Incommunion

Jim Forest The Vocation of a Peacemaker

The Vocation of a Peacemaker By Jim Forest

This is an extract from a talk given by Jim at St Tikhon’s Monastery in June 2003. The talk was later edited by Jim into the essay  “The History and Mission of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship,” available on our website: https://incommunion.org/the-history-and-mission-of-the-orthodox-peace-fellowship/. This extract presents Jim’s conclusion.

“Before closing, let me add a few points that describe my own sense of our vocation as Orthodox peacemakers:

The Vocation of a Peacemaker By Jim Forest
Jim Forest

We are faithful sons and daughters of the Church, not the Church's rescue committee. Fr. John Meyendorff once remarked about a schismatic Orthodox group, “We do not save the Church. The Church saves us.” Our modest task is not to invent anything or announce a new theology or reorganize the Church but simply to reopen forgotten or neglected Church teachings regarding day-to-day life in a world in which enmity is always a problem, in which millions suffer from hunger, thirst and homelessness, and in which war is rarely if ever not occurring somewhere on our small planet.

The Church has preserved the Liturgy down through the centuries. It has preserved the Bible and the Creed. It has preserved the writings of the Church Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. It has developed and maintained a calendar of sacred time. But it has been somewhat less attentive to calling us to account for the teaching it has preserved. Over the centuries we have to often been more obedient citizens than obedient Christians.

We believe in a hierarchy of identities. We are not first people of a certain country, then Orthodox, then finally Christians. It is the other way around. We are first Christians, then Orthodox, and finally people of a particular nation. We renounce none of these identities nor do we ignore any of their obligations, but when the requirements of one identity clash with another, we are required to know which comes first.

We try to remind ourselves and our neighbors that there is no such things as a good or holy war -- that it defames God and the Gospel to use adjectives associated with sanctity and heaven in that most hellish of all activities, the organized killing of human beings and the destruction of the environment upon which all life depends. Every possible effort must be made to avoid war, but not by cowardly avoidance or failure to recognize evil for what it is and to resist it. Chamberlain was not a peacemaker. Those who fail to see and resist evil are its accomplices. Yet we believe that prayer and fasting are also weapons of struggle, that there is such a thing as spiritual combat, and that what we seek is not the killing of evil people -- such a task would require a holocaust that would destroy the human race -- but their conversion, which is also our conversion, for the line dividing good from evil runs not between people or classes but, as Solzhenitsyn reminds us, within each and every human heart.

We are people attempting, with God’s help, to love our enemies as Christ commands his followers to do. This is not a sentimental undertaking but a soul-saving quest to be liberated from enmity. In the seventh century, St. Maximus the Confessor put it in these words:

“‘But I say to you,’ the Lord says, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.’ Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.”

Our concern about the sanctity of human life is not limited to war. We seek to protect the lives of the unborn -- not by denouncing women who feel they have no other choice, but to help them bring their children safely into this world and to do whatever is in our power to make the world more welcoming. With the same motives, we do not regard killing as an acceptable solution for those whose illnesses seem to be incurable or who are severely handicapped. We do whatever we can in support of hospices for the dying, including effective pain relief for those who are suffering. At the same time we oppose taking extraordinary measures to prolong life when in the natural order a person is beyond hope of recovery.

Our view of peace is not borrowed from secular ideologies or political movements. It is not based on the life of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or any of the heroes of nonviolence, even though we greatly admire such people and learn from them. It comes from the Gospel. We understand peace both through the words of Jesus and through his actions. We experience peace in the Liturgy and the eucharistic mystery and try to bring it with us when we return to ordinary life. Day by day we discover peace as the mystery of healing -- healing within ourselves, healing between each other -- the healing that comes from forgiveness, repentance and love.

Peacemaking is not an idea or principle. It is how we live. It us Christ's life in us. It is less a refusal to do terrible things to others than doing those things which communicate the love and mercy of God.

You have heard it again and again but let us never stop remembering what Jesus teaches us about the Last Judgement: What we do to the least person we do to him. May God preserve us from harming the least person. May God give us the love which empowers us to be merciful to the least person.

Peacemakers are everywhere -- the parent sorting out a dispute within his or her family, the parish council member finding a solution to a conflict that might tear a parish to shreds, the priest hearing confessions who helps a penitent experience God's mercy, the missionary who helps awaken faith in another and points the way to baptism, the volunteer who lives a life of hospitality in a neighborhood others avoid, the driver who responds to dangerous actions on the highway with a prayer rather than a gesture of hatred... We could spend the rest of our lives noting acts of peacemaking.

Last but not least, our fellowship exists to give witness that peacemaking is something absolutely ordinary. It is an integral part of everyday life. It has to do with how we pray, for whom we pray, how we listen, how we speak, what we do with our anger and frustration, our willingness to forgive, and our attempts to serve as a bridge between those who hate each other.

May God give us strength to persevere in being channels of his mercy.”

You can read a short biography of Jim here: https://incommunion.org/2004/10/14/jim-forest-bio/and an autobiographical essay by Jim here: https://incommunion.org/2004/10/14/getting-from-there-to-here/