A marriage made in hell
It will take the Church a long time to extricate itself from the draconian arms of the state. It is a marriage made in hell, but it is being eroded and worn away by the power of the Cross. Until it ends entirely, Orthodox and many other ministers will continue to bless their nation's demands for service in the art of killing. Right now we suffocate under centuries of condoning lies, killing, anti-Semitism masquerading as Christianity. And we ourselves are constantly pressured to condone violence, we live thanks to the protection afforded by violence, we have more than other countries thanks to violence. Christ is still at work breaking down the brass gates of the hell we inhabit.
Orthodox witness has been a consistent witness for nonviolence through the centuries in its monastic tradition as well as in the lives of many believers. To serve in the army requires one to set aside that tradition and to rationalize war as being necessary to prevent violent barbarians from winning. We have no idea what would happen if one people put all their trust in God at a time when war seems to be the only option.
The early church deplored military service for a variety of reasons including its aversion to violence and the association of the military with pagan rituals. Still, there were Christians in military service at the time of Tertullian. And we have many martyred soldier saints from a little later. Military service is at best doubtful in our tradition -- the canons prescribe three years of no communion for killing in war. Someone who has killed even accidentally has a canonical impediment to the priesthood (and the requirements for deacons are identical for priests I believe). A priest who accidentally kills someone must step down as a priest, though sometimes, as a matter of economia , he will be reinstated. To shed blood is a very serious thing.
But do you have the right to make the choice of personal purity over your obligation to protect others? To take a stand of nonviolence no matter what is fine if you are a monastic and have a different set of obligations and no children. It may well be quite different if you have a set of concrete obligations to the aged and to children.
I do not believe there is one answer to this question. Different people have different callings. If you are willing to die to make such a statement, then do so. However, those who feel no such calling have no such obligation.
I would rather stand before the Dread Judgement seat having killed someone who attempted to harm my little sister or my priest's children or for that matter any child than to have allowed it to happen. If I could stop the person without killing them, I would. If I had to take an even small chance that my action would not stop him if I used something less than deadly force, I would not take the chance.
Killing and other sins
If we are to accept that there are times when killing becomes a necessity, such as when children are in grave danger, then we also should have no argument against killing abortionists.
There is no segment of society in the world as persecuted as the unborn. There is also no segment of society so helpless to defend themselves. So if you are looking for reasons when killing may be justified, how about to protect the unborn and put an end to their slaughter?
Do you see the problems that arise when we allow killing for certain reasons?
And if there are times to kill, it is logical to say there must be times when exceptions for other sins must be made. For instance, there must be times when it is okay to gossip or slander someone, even to commit a rape. I'm not being facetious, only suggesting that we take these arguments to their logical end.
If Christians through the ages have at times killed, it is because we live in a fallen world and the ideal is hard to reach. Would those Christians want us to follow their example, or find a better way? Every saint committed sins, but we look to their example not because of the sins, but because of the times they did not sin.
The idea that killing must be allowed at times may stem from our desire to draw a line through the human race with the evil people on one side, the good people on the other. However, for every doer of evil that we kill, another will arise. The one solution that the human race has never tried is to abandon killing altogether. Nowhere does the Bible obligate us to kill, even to protect someone. There are things on this earth that we cannot control, and at times we may have to submit ourselves and our children to the most horrible of atrocities, trusting that God will do the ultimate protecting. It sounds crazy, but it is true. We are not to love our children, our spouses, our parents, or anyone or anything more than Christ. As I once heard a pro-life leader say "We will be the most powerful when we are not protecting anything."
The greatest problem with killing, no matter what the dire situation, is that it does not redeem, and it does not convert. I thought that when we take the name of Christ as our own, those are the tasks we agree to. If we are only agreeing to do those things when it is easy and costs us nothing, then of what value are they? Even sinners do what is right when there is no sacrifice involved. This is why Christianity is called, "the narrow way."
From self-esteem to narcissism
We've had a cultural move to expunge shame in our young people and to promote self-esteem. If you look at it through humanistic culture, confession is anti-self-esteem. Recently I saw an interesting article in the Boston Globe which had this headline: Pair Cautions Against Push for Self Esteem; Researchers Warn of Narcissistic Youths.
We're looking for a paradigm shift on how we view Self, like icons in reverse perspective: reversing society's misguided perspective on self (esteem, estrangement, etc.), and turning it around to its proper relationship to the Creator. That is the beginning of both punishment (when we realize just what we are) and rehabilitation (when we repent).
Punishment of criminals
Many people have worked long and hard providing alternatives to a retributive justice system in the areas of restorative justice, victim-offender mediation and victim help groups, and on and on. Another, but not unrelated, fact is that a nation like the U.S. imprisons vast numbers of people, most of whom are black and poor. In Canada, the percentage of folks in prison is not nearly as high as in the U.S., yet we manage to incarcerate a disproportionate number of aboriginal people. Both country's jails are full of mostly men. These topics, and many others about crime and what to do about it might make for profitable conversation.
While I agree that opening the prisons will solve nothing, I think prison sentences in the US are much longer on the whole than they need to be, except for the downright dangerous. Americans are astonished at how short the sentences are in Holland even for fairly serious crimes. And capital punishment isn't really punishment. It's hard to say, OK, I'll never do it again, when you're dead.
How as Christians do we move through our lives in a way that is socially responsible and at the same time live out the challenge to love our enemies and to refuse to live by the sword? St. Seraphim said, "Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved." I understand this to mean: Never stop praying. Don't live a life of defense. Don't make defending your material possessions the main criterion for your actions. Teach your children well.
I believe that abortion ultimately will be eliminated not by legislation but by creating a world in which children are welcome and women are honored for being mothers. That is not the world we have now. The task is much harder than mere legislation. And the same is true for all violence, it seems to me.
Memorials with leaves
I began planting trees in memory of friends who had died in Vietnam. The next year, I planted trees for all those who died or were wounded on either side. Last year, I planted these living memorials for all veterans of all wars everywhere and for all those who have loved them.
subDeacon Brendan Nichols
The ecumenical debate
I am convinced that ecumenical presence and witness is a cross Orthodox are called upon to accept at this time in history. It would be easier to climb down from this cross, but that would be abandoning the good fight surrendering the battle to the purveyors of noisome pestilences. It would also constitute the faithless abandonment of our allies within the ecumenical milieu who are struggling to defend positions which are similar to our own. Our ecumenical witness is nothing less than an evangelical imperative.
I have witnessed many examples of absurdity and theological perversion at ecumenical events, but have also witnessed the unexpected consequences of our poor and bungling efforts. As a result of seeds planted during conversations, some have even found their own ways into the Orthodox Church. I was delighted to see a young Protestant with whom I was working as leader of an ecumenical work camp in Russia confront another Protestant missionary, telling him that he should stop organizing Protestant missions and assist rather the Orthodox Church. I cannot not know to where such efforts might ultimately lead. I only know that Orthodox Christians should stop whining about the many failures of ecumenical witness and begin rather to assume their rightful place as leaders.
Dana and I have traveled to churches of almost all denominations throughout this country. You would be amazed at some of the dialogue we've had with liberal Protestant ministers who see their churches falling apart and wonder why. One Presbyterian said sadly, "I don't think there's anyone on my church board who believes in the divinity of Christ."
I am constantly humbled by the good works we see being done in Russia and Albania by Protestants who have aided with their time, talent, and treasure our Orthodox churches. May God bless them richly for it.
Labeling others "liberal" or "conservative" can be a destructive activity, but one must face the fact that many Orthodox hold extremely "conservative" views, particularly on such issues as peace, military involvement and capital punishment. Any thoughts on how we can work from within, to help turn around our "conservative" brothers and sisters without seeming to judge or condemn them? This I think is a major job for advocates of peace.
Conservative can mean such a variety of things. In political discourse, it's a blanket term applied to certain parties and their members. The actual meaning of the word should make us all leap to embrace it. Which of us does not want to conserve everything that is good, noble, truthful, etc.? To conserve life? To conserve the environment? How did such a fine word get attached to people who, very often, seem more concerned with preserving their financial well-being than conserving human life? What could be more radical -- or less conservative -- than killing someone?
For some people "liberal" is a synonym for a live-and-let-live attitude, the promotion of dialogue, etc. But for others it means exactly the opposite --for example a "tolerance" of killing via abortion; thus the opposite of live-and-let-live.
I was struck freshly at Liturgy yesterday by the "commonplace" truth that, in receiving communion, we receive Christ. This mystery relates to my wanderings. Both "pacifists" and some "pro-lifers" helped bring me to Orthodoxy -- pacifists who talked nonviolence until abortion was mentioned, then shifted gear; pro-lifers who talked sacredness of life until war or capital punishment was mentioned, then switched channels. It seemed to me that the mystery of Eucharist should bring this together. After all, how could I kill Iraqi who's had Eucharist? But this is only a first step into the eucharistic mystery, for the blood of Jesus also flows in unborn and "poorest of the poor."
I wonder if one OPF focus shouldn't be deeper exploration of Eucharist and what Jesus means in saying, "What you do to the least you do to Me"? What if this narrow focus became central to our minds? Then, after months of prayer, study, reflection, we revisit war, capital punishment, abortion, "sanctions," hunger, disease, etc.?
At least some of the problem in this whole arena of sectarianism is the idea of "I'm right; you're wrong." We believe rightly in Orthodoxy that truth is not just what you or I happen to think, rather it is based on something much more objective: the Holy Scriptures, the canons, the creed, Holy Tradition, etc. However, could it be that maybe we've failed to realize that not all things fit neatly into these two categories of "right and wrong?"
Letter from Albania
After five weeks in the US, Tristan and I returned to Tirana and were joyfully reunited with Nathan.
We had planned to return a week earlier, but the day before our scheduled departure, Nathan sent an e-mail warning that rioting had broken out in the capital due to the assassination of an opposition party leader. He encouraged us to wait at least a week before returning. The rioting turned into an attempted coup, but the rebels were quickly defeated by the government.
Although things appear to be quiet in town, with most people carrying on as usual, instability pervades.
Today we awoke to news of the prime minister's resignation. Citing corruption within his own party as well as continual and aggressive opposition from Sali Berisha, the Democratic Party leader, as reasons for calling it quits, the prime minister recommended a replacement for his job. Who knows what tomorrow will hold.
Tomorrow, Nathan begins teaching at the seminary. Assigned to five classes, he is feeling a bit overwhelmed as opening day approaches. Severely understaffed and without a director at present, the seminary faces a difficult time. Nathan asks for your prayers for him, the students and staff.
Thank you for your prayers and your concern. We remember you in our prayers.
Rruga Kavajs 151 / Tirana, Albania