In 1994, Jim Forest participated in a peace conference in Chania, Crete in Greece. While there, Jim discovered that old memories of Greco-Turkish conflict were still fresh. Jim wrote of the event,
Metropolitan Irinaios and I took part in a radio conversation with listeners. Responding to a man who called in to denounce Turks as barbarians who only understood violence, I summarized what Christ had to say on the subject of loving one’s enemies and pointed out that Christ lived, died and rose from the dead in a country suffering occupation, yet he neither blessed nor took part in the Zealots’ armed struggle against the occupiers. “That’s all very well,” the caller responded, “but now let me tell you about a real saint.” He preceded to relate the story of a priest who, in the 19th century, played a valiant role in the war to drive the Turks off the island.
How often we as Christians think and act just like this. Jesus and his teachings are all very well, but let's talk about real saints.
Jesus never taught violence or blessed war. Instead, he taught love of enemies, instructed turning the other cheek, and chastised his disciples for wishing to "call down fire from heaven" to destroy their enemies. Certainly, Christians believe that as God it was well within Jesus' power to do all this. When Jesus commanded Peter to put away his sword, he stated bluntly "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" Or as Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Despite this, love of enemies is not a popular topic among Christians, especially during wartime. Rather, when war looms on the horizon, many Christians forget the witness of Jesus and instead begin to tell stories of canonized soldiers, national heroes, and olden days of imperial glory. All too often in times of war, the same handful of four to five anecdotes of saintly participation in warfare are repeated. On March 20, 2022, Patriarch Kirill justified the Russian invasion of Ukraine by citing St. Sergius of Radonezh blessing St. Dmitry Donskoy, two days before that Vladimir Putin cited scripture, the Russian catechism cites St. Cyril, and at other times St. George and St. Constantine are invoked. Recently an article was published in Russia that stated,
The time is coming for heroes and ascetics, heirs of the great deeds of Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, Ivan the Terrible, Patriarch Hermogenes, Kozma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, Joseph Stalin. Our people have long been waiting for such a time and such people.
The problem with these stories of real saints, is that there is nothing real about them. The pro-war details of the most commonly cited saint stories and scriptural passages are either fabrications, myths, or misinterpretations.
This new series will challenge these common misconceptions and myths and present the real saint behind the story. Click below for more.