WAR, PEACE AND NATIONALISM IN ORTHODOX LITURGICAL TEXTS
7.1 Prayer for Peace in the Liturgy
Extracts from the writings of Archimandrite Lev Gillet, most of whose books were published anonymously as “A Monk of the Eastern Church”
The Great Litany by which the Divine Liturgy begins opens with a fervent request that peace be granted to us. This request is so important and so basic that it recurs three times in slightly different forms. These are not superfluous repetitions, for each of these petitions is filled with a deep and special meaning.
“In peace let us pray to the Lord!” This means first of all that we are called to assume a state of inner peace. Those who will take part in the Divine Liturgy should rid their minds of all confusion, all susceptibility to fleshly and earthly temptations, all obsession with “worldly cares,” all hostile feelings towards any other person, and all personal anxiety. They should come before God in a state of inner calmness, trusting attentiveness, and single-minded concentration on “the one thing needful.” (Luke 10:42)
Then at once there is a second request: “For the peace from above and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord!” The peace which we have already requested is something other than a state of mind or a psychological condition produced by our own effort. It is the peace which comes ‘from above.” We should humbly recognise that such peace is a gift from God, and we should open ourselves to this gift, stretching out our hands to receive it. On the other hand, we recognise that the divine peace and the “salvation” of our souls are intimately related. Peace is a sign of the presence and the work of the Saviour within us.
Then comes a third request for peace: “For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy Churches of God and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord!” The peace which we request goes beyond our isolated persons and acquires a practical aspect. We pray for the peace of the universe, not only for mankind, but for every creature, for animals and plants, for the stars and all of nature. Thereby we enter into a cosmic piety, we find ourselves in harmony with everything God has called into being. We pray for every disciple of Christ, in order that through each one God might be worshipped “in Spirit and in Truth.” We pray for an end to warfare and to struggles between races, nations and social classes.
We pray that all of humanity might be united in a common love.
Every temple of the Lord is a house of divine Presence and a house of prayer. Every temple is also a house of peace. May the soul of all those who enter into this holy temple to take part in the assembly of God, become itself a house of peace.
— From Serve the Lord with Gladness by Fr. Lev Gillett, Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990
7.2. From the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
From the Eucharistic Canon (Anaphora) of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
The priest prays:
Again we pray thee, remember, O Lord, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is from one end of the world to the other, and give peace to Her whom thou hast purchased with the precious Blood of thy Christ, and establish thou this holy house, even unto the consummation of the age.
Remember, O Lord, those who have offered unto thee these Gifts, and those for whom, and through whom, and the ends whereunto they are offered. Remember, O Lord, those who bear fruit and do good works in thy holy churches, and who remember the needy; requite them with thy rich and heavenly gifts; give them things heavenly for things earthly, things eternal for things temporal, things incorruptible for things corruptible. Remember, O Lord, those in the deserts, the mountains, and in the caverns and pits of the earth. Remember, O Lord, all those who continue in virginity and devotion, and in asceticism and a sober way of life.
Remember, O Lord, the Emperor, all civil authorities, and the armed forces; grant them peaceful times, that we also in their tranquility may lead a calm and quiet life in all piety and sobriety. In thy goodness guard those that are good, and make good those that are evil, by thy loving kindness.
Remember, O Lord, the people present, those that for good cause are absent, and have mercy on them and on us, according to the multitude of thy mercies. Fill their garners with every good thing; guard their marriage bond in peace and in oneness of mind; rear the infants; train the young; support the aged; encourage the fainthearted; gather together the scattered, and lead back those who wander astray, and join them to thy Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Free those who are vexed by unclean spirits; travel with those that journey by land, by sea, and by air; protect the widows; defend the orphans; deliver the captives; heal the sick. And those that are under trial, in the mines, in exile, in bitter bondage, in every tribulation, necessity, and danger, do thou remember, O God.
And all those that are in need of thy great goodness of heart, and those also who love us, and those who hate us, and those who have commanded us the unworthy to pray for them, do thou remember, O Lord our God, and all thy people, and upon all pour out thy rich mercy, granting to all their petitions which are unto salvation. And those whom we through ignorance or forgetfulness or the multitude of names have not remembered, do thou thyself remember, O God, who knowest the age and name of each, and knowest every man even from his mother’s womb. For thou art the Helper of the helpless, the Hope of the hopeless, the Savior of the storm-tossed, the Haven of the voyager, the Physician of the sick. Be thou thyself all things to all men, O thou who knowest every man, his petitions, each house and its need.
Deliver, O Lord, this city and every city (or this village, or this abode), and country from famine, pestilence, earthquake, flood, fire, the sword, foreign invasion, and civil war.
And the priest exclaims:
Among the first, remember, O Lord, our lord, the Most Holy Patriarch (Name), our Bishop (Name), whom do thou grant unto thy holy churches in peace, safety, honor, health, and length of days, rightly dividing the word of thy truth.
The singers sing:
And all mankind.
7.3. Commentary of the Mysteries, by St. Cyril of Alexandria
In his commentary on the Divine Liturgy, St. Cyril gives a brief summary of the “Great Intercession,” in which, according to the common text of the Liturgy of St. James, there is a suffrage “for the peace and welfare of the whole world, and of the holy Churches of God.” From Chrysostom’s language, we must infer that the prayer formed part of the “Great Intercession” in his Liturgy.
Ye have seen then the Deacon who gives to the Priest water to wash, and to the Presbyters who stand round God’s altar. He gave it not at all because of bodily defilement; it is not that; for we did not enter the Church at first with defiled bodies. But the washing of hands is a symbol that ye ought to be pure from all sinful and unlawful deeds; for since the hands are a symbol of action, by washing them, it is evident, we represent the purity and blamelessness of our conduct. Didst thou not hear the blessed David opening this very mystery, and saying, I wall wash my hands in innocence, and so will compass Thine Altar, O Lord? The washing therefore of hands is a symbol of immunity from sin.
Then the Deacon cries aloud, “Receive ye one another; and let us kiss one another.” Think not that this kiss is of the same character with those given in public by common friends. It is not such: but this kiss blends souls one with another, and courts entire forgiveness for them. The kiss therefore is the sign that our souls are mingled together, and banish all remembrance of wrongs. For this cause Christ said, If thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against time, leave there thy gift upon the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. The kiss therefore is reconciliation, and for this reason holy: as the blessed Paul somewhere cried, saying, Greet ye one another with a holy kiss; and Peter, with a kiss of charity.
Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.
— Lecture 23 on the Mysteries, by St. Cyril of Alexandria, Chapter 5, “On the Sacred Liturgy and Communion.”
7.4. Prayers by the Lake, by Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid
Bishop Nikolai (Velimirovic) of Ochrid ( 1956) is regarded by many as a saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church yet to be canonised. He is best known for The Prologue from Ochrid, a four-volume work on the lives of the saints. Little by little his writings are being translated into English.
Thou hast filled thyself with peace, O Glory of the realms on high, and the anger of all lands cannot shake Thy peace.
Among mortals there is little peace; therefore anger has gained in strength.
Anger makes its nest in the breast of arrogance and murder lies in the breast of anger.
All sins tend to murder, and none stands so close to murder as anger.
One-eyed earthly laws do not punish anger, because they do not see that anger kills. But Thy discerning law, O Glory of the realms on high, calls anger murder.
I have striven, in sunlight and moonlight, to penetrate the mystery of Thy law and, once my striving began to wear away all my worldly hopes, I began to perceive how my anger towards neighbours was killing me.
The children of anger are slaves, while the children of peace are sons. Therefore Thy wisdom speaks to men and reiterates to them: Be sons! A son looks into the face of his father, and turns his own face towards that of his father. When he sees peace in his father’s face, how can he distort his own face with anger, and yet not turn his gaze away from his father?
Anger brings infirmity into both the one who is angry and the one against whom the anger is vented. And infirmity is the precursor of death.
A wonder worker does not work miracles among children of anger, for the children of anger bring infirmity unto him.
O my neighbours, why do you feel stronger among those who love you, and weaker among those whom your presence angers? Is it not because the former add to your life by love, and the latter take from it through anger?
It is therefore my delight to be constantly with thee, O Glory of the realms on high. For only in Thy presence I neither kill them nor they me.
Just as drop after drop of water wears away even the hardest stone, so anger wears away the life of two people.
Like a murderer waiting in ambush with a knife, so anger burns in a proud heart.
Truly, arrogance knows that it is guilty; therefore it places anger at the gate, to act as its sentry.
Arrogance knows that it is sinful; therefore it has found itself an advocate in another sin.
Fill my heart with humility, O Glory of the realms on high, with the humility of the angels before Thy throne, for humility gives no abode or resting place to anger.
Grant me the humility of a son, and I shall be ashamed to become angry at slaves or kill slaves. Arm me with Thy peace, that the anger of the children of anger will not be able to confound.
The Father looks down from heaven and sees me all covered with wounds from the injustice of men, and says: “Take no revenge.”
On whom should I take revenge, O Lord? On part of a flock on its way to slaughter?
Does a doctor take revenge on his patients for cursing him on their death beds?
Or whom should I take revenge? On the snow for melting, or on the grass for withering? Does a grave digger take revenge on those going down into the grave?
On whom shall I take revenge? On simpletons, for thinking that they can do evil to someone else in the world besides themselves? Does a teacher take revenge on illiterate children for not knowing how to read?
Eternity is my witness that all who are quick to take revenge are slow to read and comprehend its mysteries.
Time is my witness that all who have taken revenge have accumulated poison in themselves and have, with this poison, blotted themselves out of the Book of Life.
In what can you avengers boast before your adversaries, except my being able to repeat their evil? Are you not thereby saying: “We are no better than you?”
God is my witness that both you and your adversaries are equally reckless and equally incapable of good.
I have seen a cherry tree stripped of its bark and set fire to by children, yet it gave ripe fruit to those same children.
And I have seen cows, which men tormented with heavy burdens, patiently give milk to those same men.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I asked: Why is nature more compassionate to men than man is to his fellow man?
Nature is my witness, O ye avengers, that only he is more powerful than those who do him evil who is powerless to copy their evil deeds.
There is no end to vengeance, and the descendants continue the work of their fathers and then go hence, leaving it unfinished.
Evil hastens along a wide road, and from each new duel it gains strength and territory, and increases its retinue.
A wise man gets off the road and leaves evil to hurry on.
A barking dog is more quickly silenced by a piece of bread than by many hurled stones.
He who taught men: “An eye for an eye,” also taught them how they would all be left blind.
On whom shall I take revenge, O my heavenly Father? On part of a flock on its way to slaughter?
Ah, how wretched are all evildoers and all who take revenge! Truly, they are like a flock of sheep on the way to slaughter that, unaware of where they are heading, butt horns with each other and wreak a slaughter before the slaughter.
I do not seek vengeance, my Father; I do not seek vengeance, but rather that Thou grant me a sea of tears, so that I can bewail the wretchedness of those who are on their way to slaughter, not knowing where they are going.
Men can do me no evil as long as I bear no wound.
I saw two caves, one of which gave off an echo, while the other was dumb. Many curious children visited the former, incessantly engaged in shouting matches with the cave. But visitors quickly left the other cave, because it gave them no echo in return.
If my soul is wounded, every worldly evil will resound within it. And people will laugh at me, and will bear more and more strongly on me with their shouting.
But evil-speaking people will not really harm me, if my tongue has forgotten how to form evil words.
Nor will external malice sadden me, if there is no malice in my heart to resound like a goatskin drum.
Nor shall I be able to respond to wrath with wrath if the lair of wrath within me has been vacated and there is nothing to be aroused.
Nor will human passions titillate me if the passions within me have been turned to ashes.
Nor will the untruthfulness of friends sadden me if I have chosen Thee for my friend.
Nor can the injustice of the world overwhelm me if injustice has been banished from my thoughts.
Nor will the deceitful spirits of worldly pleasure, honour and power delude me, if my soul is like a spotless bride, who receives only the Holy Spirit and yearns for Him alone.
Men cannot send anyone off to hell unless that person sends himself, nor can men hoist anyone up on their shoulders to the throne of God, unless that person elevates himself.
If my soul has no open windows, no mud can be thrown into it.
Let all nature rise up against me; it can do nothing to me except a single thing — to become as soon as possible the grave of my body.
Every worldly crop is covered with manure, so that it will sprout as soon as possible and grow better. If my soul were, alas, to abandon its virginity and receive the seed of this world into itself, then it would also have to accept the manure that the world casts on its fields.
But I call upon Thee day and night: “Come, dwell in my soul and close all the places where my enemies can enter. Make the cavern of my soul empty and dumb, so that no one from the world will desire to enter it.”
O my soul, my only care, be on guard and learn to distinguish between the voices that smite your ears. Once you hear the voice of your Lord, abandon your dumbness and echo it with all your strength.
O my soul, thou cavern of eternity, never allow temporal thieves to enter into thee and kindle their fire within thee. Be dumb when they shout at you. Stay still when they bang on you, and patiently await your Master — for He will truly come.
7.5. A Soldier’s Prayer
The following prayer was found in the pocket of a Russian soldier killed during World War II.
Do you hear me, God?
Never before in my life have I spoken to you, but today I want to greet you.
You know that since I was a child, they said that you didn’t exist… And I was foolish enough to believe them.
Never before have I realized the beauty of your creation.
Today only I discovered this beauty, when suddenly an abyss opened.
Above me, a sky filled with stars. Amazed, I saw how they twinkled.
How could I have been so cruelly deceived!
I don’t know, Lord, whether you will stretch out your hand to reach me, but for me, I will recognize you, and you will understand.
It’s a miracle that in the depth of this terrifying hell, light illuminates me… and that I have been able to see you.
I won’t tell you anything else, except what a joy it is to know you.
At midnight, we have received the order to attack; but I am not afraid. You are watching us.
Listen, there is the signal. I have to go. Yet, it was so good to be with you.
What I still wanted to say, You know, this combat will be mean. Maybe, tonight I will knock on your door. Even though I never was your friend, will you let me enter, when I come?
But — am I crying? Look what’s happening to me! My eyes have opened. Forgive me God.
I am going, and surely I will not come back.
But, o wonder, I am no longer afraid of death.
7.6. Prayer for the Salvation of the Russian State
This prayer of intercession for the salvation of the Russian state and the elimination of strife and disorder in, the first version of which was written by St. Tikhon of Moscow, was frequently used by Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church during the coup d’Etat of October 1993.
Lord God, our Redeemer! We bow down before you with contrite hearts and confess our sins and wilful unruliness by which we have angered you in your mercy and obstructed your blessings. For we have turned away from you, O Lord, we have not obeyed your commandments nor done as you have bidden us. Wherefore you have punished us with disorder and cast us under the feet of our enemies, we have become lower than the heathens and a scandal and disgrace to our neighbours. Great and wonderful God, you sorrow at our wickedness, you who raise up those who fall and make firm the feet of those who stumble. Send down to us here your heavenly power, heal the festering wounds of our soul and raise us up from our bed of sickness, for our loins are filled with weakness, we are ill with falsehood and we bring forth lawlessness. Take away the strife and turmoil in our land, remove from us envy and quarrelsomeness, murder and drunkenness, divorce and temptation, root out of our hearts all impurity, enmity and wickedness, that we may love one another once more and be one in you, our Lord and Ruler, as you have commanded and bidden us. Have mercy upon us O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we are filled with dishonour and we are not worthy to raise our eyes to heaven. Remember your mercy to our fathers, transform your wrath into pity and help us in our time of trouble. This prayer comes to you from your Church, which offers to you the supplication of your friends: our venerated and God-bearing fathers Sergi of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov, the holy Hierarchs of Moscow Peter, Alexis, Iona, Philip and consecrated martyr Hermogen, especially the holy Hierarch Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and all the saints who have shone forth in our land, but especially the All-holy Mother of God and All-pure Virgin Mary, who from times immemorial has covered our land with her protection and intercedes for it. Bring to reason all who govern and rouse in them good for your Church and for all your people. Strengthen our army through the power of your Cross and save it from all attacks by the enemy. Grant to us men of strength and understanding, and give us the spirit of wisdom and fear of God, the spirit of strength and devotion.
Lord, we seek refuge in you, teach us your will for you are God, in you is the source of life, in your light we see the light. Extend your goodness to those who know you for ever and ever. Amen.
7.7. Prayers for Peace in Former Yugoslavia
During the war in Bosnia, and later Yugoslavia, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church has directed that the following petitions be inserted into appropriate litanies at Vespers, Matins and the Divine Liturgy:
Into the Great Litany:
For God’s mercy upon us, His unworthy servants, that we may all be protected from hatred and evil actions, that we may have instilled in us unselfish love by which all shall know that we are disciples of Christ and God’s people, as were our holy ancestors, so that we may always know to decide for the truth and righteousness of the Heavenly Kingdom, let us pray to the Lord.
For all those who commit injustice against their neighbours, whether by causing sorrow to orphans or spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even towards their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.
At the Augmented Litany:
O Lord, how many are our foes who battle against us and say: there is no help for them from God or man. O Lord, stretch forth Thy hands that we may remain Thy people in both faith and works. If we must suffer, let it by in the ways of Thy justice and Thy truth — let it not be because of our injustice or hatred against anyone. Let us all fervently say: Lord have mercy (three times).
Again let us pray to God, the Saviour of all men, also for our enemies — that our Lord who loves mankind will turn them away from attacks on our Orthodox people, that they not destroy our churches and cemeteries, that they not kill our children or persecute our people, but that they too may turn to the way of repentance, justice and salvation. Let us all fervently say: Lord have mercy (three times).
7.8. On the issue of the blessing of weapons
In July 1995, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship addressed a letter to his Holiness Pavle, Patriarch of Serbia requesting that “the Synod require that no use be made of a service for blessing weapons included in an edition of the Book of Needs published in Kosovo in 1993. In the context of the events in former Yugoslavia, the blessing of weapons can only be regarded as sanctioning the use of weapons in a fratricidal war.” The letter refers to a private 1993 edition of the Book of Needs (Euchologion, Trebnik) which contains a service for the blessing of arms. The service does not figure in the Books of Needs published by the Holy Synods of the local Orthodox Churches. Nevertheless its usage of the words “swords” and “sabers” seems to indicate its ancientness, reflecting the fact that in many countries, the blessing of armies and arms is an established ecclesiastical custom. The text of the service is given below.
The Bishop or priest comes out of the altar to the table with the weapons in front of the ambon, incenses the weapons crosswise beginning as it is common.
Reader: Heavenly King, Trisagion, Our Father, Lord have mercy (12 times). Glory; both now and; come let us worship. . . and psalm 35. Glory; both now: hallelujah (three times)
Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord
The Bishop or priest reads this prayer over the weapons:
Lord our God, God of powers, powerful in strength, strong in battle, you once gave miraculous strength to your child David granting him victory over his opponent the blasphemer Goliath. Mercifully accept our humble prayer. Send your heavenly blessing over these weapons (naming each weapon). Give force and strength that they may protect your holy Church, the poor and the widows, and your holy inheritance on earth, and make it horrible and terrible to any enemy army, and grant victory to your people for your glory, for you are our strength and protection and we sing praise to your glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Then the priest sprinkles blessed water on the weapons saying:
Let the blessing of Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come down on and remain upon these weapons and those who carry them, for the protection of the truth of Christ. Amen.
After this the soldiers carrying the weapons are blessed, with the prayer:
Be brave and let your heart be stronger and win victory over your enemies, trusting in God, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
After this each soldier kisses the cross.
This is the way to bless sword and saber. If there is only one sword to be blessed, or only one saber, he says only once: this sword, or: this weapon. If there are many, he says: bless these swords, or: bless these weapons.
7.9. Prayer for the Pacification of Animosity
This prayer has been taken from the English translation of the Slavonic Book of Needs (Synodal edition of the Russian Orthodox Church) but may be found in the Books of Needs of most Local Orthodox Churches.
Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.
Singers: Lord have mercy.
Priest: “We thank you, O Master, Lover of Mankind, King of the ages and Bestower of good things, Who destroyed the dividing wall of enmity, and granted peace to the human race, and Who now has granted peace to Your servants. Instill in them the fear of you and confirm in them love one for the other. Extinguish every dispute and banish all temptation to disagreement. For You are our peace and to You we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
— From the Book of Needs, South Canaan PA, 1987
marginal quotations from chapter 7:
There is something to war that might be like the only chance for the present condition of humanity. This does not mean that we might want war. But now that it has burst loose, it has to be used. … More than ever before, the war demands the mobilisation of absolutely all our spiritual forces and capacities. … Christ and the life-giving Holy Spirit demand the entire human being — now. The only difference with state mobilisation is that the State mobilises compulsorily, while our faith awaits volunteers. Will there be such volunteers, and, if so, which will their effort and their readiness for sacrifice — from this, in my view, the destiny of the human race depends. Indeed, war is the wing of death which overshadows the earth; war opens the gates of eternity for thousands and thousands of people; war crushes the established bourgeois order, cosiness and stability. War is a calling, war opens our eyes. … I know that right now, at this very instant, hundreds of people have encountered what is the most serious, Seriousness itself: death, and that thousands are standing in line. … And finally I know, I know with all my being, with all my faith, with all the spiritual strength that has been granted to the human soul, that God visits His world in this instant. And the world can receive His visitation — my heart is ready, it is ready,” — and instantly, our temporary and fallen life will encounter the depths of eternity, our human cross will become the likeness of the Cross of the God-Man, and then, through our very grief of death we will see the white robes of the angel who announces us: “He, who was dead, is no longer in the grave.”
— Mother Maria (Skobtsova), 1939
For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents