Tag Archives: Peace

Orthodox Perspectives on Peace, War and Violence

Ecumenical Review / March 2011

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-6623.2010.00093.x/abstract

by Fr. Philip LeMasters

Christ admonishing Peter: "Put away your sword, for they who live by the sword will perish by the sword."
Christ admonishing Peter: “Put away your sword, for they who live by the sword will perish by the sword.”

As an American convert to Orthodoxy, I am well aware that this dimension of the life of the Eastern Church is obscure. Outside of traditionally Orthodox nations and cultures, even most well-educated people have never heard or seen a public statement or act by the church (or her members) that demonstrates a commitment to peace or a distinctive stance on any public issue.2 The Orthodox community is a small minority outside of its traditional locations and, especially in such contexts, focuses more on the practical demands of sustaining diocesan and parish life than on public statements or acts of prophetic witness.

Traditionally Orthodox nations offer a wide variety of models of interaction between the church and public affairs. Greek, Russian and Serbian national identity, for example, are closely tied to Orthodoxy. It is not surprising in such contexts to encounter prayers for the blessing of weapons, military regiments with patron saints, and other practices that endorse participation in warfare. In majority Muslim nations, the Orthodox have had a range of historical experiences, including exclusion from military service, mandatory conscription and the possibility of pursuing a successful military career. In none of these examples, however, do the Orthodox appear to provide a distinctive vision of the moral and spiritual matters at stake in the use of violence, much less to make a bold witness for peace in the public realm.

There is no question that early Christianity was characterized far more strongly by practices of nonviolence and reconciliation than by those of bloodshed and warfare. With the conversion of Constantine and the gradual “Christianization” of the Empire, however, the dynamics of sustaining a suitable peace in the world took priority over a straightforward witness to the non-resistant love of Christ. Canon law, however, required – and continues to require – clergy and monastics to embody nonviolence. Their example is a sign to the church of the paradigmatic practice of turning the other cheek. The dominant experience of Orthodoxy is within empires and nations where the church had a definite and subservient relationship with the ruling political powers. Hence, it is not surprising that the church has tolerated war as a broken, tragic necessity of collective life in the world.3

Orthodox canon law has maintained, however, the recognition of the spiritual gravity of taking life in war. St Basil the Great recommended that those who kill in war should abstain from taking communion for three years. Soldiers were not sanctioned with nearly the same severity as murderers, but were given time to repair the damage done to their souls by killing through a period of repentance before communing. This canon may never have been applied strictly, and clearly has often been ignored in the practice of the church. Still, it stands as a reminder that war is not unambiguously good; the taking of the life of a fellow human being is a grave matter that threatens to impair one’s relationship with the Lord, the church and one’s neighbours.4

Past and current experience with the psychological and moral damage done by participation in warfare reveals the wisdom of St Basil’s canon. It is often a great struggle to heal from war’s traumatic effects. The author of a recent letter to the editor of the newspaper of my city makes this point: “I kept remembering the 300,000 old men and women and young pregnant mothers and children wild-eyed with fear who were killed when we firebombed Tokyo, and then there was what we did at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And I loaded the fuses for those bombs and have lain awake in the night wondering if there is forgiveness.”5 After 65 years, the wounds of war apparently still trouble the author of that letter. The sinfulness of bloodshed may manifest itself through a lifetime of guilt and sleepless nights. This man’s words witness to the wisdom of directing those who kill to pursue healing through the spiritual therapy of repentance.

In contrast with Western Christianity, there is no explicit just war theory in Eastern Orthodoxy. Certainly, the Byzantine Empire and other Orthodox nations have had rules of conduct for soldiers and expectations about when and how it was appropriate for nations to go to war. But even observance of the strictest moral or professional code does not make war good. Not only is participation in warfare often a spiritually and emotionally shattering experience for soldiers, it is inevitably tied to abuse and injustice. Ethnic cleansing, rape, oppression of religious minorities, abuse of prisoners and refugees, and other horrors often arise in the chaos of warfare. As Fr John McGuckin notes, war “remains what it has always been, one of the curses of the human race, dragging after it … death, orphans, widows, disease, destruction of the environment and cities, rape, forced prostitution, and all manner of human wickedness and misery.” Even wars fought in the name of justice “have led to many instances of the just finally acting as badly as the wicked, and losing sight of their goal”.6

That war is inevitably tragic and corrupt is apparent from a sober reading of the application of just war theory. National self-interest and a desire for dominion have corrupted every known instance of warfare. Political and military leaders routinely take actions that they know will result in the deaths of noncombatants. These leaders usually also control the very information necessary to evaluate the morality of their own actions in war. True transparency and accountability in government are recent and rare developments, and many wartime leaders are in effect accountable only to themselves. Even a nation with a legal commitment to fight justly will probably lack the political will to submit to defeat when certain violations of just war standards would bring victory or save the lives of their own soldiers.

In the American mythos, for example, the Second World War is often thought of as “The Good War”, a reassuring example of the virtue of the nation and its “greatest generation” of soldiers and citizens. It is obvious, however, that the unjust provisions of the Treaty of Versailles sowed the seeds of World War II. Though the Allies had opportunities to preclude further Nazi aggression by the discriminate use of force in the 1930s, they did not do so. The Allies did, however, intentionally destroy many large civilian population centres in Germany and Japan, which killed untold numbers of noncombatants. These actions were taken for the sake of winning the war and preserving the lives of their own countrymen. Victory was also achieved through an alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union, which then imposed its oppressive hegemony over millions of Eastern Europeans. The very outcome of this war set the stage for the Cold War, which threatened the planet with nuclear annihilation and gave rise to wars between client states in Korea, Vietnam and other nations around the world.

The Allied victory surely produced more favourable results for humanity than an Axis victory would have done. All involved in the war had, however, at least some blood on their hands and endured at least some damage to their souls. The circumstances surrounding the conflict do not remove the destructive spiritual effects of the actions taken by both sides. This statement does not affirm moral equivalency between the actions of the Allies and the Axis powers during the war. It does, however, indicate that spiritual brokenness is an evitable characteristic of warfare, which by its very nature falls short of the selfless, non-resistant love of Jesus Christ. The often shattered lives of military veterans and of civilians on all sides of war bear witness to the tragic effects of armed conflict on those created in the divine image and likeness. Violent death and dismemberment, displacement from one’s homeland, and torture certainly do not embody God’s salvific intentions for humanity.

Orthodox Christianity is not concerned fundamentally with morality as an end in itself. The vocation of humanity is for deification, participation in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. Human beings are to become by grace all that God is by nature. A common image for theosis is an iron left in a fire until it takes on the qualities of the fire. It then glows red hot and transmits heat to anything that it touches. Likewise, human beings are called to shine with the light and life of God, to participate fully in the healing and fulfillment that the incarnate Son of God has brought to the world. All are called to embrace and be transformed by the holiness of God, to become saints.7

In this light, it is not hard to see why warfare, and any taking of human life, is fraught with spiritual peril. Death comes into the world as the result of sin. Christ has come to conquer death, to raise humanity to the eternal life for which humanity was created. To kill a human being is to do the work of death, to involve oneself in a paradigmatic act of spiritual brokenness and of estrangement from God and neighbour. Granted, some instances of killing may be tragically necessary, such as the actions of a soldier in defending his or her nation from invasion by a conquering power. Killing in such circumstances may be understood in light of the Orthodox category of “involuntary sin”, which includes actions that damage the soul despite the fact that they are done without malice and out of necessity. The church knows that killing does not have to be murder for it to be spiritually damaging.8

Repentance is understood therapeutically in Orthodoxy. The focus is not on paying a legal penalty for one’s sins, but instead on finding healing by reorienting one’s life towards God. The soldier who has killed in war needs repentance not because of breaking a law, but because taking life presents many profound challenges to spiritual health. It is obviously difficult to grow in holiness while killing people, regardless of the circumstances.

The prayers for peace before the Our Father in the Divine Liturgy provide a stark contrast to the practices and attitudes associated with physical violence. At this point in the service, the church prays that “the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless” and that “we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance”. A day during which one has killed others who bear the image of God is hardly perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless. Those engaged in or preparing for war will find it hard to complete the course of their lives in peace and repentance. Though particular instances of warfare may be necessary, and even legally and morally justified by certain standards, they fall well short of the vision of a holy life described in these prayers.

Orthodox Christians have often failed to proclaim the severe tension between the use of violence and a life of holiness. Serbia, however, provides a recent example of the church opposing the abuse of the faith in support of war. In the midst of the Bosnian civil war, Patriarch Pavle proclaimed that “the Church must condemn all atrocities that are committed, no matter what the faith or origin of the person committing them may be. No sin committed by one person justifies a sin committed by another. We will all face the Last Judgment together where each of us must answer for his sins. No one can justify his sins by saying someone else is guilty of a crime.” The Serbian bishops declared that “The way of nonviolence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God.” They also added the following petition to the Liturgy: “For all those who commit injustice against their neighbours, whether by causing sorrow to orphans, spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and their hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even toward their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.”9

The canons of the church are applied pastorally to repair the damage done by sinful actions. Soldiers, police officers and others may at times have no choice but to use violence to defend the innocent from abuse. Their roles and responsibilities preclude them from a straightforward manifestation of Christ’s nonresistant love for the enemy. They serve to protect the innocent from harm, and risk their own spiritual brokenness for the sake of others. Despite their “involuntary sin”, it is still possible for them to advance toward theosis by using force in as limited and just a manner as possible, while doing what is possible to guard themselves against the damaging effects of the passions that are often aroused in situations of violence. Passions are disordered attachments of the soul that tempt people to sinful actions. Hatred is a passion often aroused during war, for it is hard to kill without a hatred that dehumanizes the enemy. When human beings “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”, a great many passions are unleashed that often lead to the abuse and slaughter of innocents. Alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and suicide are not uncommon symptoms of the ruin that such passions may wreak upon the lives of those who have shed blood.

Nonetheless, it is possible for a soldier to fight these passions successfully and to grow in holiness, even becoming a saint. According to the Passion of St Edmund, the king of East Anglia gave his life sacrificially in the ninth century at the hands of the invading Danish king in order to save his subjects from death. St Edmund “declared that he would follow the example of Christ and ‘refrain from staining my pure hands.’” The 11th-century Serb St John Vladimir gave his sword to a Bulgarian enemy and said, “Take it and kill me, for I am ready to die, as were Isaac and Abel”; a “perfect, non-violent, Christ-like quality” shines through his death, even though St John had previously fought as a brave solider.10 Also in the 11th century, Boris and Gleb of Kiev did not resist death at the hands of their ambitious royal brother’s assassins. As Fr Alexander Webster comments, “St Boris offered himself as a voluntary, Christ-like sacrifice for the sins of the assassins and consequently made no attempt to resist the lethal violence visited upon his person.” A seasoned soldier, St Boris took “a conscious choice … to reflect the ideals of nonresistance and expiatory sacrifice modeled originally by Christ.” These saints are shining examples of “the moral life in Christ. Theirs was pre-eminently a witness on behalf of the redemptive value of innocent suffering and the transformative power of nonresistance to evil.”11

Orthodoxy does not canonize saints simply on the basis of military prowess or the fact that one died in battle, even for an Orthodox nation or in defense of the faith. St Basil’s Canon 13, which excludes from communion for three years those who have killed in war, demonstrates the church’s repudiation of holy wars or crusades. Patriarch Polyeuktos appealed to this canon to reject an imperial appeal in the 10th century to canonize as saints the Byzantine soldiers who died defending the Empire.12 This example is an indication that the shedding of blood calls for repentance, not for an automatic recognition of holiness.

In Orthodox moral theology, one simply does not find theoretical justification for war as good endeavour, let alone pronouncements that war is holy. Orthodoxy does not require nonviolence or pacifism as essential characteristics of the Christian life; neither, however, does it sacralize war. Instead, the church merely tolerates war as a sometimes tragically necessary or unavoidable endeavour for which repentance for “involuntary sin” is appropriate. The soldier is not condemned as a murderer, but should receive pastoral guidance towards the end of healing from the damaging spiritual effects of taking life.

The apparent ambiguity of Orthodox teaching and practice on this issue reflects the dynamics of Orthodox canon law. Through oeconomia, canons are applied pastorally in order to help particular people find spiritual healing and advance in holiness. Even as a physician takes into account the given challenges to physical health faced by a patient, the church takes into account the spiritual, moral, social and practical dynamics encountered by penitents. The peace of Christ – and the non-resistant, forgiving love by which Christ brought salvation to the world – remains the norm of the Christian life. Unfortunately, the peace of the world as we know it inevitably relies on imperfect arrangements of political, social, economic and military power, which both reflect and contribute to the brokenness of human souls and communities. The lives and well-being of those created in the image and likeness of God depend upon the institutions of human society operating with a measure of justice; otherwise, the powerful will mercilessly exploit and abuse the weak. The church does not simply condemn these realities or ask Christians to pretend that they do not live in the world as we know it. Instead, Orthodoxy calls everyone to work toward peace, reconciliation and justice for their neighbours. When doing so requires involvement in warfare, the taking of human life, or other endeavours that damage the soul, the church provides spiritual therapy for healing and guidance for growth in holiness.

The Divine Liturgy itself reflects the legitimate role of governmental and military power in our world. At the very high point of the Liturgy, in the Anaphora of St Basil the Great, the priest prays for God to “be mindful … of all civil authorities and of our armed forces; grant them a secure and lasting peace … that we in their tranquility may lead a calm and peaceful life in all reverence and godliness.” Immediately following are similar appeals for God to “be mindful” of the victims of violence and oppression: “those who are under judgment, in the mines, in exile, in bitter servitude, in every tribulation, necessity and danger …”

These petitions indicate that the church itself benefits from a stable and just social order that enables the Christian community to live in peace. Of course, the church has endured with remarkable faithfulness terrible periods of persecution from wicked governments; nonetheless, “a calm and peaceful life in all reverence and godliness” is preferable to all-consuming strife that inflames passions, tempts people to apostasy, and makes the demands of communal survival so pressing that evangelism and other ministries suffer greatly. It is surely at least in part through just and peaceable social orders that God is mindful of prisoners, exiles, refugees, victims of crime, and other displaced and marginalized persons. The social and political orders within which the church ministers, and within which human beings live, have great spiritual and moral significance; indeed, they serve God’s purposes for the sustenance of human life. Strong temptations lurk within these orders, but they are not intrinsically evil and Christians may serve within them.

Orthodox Christianity is not a form of Gnosticism. The church affirms the essential goodness of all dimensions of creation, including the embodied social existence of humanity. Salvation is not a matter of escaping the limits of the creaturely world or pretending that suffering in the flesh and in society is not real. The Son of God became incarnate to heal fallen humanity, died on a cross, was buried in a tomb, descended to Hades, and then rose again as a completed, glorified person – as the Victor over death. The Christian hope for salvation includes the resurrection of the body, a new heaven and earth, and the fulfilment of all dimensions of creation in the eschatological kingdom of God, which has not yet come in its fullness. In our life “between the times” of the inauguration and consummation of the kingdom, the imperfect peace of the kingdoms of this world plays a vital role in God’s providential care for the collective life of humanity and the flourishing of the church. As Orthodox Christians pursue a dynamic praxis of peace, they do well not to downplay the significance of real-life struggles for justice and peace faced by nations and societies in the name of an abstract spirituality. To relegate God’s blessings and requirements to an ethereal realm unrelated to the present conditions of life on earth is to fall prey to the ancient Gnostic and Manichaean tendencies to condemn creation as evil. This attitude views the collective life of humanity as profane, possessing only a negative spiritual significance.

Orthodoxy, in contrast, views all dimensions of creation eucharistically. The offering of the Divine Liturgy is the paradigm for human life in the world as we fulfill our vocation as the priests of creation.13 Bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ through which the church participates already in the heavenly banquet of the kingdom of God. Communicants are then to live the Eucharist by offering all aspects of their lives to the Father in union with the sacrifice of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such a life should be characterized by peacemaking, forgiveness and reconciliation; a non-violent approach surely provides the most straightforward witness to the life of kingdom as revealed in Jesus Christ.14 Nonetheless, the process of theosis is dynamic and open to everyone in all walks of life and vocations; hence, the soldier, the police officer and others involved in the use of deadly force for the protection of the innocent may grow in holiness and find salvation. They do not fight holy wars and will not become saints simply due to their success in killing enemies. Indeed, their participation in violence will probably produce a variety of obstacles for their faithful pursuit of the Christian life. They will need the spiritual therapies of the church in order to find healing for their souls from the harms they have suffered. But as the many saints from military backgrounds indicate, it is possible for them to overcome the damaging effects of bloodshed and to embody the holiness of God. Fr John McGuckin notes that “most of the soldier saints … went voluntarily to their deaths, as passion-bearers, or martyrs; and some of them were actually martyred for refusing to obey their military superiors”.15 Those who returned home as “righteous vindicators” did so because they conquered not only a worldly enemy, but also “the very chaos and wickedness” of warfare and bloodshed.16

In conclusion, Orthodoxy’s distinctive stance on peace, war and violence does not view war as unambiguously good or holy. Orthodoxy has neither a crusade ethic nor an explicit just war theory. Instead, the church tolerates war as an inevitable, tragic necessity for the protection of the innocent and the vindication of justice. The canons of the church suggest a period of repentance for those who have killed in war, which indicates both that taking life is spiritually damaging and that bloodshed falls short of Christ’s normative way of non-resistant, non-violent love. Peacemaking is the common vocation of all Christians, but the pursuit of peace in a corrupt world at times inevitably requires the use of force. In such circumstances, the church provides spiritual therapy for healing from the damaging effects of taking life. In every Divine Liturgy, the church prays for the peace of the world and all its inhabitants, and participates in the heavenly banquet of the kingdom to which all – soldier and pacifist alike – are invited.

Footnotes

1See the statement “Called to Be ‘Craftsmen of Peace and Justice’”, Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Consultation Towards the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, Leros, Greece, 15–22 September 2009: http://www.overcomingviolence.org (Accessed 09.12.10). The Saidnaya conference produced “An Orthodox Contribution Toward a Theology of Just Peace.”http://www.overcomingviolence.org The present author was an editor of and contributor to these statements; hence, points of similarity in thought and wording should not surprise the reader.

2An important resource for Orthodox perspectives on peacemaking is the website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship: http://www.incommunion.org.

3Marian Gh. Simeon, “Seven Factors of Ambivalence in Defining a Just War Theory in Eastern Christianity” in Proceedings: The 32ndAnnual Congress of the American Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Polytechnic International Press, Montreal, 2008, p. 537, comments that “Christian theologians generally agree that the Orthodox Church does not share a Just War Theory in the Western sense …”. See also Olivier Clement, “The Orthodox Church and Peace – Some Reflections” in H. Boss and J. Forest, For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace, and Nationalism, Syndesmos, Bialystok, 1999, p. 173; Fr Stanley S. Harakas, “The Teaching on Peace in the Fathers” in For the Peace from Above, p. 190–91; Fr John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2008, pp. 402–08; Grant White, “Orthodox Christian Positions on War and Peace” in Segma Asfaw, Guillermo Kerber, and Peter Weiderud, The Responsibility to Protect: Ethical and Theological Reflections, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 2005, p. 38; and Fr Philip LeMasters, “May Christians Kill?” in The Goodness of God’s Creation, Regina Orthodox Press, Salisbury, MA, 2008, p. 69ff.

4See St Basil the Great, Canon 13 of the 92 Canonical Epistles, as quoted in Fr John McGuckin, “St Basil’s Guidance on War and Repentance” in In Communion (Winter 2006:2); Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1994, p. 86–88; “Canons of St Basil the Great” in For the Peace from Above, p. 45; Fr Alexander F. C. Webster, The Pacifist Option, International Scholars Publications, Lanham, MD, 1998,pp. 84–87.

5Henry A. Buchanan, letter to the editor, Abilene Reporter-News, June 15, 2010, p. 5C.

6Fr John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 402.

7See, for example, St Gregory Palamas: The Triads, Fr John Meyendorff (ed) Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 1983, p. 83; Bishop Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, The Orthodox Church, Penguin Books, New York, 1997, p. 231ff.

8H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr, The Foundations of Christian Bioethics, Swets & Zietlinger Publishers, Lisse, 2000, pp. 325–26.

9Jim Forest, “The Serbian Orthodox Church: Not What We have Been Led to Believe.”http://www.incommunion.org/2004/12/12/the-serbian-orthodox-church (Accessed 09/12/10).

10Fr Alexander F. C. Webster, The Pacifist Option, p. 189–91.

11Fr Alexander F. C. Webster, The Pacifist Option, p. 191–95.

12Fr John Erickson, “An Orthodox Peace Witness?” in Jeffrey Gros and John D. Rempel. Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peacemaking, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2001,p. 48ff.

13See Fr Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1998.

14His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today, Doubleday, New York, 2008), pp. 207, 227, stresses the centrality of the pursuit of peace to the Christian life.

15Fr. John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 402.

16Fr. John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 402.

The Reverend Dr Philip LeMasters is Dean of Social Sciences and Religion at McMurry University, Abilene, Texas. He is the priest of Saint Luke Antiochian Orthodox Church in Abilene, and a member of the Society of Christian Ethics, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and the Board of Trustees at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. His publications address applied issues in Orthodox moral theology, including sexuality, marriage, environmental stewardship, poverty, and peacemaking.

Living on the Wrong Side of the Wall

by Maria C. Khoury

The other side of a 27-foot wall is not a place I imagined I would be when I started my middle class family in Boston. In those days, we were going to hockey games to make sure we were keeping up with the Americans and Greek School to keep up with the Greeks – all the politically correct activities to fit into a society never meant for me. Having been married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian, fate had a different life awaiting me.

When, in 1993, the Oslo Peace Agreement brought hope to Israelis and Palestinians, we were one of the first families living in the US to arrive, invest and live in Palestine. We wanted to help boost the economy.

After seven years of severe and awful conditions and the total failure of the Oslo Peace Agreement to deliver a just peace for all people, we were one of the few families willing and able to survive the harsh conditions that had developed. We refused to leave.

Even what we had considered “normal life” under the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories stopped September 28, 2000. Normal life ceased to exist.

September 28 was the day Ariel Sharon, accompanied by a small army of soldiers, visited the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock, the principal Islamic holy site in Jerusalem. Sharon’s message was “Jerusalem is Jewish.”

In fact, Jerusalem is a city holy to the people of three great religions – not only to Jews, but to Muslims and Christians.

Muslims comprise 98 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. Many of them responded to Sharon’s provocative action with protest. Young Palestinians were willing to protest at checkpoints and risk injury or even death in order to bear witness to their faith, to defend its holy sites, and to uphold the idea that Jerusalem is sacred to three religions, not just one.

In the terrible conflict which began with the creation of Israel in 1948, so many have perished. For those displaced by the event, the establishment of the State of Israel meant the Catastrophe of Palestine, with over five hundred Palestinians villages and towns destroyed and over four million Palestinians made refugees, pushed into a stateless limbo where they remain to this day. Just in the past seven years, more than 30,000 people have been injured and 6,800 have lost their lives – 5,600 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis. Christ, have mercy!

Those of us who believe in nonviolent methods of struggle were stunned when Palestinians began to blow themselves and others up in the middle of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other places. The “Apartheid Wall” was the Israeli response to such extreme actions. The Wall not only isolates Palestinians and Israelis from each other, but it also makes life on the Palestinian side even harder than it was.

Among the many problems with the Wall (paid for by American taxpayers) was that it did not follow any recognized, internationally accepted border or even the 1967 Green Line referred to in UN Security Council Resolution 242; rather, it enlarged Israeli territory still farther and suffocated an entire population in retaliation for the violent actions of a small minority. Truly, it is making us lose our minds.

The Wall, erected entirely at the discretion of Israel, was a prison wall for the Palestinian people. Impeding or altogether stopping everything that makes life normal, it cut them off from their schools, work, hospitals, and grandparents. Even contacts with relatives in another town became difficult or impossible.

Some may joke that being cut off from your mother-in-law might not be such a bad idea, but in reality such intra-family barriers are a tragedy.

The simple things made possible by freedom of movement – the easy access that other people take for granted – are things that Palestinians now need military permits to accomplish. To go to Jerusalem, to the airport, to a seaport – all such simple, ordinary tasks require hard-to-obtain permits.

The actions of the Israeli army seem to be designed to clear the land of any remaining Palestinians and, in the process, to prevent the ever-shrinking Christian community from existing in the land where Christianity began 2,000 years ago.

Since the building of the Wall, life on the ground is pure misery. The conditions of our enclosure are dreadful and devastating. We find ourselves captives within an open prison.

Over the past fourteen years of living in the Holy Land, I have often felt I was psychologically and emotionally incarcerated; but in the last few years, the Israeli army has created an actual physical prison, complete with its towering concrete wall. The Wall is 450 miles (720 kilometers) long.

The result is psychological torture.

Hoping someone might want to boost the Palestinian economy by buying some of my books, I traveled to an Israeli post office to send four boxes in time for Christmas delivery. (Palestinian mail delivery takes three months.) After dropping them off at the post office, I tried to enter Ramallah for a World Vision gathering only to discover the gate I had used in the past has now been locked.

Looking for the next entrance to get to the other side, I began driving along the Wall. How frustrating a search it was to drive mile after mile and get lost in a maze of small zigzag roads! I felt I was in a labyrinth without an exit.

It’s a day-to-day torment just to move around for the most simple, everyday things. Each day I am faced by every panel of the Wall with its seeming message: “Wouldn’t you be happier in some other part of the world? Why stay here? We Jews will make good use of your land, your homes, your olive trees. The sooner you leave, the better.”

In a time and age where we should be building bridges of greater understanding and celebrating and appreciating our diversity, the Israeli government has succeeded in locking us up and imposing still greater suffering on all of us who live on the “other side” of the Wall; in destroying what is left of our fragile existence and reducing us to abject despair.

Even so, we Christians in Palestine continue to place our hope in Christ our Savior. We try to continue our witness.

We continue to hope and pray for walls to fall and bridges to appear.

May the light of Christ shine through us in a land of so much darkness.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

May Christians, Jews and Muslims together share in the work of reconnection and healing.

Maria Khoury is Greek American married to a Palestinian Orthodox Christian who now serves as mayor of the town where they live, Taybeh, near Ramallah, in the West Bank. She is the author of Witness in the Holy Land and eight children’s books, including Christina Goes to the Holy Land and Coloring with Christina, a new coloring book about the holy sites in Palestine.

Note: Steve Leicester has produced a timely video on the Wall, especially the section that encloses Bethlehem. Here is a YouTube link www.youtube.com/profile?user=SteveLeicesterUK. A link can also be found on Steve’s website: www.amostrust.org.

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Iran: The Next Evil Empire?

by Alex Patico

 Children playing at the Fin Garden in Kashan, Iran. photo by Tilo Driessen
Children playing at the Fin Garden in Kashan, Iran. photo by Tilo Driessen

To us in the West, Iran has been known as a place of ancient trade routes, exotic images and romantic poetry, and more recently as a place of religious and political movements that we struggle to understand. The road to the present impasse between the US and Iran has been as hard to navigate as the bus route from Zanjan to Sanandaj in northwestern Iran – magnificent views and pastoral scenes, but the ever-present danger of a precipitous fall into a rocky abyss.

Americans have been both heroes and villains to Iranians. A Treaty of Friendship and Commerce was signed during the presidency of James Buchanan, and the first US legation was set up in Tehran in 1883. Americans played a midwifery role in Iran’s first attempt at constitutional government in Iran between 1906 and 1925; other Americans were at the heart of innovations in Persian governance and development in the years that followed.

In his book Iran and America: Rekindling a Love Lost, Dr. Badi Badiozamani wrote, “Between 1830 and 1940, hundreds of Americans had established through their good and impressive activities a vast ocean of goodwill between Iran and the United States.” This goodwill has lasted even until today among the people of Iran.

Then came World War II. Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran. Iran appealed to Roosevelt “to take efficacious and urgent humanitarian steps to put an end to these acts of aggression.” The appeal fell on deaf ears. In 1943 the US Secretary of State advised Roosevelt, “From a more directly selfish point of view, it is to our interest that no great power be established on the Persian Gulf opposite the important American petroleum development in Saudi Arabia” – unless, of course, it would be the US. Thus began a long tug-of-war over Middle Eastern “black gold.”

George V. Allen, who assumed the post of US Ambassador to Tehran in 1946, wrote back to the Department of State, “The best way for Iran to become a decent democracy, it seems to me, is to work at it, through trial and error. I am not convinced by the genuinely held view of many people that democracy should be handed down gradually from above.” But, as Dr. Badiozamani observes, “Unfortunately, neither Allen nor his successors followed this advice. Time and again, when the Shah took a critical step toward autocratic rule, they either applauded and justified his action or maintained an approving silence, explaining their behavior as ‘non-interference.'”

In 1953 came the event that more than any other colors Iranian perceptions of the government of the US and its intentions toward Iran. When the elected leader of Iran, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, rejected the exploitative arrangements that governed Iran’s supplying oil to the West and nationalized its oil resources, he was overthrown in a coup orchestrated in part by the American CIA. The operation (acknowledged publicly by the US government decades later) was called “Probably the most egregiously sinister policy the US pursued in the Middle East” by Lee Smith, a journalist associated with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The monarchy was reestablished, and would endure, with its secret police aided by intelligence from the US and Israel’s Mossad, until the “Islamic Revolution” in 1979. Never again would American motives be taken at face value by Iranians.

American antagonism toward Iran stems largely from the taking of hostages in Tehran in the early days of the Islamic Revolution. America became the “Great Satan.” Iran was viewed first with shock and bewilderment, later with fear and hatred, by many Americans. We failed to gauge correctly the anger of ordinary Iranians sparked by US support of the semi-democratic and often brutal reign of the Shah. It was their own loved ones who had been informed upon by the secret police, who had suffered in the Shah’s prisons and had been broken by his torturers. When the hostages were taken, it was not just a political or even religio-political move; it was also personal. The US came to stand for dictatorial rule as well as for economic exploitation, ill-considered modernization and cultural discord.

Now the situation is still more grave. A National Security document of March 16, 2006 asserted, “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.” The document states as fact that Iran possesses weapons of mass destruction, though the IAEA has found no evidence of such. Again the abyss of war beckons.

Schoolgirls visiting the Chahel Sotun Palace

in Esfahan, Iran, May 2006.

According to Michael Chossudovsky, writing last year for the Global Research organization, the US military has “war-gamed” doomsday scenarios involving Iran. World war may be difficult for most of us to imagine, but it is always an item on someone’s to-do list. For the non-military reader, the current US presence in the Persian Gulf is hard to visualize. Just nine of the ships deployed there this year carry some 17,000 US personnel, added to 20,000 already in the area. According to reliable reports, the Pentagon has drawn up plans for a military blitz that would strike 10,000 targets in the first day of attacks. The proposed targets include airports, rail lines, highways, bridges, ports, communication centers, power grids, industrial centers, and even hospitals and public buildings.

A February 2006 analysis by the UK-based Oxford Research Group describes the likely scenario: “An air attack would involve the systematic destruction of research, development, support, and training centers for nuclear and missile programs and the killing of as many technically competent people as possible. A US attack, which would be larger than anything Israel could mount, would also involve comprehensive destruction of Iranian air defense capabilities and attacks designed to pre-empt Iranian retaliation. This would require destruction of Revolutionary Guard facilities close to Iraq and of regular or irregular naval forces that could disrupt Gulf oil transit routes…” An element of surprise would be considered critical. This means that there will be no opportunity for people to move away from likely target areas.

Why should it have been impossible, during the almost thirty years of the Islamic Republic’s existence, for us to have developed a way for our two governments to communicate? Neither country is the same as it was when the Islamic Revolution took place, yet leaders of both act as though frozen in time.

However, a policy shift has taken place. It presents, as former President Carter has said, “a radical departure from all previous administration policies” in its aggressive unilateralism and its embrace of preemptive or preventive action. Though a majority of Americans consistently favor limiting attacks by states to self-defense, this is not reflected in the administration’s approach to Iraq and Iran.

The two countries are hardly two peas in a pod. Scott Ritter, former IAEA arms inspector and a US Marines officer, made his first trip to Iran in 2006. He wrote in The Nation, “I recently returned from a trip to Iran, where over the course of a week…. I had my eyes opened…. Iran is nothing like Iraq. I spent more than seven years in Iraq and know firsthand what a totalitarian dictatorship looks and acts like. Iran is not such a nation…. [It is] a vibrant society that operates free of an oppressive security apparatus such as the one that dominated Iraqi life in the time of Saddam Hussein…. Iran has functioning domestic security apparatus, but it most definitely is not an all-seeing, all-controlling police state…”

The signals coming from Iran over the past few years have shown both assertiveness and flexibility, both stubbornness and hints – sometimes broad hints – of possible compromise. But can we get past the one, in order to build on the other?

Recent indications are that we cannot. Though little has changed between our two countries since the 80s, the drum beats of war grow ever louder. Suddenly, women’s dress codes and human rights concerns seem to matter far more than in the past. Yet these concerns are, in truth, based on meager substantive knowledge. Not only is our hard intelligence on military, political and technical matters sorely lacking, but our direct familiarity with contemporary Iranian culture, and especially with the individuals who sit across the bargaining table, is nearly non-existent.

A February 2007 report by Network 2020 stated, “In the context of tensions between the US and Iran, American Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told us that the US and Iran maintain only limited back-channel contacts. Burns reported that he himself has never been in a room with an Iranian official and that the State Department does not have a cadre of Farsi speakers. ‘There is no one in my generation who’s ever served in Iran,’ Burns said. ‘There’s no one in my generation who has ever worked with the Iranians in any way, shape or form.'” More recently, in a June 8 roundtable with The Wall Street Journal editorial board, Condoleeza Rice “confessed that she couldn’t figure Iran out.” “I think it’s a very opaque place,” Rice said, “and it’s a political system I don’t understand very well.” Rice is our most senior foreign policy official.

I flew to Iran last May as part of a peace delegation of 22 Americans. After changing planes in Paris, I spoke with a young Iranian man on his way home. He had just visited a cemetery in Paris where several noted Iranian writers are interred, including one we both admired, the novelist Sadegh Hedayat. I recalled to him the opening line of Hedayat’s dark novel, Blind Owl: “In life there are sores that tear and eat at the soul, like cancer.” We agreed that the will to make war is one of these sores. Balancing the voices of bellicosity, there must be heard voices of charity and humanity. A young anthropologist in the group said, “If all I have done as a result of this trip is begin to dispel the myths that circulate about Iranians, then I have done a lot. And if I can hold up a mirror, then I have done even more. Violence begins in the smallest of spaces. Peace then, must as well.”

But instead, within America, there has been a disturbing sea-change in what has become acceptable in the public sphere. Such conservative TV commentators as Bill O’Reilly voice the opinion that Iran should be bombed into non-existence. Talking about the crash of an Iranian airliner, Don Imus remarked, “When I hear stories like that, I think: who cares?” Senator John McCain, now running for president, answered a reporter’s question on policy toward Iran by chanting, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Many in his audience cheered. An internet merchandiser is selling T-shirts, sweat-suits and underwear with a map of Iran emblazoned with the words “NUKE ‘EM!”

What is happening here? Isn’t it the process that Chris Hedges warned about in his book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning – the need to demonize the enemy before the launching of an attack can become psychologically supportable? It was done with “the Japs,” “the Huns,” “the Gooks” and “the Towel Heads”; now it is the “Axis of Evil.” In this process, the other becomes a creature unworthy of our compassion.

While we are busy tarring the Islamic Republic with the brush of malevolence, the US has reached an all-time nadir in terms of how we are regarded outside our borders. We who dare to call ourselves Christians should be known, per the scriptural standard, according to how we “love one another,” yet we have a reputation as people who hate all those who are not like us. In poll after poll, fewer and fewer people around the world look up to us as a country with something of value to teach the rest of the world. A Pew Center poll, done in May 2006, showed that people in six Muslim countries – Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey – perceive the “Christian” West as “selfish, arrogant, immoral and greedy.”

For we who are Christians, the single criterion for evaluating any action or attitude is this: does it conform to the example of Jesus Christ? We are to refrain from focusing on the “speck” in the eye of the other, in this case the Iranians, without first remembering to take the “plank” out of our own eyes. Better to err in the direction of forbearance than to tilt toward smug and superior chauvinism.

Some will worry that pursuing such a path carries a risk that the adversary will take advantage of our delay. But could that not be said about any conflict situation? When, exactly, would it be prudent to “turn the other cheek”? The law of love represents a higher calling than prudence or even self-preservation. Looking at the full biblical context, we must admit that Jesus’ approach was truly radical: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:38-44)

The monk and author Thomas Merton, in his essay “St. Maximus the Confessor on Nonviolence,” wrote: “The love of enemies is not simply a pious luxury, something that [the Christian] can indulge in if he wants to feel himself exceptionally virtuous. It is of the very essence of the Christian life, a proof of one’s Christian faith, a sign that one is a follower and an obedient disciple of Christ.” (Passion for Peace: The Social Essays of Thomas Merton, Crossroad, 1995)

Alex Patico is co-secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America. His text is condensed from a forthcoming book, Reining in the Red Horse: An American Christian Looks at Iran. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran 1968-69. He is a member of the US Committee for the Decade to Overcome Violence, a co-founder of the National Iranian American Council, and a congregant of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church, Linthicum, Maryland. His most recent visit to Iran was in May 2006.

From the Fall 2007 issue of In Communion / IC 47

Nonviolence and Peace Traditions in Early & Eastern Christianity

 Pantocrator (Tahull Barcelona, 1123 AD)

By Fr. John McGuckin

Fr. John McGuckin is professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and professor of Byzantine History at Columbia University, both in New York City. Footnotes are indicated by brackets. [1]

Ideals of Peace in a Violent World.

Christianity has had a very checkered history in terms of its peace tradition. It is often to images of Inquisition and Crusade that the popular imagination turns when considering the darker side of the church’s imposition of control over the personal and political worlds it has inhabited over long centuries. The figure of a pacific Jesus (the poet of the lilies of the fields, and the advocator of peaceful resistance to evil, who so inspired Tolstoy and Gandhi among others) is often contrasted with a church of more brutish disciples who, when occasion presented itself, turned willingly, and quickly enough, to tactics of oppression and coercion, policies which they themselves had lamented, as being against both divine and natural justice, when applied to them in the earlier centuries of the Roman persecutions.

The common version among Church Historians of this generic tale of a progressive sinking into the “brutal ways of the world,” also points to regular cycles of renewal and repentance, when Christians are said to reappropriate the “real” meaning of their past, and renounce violent resistance in the cause of a “truly Christian” non-resistance. This, of course, is usually a matter of occasional academic protest from the sidelines, or the wisdom of the aftermath, since in times of war the ranks of those who rush to defend the Christian defensibility of hostilities are rarely short of representatives, it would seem.

The key academic studies of the Early Church’s peace tradition, for example, had to wait until the 20th century. They appeared in two clusters, both of them the immediate aftermath of the great conflicts of 1914-18, and 1939-45, followed by a longer “tail” which was overshadowed by the Cold War’s generic fears of nuclear holocaust, and which produced a more thorough-going tenor of the “suspicion of war” in academic circles. Both the main-clusters of post-war re-assessments of Christian peace tradition in antiquity, witnessed a conflicted product in the tone of the literature. All lamented the fact and experience of war, from a Christian perspective, but some justified the concept of limited war engagement (usually Catholic scholars defending the then dominant Augustine-Aquinas theory of the Just War) while others were evidently more pacifist in tone (generally Protestant scholars calling for a “reform” of defective medievalist views). The more recent work, inspired by the public sight of several disastrously “failed” military interventions (such as Vietnam and Afghanistan) and the horrific record of genocidally-tinged conflict at the end of the 20th century (one of the bloodiest and nastiest on human record, though we still like to regard the ancients as less civilized than ourselves) have, again understandably, caused the Christian witness on war and violence to come under renewed scrutiny. Today the literature on war in early Christian tradition is extensive [2], and a synopsis of the primary sources has recently been collated in a useful ready-reference volume, with a good contextualizing discussion .[3]

While the common image of a militaristic Church is still, perhaps, prevalent in popular estimation, there are nevertheless, a multitude of pacific figures who feature in the Church’s exemplary stories of the lives of the saints.

One such hagiography was the narrative on Abba Moses the Ethiopian in the Tales of the Desert Fathers who, when warned in advance of the impending attack of marauding Blemmyes tribesmen in 5th century Lower Egypt, refused to leave his cell, and (though famed as a strong man of previously violent temper) stayed quietly in prayer waiting for the fatal assault of the invading brigands. This story of his election of pacific martyrdom was celebrated as most unusual; a heroic and highly individualist spiritual act of a master (and thus not normative). All the other monks of Scete in his time were either slaughtered because they were surprised, or else had much earlier fled before the face of the storm of invasion.

In terms of pacific saints, the Russian church celebrates the 11th century princes Boris and Gleb, the sons of Vladimir, the first Christian ruler of ancient Rus (Kiev) who, in order to avoid a civil war on the death of their father (when the third son, Svyatopolk, took up arms to assert his right to monarchical supremacy), are said to have adopted the role of “Passion-Bearers.” Refusing to bear arms for their own defense, and desiring to avoid bloodshed among their people, they followed the example of their new Lord, who suffered his own unjust Passion. The image and category of “passion-bearing martyr” is one that is dear to, almost distinctive of, the Russian church, so troubled has its history been.

Nevertheless, even this celebrated example contrasts, in many respects, with the witness of other Russian saint-heroes, such as the great warrior prince Alexander Nevsky and contrasts with the witness of many other ancient churches too (such as the Byzantine, Romanian, Serbian, Nubian, or Ethiopian) who had an equally fraught pilgrimage through history, but who proudly elevated and honored the icons and examples of warrior-saints who resisted the onslaught militarily, and died in the process.

In the Romanian Church one of the great heroic founders was the warrior prince Petru Rares who slaughtered the invading Turkish armies under the guidance of his spiritual father and confessor Saint Daniel the Hesychast. The saint commanded the prince to erect monasteries on the site of the great battles, to ensure mourning and prayer for the lost souls whose blood had been shed. This was an act that was seen as a necessary expiation of Petru’s “equally necessary” violence. Both he and his spiritual mentor were heavily burdened by their perceived duty of defending the borders of Christendom. To this day Romania’s most ancient and beautiful churches stand as mute witnesses to a bloody history where Islam and Christianity’s tectonic plates collided (as often they did in the history of the Christian East). The national perception in Romania of prince Vlad Dracul (the western bogeyman of Dracula) is diametrically opposed to the common perception of more or less everyone outside. Within the country Vlad himself is regarded as a national hero and a great Christian warrior who assumed the duty of defending the Faith against the military attempts of Islam forcibly to convert Europe.

Similarly, almost all the saints of Ethiopia are either monastic recluses or warriors. The saints of the (now lost) Church of Nubia [4] were also predominantly warriors. Likewise, the frescoes of saints on the walls of the ancient Stavronikita monastery on Mount Athos, on the Halkidiki peninsula, demonstrate serried ranks of martyr protectors dressed in full Roman battle gear, in attendance on the Christ in Majesty [5]. The monks were not particularly warlike themselves, but knew at first hand the terrors of living in the pirate-infested Mediterranean. Like the Nubians, a life entirely and permanently surrounded by hostile foes, gave the Athonite monks a very practical attitude to violence, pacific resistance, and the need for defense in varieties of forms.

The western church too has its share of noble saint-warriors. In medieval English literature the warrior saint was a highly romantic figure [6]. We can also think of the famed Crusading juggernaut Louis the Pious. These, however, are noticeably not, any longer, “popular saints” (as their counterparts remain in Eastern Christianity) though this may be laid to the door of a generic loss of interest in hagiography and the cultus of the saints in contemporary Western Christianity, as much to a sense of embarrassment that the ranks of saints included so many generals of armies.

Along with its warriors, the Western Church often appealed, for an example of pacific lifestyle, to the Christ-like image of Francis of Assisi, in preference perhaps to the more robust figure of Dominic and his inquisitional Order of Preachers, although one ought not to forget that the Franciscan order itself had from its early origins a foundational charge to evangelize Muslims in the Middle and Near East; its own form of potential “Inquisition” that never had the opportunity to flourish because of Ottoman power, but which was often felt as real enough and resented greatly by the Eastern rite Christians of those places.

This macro-picture of Church History as a sclerotic decline, where simple origins are progressively corrupted into oppressive structures as the church seizes an ever-larger foothold on the face of the earth, is so familiar, almost cliched, that it hardly needs further amplification.

It is perfectly exemplified in the general presumption that the Christian movement before the age of the Emperor Constantine the Great (4th century) was mainly pacific in philosophy, but afterwards began theologically to justify the use of coercive force, and so began the long slide into all manner of corruption of power, and abandonment of the primitive spirit of the gentle Jesus [7].

The theory is problematized to some degree by the issue of “conflicted contextualization” for the notable resistance of the earliest Christian movement (2nd through to early 4th centuries) to military service: whether this was predominantly pacifist in temperament; or was related to the military requirements to worship the pagan pantheon of gods; or was simply an aspect of the fear of an oppressed and persecuted group in the face of the state’s arm of power. In early canon law the military profession had the same status as a harlot when it came to the seeking of baptism: before admission to the church was countenanced an alternative career had to be sought.

After the Pax Constantina, that prohibition was relaxed as even the Christian emperors expected their fellow-Christians to take up their station in the army. Recent historical study has progressively argued that the advancement of Christians to political and military power should not be seen as a surprisingly miraculous event (as the legend of Constantine would have it be), but the result of more than a century of prior political and military infiltration of the higher offices of state by Christians bearing arms. The earliest materials (martyrial stories of how the poor resisted the Roman imperium) tend to come from the account of the churches of the local victims [8].

The full story (why, for example, Diocletian targeted Christians within his own court and army to initiate the Great persecution of the early 4th century) [9] is less to the front: but clearly the great revolution of the 4th century which saw an internationally ascendant Church, was not simply an altruistic “gift” of power to a pacific Christian movement, but more in the terms of an acknowledgment by Constantine that his own path to monarchy lay with the powerful international lobby of Christians. The question as to “who patronized who”: Constantine the Church, or the Church Constantine, remains one that is surely more evenly balanced than is commonly thought. The military and political involvement of Christians, therefore, (as distinct from the “Church” shall we say) is something that is not so simply “switched” at the 4th century watershed of Constantine’s “conversion.”

Nevertheless, the story that from primitive and “pure” beginnings the Christian movement degenerated into a more warlike compromise with state power, is a good story precisely because it is so cartoon-like in its crudity. It ought not to be forgotten, however, that it “is” a story, not a simple record of uncontested facts. It is a story, moreover, that took its origin as part of a whole dossier of similar stories meant to describe the movement of Christianity through history in terms of early promise, followed by rapid failure, succeeded by the age of reform and repristination of the primitive righteousness.

In short, the common view of Christianity’s peace tradition, as sketched out above, is clearly a product of Late-Medieval Reformation apologetics. That so much of this early-modern propaganda has survived to form a substrate of presupposition in post-modern thought about Christian history is a testimony to the power of the apologetic stories themselves, and (doubtless) to the widespread distrust of the motives of the late medieval church authorities in western Europe at the time of the Reformation.

The common view about Christianity’s peace tradition, however, is so hopelessly rooted in western, apologetic, and “retrospectivist” presuppositions (a thorough-going Protestant revision of the Catholic tradition on the morality of war and violence that had preceded it) that it is high time the issue should be considered afresh.

The common histories of Christianity, even to this day, seem to pretend that its eastern forms (the Syrians, Byzantines, Armenians, Copts, Nubians, Indians, Ethiopians, or Cappadocians) never existed, or at least were never important enough to merit mention; or that western Europe is a normal and normative vantage point for considering the story. But this narrow perspective skews the evidence at the outset.

Accordingly, the figures of Augustine of Hippo (the towering 5th century African theologian) and Thomas Aquinas (the greatest of the Latin medieval scholastic theologians) loom very large in the normative western-form of the telling of the tale. Both theologians were highly agentive in developing the western Church’s theory and principles of a “Just War.”

In the perspectives of the eastern Christian tradition, not only do these two monumental figures not feature but, needless to say, neither does their theory on the moral consideration of war and violence which has so dominated the western imagination. Eastern Christianity simply does not approach the issue from the perspective of “Just War,” and endorses no formal doctrine advocating the possibility of a “Just War.”

Its approach is ambivalent, more complex and nuanced. For that reason it has been largely overlooked in the annals of the history of Christianity, or even dismissed as self-contradictory. It is not self-contradictory, of course, having been proven by experience through centuries of political suffering and oppression. If it knows anything, the Eastern church knows how to endure, and hardly needs lessons on such a theme; but it is certainly not a linear theory of war and violence that it holds (as if war and violence could be imagined as susceptible of rational solution and packaging). Its presuppositions grow from a different soil than do modern and post-modern notions of political and moral principles.

Christianity was, and remains at heart, an apocalyptic religion, and it is no accident that its numerous biblical references to war and violent destruction are generally apocalyptic ciphers, symbols that stand for something else, references to the “Eschaton” (the image of how the world will be rolled up and assessed once universal justice is imposed by God on his recalcitrant and rebellious creation). Biblical descriptions of violence and war, in most of Christianity”s classical exposition of its biblical heritage, rather than being straightforward depictions of the life and values of “This-World-Order” are thus eschatological allegories. To confound the two orders [10] (taking war images of the apocalyptic dimension) for instances of how the world (here) ought to be managed [11] is a gross distortion of the ancient literature. This has become increasingly a problem since the medieval period when allegorist readings of scripture have been progressively substituted (especially in Protestantism) for wholesale historicist and literalist readings of the ancient texts. [12].

This is not to say that eastern Christianity itself has not been guilty of its own mis-readings of evidences, in various times of its history, or that it has no blood on its hands, for that would be to deny the brutal facts of a Church that has progressively been driven westwards, despite its own will, by a series of military disasters, for the last thousand years. But, Christian reflection in the eastern Church has, I would suggest, been more careful than the West, to remind itself of the apocalyptic and mysterious nature of the Church’s place within history and on the world-stage, and has stubbornly clung to a less congratulatory theory of the morality of War (despite its advocacy of “Christian imperium”), because it sensed that such a view was more in tune with the principles of the Gospels. What follows in this paper is largely a consideration of that peace tradition in the perspective of the eastern provinces of Christianity, the “patristic” foundation that went on to provide the underpinning of Byzantine canon law, and (after the fall of Byzantium), the system of law that still operates throughout the churches of the East.

In the decades following the First World War, Adolf Von Harnack was one of the first among modern patristic theologians to assemble a whole dossier of materials on the subject of the Church’s early traditions on war and violence. [13]. In his macro-thesis he favored the theory of the “fall from grace,” and argued that the Church progressively relaxed its earliest blanket hostility to bloodshed and the military profession in general. The relaxation of anti-war discipline, he saw as part and parcel of a wider “corruption” of early Christian ideals by “Hellenism.”

And yet, no Eastern Christian attitudes to war, either before or after the Pax Constantina, have ever borne much relation to classic Hellenistic and Roman war theory [14], being constantly informed and conditioned by biblical paradigms (reined in by Jesus’ strictures on the futility of violence) rather than by Hellenistic Kingship theory or tribal theories of national pride.

In the second part to his study (subtitled “The Christian Religion and the Military Profession”), Harnack went further to discuss the wide extent of biblical images of war and vengeance in the Christian foundational documents, suggesting that the imagery of “spiritual warfare” however removed it might be from the “real world” when it was originally coined, must take some responsibility for advocating the sanctification of war theories within the church in later ages [15].

For Harnack, and many others following in his wake, Constantine was the villain of the piece, and not less so his apologist the Christian bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. The latter finds no problem at all in comparing the deaths of the wicked as recounted in Old Testament narratives of holy war, with Constantine’s conquest and execution of his enemies in the Civil War of the early 4th century [16]. For Eusebius, writing in 336, the cessation of the war in 324 was a fulfilment of the Psalmic and Isaian prophecies of a golden age of peace [17].

Eusebius’ fulsome rhetoric has had a great deal of weight placed upon it by those who favor the “theory of fall,” even though on any sober consideration, to extrapolate a court-theologian such as Eusebius into a marker of general opinion in the Church of the early 4th century should have been more universally acknowledged to be a serious mistake. Eusebius’ more sober thoughts on the expansion of the Church (as exemplified by Constantine’s victory over persecuting emperors, and his clear favoritism for the Christians) was really an intellectual heritage from that great theological teacher whose disciple he prided himself on being — Origen of Alexandria.

It was certainly Origen who had put into his mind the juxtaposition of the ideas of the Pax Romana being the providentially favorable environment for the rapid internationalization of the Gospel. Origen himself, however, was pacifist in his attitudes to war and world powers, and was sternly against the notion of the Church advocating its transmission and spread by force of arms [18]. In his wider exegesis Eusebius shows himself consistently to be a follower of his teacher’s lead and the Old Testament paradigms of the “downfall of the wicked” are what are generally at play in both Origen and Eusebius when they highlight biblical examples of vindication, or military collapse.

Several scholars misinterpret Eusebius radically, therefore, when they read his laudation of Constantine as some kind of proleptic justification of the Church as an asserter of rightful violence. His Panegyric on Constantine should not be given such theoretical weight, just as a collection of wedding congratulatory speeches today would hardly be perused for a cutting edge analysis of the times. In applying biblical tropes and looking for fulfillments, Eusebius (certainly in the wider panoply if all his work is taken together not simply his court laudations) is looking to the past, not to the future; and is intent only on celebrating what for most in his generation must have truly seemed miraculous — that their oppressors had fallen, and that they themselves were now free from the fear of torture and death.

Origen and Eusebius may have set a tone of later interpretation that could readily grow into a vision of the Church as the inheritor of the biblical promises about the Davidic kingdom (that the boundaries of Byzantine Christian power were concomitant with the Kingdom of God on earth, and thus that all those who lay outside those boundaries were the enemies of God), but there were still innumerable dissidents even in the long-lasting Byzantine Christian politeia (especially the monks) who consistently refused to relax the apocalyptic dimension of their theology, and who resisted the notion that the Church and the Byzantine borders were one and the same thing [19].

The Canonical Epistles of Basil of Caesarea.

Basil of Caesarea was a younger contemporary of Eusebius, and in the following generation of the Church of the late 4th century, he emerged as one of the leading theorists of the Christian movement. His letters and instructions on the ascetic life, and his “Canons” [20] (ethical judgements as from a ruling bishop to his flock) on morality and practical issues became highly influential in the wider church because of his role as one of the major monastic theorists of Early Christianity. His canonical epistles were transmitted wherever monasticism went: and in the Eastern Church of antiquity (because monasticism was the substructure of the spread of the Christian movement), that more or less meant his canonical views became the standard paradigm of Eastern Christianity’s theoretical approach to the morality of war and violence, even though the writings were local [21] and occasional in origin. Basil’s 92 Canonical Epistles were adapted by various Ecumenical Councils of the Church that followed his time. His writing is appealed to in Canon 1 of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), in Canon 1 of the 7th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787), and is literally cited in Canon 2 of the 6th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (681) which paraphrases much else from his canonical epistles. By such affirmations eventually the entire corpus of the Basilian Epistles entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Eastern Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.

Basil has several things to say about violence and war in his diocese. It was a border territory of the empire, and his administration had known several incursions by “barbarian” forces. Canon 13 of the 92 considers war:

“Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean.” [22]

The balance and sense of discretion is remarkable in this little comment, one that bears much weight in terms of Eastern Orthodox understandings of the morality of war. The “fathers” in question refers to Athanasius of Alexandria, the great Nicene Orthodox authority of the 4th century church. Athanasius’ defense of the Nicene creed, and the divine status of Christ, had won him immense prestige by the end of the 4th century, and as his works were being collated and disseminated (in his own lifetime his reputation had been highly conflicted, his person exiled numerous times, and his writings proscribed by imperial censors), Basil seems to wish to add a cautionary note: that not everything a “father” has to say is equally momentous, or universally authoritative. In his Letter to Amun Athanasius had apparently come out quite straightforwardly about the legitimacy of killing in time of war, saying:

“Although one is not supposed to kill, the killing of the enemy in time of war is both a lawful and praiseworthy thing. This is why we consider individuals who have distinguished themselves in war as being worthy of great honors, and indeed public monuments are set up to celebrate their achievements. It is evident, therefore, that at one particular time, and under one set of circumstances, an act is not permissible, but when time and circumstances are right, it is both allowed and condoned.” [23]

This saying was being circulated, and given authority as a “patristic witness” simply because it had come from Athanasius. In fact the original letter had nothing whatsoever to do with war. The very example of the “war-hero” is a sardonic reference ad hominem since the letter was addressed to an aged leader of the Egyptian monks who described themselves as Asketes, that is those who labored and “fought” for the virtuous life. The military image is entirely incidental, and Athanasius in context merely uses it to illustrate his chief point in the letter — which is to discuss the query Amun had sent on to him as Archbishop: “did nocturnal emissions count as sins for desert celibates ?” Athanasius replies to the effect that with human sexuality, as with all sorts of other things, the context of the activity determines what is moral, not some absolute standard which is superimposed on moral discussion from the outset. Many ancients, Christian and pagan, regarded sexual activity as inherently defiling and here Athanasius decidedly takes leave of them. His argument, therefore, is falsely attributed when (as is often the case) read out of context as an apparent justification of killing in time of war. He is not actually condoning the practice at all, merely using the rhetorical example of current opinion to show Amun that contextual variability is very important in making moral judgements.

In his turn Basil, wishes to make it abundantly clear for his Christian audience that such a reading, if applied to the Church’s tradition on war, is simplistic, and that is it is just plain wrong-headedness to conclude that the issue ceases to be problematic if one is able to dig up a justificatory “proof text” from scripture or patristic tradition (as some seem to have been doing with these words of Athanasius). And so, Basil sets out a nuanced corrective exegesis of what the Church’s canon law should really be in terms of fighting in time of hostilities. One of the ways he does this is to attribute this aphorism of Athanasius to indeterminate “fathers,” who can then be legitimately corrected by taking a stricter view than they appeared to allow. He also carefully sets his own context: what he speaks about is the canonical regulation of war in which a Christian can engage and be “amerced” [24]; all other armed conflicts are implicitly excluded as not being appropriate to Christian morality). Basil’s text on war needs, therefore, to be understood in terms of an “economic” reflection on the ancient canons that forbade the shedding of blood in blanket terms. This tension between the ideal standard (no bloodshed) and the complexities of the context in which a local church finds itself thrown in times of conflict and war, is witnessed in several other ancient laws, such as Canon 14 of Hippolytus (also from the 4th century) [25]. The reasons Basil gives for suggesting that killing in time of hostilities could be distinguished from voluntary murder pure and simple (for which the canonical penalty was a lifelong ban from admission to the churches and from the sacraments) is set out as the “defense of sobriety and piety.” This is code language for the defense of Christian borders from the ravages of pagan marauders. The difficulty Basil had to deal with was not war on the large-scale, but local tribal insurgents who were mounting attacks on Roman border towns, with extensive rapinage. In such circumstances Basil has little patience for those who do not feel they can fight because of religious scruples. His sentiment is more that a passive non-involvement betrays the Christian family (especially its weaker members who can not defend themselves but need others to help them) to the ravages of men without heart or conscience to restrain them. The implication of his argument, then, is that the provocation to fighting, that Christians ought at some stage to accept (to defend the honor and safety of the weak), will be inherently a limited and adequate response, mainly because the honor and tradition of the Christian faith (piety and sobriety) in the hearts and minds of the warriors, will restrict the bloodshed to a necessary minimum. His “economic” solution nevertheless makes it abundantly clear that the absolute standard of Christian morality turns away from war as an unmitigated evil. This is why we can note that the primary reason Basil gives that previous “fathers” had distinguished killing in time of war, from the case of simple murder, was “on the score of allowing a pardon.” There was no distinction made here in terms of the qualitative horror of the deed itself, rather in terms of the way in which the deed could be “cleansed” by the Church’s system of penance.

Is it logical to expect a Christian of his diocese to engage in the defense of the homeland, while simultaneously penalizing him if he spills blood in the process ? Well, one needs to contextualize the debarment from the sacrament in the generic 4th century practice of the reception of the Eucharist, which did not expect regular communication to begin with (ritual preparation was extensive and involved fasting and almsgiving and prayer), and where a sizeable majority of adult Christians in a given church would not have yet been initiated by means of baptism, and were thus not bound to keep all the canons of the Church. By his regulation and by the ritual exclusion of the illumined warrior from the sacrament (the returning “victor” presumably would have received many other public honors and the gratitude of the local folk ) Basil is making sure at least one public sign is given to the entire community that the Gospel standard has no place for war, violence and organized death. He is trying to sustain an eschatological balance: that war is not part of the Kingdom of God (signified in the Eucharistic ritual as arriving in the present) but is part of the bloody and greed-driven reality of world affairs which is the “Kingdom-Not-Arrived.” By moving in and out of Eucharistic reception Basil’s faithful Christian (returning from his duty with blood on his hands) is now in the modality of expressing his dedication to the values of peace and innocence, by means of the lamentation and repentance for life that has been taken, albeit the blood of the violent. Basil’s arrangement that the returning noble warrior’ should stand in the Church (not in the narthex where the other public sinners were allocated spaces) but refrain from communion, makes the statement that a truly honorable termination of war, for a Christian, has to be an honorable repentance.

Several commentators (not least many of the later western Church fathers) have regarded this as “fudge,” but it seems to me to express, in a finely tuned “economic” way, the tension in the basic Christian message that there is an unresolvable shortfall between the ideal and the real in an apocalyptically charged religion. What this Basilian canon does most effectively is to set a “No Entry” sign to any potential theory of Just War within Christian theology [26], and should set up a decided refusal of post-war church-sponsored self-congratulations for victory [27]. All violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be “necessary” or “unavoidable” (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never “justifiable.” Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the kathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is “be penitent.” Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church [28].

Concluding Reflections

We might today regard such early attempts by Christians as quaintly naive. They are wired through the early penitential system, clearly, and have a fundamental “economic” character about them. By Economy the early church meant the art of doing what was possible when a higher ideal standard was not sustained. In the case of war Basil and the canonical tradition are tacitly saying that when the Kingdom ideals of peace and reconciliation collapse, especially in times of war when decisive and unusual action is required, and the ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness fall into chaos in the very heart of the Church itself [29], as members go off to fight, then the ideal must be reasserted as soon as possible — with limitations to the hostilities a primary concern, and a profound desire to mark the occasion retrospectively with a public “cleansing.” While the honor of the combatants is celebrated by Basil (even demanded as an act of protection for the weak), one essential aspect of that honor is also listed as being the public acceptance of the status of penitent shedder of blood. The clergy (as with other economic concessions of morality operative in the church’s canons) are the only ones not allowed benefit of necessity. In no case is violent action permitted to one who stands at the altar of God. Even if a cleric spills blood accidentally (such as in an involuntary manslaughter) such a person would be deposed from active presbyteral office. The sight of “warrior- bishops” in full military regalia, passing through the streets of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, left its mark on contemporary Greek sources as one of the greatest “shocks” to the system, and one of the incidentals that were taken by the Greeks as proof positive that Latin Christianity in the 13th century had a serious illness at its center.

More than naive, perhaps, might we regard such a morality of war as seriously “under-developed”? Can such an important issue really be dealt with by so few canons of the ancient eastern church, and even then, by regulations that are so evidently local and occasional in character ? Well, the charges of inconsistency (praising a noble warrior then subjecting him to penance) and muddle-headedness, were raised in early times, especially by Latin theologians who wanted to press the envelope and arrive at a more coherent and all-embracing theory of war: one that balanced the apparent biblical justifications of hostility on the part of the chosen people, with the need to limit the obvious blood-lust of our species. The Latin theory of Just War was one result. Considered primarily (as it was meant to be) as a theory of the limitation of hostilities in the ancient context (hand to hand fighting of massed armies whose very size limited the time of possible engagement to a matter of months at most), it too was an “economic” theory that had much merit. It’s usefulness became moot in the medieval period when armament manufacture took ancient warfare into a new age, and it has become utterly useless in the modern age of mechanized warfare, where it could not stop the fatal transition (on which modernized mechanical warfare depends — both that sponsored by states, and that sponsored by smaller groups which we call “terrorism”) to the centrally important role of the murder of non-combatants. Be that as it may, it is not the purpose of the present essay to offer a sustained critique on Just War theory — merely to raise up a mainline Christian tradition of the ancient East which has never believed in Just War — and to offer instead of an elegant theory, a poor threadbare suggestion of old saints: that War is never justified or justifiable, but is de facto a sign and witness of evil and sin.

When it falls across the threshold of the Church in an unavoidable way, it sometimes becomes our duty (so the old canons say) to take up arms; though when that is the case is to be determined in trepidation by the elect who understand the value of peace and reconciliation, not in self-glorifying battle cries from the voices of the bloodthirsty and foolish. But in no case is the shedding of blood, even against a manifestly wicked foe, ever a “Just Violence.” The eastern canons, for all their tentativeness, retain that primitive force of Christian experience on that front. It may be the “Violence of the Just” but in that case the hostility will necessarily be ended with the minimal expenditure of force, and be marked in retrospect by the last act of the “violent Just” which will be repentance that finally resolves the untenable paradox. Ambivalent and “occasional” such a theory of War might be: but if it had been followed with fidelity the Church’s hands might have been cleaner than they have been across many centuries; and it might yet do a service on the wider front in helping Western Christianity to dismantle its own “economic” structures of war theory which are so patently in need of radical re-thinking. Perhaps the place to begin, as is usually the case, is here and now: with “Christian America” at the dawn of a new millennium, in which we seem to have learned nothing at all from generations of bitter experience of hostility: except the hubris that international conflicts can be undertaken “safely” now that other super-powers are currently out of commission. Such is the wisdom of the most powerful nation on earth, currently in an illegal state of war [30] which it wishes to disguise even from itself, even as the American military deaths this month exceeded 1000, with a pervasive silence all that it has to offer in relation to all figures of the deaths of those who were not American troops. Such is the wisdom under a leadership that is itself apparently eager to line up for a “righteous struggle” with the “forces of evil,” which so many others in the world outside, have seen as more in the line of a determined dominance of Islamic sensibilities by Super-Power secularism of the crassest order. In such a strange new millennium, perhaps the wisdom of the need to be tentative, finds a new power and authority.


1 The essay is published in: KK Kuriakose (ed). Non-Violence: Concepts and Practices Across Religions and Cultures. NY. 2005.

2 The chief sources in English are: RH Bainton. Christian Attitudes to War and Peace. A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation. Nashville. 1960; CJ Cadoux. The Early Christian Attitude to War. Oxford. 1919 (repr. NY. 1982); A von Harnack. Militia Christi: The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries. (tr. DM Gracie. Philadelphia. 1980: original German edn. 1905; HA Deane. The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine. New York. 1963 (chs.5-6); J. Helgeland. Christians and Military Service: AD 173-337. PhD Diss. University of Chicago. 1973. (summarized in Idem. “Christians and the Roman Army. AD. 173- 337.” Church History. 43. June 1974. 149-161; JM Hornus. It is Not Lawful for me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes to War, Violence and the State . (trs. A Kreider & O Coburn). Scottsdale, Pa. 1980; HT McElwain. Augustine’s Doctrine of War in Relation to Earlier Ecclesiastical Writers. Rome. 1972; TS Miller & J Nesbitt (eds). Peace and War in Byzantium. Essays in Honor of GT Dennis. CUA Press. Washington. 1995; EA Ryan. “The Rejection of Military Service by the Early Christians.” Theological Studies. 13. 1952. 1-32; WR. Stevenson. Christian Love and Just War: Moral Paradox and Political Life in St. Augustine and his Modern Interpreters. Macon. Ga. 1987.

3 LJ Swift. The Early Fathers on War and Military Service. (Message of the Fathers of the Church. Vol. 19). 1983. Wilmington. De.

4 Byzantine in foundation and structure, until its annihilation in the late 15th century.

5 See: M Chatzidakis. The Cretan Painter Theophanes: The Wall-Paintings of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita. Thessaloniki. (published on Mount Athos). 1986.

6 Cf. JE Damon. Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors: Warfare and Sanctity in the Literature of Early England. (Ashgate press). Aldershot. 2003.

7 Helgeland (1973. p. 17.) illustrates how both Harnack and Cadoux’s works progress from this shared presupposition despite their different perspectives on the issue of pacifism as a general Christian ideal. (Cadoux regarded Harnack as having soft-pedalled the Church’s early peace witness).

8 The early martyrial acts are charged with the dramatic characterization of the martyr as the apocalyptic witness, and the condemning magistrate as eschatological servant of the Beast. The narratives often deliberately follow the literary paradigm of the Passion Story of the Gospels. The Martyrdom of Polycarp is one such example.

9 Or how it might well be the case that Christian soldiers had already taken the imperial throne by force of arms in the mid 3rd century (in the case of Philip the Arab).

10 What the ancient sources described as the “Two Ages” (This Age of turmoil that stands within the historical record and permits brutal oppression as the ultimate symbol of “the Beast,” that is evil personified, and the Other Age, which is the Transcendent “Kingdom of God” when peace will be established by the definitive ending of violent powers hostile to the good., and the comforting of the poor.

11 It is a major category mistake, therefore, for fundamentalist Christians to apply apocalyptically matrixed scriptural references to “war in the heavens spilling out on earth,” as authoritative “justifications” from the Bible for Christians to engage in violent conflict for political ends. The essence of biblical, apocalyptic, doctrine is that the Two Ages must never be conflated or confused. The “Next Age” cannot be ushered in by political victories gained in “This Age.” By this means Christianity, in its foundational vision, undercut the principles that continue to inspire Judaism and Islam with their (essentially) non-apocalyptic understandings of the spreading of the Kingdom of God on Earth in recognizable borders, and militarily if necessary.

12 As if, for example, the biblical narratives of the Pentateuch where God commands Moses and Joshua to slaughter the Canaanite inhabitants in the process of seizing the “Promised Land” were to be read literalistically — as both vindicating war for “righteous reasons,” and validating the forced appropriation of territories after conflict. Protestant fundamentalism would, of course, read the texts with that political slant (symbolically going further to adapt the text to justify Christianity’s use of violence in a just cause); whereas the ancient Church consistently reads the narrative as allegorically symbolic of the perennial quest to overcome evil tendencies by virtuous action. The Canaanites assume the symbolic status of personal vice, the Israelite armies, the status of the ethical struggle. While this allegorical symbolism still depends in large degree on a symbolic reading of violent images, it successfully defuses a wholesale biblical “sanction” for violence and war.

13 A. Harnack. Militia Christi. The Christian Religion and The Military in the First Three Centuries (Tr. D. McI. Gracie). Philadelphia. 1981.

14 Though Ambrose and Augustine take much of their views on the subject from Cicero.

15 He probably underestimated the extent to which the early Church was propelled, not by subservience to emperors, but more by the way in which the war theology of ancient Israel was passed on as an authoritative paradigm, simply by the force of ingesting so much of the Old Testament narratives in the structure of its prayers, liturgies, and doctrines. It is, nonetheless, worthy of note that formally, from early times, the war passages of the Old Testament were consistently preached as allegorical symbols of the battle to establish peaceful virtues in human hearts (not the advocating of conquest of specific territories). Harnack himself admitted (when considering the example of the Salvation Army, that this aspect of this thesis could limp badly.

16 Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History. 9.9. 5-8; Life of Constantine. 1.39.

17 Is.2.4; Ps.72.7-8.

18 See N McLynn. “Roman Empire,” pp. 185-187 in: J.A. McGuckin (ed). The Westminster Handbook to Origen of Alexandria. Louisville. Ky. 2004.

19 For a further elaboration of the argument see: J.A.McGuckin. The Legacy of the Thirteenth Apostle: Origins of the East- Christian Conceptions of Church-State Relation. St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly. 47. Nos. 3-4. 2003. 251-288.

20 The “Canonical Epistles of St. Basil,” otherwise known as the “92 canons.” They can be found in English translation in: The Pedalion or Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons by Saints Nicodemus and Agapius. Tr. D Cummings. (Orthodox Christian Educational Society). Chicago. 1957 (repr. NY. 1983). pp. 772-864.

21 Basil was the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, now a city (Kaisariye) of Eastern Turkey.

22 Basil. Ep. 188. 13; Pedalion. p. 801.

23 Athanasius Epistle 48. To Amun. full text in A Robertson (tr). St. Athanasius Select Works and Letters. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Church. Vol. 4. (1891). repr. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids. 1980. pp. 556-557.

24 That is find canonical forgiveness for the act of shedding blood: which is canonically prohibited. The background context of the canons which forbid the shedding of blood are important to Basil’s thought, and are presumed throughout. He takes it for granted that clergy are absolutely forbidden to shed blood: and even if they do so accidentally, will be prohibited from celebrating the Eucharistic mysteries afterwards. In this case, just as with the church’s canonical rules relating to the prohibition of second marriages, what began as a general rule, was relaxed in its application to wider society, although the clergy were required to sustain the original strict interpretation (see Apostolical Canons 66. Pedalion. pp. 113-116.) Today in Orthodoxy, marriage is described as a one-time occurrence: but if the marriage is broken a second (and even third) marriage can be contracted “as an economy” to human conditions and relational failures. The clergy, however, are not allowed to contract second marriages (even if the first wife has died). The economy is not permitted to them. Clergy in the Eastern tradition are still canonically forbidden from engaging in any violence, beyond the minimum necessary to defend their life (Apostolic Canon 66.)though they are censured if they do not vigorously defend a third party being attacked in their presence. For both things (use of excessive violence in self-defence, and refusal to use violence in defense of another, they are given the penalty of deposition from orders).

25 “A Christian should not volunteer to become a soldier, unless he is compelled to do this by someone in authority. He can have a sword, but he should not be commanded to shed blood. If it can be shown that he has shed blood he should stay away from the mysteries (sacraments) at least until he has been purified through tears and lamentation.” Canons of Hippolytus 14.74. Text in Swift (1983) p. 93. See also Apostolic Tradition 16.

26 As developed especially (out of Cicero) by Ambrose of Milan On Duties. 1. 176; and Augustine (Epistle 183.15; Against Faustus 22. 69-76; and see Swift:1983. pp. 110-149). But Ambrose (ibid. 1. 35.175) specifically commands his priests to have no involvement (inciting or approving) whatsoever in the practice of War or judicial punishments: “Interest in matters of war,” he says, “seems to me to be alien to our role as priests.”

27 Many churches have uneasily juggled this responsibility in times past. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously denounced the Archbishop of Canterbury’s post-Falklands-war service in 80’s London (St. Paul’s cathedral), as ” far too wet,” while other critics in the country were hard on him for not stating at the outset that the Falklands invasion did not fulfill the requirements of a “Just War” in terms of classical western theory, and so should have been more severely denounced by the Church.

28 Ordinary murder was given a 20 year debarment from the church’s sacraments as well as all accruing civic penalties. Basil’s Canon 56. Pedalion. p. 827; manslaughter received a ten year debarment. Basil’s Canon 57. Pedalion. p. 828.

29 Note that they are not querying the collapse of peace ideals outside the church as they regard the spread of hubris and violence on the earth as a clear mark of all those dark forces hostile to the heavenly Kingdom. The advocacy of war that is not a direct response to a clear and present threat of aggression is thus permanently ruled out of the court of morality in this system.

30 The conflict in Iraq, an invasion not given sanction of international law through the medium United Nations, but initiated to overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein on the pretext that he was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.

* * *

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the aim of this book.

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

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

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

November 1999

Hildo Bos, Vice-President, Syndesmos

Jim Forest, Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Next

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

Chapter 1

HOW TO USE THIS RESOURCE BOOK

To whom the Book is addressed

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

Aims

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

to provide a maximum of original sources;

to prefer official Church documents to documents expressing private opinions;

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

to provide a maximum of bibliographical references;

to keep editors’ comments to an absolute minimum;

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

Sources

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

How to Use this Resource Book

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

Bible Study

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

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

Check the relevant sections of the Resource Book for Bible quotes

Compare the quotes with parallel verses in your Bible

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

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

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

– Have I found most of the relevant Bible verses?

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

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

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

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

Ideas for Bible Studies:

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

The love of enemies

Can a Christian state really exist?

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

The New Testament’s attitude towards participation in armed combat

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

Martyrdom and self-defense

Earthly and heavenly fatherlands

Group Activities

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

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

Presentations

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

Pick the presenters and topics.

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

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

Carrousel Presentations

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

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

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

Every group follows a reader to a separate place.

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

Each group discusses the presentation for 10 minutes.

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

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

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

Round up with a 15-minute group discussion.

Round Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

The moderator may decide to accept questions from the floor.

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

Close the session with an evaluation.

Bible Quotes Quiz

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

Explain the rules of the quiz.

Create teams or name contestants.

Pose the questions and keep the score…

Liturgical Workshop

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

The theme of peace in the text of the Divine Liturgy

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

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

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

The history and text of the Akathist

The notion of spiritual warfare in the Lenten Triodion

Peace and the Eucharist

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

The blessing of soldiers, arms and armies

The feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God

Enjoy using the Resource Book!

Next

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

Peace and Tolerance

Address to the Conference on Peace and Tolerance

By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemeos, Istanbul, Turkey, February 8th, 1994

Greetings to all of our brothers and sisters from around the world who have come together for this very timely Conference on Peace and Tolerance.

Although we will focus our remarks on problems in Central Asia and the Caucasus, let us keep in mind that no member of the human family has a monopoly on malice — we are all sinners and stand in desperate need of God’s grace in our quest for a better world. But while some have pointed to a modern “clash of civilisations” as inevitable, the representatives of many of those civilisations have gathered here today in as spirit of brotherhood and harmony. May our Heavenly Father grant us the strength to maintain that fraternal spirit in the years to come.

Since the beginning of recorded history, Eastern Europe has been a great crossroads of cultures and civilisations — a vast meeting ground for many different tribes, faiths, and peoples. Sometimes it seems as if our only constants have been conflict and conquest.

But paradoxically, conflict and conquest have also been the agents of peace. Over the millennia the greatest intervals of peace were brought by the empires that took over large portions of the region. From the Macedonian conquest, with its Hellenistic civilization, through the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Habsburg, Russian, and Soviet empires, peace in Eastern Europe has come, ironically, at the tip of a sword or the barrel of a gun.

Tolerance did not always come arm-in-arm with peace. For every example of tolerance, there are many more examples of intolerance. The peace imposed on Eastern Europe by the conquering empires was relative — and it was always given on the terms of the conqueror. We must understand it, not idealize it. Those empires were shattered with the arrival of western nationalism during the 19th century — and Eastern Europe and the world have not been the same since. Nationalism began as a positive force — it offered a new logic for the construction of democratic states. But nationalism turned out to be a double-edged sword; in the hands of tyrants, it has been destructive — indeed, the most destructive force in human history, killing 75 million human beings between 1914 and 1945 alone. We must ask ourselves boldly and honestly: Is it not time to rein in the excesses of nationalism?

We are not immune to the forces of history — but neither are we helpless before them. We cannot lament paradise lost, but must find hope in the kingdom at hand. We must answer the fratricide and fragmentation of nationalism with the brotherly love and integration of ecumenicism. We must teach our people tolerance, which is ultimately based on respect for the sanctity and rights of individual human beings. Indeed, if there is one place where the spiritual and secular universes converge, it is in the individual, in the human person.

Among those of us who place our faith in spiritual institutions, this means that of all the precepts of our diverse religions, the first principle must be the divinity of each and every one God’s children. Among those who place their faith in temporal institutions, this means that of all political principles, primary emphasis must go not to collective but rather individual human rights.

Indeed, this is one of many areas in which we as people of faith have something to teach our secular colleagues. In recent years we have heard some say that human rights are relative — an unfortunate and potentially catastrophic idea. Man was created in the image and likeness of God — and there can be no different standard of treatment for those human beings who happen to be Asian, another for Africans, and yet another for Europeans. Culture may be relative — but humanity is not.

The Holy Orthodox Church has searched long for a language with which to address nationalism, amid the strife and havoc this new ideology created in the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe for much of the 19th century. In 1872 a great Synod, held in our Patriarchal Cathedral at the Phanar, in the name of the Prince of Peace, issued an unqualified condemnation of the sin of phyletism, saying, “We renounce, censure, and condemn racism, that is, racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds, and dissensions within the Church of Christ…”

Today, more than a century later, extreme nationalism remains one of the central problems of our ecumenical Church. We must answer with deep and uncompromising ecumenicism.

That is why the Mother Church has done everything in her power to support, morally and materially, the re-emerging Orthodox Churches in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe, especially since the collapse of Godless communism. Although these churches are self-governing, they are the daughters of the See of St. Andrew the Apostle. That is why we convened an unprecedented Pan-Orthodox Council or Synaxis of the heads of the world’s Patriarchal and Autocephalous Orthodox Churches in March of 1992 — an unusual display of Christian solidarity, and a return to the ecumenicism of centuries past. During this truly historic gathering, the spiritual heads expressed deep sadness over “fratricidal confrontation and for all its victims” calling on all religious leaders to offer “particular attention, pastoral responsibility and wisdom from God, in order that the exploitation of religious sentiment for political and national reasons may be avoided.”

Integration must be our watchword — In Eastern Europe as in Western Europe. Today, we must follow the Helsinki accord principle of the inviolability of borders. But tomorrow, our vision is not only for Eastern Europeans — not only for all Europeans — but for all people — is of a world without borders.

There is no good reason why people and goods one day should not be able to move freely between Bitolja and Bucharest, between Trikala and Tirana, between Sofia and St. Petersburg, between Alma-Ata and Ankara. And there is no reason to continue the hatreds that have made Eastern Europe, and especially the Balkans, the world’s caricature for ethnic conflict.

It was not always that way. Let us remember that less than two centuries ago, there were Greek businessmen in Odessa and Bucharest, and Albanian enterprises in Egypt. Serbian merchants conducted a lively trade with their Habsburg counterparts. Thessaloniki had a thriving Jewish community. And so on.

We must put behind us the divisions and feuds brought about by excessive nationalism. We were once united by great empires — but the peace that comes at the tip of a sword is no longer acceptable. As St. Paul exhorts: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18). The modern way to bring about unity and peace is to extend the European Union — to open the borders to one another, and let people, capital ideas and products flow.

Much has already been achieved in the political world — the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Partnership for Peace proposed by the American President Bill Clinton. But politicians alone cannot heal the rifts brought about by extreme nationalism. Religious leaders have a central and inspirational role to play — it is we who must help bring the spiritual principles of ecumenicism, brotherhood, and tolerance to the fore.

Indeed, this is a way that we of the cloth can help our colleagues in government. Our deep and abiding spirituality stands in stark contrast to the secularism of modern politics. The failure of anthropocentric ideologies has left a void in many lives — the frantic pursuit of the future has sacrificed the stability of the past. As the Council of 1992 stated, these ideologies “have created in men of this century a spiritual void and an existential insecurity and have led many people to seek salvation in new religious and para-religious movements, sects, or nearly idolatrous attachments to the material values of this world.”

The famous psychologist C.G. Jung once said that “among all my patients in the second half of life … every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.” He knew this in 1959; in 1994, who does not know it? Communities of faith can balance secular humanism and nationalism with spiritual humanism and ecumenicism — and we can temper the mindless pursuit of modernity with our own healthy respect for tradition.

But we can only do this if we are united in the spirit of the one God, “Creator of all things visible and invisible.” Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, Jew and Muslim — although we cannot deny our differences, neither can we deny the need for alliance and teamwork to help lead our world away from the bloody abyss of extreme nationalism and intolerance. For it is precisely when we disagree that we have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate tolerance.

We, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, will continue our efforts to be peacemakers and to light the lamp of the human spirit. We, as the Bride of the Resurrected Bridegroom, wish only to remain a Church — a Church, however, that is free and respected by all. We, like all of you who have gathered here in peace and tolerance, wish to be a religious and spiritual institution, teaching, edifying, serving pan-anthropic ideals, civilising, and preaching love in every direction. We assure you, fellow travellers on the road to peace, that we will always work with you — not only in the spirit of peace and tolerance, but more so, in the spirit of divine love itself. The Ecumenical Patriarchate belongs to the living Church that was founded by the God of love, whose peace “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). We “pursue what makes for peace” (Rom. 14:19). We believe that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16), which is why we are not afraid to extend our hand in friendship and our heart in love, as we proclaim that “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).

Beloved friends, there is more that unites us than that which divides us. Let this conference mark a turning point in our history. We have within our grasp the vision of the Psalmist: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” We pledge to you today that the Orthodox Christian Church will do everything in her power to fulfill that vision. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill towards men.”

For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

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