Tag Archives: Christian peacemaking

War and Peace in Today’s World: a commentary on the Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”

The below text, by Nicholas Sooy of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is an expanded version of a text sent to the blog publicorthodoxy.org. Texts there are requested to be brief. Texts on the upcoming Council’s documents are generally limited to thoughtful critiques. Below this essay are comments from the editors of In Communion.

War and Peace in Today’s World: a commentary on the The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”

By Nicholas Sooy

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“The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” offers a powerful and timely statement on war, peace, and justice. Peacemaking, as Christ tells us in the Beatitudes, is a fundamental Christian vocation. At the same time, the Orthodox Church has a long and complicated history regarding peacemaking and war. While the Church has held to a very strongly pro-peace message throughout its history, changing political situations have affected the extent to which that message is carried out. It is the duty of the Church to counsel the faithful on how to carry out the peacemaking vocation in a changing political environment. The nature of warfare has changed dramatically in the past 100 years, and so this document is timely and much needed. This document authoritatively endorses the more pacific strands of the tradition, and from this position recommends certain responses to contemporary conflict. These statements are much needed, but at times are vague and do not go far enough in addressing the nature of contemporary conflict.

According to the document, the basis for peace is the dignity of the human person (1.2), and peace is defined as the manifestation of dignity, social justice, freedom, the unity of mankind, and love among peoples and nations (3.1). War, conflict, violence, the arms race, and destructive weapons are all identified as the result of evil and sin (2.2, 4.1). Thus, peace and war are viewed first through a theological and spiritual lens. On this basis, the Church’s mission is to address the spiritual roots of conflict; however, the document also calls on the Church to respond to conflict in the world and to make peace. St. Basil is cited as saying “nothing is so characteristic of a Christian as to be a peacemaker” (3.2).

This document is monumental for its clear and definitive statement that “The Church of Christ condemns war in general,” along with its condemnation of nuclear weapons in particular and “all kinds of weapons” (4.1). It also recommends various peace efforts to be undertaken by Christians, calling it a “duty” of the Church to encourage whatever brings about peace and justice (3.5).  Along these lines, specific actions are recommended, including prayer, cooperation with social institutions, cooperation among nations and states, cooperation between Christians, peacekeeping, solidarity, and dialogue (1.2, 3.1, 3.2, 6.1, 6.6).

These recommendations are good and should be encouraged, but the list is neither as specific nor as complete as it should be. The Church “supports all initiatives and efforts to prevent or avert [war] through dialogue and every other viable means;” such a statement should be strengthened by specifying some other viable means, for as it stands its vagueness means it carries little weight (4.2). Specifically, all weapons, including nuclear, are condemned, but no calls are made for disarmament and no calls are made to limit arms trading or weapons production. Likewise, nothing is said of the practice in some areas of blessing conventional and nuclear weapons with holy water.

In the same vein, while wars based on nationalism are condemned, nothing is said of the modernist notion of nationalism more generally (4.3). Nationalism is a broad category with many types. Unless nationalism is better defined and specific nationalisms are identified, particularly Orthodox religious nationalisms, the document’s statement could provide deniability to those inciting conflict and even war based on nationalism, under the guise of attempting to censure the nationalism of others. Such nationalisms should be more explicitly condemned, just as religious fanaticism is condemned.

Similarly, while peacebuilding, sustainable development, and nonviolence are all implicitly endorsed, more needs to be said to strengthen ecclesial support for these endeavors, which are proven to ameliorate war and conflict. In particular, the viability of and employment of nonviolent campaigns and nonviolent institutions have risen dramatically over the past century, and each decade nonviolence is used to greater effect. Chenoweth and Stephan (2008) found that nonviolent campaigns are more than twice as successful as violent ones at achieving their goals. The language of nonviolence has been employed by many within the Church, including Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Metropolitan Tikhon of the OCA has called nonviolence “the Gospel’s command,” while Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has called nonviolence a “Christian concept,” and identifies Orthodox roots for the notion of nonviolence. Given the effectiveness of nonviolence and its employment within Orthodoxy, it is unfortunate that such language should be left out of a document on peace in the contemporary world by the Church. Wars are rarely openly fought between nations anymore, and conflict today involves greater civilian participation. The conflicts in the Middle East and in the former Soviet bloc are prime examples of this new face of warfare. In these contexts, nonviolence is all the more effective and appropriate, and the Church should explicitly call upon Christians, nations, and institutions to invest more in nonviolent resistance and development, and less in warfare, standing armies, and weapons production. The Church should also call upon Christians to respond to oppression through nonviolent resistance rather than insurgency or terrorism.

The omission of an explicit endorsement of nonviolence is part of a larger weakness regarding the proper Orthodox response to violence. War is condemned without qualification, and yet the document is ambiguous regarding those who participate in war, “When war becomes inevitable, the Church continues to pray and care in a pastoral manner for her children who are involved in military conflict for the sake of defending their life and freedom” (4.2). While language of ‘inevitability’ is better than the theologically problematic language of ‘necessary evil’ that some bishops have employed, it would be better to leave out such a qualification entirely and instead say that the Church extends pastoral care to those involved in conflict. No elaboration is given regarding what makes a war ‘inevitable,’ or under what conditions a Christian can engage in fighting. If, as the document suggests, the only condition under which Christians fight is when their own life or freedom is threatened, then the document should mention the witness of martyrs as an alternative response to violence. The martyrs of the Church faced death and imprisonment willingly, and the Church has always lauded martyrs over soldiers. Even so, the document glosses over the fact that most soldiers today do not fight for their own lives or freedom, but instead are employed in humanitarian interventions, as they are described by political leaders, or are fighting insurgents. Greater clarification is needed regarding this changing nature of warfare, since such military operations are usually the result of nationalism and globalization, both of which are condemned in one form or another within this document (4.3, 6.5).

Also missing is counsel regarding conscientious objection. While the document suggests that the Church will extend pastoral care to those who fight, a similar pledge is not made to those who refuse for reasons of conscience or Christian discipleship. Given the strongly anti-war statements in the rest of the document, one might expect that the Church would recommend Christians to object to military service or the performance of duties in at least some circumstances. However, nothing is said regarding this, and nothing is said of the practice of universal military conscription in several countries such as Russia and Greece. The first recorded instance of someone dying for conscientious objection was in the early Christian period. Many saints and martyrs have explicitly refused military service, while other saints known as ‘passion-bearers’ have similarly suffered and been canonized for their refusal to fight.

There is a final weakness in this document’s account of violence. Peace is aptly defined as the presence of justice and dignity, rather than just the cessation of violence. Along these lines, “oppression and persecution” in the Middle East are condemned, along with religious fanaticism, because they “uproot Christianity from its traditional homelands” (4.3). In response to this, the document calls for a “just and lasting resolution” (4.3). These statements, along with other condemnations of things like secularism and globalized consumer capitalism, are too vague to accomplish anything. In particular, such condemnations can and have served as pretexts for Orthodox Christians to take up arms and engage in interventionist warfare. Peace is defined as the “reign” on earth of “Christian principles” of justice and dignity, and such language may be seen by some to warrant Christian warfare for the sake of establishing such a ‘reign’ (3.1). It would be unfortunate and counterproductive if a document like this, condemning war, allowed escape clauses for Christian nationalists to undertake war in defense of “traditional homelands,” or some other noble cause. The Great and Holy Council should clarify which methods and means are acceptable for addressing injustice. As it is, greater clarification and revision is needed.


We the editors and members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship join Orthodox Christians everywhere with great anticipation for the upcoming “Great and Holy Council.” We pray that the Holy Spirit would lead the Council into all truth, and that peace would be ensured between all Orthodox Christians. We pray that the Council would be an occasion for Orthodox cooperation, love, and unity, and that The Gospel of Peace would shine forth from the Council’s proceedings both to the Church and to the broken and divided world. It is in the spirit of conciliarity that we engage and add our own voices to the work of the whole Church being conducted by the Council.

We are encouraged by the pro-peace message of the pre-conciliar documents, and wish only that this message would be strengthened. As they are, the documents are historic for their authoritative endorsement of peace and justice and their condemnation of war.

The editors of In Communion are watching the preparations to the council and are reading as many documents and responses as possible. We feel that because this is a very fluid situation and time sensitive, it is less important to write definitive statements than to respond thoughtfully “on the run” so to speak.

For now we wish to go just a bit beyond Nicholas’ “brief critique” and mention a few things we would like to see added to expand this document of the Council. We hope to refine a position that we can claim as an official OPF response. If what we say in the meantime has value, may it find it’s way.

The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World (Mission Statement) should be considered a fine document in as far as it goes. Some of its points are vague or lacking, however. Others seem to miss important issues completely. While reading it, there grows a nagging sense that some of it was cobbled together ad hoc from various quarters’ talking points, reflecting less the clear thinking of the Church’s wisest and more what is politically in the air. We would like to see statements of the Council more clearly rooted in Orthodox theology and tradition, calling the faithful to think and see as Orthodox rather than “citizens.”

The Church should not neglect its history of disobedience to ungodly or unjust leadership. When any nation calls on its citizens to respond either aggressively or defensively in ways that violate the principles of the Gospel we are called to live by, the Church should not shy away from encouraging its children to disobedience. A clear option for conscientious objection should be bolstered by a duty to disobey in certain circumstances.

The Mission Statement fails to adequately address Nationalism and identity politics. It is gratifying to see it condemn war based on Nationalism, but one must wonder if such a simple statement without any expansion on what is at stake is a dodge or worse, as many States with significant or majority Orthodox populations are involved in identity-based conflict with other states.

While Christians are called to be salt and to seek to influence the world outside of the Church, we can never be confident in predictions of how successful applications of Christian principles and responses to violence may be in the world. Nevertheless, the Church must teach its children that while separation from the world does not equal disengagement with it, our calling to be children of God requires we identify with his kingdom and act according to its principles and mandates. We must militate against the world’s practice of identity politics and its preference for violence by manifesting life in the kingdom of God, not by imitating the world.

The Mission Statement should call out for the faithful everywhere the prevalence and nature of the various ethnic, religious, and civic nationalisms that exist in various States and lead too many Orthodox to conflate their citizen-based identity with their Kingdom of God identity. Such conflation always leads to conflict.

Trusting in the Holy Spirit, we pray that the document may be strengthened so that the Church might continue to bring “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.”

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LA SIMANDRE: Pentecôte: Fête de la Descente du Saint-Esprit sur les Disciples
LA SIMANDRE: Pentecôte: Fête de la Descente du Saint-Esprit sur les Disciples

The Woman Jezebel: Thoughts on the False Christian Character of Fascism by Miltiadis Konstantinou and Efstathios C. Lianos-Liantis

The Woman Jezebel: 

Thoughts on the False Christian Character of Fascism 

by Miltiadis Konstantinou and Efstathios C. Lianos-Liantis

But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez’ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. (Rev. 2:20).

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We should begin with a persistent historical paradox: When fascism and Nazism became the dominant state ideologies in Europe, the great Christian confessions did not resist them. They did not put forward the crucified Christ as a counter to the armbands and swastikas, nor did they contrast the word of Gospel with the hate-filled speech of the fascists. They kept quiet, they went along, they blessed, but they did not oppose. And this stands—and will always stand—as a shameful chapter in the history of the dominant Christian groups of those times. The Church, however, is not (only) its hierarchical bodies and administration; the Church is, primarily, the saints and martyrs of every age. The Church was founded and will ever be founded on the blood of its martyrs; and those Christians who confessed the truth of Christ and were persecuted, imprisoned, and executed by the fascists are its modern boast. As has always happened throughout history, the Christian truth was reconfirmed by the bravery and martyrdom of a few.

No Christian confession today wants to recall Nazi collaborators or accept the timid apology of members who supported them without the criteria of truthfulness. Everyone—almost everyone, if we take into account the unique case of Cardinal Stepinac—has been condemned to oblivion. And one would that after the disclosure of fascism’s hideous crimes against unarmed minorities and the Holocaust in its entirety, the Christian world would permanently delete any ideological reference to or sympathy for it. For some, however, this remains fascism’s “secret lure.”

Despite its inherently anti-Christian stance, the lure of fascism as a movement is in how it employs traditionalistic values and “deifies” the concept of the nation (and therefore, the superego of a people), esteeming a particular society solely because it belongs to a certain racial [ethnic, cultural, etc.] group. These are the points that correspond to certain inflexible notions of a part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which—leaving aside the Christian message’s universal perspective and the radical equality proclaimed by Christ and his disciples—simply repeats history, and, in a completely arbitrary way, prefers to barricade the Church within the limits of the nation-state, making it hostile toward foreigners and those who are different. And precisely when Christian identity is turned into a paradox, or nullified altogether, at least for a conscientious member of the Church, one adopts a kind of fascism.

In 1933, when the fragile Weimar Republic was succeeded by Nazi totalitarianism, the National-Socialist theorists tried to construct a fake Christian confession, which would serve the fascist state machine. The main thrust of what they called “positive Christianity” essentially negated the fundamental principles of the Christian faith, replacing Christianity with a racist, neo-pagan construct, which simply used the name of Christ. Their stated intentions included the rejection of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture and the “de-Judaizing” of the New Testament (especially the Gospel of Matthew and the Pauline Epistles), the view that the Reformation was being fulfilled in the “messianic” figure of Adolf Hitler, the racial identification of Jesus as an Aryan, and the replacement of Jewish elements of Christianity with ancient German traditions and Druid myths.

A handful of German pastors, theologians, and lay people reacted to these positions, as well as to the creation of the Reichskirche, the Nazi “church,” and formed the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church) in an attempt to resist the growing fascism in the Protestant confession. In their Theological Declaration at Barmen, the leaders of the Bekennende Kirche noted: “We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” The leading figures in this small group of exiled Christians were herded into concentration camps and some were executed, even up to the very end of the war. Among those distinguished by the vigor of their spirit are the great Karl Barth and the “martyr” Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The subsequent vindication of the Christian resistance was not complete, however, because responsibility was never assigned to the members of the Church, the common people, who, rejecting Christian love, loved the metaphysical “I” of the nation or the race.

Christianity can be true only when it is chosen, exists, and ministers with absolute freedom, and is inspired by love, as described beautifully in Greek by Paul. Any other form of Christianity is fake, because it tarnishes the image of man as a creature of God’s love and abolishes its expression of the Word’s redemptive, loving sacrifice. Fascism is incompatible with this freedom of love—as well as with freedom of expression and conscience—and this is precisely why it cannot be Christian. The Church is the Body of Christ when it accepts and embraces everyone; the Fathers, typically, did not consider those who consciously place themselves outside the Church as adversaries, but rather as “potential” members of the Church. Fascism always operates the same way: it singles out a social group and presents it as “the enemy” in order to incite people’s emotions, trigger their instinct for self-preservation, and rally their followers. The Church—the true Church—embraces its enemies; fascism constructs its enemies, and then banishes or executes them.

In the exquisite hymn sung before the Epitaphion on Good Friday, Joseph of Arimathea beseeches Pilate to give him Jesus’ dead body with the following words: “Give me the foreigner, foreign as a foreigner from childhood. Give me the foreigner, killed as a foreigner.” The first foreigner in Christian history was Christ himself; he who in his earthly life was a refugee, persecuted, a political prisoner, who died as a criminal on the cross, talking about his “kingdom” to a thief.

The foreigner, the “other,” is a sanctified entity in the body of the living Church. He is the one whom the community of believers will help and embrace as if he were Christ himself, just as Christ said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me….Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:35-40). Can this practice of welcoming and actively supporting the foreigner coexist with the abysmal hatred and violence birthed by fascism and similar ideologies?

Today, when fascism is making its appearance once again on the social map, threatening our fellow man, the leaders of the Church should not be silent. A repetition of the errors of the period between the two World Wars and pastoral indifference will lead to a crushing rejection of our ecclesiastical leaders and, perhaps, even Christianity itself. Indeed, Orthodoxy, which is the dominant faith in this country [Greece], was in its golden age when it identified itself with the powerless, when it chose to be persecuted for the truth. As Fotios Kontoglou beautifully describes it in one of his short essays: “The Orthodoxy of that time was like the tortured mother whose children grieved her more rather than herself being complacent. True love is what they call painful love, on which Christ founded his sweet faith.”  IC

Miltiadis Konstantinou is a professor in the Department of Theology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Efstathios C. Lianos-Liantas is a theologian, editor, and doctoral candidate at Aristotle University.

 

In Communion / Winter 2013

 

Chapter 4: CANONICAL REFERENCE TEXTS

CANONICAL REFERENCE TEXTS

4.1. Canonical texts from the Apostolic period

Canons and rulings not having Conciliar origin but approved by name in canon II of the Synod in Trullo.

The 85 Canons of the Holy and Altogether August Apostles[1]

CANON VI: Let not a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, undertake worldly business; otherwise let him be deposed.

CANON LXVI: If any clergyman shall strike anyone in a contest, and kill him with one blow, let him be deposed for his violence. If a layman do so, let him be excommunicated.

CANON LXXXI: We have said that a bishop or presbyter must not give himself to the management of public affairs, but devote himself to ecclesiastical business. Let him then be persuaded to do so, or let him be deposed, for no man can serve two masters, according to the Lord’s declaration.

CANON LXXXIII: If a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, shall serve in the army, and wish to retain both the Roman magistracy and the priestly office, let him be deposed; for the things of Caesar belong to Caesar, and those of God to God.

4.2. Canons from the Ecumenical Councils

First Ecumenical Council of Nicea

The 20 Canons of the 318 Holy and God-inspired Fathers who gathered in the city of Nicea under Constantine the Great … in the year 325 A.D., before the 13th day of July.

CANON XII: As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, (so that some spent money and by means of gifts regained their military stations); let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators[2]. But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretence, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favourably concerning them. But those who take [the matter] with indifference, and who think the form of [not] entering the Church is sufficient for their conversion, must fulfil the whole time[3].

Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon

The 28 Canons and two more in the form of questions and answers, of the 630 Holy Fathers gathered in Chalcedon during the reign of Marcianus … , before the 8th day of November, 451 A.D.

CANON III: It has come to [the knowledge of] the holy Synod that certain of those who are enrolled among the clergy have, through lust of gain, become hirers of other men’s possessions, and make contracts pertaining to secular affairs, lightly esteeming the service of God, and slip into the houses of secular persons, whose property they undertake through covetousness to manage. Wherefore the great and holy Synod decrees that henceforth no bishop, clergyman, nor monk shall hire possessions, or engage in business, or occupy himself in worldly engagements, unless he shall be called by the law to the guardianship of minors, from which there is no escape; or unless the bishop of the city shall commit to him the care of ecclesiastical business, or of unprovided orphans or widows and of persons who stand especially in need of the Church’s help, through the fear of God. And if any one shall hereafter transgress these decrees, he shall be subjected to ecclesiastical penalties[4].

CANON VII: Those who have entered the clergy or have been tonsured into the monastic state may no longer serve in the army or accept any civil charge; otherwise those who have dared do so, and who have not repented and returned to their prior occupation for the love of God, shall be anathemised.

4.3. Canons from the Local Councils

The Local Council of Ancyra

The 25 canons of the August Fathers gathered in Ancyra in 314 A.D., canons which precede the Council of Nicea but which come in second position given the authority of the Ecumenical Council.

CANON XXII: Concerning wilful murderers let them remain prostrators; but at the end of life let them be indulged with full communion[5].

CANON XXIII: Concerning involuntary homicides, a former decree directs that they be received to full communion after seven years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees; but this second one, that they fulfil a term of five years[6].

The Local Council of Sardica

The 20 canons of the Holy Fathers gathered in Sardica in 343 A.D., fathers who gathered after the fathers of Nicea.

CANON VII: Bishop Hosius said: Our importunity and great pertinacity and unjust petitions have brought it about that we do not have as much favour and confidence as we ought to enjoy. For many of the bishops do not intermit resorting to the imperial Court, especially the Africans, who, as we have learned from our beloved brother and fellow-bishop, Gratus, do not accept salutary counsels, but so despise them that one man carries to the Court petitions many and diverse and of no possible benefit to the Church, and does not (as ought to be done and as is fitting) assist and help the poor and the laity or the widows, but is intriguing to obtain worldly dignities and offices for certain persons. This evil then causes murmuring, not without some scandal and blame to us. But I account it quite proper for a bishop to give assistance to one oppressed by some one, or to a widow suffering injustice, or, again, an orphan robbed of his estate, always provided that these persons have a just cause of petition.

If, then, beloved brethren, this seems good to all, do ye decree that no bishop shall go to the imperial Court except those whom our most pious emperor may summon by his own letters. Yet since it often happens that persons condemned for their offences to deportation or banishment to an island, or who have received some sentence or other, beg for mercy and seek refuge with the Church [i.e., take sanctuary], such persons are not to be refused assistance, but pardon should be asked for them without delay and without hesitation. If this, then, is also your pleasure, do ye all vote assent.

All gave answer: Be this also decreed[7].

CANON VIII: Bishop Hosius said: This also let your sagacity determine, that — inasmuch as this was decreed in order that a bishop might not fall under censure by going to the Court — that if any have such petitions as we mentioned above, they should send these by one of their deacons. For the person of a subordinate does not excite jealousy, and what shall be granted [by the Emperor] can thus be reported more quickly.

All answered: Be this also decreed[8].

CANON IX: Bishop Hosius said: This also, I think, follows, that, if in any province whatever, bishops send petitions to one of their brothers and fellow-bishops, he that is in the largest city, that is, the metropolis, should himself send his deacon and the petitions, providing him also with letters commendatory, writing also of course in succession to our brethren and fellow-bishops, if any of them should be staying at that time in the places or cities in which the most pious Emperor is administering public affairs.

But if any of the bishops should have friends at the Court and should wish to make requests of them as to some proper object, let him not be forbidden to make such requests through his deacon and move these [friends] to give their kind assistance as his desire.

But those who come to Rome ought, as I said before, to deliver to our beloved brother and fellow-bishop, Julius, the petitions which they have to give, in order that he may first examine them, lest some of them should be improper, and so, giving them his own advocacy and care, shall send them to the Court.

All the Bishops made answer that such was their pleasure and that the regulation was most proper.

The Local Council of Carthage

The canons of the 217 blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage, 419 A.D.

CANON XVI: Likewise it seemed good that bishops, presbyters, and deacons should not be “conductors” or “procurators;” nor seek their food by any base and vile business, for they should remember how it is written, “No man fighting for God cumbereth himself with worldly affairs.”

CANON LXXV: On account of the afflictions of the poor by whose troubles the Church is worn out without any intermission, it seemed good to all that the Emperors be asked to allow defenders for them against the power of the rich to be chosen under the supervision of the bishops.

CANON XCVII: That there be sought from the Emperor the protection of Advocates in causes ecclesiastical.

It seemed good that the legates who were about leaving, viz., Vincent and Fortunatian, should in the name of all the provinces ask from the most glorious Emperors to give a faculty for the establishment of scholastic defensors, whose shall be the care of this very kind of business: so that as the priests of the province, they who have received the faculty as defensors of the Churches in ecclesiastical affairs, as often as necessity arises, may be able to enter the private apartments of the judges, so as to resist what is urged on the other side, or to make necessary explanations.

Local Council of Constantinople “Prime-Second”

The seventeen canons of the Fathers gathered in the church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, in the year 861 A.D.

CANON XI: The divine and sacred rules submit priests or deacons to deposition, who take upon themselves worldly governing tasks or responsibilities, or who have the rank of director in the houses of worldly rulers. We then, confirming the latter for all members of the clergy, declare that if any member of the clergy enters into worldly civil office, or takes upon himself the rule of director in the houses of worldly rulers or in the cities: such will be deposed from their priestly rank. Since, according to the word spoken by Christ himself, our true God, no-one can serve two masters.

4.4. Canons from the Fathers of the Church

Canons of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea

The Canonical Epistle of St. Gregory, Archbishop of Neocaesarea ( 270 A.D.), who is called Thaumaturgus, concerning them that, during the incursion of the Barbarians, ate of things offered to idols and committed certain other sins.

CANON VII: That they who joined the barbarians in their murder and ravages, or were guides or informers to them, be not permitted to be hearers, till holy men assembled together do agree in common upon what shall seem good, first to the Holy Ghost, then to themselves.

Canons of St. Basil the Great

The first Canonical Epistle of our Holy Father Basil ( 378 A.D.), Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia to Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.

CANON VIII: He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of wilful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and undesignedly kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defence, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it die upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway….

CANON XI: He that is guilty of involuntary murder, shall do eleven years’ penance — that is, if the murdered person, after he had here received the wound, do again go abroad, and yet afterward die of the wound.

CANON XIII: Our fathers did not think that killing in war was murder; yet I think it advisable for such as have been guilty of it to forbear communion three years.

CANON XLIII: That he who gives a mortal wound to another is a murderer, whether he were the first, aggressor, or did it in his own defence.

CANON LIV: That it is in the bishop’s power to increase or lessen penance for involuntary murder.

CANON LV: They that are not ecclesiastics setting upon highwaymen, are repelled from the communion of the Good Thing; clergymen are deposed.

CANON LVI: He that wilfully commits murder, and afterwards repents, shall for twenty years remain without communicating of the Holy Sacrament. Four years he must mourn without the door of the oratory, and beg of the communicants that go in, that prayer be offered for him; then for five years he shall be admitted among the hearers, for seven years among the prostrators; for four years he shall be a co-stander with the communicants, but shall not partake of the oblation; when these years are completed, he shall partake of the Holy Sacrament.

CANON LVII: The involuntary murderer for two years shall be a mourner, for three years a hearer, four years a prostrator, one year a co-stander, and then communicate.

Canons of St. Athanasius the Great

The Epistle of St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria ( 373 A.D.) to the Monk Ammun (extract).

… One might reasonably say no natural secretion will bring us before him for punishment. But possibly medical men (to put these people to shame even at the hands of outsiders) will support us on this point, telling us that there are certain necessary passages accorded to the animal body, to provide for the dismissal of the superfluity of what is secreted in our several parts; for example, for the superfluity of the head, the hair and the watery discharges from the head, and the purgings of the belly, and that superfluity again of the seminative channels. What sin then is there in God’s name, elder most beloved of God, if the Master who made the body willed and made these parts to have such passages? But since we must grapple with the objections of evil persons, as they may say, ‘If the organs have been severally fashioned by the Creator, then there is no sin in their genuine use,’ let us stop them by asking this question: What do you mean by use? That lawful use which God permitted when He said, ‘Increase and multiply, and replenish the earth,’ and which the Apostle approves in the words, ‘Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled,’ or that use which is public, yet carried on stealthily and in adulterous fashion?

For in other matters also which go to make up life, we shall find differences according to circumstances. For example, it is not right to kill, yet in war it is lawful and praiseworthy to destroy the enemy; accordingly not only are they who have distinguished themselves in the field held worthy of great honours, but monuments are put up proclaiming their achievements. So that the same act is at one time and under some circumstances unlawful, while under others, and at the right time, it is lawful and permissible. The same reasoning applies to the relation of the sexes. He is blessed who, being freely yoked in his youth, naturally begets children. But if he uses nature licentiously, the punishment of which the Apostle writes shall await whoremongers and adulterers.

Canons of St. Gregory of Nyssa

The Canonical Epistle of St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa ( 395 A.D.), to St. Letoius, Bishop of Melitene.

CANON V: Voluntary murderers shall be nine years ejected out of the church, nine years hearers, nine years prostrators; but every one of these nine years may be reduced to seven or six, or even five, if the penitents be very diligent. Involuntary murderers to be treated as fornicators, but still with discretion, and allowing the communion on a death-bed, but on condition, that they return to penance if they survive.

Footnotes

1 The 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles most probably originate from Syria in the IIIrd century. They were confirmed by the Quinisexte Ecumenical Council “in Trullo” (the Church where the Council took place) in 691, which issued the canons of the fifth and sixth Ecumenical Councils. The Canons of the Holy Apostles should not be mistaken for the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hyppolyte of Rome, which has not been confirmed by the Councils.

2 Prostrators are one of the categories of penants.

3 In his last contests with Constantine, Licinius had made himself the representative of heathenism; so that the final issue of the war would not be the mere triumph of one of the two competitors, but the triumph or fall of Christianity or heathenism. Accordingly, a Christian who had in this war supported the cause of Licinius and of heathenism might be considered as a lapsus [those who fell away from the Faith, ed.], even if he did not formally fall away. With much more reason might those Christians be treated as lapsi who, having conscientiously given up military service (this is meant by the soldier’s belt), afterwards retracted their resolution, and went so far as to give money and presents for the sake of readmission, on account of the numerous advantages which military service then afforded. It must not be forgotten that Licinius, as Zonaras and Eusebius relate, required from his soldiers a formal apostasy; compelled them, for example, to take part in the heathen sacrifices which were held in the camps, and dismissed from his service those who would not apostatize. Comment by the canonist Lambert.

4 Two cases excepted, the undertaking of secular business was made ecclesiastically penal. This is not to be construed as forbidding clerics to work at trades either (1) when the church-funds were insufficient to maintain them, or (2) in order to have more to bestow in alms, or (3) as an example of industry or humility. It was not the mere fact of secular employment, but secularity of motive and of tone that was condemned. Comment from the canonist Bright.

5 An ancient epitome of this canon reads: A voluntary homicide may at the last attain perfection.

Constantine Harmenopulus the Scholiast in the Epitom. Canonum., Sect. v., tit. 3, tells the following story: “In the time of the Patriarch Luke, a certain bishop gave absolution in writing to a soldier who had committed voluntary homicide, after a very short time of penace; and afterwards when he was accused before the synod of having done so, he defended himself by citing the canon which gives bishops the power of remitting or increasing the length of their penance to penitents. But he was told in answer that this was granted indeed to pontiffs but not that they should use it without examination, and with too great lenity. Wherefore the synod subjected the soldier to the canonical penance and the bishop it mulcted for a certain time, bidding him cease from the exercise of his ministry.”. Comment by the canonist van Espen.

6 Of voluntary and involuntary homicides St. Basil treats at length in his Canonical Epistle ad Amphilochium, can. viii., lvi. and lvii., and fixes the time of penance at twenty years for voluntary and ten years for involuntary homicides. It is evident that the penance given for this crime varied in different churches, although it is clear from the great length of the penance, how enormous the crime was considered, no light or short penance being sufficient. Comment of the canonist van Espen.

7 Nothing is more noteworthy than how the first princes summoned bishops in counsel with regard to affairs touching either the estate of the Church or of the Realm; and called them to their presence in urgent and momentous cases, and kept them with them. Justinian, the emperor, in his Novels (Chapter II.) defines that no one of the God-beloved bishops shall dare to be absent any more from his diocese for a whole year, and adds this exception, “unless he does so on account of an imperial jussio; in this case alone he shall be held to be without blame.” On this whole matter of bishops interceding for culprits, and especially for those condemned to death, see St. Augustine (Epist. 153 ad Macedonium ). Comment of the canonist van Espen.

8 This decree is threefold. First, that the bishop in going to Court should not fall under suspicion either at Court or of his own people that he was approaching the Prince to obtain some cause of his own. Second, according to the interpretation of Zonaras, “that no one should be angry with the Minister or Deacon who tarried in camp, as the bishop had departed thence.” And third, that the Minister could carry away what he had asked for, that is (according to Zonaras), the letters of the Emperor pardoning the fault, or such like other matters. Comment of the canonist van Espen.

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