News Reports

OPF Iraq Appeal sent to President Bush

In January an Orthodox Peace Fellowship appeal not to launch war on Iraq was sent to President Bush. Here is the text of the OPF statement:

A Plea for Peace

As Orthodox Christians, we seek the conversion of enemies to friends in Christ. Saddam Hussein is an enemy of the United States and of the people of Iraq, but we declare that there are better ways to respond to terrorism than to respond in kind.

We do not argue against attacking Iraq because of any admiration for Saddam Hussein. He came to office by intrigue and murder, and remains in power by the same means; he is his own country’s worst enemy. The Iraqi people deserve to be rid of him.

The United States is ready to overthrow him by any means, including an attack which would kill thousands of civilians and maim many more, justifying such an attack on the possibility that Hussein’s regime is producing weapons of mass destruction and preparing to use them against America and Israel and their allies.

Because we seek the reconciliation of enemies, a conversion which grows from striving to be faithful to the Gospel, the Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good, and fighting an elusive enemy by means which cause the death of innocent people can be regarded only as murder. Individual murderers are treated by psychiatrists and priests and isolated from society. But who heals the national psyche, the wounded soul of a nation, when it is untroubled by the slaughter of non-combatant civilians?

As Orthodox Christians, we find healing in Christ, Who made us responsible for His sacred gift of life. God created us in His image and likeness, and we best reflect Christ — Who neither killed anyone nor blessed anyone to kill — by loving, helping, and forgiving.

Friends help each other do good things, not evil things. We find echoes of holy friendship in the world’s unfolding reaction to events in Iraq.

Many nations traditionally allied with America — along with many patriotic Americans — oppose an invasion of Iraq. They see how difficult a position the US will assume by attacking Iraq, and seek instead a renewed program of weapons inspection.

Iraq’s closest neighbors are far from supportive of the course the United States is pursuing, even though they are aware of Saddam’s shameful, destructive regime. Not having rallied to America’s side does not mean that they support Saddam.

An attack on Iraq will be seen by many as an attack on all Arabic and Islamic states. America, despite the rhetoric, is perceived as seeing itself under attack by Islam. America helped install and maintain the despotic Shah of Iran, but withdrew its support when Iran became an Islamic republic (itself undemocratic in many ways). Now America is seen as the largely uncritical supporter of Israel, against the interests of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian. Bombing Iraq will confirm these perceptions among Muslims.

An attack by Saddam on any nation would be viewed as proper cause for a military response to Iraq by the attacked nation and its allies, as was the case with Kuwait. This may not be good, but it is true. Saddam now attacks only his own people, and they need help — but not the “help” of being killed in an effort by other countries to bring about “regime change” in Iraq.

“Pre-emption” (the notion that one nation may attack another because of what it might do) is philosophically, ethically, and pragmatically perilous. After all, an enemy may return the favor. Once “pre-emption” is established as a valid principle for international relations, nations which invoke that principle will have no conceptual shelter.

If the world can be convinced that it’s possible to work peacefully to make life more livable for all, we will all be better off. This is the reconciliation we hope for as Christians among individuals. Can it not happen among nations, between Iraq and its neighbors, and for all the good people of the world?

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship calls on the United States and the United Nations to follow diplomatic paths predicated on mercy, honesty, and justice, and to seek peacefully negotiated resolutions to the impasse in Iraq.

We implore Christ, Who is our peace, to bless every endeavor directed toward our complete reconciliation with each other, and with Him.

The text was initiated by the Council for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America (John Brady, Jim Forest, David Holden, Daniel Lieuwen, John Oliver, John Oliver III, Alex Patico, Sheri San Chirico, Monk James Silver and Renee Zitzloff.)

The signers include

Archbishop Peter of New York and New Jersey, External Affairs, Orthodox Church in America; Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Bishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America; Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, Orthodox Church in America; Bishop Mercurius of Zaraisk, Administrator of Parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the USA; Bishop Basil of Sergievo, Diocese of Sourozh, Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain; Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain; Fr. John Behr, Associate Professor of Patristics, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; Dr. Peter Bouteneff, Ass’t Professor of Dogmatic Theology, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; V. Rev. John Breck, Professor of Bioethics and Patristic Exegesis, St. Sergius Theological Institute, Paris; Catherine Brockenborough, attorney, Nashville, TN; Fr. John Chryssavgis, Professor of Theology, Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, MA; Fr. Michael Dahulich, Dean, St. Tikhon Seminary, So. Canaan, PA; Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin, Associate Professor of Theology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI; Fr. Alexander Golubov, Academic Dean, St Tikhon’s Seminary, So. Canaan, PA; Fr. Stanley Harakas, retired Professor of Orthodox Theology, Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, MA; Fr. Gregory Havrilak, Associate General Secretary, Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas; Fr. Oliver and Matushka Lorie Herbel, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY.; Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; Dr. Andrew Louth, Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, UK; Frederica Mathewes-Green, author, Baltimore, MD; Mother Brigid McCarthy, St. Moses House, Kansas City, MO; Dr. Paul Meyendorff, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY; Fr. Thomas Mueller, Dean, Chicago Deanery, Orthodox Church in America; Archpriest Michael J. Oleksa, Dean, St. Innocent Cathedral, Anchorage, Alaska; Fr. George C. Papademetriou, Associate Professor of Theology, Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, MA; Fr. Victor S. Potapov, Rector, Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC; Mother Raphaela, Abbess, Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, Otego, NY; Fr. Paul Schroeder, Chancellor, Greek Orthodox Diocese of San Francisco; and Very Rev. Andrew Tregubov; iconographer; rector of Holy Resurrection Church, St. Claremont, NH.

A more complete list of signers is on the OPF web site.

Peace Encyclical from San Francisco’s Met. Anthony

In an encyclical letter read in all parishes of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, Metropolitan Anthony spoke out against “reckless unilateralism” by the US in its confrontation with Iraq.

“At this critical juncture in our nation’s history, as our leaders contemplate military action against the country of Iraq, we must take care that we do not abandon these values, embarking instead upon a path of reckless unilateralism. Today’s feast calls us to recognize and embrace Christ as did Symeon and Anna, receiving Him in the person of our brothers and sisters. Every encounter with another human being has the potential to become a true ‘meeting of the Lord,’ the possibility of recognizing in the face of another the profound depths of the image and likeness of God. It is therefore absolutely imperative that we uphold justice, human dignity, and human rights, principles upon which this country was founded, and not rush heedlessly into a conflict in which tens of thousands of people will lose their lives…

“My beloved children in the Lord, our nation stands at the brink of a precipice, contemplating a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike upon another nation for the first time in its history. At this time, as compelling evidence that Iraq poses an imminent threat to the world has yet to be uncovered, there does not appear to be a clear moral imperative for war. The rationalizations being offered for a hasty military solution fall short of just cause, and give the impression that we are rushing to attack another nation simply because we can, and because it serves our own narrowly defined economic and national interests.

“On this day, I summon the clergy and laity… to prayer for our nation and for the world. As the prophets say, if the watchman blows an uncertain note, the people will not be warned, and the watchman will be accountable for their lives (cf. Ezekiel 33:6). It is therefore my duty as your bishop and the shepherd of this spiritual flock to sound a clear note of warning in such a time as this. We must not countenance a rush to war before diplomatic avenues are exhausted. We must not tolerate the taking of innocent human life in a first strike without just cause.”

The full text of the encyclical (as well as other texts from Orthodox bishops) is posted on the OPF web site.

Orthodox Bishops in Germany Oppose Attack on Iraq

The Orthodox bishops of Germany issued a joint letter in January opposing war against Iraq.

“Four years ago, before and during the NATO mission in Yugoslavia, we urgently warned against the use of military force, which would not contribute to a real solution of the conflict but — on the contrary — only aggravate it and bring suffering, misery, mutilation and death to countless innocent people.

“Events proved us right: in order to fight supposed or real injustice new injustice was tolerated, in fact only rendered possible through the war.

“Now it looks as if a new war of immeasurable proportions is threatening our planet: an assault on Iraq. Of course, we do not overlook the fact that the regime in Iraq is partly responsible for the unfolding of the crisis.

“Nevertheless we, together with the vast majority of Christian churches all over the world, are of the opinion that a war against Iraq conducted with ‘state-of-the-art’ weaponry available to the United States will hit hardest those who bear no responsibility for the escalation of the conflict, especially women and children.

“Let us also not forget that a number of Orthodox and Oriental-Orthodox people are living in Iraq and are able to practice their faith. To them such a war would be in the literal sense existentially threatening.

“For a number of years the Iraqi people have been suffering from the effects of a humanitarian catastrophe of enormous proportions and in the event of a war more immeasurable suffering and dying and an incalculable political future would lay ahead of them.

“The consequences could not only be disastrous for Iraq but for the whole crisis-shocked region of the Middle East; again it must be feared that events following the war will foster inconceivable negative developments like an escalation of terror one supposedly wants to fight.

“In this respect the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria Petros VII recently wrote to the President of the United States of America, George Bush: ‘The Middle East is a sensitive area that is suffering a lot even now. This war would be considered an attack on Islam. And this impression, even if it was false, would have far-reaching and lasting consequences for the region, the faithful and their reputation. It is not in the nature of religion to delve into politics, terrorism and war.’

“We wholly support this point of view: there is no justification for war as long as there is the slightest chance of another solution to controversial problems. This means also that the UN inspectors can fully complete their work.

“Any preventive act of war started before even the smallest, seemingly hopeless chance of a peaceful settlement has been tried in vain must be condemned.

“In our opinion these chances have not nearly been utilized. Especially international humanitarian action aimed at improving the lot of the Iraqi people, which would hopefully lead to new diplomatic initiatives in coming to an agreement with the Iraqi government. A war would definitively foil any such attempt.

“We join all those calling for peace and urge those who have not yet done so to set a sign of peace and do all they can to spare humanity a new war whose consequences could be disastrous for us all.

“We as the Orthodox Church in Germany call upon our faithful and their shepherds who — like all Orthodox — pray in each service for ‘the peace from above’ to implore God Almighty to grant peace to the whole world and enlighten the leaders of all nations and all peoples to help build a world where humans no longer use violence against their brothers and sisters, a world that loves the God-given life and converges in justice and solidarity.”

[signed] For the Ecumenical Patriarchate: Augoustinos, Metropolitan of Germany, Exarch of Central Europe; For the Russian Orthodox Church: Longin, Archbishop of Klin, Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Germany; For the Serbian Orthodox Church: Konstantin, Bishop for Central Europe; For the Romanian Orthodox Church: Serafim, Metropolitan of Germany and Central Europe; For the Bulgarian Orthodox Church: Simeon, Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe

Serbian Orthodox: War Would Be “Disgrace for Humanity”

During a visit to the Vatican in February, Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate stated that a war against Iraq would be a “disgrace for humanity.”

“In the 20th century alone, our Church and our people were subjected to seven wars, and still today they suffer from profound wounds, especially in Kosovo,” Metropolitan Amfilohije said. “We ask the powerful of this world, above all the United States and its allies, not to begin a new war, this time with Iraq. Such a war would be a new defeat for all of us and a new disgrace for the whole of humanity, and not just a humiliation and destruction of the honest Iraqi people.”

US religious leaders seek face-to-face meeting with Bush

Forty-six US religious leaders, including Archbishop Dimitrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; have urged caution about a US war with Iraq and are seeking a face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush to press their case.

“War is not only — or even primarily – - a military matter,” the Church leaders said in a 30 January letter to the president. “It is a moral and ethical matter of the highest order.”

Ethiopian patriarch appeals for aid to drought-stricken families

Patriarch Abune Paulos, head of Ethiopia’s 25-million-strong Orthodox Church, has appealed for help to drought-stricken families. He called on all caring people to “stretch their helping hands” to the millions facing starvation.

“It is the duty of Christians to provide assistance and show compassion to others who are in dire need of help,” the patriarch said in a Christmas sermon.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi estimates that more than a million Ethiopians face starvation in the coming months due to one of the worst droughts in the country’s history. He compared the present situation to the 1984-85 drought and famine in which one-million people are estimated to have died. That famine occurred under the Derg, a Marxist military regime that tried to ignore the effects of the drought, then when food aid began to arrive, used it as a political tool against rebels, led by Meles, who took power in May 1991.

Met. Herman addresses March for Life

Metropolitan Herman, head of the Orthodox Church in America, was one of the principal speakers to address 150,000 marchers at the 30th annual March for Life in Washington, DC, on January 22.

While lamenting the failure of the 30-year struggle to protect the lives of the unborn, Herman was optimistic that, through the commitment and prayer of countless individuals who have valiantly upheld that all life is “a sacred gift from the One Who is Life Itself,” the Roe v. Wade decision will soon be reversed.

Met. Herman was joined at this year’s march by Bishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest and Bishop Nikon of Baltimore.

Earlier in the day, over 1000 Orthodox Christian marchers — the largest contingent of Orthodox marchers on record — gathered with the bishops and two dozen students from Saint Tikhon Seminary, South Canaan, PA, under the Orthodox Christians for Life banner at the Washington Monument.

After the formal program during which Met. Herman delivered his address, the marchers made their way up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court, where the hierarchs offered memorial prayers for the millions of children who lost their lives since the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion 30 years ago.

A parish providing a home for low-income families

An icon of the Apostle Matthew welcomes visitors to an unusual apartment building in Columbia, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. Beneath the figure are the words of Jesus from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “I was a stranger and you took me in.”

The text aptly fits the purpose of St. Matthew House, home to 15 low-income adults with physical disabilities. It is a project that the Fr. Raymond Velencia, rector of Columbia’s Orthodox Church of St. Matthew, sees as a “work of the Lord.”

In 1994, the congregation formed a nonprofit organization that brought together governmental, corporate and social groups to finance, build and manage the $1.6 million facility.

The project was inspired by parishioner Maria Turley, a nurse with multiple sclerosis who died last year.

St. Matthew House has been built for people with physical disabilities “to allow them to live in an supportive environment in the community, with the purpose of enabling them to remain as independent as possible,” Fr. Velencia said.

From the wide outdoor porch to the three-story atrium, the design of the airy, many-windowed facility provides an exceptionally attractive living area. The emphasis on communal living in a family-like atmosphere is important to individuals who are sometimes isolated because of their disabilities.

“This was my first real home. … I never had a real family,” said resident Andrea Griffin, who lived in a nursing home. Griffin, who volunteers as a disability-awareness instructor, makes the occasional pot of soup for a group meal and keeps the photo album that documents the residents’ holiday parties for their grandchildren.

Physically disabled individuals must have an income of less than $22,000 and be able to care for themselves to rent one of the subsidized apartments.

“It gives a whole lot of freedom,” said resident Harry Johnson, an artist who was disabled by a car accident.

“I think all churches should have something like this,” volunteer Juanita Robinson said. [information: 410-381-8500]

SCOBA blessing for OPF-NA

At a meeting in December, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) endorsed the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s North American Chapter.