Conversations by email: Winter 2009

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <[email protected]> or Jim Forest <[email protected]>.

Death of a Patriarch: Patriarch Aleksy II has died. Long live his soul in Heaven! He was a very good patriarch who served as a strong bridge between the die-hard conservatives and far out liberals in the Orthodox Church in Russia. I lived in Russia for some time, and everyone I knew there loved him. He provided strong guidance and solidarity for the Church despite very hard times. He gave support to groups like our Brotherhood to help the poor. He also visited the parish of St. Catherine in Moscow an outpost of the Orthodox Church of America for its annual feast day. He was a true symbol of religious strength and hope for the Russians and for all Orthodox people!

Jim Vail

<[email protected]>

Difficult tasks: The Lord laid on Patriarch Alexei one of the most difficult tasks in the history of the Church in Russia: guiding the church through its transition from Soviet oppression to post-Soviet exploitation. He re-opened Orthodoxy as a real option for everyday Russians though a great many Russians have not yet taken advantage of the door that has been opened for them. Though he was on good terms with the state in a way that distressed many OPF members, he clearly drew the line at state efforts to wipe out the memory of the countless martyrs of Soviet oppression.

We tend to forget that, even in the days of “Holy Russia,” the Russian church always struggled to function in a complicated relationship with a State that was often hostile to her essence, but eager to appropriate her externals for its own ends. Peter and Katherine “the Great” were for the most part enemies of the Church, though of course they didn’t object to having all the panoply of the Church at their weddings and coronations. The Church in the Putin era is working in pretty familiar territory.

As the Russian Church in the dark days of the Synodal era produced many saints, I don’t doubt that Patriarch Alexei’s tormented church will do likewise. Has the Orthodox Church living “freely” in the West done better?

John Brady

<[email protected]>

In memoriam: Today, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrated a Pannikhida for a remarkable hierarch. The measure of the life of His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II is difficult to assess. During the Communist era he led his Diocese and then his Archdiocese in a manner that he could truly say “by faith we passed through the Red Sea.” The Russian people by the tens of thousands were willing to hazard and even to give up their lives for the name of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. How many of us would do the same? This is a people who have proved themselves in the fire and who deserve the respect and reverence of all.

For a hierarch serving in the Soviet era, maintaining the precarious balance between acceptance and destruction by the Soviet authorities took a heavy emotional and physical toll. On the one hand, the sincere desire to maintain and strengthen the faith, and on the other, the need to soothe the government so it would not destroy every church and imprison every priest, took an enormous amount of faith, courage, diplomacy, and the risk of freedom and life.

Following the collapse of the Soviet regime, the rebuilding task was staggering. How did one get the alienated, often half- destroyed church property returned, and the sites of those churches that were in ruin? The military was still led by generals and high ranking men and women who were products of the Soviet era, many of whom were members of the Communist Party. Formidable though it was, Patriarch Alexei, by patient but unyielding labor, and exquisite diplomacy, managed not only to rebuild churches and monasteries, but to re-institute military and hospital chaplaincies, often in the face of strong objections from the generals and admirals. He led in the restoration of prison ministries, the opening of orphanages and alms-houses supported and operated by the Orthodox Church. Seminaries were rebuilt and flooded with students, monasteries, the very heart of Orthodoxy in every nation, were rebuilt, lands returned, and the monasteries have once again become centers of charitable outreach.

One must acknowledge all those, both clergy and laity, who participated in all this great spiritual rebirth, but we must especially reverence His Holiness. During the Soviet era, he placed himself in the breach and became a moral martyr in balancing the compromises necessary for the physical survival of the Church with both pastoral care for his flock and loyalty to the Gospel. As Patriarch, he was under an even more heavy burden, and after the fall of Communism, he gave the last of his strength and life to the rebuilding and rebirth of the faith in Russia.

Glory and honor to him both in this age and in the age to come. Let his memory be from generation to generation.

Archbishop Lazar

<[email protected]>

The recent OPF conference: At the end of September this year, I took my first trip to the East Coast since I’d visited Maine as a toddler. The purpose was to attend this year’s North American conference of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Since returning to Alaska, I’ve been mulling over what I learned.

Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), a retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America and abbot of the Monastery of All Saints of North America (in British Columbia), gave the keynote address. He spoke delightfully on widely ranging topics from the importance of removing superstition from our religious thought to the challenges Orthodox Christians face in North America today. How could a joyful older monk see so clearly and far outside his monastery? It seemed to me he must have borrowed the eyes of cherubim to have touched on so much so quickly!

The speakers made excellent presentations on peace in the parish, peace in the family, peace through the grieving process, the indispensable element of prayer in finding one’s Christian vocation, the historical role of deaconess as it existed in the early Church and the gradual revival of that office in the Church today, something of the challenges and excitement of work within International Orthodox Christian Charities from a staff member who has worked with IOCC programs in Lebanon, Bosnia, the West Bank, Syria, and Greece.

What I really zeroed in on was Jim Forest’s talk on the history of conscientious objection in the Church, especially the witness of many saints, including soldiers, who refused to kill. Having come from a family of soldiers and belonging to a fairly warlike nation, it has been a challenge to wrap my mind around this topic. [Jim's text is available on the In Communion web site: http: //incommunion.org/?p=404.]

He asked the question, “Am I first of all a member of the nation into which I happened to be born? Or am I first of all a member of the Body of Christ into which I was baptized? If the state orders me to act in one way and the Gospel in another, which has priority? Am I even capable of recognizing that there might be a conflict between God and country?”

Following my return from the conference, I found two complementary resources. Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “Church and State” podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio present a summary of Church history that adds context to the canons and statements of the saints. If I am asked to describe what am I like, my answer should be the question, “When?” This is true of the Church, as well. Not only have I been different during different periods of my life (because of what I’ve learned, where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, and how I have or haven’t allowed God to work in my life), but our world has changed dramatically due to the influence of nations, politics, and ideologies although, I should add, under the influence of “principalities, powers, and rulers.”

The second resource was Frank Schaeffer’s new book, Crazy for God, in which Schaeffer describes how he “grew up as one of the elect, helped found the religious right, and lived to take all (or almost all) of it back.” He wrestles with abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, deadly force, and war, following what could be called the humiliation of his “Nebuchadnezzar period.” (Many of us, myself included, have had them.) “I want to be in a society,” he writes, “that values human life, because I am human, and far from perfect, and I want to be valued.”

Me, too and my neighbor as myself. That’s what I brought home with me.

Sally Eckert

<[email protected]>

Regarding Constantine: In studying St. Constantine’s life, it’s hard work trying to find where the reality of his life ends and legend takes over. There are many questions regarding him that will not be confidently answered in this life. Did he, as Eusebius writes, have a vision of the Chi Rho before his battle with Maxentius on the Milvian Bridge? How profound was his conversion to Christianity? While he saw himself as another Apostle, why was he not baptized until he was dying? Was he canonized for leading an exemplary Christian life? Or in gratitude for his ending the persecution of Christianity? How did he, a general, regard the Christian condemnation of bloodshed?

As for the assertion that there were Christians in the army before the age of Constantine and therefore military service has never been a problem for authentic Christianity of course there were Christians in the army. Few volunteered for army service. A great many came to it by birth. If your father was a soldier, you became a soldier. Nor could anyone walk up to the commanding officer and say, “I’ve been thinking about it and realize being a soldier isn’t for me. Goodbye.” Nor did one leave after several years of service, as is the case in the modern world. You remained in the army until you were too old or too damaged to be of use. If you were converted to Christianity while in the army, as for example St. Martin of Tours was, you were in a tight spot. The Church accepted converts within the army but called on them not to kill. St. Martin was very fortunate to at last be given a special discharge by the emperor himself. (It was only afterward that he was baptized.)

Very few were so fortunate. All they could hope for was that their duty would be what we might think of as police work.

For those converted to Christianity, being in the army was a challenge in many ways. The army was a notoriously vicious institution apart from war, there was a lot of drinking, a lot of whoring, a lot of brutality.

Jim Forest

<[email protected]>

Protecting life: While we often stress our religious grounds for protecting life, a perfectly good secular reason for preserving other human beings is that we don’t wish to be murdered by the state or a mob for some purpose perceived useful by the ruling class or the mob.

Having seen many people murdered for being successful (the kulaks of Ukraine, the entrepreneurs of Shanghai) or being of an unfavored group (Jews in the Holocaust, Chinese in pogroms in Indonesia, anyone wearing glasses in revolutionary Cambodia), or being mentally or physically “unfit” (disabled war veterans and the mentally retarded in the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Germany), we have good reason to wish to protect all those of our species, since anything that reduces the moral standing of other members of the species reduces the moral standing of ourselves.

I can lose my intelligence or mobility pretty easily in an accident. I don’t want someone to decide that I have “a life not worth living” and kill me whether out of malice or misguided compassion.

We should do all we can do make it very hard to kill another member of our species.

Our own lives may depend on it.

Daniel Lieuwen

<[email protected]>

Personal conviction: Pacifism is a personal conviction that cannot be forced on others. We must respect those who disagree with us on principle. As a soldier, when I was taking my case to the Army as a conscientious objector, I was in Germany. I had no English-speaking support and I didn’t speak German. All of my family, friends, and church fellows opposed me. For years, I had opposed the very position I had come to. I could not disrespect my critics. In fact, the greatest challenge to my pacifism is the complete lack of an answer to the question, “So, nonviolence is right and moral; what do we tell the people when evil comes against them?” We have no right to take away the right to others’ self-defense. Therefore, while I do not “support the use of force,” I understand it and support the right to self-defense. In answer to the impossible dilemma of the intruder caught in my house late at night with a gun while my family sleeps, I believe it would be a failure to kill him. I would attempt other means of self-defense and escape. If that were impossible and in the fear and speed with which these things play out, they usually are I may kill him. I would consider that a tragic loss and something that would not be laudable but understandable and defensible as an unfortunate necessity. Therefore, killing in self-defense or in defense of others, in my view, is less a right or duty than an unfortunate necessity or inescapable lesser evil. There is mercy for such things, and I think God pardons us for those tragic choices forced on us in a fallen world. As a result, I think that those who accept the duty to defend their country with war are not bad.

Pieter Dykhorst

<[email protected]>

Refusing to follow: We are often ordered to do things we think are wrong. Perhaps the best answer is to just not follow. Leaders only induce action in those who follow through either a sense of duty or honor, or agreement with the action, or belief in the judgment of the leader, allegiance to party, among a myriad of other things.

So if we don’t follow, they can’t lead.

But this comes with a price. We risk everything, including our lives. In offering himself for us, Christ sent a message to those in the world: He would not follow. If we are to be like Christ, our allegiance and duty must be to him alone.

It’s simplistic, I know. Our duty isn’t to kill, but to convert to get “them” to change their mind. If you can’t change the leader’s mind, perhaps we change the follower’s?

In my view it is perfectly acceptable to be selective in which aspects we follow as well. The newly elected president believes in diplomacy and supports abortion. I have no problem supporting him on the former and opposing him on the latter, yet still supporting him.

I also think we have to concern ourselves (and convince others to concern themselves) with our own individual actions. What do I do to support peace? What do I do to love my neighbor? Ultimately I believe I will not be judged on what others do, but what I did. I have to struggle with my temptations others have to struggle with theirs. Most don’t choose to do so, at least not that I can see, including most Christians.

I’m not faced with a choice of being a conscientious objector or not. I’m not tempted by homosexuality, or considering having an abortion. I am, however, tempted by greed, lust, gluttony, hate the list is seemingly endless.

Dn. Marty Watt

<[email protected]>

A child-oriented culture? Over the past few weeks the issue of abortion has been widely discussed by Orthodox and others. I remember when I was raising two children as a single parent, my take-home pay was $40 a week. My rent was $40 a month. The house I rented had three bedrooms. The hidden message was your children are welcome and you won’t feel that they are not. Over the past several decades the policy in the real estate market sought to get as much as people would pay, half or two thirds of their income. This sends the message that your children are not welcome and if you want housing or vacations or any of the good things in life, you had better not have any. I don’t know if this is a cause and effect issue, but I know that our culture is much less welcoming to children. Some say that this is a child-oriented culture. It’s a myth.

Alice Carter

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Human beings: If we valued human beings little, still-developing ones we would:

* provide healthcare to the mother in the prenatal period, if she couldn’t afford it;

* have (as they do in some other countries) regular visits to the home by professionals who could offer advice, support even respite to young parents (especially first-time parents);

* have reporting requirements on suspected child abuse for all professionals who contact children reports that are actually followed up on;

* strive to have families remain in touch with one another, rather than following the job market or our whims thousands of miles away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins;

* make sure the schools are excellent enough that home schooling would seem unnecessary;

* make schools safe places to be, so that students could just grow and learn, rather than quake in fear.

* I am thinking of a family with a child who has just turned three. While he didn’t quite fit on the autism spectrum, he has needed lots and lots of intervention. At one point, he was going to programs twice a week, therapists were coming into their home twice a week and his mother was doing 20-minute sessions with him eight times a day not to mention what other family members were doing with him. Praise God in the highest! The boy is coming along fine these days, but if he had been born poor… if his mother had been alone… if she had had only a third-grade education… or a drug addiction… or a history of abuse…

Alex Patico

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Police brutality: On the first day of this year police employed by the San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit beat and shot an unarmed, cooperative, 22-year-old father named Oscar Grant. Since that time the man who murdered him has been arrested, though he is now released on bail (raised in large part by the police union). There have been many actions calling for justice as well as a strong stand by other police in solidarity with the murdering officer.

Such occurrences are nothing new. They happen all the time. The novelty in this case, and several similar ones, is that they were caught on video and released to the media.

While some sort of justice may occur in the case of Oscar Grant, the rampant harassment and brutality being perpetrated by police is astounding. Seeing these videos seeing a man murdered left me feeling sick to my stomach, especially as it was done at the hands of those who are here to “protect and serve.”

I am both angered and saddened at the lack of humanity shown.

David Costas

<[email protected]>

Trade culture: David, I identify with your traumatic response. It was unbearable to see the video of the killing of Oscar Grant.

I have a close friend who works as a social worker on a police PET (psychiatric emergency team) in Los Angeles and rides along with police officers on their emergency calls. She tells me endless horror stories (and some miraculously gentle ones).

Her advice is “don’t ever let the police into your house if you can help it.”

She observes that the police “trade culture” and the stress they live with makes some of them them trigger-happy dangerous to themselves and others, both physically and emotionally.

It is a terrifying reality, to the extent that we can generalize it. What I would pray for is a fundamental change in training and agency practices. There are already many gifted individuals who understand the flaws in the system and are doing things differently. It is up to us all to generate enough uproar.

Ioana Novac

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Some years ago I was the provider of the employee assistance program offered by the town nearest to where I live. That meant that I did some counseling with the members of the local police force. Most of the police were decent folks, but there was a small group that clearly had antisocial traits. They had no remorse whatsoever at killing others. They often committed violent acts for which there was no justification whatsoever.

The diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are not accurate. A good argument could be made that they are racist. They insist that a person with APD has a history of criminality, but that is not the case. The overwhelming majority of people with APD have no criminal history whatsoever. But the name of the game for them is power and they will get it at any cost. The people I have in mind have decided that it is to their advantage to work within the system rather than against it. They are to be found in all institutions, not only the police, but also in such professions as the practice of law and higher levels of government, business, the academy, and even the Church.

Then there are also an even greater number of people who have some traits of APD, but not the full blown personality disorder. They might under certain circumstances fall into antisocial behaviors, but it is not their general way of relating to other people. Lots of these folks come out of the woodwork when a war is about to start. They will go on and on about how America is the greatest nation in the world and we just can’t afford to lose that status. Other people have some persisting APD traits but as part of another diagnosis; I am thinking in particular of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in which image is all that matters and genuine relationship is seldom found.

These are tough personality traits to change. The good news is that change is possible. The bad news is that it is possible only under definite conditions. The traits that most counselors excel in compassion, gentleness, compromise will not work with them since they see such traits as weakness to be exploited. They need a morally incorruptible and utterly consistent kind of counseling that is seldom cultivated in clinical practice. It seems to me that rather than trust in therapy, government must take steps to curb the behavior of these folks. In my own town, at least, I have seen that happen within the police force itself.

David Holden

<[email protected]>

Winter 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 52

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