Tag Archives: Nationalism

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

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

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

By Nicholas Sooy

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Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Identity and Unity: From Babel to Pentecost

National Identity and Unity: From Babel to Pentecost

by Archbishop Makarios of Kenya

9 tower-of-babel1 national identity

Despite many areas of progress, the last one hundred years has been the most brutal age in the history of humanity. What is most shocking about modern conflicts is that it is not the combatants who have been the main victims, but rather the most vulnerable members of society: children, women, the elderly, the sick. This is due not only to violence but also to malnutrition and disease made worse by armed conflict. Wars disrupt food supplies, destroy crops and agricultural infrastructure, wreck water and sanitation systems, and disable health services. Wars displace whole populations, tearing families and communities apart.

Most modern wars are principally instigated or manipulated by what might be called the “phyletistic personality syndrome,” a phenomenon which pits humans against humans in the most violent of confrontations in the name of national or tribal identity, ethnic cleansing, racial supremacy, or cultural exclusivism, often with distinct religious components.

Nationalism, in the sense of fanatical patriotism, is an obsessive sense of national superiority over other nations and a belief in one nation’s inherent and pre-determined glorious future destiny. Ethnocentrism gives rise to tribal or racial intolerance and leads to the perception that one must eliminate, exclude, or dominate the “lesser tribe.” In the case of cultural-ideological exclusivism, the values and norms of one’s culture are regarded as superior to all others and must therefore be adopted by others or imposed on them. To better understand the phenomenon of ethnic and national identities and cast some light upon the search for human unity, it is necessary for us to explore the biblical and theological explanations for our propensity toward tribalism and nationalism.

In the period immediately preceding construction of the Tower of Babel, we learn that all people were of one race and spoke one language. The diversification of human languages was a consequence of human sin incurred during the building of the Tower of Babel, a rebellion against God’s ordinances, the ambition of “making a name for one’s self” by constructing a human empire and culture independent of the will and assistance of God.

Despite the post-Babel second human Fall, the freshly diversified global situation provided humans with the freedom either to identify with a wise and blessed sense of ethnic affiliation in a theocentric direction or to let their differences degenerate into demonic anthropocentric-nationalism, ethnocentrism and tribal pride. Clearly, the latter path was taken.

The step from ethnic identity to fanatical ethnocentrism, and from national identity to obsessive nationalism, which lies behind most of our violent conflicts, must be understood through a theological, biblical prism as a fallen, corrupt human state, a spiritually dysfunctional condition, which must be condemned by the Church.

How then can the Church assist in the search for the path of human unity? Can the Church be effective? I believe the answer is yes.

A Byzantine kontakion chanted on the Sunday of Pentecost is most illuminating in terms of the post Tower of Babel potential for a unified human condition initiated by Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit:

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the all-holy Spirit!

The Pentecost event in the Upper Room is God’s reversal of the punitive measures taken at Babel. Through the “tongues of fire” and the speaking in various human tongues, the potential for reunification of humanity is made possible through the unify-ing operations of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit possesses a creative force to transform and renew. The Pentecost event transformed the disciples into bold witnesses for Christ by renewing their hearts and minds. This transforming “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is capable of transfiguring human hearts and making former enemies into friends and brothers. In our search for human unity, we need to consistently experience the empowering anointing of Pentecost, becoming faithful instruments of the Holy Spirit.

The initial celebration of the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated not as an individual institution but within a communal setting, that is within the messianic or ecclesial community presided over by Jesus among his disciples. He formed a new, united community dedicated to loving and serving one another as well as “giving thanks” to Him who established it. The partaking of the holy Body and Blood of Christ by the ecclesial community becomes a source of growth in the image and likeness of Christ and the ultimate bond of spiritual and social unity, for it doesn’t discriminate against gender, class, or race in its sanctifying energy. In this way we are made ready to “receive one another as Christ received us.”

The challenge we face is eradication of phyletism within the Church. Sadly, we Church members are often guilty of promoting nationalism at the expense of our catholic (in the sense of universal) identity. Churches constituted on national lines often involve themselves in national wars, even blessing weapons before battle, and even encouraging war and nationalism in the name of Jesus Christ! While nationalistic church leaders are certainly well intentioned, in reality they oppose the work of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ.

It is significant that, at a time of heightened nationalism, a pan-Orthodox Synod held in Constantinople in 1872 condemned ethno-phyletism as a heresy: “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.”

As the Orthodox canon lawyer, Grigorios Papathomas, explains, “the Church must not be confused with the destiny of a single nation or a single race.”

In Pauline terms, we may say that nationalism is the direct consequence of a “fleshly” anthropocentric disposition rather than a spiritual and theocentric human orientation. Nationalism remains in the realm of the “flesh” rather than the “spirit” as a manifestation of the powers and principalities at work in the “present evil age.” In his letter to the Galatians, Paul insists that among Christ’s followers there is “no longer Greek nor Jew” but only the unity, peace, and blessedness that derives from membership in the new “Israel of God,” the Church. This unity however can only be perceived, appropriated, and accomplished in a theocentric manner by those who are reconciled in Christ. It can only be made manifest by those who bring forth the “fruits of the Spirit.” It is in this way that we may receive one another as Christ receives us and thus aspire toward authentic human unity. History is littered with the failed scraps of torn anthropocentric peace treaties, international accords, and cease-fire agreements.

If the Church is to accomplish the task of human unity, it must practice its God-appointed calling. This requires that we abandon ethnic ghettos. We have been appointed to participate in Christ’s great commission, the evangelization and baptism of all nations. This global evangelization mission of the Church bearing the message of unconditional love and forgiveness will eventually enable humans to “Receive one another as Christ received us” (Rom. 15:7).

I end with this question: Who is Jesus Christ for us? Is he merely a tribal leader who facilitates national unification? Or is he God, who saves us from malediction and death? For the believing mind, the answer is self-evident.  IC

This essay is based on a paper presented in 2004 in Malaysia at a conference of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission of the World Council of Churches.

Letter from the editor IC69

Ukraine Crisis: Truth the First Casualty

guest editorial by Jim Forest
Wars are fought not only with weapons but with words and propaganda. Charge and counter-charge are exchanged as Kiev, Moscow and Washington assert, accuse, and deny. Are the armed “green men” in Ukraine’s Donboss region in fact Russian military, as Kiev and Washington allege, or are they Ukrainians merely replicating locally what was done on the Euromaidan in Kiev a few months earlier, as Moscow asserts? Who had ordered snipers to open fire back then on the people on the Euromaidan? Who distributed leaflets ordering Jews to register with authorities? Was it the new government of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, as Kiev claims, or was it a provocation aimed at discrediting pro-Russian separatists? Who killed three men at a checkpoint in Slovyansk in late April, Russian military intelligence or Ukrainian nationalists? Who is to blame for the blaze in Odessa on the 2nd of May that trapped and killed so many on the pro-Russian side? Day-by-day such questions multiply.

Spend an hour or two on the web reading texts about the conflict in Ukraine. It’s impressive how much bluster, hyperbole, exaggeration, conspiracy theorizing, overheated rhetoric, and plain lying have come from every side: Kiev, Moscow, Washington, London and other European capitals. Hour-by-hour the ancient Greek proverb—“In war, truth is the first casualty”—is being amply demonstrated.

No one would deny that the former Yanukovych government was corrupt, as was the government that preceded it. That many Ukrainians were fed up with such leadership is understandable. It’s no less understandable that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority is outraged and, after being treated for years as second-class citizens, that many of them might prefer either a high degree of regional autonomy or even being part of Russia. Only free elections, not only at the national level but oblast-by-oblast, can demonstrate the will of the people. Meanwhile the Ukrainians have a right to sort out their own affairs without outside interference. Regardless of the outcome in Ukraine, the US, NATO, and Russia should stand back.

But of course they are not standing back. It is reasonable to assume that much that is happening in Ukraine is encouraged if not choreographed by strategists in the US and Russia plus various European capitals. In the western press, the fact that the CIA has been quietly meddling in the affairs of Ukraine has been regarded as a detail of minor significance, even though the CIA has so often in the past played a decisive role in arranging “regime change.” White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that CIA Director John Brennan visited Kiev in mid-April and met with principal Ukrainian officials. With a straight face Carney said that it was absurd to imply that US officials meeting with their counterparts in Kiev was anything other than routine. The claim would be laughable if the consequences of enmity were not so disastrous.

Certainly the major powers have their special interests and goals. Western European countries see an opportunity to include Ukraine in the NATO alliance and to bring Ukraine into the European Union while in the process “reforming” Ukraine’s economy as is being done, for example, in Greece. Russia seeks to keep NATO at a distance and, having reclaimed Crimea, may also see an opportunity to reabsorb the more Russian-speaking oblasts in eastern Ukraine that were lost when the USSR collapsed. Even if Russia does not seek to expand its borders, it may want to force any future elected Kiev government to grant a considerable degree of autonomy to oblasts in which the majority of the population are Russian speakers.

A major factor in the conflict is ultra-nationalism, which infects not only a large part of the overall population but also the membership of churches. There are three Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine whose borders are drawn in part along lines of language and nationality (Ukrainian or Russian). There are also both Eastern rite and Western rite jurisdictions in communion with Rome, especially in western Ukraine.

It is not a situation in which Christians on the outside can embrace one side and denounce the other. All sides have legitimate claims—and each side has its fanatics and thugs. The only hope for a peaceful solution is dialogue and free elections. Perhaps it is by stressing a deeper unity that Orthodox Christians working for peace can best help remind our fellow Christians in the midst of this conflict of a communion that transcends national and linguistic identity. While deep divisions are obvious and unhealed wounds many, all Christians, no matter of what jurisdictional segment, would respond to the exclamation “Christ is risen!” with the immediate and unified response, “He is risen indeed!”

That Paschal affirmation should shape our response to the world we live in, but often it doesn’t. Not only in Ukraine and Russia but in every Orthodox jurisdiction, national identity often influences our sense of self and our public identity more than the fact of being baptized Christians among whom “there is neither Greek nor Jew”—a Christ-centered community in which all national labels are secondary.

As Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople recently said, while on a visit to The Netherlands, “The concept of the nation cannot become a determining factor of Church life or an axis of Church organization. Whenever an Orthodox Church succumbs to nationalist rhetoric and lends support to racial tendencies, it loses sight of the authentic theological principles and gives in to a fallen mindset, totally alien to the core of Orthodoxy.”  IC

A damaged dome in the yard of an Orthodox church damaged by shelling in Kuibyshevski district in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
A damaged dome in the yard of an Orthodox church damaged by shelling in Kuibyshevski district in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
Resources for parish and private prayer as well as various relevant texts can be found on the Ukraine Crisis page posted on the OPF’s In Communion web site: www.incommunion.org/2014/03/17/pray-for-peace/

St. Patrick’s Challenge to Nationalism

by Pieter Dykhorst

This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven….I testify in truth and in great joy of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which I had earlier escaped [Ireland], except the gospel and God’s promises.

—St. Patrick

Few saints are as well known or have so much written about them as Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. The body of work attributed to the very real 5th century Christian missionary and saint of that name is so large––and the historical record suggests that much of that work took place over significantly more than the span of one lifetime––that some scholars suggest there must have been two Patricks or that some unknown contemporary shared the work.

The St. Patrick we know, on whom the legend is based, did leave behind a written record that tells us a great deal but far too little to confidently describe his accomplishments. Patrick’s own words suggest that while all of the astounding growth and success of Christianity in Ireland in that period may not be directly attributable to him, his work laid the foundations for much of it.

Patrick left us two documents––a short biography and a letter––that provide a brief sketch of his life, a number of clues about the nature and scope of his ministry, and considerable insight into the nature of his faith, theology, and character. The wide-angle picture they give of his life and ministry offer few details, and together they wouldn’t fill half an issue of In Communion.

Most of the legend of St. Patrick comes from hagiography written down more than a century later. They connect the dots Patrick provides for a more robust picture of his life. But they also conflate his story with what was done by others who came after him. Much in them may be taken as reliably descriptive of Patrick and his life but cannot be taken as factual without additional evidence.

A third narrative informing contemporary notions about Patrick is the popular cultural fiction full of fun things like green beer, leprechauns, and pots of gold.

The Irish are not alone in surrounding an important historical figure with a popular mythology. The society without such mythologies probably does not exist. Patrick is on our cover in this issue for two purposes. Without begrudging Patrick his place in Irish hearts, we want to rescue him from being a saint merely for the Irish and restore him to the whole Church for all to venerate. By getting to know each other’s saints, we engage in bridge building and are drawn into a richer Orthodoxy and away from our tendency to remain too comfortably settled in our jurisdictional, cultural, or ethnic ghettos.

The makeover of Patrick from Orthodox saint to national patron also serves to exemplify how Christians may over time fall prey to erroneous thinking about not only our collective cultural and historical identities but also our Christian identity. By the 15th century, St. Patrick was only one of about thirty-five “pattern day” saints (patrons) in Ireland, albeit possibly the most important. He become Ireland’s Patron Saint when he was made the emblem of Irishness at the rise of Irish nationalism beginning in the 18th century. By teasing Patrick’s narratives apart, we find in him a father of the faith to the Irish around whom they may gather for celebration, but nothing like a national hero.

Very late in his ministry and near the end of his life, Patrick wrote his two documents. They clearly suggest he didn’t write much else, at least not earlier and nothing that might have been intended as a record. His very short Confessio was written self-consciously to the posterity of his Irish children in the faith, and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus was written against the chief of a band of murdering and plundering slavers who raided the Christians under Patrick’s care. One may feel a natural skepticism toward autobiographical sketches, but while Patrick’s words erect a bare biographical framework, they convey a profound and believable humility. Reluctant to tell his story, he seems more compelled to talk about God’s faithfulness, his own unworthiness, and his great love for his Irish children in Christ.

Patrick’s confession begins “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.” And then in one short paragraph, he offers nearly all of what he eventually gives us of the bones of his biography:

My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae [somewhere in Roman Britain]. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.

Image of Dumbarton Castle. One theory of Patrick’s origins holds that he came from near Dumbarton in present day Scotland. No one knows where Bannavern Taburniae was.
Image of Dumbarton Castle. One theory of Patrick’s origins holds that he came from near Dumbarton in present day Scotland. No one knows where Bannavern Taburniae was.

He tells us that his story would be long if he told his “each and every deed” in Ireland. But he doesn’t; instead, his biography is really a lengthy confession of God:

So I am…a refugee, and unlearned. I do not know how to provide for the future. But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall. That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord for such great good deeds of his, here and now and forever, which the human mind cannot measure.

So be amazed, all you people great and small who fear God! You well-educated people in authority, listen and examine this carefully. Who was it who called one as foolish as I am from the middle of those who are seen to be wise and experienced in law and powerful in speech and in everything? If I am most looked down upon, yet he inspired me, before others, so that I would faithfully serve the nations with awe and reverence and without blame: the nations to whom the love of Christ brought me. His gift was that I would spend my life, if I were worthy of it, to serving them in truth and with humility to the end.

Only after several paragraphs does Patrick offer just a little more detail about his circumstances. We learn that he and the many with him were taken because they “deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments.” He describes his life as a simple shepherd and tells of hearing God’s voice prompting him to escape, which he did after six years; about his years-long journey to return home again; and how he eventually returned to Ireland ––again being directed by God in visions––probably in his forties and over the strong protest of his family. Patrick’s Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus is similarly written in the style of a confession but with a more practical purpose. A lament for the killing and plundering of Christians and an encouragement to his beloved suffering Irish children in Christ, he begins the letter with these words:

I declare that I, Patrick, an unlearned sinner indeed, have been established a bishop in Ireland. I hold quite certainly that what I am, I have accepted from God. I live as an alien among non-Roman peoples, an exile on account of the love of God––he is my witness that this is so…. The truth of Christ stimulates me, for love of neighbors and children: for these, I have given up my homeland and my parents, and my very life to death, if I am worthy of that. I live for my God, to teach these peoples…. With my own hand I have written and put together these words to be given and handed on and sent to the soldiers of Coroticus. I cannot say that they are my fellow-citizens, nor fellow-citizens of the saints of Rome, but fellow-citizens of demons, because of their evil works. By their hostile ways they live in death…. They are blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.

After descriptions of Coroticus’ crimes, encouragement to the suffering Irish Christians, and a defense of his ministry, Patrick ends with a purposeful appeal:

I ask insistently whatever servant of God is courageous enough to be a bearer of these messages, that it…be read before all the people, especially in the presence of Coroticus himself. If this takes place, God may inspire them to come back to their right senses before God. However late it may be, may they repent of acting so wrongly, the murder of the brethren of the Lord, and set free the baptized women prisoners whom they previously seized. So may they deserve to live for God, and be made whole here and in eternity. Peace to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It would be surprising if “each and every deed” of Patrick’s life were not repeated, did not become legendary, and did not also evolve by the time they were written down. by his own testimony, Patrick converted thousands, preached all over Ireland, and had dealings with kings and chieftains––he tells of one king who was quite unhappy when his daughter, guided by Patrick, became a nun. There were also conflations, fictionalizations, and inaccurate attributions. We learn from the legends, for example, that Patrick founded monasteries, faithfully taught about the Trinity to a pantheistic culture, and wrote certain poems and prayers that have survived. Likely he did found monasteries—he wrote of the many Christians under his care who entered monastic life—though no historical proof exists that he founded any, and he gives clear evidence that he faithfully taught the Orthodox doctrines of the Trinity, though historians doubt he used the shamrock to do so. It wouldn’t be surprising if he wrote prayers and made contributions to liturgical practice, yet historians doubt he wrote the ones attributed to him, and none others any longer exist.

he ruins of Slane Abbey, where legend claims Patrick lit a Paschal fire in defiance of the local king, who in admiration of Patrick’s devotion allowed him to continue preaching. Slane Abbey is one of many monasteries possibly founded by Patrick.
The ruins of Slane Abbey, where legend claims Patrick lit a Paschal fire in defiance of the local king, who in admiration of Patrick’s devotion allowed him to continue preaching. Slane Abbey is one of many monasteries possibly founded by Patrick.

Some of what is handed down is wholly fiction. He didn’t drive snakes from Ireland. Scientists who know tell us there is no evidence there have been any in Ireland since at least the last ice age, though banishing snakes may be metaphor for converting druidic folk to the worship of God in Christ. Patrick didn’t convert all of Ireland––that was mostly accomplished by the 14th century. He didn’t bring Christianity to Ireland and wasn’t the first Christian bishop—Christianity reached the island about a hundred years earlier and at least one bishop preceded him. Probably he was also not the only bishop in Ireland during his lifetime.

It remains for the skeptic to believe, however, that Patrick is not central to the story of the Irish Church, for no matter how sparsely documented are the lives of certain figures, popular culture never escapes their influence or fails to form collective memories of them. When those memories are later recorded and work done by Patrick’s spiritual children and grandchildren is attributed to him, the credit isn’t wholly misplaced. Knowing better the true story shouldn’t diminish him. The man who spent himself for the Irish “so that you may have me for yours,” and who “traveled everywhere among you for your own sake, in many dangers, and even to the furthest parts where nobody lived beyond, and where nobody ever went, to baptize and to ordain clerics or to bring people to fulfillment” remains worthy of collective commemoration of Christian faithful everywhere.

The Irish have succeeded in making Patrick their own, though he is not considered something like an Irish ethnic forebear. He became one of the most successful symbols of national identity anywhere by simple inclusion in the common national narrative. Patrick was one of many saints celebrated in Ireland when his feast day was taken over by parades, all things green, Guinness beer, and rousing music and fun prose. Over time many other elements of Irish identity were included—the Blarney Stone, Leprechauns, pots of gold—as St. Patrick’s Day evolved into a celebration of all things Irish.

As is very often the case among expatriate communities, Irish emigrants were among the most vocal advocates not only for creating and preserving a coherent and distinct Irish identity but for championing the political cause of the motherland. The keenest boosters of Irishness and Irish independence from Britain were found in America in the 18th century where the first St. Paddy’s Day parade took place in New York City as part of the nascent Irish Nationalist movement.

As the Irish formed communities in America, they began for the first time to think of what it meant to be Irish in the midst of others. Most had never thought in terms of ethnicity or national identity. Being Catholic became subordinate to being Irish as they sought to build and preserve their cultural distinctiveness. Over time, Gaelic culture became the matrix of Irish identity, in contrast to English culture. As the narrative of Irish cultural nationalism secularized, so did Patrick. Nobody seemed to notice that the saint was being erased from the page.

Despite being a driving force in most civic and international conflict, nationalism is much misunderstood. Irish nationalism is but one form, and Patrick provides but one example of a figure being co-opted in a nationalist project. Americans do not think of themselves as nationalistic, yet America broadly fosters a Civic Nationalism of a politico-credal sort even while other forms of nationalism flourish among a variety of groups, among them the messianic, religious nationalism of some Evangelical Protestants in which America is God’s chosen among the nations of the world. Americans often confuse patriotism with nationalism but they are not the same thing at all 1. One need not be a patriot to be a nationalist or a nationalist to be a patriot, or one may be both. Orthodox too hold to a variety of nationalisms, some of them are overtly religious while others are less so.

Bridal Party on the Hardanger, by Norwegian Romantic Nationalists Adolph Tideman and Hans Gude, is an example of 19th century Norwegian art commissioned to strengthen the notion of Norwegian separateness in Scandinavia in a bid to split from union with Sweden. The boat is carrying a group dressed in “traditional” Norwegian garb who are leaving a church. The imagery mimics Orthodox conceptions of the Church carrying the saints in an alien and hostile world.
Bridal Party on the Hardanger, by Norwegian Romantic Nationalists Adolph Tideman and Hans Gude, is an example of 19th century Norwegian art commissioned to strengthen the notion of Norwegian separateness in Scandinavia in a bid to split from union with Sweden. The boat is carrying a group dressed in “traditional” Norwegian garb who are leaving a church. The imagery mimics Orthodox conceptions of the Church carrying the saints in an alien and hostile world.

Among all forms of nationalism, religion remains the most powerful tool in any nationalist identity-building project because of the nature of religious belief. Religion is primary to believers’ sense of being human in the world. With religion at the core of understanding about the world and self and how all things relate to one another, religion becomes a handy cornerstone of collective-identity building around which many nation groups are formed. Who we are (personal ideas of identity are not possible without collective identity—it is the matrix in which personal identity is formed) unconsciously infuses every thought and perspective and thing with meaning so that we may say culture—that which defines the parameters and content of collective identity—becomes as water is to a fish, something not noticed until it is either threatened or absent or until something in stark contrast is presented as an alternative. When our culture—that is to say our collective being—is threatened or challenged, it’s existential primacy becomes immediately apparent as we instinctively defend it as we would our lives. Religion thus is often usefully the key element, albeit only one, of a complete montage of cultural components built together to form the being of each member of a national group from birth.

Religion-infused cultures abound. Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant countries (examples: Greece, Spain, USA) with long histories of Christianity being a dominant culturally formative factor could not be imagined without their Christianized character, regardless of whether or not any or most of their citizens still think of themselves as Christian. A couple of good examples of Christianity being consciously used to create an exclusive national identity, with varying degrees of success, would be in the increasingly influential narrative of America as a Christian nation uniquely blessed by God or the Greek nationalist project that conflates ancient Hellenic history with Byzantine Orthodox history to create an exclusive Orthodox Greek nation. Religion so used becomes the defining element of a nation-forming group’s identity. Their cultural particularities become the evidence of God’s blessing––the standard of good citizenship––and the means by which his blessing is maintained. Religious nationalism in any of many forms is the most obdurate and formidable of all nationalisms, Orthodox nationalisms being good examples rather than exceptions. Orthodox Christians often understand nationalism to be the same thing as ethnophyletism, which is the conflation of ethnic, or racial, and Orthodox identities to form nation groups that form the basis of both Church and State. The manifestations of this in the Balkans in the late 19th century—think principally of Greece or Bulgaria—was the cause of a Holy and Great pan-Orthodox Synod in Istanbul condemning this kind of nationalism in 1872. Orthodox who now routinely condemn ethnophyletism often remain nationalists of another type. But the nasty treachery of all nationalistic thinking is that it always makes us exclusive.

An example of non-ethnophyletic nationalism with religious dimensions among Orthodox is the Arab Nationalism of the Syrian Ba’ath party (forming around cultural “Arabness” with language as the primary identity marker) and which is held by large numbers of Syrian Orthodox Christians. A recent statement posted to the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate’s website in the name of Patriarch John X,2 states that “The Church of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox makes a point to affirm at all times that it is a daughter of the nation and is the abode in which they reside.” In the statement, the Mosque and the Church are linked as equal sister-daughters of the nation of Syria. In the Arab nationalism of the Syrian Ba’ath––as distinct from the Iraqi Ba’ath, which they split from in 1966––one is first a Syrian Arab and then either Orthodox or something else. Arab, Syrian, and Orthodox are thus conflated in a way that is not only wrong but much contested by other Syrians, Arabs, and Christians.

Not all difference is exclusive, however, and the warmth we naturally feel for our own cultural heritage is part of being human and is the natural consequence of how we are formed socially, culturally, linguistically, and generally in our whole-world view. The normal cultural differences that exist between groups are generally never intended to divide. The real problem of nationalism among Orthodox, however, is not in so benign a thing as the cultural preference of “Cristos anesti” over “Christ is risen” or “Krishti ungjall” or in enjoying plum pudding over baclava or in certain ritualistic preferences during the Divine Liturgy: while these things may naturally provide distinction as between families, they need not be divisive. The problem manifests when there is conflict or when difference forces the kinds of choice that expose competing allegiances and we begin to fight either to defend our difference or to elevate it. The contorted apologetics for the Syrian and Russian governments common among Arab and Russian Orthodox that fly in the face of fundamental Christian values is the result of such conflated loyalties.

One evidence of conflated Orthodox and national identity is the very modern phenomenon of making saints national heroes or national heroes saints. something that by its nature is divisive within the Kingdom of God and should be anathema to the Church but is instead common!

A common manifestation of softly held or unconscious nationalist sentiment is an elitism that sometimes makes others feel less “Orthodox” for being of another jurisdictional, ethnic, or cultural group because of the way we cleave to our national identity. The division of the Orthodox world into cultural and ethnic jurisdictions has created what some call Orthodox ghettos (ghetto implies separation not poverty) wherein a monolithic way of being Orthodox that results in isolation is created by the conflation of our own customs with the Orthodox faith. Visitors to Orthodox parishes should not be made to feel they must first, or even also, become Greek, Serb, Russian, or Arab to become truly Orthodox. Looking to the future, American Orthodox should avoid creating a similar attitude that elevates a version of culturally American Orthodoxy over other forms––something many are already promoting.

When Christ sent his disciples out, he called them ambassadors, people who represent the interests of one state to the leaders of another. Ambassadors who are confused in their allegiance are likely to be called spies and may be stripped of their citizenship rights, imprisoned, and often executed, as are citizens who switch sides to serve the interests of a rival state. It shouldn’t surprise us that the earliest missionaries usually found themselves in courts and before kings declaring their allegiance to God and were commonly martyred for it. Christ did not tell his disciples “You should not serve two masters”; he said “You cannot.” For, when you serve the one, you automatically oppose the interests of the other: you must choose. Ultimately, attempting to simultaneously serve two rival interests merely makes one useless to both. When the released Syrian and Lebanese nuns of Mar Thecla monastery contradicted the widely held perspective among Orthodox that they were being mistreated during their captivity, they were branded by the Church as traitors to Syria and unfaithful to the Church3. The conflated loyalties of the Church leaders in this instance promoted their national loyalty and compromised their spiritual sense.

When we consciously choose to exclusively serve Christ, we cultivate our Christian-ness to be a culturally transformative force rather than guarding it as part of our inherited cultural identity. Our lives are neither gift nor extension of anything earthly: we are not merely products of a history stream and so we do not owe our primary allegiance to any other product of history, such as a nation-state.

He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ’For we also are His children’ (Acts 17:26-28).

The Irish rightly love Patrick for his sacrificial work of building up the Irish Church, a legacy that lasts into eternity. But the very inclusion of Patrick in the Irish nationalist mythology diminishes him and casts a shadow over a saint who belongs to the whole Church everywhere and everywhen. It is a fundamental aspect of being human that we are defined by others, though at times in our development we are allowed to choose by whom. Like the apostle Peter, Patrick chose his identity in Christ. In answering Jesus with “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Peter was given his own identity. It was in his recognition—by the Father’s revelation—of Christ that he was captured and transformed into a citizen of God’s Kingdom to be eventually martyred by Rome, the symbol of earthly citizenship.

Patrick willingly became a servant of “the nations” to whom he was sent from his home in Britain—there was no Ireland then, only the chaos of competing kingdoms just the other side of the Roman frontier. By the 4th century, a primitive Irish was widely spoken but a variety of Celtic languages were still common. Patrick saw an island in need not of “civilized” culture, Imperial rule, or a strong local king to bring lasting stability but the gospel. He went to share the gospel with “the nations to which the love of Christ brought me” at the end of the world, where he thought he was. Nationalism is a modern phenomenon, but it is possessed by the same sick spirit as tribalism, culturalism, ethnicism, imperialism, and so many other isms. Only as each of us discovers our full and true identity in an encounter with Christ, the Son of the living God, will we find the cure for the sickness of nationalism.  IC  [wpanchor id=”footnotes”]

 

Footnotes:

1. Simple working definitions: Patriotism is the natural love for one’s own country; nationalism is a political philosophy that claims statehood belongs primarily to distinct and exclusive national-identity groups. Click HERE for information on the OPF resource on nationalism, For the Peace from Above. Also search our website for more resources.
2. The full statement may be found on our website in Arabic HERE and in English HERE. Ba’athism is a socialist Arab Nationalism that conflates numerous identity groups to form the fiction of a Syrian nationality for the purpose of creating a secular state of Syria. Michel Aflaq, an Antiochian Orthodox, was a founder of Ba’athism. Hafiz Assad was its champion, and like Bashar today, was ruthless in eliminating competing political parties. The current civil war is the continuation of that struggle. The Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate supports the Assad family and its nationalist ideology, though they may not be Ba’athist––Patriarchal statements often reflect more general Pan-Arab nationalism. 3. From the Patriarchal statement referenced in footnote 2.

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Competing nationalist narratives in Syria create false dichotomies that force people into mutually exclusive identity groups.

2 Christian muslim magic carpet cartoon

Ba’athist nationalism creates a Syrian identity that falsely conflates Christian and Muslim as sister-daughters of the nation. Sectarian nationalists of various kinds manipulate and exploit religious difference to divide and create conflict.

2 steeple minaret cartoon

Patriarch John X statement in Arabic

Mar_Takla_monastery_01

The following is a statement in Arabic by Patriarch John X and the Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch made in response to some statements made by the nuns of Mar Tekla (St. Thecla) monastery after their release from captivity about the conditions of their captivity. Their comments ran counter to the narratives of the Patriarchate, the state-run media in Syria, many Antiochian Orthodox Christians in the diaspora, and others.

The page address where this statement may be found on the website of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East is here: http://antiochpatriarchate.org/ar/page/372/

The Patriarchate’s website promises an English translation, but since March this has not appeared on the English version of their website.

2014-03-13

أبناءنا وأهلنا وإخوتنا الأحباء،
في العاشر من شهر آذار 2014، فرحت قلوب النسيج السوري الذي تشكّل بطريركية أنطاكية للروم الأرثوذكس جزءاً لا يتجزأ منه بقدوم الأخوات راهبات مار تقلا وعودتهن إلى بر السلام بعد خطفٍ مدانٍ ومستنكر دام لأكثر من ثلاثة أشهر.
إلاّ أن الفرح بقدوم أخواتنا عكّره ما جاء على لسان بعض أخواتنا الراهبات اللواتي كنّ قد خرجن للتوّ من اعتقال واختطاف قسريٍّ.
إن غبطة بطريرك أنطاكية وسائر المشرق للروم الأرثوذكس يؤكّد لجميع السوريين، مسيحيين ومسلمين، أبناءً وإخوةً، أن هذه التصريحات لا تعبّر عن موقف الكنيسة، وهي نابعةٌ من سطوة اعتقالٍ الطويل. ولسنا هنا بصدد تبريرها أو بمعرض تحليل ظروف صدورها.

تابع غبطته والكنيسة ارتدادات ما حصل؛ هذه الارتدادات التي تجاوز بعضها الحدث والتصريح للإساءة إلى الحضور المسيحي برمّته، الذي يعرف الجميع دوره الوطني والإنساني.
” يؤكّد غبطته أن الإساءات لا تعبّر عن موقف السوريين ووطنيتهم، فهذه الكنيسة معروفة بوطنيتها وبما قدّمه أبناؤها لبلادهم فكراً وعملاً وشهادة، وما يزالون، أسوةً بإخوتهم في المواطنة. ”
إننا نأمل من أهلنا في الوطن أن يكونوا عاملين ومتكاتفين للخلاص من المحنة وألا يلجؤوا إلى لغةٍ لا تعبّر عن قيمنا الروحية والحضارية بل أن يرتقوا إلى مستوى التضحيات.
ونحن نؤكّد أن البطريركية ، وكما كانت منذ غرّة المسيحية، ستبقى المدافعة عن كلّ السوريين والمشرقيين أينما كانوا، ساعيةً لإحلال السلام والأمن مكان القتل والتدمير والتكفير، وعاملةً على فك أسر جميع المخطوفين من دون تفرقة ليعودوا إلى عائلاتهم.
منذ بدء الأزمة في سوريا، والشعب السوري، مسلماً كان أو مسيحياً، يرزح تحت صليب شقاء هذا المشرق. والبطريركيّة الأنطاكيّة كما غيرها لم تنءَ يوماً عن تسمية الأمور بمسمياتها. وقد دانت وتدين كلّ إرهابٍ وتكفيرٍ وخطفٍ وعنفٍ يضرب الربوع السورية ويهدم المسجد كما الكنيسة. فالخطف والتعرض للمقدّسات هما وجهان لعملةٍ واحدةٍ ومسمىً واحد، وهو الإرهاب.
وفي غمرة فرحها بخروج راهباتها، وفي غصّةٍ منها لما جاء من تصريحات، تدين بطريركية أنطاكية وسائر المشرق كلّ إرهابٍ وتكفيرٍ وخطفٍ يطال كلّ شريحةٍ من نسيج مجتمعنا الذي يدفع ثمناً غالياً لإيديولوجيات غريبةٍ عن قيم هذه البلاد وعن عيش أبنائها الواحد والذي يشهد له تاريخها القريب والبعيد.
يهم كنيسة أنطاكية وسائر المشرق للروم الأرثوذكس أن تؤكد دوماً أنها ابنة الوطن والديار التي تحيا فيها. وأن ما يصيب سوريا يصيب هذه الكنيسة في الصميم.
نزيف سوريا هو نزيف قلبنا وسلامها بلسمٌ لقلوبنا، ومجد سوريا إكليل غارٍ على رؤوسنا. والكنيسة التي قدّمت جول جمال في خمسينيات القرن الماضي دفاعاً عن عزة وطن قدّمت وتقدّم إلى الآن قوافل شهداءٍ.
حمى الله سوريا، حمى الله رئيسها وشعبها، وأعاد إليها سلاماً نتوق إليه من أعماق القلب.

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

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

edited by Fr. Hildo Bos and Jim Forest

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

Click here to view the table of Contents

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

* * *

Regarding the new edition:

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

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

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

Table of contents:

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

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

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

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To order from the publisher, Orthodox Research Institute:
http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/store/books/bos_forest_peace.html

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

Note: The web version of the book has been copy-edited by John Brady, who corrected many spelling and punctuation errors and made many other improvements in the text. Our thanks to him for all his help. We ask readers to notify us of further corrections that may be needed.

For the Peace From Above: a Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism is dedicated to all Orthodox youth living in places of war and conflict, as a tribute to their courage and faith.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Chapter 1: How to use this Resource Book

Chapter 2: Defining terms: definitions from dictionaries and Church authors

Chapter 3: Reference texts from Holy Scripture

Chapter 4: Canonical reference texts

  • 4.1. Canonical texts from the Apostolic period
  • 4.2. Canons from the Ecumenical Councils
  • 4.3. Canons from the Local Councils
  • 4.4. Canons from the Fathers of the Church

Chapter 5: Reference texts from the Holy Fathers

Chapter 6: Reference texts from contemporary authors

Chapter 7: Nationalism, War and Peace in Orthodox liturgical texts

  • 7.1. Prayer for Peace in the Liturgy Archimandrite Lev Gillet
  • 7.2. From the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
  • 7.3. Commentary on the Mysteries: St. Cyril of Alexandria
  • 7.4. Prayers by the Lake: Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid
  • 7.5. A Soldier’s Prayer
  • 7.6. Prayer for the Salvation of the Russian State: St. Tikhon of Moscow
  • 7.7. Prayers for peace in former Yugoslavia
  • 7.8. On the Issue of the blessing of weapons
  • 7.9. Prayer for the pacification of animosity

Chapter 8: Fact sheets

  • 8.1. Martyrs from among Roman officers of the first four centuries
  • 8.2. Monastic Peacekeeping in Kosovo

Chapter 9: Official statements

  • 9.1. The Local Synod of Constantinople 1872
  • 9.2. The Bosporus Declaration
  • 9.3. Statement on the situation in Armenia-Azerbaijan, 1993
  • 9.4. Statements on the events in Russia, October 1993
  • Appeal by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Alexy II, 29/9/1993
  • Statement by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, 1/10/1993
  • 9.5. Statements on the War in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1994
  • Statement of Patriarch Pavle of Serbia to the participants at the WCC Central Committee meeting in South Africa, 20-26/1 1994
  • Message of the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church from its extraordinary meeting in Banja Luka, 1-4/11 1994
  • Appeal for peace and understanding among all people, 4/9 1994
  • 9.6. Statements on the situation in Kosovo, March 1999
  • Kosovo Peace and Tolerance — Vienna Declaration, 18/3 1999
  • Peace Appeal of the Serbian Orthodox Church, 23/3 1999
  • Statement of the Orthodox Church of Albania, 29/3 1999
  • 9.7. Syndesmos Statements
  • Declaration of the Syndesmos War and Peace in Europe Seminar, 1-9/10 1994
  • A cry of World Orthodox Youth regarding the Kosovo and Methohija Crisis, VIth Syndesmos General Assembly, 24/7 1999

Chapter 10: Essays and Texts

Chapter 11: Study and action guide

Introduction

In 1968, a Syndesmos General Assembly took place at the very moment that the established order in Western Europe seemed about to be shaken. In his address to the Assembly, Syndesmos President Mr. Albert Laham from Lebanon stated

The world is not in peace. Neither is it in unity. The spirit of this world, which burns from the black ghettos of Chicago to the streets of Paris, from the Holy Land in the Middle East to the jungles of Africa, this spirit is not the Spirit of unity and peace. It is not a bond which can pacify and unite. It is a barrier which can only divide and destroy. But the firm belief of Syndesmos, and its only reason for existence, is that there is a Spirit, not as this world gives, which is a power, a unity and a peace. There is a Spirit which can burn in men and movements and can empower them to go beyond every spirit of this world. This is the Spirit which Christ gives, the fire which He has cast upon the earth. And Syndesmos desires, as its only consuming desire, to be alive and burning with this spiritual fire.

In 1973, the Syndesmos General Secretariat had to be evacuated from Beirut following the Lebanese civil war. Ten years later, political turmoil still prevented Syrian and Lebanese delegates from taking part in the XIth Syndesmos General Assembly in Crete. The XVIth General Assembly of 1999 took place under the sign of tensions in former Yugoslavia, the Russian Federation, the Holy Land, Georgia and other places where Orthodox live.

Many Orthodox young people today live near conflict areas or are directly touched by war. Every day, thousands of believers face some of the most difficult of questions: Am I allowed to kill in combat? May I fight injustice by violent methods? When the demands of my country seem at odds with the demands of the Kingdom of God, how do I respond to this conflict?

Rarely do we find simple answers to such questions. Thus we search for help in Holy Scripture, the Canons, the writing of the Fathers of the Church, and reflect on the lives of the Saints.

We hope this resource book can help, drawing as it does on the experience of our fathers and forefathers. They teach us examples to follow and attitudes to reject. The Tradition of the Orthodox Church has much to give to its faithful who are caught up in the vicissitudes of Twentieth-Century warfare.

Nonetheless, we cannot simply copy what other have done in the past. Different eras have found different attitudes, and many of today’s problems never existed before. Yet knowledge of Sacred Tradition may help us find ways out of the dead ends that many communities experience today.

His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, a former Syndesmos Vice-President, says: “All religious communities must turn to the very depth of their doctrine and to the best pages of their respective traditions in order to find the principles of a sacred anthropology which puts the emphasis on sincere respect of the whole human person.”

This is the aim of this book.

The present Resource Book attempts to provide original resource texts concerning Orthodoxy, War, Peace and Nationalism. In compiling the book, we have attempted to gather documents that express well the variety of points of view on the theme. These texts do not necessarily express the point of view of the editors or of Syndesmos.

The Syndesmos Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism was supported by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.

Syndesmos expresses its deep gratitude to all those who have made this book possible. In the first place, we thank His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos for providing his speech at the 1994 Conference on Peace and Tolerance. We also thank His Beatitude Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, His Eminence Bishop Irineaus of Backa, Fr. Stanley Harakas, Archimandrite Grigorios (Papathomas), Mr. Olivier Clément, Mr. Tarek Mitri, Mr. Yevgeniy Petrovskiy and the Service Orthodoxe de Presse for their kind permission to use their texts. Finally, this book would not have been possible without the support of many others: Deacon John Sewter, Mrs. Hélene Klépinine-Arjakovsky, Mrs. Cathérine Aslanoff, Mr. Michael Bakker, Mr. Alexander Belopopsky, Mrs. Tatiana Bos-Arjakovsky, The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Poland, Syndesmos Secretary-General elect Ms. Rebecca Hookway, Mr. André Lossky, Syndesmos Secretary-General Mr. Vladimir Misijuk, Mr. Spiridon Tsimouris and Mrs. Svetlana Yerchova.

November 1999

Hildo Bos, Vice-President, Syndesmos

Jim Forest, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

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For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

Chapter 1

HOW TO USE THIS RESOURCE BOOK

To whom the Book is addressed

The Syndesmos Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism was conceived for youth groups, lay associations and individuals wishing to study the issue. It does not claim to be a scientific work of reference, and is certainly not exhaustive.

Aims

The Resource Book aims to be a tool for study, discussion and action on the issues of war, peace and nationalism. It does not attempt to convey any particular opinion, but rather to indicate relevant sources to those who wish to clarify their understanding of the Church’s teaching on these and related subjects. In order to achieve this, we have followed a number of working principles:

to provide a maximum of original sources;

to prefer official Church documents to documents expressing private opinions;

in choosing documents expressing private opinions, to represent various points of view;

to provide a maximum of bibliographical references;

to keep editors’ comments to an absolute minimum;

to strive towards a balance between sources from the different Local Orthodox Churches.

Sources

Most sources used to compile the Resource Book are named in the Bibliography. The documents originate from a wide array of sources and vary strongly in their use of English. They range from XIXth-century editions of the Holy Fathers to modern translations from French, Greek, Russian and Serbian by a variety of translators. The editors have attempted to unify the text and to provide bibliographical references to each quoted text, allowing the reader to locate the source in the original language.

How to Use this Resource Book

There are many ways to use this book. Whether you wish to study the topic alone, discuss it in a youth group or undertake concrete action, you will find something useful here!

Bible Study

Formulate a question related to war, peace or nationalism, which will be your starting point

Write down in a few sentences what you expect the answer to be

Check the relevant sections of the Resource Book for Bible quotes

Compare the quotes with parallel verses in your Bible

Try to find other relevant quotes with the help of a concordance

Try to find commentaries on the quotes that you have found, in the Patristic and Modern Authors’ sections of the Resource Book and in a study Bible (example: “Come, Receive the Light;” “The Orthodox Study Bible”)

Take a look at the materials that you have found. Ask yourself the following questions:

– Have I found most of the relevant Bible verses?

– How can I summarize the spirit of these biblical texts on my question?

– Do the commentators read the text differently than I do?

Compare the outcome of your research with your initial expectations. Any discoveries?

Write down your most important discoveries, new insights or useful reference texts. In this way you will start making your own resource book!

Ideas for Bible Studies:

The Old Testament teaching on the Promised Land and the Kingdom of God

The love of enemies

Can a Christian state really exist?

What does Christ mean when He says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt. 10:34-36)?

The New Testament’s attitude towards participation in armed combat

Military images for spiritual life in the letters of St. Paul

Martyrdom and self-defense

Earthly and heavenly fatherlands

Group Activities

Reading a text with (or worse: in front of) a group can make the most interesting story become dull. But you can make texts come alive, too! Through many of the texts in the Reference Book, the Fathers of the Church or even our Lord Himself speak to us. So make them heard!

Here are some ideas on how to use the Resource Book with groups:

Presentations

An easy way to make a text or topic come alive. A group leader or participant, or several, studies one of the texts of the Resource Book and presents an oral résumé to the group. Here, the Resource Book may be only the starting point of research and discussion. Offers an occasion of close reading to the presenter and acquaints participants with the content of texts they might not otherwise read.

Pick the presenters and topics.

Give the presenters sufficient time to prepare (one to several days) and indicate how long they can speak (not more than 15-20 min.).

The presentations are given in front of the group and are followed by discussion.

Carrousel Presentations

This method is very stimulating and inspires people to familiarize themselves with the material in the Book. In a short time, they will be exposed to several reading reports. Each time, discussion will be broken off by the time signal, leaving participants in the end with a great impetus for study and exchange. Allow for free time afterwards to give an opportunity for discussion.

Preparation: you need a venue with several spaces for small groups that are not too far away from each other. The group leaders ask some participants to read one specific text from the Resource Book (a chapter, essay, statement or even a Bible quote) and to prepare a short 5 to 10 minute presentation. The texts may be chosen according to a theme, their length, or picked by the “readers” themselves.

Divide the group in as many small groups as there are readers; number the groups.

Every group follows a reader to a separate place.

Each reader gives a 5-10 minute presentation of what he/she has read to his/her group.

Each group discusses the presentation for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, each group moves on to another reader. The readers remain in place (so they find a new group in front of them).

The readers repeat their presentations to the new group; 10 minutes of discussion follow;

Continue like this until all groups have listened to all presentations.

Round up with a 15-minute group discussion.

Round Table

A less interactive method which will stimulate study and raise questions. Pick a concrete topic which is well represented in the Resource Book. Invite three or four participants to prepare themselves for the round table well in advance. Allot to each of them a specific (and different) point of view to defend. During preparation, they should find a maximum of arguments for their position in the Resource Book. Another participant, or a group leader, should act as moderator of the round table, enforcing the following rules: 1) the round table participants should defend their point of view and attempt to convince others; 2) only documented positions are allowed (i.e. not “I think that…,” but “isn’t it written that…” 3) all round table participants should attempt to present an authoritative opinion of the Church.

Introduce the aim of the Round Table: the guests have been invited to give their opinion on the topic. They should convince their opponents and the audience.

Introduce the role of the moderator: assuring that only documented opinions are expressed.

The moderator introduces the topic and invites the first guest to speak.

After 3-5 minutes, he passes the word, and so on.

When all have spoken, the moderator co-ordinates discussion.

The moderator may decide to accept questions from the floor.

After 45 minutes, stop the discussion; the floor is open and the entire group decides which point of view it considers closest to the position of the Church.

Close the session with an evaluation.

Bible Quotes Quiz

Pick a number of topics well represented in the Resource Book. Allow participants sufficient time to acquaint themselves with the relevant sections. Either make teams or pick individual contestants. Make up a list of questions to which clear answers are possible (you may organize a workshop for the formulation of questions!). Appoint a jury which will decide whether answers qualify. Although it contains a competitive element, this game offers a direct impetus to familiarize oneself with texts. The quiz element may be underscored by the use of costumes, lights, prizes, a gong, and supporter groups. The rules are as follows: 1) the contestants or teams may use one or more non-annotated Bibles, but not the Resource Book; 2) answers to questions on Bible quotes qualify only if they contain both the correct text and reference; 3) if more than one quote is appropriate, each correct answer counts as one point; 4) wrong answers cost one point; 5) only one person per team will answer (advised by the team members). Modify the roles according to the needs and spirit of your group!

Explain the rules of the quiz.

Create teams or name contestants.

Pose the questions and keep the score…

Liturgical Workshop

The Resource Book offers many ways to study liturgical texts. Make sure you have the necessary liturgical books in a language that the participants understand. Make small groups and assign a concrete task to each of them. This workshop may be followed by a session of carrousel presentations where the groups expose the results of their research. Some ideas for liturgical workshops:

The theme of peace in the text of the Divine Liturgy

Commemoration of wars, peace treaties and natural calamities in the Menaion

Detailed studies of the synaxaria and services of the martyr soldiers mentioned in Chapter 8

The stichera on “both now:” on “Lord, I cry unto Thee” in the Vespers of 25 December by Cassia

The history and text of the Akathist

The notion of spiritual warfare in the Lenten Triodion

Peace and the Eucharist

Prayers for the Emperor and the army in the history of the services of the Church

The blessing of soldiers, arms and armies

The feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God

Enjoy using the Resource Book!

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For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

Chapter 2

DEFINING TERMS: DEFINITIONS FROM DICTIONARIES AND CHURCH AUTHORS

Nation

28. a. An extensive aggregate of persons, so closely associated with each other by common descent, language, or history, as to form a distinct race or people, usually organized as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory. In early examples the racial idea is usually stronger than the political; in recent use the notion of political unity and independence is more prominent.

A number of persons belonging to a particular nation; representatives of any nation.

2. The nations.

a. In and after Biblical use: The heathen nations, the Gentiles.

b. The peoples of the earth; the population of the earth collectively.

4. a. The nation, the whole people of a country, frequently in contrast to some smaller or narrower body within it.

Two nations: phr. used of two groups within a given nation divided from each other by marked social inequality; hence one nation, a nation which is not divided by social inequalities.

Attrib. and Comb. (see also sense 1 a ad fin.), as nation-building, the creation of a new nation, spec. a newly independent nation; hence nation-builder; nation-state, a sovereign state the members of which are also united by those ties such as language, common descent, etc., which constitute a nation; nation-wide a., as wide as a nation; extending over, reaching, or affecting the whole nation; also as adv.

Oxford English dictionary, 2nd ed.

Nationalism

Theology. The doctrine that certain nations (as contrasted with individuals) are the object of divine election.

Devotion to one’s nation; national aspiration; a policy of national independence.

A form of socialism, based on the nationalizing of all industry.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

Ethno-Phyletism (racism)

Phyletism (from phyli — race, tribe) is the principle of nationalities applied in the ecclesiastical domain: in other words, the confusion between Church and nation. The term ethnophyletismos designates the idea that a local autocephalous Church should be based not on a local [ecclesial] criterion, but on an ethnophyletist, national or linguistic one. It was used at the Holy and Great [“Meizon” –“enlarged”] pan-Orthodox Synod in Constantinople on the 10th of September 1872 to qualify “phyletist (religious) nationalism,” which was condemned as a modern ecclesial heresy: the Church should not be confused with the destiny of a single nation or a single race; Orthodoxy is therefore hostile to any forms of racial messianism. Also, one should clearly distinguish between ethnicism (which has a positive content) and nationalism (which has a negative content and which in Greek is called ethnikismos [ethnicism]): the first should be considered the servant, the latter the enemy of the nation.

Course of Canon Law — Appendix VI — canonical glossary, By Grigorios Papathomas, Paris 1995

State

a. A particular form of polity or government. the state, the form of government and constitution established in a country; e.g. the popular state, democracy (cf. F. état populaire). state royal: a monarchy. Obs.

b. A republic, non-monarchical commonwealth. Obsolete.

29. a. the state: the body politic as organized for supreme civil rule and government; the political organization which is the basis of civil government (either generally and abstractly, or in a particular country); hence, the supreme civil power and government vested in a country or nation.

Distinguished from “the church” or ecclesiastical organization and authority. In the phr. church and state the article is dropped.

30. a. A body of people occupying a defined territory and organized under a sovereign government. Hence occas. the territory occupied by such a body.

(Without article.) All that concerns the government or ruling power of a country; the sphere of supreme political power and administration. The adjectival phr. of state (‘ F. d’état, It. di stato) is otherwise expressed by the attributive use (see 38) in state, in the sphere of government or politics.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

Peace

I. 1. a. Freedom from, or cessation of, war or hostilities; that condition of a nation or community in which it is not at war with another.

(With article.) A ratification or treaty of peace between two powers previously at war. Also, formerly, a temporary cessation of hostilities, a truce.) In Hist. often defined by or with the name of the place at which it was ratified.

With possessive or of (the peace of any one, his peace, etc.): A state or relation of peace, concord, and amity, with him; esp. peaceful recognition of the authority or claims, and acceptance of the protection, of a king or lord. Obs. (Has affinities with senses 2, 4, 10 a.)

2. Freedom from civil commotion and disorder; public order and security. (See also 10.)

3. a. Freedom from disturbance or perturbation (esp. as a condition in which an individual person is); quiet, tranquillity, undisturbed state. Also emphasized as peace and quiet(ness).

In and after Biblical use, in various expressions of well-wishing or salutation. Following L. pax and Gr. eirini ‘peace’ often represents Heb. Shalom, properly ‘ safety, welfare, prosperity.

4. a. Freedom from quarrels or dissension between individuals; a state of friendliness; concord, amity. (See also 11 a, 15.)

Kiss of peace: a kiss given in sign of friendliness; spec. a kiss of greeting given in token of Christian love (see pax) at religious services in early times; now, in the Western Ch., usually only during High Mass.

5. Freedom from mental or spiritual disturbance or conflict arising from passion, sense of guilt, etc.; calmness; peace of mind, soul, or conscience.

6. a. Absence of noise, movement, or activity; stillness, quiet; inertness. (See also 13.)

15. a. To make peace: to bring about a state of peace, in various senses:

to effect a reconciliation between persons or parties at variance; to conclude peace with a nation at the close of a war;

to enter into friendly relations with a person, as by a league of amity, or by submission;

to enforce public order;

to enforce silence.

To make one’s, or a person’s, peace: to effect reconciliation for oneself or for some one else; to come, or bring some one, into friendly relations (with another). (In quot. c 1400, to admit a person to friendly relations with oneself.)

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

War

I. 1. a. Hostile contention by means of armed forces, carried on between nations, states, or rulers, or between parties in the same nation or state; the employment of armed forces against a foreign power, or against an opposing party in the state. For civil, intestine, etc. war, see the adjs. war to the knife [after Sp. guerra al cuchillo], see knife n. 1 b; war to the death, see death n. 12 c.

transf. and fig. Applied poet. or rhetorically to any kind of active hostility or contention between living beings, or of conflict between opposing forces or principles.

3. a. In particularized sense: A contest between armed forces carried on in a campaign or series of campaigns.

Freq. used with def. art. to designate a particular war, esp. one in progress or recently ended. Hence between the wars, between the war of 1914-18 and that of 1939-45 (cf. inter-war a.). Often with identifying word or phrase, as in the Trojan war, the Punic Wars, the Wars of the Roses, the Thirty Years’ War. holy war: a war waged in a religious cause: applied, e.g. to the Crusades, and to the jihad among Muslims. Sacred War in Gr. Hist., the designation of two wars (b.c. 595 and 357-346) waged by the Amphictyonic Council against Phocis in punishment of alleged sacrilege. War Between the States (esp. in the use of Southerners), the American Civil War. For servile, social war, see the adjs.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

There are three very grievous kinds of war. The one is public, when our soldiers are attacked by foreign armies: The second is, when even in time of peace, we are at war with one another: The third is, when the individual is at war with himself, which is the worst of all.

Homily 7 on 1 Tim 2:2-4, by St. John Chrysostom

War is a great evil, even the greatest of evils. But because enemies shed our blood in fulfilment of an incitement of law and valour, and because it is wholly necessary for each man to defend his own fatherland and his fellow countrymen with words, writings, and acts, we have decided to write about strategy, through which we shall be able not only to fight but to overcome the enemy.

Byzantine Manual of Strategy (VIth c.), Anonymous

War is the wing of death which overshadows the earth; war opens the gates of eternity for thousands and thousands of people; war crushes established the bourgeois order, coziness and stability. War is a calling, war opens our eyes.

How war opens our eyes, by Mother Maria (Skobtsova)

Without doubt, from the Christian point of view, war is an evil and a sin, against which the Church is obliged to struggle.

The Church and national identity, by A. Kartachov, Paris, 1934

Identity

The world “identity” can be used in several ways. In its proper sense, as its etymology from the Latin word idem suggests, it means selfsameness, that which makes a given object to be one and the same yesterday, today and forever. But in everyday English (and possibly in other languages as well), it is also used in a looser sense, to mean individuality or personality, that which distinguishes a given subject from others, “the set of behavioural and individual characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognisable or known.”1 Thus, in the United States for example, we can speak of an underworld informant being given a new identity as part of a government witness protection program.

When referring to the Church, Orthodox theologians most often have used “identity” in the former sense, to mean selfsameness. Consider this passage from an essay by Fr. George Florovsky:

The Orthodox Church claims to be the Church… The Orthodox Church is conscious and aware of her identity through the ages, in spite of all perplexities and changes. She has kept intact and immaculate the sacred heritage of the early Church, of the Apostles and of the fathers, ‘the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.’ She is aware of the identity of her teaching with the apostolic message and the tradition of the Ancient Church, even though she might have failed occasionally to convey this message to particular generations in its full splendour and in a way that carries conviction.2

What gives the Orthodox Church her identity, Florovsky continues, is “living tradition.” This is not “just a human tradition, maintained by human memory and imitation.” Rather:

It is a sacred or holy tradition, maintained by the abiding presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The ultimate identity of the Church is grounded in her sacramental structure, in the organic continuity of the Body, which is always ‘visible’ and historically identifiable and recognisable, although at the same time it transcends and surpasses the closed historical dimension, being the token and the embodiment of the divine communion once granted and also the token and the anticipation of the life to come.3

Most Orthodox theologians would accept this understanding of the identity of the Orthodox Church, though like Florovsky they would usually add some words of caution against triumphalism. For, as Florovsky observes:

There is no pride and arrogance in this claim. Indeed, it implies a heavy responsibility. Nor does it mean ‘perfection.’ The Church is still in pilgrimage, in travail, in via. She has her historic failures and losses, she has her own unfinished tasks and problems.”4

And like Florovsky, most Orthodox theologians would locate the ultimate identity of the Church “in her sacramental structure, in the organic continuity of the Body” — in her sacramental and spiritual life, which “has ever been the same in the course of ages”5 despite the “historic failures and losses.” They also would be able to point to times when this underlying sacramental structure has been determinative for the course of church history — to the Byzantine Empire, for example, where the institutional claims of patriarchs and emperors and the charismatic claims of monastics were equally subject to the test of the Church’s sacramental ethos.6

A full account of how these distinctive characteristics have emerged and have gained prominence in Orthodox self-understanding would require many volumes. At the risk of oversimplification, we may identify two main ways in which this has occurred:

by emulation, i.e., by imitation or appropriation for oneself of the claims, institutions or practices of another; and

by contradiction, i.e., by rejection of the claims, institutions or practices of another and concurrent development of claims, institutions and practices more or less directly opposed to them.

— The Formation of Orthodox Ecclesial Identity, by John H. Erickson Balamand, 1997

Notes for chapter 2:

1 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, [1992]), s.v.

2 The Quest for Christian Unity and the Orthodox Church, Collected Works vol. 13 (Vaduz: Buechervertriebsanstalt, 1989) 136-44 at pp. 139-140, originally published in Theology and Life 4 (August 1961) 197-208.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 On the role of liturgy in maintaining Orthodox ecclesial identity see, among others, J. Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood NY: SVS Press, 1982) 122-23, and also J. Erickson, “The Hermeneutics of Reconciliation. Perspectives from the Orthodox Liturgical Experience,” Reformed Liturgy & Music 30.4 (1996), 196-98.

Marginal quotations from chapter 2:

They [the Christians] 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.

The Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 5

We live in a time of savage, animal nationalism, of a cult of brute violence, we witness a genuine return to paganism. A process countering the christening and humanisation of human societies is taking place. Nationalism should be condemned by the Christian Church as a heresy.

N. Berdyayev, 1935

Pogroms are the victory of your enemies. Pogroms are a dishonour for yourself, a dishonour to the Church!

Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, 1919

For us Christians the Jewish issue is by no means a question of whether the Jews are good or bad, but a question of whether we Christians are good or bad. From a Christian point of view, racist anti-Semitism is absolutely intolerable, it clashes in an unequivocal manner with the universality of Christianity. Modern racism means de-christening and de-humanisation, a return to barbarism and paganism.

N. Berdyayev, 1935

One who is in haste to desert a secular condition and enter on an ecclesiastical office is not wishing to relinquish secular affairs, but to change them.

Epistles, by St. Gregory the Great, Book 3, Epistle 65

Absolute states on earth are the image of man deified, of anti-Christianity, they are the incarnation of the spirit of the prince of this world, from whom it is said: “and to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev. 13:2).

The task of the State of Christians is: serving Christian morality. However, such a service presupposes a certain spiritual equilibrium, where the state does not go beyond its own, legal tasks. Still even this situation always remains unstable; when the state crosses these boundaries, it turns into the beast.

Fr. Sergi Boulgakov, 1944

War is one of the tools in the hands of God, as well as peace.

War is a poison, which kills, but which at the same time cures and heals.

It is better to have one great and mighty river than many small streams which easily freeze in frost and which are easily covered with dust and filth. A war which gathers an entire people for a great cause is better than a peace which knows as many tiny causes at it knows people, which divides brothers, neighbours, all human beings, and which hides in itself an evil and hidden war against all.

Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid, 1929

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For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents