Sleepless nights

Sleepless nights for all who dread the coming war. We struggle as Christians about "individual" responses to violence but the discipleship and purpose of the Eucharistic community is not an "individual" one. "We" are called to this life --- and until the Church returns to that nonviolent realization of the Gospel our individual responses to violence will sound moralistic or ideological or both.

The Gospel reading from Matthew about the salt losing its savor and deserving to be tossed out may say more about this dilemma. It is always good to hear the lives of saints like Father Arseny, but isn't his response to violence a direct consequence of his understanding of what it means to be in the Body of Christ? In this country individualism is a god --- and all Orthodox are affected by this. Rather than measuring our degree of nonviolence we need to embody the Gospel as worshiping Christians gathered to receive the Eucharist every week. We are not called to be in the armed forces --- or the police forces or the CIA, FBI or KGB. We can always pray for those who are. By capitulating to the culture of nationalism, we lose our savor --- we have no Gospel to preach. We depend on the sword and the sacrifice of innocents to maintain our own lives in our culturally accepted manner. Heroic individual nonviolent behavior needs to be seen as normal behavior for Christians, not exceptional. In the Church such saints reveal how far we have moved from Christ, not how heroic they are.

Alice Carter

I couldn't agree with you more, Alice. The pursuit of the "American Dream" is predicated on a rugged individualism in all areas of life, including in how we choose to live out the Christian faith. Protestantism always talks about the "personal' relationship with Christ, a sort of "me and Jesus" against the world mentality.

And over the years it seems that too many Orthodox in their desire to assimilate have compromised far too much in order to assimilate to US social norms. This is not meant to necessarily be critical, rather it should be seen as a somewhat necessary thing with an immigrant population who faced numerous challenges in coming to a new land in which their loyalty was suspect and their practices seen as abnormal. And the large influx of converts over the last two decades has, I believe, added its own set of complications for the Church. As a convert myself I am constantly realizing how much baggage I have brought over from my Protestant upbringing. And frankly I realize more and more that many of those views are heretical. The dear parish priest who instructed me in the faith as a catechumen was always very encouraging in dealing with converts, having been one himself. He taught many of us that whatever we had found to be good, holy and true in our pre-Orthodox Christian experience remained good and holy and true in Orthodoxy. I guess what has changed for me is what really was good and holy and true.

Donald Eusebios Wescott

Prayer for the armed forces

An OPF member asked:

"I write you about a problem I have with the liturgical prayer in the Liturgy for the armed forces as used in my parish (OCA). Of course, I pray for those in the armed forces as well as all other people, but I don't support the armed forces per se. My question: is that a part of Orthodox prayer in all liturgies or a local addition?"

The earliest extant liturgies (of the second and third centuries) had no separate petition on behalf of armed forces --- that petition seems to have been a later addition --- but armed forces appear to have been seen by the early Church as mere forceful expressions of those in civil authority (as Jim said).

The "Apostolic Catechetical Synaxis" was an instruction-and-prayer service that eventually became the first part of the Divine Liturgy. In it is a litany, founded on St Paul's instruction to obey civil authorities, that reads, in part:

"So that we, acknowledging the honor and glory conferred upon [the civil authorities] by Thee, may bow to them, without in the least opposing Thy will." And later in the petition: "Do thou, O Lord, direct their counsels in accord with what is good and pleasing in Thy sight, so that they may piously exercise in peace and gentleness the authority Thou hast granted them, and thus experience Thy graciousness."

And from another liturgy, after the Edict of Milan: "We pray to You for all magistrates. May their government be peaceful, for the tranquility of the Church."

Those early liturgies also included petitions that the entire congregation would pray on behalf of "enemies," "those who hate us," and "those who persecute us," that the Lord would "calm their anger."

There is no early evidence that the Church prayed, as some Orthodox liturgies do today, for our armed forces "in defense of peace and freedom," or that God will "aid them and grant them every victory over every enemy and adversary..."

Dn. John Oliver III

In Russian pre-revolutionary service books, there were petitions for the Tsar, his "God-loving army," etc. The Service of Thanksgiving for the New Year, as used in the Russian Church before the revolution, had many references to the Tsar, government, army, etc.

I might add that in the texts of the Liturgy by other jurisdictions in the US one also finds the petitions for the president, the civil authorities, and the armed forces.

If I am not mistaken, the OCA translation reads, "for the armed forces everywhere," which one could take to mean all who served in armed forces other than just those of the US.

By praying for the armed forces one is not endorsing war, killing, bombings, etc. We are praying for those individuals who, often with little choice of their own, serve in the armed forces, that God will protect them, keep them safe, and bring them home alive.

Father John Matusiak

Prayer for peace

The following prayer "In Times of International Crisis" is prescribed for use in our Diocese (American Carpatho-Russian). It was inserted in the litanies this morning.

"Furthermore, we pray for peace from above, so that our civil leaders and authorities will be blessed with wisdom at this critical time. Allow them to see your light. Increase their understanding. Let them not overlook any possibility for peace. We pray for the protection of our sons and daughters who serve in the armed forces. We pray for our enemies, that they may be touched and led to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Spare our people yet another war. Let them beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. May nation not lift up sword against nation, nor may they learn war anymore. We pray to You, most merciful Lord: 'Hear the voice of the supplication of us sinners and have mercy.'"

John Brady

PS: Also note the prayer section of the OPF web site.

Gun ownership

I do not own a gun, not because guns are evil, but rather because I am fallen. The temptation is too great. Which is why, I think, the Orthodox Christian perspective is less about weapon ownership, and more about one's relationship to violence and, indeed, our God.

We can point to saints in both camps. I have to conclude that some can handle instruments of harm appropriately, and others cannot. I cannot.

Marty Watt

A Christian warrior has the job to defend the Christian community. There is a great difference between defending one's fatherland or motherland and going out to conquer other lands. The warrior who kills must repent, but the warrior who refuses to fight when his neighbors will die if he does not may have far more to repent of.

Daniel Lieuwen

I am not opposed to guns per se, or to hunting in all circumstances. As a boy, my father introduced me to guns and I had many pleasant, interesting and challenging times with shooting, assembly, disassembly and cleaning of guns, going to the neighborhood "turkey shoot" (for the uninitiated, a target shooting contest where the prize was a turkey), and so on.

What I am opposed to includes:

  • taking of human life (and by extension, production and sale of those weapons that are suitable only to that end, as opposed to target-shooting or hunting)
  • having guns where they can fall into the wrong hands (e.g. children's hands)
  • having guns available to those who have demonstrated a tendency to commit crimes against persons and property; it's a small step from robbing a store where the owner might have a gun behind the counter, to walking into the store prepared to shoot the store owner first
  • gratuitous sport hunting, with no purpose of feeding oneself or one's family --- I think that the destruction of life must be a serious thing that is linked to a greater counterbalancing creation of life, or else we end up "behind"; in general, I would keep the hunting to a bare minimum, seeing as how own can easily survive on a vegetarian diet. Factory farming of livestock is pretty gruesome, compared to an animal running free in the wild until it meets a hunter's bullet, arrow or spear.

What does that leave? Guns for target practice, just as we use the bow-and-arrow primarily for that purpose these days.

Of course, if this actually were the only use, then the gun might, over time, go the way of the bow --- less and less used, until it is finally a mere antique curiosity. Lovely thought, eh?

Alex Patico

Health and Wholeness

My interest and support of the work of OPF is basically a consequence of my own desire to achieve an integrated and holistically healthy life in all its dimensions: physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, socially, politically and economically.

OPF members are already quite aware of how the fact that our spirituality holds profound implications for our political behavior. I would submit that it also has implications for other areas of human experience and that these realms are intertwined each one with each of the others.

TV chef Graham Kerr, following his Christian conversion, began to adjust his recipes so that they contained less fat and were more nutritious, and advised his audience that they don't need to include the wine that he was previously so fond of. He composed a new motto that reflected his own downsized lifestyle as he gained a new awareness of the disparity of consumption between the rich nations of the world and that of their poorer counterparts. He began to advise: "Live simply that others may simply live."

With respect to diet and our own health, it has long since seemed strange to me that, in the Orthodox Church, many of our brothers and sisters vacillate between the extremes of daily unhealthy indulgence in non-nutritious foods, during regular times, and strict fasting and abstinence from foods that are banned by the Church during fasting periods (while continuing to indulge in unhealthy treats concerning which the church may not have explicit rules). It seems to me that it would be far better for many of us to learn dietary discipline in more manageable steps. How can one who is extremely undisciplined in his dietary habits be expected suddenly to display the asceticism of a monk? I personally think it is far more reasonable to encourage most modern-day over-indulged rich Christians to learn how to move from pampering and poisoning (and slowly killing) themselves to actually nurturing themselves. The appropriate level of self-sacrifice will come as a result of giving up unhealthy dietary habits and pushing themselves to replace them with healthy ones.

We are am fortunate to live in Taiwan with its year-round growing season in which I am able to indulge in mounds of fresh vegetables every day.

Timothy Beach

I agree that in the West, and Western-based societies, diet is a problem, as is an apparent inability to discipline the appetites, but I find that there's also a tendency to be in control. I remember an interesting talk I had with a very health-oriented Orthodox family who had visited a Catholic convent on one of their vacations and were so impressed by what they saw because the bread for Holy Communion was whole wheat! In other words, if white bread Communion is good for you, just imagine how much better whole wheat Communion would be!

I spoke with a friend recently who attends a Catholic church in the US where the sacrament of confession is never practiced. She had never been to confession. She asked me to tell her about confession. "What can it do for me?" she wanted to know. There's a tendency to think of everything in terms of how it can benefit me, how it can be "healthy," good for my body, give me energy.

So what's the difference between maintaining a rule of fasting, eating well and being concerned about health, being a health crank and being a control freak?

Nancy Forest

I don't scorn meat-eaters, and I don't think my way is more "spiritual" in that sense. I have a revulsion of eating dead animals. I am not choosing this path in order to be more ascetical. I am choosing it for many reasons, one of which is that many more people can be fed on a vegetarian diet than a meat-based diet. I think that my own path as a Christian involves looking at the big picture, and trying to live in a way that all people on the earth can live sustainably. I am, of course, far from this goal. I still live with much more wealth than most of the world.

I do know that the way that animals are treated makes me glad that I do not participate in their slaughter, and it also makes me queasy that I do participate in the way they are treated in order to take their milk and eggs. That's one reason I'm trying to raise my own chicken and duck eggs; I've thought about getting a milk cow, but I don't think that's practical right now!

This way of eating and living is "more right" for me. I cannot speak for anyone besides myself. I don't try to convert others, although I was not disappointed when my children decided to be vegetarians too.

I can't speak to the alcohol issue --- we had decided to leave the teetotaler tradition of our families before we became Orthodox. I have no problem with drinking wine! The priest who chrismated us made sure to tell us that we didn't have to drink wine in order to become Orthodox...

Presvytera Elizabeth

Saints of the Week

For awhile now I've been putting out a "Saints of the Week" e-letter, giving short (or sometimes not-so-short) biographies of Saints commemorated that week. It's put out in both New Calendar and Old Calendar versions. If you're interested in being put on the mailing list, just let me know (specify Old or New Calendar).

Saints of the Week is also available as a web page: (Old Calendar) (New Calendar)

John Brady

I am not a big deal

This comes from Canton, Ohio, where I'm the guest of John and Marge Oliver.

The highpoint of the day was visiting Matthew 25 House, part of the local Catholic Worker (four houses all together and all on the same block) but this one started by an Orthodox Christian, Joe May. He's a musician, computer programmer, web designer and graduate of Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary, also a member of Annunciation Parish. His work is mainly home based so that he can be present at the house as much as possible, though there are other volunteers. He bought the house, a duplex, and makes the monthly payments for it from his own income. His guests are men in need of shelter, at the moment mainly refugees from Central America. The house is beautifully decorated and quite tidy. Joe's a good cook, as we found out when lunch was served.

In the bathroom I discovered a little sign by the mirror:

I am not a big deal.

I am not a big deal.

I am not a big deal.

Joe explained to me that his spiritual father once suggested that every morning he repeat the words "I am not a big deal" three times, so he put them by the mirror to remember them while shaving.

Jim Forest

Lord of the Rings

I thought I would pass this along to you. It is notes from my sermon preparation for the Sunday before Christmas.

Thinking about the genealogy of Christ and the Lord of the Rings, I realized that the mustard seed of the Kingdom grows in the hearts of individuals. But the Kingdom of God is not the only thing that grows in the world. Unless evil is opposed it grows. Even when it is opposed it sometimes grows. Those who love what is good (and who love peace and wish for it), will be faced with the evil that grows if it is not opposed.

The good must be willing to oppose evil even to the point of their own death. The good may be called upon to die to oppose that evil which otherwise grows.

God understood this truth, and so loved the world as to have His Son be born to accomplish what the good must do. The Nativity of Christ makes it possible for God to oppose evil by His own death.

God does not simply oppose evil from the safety of His heaven. God comes face to face with evil on this earth. God takes side with His created people, God unites Himself to humanity in order to do what is necessary to oppose evil. Christ is born so that He might destroy evil by His own death.

That is the mystery hidden from the ages that God has revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is not killing which gives life, but rather death which destroys death.

Christ comes to oppose all evil in the world. He does it not by killing but by dying. Christian martyrs through the centuries have understood this way to be God's partner in love.

God has made you and me His partners in love through the incarnation of His word. By the truth of the Nativity and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called in love to die to the world in order to oppose evil and to establish the Kingdom of our God in my life, and in the world.

We are called to die with Christ -- we have not been called to kill. I know for many of us this is scary, for we might think when it comes to evil, God's way surely is that it is better to kill than die.

May that Love which God revealed in Christ, may that Peace which Christ is, may God's own opposition to evil, be with all of us both now in this Christmas season and forever.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

Burial of a priest

Fr Alexis Voogd, principal founder of our parish, St. Nicholas Church in Amsterdam, died November 30 after two years of chronic illness. He was spiritual father to many people, myself among them, and also played a major role in the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Yesterday was entirely given over to his burial. The church was only slightly less crowded than it is at Pascha, and indeed there was something deeply paschal about the day.

Father Alexis was vested in golden robes. I was struck by the beauty of his face in death. He looked like a king, or rather as one thinks a king ought to look. The burial service, led by Archbishop Simon, involved six priests plus two deacons and several readers as well as Mother Maria, abbess of the Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God near Asten.

We started the service at 10 and by 2 had gotten to the point of closing the casket and carrying it to the hearse. Two buses plus a number of cars followed the hearse as we drove to a cemetery in the dunes near the North Sea just outside the fishing town of IJmuiden. Singing our way in procession, we made our way to the open grave and there gave Father Alexis one more blessing before lowering his body into the earth. Everyone put in a handful of sand. Some of the younger men of the parish then shoveled in still more sand until the casket was fully covered.

I was deeply struck by these words from the Ikos chanted at the burial of a priest:

"If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man, that same mercy shall be shown unto thee there; and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion, the same shall there deliver thee from want. If in this life the naked thou hast clothed, the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm: alleluia."

Jim Forest

PS: There is an interview with Father Alexis on this web site.

Kicking the Secularist Habit

I enjoyed a piece in the current Atlantic magazine by David Brooks, entitled "Kicking the Secularist Habit: A six-step program." Brooks begins "Like a lot of people these days, I'm a recovering secularist." I recommend the whole article, which is humorous but thoughtful. One excerpt:

"There are six steps in the recovery process. First you have to accept the fact that you are not the norm. Western foundations and universities send out squads of researchers to study and explain religious movements.

"But as the sociologist Peter Berger has pointed out, the phenomenon that really needs explaining is the habits of the American professoriat: religious groups should be sending out researchers to try to understand why there are pockets of people in the world who do not feel the constant presence of God in their lives, who do not fill their days with rituals and prayers and garments that bring them into contact with the divine, and who do not believe that God's will should shape their public lives. Once you accept this --- which is like understanding that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa --- you can begin to see things in a new way."

John Brady