The Pacifist Option

The Moral Argument Against War in Eastern Orthodox Theology

by Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster, Ph.D.

Parish Priest, St. Mary Orthodox Church, Falls Church, Virginia

Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel), Virginia Army National Guard

Eastern Orthodox Chaplain, University of Pennsylvania

Professorial Lecturer of Religion, American University

Foreword by His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh

“A thoroughly documented contribution to the study of peace and war deserving wide attention… A most valuable resource.” — Very Rev. Fr. Stanley S. Harakas

Few scholars in religious studies or theologians in Western countries would link pacifism with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In this pathbreaking historico-moral study, Fr. Alexander Webster demonstrates convincingly that a distinctive pacifist trajectory — characterized by the moral virtues of non-violence, nonresistance, voluntary kenotic suffering, and universal forgiveness — has endured through two millennia of Orthodox history in unbroken continuity with the ancient Church.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines in the fields of moral theology and religious studies, Fr. Alexander first shows that Orthodoxy embraces two simultaneously valid fundamental trajectories on the moral issues of war and peace: a mainstream “justifiable war” perspective and an “absolute pacifist” perspective. The second and main part of the study adduces the evidence for the “pacifist option” through a rigorous examination of the key sources of Orthodox moral tradition. Fr. Alexander consults a vast array of primary texts, including Holy Scripture, patristic writings through the Byzantine era that terminated in A.D. 1453, Orthodox canon law, the lives of the saints, devotional literature, and the works of modern Russian Orthodox theologians such as St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

As the moral problem of war and peace and particular issues of international security in the nuclear age are revisited by religious leaders, scientists, and military defense experts with all sorts of ideological proclivities, Fr. Alexander sets the stage for the Eastern Orthodox Churches to enter the debate and to make a fresh, vital, but properly nuanced contribution. Orthodox scholars, theologians, and educated laity who seek to engage contemporary society will find this study indispensable. The Pacifist Option should also appeal to peace activists and scholars in religious studies, ethics and moral theology, international security, Byzantine & medieval studies, and Russian and East European history and culture.

351 pages — Index and Bibliography — Softcover edition published: September 1999 — $33.50. There is also a hardcover edition available for $55. (Please add $3.00 for shipping and handling for 1 book, and $1.00 per additional book.)

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