Archive for the ‘essays’ Category

Saint Alexander Schmorell: A Canonization in Munich

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

by Jim Forest

Saints come in many sizes and varieties, ranging from kings to beggars, surgeons to street sweepers, scholars to the illiterate, the extraordinary to the unnoticed. Some never marry, some are the parents of large families. Some die in bed in their old age, others die early in life at the hands of executioners. There are millions of saints — heaven is crowded — but relatively few of heaven’s population have been formally canonized. The vast majority are rank-and-file saints, an inspiration to those who knew them, but never placed by name on the church calendar.

Reporting on canonizations, journalists often say that so-and-so was “made a saint” today at such-and-such location, but in fact the Church does not make saints. Canonization is merely an act of carefully considered recognition that a particular person became a saint in his lifetime and is unquestionably among the blessed and thus in no need of our prayers for his forgiveness and salvation. The saints who are singled out for special recognition are mentioned at the Liturgy on a particular day every year, some locally or nationally, others in churches around the world. They are also depicted in icons in both churches and homes.

What is it that makes the Church occasionally canonize a particular saint? In many cases it has to do with some remarkable quality or achievement — their exceptional impact on other lives. The memory of their works and lives needs to be passed on from generation to generation in order to encourage others to follow in their footsteps. It is one of the ways the Church declares, “This is sanctity. This is the path to eternal life.”

Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

The majority of those canonized are martyrs. One of these — Alexander Schmorell — was added to the church calendar this past weekend. His canonization took place at the Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, a church in Munich not far from Schmorell’s grave. On the far side of the cemetery, at Stadelheim Prison, Schmorell was beheaded on 13 July 1943. He was only 25 at the time. He was an Orthodox Christian who had put his life at risk by being part of a anti-Nazi resistance group.

The canonization got underway on Saturday afternoon, February 3, as people began to gather in the church. Aware that the reporters and cameramen present would need certain photos before the ceremonies started, Fr. Nikolai Artemoff, dean of the cathedral, brought out the icon of Alexander Schmorell in anticipation of its formal presentation later in the day. Many photos were taken, a pre-canonization ceremony that would not have been imagined in earlier centuries. The icon showed Alexander Schmorell as the tall, brown-haired young man he was, wearing the white robe of a physician with a Red Cross arm band (he had been a medical student at Munich’s Maximilian University), his left hand raised in a gesture of greeting, the other holding a blood-red cross plus a white rose. He is standing against a pure gold background representing eternity and the kingdom of God.

As Father Nikolai explained to the journalists, the white rose in his hand symbolizes the White Rose group Schmorell co-founded with Hans Scholl in the spring of 1942. Before the arrests began the following February, the group succeeded — assisted by friends in many German and Austrian cities and towns — in widely distributing a series of six anti-Nazi leaflets. All six members of the core group were guillotined. (The story is powerfully told in an the Oscar-nominated film, “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days,” much of which was photographed in Munich.)

Press photos taken and interviews completed, at about 4 PM a procession of about two hundred people set out led by a cross bearer. Behind the cross were six bishops: Archbishop Mark (who leads the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in Germany), Metropolitan Valentin of Orenburg (the Russian city where Schmorell was born), Metropolitan Onufriy of Czernowitz in Ukraine, Archbishop Feofan of Berlin, Bishop Michael of Geneva, and Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart. How many priests? I lost count.

The frigid air was challenging — it was about 15 degrees below zero Centigrade (5 degrees Fahrenheit), with snow and ice on the ground. Though the cemetery, Perlacher Forst, was just across the street, its entrance was several hundred meters away. Once inside the gate, we wound our way through tombstone-lined paths, first stopping to pray at the graves of Hans and Sophie School, the brother and sister who were the first to be executed from the White Rose group, and Christoph Probst, beheaded the same day — 22 February 1943. Here three tall black crosses stand side by side, a single cross piece linking the crosses over the Scholl graves. Sophie, the one woman in the White Rose inner circle, and the youngest, was 21 when she was killed. Today many German streets and squares are named in honor of Sophie and Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and others executed for their part in the White Rose. Hans and Sophie came from a closely-knit Lutheran family. Christoph Probst was baptized in the Catholic Church a day before his execution.

Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff placing a candle of the grave of St Alexander Schmorell

Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff placing a candle of the grave of St Alexander Schmorell

The procession than continued to Alexander Schmorell’s resting place, not far away. A bouquet of white roses was resting against the rough surface of the tombstone and more flowers heaped over the grave. Embedded in the stone was a bronze Russian Orthodox crucifix. Memorial prayers — a panikhida — was sung, concluding with the melodic two-word chant, Vyechnaya Pamyat (eternal memory), sung repeatedly by all present. Every year there has been a panikhida sung at this grave on the 13th of July, the anniversary of Schmorell’s death, but this was the final panikhida. Now that he has been officially glorified, future services at his grave no longer have a penitential character.

The high point of the day came during the Saturday evening Vigil, which began at 5 PM and lasted three-and-a-half hours, by which time an almost full moon was shining through the windows. In the middle of the service, several icon stands were placed in the center of the church with candle stands behind. At least a hundred candles were lit, forming a curtain of light. Finally a procession of bishops, clergy and altar servers poured out of the sanctuary carrying an icon of Saint Alexander Schmorell followed by another icon crowded with images of New Martyrs of the twentieth century. Next came a huge silver-bound Gospel book, a copy that had been a gift from Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, to Russian Orthodox Christians in Germany. The two icons and the Gospel book were solemnly placed side by side on the stands, then incensed. Finally everyone in the church, beginning with the six bishops, venerated the icon of the newly recognized saint.

“When they brought out the icon,” Nancy told me later that night, “it was such a climax, with the servers holding all those fans over the icons and the choir singing with such exaltation. It was as it there were neon arrows pointing at the icon of Alexander Schmorell and saying, ‘This is what really matters.’ It’s the Church pulling out all the stops. They couldn’t do more to make you look in that direction and feel the importance, the challenge, of this brave life. You couldn’t not get it. This is what the Church does in interpreting human events and letting us know what’s truly valuable. This is something that requires all the ceremony the Church is capable of. But it’s not ceremony for its own sake. It’s all meant to confront us with the inner meaning of a young man putting his head on the chopping block. The canonization ceremony pulls you out of ordinary time and confronts you with the message: consider this life and let it influence your own.”

At the Liturgy the following morning, the church was even more crowded than it had been for the Vigil. We were jammed together like cigarettes in a carton — it was challenging to make the sign of the cross without grazing your neighbors with your elbows. Perhaps as many people were present as would fill the church for the All-Night Easter service. (Also present on Sunday– given a special chair placed at the right end of the iconostasis — was Bishop Engelbert Siebler, representing the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich.)

In the Orthodox Church every Sunday is regarded as a little Easter, but rarely have I experienced so intense a paschal radiance. Resurrection was at the heart of Father Nikolai’s sermon, delivered just before communion. He reminded us that the name the White Rose group adopted for itself had been proposed by Alexander Schmorell. His suggestion came from a story in the novel The Brothers Karamazov, written by Schmorell’s most beloved author, Dostoevsky. In one chapter Christ comes back to earth, “softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, every one recognized Him.” He is suddenly present among the many people in Seville’s cathedral square, a place were the pavement is still warm from the burning of a hundred heretics. Responding to a mother’s desperate appeal, Christ raises from the dead a young girl whose open coffin was being carried across the square on its way to the cemetery. Flowers have been laid on her body. “The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at [Christ’s] feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips softly pronounce the words, ‘Maiden, arise!’ and she arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.” This merciful action completed, he is recognized by the Grand Inquisitor, who orders Christ’s arrest.

The white rose is a paschal symbol, a sign of the victory of life over death.

That Alexander Schmorell would one day be canonized at this cathedral had been evident for years. He is shown among of a row of twenty-two martyrs of the twentieth-century included in an icon that has long been part of the cathedral’s iconostasis. After the Liturgy and the emptying out of the church, I went to look more carefully at that older icon. Schmorell is easily picked out — there he is, in the first row, third from the right, wearing a white robe. What is remarkable is that, within the group, he alone group has no halo, for at the time the icon was painted canonization was only anticipated. In one hand he holds a thin cross, in the other a scroll with these words taken from his last letter to his parents:

“This difficult ‘misfortune’ was necessary to put me on the right road, and therefore was no misfortune at all…. What did I know until now about belief, about a true and deep belief, about the truth, the last and only truth, about God? Never forget God!!”

One can imagine future icons of Saint Alexander of Munich will often use the same text while other iconographers may decide to use his last words, spoken to his lawyer as he was being taken to the guillotine: “I’m convinced that my life has to end now, early as it seems, because I have fulfilled my life’s mission. I wouldn’t know what else I have to do on this earth.”

In a time when fear is being sold every minute of the day, every day of the year — where would the “war on terror” be were we not prisoners of fear? — the pilgrimage to Munich to honor a saint who had freed himself from the tyranny of fear gave me an injection of pure courage.

(report written 9 February 2012)

* * * * *

Extracts from Fr Nikolai Artemoff’s sermon:

Holy New Martyrs are glorified by the Church because, in the particular circumstances of their own times, they bore a clear witness to Christ and in so doing sacrificed their own lives. On July 13, 1943 Alexander Schmorell was executed by means of the guillotine in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. On Sunday (in Russian, the “day of resurrection”) the 5th of February 2012, he shall take his place among the band of New Martyrs of Russia, to whom this cathedral church is dedicated.

The death of a martyr is always comprised of both the love for Christ as well as, through this love, the exposure of wickedness of evildoers in this world, and therefore also those who pave the way for Satan and his complict servant, the antichrist.

Alexander Schmorell’s favorite book was The Brothers Karamazov, from which the name “White Rose” hails, as a symbol of purity and resurrection (as evidenced in the resurrection of the girl at the appearance of Christ in Seville at the beginning of the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”). The path of Alexander Schmorell led from religious instruction which he received from priests in Munich, to the contribution of an Orthodox worldview via F.M. Dostoevsky in the catagorical repudiation of both regimes, enemies of man and idols that they have become of the “Fueher”, Hitler, as well as of Stalin, both nationalist and socialist. The “White Rose” considered Nazi rule as anti-Christian, but for Alexander Schmorell, no less anti-Christian was the regime in which his beloved was enslaved — Bolshevism. “I admit to my love of Russia without reservation. Therefore I also stand in opposition to Bolshevism.”

The last flyer of the White Rose primarily authored by Alexander Schmorell (Nr. IV) witnesses to his concept of the spiritual dimensions of this struggle in the name of God and his Son, Christ. He wrote:

“When he [that is, Hitler] blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war. Behind the concrete, the visible events, behind all objective, logical considerations, we find the irrational element: The struggle against the demon, against the servants of the Antichrist. Everywhere and at all times demons have been lurking in the dark, waiting for the moment when man is weak; when of his own volition he leaves his place in the order of Creation as founded for him by God in freedom; when he yields to the force of evil, separates himself from the powers of a higher order; and after voluntarily taking the first step, he is driven on to the next and the next at a furiously accelerating rate. Everywhere and at all times of greatest trial men have appeared, prophets and saints who cherished their freedom, who preached the One God and who with His help brought the people to a reversal of their downward course. Man is free, to be sure, but without the true God he is defenseless against the principle of evil. He is a like rudderless ship, at the mercy of the storm, an infant without his mother, a cloud dissolving into thin air.

“I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? [...] Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.”

(with thanks to Katja Yurschak for the translation of Fr. Nikolai’s words)

* * *

Hymns sung at the glorification of Saint Alexander of Munich (annual commemoration day July 13):

Troparion, tone 4:

Today a light adorns our glorious city, / having within it your holy relics, O Holy Martyr Alexander; / for which sake pray to Christ God / that He deliver us from all tribulations, / for gathered together in love we celebrate your radiant memory / imitating your bravery, / standing against the godless powers and enemies.

Kontakion, tone 4:

From your mother you did inherit the love of Christ, / and through the love of your care-giver you were nourished in the fear of God, O all-glorious one, / to Whom you did give thyself, O all-honorable Alexander, / and you diligently pray with the angels. / Entreat on behalf of all who honor your memory a forgiveness of their sins.

* * *

A section of the web site of the Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia is devoted to St Alexander Schmorell, with texts both in Russian and German:
http://www.sobor.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=79&Itemid=109&lang=de

A biographical essay (“Alexander Schmorell: a Witness in Dark Times”) is here: www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/02/02/alexander-schmorell-a-witness-in-dark-times/

Russian translation of “Alexander Schmorell: a Witness in Dark Times”: http://www.sobor.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=272:alexander-schmorell-a-witness-in-dark-times&catid=79:alexander-schmorell-verherrlichung&Itemid=109&lang=ru

An English translation of Schmorell’s letters from prison:
www.katjasdacha.com/whiterose/alexbriefe_e.html

A set of photos of the canonization:
www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157629206699911/with/6832060277/

A set of photos having to do of the White Rose:
www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157625346459536/with/5161067764/

Wikipedia entry about the White Rose:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_rose

* * *

Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship — www.incommunion.org — and is the author of many books — see: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/ . He belongs to St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam and lives in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.

* * *

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

Forgiving All in the Light of the Resurrection: A Scientific Approach

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

by Elizabeth Gassin and Robert Enright

What is forgiveness? When we began studying forgiveness in the 1980s, our first concerns were definitional. What exactly is this process—this virtue—that philosophers and theologians had been advocating for thousands of years? In order to move forward with our psychological research, we first let those wise voices speak. We combed ancient texts and the work of current thinkers in philosophy and theology, gleaning ideas about what forgiveness is and is not. From this endeavor, we generated a definition that stressed the following points:

  • Forgiveness takes place in the context of being treated unfairly. Defining what is “unfair treatment” requires a rational, relatively objective evaluation, not simply an emotional judgment.
  • When we forgive, we willfully give up resentment and other negative responses to the person who hurt us, even though we may have a right to those responses.
  • When we forgive, we strive to respond to the wrongdoer based on the principle of beneficence, or doing something for the good of another (not just for ourselves).
  • Beneficent responses are based on one or more of the following: compassion, unconditional worth (that is, realizing the offender is a person worthy of respect simply because he or she is a human being), generosity, and/or moral love. The offender does not have a right to be treated in a way that reflects these elements of beneficence, but in forgiveness we choose to act according to one or more of them anyway.

Because there are so many flawed ways to define forgiveness, we also took care to define what forgiveness is not. The following are examples of concepts that are sometimes confused with forgiveness but are either completely separate ideas or are somehow incomplete in what they convey about the concept:

  • Legal pardon: Forgiveness is the decision of an individual who has been hurt and does not prohibit the legal system from enacting punishment if some crime was committed in the hurtful situation.
  • Condoning, justifying, or excusing: Forgiveness acknowledges a moral wrong has been committed by the offender and does not in any way imply that the hurtful action was unavoidable or even acceptable.
  • Balancing scales: Justice is not required before forgiveness is offered. While a person may forgive and seek justice at the same time, the former does not depend on the latter. For example, the victim of a robbery may seek to have the goods returned or compensated but also forgive the robber, regardless of whether justice is attained.
  • Forgetting: It is nearly impossible to forget the details of a hurtful situation. Forgiveness involves learning to recall the situation in a new light.
  • Saying “I forgive you”: Forgiveness concerns our inner orientation towards someone who has hurt us. In some cases, telling the person that one has forgiven him or her is impossible or inadvisable. In addition, in the absence of authentic forgiveness these words can be used in a haughty or manipulative manner.
  • Reconciliation: We maintain that reconciliation is a re–establishment of a prior relationship with an offender, which is not the same as developing a positive personal orientation towards an offender. In most cases, reconciliation would require the offender repent of his or her hurtful behavior, so that the hurt person is not walking back into a situation where he or she will be injured again. Forgiveness, on the other hand, concerns one’s overall orientation towards the offender and is under control of the person who was injured.

With these thoughts about forgiveness in hand, we set ourselves the task of developing ways to assess forgiveness and studying its effects on people.

What Does the research show? In turning to our research that addresses the impact of forgiveness on those who offer it, it is important to note that the studies we mention here are usually what scientists call true or full experiments. This means we can make fairly confident cause–and–effect statements from them. In other words, in a true experiment, if we find that those participating in a group that learns about and engages in the forgiveness process ultimately demonstrate less depression than those who participate in a different kind of group (or no group at all), then we have the best evidence we can get that the forgiveness experience caused a decrease in depression. Psychologists conduct many other types of studies, but none give us causal insights like a true experiment.

In our previous article, we outlined the impact of the forgiveness education program we have designed for children in Belfast and Milwaukee. As we noted in that article, we have sound evidence that children who received our forgiveness curriculum demonstrate a bigger drop in anger than children who do not learn about forgiveness. And this is not the only series of studies to show that children benefit from forgiveness interventions. In Hong Kong, Hui and Chau conducted an experiment with forgiveness education for sixth–graders (11 and 12 year olds) and found that those who were exposed to the program gained more in self–esteem and hope and decreased more in depression than those who did not go through the program. Maria Gambaro and colleagues demonstrated that in comparison with an intervention that did not teach forgiveness, a forgiveness program with young adolescents led to improved self–reliance, increased academic achievement, better attitudes toward teachers and parents, and fewer school conduct problems.

But what about the impact of forgiveness on older adolescents and adults? The evidence base is convincing that they, too, benefit from learning to forgive. Over the past few decades, our research group has conducted many studies with adolescents and adults, taking them through the forgiveness process outlined in the book, Forgiveness Is A Choice. In short, this process involves admitting the hurt, deciding to forgive, working on forgiveness, and experiencing the fruits of forgiveness. There are of course various sub–steps at each of these points, which you can learn more about from the book or on our website. Each person’s forgiveness journey is unique, but several research projects have provided evidence that the steps we use mirror what many people experience as they forgive in natural, non–experimental settings.

Because there are so many experimental studies assessing the effects of forgiveness interventions on these older groups, we offer a summary of their findings and an example of one particularly inspiring project. Our experiments with older adolescents and adults have included people who have experienced some of the deepest hurts in life. We’ve studied the impact of forgiveness on survivors of sexual abuse, those addicted to drugs and alcohol, men whose partners had abortions without their full consent, women in emotionally abusive relationships, and college students raised by rejecting parents. We’ve also studied how forgiveness affects those in particularly challenging situations, such as those recovering from heart disease and those who are terminally ill. First we will look at forgiveness’ effects on mental health variables, such as anxiety and hope, and then at a relatively new line of research looking at the impact of forgiveness on physical health.

Almost every one of our studies on forgiveness and mental health has turned up some indication that offering forgiveness is good for the soul. On the whole, this work demonstrates that forgiveness interventions decrease anger, depression, anxiety, trauma–related symptoms, and grief, and increase hope, quality of life, self–esteem, feelings of mastery, and finding meaning in life. A particularly moving example of this work is Mary Hansen and co–authors’ work on forgiveness among the dying. Patients in end–of–life care went through a 4–week forgiveness intervention and were compared to those who had not yet had the intervention. Those who went through the program demonstrated less anger, more hope, and higher quality of life than those who had not yet had the intervention. What an amazing double gift: to offer forgiveness to an offender in the last days of one’s earthly life, and to receive in return peace of heart and mind for the final journey.

Several aspects of this body of work make it even more remarkable than it seems at first glance. First, in the scientific enterprise, conclusions about a topic under study are bolstered when different research groups produce similar outcomes. Therefore, it is important that we note that our group is not the only one finding that programs based on the forgiveness process lead to improved mental health. Other researchers who implement programs emphasizing the process of forgiveness produce comparable results. It is also significant that when such experiments are conducted outside the US, usually researchers obtain similar results (as did Hui and Chau in Hong Kong, as discussed above). This may mean that the positive effects of forgiveness on psychological health are universal, which from a theological perspective suggests we have been created to be forgiving. Finally, we also note that when researchers follow up their participants months after the studies, they often find that those who went through forgiveness programs still demonstrate the psychological benefits that were evident right after the programs finished. In short, widespread scientific evidence is amassing that forgiveness is a balm for the human psyche that spans time, space, and culture.

The experimental work on forgiveness and mental health has been going on now for over 20 years. Experiments assessing the impact of forgiveness on physical health, however, are relatively new. Even so, they are showing that being merciful to an offender may be as good for the body as it is for the soul. In a 10–session intervention with male cardiac patients, Martina Waltman and her colleagues showed that those going through a forgiveness–oriented intervention showed fewer anger–induced defects in heart functioning than those who participated in an intervention on a different topic. In a laboratory experiment, Charlotte Witvliet and her colleagues showed that when college students were directed to imagine forgiving an offender, they demonstrated better heart functioning and less tension in facial muscles than when they did not imagine forgiving an offender.

Although it is early to draw any firm conclusions about why offering forgiveness might cause better physical health, a recent experiment in doctoral dissertation by Samuel Standard suggests one reason forgiveness may be medicinal. Standard led some of his participants through a forgiveness process and compared them on several health–related measures to other participants who had not yet received the intervention. He found that those who went through the forgiveness process ended up with lower cortisol levels than those who had not yet been exposed to the process. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, if chronically present, can cause major damage to many systems in the body. For example, it has been linked to reduced immune system functioning, high blood pressure, and decreased bone density. In short, it seems that holding a grudge is literally a chronic stressor on even a physiological level!

The science of forgiveness is painting a very clear picture: being merciful to someone who hurt us is good for us, psychologically and physically. In the last article of this series, we will explore why we seem to be built this way. Relying on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and liturgical life, we will attempt to show that the science of forgiveness and the faith of forgiveness are built on one and the same foundation: the life of the self–giving Holy Trinity, Who seeks to heal us body and soul.  IC

 

*In Communion issue 62 carried the article Forgiveness Education: A Prospect for Peace in which the authors described their forgiveness education work in Belfast, Northern Ireland and the inner city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the current article, they broaden their focus, looking at how academic scholarship has helped define forgiveness, and they assess its impact on people, body and soul. Issue 65 will carry the article Forgiving All in the Light of the Resurrection: An Orthodox Theological & Liturgical Approach.

 

For a copy of the bibliography and complete list of the studies and reports referenced in this article, please send an email to [email protected]

 

Robert Enright teaches in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Elizabeth Gassin teaches at Olivet Nazarene University. Both are members of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. in Madison, WI. Prof. Gassin is an Orthodox Christian and has written on forgiveness from an Orthodox perspective. More about their work can be found at the International Forgiveness Institute’s website at www.forgiveness-institute.org.

 

forgiveness institute


International Forgiveness Institute

1127 University Avenue, Suite 105
Madison, Wisconsin 53715 USA
Telephone:  608-251-6484
E-mail:  [email protected]

 

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

Serving the Poor: Beyond Food, Clothing, and Shelter

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

by Julia Demaree

For where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am there in their midst. 

–Jesus (Matt. 18:20)

Our mission statement is simple and challenging: “Emmaus House, an Orthodox Christian ministry, welcomes all to offer hospitality, healing, and hope in solidarity with the poor and the homeless. We are inspired by the Gospel: in breaking bread together, we recognize the presence of Christ.”

Emmaus House is in central Harlem, lodged in a run down but homey, four-storied brownstone in Mount Morris on a vastly gentrified street. Our building houses one live-in, non-salaried directress, one live-in volunteer, one board member who overnights weekly with her dog, two cats, and an unknown number of wild, outdoor cats. Volunteers offer food and clothing to those in need three days a week and provide referrals, especially for housing, and we take turns responding to the “stranger at the door.” A former resident does our office work and we hope to find a neighborhood handyman to help respond to the creaks and groans of our old house.

We are an old community sprouting new wings, ever mindful of the tremendous legacy of our deceased founder, Fr. David Kirk, while staying responsive to the gifts of the community’s new members and the problems endemic to serving the poor.

We are a Christ-Centered Ministry where we strive for the ideal of St. Maria of Paris: “There is not and there cannot be any following in the steps of Christ without taking upon ourselves a certain share, small as it may be, of participation in this sacrificial deed of love. Anyone who loves the world, anyone who lays down his soul for others, anyone who is ready, at the price of being separated from Christ, to gain salvation for his brothers is a disciple and follower of Christ.”

Passersby  often ask about the meaning of Emmaus. The word is printed on the bright red awning jutting over our first story windows. Most of them don’t crane their necks to look up to see the Orthodox cross nailed to the facade. If they approach the door, they’ll see a festal icon in a wooden box. If they come into the vestibule, they’ll be greeted by a large icon of “Christ made without Human Hands.” And then if they walk down the hallway and turn right, they’ll enter our Orthodox Chapel, “Christ of the Homeless.” The chapel’s freshly painted golden walls hold remnants of chant, sad stories of broken lives, shards of abated anger, and messy details of relationships gone amiss. While sitting on the wooden bench, names get added to our prayer list, the Mother of the Street icon becomes a parting gift-in-hand, and both parties feel the power of healing from time spent together in a sacred space.

We welcome all to taste and see the Orthodox world through these tangible gifts and grace-filled moments. We remain mindful of how Fr. David provided Muslim residents with prayer rugs and a private area for their prayer times during the day. Emmaus continues to carry on under this flag of openness to all as we labor under the Christian non-negotiable statute of unconditional love in service to all—Christ in every face.

In the Spirit of Community: When Father David Kirk passed in May 2007, a few board members wanted to turn his legacy into a foundation claiming they couldn’t imagine Emmaus House without him. Some of us fought to keep Emmaus going as a ministry, and the twelve residents that had cared for him during his six years of failing health attempted, with some supervision, to keep the community intact while they continued to serve the poor for two more years. In 2009, a lack of funds and escalating house tensions forced the doors of Emmaus House to close. It was shattering for the residents, who in spite of their many difficulties, had come to define themselves as family. They still stay in touch with each other and with Emmaus by phone and email.

Then came the long, lonely wait, that “dark night of the soul” that is wont to hit us when we are living with absolute uncertainty. It was a year spent purging the house of its years of collected debris and praying for some signs of new life. Jim Forest sent an encouraging email saying that while he was sorry about the closing, he knew that Emmaus would rise again like a phoenix out of the ashes as it had done many times in the past. We were also laboring under the immense shadow of Fr. David and the layered legacy that was associated with his Emmaus House. We focused on honoring his last two wishes: to carry on as a community serving the poor and to call on Orthodox people to engage in works of mercy.

Slowly, very slowly, signs of life began to reappear, like tiny green plants emerging in a Lenten Spring. Passersby asked if the house was going to reopen. Neighbors left bags of clothing at our doorstep. An African-American man asked why we had a white Christ posted out front, didn’t we know where we were? (Good point. We put up a better icon). City Harvest began delivering fresh, recycled food. Our summer intern visited a prisoner and a shut-in elder. An auntie happily told us about her readiness to resume baking the peach pies she used to bake for Fr. David. Our traveling kitchen crew delivered hot soup to the homeless on the street. Former residents dropped in to visit and help. New volunteers began to appear and make commitments. The neighborhood needy came for recycled food and clothing. Orthodox priests brought youth to Saturday workdays, blessed our house, and held prayer services in our chapel. Urban and suburban Orthodox laity brought large bags of clothing to give away. Two pilgrims drove six hours roundtrip from Pennsylvania to our doorstep with a truck full of clothes and canned goods.

old Harlem,At the same time we were encouraged by these developments and alarmed at how the exclusivity of the gentrification process was destroying the presence of community that had always defined Harlem. On our block, there was no longer any stoop-sitting, a gracious tradition from the south that allows for catching up with and watching out for one’s neighbors. Most of the community gardens had been reclaimed by the city under the ruse that they would be used for low income housing. Signifi-cantly, old timers noted that the new-comers wouldn’t even make eye contact with them when they passed by them on the street. Apartment dwellers and home-owners felt betrayed by their local politicians and were outraged that our local community board was no longer an open forum for all. It all came to a head when 125th street, the heart of the old Harlem, was rezoned for commercial purposes.

We started hearing more and more eviction stories, and of the scare tactics being used against people who had paid their rent faithfully for years. More and more long- time Harlem residents were becoming marginalized and, with rising rents, could barely make ends meet. Merely nodding off on a park bench could lead to an arrest or humiliating harassment. In the early stages of gentrification, Fr. David asked repeatedly whether Emmaus should relocate to where the poor really were, suggesting Camden. Today, we would answer him that there are plenty of disenfranchised people left to serve in Harlem, folks who are trapped in a city with fewer and fewer options and whose powerful leaders are doing all they can to turn the island into a “gated community” for the wealthy.

So, Fr. David, we are still in Harlem. Currently, we are a gaggle of prayerful individuals who are trying to address the vast inequalities of what Dorothy Day called “the dirty, rotten system.” We pray that we have the discipline to do the inner work to receive the “gift of community.” We realize that going to church on Sunday is not necessarily the same as being part of a daily community in which we give up a lot and take responsibility for things that we might not otherwise want to bother with. There, we have to make commitments to other human beings and no longer define ourselves as individuals, but as members of a body where all of the parts learn to fit together. As we progress, then, we are striving to be both a “community of resistance” to those who would like to see “undesirable” people just disappear as well as being a “community of hope” to these quietly desperate people.

Fr. David once wrote, “Jesus, the broken man, remains beside us on this road to Emmaus. Holding me in his hands, He gives thanks, and He broke me and gave me to my sisters and brothers, who in turn, sent me out to help feed the crowd.” By our name, Emmaus, we are mandated to “break bread” (Luke 24:13), and indeed we do, in small clusters of diverse people sitting around our old dining-room table under the gaze of the large icon of the Ugandan martyrs. We actually received a small grant to host “fellowship dinners” so that people from different backgrounds have an opportunity to experience their commonality. And we wait patiently to be able to receive the body and blood of Christ in our chapel, “Christ of the Homeless,” on some Sunday morning. For this, we pray.

Works of Mercy: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 19:13). hen the choice of our white Christ was challenged by our nomadic friend, ben Israel, I replaced it the next day with a Coptic image of Christ with text that read: “We are our brother’s keeper.” Could it be that these two acts were “works of mercy”? He gave me the gift of “enlightenment” in a neighborhood that easily sees the white person as a “do-gooder,” while I gave him back the gift of “acknowledgement,” in appreciation of his sensitivity training.

For the most part, when we hear about performing a “work of mercy” we think of giving a needy person our extra jacket or a hot cup of soup and slice of bread, and if we’re courageous, we might even add in a mattress for the night. Materially speaking, the poor need the help of the rich who live with excess and secure rest night after night, having their physical needs met—indeed, often over-met. There can be no argument about what to do for the person who is cold and unprotected on the street on a wintry night. There can be no argument about providing the mother, trying to raise five children in the shelter system, with food and clothing. We must always be ready to provide on this material, survival level for those in need. For this, we need to be in a constant state of prayer, and to practice mindfulness.

At Emmaus, we try to use creativity and sensitivity when we address these most basic human needs. One hot day, two of our male volunteers began offering cold glasses of lemon water to the people waiting in line for their food bags, a simple act of hospitality that elicited many a thankful smile. Every two or three days, a former Emmaus resident, who is now homeless and on the street, comes to exchange his dirty clothes for a set of clean clothes we have washed for him. He is not ready to give up his addictive lifestyle but he wants to keep a connection with us, and with his memory of Father David. Even though our act is minimal, it is helping to build a relationship with him, giving us an opening to talk to him about making a change. On another day, a knock from a “stranger at the door” came from a woman looking for a change of clothing for a one-legged man who lives in his wheelchair on the street. When she returned, she picked up clothes for his girlfriend, work clothes for herself, and the container of clothes we had set aside after her first visit. In her, we have an example of the poor serving the poor.

We are fortunately free to choose and define the way we serve, so we are not beholden to governmental time constraints nor eaten alive by bureaucratic accountability. We bow to no agendas of discrimination. The burden, then, falls on us to monitor our behavior, question our motives, catch our shortcomings, talk through our differences. Our style is to take our time with people, keep the encounter fresh with caring and possibility, and to reach out to all in some small way, especially to the most needy.

Often just having someone listen with respect is taken as a generous gift. “For the Christian there is no stranger,” wrote St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, born Edith Stein. “Whoever is near us and needing us must be ‘our neighbor’; it does not matter whether he is related to us or not, whether we like him or not, whether he is morally worthy of our help or not. The love of Christ knows no limits. It never ends; it does not shrink from ugliness and filth. He came for sinners, not for the just. And if the love of Christ is in us, we shall do as He did and seek the lost sheep.”

Sometimes we are the lost sheep, the supposed caregivers, the ones who want to “serve the poor.” One can feel a sense of power and safety from the caregiver’s seat, the vulnerable seat being reserved for the receiver. Often we shy away from the receiving position because it is easier for us to serve if we slip into the “us and them” paradigm. It’s a place to avoid looking at our own “poorness,” shortcomings, and fears. We have much to be taught by the poor. They are often the humble ones, stripped down and kept marginalized by our greedy culture. We try to create occasions to talk with them about their lives, to glean their wisdom, and affirm their sanctity.

Transforming Ourselves: “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful” (Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being). God would have us make changes in ourselves. He gives us the gift of pain so that we will accept our shortcomings, thereby acknowledging our need for Him through others, and in doing so, He brings us closer to Him. The overall curve of our life journey should be to turn away from darkness, where we dwell in pain and isolation from others and from Him, and to move towards the light, which brings peace because in the light we are naked again, wearing our birth clothes and approaching a state of innocence. Then we are graced with a homecoming.

Chapel of Christ, the homelessThe unresolved pains of our childhood, those hidden dark places, easily get triggered in a community setting. We often “act out” from the unresolved wounds of our younger self. My Chinese teacher once told us that “if someone’s behavior bothers you, then it is your problem.” Surely not, I thought, in some cases it is so clearly the fault of the other person. Blaming and judging others is a hedge for us to hide behind, a way to avoid taking full responsibility for our own behavior. He was telling us to take that pivotal moment of discomfort as a challenge to grow. Working through painful moments of conflict with each other is the true challenge of the work of Emmaus House. We are all broken in some way and we need the palpability of a community setting to be forced to engage in this process. Personal growth rarely happens in a vacuum. We must strive to serve others from the place of being a whole, healed human person.

When we hide or turn away from our pain, it can be from shame or in fear that others will see our unworthiness. The truth is that we are all unworthy, and it might just be the eyes and ears of the other that might provide the insight or support that moves us along toward wholeness. It might be that the touch of their hands provides us with the moral support to pull us out of our doldrums. Christ told us that it was the work of our hands that would help finish the work that He began. Let us fight to keep engaged and open to the fruits of this work. For this work, we have to be brave hearts and fearless warriors. To work with the poor, we have to be willing to value pain, to claim it as an asset, and to experience it as Christ-centered and God-given. Through the gate of pain we can enter into the deep waters of experience with others and reach for the shore of love.

My heart always skips a beat when I engage with folks on the street whose marginal lives are so exposed and whose lives are held by such fragile threads. They do not have the luxury or the wherewithal to hide or to camouflage their poverty, their disappointments, and their desperation. Life is proclaimed on their faces, in their body smell, in their empty pockets, and in their outstretched hands. I tend to move closer to them so that some of their vulnerability will rub off on me, inform my life of the need for humility, and the need to beg for love. The essential, unadorned accoutrements of life are spread out on the sidewalk between us and I am awed by these encounters every time. I confess, that as a former street artist, I am often drawn to the individuality and the resourcefulness of their physical presentation. Often I can sense a lost talent that got derailed by the relentless demands of a cruel world, some bad luck, or perhaps an inability to focus from early in life. Yet strands of creativity break through in their dress and the way that they approach. Let not our over-sanitized condition impede us from the feast of seeing and loving Christ in every face.

The “Souls in Motion” Model for Hospitality: There is no greater act of hospitality than Mary’s reception of the living Christ into her womb. Before I started working in Harlem, I had read Susan Sheehan’s fascinating 17-year history of a mental patient, with the pseudonym of Sylvia Frumpkin, that appeared as a four part series in The New Yorker, called Is There No Place on Earth for Me? I was struck by how this title is resonant with Christ’s brief stay on earth as he went from town to town, with no place to lay his head, often encountering heavy resistance to his words and very presence. I was undone by the chaos and the untouchable aspect of Sylvia’s plight and her mother’s inability to secure sustainable help for her daughter. This study primed me for the next chapter of my life.

In 1987, my friend Louise Rosenberg and I assembled a creative studio, which we called “Souls in Motion,” for the adult psychiatric clients attending a day Rehabili-tation Program in Harlem called CSS (Community Support System), just seven blocks north of Emmaus House. Louise and I, with the help of others, tried to respond to the Sylvia Frumpkin dilemma by providing a safe haven that offered folks an opportunity to get back in touch with the creativity that lay buried under childhood traumas that often led them to an adult life of addictions and mental illness. We invented a magical room that was a fulcrum of hospitality for the creative spirit: for painting, gardening, sewing, writing, relationships, acting, meditating, philosophiz-ing, listening, animal caretaking, and any other modality a person could dream up. We were focused on reawakening the creative energy that had lain dormant for years, potential that was just waiting for a wave of fresh air and an open door with permission to go through it.

The umbrella for our studio was CSS, a program that was exemplary of the outpatient facilities set up when patients were being released from mental institutions in the late 70’s. From the beginning, CSS was known for being a program with “soul” and offered a high quality of life to people who usually had to settle on third best, if they even managed to get past their invisible status. CSS was well known in the world of mental health as a family-oriented program. When patients broke the rules, they would be asked to leave, but they were always invited back for a second and third chance. This was the same philosophy of repentance and forgiveness that Fr. David followed at Emmaus House.

Hospitality became a way of life at Souls in Motion, and more and more the studio took on the character of a community, with people expressing their gratitude in a myriad of ways: hugs bookmarked all personal encounters, clients scheduled hospital visits to hospitalized clients, talking out differences often took place in front of the icons in the altar closet, custom drawings were made as gifts for other clients or staff members, epitaphs were written eulogizing the brief lives of our studio animals, client advocates accompanied less articulate clients to their appointments (Fr. David’s “the poor taking care of the poor”), homemade pies were baked and brought in for birthday celebrations, memorial services were held for those who had passed, and gospel singing filled the room during after-hours and for special occasions. When official guests toured our studio without response to it, we suspected they couldn’t be in touch with their own creativity: The space was infectious with spirit!

After twenty-four years, Souls in Motion closed its door last November. We continue to talk of trying to turn it into an independent, non-profit organization. In the meantime, Emmaus House has inherited some of its physical artifacts and is looking at ways each day to embody its spirit, as quality of life for the less fortunate has become such a precarious commodity in these times. Indeed, it is questionable if most people even know what “quality of life” or “sacredness of life” mean in our desensitized war and consumer driven country.

The philosophy driving Souls in Motion runs parallel to how the person is viewed in Orthodoxy. As children of God, we are asked to develop and share our gifts and to learn to love and respect self and neighbor on our road to our Maker. Serving is the work of a lifetime and our teachings come from the actual people and situations that God puts in our path. We articulate our philosophy with the following modest list of priorities as we continue to develop our ministry of service:

To define ourselves as members of community

To break bread together

To work in solidarity with the disenfranchised

To share our wealth with the needy and serve the poor generously

To exchange our life stories

To tolerate and appreciate our differences

To commit to healing our childhood wounds

To resist hoarding things, space, time, or people

To use our gifts freely and creatively

To answer the knock of the stranger at the door

To pray for peace in ourselves, in others and in the world

To create a community center for the poor

May we all be blessed in our efforts to serve unceasingly.  IC

Julia DemareeJulia Demaree is the director of Emmaus House. The “ragpicking” philosophy of Abbe Pierre and Fr. David Kirk still define Emmaus today and has helped shape Julia’s longtime fascination with the things that, by societal standards, fall into the “discarded” category as gold nuggets to be transformed into beauty and meaningfulness. If you wish to contact Julia or to make a donation in support of Emmaus house, write her at: [email protected]

The drawing of Emmaus house facing the opening page of the article was done by Julia’s son, Julius Wood Norman.

After Fr. David Kirk’s passing in 2007, when the future of Emmaus House was much less certain, In Communion carried two articles about his life and ministry at Emmaus House, one in Summer of ‘07 and one in Spring of ‘08 (issues 46 and 49).

 

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

Communion and Otherness

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

by Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamonrublev-angels-at-mamre-trinity1

Communion and otherness — how can these two be reconciled? Are they not mutually exclusive and incompatible with each other? Is it not true that by definition the other is my enemy and my “original sin,” to recall the words of Jean-Paul Sartre?

Our western culture seems to subscribe to this view in many ways. Individualism is present in the very foundations of this culture. Ever since Boethius in the Fifth Century had identified the person with the individual (“Person is an individual substance of a rational nature’), and St. Augustine emphasized the importance of self-consciousness in the understanding of personhood, western thought never ceased to build itself and its culture on this basis. The individual’s happiness has even become part of the American Constitution.

All this implies that in our culture protection from the other is a fundamental necessity. We feel more and more threatened by the presence of the other. We are forced and even encouraged to consider the other as our enemy before we can treat him or her as a friend. Communion with the other is not spontaneous; it is built upon fences which protect us from the dangers implicit in the other’s presence. We accept the other only insofar as he does not threaten our privacy or insofar as he is useful to our individual happiness.

There is no doubt that this is a direct result of what in theological language we call the “Fall of Man.” There is a pathology built into the very roots of our existence, inherited through our birth, and that is the fear of the other.

This is a result of the rejection of the Other par excellence, our Creator, by the first man, Adam, and before him by the demonic powers that revolted against God.

The essence of sin is the fear of the Other, which is part of the rejection of God. Once the affirmation of the “self” is realized through the rejection and not the acceptance of the Other — this is what Adam chose in his freedom to do — it is only natural and inevitable for the other to become an enemy and a threat. Reconciliation with God is a necessary pre-condition for reconciliation with any “other.”

The fact that the fear of the other is pathologically inherent in our existence results in the fear not only of the other but of all otherness. This is a delicate point requiring careful consideration, for it shows how deep and widespread fear of the other is: we are not afraid simply of certain others, but even if we accept them, it is on condition that they are somehow like ourselves. Radical otherness is an anathema. Difference itself is a threat. That this is universal and pathological is to be seen in the fact that even when difference does not in actual fact constitute a threat for us, we reject it simply because we dislike it. Again and again we notice that fear of the other is nothing more than fear of the different. We all want somehow to project into the other the model of our own selves.

When fear of the other is shown to be fear of otherness, we come to the point of identifying difference with division. This complicates and obscures human thinking and behavior to an alarming degree, with serious consequences. We divide our lives and human beings according to difference. We organize states, clubs, fraternities and even Churches on the basis of difference. When difference becomes division, communion is nothing but an arrangement for peaceful co-existence. It last as long as mutual interests last and may easily be turned into confrontation and conflict as soon as these interests cease to coincide. Our societies and our world situation today give ample witness to this.

If this confusion between difference and division were simply a moral problem, ethics would suffice to solve it. But it is not. St. Maximus the Confessor recognizes in this cosmic dimensions. The entire cosmos is divided on account of difference, and is different in its parts on the basis of its divisions. This makes the problem of communion and otherness a matter organically bound up with the problem of death, which exists because communion and otherness cannot coincide in creation. The different beings become distinct beings: because difference becomes division, distinction becomes distance.

St. Maximus makes use of these terms to express the universal and cosmic situation. Diaphora (difference) must be maintained, for it is good; but diaresis (division), a perversion of difference, is bad. The same is true of distance which amounts to decomposition, and hence death.

This is due, as St. Gregory of Nyssa observed, to the distance in both space and time that distinguish creation ex nihilo. Mortality is linked with createdness-out-of-nothing; this is what the rejection of the Other — God — and of the other in any sense amounts to. By turning difference into division through the rejection of the other we die. Hell, the eternal death, is nothing but isolation from the other.

We cannot solve this problem through ethics. We need a new birth. And this leads us to ecclesiology.

ecclesial communion

Because the Church is a community living within history and therefore within the fallen state of existence, all our observations concerning the difficulty in reconciling communion with otherness in our culture are applicable also to the life of the Church. The Church is made up of sinners, and she shares fully the ontological and cosmic dimension of sin which is death, the break of communion and final diastasis (separation and decomposition) of beings. And yet we insist that the Church in her essence is holy and sinless. On this Orthodox differ from other Christians, particularly of the Protestant family.

The essence of Christian existence in the Church is metanoia — repentance. By being rejected, or simply feared by us, the other challenges or provokes us to repent. Even the existence of pain and death in the natural world, not caused by anyone of us individually, should lead us to metanoia, for we all share in the fall of Adam, and we all must feel the sorrow of failing to bring creation to communion with God and overcoming death. Holiness in the Church passes through sincere and deep metanoia. All the saints weep because they feel somehow personally responsible for Adam’s fall and its consequences for innocent creation.

The second implication of the Orthodox position concerning the holiness of the Church is that repentance can only be true and genuine if the Church and her members are aware of the true nature of the Church. We need a model by which we can measure our existence; the higher the model, the deeper the repentance. This is why we need a maximalistic ecclesiology with a maximalistic anthropology — and even cosmology — resulting from it. Orthodox ecclesiology, by stressing the holiness of the Church, does not and should not lead to triumphalism but to a deep sense of compassion and metanoia.

What is the model? From where can we receive guidance and illumination in order to live our communion with the other in the Church?

faith in the Trinitarian God

There is no other model for the proper relation between communion and otherness either for the Church or for the human being than the Trinitarian God. If the Church wants to be faithful to her true self, she must try to mirror the communion and otherness that exists in the Triune God. The same is true of the human being as the “image of God.”

What can we learn about communion and otherness from study of the Trinity? First, otherness is constitutive of unity. God is not first One and then Three, but simultaneously One and Three.

God’s oneness or unity is not safeguarded by the unity of substance, as St. Augustine and other western theologians have argued, but by the monarchia of the Father. It is also expressed through the unbreakable koinonia (community) that exists between the three Persons, which means that otherness is not a threat to unity but the sine qua non of unity.

Study of the Trinity reveals that otherness is absolute. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are absolutely different, none of them being subject to confusion with the other two.

Otherness is not moral or psychological but ontological. We cannot tell what each Person is; only who He is. Each person in the Holy Trinity is different not by way of difference in qualities but by way of simple affirmation of being who He is. We see that otherness is inconceivable apart from a relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all names indicating relationship. No person can be different unless it is related. Communion does not threaten otherness; it generates it.

faith in Christ

We cannot be the “image of God” unless we are incorporated in the original and only authentic image of the Father, which is the Son of God incarnate.

This implies that communion with the other requires the experience of the Cross. Unless we sacrifice our own will and subject it to the will of the other, repeating in ourselves what our Lord did at Gethsemane in accepting the will of His Father, we cannot reflect properly in history the communion and otherness that we see in the Triune God. Since God moved to meet the other — His creation — by emptying Himself and subjecting his Son to the kenosis (self-emptying) of the Incarnation, the “kenotic” way is the only one that befits the Christian in his or her communion with the other, be it God or neighbor.

This kenotic approach to communion with the other is not determined in any way by the qualities that he or she might or might not possess. In accepting the sinner into communion, Christ applied the Trinitarian model. The other is not to be identified by his or her qualities, but by the sheer fact that he or she is, and is himself or herself. We cannot discriminate between those who are worthy of our acceptance and those who are not. This is what the Christological model of communion with others requires.

faith in Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, among other things, is associated with koinonia (II Cor 13, 13) and the entrance of the last days into history (Acts 2, 17-18), that is eschatology.

When the Holy Spirit blows, He does not create good individual Christians, individuals “saints,” but an event of communion which transforms everything the Spirit touches into a relational being. The other becomes in this case an ontological part of one’s identity. The Holy Spirit de-individualizes beings wherever He blows. Where the Holy Spirit blows, there is community.

The eschatological dimension, on the other hand, of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit affects deeply the identity of the other: it is not on the basis of one’s past or present that we should identify and accept him or her, but on the basis of one’s future. And since the future lies only in the hands of God, our approach to the other must be free from passing judgment on him. In the Holy Spirit, every other is a potential saint, even if he appears be a sinner.

faith in the Church

It is in the Church that communion with the other reflects fully the relations between communion and otherness in the Holy Trinity. There are concrete forms of ecclesial communion that reflect this:

Baptism: This sacrament is associated with forgiveness. Every baptized person by being forgiven ceases to be identified by his or her past and becomes a citizen of the city to come, the Kingdom of God.

Eucharist: This is the heart of the Church, where communion and otherness are realized par excellence. If the Eucharist is not celebrated properly, the Church ceases to be the Church.

It is not by accident that the Church has given to the Eucharist the name of “Communion,” for in the Eucharist we find all the dimensions of communion: God communicates Himself to us, we enter into communion with Him, the participants of the sacrament enter into communion with one another, and creation as a whole enters through Man into communion with God — all this taking place in Christ and the Holy Spirit Who brings the last days into history and offers to the world a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.

The Eucharist does not only affirm and sanctify communion; it sanctifies otherness as well. It is the place where difference ceases to be divisive and becomes good. Communion in the Eucharist does not destroy but affirms diversity and otherness.

Whenever this does not happen, the Eucharist is distorted and even invalidated even if all the other requirements for a “valid” Eucharist are satisfied. A Eucharist which excludes in one way or another those of a different race, sex, age or profession is a false Eucharist. The Eucharist must include all these, for it us there that otherness of a natural or social kind can be transcended. A Church which does not celebrate the Eucharist in this inclusive way loses her catholicity.

But are there no limits to otherness in eucharistic communion? Is the Eucharist not a “closed” community in some sense? Do we not have such a thing as exclusion from eucharistic communion? These questions can only be answered in the affirmative. There is indeed exclusion from communion in the Eucharist, and the “doors” of the synaxis are indeed shut at some point in the Liturgy. How are we to understand this exclusion of the other?

Eucharistic communion permits only one kind of exclusion: the exclusion of exclusion: all those things that involve rejection and division, which in principle distort Trinitarian faith. Heresy involves a distorted faith that has inevitable practical consequences concerning communion and otherness. Schism is also an act of exclusion; when schism occurs, the eucharistic community becomes exclusive. In the case of both heresy and schism, we cannot pretend that we have communion with the other when in fact we have not.

Ministry: There is no area of Church life where communion and togetherness co-exist so deeply as in the Church’s ministry. Ministry involves charismata of the Holy Spirit, and charisms involve variety and diversity. “Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do all of us have the charisms of healing?” Such questions posed by St. Paul receive blunt negative answers from him. The body of Christ consists of many members and these members represent different gifts and ministries. No member can say to the other, “I need you not.” There is an absolute interdependence among the members and the ministries of the Church: no ministry can be isolated from the “other.” Otherness is the essence of ministry.

Yet at the same time otherness is acceptable only when it leads to communion and unity. When diaphora becomes diaresis, returning to the terminology of St. Maximus, we encounter immediately the fallen state of existence. In order to avoid this, the Church needs a ministry of unity, someone who would himself be needful of the “others” and yet capable of protecting difference from falling into division. This is the ministry of the bishop.

There is no Church without a bishop, nor is it by chance that there can be only one bishop in a Church, as declared by Canon Eight of the Council of Nicea. More than one bishop creates a situation in which difference may become division. The present-day situation of the Orthodox Diaspora, allowing cultural and ethnic differences to become grounds of ecclesial communion centered on different bishops, is thus unfortunate, dangerous and totally unacceptable.

personhood

Theology and Church life involve a certain conception of the human being: personhood. This term, sanctified through its use in connection with the very being of God and of Christ, is rich in its implications.

The Person is otherness in communion and communion in otherness. The Person is an identity that emerges through relationship (schesis, in the terminology of the Fathers); it is an “I” that can exist only as long as it relates to a “Thou” which affirms its existence and its otherness. If we isolate the “I” from the “Thou,” we lose not only its otherness but also its very being; it simply cannot be without the other. This is what distinguishes the person from the individual.

The Orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity is the only way to arrive at this concept of Personhood: the Father cannot be conceived for a moment without the Son and the Spirit, and the same applies to the other two Persons in their relation with the Father and with each other. At the same time each of these Persons is so unique that their hypostatic or personal properties are totally incommunicable from one Person to the Other.

Personhood is inconceivable without freedom; it is the freedom of being other. I hesitate to say “different” instead of “other” because “different” can be understood in the sense of qualities (clever, beautiful, holy, etc.), which is not what the person is about. In God all such qualities are common to the each three Persons. Person implies not simply the freedom to have different qualities but mainly the freedom simply to be yourself. This means that a person is not subject to norms and stereotypes and cannot be classified in any way; its uniqueness is absolute. This means that only a person is free in the true sense.

And yet one person is no person; freedom is not freedom from the other but freedom for the other. Freedom becomes identical with love. God is love because He is Trinity. We can love only if we are persons, allowing the other to be truly other and yet be in communion with us. If we love the other not in spite of his or her being different but because they are different from us, or rather other than ourselves, we live in freedom as love and in love as freedom.

The other is a condition of our freedom. Freedom is not from but for something other than ourselves. This makes the person ecstatic, going outside and beyond the boundaries of the self. But this ecstasis is not to be understood as a movement towards the unknown and the infinite; it is a movement of affirmation of the other.

This drive of personhood towards the affirmation of the other is so strong that is not limited to the “other” that already exists but wants to affirm an “other” which is totally free grace of the person. Just as God created the world as free grace, so the person wants to create its own “other.” This is what happens with art: the artist creating a totally other identity as an act of freedom and communion. Living in the Church in communion with the other means, therefore, creating a culture. The Orthodox Church has always been culturally creative.

Finally, we must consider the ecological problem. The threat to God’s creation is due to a crisis between the human being and the otherness of the rest of creation. Man does not respect the otherness of what is not human; he tends to absorb it into himself.

This is the cause of the ecological problem. In a desperate attempt to correct this, Man may easily fall into the pagan alternative: to absorb Man into nature. We have to be very careful. Out of its tradition, Orthodoxy is called to offer the right Christian answer to the problem. Nature is the “other” that Man is called to bring into communion with himself, affirming it as “very good” through personal creativity.

This is what happens in the Eucharist where the natural elements of bread and wine are so affirmed that they acquire personal qualities — the Body and Blood of Christ — in the event of the communion of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in a para-eucharistic way, all forms of true culture and art are ways of treating nature as otherness in communion, and these are the only healthy antidotes to the ecological illness.

We live in a time when communion with the other is becoming extremely difficult not only outside but inside the Church. Orthodoxy has the right vision of communion and otherness in its faith and in its eucharistic and ecclesial existence.

It is this that it must witness to in the midst of Western culture. But in order to be a successful witness, it must strive to apply this vision to its “way of being.” Individual Orthodox Christians may fail to do so, but the Church as a whole must not. This is why the Orthodox Church must watch carefully her own “way of being.” When the “other” is rejected on account of natural, sexual, racial, social, ethnic or even moral differences, Orthodox witness is destroyed.

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Metropolitan John Zizioulas teaches theology in both London and Thessaloniki. This is a shortened version of a lecture given at the European Orthodox Congress given in October, 1993. The full text, as well as the text of other lectures given at the Congress, is available in English, Dutch, French and German editions from the Apostle Andreas Press, de Vrièrestraat 19. B-8301 Knokke-Heist, Belgium.

Reprinted from Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s Occasional Paper nr. 19, summer 1994.

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Forgive Us…as We Forgive: Forgiveness in the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer, by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

Forgiveness in the Psalms: In order to deepen our appreciation of the mystery of forgiveness, let us turn both to the Old Testament and to the New; and let us consider how forgiveness is understood first in the Psalms and then in the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the central place that the Psalms have occupied in the liturgical life of the Church, in both the East and the West, the testimony that they bear to the meaning of forgiveness is particularly significant.

First, the Psalms contain a number of striking passages in which the worshipper pleads to God for forgiveness. The best known and most eloquent of these pleas is Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness,” recited no less than four times daily in the Byzantine Divine Office: at the Midnight Service, Matins, the Third Hour, and Compline. Another such plea is Psalm 130, “Out of the deep …”:

If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could abide it? (vs. 4)
The same urgent cry for forgiveness recurs in many other Psalms:
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord,
Be merciful to my sin, for it is great (Ps. 25:10)
Deliver me from all mine offences…;
Take Thy plague away from me (Ps. 39: 9, 11)
I said, “Lord, be merciful unto me;
Heal me, for I have sinned against Thee” (Ps. 41:4)
O remember not our past sins, but have mercy upon us, and that soon:
For we are come to great misery (Ps. 79:8)

These and similar passages of the Psalms make it abundantly clear how greatly we need the healing grace of divine forgiveness. Without God’s mercy we are helpless. It is also made clear that we have no claims upon God. Helpless as we are, we can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s mercy, nothing to oblige or constrain Him to forgive us. We can do no more than wait in patience and humility for His free gift of pardon. “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait for Him … A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise” (Ps. 130:5; 51:17).

Second, the Psalms repeatedly insist that these pleas for divine forgiveness do not remain unheard. The Lord is a God of loving-kindness and tender love, ever eager to show mercy and grant healing. This is the theme in particular of Psalm 103, used daily at Matins in the Orthodox Church, and also regularly in the Divine Liturgy:

Praise the Lord, O my soul:
And all that is within me praise His holy name …
Who forgiveth all thy sin:
And healeth all thine infirmities …
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:
Long-suffering and of great goodness …Like as a father hath compassion upon his children,
So hath the Lord compassion upon them that fear Him (vs. 1, 3, 8, 13).

In a memorable phrase, it is said that God covers our sin:
Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven:
Even he whose sin is covered (Ps. 32:1).

Elsewhere it is said that our sins are blotted out:
To Thee shall all flesh come to confess their sins:
When our misdeeds prevail against us, in Thy mercy do Thou blot them out (Ps. 65:2).

A leitmotif in the “historical” Psalms is the way in which, again and again in the story of salvation, the people of Israel have gone astray, and yet God in His faithful love has forgiven them (Ps. 78:38, 106:43-44, 107:13-16, cf. 85:1-3). God, it is said elsewhere, is like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep (cf. Matt. 18:12; Luke 15:4):

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost;
O seek thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments (Ps. 119:176).

Yet we are not presumptuously to take God’s forgiveness for granted, for His mercy goes hand in hand with His justice (cf. Rom. 11:22):

My song shall be of mercy and justice (Ps. 101:1).

Third, if we are in this way forgiven by God, then we in our turn are called to extend forgiveness to our fellow humans. This is not in fact affirmed in the Psalms very clearly or very frequently, but there are occasions in which it is at least implied, in the context of money-lending:

The ungodly borroweth and payeth not again:
But the righteous giveth and is bountiful …

The righteous is ever bountiful and lendeth:
And his children shall be blessed (Ps. 37:21, 26).

It is good for a man to be generous when he lendeth (Ps. 112:5).

This can perhaps be enlarged to include not only generosity over debts but other forms of remission and forgiveness. At the same time, a restriction has to be noted. We cannot grant forgiveness on behalf of others, in regard to offences that have been committed not against us but against them:

But no man may deliver his brother:
Nor pay a price unto God for him (Ps. 49:7).

Sadly, however, it has to be noted that there are grave limitations in the Psalms concerning the scope of forgiveness. If, as we have seen, there are only a few places where it is suggested that we should forgive others, there are unfortunately many other passages in which the Psalmist curses his enemies and prays for their destruction. God is invoked as a God of vengeance (Ps. 54:1; 94:1). We are to hate our enemies with a “perfect hatred” (Ps. 139:22). Particularly cruel is the punishment called down upon the daughter of Babylon:

Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children:
And throweth them against the stones (Ps. 137:9).

Most notably, Psalm 109 contains an imprecation daunting in its cruelty:
Let his days be few:
And let another seize his possessions.
Let his children be fatherless:
And his wife become a widow.
Let his children be vagabonds and beg their bread:
Let them be driven out even from their desolate places …
Let there be no man to pity him:
Or to have compassion upon his fatherless children (vs. 7-9, 11).

Such a passage does not stand alone: compare, for example, Ps. 83:9-17, 129:5-8, and 140:8-10. I have noted altogether over thirty passages in the Psalms asking God to inflict pain and suffering upon others, and this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. It is of course possible to explain away such passages by interpreting them symbolically, as referring not to our fellow human beings but to our evil thoughts or to the demons. But such was not their original intention.

Seventy Times Seven: When we turn, however, from the Old Testament to the New, we are at once impressed by a manifest and remarkable contrast. Nowhere in the Gospels does Christ instruct us to hate our enemies: He tells us, on the contrary, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). The law of retaliation is firmly abrogated: we are not to “resist an evildoer,” but to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). There are to be no limits to our forgiveness: we are to forgive our brother “seven times a day” (Luke 17:4), and not only that, but “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). We do not find such statements in the Psalms. Nor, indeed, do we find in the Psalms the statement that occupies such a prominent place in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). The Lord’s Prayer is comprehensive but extremely concise. If, then, in such a short prayer, nearly a quarter—no less than 13 words in the Greek text, out of 57—is devoted to the theme of forgiveness, this shows how crucially important it is in God’s sight that we should forgive and be forgiven.

This is certainly the view of Origen. If Christ places such strong emphasis upon forgiveness in the model prayer that He has given us, this is because there cannot be any true prayer at all unless it is offered in a forgiving spirit. St. Gregory of Nyssa goes so far as to claim that the clause “Forgive us … as we forgive” is the culminating point in the entire prayer; it constitutes “the very peak of virtue.” He adds, however, that—fundamental though the clause is—its true sense is not at all easy to grasp: “The meaning surpasses any interpretation in words.”

A valuable insight into the significance of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer is provided by the literal sense of the verb “ forgive” in verse 12. The primary idea conveyed by this word is “let go,” “set aside,” “leave behind.” It denotes such things as release from captivity, the cancellation of a debt, or the remission of punishment. Unforgiving people grasp, retain, and hold fast; forgiving people let go. Yet, if we let go the memory of an offence, does this not suggest that we condone the evil that has been done? That, surely, cannot be the correct meaning of forgiveness. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what has happened seriously and not minimizing it.” To condone an evil is to pass over it, to ignore it, or else it is to pretend that it is not an evil, to treat it as if it were good. But to forgive is something altogether different. There can be no genuine forgiveness that is not truthful and realistic. Let us not practice any evasion. If an evil has been done, then this has to be frankly admitted.

Moreover, if the process of forgiveness is to be brought to full completion, the evil has to be frankly admitted by both sides, by aggressor as well as victim. It is true that, when we suffer wrong, we should endeavor to forgive the other immediately, without any delay, not waiting for the other to acknowledge the wrong. It was precisely in this spirit that Jesus prayed at His crucifixion, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:24). If, however, the forgiveness is to come to proper interpersonal fulfillment, more is required. Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered; and the one who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.

If forgiveness, in the sense of letting go, is not the same as condoning, should we say that to forgive is to forget? Shall we make King Lear’s words our own, “Pray you now, forget and forgive”? The answer seems to be yes and no. All depends on what we remember (or forget) and how we do so. Certainly there is no point in clinging to the memory of trivial misunderstandings and injuries. We should rather allow them to slip quietly away into oblivion, for we have better things with which to occupy our minds. There are, however, events in our personal lives, and in the lives of our communities, that are far too important simply to be forgotten. It would not be right to say to the members of the Armenian nation, “Forget the massacres of 1915,” or to the Jewish people, “Forget the Shoah in the Second World War.” These are matters that, for the sake of our shared humanity, none of us should forget, not least so as to ensure that such atrocities may never be allowed to happen again.

More decisive than what we remember is how we do so. We are not to remember in a spirit of hatred and recrimination, or for the sake of revenge. Dr Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, has rightly said: “Remember the past … but do not be held captive by it. Turn it into a blessing, not a curse; a source of hope, not humiliation.” Our memories are not to be repressed or negated, but at the same time they must be purified and healed. We need to remember, yet not self-righteously or with aggressive accusations, but in a spirit of compunction and mourning. We need to remember with love. But that is difficult.

Forgiveness, it can even be said, begins not with an act of forgetfulness, but with an act of mindfulness and self-knowledge. We have to recognize the harm that has been done, the wound that we or the other carry in our heart. Only after this moment of truthful recognition can we then begin to let go, not in the sense of consigning to oblivion, but in the sense of no longer being held prisoner by the memory. We must remember, but be free.

Responsible for everyone and everything: A dominant theme in the Patristic interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer is the unity of the human race. The early Fathers are in full agreement with the words of Julian of Norwich, “In the sight of God, all man is one man, and one man is all man.” They agree equally with John Donne “No man is an Island, entire of itself.” Our need to forgive and to be forgiven springs directly from the fact that we are all of us interdependent, members of a single human family. Indeed, this insistence upon coinherence is to be seen, not only in the clause “Forgive us … as we forgive,” but in the Lord’s Prayer as a whole. St. Cyprian of Carthage notes how the prepositions in the Prayer are consistently in the plural, not the singular: not “my” but “our,” not “me” but “us.”

We do not say “My Father who art in heaven,” or “Give me this day my bread,” nor does each one ask that only his own debt be remitted, nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation or may be delivered from the evil one. Prayer with us is public and common, and when we pray, we do not pray for one person but for the whole people, because the whole people are one.

This perception of our human unity, in Cyprian’s view, has its foundation in the Christian doctrine of God. We believe in God the Trinity, who is not only one but one-in-three, not only personal but interpersonal. We believe in the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so we human beings are saved, not in isolation, but in communion one with another.

This unity that marks us out as human persons, while underlined throughout the Lord’s Prayer, is particularly evident in the clause concerning forgiveness. In the words of Clement of Alexandria, when we say “Forgive us … as we forgive,” we are proclaiming that “all humankind is the work of one Will.” This is a point emphasized by St. Maximos the Confessor in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. Unity and mutual love, he says, constitute “the principle (logos) of nature” by which we human beings have been created. When, therefore, we pray for forgiveness, we are bringing our human will into harmony with the logos of our nature. Conversely, to withhold forgiveness is to “sunder human nature by separating ourselves from our fellow humans, even though we are ourselves human.” Our refusal to live in union with each other through mutual forgiveness is therefore self-destructive: “Failing such union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s divine and ineffable gift of Himself.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa likewise sees the refusal of forgiveness as self-destructive: “In condemning your neighbor, you thereby condemn yourself.” Giving a wide-ranging application to the notion of human unity, Gregory maintains that it extends through time as well as space. When saying “Forgive us” in the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking forgiveness not only for our own personal sins but also for the debts that are common to our nature, and more particularly for the ancestral sin that the whole human race inherits from Adam. Even if we keep ourselves free from personal sins—in fact, as Gregory comments, none of us can claim this of ourselves, even for an hour—we would still need to say “Forgive us” on behalf of Adam:

Adam lives in us … and so we do well to make use of these words Forgive us our trespasses. Even if we were Moses or Samuel or someone else of pre-eminent virtue, we would nonetheless regard these words as appropriate to ourselves, since we are human; we share in Adam’s nature and therefore share also in his fall. Since, then, as the Apostle says, “we all die in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22), these words that suitably express Adam’s penitence are likewise appropriate for all those who have died with him.

A similar line of thought is found in St. Mark the Monk. In his opinion, we are called to repent not only “for our own sin” but also “for the sin of transgression,” that is to say, for the ancestral sin of Adam. Repentance is vicarious: The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbor, for without active love they cannot be made perfect … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.

Even though there is no explicit reference here to the Lord’s Prayer, Mark’s line of argument can surely be applied to the petition “Forgive us … as we forgive.” If we can repent for the sins of others, then we can and should also ask forgiveness on their behalf. The principle of mutual solidarity applies equally in both cases: “we are each of us assisted by one another.” No one is forgiven and saved in isolation.

These statements by Gregory and Mark fall far short of a fully developed theology of original guilt, such as we find in St. Augustine. Mark specifically excludes the view that, in a juridical sense, we are guilty of Adam’s sin, considered as an act of personal choice. Yet, on a level more profound than legal culpability, there exists a mystical solidarity that unites us all one to another; and it is of this that Gregory and Mark are speaking. “All man is one man,” and so we are each “responsible for everything and everyone,” to use the phrase of Dostoevsky’s Starets Zosima. Even if we are not personally guilty, nevertheless we bear the burden of what Adam and all the other members of the human family have done. They live in us, and we in them. Here as always the vital word is we, not I. None of us falls alone, for we drag each other down; and none of us is forgiven and saved alone. Forgiveness is not solitary but social.

How far can the notion of vicarious forgiveness be legitimately extended? Can I forgive or accept forgiveness on behalf of others? So far as asking forgiveness is concerned, it is surely reasonable to request forgiveness on behalf of others, when those others are joined to me in some way, for example by kinship, nationhood, or religious allegiance. If, tracing back our ancestry, we become aware that our family tree is tainted with unresolved tensions and alienation, we can and should pray for the forgiveness and healing of our forebears. By the same token, the descendant of a slave-trader might rightly feel impelled to ask forgiveness in his heart—and perhaps by some external gesture as well—from the families of those whom his ancestor took captive and sold into bondage. Pope John Paul II acted as a true Christian when, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome in June 2004, he asked the Patriarch’s forgiveness for the sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders eight hundred years previously. How I long for an Orthodox Church leader to ask forgiveness in the same way from the Catholics, for the many evils that we Orthodox have inflicted upon them! And all of us, Orthodox and Catholics alike, have to seek forgiveness from the Jews, God’s Chosen People, for the heavy sins that, over the centuries, we have committed against them.

Have we the right, however, not only to ask forgiveness on behalf of others, but also to offer it on their behalf? Here there is reason for us to be much more hesitant. For myself, I agree with the late Rabbi Albert Friedlander, and with Psalm 49:9, that one cannot forgive offences that have not been committed against oneself. It would be inappropriate, and indeed presumptuous, for me as a non-Jew to claim authority to forgive the suffering inflicted upon the Jews during the Shoah in the Second World War. It is not for me but for the Jews themselves to decide how those sufferings should be remembered, and how and when they should be forgiven. In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, “… as we forgive those who have trespassed against others,” but “… as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Issuing an Order to God: What light do the Fathers shed upon the central word in the forgiveness petition—indeed, the most puzzling word in the whole of the Lord’s Prayer—the word “as” in “Forgive us … as we forgive”? “No word in English,” states Charles Williams, “carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word “as” in that clause; it is the measuring rod of the heavenly City, and the knot of the new union. But also it is the key of hell and the knife that cuts the knot of union.” Truly it is a hazardous prayer. We dare to apply to ourselves with unmitigated rigor the principle laid down by Christ “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matt. 7:2). “What you do,” warned St. Cyprian, “that you will also yourself suffer.” As St. John Chrysostom put it, “We ourselves have control over the judgment that is to be passed upon us.”

Not only is it a hazardous request to God but also a very strange one. It is as if we were issuing an order to God and instructing Him how to act. “If I do not forgive others,” we are saying to Him, “then do You withhold forgiveness from me.” Nowhere else in the Lord’s Prayer do we issue orders in this way. St. Gregory of Nyssa attempts to spell out the paradox in terms of what may be called “mimetic inversion.” Under normal circumstances, he observes, it is we who are called to imitate God; as St. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). This is particularly the case when we forgive others. Since in the last resort, God alone has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:7), it is only possible for us to forgive others if we imitate God. We cannot genuinely forgive, that is to say, unless we have been taken up into God and have ourselves “in some sense become God,” in Gregory’s phrase. The one who forgives needs to be “deified” or “divinized”; there can be no effective forgiveness without theosis. That is the normal pattern. But in the case of the Lord’s Prayer—and Gregory admits this is a “bold thing” to say—the customary order is reversed. On this occasion, we serve as an example to God. Instead of ourselves imitating Him, we are telling Him to imitate us: “What I have done, do You likewise; imitate Your servant, O Lord …. I have forgiven; do You forgive. I have shown great mercy to my neighbor; imitate my loving-kindness, You who are by nature loving-kind.”

Yet, in this clause “Forgive us … as we forgive,” precisely how strong a sense should be attached to the conjunction “as”? Should it be understood as causative, proportionate, or conditional?

Is the sense causative? In that case, we are saying to God, “Forgive us because we forgive”; our forgiveness causes His. This is indeed the way some Patristic authors interpreted the phrase. Clement of Alexandria suggested that, by forgiving others, we somehow compel God to forgive us. Yet a causative interpretation of this kind presents grave difficulties. As Calvin has rightly insisted, forgiveness comes from the “free mercy” of God. It is an unmerited gift of divine grace, conferred solely through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection; it is never something that we can earn or deserve. God acts with sovereign liberty, and we have no claims upon Him. As Paul affirmed, quoting the Pentateuch: “For God says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16; cf. Exod. 33:19). This is rendered abundantly clear in Christ’s parable concerning the laborers in the vineyard: to those who complain about their wages, the master replies, “Have I not the right to do as I choose with what is my own?” (Matt. 20:15). Moreover, the initiative rests with God and not with us. He does not wait for us to forgive others before He extends His forgiveness to us. On the contrary, His act of free and unrestricted forgiveness precedes any act of forgiveness on our part: “God proves His love for us, in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

If the word “as” cannot be causative, is it proportionate? Does it signify “to the same degree,” “according to the same measure”? Once more, this can hardly be the true sense. Between our forgiveness and God’s, there can be no common measure. He forgives with a fullness and generosity far beyond our wildest imagining: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). The transcendent and incomparable character of divine forgiveness is underlined in another Matthaean parable, that of the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). In relation to God, we are like the slave who owed ten thousand talents (a talent being equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages received by a laborer), whereas in relation to each other we are like the slave who owed a hundred denarii (a denarius being the usual day’s wage for a laborer). Even St. Gregory of Nyssa, after suggesting that in His act of forgiveness God is imitating us, at once goes on to qualify this by asserting that our sins against God are immeasurably heavier than any sins by others against us. Later he refers for confirmation precisely to the parable of the two debtors.

If, then, our forgiveness is neither the cause nor the measure of God’s forgiveness, what further alternative remains? There exists a third possibility: it is the condition. Forgiveness is indeed unmerited, but it is not unconditional. God for His part is always overwhelmingly eager to forgive. This divine eagerness is movingly expressed in the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15 : 11-32), which is read at the Orthodox Liturgy on the Sunday two weeks before the Sunday of Forgiveness. The father does not simply sit and wait passively for his son to return home. We are to imagine him standing day after day outside his house, anxiously scanning the horizon in the forlorn hope that at long last he may catch sight of a familiar figure. Then, as soon as the prodigal comes into view, while he is still far off, the father rushes out to meet his son, embracing and kissing him, and inviting him into the feast. Such is God’s great willingness to forgive us and to welcome us home. Later in the story the father again goes out, this time in the hope of persuading his elder son to come and share the feast. This double going-out on the part of the loving father is of primary significance if we are to appreciate the quality of divine mercy.

Yes, indeed, God is always eager to forgive—far more than we are to repent. In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian, “There exists in Him a single love and compassion that is spread out over all creation, a love that is without alteration, timeless, and everlasting.” Calling to mind Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane and His death on the Cross, we ask ourselves: What more could God incarnate have done to win us back to Himself, that He has not done? Forgiveness, however, has not only to be offered but to be accepted. God knocks at the door of the human heart (Rev. 3:20), but He does not break the door down: we for our part have to open it.

Here precisely we find the true meaning of the word “as” in the Lord’s Prayer. It is not that God is unwilling to forgive us. But if, despite God’s unfailing eagerness to forgive, we on our side harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness to others, then quite simply we render ourselves incapable of receiving the divine forgiveness. Closing our hearts to others, we close them also to God; rejecting others, we reject Him. If we are unforgiving, then by our own act, we place ourselves outside the interchange of healing love. God does not exclude us; it is we who exclude ourselves.

Our forgiveness of others, then, is not the cause of God’s forgiveness towards us, but it is certainly the condition without which God’s forgiveness cannot pass within us. Divine pardon is indeed a free gift that we can never earn. What concerns us here, however, is not merit but capacity. Our relation to God and our relation to our fellow humans are strictly interdependent. As St. Silouan of Mount Athos affirmed, “Our brother is our life.” This is true not in a sentimental but in an ontological sense. Love for God and love for neighbor are not two loves but one.

“Forgive us … as we forgive”: when we say these words, so Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has rightly cautioned us, “we take our salvation into our own hands.”

Four Words of Counsel: As we begin to cross the Red Sea of forgiveness, let us remind ourselves of certain practical guidelines.

Do not delay, but do not be in haste. Do not delay: the time for forgiveness is always now. Maximize the moment. The devil’s weapons are nostalgia and procrastination: he tells us “Too late” or “Too soon.” But, where the devil says “Yesterday” or “Tomorrow,” the Holy Spirit says “Today.”

We are not to think within ourselves, “First, I will change for the better; then I will be ready to forgive.” Still less are we to think (what is far worse), “First, I will wait to see whether the other is really sorry for the wrong that he has done, and whether he has really changed for the better; then I will decide whether to forgive him.” Let us, on the contrary, be like the loving father in the story of the prodigal. Let us take the initiative and run out to meet the other. Forgiveness has to come first; it is the cause of the change in ourselves and in others, not the effect. To adapt a phrase of the Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, “In so far as I am not forgiven, I am unintelligible to myself.”

Yet there is another side to the question. Forgive now, in your heart; but in your outward actions do not be overhasty. Forgiveness signifies healing, and healing often takes time. Premature requests for forgiveness can make the situation worse. If we force ourselves upon the other, before seeking through imaginative empathy to discover what the other is thinking and feeling, we may widen rather than bridge the gulf that separates us. Without putting things off, often we need to pause—not with passive indifference but waiting with alertness upon God—until the kairos, the moment of opportunity, has become clear. Emperor Augustus was right: Festina lente.

Forgive the other, but also be willing to accept the forgiveness that the other is offering to us. It is hard to forgive; but often it is even harder to acknowledge that we ourselves need to be forgiven. Let us be humble enough to accept the gift of another’s pardon. As Charles Williams wisely observed, “Many reconciliations have unfortunately broken down because both parties have come prepared to forgive and unprepared to be forgiven.”

Forgive others, but also forgive yourself. Have we not sometimes said, or heard others say, “I will never forgive myself for that”? Yet how can we accept forgiveness from others, if we will not forgive ourselves? In the words again of Charles Williams, by remaining in this state of “half-anger, half-anguish,” we create for ourselves “a separate hell.” Judas regretted what he had done, but in his case self-knowledge brought him not to fresh hope but to despair; unable to accept God’s forgiveness, and therefore unable to forgive himself, he went out and committed suicide (Matt. 27: 3-5). Peter on the other hand took a different path. Brought to self-knowledge by the crowing of the cock, he wept bitter tears of remorse; yet this remorse did not reduce him to despair. Rather, seeing the risen Christ at the lakeside, he did not turn away from Him into a “separate hell,” but drew near with hope. Accepting Christ’s forgiveness, forgiving himself, he began anew (Matt. 26:75; Jn. 21:15-19).

Pray. If we cannot yet find within our heart the possibility of forgiving the other, then let us at least pray for them. In the words of St. Silouan, “If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you.” Let us ask God that we may not make the other’s burden more heavy, that we may not be to them a scandal and a cause of stumbling. And if, as we pray, we cannot yet bring ourselves to the point of actually forgiving, then let us ask God that we may experience at least the desire and longing to forgive. There are situations in which truly to want something is already to attain it. Like the man who brought his sick child to Christ and cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9 : 24), let us also cry out with tears: “Lord, I forgive; help my unforgivingness.” Slowly, gradually, there will come at last the moment when we are able to remember with love.

By invoking God’s help in prayer and by admitting our own helplessness, we are reminded of the all-important truth that forgiveness is a divine prerogative. It is not simply our action, but the action of God in us. To forgive, in a full and genuine sense, we need to be “in God.” “It is God who has shone in our hearts … the all-surpassing power is from Him and not from us” (2 Cor. 4 : 6-7). This all-surpassing power of God is communicated to us above all through the mysteries or sacraments of the Church; and, in the Patristic interpretation of “Our Father,” at least two of these mysteries are mentioned implicitly in the course of the Prayer. When we say, “Give us today our daily bread,” we are to think not of material bread alone but of the bread from heaven, the Eucharist . Then, in the petition that follows, “Forgive us … as we forgive,” we are to recall the forgiveness of sins that we have received in Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Prayer, according to St. Augustine, is in this way a continual renewal of Baptism: reciting the words that Christ has given us, “daily we are washed clean.” Our forgiveness, then, does not depend merely upon our feelings, or upon the decision of our will. It has an objective basis in the sacrament of our baptismal washing.

Flying Kites: After Orthodox Christians have knelt before each other at the Vespers of Forgiveness, asking and granting pardon, what do they do on the next day, the first day of Lent, known as “Clean Monday” (Kathara Devtera)? In many places it is still the custom to go out on the hills and have a picnic; and on this, the first open-air festival of the year, both children and grown-ups fly kites in the spring breeze. Such can also be our inner experience when we begin to forgive one another. To forgive is to enter spiritual springtime. It is to emerge from gloom into the sunlight, from self-imprisonment into the liberty of the open air. It is to ascend the hills, to let the wind blow on our faces, and to fly noetic kites, the kites of imagination, hope, and joy.

As his son said of the priest Papastavros, “He is free because he forgives.” IC

This article is the second of a two part series. The first part appeared in the Fall 2011 issue. The entire essay was presented as a paper by Met. Kallistos at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Study Day in Amsterdam in 2010 and will soon be made available by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in booklet form (the booklet will include all footnotes that are part of the original paper). It appears as a chapter in a book of essays by several authors called Meditations of the Heart: The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice. Essays in Honour of Andrew Louth. The book was published by Brepols Publishers in August, 2011.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012

A Pilgrimage to Hell

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

by Jim Forest

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions….”

–Primo Levi, survivor of Auschwitz, If This is a Man

No one is certain how many died at Auschwitz. Most prisoners were gassed soon after arrival without having been registered, while, for those who were registered, the SS destroyed the bulk of their records before abandoning the camp. But years of research have shown that the figure is not less than 1.1 million people. Even that minimum figure leaves us with a number beyond comprehension. One million plus one hundred thousand. In the summer months, there are perhaps that many leaves on the trees in the park where I take a walk each morning before starting work. I live in a city of one hundred thousand people—thus the number killed equals everyone in this city plus ten more of the same size. But in fact there is no way to envision such a number meaningfully. I cannot take it in.

The way we usually deal with so large a number of human casualties is to focus on just a single face. One face, one story. This is manageable. A single life and death can open a window on a vast crowd.

The most well known face of the Holocaust is Anne Frank, who was fifteen when she and her family arrived at Auschwitz. (From there she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where she died.) It is consoling to know that her diary has been read or seen enacted in film or on stage by far more people than died in all the Nazi concentration camps combined. Millions have visited her hiding place in Amsterdam. In July 1944, shortly before she and her family were taken away, she wrote in her diary, “I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Or there is the face of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish scholar who wrote another widely-read diary of life in Amsterdam during the German occupation, in her case lived in the open. Turning down offers to go into hiding, she explained to friends that she wished to share her family’s and her people’s fate. She died at Auschwitz on the last day of November 1943. “They [the Nazis] are out to destroy us completely,” she wrote in her diary. “We must accept that and go on from there…. Very well then … I accept it…. God, take me by Your Hand. I shall follow You faithfully, and not resist too much. I shall evade none of the tempests life has in store for me, I shall try to face it all as best I can. I shall try to spread some of my warmth, of my genuine love for others, wherever I go…. I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing for the new age, by living it, even now, in our hearts.”

Or it could be the face of Edith Stein, a nun with Jewish roots whose life ended on the 9th of August 1942 in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. She had been born in Poland, had lived in Germany and was in a Dutch Carmelite convent at the time of her arrest. “I told our Lord,” she wrote, “that I knew it was His cross that was now being placed upon the Jewish people; that most of them did not understand this, but that those who did would have to take it up willingly in the name of all. I would do that. At the end of the service, I was certain that I had been heard. But what this carrying of the cross was to consist in, that I did not yet know.”

For me, living in the Dutch city of Alkmaar, there is another way of making an intimate connection. On the 5th of March 1942, 213 Alkmaar Jews—all the local Jews not in hiding—were gathered at our one synagogue and from there transported, via Amsterdam and Westerbork, to Auschwitz. Only a few survived. (Today, after a 69-year recess, the same synagogue has just been restored and reconsecrated.)

So many names, so many stories, so many faces to choose from. More than a million.

It had long been a hope of mine to visit this Golgotha of the modern world. Though far from the only one, Auschwitz provides the most vivid image of the assembly-line production of dead bodies—a factory of absolute nihilism, a revelation of a demonic longing to assassinate God and the divine image in man.

The chance to visit Auschwitz finally came, thanks to an invitation to give a lecture at an interfaith peace conference at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. My topic at the conference was not a theory of dialogue but the story of a rescuer—Mother Maria Skobtsova, now recognized as St. Maria of Paris, who founded a house of hospitality in Paris where many lives were saved before she and her principal collaborators were arrested. Mother Maria’s life ended at Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany on the eve of Easter 1945. I could think of no better way to contribute to an interfaith meeting than to tell the story of a Christian willing to lay down her life for Jews.

I was one of three Orthodox Christians from outside Poland who came to the conference. The other two were Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, from Oxford, and Archimandrite Ignatios Stavropoulos, from a monastery near Nefpaktos in Greece. With us was Father Vladimir Misijuk, an Orthodox priest who has translated several of Metropolitan Kallistos’ books into Polish, and Dr. Pawel Wroblewski, one of the prime movers behind the peace conference in Wroclaw.

The day after the conference ended, we traveled together to the camp, now the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

The local weather seemed to be in mourning—chilly, gray, on the edge of foggy. The area for miles and miles around Auschwitz is flat and thinly populated. The town near the camp, Oswiecim, is almost entirely of post-war construction—the population had been removed by the Germans before construction of the concentration camp was started so that there would to be no local witnesses.

Standing near the only surviving crematorium, our delegation was met by a historian on the museum staff, Teresa Wontor-Cichy, who led us under the camp’s notorious Arbeit Macht Frei sign—Labor Brings Freedom. It was here that the famous Auschwitz inmate orchestra played as columns of famished prisoners marched in and out twice a day to their places of labor. The music, Teresa told us, made it easier for the guards to count.

I had imagined Auschwitz-Birkenau as one inter-connected camp, but soon learned that Auschwitz served as the nucleus for more than forty other camps, with nearby Birkenau the point of delivery for the daily trainloads of prisoners, mainly Jews but also Christians, gypsies, homosexuals, and political opponents of the Nazis.

In Auschwitz itself, nearly all the buildings had been constructed of brick. It could pass for a solidly-built military post. It would not have been hard to convince a naive visitor, so long as he didn’t look behind the wrong doors, that the conditions of life at Auschwitz weren’t so bad. Why, there was even an orchestra! On the other hand, were a visitor to be taken inside the buildings, he would have soon discovered that there are hells in this world worse than any hell he might imagine in the next. For example, there was Block 10—the domain of Nazi doctors carrying out the most vile medical experiments. One of the physicians, Josef Mengele, became known as the “Angel of Death.” Block 11 served as a “prison within the prison.” A small court operated here at which many were sentenced to death. The basement cells were for those deprived of all food and water. Among ten men sent to die in one such cell, now marked by a tall Paschal candle, was Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to take the place of a young husband and father. Kolbe was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. He has since been canonized by the Catholic Church.

We stopped for a time in the yard between Blocks 10 and 11. This had been used as a place of summary execution for those convicted of breaking camp rules. Even a baseless accusation could mean death before a firing squad. Here Metropolitan Kallistos led us in a prayer, long silences between each phrase, both for those who died here and for the guards who had caused so much suffering. We prayed with the awareness that, while the Nazis themselves despised Christianity, centuries of Christian anti-Semitism had helped create an environment of contempt and hatred without which the Shoah would have been impossible.

The charts, maps, and photos we saw in the various buildings we passed through effectively told the story of the creation and uses of Auschwitz and its surrounding network of camps, but what made the deepest impression were the many items the SS had failed to destroy as, the Red Army fast approaching, they made their hurried retreat in January 1945. We passed through room after room containing the mute evidence of people who, after stripping naked for a delousing shower (so they were told), were gassed by the hundreds at a time—all children younger than fifteen, their mothers, the elderly, those judged unfit. Among those condemned on arrival, the lucky ones were those closest to the shower heads—they died immediately—while those further away took upto twenty minutes to breathe their last.

Even as they were dying, their possessions were being carefully sorted. We saw a mountain range of shoes, thousands of reading glasses, the train tickets more affluent passengers had purchased for the privilege of riding to Auschwitz first or second class instead of traveling in freight cars, and countless suitcases bearing names and addresses of the doomed. We saw dense piles of hair that had been cut from the bodies of women after they were removed from the gas chamber. The hair was for use, Teresa told us, as a commercial component in making textiles. Finally we saw empty canisters of Zyklon B, the substance from which the lethal cyanide gas was released.

Our final stop in the original Auschwitz was the camp’s one surviving place of gassing and body burning. It had escaped destruction because, when much larger gas chambers and crematoria were built at Birkenau, this smaller building had been converted into a bomb shelter. The adjacent crematorium, with its tall square chimney and just two ovens, was also left intact.

Birkenau, about a mile away, didn’t bother with brick structures for housing its captives. It was a gridiron of quickly-erected wooden barracks filling a vast area, barrack after barrack as far as the eye could see. Though a small number of barracks survive, in most cases only the foundations remain. The one brick building left standing is at the entrance to Birkenau, a one-storey structure crowned with an observation tower in the center under which prisoner-bearing freight trains arrived from every part of Europe. A few hundred yards beyond the station, truly the end of the line, was the area where an SS doctor presided over the selection process. Some were judged healthy enough to work—a slow death-sentence for all but a few—while the rest were led away to the nearby gas chamber. About 75 percent were killed on arrival.

Auschwitz barrack interior

We visited two barracks, one of them still containing the deep, wooden bunks on which inmates—up to a thousand per barrack—were stored at night like cigarettes in a carton. The shed-like structure provided almost no defense against the elements.

Walking from place to place in the two camps, I felt as if I had turned to wood. Words failed me—indeed my emotions failed me, and they still do. It’s not possible to respond in word or sentiment in an adequate way to evil of such magnitude. The awful images are inerasable. Having been there in the flesh, the events that happened in this rural corner of Poland are forever real to me. Any pilgrim to Auschwitz is brought closer to the mainly anonymous people who died here.

One thought kept running through my mind. This human-made hell could never have existed without fear and obedience. Those who ran the camps, from the commandants to the lowest ranking soldier, knew they would themselves be killed if they failed to obey orders. While no doubt some of the staff were already psychopaths, most of those who were assigned here were, at least at the start, ordinary people, probably relieved that they hadn’t been sent into combat.

Adolf Eichmann, the chief bureaucrat of the Holocaust, claimed that he had no ill feeling against Jews. He did what he did because it was his assigned duty. He was “just following orders.” We have heard the same justifications from everyone involved in all concentration camps: “I was just following orders.” The same was true of those who created and staffed the Gulag Archipelago or who dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or who firebombed Tokyo or Dresden or Coventry or London. It remains true of those today whose daily work involves killing. Only psychopaths want to kill. The rest of us are “just following orders,” whether because of a sense of duty or driven by fear of what the consequences would if we dared to say no.

In his Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann, Thomas Merton reflected on the fact that psychiatrists testifying at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem found Eichmann perfectly sane. “The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless,” Merton commented. “A man can be ‘sane’ in the limited sense that he is not impeded by disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly manner, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly ‘adjusted.’ God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself. And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own?”

Perhaps sanity has come to mean merely the capacity to live successfully in a toxic society and follow orders. Following orders is made easier by propaganda—slogans inciting fear and hatred, slogans to kill by. For everyone involved wants to believe the murderous work he or she is doing serves, at least eventually, some larger good.

Underneath such adaptation is fear—fear of punishment, fear of exclusion, fear of death. Thus we conclude that it’s better to remain alive by becoming a murderer than to die without the stain of innocent blood on our hands.

During the visit to Auschwitz, I kept thinking of Easter and the resurrection of the crucified Christ from his tomb, an event which, for Christians at least, ought to equip us not to fear death and no longer to be prisoners of hell. But how rare are the Paschal people—and how numerous those who obey orders no matter how deadly the consequences.

Leaving Auschwitz, I remembered the words of one of its victims, Etty Hillesum: “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty, to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” IC

Photos of the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum can be viewed at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157628042735399/with/6437478257/

Enlarge Photos

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012

Who of These Is Not Like The Others? by Alex Patico

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

by Alex Patico

The Traveler

He wonders, what did I do wrong? Should I have realized that this was a risky time, what with all the threats coming out of Tehran and Washington? Should I have postponed my trip, even though my aunt in Isfahan is not getting any younger and may not be around much longer? Was there something wrong in the way I answered their questions in the windowless side-room at Imam Khomeini Airport? Would it have been any different had I flown into Mehrabad? A thousand questions in order to avoid asking the only important question: Will I make it home alive?

The Interrogator

He does not like this job, but it is a job. Most of the young men in his family are unemployed, even the ones with university degrees. It could be worse; he could be one of the guys who work in the back end of Evin Prison, the ones who can use (in fact, who are encouraged to use) any technique they can think up—just like in the old days under the Shah. But still, his job is boring and tedious. The “right” answers rarely come, nor are they necessarily required, if the bosses decide to proceed with a prosecution. At least he is serving the Revolution, which seems to be getting off-track lately.

The Motorcyclist

He throttles down, partly to avoid having his wheels catch the edge of the joob (an open drainage ditch bedside the roadway, sometimes five feet deep), partly so as not to alert their target. He approaches the car, parked beside an apartment building in North Tehran. His companion readies the device so that it can be affixed to the car’s side panel, just behind the driver’s side door, and they can roar away before anyone in the car or on the street has time to react. They will be out of blast range at the crucial moment, ideally with no one having gotten a good look at them.

The Scientist

He thinks about the meetings he has scheduled for the afternoon, about going home to have lunch with his wife. He will change out of his office trousers and into comfortable, pajama-bottom-like shalvor while she brings his tea—served in a small glass, accompanied by the irregular lumps of sugar called qand. He will place the qand behind his teeth and sip the hot, flavorful tea through it. They will talk about the children, how they’re doing in school. He hears a slight “click” on the side of the car, before he hears nothing…ever again.

The Marine

He feels oddly ecstatic, though he’s not sure whether it is their victory in the skirmish, or just the fact that he’s alive, when he didn’t necessarily expect to be. Though buoyed by the “win,” he’s also still jittery, hopped up on battle adrenalin. And there is the bitter rage that bubbled up inside him when he saw his bunkmate get it in the head, not eight feet from where he was crouched. Taking a leak has always been “the pause that refreshes” but it never felt as good as this. Take that, he murmurs, as a crooked smile splits his face.

The Talib

He looks down on his now-useless earthly body, which he had put so much effort into building up. Now, he is beyond being surprised by anything that human beings might do. Still, it doesn’t feel right, to see the khareji, the foreigners, desecrating the body that Allah had given him to use. He wonders whether his family members will see the pictures the other young man is taking. He muses about what his brothers in Islam will do when they see it. They will take offense, he knows. They may be energized by this new insult to our honor. It may lead to more killing.

Comprehension Quiz

Which of these is a child of God?

0 The Traveler

0 The Interrogator

0 The Motorcylist

0 The Scientist

0 The Marine

0 The Talib

0 All of the above

From the blog, Red Horse Down. Visit Alex’s blog and read his thoughts on Iran. Alex was a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran in the sixties and since then has kept abreast of events in Iran even as he maintains relationships with Iranians and Iranian-Americans. www.redhorsedown.blogspot.com

 

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012

Forgiveness–Finding Wholeness Again By Teresa Peneguy Paprock

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

By Teresa Peneguy Paprock

Slide from presentation by Fr. Morelli.Photo provided courtesy of Teresa Peneguy Paprock

Slide from presentation by Fr. Morelli.Photo provided courtesy of Teresa Peneguy Paprock

IN THE LITERAL sense, “70 times 7” comes to 490. In the spiritual sense, however,it represents infinity. When Jesus Christ exhorts Peter to forgive “not seven times only, but 70 times seven” in Matthew 18:22, he sets the bar for all Christians:Forgive. No matter what.

Just as we do with Christ’s teachings about so many things, however, we tend to qualify his words here. “Oh,” we tell ourselves, “surely he wasn’t talking about forgiving what happened to ME.”But he was. The problem isn’t Christ’s instruction. The problem is that most of us misinterpret the meaning of “forgiveness.” In Western society in particular, the act of forgiveness is often misinterpreted as an act of deliberate amnesia, of martyrdom, or victim hood, a willingness to make oneself vulnerable to manipulation or abuse.

But if we often misunderstand the nature of forgiveness, just what is it, then?And how can we actually make it happen?Forgiveness doesn’t come from a position of weakness; actually, it comes from a position of power. And withholding forgiveness–even for what may be deemed “a really good reason”–is actually toxic to one’s health and soul. “Forgiveness–FindingWholeness Again” was the theme of the 2011 OPF-North American Conference, andparticipants explored what forgiveness is, what it is not, and what it means to forgivetheunforgiveable.”

A traditional Ethiopian coffeewas served to conferenceattendees by members of Fr.John-Brian Paprock’s parishbefore the conference began.The ceremony usuallyincludes the roasting ofgreen coffee beans beforethey are ground, boiled, andserved. A traditional mealwas also served.Photo provided courtesy ofTeresa Peneguy Paprock

A traditional Ethiopian coffeewas served to conference attendees by members of Fr.John-Brian Paprock’s parish before the conference began.The ceremony usually includes the roasting of green coffee beans before they are ground, boiled, and served. A traditional meal was also served.Photo provided courtesy of Teresa Peneguy Paprock

About 30 people attended the event, which was held Sept. 16 to 18 at the BishopO’Connor Pastoral Center in Madison, Wisconsin. This year’s theme of forgiveness was chosen because “it is a topic that has much to do with ‘peace,’” says OPF secretary, Alex Patico. “Conflict between two individuals or two groups can cease, but often the seeds of future conflict are there, ready to germinate at the first opportunity.• Without forgiveness, we achieve only a surface calm, not a reconciliation that is the foundation of true peace.” As with other OPF conferences, this one was designed to explore an element central to how we live our Christian faith, and because forgiveness is such a universal human yearning and concept, we chose to explore how others understand it as well.

The event’s keynote speaker, University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Dr. Robert Enright, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject.The founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, and author of a number of books on the topic, Enright has been a pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness for more than 25 years. He addressed the group on Friday evening.The earliest account of forgiveness in the Scriptures, he pointed out, is Joseph’s forgiveness of the brothers who sold him into slavery. “His brothers did nothing at all (to warrant forgiveness),” Enright pointed out. “There was no apology, no repentance. Joseph’s forgiveness was unconditional. But had he not forgiven them,the Hebrew nation would have perished.”

Another Biblical model of forgiveness, Enright said, is the New Testament parable of the prodigal son. But, he said, “The Cross of Christ is the best example we have. The Cross of Christ is an example of lavish love.” Enright puts “lavish love” at the root of forgiveness. And he puts forgiveness at the root of global survival. “A lack of forgiveness puts the entire world at risk,” he said. “Humanity will continue to struggle until forgiveness is carried in the human heart.”

Enright’s writings clarify what forgiveness is NOT: forgetting, denial, excusing, or receiving justice or compensation. But there’s another thing forgiveness is not: easy. Enright outlined his “Forgiveness Process Model,” a step-by-step guide to forgiving. After answering some preliminary questions (Who hurt you? How deeply were you hurt? On what specific incident will you focus?), the wronged individual must first“uncover his anger” by recognizing how resentment and obsession is affecting his life.Next, said Enright, the individual must make a conscious decision to forgive. The process involves working toward understanding and compassion, as well as accepting the pain caused by the offense. One emerges at the other end with what Enright calls“release from emotional prison.” This, he points out, is the paradox of forgiveness:“As you give of yourself to the other, you are the one that is healed.”Much of the time, we choose not to forgive because we believe the other person doesn’t “deserve” our forgiveness. But this central idea–that forgiveness actually benefits the one doing the forgiving–popped up again and again during the conference.

Milwaukee attorney Erin Manian, an Armenian American, grew up hearing about a mass slaughter most Americans don’t even know about. Between 1915 and 1923, about 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated under Turkish rule in the Ottoman Empire. They were deported by force, denied food and water, and subjected to burnings, drownings, poisons and sexual abuse.

And yet the tragedy never wound up on the world’s radar. In fact, Adolph Hitler would use it as a model against the Jews a few years later, rhetorically asking Nazi commanders, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”Turkey–the successor state of the Ottoman Empire–refuses to apply the term“genocide” to the victimization of the Armenians, and for that matter, the United States refuses as well. How can a wrong be forgiven if its existence is denied?“Why is a lack of recognition such a barrier to forgiveness?” asked Manian.“Because we think it demonstrates a lack of power. The Armenian people were stripped of power by being displaced from their homeland, by being stripped of 3,000years of history. Another barrier to forgiveness is that we equate forgiving with forgetting. Why would we want to forget? After all, we don’t want a repeat–for the Armenians or for any other people.”

For the survivors of the Armenian genocide–and for their descendants–anger has served as a kind of bond, said Manian: “We fear that if we forgive, if we forget, then we lose that bond–and again we lose power.” But Manian proposes a huge shift in perception: “If we don’t forgive you, then our empowerment is still in your hands.We have the power to forgive regardless of the actions of Turkey.”

Friday evening’s film, The Power of Forgiveness explored the transformative power of forgiveness using a number of real-world examples. The Amish community of Nickel Mines, Penn., gained national attention by its emphasis on forgiveness after10 schoolgirls were shot, five fatally. The film also included “Gardens of Forgiveness in Beirut and at Ground Zero,” and interviews of Thich Nhat Hanh, Elie Wiesel, and Thomas Moore.

The Very Rev. George Morelli, Ph.D., assistant pastor at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in San Diego, addressed the conference Saturday, illustrating how Christ is our model of forgiveness. The model begins with the Godhead itself: “Love is intrinsic to the divinity of the Trinity,” Morelli said. “The depth of the communion of love can’t be understood. Mankind came into existence, but God didn’t need to create mankind–he did it out of love.”

As Christians, we are instructed to hate sin, which Morelli called “an illness and infirmity by which we succumb to our passions and make an evil choice.” He quoted St. Maximus the Confessor, who called evil “a privation of good.” However, he added,in the words of St. Isaac of Syria, “All living creatures exist in God’s mind before their creation.” “What this implies,” Morelli said, “is that their place in the structure of the cosmos is retained even if someone falls away from God.”
So, as in Matthew 5:22-26, we are not to come to the altar while we hold on to anger: “Make friends quickly with your accuser,” the scripture says. But Morelli, who is a clinical psychologist of marriage and family therapy, pointed out psychological as well as spiritual impediments to forgiveness. According to a cognitive behavioral therapy model, cognitive distortions such as “mind-reading,” “fortune-telling,” and“catastrophizing” fuel anger.

For St. John of the Ladder, Morelli said, anger comes down to pride, “the most sinister, fiercest (demon) of all.” And the cure for pride and anger is humility, such as that Christ showed on the cross. “Forgiveness does not mean we have ‘warm fuzzy’feelings toward someone who may have offended us,” said Morelli. “It also does not mean we automatically ‘trust’ anyone to act appropriately. (But) all are to be given respect and courtesy. They are to be prayed for and approached by us in an attempt to reconcile.”

The next presenter, Judith Toy, of Black Mountain, N.C., discussed forgiveness from a Buddhist perspective. Twenty years ago, Toy experienced a nightmare most of us could not begin to imagine: Her sister-in-law Connie and her sons Allen and Bobby were stabbed and bludgeoned to death by the teenage boy who lived across the street. Charles had been a family friend, and no clear motive was ever revealed.He was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison.

“Our family was unanimous in not wanting Charles dead–but not out of idealism or pacifism,” Toy wrote in her book, “Murder as a Call to Love.” “We wanted him to suffer long and hard behind bars. For the rest of his days, we reasoned, he should face what he had wrought.” A Quaker at the time, Toy began to study Zen. After several years of meditation, she felt her anger begin to melt away, and she wanted to tell him so–but before she had the opportunity, Charles committed suicide.“Could I have saved him?” Toy asks today. “I mentally put myself in Charles’ cell and hold him in my arms. … (When you forgive someone) the edges between yourself and others begin to blur.”

“Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” the afternoon film, told the story of Eva Mozes Kor, a Holocaust survivor who, along with her twin sister Miriam, was the object of “medical experimentation” by Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. In defiance of many in the Jewish community, Eva chose to forgive the Nazis–a decision she believed liberated her from victim hood. Eva founded the C.A.N.D.L.E.S. Museum (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiment Survivors) in Indiana. The act of forgiveness allows us to experience paradise now–in this life, said the next speaker, Ágúst Symeon Magnússon, a professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “The ancient tradition of the Church of the East places a philosophical and poetic link between the mysteries of forgiveness and paradise,” he said. But “How does one go about forgiving one’s enemies in a way that is appropriate to the spiritual realities in question? As we heard in the preceding quote by John Chrysostom, we must begin at the most basic level, in trying our hardest to not think of any man or woman as our enemy but to try to love them, no matter what they may have done to us or to others.

Magnússon emphasized that such love is not an emotion or feeling. “Rather, we are asked to transcend purely psychological or emotional categories and to enter into the love of God….If we are able to open our spiritual eyes, the eyes of the and see the world and other people not only in terms of rational concepts or emotional categories but in the light of the mystery of the love of God, in light of the fact that have been forgiven, totally and absolutely–if we accept that love–then perhaps a great deal of anger, hurt and bitterness may be swallowed up in the joy and peace that is the love of God. And this is what paradise is. Simply this.”The image of a terrified little girl, running naked from her burning village, is permanently etched in the memories of many of us–however we feel about the Vietnam War or war in general. AP photographer Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning shot has been credited with shifting American attitudes against the conflict, hastening its end. But whatever became of the child in the picture?

The final session of the conference focused on the issue of war, and featured the film Kim’s Story: The Road from Viet Nam. Kim Phuc was that “little girl in the photo.”Burned over 50 percent of her body, subjected to 17 surgeries, and used by the Vietnamese government as a public relations tool, Kim Phuc (now a Canadian citizen)bears no animosity toward anyone–not even the people who flew the plane that dropped napalm on her village. A mother of two, she travels the globe promoting forgiveness and peace. The movie was followed by a discussion featuring Phan VanDo and Mike Boehm of the My Lai Peace Park Project.

Those who were able to stay until Sunday attended the Divine Liturgy at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Madison, with Fr. Michael Vanderhoef and Fr.Frederick J. Janacek serving. Inside the church, they were surrounded by the iconography of David Giffey, a member of the congregation as well as a member of Veterans for Peace.

It was the perfect conclusion to the conference, which opened minds and hearts.For Christians, forgiveness is not simply an option, it’s an imperative–and not except when it’s too hard, but especially then. As Morelli put it: “Those who have offended most egregiously and performed the most horrific of offenses are to be loved the most.”

The dome of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Madison along with all the icons in the church were painted by David Giffey over a period of four years of full time work. David is a member of the church andis a Vietnam vetand a journalist.  Photo provided courtesy of Teresa Peneguy Paprock

The dome of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Madison along with all the icons in the church were painted by David Giffey over a period of four years of full time work. David is a member of the church and is a Vietnam vet and a journalist. Photo provided courtesy of Teresa Peneguy Paprock

 

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011

 

Forgive Us…as We Forgive: Forgiveness in the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer by Met. Kallistos Ware

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

by Met. Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan of Diokleia

And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me.As our dear Redeemer said:“This the Wine, and this the Bread.”—William BlakeThe stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgivebut do not forget.—Thomas Szasz

HE IS FREE because he forgives. In the book by Kevin Andrews, The Flight ofIkaros, there is a story that sums up the essence of forgiveness. Andrewswas studying medieval fortresses in Greece. The year was 1949. He wastraveling through a land devastated by the German occupation during the SecondWorld War and cruelly divided by the post-war struggle between Communists andanti-Communists that had only just drawn to a close. Arriving one evening in a village,he was given hospitality by the parish priest Papastavros. The priest’s house had beenburned down, and so he received his guest in the shed that was now his home.

Gradually Andrews learnt the priest’s story. His two eldest sons had joined theResistance during the German occupation. But, some villagers betrayed their hidingplace: They were captured and never seen again. About the same time, his wife diedfrom starvation. After the Germans had left, Papastavros was living alone with oneof his married daughters and her baby son. She was expecting her second child in afew weeks. One day he returned home to find his house in flames, set on fire byCommunist partisans. “I was in time,” he recounted to Andrews, “to see them dragmy daughter out and kill her; they shot all their bullets into her stomach. Then theykilled the little boy in front of me.”

Those who did these things were not strangers coming from a distance, but theywere local people. Papastavros knew exactly who they were, and he had to meetthem daily. “I wonder how he has not gone mad,” one of the village women remarkedto Andrews. But the priest did not in fact lose his sanity. On the contrary, he spoketo the villagers about the need for forgiveness. “I tell them to forgive, and that thereexists no other way,” he said to Andrews. Their response, he added, was to laugh inhis face. When, however, Andrews talked with the priest’s one surviving son, thelatter did not laugh at his father, but spoke of him as afree man: “He is free because he forgives.”

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Two phrases stand out in this account: “There exists no other way,” and “He is freebecause he forgives.” There exists no other way. Certain human situations are socomplex and intractable, so fraught with anguish, that there exists only one way outbut to forgive. Retaliation makes the problem worse, as Mahatma Gandhi observed, “An eye for an eye leavesthe whole world blind.” Solely through forgiveness can we break the chain of mutualreprisal and self-destroying bitterness. Without forgiveness, there can be no hopeof a fresh start. So Papastavros found, faced by the tragedies of enemy occupationand civil war. Surely his words apply also to many other situations of conflict, notleast in the Holy Land.

He is free because he forgives. In the words of the Russian Orthodox starets StSilouan of Mount Athos (1866-1938), “Where there is forgiveness…there is freedom.”If only we can bring ourselves to forgive—if we can at least want to forgive—thenwe shall find ourselves in what the Psalms call a “spacious place” or “a place ofliberty”: “We went through fire and water, but Thou broughtest us out into a placeof liberty” (Psalm 66:12). Forgiveness means release from a prison in which all thedoors are locked on the inside. Only through forgiveness can we enter into what StPaul terms “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

Yet how hard, how painfully hard, it is to forgive and to be forgiven! To quoteanother Russian Orthodox witness, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003),“Forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: Ithas breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea.” “Do not think that you have acquired virtue,”said the Desert Father Evagrius of Pontus (346-99), “unless you have struggled for itto the point of shedding your blood.” The same can be said of forgiveness. Sometimesthe struggle to forgive is indeed nothing less than an inner martyrdom, to the pointof shedding our blood.

FORGIVENESS SUNDAY IN the Orthodox Church: How shall we set out in ourexodus across the “Red Sea” of forgiveness? Let us consider first the way inwhich the Orthodox Church offers to its members an annual opportunity tomake a fresh start on what is known as “The Sunday of Forgiveness.” This will leadus to look more closely at forgiveness in the Psalms and especially in the Lord’s Prayer.What, we may ask, is the meaning of the Greek verb aphimi used in the Lord’s Prayerfor forgive, “let go”? Does this mean that to forgive is to condone, or at any rate toforget? Next, taking as our guide the early Fathers, we shall see how the phrase“Forgive us…as we forgive” underlines the fundamental unity of the human race.Finally, we shall try to appreciate what is signified by the word “as” in the forgivenessclause of the Lord’s Prayer: “…as we forgive.” Why should the scope of God’sforgiveness be seemingly restricted by my own willingness to forgive? We shall endwith four practical guidelines.

The Sunday of Forgiveness occurs immediately before the seven-week Fast of Lent,the “Great Fast” in preparation for the “Feast of Feasts,” the Lord’s Resurrection atPascha. The human animal, it has been said, is not only an animal that thinks, ananimal that laughs and weeps, but much more profoundly an animal that expressesitself through symbolic actions. With good reason, then, the Orthodox Church affordsits members the chance each year to externalize their longing for forgiveness,through a liturgical rite that is both corporate and personal.

On the morning of Forgiveness Sunday, the appointed Gospel reading isMatthew 6:14-21, beginning with Christ’s words, “If you forgive others theirtrespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgiveothers, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Then in the evening, atthe end of Vespers, there comes a ceremony of mutual pardon. Usually the priest gives a homily, concluding with anappeal to his flock to forgive him for all his mistakes and shortcomings in the pastyear. Then he comes down the sanctuary steps to the floor of the nave where thepeople are standing, for there can be no genuinely mutual forgiveness unless I putmyself on the same level as the other. Kneeling before the congregation, he says,“Forgive me, a sinner.” The people likewise kneel before the priest, answering,“May God forgive you. Forgive us.” To this the priest responds “God will forgive,” or “MayGod forgive and bless us all.” After that the people come up one by one to the priest,and each kneels before him as he in turn kneels before each of them; and theyexchange the same words, “Forgive me….God will forgive.” Then, having first kneltbefore the priest, the members of the congregation go around the church kneelingbefore one another, each asking and granting pardon. All this, for obvious reasons,is easier to carry out if, as in traditional Orthodox practice, the church is not clutteredup with pews.

There is of course a danger that a ceremony such as this may become over-emotional, in which case the results will probably prove ephemeral. Forgiveness,after all, is not a feeling but an action. It involves not primarily our emotions but ourwill. It is a decision, which then requires to be given practical effect. There is alsothe opposite danger that some worshippers, growing accustomed to this ceremonyyear by year, will go through it in a manner that is merely formal and automatic.

Ritual can all too easily become ossified.Nevertheless, when full allowance has been made for the dangers of emotionalismand formalism, it remains true that for very many Orthodox Christians, this annualservice of mutual pardon is deeply healing. On the basis of my personal experience,after more than forty years of pastoral work in a parish, I can testify that again andagain it has a transfiguring effect upon relationships within the local church family.It is an occasion that many of our people approach with the utmost seriousness. Letus not underestimate the power of ritual. Even if there are times when it becomesossified, on other occasions it can and does act as a potent catalyst, enabling us togive expression to what would otherwise remain unacknowledged and repressed.Those too hesitant or embarrassed to call at one another’s homes and embark on alengthy verbal explanation can make a new beginning within the framework of sharedprayer. The Vespers of Forgiveness serves in this way as a genuine breakthrough, thesudden vision of a fresh landscape.

The burden of unhappy memories means, not surprisingly, that the Vespers ofForgiveness is somewhat subdued and somber. We cry out in sorrow, “Turn not awayThy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble. Hear me speedily, hearken unto mysoul and deliver it.” Yet, along with sorrow, there is also a note of glad expectation.“Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast,” we sing in one of the hymns,and a little later we add, “Thy grace has shone forth and given light to our souls.” Asthe mutual pardon is being exchanged between priest and people, in many churchesthe choir sings the Resurrection hymns that will be used seven weeks later at Paschalmidnight—to forgive is to rise again from the dead. St John Climacus, abbot of MountSinai in the seventh century—whose book The Ladder of Divine Ascent is speciallyappointed for reading in Lent—has a phrase that exactly describes the spirit of theVespers of Forgiveness: charopoion penthos, meaning “mourning that causes gladness”or “joy-creating sorrow.”

Sometimes people have told me that they find the phrase commonly used at theservice, “Forgive me….God will forgive” to be problematic and even evasive. Surely,they object, when someone asks for forgiveness, it is not enough for us to assurethem that they are forgiven by God, for they already know that. What is required isthat we should forgive them. This, however, is to overlook an essential point.Forgiveness is first and foremost a divine act, for “Who can forgive sins but Godalone?” (Mark 2:7). If, then, I am to forgive someone else, and the other person is toforgive me, in the last resort this is possible only in so far as we are both of us inGod. More specifically, we are able to forgive each other solely because we are bothof us already forgiven by God. Our forgiveness is rooted in His, and is impossiblewithout it, for “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Since, therefore, forgiveness is not primarily our human action but a divine actionin which we humans participate, it is vitally important that in the process of mutualforgiveness, we should allow space for God to operate. At the beginning of theEucharistic service in the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to thepriest, “It is time for the Lord to act” (see Psalm 119:126), thereby affirming that thetrue celebrant at the Holy Mysteries is not the priest but Christ Himself. The phraseapplies equally to our mutual forgiveness. Here, too, it needs to be said, “It is timefor the Lord to act.” Our attempts at reconciliation often fail precisely because we relytoo much upon ourselves and do not leave proper scope for the action of the Lord.With St. Paul we need to say, “not I, but Christ in me” (Gal. 2:20). Such, then, is thespirit in which we reply at the Vespers of Forgiveness, “God will forgive.”

(This was the first part of a three part series. The next two parts will appear inin the next two issues. We are seeking permission to print the whole article as a booklet,which we will produce after the third part is published. The entire essay was presented as apaper by Met. Kallistos at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship Study Day in Amsterdam last year.It appears as a chapter in a book of essays by several authors called Meditations of the Heart:The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice. Essays in Honor of Andrew Louth. Thebook was published by Brepols Publishers in August, 2011.)


❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011

 

The Challenge of a 20th Century Saint, Maria Skobtsova

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

St Maria Skobtsova of Paris


by Jim Forest

 

Mother Maria Skobtsova — now recognized as Saint Maria of Paris — died in a German concentration camp on the 30th of March 1945. Although perishing in a gas chamber, Mother Maria did not perish in the Church’s memory. Those who had known her would again and again draw attention to the ideas, insights and activities of the heroic nun who had spent so many years of her life assisting people in desperate need. Soon after the war ended, essays and books about her began appearing in French, Russian and English. A Russian film, “Mother Maria,” was made in 1982. Her canonization was celebrated in May 2004 at the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Paris. Among those present at the event was Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris and Jewish by birth, who subsequently placed St. Maria on the calendar of the Catholic Church in France. One wonders if there are any other saints of post-Schism Christianity who are on both the Catholic and Orthodox calendars?

We have no time today for a detailed account of her life. I will only point out that she was born in Riga in 1891 and grew up on a family estate along the Black Sea. Her father’s death when she was fourteen was a devastating event that for a time led her to atheism, but gradually she found her way back to the Orthodox faith. As a young woman, she was the first female student at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. In the same period she witnessed the Bolshevik coup and the civil war that followed. Like so many Russians, she fled for her life, finally reaching Paris, where she was among those who devoted themselves to serving fellow refugees, many of whom were now living in a state of destitution even worse than her own. At that time, she worked with the Student Christian Movement.

The tragic death in 1926 of one her daughters, Anastasia, precipitated a decision that brought her to a still deeper level of self-giving love. In 1932, following the collapse of her marriage, her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy, encouraged her to become a nun, but a nun with an exceptional vocation. Metropolitan Evlogy blessed her to develop a new type of monasticism — a “monasticism in the world” — that centered on diaconal service within the city rather than on quiet withdrawal in a rural context.

In a time of massive social disruption, Mother Maria declared, it was better to offer a monastic witness which opens its gates to desperate people and in so doing to participate in Christ’s self-abasement. “Everyone is always faced … with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item … the Cross.”

It was clear to her that it was not only Russia which was being torn to shreds. “There are times,” she wrote, “when all that has been said cannot be made obvious and clear since the atmosphere around us is a pagan one and we are tempted by its idolatrous charms. But our times are firmly in tune with Christianity in that suffering is part of their nature. They demolish and destroy in our hearts all that is stable, mature, hallowed by the ages and treasured by us. They help us genuinely and utterly to accept the vows of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure, but the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”

She saw that there were two ways to live. The first was on dry land, a legitimate and respectable place to be, where one could measure, weigh and plan ahead. The second was to walk on the waters where “it becomes impossible to measure or plan ahead. The one thing necessary is to believe all the time. If you doubt for an instant, you begin to sink.”

The water she decided to walk upon was a vocation of hospitality. With financial support from Metropolitan Evlogy, in December 1932 she signed a lease for her first house of hospitality, a place of welcome and assistance to people in desperate need, mainly young Russian women. The first night she slept on the floor beneath the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. A small community of co-workers began to form. To make room for others, Mother Maria gave up her own room and instead slept on an iron bedstead in the basement by the boiler. A room upstairs became a chapel.

The first house having become too small, in 1934 the community relocated to a three-storey house at 77 rue de Lourmel in an area of Paris where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. Now, instead of 25 people, the community could feed a hundred. Stables in back became a small church.

The vocation of hospitality is much more than the provision of food, clothing and a place to sleep. In its depths, it is a contemplative vocation. It is the constant search for the face of Christ in the stranger. “If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person,” she reflected, “he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him — one that will demand his most dedicated efforts…. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil…. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.”

By 1937, there were several dozen women guests at 77 rue de Lourmel. Up to 120 dinners were served each day. Other buildings were rented, one for families in need, another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium.

From a financial point of view, it was a very insecure life, but somehow the work survived and grew. Mother Maria would sometimes recall the Russian story of the ruble that could never be spent. Each time it was used, the change given back proved to equal a ruble. It was exactly this way with love, she said: No matter how much love you give, you never have less. In fact you discover you have more — one ruble becomes two, two becomes ten.

Mother Maria’s day typically began with a journey to Les Halles to beg food or buy cheaply whatever was not donated. The cigarette-smoking beggar nun became well known among the stalls. She would later return with a sack of bones, fish and overripe fruit and vegetables.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh provides an impression of what Mother Maria was like in those days: “She was a very unusual nun in her behavior and her manners. I was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse. In front of a café, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer, and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes. I looked at her and decided that I would never go near that woman. I was young then and held extreme views.”

Mother Maria felt sustained by the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not only do we know the Beatitudes, but at this hour, this very minute, surrounded though we are by a dismal and despairing world, we already savor the blessedness they promise.”

Life in community was not easy. Conflicting views about the relative importance of liturgical life were at times a source of tension. Mother Maria was the one most often absent from services or the one who would withdraw early, or arrive late, because of the pressing needs of hospitality. “Piety, piety,” she wrote in her journal, “but where is the love that moves mountains?”

Mother Maria saw blessings where others only saw disaster. “In the past religious freedom was trampled down by forces external to Christianity,” she wrote. “In Russia we can say that any regime whatsoever will build concentration camps as its response to religious freedom.” She considered exile in the west a heaven-sent opportunity to renew the Church in ways that would have met repression within her mother country.

For her, exile was an opportunity “to liberate the real and authentic” from layers of decoration and dust in which Christ had become hidden. It was similar to the opportunity given to the first Christians. “We must not allow Christ,” she said, “to be overshadowed by any regulations, any customs, any traditions, any aesthetic considerations, or even any piety.”

Russians have not been last among those enamored with theories, but for Mother Maria, all theories had to take second place. “We have not gathered together for the theoretical study of social problems in the spirit of Orthodoxy,” she wrote, “[but] to link our social thought as closely as possible with life and work. More precisely, we proceed from our work and seek the fullest possible theological interpretation of it.”

While many valued what she and her co-workers were doing, there were others who were scandalized with the shabby nun who was so uncompromising in her hospitality that she might leave a church service to answer the door bell. “For many in church circles we are too far to the left,” she noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.”

In October 1939, Metropolitan Evlogy send a priest to rue de Lourmel: Father Dimitri Klépinin, then 35 years old. A man of few words and great modesty, Fr. Dimitri proved to be a real partner for Mother Maria.

The last phase of Mother Maria’s life was a series of responses to World War II and Germany’s occupation of France.

Her basic choice was the decision to stay. It would have been possible for her to leave Paris when the Germans were advancing, or even to leave the country to go to America, but she would not budge. “If the Germans take Paris, I shall stay here with my old women. Where else could I send them?”

She had no illusions about Nazism. It represented a “new paganism” bringing in its wake disasters, upheavals, persecutions and wars. It was evil unveiled, the “contaminator of all springs and wells.” The so-called “master race” was “led by a madman who needs a straightjacket and should be placed in a cork-lined room so that his bestial wailing will not disturb the world at large.”

Paris fell on the 14th of June. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger for many people. Local authorities in Paris declared the house at rue de Lourmel an official food distribution point.

Paris was now a prison. “There is the dry clatter of iron, steel and brass,” wrote Mother Maria. “Order is all.” Russian refugees were among the high-priority targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, including several close friends of Mother Maria and Fr. Dimitri. An aid project for prisoners and their dependents was soon launched by Mother Maria.

Early in 1942, with Jewish registration underway, Jews began to knock on the door at rue de Lourmel asking Fr. Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those “baptized” were also duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo, as indeed did happen. Fr. Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same.

In March 1942, the order came from Berlin that a yellow star must be worn by Jews in all the occupied countries. The order came into force in France in June. There were, of course, Christians who said that the law being imposed had nothing to do with Christians and that therefore this was not a Christian problem. “There is not only a Jewish question, but a Christian question,” Mother Maria replied. “Don’t you realize that the battle is being waged against Christianity? If we were true Christians we would all wear the star. The age of confessors has arrived.”

In July, Jews were forbidden access to nearly all public places. Shopping by Jews was restricted to an hour per day. A week later, there was a mass arrest of Jews — 12,884, of whom 6,900 (two-thirds of them children) were brought to a sports stadium just a kilometer from rue de Lourmel. Held there for five days, the captives in the stadium received water only from a single hydrant. From there the captives were to be sent to Auschwitz.

Mother Maria had often thought her monastic robe a God-send in aiding her work. Now it opened the way for her to enter the stadium. Here she worked for three days trying to comfort the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in, even managing to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins.

The house at rue de Lourmel was bursting with people, many of them Jews. “It is amazing,” Mother Maria remarked, “that the Germans haven’t pounced on us yet.” In the same period, she said if anyone came looking for Jews, she would show them an icon of the Mother of God.

Fr. Dimitri, Mother Maria and their co-workers set up routes of escape to the unoccupied south. It was complex and dangerous work. Forged documents had to be obtained. An escaped Russian prisoner of war was also among those assisted, working for a time in the Lourmel kitchen. In turn, a local resistance group helped secure provisions for those Mother Maria’s community was struggling to feed.

In February 1943 Mother Maria, her son Yuri, Fr. Dimitri and their collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the camp at Compiegne.

In December, Yuri and Fr. Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany and from there to Dora, 40 kilometers away. On the 6th of February, Yuri was “dispatched for treatment” — a euphemism for being sentenced to death. Four days later Fr. Dimitri, lying on a dirt floor, died of pneumonia. His final action was to make the sign of the Cross. His body was disposed of in the Buchenwald crematorium.

Mother Maria was sent to Ravensbrück in Germany, where she endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. “She was never downcast, never,” a fellow prisoner recalled. “She never complained…. She was on good terms with everyone. Anyone in the block, no matter who it was, knew her on equal terms. She was the kind of person who made no distinction between people [whether they] held extremely progressive political views [or had] religious beliefs radically different than her own. She allowed nothing of secondary importance to impede her contact with people.”

By March 1945, Mother Maria’s condition was critical. She had to lie down between roll calls and hardly spoke. Her face, a fellow prisoner Jacqueline Pery recalled, “revealed intense inner suffering. Already it bore the marks of death. Nevertheless Mother Maria made no complaint. She kept her eyes closed and seemed to be in a state of continual prayer. This was, I think, her Garden of Gethsemani.”

She died on Holy Saturday. The shellfire of the approaching Red Army could be heard in the distance. We are not certain of the details of her last day. According to one account, she was simply among the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of another prisoner, a Jew. Jacqueline Pery wrote afterward: “It is very possible that [Mother Maria] took the place of a frantic companion. It would have been entirely in keeping with her generous life. In any case she offered herself consciously to the holocaust … thus assisting each one of us to accept the Cross…. She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”

We now know Mother Maria as St. Maria of Paris. Her commemoration occurs on July 20.

Every saint poses a challenge, but Mother Maria is perhaps among the most challenging saints. Her life is a passionate objection to any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings. Still more profoundly, she challenges each of us to a life of a deeper, more radical hospitality, a hospitality that includes not only those who share our faith and language but those whom we regard as “the other,” people in whom we resist recognizing the face of Christ.

Mother Maria was certain that there was no other path to heaven than participating in God’s mercy. “The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need…. I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.”

We can sum up Mother Maria’s credo in just a few words: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.”

* * *

A more detailed account of the life of St. Maria of Pais is posted at:

http://www.incommunion.org/2004/10/18/saint-of-the-open-door/

A collection of links about her, and those who worked with her, is in this section of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site:

http://www.incommunion.org/st-maria-skobtsova-resources/

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Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship . He is also the author of numerous books, including “Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue,” and wrote the introduction to “Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings” (Orbis Books, 2003).

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Jim Forest
www.jimandnancyforest.com

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date: November 8, 2011