Tag Archives: Fr Thomas Hopko

Reflections on Pope John Paul

by Fr. Thomas Hopko

What was it about Pope John Paul II that elicited the love and respect of millions of people, including many not sharing his convictions? And what was it about him that also produced the confusion, as well as the contempt, of many, including some identifying themselves as Christians, and Catholics?

I’m convinced that the answer to this question is found in a little book by C.S. Lewis, published in 1944, The Abolition of Man. It is also found in Karl Stern’s spiritual autobiography, The Pillar of Fire, printed in 1951. And it is found in the early writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Lewis, Stern and Solzhenitsyn were all committed Christians. But these writings are not about Christianity as such. They are about a vision and experience of human life in our modern, and now postmodern, European and North American worlds that are being enforced, and emulated, all over the earth.

The conclusions of Lewis’s “reflections on education” may be clearly stated. If students absorb, however unconsciously, what they are taught in modern schools, the result will be a world of “men without chests.” People will no longer be human in the traditional sense, he said. They will be deprived of the uniquely human intuitions of goodness, truth and beauty that their humanity obliges them to acknowledge, honor and serve. They will be nothing but brains and bodies, computers and consumers, calculators and copulators. They will be conquered by the very nature they strive to conquer in the name of freedom and autonomy, as they constantly reinvent humanity under the enslaving control of their elite conditioners.

Karl Stern put it a bit differently. In 1951, before the self-destruction of Communism, the mass production of computers, the construction of the Internet and the proliferation of genetic projects, Stern claimed that Western societies, and the societies that they would inevitably come to influence and control, held out only four possibilities for human beings. One is despair, moral nihilism and suicide. Another is nationalist ideology and sentiment that would bring nothing but suffering, destruction and death. Another is the Marxist materialism that would attract myriads of good-willed idealists but would prove itself corrupt to the core. The fourth possibility was what Stern called “rationalist pragmatism” and “scientism,” which he predicted would be actualized in a “global experiment” that would produce a “form of nihilism unequaled in history.” “Compared with it,” he wrote, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, “would look like children’s playgrounds. Man’s life on this earth would come about as close to the idea of hell as anything on earth may.” Solzhenitsyn described the same thing artistically. His world was not only Communist Russia; it was humanity as such. His heroes are human beings who in Lewis’s terms still have “chests.” His villains are ideologues, hypocrites and liars, whom he characterizes as wholly “without an upper story.” He said that the Russian “Baba” identified the cause of the world’s problems when, seeing evil in the village, she would shake her head and solemnly declare that we “have lost the likeness.”

What this has to do with Pope John Paul is clear, at least to me. The masses, whatever their religious convictions, admired and loved the late Pope, and mourn his passing with apprehension, because they saw him to be a man with “a chest” and an “upper story” who preserved “the likeness.” And those who found him bewildering, as well as those who despised and scorned him, did so, and still do, for the very same reasons.

Pope John Paul was not only a human being, but, amazing to say, he was a male human being in a world where prominent and popular people, particular men, are hardly human. He was the polar opposite of the men, and now also the women, who are ready to do whatever it takes to get whatever they want for the sake of personal power, position, prestige, profit and pleasure.

John Paul was not an ideologue, politician, actor or media manipulator. He did not continually remake himself for self-serving purposes. He never lied in word, deed or gesture. He did not act to be seen by people, yet he was not afraid to act as he saw fit to be seen. He did not pray to be observed by people, yet he was not afraid to be observed praying, or laughing, weeping, drooling, groaning or gasping for breath.

He embraced everyone in the same way. He was not a man of contradictions, as many think, but was all of one piece. His convictions on sexual morality, for example, were wholly consistent with his views on war and peace, politics and economics, and art and science. In a word, whatever he was, John Paul was what he was. That is why the masses adored him, while others despised him.

Fr. Thomas Hopko is the former rector of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His article originally appeared in The International Herald Tribune. He lives in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.

E-mail Conversations Spring 1999

Letter from Kosovo

As you have probably all heard NATO has started air strikes against Yugoslavia. Our monastery and my brotherhood are safe so far although the monastery has been flooded with Serb refugees who had been expelled by KLA from their homes during the previous months.

This attack will have very serious counter effects on the peace process in Kosovo.

Despite the promises by the Western governments that the attacks will be aimed only at military targets, several civilian areas have already been hit by cruise missiles, including the village of Gracanica, home of an Orthodox monastery. We do not know anything about our sisters in Devic where new KLA attacks were reported tonight.

Among civilian victims there are several Krajina refugees in Kursumlija according to the latest reports from radio.

We make a strong protest against these barbarous attacks which not only will not stop the humanitarian crisis but will make the humanitarian catastrophe much worse. The civilian population will suffer most.

Fr. Sava

Letter from Albania

With the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia imminent, we thought it expedient to ask for your prayers in this hour. Most likely you are as well informed as we are about the crisis, but you may be wondering how we might be affected by it.

As far as we know, we have no reason to believe that we are in any danger. Many residents of Tirana are very alarmed, fearing that Milosevic will retaliate against any Albanians, be they Kosovar or not. Some here are haunted by the troubles of 1997, and fear renewed panic and food shortages.

Rinas Airport, Albania’s airport was closed today, making it impossible for Archbishop Anastasios, who spent the weekend in London, to return. It appears that the region’s airspace has been cleared to give wide berth to the NATO planes.

Though we do feel some of the tension that exists, we do not feel any alarm.

Nonetheless, we would appreciate your prayers for a swift end to the crisis, for a peaceful solution to the conflict, and for a minimal loss of life.

Thank you for standing with us. On March 22, we completed our first year of service in Albania, and we are deeply grateful for the many ways that you have made our stay herepossible — through your prayers, financial support, and letters of encouragement.

Nathan, Lynette & Tristan Hoppe

Reading the Bible

An eight-year-old is probably more qualified to read the Bible than someof the older folks, and has a wonderful advantage: that which he or she reads is retained by the memory, to be called to mind by the Holy Spirit and through the Liturgy of the Church intimes of need or rejoicing.

Fr. Hopko once commented that the Bible is the Book of the Church and we should all know it. St. John Chrysostom says that by the time a girl is seven, she should have all the Psalms memorized so that she can hop on her grandfather’s knee and cheer him by reciting them. Even a room in which the Word of God is kept, according to one of the Fathers, is under special protection. The words of the Word purify us as we read them.

Sue Talley

Safeguarding human life

May God open our hearts and minds to what Jesus, with SaintsBasil, Chrysostom, and others teach about what it means to take a human life. While C.S.Lewis may, like me, not have understood what all this means, nevertheless he penned thepregnant words: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament Itself, your neighbor is the holiest objectpresented to your senses.” If it is monstrous evil to attack the Blessed Sacrament, what is it wedo when we kill a neighbor?

John Oliver

Whose side is God on?

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the BBC interviewed Gabriel Habib, the (Orthodox) General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches. At onepoint in the interview the question was asked, “Whose side is God on in this war?” Gabianswered, “God is on the side of those who are suffering.”

Peter Mikuliak

Sanctity of Life

My hope is that in conjunction with statements condemning abortion, that American Orthodox will use the upcoming pro-life march in Washington as an opportunity to declare the sanctity of all human life. As far as I know, the Orthodox Church in America (my jurisdiction) has been silent on the recent American-led atrocities in Iraq, and I know from personal experience that many American Orthodox (OCA and otherwise) have what seems to me a rather disturbing double standard when it comes to sanctity of life issues (very similar instance to Radical Right/ Fundamentalist Christianity which is “pro-life” on abortion, but pro-death in terms of military action and capital punishment; using selective Old Testament quotations to support this stance, ignoring the New Testament, etc.). I implore OPF members to speak against this double standard, which is decidedly “non-Orthodox,” when participating in this march.

Walter Smith

Coping with anger

No “righteous anger”? How about Christ driving the money changers outof the temple, or St. Nicholas slapping Arius? If one limits the statement to say “no righteous anger is possible for sins against oneself,” then this statement is (almost) always true.

However, there is certainly righteous anger for sins against others. If cruelty doesn’t make meangry, then I must question whether this is dispassion (which almost no one has) or apathy. Iam often apathetic to the sufferings of others out of near despair in changing things — feelingwe are a wicked, vicious species and always will be. However, that is a far graver sin thaneven inappropriate anger at evils done to another.

Daniel Lieuwen

Here let me share what has been of help to me. It has to do with a dream I had after joining theOrthodox Church. Fr. Anthony my confessor, came into our kitchen, took my hand and movedit in a circle saying: “Work with love and thanksgiving, without anger is not enough.” I putthese words above my sink. In the years since I had that dream, I have made some progress incontrolling anger by emphasizing love and thanksgiving, rather than concentrating on whatcauses me to become angry.

Emily White

Forgiveness

In the liturgy we ask God to bless “those who love us, and those who hate us.”Speaking personally, it seems to me that my lighting a candle each Sunday for a young manwho wronged our family grievously is actually a part of what makes me an OrthodoxChristian. But that does not mean that child abuse can be excused, that “enabling” is the rightresponse to substance abuse, or turning a blind eye to any other sin is any sort of requirement.St. Paul urges us first to counsel those who are erring, next to really “work on” them, and if allelse fails, to cast them far from us.

Forgiveness is something that one participates in, by God’s grace, as a forgiver. To be offeredforgiveness by another is not something that can be coerced. (Some are very good at elicitingguilty feelings in others or making them uncomfortable in various ways, but forgiveness mustbe freely granted and heartfelt.)

The seriously unrepentant are not to receive communion. Fast-keeper or no, regularchurchgoer or only occasional, baby or septuagenarian, all can participate in the reception ofChrist’s gift of himself in the Eucharist, but not the person who has failed to try to rectifyserious transgressions. (I don’t mean that the priest will necessarily play the part of agoalkeeper and fend off illegitimate seekers at the chalice, but that person is “illegitimate” andcommunion will not be communion for him while in that state). That is why the sacrament ofconfession usually precedes communion — it is spiritually like taking a bath before a bigdinner party; you want to be clean and well-groomed, not slovenly — if it’s the dinner of yourlife (which the Eucharist is).

Alex Patico

Euthanasia

I would be surprised if anyone knows how many people are being euthanized, not just in the Netherlands, but world wide. We are living in the age of the adoration of death. It is seen as a powerful problem solver. If pro-lifers seem too zealous in battling against it,they have good reason to be worried. In 1973 when abortion was legalized, I doubt if anyoneever dreamed that a million and a-half abortions would be done annually in the U.S. alone. Ithorrifies every sensibility.

The minute something becomes legal, we can be sure to see it increase, whether it is moral ornot. (By the way, I hope the pro-life movement will not be judged by the actions of a very,very fringe element, i.e., those who seek to kill abortionists. Just as not all doctors are JackKevorkians, neither are 99 percent of pro-lifers armed with guns and bombs.)

The Dutch are certainly to be commended for striving to have open discussion about thesethings. And yet there are times when the intellect alone cannot reach a moral conclusion.Certainly, when we see suffering we want to alleviate it, and any right thinking person abhors pain. But we live in a fallen world where we want to go our own way and be our own gods.Suffering often is the only thing that reminds us that we are mortal, and that we will die and bejudged. It brings us to our knees before the only One who can truly alleviate our pain.

The last chance we have to repent is on our death bed. We must be very careful aboutremoving a person’s chance to die reconciled to God. Let us work to find ways to easesuffering, but these efforts must stop short at the active taking of human life.

Rene Zitzloff

Confession: the Sacrament of Reconciliation

by Jim Forest

Without confession, love is destroyed.

It is impossible to imagine a vital marriage or deep friendship without confession and forgiveness. If you have done something that damages a relationship, confession is essential to its restoration. For the sake of that bond, you confess what you’ve done, you apologize, and you promise not to do it again.

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.

The purpose of confession is not to have one’s sins dismissed as non-sins but to be forgiven and restored to communion. As the Evangelist John wrote: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) The apostle James wrote in a similar vein: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (Jas 5:16)

Confession is more than disclosure of sin. It also involves praise of God and profession of faith. Without the second and third elements, the first is pointless. To the extent we deny God, we reduce ourselves to accidental beings on a temporary planet in a random universe expanding into nowhere. To the extent we have a sense of the existence of God, we discover creation confessing God’s being and see all beauty as a confession of God. “The world will be saved by beauty,” Dostoevsky declared. We discover that faith is not so much something we have as something we experience — and we confess that experience much as glass confesses light. The Church calls certain saints “confessors” because they confessed their faith in periods of persecution even though they did not suffer martyrdom as a result. In dark, fear-ridden times, the faith shone through martyrs and confessors, giving courage to others.

In his autobiography, Confessions, Saint Augustine drew on all three senses of the word. He confessed certain sins, chiefly those that revealed the process that had brought him to baptism and made him a disciple of Christ and member of the Church. He confessed his faith. His book as a whole is a work of praise, a confession of God’s love.

But it is the word’s first meaning — confession of sins — that is usually the most difficult. It is never easy admitting to doing something you regret and are ashamed of, an act you attempted to keep secret or denied doing or tried to blame on someone else, perhaps arguing — to yourself 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 forgiving sins? Is priest-witnessed confession 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 he 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 confession can never be as complete or revealing as God’s knowledge of me and all that needs repairing in my life.

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 rationales, not to confess? Why do I try so hard to explain away my sins until I’ve decided either they’re not so bad or might even 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 Marlboro Man — the person without community, parents, spouse, or children — exists only on billboards. 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 not long 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 but has been in many bodies before mine. The place I live, the tools I use, and the paper I write on were made by many hands. I am not my own doctor or dentist or banker. To the extent 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 not only a way of communicating with others but even 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 underlying principle is described in one of the collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers, the Gerontikon:

“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 bartender, taxicab driver or stranger in an airport, 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” — something like the New Yorker cartoon in which a psychologist reassures a Mafia contract killer stretched out on the couch, “Just because you do bad things doesn’t mean you’re bad.”

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 impede or undermine religious life. Yet it’s not a term we seem inclined to adapt to other contexts. Few people would prefer we got rid of institutionalized health care or envision a world without institutionalized transportation. Whatever we do that involves more than a few people requires structures.

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, “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.”

This is an extract from Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness (Orbis Books, 2002). Jim Forest’s earlier books include Praying with Icons, Ladder of the Beatitudes as well as biographies of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

News Reports

OPF Iraq Appeal sent to President Bush

In January an Orthodox Peace Fellowship appeal not to launch war on Iraq was sent to President Bush. Here is the text of the OPF statement:

A Plea for Peace

As Orthodox Christians, we seek the conversion of enemies to friends in Christ. Saddam Hussein is an enemy of the United States and of the people of Iraq, but we declare that there are better ways to respond to terrorism than to respond in kind.

We do not argue against attacking Iraq because of any admiration for Saddam Hussein. He came to office by intrigue and murder, and remains in power by the same means; he is his own country’s worst enemy. The Iraqi people deserve to be rid of him.

The United States is ready to overthrow him by any means, including an attack which would kill thousands of civilians and maim many more, justifying such an attack on the possibility that Hussein’s regime is producing weapons of mass destruction and preparing to use them against America and Israel and their allies.

Because we seek the reconciliation of enemies, a conversion which grows from striving to be faithful to the Gospel, the Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good, and fighting an elusive enemy by means which cause the death of innocent people can be regarded only as murder. Individual murderers are treated by psychiatrists and priests and isolated from society. But who heals the national psyche, the wounded soul of a nation, when it is untroubled by the slaughter of non-combatant civilians?

As Orthodox Christians, we find healing in Christ, Who made us responsible for His sacred gift of life. God created us in His image and likeness, and we best reflect Christ — Who neither killed anyone nor blessed anyone to kill — by loving, helping, and forgiving.

Friends help each other do good things, not evil things. We find echoes of holy friendship in the world’s unfolding reaction to events in Iraq.

Many nations traditionally allied with America — along with many patriotic Americans — oppose an invasion of Iraq. They see how difficult a position the US will assume by attacking Iraq, and seek instead a renewed program of weapons inspection.

Iraq’s closest neighbors are far from supportive of the course the United States is pursuing, even though they are aware of Saddam’s shameful, destructive regime. Not having rallied to America’s side does not mean that they support Saddam.

An attack on Iraq will be seen by many as an attack on all Arabic and Islamic states. America, despite the rhetoric, is perceived as seeing itself under attack by Islam. America helped install and maintain the despotic Shah of Iran, but withdrew its support when Iran became an Islamic republic (itself undemocratic in many ways). Now America is seen as the largely uncritical supporter of Israel, against the interests of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian. Bombing Iraq will confirm these perceptions among Muslims.

An attack by Saddam on any nation would be viewed as proper cause for a military response to Iraq by the attacked nation and its allies, as was the case with Kuwait. This may not be good, but it is true. Saddam now attacks only his own people, and they need help — but not the “help” of being killed in an effort by other countries to bring about “regime change” in Iraq.

“Pre-emption” (the notion that one nation may attack another because of what it might do) is philosophically, ethically, and pragmatically perilous. After all, an enemy may return the favor. Once “pre-emption” is established as a valid principle for international relations, nations which invoke that principle will have no conceptual shelter.

If the world can be convinced that it’s possible to work peacefully to make life more livable for all, we will all be better off. This is the reconciliation we hope for as Christians among individuals. Can it not happen among nations, between Iraq and its neighbors, and for all the good people of the world?

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship calls on the United States and the United Nations to follow diplomatic paths predicated on mercy, honesty, and justice, and to seek peacefully negotiated resolutions to the impasse in Iraq.

We implore Christ, Who is our peace, to bless every endeavor directed toward our complete reconciliation with each other, and with Him.

The text was initiated by the Council for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America (John Brady, Jim Forest, David Holden, Daniel Lieuwen, John Oliver, John Oliver III, Alex Patico, Sheri San Chirico, Monk James Silver and Renee Zitzloff.)

The signers include

Archbishop Peter of New York and New Jersey, External Affairs, Orthodox Church in America; Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Bishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America; Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, Orthodox Church in America; Bishop Mercurius of Zaraisk, Administrator of Parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the USA; Bishop Basil of Sergievo, Diocese of Sourozh, Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain; Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain; Fr. John Behr, Associate Professor of Patristics, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; Dr. Peter Bouteneff, Ass’t Professor of Dogmatic Theology, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; V. Rev. John Breck, Professor of Bioethics and Patristic Exegesis, St. Sergius Theological Institute, Paris; Catherine Brockenborough, attorney, Nashville, TN; Fr. John Chryssavgis, Professor of Theology, Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, MA; Fr. Michael Dahulich, Dean, St. Tikhon Seminary, So. Canaan, PA; Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin, Associate Professor of Theology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI; Fr. Alexander Golubov, Academic Dean, St Tikhon’s Seminary, So. Canaan, PA; Fr. Stanley Harakas, retired Professor of Orthodox Theology, Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, MA; Fr. Gregory Havrilak, Associate General Secretary, Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas; Fr. Oliver and Matushka Lorie Herbel, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY.; Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; Dr. Andrew Louth, Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, UK; Frederica Mathewes-Green, author, Baltimore, MD; Mother Brigid McCarthy, St. Moses House, Kansas City, MO; Dr. Paul Meyendorff, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; Fr. Thomas Mueller, Dean, Chicago Deanery, Orthodox Church in America; Archpriest Michael J. Oleksa, Dean, St. Innocent Cathedral, Anchorage, Alaska; Fr. George C. Papademetriou, Associate Professor of Theology, Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, MA; Fr. Victor S. Potapov, Rector, Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC; Mother Raphaela, Abbess, Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, Otego, NY; Fr. Paul Schroeder, Chancellor, Greek Orthodox Diocese of San Francisco; and Very Rev. Andrew Tregubov; iconographer; rector of Holy Resurrection Church, St. Claremont, NH.

A more complete list of signers is on the OPF web site.

Peace Encyclical from San Francisco’s Met. Anthony

In an encyclical letter read in all parishes of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, Metropolitan Anthony spoke out against “reckless unilateralism” by the US in its confrontation with Iraq.

“At this critical juncture in our nation’s history, as our leaders contemplate military action against the country of Iraq, we must take care that we do not abandon these values, embarking instead upon a path of reckless unilateralism. Today’s feast calls us to recognize and embrace Christ as did Symeon and Anna, receiving Him in the person of our brothers and sisters. Every encounter with another human being has the potential to become a true ‘meeting of the Lord,’ the possibility of recognizing in the face of another the profound depths of the image and likeness of God. It is therefore absolutely imperative that we uphold justice, human dignity, and human rights, principles upon which this country was founded, and not rush heedlessly into a conflict in which tens of thousands of people will lose their lives…

“My beloved children in the Lord, our nation stands at the brink of a precipice, contemplating a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike upon another nation for the first time in its history. At this time, as compelling evidence that Iraq poses an imminent threat to the world has yet to be uncovered, there does not appear to be a clear moral imperative for war. The rationalizations being offered for a hasty military solution fall short of just cause, and give the impression that we are rushing to attack another nation simply because we can, and because it serves our own narrowly defined economic and national interests.

“On this day, I summon the clergy and laity… to prayer for our nation and for the world. As the prophets say, if the watchman blows an uncertain note, the people will not be warned, and the watchman will be accountable for their lives (cf. Ezekiel 33:6). It is therefore my duty as your bishop and the shepherd of this spiritual flock to sound a clear note of warning in such a time as this. We must not countenance a rush to war before diplomatic avenues are exhausted. We must not tolerate the taking of innocent human life in a first strike without just cause.”

The full text of the encyclical (as well as other texts from Orthodox bishops) is posted on the OPF web site.

Orthodox Bishops in Germany Oppose Attack on Iraq

The Orthodox bishops of Germany issued a joint letter in January opposing war against Iraq.

“Four years ago, before and during the NATO mission in Yugoslavia, we urgently warned against the use of military force, which would not contribute to a real solution of the conflict but — on the contrary — only aggravate it and bring suffering, misery, mutilation and death to countless innocent people.

“Events proved us right: in order to fight supposed or real injustice new injustice was tolerated, in fact only rendered possible through the war.

“Now it looks as if a new war of immeasurable proportions is threatening our planet: an assault on Iraq. Of course, we do not overlook the fact that the regime in Iraq is partly responsible for the unfolding of the crisis.

“Nevertheless we, together with the vast majority of Christian churches all over the world, are of the opinion that a war against Iraq conducted with ‘state-of-the-art’ weaponry available to the United States will hit hardest those who bear no responsibility for the escalation of the conflict, especially women and children.

“Let us also not forget that a number of Orthodox and Oriental-Orthodox people are living in Iraq and are able to practice their faith. To them such a war would be in the literal sense existentially threatening.

“For a number of years the Iraqi people have been suffering from the effects of a humanitarian catastrophe of enormous proportions and in the event of a war more immeasurable suffering and dying and an incalculable political future would lay ahead of them.

“The consequences could not only be disastrous for Iraq but for the whole crisis-shocked region of the Middle East; again it must be feared that events following the war will foster inconceivable negative developments like an escalation of terror one supposedly wants to fight.

“In this respect the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria Petros VII recently wrote to the President of the United States of America, George Bush: ‘The Middle East is a sensitive area that is suffering a lot even now. This war would be considered an attack on Islam. And this impression, even if it was false, would have far-reaching and lasting consequences for the region, the faithful and their reputation. It is not in the nature of religion to delve into politics, terrorism and war.’

“We wholly support this point of view: there is no justification for war as long as there is the slightest chance of another solution to controversial problems. This means also that the UN inspectors can fully complete their work.

“Any preventive act of war started before even the smallest, seemingly hopeless chance of a peaceful settlement has been tried in vain must be condemned.

“In our opinion these chances have not nearly been utilized. Especially international humanitarian action aimed at improving the lot of the Iraqi people, which would hopefully lead to new diplomatic initiatives in coming to an agreement with the Iraqi government. A war would definitively foil any such attempt.

“We join all those calling for peace and urge those who have not yet done so to set a sign of peace and do all they can to spare humanity a new war whose consequences could be disastrous for us all.

“We as the Orthodox Church in Germany call upon our faithful and their shepherds who — like all Orthodox — pray in each service for ‘the peace from above’ to implore God Almighty to grant peace to the whole world and enlighten the leaders of all nations and all peoples to help build a world where humans no longer use violence against their brothers and sisters, a world that loves the God-given life and converges in justice and solidarity.”

[signed] For the Ecumenical Patriarchate: Augoustinos, Metropolitan of Germany, Exarch of Central Europe; For the Russian Orthodox Church: Longin, Archbishop of Klin, Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Germany; For the Serbian Orthodox Church: Konstantin, Bishop for Central Europe; For the Romanian Orthodox Church: Serafim, Metropolitan of Germany and Central Europe; For the Bulgarian Orthodox Church: Simeon, Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe

Serbian Orthodox: War Would Be “Disgrace for Humanity”

During a visit to the Vatican in February, Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate stated that a war against Iraq would be a “disgrace for humanity.”

“In the 20th century alone, our Church and our people were subjected to seven wars, and still today they suffer from profound wounds, especially in Kosovo,” Metropolitan Amfilohije said. “We ask the powerful of this world, above all the United States and its allies, not to begin a new war, this time with Iraq. Such a war would be a new defeat for all of us and a new disgrace for the whole of humanity, and not just a humiliation and destruction of the honest Iraqi people.”

US religious leaders seek face-to-face meeting with Bush

Forty-six US religious leaders, including Archbishop Dimitrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; have urged caution about a US war with Iraq and are seeking a face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush to press their case.

“War is not only — or even primarily – – a military matter,” the Church leaders said in a 30 January letter to the president. “It is a moral and ethical matter of the highest order.”

Ethiopian patriarch appeals for aid to drought-stricken families

Patriarch Abune Paulos, head of Ethiopia’s 25-million-strong Orthodox Church, has appealed for help to drought-stricken families. He called on all caring people to “stretch their helping hands” to the millions facing starvation.

“It is the duty of Christians to provide assistance and show compassion to others who are in dire need of help,” the patriarch said in a Christmas sermon.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi estimates that more than a million Ethiopians face starvation in the coming months due to one of the worst droughts in the country’s history. He compared the present situation to the 1984-85 drought and famine in which one-million people are estimated to have died. That famine occurred under the Derg, a Marxist military regime that tried to ignore the effects of the drought, then when food aid began to arrive, used it as a political tool against rebels, led by Meles, who took power in May 1991.

Met. Herman addresses March for Life

Metropolitan Herman, head of the Orthodox Church in America, was one of the principal speakers to address 150,000 marchers at the 30th annual March for Life in Washington, DC, on January 22.

While lamenting the failure of the 30-year struggle to protect the lives of the unborn, Herman was optimistic that, through the commitment and prayer of countless individuals who have valiantly upheld that all life is “a sacred gift from the One Who is Life Itself,” the Roe v. Wade decision will soon be reversed.

Met. Herman was joined at this year’s march by Bishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest and Bishop Nikon of Baltimore.

Earlier in the day, over 1000 Orthodox Christian marchers — the largest contingent of Orthodox marchers on record — gathered with the bishops and two dozen students from Saint Tikhon Seminary, South Canaan, PA, under the Orthodox Christians for Life banner at the Washington Monument.

After the formal program during which Met. Herman delivered his address, the marchers made their way up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court, where the hierarchs offered memorial prayers for the millions of children who lost their lives since the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion 30 years ago.

A parish providing a home for low-income families

An icon of the Apostle Matthew welcomes visitors to an unusual apartment building in Columbia, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. Beneath the figure are the words of Jesus from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “I was a stranger and you took me in.”

The text aptly fits the purpose of St. Matthew House, home to 15 low-income adults with physical disabilities. It is a project that the Fr. Raymond Velencia, rector of Columbia’s Orthodox Church of St. Matthew, sees as a “work of the Lord.”

In 1994, the congregation formed a nonprofit organization that brought together governmental, corporate and social groups to finance, build and manage the $1.6 million facility.

The project was inspired by parishioner Maria Turley, a nurse with multiple sclerosis who died last year.

St. Matthew House has been built for people with physical disabilities “to allow them to live in an supportive environment in the community, with the purpose of enabling them to remain as independent as possible,” Fr. Velencia said.

From the wide outdoor porch to the three-story atrium, the design of the airy, many-windowed facility provides an exceptionally attractive living area. The emphasis on communal living in a family-like atmosphere is important to individuals who are sometimes isolated because of their disabilities.

“This was my first real home. … I never had a real family,” said resident Andrea Griffin, who lived in a nursing home. Griffin, who volunteers as a disability-awareness instructor, makes the occasional pot of soup for a group meal and keeps the photo album that documents the residents’ holiday parties for their grandchildren.

Physically disabled individuals must have an income of less than $22,000 and be able to care for themselves to rent one of the subsidized apartments.

“It gives a whole lot of freedom,” said resident Harry Johnson, an artist who was disabled by a car accident.

“I think all churches should have something like this,” volunteer Juanita Robinson said. [information: 410-381-8500]

SCOBA blessing for OPF-NA

At a meeting in December, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) endorsed the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s North American Chapter.

Ethnic conflicts and the Orthodox Church

by Metropolitan John of Korça

Symbol of lost tolerance: A postcard photo of the Mostar Bridge, built in 1566 to span the Neretva River in Bosnia-Herzegovina, destroyed in 1993 by fire from a Croatian tank in order to prevent contact between communities on opposite sides of the river.

The 21st century, with its globalization, new technology, loss of traditional values, and cultural and religious pluralism, presents a variety of challenges for the whole human community. Undoubtedly, the Orthodox Church cannot exclude herself from these challenges. She must confront them, not merely to defend herself from them, as has been the case so often, but in order to find original and creative solutions as part of her global responsibility. In this, she must be rooted in her doctrine, history, and rich tradition without ceasing to be a creative, living organism, invigorated by the Holy Spirit, who has inspired and continues to inspire her life.

Generally speaking, the Orthodox Church often is viewed, measured, judged and evaluated by its own members primarily on the basis of her history over the last two centuries, that is, as a church closely tied to a single culture in a specific geographic location and interested only in the past. Viewing the Church chiefly from that perspective has done a great injustice to the Church’s rich tradition.

In fact, historically, the Orthodox Church was born, developed and lived in an ecumenical and pluralistic milieu. In the Roman Empire and later in the Byzantine Empire, ecumenism and globalization, although regional, were common. The Orthodox Church had a global mission, not only in the doctrinal sense, but also as a member of a global and ecumenical community. The people of the Balkans, where a large portion of the Orthodox Church was concentrated, lived in a commonwealth with close ties to each other. In addition, they had cultural and commercial connections with other parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. Up until the time that St. Kosma was preaching and carrying out his apostolic ministry in the Balkans, the self- understanding of the Orthodox population was global and ecumenical.

What is more, at an even later period, if someone was asked what he was, he would first answer that he was a Christian. Only after the third or fourth question would he give his ethnic identity. People identified themselves from the perspective of faith. The words elinas (Greek) and turk were understood to refer to one’s faith, not one’s ethnicity.

Nationalism and a narrow ethnic understanding are something new to the Orthodox people of the Balkans and are closely tied to the emergence of the nationalistic ideas of the 19th century secular intelligentsia which saw the Church merely as a means of achieving nationalistic goals.

As these movements emerged, the Church was not enthusiastic about them because she felt that they were not in accord with the universal nature of Orthodoxy, but, as Fr. John Meyedorff observed, she “lacked the intellectual strength, the theological discernment and the institutional structures which could have exorcized the demons of the nationalistic revolution … So patriarchs, bishops and indeed parish clergy “ sometimes enthusiastically, at other times wearily “ joined the sweeping nationalistic movement, becoming directly involved in its political success but also “ more dangerously “ accepting its ideological positions.”

Unfortunately, sometimes this continues today.

Ruins of the Mostar Bridge after its destruction in 1993

In the beginning, these new ideas “ the awakening of the national consciousness “ helped the struggle of the Orthodox people of the Balkans to rid themselves of the Turkish yoke. The Church, by supporting her people in this struggle, started to have more and more of an ethnic character. Because all members shared a single religion, faith and nation were tied closely together and began to be indistinguishable, creating a confusion of categories. Later, this nationalism, that in the beginning was seen as a liberating force, became an impetus for division and hatred: everyone against everyone else. Moreover, this nationalism was not directed solely against people of another religion but against people of the same faith as well, because a particular nationalism is deaf towards other forms of nationalism. The national rights claimed by each nation are mutually exclusive, resulting in an ongoing ethnic conflict. In the words of Patriarch Bartholomew, in the Balkans as well as in all parts of Europe:

Nationalism… turned out to be a double-edged sword; in the hands of tyrants, it has been destructive “ indeed, the most destructive force in human history, killing 75 million human beings between 1914 and 1945 alone. We must ask ourselves boldly and honestly: Is it not time to rein in the excesses of nationalism?

After the fall of Communism, in the institutional, economic, and political collapse and the moral and spiritual vacuum that resulted from it, extreme nationalism found fertile ground. Different political groups attempted to use national and religious feelings to achieve their political goals, thus creating an immense whirlpool of hatred, confusion and suffering. The great hatred that characterized the struggle of the classes was replaced by another hatred: ethnic hatred. It is interesting to note that the ranks of extreme nationalists were filled in large measure by the same people that previously had instigated class hatred. Also, at times they attempted to give to their wars a religious character, wanting to exploit the powerful emotions that are triggered when one believes that his religion is in danger. Many people in the Balkans ironically have dubbed these wars “the religious wars of the atheists.”

So, one of the most difficult challenges that has confronted and continues to confront the Orthodox Church is her position regarding ethnic conflicts. In the past decade, the need to find a solution to this challenge has become more and more urgent because some of the most bloody ethnic conflicts have occurred in Balkan and Eastern European countries where the Orthodox population is in the majority. During this time of crisis, the Orthodox Church, as a result of the long persecution, was found to be weak and unprepared. In some cases, the Church itself was drawn into the conflict. She was found more or less in a similar situation when the nationalistic movements of the 19th century began. Now, however, the situation is more sinister because the enthusiasm of national liberation, which first motivated the Church’s involvement in that movement, has been replaced by extreme nationalist hatred.

We have to keep in mind that this is a complex issue that cannot be judged simplistically and superficially because when we speak about the Church we have to remember that she consists not only of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and believing members with different levels of faith and experience, but also of many purely nominal Orthodox.

The relationship between Church and nation is complex and the two are inseparable because the members of the Church are also part of the nation. This becomes even more complicated when all members of the nation are members of one Church. Although much has been said about this issue, there are many unanswered questions about the relationship between national identity and the Church. As A. Kartachov wrote:

From a dogmatic and mystical point of view, the issue of Church and national identity is only a part of the great question of the relation of the Church with human history and cultural creation. However strange this may seem, after two thousand years of Christian history this question, notwithstanding its greatness and its actuality, has not yet found a conciliar answer within the Church. It has not found it, because it has not been raised in the Church. It has not been raised, because it has not been envisaged.

Therefore, in the great challenge of ethnic conflict, the Orthodox Church must speak openly and clearly, unfolding her precious teaching to all her believers. She must make them conscious of the Orthodox understanding of church, nation, and war in order that these issues not remain within the closed circles of academics and theologians.

Let us pause to consider the Orthodox understanding of nation and war because ethnic conflicts are a corrupt compound of the two.

Christian anthropology is based upon divine revelation which says that “God created man in his own image and likeness.” (Gen. 1:26, 27; 5:1) The incarnation of the Lord and his soteriological work demonstrate that God is not the God of the Jews alone, but also of the Gentiles. (Rom. 3:29) The Church which is built upon this foundation does not divide people on either national or class grounds: in her “there is neither Greek, nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:11) Hence, the Church by her very nature is universal and, therefore, supranational. In the Church “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek.” (Rom. 10:12) This is the basis for the Christian understanding of nation and race. The witness of Holy Scripture as well as various apostolic and post-apostolic texts are evidence of the self-understanding of the early Church. The Epistle to Diognetus is not only one of the oldest witnesses of this self-understanding but also one of the clearest:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of life. Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

An overemphasis on the nation, sometimes even above the Church, not only is a new phenomenon but is a flagrant violation of the ethos of Orthodoxy and a denial of it. This overemphasis of nationalism has caused much damage to church life and to the internal unity of the Orthodox churches because it has often caused these churches to be more focused on their national interests than on the Orthodox Church as a whole. Alexander Schmemann writes:

Admitting the positive value of nationalism in Christianity, we must not fall into the trap of idealizing history, fixing our eyes on the light, and shutting out what is dark. The progress and earthly life of the Church is not an idyll. On the contrary, it requires struggles and a vigilant ecclesiastical conscience … The danger of nationalism lies in its subconsciously altering the hierarchy of values, so that the nation no longer serves Christian justice, truth or itself, and no longer evaluates its life in accordance with these qualities. Instead, Christianity itself and the Church begin to be assessed and evaluated by the extent to which they serve the state, the nation, etc.

The Orthodox Church has condemned officially nationalistic rivalries within the Church of Christ. In 1872 a Synod held in Constantinople condemned the sin of phyletism, saying:

We renounce, censure and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds and dissensions within the Church of Christ, as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers which “support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it and lead it to divine godliness.”

In confronting today’s nationalisms, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church must renew this condemnation.

We can say without exaggeration that the Church of the New Testament was built upon the bloodshed that resulted from the conflict between nation and universality. The pan-human, universal, and messianic mission of Christ was not understood by the leadership of Israel. Caiaphas said: “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” (John 11:49-50) “Then, from that day,” the Evangelist tells us, “they plotted to put Him to death.” (John 11:53) And so, to save the nation, they crucified the Lord himself. The pretext of saving the nation put the Church of the Old Testament and her high priest in confrontation with God.

This event tells us much: We must take care to say to our people that many of the things alleged to be for the good of the nation can make us the enemies of justice, and perhaps even of the Lord himself. It is not uncommon that certain means used to defend the nation, and, in the short run, to benefit her, have caused crimes and injustices to be done toward other individuals and nations. Any crime and injustice is a re-crucifixion of the Lord of justice. All those that crucified the Lord found good reasons to do so: Caiaphas for the nation; Pilate for the state; the people for piety; the soldiers for military discipline. And so together they all murdered a man in whom there “was found no fault.” But no reason, no motive, no goal can justify the killing of innocents, and oppression and injustices done to others.

In contrast, the Apostle and Evangelist of the Church of the New Testament answered to the prophecy of Caiaphas that Christ didn’t die “for that nation only, but also that he would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.” (John 11:52) The members of the human race were seen as children of God, and no specific nation could have a monopoly on virtue and holiness. The taking on of human nature by God called all nations to participate in the mystical body of Christ, in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Christ has taken into himself all of humanity, not only that which exists today, but those that were and those that will come after. He is not a tribal leader whose authority should facilitate national unification, but God who saves us from sin and death. A Christ limited to one ethnic group or several ethnic groups, or to one period or several periods of history would be a mutilated Christ. Those that limit Christ so crucify him again.

To love one’s nation does not mean to hate and exclude the others. You cannot serve one nation at the expense of another. The interests of a country cannot be above justice, otherwise that nation becomes an idol. “What are the interests of our country,” said Lactantius in his Divine Institutes, “but the inconveniences of another state or nation?” Footnote Not only is the nation not helped by this, but on the contrary this will turn to his disadvantage. The letter of Patriarch Tikhon addressed to the Orthodox faithful of Russia in 1919 Footnote shows that the position of the Church regarding the relation between the nation and justice has not changed, despite all the atrocities that have occurred.

From the Orthodox point of view, war and the understanding of it is wide, complex, and multi-faceted. Although in all times, the Church has called upon her children to love their homeland on earth and not to spare their lives to protect it if it was threatened, and although the Church has honored warrior-saints whose icons were carried into battle by soldiers chanting “grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries,” nonetheless, in the Orthodox Church the idea of a “holy war” has never been accepted not even a “just war.”

In the Fathers of the Eastern Church and in the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church, you cannot find any ethical explanation for a “just war.” From an Orthodox point of view, war is a sin and an evil, and the Church should fight against it. In the best of cases, war can be a “necessary evil,” although this term is not precise and can be misleading. Let us remember that even in the Old Testament, which was full of war and bloodshed, God didn’t allow David to build his temple because he had shed so much blood, thus revealing that in bloodshed there is nothing “holy” or “just.”

In the canons that regulate the life of the clergy, the Church held to an ideal standard that often was difficult for lay people due to human weakness. Hence, the canonical exclusion of the clergy from all military duty, which was permitted to lay people, demonstrates the ethical position of the early Church towards war. Footnote

Early Christianity did not condone any use of violence. In the writings of Tertullian, Origen, and the writings of the apologists in general, the non-use of violence is clearly stated. St. Basil imposed an ecclesiastical penance on military personnel who had taken part in war. Footnote And although killing in war was not considered as murder in the juridical sense, as we see from the canon of St. Basil, war was not seen as something “holy” or “just,” and those who participated in it were not allowed to take communion for three years to show that there was still a need for purification before they could meet the Lord. Christianity preached that one ought to conquer evil with good, and in the place of war to draw on prayer and the power of God. In the Christian empire, although the army was kept to protect the state and to fight against the barbarians, war was seen as a “necessary evil” and the doctrine of a “just war” was never developed.

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, and later of the Ottoman Empire, when national autocephalous churches were formed under the influence of nationalistic feelings, war was seen in a more positive light. Although the Orthodox Church didn’t hold to any doctrine of holy or just war, it did not have a strong voice against war because there was confusion about the categories of nation and religion.

In recent years many voices have been raised against the use of religion in the ethnic conflicts of the Balkans. One of the strongest voices is that of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, whose motto has been that “the oil of religion must never be used to flame the conflicts of hatred but to sooth hearts and heal wounds.” This has become a classic statement, not only in the Orthodox Church worldwide, but in wider circles as well.

In this time of globalization (and, unfortunately, of uniformity, as well), many traditional values are at risk. One of these is the feeling that national identity is being lost, and this often breeds a fear of outsiders and increases nationalistic feelings. National sentiments can cause such sinful phenomena as xenophobia and inter-ethnic enmity, leading often to the restriction of the rights of individuals and nations, persecutions, wars and other manifestations of violence.

The preventative to this can be found within the Christian message. The mission of Christianity and its values is a global mission and should not fear any type of globalization. The cure for the sickness of secular globalization and the loss of values is found not by withdrawing into an ethnic and national refuge, but through administering the medicine of its universal mission. The true Christian cannot feel threatened ethnically because a Christian globalization doesn’t deny ethnicity. The global mission of Christianity is not uniformity, but unity.

The Church does not deny ethnicity because to deny it would be to deny the mystery of personhood and the particularity of each individual; instead, the Church transcends ethnicity. The Church must consider the nation and war according to her absolute and eternal values: all other values, whatever they may be and no matter how worthy their motives may be, are lesser and relative. Divine revelation and life in Christ through the sacraments of the Church are absolute; therefore, any other relative value that impinges upon these absolute values cannot be accepted by the Church “ the heavenly homeland is above any earthly one. The holy righteous John of Kronstadt wrote this about love of one’s earthly homeland:

Love the earthly homeland… it has raised, distinguished, honored and equipped you with everything; but have special love for the heavenly homeland… that homeland is incomparably more precious that this one.

In ethnic conflicts, the Church should have a strong prophetic voice, and, when she observes that among her people or others that sick nationalistic movements, motivated and fed by hatred, are taking place, she should diagnose the illness with discernment and love. The Church must not tolerate ethnic hatred, out of which are born racism and fascism. She must fight unswervingly against this demon of hatred. A true love for the nation means a desire to cure its sickness. As a devoted doctor seeks to cure sicknesses without worrying about what the sick will think of him, so also the Church, motivated by a true love for the nation and its people, and with the prophetic power of the Holy Spirit, must give the diagnosis and administer the appropriate medicine without regard to what people will think. The prophetic role of the Church is to say what God is saying.

On the basis of a Christian anthropology that believes that God “has made from one blood every nation of men” (Acts 17:26), the Church sees that human unity is deeper, and ethnic divisions superficial and nonessential. The only legitimate division will occur when “all the nation will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from goats.” (Matt. 25:32)

I would like to conclude with words of Nicholas Berdyaev:

There have always been two races in the world. They exist today, and this division is more important than all other divisions. There are those who crucify and those who are crucified, those that oppress and those who are oppressed, those who hate and those who are hated, those who inflict suffering and those who suffer, those who persecute and those who are persecuted. It needs no explanation on whose side Christians should be.

Metropolitan John has been the bishop of Korça since 1998. He was the first Albanian to be consecrated bishop since the 1960s. He is the former rector of the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy near Durres in Albania. He has translated a number of books into Albanian including On the Holy Spirit by St Basil, The Orthodox Faith (a catechism) by Father Thomas Hopko, and a collection of writings by and about St Silouan of the Holy Mountain. He is at work on a three-volume introduction to dogmatic theology. There is a profile of him in Jim Forest’s recent book, The Resurrection of the Church in Albania.

From the Winter 2004/Theophany issue of In Communion, the quarterly journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. The text is copyrighted by the author and should not be published or reproduced on another web site without the author’s written permission.

Book Reviews (Spring 2004)

The Virtue of War

Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West

by Alexander Webster and Darrell Cole
Salisbury MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2004;
ISBN 1-928653-17-0; $20

This book is a work of polemic. The opening chapter is a clarion call to the Christian West to realize the danger of militant Islam and gird itself to fight back and defeat it. “Nine-Eleven” is presented as a belated moment of awakening for the West, and the purpose of this book is to convince Christians of the “virtue of war,” as the title puts it: that is, to demonstrate that in certain circumstances (which include the present circumstances of an Islamic attack on Western civilization) war is not only a regrettable necessity, but a positive good, in which good ends are achieved by the virtuous means of warfare.

The book is co-written by an Orthodox priest and theologian, Fr. Alexander Webster, and a Western theologian, of probably Protestant credentials, though with a deep and articulate sympathy for the Western Catholic tradition of the just war. The aim is to demonstrate broadly-based Christian support for an offensive war against evil, and especially to include the Orthodox tradition, that has often been presented as viewing war in deeply mistrustful terms. The opening chapter, as part of its clarion call, presents an alarming account of Islam, centrally and essentially committed to jihad in military terms, in the course of which there are several references to Orthodoxy’s long familiarity with Islam, as compared with the West.

This might be a good place to begin an assessment of the book, as it is certainly true that the Orthodox have a long familiarity with Islam, reaching right back to the beginnings of that religion. In the centuries since, Orthodox have often had Islamic states as close neighbors, and also lived cheek-by-jowl with Muslims, in Palestine and later under the Ottomans and the states that succeeded that empire. At times this relationship has been sharply antagonistic; so it was in the first century or so of Islam, when the Umayyad Empire sought to take Constantinople. But more often, the Orthodox have found a modus vivendi with their Muslim neighbors, as the Western crusaders found out to their annoyance, when they discovered that the Byzantine Emperor was engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the Muslims, to their mind simply enemies of the faith.

Plenty more examples could be cited for this Orthodox quest for a modus vivendi: Manuel Komnenos’ modification of the rite of conversion for Muslims, making it clear that Orthodox and Muslim worshiped the same God, however different their conceptions of him; Gregory Palamas’ favorable impressions of the mullahs with whom he met and engaged in theological discussion during the couple of years he spent as a prisoner of the Sultan (only Palamas’ more conventional, “apocalyptic” view of Islam is cited here).

In contrast, the West has tended to see Islam in terms of extremes: either the infidel, against whom one waged crusades, or a representative of an alluring “orientalism,” explored by the late Edward Said in his famous book of that name. Fr. Alexander, in his chapters in this book, seems anxious that the Orthodox should not be left out of this crusading drive against Islam, which is very much the fruit of such extremes of perception on the part of the West.

The chapters by Fr. Alexander are not a little confused. He seems to accept the virtual pacifism of the Church before Constantine, and seems uneasily aware that the Byzantine attitude to war was ambivalent; he speaks of a “penitential gloom” in Orthodox attitudes to war, but it is this that he seeks to dispel. His argument advances along several lines. First, he draws attention to the bloodthirsty God of the Old Testament. He is certainly right to warn against the potential Marcionism of opposing a God of love in the New Testament to a God of armies in the Old, but in his resolution he seems to obscure the prevailing impression left by the Lord’s teaching.

The canonical tradition poses a fairly daunting challenge. As he admits, there is virtually no exception to the canonical requirement of penance for any Christian soldier who killed in war before the eleventh century, and it is only thereafter in the West that this requirement comes to be forgotten. He might have mentioned, but does not, how the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Phokas — disturbed that Muslim warriors went into war with the promise of eternal bliss if they fell in battle, whereas Christian warriors had no such promise, but rather faced penance if they killed — pleaded with the patriarch and the bishops to change this canonical regulation, but in vain. Instead, Fr. Alexander tries to suggest that the canon of St. Basil requiring three years’ penance (that is, three years’ exclusion from communion) is in some way ambivalent.

Another argument draws attention to the Byzantine military martyrs: but what is striking about these martyrs is that none of them died in battle, indeed in many cases their military careers are largely, or entirely, posthumous (e.g., the historical Procopios or Demetrios). These are not glorified combatant soldiers, but rather notable participants in the struggle against evil, and defenders of Christian cities and peoples.

Fr. Alexander draws attention to prayers for the armed forces in the Divine Liturgy; true, he mentions the threefold petition for peace at the beginning of the Great Ekteny, but not the fivefold petition for peace in what the Greeks call the Eirenika. It is clear on which side the weight falls. A good deal is made of the services for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Here we touch on something that needs to be brought out into the open. There is no question that, in the wake of the conversion of Constantine, the Church, both in the East and the West, lent not only its prayers for the peace and prosperity of the Empire, but also its blessing (within the limits noted above) to armed Defense of the Empire.

But is this part of the Church’s tradition, or a betrayal of it? The way in which the cult of the Holy Cross became part of the Imperial cult was dangerously close to idolatry, even if it is reflected in prayers and songs we still use. The way in which these remnants of the Christian imperial cult have come to serve a questionable role in modern Orthodox nation states might be regarded as one of the more dire consequences of “phyletism,” condemned, at least notionally, as a heresy by all Orthodox Christians.

I have concentrated in this review on Fr. Alexander’s contribution, because this is an Orthodox journal (and, indeed, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is singled out for criticism by Fr. Alexander). The rest of the book presents the Western case. There we have a fine presentation of the Western case for a just (or justifiable) war, and an exploration of its history. Some good points are made, notably that the idea of a just war in which the virtue of the warrior is displayed and tested actually provides a means by which justice in war can be maintained. It is still the case, however, that Dr. Cole favors quite a hawkish conception of the “just war”; he is unhappy with the idea of such a war as a “mere” last resort. His position here leaves this reviewer with the impression that for him a just war can actually be a good thing, something that can be pursued with enthusiasm, rather than regret.

Whatever the merits of some of the arguments advanced, this book’s wider purpose is to justify a modern crusade against Islam — even though it recognizes, though to no noticeable effect, that Islamic terrorism is not actually a tautology — and calls on Western civilization to commit itself to such a crusade. This seems to me to leave no ground for questioning the right of the United States, or any other state powerful enough, to set itself up as a world policeman, the consequences of which seem to me profoundly alarming.

For a world power to take upon itself the role of being a world policeman raises Cicero’s question: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos — who will guard the guards themselves? The damage that well-intentioned people can do with the resources of a state (especially one so wealthy and powerfully armed as the US), as opposed what terrorists can do (and I certainly am not defending terrorism, or minimizing the guilt of terrorist action), seems to me immense. Consider Kosovo.

Look even at Iraq, where it more and more looks as if the military action there has destabilized the country and region in ways that are likely to have unfortunate long-lasting consequences. Simply in terms of numbers (which are ultimately irrelevant), the body count from allied action in Iraq exceeds that of the terrorists — and there is also the question, still quite unresolved, as to whether attacking Iraq had any impact on al Qaedi, or even was ever expected to. The metaphor of the policemen makes one think of friendly people keeping the peace. But the reality depends on who you are.

Here in England there is growing consciousness of the dangers of “institutionalized racism”: the policeman is not perceived as friendly — and often isn’t — if you are a black and living in South or East London. I know about this from teaching in South London for ten years. Similarly in Iraq: for a great many people there, the American “policemen” are not welcome, and thus are finding it more and more difficult to fulfil a police role. The atrocities in the Shia holy cities, almost certainly the work of Sunnis, are blamed by the Shiites on the Americans.

But are such factors irrelevant to the book, The Virtue of War? They would be (or only tangentially relevant) if the book confined itself to a discussion of the question of war and the Christian conscience, but it doesn’t. The first chapter — drawing on a one-sided use of Huntingdon’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis — is, as I said above, a clarion call for Christians to support the American attack on militant Islam, supported by arguments that Islam as a whole is potentially militant.

It is interesting to see what Christos Yannaras makes of the Huntingdon thesis, which sees Orthodoxy as a separate civilization from the West, something Yannaras welcomes with undue enthusiasm, though I think he is right in saying that Orthodoxy has at least as much in common with Islam as with the West. This might lead one to the conclusion, which Yannaras does not seem to draw, that we Orthodox are in an unusual position to mediate in what could become a fatal fault-line for the history of the 21st century.

— Fr. Andrew Louth

Fr. Andrew Louth is an Orthodox priest of the Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain and Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, UK.

Faith of Our Sons

a Father’s Wartime Diary

by Frank Schaeffer
Carroll & Graf; 320 pages
ISBN: 0786713224, $25

In 1998, Frank Schaeffer’s 18-year-old son, John, joined the Marines straight out of prep school, a family journey recounted in Keeping Faith. In Faith of Our Sons, Schaeffer picks up his family’s ongoing story as Corporal John Schaefer is deployed to the Middle East on the day Gulf War II begins.

Schaeffer offers his often moving reflections on the torments of having a son at war, as well as incisive observations on the place of the military in our society. Schaeffer observes how military culture has overcome class and race barriers much more effectively than its parent society, and writes about how a life of service seems to have become a lower-class occupation. He notes that in the Second World War many government officials had sons in combat and wonders how government policy would be different if this were still true. He is pained and bewildered by the ways in which we praise our soldiers, expect almost infinite sacrifices from them, but at the same time hold them at arm’s length. The book is not a pro-war diatribe, but a very personal reflection of the thoughts and feelings shared by many Americans in the last several years.

The book devotes several highly critical pages to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s Iraq appeal and Schaeffer’s reactions to it.

— John Brady

John Brady is treasurer of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America.

For a Culture of Co-suffering Love

the Theology of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

by Andrew J. Sopko
Archive Publications, 2004, 148 pages.

The Orthodox tradition in North America has done much in the last few decades to make its presence felt. The ethnic Orthodox and the Orthodox Church of America have waged their wars to make the Orthodox way relevant to the North American context, with the OCA establishing itself as a leading and articulate voice in this debate. Many has been the fine volume and seminary that has walked the extra mile to articulate a view of Orthodoxy that comes as a needful and necessary critique of western theology and denominational schism. Many has been the Orthodox mystical theologian that has made the Orthodox way appealing and attractive. Many have heard of Kallistos Ware, Vladimir Lossky, John Meyendorff, Alexander Schmemann, Thomas Hopko and John Zizioulas. But, there is a form of Orthodoxy in North America that is not as well known. It is this mother lode that Andrew Sopko has attempted to unpack and unravel in his book on the theology of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo.

Archbishop Lazar has dipped his bucket deep in the wells of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, John Romanides, Michael Azkoul and George Florovsky.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo is, without doubt, the most prolific Orthodox theologian in Canada, and he is certainly one of the most prolific Orthodox theologians in North America. It is about time that Archbishop Lazar was given his due, and For a Culture of Co-Suffering Love does such a deed well. The book is divided into seven sections: Orthodox Christianity and Culture, Gender as Prophecy, Beyond Morality and Ethics, Science and Theology as Empirical Quest, The Aesthetics of Reality, Last Things and Church and/or World.

The book’s strength lies in Sopko’s highlighting the ways in which Archbishop Lazar has engaged the culture he is living in rather than retreating into an idealized past, an ethnic subculture or a reactionary and right of center political theology. A weakness of the book is the way that Sopko has excluded economic and political questions from culture. Archbishop Lazar has never done this. Again and Again, Archbishop Lazar has faced and confronted many tough economic and political questions. He has dared to address, at times to the annoyance and chagrin of other theologians, many issues of injustice rather than either slip into an insulated pietism or genuflect to Americanized forms of Caesar worship. It would have helped if Andrew Sopko had highlighted how and why Archbishop Lazar has articulated a political theology that cannot be taken captive by the right, sensible center or political left, and done so from the unique Canadian Red Tory tradition.

For a Culture of Co-Suffering Love is a fine primer on the work of one of the pre-eminent Orthodox theologians of North America.

— Ron Dart

Ron Dart teaches in the department of political science/philosophy, religious studies at University College of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.

* * *

Orthodoxy and Ecumenism

The involvement of the Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies has become a matter of bitter debate among Orthodox Christians. The discussion can often take a harsh, polemical quality. Sometimes it is unclear what “ecumenism” even is.

The purpose of this web page is to post some of the texts which provide the foundation for Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement, as well as essays which introduce into the discussion the perspectives of Orthodox who are actually involved in it.

The essays come from a variety of sources. Their authors cannot readily be categorized as “liberal” or “conservative”, “traditionalist” or “modernist” (as useful as these terms may or may not be). But there are three perceptions which emerge from all of them without exception:

Ecumenism is not a heresy — or at least the “ecumenism” that is derided as “heresy” in some people’s estimation, and the “ecumenism” that is actually practiced by the Orthodox who participate in ecumenical organizations are two different things. If one looks at the anathemas which some have written about ecumenism, it is clear that what is being anathematized is the so-called “Branch Theory”, something which is not held by Orthodox “ecumenists”.

Orthodox involvement in ecumenism is a missionary responsibility. As in any missionary situation, a person’s actual conversion to Orthodoxy is left up to God, but the responsibility lies with Orthodox to be present and witness to their apostolic faith, to teach, and also to learn from the encounter.

Orthodox involvement in today’s ecumenical institutions merits serious examination. Orthodox Christians need to remain critical of problematic tendencies within institutionalized ecumenism. They also need to reflect seriously among themselves about the nature and purpose of their involvement with it.

It is hoped that the texts and essays on this site can help to balance the discussion on ecumenism and the Orthodox Church’s participation.

— Peter Bouteneff

Basic Texts

Encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of 1920. “Above all, love should be rekindled and strengthened among the churches, so that they should no more consider one another as strangers and foreigners, but as relatives, and as being a part of the household of Christ and ‘fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ’. (Eph. 3:6)”

Report of the III Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference of 1986. “It is essential to create within the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and other inter-Christian organizations, the necessary conditions which will enable the Orthodox Churches to act on an equal footing with the other members of the above-mentioned organizations.”

Report of the inter-Orthodox consultation of Orthodox WCC member churches in 1991. “It is our belief that the Orthodox have much to contribute in the ecumenical movement. It is therefore highly desirable that they develop more and more a witnessing, missionary mentality.”

“The World Council of Churches is not and must never become a Super-Church” — so declared a the “Toronto Statement” received by the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in 1950. Here are the highlights plus the full text of that declaration.

A summary history of Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement by Protobresbyter Georges Tsetsis, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch to the World Council of Churches. “Unity is to be understood as a conciliar life, not in any juridical sense, but in the sense of a real communion. Unity is a harmony in Christ among members within the Church and also among Churches. And it is precisely the achievement of this harmony which should be at the center of any ecumenical debate.”

Orthodox complaints are a ‘family disagreement’, says Catholicos Aram I: For many years the Orthodox churches in the World Council of Churches felt themselves a bit isolated, on the margin of the World Council of Churches’ life and work. They issued separate Orthodox statements on important occasions … I believe that this is the time that we bring the Orthodox churches out of that psychological, political or theological situation, and make them an integral part of the one fellowship of the World Council of Churches. Catholicos Aram announced that a “mixed theological meeting” of representatives of Orthodox and other WCC member churches would be held near Geneva on 22 June.

Statement on the Relationship of the Orthodox Church to the World Council of Churches issued by the Orthodox Theological Society in America at its annual meeting held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline Massachusetts on June 4-5, 1998. The Society urged continuity in the Orthodox participation in the WCC, at the same time calling for changes in the WCC.

Essays

Essays on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism by Fr. John Meyendorff. Fr. John (+1992), one of this century’s greatest Orthodox theologians and historians, was an active participant in the ecumenical movement. In the seven editorials we reproduce here, he writes with clarity, sobriety and conviction about the problems, opportunities and responsibilities of ecumenism for Orthodox Christians.

The Church, the Seminary and the Ecumenical Movement by Fr. Thomas Hopko, former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, wrote this brief but penetrating essay for friends and supporters of the Seminary in order to clarify the nature and purpose of participation in the ecumenical movement.

Orthodox Ecumenism: A Contradiction in Terms? by Peter Bouteneff. The author is Executive Secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and author of Daily Readings in Orthodox Spirituality (Templegate, Springfield, IL). There is also a link to responses published in the October In Communion and Peter Bouteneff’s reply to those letters.

An essay by Peter Bouteneff — “The Orthodox Churches, the WCC, and the Upcoming WCC Assembly“.

Excerpts from an article by Metropolitan Isaiah printed in the Denver Diocesan Newsletter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The author cautions against misunderstanding the terminology of “the pan-heresy of ecumenism” and against carelessly calling people “heretics” on the basis of this definition. He addresses the issue of resurgent Donatism in church life today.

Report of a meeting between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches’ respective Departments for External Church Relations. It highlights the distinction between constructive criticism of the ecumenical movement, and criticism whose purpose is to undermine the structures of canonical Orthodox churches. It reflects the desire to re-examine ways in which Orthodox can participate in ecumenism today.

Interview with Fr. Vassily Kobahidze, press secretary of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Fr. Vassily discusses the tensions and the breakaway groups which prompted the withdrawal of his church from the World Council of Churches.

Interview with Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin, professor at the Moscow Theological Academy and a leading specialist on canon law in the Russian Orthodox Church. Deconstructing the “ecumenism as heresy” position, Fr. Vladislav discusses the political motives which lie behind many anti-ecumenical arguments.

Towards a New Ecumenism” by Christos Yannaras. There are many ways to react to the encounter with Christians of traditions other than one’s own. Some will be satisfied with dialogue; others will want more, writes Christos Yannaras, a well-known theologian who is Professor of Philosophy at Pantion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece. He has written many books, among them Freedom of Morality and Person and Eros.

“The reaction against ecumenism [in Russia] at the moment of freedom was as inevitable as the economic stratification of the population after the liberalization of prices, writes Vladimir Zelinsky in his essay on “Rebuilding Russian Orthodoxy: the Ecumenical Issue“.

The WCC’s World Assembly in Harare: a report by Peter Bouteneff

Orthodox Contributions to Ecumenical Ecclesiology” [PDF] — an essay by Nicholas A. Jesson.

For numerous documents critical of Orthodox participation in ecumenical organizations, see the “Ecumenism Awareness Page” maintained by Patrick Barnes. This site includes the text of two Orthodox encyclicals: The Encyclical of 1848 (a reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, “to the Easterns”) and The Encyclical of 1895 (a reply to the Papal Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Reunion).

Will the Ecumenical Ship Sink? — re Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches; an interview with Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Moscow Patriarchate published in April 2006.

updated April 23, 2006

OPF’s Iraq Appeal: a letter to President Bush

A Plea for Peace from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America

stopwar[note: In March 2003, shortly before the US-led attack against Iraq was launched, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship drafted a letter to President George W. Bush urging him not to initiate war. The letter was signed by numerous Orthodox bishops, priests, monastics, theologians and lay people.]

Dear President Bush,

As Orthodox Christians, we seek the conversion of enemies to friends in Christ. Saddam Hussein is an enemy of the United States and of the people of Iraq, but we declare that there are better ways to respond to terrorism than to respond in kind.

We do not argue against attacking Iraq because of any admiration for Saddam Hussein. He came to office by intrigue and murder, and remains in power by the same means; he is his own country’s worst enemy. The Iraqi people deserve to be rid of him.

The United States is ready to overthrow him by any means, including an attack which would kill thousands of civilians and maim many more, justifying such an attack on the possibility that Hussein’s regime is producing weapons of mass destruction and preparing to use them against America and Israel and their allies.

Because we seek the reconciliation of enemies, a conversion which grows from striving to be faithful to the Gospel, the Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good, and fighting an elusive enemy by means which cause the death of innocent people can be regarded only as murder. Individual murderers are treated by psychiatrists and priests and isolated from society. But who heals the national psyche, the wounded soul of a nation, when it is untroubled by the slaughter of non-combatant civilians?

As Orthodox Christians, we find healing in Christ, Who made us responsible for His sacred gift of life. God created us in His image and likeness, and we best reflect Christ — Who neither killed anyone nor blessed anyone to kill — by loving, helping, and forgiving.

Friends help each other do good things, not evil things. We find echoes of holy friendship in the world’s unfolding reaction to events in Iraq.

Many nations traditionally allied with America — along with many patriotic Americans — oppose an invasion of Iraq. They see how difficult a position the US will assume by attacking Iraq, and seek instead a renewed program of weapons inspection.

Iraq’s closest neighbors are far from supportive of the course the United States is pursuing, even though they are aware of Saddam’s shameful, destructive regime. Not having rallied to America’s side does not mean that they support Saddam.

An attack on Iraq will be seen by many as an attack on all Arabic and Islamic states. America, despite the rhetoric, is perceived as seeing itself under attack by Islam. America helped install and maintain the despotic Shah of Iran, but withdrew its support when Iran became an Islamic republic (itself undemocratic in many ways). Now America is seen as the largely uncritical supporter of Israel, against the interests of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian. Bombing Iraq will confirm these perceptions among Muslims.

An attack by Saddam on any nation would be viewed as proper cause for a military response to Iraq by the attacked nation and its allies, as was the case with Kuwait. This may not be good, but it is true. Saddam now attacks only his own people, and they need help — but not the “help” of being killed in an effort by other countries to bring about “regime change” in Iraq.

“Pre-emption” (the notion that one nation may attack another because of what it might do) is philosophically, ethically, and pragmatically perilous. After all, an enemy may return the favor. Once “pre-emption” is established as a valid principle for international relations, nations which invoke that principle will have no conceptual shelter.

If the world can be convinced that it’s possible to work peacefully to make life more livable for all, we will all be better off. This is the reconciliation we hope for as Christians among individuals. Can it not happen among nations, between Iraq and its neighbors, and for all the good people of the world?

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship calls on the United States and the United Nations to follow diplomatic paths predicated on mercy, honesty, and justice, and to seek peacefully negotiated resolutions to the impasse in Iraq.

We implore Christ, Who is our peace, to bless every endeavor directed toward our complete reconciliation with each other, and with Him.

The Council for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America:

John Brady, Jim Forest, David Holden, Daniel Lieuwen, John Oliver, Deacon John Oliver III, Alex Patico, Sheri San Chirico, Monk James Silver and Renee Zitzloff

A partial list of other signers as of 19 March 2003:

Archbishop Peter of New York and New Jersey, Orthodox Church in America, External Affairs

Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Bishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America

Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, Orthodox Church in America

Bishop Mercurius of Zaraisk, Vicar of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Administrator of Parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the USA

Bishop Basil of Sergievo, Diocese of Sourozh, Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain

Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain

Rebecca Alexander , member, Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, Nashville, Indiana

Fr. Paisius Altschul, St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church, Kansas City, Missouri

Hierodeacon Amvrosi, Communaute de St Serafin de Sarov, Rawdon, Quebec

Sadie Barchini, Vice President, Orthodox Christian Fellowship at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Timothy Beach, director, Agape School; Reader & lay missionary, Orthodox Church in Taiwan

Carol Bebawi, Centre for the Study of Islam & Christian-Muslim Relations, University of Birmingham, member of St Aidan & St Chad parish, Nottingham, England

Fr. John Behr, Associate Professor of Patristics, St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York

Alexander Belopopsky, Programme Executive for Europe, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland

Carmela Biggs, R.N., case manager, Raphael House, shelter for homeless families, San Francisco, California

Brother Pierre Blais , ThD, Monastic Society of S. Silouan the Athonite, OCA, Canada; Instructor, Dep’t of Religion, University of Toronto; Orthodox Church in America representative, Justice & Peace Commission, Canadian Council of Churches.

Rev. Ted Bobosh, priest, St. Paul’s Orthodox Church, Dayton, Ohio

Hildo Bos, Acting President, Syndesmos: the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth; member, St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Dr. Peter Bouteneff, Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York

Marie Boyko LaGuardia, member, St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church, Denver, Colorado

V. Rev. John Breck, Professor of Bioethics and Patristic Exegesis, St. Sergius Theological Institute, Paris, France; Director, St. Silouan Retreat, Charleston, South Carolina

Catherine Brockenborough, Esq., attorney, Nashville, Tennessee

Rev. Marcus C. Burch, St John of the Ladder Orthodox Church, Greenville, South Carolina

Prof. Sheila D. Campbell, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, Canada

Fr. William Christ, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Brother Christopher, Hieromonk; Brother Elias, Monk; Brother Stavros, Monk, New Skete Monastery, Cambridge, New York

Fr. John Chryssavgis, Professor of Theology, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts

Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis , Dean and Professor of Dogmatics, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts

Gregory Cook, writer and teacher; member of Holy Resurrection Church, Tacoma, Washington

Fr. Michael Dahulich, Dean, St. Tikhon Orthodox Theological Seminary, So. Canaan, Pennsylvania

Protodeacon Peter Danilchick, Oakton, Virginia

Fr. Demetrios Demopulos, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Fitchburg, Massachusetts

Helen Breslich Erickson, Lecturer in Liturgical Music, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York

John H. Erickson, Dean, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York

Fr. Dragan and Mirjana Filipovic, St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Canton, Ohio

Fr. Thomas FitzGerald , Th.D., Professor of Church History and Historical Theology, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts

Fr. Hilarion Frakes, St.John of Kronstadt Orthodox Mission, Reno, Nevada

V. Rev. Thomas Gallaway, St. Andrew Antiochian Orthodox Church Lexington, Kentucky

Fr. John Garvey, priest of the Orthodox Church in America; Commonweal columnist; New York City

Fr. Paul Gassios , St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church, Indiana

Eleni Geanon , MA, Director of Alumni Relations Office, Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts

Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin, Associate Professor of Theology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Rev. Anastasios Gounaris, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Indianapolis, Indiana

Archimandrite Michael Graves, Maison Orthodoxe, Petion-Ville, Haiti, West Indies

Deacon James Gresh, Diocese of the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America, Canton, Ohio

Fr. Alexander Golubov, Academic Dean, St Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Canaan, Pennsylvania

Fr. Stanley Harakas, retired Professor of Orthodox Theology, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts

Fr. Gregory Havrilak, Associate General Secretary, Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, New York City

Fr. Stephen C. Headley, priest, parish of St. Stephen and St. Herman, Vezeley, France

Dr. Jurretta Jordan Heckscher, cultural historian, writer, and member of St. Mark Orthodox Church, Bethesda, Maryland

Fr. Oliver and Matushka Lorie Herbel, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York.

Fr. Mark Hodges, St. Stephen the First Martyr Orthodox Church, Lima, Ohio

Seraphim Alton Honeywell, Warden, Russian Parish of the Annunciation, Oxford, England

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

Chris Horattas , Board Member, St. Nicholas Orthodox School; member, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Akron, Ohio

Fr. Stephen Hrycyniak, Associate Pastor, Saints Cyril & Methodius, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Fr. David Hudson, Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America & Canada, Alpharetta, Georgia

Hegoumen Irenee, Communaute Monastique de St Serafin de Sarov, Rawdon, Quebec

Father Frederick & Presbytera Carol Janecek, Saints Cyril & Methodius Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Demetra Velisarios Jaquet, M.Div., member of St. Catherine Greek Orthodox, Greenwood Village, Colorado

Fr. John Jillions, St. Ephraim Orthodox Church, Cambridge, England

Victoria Jones, OCA Focus Curriculum Team, Parishioner of Holy Trinity, Overland Park, Kansas

Joan Kakascik , Ed.D., Psychologist, Parishioner of Christ the Saviour, Paramus, New Jersey

Fr. George E. Kalpaxis, retired priest, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Baltimore, Maryland

Barbara Karol, parishioner, Christ the Saviour, Paramus, New Jersey

Valerie A. Karras, Th.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Greek Patristics, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri; member, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, St. Louis, Missouri

Fr. Robert Kennaugh, St Nicholas Church, Narol, Manitoba, Canada

Nikola D. Kostich , M.D. and Carol M. Kostich , members of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, St. Paul, Minnesota

Charlie Kroll, Chief Financial Officer, Hellenic College/Holy Cross Seminary, Brookline, Massachusetts

Fr. Bratso Krsic, Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Butte, Montana

Fr. Alexander Kuchta, pastor, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, Palatine, Illinois

Paul Ladouceur, webmaster, ‘Pages Orthodoxes La Transfiguration, Rawdon, Quebec, Canada

Archpriest George Larin, Rector, Parish of the Russian Orthodox Holy Virgin Protection Church, Nyack, New York

Kevin Lawrence, Chair, String Department, North Carolina School of the Arts, University of North Carolina; Choir Director, Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church, Greensboro, North Carolina

Dr. Violet E. Leathers, Associate Professor- Emeritus, College of Education, University of Akron, Akron, Ohio

Fr. Brooks Ledford, Director of San Antonio Catholic Worker House, priest of the Orthodox Church in America, attached: St. Anthony Orthodox Church, San Antonio, Texas

Dr. Philip LeMasters, Professor of Religion, McMurry University, Abilene, Texas

Rev. Gregory Long, Saint Anthony Orthodox Church, Butler, Pennsylvania

Claude Lopez , Language Professor, Switzerland

Serge R. Lopoukhine, Parish Treasurer, Holy Virgin Protection Russian Orthodox Church, Nyack, New York

Dr. Andrew Louth, Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, England

Fr. Timothy Lowe, priest, SS Peter & Paul Church, Meriden, Connecticut

Nun Macaria, St. Xenia Metochion, Indianapolis, Indiana

Anne Glynn Mackoul, Princeton, New Jersey

Fr. John Manuel, Richmond, Virginia

Fr. Lawrence Margitich, Santa Rosa, California

Mother Mary Ann, Presentation of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Monastery, Canton, Ohio

Frederica Mathewes-Green, author, Baltimore, Maryland

Daniel C. Mathewson , Holy Assumption Orthodox Church, Canton, Ohio; teacher, St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian School, Mogadore, Ohio

Joe May, director, Matthew 25 House of Hospitality, Akron, Ohio

Mother Brigid McCarthy, St. Moses House, Kansas City, Missouri

V. Rev. Rade Merick, Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Church, Steubenville, Ohio

Dr. Paul Meyendorff, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York

Fr. Thomas Moore, priest, Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, West Columbia, South Carolina

Fr. Elijah Mueller, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Jamaica Estates, New York

Fr. Thomas Mueller, Dean, Chicago Deanery, Orthodox Church in America; pastor, Saints Cyril & Methodius Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Presbytera Gina Mueller, Saints Cyril & Methodius Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Very Rev. John Nehrebecki, Dean of New Jersey, Orthodox Church in America

Fr. Anthony Nelson, rector, St. Benedict Russian Orthodox Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; director, Oklahoma Orthodox Christians for Life/Oklahoma Pro-Life Action Network

Evangeline Newton , Director of the Center for Literacy, University of Akron; member, Annunciation, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Akron, Ohio

Rick M. Newton , Chair of the Modern and Classical Languages Department, Kent State University; member Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Akron, Ohio

Archpriest Michael J. Oleksa, Dean, St. Innocent Cathedral, Anchorage, Alaska

Archpriest Sergei Ovsiannikov, rector, St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Fr. George C. Papademetriou, Associate Professor of Theology, Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Massachusetts

Fr. Harry Pappas, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Alexander Patico, Senior Program Manager, Institute of International Education

Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko, Orthodox Church of All Russian Saints, Burlingame, California

Rachel Catherine Peters, M.Div., Orthodox Church of St. John the Russian, Ipswich, Massachusetts; Department of Internet Ministries, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Fr Michael Plekon, professor, Sociology/Anthropology, Program in Religion & Culture, Baruch College of the City University of New York

Fr. Victor S. Potapov, Rector, Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, D.C.

Fr. Theodore Pulcini, Associate Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA

Dr. Albert Raboteau, Professor of Religion, Princeton University, New Jersey

Fr. Patrick Radley, rector, Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Great Walsingham, England

Fr. Geoffrey Ready, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Mother Raphaela, Abbess, Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, Otego, New York

Archpriest Basil Rhodes, rector, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Saratoga, California

Dr. Gabriel Jay Rochelle, teacher, Saint Sophia Theological Seminary, South Bound Brook, New Jersey

Jessica Rose, choir director, Russian Orthodox parish, Oxford, England

Fr. Dmitri Ross, St.Dunstan Orthodox Parish, New Zealand

Fr. Yakov Ryklin, St. Mary Magdalen Orthodox Church, New York City

Archimandrite Michael Rymer, Stockton, California

Fr. Herman Schick, pastor, St George Orthodox Church, Buffalo, New York; president of the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches on the Niagara Frontier

Fr. Paul Schroeder, Chancellor, Greek Orthodox Diocese of San Francisco

Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, parish priest in Boise, Idaho, and president of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund USA

Eleana Silk , Librarian, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York

Fr. Alvian Smirensky, Schenectady, New York

Susan E. Steinhaus, member, St Paul’s Orthodox Church, Emmaus, Pennsylvania

Catherine Sullivan, member, St. Nickolas Orthodox Church, Charlotte, North Carolina

Philip Tamoush, Orthodox Christian Communications Network, Torrance, California

Juliann and Catherine Tarsney, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, St. Paul, Minnesota

Professor Nikolai S. Tchertkoff , Chestnut Ridge, New York

Fr. Rastko and Vickie Trbuhovich , St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Church, Lackawanna, New York

Very Rev. Andrew Tregubov; iconographer; rector of Holy Resurrection Church, St. Claremont, New Hampshire

Fr. Luke Veronis, adjunct professor at Holy Cross Theological Seminary and St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary

Fr. Alexis Vinogradov, parish priest, Wappingers, New York

Rev. Aleksandar Vlajkovic, St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, Boston, Massachusetts

Fr. Theodoor van der Voort, Holy Apostles Peter and Paul Church, Deventer, the Netherlands

Michael and Theodora Ward; editor, Orthodox Outlook; members, Greek Orthodox Church of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England

Martin D. Watt, C.P.A., St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Parish, Dayton, Ohio

Donald L. Westcott, member, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church, Canton, Ohio

Deacon Timothy Wilkinson, Diocese of the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America, Canton, Ohio

Fr. Gregory Williams, St. John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty, Tennesee; administrator, Haitian Orthodox Mission (ROCOR)

Mary Winterer-Papatassos , member, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Xenia Woyevodsky , member, St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Lena S. Zezulin, Attorney, Washington, DC

Dn. Moses Zorea, St. James the Just Russian Orthodox Church, Anchorage, Alaska; attorney-at-law

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America is a branch of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship International.

* * *

Confession: the Sacrament of Reconciliation

by Jim Forest

Without confession, love is destroyed.

It is impossible to imagine a vital marriage or deep friendship without confession and forgiveness. If you have done something that damages a relationship, confession is essential to its restoration. For the sake of that bond, you confess what you’ve done, you apologize, and you promise not to do it again.

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.

The purpose of confession is not to have one’s sins dismissed as non-sins but to be forgiven and restored to communion. As the Evangelist John wrote: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) The apostle James wrote in a similar vein: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (Jas 5:16)

Confession is more than disclosure of sin. It also involves praise of God and profession of faith. Without the second and third elements, the first is pointless. To the extent we deny God, we reduce ourselves to accidental beings on a temporary planet in a random universe expanding into nowhere. To the extent we have a sense of the existence of God, we discover creation confessing God’s being and see all beauty as a confession of God. “The world will be saved by beauty,” Dostoevsky declared. We discover that faith is not so much something we have as something we experience — and we confess that experience much as glass confesses light. The Church calls certain saints “confessors” because they confessed their faith in periods of persecution even though they did not suffer martyrdom as a result. In dark, fear-ridden times, the faith shone through martyrs and confessors, giving courage to others.

In his autobiography, Confessions, Saint Augustine drew on all three senses of the word. He confessed certain sins, chiefly those that revealed the process that had brought him to baptism and made him a disciple of Christ and member of the Church. He confessed his faith. His book as a whole is a work of praise, a confession of God’s love.

But it is the word’s first meaning — confession of sins — that is usually the most difficult. It is never easy admitting to doing something you regret and are ashamed of, an act you attempted to keep secret or denied doing or tried to blame on someone else, perhaps arguing — to yourself 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 forgiving sins? Is priest-witnessed confession 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 he 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 confession can never be as complete or revealing as God’s knowledge of me and all that needs repairing in my life.

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 rationales, not to confess? Why do I try so hard to explain away my sins until I’ve decided either they’re not so bad or might even 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 Marlboro Man — the person without community, parents, spouse, or children — exists only on billboards. 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 not long 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 but has been in many bodies before mine. The place I live, the tools I use, and the paper I write on were made by many hands. I am not my own doctor or dentist or banker. To the extent 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 not only a way of communicating with others but even 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 underlying principle is described in one of the collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers, the Gerontikon:

“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 bartender, taxicab driver or stranger in an airport, 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” — something like the New Yorker cartoon in which a psychologist reassures a Mafia contract killer stretched out on the couch, “Just because you do bad things doesn’t mean you’re bad.”

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 impede or undermine religious life. Yet it’s not a term we seem inclined to adapt to other contexts. Few people would prefer we got rid of institutionalized health care or envision a world without institutionalized transportation. Whatever we do that involves more than a few people requires structures.

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, “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.”

This is an extract from Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness (Orbis Books, 2002). Jim Forest’s earlier books include Praying with Icons, Ladder of the Beatitudes as well as biographies of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

Freedom

The voice of Metropolitan John Pelushi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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