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Confession: A Primer

by Jim Forest

A young monk said to the great ascetic Abba Sisoes: “Abba, what should I do? I fell.” The elder answered: “Get up!” The monk said: “I got up and I fell again!” The elder replied: “Get up again!” But the young monk asked: “For how long should I get up when I fall?” “Until your death,” answered Abba Sisoes.
—Sayings of the Desert Fathers

WHEN I WENT to my first confession,” a friend told me, “tears took the place of the sins I meant to utter. The priest simply told me that it wasn’t necessary to enumerate everything and that it was just vanity to suppose that my personal sins were worse than everyone else’s. Which, by the way, was a bit of a relief, since it wasn’t possible for me to remember all the sins of my first thirty-odd years of life. It made me think of when the father received his prodigal son––he didn’t let his son finish his carefully rehearsed speech. Truly amazing.”

Another friend told me that he was so worried about all he had to confess that he decided to write them down. “So I made a list of my sins and brought it with me. The priest saw the paper in my hand, took it, looked through the list, tore it up, and gave it back to me. Then he said ‘Kneel down,’ and he absolved me. That was my confession, even though I never said a word! But I felt truly my sins had been torn up and that I was free of them.

The very word confession makes us nervous, touching as it does all that is hidden in ourselves: lies told, injuries caused, things stolen, friends deceived, people betrayed, promises broken, faith denied––these plus all the smaller actions that reveal the beginnings of sins.

Confession is painful, yet a Christian life without confession is impossible.

Confession is a major theme of the Gospels. Even before Christ began His public ministry, we read in Matthew’s Gospel that John required confession of those who came to him for baptism in the river for a symbolic act of washing away their sins: “And [they] were baptized by [John] in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6).

Then there are those amazing words of Christ to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The keys of binding and loosing sins were given not only to one apostle but to all Christ’s disciples, and—in a sacramental sense—to any priest who has his bishop’s blessing to hear confessions.

The Gospel author John warns us not to deceive ourselves: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:8, 9).

The sacrament of baptism, the rite of entrance into the Church, has always been linked with repentance. “Repent, and…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” Saint Peter preached in Jerusalem, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the same book we read that “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds” (Acts 19:18).

One Gospel story in which we encounter confession is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Here Christ describes a young man so impatient to come into his inheritance and be independent that, in effect, he says to his father, “As far as I’m concerned, you are already dead. Give me now what would have come to me after your funeral. I want nothing more to do with you or with this house.”

With Godlike generosity, the father gives what his son asks, though he knows his son well enough to realize that all the boy receives from him might as well be burned in a stove. The boy takes his inheritance and leaves, at last free of parents, free of morals and good behavior, free to do as he pleases.

After wasting his money, he finds himself reduced to feeding the pigs as a farmhand. People he had thought of as friends now sneer. He knows he has renounced the claim to be anyone’s son, yet in his desperation he dares hope his father might at least allow him to return home as a servant. Full of dismay for what he said to his father and he did with his inheritance, he walks home in his rags, ready to confess his sins, to beg for work and a corner to sleep in. The son cannot imagine the love his father has for him or the fact that, despite all the trouble he caused, he has been desperately missed. Far from being glad to be rid of the boy, the father has gazed day after day in prayer toward the horizon in hope of his son’s return.

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (v. 20). Had he not been watching, he would not have noticed his child in the distance and realized who it was. Instead of simply standing and waiting for his son to reach the door, he ran to meet him, embracing him, pouring out words of joy and welcome rather than reproof or condemnation.

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight and am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (v. 21). Here we have the son’s confession compacted into a single sentence. It is the essence of any confession: our return to our Father, who made us and constantly awaits our homecoming.

WHAT IS SIN? There are countless essays and books that deal with human failings under various labels without once using the three-letter word sin. Actions traditionally regarded as sinful have instead been seen as natural stages in the process of growing up, a result of bad parenting, a consequence of mental illness, an inevitable response to unjust social conditions, or pathological behavior brought on by addiction.

But what if I am more than a robot programmed by my past or my society or my economic status and actually can take a certain amount of credit––or blame––for my actions and inactions? Have I not done things I am deeply ashamed of, would not do again if I could go back in time, and would prefer no one to know about? What makes me so reluctant to call those actions “sins”? Is the word really out of date? Or is the problem that it has too sharp an edge?

The Hebrew verb chata’, “to sin,” like the Greek word hamartia, simply means straying off the path, getting lost, missing the mark. Sin––going off course––can be intentional or unintentional.

The author of the Book of Proverbs lists seven things God hates: “A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (6:17–19).

Pride is given first place. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” is another insight in the Book of Proverbs (16:18). In the Garden of Eden, Satan seeks to animate pride in his dialogue with Eve. Eat the forbidden fruit, he tells her, and “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).

The craving to be ahead of others, to be more valued than others, to be more highly rewarded than others, to be able to keep others in a state of fear, the inability to admit mistakes or apologize––these are among the symptoms of pride. Pride opens the way for countless other sins: deceit, lies, theft, violence, and all those other actions that destroy community with God and with those around us.

Yet we spend a great deal of our lives trying to convince ourselves and others that what we did really wasn’t that bad or could even be seen as almost good, given the circumstances. Even in confession, many people explain rather than simply admit they did things requiring forgiveness. “When I recently happened to confess about fifty people in a typical Orthodox parish in Pennsylvania,” Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, “not one admitted to having committed any sin whatsoever!”

“We’re capable of doing some rotten things,” the Minnesota storyteller Garrison Keillor notes, “and not all of these things are the result of poor communication. Some are the result of rottenness. People do bad, horrible things. They lie and they cheat and they corrupt the government. They poison the world around us. And when they’re caught they don’t feel remorse––they just go into treatment. They had a nutritional problem or something. They explain what they did––they don’t feel bad about it. There’s no guilt. There’s just psychology.”

For the person who has committed a serious sin, there are two vivid signs––the hope that what one did may never become known, and a gnawing sense of guilt. At least this is the case before the conscience becomes completely numb––which happens when patterns of sin become the structure of one’s life to the extent that hell, far from being a possible next-life experience, is where one finds oneself in this life.

It is a striking fact about basic human architecture that we want certain actions to remain secret, not because of modesty, but because there is an unarguable sense of having violated a law more basic than that in any law book––the “law written in [our] hearts” to which St. Paul refers (Rom. 2:15). It isn’t simply that we fear punishment. It is that we don’t want to be thought of by others as a person who commits such deeds. One of the main obstacles to going to confession is dismay that someone else will know what I want no one to know.

One of the oddest things about the age we live in is that we are made to feel guilty about feeling guilty. There is a cartoon tacked up in our house in which one prisoner says to another, “Just remember––it’s okay to be guilty, but not okay to feel guilty.”

A sense of guilt––the painful awareness of having committed sins––can be life-renewing. Guilt provides a foothold for contrition, which in turn can motivate confession and repentance. Without guilt, there is no remorse; without remorse, there is no possibility of becoming free of habitual sins.

Yet there are forms of guilt that are dead-end streets. If I feel guilty that I have not managed to become the ideal person I occasionally want to be, or that I imagine others want me to be, that is guilt without a divine reference point. It is simply an irritated me contemplating an irritating me. Christianity is not centered on performance, laws, principles, or the achievement of flawless behavior, but on Christ Himself and on participation in God’s transforming love.

When Christ says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), he’s not speaking of getting a perfect score on a test, but of being whole, being in a state of communion, participating fully in God’s love.

This condition of being is suggested by St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity: those three angelic figures silently inclined toward each other around a chalice on a small altar. They symbolize the Holy Trinity: the mysterious communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that exists within God––not a closed communion restricted to themselves alone, but an open communion of love, in which we are not only invited but intended to participate.

A blessed guilt is the pain we feel when we realize we have cut ourselves off from that divine communion that irradiates all creation. It is impossible to live in a Godless universe, but easy to be unaware of God’s presence or even to resent it.

It’s a common delusion that one’s sins are private or affect only a few other people. To think our sins, however hidden, don’t affect others is like imagining that a stone thrown into the water won’t generate ripples. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has observed: “There are no entirely private sins. All sins are sins against my neighbor, as well as against God and against myself. Even my most secret thoughts are, in fact, making it more difficult for those around me to follow Christ.”

Far from being hidden, each sin is another crack in the world.

One of the most widely used Orthodox prayers, the Jesus Prayer, is only one sentence long: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Short as it is, many people drawn to it are put off by the last two words. Those who teach the prayer are often asked, “But must I call myself a sinner?” In fact, the ending isn’t essential––the only essential word is “Jesus”––but my difficulty in identifying myself as a sinner reveals a lot. What makes me so reluctant to speak of myself in so plain a word? Don’t I do a pretty good job of hiding rather than revealing Christ in my life? Am I not a sinner? To admit that I am provides a starting point.

There are only two possible responses to sin: to justify it, or to repent. Between these two, there is no middle ground.

Justification may be verbal, but mainly it takes the form of repetition: I do again and again the same thing as a way of demonstrating to myself and others that it’s not really a sin, but rather something normal or human or necessary or even good. “Commit a sin twice and it will not seem a crime,” notes a Jewish proverb.

Repentance, however, is the recognition that I cannot live any more as I have been living because in living that way, I wall myself apart from others and from God. Repentance is a change in direction. Repentance is the door of communion. It is also a sine qua non of forgiveness. Absolution is impossible where there is no repentance.

As St. John Chrysostom said sixteen centuries ago in Antioch:

Repentance opens the heavens, takes us to Paradise, overcomes the devil. Have you sinned? Do not despair! If you sin every day, then offer repentance every day! When there are rotten parts in old houses, we replace the parts with new ones, and we do not stop caring for the houses. In the same way, you should reason for yourself: If today you have defiled yourself with sin, immediately cleanse yourself with repentance.

Confession as a Social Action: It is impossible to imagine a healthy marriage or deep friendship without confession and forgiveness. If we have done something that damages a relationship, confession is essential to its restoration. For the sake of that bond, we confess what we’ve done, we apologize, and we promise not to do it again; then we do everything in our power to keep that promise.

In the context of religious life, confession is what we do to safeguard and renew our relationship with God whenever it is damaged. Confession restores our communion with God and with each other.

It is never easy to admit to doing something we regret and are ashamed of, an act we attempted to keep secret or denied doing or tried to blame on someone else, perhaps arguing––to ourselves as much as to others––that it wasn’t actually a sin at all, or wasn’t nearly as bad as some people might claim. In the hard labor of growing up, one of the most agonizing tasks is becoming capable of saying, “I’m sorry.”

Yet we are designed for confession. Secrets in general are hard to keep, but unconfessed sins not only never go away, but have a way of becoming heavier as time passes––the greater the sin, the heavier the burden. Confession is the only solution.

To understand confession in its sacramental sense, one first has to grapple with a few basic questions: Why is the Church involved in for-giving sins? Is priest-witnessed con-fession really needed? Why confess at all to any human being? In fact, why bother confessing to God, even without a human witness? If God is really all-knowing, then God knows everything about me already. My sins are known before it even crosses my mind to confess them. Why bother telling God what God already knows?

Yes, truly God knows. My con-fession can never be as complete or revealing as God’s knowledge of me and of all that needs repairing in my life. But a related question we need to consider has to do with our basic design as social beings. Why am I so willing to connect with others in every other area of life, yet not in this? Why is it that I look so hard for excuses, even for theological ration-ales, not to confess? Why do I try so hard to explain away my sins, until I’ve decided either that they’re not so bad, or even that they might be seen as acts of virtue? Why is it that I find it so easy to commit sins, yet am so reluctant, in the presence of another, to admit to having done so?

We are social beings. The individual as autonomous unit is a delusion. The person without community, parents, spouse, or children exists only in ads. The individual is someone who has lost a sense of connection to others or attempts to exist in opposition to others––while the person exists in communion with other persons. At a conference of Orthodox Christians in France a few years ago, in a discussion of the problem of individualism, a theologian confessed, “When I am in my car, I am an individual, but when I get out, I am a person again.”

We are social beings. The language we speak connects us to those around us. The food I eat was grown by others. The skills passed on to me have slowly been developed in the course of hundreds of generations. The air I breathe and the water I drink is not for my exclusive use, has been in many bodies before mine, and will be used by others not yet born. The place I live, the tools I use, the keyboard I type on were made by many hands. I am not my own doctor or dentist. To the extent that I disconnect myself from others, I am in danger. Alone, I die, and soon. To be in communion with others is life.

Because we are social beings, confession in church does not take the place of confession to those we have sinned against. An essential element of confession is doing all I can to set right what I did wrong. If I stole something, it must be returned or paid for. If I lied to anyone, I must tell that person the truth. If I was angry without good reason, I must apologize. I must seek forgiveness not only from God but from those whom I have wronged or harmed.

We are also verbal beings. Words provide a way of communicating not only with others but with ourselves. The fact that confession is witnessed forces me to put into words all those ways, minor and major, in which I live as if there were no God and no commandment to love. A thought that is concealed has great power over us.

Confessing sins, or even temptations, makes us better able to resist. The under-lying principle is described in one of the collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers:

If impure thoughts trouble you, do not hide them, but tell them at once to your spiritual father and condemn them. The more a person conceals his thoughts, the more they multiply and gain strength. But an evil thought, when revealed, is immediately destroyed. If you hide things, they have great power over you, but if you could only speak of them before God, in the presence of another, then they will often wither away, and lose their power.

Confessing to anyone, even a stranger, renews rather than contracts my humanity, even if all I get in return for my confession is the well-worn remark, “Oh, that’s not so bad. After all, you’re only human.” But if I can confess to anyone anywhere, why confess in church in the presence of a priest? It’s not a small question in societies in which the phrase “institutionalized religion” is so often used, the implicit message being that religious institutions necessarily undermine spiritual life.

Confession is a Christian ritual with a communal character. Confession in the church differs from confession in your living room in the same way that getting married in church differs from simply living together. The communal aspect of the event tends to safeguard it, solidify it, and call everyone to account––those doing the ritual, and those witnessing it.

In the social structure of the Church, a huge network of local communities is held together in unity, each community helping the others and all sharing a common task, while each provides a specific place to recognize and bless the main events in life, from birth to burial. Confession is an essential part of that continuum. My confession is an act of reconnection with God and with all the people and creatures who depend on me and have been harmed by my failings, and from whom I have distanced myself through acts of non-communion. The community is represented by the person hearing my confession, an ordained priest delegated to serve as Christ’s witness, who provides guidance and wisdom that helps each penitent overcome attitudes and habits that take us off course, who declares forgiveness and restores us to communion. In this way our repentance is brought into the community that has been damaged by our sins––a private event in a public context.

“It’s a fact,” writes Fr. Thomas Hopko, retired rector of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, “that we cannot see the true ugliness and hideousness of our sins until we see them in the mind and heart of the other to whom we have confessed.”

A Communion-Centered Life: Attending the liturgy and receiving communion on Sundays and principal feast days is at the heart of Christian life, the event that gives life a eucharistic dimension and center point. But communion––receiving Christ into ourselves––can never be routine, never something we deserve, no matter what the condition of our life may be. For example, Christ solemnly warns us against approaching the altar if we are in a state of enmity with anyone. He tells us, “if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). In one of the parables, Christ describes a person who is ejected from the wedding feast because he isn’t wearing a wedding garment. Tattered clothing is a metaphor for living a life that reduces conscience to rags (Matthew 22:1–14).

Receiving Christ in communion during the liturgy is the keystone of living in communion––with God, with people, and with creation. Christ teaches us that love of God and love of neighbor sum up the Law. One way of describing a serious sin is to say it is any act which breaks our communion with God and with our neighbor.

It is for this reason that examination of conscience––if necessary, going to confession––is an essential part of preparation for communion. This is an ongoing process of trying to see my life and actions with clarity and honesty––to look at myself, my choices, and my direction as known by God. The examination of conscience is an occasion to recall not only any serious sins committed since my last confession, but even the beginnings of sins.

The word conscience derives from a Greek verb meaning “to have common knowledge” or “to know with” someone, a concept that led to the idea of bearing witness concerning someone, especially oneself. Conscience is an inner faculty that guides us in making choices that align us with God’s will, and that accuses us when we break communion with God and with our neighbor. Conscience is a reflection of the divine image at the core of each person. In The Sacred Gift of Life, Fr. John Breck points out that “the education of conscience is acquired in large measure through immersing ourselves in the ascetic tradition of the Church: its life of prayer, sacramental and liturgical celebration, and scripture study. The education of our conscience also depends upon our acquiring wisdom from those who are more advanced than we are in faith, love, and knowledge of God.”

Conscience is God’s whispering voice within us calling us to a way of life that reveals God’s presence and urges us to refuse actions that destroy community and communion.

Key Elements in Confession: Fr. Alexander Schmemann provided the following summary of the three key areas of confession:
 Relationship to God: Questions on faith itself, possible doubts or deviations, inattention to prayer, neglect of liturgical life, fasting, etc.
 Relationship to one’s neighbor: Basic attitudes of selfishness and self-centeredness, indifference to others, lack of attention, interest, love. All acts of actual offense––envy, gossip, cruelty, etc.––must be mentioned and, if needed, their sinfulness shown to the penitent.
 Relationship to one’s self: Sins of the flesh with, as their counterpart, the Christian vision of purity and wholesomeness, respect for the body as an icon of Christ, etc. Abuse of one’s life and resources; absence of any real effort to deepen life; abuse of alcohol or other drugs; cheap idea of “fun,” a life centered on amusement, irresponsibility, neglect of family relations, etc.

Tools of Self-Examination: In the struggle to examine conscience, we have tools that can assist us, resources that help both in the formation and the examination of conscience. Among these are the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and various prayers, as well as lists of questions written by experienced confessors. IC

This article as it appears here is the first half of a longer, printed booklet from Conciliar Media, a department of the Antiochian Archdiocese, as part of their popular series of attractive and informative booklets and brochures about the basic teachings of the ancient Orthodox Christian faith. The second half begins with the section we end with: Tools of Self-examination. For the entire article, please visit either of the following webistes:

An appeal to forbid the blessing of weapons

The following letter was sent by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to Patriarch Pavle, leading bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, on July 24, 1995:

Your Holiness, Beloved Patriarch Pavle,

Responding to the outbreak of war in former Yugoslavia, in 1992 the Holy Synod directed that several petitions be added to the Great Litany during Liturgy, Vespers and Matins. One petition appeals to the Lord on behalf on “all those who commit injustice against their neighbors, whether by causing sorrow to orphans or spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred,” asking that “God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even towards their enemies.”

We think of this urgent prayer while regarding what has happened in the past several years while the war has continued and so many innocent people have been killed, wounded, raped, beaten, so many homes and places of worship destroyed, so many driven from their homes and made refugees by those who wanted only people of a particular national background to remain. Adding to the tragedy has been the conviction of many fighters on each side that his actions were a justifiable defense of his religion. Indeed often they have heard their actions praised by pastors of the several religious traditions.

Against the background of such tragic events, we appeal to the Holy Synod to go further in making clear that the Church does not sanction actions which create orphans and widows, acts of violence against neighbors, and the spilling of innocent blood.

Specifically we propose that the Synod require that no use be made of a service for blessing weapons included in an edition of the Book of Needs published in Kosovo in 1993. In the context of ongoing events occurring in neighboring republics of former Yugoslavia, the blessing of weapons can only be regarded as sanctioning the use of weapons in a fratricidal war.

More than that, we appeal to the Synod to declare that any baptized person who shoots at or abuses non-combatants, who puts the populations of cities and towns under siege, who impedes the distribution of food, medicine and other necessities of life, who commits acts of violence against the civil population or against captive soldiers, or who drives people of other ethnic groups from their homes, is violating the law of Christ and is not permitted to receive communion and cannot be restored to communion until his sincere repentance is recognized. Let it be clear to all that the Church calls all its children to respect the well-being of their neighbors, no matter what their religion or their ethnic background.

We hope such an action by the Serbian Orthodox Church will meet with similar responses from other religious bodies whose children are caught up in the fighting.

Your Holiness: We are living in a time of moral collapse in which the countries traditionally associated with Orthodoxy are not exempt. May the bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church be remembered as apostles whose words and deeds communicated to one and all the love of God for each person.

Your Holiness, we would like to ask you to discuss this letter with your fellow hierarchs at the next meeting of the Holy Synod.

We ask your blessing and prayers.

+ Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Assistant Bishop, Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

Archpriest Theodoor van der Voort

Margot Mutz, President, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Archpriest Dr Sergii Hackel

James Forest, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Father Heikki Huttunen, President, Syndesmos International

Father Michel Evdokimov, Secretary of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France

Father Thomas Hopko, Dean, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY

Olivier Clément, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris

Nicolas Lossky, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris

Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Orthodox theologian, Paris

Father Stephen Peter Tsichlis, pastor, Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Seattle, Washington

Father Yves Dubois, Bath, England

Deacon Patrick & Helena Radley, Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church, Great Walsingham, England

Mariquita Platov, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship – USA

Philip Tamoush, member of the Executive Board, Orthodox People Together USA

Father Anthony Coniaris, President, Light & Life Publishing Co., USA

Father Alexis Voogd, rector, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Amsterdam

Father Lambert van Dinteren, pastor, Sts. John Chrysostom and Servatios Orthodox Church, Maastricht

* * *

Here is a translation of a letter sent to Patriarch Pavle. Please correct any mistakes in the translation. We are fortunate to have a neighbor who did this for us but he is not a theologian and has very little background in Church life. We hope that nonetheless the basic content and spirit of our letter is preserved.

Vaša Svetosti, Voljeni Patrijarše Pavle,Kao odgovor na izbijanje rata u bivšoj Jugoslaviji, Sveti Sinod je 1992. godine odlučio da se neke molitve dodaju Velikoj Litaniji u toku Liturgije, Večernja i Jutrenja. Jedna od njih je molitva Gospodu u ime “svih onih koji čine nepravdu svojim susedima, bilo da ožalošćuju siročad, bilo da prolivaju nevinu krv ili mržnjom uzvraćaju na mržnju,” moleći da im “Bog podari samilost, da obasja njihove misli i srca i prosvetli njihove duše svetlošću ljubavi za prema njihe nerijatelje.”

Mislimo o ovoj preko potrebnoj Molitvi, osvrćući se na ono što se desilo u proteklih nekoliko godina dok je rat neprekidno trajao i tako mnogo nevinih ljudi ubijeno, ranjeno, silovano, pretučeno, tako mnogo svetih mesta uništeno, tako mnogo izbeglih, koje su proterali oni koji žele da tu ostanu samo ljudi odredjenog nacionalnog porekla. Tragediju je uvećalo uverenje mnogih boraca na svim stranama, da su njihova dela pravedna odbrana njihovih religija.I zaista su često sveštenici raznih vera dizali u nebo njihova dela.

Bez obzira na pozadinu tako tragičnih dogadjaja, molimo Sveti Sinod da i dalje objašnjava da Crkva ne odobrava dela koja stvaraju siročad i udovice, dela nasilja protiv suseda i prolivanje nevine krvi.

Posebno predlažemo Sinodu da zahteva da se ne koristi služba blagosiljanja oružja koja se nalazi u jednom izdanju Velikog

Trebnika sa Kosova iz 1993. godine. Sobzirom na ono što se upravo dešava u susednim republikama bivše Jugoslavije, blagosiljanje oružja jedino može biti shvaćeno kao odobravanje upotrebe oružja u bratoubilačkom ratu.

Šta više, molimo Sinod da objavi da bilo koja krštena osoba koja puca na nekog ili povredi nekoga ko nije borac, koja stavi stanovnike gradova i naselja u opsadu, koja ometa raspodelu hrane, lekova i drugih neophodnosti za život, koja počini delo nasilja protiv civilnog stanovništva ili zarobljenih vojnika, ili koja izgoni ljude drugih etničkih grupa iz njihovih domova, krši zakon Hristov i da joj neće biti dopušteno da primi peičest i da se ne može ponovo pričestiti sve dok se ne uvidi njeno iskreno kajanje. Neka svima bude jasno da Crkva poziva svu svoju decu da poštuju dobrobit svojih suseda bez obzira na njihovu versku ili etničku pripadnost.

Nadamo se da će ovakav postupak Srpske pravoslavne crkve naići na istovetne odgovore drugih verskih zajednica čija su deca zahvaćena ratom.

Vaša svetosti: mi živimo u vreme moralnog pada od koga zemlje tradicionalno vezane za pravoslavlje nisu izuzete. Mogu li episkopi Srpske pravoslavne crkve biti upamćeni kao apostoli čije reči i dela saopštavaju svakom i svima ljubav božiju za svaku ličnost.

Vaša Svetosti, mi Vas molimo da razmotrite ovo pismo sa Vašim poglavarima na sledećem saboru Svetog Sinoda.

Molimo Vas za blagoslov i molitve.

U Alkmaru, 24. 7. 1995. god.

U medjuvremenu naše pismo potpisali su I ovi ljudi dobre volje.

+ Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Assistant Bishop, Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

Archpriest Theodoor van der Voort, Deventer, the Netherlands

Archpriest Dr Sergei Hackel, editor, Sobornost; UK

Margot Mutz, President, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

James Forest, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Archpriest Heikki Huttunen, President, Syndesmos

Father Michel Evdokimov, Secretary of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France

Father Thomas Hopko, Dean, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York, USA

Olivier Clément, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris

Nicolas Lossky, Professor of Theology, Institute of St. Serge, Paris

Father Stephen Peter Tsichlis, pastor, Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, Seattle, Washington, USA

Father Yves Dubois, Bath, England

Father Anthony Coniaris, President, Light & Life Publishing Co., USA

Father Alexis Voogd, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Amsterdam

Philip Tamoush, member of the Executive Board, Orthodox People Together, USA

* * *

Cyrillic text:

Ваша Светости, Вољени Патријарше Павле̦

Као одговор на избијање рата у бившој Југославији̦ Свети Синод је 1992. године одлучио да се неке молитве додају Великој Литанији за време Литургије, Вечерња и Јутрења. Jеднa oд њих jе мoлитвa Гoспoду у име “свих oних кojи чине непрaвду свojим суседимa, билo дa oжaлoшћуjу сирoчaд, билo дa прoливajу невину крв или мржњoм узврaћajу нa мржњу”, мoлећи дa им “Бoг пoдaри сaмилoст, дa oбaсja њихoве мисли и срцa и прoсветли њихoве душе светлoшћу љубaви чак и зa њихoве нериjaтеље.”

Мислимo o oвoj прекo пoтребнoj Мoлитви, oсврћући се нa oнo штo се десилo у прoтеклих некoликo гoдинa дoк jе рaт непрекиднo трajao и тaкo мнoгo невиних људи убиjенo, рaњенo, силoвaнo, претученo, тaкo мнoгo светих местa уништенo, тaкo мнoгo избеглих, кojе су прoтерaли oни кojи желе дa ту oстaну сaмo људи oдређенoг нaциoнaлнoг пoреклa. Трaгедиjу jе увећaлo уверење мнoгих бoрaцa нa свим стрaнaмa, дa су њихoвa делa прaведнa oдбрaнa њихoвих религиja. И зaистa су честo свештеници рaзних верa дизaли у небo њихoвa делa.

Без oбзирa нa пoзaдину тaкo трaгичних дoгaђaja, мoлимo Свети Синoд дa и дaље oбjaшњaвa дa Црквa не oдoбрaвa делa кoja ствaрajу сирoчaд и удoвице, делa нaсиљa прoтив суседa и прoливaње невине крви.

Пoсебнo предлaжемo Синoду дa зaхтевa дa се не кoристи службa блaгoсиљaњa oружja кoja се нaлaзи у jеднoм издaњу Великoг Требникa сa Кoсoвa из 1993. гoдине. С oбзирoм нa oнo штo се упрaвo дешaвa у суседним републикaмa бивше Jугoслaвиjе, блaгoсиљaње oружja jединo мoже бити схвaћенo кao oдoбрaвaње упoтребе oружja у брaтoубилaчкoм рaту.

Штa више, мoлимo Синoд дa oбjaви дa билo кoja крштенa oсoбa кoja пуцa нa некoг или пoвреди некoгa кo ниjе бoрaц, кoja стaви стaнoвнике грaдoвa и нaсељa у oпсaду, кoja oметa рaспoделу хрaне, лекoвa и других неoпхoднoсти зa живoт, кoja пoчини делo нaсиљa прoтив цивилнoг стaнoвништвa или зaрoбљених вojникa, или кoja изгoни људе других етничких групa из њихoвих дoмoвa, крши зaкoн Христoв и дa joj неће бити дoпуштенo дa прими причест и дa се не мoже пoнoвo причестити све дoк се не увиди њенo искренo кajaње. Некa свимa буде jaснo дa Црквa пoзивa сву свojу децу дa пoштуjу дoбрoбит свojих суседa без oбзирa нa њихoву верску или етничку припaднoст.

Нaдaмo се дa ће oвaкaв пoступaк Српске прaвoслaвне цркве нaићи нa истoветне oдгoвoре других верских зajедницa чиja су децa зaхвaћенa рaтoм.

Вaшa Светoсти: ми живимo у време мoрaлнoг пaдa oд кoгa земље трaдициoнaлнo везaне зa прaвoслaвље нису изузете. Мoгу ли епискoпи Српске прaвoслaвне цркве бити упaмћени кao aпoстoли чиjе речи и делa сaoпштaвajу свaкoм и свимa љубaв бoжиjу зa свaку личнoст.

Вaшa Светoсти, ми Вaс мoлимo дa рaзмoтрите oвo писмo сa Вaшим пoглaвaримa нa следећем сaбoру Светoг Синoдa.

Мoлимo Вaс зa блaгoслoв и мoлитве.

* * *

Forgiving All in the Light of the Resurrection

by Elizabeth Gassin and Robert Enright

Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.

           —St. Seraphim of Sarov

This examination of forgiveness by Professors Gassin and Enright expands on the work of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s two part series (IC 62 and 63) by looking through an Orthodox Theological lens at the psychological dimensions of forgive-ness which is their area of professional and scholarly expertise. Having first intro-duced us to their work in Forgiveness Education (IC 62) and then to the scientific underpinnings of forgiveness (IC 64), they conclude our year-long look at forgiveness by first elaborating an understanding of the reasons for and process of being merciful to an offender from an Orthodox theological perspective before identifying forgiveness themes and practices in Orthodox life, both liturgical and personal.

Orthodox Theology and Forgiveness: Orthodox theology, of course, flows from an understanding of Who the Holy Trinity is. Eastern Christian theology, perhaps more so than Western, focuses on the re-lationship between the Persons of the Trinity, and therefore it is not surprising that the human individual, made in God’s image, is seen in more relational terms as well. Writings in the Eastern tradition often blur the boundaries between the triad of God, self, and other, and it is in this interconnection between persons and between persons and God that we find a unique foundation for forgiving. (Of course, God’s immanence emphatically does not prohibit God’s transcendence over His creation.)

Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Following St. Irenaeus and others, the Orthodox Church distinguishes between the image and likeness of God in man. The image of God encompasses basic characteristics such as freedom, creativity, rationality, and the potential for God-likeness, which includes the capacity to love. While the image remains after the Fall, each person must struggle, fueled by God’s energies, to resurrect His likeness within herself.  This struggle is salvation, the process of theosis. This likeness that is being resurrected is a more authentic communion with God and others that is based on divine virtue (mercy, justice, etc.).

As we will see, the process of theosis involves transforming passions (energy, impulses) within us, but this cannot be done in isolation. One’s relationship with other persons is a foundation of the process. As the Confessor Nikon of Optina wrote:

Greet each person, no matter who he might be, with good feelings and a hope to find in him only good, seeing before yourself the image of God…. Your salvation and your demise are in your neighbor. Your salvation depends on how you relate to your neighbor.

If we are tempted to think such directives extend only to those who do not hurt us, Father Thomas Hopko reminds us otherwise:

Loving those who abuse us is perhaps the ultimate sign that we have opened ourselves up to the life-changing power of God, are becoming the person that we will be in the age to come, and are bringing God’s Kingdom to others.

We explore further this particularly meaningful idea below.

Orthodox teaching about the person, developed largely in the context of the monastic life, sheds light on the psychological aspects of offering interpersonal forgiveness. Perhaps the foundation of this process is when thumos, the power of our souls that when distorted is vengeful anger, and epithumia, the aspect that is unhealthy attachment when distorted, are submitted to our logos (reason, thought, or word: for our purposes here, we can define the  logos of each individual as God’s purpose or intention for that person). According to St. Maximus the Confessor, each entity in creation is endowed with its own logos, which in turn is related to the Divine Logos, Christ, through Whom all things were created. The Divine Logos, of course, is inherently humble, loving, self-sacrificing, and yet also firm in Truth. Therefore, in submitting our epithumia and thumos to our logos, they are transformed into an energy that strives outward, not to hurt another but to do well for and by him, yet without compromising a clear account of the offense and its effects on the forgiver.

Psychological research on anger and interpersonal attachment provides evidence that the Fathers were correct in calling the energies of thumos and epithumia unhealthy when distorted. For example, much work has been done on the effects of the Type A personality, which consists of rigidity, feeling pressured by schedules and deadlines, being easily angered, and letting hostility fester. Many studies have demonstrated a relationship between the Type A personality and health. It is not surprising to us, then, that the most consistent sub-factor to be related to poor health is hostility. Thumos run amok, without the logos as guiding principle, is indeed poison. Regarding epithumia, a large body of literature on interpersonal attachment demonstrates that those with a clingy, “preoccupied” style of emotional connection report more psychological and interpersonal problems than those with a warm but self-confident style. Similar negative results are found for those with a cold, “dismissing” style of emotional bonding. Letting one’s thoughts and feelings be dominated by an offender, or coldly cutting her out of one’s life, parallel these two unhealthy attachment styles. Mental and physical health seem intimately tied to a habit of having compassionate relations to others and yet respecting oneself, both of which may be crucial aspects of the logos of a person. In this, healthy attachment looks much like forgiveness.

A person hurt by another works synergistically with God to make forgiveness happen. Participation in the Mysteries, seeking counsel of a spiritual father or mother, fasting, confession, prayer (in general, and specifically for our offenders), and acts of charity—among other spiritual disciplines—constitute our portion of this work. They are woven into a fabric with God’s grace that enables us to do all this and more. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, the energies within us that were directed towards revenge and either obsessive attachment or cold detachment are purified to become the motivation to think and say positive things about the person who hurt us, to act in a manner that benefits that person (at the very least, continuing to pray for him), and to hope that all goes well for him in life.

How does this process represent some of the theological points we mentioned earlier in this article? Clearly, this take on forgiveness involves a dance between three persons: God, the forgiver, and the offender. The salvation of the forgiver is bound up in participating in this dance. A certain perichoresis* exists between God and forgiver as God’s grace, His divine presence, enables the forgiver to extend mercy and care to an offender, who also bears the image of God. In doing so, the forgiver incarnates the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” in the life of the offender and others touched by the hurtful situation. Paradoxically, in lifting one’s soul to God for help and directing one’s energy now for the good of the offender (rather than the “good” of self, at least as the world understands it), the forgiver has found his true self. Working with God in this endeavor, he has increased in himself that likeness of the loving, self-giving, relational Trinity that was lost in the Fall. And if the offender repents as a result of receiving forgiveness, the forgiver has also participated in the development of some of God’s likeness in that person, too.

In short, in the forgiveness process, the forgiver has traveled further along the path of salvation: God’s likeness is being resurrected in her as she grows in com-munion with Him and others. She participates in Christ’s Incarnation, allowing Divinity to infuse her human nature and extending mercy in the flesh. She joins in His Transfiguration, revealing the purity of the logos God has given her by the power of the Logos of God. She shares in Christ’s death on the Cross, in suffering submit-ting her own will to the will of the One who is Love, for the sake of others’ (and paradoxically, her own) salvation. She communes with the Resurrected Christ, being raised from her hell of anger and a desire for revenge, now bearing the promise of new life to the offender. She shares in His Ascension, taking fallen human nature—her own as well as her offender’s, via her prayers—into the realm of Divine Love and Truth. She participates in Pentecost, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to convey the Truth of love to the offender. And, as noted above, she helps in the advent of “the second and glorious coming” of the Lord, bringing a bit of God’s Kingdom into the fallen history of humanity. If, from an Orthodox perspective, salvation is union with the Triune God, forgiving one who has hurt us provides an opportunity like few others for this union.

Having set the theological context for forgiveness, we now turn to the forgive-ness journey itself. First, we look at how forgiveness is woven through communal Orthodox worship, providing ample encouragement towards and opportunity for forgiveness in the Church community. We then look at other aspects of an Orthodox Christian lifestyle that may be of help as one walks the path of a life of mercy.

Forgiving all ResurrectionOrthodox Worship and Forgiveness: A variety of liturgical practices in Orthodoxy illumine the process and importance of interpersonal forgiveness. Perhaps the most commonly celebrated one is the Divine Liturgy, at which the faithful receive Holy Communion. Forgiveness permeates this service, as the celebrants ask for forgiveness before beginning the celebration, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Canon, and right before Holy Communion itself. In some parishes, the celebrants request this forgiveness aloud, while in others the request is symbolically made by their silent prostration before the worshipers. In our experience, parishioners typically bow in response, honoring the request and symbolically entreating forgiveness as well. Likely this emphasis on mutual forgiveness is linked to Christ’s words in the Gospel of St. Matthew (5:23-24), directing reconciliation with adversaries before one brings his or her offering to the altar. And although not all Orthodox Christians practice a pre-communion prayer rule, it is worth noting that the standard rule directs the one wishing to commune to “first be reconciled with all who have grieved” him before even beginning the actual pre-communion prayers. Regarding this, we note two things. First, the directive in the prayer rule is to reach out not to those we have grieved, but to those who have grieved us (i.e., our offenders). In addition, we should think carefully about what “be reconciled” means in this context. It is hard to imagine Christ and the Fathers asking us to force ourselves on another person if that person does not wish to be in a functional relationship with us. Perhaps it is best to interpret the emphasis on reconciliation in the context of St. Paul’s directive to “live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18). In such a case, the pre-communion directive to be reconciled may be understood as an instruction to root out anger and foster benevolence in ourselves towards an offender, and to reach out to him in love, but not to force him to repent and/or enter back into a relationship that is hurtful to both parties. In other words, the pre-communion directive is to forgive. This directive is not meant to be a grim obligation, but instead wise and joyful preparation for entering into communion with the Holy Trinity, who is Love.

Before leaving the topic of the Divine Liturgy, we visit the zenith of the liturgical year: Great Lent and Pascha. As most Orthodox know, during Great Lent the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is served. This service is distinguished in part by the relatively long prayers during the Liturgy of the Faithful. In the lengthy prayer read after the consecration of the gifts, the celebrant entreats the Lord to remember and bless many categories of people, including “those who hate us.” While on the surface, this is a prayer intended to benefit an offender, we submit that it is also much more than that. We must recognize that it is chanted in the context of preparing and receiving Holy Communion. In this, we again encounter the idea that our salvation is heavily dependent not only on how we commune with God, but also with each other. The Body and Blood I receive have been consecrated not only for my salvation, but also for the salvation of those who hurt me. My destiny and theirs are intertwined at the deepest level when even I alone partake of the Holy Mysteries. I and my offenders are in some way united to one another in Christ via Holy Communion, and whether this is unto my salvation or judgment depends on the degree to which I have allowed God to love them through me.

Although the Resurrection is stressed at every Sunday liturgy, the Paschal ser-vice is, of course, unique in its content. One of the distinctive texts of the service is the Paschal Verses, in which we hear:

This is the day of Resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast. Let us em-brace each other. Let us call “brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the Resurrection.

There are probably various ways to understand the meaning of these verses, but in the context of this paper, we see Christ’s Resurrection being the motivator and the means by which we forgive. The power that raised the Lord from death is more than strong enough to raise us from our grave of anger and bitterness. In addition, Christ’s Resurrection was the event that lay the foundation for Ascension and Pentecost. All three of these feasts stress the intermingling of humanity and divinity. In forgiving an offender, that intermingling continues: our limited and fallen humanity becomes the expression of God’s powerful Kingdom of Love here on earth. Not only can we forgive all by the Resurrection, but in forgiving we bring the Resurrection to fruition again and again.

Metropolitan Kallistos has presented a beautiful and thorough exposition of another key Orthodox liturgical event related to forgiveness: Forgiveness Sunday. This capstone of the season of Lenten preparation provides a unique opportunity to usher more of God’s Kingdom into this world. His Eminence has described the process and background of this service. Therefore, here we will add only a few notes on some research that substantiates parishioners’ experience of Forgiveness Sunday, demonstrating the helpfulness of this ritual in the struggle to forgive. Gassin and Sawchak surveyed 178 persons online about the meaning and effect of the Vespers service that contains the forgiveness ritual. Most persons responded positively about the ritual. The most common themes included bringing one’s own psychological experience into conformity with the ritual and other Lenten practices, further development of identity as an Orthodox Christian, and sensing stronger ties to the parish community. A follow-up study involving more detailed interviews with six other Orthodox Christians confirmed many of the themes mentioned by the larger sample. These interviews revealed new emphases as well, such as using the ritual as a moral and spiritual learning experience for the younger generation. As Metropolitan Kallistos noted, however, not all react positively to the ritual. The occasional respondent in both studies noted the forgiveness ritual seemed empty, frustrating, or even scary, suggesting that clergy and other religious educators may need to incorporate more education about forgiveness and the ritual into pre-Lenten preparation, so that all parishioners may come to understand the beauty of offering and receiving mercy. Despite the occasional negative comment, the large majority of responses in the study were positive and theologically astute. This suggests that most people derive some sense of progressing on the path of salvation via the ritual, which in turn provides some evidence from psychological research that forgiveness can be a pathway through which God’s Kingdom comes “here on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Other Helps Within and Beyond Orthodoxy: Aside from participating in the sacraments and praying the liturgical texts during services, other aspects of the Orthodox tradition can also assist in one’s forgiveness journey. For example, reading the lives of saints can inspire with their rich examples of persons who were treated unfairly and yet forgave. The life of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr of Russia serves as an example. Soon after her husband was murdered, St. Elizabeth visited the assassin to offer her forgiveness. Many, many other holy people followed Christ’s example of forgiving His persecutors, and their stories are abundantly available to us, urging us on in running the race of mercy.

Prayer can also be a key part of the struggle to forgive. Aside from the liturgical prayers mentioned above, prayer at home can be crucial. Some prayers books, such as St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press’ Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, include prayers for enemies and prayers for the eradication of anger. Because humility appears to foster forgiveness of others, prayers that entreat God to grant us humility may also be useful in helping us to forgive. These include, but are not limited to, the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian and the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. Both are read during Great Lent, but they may be read at other times as well. Asking the inter-cessions of saints who have been models of forgiveness, and entreating the help of one’s guardian angel in warding off angry thoughts, also can be of benefit. The one striving to forgive may also read prayers for the health of an offender, or for their repose, if the offender is already dead. In doing so, one seeks to extend God’s mercy towards the offender, creating that “trinity” of God, self, and other, united in love.

The Orthodox individual striving to forgive may also find it helpful to attend to the persons and events portrayed in the iconography around him at home and church, realizing that just as he stands before these icons as a sinful person, so might the offender. For example, if one has an icon of Christ Pantocrator in the icon corner at home, she stands before that icon with a wounded soul, just as her offender might. If, at church, there is an icon of Christ’s Descent into Hell, it is worth considering that not only would Christ be there to rescue her, but also to rescue the offender. Such meditations before the icons may help to view the offender from a divine perspective and, paradoxically, promote a sense of kinship with the offender as a fellow human being. This, in turn, can stimulate compassion for the other.

Orthodox Christians may also make use of books on forgiveness written by psychologists. The most recent example of such material is The Forgiving Life, written by Robert Enright and published by the American Psychological Association. While we can recommend The Forgiving Life, the Orthodox Christian should be aware that authors of some books about forgiveness distort the concept and/or suggest thoughts and behaviors that do not dovetail with a Christian perspective. It is wise, then, to use these materials under the guidance of a spiritual father or with a trusted and mature spiritual friend.

Conclusion: The Christian tradition as a whole places a special emphasis on forgiving offenders as a way of living a Christ-like life. Within that general tradition, specific churches offer their own slant on the particulars of the forgiveness process. Eastern Orthodox Christianity’s emphases on the relationships within the Holy Trinity and on theosis of the faithful creates a perspective on forgiveness that may differ somewhat from other theological models. In addition, the monastic tradition, with its close attention to the development of the Christian’s soul, adds to our understanding of how one travels the path of interpersonal mercy. Finally, some aspects of the Orthodox liturgical tradition offer unique insights into forgiveness and opportunities to practice it on the deepest level. To draw on another key Biblical idea for Orthodox Christians, few endeavors can help us become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) like the salvific path of extending God’s forgiveness to one who has hurt us.   IC

(We thank Archimandrite Vladimir (Wendling) for reviewing this article. Any errors remain ours. –Authors)

Professor Gassin teaches at Olivet Nazarene University. Professor Enright teaches at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Both are part of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. In Madison. Wi. A copy of this article with footnotes and references may be requested by writing to [email protected].

* Ed. note: perichoresis is a term that means “to move around” or “to dance” and is developed by several Fathers in describing the “in and around and through” relationship between the Persons of the Trinity and sometimes to us in our relationship to God, as in “we are in Christ.” The English theological terms are “interpenetration” and “circumincession.” This has been referred to as the “Divine Dance.” This is most fully developed by St. John of Damascus.

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

For the Peace From Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism

51gV5M+Pk4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_For the Peace From Above:
An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism

edited by Fr. Hildo Bos and Jim Forest

The online version of the book is made from the first edition, published in Poland by Syndesmos in 1999. A much-expanded second edition (see below) has now been published by the Orthodox Research Institute.

Click here to view the table of Contents

The contents of the online first edition of the Resource Book may be reproduced freely, with reference to the source: For the Peace From Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism (1999 edition: Orthodox Peace Fellowship/Syndesmos Books).

* * *

Regarding the new edition:

The Orthodox Research Institute
ISBN: 978-1-933275-56-7
$24.95 plus hipping and handling (USD)

For the Peace from Above is a unique resource tool offering a wealth of information:

  • reference texts from Scripture, Church canons, the Fathers, liturgical texts and contemporary authors
  • official Orthodox Church statements on racism, nationalism and on specific wars
  • essays by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemeos, Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Bishop Irenaeus of Backa, Olivier Clément, Fr. Sergi Tchetverikoff, and many other authors
  • clear and challenging definitions from dictionaries, Fathers of the Church and contemporary authors
  • study tools for workshops and group activities

Table of contents:

Introduction — iii
Chapter One: Defining Terms — 1
Chapter Two: Reference Texts from Holy Scripture — 15
Chapter Three: Canonical and Synodical Reference Texts — 43
Case Study 1: The Definition of Religious Nationalism (Ethno-Phyletism) — 69
Case Study 2: The 1986 Chambésy statement — 73
Case Study 3: Church, Nation and State — 88
Chapter Four: Reference Texts from Authors from the Patristic Period 99
Case Study 4: Acts of the Martyrdom of Early Christian Soldiers — 147
Case Study 5: Christian Soldiers in the Roman Army before Constantine — 152
Chapter Five: War, Peace and Nationalism — 155
Case Study 6: Prayer for Peace in the Liturgy — 177
Case Study 7: Commemoration of Warrior Saints — 179
Chapter Six: Reference Texts from Modern Authors — 199
Study 8: Orthodoxy, Culture and Nationalism — 233
Case Study 9: The Serbian Church and Milosevic — 238
Chapter Seven: Various Recent Official Statements — 243
Case Study 10: Orthodox Americans, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and Iraq — 287
Chapter Eight: Essays and Texts — 303
Chapter Nine: Study and Action Guide — 451

The book’s authors or persons quoted at length include:

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Nicholas Berdyaev
Fr. Hildo Bos
Fr. Sergi Bulgakov
Bishop Irenaeus Bulovic of Backa, Serbia
Olivier Clément
John H. Erickson
Jim Forest
Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon
Fr. Lev Gillet
Fr. Stanley S. Harakas
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk
Fr. Thomas Hopko
Anton Kartashov
Vladimir Lossky
Metropolitan Maximus of Sardes
Fr. John McGuckin
Fr. John Meyendor
A. Schmemann
St. Maria Skobtsova
Louis J. Swift
Gregory Trubetzkoy
V. Rev. Dr. Georges Tsetsis
Charles C. West

* * *

To order from the publisher, Orthodox Research Institute:

An Experience of Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue

by Fr. Steven Tsichlis

4305862091_f90292e0acIn September 2000, at the turn of the third millennium, 25 parishioners from St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church and St. John Neumann’s Roman Catholic Church in Irvine, California, began gathering monthly for a Christian book club that has provided an opportunity to pray and study together, to explore our common roots in the first thousand years of Christian history, and to engage in dialogue at a grassroots level.

Led by Eugene O’Toole, the recently retired director of adult ministry from St. John Neumann’s, and myself, pastor of St. Paul’s, these meetings have been a structured attempt to explore a common path for Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians in living more prayerful, Christ-centered and Spirit-filled lives. Each meeting begins with a half hour of prayer, as Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians pray the Psalms and read the Scriptures together while remembering the saints of the first millennium that are shared by both communities. Over the years, the group has included people from many different backgrounds: lay leaders from both traditions; former Roman Catholic religious; converts to Orthodoxy from evangelicalism; parochial school teachers; both Latin and Eastern Rite Catholics; and seekers exploring the wisdom of the ancient Christian faith.

“Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians have spoken to each other more in the past fifty years, since Vatican II, than in the previous 500,” O’Toole commented. “With the symbolic gesture of lifting the mutual excommunications of 1054 by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on December 7, 1965, a new era of dialogue began that has been carried forward by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios, as well as by Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI.”

Over the past decade participants have read more than 80 books. Among them have been modern Catholic writers on the spiritual life like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, Paula Huston and James Martin, and such contemporary Orthodox writers as Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Thomas Hopko, Olivier Clément, Jim Forest and Kyriakos Markides. We have read books by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as well as by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. We have read about St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris, St. Silouan of Mount Athos, St. Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We have read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, The Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure, the anonymously written Way of a Pilgrim, and The Life of St. Anthony the Great by St. Athanasios of Alexandria. We’ve read St. Augustine of Hippo and St. John Chrysostom.

Our effort has borne fruit in a number of ways. First, the two parishes began doing ministry and outreach together. The people of St. Paul’s have gotten involved in the work of Isaiah House, a Catholic Worker house providing shelter for the homeless in Santa Ana. We have hosted a luncheon to provide scholarships to Catholic elementary schools for impoverished children. The people of St. John Neumann have helped raise funds for the building of an Orthodox Church in the Tanzanian village of Kobunshwi by St. Paul’s and also for St. Innocent’s Orphanage, an Orthodox ministry for homeless boys outside Tijuana, Mexico.

Second, participants have come to recognize the shared roots both traditions have in the first millennium. Jim Cordes, a longtime participant in the program from St. John Neumann, said, “I didn’t realize how similar we are in our practice of Christianity. I’ve come to realize that in so many ways we are more similar to one another than we are different.” And Dorothea Love, a member of St. Paul’s, added “I’ve had a deep respect for the Roman Catholic faith all my life and as a result of this class my respect and love have only increased. Many of us have been together now for ten years, since the beginning of our study, and we share the love of Christ as brothers and sisters, truly respecting and caring for one another.”

Third, in looking more deeply at one another’s histories, Roman Catholics have learned of the many challenges that Orthodox Christians have faced practicing their faith in Muslim countries and the terrible persecution of the Church during most of the twentieth century under Communism; and Orthodox Christians have learned more about the history of Roman Catholicism and the effects of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation on Roman Catholic life, history and thought, as well as the history of western Europe and America.

The books we read together have “given me a heightened awareness of how shallow my prayer life was and that I needed to make my relationship with Christ a deeper one,” said Ms. Love. “It’s changed the way I pray and I now spend greater time in study and reading of the Scriptures.”

Doris Wintrode, a Catholic high school teacher, summed up: “We’ve all been enriched by our time together. These years of dialogue have been a true gift.”

Fr. Steven Tsichlis is pastor of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, California; a member of the board of directors of Project Mexico; president of the Archdiocesan Presbyters Council and a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship .

Winter Issue IC 55 2010

Conversations by email: Winter 2009

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]>.

Death of a Patriarch: Patriarch Aleksy II has died. Long live his soul in Heaven! He was a very good patriarch who served as a strong bridge between the die-hard conservatives and far out liberals in the Orthodox Church in Russia. I lived in Russia for some time, and everyone I knew there loved him. He provided strong guidance and solidarity for the Church despite very hard times. He gave support to groups like our Brotherhood to help the poor. He also visited the parish of St. Catherine in Moscow an outpost of the Orthodox Church of America for its annual feast day. He was a true symbol of religious strength and hope for the Russians and for all Orthodox people!

Jim Vail

<[email protected]>

Difficult tasks: The Lord laid on Patriarch Alexei one of the most difficult tasks in the history of the Church in Russia: guiding the church through its transition from Soviet oppression to post-Soviet exploitation. He re-opened Orthodoxy as a real option for everyday Russians though a great many Russians have not yet taken advantage of the door that has been opened for them. Though he was on good terms with the state in a way that distressed many OPF members, he clearly drew the line at state efforts to wipe out the memory of the countless martyrs of Soviet oppression.

We tend to forget that, even in the days of “Holy Russia,” the Russian church always struggled to function in a complicated relationship with a State that was often hostile to her essence, but eager to appropriate her externals for its own ends. Peter and Katherine “the Great” were for the most part enemies of the Church, though of course they didn’t object to having all the panoply of the Church at their weddings and coronations. The Church in the Putin era is working in pretty familiar territory.

As the Russian Church in the dark days of the Synodal era produced many saints, I don’t doubt that Patriarch Alexei’s tormented church will do likewise. Has the Orthodox Church living “freely” in the West done better?

John Brady

<[email protected]>

In memoriam: Today, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrated a Pannikhida for a remarkable hierarch. The measure of the life of His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II is difficult to assess. During the Communist era he led his Diocese and then his Archdiocese in a manner that he could truly say “by faith we passed through the Red Sea.” The Russian people by the tens of thousands were willing to hazard and even to give up their lives for the name of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. How many of us would do the same? This is a people who have proved themselves in the fire and who deserve the respect and reverence of all.

For a hierarch serving in the Soviet era, maintaining the precarious balance between acceptance and destruction by the Soviet authorities took a heavy emotional and physical toll. On the one hand, the sincere desire to maintain and strengthen the faith, and on the other, the need to soothe the government so it would not destroy every church and imprison every priest, took an enormous amount of faith, courage, diplomacy, and the risk of freedom and life.

Following the collapse of the Soviet regime, the rebuilding task was staggering. How did one get the alienated, often half- destroyed church property returned, and the sites of those churches that were in ruin? The military was still led by generals and high ranking men and women who were products of the Soviet era, many of whom were members of the Communist Party. Formidable though it was, Patriarch Alexei, by patient but unyielding labor, and exquisite diplomacy, managed not only to rebuild churches and monasteries, but to re-institute military and hospital chaplaincies, often in the face of strong objections from the generals and admirals. He led in the restoration of prison ministries, the opening of orphanages and alms-houses supported and operated by the Orthodox Church. Seminaries were rebuilt and flooded with students, monasteries, the very heart of Orthodoxy in every nation, were rebuilt, lands returned, and the monasteries have once again become centers of charitable outreach.

One must acknowledge all those, both clergy and laity, who participated in all this great spiritual rebirth, but we must especially reverence His Holiness. During the Soviet era, he placed himself in the breach and became a moral martyr in balancing the compromises necessary for the physical survival of the Church with both pastoral care for his flock and loyalty to the Gospel. As Patriarch, he was under an even more heavy burden, and after the fall of Communism, he gave the last of his strength and life to the rebuilding and rebirth of the faith in Russia.

Glory and honor to him both in this age and in the age to come. Let his memory be from generation to generation.

Archbishop Lazar

<[email protected]>

The recent OPF conference: At the end of September this year, I took my first trip to the East Coast since I’d visited Maine as a toddler. The purpose was to attend this year’s North American conference of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Since returning to Alaska, I’ve been mulling over what I learned.

Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), a retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America and abbot of the Monastery of All Saints of North America (in British Columbia), gave the keynote address. He spoke delightfully on widely ranging topics from the importance of removing superstition from our religious thought to the challenges Orthodox Christians face in North America today. How could a joyful older monk see so clearly and far outside his monastery? It seemed to me he must have borrowed the eyes of cherubim to have touched on so much so quickly!

The speakers made excellent presentations on peace in the parish, peace in the family, peace through the grieving process, the indispensable element of prayer in finding one’s Christian vocation, the historical role of deaconess as it existed in the early Church and the gradual revival of that office in the Church today, something of the challenges and excitement of work within International Orthodox Christian Charities from a staff member who has worked with IOCC programs in Lebanon, Bosnia, the West Bank, Syria, and Greece.

What I really zeroed in on was Jim Forest’s talk on the history of conscientious objection in the Church, especially the witness of many saints, including soldiers, who refused to kill. Having come from a family of soldiers and belonging to a fairly warlike nation, it has been a challenge to wrap my mind around this topic. [Jim’s text is available on the In Communion web site: http: //incommunion.org/?p=404.]

He asked the question, “Am I first of all a member of the nation into which I happened to be born? Or am I first of all a member of the Body of Christ into which I was baptized? If the state orders me to act in one way and the Gospel in another, which has priority? Am I even capable of recognizing that there might be a conflict between God and country?”

Following my return from the conference, I found two complementary resources. Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “Church and State” podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio present a summary of Church history that adds context to the canons and statements of the saints. If I am asked to describe what am I like, my answer should be the question, “When?” This is true of the Church, as well. Not only have I been different during different periods of my life (because of what I’ve learned, where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, and how I have or haven’t allowed God to work in my life), but our world has changed dramatically due to the influence of nations, politics, and ideologies although, I should add, under the influence of “principalities, powers, and rulers.”

The second resource was Frank Schaeffer’s new book, Crazy for God, in which Schaeffer describes how he “grew up as one of the elect, helped found the religious right, and lived to take all (or almost all) of it back.” He wrestles with abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, deadly force, and war, following what could be called the humiliation of his “Nebuchadnezzar period.” (Many of us, myself included, have had them.) “I want to be in a society,” he writes, “that values human life, because I am human, and far from perfect, and I want to be valued.”

Me, too and my neighbor as myself. That’s what I brought home with me.

Sally Eckert

<[email protected]>

Regarding Constantine: In studying St. Constantine’s life, it’s hard work trying to find where the reality of his life ends and legend takes over. There are many questions regarding him that will not be confidently answered in this life. Did he, as Eusebius writes, have a vision of the Chi Rho before his battle with Maxentius on the Milvian Bridge? How profound was his conversion to Christianity? While he saw himself as another Apostle, why was he not baptized until he was dying? Was he canonized for leading an exemplary Christian life? Or in gratitude for his ending the persecution of Christianity? How did he, a general, regard the Christian condemnation of bloodshed?

As for the assertion that there were Christians in the army before the age of Constantine and therefore military service has never been a problem for authentic Christianity of course there were Christians in the army. Few volunteered for army service. A great many came to it by birth. If your father was a soldier, you became a soldier. Nor could anyone walk up to the commanding officer and say, “I’ve been thinking about it and realize being a soldier isn’t for me. Goodbye.” Nor did one leave after several years of service, as is the case in the modern world. You remained in the army until you were too old or too damaged to be of use. If you were converted to Christianity while in the army, as for example St. Martin of Tours was, you were in a tight spot. The Church accepted converts within the army but called on them not to kill. St. Martin was very fortunate to at last be given a special discharge by the emperor himself. (It was only afterward that he was baptized.)

Very few were so fortunate. All they could hope for was that their duty would be what we might think of as police work.

For those converted to Christianity, being in the army was a challenge in many ways. The army was a notoriously vicious institution apart from war, there was a lot of drinking, a lot of whoring, a lot of brutality.

Jim Forest

<[email protected]>

Protecting life: While we often stress our religious grounds for protecting life, a perfectly good secular reason for preserving other human beings is that we don’t wish to be murdered by the state or a mob for some purpose perceived useful by the ruling class or the mob.

Having seen many people murdered for being successful (the kulaks of Ukraine, the entrepreneurs of Shanghai) or being of an unfavored group (Jews in the Holocaust, Chinese in pogroms in Indonesia, anyone wearing glasses in revolutionary Cambodia), or being mentally or physically “unfit” (disabled war veterans and the mentally retarded in the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Germany), we have good reason to wish to protect all those of our species, since anything that reduces the moral standing of other members of the species reduces the moral standing of ourselves.

I can lose my intelligence or mobility pretty easily in an accident. I don’t want someone to decide that I have “a life not worth living” and kill me whether out of malice or misguided compassion.

We should do all we can do make it very hard to kill another member of our species.

Our own lives may depend on it.

Daniel Lieuwen

<[email protected]>

Personal conviction: Pacifism is a personal conviction that cannot be forced on others. We must respect those who disagree with us on principle. As a soldier, when I was taking my case to the Army as a conscientious objector, I was in Germany. I had no English-speaking support and I didn’t speak German. All of my family, friends, and church fellows opposed me. For years, I had opposed the very position I had come to. I could not disrespect my critics. In fact, the greatest challenge to my pacifism is the complete lack of an answer to the question, “So, nonviolence is right and moral; what do we tell the people when evil comes against them?” We have no right to take away the right to others’ self-defense. Therefore, while I do not “support the use of force,” I understand it and support the right to self-defense. In answer to the impossible dilemma of the intruder caught in my house late at night with a gun while my family sleeps, I believe it would be a failure to kill him. I would attempt other means of self-defense and escape. If that were impossible and in the fear and speed with which these things play out, they usually are I may kill him. I would consider that a tragic loss and something that would not be laudable but understandable and defensible as an unfortunate necessity. Therefore, killing in self-defense or in defense of others, in my view, is less a right or duty than an unfortunate necessity or inescapable lesser evil. There is mercy for such things, and I think God pardons us for those tragic choices forced on us in a fallen world. As a result, I think that those who accept the duty to defend their country with war are not bad.

Pieter Dykhorst

<[email protected]>

Refusing to follow: We are often ordered to do things we think are wrong. Perhaps the best answer is to just not follow. Leaders only induce action in those who follow through either a sense of duty or honor, or agreement with the action, or belief in the judgment of the leader, allegiance to party, among a myriad of other things.

So if we don’t follow, they can’t lead.

But this comes with a price. We risk everything, including our lives. In offering himself for us, Christ sent a message to those in the world: He would not follow. If we are to be like Christ, our allegiance and duty must be to him alone.

It’s simplistic, I know. Our duty isn’t to kill, but to convert to get “them” to change their mind. If you can’t change the leader’s mind, perhaps we change the follower’s?

In my view it is perfectly acceptable to be selective in which aspects we follow as well. The newly elected president believes in diplomacy and supports abortion. I have no problem supporting him on the former and opposing him on the latter, yet still supporting him.

I also think we have to concern ourselves (and convince others to concern themselves) with our own individual actions. What do I do to support peace? What do I do to love my neighbor? Ultimately I believe I will not be judged on what others do, but what I did. I have to struggle with my temptations others have to struggle with theirs. Most don’t choose to do so, at least not that I can see, including most Christians.

I’m not faced with a choice of being a conscientious objector or not. I’m not tempted by homosexuality, or considering having an abortion. I am, however, tempted by greed, lust, gluttony, hate the list is seemingly endless.

Dn. Marty Watt

<[email protected]>

A child-oriented culture? Over the past few weeks the issue of abortion has been widely discussed by Orthodox and others. I remember when I was raising two children as a single parent, my take-home pay was $40 a week. My rent was $40 a month. The house I rented had three bedrooms. The hidden message was your children are welcome and you won’t feel that they are not. Over the past several decades the policy in the real estate market sought to get as much as people would pay, half or two thirds of their income. This sends the message that your children are not welcome and if you want housing or vacations or any of the good things in life, you had better not have any. I don’t know if this is a cause and effect issue, but I know that our culture is much less welcoming to children. Some say that this is a child-oriented culture. It’s a myth.

Alice Carter

<[email protected]>

Human beings: If we valued human beings little, still-developing ones we would:

* provide healthcare to the mother in the prenatal period, if she couldn’t afford it;

* have (as they do in some other countries) regular visits to the home by professionals who could offer advice, support even respite to young parents (especially first-time parents);

* have reporting requirements on suspected child abuse for all professionals who contact children reports that are actually followed up on;

* strive to have families remain in touch with one another, rather than following the job market or our whims thousands of miles away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins;

* make sure the schools are excellent enough that home schooling would seem unnecessary;

* make schools safe places to be, so that students could just grow and learn, rather than quake in fear.

* I am thinking of a family with a child who has just turned three. While he didn’t quite fit on the autism spectrum, he has needed lots and lots of intervention. At one point, he was going to programs twice a week, therapists were coming into their home twice a week and his mother was doing 20-minute sessions with him eight times a day not to mention what other family members were doing with him. Praise God in the highest! The boy is coming along fine these days, but if he had been born poor… if his mother had been alone… if she had had only a third-grade education… or a drug addiction… or a history of abuse…

Alex Patico

[email protected]

Police brutality: On the first day of this year police employed by the San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit beat and shot an unarmed, cooperative, 22-year-old father named Oscar Grant. Since that time the man who murdered him has been arrested, though he is now released on bail (raised in large part by the police union). There have been many actions calling for justice as well as a strong stand by other police in solidarity with the murdering officer.

Such occurrences are nothing new. They happen all the time. The novelty in this case, and several similar ones, is that they were caught on video and released to the media.

While some sort of justice may occur in the case of Oscar Grant, the rampant harassment and brutality being perpetrated by police is astounding. Seeing these videos seeing a man murdered left me feeling sick to my stomach, especially as it was done at the hands of those who are here to “protect and serve.”

I am both angered and saddened at the lack of humanity shown.

David Costas

<[email protected]>

Trade culture: David, I identify with your traumatic response. It was unbearable to see the video of the killing of Oscar Grant.

I have a close friend who works as a social worker on a police PET (psychiatric emergency team) in Los Angeles and rides along with police officers on their emergency calls. She tells me endless horror stories (and some miraculously gentle ones).

Her advice is “don’t ever let the police into your house if you can help it.”

She observes that the police “trade culture” and the stress they live with makes some of them them trigger-happy dangerous to themselves and others, both physically and emotionally.

It is a terrifying reality, to the extent that we can generalize it. What I would pray for is a fundamental change in training and agency practices. There are already many gifted individuals who understand the flaws in the system and are doing things differently. It is up to us all to generate enough uproar.

Ioana Novac

<[email protected]>

Some years ago I was the provider of the employee assistance program offered by the town nearest to where I live. That meant that I did some counseling with the members of the local police force. Most of the police were decent folks, but there was a small group that clearly had antisocial traits. They had no remorse whatsoever at killing others. They often committed violent acts for which there was no justification whatsoever.

The diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are not accurate. A good argument could be made that they are racist. They insist that a person with APD has a history of criminality, but that is not the case. The overwhelming majority of people with APD have no criminal history whatsoever. But the name of the game for them is power and they will get it at any cost. The people I have in mind have decided that it is to their advantage to work within the system rather than against it. They are to be found in all institutions, not only the police, but also in such professions as the practice of law and higher levels of government, business, the academy, and even the Church.

Then there are also an even greater number of people who have some traits of APD, but not the full blown personality disorder. They might under certain circumstances fall into antisocial behaviors, but it is not their general way of relating to other people. Lots of these folks come out of the woodwork when a war is about to start. They will go on and on about how America is the greatest nation in the world and we just can’t afford to lose that status. Other people have some persisting APD traits but as part of another diagnosis; I am thinking in particular of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in which image is all that matters and genuine relationship is seldom found.

These are tough personality traits to change. The good news is that change is possible. The bad news is that it is possible only under definite conditions. The traits that most counselors excel in compassion, gentleness, compromise will not work with them since they see such traits as weakness to be exploited. They need a morally incorruptible and utterly consistent kind of counseling that is seldom cultivated in clinical practice. It seems to me that rather than trust in therapy, government must take steps to curb the behavior of these folks. In my own town, at least, I have seen that happen within the police force itself.

David Holden

<[email protected]>

Winter 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 52

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The Diaconate in Liturgy and Life.

A Brief History of the Office and Considerations for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Orthodox Church.

by Teva ReguleOrthodox Peace Fellowship ConferenceBaltimore, MD 9/26-28/2008

Εν ειρηνη του κυριου δεηθωμεν (En eirini tou kyriou deithomen)… or in a more literal translation into English, “In the peace of the Lord, let us be in need.” These are the words of the deacon used to begin the “Great” or “Peace” Litany. Peace is an important theme and even a precondition of the Eucharistic celebration. It prepares the Church to offer and receive the Eucharist. At present, we begin the Liturgy with the Litany of Peace by invoking a state of peace commonly translated into English, “In Peace, let us pray to the Lord.” We are to be in peace the state of wholeness and integration within ourselves and with one another. As Bishop Kallistos Ware explains, “we are to banish, from within ourselves, feelings of resentment and hostility toward others: bitterness, rancor, inner grumbling, or divisiveness.” [1] Failure to forgive may be the greatest hindrance to knowing God. Moreover, peace with other believers should have primacy over duties in worship. As Christ commands, “So when you are offering your gift to the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.” [2] The Didache 3 also emphasizes this precondition of the communal sacrament “Let none who has a quarrel with his fellow join you until they be reconciled, so that your sacrifice may be undefiled.” This peace, however, is something that does not come from our own doing but comes only from God “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls ” Finally, this peace is not only inward looking but also looks to embrace all “For the peace of the whole world and for the communion [union] of all.” Peace and unity go together.[5]

In the early Church, this litany was prayed immediately before the Kiss of Peace exchange. The Kiss of Peace signified membership in the communion of believers. It was part of the baptismal rite and the reception of converts into the faith. It was further included by the Apostolic Constitutions [6] in the form of the Prayer for the Faithful ” and let the deacon [emphasis mine] say to all, salute one another with the holy kiss ” According to the noted liturgical historian, Hugh Wybrew, “The Kiss unites the worshippers among themselves, and so enables them to be united with the One, for union with God is impossible for those who are divided among themselves.” [8] This unity allows the congregation to not only confess the Trinity as “one in essence and undivided” in the Creed whose recitation usually follows the exchange of the Kiss, but reflect it. As Bishop Kallistos explains, “We are made in the image of God, we are made in the image of God the Holy Trinity; and the Holy Trinity signifies mutual love. If we are made in the image of the Trinity, that means we are made to love one another. “[9]

The Church is in the world to serve the community, to draw us closer to God and one another. The link between liturgy and service is crucial to what it means to gather as Church in worship. Liturgically, as we have seen, it is the deacon’s function to bring the people together and unite them in corporate prayer. It is in our service to the other that we are united with them. Our service to the other brings them with us to worship.

* * *

(The following remarks are part of a more in-depth presentation on the topic, including a history of the order and an examination of its restoration (male and, in many cases, female) within different faith traditions.)

The Diaconate A Brief History

A. Biblical Times The Church’s ministry, modeled after Christ’s example, grew out of the needs of the community. In the early Church, the Hellenists complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The Apostles realized that they could not attend to both the word of God and serve “tables.” [10] According to the account in Acts (Acts 6:1-6), they sought out “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task.” [11] This has commonly marked the beginning of a differentiated ministry, and as Mary Truesdell, a Deaconess in the Episcopal Church, states in her article, The Office of the Deaconess, “has always been taken by the Church as the embryonic beginning of the office of the deacon.” [12] ————-

The first place where we find the word “deacon” used as a title is in Romans. St. Paul writing to the Romans says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon (diakonon) of the church at Cenchreae ” Although some have argued that this passage only refers to Phoebe as a “helper,” Dr. Kyriaki FitzGerald in her article, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess,”cites the works of Origen and Chrysostom to show that patristic tradition upholds Phoebe’s position as a deaconess. (In addition, Phoebe is referenced in the second ordination prayer of the female deacon in the Byzantine Rite.

Master and Lord, You do not reject women who offer themselves, and by divine counsel, to minister as is fitting to your holy houses, but you accept them in the order of ministers. Give the grace of your Holy Spirit to this servant of Yours also, who wishes to offer herself to you, and to accomplish the grace of the diaconate, as You gave the grace of Your diaconate to Phoebe, whom you called to the work of the ministry. 15 )

B. Early Church We have evidence of the existence of deaconesses and deacons in the early Church as well. In a secular text, one of the letters from Pliny, Governor of Bithynia, to Trajan (112AD), he asks for guidance on how to handle the Christian sect, writing that he had to place “two women called ‘deaconesses’ under torture.” In addition, we have evidence of the existence of the male and female deacon and a general understanding of the functions of each from early church documents. We know that each was answerable to the bishop. While the male deacons ministered to men, the female deacons ministered to women. Moreover, each also had a liturgical role, although there is disagreement as to their precise functions. This parallelism can be seen in the Apostolic Constitutions passage that outlines the character of the deacon,

Let the deacons be in all things unspotted, as the bishop himself is to be, only more active; that they may minister to the infirm . And let the deaconess be diligent in taking care of the women; but both of them ready to carry messages, to travel about, to minister, and to serve [17]

This reflects an earlier understanding of the functions of the office found in the Didascalia Apostolorum. [18 ]The Didascalia contains sections on the character of the deaconess, and her ministry of assisting in the baptism of women and instruction of women converts. In addition, it contains sections for both the deacon and deaconess advising each to care for the people and to work closely with the Bishop. [19] C. Byzantine Period During the Byzantine period, the diaconal office in the east, especially that of women, flourished. This can be see by the number of women deacon saints on the liturgical calendar, including Sts. Macrina, the sister of Sts. Gregory and Basil (July 19), Nonna, the wife of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (August 5), Olympias, close friend and confidant of John Chrysostom (July 25), Xenia “the merciful” (Jan 24-5th c.), and Irene of Chrysovalantou (July 28-late 9th/early 10th c.) [20] In addition, we have descriptions of the makeup of the clergy serving during the Liturgy at Hagia Sophia which included “forty deaconesses.” [21]

During this time, the male diaconate in the East also grew in prominence. They held high positions in church governance, including participating in the Ecumenical councils (e.g. Athanasius of Alexandria was a deacon and secretary for his bishop at the Council of Nicaea in 325). They also served as emissaries and ambassadors of the episopal seat in diplomatic matters. Moreover, they were administers of church-run homes for the poor and widows, orphanages, and hospitals. [22]

D. Decline of the Order in the East The order of the female diaconate began to decline sometime after the twelfth century. By this time, there were fewer adult baptisms so female deacons were no longer needed at initiation. In addition, in late Byzantium the rise of influence of Levitical rules, especially those regarding women, led to the perception that the shedding of blood made a woman “unclean” and therefore, unable to enter the sanctuary or participate in the liturgical life of the Church. It should be noted that this is in direct contradiction to the understanding of ‘uncleanness’ found in the Didascalia Apostolorum and the Apostolic Constitutions. Chapter 26 of the Didascalia admonishes Christians to abandon the rabbinical rules of ‘uncleanness.’

[Are they de-]void of the Holy Spirit.[?] For through baptism they receive the Holy Spirit, who is ever with those that work righteousness, and does not [emphasis mine] depart from them by reason of natural issues and the intercourse of marriage, but is ever and always with those who possess Him [23]

It goes on to explicitly state that the Holy Spirit remains with a woman during her monthly period and that giving into Rabbinical taboos and rules opens the way for the wrong spirit. [24] The Apostolic Constitutions extends this emphasis,

For neither the lawful mixture [=intercourse], nor childbearing, nor the menstrual purgation, nor noctural pollution can defile the nature of a [person], or separate the Holy Spirit from him .but only impiety towards God, and transgression, and injustice towards one’s neighbor [25]

With the rise of Islam and the subsequent fall of the Eastern part of the Roman empire to the Ottomans, the Church turned inward. It could no longer participate in many of the philanthropic aspects of its ministry. Moreover, many of the traditional duties of the male deacon were being assumed by the priest and by the growing number of those in the so-called “minor orders.” This led to the position of the diaconate being perceived as more of a “transitional” one, on the way to being ordained a presbyter. Although the male deacon retained his role in the liturgical assembly, the office had devolved greatly. Unfortunately, this is what typically remains of the order in the East today.

Modern Renewal of the Office

A. Western Churches

In modern times, the diaconate has experienced a renewal and rejuvenation, most notably (and somewhat ironically) in the Western Christian churches. While this movement is due mostly to the needs of the local churches, it is instructive to us, as Orthodox Christians, to realize that the theological reasoning and justification for a re-institution of the order came from careful study of the Early Church, primarily its expression in the East. In the interests of time, I will only highlight one western faith tradition, the Anglican/Episcopal Church. (I want to emphasize that I am only speaking of the diaconate, and not ordination to the presbytery or episcopacy.)

Example: The Anglican/ Episcopal Church

As early as the 17th century, the Anglican/Episcopal Church blessed a form of ministry for women that focused on caring for the sick, the poor and needy, women and children. This was the beginning of the reinstitution of the office of the diaconate, a process that spanned over three hundred years. It was a juxtaposition of women filling the various ministerial needs of the Church and a growing understanding of the theological underpinnings of the order.

It wasn’t until 1968 that the ordained, permanent diaconate in the Episcopal Church, for both women and men, was finally restored. The deaconess was now considered to be within the ranks of the higher clergy, specifically within the diaconate. In addition, the male diaconate was no longer solely a transitional office to the priesthood but, could be a permanent, vocational office. The intention was to restore “the ancient, full, and equal order of ministry based on the call to imitate Christ in service to the poor and the needy.”[26]

In many ways, the years of ministry of the deaconess provided a model for the restoration of the fully ordained, permanent diaconate for men and women. The deacon’s duties continue to include serving directly under the bishop and helping to carry out the bishop’s ministry. She or he also functions within the ministries of liturgy, word, and charity, particularly the ministries among the poor, sick, and oppressed.[27]

Since its reinstitution, the number of deacons has nearly doubled. According to Dr. Thomas Ferguson, former faculty member at the Episcopal School for Deacons [who received his ThM from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology], “The current renaissance of the diaconate is part of the church’s recovering its own sense of diakonia, of being called and sent into the world to serve.” [28] This rejuvenation has been instrumental in helping all baptized Christians within the Episcopal Church to live out their “Baptismal Covenant,” especially as reflected in the last two questions asked at the time of baptism:

a) Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? b) Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? [29]

In summary, according to the North American Association for the Diaconate, “The diaconate of the Anglican churches is an historic order, with roots in the ancient church, adapting to the needs of the church and the world in our own age. It is a gift from God for the nurture of God’s people and the proclamation of God’s gospel.”[30]

Eastern Orthodox Church

Although the diaconate in the Eastern Orthodox Church has remained an active ministry since apostolic times, its scope and function have greatly diminished since the fall of Byzantium. The male diaconate generally functions solely in the liturgical realm and, oftentimes, has become just a transitional stage to ordination to the presbytery. The female diaconate has virtually disappeared. It is my hope that the Church will someday not only restore the ordained female diaconate, but revitalize the office, encouraging women to serve within the community and the Liturgy as Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, a noted French Orthodox theologian (of blessed memory), and others have said, in the “context of the culture and present requirements of the day.” [31]

There have been numerous attempts for over one-hundred and fifty years to reinstitute the female diaconate. As early as 1855, the sister of Czar Nicholas I tried to restore the office. Other prominent Russians also lobbied for its restoration, including Alexsandr Gumilevsky and Mother Catherine (Countess Efimovsky). According to numerous sources, in 1905-06, several bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans of the Russian Orthodox Church encouraged the effort. According to a report on the Consultation of Orthodox Women in Agapia in 1976, this issue was to be a major topic at the Council of the Russian Church beginning in 1917, but due to the political turmoil in Russia at the time, the council’s work was not addressed.[33] (It should be noted that other items on the agenda included adopting the use of the vernacular in the liturgical services and the reinstitution of the married episcopacy.)

Other efforts were made in Greece. On Pentecost Sunday in 1911, Archbishop (now, Saint) Nektarios ordained a nun to the diaconate to serve the needs of the monastery. A few years later, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Athens appointed “monastic ‘deaconesses’ who were nuns actually appointed to the subdiaconate.” [34]

More recently, the issue has been discussed at the international conferences for Orthodox women in Agapia, Romania (1976 at which its restoration was unanimously recommended), Sophia, Bulgaria (1987), Rhodes, Greece (1988), Crete (1990), Damascus, Syria (1996) and Istanbul (1997). Furthermore, in July of 2000, after over a year of careful review of the subject, a formal letter was sent to the Ecumenical Patriarch by more than a dozen members of the Orthodox community in Paris, including such noted Orthodox theologians as Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy, Olivier Clément, and Nicolas Lossky. The letter traces the history of the female diaconate and notes that the Patriarch himself has stated that there is “no obstacle in canon law [that] stands in the way of the ordination of women to the diaconate. This institution of the early Church deserves to be revitalized.” [35] It also states that the order should “involve more than a simple and archaeological reconstitution of the ancient ministry of the deaconesses it is a question of its revitalization, in other words of its realization in the context of the culture and requirements of the present day.” [36]

What would the deaconess do in the Church today? The question is generally preceded by the acknowledgement that the ancient deaconess assisted in the baptism of women, etc. It is oftentimes assumed that since we no longer have many adult baptisms (infant baptism being the norm) that we no longer need deaconesses. (Although a simplistic analogy, it is interesting that the same question is not asked of the male diaconate. i.e. Since we no longer need ‘table servers’ at the Eucharist, a function of the biblical diaconate, why do we need male deacons?) This issue has been discussed within Orthodox circles as well. According to the report of the Crete consultation (1990), a deacon or deaconess could

lead people in prayer, give spiritual counsel, distribute Holy Communion where possible. [In addition] The renewal of the diaconate for both men and women would meet many of the needs of the Church in a changing world catechetical work pastoral relations serving the same needs for monastic communities without a presbyter reading prayers for special occasions, performing social work pastoral care engaging in youth and college ministry counseling anointing the infirm carrying out missionary work ministering to the sick, assisting the bishop or presbyter in the liturgical services . [37]

The report concludes that a creative restoration of the diaconate for women, could lead in turn to the renewal in the diaconate for men as well. [38]

Considerations for a Reinstituted Female Deaconate.

A) The Liturgical Role of the Female Deacon.

When discussing the reinstitution of the female diaconate, the question of her liturgical role, including her service within the altar area, often arises. (It is my opinion, if this question were settled, we would currently have women deacons in the Orthodox Church.) According to the First Apology of Justin the Martyr (~150 AD), the ministry of the deacon was expressed in the liturgical celebration of the gathered Eucharistic assembly,

reading the gospel, leading the intercessions of the people, receiving the gifts of the people and ‘setting the table’ for the meal, serving the Eucharistic meal .[Moreover] the social service carried on by the deacons seems to be been rooted in the liturgical celebration. [39]

As we have seen, the link between liturgy and service is crucial not only to the office of the diaconate, but to our understanding of what it means to gather as Church in worship. It is in our service to the other that we are united with them. Our service to the other brings them with us to worship. We are their visible representatives. Although the liturgy enables us to encounter God in a variety of ways and at differing levels, allowing us to experience a “taste of the Kingdom,” we must always remember that we are not fully, as yet, in the eschaton [end times]. We live in the here and now and are called to draw all closer to God. In my opinion, it is a distortion of the office to have the male deacon serve only during the liturgy, but not within the community, and conversely, to have a future female deacon serve within the community, but not during the liturgy. As Dr. FitzGerald says in her book, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church,

It is important to remember that in the past women deacons did have important responsibilities in the Eucharist assembly as well as in the administration of baptism, in praying with and for those in need, and in bringing Holy Communion to those unable to attend the Eucharist. Today, these expressions of ministry can certainly continue. At the same time, we also need to examine how women deacons can participate in the Eucharist and other liturgical services in a manner which is expressive of the living Tradition of the Church and which is not defined by cultural norms of another time. [40]

B) The Need. But do we really need a rejuvenated diaconate and in particular, a restored female diaconate? To help answer this question, it is instructive to understand the responsibilities of a typical parish priest. Fr. Alexander Garklavs outlined a number of functions expected of today’s parish priest in his presentation at the 2004 Pastoral Conference held at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in June of 2004. In additional to all the liturgical duties of the priest (Sunday and any daily liturgical services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.), he enumerates some of the priest’s responsibilities in parish life in America:

Pastoral visitations, educational work, Bible study, adult study, youth work, teen work, working with choirs and choir directors, marriage preparation, marital counseling, visiting shut-ins, grief counseling, [hospital visits], office work, preparing and printing bulletins and schedules, parish mailing, aspects of parish administration: parish council meetings, budgets, agendas, PR, building committees, sunshine committees, yard work, etc. [41]

As far back as 1953, Archbishop Michael of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America realized that there is so much to do in each community that the

endeavors of these priests alone do not suffice. For should the priest wish to know, as he must his spiritual children by name, their problems, and their spiritual and moral needs, this would certainly be beyond his physical and spiritual resources. These tremendous needs of the Greek Orthodox Church in America has urged us to make a fervent appeal such as this to our daughters-in-Christ, With the future welfare of our Church and membership at heart, we are considering the establishment in this country of an order of deaconess. [42]

Clearly, a rejuvenated diaconate, a ministry that has service as its primary focus, is necessary in our Church today. No one person can fill all the duties necessary for the buildingup of the Body of Christ, the Church. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Each of us has been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The diaconate is not merely a “stepping stone” to higher orders. It is, as Dr. FitzGerald explains, “a full and parallel order of ordained ministry to which both men and women are called by God.” [44]

C) Is an ordained ministry necessary? It is an unfortunate effect of clericalism that lay participation in our churches varies widely. This is especially true of the participation of women. The range of women’s participation in the life of the Church can vary from diocese to diocese and even from parish to parish within each diocese. Still, many laywomen are already doing diaconal work in our parishes. Is ordination, then, necessary? What does an “ordination” mean? To begin to answer these questions, it is important to remember that we are all called to ministry within the Body of Christ. Each of us is called to minister to others in our daily lives we are all expected to teach others, especially those in our care; to be able to perform CPR on our neighbor, if necessary, for example. And yet, we set apart certain people to do such tasks on a professional basis. Unlike us, they must be trained in their profession and pass exams before we, as a society, confer a designation on them as “teacher” or “medical professional.” Likewise, throughout history the Church has “set apart” those “consecrated for service.” There are theological reasons for blessing someone in ministry.

[First,] Those who are set aside for ministry have the authority of the Church but they are also integrated into and accountable to the Church. [There are no “loose wheels.” This is a reciprocal relationship. The Church is also accountable to them by providing support and preparation for carrying out diaconal ministries in its name.] [Second,] Setting aside a person by the Church is a way to affirm the fact that we, as a Church, are members of one another[and Third,] We believe that it is by the grace of the Holy Spirit that spiritual and pastoral gifts are enlivened. [45]

Moreover, an ordination by the bishop who is the guarantor of the unity of the faith, is universal in scope. The authority of the bishop is rooted in Jesus Christ and it is Christ who confers it by the Holy Spirit through the act of ordination.[46] As Dr. FitzGerald acknowledges, “Ordination is not a right or a possession of anyone. Rather, it is a profound acknowledgement, by the Church, of God’s action in the life of a particular person who is called to serve Him and His Church in a distinctive and public manner.” [47] It is an action that is beyond temporality, connecting us with those that have gone before us and those that have yet to live. It is a connection to the Church past, present, and future.

Meeting the Orthodox Deaconess in the 21st century.

The Church is blessed to have a number of laywomen working in diaconal roles already, including pastoral assistants, chaplains, ecclesiarchs, and monastics. Through conversations and reflection, I have collected some of their experiences. I would like to now share them with you now. (Most of the reflections below are verbatim accounts of their experiences. In some cases, I have contextualized their comments for clarity.) Reflections of a Chaplain The first time I was scheduled to serve over night as an on-call chaplain, I received a page at 5 am. I groggily called the Intensive Care Unit, and spoke to a nurse who requested that I visit an anxious, weeping patient who would be undergoing surgery later that morning. I was told that the patient, “Andrew” was Orthodox Jewish. The nurse said that Andrea had a tracheotomy, and therefore could not speak. I entered the small ICU, which was silent but for the beeping ventilator and monitors. I introduced myself to Andrew, a 50-year old man with a scraggly beard and dark eyes. I told him that I would be happy to sit with him in this time of anxiety, and pray with him if he desired. “I understand you are Jewish,” I said, thinking that I might try to locate his rabbi if he had specific religious needs. He shook his head, and began awkwardly attempting to cross himself in an Orthodox manner. “Oh!”, I said, “You’re Orthodox!” Apparently, he had been misunderstood. “Actually, so am I!”, I said. His eyes registered surprise and joy, and he began crying calmer, gentler tears. He took a pad and wrote in large, shaky letters, “I am Orthodox. I am scared.” I put my hand on his shoulder and consoled him, and after a short conversation (via the notepad) about his surgery and his fears, I offered to pray for him. I taped an icon of the Resurrection on the wall across from his bed, and standing beside him, chanted the Trisagion prayers and a Psalm. Andrew became visibly calmer; a sense of peace came over his face. He left for surgery, trusting in God’s protection. I did not see Andrew again, but I believe that God led me to him on that early morning, to ease his fears and to refocus his heart on God’s loving presence in a time of suffering.

[Now, how much more complete would this story have been if the “deaconess” could have brought communion to the afflicted and ailing?]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant

It is Pentecost and I am to give my sermon. I am nervous but excited to be speaking about the Descent of the Holy Spirit! When I preach or teach, I know I am doing what I love, doing what I am called to do. I get to use my passions and gifts in a way that benefits the community I love.

[There seems to be no better ministry than to be able to use one’s gifts (on a universal basis) for the community that one loves.]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant

I am tired. I have just finished a long day at work and am drained. I have to lead the adult Bible Study tonight. I go to the chapel to collect my thoughts. We are reading and studying a passage from Matthew today. I ask God to give me the words. I read the passage slowly aloud. During the bible study, I am surprised at the profoundness of the words that come out of my mouth. I am energized and enlivened as are those around me. It is getting late so we wrap it up. I am totally exhausted when I get home but filled with the Spirit.

[As a “deaconess” she could read and preach not just for the small group in the Bible Study, but for all in the liturgical assembly.]

Reflections of an Ecclesiarch

I am directing students in the preparation of the chapel. We are approaching Holy Week. I need to be aware of all the liturgical order of the services, the rubrics, the chanting I put on my robe in the vestry and notice how the bishop is getting dressed, something I have never seen before. I explain part of the Proscomedia service to a young seminarian. I have always enjoyed the teaching part of this job. At first, some of the guys were “a little leary” of a woman doing this job. After all, I am not only a woman, but a convert. But, it has been a transformative process for all of us. Now, when challenged, they come to my defense, “of course she should do it, she knows what she is doing.” [It is important in our ministry as “deaconesses” to not only earn the authority, but have others recognize it.]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant.

I am helping Father with the Bridegroom services during Holy Week. At this particular service none of the altar servers are available. Father quickly motions for me to go into the altar and get one of the candles for the procession. I don’t know whether I wanted to be an altar server growing up or not. Now, here I was carrying the candle in the procession. Such a simple thing Somehow, I knew exactly what to do. It was a great honor. To be able to serve and be more fully integrated into the worship service gave me a connection to the liturgy of the Church in a way that I had never experienced before. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience the liturgy this way.

[Perhaps, our daughters will get that opportunity. I remember that my sister wanted to be an altar server when she younger. They said that only boys could do it because they could be priests one day. But, if altar service led to the priesthood then our seminaries would be full of those boys. However, they are not. As a seminary student, I was always amazed at the things they know about the service of which I had no idea. I certainly missed a great catechetical opportunity. They say that anyone who has business “back there” and has the blessing to do so can serve and that there is no reason why girls can’t and yet they don’t allow us. I have spent many years frustrated by the policy. I remember my younger brother and how proud he was to serve at the altar. I also remember other boys who could care less but felt entitled to their service. We are all called to build up the Body of Christ. Is the Church utilizing all of the talents of its members to do so?

Altar service is an important but misused service in the Church. Women serve in women’s monasteries. And prior to the fall of communism, women served almost ubiquitously within the altar area in Russia. In addition, there are young women who serve in isolated parishes in England and in the US. Would ordaining women to the diaconate and allowing women and girls to serve within the altar area allow for a more authentic form of altar service?]

Reflections of a Pastoral Assistant.

Father always said that no one person can meet all the spiritual needs of the congregation. Lately, he has asked me to hear confessions. Although, I am trained in pastoral care, I am nervous as this is such an awesome responsibility

[I remember reading that Paul Meyendorff (Professor of Liturgical Theology, St. Vladimir’s Seminary) as a young child in France, would be taken to the monastery by his mother to go to confession with one of the nuns. It was only after he had been properly counseled that he would then approach the priest for absolution. [48] This is an example of carrying on that tradition within the parish context. However, it is important that deaconesses and those giving spiritual counsel be trained to do so. In addition, by setting her aside to minister in this capacity, the deaconess is accountable to the Church.]

The diaconate most closely manifests our ministry to the world. It helps us bring all of creation into unity with God. Unfortunately, our lives are often fragmented. We are disconnected from those around us. A revitalized diaconate can help bridge this gap. He or she can “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes for the world.” [49]

Moreover, the Church in America faces a great many challenges in order to minister to the needs of Her faithful. Certainly, a rejuvenated diaconate a ministry dedicated to service for and by both men and women can, in the words of Dr. FitzGerald, “bear witness to Christ the Servant as well as facilitate a creative and salutary response by the Church to so many of the spiritual challenges which face us today.” [50]

The Liturgy gives us a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. But it should also make us restless, as we realize how far we are from that ideal for most of our life. We need to recognize our faults and limitations and move beyond them, striving to do the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” A community whose members are hurt is deformed. We need to be the Church, a therapeutic, healing community. It is then that we can experience the love of God more fully in this world as in the next. Thank you.


1 Bishop Kallistos Ware, “In Peace Let us Pray to the Lord: Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy,” http://incommunion.org/?p=99, April 1999. Henceforth: Ware, “Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy.”

2 Matthew 5: 23-24, NRSV.

3 The Didache is a 2nd c. church document outlining early church liturgics and ethics. 4 Didache 14:2.

5 Bishop Kallistos Ware, “In Peace Let us Pray to the Lord: Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy,” paraphrasing Fr. Lev Gillet from Serve the Lord with Gladness, http://incommunion.org/?p=99, April 1999.

6 The Apostolic Constitutions is a 4th-5th century document of Syriac origin that outlines early Church ethics and liturgics.

7 Apostolic Constitutions, VIII, 11.

8 Hugh Wybrew, The Orthodox Liturgy, The Development of the Eucharist Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. (Crestwood, New York: SVS Press), p. 93.

9 Ware, “Peace and Healing in the Divine Liturgy.”

10 In Greek, trapeza. Although the word in this passage is usually translated as “table,” it can also be translated as “bank.” It refers to the function of distributing food (and possibly other supplies) to the poor, elderly, those widowed, etc.

11 Acts 6:3, NRSV.

12 Truesdell, Mary P., The Office of the Deaconess. Accessed via www.philosophy-religion.org/diaconate/chapter_7.htm on 8/ 12/2004. Ms. Truesdell was ordered a Deaconess in the Episcopal Church in 1919. This article appeared as part of an anthology on the Diaconate in 1967.

13 Romans 16:1, NRSV.

14 FitzGerald, Dr. Kyriaki Karidoyanes, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess” in Women and the The Priesthood, Fr. Thomas Hopko, ed. (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1983), p. 77-78. Henceforth: FitzGerald, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess.”

15 Original in the Barberini Codex gr. 336. Translated by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash). Accessed via www.anastasis.org.uk/woman_deacon.htm on 8/12/2004.

16 Letters of Pliny and Trajan. Accessed via www.fordham.edu/halsall /ancient/pliny-trajan1.html on 9/05/2004.

17 Apostolic Constitutions, Chapter III, no. 19.

18 The Didascalia Apostolorum is a later 3rd century-early 4th century document outlining pastoral and Church practice. The eight books of the Didascalia Apostolorum were subsequently incorporated into the Apostolic Constitutions with some minor variation.

19 Didascalia Apostolorum, Chapter 16.

20 Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry, (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), pp. 28-56, referencing the Meterikon. Henceforth: FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church.

21 Gryson, Roger, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church. Jean Laporte and Mary Louise Hall, trans., (NY: Liturgical Press, 1980), p. 71 as referenced in Gvosdov, Matushka Ellen, The Female Diaconate: An Historical Perspective, (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing, 1991). Henceforth Gvosdov, The Female Diaconate.

22 Touloumes, Deacon Photios, The Diaconate in the Orthodox Church. Accessed via http://orthodoxyinfo.org/Diaconate.htm on 9/6/2004.

23 Didascalia Apostolorum, Chapter 26. 24 Ibid, Chapter 26. 25 Apostolic Constitutions, Chapter VI, no. 27.

26 Lifting Up the Servants of God: The Deacon, Servant and Ministry and the Future of the Church. Accessed via www.sfd.edu/LiftingUpServants.html on 11/22/04.

27 Deacons in the Anglican Churches. Accessed via www.diakonoi.org/naadinfo.html on 1/12/2005. Henceforth Deacons in the Anglican Churches.

28 Ferguson, Dr. Thomas, Lifting Up the Servants of God: The Deacon, Servant Ministry, and the Future of the Church. Accessed via www.sfd.edu/LiftingUpServants.html on 11/22/2004.

29 Book of Common Prayer (revised 1979). Accessed via vidicon.dandello.net/bocp on 11/22/04. Henceforth Book of Common Prayer.

30 Deacons in the Anglican Churches.

31 An Orthodox Diaconate for Women? Reported in Sobornost 23:1 (2001), pp. 60-63.

32 Gvosdev, The Female Diaconate.

33 Ibid, referencing Tarasar, Constance J. and Irina Kirillova, eds., Orthodox Women: Their Role and Participation in the Orthodox Church (Report on the Consultation of Orthodox Women, Sept. 11-17, 1976, Agapia, Romania) (New York: World Council of Churches Press), p.27.

34 FitzGerald, “The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess,” p. 90 referencing Theodorou, Cheirotonia.

35 An Orthodox Diaconate for Women? Reported in Sobornost 23:1 (2001), pp. 60-63.

36 Ibid.

37 Orthodox Women’s Consultation on Church and Culture, Crete, January 1990. Accessed via http://members.iinet.net.au/~mmjournl/MaryMartha/CONSULTATIONS%20and%20REPORTS/CRETE%20Consultation%201990.html on 4/28/2003.

38 Ibid.

39 Anglican-Lutheran International Commission, The Diaconate as Ecumenical Opportunity, (London: Anglican Communion Publications, 1996), p. 10 referencing Apology of Justin the Martyr.

40 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 197.

41 Garklavs, Rev. Alexander, The Orthodox Pastor in the 21st century. Talk presented at the 2004 Pastoral Conference (OCA) at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA, June 2-4, 2004. Accessed via www.oca.org.

42 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 154-5.

43 1 Cor. 12:7, NRSV.

44 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 165.

43 1 Cor. 12:7, NRSV.

44 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 165.

45 Sarah Byrne, Orthodox Chaplaincy: Reflections and Recommendations in The St. Nina Quarterly forthcoming.

46 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order paper, No. 11 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), p. 22.

47 FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, p. 184.

48 Meyendorff, Paul, “Penance in the Orthodox Church Today,” Studia Liturgica 18 (1988), p. 105. 49 Book of Common Prayer, p. 543 50 Ibid, p. 195.

49 Book of Common Prayer, p. 543.

50 Ibid, p. 195.

Fifty issues of In Communion

By Jim Forest

[Detail of a fourth-century mosaic of Sarah and Abraham in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The “Byzantine” style of iconography had not yet emerged. by Jim Forest Double-click to enlarge.

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

– John 5:56-58

In Communion isn’t fifty years old, only an adolescent thirteen, but we are, as of this issue, fifty issues old.

Fifty is a number that provides a moment to express surprise – those of us who launched the journal were far from confident it would last this long – and also gratitude.

In Holland, where the journal has been edited since its founding, fifty is a number that has a special resonance due to a local custom rooted in a Gospel verse. Jesus was challenged by his critics for speaking of Abraham as someone he knew personally: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” The Dutch have taken this to imply that once a person is fifty, perhaps he or she is old enough to have seen Abraham.

Dutch fiftieth birthday parties are celebrated in ways that underscore the possibility. In anticipation of the upcoming event, a special Abraham or Sarah cookie is ordered from a local bakery. Using hand-carved wooden molds that in some bakeries are many generations old, spiced dough is pressed into the shape either of Abraham or Sarah. Almonds are used for decoration. Once baked, the cookie is put in a special box, wrapped and ribboned, to be solemnly presented to the one who has become old enough to see the biblical couple who hosted the three divinely-sent angels under the oak of Mamre.

It’s a large cookie – big enough to be broken into enough pieces so that everyone at the party has at least a taste. (Perhaps we need to order an Abraham cookie and have a little In Communion party sometime in the coming weeks?)

Why did we start In Communion?

From the beginning, it was obvious that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship needed an accessible way of sharing some aspects of the Orthodox tradition that have long been neglected. In the early years this was done on a smaller scale, a publication of much fewer pages, modestly dubbed The Occasional Paper. Indeed it was very occasional, perhaps two thin issues a year. Only in 1993 did we have enough economic support to move to a quarterly schedule and make the journal more substantial and give it its present name.

From the start, we had a fairly clear idea of what we wanted to do.

We Orthodox have remembered how to celebrate the Liturgy in a way that astonishes Christians of other churches; we refuse to make time-saving economies in the way we worship God. We don’t welcome clocks in our churches.

But not everything the apostolic Church meant to pass on to us has been given similar care and attention.

Over the centuries, many Orthodox Christians have made their peace with war in a way our early Christian forebears could not have imagined and would find scandalous. We are also much less noted than they were for paying attention to the needs of poor, neglected and abused members of the society we live in. Too often we are turned in on ourselves, not infrequently along ethnic lines. There are Orthodox parishes in which it must be embarrassing to hear Paul’s words read aloud about the followers of Christ being “neither Jew nor Greek.”

Our mission was not to invent anything, not to propose any innovations, but to jog our own memories, and the memories of our fellow Orthodox Christians, about what had been forgotten. It is mainly a job of dusting off what is already there. So many of the writings of the Church Fathers about our social obligations had been placed in boxes and stored in the Church’s attic, available to scholars but seldom heard of by the ordinary Orthodox believer. So many of the stories of those we see on icons in any parish church are hardly known to those who kiss those icons.

How surprised we are to discover our own past. There were saints who gave up their lives rather than kill in war? St. Basil the Great founded a “city of mercy” to care for the homeless, the abused and the sick that was regarded as one of the wonders of the world? St. John Chrysostom said we would not find Christ in the chalice unless we first found him in the beggar we encountered on the way to church?

If much has been forgotten, then In Communion should be a way of helping resurrect buried memories of forms of sanctity and patristic teaching that are desperately needed in our own day.

And why was the journal named In Communion? It was a suggestion of one of the first members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s advisory board, Fr. Thomas Hopko, now retired but in those days dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

“My task,” he wrote in the first issue of In Communion, “is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine. Without this, there is no way that we are going to be able to carry on.”

A revised, expanded, all-color edition of Jim Forest’s book, Praying With Icons, has just been published by Orbis Books.


Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50

What We Want in Our Political Leaders

by Fr. Thomas Hopko


Some of us Christians don’t necessarily want our political leaders to be “observant Christians.” We know ourselves and our histories too well for that. We also don’t want our countries to consider themselves “Christian nations.” We also know what that can mean. So what do we want in our political and civil leaders? Because politics is the “art of the possible,” we want leaders who can practice the political art without selling their souls to the devil. We want people who can achieve maximal results for the common good, as they understand the common good, with the recognition that others can legitimately see things differently than they do. And we want leaders who know that there is no perfect and lasting good in this world, and never dare to promise such a thing to anyone.

We want leaders who listen to others, tell the truth and learn from their mistakes. We want leaders who resist reinventing themselves every few weeks to please and appease one or another political constituency or voting bloc. We want men and women who do not demonize their critics and opponents while alleging to respect them deeply. We want leaders who can compromise their convictions within acceptable limits, without betraying their consciences, in order to achieve the best for the most, as they understand the best to be, in cooperation with their political opponents. We want people capable of changing their minds and admitting their errors. And we want leaders who don’t seek “all or nothing” in ideological battles that no one wins and that produce countless casualties. In a word, we want free human beings to lead us, not ideologues or demagogues.

In the American setting, this would mean that when some argue that the invasion of Iraq was an egregious analytical, tactical, political and military error, those who disagree would not label them weak-willed cowards who are betraying our brave men and women in the armed forces and surrendering our nation to evil powers. Or, as another example, when some voice their opposition to abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage, their opponents would not accuse them of being heartlessly cruel monsters who oppose modern science and technology, abhor women and minorities, and want people to suffer uselessly as they glorify human agony and pain at the sufferer’s expense. Or, when some Americans think that illegal immigrants should be treated kindly and that ways should be found to integrate them productively into society, their opponents would not call them anarchists who oppose law and order and treat working people with contempt; just as when others say that they want to keep as many jobs as possible in America, with just wages for American workers, their opponents would not accuse them of being selfish and retarded enemies of economic freedom and the system that made America great.

Some of us want political leaders with the courage to conduct an all-out campaign against global and domestic terror, crime, injustice and neglect of  the neediest by sacrificial spiritual, economic and philanthropic actions that begin with their nation’s strongest and richest people. And we want them to resort to carefully planned and responsibly executed police and military operations to contain evil only when absolutely necessary, as the very last possible option. We also want all people, not just the poor, to sacrifice equally for justice, freedom, peace and well being for everyone. We want leaders – who tend to be among their country’s wealthiest citizens – to be the leading exemplars of such self-limiting sacrifice that would, for the most part, cause them little personal suffering while costing them plenty of money that they hardly need for their personal and familial well being.

In a word, we want leaders who are not prisoners of power, profit, possession, position, privilege and pleasure. We want men and women who demand from others what they demand first from themselves, and who do for others what they would want others to do for them and their loved ones. Some of us Christians in the United States are convinced that the first step in reconstructing American political leadership is a radical change in the way we elect our leaders. We want an end to the agonizingly extended, disgracefully expensive and endlessly analyzed campaigns that exhaust peoples’ patience and sanity, and lead them into all kinds of temptations. We want a nation governed by people whose actions prove their genuine care and respect (not to say love) for everyone, including America’s most violent enemies whose children will be America’s even more violent enemies if things don’t radically change in our country, both among ourselves at home, and in our dealings with other peoples and nations.

If such political leaders would emerge in America, and indeed in all nations of the world (whatever their present political systems), their religious convictions, authentic or alleged, wouldn’t matter in the least to some of us Christians. Such leaders would, in fact, be an answer to our prayers. We would be their strongest, most faithful and most grateful supporters even when we disagree with some of their policies. We are also aware, when expressing our hopes, that – as an old proverb puts it – we get the leaders, both religious and political, that we deserve.

Fr. Thomas Hopko is Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York.


Recommended Reading – Fall 2005

Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox

by John Garvey

Templegate, 136 pp, $12

Death and the Rest of Our Life

by John Garvey

Wm. B. Eerdmans, 96 pp, $10

The person who wants a concise yet lively introduction to Orthodox Christianity would be hard-pressed to find a better starting point than Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox. Fr. John Garvey explains the differences between the Eastern and Western churches (as well as their shared teachings), a summary of Orthodox belief, a description of the Orthodox liturgy and the feasts of the church, an introduction to Orthodox spirituality, and a survey of some questions facing Orthodoxy in the contemporary world.

Convinced that our beliefs about death should inform every aspect of our lives until death, Fr. Garvey reflects on the meaning of death and its aftermath in Death And The Rest Of Our Life.

He argues that the common view of the soul being released from its “imprisonment” in the body is not Orthodox Christian teaching. The Christian affirmation of the resurrected and transformed body, he reminds us, is an essential part of the truth about death’s real depths and about what life is finally meant to be.

Incorporating stories from the author’s own family life and experience as a parish priest, this book will be of particular help to people recently bereaved and those who work with the bereaved.

Our Church and Our Children

by Sophie Koulomzin

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

169 pp, $16

Sophie Koulomzin was an Orthodox Christian laywoman, teacher, mother and grandmother and also taught Religious Education at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. She was also among the founders of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our Church And Our Children, first published in 1975, is a classic work of foundational wisdom for Christian parents and educators, now updated with a new foreword and study guide by Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides.

The book is peppered with engaging anecdotes from her half-century of experience working with children in the Church. For Koulomzin, recognizing that children are full members of the Church was of upmost importance, and her life’s vocation was encouraging others to see this.

Topics addressed include: the task of Christian education, developmental stages of children, Christian education in the family, the challenges and opportunities of the church school, and a vision and goals for the Christian teacher. Included in the re-release are a foreword, which gives a glimpse into her incredible personal life, a bibliography, and a chapter-by-chapter study guide.

St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer

translated by Tim Vivian

St. Vladimir’s Press, 216 pp, $16

Four Desert Fathers

translated by Tim Vivian

St. Vladimir’s Press, 202 pp, $15

Macarius the Great (also referred to as Macarius of Egypt) presided over a loosely knit scattering of ascetic monastic communities in the fourth century Egyptian desert. He enjoyed great respect during his lifetime and his fame was further spread after appearing in Palladius’s Lausiac History. This volume presents three ancient texts (The Sayings of Saint Macarius, The Virtues of Saint Macarius and The Life of Saint Macarius of Scetis) and provides valuable insight into the world of Coptic spirituality and early Egyptian asceticism.

Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt and Macarius of Alexandria, the four fathers presented in the companion volume, were well-known in Alexandria and Lower Egypt some 1600 years ago. Their lives provide valuable insight into the Egyptian monastic communities of the fourth century and into the saintly tradition of the Coptic Church.

When You Fast:

Recipes for Lenten Seasons

by Catherine Mandell

St. Vladimir’s Press, 264 pp, $20

This attractive and helpful book was born out of the author’s nearly decade-long quest to attain a rule of fasting for her family in accordance with the traditional Orthodox Christian discipline. Her goal was not only abstention from meat during lenten seasons, but also abstention from dairy products, and from oils on the strictest of fast days. The resultant 200 recipes provide a variety of easy, nourishing, and appealing meals. Sprinkled among the delicious recipes are sayings from the Mothers and Fathers of the early Church regarding how the body and soul are affected by eating habits – pithy illuminations to accompany the appetizing recipes.

The Passion of Christ

by Vaselin Kesich

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 92 pp, $11

The passion narrative is at the heart of Christianity and the suffering and death of Christ on the cross takes a central role in any discussions between Christians and non-Christians. The 2004 film Passion of the Christ provoked strong reactions from Christians and non-Christians alike, running the gamut from alarm and repulsion at the violence to genuine religious experience. The film also brought to the fore discussions of the importance of the Cross to Christianity and the perceived anti-Semitism of the Gospels. Professor Kesich addresses both of these issues in this re-release of his 1965 edition. He expertly addresses questions of anti-Semitism and the family quarrels between Jews and Christians in the historical context as well as explaining the trial of Jesus and the purpose his suffering.

Speaking the Truth in Love

by Thomas Hopko

St. Vladimir’s Press, 176 pp, $16

These collected lectures on education, mission, and witness, all written during the author’s decade as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, deal with what it means for Orthodox Christians to speak and to act in a loving manner in societal and ecclesiastical settings. Especially relevant are his remarks regarding education and spiritual formation in Orthodox theological schools; his historical background regarding the formation of Orthodox seminaries in the United States is enlightening.

In an effort to dispel misconceptions, he also presents readers with an insightful view of Orthodox participation in ecumenical activities. Additionally, he comments on the relationship between clergy and laity and makes some pertinent observations about the challenges to the Church in post-modern and post-communist societies.

The thread holding these essays together is St. Paul’s admonition to “speak the truth in love” and to “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”

The Nicene Faith

by John Behr

St. Vladimir’s Press

502 pp, $30

In this two-volume sequel to The Way to Nicaea, Fr. John Behr turns his attention to the fourth century, the era in which Christian theology was formulated as the Nicene faith, the common heritage of most Christians to this day. Engaging the best of modern scholarship, Behr provides a series of original, comprehensive, and insightful sketches of the theology of the key protagonists of the Nicene faith, presenting a powerful vision of Christian theology, centered upon Christ and his Passion.

Part One, “True God of True God,” opens with a reflection on the nature of Christian theology, challenging common presuppositions, and an analysis and survey of the fourth- century controversies, followed by studies of Alexander, Arius, the Council of Nicaea, and, Athanasius.

Part Two, “One of the Holy Trinity,” provides analyses of the work of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, together with their opponents, in particular Eunomius and Apollinarius.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy

by John McGuckin

St. Vladimir’s Press

430 pp, $23

The Christological Controversy describes the turmoil of fifth-century Christianity seeking to articulate its beliefs on the person of Christ. The policies of the Theodosian dynasty and the conflicting interests of the patriarchal sees are the context of the controversy between Nestorius of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria, a bitter dispute that racked the entire oecumene.

The historical analysis expounds on the arguments of both sides, particularly the Christology of Cyril, which was adopted as a standard.