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


“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
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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).


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