Conversations by E-Mail (Pascha 2010)

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 <markp -at- earlham.edu> or Jim Forest <jhforest -at- gmail.com>.

Prayer for peace: The following brief prayer was composed in an effort to bring into the liturgical life of the Church, and into the spiritual awareness of its members, the need for focused prayer concerning the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is particularly relevant for those jurisdictions which have parishioners actively involved in these conflicts. Worded so as to fit well into the opening section of the Liturgy of Fervent Supplication, it asks not only for peace, but also for that repentance which leads to peace.

“Also, we pray Thee for a speedy end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and that all who are entangled in their violence as participants or supporters may embrace the riches of Thy kindness, forbearance and patience, and enter into that godly grief which leads to repentance; vouchsafe that our hearts and theirs may turn to works of reconciliation, to mercy and compassion for all, and to a thirst for that peace from above which heralds the drawing near of Thy Kingdom, we pray Thee, O Lord, hearken and have mercy.”

This prayer was referred by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, and was discussed at the meeting of the Holy Synod in March. The prayer was recognized as voicing a legitimate aspiration for peace. The Synod then left it to the discretion and authority of each diocesan bishop as to whether to include it in the Divine Liturgy.

If you believe that prayer is the best beginning for any action and think this prayer would be a good way to act spiritually on behalf of peace, would you bring this prayer to the attention of your bishop?

James Campbell
<[email protected]>

Haiti: Some prominent Christian ministers have blamed the terrible earthquake in Haiti that caused so much death and destruction on the Haitians themselves. The earthquake, so they claim, was God’s punishment for Haitians having made a pact with the devil in 1791 in order to be freed from France. (Note that there is no reliable historical source behind the claim.)

Actually I agree that a pact with the devil was an element in this multi-faceted tragedy, but the pact I am thinking has to do with the European colonialists’ lust for gold. They got the idea that in the lands beyond the uncharted ocean great riches were there for the taking. So they braved the unknown and landed on the island of Hispaniola, as it was then called, and proceeded first to enslave the native Taino people and, when those enslaved failed to meet their needs, to annihilate them.

The next step was to import slaves. Have you ever noticed how the Haitians we see on the news are, well – black? Why is that? Because once the native people were eliminated, Europe turned to Africa for slave labor to dig not only for gold but to work the fields for the “gold” of sugar cane. More ships, more guns, more death. This was the price of gold – and this is the real pact with the devil. The pact the European slave masters made with the devil was for their own profits and their own power.

Monica Klepac
<[email protected]>

Crown jewel: It was worse in Haiti than just about anyplace else. Haiti was the crown jewel of the French Empire, producing vast sums from sugar cane. The slaves were mostly male. Life expectancy was about seven years from a slave’s arrival until his death. Early abolitionists boycotted sugar because almost all sugar was produced by slave labor.

Daniel Lieuwen
<[email protected]>

Tribalism: I’ve been thinking about this, with its layers of implications; ethnic enclaves, Orthodoxy and other Christian groups, Christianity and other world religions, just to mention three.
I have received much inspiration from (Roman Catholic) Jean Vanier’s books on life in community with persons with developmental disability.

I suppose the reason why we Orthodox Christians as a whole shy away from cooperation with Catholic missions like the Catholic Workers and L’Arche is the fear of being seduced – is that the right word? – into a false peace and unity through ongoing efforts like these.

Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier address needs that we Orthodox haven’t focused on very much. Just as the Lord stopped the disciples from preventing a person not with them from casting out demons, saying “He who is not against us is on our side,” (Luke 9:50) we can learn from such as these.

What would be the harm in cooperating with such efforts when we have so little in place to address such real needs in many areas in which we live? One could start an Orthodox mission, I suppose, but in many places we lack the resources to do this, and the need is there, right now.

As long as we understand why we are Orthodox Christians, as opposed to the other varieties, would such cooperation threaten us? When we know why we are what we are, we can cooperate without compromise. Clarity can be maintained while cooperating in meeting needs in the world.
By cooperation, I mean efforts toward the material needs of people. In our efforts in regard to evangelism and church planting we must remain true to who we are, how we worship, what we believe, as Orthodox Christians.

Ephrem Gall
<[email protected]>

My Father, Not Yours: My thought of the day: Anything that can be tribalized will be tribalized – not excluding God. Isn’t it astonishing how often, when we say “Our Father,” we actually mean “Our group’s Father, not their group’s Father – My Father, not your Father”?

Jim Forest
<[email protected]>

Words with bullets in them: The escalation of political rhetoric in the US has led many people to wonder if the stage isn’t being set for violent acts. My normal inclination would be to dismiss such worries, but something about all this anger gives me pause.

I live in the Midwest and know many people who are conservative Evangelical Protestants. These are some of the nicest and most giving people you’d ever want to meet, but there is this dark side that I am confronted with periodically that is driven by a theological necessity grounded in their perceived notion of God’s “justice.”

Recently a friend encouraged me to join a group on Facebook called “I support Israel’s right to defend herself.” Here I found a lot of posts filled with stories of “Arabs” who are “full of hate” and “want to destroy Israel.” I told him about my concerns that these kinds of groups were mostly forums to justify the use of violence and more part of the problem than the solution. He responded that Israel is the “apple of God’s eye” and we should support her no matter what because of her special place.
Another friend, a person who has done a lot of selfless work, tells me that she “loves the sound of A-10’s” (a variety of jet fighters) training in the skies overhead – this is, she says, “the sound of freedom.” I wondered how many others have heard that sound with sheer terror just before their family or friends were obliterated. She views America as “a Christian nation” founded on “Biblical principles.” Its enemies are her enemies.

A last example concerns a relative with whom I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, a few years ago. While there, he picked up a folder about prominent cultural figures in German society during the Hitler period who were killed because of their being gay. “It’s sad,” he said, “but they deserved it.” He seemed to think their deaths were justified because God hates “that sort of thing.”

Such instances – I have limited myself to just three – seem to reveal a vulnerability in the very heart of the American middle class to violence. Maybe not a personal use of violence to kill, but at least a complicity when seeing it done by others in the “right” circumstances.

Aaron Haney
<[email protected]>

Right-wing voices: Though I now live in the States, after a decade living in Romania I often feel like a foreigner as I try to understand the strange American ways. The popularity of right-wing radio and TV preachers and political commentators is one of those things. I catch bits of these broadcasts on the radio when I go shopping and occasionally see clips on TV. Our small town in the “Bible Belt” is pretty conservative. I have friends who have deep, rich spiritual lives and yet believe wholeheartedly in what such commentators say.

From observation and conversations, I believe that what makes the ideas of such commentators so appealing is how they reduce the current economic upheaval to black-and-white terms. A lot of people are scared, out of work, and insecure about the future. They want someone or some group or party to blame. It’s not enough to point a finger at the many forces and structures that came together to create the mess we’re in. People want to have one big, menacing evil to fight. Painting President Obama and all Democrats as socialists and marxists, however ridiculous this is in reality, provides an enemy we fight with letters, phone calls, rallies, etc. It also feeds into the American self-perception of being independent, hard working pioneers.

Monica Klepac
<[email protected]>

Saints who said no: I came across the following footnote in The Year of Grace of the Lord by “a Monk of the Eastern Church,” as Fr. Lev Gillet signed himself. In this case, he was writing about the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste – executed for refusing to participate in the pagan cult required for all soldiers:

“We [also] come across cases of soldiers put to death as ‘conscientious objectors.’ Their objection was directed against the fact of carrying arms rather than against official idolatry. Violence and the shedding of blood seemed to them incompatible with the Gospel.

“Texts that contain the judicial proceedings against them, the interrogations and their sentences, have survived to our day. Among these conscientious objectors, we can name the soldiers Tipasius, Julius, Fabius, Maximilian of Carthage, and, much later, when Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire, Martin of Tours and Victrice of Rouen.

“The Church of the first four centuries canonized as authentic martyr saints those soldiers who suffered death for refusing military service. Their stand was the same as the stand of the Church, as can be seen from ecclesiastical texts such as the Canons of Hippolytus, which forbade the military profession to Christians.

“Many Christian writers, among them Origen and Tertullian, considered there was something irreconcilable between Christ and the bearing of arms. Later on, when the Empire was somehow baptized in the person of Constantine, this attitude changed. The Church made military service and war legitimate. Even so, however, this approval was not general. St. Basil, who lived in the empire after it had become Christian, deprived all soldiers who had taken part in a war of the sacraments for nine years.”

Fr. Ted Bobosh
<[email protected]>

Responding to tragedy: The tragedy of one people is the tragedy of all of us. So many human tragedies occur around the world in a given year that it is impossible to know of all of them, and of the ones well known, sometimes they seem so great that many people just shut them out. Yesterday, Haiti, today Chile, everyday Darfur. And then there is the ever-present tragedy of our own wounded “street people.”

The tragedy of one human being is the tragedy of all human beings. There is so little we can actually do to relieve the suffering of these tragedies – mainly make financial donations that seem so tiny compared to the need. Yet we need to do what we can.

Sometimes all we can do is to acknowledge in our hearts the tragedies of our fallen humanity, but it also would not be without significance for each of us to light a candle in church in prayer for the people who are suffering and to offer special prayers for each of the events we are aware of, as a way of acknowledge our common humanity, the fact that all mankind shares in a common human nature that binds us together – that every human being is God’s creation and each bears not only the wounds of the fall, but also the image and likeness of God.

It is not possible that a prayer offered in love will have no effect, no matter how unseen. Whatever else we can do, and actually undertake, let’s all light a candle, from the heart, for those enduring these tragedies.

Archbishop Lazar
<[email protected]>

Spring Issue IC 56/ PASCHA  2010