Learning to be Peacemakers

a history of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

by Jim Forest

The story of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship can only be told in part, as some of the key figures who were involved have since fallen asleep in the Lord and cannot be interviewed. Mariquita Platov died December 14, 2000 at age 95. Jim Larrick died of a heart attack December 19, 1993. After many years teaching at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, John Boojamra died in 1999. The main sources available to me are two short memoirs written by Mariquita, folders of correspondence I have saved from Mariquita and Jim Larrick, and several recent letters from people who participated in early efforts to launch OPF.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has been founded twice. My wife compares it to a butterfly has gone through two stays in the cocoon before finally spreading its wings. The first launching was during the Vietnam War, the second in 1986.

One person was involved in both initiatives: Mariquita Platov, poet, artist and playwright. A great granddaughter of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, she was born in a mansion across the street from Carnegie Hall in Manhattan in 1905. In 1927 she graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a major in Greek. The following year, traveling with her adventurous mother, she visited Russia. It was the year Stalin launched his first five-year plan, inaugurating policies that would result in millions of deaths. While many from the West were coming to Russia to witness what they imagined was the creation of a genuine utopia which they somehow managed to see despite all evidence to the contrary, what inspired Quita were Russia’s Orthodox Christians.

“In 1928,” she recalled in an unpublished autobiographical essay she sent me in 1986, “a drastic persecution of Orthodox Christians was taking place there. [My mother and I] visited churches in Leningrad and Moscow where services were forbidden, but the faithful gathered to light candles and to pray, risking, perhaps, their very lives.” (Her gift to me, when I became Orthodox in 1988, was a Vladimir Mother of God icon she had obtained while in Russia in 1928.)

A seed of belief took root in Quita and slowly but steadily grew. A decade later, Quita became an Orthodox Christian.

In time she became active in youth work in the Orthodox Church in America. One of Quita’s tasks in the sixties was serving as poetry editor of Young Life, an Orthodox children’s magazine edited by her friend, Sophie Koulomzin, at that time the executive secretary of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission of the Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America. Sophie Koulomzin and her family lived in Nyack, a town north of Manhattan along the Hudson River.

It may well have been through Sophie Koulomzin that Mariquita became aware of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an organization that had its national headquarters in Nyack. Founded during the First World War, the FOR was an association of people from various churches and religious traditions who had a shared commitment not to take part in war and instead committed themselves to nonviolent work to overcome the causes of war. Its members included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1962 Quita joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation and began doing voluntary work at the FOR headquarters.

In an essay written when she was 87, Quita recalled: “Sophie introduced me to two young graduates of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Fr. John Townsend and Fr. Stephen Plumlee. At the time, one had already been ordained a priest; the other was awaiting ordination as a deacon. Both were involved in building up the Orthodox Church of America in the environs. I became a part of the church they started, which used to gather, quite informally, in a firehouse.”

Quita doesn’t offer a date but Fr. Stephen Plumlee recalls the year was 1968 — about the time Fr. John Townsend had been placed in charge of a new mission in the West Nyack area. “In the summer of 1968 Sophie Koulomzin introduced us to Quita. The mission did not have a place for Great Vespers Saturday evenings, so we conducted them in parishioners’ homes. Quita lived as a volunteer at the Fellowship of Reconciliation. During that summer we often had Vespers on the lawn of FOR in the twilight, overlooking the Hudson River. It was idyllic, and surely contributed to our vision of peace… Quita introduced us to Alfred Hassler and a group of people at FOR… who were supportive of founding an Orthodox Peace Fellowship. From then on we moved to establish the OPF, with the FOR as the only model we knew.

“I was ordained deacon in December 1968 and priest in May 1969,” Fr. Stephen continues. “After that I was assigned to the English-language community, St. Innocent’s Chapel, at the OCA cathedral in Manhattan. The budding OPF met several times during the next months, most often at the home of Vesty Entwhistle on West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. She was a Russian who had grown up in Western Europe and was an artist… I do not know that she was deeply committed to the peace movement, but was grateful to Quita for some kindnesses and I think hosted our meetings more from that motive.”

To quote further from Quita’s memoir: “The two seminary graduates became interested in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and noticed that within the FOR there were confessionally-centered smaller groups for Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and others. They proposed starting an Orthodox Peace Fellowship as well. I was delighted with the idea… Though we were only a few people, we launched the Orthodox Peace Fellowship as an FOR associate group.”

But association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation proved an obstacle for some of those who were involved. Sophie Koulomzin was one of those who couldn’t join a group that obliged its members to be conscientious objectors. As she wrote in a letter to Quita: “War is so obviously evil, causing evil and drawing out evil. Yet I never felt that being a ‘conscientious objector’ was the right answer. War, it seems to me, is a kind of sin, a kind of evil of which I cannot make myself free and clean individually, keeping my personal robes white. It is a sin mixed up with suffering and I would not feel right to refuse to share in this suffering, whether in my own personal experience or my son’s. … Like most people, I am not sufficiently informed about [the history of the Vietnam War], but two things I do know: One is the nature of Communism and its international policies and all its means. The other is the experience of Munich, Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler, and the short-lived joy that a second world war could be avoided. I do not think that appeasement is the way of avoiding war.”

In her 1992 memoir, Quita recalls that “Unfortunately the young American-born clergy of our church, proceeding on their own judgment in our organization, had failed to consult their bishop about the idea of starting the OPF. When church authorities heard of their involvement in a peace fellowship, they threatened to excommunicate our friends. Peace was still a very suspect word. Meanwhile we had sent out letters announcing the OPF’s existence to clergy and laity all over the USA. Letters were coming back in response, landing in the postal box we had hired, but we couldn’t get at the mail because the blow-up involving our two clerical members made it impossible to finish the legal process of founding the OPF and I was not able to claim the mail. What a pity! I will never know what people wrote or what contributions they sent us. The original OPF died new-born. The extreme political conservatism that reigned in the Orthodox Church at that time made it impossible to go further. I don’t want to suggest that there was no sympathy for the OPF. But even those with much sympathy were under pressure to distance themselves from it while others, considering the FOR statement of purpose, realized they couldn’t endorse conscientious objection.”

Here is Fr. Stephen Plumlee’s recollection of these events:

“Quita conflates events in her memoir. That first movement came to an abrupt demise for several reasons. As I remember it the postal box was in the hands of a young woman who went to retrieve the mail. I believe she was denied access to it because she could not produce documentation as a representative of a legally recognized organization. Those were war years and there was much concern about anti-American activity.

“The other incident involved Fr. Townsend and me. We behaved very naively by sending a joint letter to our bishop to announce the formation of the OPF. Fr. Townsend was then librarian at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. We unthinkingly wrote the letter on stationery that was on his desk: St. Vladimir’s letterhead. Unbeknownst to us, a faculty member also denounced us, and the reaction was swift. We were not threatened with excommunication, as Mariquita thought. However, a priest at the chancery telephoned to tell us that our bishop demanded we stop our involvement in the OPF and suggested that if we did not do so, the consequences would be serious. We interpreted that message to mean that we would be suspended from the priesthood.

“Our thinking about the structure of the OPF had not matured sufficiently for the little movement to weather these two problems that might have been relatively minor in other conditions. We had not confronted the question of whether the OPF should be an ecclesiastical function of the Church or an extra-ecclesial voluntary gathering of Orthodox believers. I think we would have succeeded if we had taken the latter tack.

“I also think the Fellowship of Reconciliation model confused us. The FOR seems to have been — perhaps still is — based not so much in Christian Tradition and the Gospel, but in a philosophical view of humankind and society that is self-derivative rather than revealed. That troubled me. Furthermore, at one of our meetings, perhaps the last, there was a controversial discussion about the nature of peace-seeking. Some members, I believe Mariquita among them, were in favor of commitment to a doctrine of complete nonviolence and refusal to participate in war in any fashion. I, along with my wife and some others, had concluded that Orthodoxy is not a Peace Church, in the Quaker sense. I believed that our best purpose would be to strive for peace in prayer, study, and conciliatory action and leave a range of flexibility to the individual member.”

Fr. John Matusiak — now pastor of a parish in Wheaton, Illinois — recalls several meetings with Mariquita and others who were trying to start the OPF. He too had a connection with Sophie Koulomzin. In addition to his studies at the seminary, one of Fr. John’s activities was assisting Sophie Koulomzin in editing Young Life, the Orthodox children’s magazine in which Quita was also involved. Sophie Koulomzin also appointed him editor of Upbeat, a magazine for teens.

“It was at meetings on West Fourth Street,” writes Fr. John, “that plans for the OPF were discussed, the text of the introductory brochure was written, and the original logo which I had designed, which consisted of the peace sign with a three-bar cross on top, was presented and approved.”

Fr. John recalls that “some connection was also made at that time with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship campus movement” and that “something about OPF was published in Concern magazine, the OCF journal, which I used to work on with Serge Schmemann, George Koulomzin, and Serge Meyendorff.” In that period poems by Mariquita were occasionally published in the Concern, whose editor was Fr. Jim Couchell, who later went on to direct the Orthodox Christian Mission Center and is now Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos.

Fr. John also recalls the discussion about how closely to connect OPF with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. “A lot of people were very much against the Fellowship of Reconciliation for a lot of different reasons — some because it was ecumenical/inter-faith, some because they saw it as a Communist front… [and] some because it was… radically pacifist, etc. If my memory serves me correctly, this opposition to FOR was discussed at the meeting at Mariquita’s, and I remember distinctly that it was discussed that connections with FOR should be played down because of the negative sentiment.”

Fr. John adds: “I know that when I was a student at St. Vladimir’s, from 1968-1975, the notion of conscientious objection was seen in a very negative light, especially by the foreign-born faculty members like Fr. Schmemann and Prof. Verhovskoy. While I knew them very well and had an excellent relationship with them, they were very disturbed by the whole anti-war movement.”

While all the details of the OPF’s collapse in the first round are not clear, what is obvious is that, although Orthodox Christians in the US were increasingly disturbed by the war in Vietnam, there wasn’t yet enough of a consensus about how best to respond to the issue of war for an Orthodox peace group to take root, especially if conscientious objection to war was obligatory for its members. The word “peace,” so intensively used in Soviet propaganda, was itself problematic, probably more so among Orthodox Christians than many others. Orthodox Christians knew the “peace” the Communists promoted had proved to be the peace of the police state, the prison camp and the mass grave. Nor were they favorably impressed with the various peace movements in America — groups outraged about what America was doing in Vietnam but generally silent about huge crimes being committed by Communist regimes.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship, version one, faded away. But the idea never faded from Mariquita’s thoughts.

I can’t recall how I first met Mariquita but it must have been through the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which she was one of the few Orthodox members. In the late sixties I was for a time responsible for the FOR’s Vietnam program and in the mid-seventies edited the FOR journal, Fellowship. In 1977 I moved to Holland to head the staff of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Quita remained in contact by correspondence.

Nine years later, 1986, still on the IFOR staff in Holland, I received a letter from Quita asking if I favored a fresh attempt to start an Orthodox Peace Fellowship. My response was positive. I put her in touch with another Orthodox Christian, Jim Larrick, who also thought an Orthodox peace group was needed.

Jim Larrick and Quita never met face to face. Quita was living a hermit’s life in a cabin near Tannersville, a village in the Catskills in upstate New York. Jim, a teacher of English, was in Fort Wayne, Indiana. But the two carried on a busy correspondence and together launched the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, version two. This time it took flight. They assembled a mailing list of about a hundred people in North America, Europe and the Middle East who might be interested and Jim started publishing a very simple OPF newsletter — two to four pages — that appeared several times a year, starting in the Fall of 1986. It was christened The Occasional Paper. The OPF address was Jim Larrick’s apartment in Fort Wayne. The OPF affiliated itself with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

My role in that period was simply cheerleader and occasional advisor. I regarded their initiative as very timely. By that time I was writing a book about the Orthodox Church in Russia and was well on my way to my own Chrismation as an Orthodox Christian. Orthodoxy was also challenging me to think about peace in a new light.

One of my early tasks was to work with Quita and Jim on the OPF’s statement of purpose. Here the issue reappeared of how closely to link OPF with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The three of us were FOR members, but its requirement that all members should personally renounce participation in war seemed too limiting. While drawing inspiration from parts of the FOR statement of purpose, the text we eventually agreed on was in many respects different from that of the FOR. Among other things, the statement did not oblige members to be conscientious objectors.

Here are the key paragraphs in their final form:

From the earliest days of the Church, followers of Jesus have sought to live out Christian faith in its fullness, working to build communities of worship, providing for those lacking the necessities of life, loving not only neighbors but enemies, seeking conversion of adversaries rather than victory over them, and practicing repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation as normal virtues of sacramental life.

This has never been easy. Each generation has had to confront the problem of evil and combat its structures and also has had to suffer the tension that exists between membership in the Church and citizenship in a nation-state.

Often the teachings of Jesus have been dismissed, even by believers, as too idealistic. Yet every generation, even in the era of Hitler and Stalin, has been blessed with heroic witnesses to membership in “an army that sheds no blood.”

Members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship try to use life-protecting methods to safeguard life and creation.

Aware that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, we seek recovery of a sense of familial connection which, while respecting national identity, transcends all tribal, ethnic and national division. This is the oneness the Church mirrors when it is gathered before the Holy Table.

Using our vocation and whatever special gifts and resources God has given us, especially our participation in eucharistic community, we strive to undertake constructive action on behalf of those who are endangered, from the womb to old age. Aspiring to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution, we promote resolution of conflicts by mediation, negotiation and other forms of nonviolent action.

While no one can be certain that he or she will always find a nonviolent response to every crisis that may arise, we pray that God will show us in each situation ways of resistance to evil that will not require killing opponents.

We offer support to those whose conscience leads them to refuse participation in war and who struggle against evil in non-military ways. We support their conscientious objection as consistent with the Gospels and Holy Tradition.

We encourage the compassionate treatment of prisoners and their rehabilitation, with special attention to restitution by wrong-doers to victims of their crimes. We reject the execution of criminals as incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

We commit ourselves to prayer for enemies and endeavor to communicate God’s love for them, recognizing our own violence and praying that, through Christ’s saving death on the Cross, we will be reconciled with God and with each other.

Thus we strive to avoid bitterness in dealing with controversy, seeking conversion both of ourselves and our adversary.

Aware that we are in need of conversion not only in the way we relate to other people but to the world God has put into our care, we will try to change our lives in order to live as priests of God’s world, asking continuously for the Holy Spirit to descend and transfigure the earth. We will cooperate with efforts to protect and preserve the environment which do not involve violence, coercive methods of population control, or violate the sanctity of human life.

At first the OPF’s only activity was publication of The Occasional Paper. Membership growth was slow, with OPF expenses covered chiefly by Jim and Quita, though donations trickled in from others as well. Then in November 1989, 18 months after I had been Chrismated, I received a request from Jim and Quita. By then I was then working as a freelance writer and editor. Would I be willing, they asked, to take charge of OPF work?

It was not easy to say yes but at the same time I couldn’t quite say no. After many years of work in peace organizations, I was painfully aware of the shortcomings of such groups and had become wary of all movements. Yet clearly someone new was needed if the OPF was to continue. Jim had a teaching job that absorbed most of his energy. He was confined to a wheel chair. His health was increasingly problematic. Quita was in her eighties and, though of sounder and clearer mind than many people half her age, she was nearly deaf and tired easily. I had a background in publications work, a lot of experience in Russia and the Middle East, a convert’s zeal for the Orthodox Church, and was aware that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship met a need in the Orthodox Church.

After some reflection with Nancy and a blessing from our parish priests, Fr. Alexis Voogd and Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov, I agreed to take over editing The Occasional Paper and to act as OPF co-secretary together with Quita and Jim. The first Occasional Paper edited in Holland came out in May 1990, shortly after Pascha. (In February 1995, having grown both in size and readership, The Occasional Paper became In Communion, as it is now known.)

One of my first concerns was the creation of an OPF advisory board mainly composed of clergy from various jurisdictions. This was undertaken both because we saw the need for guidance and also so that it would be clear that OPF is rooted in the universal Church — not simply one segment of the Church — and has the support and guidance of a number of highly respected people. The board members included several bishops and a number of distinguished theologians. The first hierarch to join the board was Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia.

OPF’s mission

At a meeting of OPF board members in Holland in the early nineties Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov identified four major OPF tasks:

Publications: Our main work has been issuing a quarterly journal, In Communion, that provides its readers with essays and news and also serves as a forum for dialogue. In recent years, all the main articles plus other resources have been made available via our web site, which receives a good deal of use. We also have produced posters and cards as well as booklets for parish use.

Theological research: Much needs to be done within the Church to better understand ways in which Orthodox Christians should respond to division, conflict, injustice, war and the relationship of the believer to the state. We have encouraged research on peace in the Bible, peace in the Liturgy, examples of ways Orthodox people and churches have responded to war from ancient to modern times, and the collection of relevant quotations and stories from the Fathers and the saints. One significant result of this effort is the book, For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource book on War, Peace and Nationalism, edited by Hildo Bos and myself and published by Syndesmos, the international association of Orthodox youth. The full text of this reference book is also on the OPF web site. A revised, enlarged edition of the resource book is in preparation, to be published by the World Council of Churches.

Encouraging the formation of local, national or regional OPF groups: To date the only regional branch is in North America, where a number of local OPF groups have recently been started.

Practical assistance in conflict areas: OPF members have been active in Israel-Palestine and other parts of the Middle East, Central America, Chechnya and other areas of war or civil unrest. A growing number of OPF members are involved in houses of hospitality in areas of poverty and homelessness.

In addition to these four areas, several others have developed:

Lectures, conferences and retreats: With Syndesmos, we organized a conference on war, peace and nationalism that met on the island of Crete. There have been three national conferences in the USA and three European conferences, all of which have met in France. For more than a decade, there have also been annual OPF lecture trips. So far I have been the main OPF person doing this but I have hopes that we will develop a speakers bureau. Recently Fr. James Silver led a retreat at a Pennsylvania parish that benefitted OPF. Income from lectures and retreats has been a major part of OPF income.

Speaking out on matters of controversy: A recent example was the OPF Iraq Appeal, written when war with Iraq seemed increasingly likely. It was signed by many bishops, priests and lay people. It continues to stir valuable discussion in the Orthodox community.

Representing a consistent pro-life ethic: A defining moment for OPF was our break with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1999. This followed years of futile effort to encourage dialogue in the FOR on the issue of abortion. As I wrote to the FOR’s Secretary in December 1999, “This separation follows a decision made within the Orthodox Peace Fellowship not to affiliate ourselves with organizations which do not promote a consistent pro-life ethic. This would include attention to the unborn and their mothers, who often resort to abortion not so much from choice but under intense social or, in some countries, even legal pressure. The recent FOR National Council statement made it clear that the FOR and OPF take a very different view on this matter, which for us is central to our reason for being: protection of human life at every stage of development, from the womb to the death bed.”

There is a certain irony here. In the early years of OPF development, the FOR’s position regarding respect for human life was seen by many Orthodox as too extreme, but in the end we broke with the FOR because, when abortion became legalized, the FOR failed to do anything to protect unborn human life or even to recognize the unborn as part of the human race. Sadly, its commitment to nonviolence had nothing to do with those in the womb.

Our vocation

Let me conclude with a few points that describe my own sense of the vocation of Orthodox peacemakers:

We are faithful sons and daughters of the Church, not the Church’s rescue committee. Fr. John Meyendorff once said to a member of 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 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, when state and faith were in conflict, we have more often been obedient citizens than obedient Christians.

We believe in a hierarchy of identities. We are not first people of a certain country, then Orthodox Christians. It is the other way around. We are first Orthodox Christians, then 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 thing 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, right through 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 euthanasia 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 is 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 not rare. We find them 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.

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 instruments of the divine mercy.

This is based on a presentation made at the OPF conference at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in June. Jim Forest’s books include Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, The Resurrection of the Church in Albania, Ladder of the Beatitudes, Praying with Icons, Religion in the New Russia and Pilgrim to the Russian Church. He also wrote the introduction to Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings.

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A Letter Concerning Mary’s Silence

OPF co-founder Mariquita Platov had a profound devotion to Christ’s mother, as here expressed in a letter she sent to a friend:

Mary spoke few words but it seems the quality of her silence is clearly present in the words of her son. It is not easy to hear this silence or to know its meaning. Too often it goes unregarded. Yet with it Christ carves truth. Silence is the ground of the Word. Silence is the essence of the articulate word. To the slanders of his accusers Jesus answered with silence. That dumb answer was characteristic of Mary who “pondered in her heart” many sufferings she never put into words.

Perhaps the universal language which could best make divergent groups or individuals understandable to one another is the language of silence. The garrulous scions of commerce do their utmost to prevent us from conversing in it. The unspeakable counsel of God is screened and hidden, not to say stolen away, by the pretensions of the rational mind. If I cannot sit with you in silence we are not true friends; however much we may talk together, we do not understand one another if the stillness embarrasses us.

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