Conversations by e-mail: Fall 2006

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF's e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson or Jim Forest .

St. Constantine:

OPF received a letter yesterday in which a questionwas raised as to why St. Constantine is not on the calendar of saints in the Catholic Church, although he is in the Orthodox Church. "Does it concern you that this 'man of war' is honored in our tradition?" I responded by saying that my impression is that there are quite a few pre-Schism. No doubt a factor in his canonization was his decision to end all persecution of Christians and the influence Christianity had in encouraging him to reshape many laws in a more merciful direction. Many saints have taken part in war - none has been canonized for being a soldier. The calendar of the saints cension of the Lord. I think the timing of this feast was, consciously or uncon- sciously, a decision of great wisdom. Our Lord has gone up to rule over heaven and earth from the right hand of the Father. Part of His rule includes the kingdoms of this earth. Constantine was among the very first rulers to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ over the State and to begin the process of transforming the laws and customs of this world to conform to the law and wisdom of the Lord.


We celebrate what the Lord has in fact accomplished; but we also celebrate what has begun. Constantine was not in fact the first Christian king (a king of Armenia preceded him). His sins were many and some of them serious; some of his accomplishments were not long-lasting; and some of his achievements were not even appropriate - the Constantinian union of church and state was in fact an unholy matrimony that has caused endless problems to the message and integrity of the Church. Even so, his accomplishments were great indeed. Perhaps more than any other saint of the ancient Church, he represents the task that Niebuhr called the transformation of culture. From that point of view, oddly enough, in light of his being chief commander of the Roman armies, he is close to the spirit of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

David Holden [email protected]


The Byzantine Empire was culturally Byzantine, unique in all the ways cultures always are, with Hellenistic culture being but one influence. It is customary to refer to Byzantine culture as Greek, but that didn't mean the same thing in pre-modern times that it does now. The marriage of blood, culture, and religion to create the modern conception of Greek ethnicity as something pure and inherent began in the eighteenth century. Byzantines didn't think of themselves as Hellenes; neither Byzantines nor Hellenes ever being thought of themselves as an ethnic group. Hellenism was always a cultural phenomenon. It was the post-Byzantine culture under the Ottomans that recovered for themselves, from the pre-Byzantine past, their Hellenic identity. Prior to the development of nationalism in the 18th century, there was never any such idea as a Greek, or any other, ethnicity.

The migrations that led to large amounts of today's mainland Greece being Slav took place between the 6th and 7th centuries, dates and extent of settlement being uncertain and debated by historians. Most of the cities remained Greek, and there was much intermixing of the populations. The peninsula was recovered and once more largely Greek by the 9th century. There is no evidence that there was anything like a large-scale population exchange, though Imperial policy was influential.

Constantine was certainly neither Serb or British, as neither of those ethnicities even existed then, Slavs being a completely unknown people to the Romans at that time. Slavs migrated into the Balkans in the 6th century as raiders and didn't begin to settle in significant numbers until the 7th. They never supplanted native populations (assimilation, over time, may be more accurate, but such processes were so bi-directional that we can never say that the cultural end product was the same as at the beginning of the process). While there was a cultural influence in both directions, by the time the Greeks recovered dominance, the settled Slavs had been thoroughly "Grecified."

Pieter Dykhorst [email protected]

Conciliar model:

Constantine's significance in the East has largely to do with the importance we place on Ecumenical Councils, as distinct from a Roman-style Magisterium. His moving of the capital to Byzantium/Constantinople, the effect he had on establishing the emperor as the vital link between Church and State, the significance of the Nicene Creed from the Council over which he presided, his leadership in the Donatist struggle: all of this political influence - coupled with the fact that he was St. Helena's son (is holiness genetic?) and introduced an impressive number of ethical and social changes into the life of the Empire, from tax relief and charitable works to endowing churches in the Holy Land and elsewhere - certainly contributed to the growth of popular veneration of his person. We are called to emulate Constantine's virtues, not his vices - but that's true with any saint, who, by the simple fact of being human, is also a sinner.

Fr. John Breck

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Byzantines and war:

Thinking a little bit about history, I was wondering, if one compared the Orthodox Byzantine Empire with other great world powers in history, is it the case that the Byzantines engaged in war mostly from a defensive and protectionist stance, to consolidate their position, rather than engaging in expansionist wars?

Certainly Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire of an earlier age, the Muslim Arabs, Genghis Khan, the Turks, all engaged in imperial expansionism.

The crusades too might fall in this category. But the Byzantines after Constantine seem rarely to have gone on wars of expansion. They did fight against the Persians, Arabs, Turks, Bulgars, but these were mostly attacks upon them.

After Constantine, the empire goes into a pattern of land lost by attrition and war. Pretty much the Byzantines lose interest in the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century. In the 7th Century, the Arab Muslims gobble up huge portions of the empire. The Bulgars carve out their own empire. The Turks further diminish Byzantium until they conquer it.

The Byzantines seem to have engaged in some diplomatic efforts with the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Bulgars, and eventually with the Crusaders. But their war efforts were defensive rather than expansionist, except at times to regain lost territories.

I wonder if anyone is aware if any research has been done on the attitude of the Byzantine Empire toward war itself. After Constantine, did Christianity have an impact on the imperial attitudes toward war? Did this lead to the Empire being more defensive than expansionist?

For example, here is the Theotokian from Matins Canticle Nine for the Be-heading of John the Baptist:

Son of the Theotokos:

Go forth, ride prosperously and reign. Place the forces of Ishmael that fight against us, beneath our feet, and grant victory to the Orthodox

Christians over their adversaries by the intercessions of her who bore You, O Word of God.

It is interesting that Monk John, who wrote this hymn, does not call for the armies to go forth and conquer Arab territories, but only that Jesus would grant victories over those who are attacking the Byzantine lands.

Even the "Protection of the Theotokos" is more defensive than offensive.

It is a call to protection from aggressors, and not a call for the Orthodox to become aggressors. So though the Constantinian legend was that he would conquer beneath the Sign of the Cross, the later Byzantines seem to have relied more upon God as a protector than as an aggressor conqueror God. Is this perhaps part of the peace tradition in the Byzantine legacy?

Fr. Ted Bobosh [email protected]

Byzantines and War:

There is a recent book by John Haldon, Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World (London, 1999). My guess is that the Byzantines mostly engaged in defensive wars, because they had little option for anything else. But under Basil II, there was expansionist warfare (though he probably thought of it as regaining lost Byzantine territory).

Fr. Andrew Louth


Just to let you know I'm unharmed. I left Lebanon twenty days before Hezbollah crossed the border, killed the soldiers, and took the captives. My biggest hassle in leaving the country was the fact that I was over my weight allowance. My priest told me not to buy books while I was there, but I didn't take his advice. At this point, I'm unspeakably grateful that I decided against staying in Lebanon until September.

I have been in contact with many of my friends in Lebanon. I have spoken with Fr. Symeon by phone twice now. His apartment has what used to be a beautiful view of Beirut across the harbor. They're far enough out of town and away from any potential targets that they're as safe as anyone can be in Lebanon about now, but his wife and children are staying with her parents in a mountain village for the time being.

What grieves me even more than the scenes of devastation and death is the thought of yet another generation of scarred survivors. Fr. Symeon's oldest child is three. One of my other friends from Canada who returned to serve the

Church in Lebanon has a young son.

Lord, have mercy!

Peter Brubacher [email protected]

Orthodox prison ministry:

Fr. David Ogan, who heads Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, has been doing a tremendous job by filling a void in the area of prison ministry. Sad to say, but few institutions in the United States provide religious services for Orthodox Christians, though there are exceptions. The jail where I serve as Supervising Chaplain provides 32 religious services each week to the inmate population, including Orthodox Christian liturgy and catechism. Prisoners who become Orthodox believers in our jail are connected with a local parish when they are released. However, at least 30 percent of the inmates are sentenced to penitentiaries where they will spend many years of their lives. Most US penitentiaries do not provide Orthodox Christian religious worship services simply because there has not been a voice from the Orthodox

Christian community calling for such service, and not enough clergy to provide the services. Therefore, the new Orthodox Christian believers behind bars have been relying on Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry and local parishes to keep them connected to their new faith without any formal worship experience.

I am not sure what we would do without that ministry. Thank you, Fr. David.

The need is so great and the door is wide open for Orthodoxy in our jails and prisons. I am in a position of influence in the state of Pennsylvania. I have been praying and trying to think of a way to enlist more Orthodox Christians in ministry to prisoners. Is this something that OPF might be interested in exploring?

Patrick Tutlella [email protected]


Inequality has been on my mind a lot recently. First, I read Tracy Kidder's superb Mountains beyond Mountains, a profile of Paul Farmer, an American doctor who has established a health-care system in central Haiti. One small anecdote struck me especially. His clinic arranged to fly a boy with a rare

but treatable cancer to the US, and ended up having to pay $20,000 to fly him out (they'd meant to take him on a commercial flight, but his condition deteriorated). Some people in the organization wondered whether that money couldn't have been better spent to serve more people - a legitimate question. Farmer recognized the issue, then pointed out that a first-year doctor in the US makes about $100,000 - but no one asks if that money might be "better spent" on other healthcare needs. A mere tithe on American doctors' incomes would pay for a lot of medevac flights...

Then I read an issue of The Atlantic Monthly with two pieces on growing inequality in the US. One was mostly on why the average person's pay hasn't gone up, even while productivity has been climbing for decades. The other was a profile of the rapidly-growing business of providing services to the super-rich. Its concluding paragraph is haunting:

"Then, out of the blue during one of our later conversations, Natasha Pearl [head of one of the cater-to-the-rich companies] said something surprising:

'If the income inequality persists, we could end up with real armed camps, like in South Africa.' She said she was increasingly aware of the tension between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots,' and she described a surge in demand among the ultrarich for real estate in out-of-the-way places such as New Zealand and rural Argentina - expensive insurance policies in case things go haywire for some reason at home. 'The wise ones are thinking about it now,' Pearl said. Indeed it might be worth planning ahead; I wonder what the going salary will be for a spot in an oligarch's private army."

John Brady [email protected]

On Power:

John Brady raises a key point. The question is that often for people, equality of goods is not per se the issue but the ends they want to pursue. I don't care that many people have lots more money than I do since all I'm interested in is having the resources I need to pursue the ends that interest me. I'm bothered by the fact that many - too many - people have lots, lots less than me not simply because they have less but because they are thwarted in pursuing the sorts of ends that seem to be part of a minimally decent life. On the other hand, many people are quite content with living very simple lives that require few material possessions - I know people that don't have a television since they have no interest in watching one. But a "simple" life is not the same as one that is materially impoverished. Some saints and ascetics have so renounced the ends of ordinary life that they have virtually no interest in any material possessions except those required for bare survival and their religious devotion.

Such people don't care that other people have a lot more. Once again, we are back to the questions of the ends that we pursue for ourselves and with reference to others. Most of the "goods" that we consider in terms of equality/inequality are merely means to those ends and they get their value and moral worth from those ends.

Christianity seems ambivalent on this score. On the one hand, there are the injunctions for a radical renunciation of the world leading to a life of extreme poverty (on any definitions of poverty) and, on the other, the legitimacy of engaging in the world (even if one isn't "of the world") and thus "acquiring" and using the wealth and goods which makes such engagement possible.

John Jones

On being downsized:

This past year, since I was "downsized" out of a job, has been a very positive experience for me, and I try to analyze just why it has been so. Clearly, it might have been more trying if our general financial situation had been more precarious; we had beenprudent (and, in some ways, just lucky) in setting ourselves up for retirement time, although we didn't think it would come quite so soon. But, there are other elements that are even more important.

The loss of control: It is a good thing to be reminded that we are not in charge in this life, that the vagaries of fortune or providence can change things in a twinkling.

Free time: Time was suddenly available to help with family crises. One daughter had a problem pregnancy. Another needed to move to Atlanta with her toddler while her husband was doing research in Japan.

Time to give: I have been able to commit time to pro bono projects related to war and peace in which I could much more readily invest my deepest feelings than in any paying job I ever had.

Freedom: Suddenly I had freedom to look for what God really wanted me to be doing, rather than what "made the most sense" in some job-counselor/personnel office way.

Living on less: The realization that our (relative) "poverty" - regular pay-checks stopping - did not make our lives worse - and most days made them better. There has been more time to spend with my wife, more time to play the piano, more time to tend my flower garden, etc.

I am currently a candidate for a job that I am truly enthusiastic about. It is quite freeing to be able to go into my upcoming key interview with a sense that it is all about doing God's work, not ensuring that we will have the income to take fancy vacations, add on to our house or give lots of gifts at Christmas time. God is good! I had to go on unemployment to realize how good!

Alex Patico [email protected]

Riches and poverty:

A friend of mine here in Romania who is also interested in living out the Gospels has been reading Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. She was chuckling at his list of suggestions of things you could do to live more simply. There were things like "use fans instead of air conditioning," etc. She said, "Well, we do almost all these things already whether we want to or not." Air conditioning is rare in Romania!

"Simplicity" is often a thinly veiled disguise for figuring out how to save in one place just to spend it on something else. I wonder if the "wherewithal" does not come from a change in perspective where we see the contemplative and relational fruit from voluntary simplicity whatever degree it may take, rather than the supposed cost to our material abundance.

I think it was Wendle Berry who said something about what a shame it was that we now feel comfortable giving money instead of ourselves.

Joel Klepac

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In the military:

At times I can't help but feel that I'm being judged by those who all but say that there is no place for an Orthodox Christian in the armed forces.

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The circumstances that have brought me to this place are complex and pre-date my becoming Orthodox. No doubt my decision to incur a commitment to the armed forces would have been different if I had been Orthodox at the time, but God has put me here for a reason and I have to honor that.

There is no doubt that the military is a tough place to be an Orthodox Christian, but I feel the Church helps me navigate these things by maintaining a tension that encourages humility and respect for the image of God in others and does not allow me to participate in the glorification of violence.

The work I do is oftentimes mentally, physically and spiritually exhausting, but soldiers are real people with real problems and they do not need the "easy wisdom" of those who simply tell them to get out of the military at any cost even if it means being dishonest or somehow misrepresenting themselves and their circumstances. They need prayers, not man's judgment.

Aaron Haney, MD


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I am a seven-year Orthodox Christian, converted after twenty-four years as a non-denominational Protestant. I got out of the Army after nine years in 1985 as a conscientious objector. I have traveled a long and difficult road in search of what is true and right and good, as I trust we all are doing. I have come to the conclusion that honest dialogue between Christians does not always lead to agreement, regardless of the experience, wisdom, and maturity of the individuals.

Though I am convinced of my conscientious objector beliefs, rooted in Christian faith and practice, I honor my brothers and sisters who disagree with me and serve in the military for honorable reasons. I can't wait till we can sit before God and sort this all out so that it makes sense.

Pieter Dykhorst

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Questions, not judgments:

The questions we raise about war are not an oblique way of putting people in uniform on the spot. Whatever we do in life, we are all implicated in the activities of the society to which we belong, but when we look at how individuals respond in their own lives, we may find some of those who best reveal the peace of Christ happen to be people in the military.

I recall the executive officer of the unit I was part of while in the US Navy who stayed up much of a night reading a book he borrowed from me - War and Christianity Today - and afterward decided to give me his public support in my application for a special discharge as a conscientious objector. What he did, in my opinion, required more courage than anything I had done.

He was a career officer who probably sacrificed promotion from commander to captain by his efforts on my behalf. I've always been grateful that my interest in peace issues initially took shape while I was in the military - the period of my life in which I found my way to Christian faith. The experience was a blessing in many ways and ever since has protected me from dehumaniz- ing people wearing military uniforms.

Jim Forest [email protected]

Houses of Hospitality:

According to books I've been reading, Peter Maurin (Dorothy Day's inspiration in many things) quoted a "fifth-century church council" that required bishops to set up houses of hospitality in all their parishes. (These would provide food, shelter and probably medical care for the poor).

I've tried to find out what council this was, and what it said, but haven't

been successful. Does anyone know?

John Brady

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A canonist I am not, but I look- ed a little and here is what I found. I found a list of the Captions of Arabic Canons that are attributed to the Council of Nicaea (which is, of course, actually 4th Cent.). The caption of Arabic Canon 70 is: "Of the hospital to be established in every city, and of the choice of a superintendent and concerning his duties." I also found incidental reference to a poor house (ptocheion) in Canon 8 and to a hospice (xenodocheia) in Canon 10 of the Council of Chalecedon (5th Cent.). These canons do not specifically command that such facilities be constructed, but assume that they exist; the point of these canons is that bishops should govern them and that clergy who have moved from one place to another should not meddle in the affairs of institutions they have left.

David Holden

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Peace, Islam and Christianity:

I know that there is not only no unity on the teaching of nonviolence which Christ gave us in the Gospel, but there are many who see nothing amiss in the current war in Iraq. I do not feel the Orthodox are especially blessed with true under- standing about nonviolence, but I know that it is what we are called to be as Christians.

In a recent sermon I heard, our priest said that for all intents and purposes Christianity in Europe is dead while Christianity in the US is now a political distortion. The responsibility for this situation lies in the unfortunate decision to align ourselves with political power, beginning with Constantine. To make ourselves comfortable in this world, we were quite willing to abandon the Kingdom of Heaven. We have no message of salvation, we have no Resurrection to reveal to our fellow humans. Wherever and whenever Christ through the Holy Spirit reveals that we have not succeeded in burying Him, we rush with planks and nails to entomb Him again.

Unless we begin to state the truth as baldly as this, we can expect no more of the Middle Eastern Muslims. Why should they lead the way to peace? And where would they begin to find it? Since Christ is our Peace and the Peace of the entire universe, if we bury Him how will the Muslims find Him?

It is because we live in a "post-Christian world" that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship has the task of exhuming the theology of the Gospel left to us by the Councils and Church Fathers, but buried by our eras-long alliance with military and government power.

Orthodox Christians who see nonviolence as unpatriotic are still living within the romantic delusion of Christian imperialism. How hard the Gospel is on that refuge of the deluded! Why shouldn't the devout and fanatical Muslims continue their war against the "west"? They really believe in theocracy and practice it as well. As long as we see the Gospel as compatible with war and violence, why should we call the Koran into question?

Alice Carter

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War on terror:

The news report "Washington losing 'war on terror'" (In Communion, Summer 2006) left me dissatisfied. The remarks by Alain Chouet, formerly of France's foreign intelligence service, do not go far enough.

Chouet says that we should not be attacking the effects of terrorism but its causes, a remark with which it is difficult not to agree. But when I read that he attributes the causes of terrorism to Wahhabite ideology, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim brotherhood, alarm bells began to ring in my head.

To be fair, he went on (in a passage In Communion omitted) to say that: "US policy in the Middle East, which had turned Iraq into a new Afghanistan,' was acting as a powerful recruiting agent for a generation of Islamic radicals." He also said that "the continued US presence in Iraq, the atrocities committed by a campaigning army, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq and the grotesque US detention center at Guantanamo in Cuba all 'provide excuses' for violent radicals."

It is good to see widespread recognition that the USA is its own worst enemy. It is also hard not to agree with the main thrust of Chouet's remarks. But what about the things he and the other people in the report omit to say? What about Arab/Muslim anger at the appalling way the Palestinians have been treated by Israel year after year, Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank, the USA's unqualified support for Israel over several decades, the fact that jets and missiles made in the USA fall almost daily on Palestine, killing and maiming men, women and children in larger numbers than the Israelis who are killed by Hezbollah rockets?

What about US hypocrisy and double standards, confronting Iran over nuclear weapons it does not have while refusing to condemn Israel for its nuclear weapons program? Chouet mentions Wahhabite ideology, but what about the neo- conservative ideology emanating from Washington? Here Chouet appears to be buying into the US extreme-right ideology based on the "clash of civilizations," in which "they" are portrayed as out to wreck "our" way of life and the values "we" hold dear.

His criticisms suggest US incompetence and stupidity while downplaying the extent to which the USA is in fact guilty of more serious, deliberate and premeditated crimes against humanity, in Israel, in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Perhaps this is why he mentions only "the continued US presence in Iraq," omitting to mention that the US invasion of the country in the first place was a war crime.

There is a temptation to see all politicians in Western democratic countries as fundamentally well-intentioned but prone to blunders and apt to fly off the handle. Unfortunately I think the reality is more somber, and the prophecy about the "hearts of men growing cold" is being fulfilled in our time by cynical, hollow politicians among others.

Not only Hezbollah rockets and Islamist suicide bombers, but also bombs, bullets and torture made in the USA, have cheapened life and defaced the image of God that is printed on each one us.

What is the most appropriate Christian response to all this? As I say, I find it hard to keep up!

James Chater

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Meeting President Bush:

I had my picture taken last week with the President of the United States. For some this means I had my picture taken with one of the greatest men alive, to others it means being frozen in time with a war criminal. When my father-in-law first invited my husband and me to attend a fundraiser compliments of him, my first response was negative. I am not a sup-

porter of George Bush Jr.

I ran the idea past some of my friends at the homeless shelter where I volunteer.

These people are the poorest of the poor and would never have the chance to go to anything like this. "What would you say to the president of the United States," I asked, "if you had a few seconds with him?" Suggestions ranged from asking him to resign to asking for money to telling him gently that we are all humans and make mistakes and perhaps he should take responsibility for the ones he has made.

Although the luncheon itself was not set until 11:30, we had to be at the hotel by 9 a.m. because they would be closing the roads for security reasons. We were greeted by cheerful volunteers, given name tags, and ushered into a room towait. After being taken through a metal detector, we were taken to another area where there were breakfast rolls, fruit, coffee and tea. We milled around while a buffet was set up.

At last we were told the president would be there soon and we should get into the velvet-roped line. Various Republicans ascended a platform and gave speeches in support of the Republican candidate, Mark Kennedy. The priorities of the Republican Party became clear to me. First it was the war (brave and noble), second it was the economy (getting better), and third it was family (bright and shiny). A vote for Mark Kennedy was not only a vote for security and continued wealth, but a vote for family. As my attention turned from the speakers, I looked around the room and a thought slipped into my consciousness.

There were only one African-American in the room. No Hispanics or Asians. We were as white as the snow outside. I noticed the Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, not far from me. "Governor," I said, "look around. There are only white people here. Except for one person, I don't see any people of color." The Governor's eyes moved around the room. He nodded. "It's a little disturbing isn't it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, a bit hesitantly. "I am a volunteer at a homeless shelter in Minneapolis," I went on. "We have diversity there, but here I see only one color. Do you think there is anything we can do about that?" The governor was vague, told me about a homeless initiative of his administration, then asked me a few questions about Peace House. I invited him to come and visit, writing down our phone number and address for him. "God bless you," I said, as I moved away, "He has," he replied, almost defensively.

Finally the moment arrived. We were in an area divided by long blue velvet curtains. On the other side we heard applause. The president had arrived.

Then things went quickly. Suddenly my husband and I were next in line. We walked toward the president standing in front of the bright lights of the photographer. I felt the president's hand in mine.

We smiled. Camera flash.

I turned and sought the president's eyes, and took his hand again. "Please," I pleaded, "don't forget the poor and the homeless." His eyes seemed worried, he appeared to have braced himself. "I won't," he said staunchly. He looked like a brave little boy.

Rene Zitzloff [email protected]