Letter from Kosovo
As you have probably all heard NATO has started air strikes against Yugoslavia. Our monastery and my brotherhood are safe so far although the monastery has been flooded with Serb refugees who had been expelled by KLA from their homes during the previous months.
This attack will have very serious counter effects on the peace process in Kosovo.
Despite the promises by the Western governments that the attacks will be aimed only at military targets, several civilian areas have already been hit by cruise missiles, including the village of Gracanica, home of an Orthodox monastery. We do not know anything about our sisters in Devic where new KLA attacks were reported tonight.
Among civilian victims there are several Krajina refugees in Kursumlija according to the latest reports from radio.
We make a strong protest against these barbarous attacks which not only will not stop the humanitarian crisis but will make the humanitarian catastrophe much worse. The civilian population will suffer most.
Letter from Albania
With the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia imminent, we thought it expedient to ask for your prayers in this hour. Most likely you are as well informed as we are about the crisis, but you may be wondering how we might be affected by it.
As far as we know, we have no reason to believe that we are in any danger. Many residents of Tirana are very alarmed, fearing that Milosevic will retaliate against any Albanians, be they Kosovar or not. Some here are haunted by the troubles of 1997, and fear renewed panic and food shortages.
Rinas Airport, Albania's airport was closed today, making it impossible for Archbishop Anastasios, who spent the weekend in London, to return. It appears that the region's airspace has been cleared to give wide berth to the NATO planes.
Though we do feel some of the tension that exists, we do not feel any alarm.
Nonetheless, we would appreciate your prayers for a swift end to the crisis, for a peaceful solution to the conflict, and for a minimal loss of life.
Thank you for standing with us. On March 22, we completed our first year of service in Albania, and we are deeply grateful for the many ways that you have made our stay herepossible -- through your prayers, financial support, and letters of encouragement.
Nathan, Lynette & Tristan Hoppe
Reading the Bible
An eight-year-old is probably more qualified to read the Bible than someof the older folks, and has a wonderful advantage: that which he or she reads is retained by the memory, to be called to mind by the Holy Spirit and through the Liturgy of the Church intimes of need or rejoicing.
Fr. Hopko once commented that the Bible is the Book of the Church and we should all know it. St. John Chrysostom says that by the time a girl is seven, she should have all the Psalms memorized so that she can hop on her grandfather's knee and cheer him by reciting them. Even a room in which the Word of God is kept, according to one of the Fathers, is under special protection. The words of the Word purify us as we read them.
Safeguarding human life
May God open our hearts and minds to what Jesus, with SaintsBasil, Chrysostom, and others teach about what it means to take a human life. While C.S.Lewis may, like me, not have understood what all this means, nevertheless he penned thepregnant words: "Next to the Blessed Sacrament Itself, your neighbor is the holiest objectpresented to your senses." If it is monstrous evil to attack the Blessed Sacrament, what is it wedo when we kill a neighbor?
Whose side is God on?
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the BBC interviewed Gabriel Habib, the (Orthodox) General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches. At onepoint in the interview the question was asked, "Whose side is God on in this war?" Gabianswered, "God is on the side of those who are suffering."
Sanctity of Life
My hope is that in conjunction with statements condemning abortion, that American Orthodox will use the upcoming pro-life march in Washington as an opportunity to declare the sanctity of all human life. As far as I know, the Orthodox Church in America (my jurisdiction) has been silent on the recent American-led atrocities in Iraq, and I know from personal experience that many American Orthodox (OCA and otherwise) have what seems to me a rather disturbing double standard when it comes to sanctity of life issues (very similar instance to Radical Right/ Fundamentalist Christianity which is "pro-life" on abortion, but pro-death in terms of military action and capital punishment; using selective Old Testament quotations to support this stance, ignoring the New Testament, etc.). I implore OPF members to speak against this double standard, which is decidedly "non-Orthodox," when participating in this march.
Coping with anger
No "righteous anger"? How about Christ driving the money changers outof the temple, or St. Nicholas slapping Arius? If one limits the statement to say "no righteous anger is possible for sins against oneself," then this statement is (almost) always true.
However, there is certainly righteous anger for sins against others. If cruelty doesn't make meangry, then I must question whether this is dispassion (which almost no one has) or apathy. Iam often apathetic to the sufferings of others out of near despair in changing things -- feelingwe are a wicked, vicious species and always will be. However, that is a far graver sin thaneven inappropriate anger at evils done to another.
Here let me share what has been of help to me. It has to do with a dream I had after joining theOrthodox Church. Fr. Anthony my confessor, came into our kitchen, took my hand and movedit in a circle saying: "Work with love and thanksgiving, without anger is not enough." I putthese words above my sink. In the years since I had that dream, I have made some progress incontrolling anger by emphasizing love and thanksgiving, rather than concentrating on whatcauses me to become angry.
In the liturgy we ask God to bless "those who love us, and those who hate us."Speaking personally, it seems to me that my lighting a candle each Sunday for a young manwho wronged our family grievously is actually a part of what makes me an OrthodoxChristian. But that does not mean that child abuse can be excused, that "enabling" is the rightresponse to substance abuse, or turning a blind eye to any other sin is any sort of requirement.St. Paul urges us first to counsel those who are erring, next to really "work on" them, and if allelse fails, to cast them far from us.
Forgiveness is something that one participates in, by God's grace, as a forgiver. To be offeredforgiveness by another is not something that can be coerced. (Some are very good at elicitingguilty feelings in others or making them uncomfortable in various ways, but forgiveness mustbe freely granted and heartfelt.)
The seriously unrepentant are not to receive communion. Fast-keeper or no, regularchurchgoer or only occasional, baby or septuagenarian, all can participate in the reception ofChrist's gift of himself in the Eucharist, but not the person who has failed to try to rectifyserious transgressions. (I don't mean that the priest will necessarily play the part of agoalkeeper and fend off illegitimate seekers at the chalice, but that person is "illegitimate" andcommunion will not be communion for him while in that state). That is why the sacrament ofconfession usually precedes communion -- it is spiritually like taking a bath before a bigdinner party; you want to be clean and well-groomed, not slovenly -- if it's the dinner of yourlife (which the Eucharist is).
I would be surprised if anyone knows how many people are being euthanized, not just in the Netherlands, but world wide. We are living in the age of the adoration of death. It is seen as a powerful problem solver. If pro-lifers seem too zealous in battling against it,they have good reason to be worried. In 1973 when abortion was legalized, I doubt if anyoneever dreamed that a million and a-half abortions would be done annually in the U.S. alone. Ithorrifies every sensibility.
The minute something becomes legal, we can be sure to see it increase, whether it is moral ornot. (By the way, I hope the pro-life movement will not be judged by the actions of a very,very fringe element, i.e., those who seek to kill abortionists. Just as not all doctors are JackKevorkians, neither are 99 percent of pro-lifers armed with guns and bombs.)
The Dutch are certainly to be commended for striving to have open discussion about thesethings. And yet there are times when the intellect alone cannot reach a moral conclusion.Certainly, when we see suffering we want to alleviate it, and any right thinking person abhors pain. But we live in a fallen world where we want to go our own way and be our own gods.Suffering often is the only thing that reminds us that we are mortal, and that we will die and bejudged. It brings us to our knees before the only One who can truly alleviate our pain.
The last chance we have to repent is on our death bed. We must be very careful aboutremoving a person's chance to die reconciled to God. Let us work to find ways to easesuffering, but these efforts must stop short at the active taking of human life.