Regarding the War in Chechnya

Letter to Patriarch Alexis II of the Russian Orthodox Church

[on the letterhead of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, sent by fax]

January 19, 2000 / Theophany

Patriarch Alexis II

Chisty Pereulok 5

Moscow 119034

Your Holiness,

Our members have been following closely the tragic events in Chechnya, well aware that the war was proceeded by the collapse of civil structures in Chechnya and the widespread use of kidnapping and terrorism against aid workers and many others, resulting in a state of anarchy. Russia's battle to rid Chechnya of terrorist groups has been costly. Many soldiers as well as guerrilla fighters have been killed or gravely wounded. Yet the vast majority of casualties are civilian, an inevitable consequence of the intense bombardment of cities and towns. Many thousands have been made refugees.

We do not pretend to know what the solution could be. Normally wars end with negotiations, but for negotiations to occur there must be a coherent and responsible Chechen group able to meet with representatives of the Russian Federation. It is not clear such a group yet exists.

At least in this situation the Church can be a voice of compassion and an instrument of saving life.

Already you have raised your voice on behalf of the civilian population and its protection, for which we express our gratitude. In a similar way last year you protested the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, even visiting Belgrade while it was under attack. It was a brave witness for the peace of Christ.

We believe that the time is right for the Church, as defender of the weak and voiceless, to speak again, appealing to all involved in the conflict to respect the lives of noncombatants, not to use "human shields," to open routes of exit to those trapped in the middle, and to assist relief organizations in providing help to refugees. The Church can also speak out against methods of warfare that are more likely to cause civilian casualties.

We ask your blessing for the members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and promise you our prayers.

in Christ's peace,

J.H. Forest


Orthodox Peace Fellowship