Tag Archives: Orthodox Church

Capital Punishment: Points to Consider

St Nicholas stops execution (painting by Ilya Repin)
St Nicholas stops execution (painting by Ilya Repin)

from a letter by Jim Forest to a friend in the United States

We are followers of Christ, who killed no one nor blessed anyone to kill and who on one occasion prevented a legal execution, saying to those who intended to take part, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” The Savior taught us a way of life that centers on love and forgiveness and which seeks the conversion rather than the destruction of our enemies.

It is chiefly through the love and care of others that each of us gradually comes to know the love of God. Can we not hope that people who have committed serious crimes, even murder, might also change for the better and even reach repentance and conversion? Consider the story Dostoevsky tells in Crime and Punishment of how a murderer, Raskolnikov, is led to repentance.

As we say in a pre-communion prayer by St. Basil the Great: “You do not wish, Master, that the work of Your hands should perish, neither do You take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”

Many people cannot afford capable lawyers and, if indigent, may be assigned lawyers who invest little time or care in their defense. To favor capital punishment is to support a system that of its nature discriminates against the poor. As Sister Helen Prejean has written, “The death penalty is a poor person’s issue… After all the rhetoric that goes on in the legislative assemblies, in the end, when the deck is cast out, it is the poor who are selected to die in this country.”

Mistakes happen. Again and again cases come to light of innocent people who have been executed. We easily make mistakes — based on circumstantial evidence, what seem to us good guesses based on what we think we know about other people and other “types” of people. The film “Twelve Angry Men” is about a jury that comes within a hair’s breath of convicting an innocent man but, thanks to the stubborn resistance of one unconvinced  juror, realizes a mistake has been made and at last finds the accused not guilty. In real life, unfortunately, the story could easily have had a different ending: the ritual killing of a man who happens to resemble a murderer, who belongs to a racial minority, has no money, is without effective legal defense, and isn’t articulate.

Consider two events in Russian history.

After the baptism of Rus’, Saint Vladimir abolished executions as being incompatible with the Gospel. It is one of several indications we have of how profound was his conversion.

One of the most impressive reforms that happened in Russia in the 19th century was the effective abolition of capital punishment. Instead convicts were sent to do hard labor, mainly in Siberia. It is striking that Russians usually call those in prison, no matter what their crime, not “crooks” or villains,” but “the unfortunate.” There is an attitude of compassion suggested in this that is missing in American culture.

St Nicholas stopping executions
St Nicholas stopping three executions
One of the most loved saints in the Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, bishop of Myra, intervened to prevent three executions. In icons of St. Nicholas in which biographical panels are included, you  find the scene of Nicholas in his episcopal vestments putting his restraining hand on the raised executioner’s sword.

To this day priests are forbidden to kill, a law which comes down from the prohibition within the early Church of killing for all baptized persons. Consider why such a canon exists.

Consider also the words of an early Greek convert to Christianity, the philosopher Athenagoras of Athens (ca. 133-190): “We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him.” He reminds us that to be implicated in murder, one does not have to commit murder. We can become accomplices in the violent death of others through the words we utter or through passivity.

“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation.” (Psalm 50)

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Salt of the Earth: An Orthodox Christian Approach to Peacemaking

salt“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” This verse from St. Matthew’s Gospel comes immediately after the Beatitudes.

But how many of us want to be become like salt? Perhaps we ought to advise Jesus that it’s time to revise the Sermon on the Mount? “Dear Lord, we revere your every word, but couldn’t you use more attractive metaphors? How about, ‘You are the sugar of the earth, but if the sugar should lose its sweetness, it is tossed out the doors and trodden under foot by men’?”

Living in a sugar-addicted world, surely sugar would be a much more welcome term for modern people. Salt is out-of-date. Sugar is far more appealing.

But for the time being we are stuck with the Gospel Christ gave us rather than the one we might write ourselves. He tells his followers that we are intended to be like salt, a bitter substance normally used in relatively small amounts.

Salt was more valued by our ancestors. In commentaries on this passage, the Church Fathers stress the value of salt as a preservative and thus a life-saving substance. “Salt preserves meat from decaying into stench and worms,”says Origen. “It makes meat edible for a longer period.”

St. John Chrysostom comments on the salt metaphor in these words: “It is a matter of absolute necessity that he commands all this. Why must you be salt? Jesus says in effect: ‘You are accountable not only for your own life but also for that of the entire world. I am sending you not to one or two cities, nor to ten or twenty, not even to one nation, as I sent the prophets. Rather I am sending you to the entire earth, across the seas, to the whole world, to a world fallen into an evil state.’ For by saying, ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ Jesus signifies that all human nature has ‘lost its taste,’ having become rotten through sin. For this reason, you see, he requires from his disciples those character traits that are most necessary and useful for the benefit of all.”

There is a great deal of salt in the Gospel, and not much sugar.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ identifies peacemakers as God’s own children, but peacemaking is often a bitter, salt-like undertaking. To stand against hatred and killing in time of war (and when is it not time of war?) is no sweet task. One is likely to be regarded as naive, if not unpatriotic, if not a traitor.

Yet at every service, Orthodox Christians hear the challenge: “In peace let us pray to the Lord.” We begin the Liturgy with an appeal to God not just for a private peace or the peace of our family or the peace of the parish community or the peace of our neighborhood or the peace of city or the peace of our nation, but “for the peace of the whole world and the union of all.” The Litany of Peace draws our attention to the world-embracing mission of the Church that St. John Chrysostom emphasized in the passage I just read to you. We are, he said, “accountable not only for [our] own life but also for that of the entire world.”

Prayer is not simply a request that God to do something or give something. It is a summons to responsibility. What I ask God to do implies a willingness on my part to participate in God’s answer to my prayer. If I am unwilling to help in doing what I ask God to do, can it even be thought of as prayer? Why would God do at my request what I refuse to do? We are talking then not only about what we ask God to do but what we are asking God to equip us to do. If we ask for peace, the peace of the whole world, then we must be willing to become people actively doing whatever we can that contributes to the peace of the world.

Consider three key words: Orthodox, Christian and peace.

Often the word “orthodox” is used as a synonym for rigidity. Not often is it understood in its real sense: the true way to give praise, and also true belief. Attach it to the word “Christian” and it becomes a term describing a person who is trying to live according to the Gospel. He may have far to go, but this is the direction he is trying to take. “To be an Orthodox Christian,” said Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “is to attempt to live a Christ-centered life. We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.”

To be an Orthodox Christian means belonging to the Orthodox Church. It is not possible to follow Christ and remain alone. I am part of a vast, time-spanning community of people with a collective memory that goes back as far as Adam and Eve. It is a community that includes the Church Fathers, whose words we are encouraged to read.

It is also a Church of Councils. We hold ourselves accountable to the results of those councils, even though they met many centuries ago. It means I don’t let my own opinions or those of my neighbors take charge of my faith. This requires guarding myself from the various ideologies that dominate the world I live in.

We are also a Church of saints. Day by day we remember them. We bear their names. We call on them for help. We remember what they did and sometimes what they said. We have icons of some of them in our churches and homes.

Attention to the Church Fathers and the saints can be a bewildering experience. For example we discover one Church Father showers the highest praise on marriage while another regards marriage as a barely tolerable compromise for those unable to embrace the real Christian calling: celibate monastic life. It can be disconcerting to discover that on various questions different Church Fathers may have different ideas or different emphases or just plain disagree.

Or we look at the saints and find one who was martyred for refusing to be a soldier, then the next day discover a saint who was a hero on the battlefield. Or we read about a saint who wore the rich clothing of a prince and then find another saint whose only clothing was his uncut beard. Here is a saint who was a great scholar while there is a saint who was a holy fool. Here is a saint who raced to the desert, while over there is a saint who refused to leave the city and was critical of those who did. Each saint poses a challenge and each saint raises certain questions and even certain problems. The puzzle pieces don’t always fit. We discover that neither the Church Fathers nor the saints on the calendar are a marching band, all in step and playing in perfect harmony.

Devotion to the saints solves some problems and raises others. In the details of their lives, they march in a thousand different directions. They also made mistakes. They were not saints every minute of every day. Like us, they had sins to confess. But their virtues overwhelm their faults. In different ways, each saint gives us a window for seeing Christ and his Gospel more clearly.

To be an Orthodox Christian means, as St. Paul says, that we are no longer Greek nor Jew. Nationality is secondary. It is not the national flag that is placed on the altar but the Gospel. For us, even though we find ourselves in an Orthodox Church divided on national or jurisdictional lines, it means we are no longer American or Russian or Egyptian or Serbian. Rather we are one people united in baptism and faith whose identity and responsibility includes but goes beyond the land where we were born or the culture and mother tongue that shaped us.

On to the next word: peace. This is a damaged word. It’s like an icon so blackened by candle smoke that the image is completely hidden. “Peace” is a word that has been covered with a lot of smoke from the fires of propaganda, politics, ideologies, war and nationalism. In Soviet Russia there were those omnipresent slogans proclaiming peace while the Church was often obliged to take part in state-organized and state-scripted “peace” events. And in American, as a boy growing up in New Jersey, it was almost the same. “Peace is our profession” was the slogan of the Strategic Air Command, whose apocalyptic work was work was on stage center in the film “Doctor Strangelove.” In more recent years, there was a nuclear missile officially christened “the peacemaker.”

Not only governments but peace groups have damaged the word “peace.” Anti-war groups often reveal less about peace than about anger, alienation and even hatred. Sadly it’s a surprise to find a peace group that regards unborn children as among those whose lives need to be protected.

In wartime talk of peace can put you on thin ice. I recently heard a story that dates back to the first Gulf War. Three clergymen were being interviewed on television. Two of them insisted that the war was a good and just war and had God’s blessing. The third opened his Bible and read aloud the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers… Love your enemies…” But he was cut short by a shout from the angry pastor next to him: “That’s not relevant now! We’re at war!”

War does this to us. Parts of the Gospel are simply abandoned. They are seen as temporarily irrelevant, an embarrassment to the patriotic Christian. “Peace” is put in the deep freeze, a word to be thawed out after the war is over. Thus the salt loses it savor and sugar takes its place.

Part of our job is to clean words like “peace.” It’s a work similar to icon restoration. Otherwise it will be hard to understand the Gospel or the Liturgy and impossible to translate the Gospel and the Liturgy into daily life.

The single word “peace” is one of the essential characteristics of the Kingdom of God. Consider how often and in what significant ways Christ uses the word “peace” in the Gospel: “And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.” “And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!'” “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'” “And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'” “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!'” “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” His greeting after the resurrection is, “Peace be with you.” In Mark’s Gospel, once again we come upon the metaphor of salt: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

In the Slavic liturgical tradition, the custom is to sing the Beatitudes while the Gospel Book is carried in procession through the church. Why? Because the Beatitudes are a short summary of the Gospel. These few verses describe a kind of ladder to heaven, starting with poverty of spirit and ascending to readiness to suffer for Christ and at last participation in the Paschal joy of Christ. Near the top of the ladder of the Beatitudes we come to the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Christ’s peace is not passive nor has it anything to do with the behavior of a coward or of the person who is polite rather than truthful. Christ says, in Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He means the sword metaphorically, as Luke makes clear in his version of the same passage: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” To live truthfully rather than float with the tide means most of time to swim against the tide and to risk penalties if not punishment for doing so. Christ had, and still has, opponents. Christ’s words and actions often brought his opponents’ blood to a boil. Think of his words of protest about the teachings of the Pharisees who laid burdens of others they would not carry themselves. Think of him chasing the money changers from the Temple. No one was killed or injured but God’s lightning flashed in the Temple courtyard.

Jesus speaks the truth, no matter how dangerous a task that may be. He gives us an example of spiritual and verbal combat. But his hands are not bloodstained. Think about the fact that Christ killed no one. Neither did he bless any of his followers to kill anyone. There are many ways in which Christ is unique. This is one of them. His final miracle before his crucifixion is to heal the injury of a temple guard whom Peter had wounded. He who preached the love of enemies took a moment to heal an enemy while on his way to the Cross.

In the early centuries, Christians got into a lot of trouble for their attitude toward the state. You get a sense of what that was like in this passage from Second Century hieromartyr, St. Justin: “From Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.”

The big problem for early Christians, a problem that so often got them into trouble, was their refusal to regard any ruler as a god. This doesn’t mean simply a ruler who claims to be a god, but the persistent tendency of so many rulers down to the present day to behave as gods and expect to be treated that way. Christians were obedient members of society in every way they could be without disobeying God, but were prepared to suffer even the most cruel death rather than place obedience to Caesar before obedience to God.

While eventually the baptismal requirements of the Church were relaxed, it was once the case that those who did not renounce killing, whether as a soldier or judge, could not be baptized. It is still the case that those who have killed another human being, even in self defense or by accident, are excluded from serving at the altar. Presumably this would also mean any person whose words incite others to kill.

What’s the problem? Killing in war is often awarded with medals. Aren’t soldiers only doing their duty, however horrible it may be? Is there not virtue in their deeds, however bloody? I am reminded of an interview with an American soldier in Iraq that I heard on television recently: “A part of your soul is destroyed in killing someone else.” He might have said, but didn’t, that a part of your soul is wounded when you kill another. The Church looks for ways to heal such wounds.

Christ is not simply an advocate of peace or an example of peace. He is peace. To want to live a Christ-like life means to want to participate in the peace of Christ. Yes, we may fail, as we fail in so many things, but we are never permitted to give up trying.

How do we give a witness to Christ’s peace, especially in time of war? There are at least seven aspects of doing this.

The first is love of enemies. Love is another damaged word. It has been sentimentalized. It has come to mean a nice feeling we have toward a person whom we enjoy seeing and being with. The biblical meaning of the word is different. Christ calls on his followers to love their enemies. If you understand love as a euphoric feeling or pleasant sentiment, fulfilling this commandment is impossible. But if you understand love as doing what you can to protect the life and seek the salvation of a person or group whom we are encouraged to fear or despise, that’s very different.

Jesus links love of enemies with prayer for them. Without prayer, love of enemies is impossible. One of the saints who gave special emphasis to this theme was the 20th century monk St. Silouan of the Holy Mountain. Silouan’s stress may have its roots in the fact that, before becoming a monk, he nearly killed another young man. Not long afterward, he went to Mount Athos. Much of his teaching later in life centered on love of enemies. “He who does not love his enemies,” he insisted, “does not have God’s grace.”

The second aspect is doing good to enemies. Jesus teaches his followers, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:28)

Jesus’ teaching about a compassionate response to enemies was not new doctrine. We find in the Mosaic Law: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under a burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5)

St. Paul elaborates: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will reap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:20-21)

Christ’s teaching to do good to enemies is often viewed as unrealistic. In fact, it is a teaching full of common sense. Unless we want to turn the world into a cemetery, we must search for opportunities through which we can demonstrate to an opponent our longing for an entirely different kind of relationship. An adversary’s moment of need or crisis can provide that opening.

The third aspect is turning the other cheek. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other also.” (Mt.5:39; Luke 6:29) Contrast this with the advice provided in the average film or novel, where the standard message might be described as “The Gospel According to Hollywood.” This pseudo-gospel’s basic message is: If you are hit, hit back. Let your blow be harder than the one you received. In fact, as we saw in the US attack on Iraq in 2003, you needn’t be hit at all in order to strike others. Provocation, irritation, or the fear of attack is warrant enough.

“Turning the other cheek” is widely seen as an especially suspect Christian doctrine, an ethic that borders on masochism. Many would say it is Jesus at his most unrealistic: “Human beings just aren’t made that way.” For a great many people the problem can be put even more simply: “Turning the other cheek isn’t manly. Only cowards turn the other cheek.”

But what cowards actually do is run and hide. Standing in front of a violent man, refusing to get out of his way, takes enormous courage. It is manly and often proves to be the more sensible response. It’s also a way of giving witness to confidence in the reality and power of the resurrection.

The fourth aspect is forgiveness. Nothing is more fundamental to Jesus’ teaching than his call to forgiveness: giving up debts, letting go of grievances, pardoning those who have harmed us, not despairing of the other. Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we are telling God that we ask to be forgiven only insofar as we ourselves have extended forgiveness to others: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

How hard it is to forgive! For we are wounded and the wounds often last a lifetime; they even spill across generations. As children, as parents, as husbands or wives, as families, as workers, as jobless people, as church members, as members of certain classes or races, as voters, as citizens of particular states, we have been violated, made a target, lied to, used, abandoned. Sins, often quite serious sins, have been committed against us. We may feel damaged, scarred for life, stunted. Others we love may even have died of evil done to them.

But we are not only victims. In various ways we are linked to injuries others have suffered and are suffering. If I allow myself to see how far the ripples extend from my small life, I will discover that not only in my own home but on the far side of the planet there are people whose sorrows in life are partly due to me. Through what I have done or failed to do, through what my community has done or failed to do, there are others whose lives are more wretched than they might have been. There are those dying while we feast.

But we prefer to condemn the evils we see in others and excuse the evils we practice ourselves. We fail to realize that those who threaten us often feel threatened by us, and may have good reasons for their fears. The problem is not simply a personal issue, for the greatest sins of enmity are committed en masse, with very few people feeling any personal responsibility for the destruction they share in doing or preparing. The words of Holocaust administrator Adolph Eichmann, “I was only following orders,” are among humanity’s most frequently repeated justifications for murder.

The fifth aspect is breaking down the dividing wall of enmity. In Christ enmity is destroyed, Saint Paul wrote, “for he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of enmity… that he might create in himself one new person in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing enmity to an end.” (Eph. 2:14-16)

Walls would have been on Paul’s mind at the time; in the same letter he mentions that he is “a prisoner for the Lord.” His words of guidance were sent from within the stone walls of a prison.

Consider Christ’s response to the centurion who asked him to heal a sick servant. It must have been hard for his more zealot-minded disciples to see Jesus responding positively to the appeal of an officer in an occupation army and galling to hear him commenting afterward, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In this brief encounter, the dividing wall of enmity collapsed.

We live in a world of walls. Competition, contempt, repression, racism, nationalism, violence and domination: all these are seen as normal and sane. Enmity is ordinary. Self and self-interest form the centering point in many lives. We tend to be a fear-driven people. Love and the refusal to center one’s life in enmity are dismissed as naive, idealistic, even unpatriotic, especially if one reaches out constructively to hated minorities or national enemies.

Many wars are in the progress at the moment. The cost in money, homes destroyed, damaged sanity, in lives and injuries is phenomenal. So many deaths, and mainly non-combatants – children, parents and grandparents, the very young, the very old, all sorts of people. Countless hideous wounds, visible and hidden. There are also less tangible costs, spiritually, psychologically, for we have become a people who make war and preparations for war a major part of our lives. We hear of many people who expect to die in a violent death and who live in a constant state of “low grade” depression. Fear and despair are widespread. Stress-relieving pills are selling better than ever in today’s world.

The sixth aspect is nonviolent resistance to evil. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” When Peter used violence to defend Jesus, he was instantly admonished, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” For several hundred years following the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were renowned for their refusal to perform military service. But for many centuries, Christians have been as likely as any others to take up the sword – and often use it in appalling ways.

The refusal to kill others can be a powerful witness, yet Christian life is far more than the avoidance of evil. It is searching for ways to combat evil without using methods that inevitably will result in the death of the innocent.

Responding to evil with its own weapons, even with the best of motives, often results in actions which mimic those of the enemy, or even outdo the enemy’s use of abhorrent methods. When Nazi forces bombed cities, there was profound revulsion in Britain and the United States, but in the end the greatest acts of city destruction were carried out by Britain and the United States.

Yet what is one to do? Christians cannot be passive about those events and structures which cause innocent suffering and death.

For centuries men and women have been searching for effective ways of both protecting life and combating evil. It is only in the past hundred years, because of movements associated with such people as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day, that nonviolent struggle has become a recognized alternative to passivity, on the one hand, and violence on the other.

Yet such acts of nonviolent protest are far from unknown in the Orthodox Church. One powerful example occurred in Constantinople in the year 842 when, opposing the iconoclast Emperor Leo V, a thousand monks took part in an icon-bearing procession in the capital city. They were exhibiting in public images of Christ and the saints which, had they obeyed the emperor, should have long before been destroyed. Their act of civil disobedience risked severe punishment. Iconographers had been tortured, mutilated and sent into exile. Thousands of icons had been destroyed. The death of the emperor later that year was widely seen as heaven’s judgment. In 843 his widow Theodora convened a Church Council which reaffirmed the place of the icon in Christian life. In The Orthodox Church, the first Sunday of Lent was set aside to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

There is one last element of peacemaking: It is aspiring to a life of recognizing Jesus in the other: In his teaching about the Last Judgment, Christ tells us, “Truly, I say to you, what you did it to one of the least of these, you did to me.” It is a scene represented in icons in many ancient churches, though not popular today.

Occasionally the question is raised: “Why are we judged together and not one by one as we die?” It is because each person’s life is far from over when he dies. Our acts of love and failures to love continue to have consequences until the end of history. What Adam and Eve did, what Moses did, what Plato did, what Pilate did, what the Apostles did, what Caesar did, what Hitler did, what Martin Luther King did, what Dorothy Day did, what you and I have done ? all these lives, with their life-saving or murderous content, continue to have consequences for the rest of history. What you and I do, and what we fail to do, will matter forever.

It weighs heavily on many people that Jesus preached not only heaven but hell. There are many references to hell in the Gospels, including in the Sermon on the Mount. How can a loving God allow a place devoid of love?

One response to that question which makes sense to me is one I first heard in a church in Prague in the Communist period. God allows us to go wherever we are going. We are not forced to love. Communion is not forced on us. We are not forced to recognize God’s presence. It is all an invitation. We can choose. We can choose life or death. Perhaps we can even make the choice of heaven while in hell. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis has a tour bus leaving daily from hell to heaven. But the bus is never full and tends to return with as many passengers as it took on the trip out of hell. Heaven is too painful, its light too intense, its edges too sharp, for those who are used to the dullness of hell. In fact the older we are, the more we live by old choices, and defend those choices, and makes ideologies, even theologies out of our choices, and finally become slaves to them.

We can say, not just once but forever, as Peter once said of Jesus, “I do not know the man.” There are so many people about whom we can say, to our eternal peril, “I do not know the man,” to which we can add he is worthless, has no one to blame for his troubles but himself, that his problems aren’t our business, that he is an enemy, that he deserves to die whether of frostbite or violence matters little.

As St. John Chrysostom said, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” If I cannot find the face of Jesus in the face of those who are my enemies, if I cannot find him in the unbeautiful, if I cannot find him in those who have the wrong ideas, if I cannot find him in the poor and the defeated, how will I find him in bread and wine, or in the life after death? If I do not reach out in this world to those with whom he has identified himself, why do I imagine that I will want to be with him, and them, in heaven? Why would I want to be for all eternity in the company of those whom I hated and avoided every day of my life?

Christ’s Kingdom would be hell for those who avoided peace and devoted their lives to division. But heaven is right in front of us. At the heart of what Jesus says in every act and parable is this: Now, this minute, we can enter the Kingdom of God. This very day we can sing the Paschal hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb he has given life!”

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Jim Forest, secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is the author of many books, including The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life and Ladder of the Beatitudes. The text is based on a lecture given 20 November 2004 at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York.

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THE HERESY OF RACISM

Want to add a useful word to your vocabulary? The term etho-phyletism (meaning love of the race, tribe or ethnically-defined nation) was coined at the Holy and Great pan-Orthodox pan-Orthodox Synod that met in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) in 1872. The meeting was prompted by the creation of a separate bishopric by the Bulgarian community of Istanbul for parishes only open to Bulgarians. It was the first time in Church history that a separate diocese was established based on ethnic identity rather than principles of Orthodoxy and territory. Here is the Synod’s official condemnation of ecclesiastical racism, or “ethno-phyletism,” as well as its theological argumentation. It was issued on the 10th of August 1872.

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.”

A section of the report drawn up by the special commission of the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Constantinople in 1872 reviewed the general principles which guided the Synod in its condemnation:

The question of what basis racism that is discriminating on the basis of different racial origins and language and the claiming or exercising of exclusive rights by persons or groups of persons exclusively of one country or group can have in secular states lies beyond the scope of our inquiry. But in the Christian Church, which is a spiritual communion, predestined by its Leader and Founder to contain all nations in one brotherhood in Christ, racism is alien and quite unthinkable. Indeed, if it is taken to mean the formation of special racial churches, each accepting all the members of its particular race, excluding all aliens and governed exclusively by pastors of its own race, as its adherents demand, racism is unheard of and unprecedented.

All the Christian churches founded in the early years of the faith were local and contained the Christians of a specific town or a specific locality, without racial distinction. They were thus usually named after the town or the country, not after the ethnic origin of their people.

The Jerusalem Church consisted of Jews and proselytes from various nations. The Churches of Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, Rome and all the others were composed of Jews but mainly of gentiles. Each of these churches formed within itself an integral and indivisible whole. Each recognized as its Apostles the Apostles of Christ, who were all Jews. Each had a bishop installed by these Apostles without any racial discrimination: this is evident in the account of the founding of the first Churches of God….

The same system of establishing churches by locality prevails even after the Apostolic period, in the provincial or diocesan churches which were marked out on the basis of the political organization then prevailing, or of other historical reasons. The congregation of the faithful of each of these churches consisted of Christians of every race and tongue….

Paradoxically, the Church of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Moldavia and so on, or less properly the Russian Church, Greek Church, etc., mean autocephalous or semi-independent churches within autonomous or semi-independent dominions, with fixed boundaries identical with those of the secular dominions, outside which they have no ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They were composed not on ethnic grounds, but because of a particular situation, and do not consist entirely of one race or tongue. The Orthodox Church has never known racially-based churches… to coexist within the same parish, town or country…

If we examine those canons on which the Church’s government is constructed, we find nowhere in them any trace of racism. … Similarly, the canons of the local churches, when considering the formation, union or division of ecclesiastical groupings, put forward political reasons or ecclesiastical needs, never racial claims…. From all this, it is quite clear that racism finds no recognition in the government and sacred legislation of the Church.

But the racial principle also undermines the sacred governmental system of the Church…

In a racially organized church, the church of the local diocese has no area proper to itself, but the ethnic jurisdictions of the supreme ecclesiastical authorities are extended or restricted depending on the ebb and flow of peoples constantly being moved or migrating in groups or individually… If the racial principal is followed, no diocesan or patriarchal church, no provincial or metropolitan church, no episcopal church, not even a simple parish, whether it be the church of a village, small town or a suburb, can exist with its own proper place or area, containing within it all those of one faith. Is not Christ thus divided, as He was once among the Corinthians, by those who say: “I am for Paul, I am for Apollo, I am for Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12)? …

No Ecumenical Council would find it right or in the interests of Christianity as a whole to admit an ecclesiastical reform [whose membership was based on ethnic identity] to serve the ephemeral idiosyncrasies of human passions and base concerns, because, apart from overthrowing the legislative achievements of so many senior Ecumenical Councils, it implies other destructive results, both manifest and potential:

First of all, it introduces a Judaic exclusiveness, whereby the idea of the race is seen a sine qua non of a Christian, particularly in the hierarchical structure. Every non-Greek, for instance, will thus be legally excluded from what will be called the Greek Church and hierarchy, every non-Bulgarian from the Bulgarian Church, and so on. As a Jew, St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, could only have been a pastor in one nation, the Jewish. Similarly, Saints Cyril and Methodius, being of Greek origin, would not have been accepted among the Slavs. What a loss this would have entailed for the Church! …

Thus the sacred and divine are rendered entirely human, secular interest is placed above spiritual and religious concerns, with each of the racial churches looking after its own. The doctrine of faith in “one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” receives a mortal blow. If all this occurs, as indeed it has, racism is in open dispute and contradiction with the spirit and teaching of Christ.

Reprinted from For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism, edited by Hildo Bos and Jim Forest.

Orthodoxy and Ecumenism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Peter Bouteneff

Basic Texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

updated April 23, 2006

The Orthodox Church and Peace

Some Reflections

By Olivier Clément

The spiritual and eschatological meaning that Scripture and Christ Himself give to the word “peace” characterizes the Orthodox Church as it does all Christian communities, although she is perhaps more wary than others of secularizing reinterpretations. The Biblical shalom which the Septuagint translates as eirene indicates the gift, the coming, the presence of God himself, for God is the one and only source of peace. The Messianic title ‘Prince of peace’ that we find in Proto-Isaiah1 applies in its fullness to Christ, the ‘king of peace’.2 In the New Testament, the ‘peace of Christ’ is a synonym for that life stronger than death which is brought to us by the Resurrection. Peace, life and joy are thus almost synonymous. ‘Peace on earth’, the message of the angels, is in fact accomplished by Christ — and in Him — for He reunites God and humanity by triumphing over death and hell. He ‘makes peace by the blood of his cross’.3 In rooting Himself in the Church, Body of Christ, place of an ever-continuing Pentecost, the Christian, to the extent of his ascesis, an ascesis of trust and humility, is able to experience — whatever the changes and chances of his life, despite ‘wars and rumours of war’4 — that deep peace which is the foreshadowing within him of the Kingdom. ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’, writes St Paul to the Thessalonians.5 Similarly, Peter points to the ‘gentleness’ and ‘peace’ of the ‘hidden man of the heart.’6

Nevertheless this peace is not a withdrawal into oneself. Man is called to share in the very life of the Trinity: ‘That they may be one, even as we are one,’7 said Jesus to His Father whom He has made ours. Our personal peace is realized in the peace of communion. The Christian, wherever he finds himself, has to become a peacemaker of human and cosmic existence — ‘Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’, we are told in the Epistle to the Hebrews.8 The eucharistic community, which in the first centuries was called agape in Greek, caritas in Latin, ought to become, perhaps above all, a seed of peace in the world. The key text here is the Beatitude about the peacemakers, those who work to make peace9 — who ‘shall be called sons of God’, adopted in the Son, therefore literally ‘deified’. Thus the disciples of Jesus are ‘to be at peace with one another’10 and with all men.11

The first Christian communities are to be found in a ‘universal’ Empire which is a vast area of peace. They pray therefore for its preservation, while refusing to divinise the power of Rome and of the Emperor. But this refusal, which discloses the area of the free personal conscience between the Kingdom of God and that of Caesar, does not express itself through rebellion but through martyrdom, that is to say, through a non-violent stance, which has remained characteristic of the Christian East to this day.

The following text from the First Letter to Timothy12 has been almost entirely integrated into the eucharistic liturgies of St Basil and of St John Chrysostom which are still used today in the Orthodox Church: ‘I exhort… that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.’ The Christians of the first centuries felt very strongly, as do many Eastern Christians today, that the Church covers the world through her presence and her prayer (Paul Evdokimov goes as far as to say that ‘in the mystery’ it is the world which is in the Church and not the other way around); that she preserves peace, delays the Parousia in its aspect of destruction, hastens it in its aspect of transfiguration. ‘What the soul is in the body, such are Christians in the world’, says the second century Letter to Diognetes.13 They sustain and support the world of which they are a fundamental element of its internal cohesion, life and peace. ‘I have no doubt at all that it is because of the intercession of Christians that the world continues to exist’, writes Aristides in his Apologia.14 Such is the priestly role of the entire Christian people, plainly indicated by the Sermon on the Mount: ‘You are the salt of the earth,’15, which refers back to Leviticus: ‘With all your offerings you shall offer salt,’16 and through to Revelation and the First Letter of Peter, which applies to the members of the Church the promise once made by the mouth of Moses to the chosen people: ‘You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’17

The Fathers of the Church, of whom, as is well known, the Orthodox are always very much aware, emphasized that peace, as the anticipation of the Kingdom, had not only a spiritual but also a dynamic and communicable character. St Clement of Rome in his Letter to the Corinthians18 insists that ‘peace is the aim that has been proposed to us from the beginning.’ ‘A deep and joyful peace has been given to us for all men, with an insatiable longing to do good and an abundant outpouring of the Spirit.’ St Basil recalls that ‘Christ is our peace’, and hence ‘he who seeks peace seeks Christ… Without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.’19 ‘The love which Christ bears for mankind spreads his peace among them,’ writes St Dionysius the Areopagite.20 Barnabas describes Christians as ‘children of love and of peace.’21 The saying of Christ is quoted constantly: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you,’22 — that peace ‘which passes all understanding’.23 The peace of Christ comes to birth in man’s heart, it flows forth, becomes responsible and creative love, acquires a social dimension. Christians are the peaceable race (eirenikon genon) remarks Clement of Alexandria.24 Christ calls them to be ‘soldiers of peace’.25 ‘Nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace,’ writes Saint Basil.26 The fight for peace cannot be separated from the fight for justice. The great boldness of the Fathers in social matters is well known. For St John Chrysostom, the ‘sacrament of the altar’ is nothing if it does not extend itself in the ‘sacrament of the poor’.

In the period before Constantine, the Church expected Christians to adopt a position that was fundamentally pacific (but not pacifist in the systematic and ideological sense that the word has taken on). In the second century, at the height of the Roman Peace an apologist like Justin could take the view that the Messianic age prophesied by Isaiah, when swords would be beaten into ploughshares, had arrived with Christianity, for Christians, he says ‘refuse to make war with their enemies’.27 The army is a professional army and ecclesiastical authors, for the most part, consider that the military profession is among those that Christians should not take up. Tertullian gives two reasons for this: because the cult of Rome and of the Emperor is obligatory for legionaries and because the ‘sons of peace’ cannot be soldiers, ‘Can a son of peace take part in a battle?’28 In the third century, when Christianity was beginning to become a widespread religion and there were Christian soldiers, the Apostolic Tradition acknowledges that they maintain order and guard the frontiers, but forbids them to kill. If they do so, they must be excluded from the Church.29 Origen mentions that although Christians can pray for the Emperor in wartime — the situation had become dangerous for the Empire — ‘they may not themselves bear arms against any nation nor learn the art of war. For the fact is that Jesus has made us sons of peace’.30 However, it should be noted that from the third century, the Church prays for the authorities engaged in defensive wars when it is a matter of preventing invasion, chaos and the shedding of innocent blood.

The psychological climate changes with the conversion of the Emperors, the end of persecution, state support for the Church (without which the Ecumenical Councils could not have taken place) and the embedding of Christian values in imperial legislation. Christians are to be found in the highest positions, and the Church is called upon to take, as it were, direct responsibility for the course of events. However, an overriding requirement for peace continued to be a vital element in the Christian conscience. ‘God is not the God of war,’ writes St John Chrysostom. ‘To make war is to declare oneself against God as well as against one’s neighbour. To be at peace with all men is what God, who saves them, requires of us. “Blessed are those who work for peace, for they shall be called the sons of God.” How are we to imitate the Son of God? By seeking peace and pursuing it.’31 The pacific stance of the early Church then falls back to liturgical prayer and to the role of exemplars and intercessors allotted to monks (still laymen in the East), and to the clergy. Fr Michel Evdokimov has already very well presented the theme of peace as it appears in the Orthodox Liturgy. As for monks and clergy, not only must they refuse to serve in armies but they must also forgo the right of legitimate self-defence. The 5th canon of Gregory of Nyssa, which is still in force, states that should a priest ‘fall into the defilement of murder even involuntarily (i.e. in self-defence), he will be deprived of the grace of the priesthood, which he will have profaned by this sacrilegious crime.’

The prohibition32 against clergy and monks serving in the army is paralleled by the canons forbidding them to take office in the administration or government of the State.33 These two injunctions of non-violence and of non-power are combined in the 7th canon of the Council of Chalcedon: ‘Those who have entered the clergy or who have become monks must no longer serve in the army or accept civil office.’ Henceforth, it is the monks who take upon themselves the universal priesthood of working for peace among mankind and the whole of creation, which formerly fell to all Christians. From the mid-fourth century, Serapion of Thmuis, the friend of St Antony, did not hesitate to apply to monks that saying of Christ: ‘You are the light of the world.’ ‘Because of you’, he comments, ‘by your prayers, the universe is saved.’34

Or rather the peace-making service of the universal priesthood is ascribed both to the monks and to the Emperor. The myth of Christian Empire meant a lot to the Orthodox Church, at least until the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. The conversion of Constantine, linked to the apparition of a ‘sign in the sky’, has been thought of as an inauguration of the eschaton. For Eusebius of Caesarea, the union of the Church and Empire ‘converted the whole human race to peace and friendship, since from now on, men mutually recognize one another as brethren and discover their natural unity (in the sense of one human nature gathered up in Christ)’. This for Eusebius is a sign that the Scriptural prophecies have been fulfilled.35 In the Byzantine view, Christian mankind, constantly extended through missions, ought to constitute a kind of ‘city’ politeuma, headed by the Emperor, which he had to keep in peace. His role was to be fulfilled symbolically and by reciprocal agreement rather than by domination. For example, the Emperor sent Clovis, the King of the Franks, consular titles, which integrated him into the politeuma without calling into question his independence. In the Middle Ages, when the Slav and Caucasian nations asserted themselves — thanks in part to evangelization from Byzantium in their own languages — the Empire organized the politeuma as a kind of Christian ‘commonwealth’. It is also true, unfortunately, that the confrontation of Bulgarians and Byzantines, and later of Serbs and Byzantines, for the imperial title led to exhausting wars.

After the fall of Constantinople the Empire passed to Russia. In the nineteenth century, she made very great efforts — and often disinterested ones — for the protection and freedom of the Orthodox of the Balkans. Even so, the division of Christendom was a major obstacle to the reconstitution of a politeuma. After the defeat of Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I entered Paris and all he asked in compensation for the burning of Moscow was that the Easter Liturgy should be celebrated in the very square, now called ‘La Place de la Concorde’, where King Louis XVI had been guillotined. And he tried to reconstitute the politeuma by the creation of a ‘Holy Alliance’ (which should not be confused with the Realpolitik of Metternich’s reactionary Quadruple Alliance). The idea was to bring lasting peace to Europe through an understanding — in all but words an ‘ecumenical’ understanding — between Orthodox Russia, Lutheran Prussia, Anglican England and Catholic Austria and France. The dream was of a Christian society of European nations capable of reconciling tradition and liberty. The rise of secular nationalism in Europe doomed the project to failure. However, it should not be forgotten that in 1901 Tsar Nicolas I proposed and obtained the creation of the International Tribunal of The Hague, to which he would have wished to give a greater capacity to act to prevent future conflicts

This whole long history, as is well known, has not gone by without wars. The Orthodox Church has become intimately linked to every people among whom she has taken root, to whom she has given a script, whose language she has blessed by using it for her Liturgy, whose culture she has safeguarded, and whose Christian ways she has upheld during periods of foreign domination (e.g. of the Ottomans in South East Europe and of the Mongols in Russia). She has thus been totally involved in movements of resistance and wars of liberation. To limit oneself to Greece (although analogous examples could be found in the history of Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria), the banner of insurrection during the terrible war of independence was raised by the Archbishop of Patras. Half the Athonites left the Holy Mountain, monks though they were, to fight the Ottomans (oppressors and, I shall return to the point, Muslims). One should not forget that under Turkish domination (the ‘Turkokratia’) the bishops were regarded, in the Islamic conception of the occupying power, as religious and civil leaders, without distinction, of the milet, namely of the Christian ‘people’. This explains the role assumed by Archbishop Makarios as virtual ‘ethnarch’, i.e. ‘leader of the people’, during the liberation of Cyprus!

However the Orthodox Church has never elaborated a doctrine of the ‘just war’ as the Christian West did following St Ambrose and St Augustine. The latter, let us not forget, designated as Manichean heresy — and he was a past master in the field! — the affirmation that war is intrinsically evil and contrary to the Christian understanding of love. The Christian East, on the other hand, has always thought of war as an evil but a sometimes necessary evil for the defence of justice and freedom. The only normative ideal is that of peace, and hence the Orthodox Church has never made rules on the subject of ius belli and of ius in bello. To kill in war is permitted by a kind of commiseration but, for the Fathers, it is still a sin which must be forgiven! In his 13th canon, St Basil notes: ‘Our fathers have not, in fact, held the homicides committed in warfare to be murders, thus pardoning, it seems to me, those who have taken up the defence of justice and of religion. However, it would be good to advise them to abstain from communion for three years since their hands are not pure.’ Killing in war is relevant to a significant concept of Eastern canon law, that of ‘involuntary sin’.

From this point of view, the only war permitted by the Church as a lesser evil is a defensive war, or a war of liberation. Byzantine treatises on tactics and strategy begin by affirming that war is an evil. Thus, an anonymous sixth century author writes: ‘I am well aware that war is a great evil, and even the greatest of evils. But because enemies shed our blood…, because everyone has to defend his homeland and his fellow citizens…, we have decided to write about strategy…’36 However, the work is concerned only with defensive strategy. It recommends ruses, manoeuvres and subterfuges to avoid battle and to lead to the enemy’s withdrawal. The Strategikon of Maurice, another handbook on the art of war,37 advises against complete encirclement, which would drive a cornered enemy to fight to the end, and recommends always allowing him an outlet to take flight. For the aim is to get him to withdraw, not to slaughter him.

Byzantium, the Balkan countries, Russia at the time of the Mongols, have all been attacked by Islam, an Islam rougher, often far more opaque, than that of the Arabs. Nevertheless it would be wrong to speak of ‘crusades’, but rather of a difficult and painful defence of the Cross. This attitude is imprinted in the liturgical texts and they still have a strange actuality, I have been told, for Greek Cypriots. Certainly, there was a great temptation to identify the Christian people with a particular historic nation. For example, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, on 14 September, we sing: ‘Lifted up of Thine own will upon the Cross, O Christ God, do Thou bestow Thy mercy upon the new commonwealth that bears Thy Name. Make our faithful kings glad in Thy strength, giving them victory over their enemies: may Thy Cross assist them in battle, weapon of peace and unconquerable ensign of victory’.38 In this context, where eschatology runs the risk of being borne off to the advantage of national Messianism, the ancient canon distancing the warrior from communion is quite forgotten. He who fights in defence of his land and his faith is henceforth regarded as a martyr. ‘God will account our blood as that of the martyrs’, said one of the ‘holy Princes’ of Russia, to whom it went against the grain to take up arms, and yet who fought to save their people, and sometimes accepted humiliation and death at the court of the Tatar Khan by freely offering themselves as hostages. In 1380, the Khan marched on Moscow. The Grand Prince Dimitri went to ask the advice of St Sergius of Radonezh, the restorer of the monastic life and therewith of the moral and cultural life of Russia. ‘Your duty demands that you defend your people’, said Sergius. ‘Be ready to offer your soul and to shed your blood. But go first of all before the Khan as his vassal and try to hold him back by submitting to him in all loyalty. Holy Scripture teaches us that if our enemies require our glory, if they want our gold or silver, we can let them have it. We only give up our lives and shed our blood for the faith and in the name of Christ. Listen, Prince, let them have your glory and your wealth, and God will not let you be defeated. Seeing your humility, He will come to your aid and will abase their indomitable pride.’ The Grand Prince made it clear that he had done all that he could to appease the Khan, but in vain. ‘So fight then, they will perish. God will come to your aid. May His grace be with you.’ And he gave Dimitri two of his monks to fight with him. The Russian victory at Kulikovo was decisive. What we have here is neither a theology of violence nor a theology of non-violence, but the unmistakable savour of the Bible, which becomes evangelic when history becomes tragic.

The same conception of warfare is found in the strategy of Kutuzov in the face of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. The battle of Borodino was purely defensive. On its eve, everyone fell to their knees before a particularly venerated icon of the Virgin. Kutuzov then abandoned Moscow to the invader. And when Napoleon, overtaken by winter, withdrew, Kutuzov limited himself to harassing him, having no other aim than to drive him back to the frontier. Tolstoy, who was later to become non-violent, has described these events magnificently in War and Peace.

Since the disappearance of the last Orthodox Empire, that of Russia in 1917, and of the last Catholic Empire, that of Austria in 1918 — the latter deliberately destroyed by anticlerical France — the dream of a Christian politeuma has completely vanished. (It is true that a good number of the notions of John Paul II spring from an ‘imperial’ charisma, rather than from a ‘pontifical’ charisma, but that is another story). This has accentuated the national character of the different Orthodox Churches. During the Second World War, they were at the side of their respective peoples. The Patriarch of Serbia was behind the 1941 plot to dismiss the Regent for having granted free passage to the German armies. He was sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis. In Russia, on news of the German attack, when Stalin floundered and an attitude of wait-and-see was growing in a good many quarters, it was the head of the Russian Church, the Metropolitan, and future Patriarch, Sergius, who called for national resistance. Subscriptions from the faithful enabled the Church to offer the State an armoured column, which flew the flag of Holy Russia and bore the name of the victor of Kulikovo and friend of St Sergius, Dimitri Donskoy. During the 900-day siege of Leningrad, the Church made a decisive contribution through prayer, exhortation and social assistance. But previously, unlike, for example, the Spanish Church, the Russian Church had refused to participate in civil war. Patriarch Tikhon did not give his blessing to the White armies. He himself offered the State the wealth of the Church to combat the famine, and he simply exhorted the faithful to non-violent resistance; while Lenin, having refused his offer, ordered the confiscation even of the things needed for public worship. This was the time when Starets Alexis Metchev opposed the calls for an anti-Bolshevik crusade made by some emigre bishops, and declared that a powerful spiritual renewal was the only way in which Russia would be able to overcome anti-theism.

So, historically, the Orthodox Church has accepted warfare sorrowfully as a sometimes necessary evil, but without concealing that it is an evil which must be avoided or limited as much as possible. Her spiritual men and women have never ceased to pray for peace. St Silouan, who died in 1938 on Mount Athos, carried the whole of mankind in his prayer; and he, a Russian, interceded especially for the persecutors of his Church; persecutions, to which the response was martyrdom — of tens of millions of Martyrs, many of whom died praying for their tormentors.

Today, in a context which has become global and extremely precarious, there are two signs which appear to make specific the position of the Orthodox Church: one is her stance in the war in Lebanon, and the other is the text on Peace worked on by the Third Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, which met at Chambésy near Geneva from 28 October to 6 November 1998.

In Lebanon, the Orthodox community, which is one of the most significant in terms of numbers, economic importance and cultural influence, was the only one to refuse to take up arms and form a militia. The Orthodox Youth Movement of the Patriarchate of Antioch, inspired, above all, by Metropolitan George Khodr, has always put into practice the non-violence of the Gospel, going to the assistance of victims on all sides and developing a dialogue with Islam, which could be of great future importance.

The Third Pre-conciliar Conference has drawn up a long text on ‘the contribution of the Orthodox Church to the achievement of peace.’ This text offers a definition of peace which is that of Scripture and of the Fathers. The basis of peace can be none other than unconditional respect for the human person who, being in the image of God, is rooted beyond this world and, in Christ, becomes irreducible. At the same time, the human person is fulfilled in communion, for the Church as ‘mystery’ of the Risen Christ, makes the person a participant of the love of the Trinity. The Trinity would thus appear, in its radiance of unity and diversity, as the guiding image for a humanity which is unifying but does not want to become uniform. Christ’s Gospel is the Gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15). Christ has become ‘our peace’ (Eph.2:14). The peace ‘which passes all understanding’ (Phil. 4:7), as Christ himself said to his Apostles at the Holy Supper — peace which is broader and more essential than the peace which the world promises. On this point, the Conference quotes the text of Clement of Alexandria on the ‘peaceable race’ to which we have already made reference. Peace is inseparable from justice, which is the social aspect of communion; and from freedom, where the mystery of the image of God is inscribed. The Conference therefore makes a vehement appeal on the one hand, for respect for persons and for minorities and on the other, for justice on the planetary scale.

However, it is only in the Church (and this is why the Church must be the Church) that evil, the root of all discord, can be healed radically by the Life-giving Cross, whose sanctity alone can radiate the strength to do so. Here we discover again the meaning of a peace-making priesthood of all the faithful as in the pre-Constantinian Church. The Church constitutes a force for peace quite different from that of international organizations or States. This ‘force for peace’ is infectious, it is ‘caught’ and spreads through the communion of Eucharistic communities, through prayer, service, and the active love of people who become capable, as St Paul requires, of ‘making Eucharist in all things’ (1 Thess. 5:8).

In this way a creative spirituality is defined which involves all Christians — people of the Resurrection — in the struggle against death as it ravages society and culture in all its dimensions. As regards war in particular, the text reads:

‘Orthodoxy condemns war in general, for she regards it as a consequence of the evil and sin in the world. Out of commiseration she has allowed wars, undertaken to re-establish justice and freedom where they have been trodden underfoot.’

Today, however, the risk of the self-destruction of mankind and of the annihilation of all life on earth through a nuclear war can no longer be a matter of a lesser evil. At this point, politics becomes ‘metapolitical’ and addresses the problem of the meaning of existence itself. The text then condemns armaments of all kinds, especially nuclear and space weapons ‘wherever they come from’. (It is not a question of unilateral disarmament as in pacifist movements).

‘The consequences of a nuclear war would be terrifying, not only because it would cause the death of an incalculable number of human beings, but because the life of those who survived would be intolerable. Incurable diseases would appear, and genetic mutations would occur with dire effects for future generations, assuming that life on earth continued. In the opinion of scientists, one result of nuclear war would be the so-called nuclear winter — climatic disturbances on our planet the end result of which would be the disappearance of all life. Consequently, nuclear war is unacceptable from all points of view, environmental and ethical. It would be a crime against humanity, a mortal sin against God, whose work would be destroyed.’

Confronted by this threat, by the no-less-suicidal progressive destruction of the environment and by famine in so many regions of the Third World, while ‘the economically developed countries live in a regime of opulence and waste, committing themselves to a sterile policy of armaments,’ only a spiritual leap can open the paths of the future. The Conference summons Christians to adopt a new lifestyle based on voluntary limitation, sharing, and sympathetic respect for Nature. The Conference text concludes:

‘Because we know the meaning of salvation, we have the duty of striving to alleviate illness, unhappiness and anxiety; because we have access to the experience of peace, we cannot remain indifferent when peace is lacking in contemporary society; because we are blessed with the justice of God, we have to strive for more complete justice in the world and for the disappearance of all oppression… Because we are nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord in the holy Eucharist, we feel the need of sharing the gifts of God with our brethren — we understand better what hunger is and we strive for its abolition. Because we are preparing for a new earth and a new heaven where justice will reign, we struggle here and now for the vivifying and the renewal of man and of society.’

First published as “L’Altra Pace” in the volume “La Pace come metodo,” Milano 1991

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

Chapter 11: Study and action guide

STUDY AND ACTION GUIDE

11.1. Bibliography

The Church and War

Author unknown: The Early Church and the World. A History of the Christian Attitude to Pagan Society and the State down to the Time of Constantinius, Edinburgh 1925

Bainton, R.: Christian Attitudes toward War & Peace, Nashville, TN 1960

Behr-Sigel, E.: Orthodoxy and Peace, in In Communion, Nativity fast 1995

Cadoux, C.: The Early Christian Attitude to War, NY 1982

Caspary, C.: Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords. Berkeley, 1979

Christians and the Roman Army: A..D. 173-337, Church History, 43, 1974, pp. 149-163

Deane, H.: The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine, New York 1963

Erickson, J.: “The Hermeneutics of Reconciliation. Perspectives from the Orthodox Liturgical Experience,” Reformed Liturgy & Music 30.4 (1996), 196-98.

Harnack, A.: Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries, Philadelphia 1980

Harakas, S., Allen, J. (ed.): “The Morality of War”, in Orthodox Synthesis: The Unity of Theological Thought, Crestwood 1981, pp. 67-94.

Helgeland, J., Daly, R. and Patout Burns, S.: Christians and the Military: The Early Experience, Philadelphia 1985.

Hornus, J-M., It Is Not Lawful for Me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes Toward War, Violence and the State, Scottdale, PA 1980

“Leaflets of St. Sergius”, nr. 10, 1929 (in Russian) on Orthodoxy and Military Service

Lossky, V.: Seven Days on the Roads of France (in French), Paris 1998

Miller, T., and Nesbitt, J.: Peace and War in Byzantium, Washington DC 1995

Mother Maria (Skobtsova): How War Opens Our Eyes (in Russian), in: Mat’ Maria, Paris 1947

Phan, P.: Social Thought, Vol.20, 1984, Wilmington, Del. 1984

“The Rejection of Military Service by the Early Christians”, Theological Studies, 13, 1952, pp. 1-32.

Swift, L.: The Early Fathers on War and Military Service, Vol.19; 1983

Velimirovic, Bishop Nikolai: War and Religion (in Serbian), Belgrade 195?

Zampaglione, G.: The Idea of Peace in Antiquity, Notre Dame 1973

Orthodox Identity and Nationalism

Berdyayev, N.: Christianity and Anti-semitism (in Russian), Paris 1935

Erickson, J.: The Formation of Orthodox Ecclesial Identity (in print)

Huntington, S.: The Clash of Cultures, in: Foreign Affairs, Volume 72 No.3, Summer 1993

Kepel, G.: The Revenge of God; the Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World, 1993

Kartachov, A.: The Church and National Identity (in Russian), in Tserkov’, Istoriya, Rossiya (essays). Moscow 1996

Papathomas, Archimandrite Grigorios: Internal Orthodox Church Mission (input at the 1999 Syndesmos Summer Institute) (in print)

Yanaras, C.: “The Challenge of Orthodox Traditionalism,” in Fundamentalism as an Ecumenical Challenge, London n.d.

Church History

Arnold, E.: The Early Christians: a source book on the Witness of the Early Church

Cunningham, A.: The Early Church and the State, Philadelphia 1982

Dennis, G. and Gamillscheg, Das Strategikon des Maurikios, English translation, University of Pennsylvania Press

Goltz, H. (ed.): Survey of the Mediation Attempts of the Russian Orthodox Church During the October 1993 Conflict, Geneva 1993

Kaegi, W. Jr.: Some Thoughts on Byzantine Military Strategy, Brookline, Ma 1983

Meyendorff, Fr. J.: The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church, Crestwood NY 1982

(on the role of liturgy in maintaining Orthodox ecclesial identity)

Obolensky, D.: The Byzantine Commonwealth, Crestwood, 1971

Regelson, L.: The Tragedy of the Russian Church (in Russian), Moscow 1996

Shavelsky, Fr. G.: Memoirs of the last Protopresbyter of the Russian Army and Fleet (in Russian), Moscow 1996

Skrynnikov, R.: Hierarchs and Authorities (in Russian), Leningrad 1990

Ware, Bishop Kallistos: The Orthodox Church (Baltimore: Penguin Books, n.d.)

Spiritual and Liturgical Texts

The Book of Needs, South Canaan PA, 1987

Gillet, Fr. L.: Serve the Lord with Gladness, Crestwood 1990

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and St. Theophan the Recluse: Unseen Warfare, Crestwood 1987

Sophrony (Sakharov), Archimandrite: Saint Silouan the Athonite, Essex 1991

Canonical Texts

Metropolitan Maximus of Sardes: The Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church, Thessaloniki 1976

Papathomas, G.: Course of Canon Law — Appendix VI — Canonical Glossary, (in French) Paris 1995

The Rudder, Chicago 1957

11.2. Useful Addresses

Syndesmos (the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth)

Eleftheriou Venizelou 59a

Holargos 15562

Greece

+30-1: 656-0991; fax +30-1: 656-0992

e-mail: [email protected]

web: http://www.syndesmos.org

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Kanisstraat 5

1811 GJ Alkmaar

The Netherlands

tel 31 72 5112545

fax 31 72 5154180

e-mail: [email protected]

web: http://www.incommunion.org

Many useful links to Orthodox Churches, organisations and action groups on www.incommunion.org

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents