

Conclusion

Taking seriously purity of heart as a norm for a position on war and peace is a call to action. Our first action, perhaps the most astonishing act we can dare to engage in, is more quiet prayer. Ardent, quiet prayer can turn the world on its axis, and, we believe, alter the course of wars.

The actions we need to avoid are those which spring from darkness and anger in our hearts, especially about war and peace. We also need to avoid involvement with others who espouse free or casual lust (called love) or who encourage anger as a means to accomplish a goal.

Beyond prayer, we can become more informed and more capable of finding appropriate ways of helping reshape local and national political and cultural structures. Through faith, the pure of heart believe they will slowly begin to see God, then and now. They also believe they can, by God’s power and grace, make a difference in the pursuit of world peace.

Dr. Albert Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He is a member of the Commission on Contemporary Social and Moral Issues of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion. He is the author Can I Make a Difference: Christian Family Life Today? (Paulist Press). After teaching at Pace University for 24 years, he retired as Associate Professor of Psychology. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. This is a slightly abbreviated version of the lecture he presented at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship national conference at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, last summer. The full text is on the OPF web site.

from the Winter 2004/Theophany issue of In Communion, the quarterly journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

The text is copyrighted by the author and should not be published or reproduced on another web site without the author’s written permission.

Recommended Reading

An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics

by Fr. John S. Romanides

edited and translated by Fr. George

Dion Dragas; preface by Metropolitan

Methodios of Boston

Orthodox Research Institute, 153 pp, $11

www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org

An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics (published both in Greek and English) provides a concise introduction into Romanides’ understanding of the basic tenets of the Eastern Orthodox Faith and its differences from those of Western (Augustinian or Franco-Latin) Christian theology. It covers such doctrines as God’s relation to the world, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of the Church, the Church’s Holy Tradition and the restoration and perfection of humanity in and through this Tradition. It serves as an introduction into Romanides’ original vision of Patristic Orthodoxy, which is the basis of his reappraisal of Christian theology and history. Its value lies in its concise, coherent and comprehensive character.

The Golden Anthology: Writings of a Greek-American Soldier in Korea (1947-1951)

compiled & edited by Dean Papademetriou;

Boston: Somerset Hall Press, 2003;

134 pp, $15;

www.somersethall. com

The cover of this poignant story introduces us to Private First Class John C. Papademetriou. His open face, sincere smile, and dark eyes engage us all the more because, as a Greek-born child, he is dressed in the picture in an American soldier’s uniform.

A larger picture develops as we discover John’s birthplace in his Greek village, his parents and siblings, his extended family, and the endearing vignettes of his childhood. We are also confronted with the reality of the times in which he lived, including the shadows of Hitler and Mussolini cast across the European nations. We discover John at the age of 12 on the wrong side of a firing squad, and learn how he escaped death.

By 1947, we meet John in America, a teenager intent on learning English. His soul spilled over into prose and poetry, sometimes jovial, sometimes serious, always genuine. He had come to love life so much that he wanted to guard it at all costs. Choosing to enlist, he found himself in the Korean War, where he served by his own choosing as a medic on the front, “not having enough time to sleep in the foxhole he has dug for himself,” as he wrote.

On May 12, 1951, he was killed while ministering to a fellow wounded soldier.

Threaded throughout the short life of this young man is his devotion to God, his daily prayers, his love of family and country, both his birth country of Greece and his adopted country of America. Above all, he demonstrates his overflowing love of life. There is quiet enthusiasm and reassurance when he writes: “Don’t you cry tears for me, I will return.”

Over 50 years later, one of John’s nephews, Dean Papademetriou, has paid a tribute to his late uncle worthy of a place on your bookshelf and, even more, worthy of a place in your heart. “Run, run before my soul leaves my body run, run, the heavens are opening.”

— Lyn Breck

Toward a Eucharistic Vision of Church, Family, Marriage and Sex

by Philip LeMasters

Light &Life Publications 176 pages, $15;

http://www.light-n-life.com

This enlightening volume demonstrates how the Eucharist connects to and influences every aspect of life in practical everyday ways since, in fact, it is the very source of life. Its seven chapters highlight how the Eucharist shapes Christians living the life of Christ in the world in such specific areas as marriage, family and sex. The wide range of themes addressed indicates the profundity and breadth of the spiritual and moral issues at stake for the Christian in the celebration of the Eucharist. “Hundreds of lengthy quotations from patristic and modern theologians makes this a work to be read and studied by parish groups,” Fr. John Breck comments in his foreword.

O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

By Fr. Alexander Schmemann

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

115 pp, $10

“The most important and most profound question of the Christian faith must be, how and from where did death arise, and why has it become stronger than life?” asked Fr. Alexander Schmemann. “Why has death become so powerful that the world itself has become a kind of global cemetery, a place where a collection of people condemned to death live either in fear or terror, or, in their efforts to forget about death, find themselves rushing around one great big burial plot?”

In this collection of ten essays, Schmemann explores the mystery of death. Taking us to the heart of Christian revelation and anthropology, he helps the reader discover why the apostle Paul calls death the “last enemy” and Christ’s answer to this enemy.

In a culture in which death is often hidden or masked and the world made into a cosmic cemetery, Schmemann’s reflections make for timely reading.

“Christianity is not a reconciliation with death,” he notes. “It is the revelation of death, and it reveals death because it is the revelation of Life. Christ is this Life. And only if Christ is Life is death what Christianity proclaims it to be, namely the enemy to be destroyed, not a mystery to be explained.”

On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ

by St. Maximus the Confessor

Translated by Robert Wilken and Paul Blowers;

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 184 pp, $13.95

The last half of the twentieth century saw the recognition of St. Maximus the Confessor as one of the greatest of Byzantine theologians, with a wholeness of vision that speaks directly to many of our concerns today. Until recently, however, little of his work has been available in English translation.

This volume provides translations of the two main collections of theological reflections by St. Maximus, his Ambigua (or Difficulties) and his Questions to Thalassius, plus one of his Christological opuscula, hitherto unavailable in English. The translations are accompanied by helpful notes, and prefaced by an excellent introduction to the theology of Maximus. This is the ideal volume from which to learn at first hand the depth and insight of St. Maximus’ cosmic vision and grasp of the complexities of human nature, as he patiently explores the nature and consequences of the renewal of all things in Christ.

— Fr. Andrew Louth

Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers

by Mark Gruber, OSB

Orbis Books, 208 pp, $18.00

As a young monk and anthropology student, Gruber — after leafing through a National Geographic article on the Nile — impulsively selected Coptic monasteries as his dissertation topic. Coptic monasteries in the Sahara desert became the topic of Gruber’s year-long field study and a lifelong focus of personal and professional interest.

More than a decade after his year in the desert, he began consulting his notes, letters, notes from interviews and memories in order to create this memoir, part spiritual journal, part travelogue of his passage through a “blessed corridor of time.” The author provides an intimate glimpse of patches of heaven in the Egyptian wilderness.

Conversations by E-mail

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

Conference in Finland

On OPF’s behalf, I attended the conference on the Social Witness and Service of the Orthodox Church held at the New Valamo Monastery in Finland, 30 April-5 May.

My brief talk about OPF was received well. An Armenian bishop asked me if any OPF members were active in Armenia and Azerbaijan (I didn’t know), adding that that was an area needing peace desperately. I also had a brief conversation afterwards with one of the Russian participants, who said that such a voice as OPF’s was needed in the Russian Orthodox Church — particularly with reference to the war in Chechnya. I brought enough copies of the “What is the OPF” folder for all participants to have a copy, and also copies of the Iraq statement and other documents found on the OPF web site. Demetrios Constantelos told the plenary that he had recently joined the OPF, and strongly recommended those present to join it. Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky referred to the OPF’s Iraq letter and noted the vigorous discussion it generated in the United States and elsewhere. He also mentioned Jim Forest’s book on the Albanian church.

In introductory remarks, Alex Belopopsky highlighted the need of the churches not only to treat the effects of injustice, but to get at their root causes. However, this emphasis was not pursued with the vigor it deserved.

There were substantial papers from Emmanuel Clapsis (on wealth and poverty in the early church) and David Breyer (on the history and future of international aid and development work). The Clapsis paper emphasized three realities that he argued ought to be at the center of Orthodox life: the Eucharist, the poor, and the world. This idea was to be repeated several times in discussions. Breyers emphasized the need to bear witness in the face of the “powers” (my word, not his) and the need to address the root causes of human suffering today, themes that also struck a chord with the participants.

There were five working groups. I was a member of the “Church and Civil Society” group. In the group discussions I pressed for including the church’s prophetic role in civil society, and for recognition of the possibility that the church’s witness will run counter to the values and practices of the surrounding society. I also advocated an emphasis on the church’s learning to live out the Eucharist in the economic and social realms. These emphases were included in the working group’s final recommendations.

The main result of the conference was a call to establish an international network for Orthodox diakonia. There was also a call for a follow-up conference, and for more informal networking between and among the conference participants.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of sobornost that was present. I also sensed that there was a great desire not only to work more closely together, but to speak with a clear, unambiguous Orthodox voice to address the suffering and injustice we see all around us. There were by one count 26 different countries represented, as well as both Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions.

Grant White

[email protected]

OPF’s future

There is little that I would subtract from Timothy Beach’s vision of an “activist” OPF [see pp 16-19]. I would add to his list of priority areas, however, in the contemplative or intellectual vein, and perhaps in the middle ground between scholarship and worldly — here just meaning “in the world” — activity (which Timothy has covered pretty well).

In the latter, I would see some new writing and speaking being appropriate; writing, for example, which tackles the rationales that are given by those who follow contrasting paths and treats them point-for-point in accessible, but still scholarly, fashion. For example, if the criteria for just war are being applied to a particular conflict, how does that doctrine or that particular application square with the gospels and the wisdom of the fathers of the Church? What is the standing, according to the canons of the Church, of those oaths and prayers that are currently being used by military chaplains?

In the former — the slightly more contemplative realm — I would suggest that the very prayers of the most-used divine liturgies, as well as less-used services for special feast days, Holy Week, etc. be explicated for the non-Orthodox, or for the interested Orthodox Christians who have not “put two and two together.” That is, if we have a prayer for “the armed forces,” what exactly is that to mean? If we pray for “victory of Orthodox Christians over their adversaries,” what was the original intent of that formulation? When we sing “blessed are the peacemakers,” what are we singing about?

Quakers have been designated “a peace church” because they protest wars. If the Orthodox Church is not called “a peace church,” why is that? Surely, the answer cannot lie in the teachings of Him who founded the Church?

Alex Patico

[email protected]

Mother Maria

I read the biography of Mother Maria on the OPF web site and was touched by the account of her death, partly because my maternal grandmother died in Ravensbruck in the same month, March 1945, right before liberation. Perhaps they knew one another?

You may recall that a few years ago I asked about information about Ravensbruck survivors groups and you gave me the name of a Dutch group who referred me to the French group which my mother contacted when she visited Paris that year. Unfortunately, no one knew her. My mother knows so little of her mother’s time there. She was sent there for unwittingly referring a Gestapo officer posing as an English airman to the underground. She was working for the Red Cross.

Paul del Junco

[email protected]

Visit to Rue de Lourmel

This afternoon we visited 77 Rue de Lourmel, formerly the location of the “House at Rue de Lourmel” of St. Maria and headquarters of “Orthodox Action.” I made a pencil rubbing of the plaque that stands by the entrance to the apartment complex that now stands on the site.

Looking around, thinking about what the neighborhood might have looked like in the 1930s and 40s, I was overwhelmed with a simultaneous feeling of presence and absence.

“She was here.” This is the sense of presence. Mother Maria walked here, cooked here, prayed here, lived here. She engaged in the famous Sunday afternoon discussions with the likes of Berdyaev and Bulgakov here. She used to walk from Rue de Lourmel to buy groceries at Les Halles, just down the block from where we are staying. The place is sanctified by her presence. Acts of unspeakable courage and plain everyday kindness took place here, but also acts of great evil and betrayal.

“It is all gone.” This is the sense of absence, of loss, coupled with an awareness of evil and the power of human choices. Despite the fact that Sts. Maria and Demetri have been an inspiration to so many, despite our recognition that their sacrifice is not in vain, the reality is that with their deaths Orthodox Action ceased to exist, and nothing like it has emerged to take its place. The House at Rue Lourmel is gone. The intellectual and spiritual ferment is gone. There is no monastic community to hand on a living memory and witness to the manner of St. Maria’s life. We have her writings, and the story of her life told by many. But the loss is achingly real, a loss of personal and historical continuity, a kind of spiritual genocide. What might have been if the Nazis had not come? What might have flourished and ultimately been handed down if she, like her contemporary in the Catholic Church, Dorothy Day, had lived to old age? What has grown in the soil enriched by the blood of the martyrs to replace that which was lost?

Much good certainly, and much good still to come. But this, too, depends in some measure upon the power of human choices, our choices; depends, at least in part, upon what we choose to plant.

Fr. Paul Schroeder

[email protected]

Personhood

One of the most revolutionary contributions that Orthodoxy can make to cultural dialogue is the emphasis on personhood. The early Church appeared to nurture cultural change through a focus on persons. Then, transformed persons made for transformed values and systems. Persons first, then culture. By the time Constantine legalized Christianity, the Faith was the dominant worldview among one-third of the empire. Constantine did not create a Christian wave of culture; he responded to it. I find that rather exciting!

It may be that the degree to which Christians focus only on systems and values is the degree to which the task of cultural conversion appears insurmountable. A man can lend a hand to his neighbor, but he cannot single-handedly reform tax law; a woman can open her home to an unwed mother, but she cannot overhaul the Office of Housing and Urban Development. Systemic change is desirable, and those working for it — Christian lobbyists, boycott organizers — are probably to be supported. But the general pattern of missiology established by the early Church appears to be one rooted emphatically on persons within local communities who “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Fr. John Oliver

[email protected]

The Early Church

I wonder whether the difference was that in the early church the Christians saw themselves as making disciples of friends, neighbors, family, rather than as really trying to convert kingdoms. A Christian Kingdom — apart from the end of the world — was not part of their imagination. So they weren’t trying to create a Christian culture/kingdom, they were waiting for the kingdom which would end all worldly kingdoms.

The early Christians were a minority group and a persecuted group. That was part of their self-identity. They lacked power, prestige and permanency. But, they weren’t dreaming that they would convert kingdoms or that they would come to power. That was not part of their self-image. They felt it was not moral for Christians to become soldiers or teachers — they weren’t trying to participate in society or make society better. They were hoping for an end to all earthly societies and the establishment of God’s kingdom.

They were countercultural and/or subcultural. They didn’t have the mindset that they could be or would be cultural. Why should they? They believed the world was going to end with the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom.

Constantine changed all that. Now they aren’t simply trying to convert people, they are shaping a Christian empire, a Christian culture, so their focus changes. And Christian “mythology” even begins to identify the Byzantine Roman Empire with the kingdom of God.

I would note that monasticism really blossoms, not when Christianity was oppressed and minority, but when Christianity became mainstream and cultural. Monasticism was the Christian effort to retain/regain the subcultural/countercultural milieu of early Christianity. Monasticism aimed again at converting persons, not shaping the main culture. It was in opposition to cultural Christianity that monasticism grew, not in opposition to paganism.

But later monasticism again becomes “mainstream” Orthodoxy, and Christian Orthodoxy will turn away from making the empire Christian to trying to make each Christian into a monk. Which is something we 21st Century Orthodox inherited and have to ponder — are we really trying to make monks of all Christians or should we be trying to make Christians of all people. They really aren’t the same thing, even though Orthodoxy does come close to confusing the two.

And in the modern age — I will speak specifically about Christians in the USA because I don’t know how this is lived out in other parts of the world — Christianity still struggles to have that subcultural/ countercultural identification. Now, I’ll use the commonly accepted but broad terminology. Politically and religiously conservative/right-wing Christians see themselves as opposing mainstream culture which they identify as Hollywood, liberals, homosexuals, evolutionists, the media, feminists, socialists, relativists. Politically and religiously liberal/left-wing Christians see themselves as opposing mainstream culture which they identify as the US government and military, corrupt capitalists, patriotic nationalism, bigots, and the consumer culture.

Both the left and right wing of Christianity see themselves as countercultural/subcultural, they just identify mainstream culture differently, and so set themselves apart from (ecclesia — called out; holy — separate from) different groups.

Who you think is in real power/control, determines who you as a Christian want to distinguish yourself from and identify yourself with.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

[email protected]

God’s Personhood

You may remember how important it was to early saints that the doctrine of the Incarnation be safeguarded. For St. Irenaeus, the tremendous vision of Christianity was that God became Man — not spirit or knowledge, but Man. Christ had to be the second Adam, for only then could He sanctify the whole race of men. St. Irenaeus vigorously opposed the Gnostic separation of the “heavenly Christ” from the “earthly Jesus.” A bit later, the Cappadocian saints would emphasize that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not modes or forms or masks, but Persons, all with qualities shared yet each with qualities distinct. So the theological context of the early Church was imbued by this emphasis on the Persons of the Holy Trinity, with the Second Person become flesh.

So, unfolding in this context of God’s Personhood, here’s an example of faith put into practice: Within the first 250 years of Christian history, there were two devastating epidemics that swept through the Roman Empire. The first began in the year 165 AD, and medical historians suspect that it was smallpox. Whatever it was, it was lethal: during the fifteen-year duration of the epidemic, an estimated one-quarter to one-third of the entire empire was wiped out. The second epidemic occurred in the year 251 AD — this time it may have been measles, and the country areas were hit as hard as the cities.

Notice how the 3rd century figure, Dionysius, writes about how pagans dealt with the issue: “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest ones, throwing them into the roads before they were dead, hoping to avoid the spread and contagious-ness of the fatal disease. But do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.”

Now, here’s what Dionysius wrote about the Christians: “The Christians behaved in the very opposite way. Most of [them] showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. In spite of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them they departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, taking into themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their place.”

That kind of attention to persons — rather than pushing the Empire government to reform health care — resulted in mass conversions to the Christian Faith, so that by the time of Constantine, his legalization of Christianity was almost a necessity. (I do not intend in any way to diminish his own conversion to Christ.)

I support systemic change through cultural activity — political and otherwise. But the healthy outrage at systems that emerges on the OPF List now and then is directed at them because of their negative impact on persons. So, because persons matter, systems should change. Corporate culture reverses that order: because systems matter, persons must change.

Fr. John Oliver

[email protected]

The peace movement and veterans

Albert Rossi’s “Purity of Heart” essay in the Winter In Communion was puzzling, but his response to criticism in the next issue left me feeling downright uncomfortable, especially his claim that during the American war in Vietnam the peace movement was responsible for the mistreatment of veterans. That’s the same argument that militarists have used for decades to belittle efforts being made to stop the violence of war. Militarists often claim that Vietnam veterans were spit upon when they came home. Therefore opposition to war equals opposition to veterans.

There is virtually no reliable documentation of all this alleged spitting on veterans. Quite the contrary is closer to both historic truth and to my experience. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I returned home in 1966 and joined the peace movement shortly thereafter. The real threat to soldiers was deployment to a war zone. We didn’t worry much about the chance of getting spit upon if we made it back alive. Here at home, as is clearly recorded, peace activists were the victims when they were attacked, imprisoned, and sometimes murdered for their activism. As a veteran of the very war being protested, I was embraced by the peace movement.

After the U.S. government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, three million of us were sent to Vietnam. Of those, 59,000 died, more than 150,000 suffered physical wounds, and uncounted hundreds of thousands continue to suffer the psychological damage that results from war. More than three million Vietnamese civilians and soldiers died.

“The anti-war demonstrations contributed to the polarization of the country,” Rossi wrote in his response. That is an astonishing idea to me. A more accurate view might be that the peace movement awakened a huge shared longing for peace, and ultimately forced an end to the violence in Vietnam. Is that polarizing?

In the U.S. there is a particular need to bring attention to the injustice of wars being waged for dubious and deceitful reasons by the world’s only superpower. As Jesus intervened publicly against the moneychangers and on behalf of the scorned, so should we when our government fails to use diplomacy and resorts to violence in our name. Dr. Rossi might examine the “hidden demons” within foreign policy before he dismisses the peace movement for “its embrace of lust, euphemistically called free love.” In other words, Dr. Rossi is guilty of painting stereotypes with the same broad brush used whenever one group attempts to discredit and persecute another. To characterize the sexuality of peace activists as Rossi does is insulting and laughable.

Before renouncing participation in public demonstrations against war, I think it is necessary to examine our motives. As Abba Evagrius said: “Do you wish to know God? Learn first to know yourself.” I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity of more than 30 years. I work as an iconographer adorning Orthodox churches with traditional imagery. And I participate to the best of my ability in the peace movement. At demonstrations I sometimes am asked to serve as a “peacemaker,” wearing an armband and walking along the edge of the crowd where demonstrators are most likely to be attacked. It’s an easy and safe job. Only a couple of times over the years have I stepped in front of people who seemed angry. They were always people who seemed like they might attack the demonstrators, never the other way around.

The quest for peace is an inner journey. But to deny participation in the outward manifestations of the peace movement as unworthy or impure, seems to me a denial of our humanity. I always pray when I’m marching for peace. I don’t know if my colleagues are praying. I can’t judge that. I do know, however, that they are conducting themselves peacefully and bringing attention to the constant need for peace.

If we were bystanders along the paths of Galilee, and we saw “great crowds” following Jesus as described in Matthew, would we be creating division in society if we followed the crowd to the mountain and listened to the speaker say: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God?” And even if society were divided at that moment, would we be forgiven if we stood by, like Pontius Pilate, and did nothing on behalf of peace?

David Giffey

Arena, Wisconsin

Author response

Dear David, I am humbled by your thoughtful response to my article. Your life as a Viet Nam soldier and your return there to rebuild peace speaks louder than any words. You speak from an experience that I can’t begin to imagine, nor can I hope to comprehend the depths of your thoughts. You bring a vision which provides a fresh and vibrant look at demonstrations.

I guess all I can say is that we each speak from our own experience. My own is that of a clinical psychologist who has seen the ravages of the war from that vantage point. I certainly agree that the “hidden demons” in our foreign policy need examination and that these hidden demons are huge and ugly, more huge and more ugly than anything I can imagine.

I am grateful for your perspective which is that of a veteran who returned to the US and embraced the peace demonstrations. I greatly admire the fact that you put your money where your mouth is and actually went to Viet Nam. I can understand the peace demonstrations embracing you because you now joined them and have much to say. Most veterans I know don’t return to join the peace movement but they simply come home to try to reconstruct their lives. The reception of these veterans has been variable.

There is probably much more to discuss about the place of sex and violence during the time of the demonstrations. Those in the demonstrations were of different life styles and I admire those who lived a life of integrity. However, the culture, as evidenced by music, TV, entertainment, art, etc. included diversity but was heavy into such slogans as, “Make love, not war,” etc. The university campuses were rife with a free-love atmosphere. Who knows how much was real or what was the connection with the peace demonstrations? I am not addressing the sexual activity of peace activists but am saying that the culture was rather loose at that time and that it may not be “insulting and laughable” to reflect upon the larger scene within which the demonstrations took place. I was there and would agree that it would be unfair to paint all, or even the majority, as free-love advocates. But, there was a strong movement in the air.

Again, it seems to me that persons of good will can embrace peace demonstrations and persons of good will can be allergic to peace demonstrations, at least in the form I experienced them.

All this discussion seems to me to be healthy and productive. We learn from each other. We don’t hold monolithic views. We can disagree and we can continue to fight for peace in whatever way seems authentic to us. I am much more sensitive to the issues you raise and am grateful to you for all your comments. You bring a perspective based on a life which I admire and value. Please say a prayer for me as I will for you.

Al Rossi

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Pro-life guests from Romania

We’ve just had two guests depart who deeply impressed us: Gabriela Tanase and her fiance, Ionutz Mavrichi. (Ionutz means “Little John,” though in fact he is not little.) Gabriela, 21, is a language student; Ionutz is a theological student who in time should become an Orthodox priest. They arrived in Holland last week to take part in an international conference on foster care in The Hague.

A few days ago we had been told by an OPF member in France to keep an eye out for them. We met them in our church in Amsterdam after the Liturgy yesterday and they spent the night in our house (not often do we have a chance to use both our guestrooms at once). Now they’re on their way gone back to Amsterdam where their host will be another parish member, a Romanian graduate student finishing a post-graduate degree in biblical translation. Nancy is trying to arrange a meeting for them with staff of the main Dutch pro-life organization, VBOK. On Thursday they return to Romania.

After the fall of the Communist dictatorship in Romania in 1990, Gabriella’s father, a priest named Nicolae, began to give talks about Orthodox belief to university students. When he explained the Church’s teaching against abortion, some of the women explained that they often had no choice other than abortion — they were either unmarried or lacked essentials for parenthood. Fr. Nicolae responded: “Have your baby and I will find people to care for it until you are ready to take your child back.” (Gabriela said that in Romania there have been 12-million registered abortions in the past 14 years, the post-Communist period. The population is both shrinking and aging.)

The result of his response is that the village where Fr. Nicolae is priest — Valenii de Munte, north of Bucharest — is taking care of about 250 children ranging in age from newborn to 14 years old. (Many other children have been in the care of the two villages but are now with their mothers.) In 1994 Pro Vita was established as a legal entity. It receives economic assistance from various sources, including UNICEF, though far from enough.

Details about Pro Vita are on their web site: www.asociatiaprovita.org. The information is in Romanian but the many photos on the site speak for themselves.

What good young people! We hope to maintain contact with them and will try to visit the Pro Vita project next year.

Jim Forest

[email protected]

PS: OPF has donated two computers to Pro Vita which Gabriela and Ionutz are taking back with them to Romania.

News Reports

Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul meet in Rome

Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew met in Rome in late June and promised to promote church unity.

Pope John Paul expressed regret for the crusaders’ plundering of Constantinople — now Istanbul — in 1204 saying it was one of the “painful facts of the past” that had aggravated relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

“How can we not also share, eight centuries later, the indignation and pain that, upon hearing the news of all that happened, [the then] Pope Innocent III had expressed immediately?” noted the Pope in his address to Bartholomew.

Bartholomew’s visit marked the anniversary of the meeting in 1964 of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, the first such meeting after centuries of bitter separation between the church in Rome and Orthodox churches. Paul and Athenagoras followed the 1964 meeting by annulling mutual excommunications that dated back to the Great Schism of 1054.

In 1979, John Paul visited the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Soon afterwards a Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue was created.

In recent years, however, tensions between the two churches had arisen over the issue of Eastern-rite Catholics.

A meeting of the dialogue commission in the US city of Baltimore in 2000 failed to reach any agreement on the matter and the differences were great enough to freeze any further meetings of the body.

“May the theological dialogue, through the Mixed Commission, remain to this end an important instrument,” John Paul noted. “Because of this I desire that it be reactivated as soon as possible.”

Bartholomew reaffirmed his willingness to continue the dialogue but warned that it “can fluctuate, because of difficulties that have accumulated during the history of the long division. Certain actions provoked the suspension or were an obstacle to the progress of dialogue.”

At a Mass conducted by John Paul, Bartholomew stated that problems “accumulated over 900 years” could not be overcome in 40. Still, he expressed hope that one day the two “sister” churches would be able again “to commune from the same chalice.”

As a gesture of good will, the Vatican has given the Church of St. Theodore on Rome’s Palatine Hill to Rome’s Greek Orthodox community.

At the end of the visit, John Paul accepted an invitation from Bartholomew to visit Istanbul.

Korean Orthodox starts dialogue with Orthodox group in N. Korea

The week of April 19th was a momentous one for the Orthodox Church in Korea. The bishop and a senior priest went to North Korea to initiate a dialogue with leaders of the recently formed Orthodox community for the capital city of Pyung-Yang. At the same time, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople elevated the Church in Korea to a separate Metropolis and the bishop to a Metropolitan.

From April 20 to 22, Bishop Sotirios Trambas, who has served in Korea as a missionary priest from Greece since 1975, and Protopresbyter Daniel Na, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Incheon, visited North Korea where they met with Il Jin Huh (George) and Chul Kim (Peter), who head the society building the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Dong-Baik Dong, Pyung-Yang City, to discuss cooperation. The church is due to open in 2005.

Four North Koreans are now in Russia studying to become priests.

Founded by Russian missionaries in 1900, the Orthodox Church in Korea maintained the faith despite difficult times. The Japanese occupation of Korea after the Russo-Japanese War, World War II, and especially the Korean War caused great hardships for the Church. Buildings were destroyed and clergy and laity were scattered and in some cases captured and taken to prison camps, never to return.

New church at place of mass martyrdom in Russia

In May 10,000 Orthodox Christians gathered for a Liturgy conducted by Patriarch Alexis at Moscow’s Butovo range. About 30,000 people, mainly Muscovites, were executed at the Butovo range during the Stalinist era. About a thousand of them are believed to have suffered for their loyalty to the Orthodox Church.

“The range in Butovo became a symbol of Russia’s sufferings, our national Golgotha,” the patriarch said. The service was attended by a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia led by Metropolitan Laurus.

“We especially keenly feel the pain of the separation of the Russian people caused by the revolution and the bloody civil war. Here we are regaining confidence that this wound will be healed by the sun of God’s truth,” Alexis said, adding that he hopes the tragic division within the Russian Church will soon be ended.

In 1996, a wooden church was built at the Butovo range to commemorate 20th century Russian martyrs. At the service, Patriarch Alexis II and Metropolitan Laurus laid a stone in the foundation of a brick church that is to be built at the range.

Serbian church plan closer ties with Catholics

Serbian Orthodox leaders have pledged closer cooperation with the Catholic Church after inaugurating contacts with the Vatican.

“We must be aware of the responsibility we bear,” Patriarch Pavle told participants at a Belgrade meeting of the Council of European Roman Catholic Bishops Conferences on June 12. “If we remain solely at the level of speaking and writing, we will be like a tree with beautiful leaves but without fruit.”

A press statement said closer inter-church contacts “disproved the position of atheist circles that churches are a divisive factor in society,” and would further “the real spiritual unification of Europe.”

Orthodox and Catholic bishops from Serbia-Montenegro held a first meeting in April 2003, two months after a Serbian Orthodox delegation visited the Vatican, while a delegation from Belgrade University’s Orthodox Theology Faculty also visited Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University in June to discuss theological cooperation and student exchanges.

A Serbian church communique said the Rome visit was the faculty’s first international initiative since its reintegration into the university, and was intended to encourage “deeper understanding of the church’s mission in the modern world.” [ENI]

Bartholomew restores ties with Greek Church

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew restored ties with the head of the Greek Church in June after a bitter dispute over control of dioceses in parts of Greece. Relations with Archbishop Christodoulos had been suspended April 30 after Christodoulos appointed three bishops in northern Greece without approval.

Following intervention by the Greek government, Bartholomew’s Holy Synod said it agreed to restore ties with Christodoulos. It cited a recent decision by the Greek Church recognizing Bartholomew’s oversight of the dioceses.

The territories in dispute — which include Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city — were part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 100 years after Greece won its independence.

They were handed over to Athens to run in 1928, but titular control still belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Turkish Christians return to abandoned villages

The ancient Syriac Orthodox monastery outside Mardin in southeastern Turkey is praying for a brighter future as Christians, forced out of their ancestral lands by economic hardship and the Kurdish insurgency, start trickling back to their villages.

“It is our pleasure to have our people back from different parts of the world,” said Archbishop Filuksinos Saliba Ozmen at the Deyrulzafaran monastery, which dates back to the fifth century and sits on a bluff overlooking an extensive plain. “By the grace of God, they are coming back. Otherwise, we would lose everything, the entire community.”

The Syriac Orthodox community numbered some 50,000 to 60,000 members in southeastern Turkey in the 1960s. Many left for Europe in the 1970s for economic reasons. Emigration to countries in the west ballooned amid heavy fighting between the army and Kurdish rebels seeking self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast. “We were caught in the middle,” Ozmen said. The community now numbers 20,000-25,000. Most of them now live in Istanbul.

Recently some Syriac Orthodox families in Europe decided they would try their luck and return to villages they had abandoned, as the insurgency has almost died out after rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire and took refuge in neighboring Iraq in 1999.

Ozmen explained that of 12 Syriac villages abandoned in the region, only Marbobo had been rebuilt and resettled. Reconstruction is under way in two other villages, Kafro and Arbo.

“The authorities are helping us with getting water and electricity to the villages. We are planning to receive some young families,” said Ozmen. “If we get 5 percent of the Syriac community back, it would not be bad.”

Georgian Church may resume collaboration with WCC

The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church has expressed his willingness to resume collaboration with the World Council of Churches following the first meeting of senior staff of the ecumenical body with the leadership of the church since its withdrawal from WCC in 1997.

Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II confirmed his church’s interest in comments made following a meeting with a WCC staff delegation headed by WCC deputy general secretary Georges Lemopoulos in Tbilisi, Georgia. Accompanying Lemopoulos on the 27-29 June visit to Georgia were WCC staff members Sylvia Raulo and Tamara Grdzelidze. Among other issues, the church leaders expressed their interest in collaborating in the areas of social witness and service of the churches, as well as in response to the challenges of globalization and European integration.

The three-million member Georgian Orthodox Church withdrew from membership in the WCC and other ecumenical organizations in 1997 after criticism of WCC orientations, and citing internal opposition to ecumenical relations. In 1998, the WCC set up a Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC which sought to address some of the concerns articulated by Orthodox member churches. The report of the Special Commission was the main focus of discussion during a meeting with members of the Georgian Orthodox Theological Commission and with members of the Holy Synod.

“The meeting confirmed that there is a mutual willingness to renew dialogue and cooperation, without ignoring the significant differences that persist,” Lemopoulos said, even though some sections of the Georgian Orthodox Church continue to express opposition to ecumenical contacts.

The Georgian Orthodox Church joined the WCC in 1961, and Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II served as one of the presidents of WCC between 1983 and 1991.

Decani Monastery added to UNESCO’s Heritage List

On July 2, 2004 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee added Decani Monastery in Kosovo to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It is a first cultural monument on the territory of the Serbian province of Kosovo inscribed on the list.

Visoki Decani Monastery was built from 1327 to 1335. It represents the last important phase of Byzantine-Romanesque architecture in the region and is the largest of all medieval Balkan churches. It contains exceptional, well-preserved Byzantine icons covering practically the entire interior of the church with over 1,000 individual depictions of saints. It also has numerous Romanesque sculptures.

The original marble floor is preserved, as is the interior furniture, and the main 14th century iconostasis.

A Quicktime presentation of Decani: www.kosovo.com/panoramamap.html.

Ultrasound scans reveal the life of unborn children

A new type of ultrasound scan has produced vivid pictures of a 12 week-old foetus “walking” in the womb. The new images also show foetuses yawning and rubbing their eyes.

The scans, pioneered by Professor Stuart Campbell at London’s Create Health Clinic, are much more detailed than conventional ultrasound. Campbell has compiled a book of images called Watch Me Grow.

Conventional ultrasound produces 2D images of the developing foetus. These are useful for helping doctors to measure and assess the growth of the foetus, but convey little information about behavior.

Campbell says his work has been able to show for the first time that the unborn baby engages in complex behavior from an early stage of its development. “This is a new science for understanding and mapping out the behavior of the baby,” he told reporters. “Maybe in the future it will help us understand and diagnose genetic disease, maybe even conditions like cerebral palsy which puzzles the medical profession as to why it occurs.”

The images show that from 12 weeks, unborn babies can stretch, kick and leap around the womb, well before the mother can feel movement; from 18 weeks, they can open their eyes although most doctors thought eyelids were fused until 26 weeks; from 26 weeks, they appear to exhibit a whole range of typical baby behavior and moods, including scratching, smiling, crying, hiccoughing, and sucking. Until recently it was thought that smiling did not start until six weeks after birth. [news.bbc.co.uk]

Reflections on the Liturgy

by Mary Stavroula Ward

tikhvin

In an age when many cradle Christians are indifferent to entering a church, believing that it is a space equal to any other in which to commune with God; in a time when many who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” disdain churches as incapable of inspiring their spiritual quest, I would like to offer some reflections on Orthodox churches, icons and liturgy and the power that they can hold. These reflections describe how churches can affect individuals with a power apart from them. Karl Rahner, the German Catholic theologian, spoke of the modern phenomenon of the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, and how the culture does not see all of life as imbued with God’s grace in a sacramental way. But it seems, at least outside of Orthodoxy, that there is a perception that sacred space has been absorbed into the profane, leading to a cynical attitude that life can hold no mystery because it is limited to only what our minds can grasp.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo explained that after his baptism on Pascha in April of 387, he often was moved deeply at the liturgy. As a later commentator wrote, “After that Holy Saturday, days of infinite sweetness began. Taking part in the liturgy moved him to tears. He cried not because he was in distress, but because he could finally breathe.”

Bishop Kallistos Ware met the “concrete and specific fact” of the Orthodox Church as “a worshiping presence” when., out of curiosity, he walked into an Orthodox Vespers in London many years ago. This professor of classics as well as bishop remarks how grateful he is that he first knew of the Orthodox Church through the act of worship rather than through books or social contact, theory or ideology. When he stepped off that London street and into the candle-lit darkness of the Vigil Service, he entered another world “that was more real” to him than his life outside. He did not understand a single word of the Slavonic service, but was convinced that he had come home. Not only did he find the sacred, but he found reality. [The Inner Kingdom, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press]

My own experiences of Orthodox liturgy have given me a sense of being home. And at times, during the months before I was chrismated, I would suddenly and inexplicably be moved to tears. I spent days, sometimes weeks of reflection and discussion with my spiritual father to attempt to understand with my mind what I was feeling in my deepest self. Some of it was sadness, but intermingled with a sense of forgiveness, relief and hope. I felt I was resting in the hand of God. Through my reading I discovered the accounts that I have described above, which are so striking in their similarities to my own.

Having lived almost all of my life as a Catholic, in the time before the Second Vatican Council changed the Catholic liturgy from Latin to the vernacular, I know something of an interior experience of the liturgy. Although I did not resist the changes, I was more than comfortable with worshiping in Latin; and found a measure of peace in these experiences. But nothing really prepared me for the dynamis of the Orthodox liturgy; its ability through grace to move the believer from one kind of existence to another.

A few weeks after I was chrismated at St. George Tropeoforos Greek Orthodox, I visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral St. Nicholas for the vigil one Saturday evening. Recently restored, St. Nicholas is an architectural symbol and living spiritual witness to more than 1000 years of Russian Orthodoxy. It is now headed by Bishop Mercurius, Bishop of Zaraisk, administrator of the US parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate. The feeling I had upon entering the Cathedral was one of space and openness. Standing in that space invites a kind of active and communal prayer, lacking pews which could put barriers between yourself and others and in a sense to isolate and hide yourself in prayer. That choice is impossible. Two or three benches are placed in the back and on one side wall for the elderly and children. Everyone who enters the cathedral must be active, even if only by standing and gazing at the beauty surrounding you. When I stood in the middle of the expansive space with its soaring dome of Christ the Pantocrator gazing down, its gleaming wood floors and several shining candelabras, its enormous icons on the walls and splendid iconostasis, I was struck dumb. Even if I could have spoken Russian, which I think all of the congregation speaks, I wouldn’t have been able to say anything.

I purchased candles and approached an icon of Christ and another of a modern woman saint who was pale, in a scarf and plain dress. I didn’t know who she was, but the look in her eyes was of suffering and compassion at the same time. Vigil began; the choir sang and a deacon opened the left door, turned toward the iconostasis with arm raised and chanted in a deep bass voice. All was in Slavonic. The congregation of young and old, men, women and children crossed themselves, bowed, and many prostrated themselves, touching their foreheads to the floor. I noticed one young man, especially, tall and slender who found a place along the wall to pray and prostrate. The only time I had ever seen anyone assume such a position in the Catholic church was at the ordination of priests when the men lay prone on the floor in the sanctuary. It was powerful to observe then, and was no less powerful now. I crossed myself and bowed until my shoulder ached, but I did not prostrate. I was not prepared for that yet.

While this activity unfolded, I noticed an older woman in a black scarf which covered her head and forehead, black skirt and blouse and glasses tending to the candles — removing the ones almost burned away and placing them in a little bucket. She appeared to have dropped from another century and a land far away. Then I noticed other women who either maintained the candles or cleaned the icon glass which the worshipers kissed. They were young or middle aged and stylishly dressed. Some wore pants, but all had their head covered with a hat or scarf. They seemed quite comfortable crossing the line that our American culture has established between modernity and tradition and between the sacred and the profane. For them, there did not seem to be a division, but a co-existence, or perhaps an organic integration of both into their lives.

The choir was both ethereal, with women’s voicing floating above, and densely rich from the grounding of male voices. The music seemed more “call and response” than accompaniment or interjection to the prayers and chants of the clergy. Periodically, a chorus of male voices penetrated from behind the iconostasis, and much later I realized that the chorus was formed by the bishop, priests and deacons. At the end of the service, someone who I surmised was the bishop because of his crown, stood on the Ambo and anointed everyone with oil, using a brush from a golden cup. I went to the end of the line, watched everyone carefully, and received the anointing. I left the vigil feeling jubilant and tranquil at the same time.

I returned again at the feast of the Veneration of the Cross which coincided with the visit of the Tikhvin Icon. The ancient and much loved icon was on its way back to Russia and its home in the Dormition Cathedral in the Tikhvin Monastery after a stay of 55 years in the US. The line inside the church, five or six people wide, wound from the front of the church around to the opposite side. People waited silently to venerate the ancient and miraculous icon, left flowers, and many wept. The tradition of the Tikhvin icon goes back 2,000 years and many miracles ago and much history and change. She seemed to embody within her ancient tempura, jewels and precious metal, the faith and hope of the people who expect her to be with them in their suffering and in their joy.

While the icon was being venerated, the vigil proceeded for the Veneration of the Cross. Every liturgical feast was new to me, so I was not prepared for what occurred. I had no idea what was being sung or said, but not knowing the language has the advantage of forcing one to glean information through other venues. This time I noticed a rhythm to the service for the first time. There was an interchange between the chanting, singing and reading by the deacons and priests and their movements in and out of the iconostasis to pray, read and cense the icons and the congregation.

The entire church was packed with people, not only those for the Tikhvin icon, but for the vigil as well. Almost everyone who were there for the vigil was prostrating throughout the liturgy. I was in the front, surrounded by prostrating worshipers, I could not avoid it, nor did I want to. When Bishop Mercurius lifted the cross surrounded by flowers on his head and processed into the nave, I could feel the liturgy moving to a climax. He, together with the clergy and all the people, prostrated themselves before the cross. The music swelled during the prostrations, and I wept. My forehead was on the floor, my spirit was bowed but soared within me, and I wept. I was everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. I was in this world and somehow transcending it. And after almost two hours of standing and crossing and bowing, I became tranquil and at rest inside myself. My prayers for what to do and where to go were met with a quiet answer: be nothing, stop striving, to rest in God.

Like St. Augustine, I cried not because of sadness, but because I could finally breathe. Weeping and breathing are interrelated. The body releases its tension, we give in, we give up, we open our hearts, take in air and let the tears flow. Why? Possibly, as Isaac of Nineveh said, “When you reach the place of tears, then know that your spirit has come out from the prison of this world and has set its foot upon the path that leads towards the new age. Your spirit begins at this moment to breathe the wonderful air which is there, and it starts to shed tears.” [Mystic Treatises in the Philokalia, quoted in The Way of the Pilgrim]

Standing in prayer in St. Nicholas Cathedral reminded me of the dance. With all its elements, it binds the human with the divine, provides us with the opportunity to dance with God. Later this notion took on even more meaning when I read these words of Thomas Merton: “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”

So we join in the dance with our bodies, souls and spirits in those churches which have inspired Christians for 2000 years. In these spaces set aside for their sacred purpose, let us set our cares aside, as the cherubic hymn reminds us, so

that we may receive the King of all.

Mary Ward has taught at Fordham University in New York City since 1995 as an adjunct professor and has lectured at American Academy of Religion conferences and at colleges and parishes.

The Mission of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

by Timothy Beach

I have noticed that most western converts to the Orthodox Church are “thoughtful” people, in the sense of thinking seriously about matters and issues. We also like to express ourselves both in verbal and written forms, frequently entering into impassioned discussions, particularly of a theological or ecclesiastical nature.

A number of years ago, there was a hospital chaplain who for quite some time attended my home parish in the U.S. It seemed as if he was certain to become Orthodox. In the end, he did not. I sympathize with one point that he made some weeks prior to his departure. Sunday after Sunday, he had listened to post-Liturgy coffee-hour discussions between parishioners on theology and politics, and perhaps was a little impressed with how converts to Orthodoxy think deeply about deep subjects. But he asked, “Where are the movers and the shakers?”

It has now been over ten years since I first arrived in Taiwan where every imaginable church had already been represented by missionaries and/or their indigenous spiritual heirs, many of them for decades, and a couple of them for more than a century earlier. Two years after I arrived, a metropolitan was finally appointed to Hong Kong from where he began to administer the world’s largest and newest Orthodox diocese, stretching from Taiwan to India. He’s constantly on and off planes, large and small. Three-and-a-half years ago, we finally got our first priest who resides in Taipei. He makes periodic visits not only to Taichung, where I live, but also to other localities.

I’ve often joked that while Protestants send thousands of missionaries around the world, most of whose endeavors will never be recorded, Orthodox, on the other hand, may boast of at least one hundred or more church historians to record the efforts of one missionary who himself stands a reasonably good chance of being canonized as “Equal-to-the-Apostles,” which is another way to say that missionary activity is quite exceptional and noble, but certainly not normal.

Not unlike my chaplain friend, I too have noticed that many of us Orthodox — perhaps especially converts — love to read church history, perhaps even to write church history, but we’re rather slow when it comes to making church history. However, if we do not participate in the making of church history, others will, and indeed others do and, for all practical purposes — vis-a-vis the world — they are the ones who have ended up defining what the Church is. With regard to missions, Protestants and Catholics have effectively defined what Christianity and the Christian Church are in the minds of most people.

Similarly, as regards OPF’s specific mission, over the course of centuries, Christian nationalists (be they Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant) have succeeded in defining the Christian churches as religious institutions that are compatible with national ends and means, including war. If we are to reverse this trend, we need to be prayerfully precise in diagnosing the root problem and in selecting the right response, then vigorously and sacrificially following through with a plan of action, and finally, periodically evaluating our effectiveness in order to continually modify our strategy as needed.

What is the root problem? At least in some cultures, this becomes clear whenever one dares to utter words like “peace” and “peacemaking.” Many Christians react negatively, not on theological or biblical grounds, but on nationalistic grounds. This is a result of a compartmentalized self-identity in which one’s spiritual identity is kept separate from one’s national identify, or else the latter is defined by the former. In short, the eternal is defined by the temporal.

In contrast, I would like to define a holistic self-identity as one in which the temporal is defined by the eternal. In practical terms, this would mean that one’s Christian identity should supersede all other identities and, in fact, define them. For example, although I am male, it is my Christian faith that tells me what kind of male I am called to be. Although I was born in a particular country with a particularly nationality, it is my Christian faith which informs me of how I must relate to the world and to the people in it.

It seems to me that OPF’s mission directly challenges one form of compartmentalized self-identify: Christian versus nationalist. You cannot say: I’m a Christian peacemaker without your national loyalty being challenged by an ardent nationalist, and, of course, he or she is probably right. By refusing to engage in war, you have de facto limited to what extent nationalism will dictate the course of your actions.

Certainly, there are other ways in which most of us compartmentalize our self-identify in our daily lives. It is very difficult for us to fulfill the Liturgy’s call to “give our whole life to Christ our God,” but if we are to be completely holistic and integrated Christians, this is what we must strive to do, not just in the areas of morality, theology and politics, but also in the areas of health, finances, relationships, social stewardship, etc. This compartmentalized self-identity versus holistic self-identity root issue, which lies behind the global peacemaker Christian versus nationalistic Christian conflict, is not only apparent, it also unavoidably collides with other areas of our Christian lives.

If this is true, then would it not seem equally true that we cannot expect Christians to behave as Christians, politically or otherwise, unless they see themselves as Christian first and foremost? I believe our first challenge is to help our brothers and sisters gain a greater awareness of the competing self-identities that lie within our hearts and souls. Undoubtedly this will be more difficult in countries where the faithful have been labeled as an enemy by an external power and therefore have a sense of being threatened. Nevertheless, since effective peacemaking may take place on many levels simultaneously, if we can persuade some to assert their Christian identity to the point whereby they at least refuse to participate in a war initiated by their own respective governments, then that certainly should constitute at least some measure of success.

There should be a drive to recruit Orthodox teenagers into OPF. If we do not reduce the number of Orthodox entering the armed forces, how can we feel that we have made any real progress towards transforming the Orthodox Church into a true church of peace? What good does it do in the long run if most new male OPF members are veterans? I would think that both the pro-military Orthodox folks and the generals could quite easily live with such an arrangement whereby we recruit as many new OPF members as we want as long as they do their time in the military first!

I don’t know the exact number of Orthodox priests currently serving as chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces, but fifty are listed in the directory published by Orthodox People Together. With a war going on, perhaps there are now more. By contrast, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center reports that it is currently supporting only one U.S. priest in overseas mission work. After adding the three Greek-American metropolitans currently heading mission dioceses under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the current number of American Orthodox mission clergy comes to a grand total of four!

One would think that these figures should prompt serious reflection among Orthodox in general and clergy in particular. Can we really, with a straight face, look non-Orthodox right in the eye and tell them “We’re the True Church!” on the basis of our correct doctrine alone, but without being a truly missionary church? Is God really calling us to assign more clergy to military service than to mission service? Is the voice that calls clergy to military service truly the voice of the Holy Spirit? (If we succeed in the area of steering Orthodox teenagers away from military service, this enigma of Orthodox military chaplains should at least partly resolve itself as there will not be a need for them.)

Given the fact that my family and I live in Taiwan, with our only priest tied up with Sunday parish responsibilities at least three hours away, I cannot help but wonder if any U.S. Orthodox military chaplains (or would-be chaplains) might consider serving here in fulfillment of Christ’s calling in the Great Commission. Although the pay and benefits certainly will not come close to matching those of a chaplain, the opportunity to help make living church history should prove far more fulfilling than helping to make military history and would undoubtedly do far more good — even proving far more productive than accompanying American soldiers into battle to protect Taiwan from China.

Our family made a visit to the U.S. in January during which we visited two Orthodox parishes. Both had members serving with U.S. forces in Iraq. I visited my niece’s high school and was alarmed at all the military recruiting posters I saw. Young people find themselves under enormous pressure to acquire a strong nationalistic self-identity. Obviously, many young people are searching for any self-identity. We all know that teenagers tend to be very vulnerable at their particular stage of development, questioning who and what they are.

For Christian teenagers, I personally think that these self-identity issues are best resolved through the formation of strong Christian communities in which the raison d’être of the community is for its members to live out their lives in service to Christ. I envision the kind of Orthodox communities in which members live nearby each other, frequently joining in prayer together, enjoying recreation together, and serving Christ together. Such communities, I believe, have the potential to instill Christian values and a Christian self-identity far and above anything that parents or a typical parish can do unaided. Perhaps the formation of local OPF chapters could serve as a stepping stone to the development of such communities.

I also believe that such communities have the potential to support the evangelical mission of the Church far more effectively than we are doing with our conventional methods of recruiting missionaries. As they are growing up in a service-oriented Christian community, children may be directly or indirectly challenged with the question, “How is Christ calling me to serve Him in His Church?” (Vocations, missions, and service should be seen as the responsibility and privilege of the whole of God’s people, rather than just that of priests, monks and nuns.) Furthermore, I believe that if OPF members were to be more directly involved in missions, then the new churches founded in distant lands would perhaps more likely develop into peace churches rather than nationalistic churches as some other missionaries might guide them to become.

Undeniably, missions is but one form of service that OPF members can become involved in. Other forms include charitable works, adopting orphans, prison ministry, and so on. Regardless of which form it takes, I think that it’s vitally important that OPF members be seen as models of Christian service. There is a perception among some that “pacifists” are out for a free ride. Many say that those who benefit from living in a free and prosperous country should also serve their country (namely, by being willing to go to war.) It’s crucial that we NOT (inadvertently or otherwise) fulfill such stereotypes. We need to make a point of cheerfully living out lives of service for the sake of the Gospel. And when we are successful in steering young men and women away from the military, we need to help guide them towards fruitful vocations and teach them how to serve Christ through service to those in need. If we do this consistently, I think we will have no problem in gaining the respect of our detractors and perhaps even winning them over to the Gospel of Peace and Love.

To summarize, it is my conviction that if OPF’s priorities include (1) fostering a holistic, undivided self-identity among Orthodox, (2) recruitment of Orthodox youth, (3) role-modeling Christian service, including mission service, and (4) the formation of Christian communities, we will indeed become an effective and positive influence within the Orthodox Church.

Timothy Beach and his wife Anna Li-chin support their family by running a small English and Montessori school in Taichung, Taiwan. They also home school their four children. Each Sunday they chant a mixed English and Mandarin Chinese reader’s service in which visitors sometimes join them.