Archive for the ‘essays’ Category

The Desert Finds Us

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

by Alexander Patico

The joint between the pelvic bone (the ilium) and the last bone of the spine (the sacrum) acts as the bridge between one’s core and one’s locomotive apparatus. Running, walking—even standing or sitting—don’t occur without this juncture being functional. Attached to those skeletal elements are ligaments and muscles; running alongside them are the spinal cord and long, fibrous nerve tissues branching out to every extremity. Structural anomalies, aging processes and daily stresses can, in combination, put your sacroiliac out of alignment, creating pain of various types and locations.

Desert

Once again, my back was acting up. Suddenly, the easy link to friends and family,  the members of our fellowship, and others was gone because sitting at my computer was not one of the positions that “worked” for me. If I went to church, neither standing nor sitting was an option. Eating dinner became a race between assuaging hunger and avoidance of discomfort. The trail and the gym would have to wait.

When I realized, after some long days of watching TV and playing solitaire on my iPod, that I was in danger of becoming depressed, I took up a book that I had been intending to read for some time: In the Heart of the Desert: the Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by John Chryssavgis. The book concerns the wisdom found in the apothegmata or “sayings” compiled in various collections and found in commentaries on the early Christian ascetics.

My journey into that book was like a trip in a time-machine to ancient Scetis; it was so far from what had been occupying my mind that it was a complete change of scenery—intellectual, rather than physical—a venturing into solitary spiritual exploration. Fr. John’s writing, from which I had often benefited before, led the way into “the heart of the desert.”

What follows I have arranged much as he did, by themes, but with his own words taking the place of the patristic quotations he used to such good effect. They are cherry-picked, plucked out of context (much as the patristic writings themselves inevitably are)—each sentence is, to borrow a phrase from Fr. John himself, an “intense drop of wisdom.” But I hope that they are tantalizing enough to move the reader to go to the fuller text. Ideally, reading Fr. John’s book will lead to further forays into the precious legacy of the Fathers and Mothers themselves, which in turn leads to personal spiritual journeys into the depth of one’s own heart, where Our Lord awaits each of us.

The Sayings: Can the life of those hesychasts of long ago have relevance for our twenty-first century life? We each must decide what use to make of the wisdom that comes to us across a lacuna of nearly two thousand years, but Fr. John provides guidance in how to do that: “We should think of these sayings as myth. Read them as powerful stories, each with an inner meaning or secret, a message or mask.” (There is perhaps an obvious resonance with the role of Jesus’ parables in the New Testament.)

“My purpose,” he says, “will not be to make the Sayings relevant to our time and ways; that often proves a futile exercise, which only distorts the original text and is an injustice both to it and to us. Rather, it will be to make our time and ways relate to the Sayings…I believe that the words of these elders smash the structures of complexity and rationalization with which we often clutter and confuse our lives.”

Historical Context: Especially helpful was the way Fr. John provided a sketch of what surrounded the “desert era” and why its contribution is so important, especially after the Constantinian watershed: “…the spirit of martyrdom…had nurtured the Church for three centuries. It was around the year 300, no longer a risk to be a Christian…numbers of those baptized rose dramatically; standards dropped drastically…the voice of the desert’s heart replaced the voice of the martyr’s blood…the Desert Fathers and Mothers…reminded the rest of the Church that ‘here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13:14).” Therefore, a comfortable home in Maryland can be as fitting a place for encountering the infinite as a cave at the base of Mt. Sinai.

Universality of the Struggle: As I sat in my house, tempted to feel sorry for myself for having been sidelined by a relatively minor physical problem, I was pushed to reexamine my predicament from the perspective of what my soul most needed: “…if you do not have to go to the desert, you do have to go through the desert...you do not have to find the desert in your life; it normally catches up with you. Everyone does go through the desert, in one shape or another…if, however, we accept to undergo this experience voluntarily, then it can prove both constructive and liberating.”

The prospect of an indefinite period not being able to attend meetings or go shopping, having to cancel a visit with my daughter in Georgia, all seemed a “thorn in my side”—like the one described by St. Paul. Fr. John notes: “We do not want to face change, or pain, or passion, or death, [yet] our suffering and wounds have a remarkable way of unlocking the door to authenticity…. In order to be truly alive, we require the capacity to be wounded, to be vulnerable. It is only out of our ongoing woundedness and continual vulnerability that we can learn also to heal.”

“Our culture teaches us that the more we have, the better we are; Antony’s taught him that the less he had, the more he was!… Abba Antony said: ‘A time is coming when people will go insane. And when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying, “You are crazy; you are not like us.”’” Look at our economics: as we see ever-greater discrepancies of circumstance between those many who are literally starving and those few who have wealth beyond reckoning, we must wonder—am I crazy, or are they? Isn’t something wrong with this picture?

Silence: Why did I, after all, consider my precipitous isolation a burden? The fact is, I now had time to pray, and to ponder many things. Perhaps my condition was forcing me to acknowledge the difficulty I had paying attention to a “still, small voice”—or even my wife or my friends. Fr. John wrote: “Silence is…the first duty of love…the first requirement for survival within community…[according to] Abba Poemon, ‘Silence is a way of waiting, a way of watching, and a way of listening.’ Words are ways of affirming our existence, of justifying our actions. We speak in order to excuse ourselves, within ourselves and before others; whereas silence is a way of dying—within ourselves and in the presence of others…. When we refuse the challenge of silence, then we cannot know ourselves. It is not that we may be tempted to think that we are more than we actually are; it is, unfortunately, then that we tolerate being less than we truly are called to be. Pride is not the ultimate sin; forgetfulness of who we are is the ultimate tragedy.”

Dispassion: Boredom, frustration, somnolence, and irritation—the fruits of my imposed inactivity were not pretty. Would anger and misanthropy eventually follow, as I licked my psychic wounds and further inflamed them? I read, “…when the desert elders speak of apatheia or dispassion…dispassion is not the suppression of passions, it is the submission of all passions to the source and end of all desire, namely ‘the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness’ (Matt. 6:33). It is only then that we may truly know what it is to be com-passionate…When passions are distorted, then our soul is divided and we are no longer integrated, whole…. Knowing our passions becomes not a crushing but a healing experience. Then, fresh possibilities are discovered in our life and in our world.”

“It takes a long time to become a human being…. In the unnoticeable changes toward ever-growing perfection, it is the things that we love that reveal to us who we are. It is the things to which we are most attached that show us where our priorities lie. It is our very imperfections—what they like to call passions and what we invariably call our wounds—that lead us to the way of perfection.”

Monastic Rule: Something in me both enjoyed and chaffed against the lack of structure to my days. How would I fare in a desert fastness where ordinary society, with its routines, were left behind? “Alongside the more institutional lines of ‘apostolic succession’ there was also a complementary inspirational element of ‘spiritual succession.’ This is why they did not establish regulations or write down fixed rules. The only rule was that there were no hard rules. Flexibility was the sole rule of the desert.”

Community: Though alone much of the time, I was, through Chryssavgis’ writings, in very good company. “The desert elders were convinced that we cannot know our heart without the presence of at least one other person [as] giving and sharing are of the essence…. ‘Allowing or sharing space’ is the literal meaning of the Greek term syn-chore-sis as well as our English equivalent translation for-give-ness…. In general, the desert produced healers, not thinkers.”

Dualism: Was I merely occupying my thoughts, as I read about Egypt of the fourth century, or was I opening the door of my most intimate self to something vital and profound? “The Coptic monks of the desert knew only a single word and a single struggle for designating both the mind and the heart. We tend to separate the mind from the heart. We like to fill the mind; yet we forget the heart. Or else, we fill the heart with information that should fill the mind. Nevertheless, the two work differently: the mind learns; the heart knows. The mind is educated; the heart believes. The mind is intellectual, speculative—it reads and speaks; the heart is intuitive, mystical—it grows in silence. The two should be held together, and they should be brought together in the presence of God.”

Elitism: How privileged I was to have plenty to eat, a temperature-controlled environment and a pleasant view out our windows—not to mention the hundreds of books on our shelves—while I was contributing little to anything outside of myself. How did the hermit deal with his own extraneousness? “The simple answer to the question…concerning elitism is that the way of the desert is not a selfish way, so long as everyone else is also traveling the same journey…. If we remain outside of the desert process, then their way will surely appear selfish…[but] everyone is called to go through the desert. We must, [Abba Alonius] claimed, be totally alone with God and with ourselves in order to rebuild and reshape ourselves…. We must never use love and service as excuses to avoid the inner work of transformation. All of us—and especially those in the caring professions—should take time out for ourselves in retreat, for our friends in relaxation, and for God in prayer.”

Environment: As the days went on, I became more aware of the variety of bird- calls that could be heard outdoors, the noises of planes, traffic and road con-struction, the shouts of kids and their parents. I became more synced to the changes of sky and wind, sun and rain—a mild form of what the desert-dwellers must have experienced. “Detachment…implied a sense of becoming one with the environ-ment. Their holiness was part and parcel of a sense of wholeness. If at-one-ment with their neighbor was of the essence of desert spirituality, so too was at-tune-ment to their environment, to the world, and to God.”

“The desert elders were, in the most intense and intimate manner, ‘materialists.’ Everything—including simple matter—really mattered!… These elders may some-times appear eccentric; but eccentricity means moving the center, recentering the world on God.

“If you don’t go within, then you go without. When we neglect the world of the spirit, then we also end up neglecting the spirit of the world; and when we disregard the world of our soul, we in fact end up ignoring the soul of the world.”

Gender: Was I willing to have meals fixed for me because I was uncomfortable standing, or because they were being prepared by my wife, and that is part of her role? Had it been the same when she had surgery on her neck and I was pressed into caretaker service, or did I rely on carry-out? Women and men approach retreat, too, from slightly different perspectives. “Moving into the desert meant taking a step into the realm of freedom: freedom from slavery, freedom from obligatory subjection, freedom from exploitation, and especially freedom from possession. Generally, women in the early Christian centuries did not own themselves; they did not possess or control their lives or even their bodies. They were at the disposal of other people, normally men, who owned them; these might include their fathers (as children), their spouses (as wives), or their lords (as servants)…. In the desert, however, women were able to throw off these constraints and restrictions…[and] were able to remind the men (who might otherwise have been tempted to forget!) that their goal in the desert was not to fulfill particular social roles. By struggling to exclude and overcome the conventional forms, the Desert Mothers themselves became witnesses and martyrs of another reality.”

Miracles: With changes in my activity, came changes of perception, though not nearly as radical as that which would accompany long years of reclusiveness. “In the desert…reality acquired a different perspective. Somehow, the order of this world was infiltrated and influenced by the order of another world…. Explaining miracles rationally is like trying to explain the existence of God logically. It is not so much that trying to make sense of God is wrong; but trying to make sense of the world without God—at least in the mind of these early Desert Fathers and Mothers—is certainly insane.”

Prayer: Why, when I now had all the time in the world, was I not spending more time in prayer? “‘There is no greater labor [said Abba Agathon] than that of prayer to God. For every time a person wants to pray, one’s enemies, the demons, want to prevent one from praying, for they know that it is only by turning one away from prayer that they can hinder one’s journey. Whatever good works a person undertakes, if one perseveres in them, one will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’ Prayer is acceptance of frailty and failure—first within ourselves, and then in the world around us. When we are able to accept our brokenness, without any pretense and without any pretexts, then we are also able to embrace the brokenness of others, valuing everyone else without exception. Prayer is learning to live, without expecting to see results; it is learning to love, without hoping to see return; it learning to be, without demanding to have.”

“It must be remembered that the monastic way of life is merely the life according to the Gospel…. All people are called to respond to Christ’s call to salvation. The circumstances of the response may very externally, but the path is essentially one. In the spiritual life there is no sharp distinction between the monastic and the non-monastic; the monastic life is simply the Christian life, lived in a particular way.”

Finding God: In reading the book, I found that solitude no longer meant loneliness. “God is right there, in the middle of our struggles…. Our aim is to stay there…. Struggling…is a way of fully living life and not merely observing it…. In the struggle—in the very place where we meet God, and where we are loved by God—we too discover how to love others…. The desert experience was a love-based theology and a love-based spirituality. Fear denies the body and the world; love affirms every detail in our life and in the world…. The only and ultimate response to ourselves, to others and to God is love. Every other response is but a derivative dimension and secondary version of the primary reality of love.”

The Task: Perhaps something had begun that would not be—and should not be—set aside when my back was fully healed. “No one can lead us into the desert. Each one of us must find our own path. Each must look for the places where we are tempted, where we are lonely, thirsty for meaning, and hungry for depth. Each of us will discover the areas that need to be purified, where we can encounter God and where God speaks to us…. Those are the places and the moments of temptation; those are also the places and the moments of transformation…. We can learn…the beauty of eating and drinking, of sleeping and waking, of walking and talking, quite simply of breathing and living. Our heart will beat in unison with the heart of the world. For then we shall know that we are less than what we are called to be when we are without one another… [and] can be grateful to God for ‘making us truly alive.’”  IC

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

Forgiving All in the Light of the Resurrection

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

by Elizabeth Gassin and Robert Enright

Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.

           —St. Seraphim of Sarov

This examination of forgiveness by Professors Gassin and Enright expands on the work of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s two part series (IC 62 and 63) by looking through an Orthodox Theological lens at the psychological dimensions of forgive-ness which is their area of professional and scholarly expertise. Having first intro-duced us to their work in Forgiveness Education (IC 62) and then to the scientific underpinnings of forgiveness (IC 64), they conclude our year-long look at forgiveness by first elaborating an understanding of the reasons for and process of being merciful to an offender from an Orthodox theological perspective before identifying forgiveness themes and practices in Orthodox life, both liturgical and personal.

Orthodox Theology and Forgiveness: Orthodox theology, of course, flows from an understanding of Who the Holy Trinity is. Eastern Christian theology, perhaps more so than Western, focuses on the re-lationship between the Persons of the Trinity, and therefore it is not surprising that the human individual, made in God’s image, is seen in more relational terms as well. Writings in the Eastern tradition often blur the boundaries between the triad of God, self, and other, and it is in this interconnection between persons and between persons and God that we find a unique foundation for forgiving. (Of course, God’s immanence emphatically does not prohibit God’s transcendence over His creation.)

Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Following St. Irenaeus and others, the Orthodox Church distinguishes between the image and likeness of God in man. The image of God encompasses basic characteristics such as freedom, creativity, rationality, and the potential for God-likeness, which includes the capacity to love. While the image remains after the Fall, each person must struggle, fueled by God’s energies, to resurrect His likeness within herself.  This struggle is salvation, the process of theosis. This likeness that is being resurrected is a more authentic communion with God and others that is based on divine virtue (mercy, justice, etc.).

As we will see, the process of theosis involves transforming passions (energy, impulses) within us, but this cannot be done in isolation. One’s relationship with other persons is a foundation of the process. As the Confessor Nikon of Optina wrote:

Greet each person, no matter who he might be, with good feelings and a hope to find in him only good, seeing before yourself the image of God…. Your salvation and your demise are in your neighbor. Your salvation depends on how you relate to your neighbor.

If we are tempted to think such directives extend only to those who do not hurt us, Father Thomas Hopko reminds us otherwise:

Loving those who abuse us is perhaps the ultimate sign that we have opened ourselves up to the life-changing power of God, are becoming the person that we will be in the age to come, and are bringing God’s Kingdom to others.

We explore further this particularly meaningful idea below.

Orthodox teaching about the person, developed largely in the context of the monastic life, sheds light on the psychological aspects of offering interpersonal forgiveness. Perhaps the foundation of this process is when thumos, the power of our souls that when distorted is vengeful anger, and epithumia, the aspect that is unhealthy attachment when distorted, are submitted to our logos (reason, thought, or word: for our purposes here, we can define the  logos of each individual as God’s purpose or intention for that person). According to St. Maximus the Confessor, each entity in creation is endowed with its own logos, which in turn is related to the Divine Logos, Christ, through Whom all things were created. The Divine Logos, of course, is inherently humble, loving, self-sacrificing, and yet also firm in Truth. Therefore, in submitting our epithumia and thumos to our logos, they are transformed into an energy that strives outward, not to hurt another but to do well for and by him, yet without compromising a clear account of the offense and its effects on the forgiver.

Psychological research on anger and interpersonal attachment provides evidence that the Fathers were correct in calling the energies of thumos and epithumia unhealthy when distorted. For example, much work has been done on the effects of the Type A personality, which consists of rigidity, feeling pressured by schedules and deadlines, being easily angered, and letting hostility fester. Many studies have demonstrated a relationship between the Type A personality and health. It is not surprising to us, then, that the most consistent sub-factor to be related to poor health is hostility. Thumos run amok, without the logos as guiding principle, is indeed poison. Regarding epithumia, a large body of literature on interpersonal attachment demonstrates that those with a clingy, “preoccupied” style of emotional connection report more psychological and interpersonal problems than those with a warm but self-confident style. Similar negative results are found for those with a cold, “dismissing” style of emotional bonding. Letting one’s thoughts and feelings be dominated by an offender, or coldly cutting her out of one’s life, parallel these two unhealthy attachment styles. Mental and physical health seem intimately tied to a habit of having compassionate relations to others and yet respecting oneself, both of which may be crucial aspects of the logos of a person. In this, healthy attachment looks much like forgiveness.

A person hurt by another works synergistically with God to make forgiveness happen. Participation in the Mysteries, seeking counsel of a spiritual father or mother, fasting, confession, prayer (in general, and specifically for our offenders), and acts of charity—among other spiritual disciplines—constitute our portion of this work. They are woven into a fabric with God’s grace that enables us to do all this and more. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, the energies within us that were directed towards revenge and either obsessive attachment or cold detachment are purified to become the motivation to think and say positive things about the person who hurt us, to act in a manner that benefits that person (at the very least, continuing to pray for him), and to hope that all goes well for him in life.

How does this process represent some of the theological points we mentioned earlier in this article? Clearly, this take on forgiveness involves a dance between three persons: God, the forgiver, and the offender. The salvation of the forgiver is bound up in participating in this dance. A certain perichoresis* exists between God and forgiver as God’s grace, His divine presence, enables the forgiver to extend mercy and care to an offender, who also bears the image of God. In doing so, the forgiver incarnates the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” in the life of the offender and others touched by the hurtful situation. Paradoxically, in lifting one’s soul to God for help and directing one’s energy now for the good of the offender (rather than the “good” of self, at least as the world understands it), the forgiver has found his true self. Working with God in this endeavor, he has increased in himself that likeness of the loving, self-giving, relational Trinity that was lost in the Fall. And if the offender repents as a result of receiving forgiveness, the forgiver has also participated in the development of some of God’s likeness in that person, too.

In short, in the forgiveness process, the forgiver has traveled further along the path of salvation: God’s likeness is being resurrected in her as she grows in com-munion with Him and others. She participates in Christ’s Incarnation, allowing Divinity to infuse her human nature and extending mercy in the flesh. She joins in His Transfiguration, revealing the purity of the logos God has given her by the power of the Logos of God. She shares in Christ’s death on the Cross, in suffering submit-ting her own will to the will of the One who is Love, for the sake of others’ (and paradoxically, her own) salvation. She communes with the Resurrected Christ, being raised from her hell of anger and a desire for revenge, now bearing the promise of new life to the offender. She shares in His Ascension, taking fallen human nature—her own as well as her offender’s, via her prayers—into the realm of Divine Love and Truth. She participates in Pentecost, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to convey the Truth of love to the offender. And, as noted above, she helps in the advent of “the second and glorious coming” of the Lord, bringing a bit of God’s Kingdom into the fallen history of humanity. If, from an Orthodox perspective, salvation is union with the Triune God, forgiving one who has hurt us provides an opportunity like few others for this union.

Having set the theological context for forgiveness, we now turn to the forgive-ness journey itself. First, we look at how forgiveness is woven through communal Orthodox worship, providing ample encouragement towards and opportunity for forgiveness in the Church community. We then look at other aspects of an Orthodox Christian lifestyle that may be of help as one walks the path of a life of mercy.

Forgiving all ResurrectionOrthodox Worship and Forgiveness: A variety of liturgical practices in Orthodoxy illumine the process and importance of interpersonal forgiveness. Perhaps the most commonly celebrated one is the Divine Liturgy, at which the faithful receive Holy Communion. Forgiveness permeates this service, as the celebrants ask for forgiveness before beginning the celebration, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Canon, and right before Holy Communion itself. In some parishes, the celebrants request this forgiveness aloud, while in others the request is symbolically made by their silent prostration before the worshipers. In our experience, parishioners typically bow in response, honoring the request and symbolically entreating forgiveness as well. Likely this emphasis on mutual forgiveness is linked to Christ’s words in the Gospel of St. Matthew (5:23-24), directing reconciliation with adversaries before one brings his or her offering to the altar. And although not all Orthodox Christians practice a pre-communion prayer rule, it is worth noting that the standard rule directs the one wishing to commune to “first be reconciled with all who have grieved” him before even beginning the actual pre-communion prayers. Regarding this, we note two things. First, the directive in the prayer rule is to reach out not to those we have grieved, but to those who have grieved us (i.e., our offenders). In addition, we should think carefully about what “be reconciled” means in this context. It is hard to imagine Christ and the Fathers asking us to force ourselves on another person if that person does not wish to be in a functional relationship with us. Perhaps it is best to interpret the emphasis on reconciliation in the context of St. Paul’s directive to “live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18). In such a case, the pre-communion directive to be reconciled may be understood as an instruction to root out anger and foster benevolence in ourselves towards an offender, and to reach out to him in love, but not to force him to repent and/or enter back into a relationship that is hurtful to both parties. In other words, the pre-communion directive is to forgive. This directive is not meant to be a grim obligation, but instead wise and joyful preparation for entering into communion with the Holy Trinity, who is Love.

Before leaving the topic of the Divine Liturgy, we visit the zenith of the liturgical year: Great Lent and Pascha. As most Orthodox know, during Great Lent the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is served. This service is distinguished in part by the relatively long prayers during the Liturgy of the Faithful. In the lengthy prayer read after the consecration of the gifts, the celebrant entreats the Lord to remember and bless many categories of people, including “those who hate us.” While on the surface, this is a prayer intended to benefit an offender, we submit that it is also much more than that. We must recognize that it is chanted in the context of preparing and receiving Holy Communion. In this, we again encounter the idea that our salvation is heavily dependent not only on how we commune with God, but also with each other. The Body and Blood I receive have been consecrated not only for my salvation, but also for the salvation of those who hurt me. My destiny and theirs are intertwined at the deepest level when even I alone partake of the Holy Mysteries. I and my offenders are in some way united to one another in Christ via Holy Communion, and whether this is unto my salvation or judgment depends on the degree to which I have allowed God to love them through me.

Although the Resurrection is stressed at every Sunday liturgy, the Paschal ser-vice is, of course, unique in its content. One of the distinctive texts of the service is the Paschal Verses, in which we hear:

This is the day of Resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast. Let us em-brace each other. Let us call “brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the Resurrection.

There are probably various ways to understand the meaning of these verses, but in the context of this paper, we see Christ’s Resurrection being the motivator and the means by which we forgive. The power that raised the Lord from death is more than strong enough to raise us from our grave of anger and bitterness. In addition, Christ’s Resurrection was the event that lay the foundation for Ascension and Pentecost. All three of these feasts stress the intermingling of humanity and divinity. In forgiving an offender, that intermingling continues: our limited and fallen humanity becomes the expression of God’s powerful Kingdom of Love here on earth. Not only can we forgive all by the Resurrection, but in forgiving we bring the Resurrection to fruition again and again.

Metropolitan Kallistos has presented a beautiful and thorough exposition of another key Orthodox liturgical event related to forgiveness: Forgiveness Sunday. This capstone of the season of Lenten preparation provides a unique opportunity to usher more of God’s Kingdom into this world. His Eminence has described the process and background of this service. Therefore, here we will add only a few notes on some research that substantiates parishioners’ experience of Forgiveness Sunday, demonstrating the helpfulness of this ritual in the struggle to forgive. Gassin and Sawchak surveyed 178 persons online about the meaning and effect of the Vespers service that contains the forgiveness ritual. Most persons responded positively about the ritual. The most common themes included bringing one’s own psychological experience into conformity with the ritual and other Lenten practices, further development of identity as an Orthodox Christian, and sensing stronger ties to the parish community. A follow-up study involving more detailed interviews with six other Orthodox Christians confirmed many of the themes mentioned by the larger sample. These interviews revealed new emphases as well, such as using the ritual as a moral and spiritual learning experience for the younger generation. As Metropolitan Kallistos noted, however, not all react positively to the ritual. The occasional respondent in both studies noted the forgiveness ritual seemed empty, frustrating, or even scary, suggesting that clergy and other religious educators may need to incorporate more education about forgiveness and the ritual into pre-Lenten preparation, so that all parishioners may come to understand the beauty of offering and receiving mercy. Despite the occasional negative comment, the large majority of responses in the study were positive and theologically astute. This suggests that most people derive some sense of progressing on the path of salvation via the ritual, which in turn provides some evidence from psychological research that forgiveness can be a pathway through which God’s Kingdom comes “here on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Other Helps Within and Beyond Orthodoxy: Aside from participating in the sacraments and praying the liturgical texts during services, other aspects of the Orthodox tradition can also assist in one’s forgiveness journey. For example, reading the lives of saints can inspire with their rich examples of persons who were treated unfairly and yet forgave. The life of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr of Russia serves as an example. Soon after her husband was murdered, St. Elizabeth visited the assassin to offer her forgiveness. Many, many other holy people followed Christ’s example of forgiving His persecutors, and their stories are abundantly available to us, urging us on in running the race of mercy.

Prayer can also be a key part of the struggle to forgive. Aside from the liturgical prayers mentioned above, prayer at home can be crucial. Some prayers books, such as St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press’ Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, include prayers for enemies and prayers for the eradication of anger. Because humility appears to foster forgiveness of others, prayers that entreat God to grant us humility may also be useful in helping us to forgive. These include, but are not limited to, the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian and the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. Both are read during Great Lent, but they may be read at other times as well. Asking the inter-cessions of saints who have been models of forgiveness, and entreating the help of one’s guardian angel in warding off angry thoughts, also can be of benefit. The one striving to forgive may also read prayers for the health of an offender, or for their repose, if the offender is already dead. In doing so, one seeks to extend God’s mercy towards the offender, creating that “trinity” of God, self, and other, united in love.

The Orthodox individual striving to forgive may also find it helpful to attend to the persons and events portrayed in the iconography around him at home and church, realizing that just as he stands before these icons as a sinful person, so might the offender. For example, if one has an icon of Christ Pantocrator in the icon corner at home, she stands before that icon with a wounded soul, just as her offender might. If, at church, there is an icon of Christ’s Descent into Hell, it is worth considering that not only would Christ be there to rescue her, but also to rescue the offender. Such meditations before the icons may help to view the offender from a divine perspective and, paradoxically, promote a sense of kinship with the offender as a fellow human being. This, in turn, can stimulate compassion for the other.

Orthodox Christians may also make use of books on forgiveness written by psychologists. The most recent example of such material is The Forgiving Life, written by Robert Enright and published by the American Psychological Association. While we can recommend The Forgiving Life, the Orthodox Christian should be aware that authors of some books about forgiveness distort the concept and/or suggest thoughts and behaviors that do not dovetail with a Christian perspective. It is wise, then, to use these materials under the guidance of a spiritual father or with a trusted and mature spiritual friend.

Conclusion: The Christian tradition as a whole places a special emphasis on forgiving offenders as a way of living a Christ-like life. Within that general tradition, specific churches offer their own slant on the particulars of the forgiveness process. Eastern Orthodox Christianity’s emphases on the relationships within the Holy Trinity and on theosis of the faithful creates a perspective on forgiveness that may differ somewhat from other theological models. In addition, the monastic tradition, with its close attention to the development of the Christian’s soul, adds to our understanding of how one travels the path of interpersonal mercy. Finally, some aspects of the Orthodox liturgical tradition offer unique insights into forgiveness and opportunities to practice it on the deepest level. To draw on another key Biblical idea for Orthodox Christians, few endeavors can help us become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) like the salvific path of extending God’s forgiveness to one who has hurt us.   IC

(We thank Archimandrite Vladimir (Wendling) for reviewing this article. Any errors remain ours. –Authors)

Professor Gassin teaches at Olivet Nazarene University. Professor Enright teaches at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Both are part of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. In Madison. Wi. A copy of this article with footnotes and references may be requested by writing to editor@incommunion.org.

* Ed. note: perichoresis is a term that means “to move around” or “to dance” and is developed by several Fathers in describing the “in and around and through” relationship between the Persons of the Trinity and sometimes to us in our relationship to God, as in “we are in Christ.” The English theological terms are “interpenetration” and “circumincession.” This has been referred to as the “Divine Dance.” This is most fully developed by St. John of Damascus.

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

Erasmus of Rotterdam & The Church Fathers

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

by Ron Dart

Last June I was fortunate to spend time in Freiburg, Germany and Basel, Switzerland, the cities where Erasmus spent the final years of his life. From the 1520s to 1530s, the Roman Catholic and Protestant wars had heated up to such an extent that, when Protestants took control of Basel in 1529, Erasmus had to flee to Freiburg, returning to Basel in 1535 where he died a year later. Erasmus had a special affection for Basel—among other projects, it was here that he published many of his books on the Fathers of the Patristic era. While in Basel, I spent many an hour near Erasmus’s burial site in the cathedral pondering the relevance of Erasmus for today.

While Erasmus is best known as the author of The Praise of Folly and The Complaint of Peace, many of his other works are still widely read—his Adages and Colloquies and collections of his correspondence, especially those letters that document his clash with Luther. He also produced new translations of the Bible. Perhaps less well known today are his annotated editions of the Church Fathers.

Erasmus stood for a Christian humanist vision that was critical of the church as it existed in his lifetime and painfully aware of its urgent need of reform, yet refused to take part in or justify schism. Erasmus turned to both the Bible and Church Fathers in search of a fuller vision of church unity and as a call to peacemaking in the midst of conflict. In the war-ridden 16th century, with Christians slaughtering fellow Christians, Erasmus’s peace writings made him a voice crying in the wilderness.

Erasmus stood at a precarious place in history. Long before Luther and the protestant reformers came on the scene, he was one of the most rigorous critics of the Roman Catholic Church. Sadly, despite his loyalty, the Roman Catholic Church was profoundly suspicious of Erasmus. His writings were censured by the Sorbonne in 1526, the Spanish Inquisitor General held a conference to examine his writings in 1527, the theology faculty at Paris condemned some of his books in 1531, and in 1552, after his death, theologians at Louvain and the Sorbonne condemned Erasmus’s writings as “erroneous, scandalous, and heretical.” Finally, many of his books were placed on the Vatican’s Index of Prohibited Books and remained there until the 20th Century.

Convinced that the Roman Catholic Church would only be fully renewed and reformed by turning again to the Bible as interpreted by the Fathers of the Church, Erasmus used all his learning and training to facilitate a phoenix-like resurrection of the Classical Christian tradition of the Patristic era. Only by returning to the Patristic tradition, Erasmus was convinced, would the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” find its firm and solid footing again. There was pure water in the Fathers for the simple reason that they were closer to the source and fount of the early church.

In turning to the Bible as the north star of theology and ethics, Erasmus was in the vanguard. Yet the fact that he dared to correct errors in Jerome’s Latin translation, the Vulgate, meant he had to face the ire of Rome. For the Catholic Church, the Vulgate was the scriptural gold-standard. Erasmus’s 1516 translation of parts of the Bible (original Greek text and revised Latin text making clear Jerome’s errors) was seen by Catholic traditionalists as sending a fox into the henhouse. Erasmus was accused of “laying the egg that Luther hatched,” or, as was said in those days, “Erasmus Lutheranizes and Luther Erasmianizes.”

When Erasmus visited Johann Froben in Basel in 1514, a new era was about to unfold. It has been said that the combination of Erasmus and Johann Froben “brought together the greatest scholar and the greatest printer in Transalpine Europe.”

The Froben Press was originally the joint venture of Johann Amerbach and Johann Froben. Both men were deeply committed to publishing updated editions the works of the Western Fathers. Before Amerbach died in 1513, they had put out editions of St. Ambrose in 1492 and St. Augustine in 1506, first fruits in the work of putting solidly in place the intellectual foundation stones for the renewal and application of Classical learning and its role in the reform of the church. The teaming together of Erasmus and Froben greatly furthered this enterprise.

St. Jerome was the Church Father Erasmus concentrated on in his early years of scholarship, and by 1516, Froben had published his nine folio volumes of St. Jerome. But this was only a beginning for Erasmus. (Luther, Calvin, and the Anabaptists were not yet in the reformation drama.) Froben wanted a better edition of St. Augustine than the 1506 edition and asked Erasmus to produce it. Erasmus faced a threefold task in dealing with St. Augustine: he had to separate the genuine from the spurious books that were attributed to St. Augustine, present different perspectives on and interpretations of St. Augustine, and treat critical concerns about aspects of St. Augustine’s theology at a variety of significant levels. Interspersing the task with other projects, Erasmus did not finish his work on St. Augustine until 1529.

While Froben’s special interest was the Church Fathers of the Latin West, Erasmus was convinced that renewed attention to the Church Fathers of the Greek East was equally important. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 meant that many were the Orthodox theological refugees coming into Europe via Italy and other gateways to the West. “I have turned my entire attention to Greek,” he said in a letter to his fried, Jacob Batt. “The first thing I shall do, as soon as the money arrives, is to buy some Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes.”

Erasmus immersed himself in the richness and the fullness of the Greek language and the work of the Eastern Fathers, and convinced Johann Froben to collaborate in the project. Greek learning and language (long held in suspicion by many in the West as the language of the schismatic Orthodox) again began to challenge the Latin world and to influence the “New Learning” of the Renaissance.

Professor Ron Dart

Professor Ron Dart

Froben published Erasmus’s work on St. Cyprian in 1520 followed by his commentary on St. Hilary of Poitiers in 1523, by which time Erasmus had become a target for both Luther and the Vatican. The Vatican was one with Erasmus on his commitment to the Biblical-Patristic tradition, but clashed with him over his perspectives, interpretations, and applications of the sources. The Reformers, claiming to be true to the authority of the Bible, opposed both Erasmus’s peace theology and his commitment to the unity of the historic church that was foundational to the New Testament and the Fathers of the Patristic Era. Erasmus was, in many ways, an exile in an age of ideologues. Yet this did not deter Erasmus from continuing his work.

The first of Erasmus’ volumes on St. John Chrysostom appeared in 1525. Though divided by many centuries, Erasmus and Chrysostom could not have been better companions. They each knew the price to be paid for speaking with an authentic prophetic voice to both church and society. Erasmus completed his five volumes on Chrysostom in 1530 and the homilies of St. Gregory of Nazianzen by 1531. Erasmus’s work on Irenaeus came out in 1526, and in 1527 Erasmus completed and updated St. Ambrose, a bishop, like Chrysostom, who dared to challenge the ecclesial and political establishments when they became enemies of justice and peace.

Erasmus also was drawn to the writings of Origen. Despite his controversial ideas, with the eventual condemnation of some of them, Origen was the most important theologian and biblical exegete of the early church, writing at a period when much was unclear and unsure. Erasmus had been a thoughtful reader of Origen throughout much of his adult life. In 1536, the final year of his earthly journey, Erasmus’s volume on Origen left the press. Again, Erasmus offered a thoughtful, nuanced, and measured reading of Origen’s contributions to the life of the church.

Thanks to Erasmus, Christians in the West were getting much-needed exposure to the Eastern Fathers—and thus to Eastern Orthodoxy, hitherto almost totally hidden behind the wall created by the Great Schism.  Erasmus sought to articulate a theological position that the Fathers held but had been abandoned in the West.

Erasmus often made the distinction between what is of the essence (esse) of the faith in areas of doctrine and discipline and what are matters of indifference (adiaphora). Erasmus believed that the post-apostolic tradition had at times equated esse with adiaphora, harming areas of doctrine and discipline in the process.

Again and again Erasmus returned to the esse-adiaphora distinction in areas of doctrine and discipline. He argued that in the early Creeds much was intentionally omitted that, centuries later, became central to creedal and confessional texts. Erasmus, like the Church Fathers, was wary of being too sure footed when attempting to clarify the essence or energies of God. The West, Erasmus argued, often tended to go too far when silence was a wiser position to take. By the addition of the filioque clause in the Creed, which Erasmus regarded as a grave error, the West played a significant role in bringing on the Great Schism.

Erasmus steadfastly refused to simplify or domesticate the Church Fathers to serve ecclesial agendas—he walked readers into the unresolved moments of their times. Such an approach annoyed those who sought to present the Fathers as rigidly agreeing on most issues and rarely struggling with the contents of the Creeds.

Relevant once more: Let me conclude with two points connecting Erasmus with our contemporary reality. First, the trauma of 9/11 brought home to North Americans the dangers of certain movements within Islam. However, circumstances were similar for Europeans in Erasmus’ time. In 1529, the Muslim Ottomans were poised to attack Venice. In 1530 Erasmus responded to the threat with a widely circulated essay On the War against the Turks (De Bello Turcico). In it, we can see the probing mind of Erasmus cautioning Europe not to overreact in a hawkish manner to the 16th century’s own version of a “Clash of Civilizations” scenario. Erasmus declared that the Turks had established an immense empire not because of their own merits but due to the sin of Christians. “We have angered God and caused him to send the Turks against us, just as he sent frogs, lice, and locusts upon the Egyptians long ago…. The Turks are men and, what is more important, half-Christian” and therefore deserve to be treated the same as any other people. Much could be drawn from Erasmus’ article to inform contemporary attitudes toward Islam.

Second, we can affirm the important parallel between the 16th century and the growing interest these days in reclaiming “the Great Tradition.” The Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant traditions, from a variety of perspec-tives, are all part of this renewal of interest. Erasmus was very much part of bringing the Great Tradition to center stage in the 16th century, but he did it in a way that, in the daggers-drawn climate of the time, failed to please either Roman Catholic or Protestant ideologues. Might Christians—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—who seek common ground in today’s world find in Erasmus a guide and mentor?

a selection of quotations from Erasmus:

“Wherever you encounter truth, look upon it as Christianity.”

“There is nothing more wicked, more disastrous, more widely destructive, more deeply tenacious, more loathsome [than war]…. Whoever heard of a hundred thousand animals rushing together to butcher each other, as men do everywhere?”

Erasmus excoriated theologians who tried to justify war on the ground that Christ said “Let him who has no sword sell his mantel and buy one.” “As if Christ, who taught nothing but patience and meekness, meant the sword used by bandits and murderers rather than the sword of the Spirit. Our exegete thinks that Christ equipped the apostles with lances, crossbows, slings, and muskets.”

“I would be glad to be a martyr for Christ, but I cannot be a martyr for Luther.”

“It is no great feat to burn a little man. It is a great achievement to persuade him.”

“How can you say Our Father if you plunge steel into the guts of your brother? Christ compared himself to a hen: Christians behave like hawks. Christ was a shepherd of sheep: Christians tear each other like wolves.”

“I see you, while the standard of salvation is in one hand, rushing on with a sword in the other, to the murder of your brother; and, under the banner of the cross, destroying the life of one who owes his salvation to the cross. Even from the Holy Sacrament itself, (for it is sometimes, at the same hour, administered in opposite camps) in which is signified the complete union of all Christians, the warriors, who have just received it, run instantly to arms, and endeavor to plunge the dreadful steel into each other’s vitals. Of a scene thus infernal, and fit only for the eyes of accursed spirits, who delight in mischief and misery, the pious warriors would make Christ the spectator.”

Erasmus was disgusted by the incivility and humorlessness of militant Protestants: “I have seen them return from hearing a sermon as if inspired by an evil spirit. Their faces all showed a curious wrath and ferocity.”

In The Complaint of Peace, Peace herself rises to complain about how much her name is praised by one and all yet how few live peaceful lives. “Without me there is no growth, no safety for life, nothing pure or holy, nothing agreeable, while war is a vast ocean of all the evils combined, harmful to everything in the universe.”

“We must look for peace by purging the very sources of war—false ambitions and evil desires. As long as individuals serve their own personal interests, the common good will suffer. Let them examine the self-evident fact that this world of ours is the fatherland of the entire human race.”  IC

This essay is an abridged version of a lecture given by Professor Ron Dart at the 2012 Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference held at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia where Ron teaches courses on the interface between political science, philosophy, and religion. The conference was cosponsored by the OPF and the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius, an organization bringing together Anglicans and Orthodox to discuss their mutual affinities in a spirit of unity (sobornost).

 

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

Peace and Peacemaking as an Interfaith and Ecumenical Vocation: An Orthodox View

Friday, September 28th, 2012

 

Peace and Peacemaking as an Interfaith and Ecumenical Vocation: An Orthodox View 

Mar 9, 2011

Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis 

 

Abstract[1]

For Orthodoxy, peace is inextricably related to the notion of justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit as a gift and vocation. The peaceable witness of the Church in situations of war cannot be limited only to its ethical judgment. She won’t prevent wars. Peace requires much more than a military action or passive pacifism. The Christian gospel invites the faithful to a continuous spiritual struggle and public actions that leads, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, towards greater justice and peace.

General Remarks

In an increasingly complex and violent world, Christian churches have come to recognize, along with other communities of living faiths, that working for peace constitutes a primary expression of their responsibility for the life of the world. This responsibility is grounded on the essential goodness of all human beings and of all that God has created, continues to sustain, and is leading towards unity and a greater future. For Orthodoxy, peace is inextricably related to the notion of justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit as a gift and vocation.[2] Peace and peacemaking as a gift and vocation provide opportunities to connect theology with ethical witness, faith with social transformation. The dynamic nature of peace as gift and vocation does not allow its identification with stagnation, passivity and the acceptance of injustice.

While the Orthodox churches affirm that peace is an integral and indispensable element of the Christian gospel, they have not sufficiently reflected – in a morally consistent manner – on the nature of peace and peacemaking and how peace affects in practical terms, their life and witness to the world.[3] Orthodox theologians have noted that offering simply a theoretical presentation of the Orthodox understanding of peace is not a sufficient expression and witness:

It is not enough for us (Orthodox) simply to theologize, to describe and to prescribe regarding the Orthodox vision of justice and peace. We must also mobilize and work together for God’s purpose to defeat injustices and to establish justice wherever possible, as well as to overcome the forces, which threaten peace on earth.[4]

The contextualization of peace and peacemaking and the critical appreciation of the ecclesial actions or inactions for the advancement of peace compel the Orthodox Church to explore different but complementary ways to relate their liturgical and spiritual experience and faith with the complex and conflictual issues of the world. Such a move evokes accusations that the Church moves from the spiritual realm to politics, an “activism” that is alien to Orthodoxy. Commenting on the reluctance of the Orthodox churches to address issues of public life, Metropolitan John Zizioulas believes that they are right to give preeminence to those elements of their tradition that refer to the centrality of eschatology but they are wrong to disconnect eschatology from history, theology from ethics, and generally to be indifferent in finding and witnessing God in the historical realm.[5]

Orthodox theologians because of close association of many Orthodox Churches with the State and their long oppression by totalitarian regimes have not adequately and critically reflected on the reflexive relationship of “self and society,” and the Christian imperative of the simultaneous transformation by God’s grace as well as of Christian discipleship of both. Oppressive, unjust, and violent social structures jeopardized the humanity of the oppressed and a just society is at risk of being corrupted by unjust and greedy self-centered individuals. Fr. Stanley S. Harakas regretfully notes the undeveloped status of social ethics in Eastern Orthodoxy most especially on peace studies:

There are few Orthodox writers and thinkers who have dealt deeply and thoughtfully with these issues. Still fewer, if any, have provided theoretical underpinning for a consisted and authentic Orthodox Christian Social Ethic. Because of this there is the danger that our social concern will become subject to mere sloganeering and worse yet, become the tool of alien forces. For example, Peace as an ideal for the Christian Church is almost self-evident. Yet there is no such thing as a coherent body of Orthodox peace studies. Few, if any, Orthodox theologians have concerned themselves with the problems of pacificism, disarmament, nuclear war, just war theory, peace movements, etc. There is a danger on this issue that we will allow ourselves simply to be used as a propaganda outlet.[6]

This lamentable situation in the words of another Orthodox Scholar, Grant White, “must not become an excuse for inaction in the face of suffering of incomprehensible proportions.”[7]

The World Council of Churches since the early 90s has provided opportunities for Orthodox theologians to reflect on the issues of justice and peace.[8] The military invasion of Iraq by the United States has generated among Orthodox theologians in the USA an interesting debate on whether Just War, judged by the standards of the Orthodox Church, is a “lesser good” or a “lesser evil.”[9] Violence is neither fully legitimized from the perspective of the Church when it is viewed as a “lesser good” nor is unconditionally renounced when it is considered as a “lesser evil.” Most Orthodox theologians have defended the peaceable nature of the Orthodox Church and at the same time have conceded that the use of force is sometimes an inevitable tool of good statecraft provided that it is guided by a set of strict and yet meaningful moral restrains in its practical application.[10] The theological assessment of violence however seems to remain an issue of contestation.

Does the eschatological nature of the Christian faith allow us to give a conditional theological legitimacy to violence? The eschatological orientation of the gospel while it teaches us that a fully reachable earthly shalom is unattainable in history, it places the world in a dynamic process of transformation by the grace of the Holy Spirit that moves the world closer to the peaceable reign of God. Eschatology is a subversive principle that questions every necessity that legitimates violence. As Gregory Baum states:

Replying to the question ‘can society exist without violence?’ in the negative gives permission for societies to reconcile themselves with the violence they practice. Replying Yes to the question, in the name of divine promises, challenges every society to review its practices and reduce its reliance on violence.[11]

Peace, of course, is more than the absence of war. It does not deny conflict, an intrinsic element of human relationships, but neither does it identify conflict with violence. Violence is not the only way to resolve conflicts. Peacemakers are constantly groping to find ways in which people and communities can resolve their differences without physical violence. Peace is a dynamic process not an absolute end point. Genuine peace means progress toward a freer and more just world.

Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, living in a Muslim country and having personally experienced the cruelties of religion-sanctioned wars and strife, addressing this issue of religious sanctioned violence has argued that that the Church cannot exercise its vocation of peace and peacemaking in a plausible manner if it cannot exorcise war. He notes:

In the church a vision of inwardness where peace becomes our vocation is plausible only if war can be exorcised. How can it have come about that pure and pious men like the inquisitors had such a bad theology? This constitutes one of the tragedies of our past. Nothing can be accomplished until the biblical foundations of violence are shattered. For us the error lies not in history but in theology. Violence is justified, fed by the belief that God of the Bible led Israel from victory to victory and that he willed all nations to submit to it…

Alongside this bloodthirsty God, there arises the image of a merciful God whose voice speaks in prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea and in the Song of the Servant in Isaiah. We are confronted here with two irreconcilably opposed faces of the Lord in the same Scripture.[12]

He argues that for Christians these incompatibles image of God must be read and interpreted through a “kenotic” reading of the Scripture and suggests that the “The Cross alone is the locus of divine victory, and the source of the meaning of faith. Anything in the Scripture that does not conform to the mystery of Love is a veil over the Word. Love is the true locus of the Word, because it alone is a divine epiphany.”[13] Other Orthodox scholars risking the accusation of being Marcionites tend to bypass the violent texts of the Scripture especially of the Old Testament as early stages of understanding God’s revelation that the New Testament has surpassed. In the Patristic tradition the violent texts of the Scripture have been interpreted through the “allegorical method” to describe “Spiritual personal struggles against evil and sin.”[14]

The renunciation of the violence, war, and terrorism as destructive of human lives, unjust and oppressive becomes a credible expression of the Church’s faith only when it is complemented with ethical practices that point to their prevention. The peaceable witness of the Church in situations of conflict and war cannot be limited only to its ethical judgment about the legitimacy and rules of conduct of war or even its unconditional renunciation. Peace requires much more than a military action or passive pacifism. If our ethics focus only on when a military action is right or wrong it limits our concern to a military action and does not encompass preventive actions. A remedy to this limitation is for the churches to develop just peacemaking practices that move their ethical discourse from theories that justify or regulate the use of violence to preventive actions that contribute to the building up of a culture of peace.[15]

The peaceable witness of the churches won’t always prevent wars and Christians may continue to disagree on when, if ever, war and military force are justified. But it is possible for them to work together and even reach consensus on the question: “what practices of violence prevention and peacemaking should they support?” Even if they believe in the justification of some wars, they still need an ethic that enables them to think clearly about initiatives of peacemaking. Pacifists, also, have the moral obligation in situations of aggression, injustice and violent conflicts not simply to renounce violence and war but to invent peaceful means and actions by which justice, peace and reconciliation is served.[16] Depending on local situations and cultural or theological sensitivities, peacemaking efforts may be crafted differently. However, what is important is that the Churches complement their ethical judgments with peacemaking and peace-building actions.

The Church, as the sacrament of God’s peace to the world, actively supports all human efforts that aim to identify more effective ways of resolving disputes without resorting to violent conflicts. The concern of the Church for peace and its active participation in movements of peace and social justice is a testing ground of its faith about the origins, essential goodness and future of the world. It is Her vocation to be a peacemaker through prayer and action that transform the conditions that cause violence. The Church enables those human beings whom violence and war have put asunder to find their unity in God’s peace and justice through reconciliation, reparation and forgiveness.[17]

The Peaceable Vocation of the Church in a Global World

Peace and justice are notions that call the churches to contextualize their message. Christian churches cannot ignore that the world today is highly complex, interdependent, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and irreversibly pluralistic. In such a context, in order to be agents of reconciliation and peace they must find ways to communicate and to collaborate with people and communities of other living faiths, ideologies, cultures and beliefs. Such collaboration cannot be just an exchange of ideas and a comparing of different theologies nor a matter of political expediency. It requires religious communities not to abandon their particular unique claims about the origins of peace and how it can be fully established in the life of the world but to develop a theology of involvement and cooperation with other religious communities. Religious communities need to reflect on how the fullness of the world in all its irreducible diversities reflects the dynamic presence of God’s transforming grace. Religious and cultural plurality is a fact and communities of living faiths should teach and convince their followers to accept this fact.

An interfaith collaboration in peacemaking and peace building efforts presupposes that the communities of living faiths have acquired and developed the necessary theology and conversational skills that enable them to recognize and respect the integrity of other people’s beliefs, practices and communal life. The Third Pan Orthodox Preconciliar Conference (1986) encourages the Orthodox churches to move towards this wider collaboration:

The local Orthodox churches in close collaboration with the peace-loving faithful of other world religions consider it their duty to work for peace on earth and the establishment of fraternal relations between peoples. The Orthodox churches are called upon to contribute to joint effort and collaboration between religions, and thereby combat fanaticism anywhere; in this way work for reconciliation between peoples, the triumph of the values represented by freedom and peace in the world, service to humanity today regardless of race or religion…[18]

Peace has no religious frontiers. Religious communities through interfaith dialogue and collaboration must strive to overcome misunderstandings, stereotypes, caricatures and other prejudices, inherited or acquired. Their voices in favor of peace must be heard in the public realm (political life, media, and marketplace) and together must take initiative that promotes justice and peace in the world. The universal message of peace, that each religious faith community espouses, should enable their followers and other people to see one another, not as enemies, but as brothers and sisters across religious, national, racial and cultural frontiers.

Religious communities along with other movements of social transformation become credible agents of peace after they have examined and assessed critically their past and present performance in situations of conflict. Such a critical approach would humble them and help them to recognize that their declarations about peace are not always commensurate with their passivity, indifference or actions in situations of conflict and injustice. A critical assessment of their present and past performances could free them from multiple ideologies (nationalistic, political, racial, and economic) that have used the passion that religious faith evokes for the purpose to advance their own goals, values and interests.

The complicity of religious believers and communities in acts of violence is also greatly influenced by collective and personal insecurities and fears that guide their interpretation of religious texts and traditions. It is not uncommon for people in violent situations and conflicts to profess faith in God’s peace and at the same time to give legitimacy to their violent acts as their contribution to God’s cause for the world. In all these situations such people and their religious communities have forgotten that wars and divisions between people are the most immediate and visible expressions of sin and evil.

Orthodox ascetical tradition insists that violence and war begins primarily in people’s hearts with pride, rancor, hatred and desire for revenge, before it is translated into armaments, open violence and wanton destruction. Thus, peace starts with the formation of consciousness, with conversion of hearts. Consequently, an indispensable aspect of interfaith dialogue and cooperation for advancing a culture of peace is for communities of living faiths to join hands and educate the human heart in honesty, love, benevolence, compassion, solidarity, self control and especially respect for the rights of others. Violence is not overcome by further violence. Neither the politics of fear or of terror can bring peace and justice in the world. Hatred must be overcome by love, by conversion of heart, and by removal of the causes of war, which are injustice, selfishness, envy and indifference to human suffering and oppression.

Those who have studied the role of religion in violent conflicts throughout the world urge religious leaders and theologians to become more proactive in addressing the sources of violence that emanate from within their communities.

They can no longer disown their coreligionist extremists by simply dismissing their actions as being unreflective of the real values of their faith tradition. Religious extremists justify the atrocities that they pursue in the name of their God by taking advantage the ambivalence towards violence that is found in each of the different traditions. There is a need for a strong, unambiguous and clear articulation of those elements of religious faith that advance peace and justice for all human beings, repudiating those coreligionists who use their faith to incite communal strife and global terror. Such a declaration must necessarily affirm the dignity and the sacredness of human life and embrace religious freedom and diversity as an indispensable social right.[19]

Theological Foundations for a Culture of Peace

The Orthodox churches understand peace and peacemaking as an indispensable aspect of their faith and of their mission to the world. They ground this faith conviction upon the wholeness of the Biblical tradition as it is properly interpreted through the Church’s liturgical experience and practice. The Eucharist provides the space and the hermeneutical perspective by which one discerns and experiences the fullness of the Christian faith. It provides the norm for the witness of the Church in the life of the world. Robert F. Taft, reviewing the history of the formation of the Byzantine liturgy, concludes that since its formation peace had assumed a central importance as a greeting and prayer that expresses the Church’s understanding of God’s Kingdom.[20] Peace in Scripture as well as in the liturgy is a greeting and a dynamic grace-giving word (Jn. 20.19-21). God Himself is Peace (Jgs. 6:24) and peace is His gift. Peace is a sign of communion with God, who gives peace to those who serve him (Ps. 85.8-13). It grants freedom from fear and threat by enemies and it is inseparable from righteousness without which there is no real peace. In short, “peace” is practically synonymous with salvation (Rom 16.20; 1 Thes5.23). Peace is communion with God and Jesus Christ is our peace, since He is the bond of communion (Eph 2.14-17): “We live in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom5.1). The peace of God in the Liturgy is referred as “peace from on high, “as in the angelic greeting of Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men”. It is granted to the world and to the Church by the operation of the Holy Spirit, the active presence of God within the world that guides all into unity: “in one place with one accord” (Acts 2:1 and grants to all peace, justice, love, and joy (Rom. 14:14). In the Liturgy, people receive peace of God in their unity with Christ through the work of the Holy once they enter, through the Holy Spirit, into unity with God.[21] Peace once sealed the liturgy of world[22] and at the end of the liturgy the people are sent away in peace.

Christians, as it is reflected in the liturgy, give primary emphasis on the eschatological peace that God grants to them as a gift of communion with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, they do not ignore the conflicts, the power struggles and the violence that one experiences in the world. Although the early Christian church of the first three centuries was primarily pacifist, grounding its attitudes on the Sermon of the Mount (Mt. 5-7; Mt 26/52), the Fathers of the church later in situations of conflict without abandoning the pacifist attitude of the early Church, had justified defensive wars without developing theories of just war or giving theological legitimacy to violence.

The Orthodox Church gives far more attention to the question of how to establish and maintain peaceful and just societies than it does to justify, or even tolerate, any instance of war. It has rather a dynamic commitment to the praxis of peace.

In every dimension of life, the Church invites us to embody the way of Christ as fully as we can in the circumstances that we face: to forgive enemies; to work for the reconciliation of those who have become estranged; to overcome the divisions of race, nationality, and class; to care for the poor; to live in harmony with others; to protect creation and to use the created goods of the world for the benefit of all. Advocacy for peace must not stop with praying the litanies of the Liturgy. We can pray these petitions with integrity only if we offer ourselves as instruments for God’s peace in the world, only if we live them out in relation to the challenges to peace that exist among peoples and nations.

Placing the tradition of the Orthodox Church on peace in the context of the development in peace studies, Orthodoxy has never developed elaborate theories of just war nor it has embraced absolute pacifism. As such it is radically different in orientation from the quietist tradition of some religious sects, whose members tended to withdraw from public life and cede to the State the realm of practical politics. The absolute or “purist” pacifism is distinct from the more widely accepted tradition of pragmatic or conditional pacifism, which opposes war in principle but accepts the possibility of using force for self-defense or the protection of the vulnerable.[23] Pacifism is not just a philosophy, a set of abstract ideas and beliefs, but a passionate commitment and political program for social change. A Pacifist is someone who is personally committed to take action, to work for peace and reduce the level of violence. The ethos of Orthodoxy is much more related with pragmatic or conditional pacificism. The Orthodox people do not only pray for peace and believe that God has destined the world to live in justice, peace and unity, but as a result of their faith they are called to be active peacemakers as St. Nicholas Cabasilas states: “Christians, as disciples of Christ who made all things for peace, are to be ‘craftsmen of peace – τεχνίτες ειρήνης.”[24] They are called a peaceable race (εἰρηνικόν γέννος) since “nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace.”[25] The Third Preconciliar Pan Orthodox Conference (1986) exhorts Orthodox Christians to be active peace makers grounded in their faith:

We, Orthodox Christians, have – by reason of the fact that we have had access to the meaning of salvation – a duty to fight against disease, misfortune, fear; because we have had access to the experience of peace we cannot remain indifferent to its absence from society today; because we have benefited from God’s justice, we are fighting for further justice in the world and for the elimination of all oppression; because we daily experience God’s mercy, we are fighting all fanaticism and intolerance between persons and nations; because we continually proclaim the incarnation of God and the divinization of man we defend human rights for all individuals and all peoples; because we live God’s gift of liberty, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ, we can announce more completely its universal value for all individuals and peoples; because, nourished by the body and blood of our Lord in the holy Eucharist, we experience the need to share God’s gifts with our brothers and sisters, we have a better understanding of hunger and privation and fight for their abolition; because we expect a new earth and new heaven where absolute justice will reign, we fight here and now for the rebirth and renewal of the human being and society.[26]

The Third Pre-conciliar Pan Orthodox Conference provided a theological manifesto that should guide the public witness and involvement of the Orthodox people. But still there is a need to develop and learn practical ways, pastoral projects and opportunities that allow Orthodox people and the churches to participate in movements of social transformation and contribute to a culture of peace.

The peace that God bestows to the world is given not only to humanity but also to the whole created world. Nature and history are, for the Christian faith, ontological realities bearing the marks of sinfulness as separation, division, opposition, ethical and natural evil, as well as the realm, the space, in which the drama of the salvation of the whole world is unfolding through the dynamic presence of God’s Spirit in them. Christians participate in the process of salvation as they embrace, in love, all human beings, who constitute an indivisible unity by virtue of their common origins, partaking of God’s breath, and living in His love. Hatred and divisions are not simply moral mistakes, resulting from the wrong ethical choice of a person, but they reveal the abyss of being-without-God.

Thus the Christian understanding of peace and how it is advanced in the life of the world is guided by the eschatological peace that God grants to the world, the reality of being with God and participating in the glory of His reign. It is primarily a gift and a vocation, a pattern of life. It discloses the life of those who have been reconciled and united with God. It is primarily this unity that enables Christians to embrace in love all human beings because of the active presence of God’s spirit in them. Since peace is constitutive of the Christian Gospel, Christian believers are involved in a permanent process of becoming more conscious of their responsibility to incarnate the message of peace and justice in the world as a witness of the authenticity of their faith. This is clearly stated by St. Basil: “Christ is our peace,” and hence “he who seeks peace seeks Christ…without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.”[27]

The Christian Church insists that the root cause for violence, injustice and oppression in the world reflects the pervasive presence and impact of the still active operation of the “principalities and powers” of the fallen world. Evil, violence, injustice and oppression reflects the disruptive communion of human beings with God, the fallible nature of our human actions, and the failure to discern and do the will of God in the midst of the ambiguities of history. Violence has multiple manifestations: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless and innumerable acts of inhumanity. In the midst of violence and injustice, Christian faith recognizes the active presence of God’s Spirit: the subversive reality that enables the world, and in particular the suffering victims of injustice, aggression and oppression, to begin a process of liberation and movement towards a culture of peace and justice. A tension between the already given reality of peace and its not-yet-fulfilled reality characterizes the key theological stance of Christians involved in the struggle for peace. The awareness that peace is an eschatological gift of God and of the active presence of God’s Spirit in history makes it impossible for the churches to accept a historical fatalism of wars and clashes as unshaken reality or that it is possible to have a permanent peace in this world by relying simply on human-centered ideologies.

Communicating the Christian Notion of Peace in the Public Space.

The Christian gospel invites the faithful to a continuous spiritual struggle that leads, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, towards greater justice and peace. Every Christian is called to be a peacemaker and a worker for justice. This calling is primarily nourished through prayers and repentance; allowing Scripture to form our human consciousness; participating in the Eucharist; and recognizing the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed to be the living icons of Christ.

This calling is noble and Christians, through the above mentioned devotional practices receive, the gift of God’s peace as the basis of their involvement in the life of the world. They are peacemakers because of their participation in God’s mission. Here it is important to differentiate between the gift of God’s peace and how this gift is received, acknowledged and communicated by the Church and the faithful. While the gift of God’s peace is given through the Church to all by virtue of their identification with Christ, it is not equally true that the faithful are always the vehicles of God’s grace and peace to the world. Christian responses to situations of violence are always subject to God’s judgment that compels the churches and the faithful to repentance, asking God’s forgiveness for all their failures to be active agents of His peace to the world.

Orthodox theologians have recognized that there is a need to “lift up in the consciousness of the church, the peace-making character of Christianity and the Christian duty to serve the cause of peace and Justice.”[28] Articulating only abstract theological truths, which nevertheless are normative for the Church’s identity and mission, cannot raise the consciousness of the Church. There is a need to enhance and concretize these theological ideals with insights about social injustice, oppression and violence that social science provides. As the report of the Orthodox Perspectives on Justice and Peace states:

It is important that we not only speak about justice and peace, but also develop projects and contribute practically in programmes and sustained organized activity on behalf of the concrete realization of the values of justice and peace in our ecclesial life. In this regard the church must learn to dialogue especially with non-church bodies to find the most suitable common ways for the implementation of justice and peace.[29]

On the basis of the theological understanding of peace, the Orthodox churches are encouraged to participate in movements of peace and justice. However their involvement in movements of social change will not be credible unless they first liberate themselves from “ethno-nationalism,” which reflects the history of the long identification of church-nation-state relationship in most Orthodox countries where the churches had been considered as national institutions. Ethno-nationalism has reduced in some instances the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to a “national” church restricted geographically and unduly influenced by civilizations, language, idiosyncrasy and serving political purposes, dictated by nationalism, racism and chauvinism of people and states.[30] The suggested liberation of the Orthodox churches from “ethno-nationalism” does not mean that their members cannot be patriotic, or love their nation. What is objectionable is the exclusive identification of God with a particular nation. The partiality of Ethno-nationalism does not only hinder the Orthodox contribution to peace movements, but it debases basic tenets of the Orthodox faith.[31]

The Orthodox churches should exercise their peace-making mission through their active participation in all peace dialogues between states which are at war, between ideologies and political trends fighting each other for the sake of justice and freedom in their respective countries, between the political status quo and liberation movements, as well as in all dialogues intending to defeat racism, sex discrimination and any kind of exploitation of the weak and the poor. It is the mission of the church in its participation and dialogue with the others to witness God’s love for all humanity and affirm the dignity of all human beings.

For this the church has to express its deep-rooted commitment to justice in concrete and relevant ways in our time. We must affirm, loudly and clearly, the truth that God’s image is present in every human being. We need to seek out and actively cooperate with all forces of good working for the eradication from God’s creation of all forms of prejudice and discrimination. We ourselves must teach our people to respect the integrity and dignity of all peoples of every nation, economic condition, race, sex, political affiliation, so that reconciliation and tolerance may replace coercion and violence in our relationships. Our goal is nothing less than the reign of God’s love among all peoples.[32]

Dialogue between opposing sides is not simply a means to reach/achieve agreement. The dialogue itself is part of a reconciliation process. The Orthodox should defend not only the dialogue on peace as such but also the inclusion in it of people who are very often neglected in crucial deliberations. Those who become partners in true dialogue with open and sincere minds, and are ready to listen and not only to speak are already on the way to peace.

Christians in the public realm join their efforts and contribute their resources to all efforts that intend to stop or minimize violence, loss of life, human suffering and deprivation. All actions that aim to save human lives and/or uphold the dignity of all human beings in the midst of violent conflict are acts that promote peace in a provisional but necessary manner. They are actions taken to avoid the immediate threat of armed conflict, massive bloodshed and cruelty but they do not address or eliminate the deeper issues and causes that generate violence and war.

Is it possible for Orthodoxy to justify wars in defending the dignity, the rights, the freedom and the liberation of oppressed people? As the report on Orthodox Perspective on Justice and Peace states:

The Orthodox Church unreservedly condemns war as evil. Yet it also recognizes that in the defense of the innocent and the protection of one’s people from unjust attack, criminal activity and the overthrowing of oppression, it is sometimes necessary, with reluctance, to resort to arms. In every case, such a decision must be taken with full consciousness of its tragic dimensions. Consequently, the Greek fathers of the Church have never developed, a ‘just war theory’, preferring rather to speak of the blessings of and the preference for Peace. [33]

Christians can never admit that resorting to violence or to any kind of war could resolve conflicts and bring peace and harmony to the world. But as long as we live in this world this principle is not unshakeable and cannot –unfortunately – be absolutized. The “pacifist” option, although it is closer to the ethos of the Orthodox Church, cannot become an absolute principle for solutions to conflicts without condoning the world’s conditions and human sin, as well as the predicament of history. It is not possible to adopt one position only and apply it in all situations, at all times and in all places. There is always a need for careful discernment of the signs of the times. One may argue that whenever people or communities resort to violent to resolve their conflicts, they are putting at risk their unity with God and they are in danger of losing their humanity. Violence reflects realities and means of the world and not of God’s kingdom and as such cannot receive theological legitimacy.[34] All kinds of tortures, the holding of innocent persons as hostages, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians harm the life of the victims and dehumanize the victimizers.

It is important to differentiate “pacifism” from “non-violent” resistance to situations of injustice and oppression. Non-violence especially when it is organized as a pressure movement against power centers should not be identified with an entirely passive attitude to evil.[35] Non-violence provides a pragmatic alternative to absolute pacifism, a way of overcoming injustice and realizing political objectives while remaining true to moral principles. In all armed conflicts, there are possibilities of non-violent actions for reaching a solution or an agreement. A Christian always seeks and suggests such means instead of adopting an absolute, unilateral position.[36]

The Christian churches, while they support all human efforts that repudiate the logic of violence and war, must not forget their greater mission to lead the world to address the deeper issues. Peace is not a moral good in and of itself; it is linked with the most basic human values and practices as a permanent improvement of the human condition on all levels. Defending the dignity of every human person and the sanctity of life cannot be disengaged from the quest for greater justice and freedom as the foundation, source and origin of real and permanent peace. “No society can live in peace with itself, or with the world, without the full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person, and of the sacredness of all human life (Jas. 4.1-2).”[37] The Christian churches would be hesitant to fully support those peace movements that disregard fundamental human values like justice and freedom for the sake of merely avoiding the last explicit negation of peace, i.e. massive armed war and the application of violence. Certainly, a Christian would always share in the efforts to avoid bloodshed because life is the most precious God-given gift, but he would try to remind people that when attempting to avoid war and keep peace they should critically examined what kind of peace they represent.

One has to speak of the Christian peace concept and its contribution to the general peace movement not as an absolute one in a general religious, self-sufficcient sense but as a radical particularity which is unique in that it goes dynamically deep into the primary causes of war and violence and calls for thorough study and actions for peace. Particularity here refers to a uniqueness relating to Christ as our Peace, presenting God’s Peace as a paramount gift to the whole of humanity. There are good attempts in the secular realm regarding peace, and a Christian should affirm them as a first point of contact with God’s peace: “Whenever we see harmony, justice, forgiveness, respect for human dignity, generosity, and care for the weak in the common life of humanity, we witness a blessing of the Lord and catch a glimpse –no matter how dim and imperfect – of the peace of Christ.”[38] Then the uniqueness of Christian peace could definitely become a necessary and positive counter-balance against all kinds of unilateral, human centered and godless peace making.

Finally, the contribution of the Orthodox churches in advancing peace with justice and freedom depends upon their total commitment to the Gospel of love and reconciliation and on their courage to speak and act accordingly beyond any kind of temporary affiliations in the socio-political realm. Their contribution will, however, be truly Christian, if it is offered in all humanity and in that spirit of repentance and forbearance which is the key prerequisite of all true peacemakers.

How’s this for a mission statement? –Epistle to Diognetus

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.

–Epistle to Diognetus (Ch. 5 and 6), 2nd century AD

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

Opening the Doors of Compassion: Cultivating a Merciful Heart

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

by Fr. John D. Jones

As Orthodox Christians, we recognize the ultimate goal of the Christian life to be theosis or divinization—becoming like God as much as is possible for human beings. Yet this process of theosis is not a matter of a discarnate spirituality that retreats from human need and suffering. The journey towards theosis is rather expressed through concrete acts of love and mercy in imitation of God, who is love. As St. Gregory the Theologian writes, ‘Prove yourself a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God. There is nothing so godly in human beings as to do good works.’…[doing so] constitutes a sacred obligation for us to minister in Christ’s name to our neighbor; that is, to every person in need whom we encounter (cf. Luke 10:25–37).  —Metropolitan Anthony (Gergiannakis)

 

“Prove yourself a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God. There is nothing so godly in human beings as to do good works.” So wrote St. Greogry the Theologian near the end of his Oration XIV, On the Love of the Poor. This theme is basic to the oration from the start:

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

Beautiful is contemplation (theoria=the knowledge and vision) of God, as likewise beautiful is action (praxis). The one is beautiful because it conducts our mind upward to what is akin to it. The other is beautiful because it welcomes Christ, serves him, and confirms the power of love through good works (sec. 4)…. Of all things, nothing so serves God as mercy because nothing else is more proper to God (sec. 5)…. We must, then, open our hearts to all the poor [and] those in distress from whatever cause (sec. 6).

But why, someone might ask, this stress on good works? Aren’t we saved by faith alone? Are good works really necessary for salvation? In the Orthodox tradition, salvation is a process of being healed from everything that estranges us from God and from one another. It is a process of growing in the communion and fellowship with the Trinity and one another for which God created us. It culminates in the gift of eternal life with God. None of us, individually or collectively, can save ourselves. Only Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost can save us. Indeed, just as we sing near the end of the Divine Liturgy: “We have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity who has saved us.”

While Christ’s victory “over death and sin…is indeed complete and definitive…. [Our] personal participation in that victory is as yet far from complete” (Metropolitan Kallistos). Created with free will, God cannot compel us to love Him. God won’t drag us into eternal life with Him. We have to freely consent to the gift of life which he offers us. Our faith in Christ, and thus the Trinity, is our consent to and acceptance of the gift of Christ Himself. But faith by itself does not save us.

Certainly, we only know and experience the Trinity through faith. But “faith by itself is dead if it does not have works” (James 2:17). When faith is active with works, it is perfected by those works (James 2:22). Indeed, St. James writes that we are justified or made righteous by works and not just by faith (James 2:24), that is, a faith that is not active with works. Blessed Theophylact develops this idea:

Many are God–fearing, but fail to do the will of God. One must fear God and do His will. Both faith and works are necessary…or, to express it in the most exalted terms, divine vision (theoria) and active virtue (praxis). Faith truly comes alive only when accompanied by God–pleasing deeds.… Likewise, works are enlivened by faith. Apart from one another, both are dead.

But what sort of works? In one sense, any action that conforms to God’s will is a good work: e.g., telling the truth to someone, worshipping God with reverence, etc. In a narrower sense, good works are often identified with giving alms or money to someone in need or to some charity. But alms in this sense narrowly translates a Greek word that literally means “a work of mercy.” God, after all, does not give alms of money to people but God “performs works of mercy and executes judgment for those who are treated unjustly” (Ps. 102:6). These works include giving food to the hungry, setting the prisoners free, giving wisdom to the blind, lifting up those who are bowed down, watching over the sojourners, and upholding the widow and the fatherless (Ps. 145:7–9).

Works of mercy comprise all our actions to assist those who are in need and distress, whether spiritual, mental, or physical. They include counseling people in spiritual distress; comforting people who are grieving; feeding, clothing, and providing medical help to people in physical need or illness; even simply providing a cup of water if we don’t have money or other resources. Works of mercy can and should extend to efforts to change social structures and policies on behalf of, as well as to advocate for, those who are poor, vulnerable, or treated unjustly. Our works of mercy should express the holistic view of the Orthodox ideal that, as Archbishop Anastasios writes, “embraces everything, life in its entirety, in all its dimensions and meanings…[and seeks] to change all things for the better,” that is, the transformation of all things in a life in Christ. Works of mercy also can be performed by the collective actions of Christian communities: cathedrals, parishes, monasteries, lay associations, etc. Christian communities have been performing such works since the very beginning of the Church.

The Holy Martyrs of Paris: SS. Maria, Priest Dimitri, Ilya, and Yuri

The Holy Martyrs of Paris:
SS. Maria, Priest Dimitri, Ilya, and Yuri

Opening the Doors of Compassion: We Christians should consciously perform works of mercy to imitate Christ and reflect His presence within us. Our intentions and our moral character—the kind of person we are—make all the difference in doing good works for the sake of Christ. It’s a great thing to work at a homeless shelter. But if I do so simply to gain praise or recognition from others or to get someone off my back about helping at the shelter, then I am acting out of selfishness and not out of a love for Christ or for my neighbor. What sort of character should we have? What kind of person should we be or become so that our good works imitate Christ and reflect His presence within us?

“God is love” (I John 4:8). Time and again in Scripture, in our hymns, and in the writings of the church fathers and mothers, God’s love means that God is merciful and compassionate. Recall from St. Gregory that “nothing else is more proper to God” than being merciful and, we can add, being moved with compassion. Compassion is not simply a feeling. Compassion is quite different from pity, from feeling sorry for others, or even feeling empathy for others. We can have all of these feelings and remain unmoved to connect with others or do anything for them. We can feel pity for people and feel quite superior to them.

The Greek verb splanchnizomai, found in the New Testament only in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is all too often translated as if it indicates the kinds of feelings I just mentioned rather than compassion. Sometimes it describes Jesus’ response to others, and at other times, Jesus uses the term in certain parables. But it is best translated in English as “being moved with compassion.” Compassion means “to suffer with another,” “to share the suffering of the other, to take it upon oneself” (Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy). Compassion moves us away from ourselves towards others. It expresses itself in actions for others and on their behalf. In the gospels, being moved with compassion always expresses itself in action.

Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20–22): When the father sees his returning prodigal son at a distance, he is moved with compassion and rushes out to him (v.20). He embraces him and welcomes him back home as his son and not merely his servant. This father is one of Jesus’ images of Our Heavenly Father, “who so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). “The Father,” writes Boris Bobrinskoy, “[is] not insensitive in the face of the passion, the suffering, and the decay of humanity,” but moved with compassion, “He sends His Son into the world He so loved.”

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37): Moved with compassion, the Good Samaritan comes to the place where a Jew, typically despised by Samaritans, has been beaten and left. And he acts: “beholding him,” the Samaritan “came to him and bandaged up his wounds … and he put him on his own animal…” (v.34). Jesus tells this parable to a lawyer who tested him with the question “Who is my neighbor?” At the end of the parable Jesus does not tell him who his neighbor is. Rather, Jesus asks the lawyer a question: “Which of these three men”—the Priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan—“was a neighbor to the man fell among the robbers?” The lawyer gets the point of the parable, for he says the Samaritan “who showed mercy” is the one who was a neighbor. Jesus’ point is that if you know how to be a neighbor, you won’t wonder who your neighbor is. True neighbors draw near to others with a God–like compassion and mercy that extends to everyone.

Our icons for this parable always represent the Good Samaritan by Christ. Origen identifies Christ, the Good Samaritan, as our neighbor. St. Clement of Alexandria elsewhere adds: “We call the savior our neighbor because he drew near to us in saving us.” And Blessed Theophlyact develops this idea: “Our Lord and God…journeyed to us…. He did not just catch a glimpse of us as He happened to pass by. He actually came to us and lived together with us and spoke to us. Therefore, He at once bound up our wounds.”

Being moved with compassion involves being attuned to others. The compassionate person, like our compassionate God, takes notice of others and is attuned to whether they are in distress from whatever cause and regardless of who they are. For St. John Chrysostom, compassionate attunement “is most especially characteristic of the saints. Not glory, nor honor, nor anything else is more precious to them than their neighbor’s welfare and salvation.” Compassionate people, in imitating God Himself, are moved to interact with others, to bear their burdens and sufferings with them, and to alleviate them as possible.

Several texts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke indicate that Jesus was moved by compassion. In every case, Jesus’ compassion leads Him to act or do a good work, a work of mercy. Here are some examples:

Moved with compassion, our Lord takes note that the crowds who have listened to Him are hungry and that it is late in the day. Our Lord then takes action to feed them (Mark 8:1–8, cf. Matt. 14:14ff.).

Moved with compassion, Jesus acts to heal two blind men by touching their eyes and restoring their sight (Matt. 20:33–34).

Moved with compassion for the widowed mother who has just lost her only son, Jesus stops the funeral procession and restores the son to life (Luke 7:11–16).

Moved with compassion for the multitude “because they were … like sheep having no shepherd,” He then acts by commissioning the disciples to go to the lost sheep of Israel: “And as you go,” Jesus tells them, “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matt 9:34–37, 10:7–8, cf. Mark 6:34–44).

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23–35) or, what the kingdom of heaven is like: Moved with compassion, a king forgives his servant who owes him a ridiculously large sum of money. The king releases him from debtor’s prison. But when this servant won’t forgive a fellow servant a small debt, he shows he doesn’t really understand the king’s action.

The servant rejects the sort of “economy” found in the kingdom of heaven. This economy is not a market economy in which we are encouraged to make as much money as we can for ourselves. It is not a barter economy in which we trade with others who can give us something in return. It is not a tit–for–tat or you–scratch–my– back–and–I’ll–scratch–your–back economy. It is not an economy in which we do business only with those dear to us or who can do something for us.

The economy in the kingdom of heaven is a gift economy in which we are all invited to participate. When he compassionately forgave the debts of the servant, the king gave a gift of forgiveness and compassion to the servant. The servant, however, did not pass that gift on by forgiving his fellow servant. He wasted both the compassion and forgiveness given to him. So, he excluded himself from the kingdom of heaven. As Blessed Theophlyact writes:

The person who lacks compassion is not the one who remains in God, but the one who departs from God and is a stranger to Him…The master in His love for humankind takes issue with the [unmerciful] servant in order to show that it is not the master, but the savagery and the ingratitude of the servant, that has revoked the gift.

The fundamental economic principle, if you will, in the kingdom of heaven is “freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). We freely receive the great gift of Christ Himself and His love for us in and through the Holy Spirit. What are we to do with this love? As Christ tells us, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). In passing Christ’s love for us to others, we return that love to Christ. That is what it means to do good works for the sake of Christ.

St. Herman of Alaska

St. Herman of Alaska

God’s love for the world is an ecstatic, energetic outpouring of Himself to the world. If we freely accept this gift, e.g., the Eucharistic gifts of the Body and Blood of our Lord, in true faith, what else should we do but join our love to Him and transmit His love to others? This is why faith in God, the Trinity, must express itself in actions. “Faith without works is dead” since such faith amounts to refusing the gift of love, who is Christ, and the Trinity. Faith without compassionate and merciful good works amounts to saying “Thanks, but no thanks” to God Himself and His love and mercy.

TrinityCultivating a Merciful Heart: St. Gregory the Theologian delivered his Oration On the Love of the Poor at a time when leprosy was a major illness. He hammers away at the utterly inhumane neglect and rejection that many Christians of his day showed to lepers. Lepers were often driven from cities, abandoned, denigrated as sub–human, and left to suffer in poverty and terrible pain because many people simply could not stand to be around them and thought they were cursed by God. In our modern societies, people with mental illnesses, serious physical deformities, people with AIDS, prisoners, the poor, immigrants, indigenous people, unborn children and others all too often have been treated like lepers.

If we are moved with a Christ–like compassion for others, then we will be moved to serve all others without any exception—even our enemies—because we affirm and experience all others as brothers and sisters in Christ who bear the image of Christ within them. Our Lord, after all, associated with all of the despised people of his time: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the poor, Samaritans, etc. The Good Samaritan exemplified a Christ–like compassion when he rendered assistance to a Jew, for he broke down all of the common psychological and social barriers between Samaritans and Jews.

Serving and praying for others with compassion is not always easy, and not just because we may be unclear about how to respond to others with compassion.For instead of opening our hearts to others, we often close and harden our hearts, and push others away from us. Think of a time when you’ve been very angry with someone. Think of how your chest tightens, how your mind is filled with animosity towards that person, and how you push him or her away from you. So too, there are many homeless people in our cities. It’s not always pleasant to draw near to them (that is, be neighborly to them) especially if their behavior reflects a significant mental illness such as schizophrenia. They are, however, rarely if ever a danger to anyone. And yet when we see homeless persons, it’s very easy physically and psychologically to recoil from them and avoid them. If we harden our hearts to others in these ways, how can we be moved by compassion to serve them as our brothers and sisters in Christ? What are we to do with our hearts when they all too often become hardened to others and, at the same time, to Christ?

In the Orthodox Christian spiritual life, our hearts are the spiritual center of our existence. Our heart is not a place filled with mere sentimental emotions. It is the place in which each of us—body, soul, mind, and spirit—is able to stand in God’s presence. The heart, as Metropolitan Kallistos writes, is “the center of the person, the seat of wisdom…the meeting place between the Divine and the human…the place of divine indwelling, where…God is at work within me.” But the heart is also the place of all kinds of passions and thoughts that will close off this meeting place between ourselves and God if we yield to them.

We engage in prayer, fasting, repentance, and confession, and we participate in the mysteries or sacramental life of the Church to clear away the thoughts and passions that shut us up within ourselves. To nurture and protect the love and compassion which God bestows upon us, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to cultivate a merciful and pure heart, a heart overflowing with the love of God the Father in and through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14, which is used as the blessing at the beginning of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy).

One traditional way of cultivating a merciful heart is through the frequent repetition of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” We do not repeat this prayer to lull ourselves into a meditative state. We do not repeat this prayer primarily for relief from some particular struggle which we are enduring. We repeat this prayer—which is based on the prayer of the Publican—to stand before God fully attentive to all of the ways in which we betray our love for Him and others, thereby pushing Him and them away from us.

The martyrs and saints were extremely conscious of how often their love and faith faltered. They knew—they experienced—that while God’s love for us never fails (Matt. 28:20, Rom 8:39), our love for God and for each other all too often does fail. They knew with great honesty and humility that we are too easily led astray by the passions and selfish desires that harden our hearts and close us off to God and to one another. The saints and martyrs constantly sought Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. If I am honest with myself—“No matter how often I repent, I appear a liar before God, and repent with trembling” (Compline Prayer to the Theotokos)—as the first among sinners, I become aware of my constant need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

We do not, however, repeat the Jesus prayer to beat ourselves up with guilt and get stuck in our past. Rather, the deep awareness of our sinfulness should make us aware of our utter dependence upon God’s life and healing love. Our repetition of the Jesus prayer can make us aware that God’s healing love and forgiveness are an utterly merciful gift. Nothing we do, say, or believe merits this mercy. The message of Christ’s forgiveness is always a message of encouragement and healing: You’ve stumbled and faltered; ok, pick yourself up. “Arise, take up your bed and walk” (Mark 2:9, John 5:8), and get back to the business of forging a life grounded in faith, love, and mercy.

If our experience of God’s mercy penetrates our hearts and minds, if we become utterly humble before God, then the grace of the Holy Spirit can cultivate a merciful heart within us. The person with such a heart is enabled to become—better: is moved to be—merciful and compassionate to others. She bears their suffering and distress, and prays and acts for the relief of that suffering and distress. The person with a merciful heart bears the crosses that come with loving others. Here is St. Isaac the Syrian’s wonderful description of the person with a merciful heart:

And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for humans, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing….From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or see any injury or slight sorrow in creation.

We can only cultivate a merciful heart and open the doors of compassion to others through the uncreated grace, life, and energy of the Holy Spirit. The great gift we receive from living with a merciful heart is that we are enabled to radiate the love of the Trinity to the world and to bring Christ to others. In doing so, we participate in the process of our salvation, of sharing in the life, love, and energy of the Holy Trinity. Our life in Christ is inseparable from our communion and fellowship with the Trinity and with one another. We cannot, after all, say we love God if we don’t love our neighbor (I John 4:20).

theotokosPut simply, in manifesting Christ’s love in the world, we grow in likeness to Christ, and, thus, the Trinity for which we were created. This is what it means to be a living icon of God. The icon of the Theotokos of the Sign often graces the apse in many ortho-dox churches. In her purity of heart at the Annunciation, she freely consents to the incarnation of our Lord within her. She bears the Son of God in the flesh. That’s why we call her “Theotokos.” Consider too the wonderful way in which we refer to the martyrs and saints: “our ven-erable and god–bearing (theophoros) fathers and mothers.”

A living icon of God is a bit like a wind spinner. The wind blows; the spinner turns and passes the wind on. A well–made spinner doesn’t try to hold onto the wind or hoard it. While wind spinners blow in response to any sort of breeze, we have to be far more vigilant about the breezes to which we respond. There is the breeze of the Holy Spirit which blows us into the gift–economy of the kingdom of heaven. It enables us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. There are, however, the many breezes of our own passions and thoughts as well as the seductive influences of our society. These breezes blow us away from God and our neighbors into the prideful individualism of seeking our own self–interest above everything else. The breeze of the Holy Spirit blows us in the direction of life; the other breezes, in the direction of death.

 

 

The Liturgy after the Liturgy: During the Divine Liturgy, setting “aside all earthly cares,” and drawing “near in faith and love and in the fear of God,” “we…receive the King of all invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.” Immediately after the Divine Liturgy, we pray with St. Symeon Metaphrastes:

Freely You have given me Your Body for my food, You who are a fire consuming the unworthy. Consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart.… Cleanse me, purify me, and adorn me…. Give me understanding and illumination… Show me to be a temple of Your One Spirit and not the home of many sins.

When we return to all of our earthly cares, how can we bear the gift of the Divine Liturgy in the world? What should our liturgy after the Liturgy involve?

The Liturgy has to be continued in personal, everyday situations. Each of the faithful is called upon to continue a personal liturgy on the secret altar of his own heart, to realize a living proclamation of the good news “for the sake of the whole world.” Without this continuation, the Liturgy remains incomplete…. The sacrifice of the Eucharist must be extended in personal sacrifices for the people in need, the brothers [and sisters] for whom Christ died…. the continuation of Liturgy in life means a continuous liberation from the powers of the evil that are working inside us, a continual reorientation and openness to insights and efforts aimed at liberating human persons from all demonic structures of injustice, exploitation, agony, loneliness, and at creating real communion of persons in love (Archbishop Anastasios).

St. John Chryostom also emphasizes the Eucharistic character of our works of mercy on the altar that “is composed of the very members of Christ, and the body of the Lord becomes an altar. That altar is more venerable even than the one [in the sanctuary] which we now use. For it is holy because it is itself Christ’s Body [which] you may see lying everywhere [among the poor], in the alleys and in the market places, and you may sacrifice upon it anytime.”

St Theodosius the Cenobiarch

St Theodosius the Cenobiarch

Indeed, for St. Maximus the Confessor, “the person, who can do good and does it, is truly God by grace and participation, because he has taken on a proper imitation of the energy…of His own kindness.” This is exactly what St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: “Nothing is more Godly in humans than to do good works” since the more literal translation of that text is: “There is no better way for a person to possess God than to do what is good.”

All Christians are called to preach the Gospel, the Word of God, to the world. But we should never underestimate the powerful ways in which our works of mercy can proclaim the Word of God and bring Him, Christ, to others. As a young man and a pagan, St. Pachomius was a conscript in the Roman army. Confined to a prison while awaiting service, groups of Christians came and ministered to him and the other conscripts. Wondering why they did this, he was told that Christians are “merciful to everyone including strangers.” “Pachomius, the pagan, was moved by the charity of these Christians. It remained with him all his life; for him, a Christian does good to everyone.”

Lamenting the low level of social ministry by the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Patriarch Alexis II wrote:

We all know that the Church is built not only by faith and by the preaching of the Word of God, but also by concrete works, without which faith is dead (James 2:18)…. An Athonite elder recently said that the world is tired of speeches. We now need not words but actions that bear witness to faith and mercy. These actions must be a sermon without words that are much more effective and convincing.

St Theodosius the CenobiarchFinally: St. Theodosius the Cenobiarch was well known for his great mercy and compassion to the poor, to those who were ill and dying, and many others. St. Symeon Metaphrastes commended St. Theodosius as “the eyes of the blind, the feet of the lame, the clothes of the naked, the roof of the homeless, the physician of the sick…” And so it can be for each of us—as individuals and as Christian communities— according to the grace and unique gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit; our strengths, weakness, and circumstances; and, above all, our willingness freely to accept and to pass on to others the gift of Christ’s love for us.

We offer prayers to the Theotokos to open the doors of her compassion to us. Let us also fervently pray that she helps us open the doors of our compassion to others and animate our lives with the good works that flow from a merciful heart. Let us be moved with compassion to serve Christ by serving others. Let us be especially attuned to the poor and to all of those in distress whoever they are and for whatever reason. Let us, then, work with the grace of the Holy Spirit to be perfected as living icons of Christ and to join “the cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1)—“our venerable and God–bearing fathers and mothers”—who through their faith, love, and good works bore Christ’s love—the Trinity’s love—in the world.

Priest John D. Jones is Professor{Anchor:_GoBack}, Department of Philosophy, Marquette University and Associate Priest at Saints Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church (OCA) in Milwaukee. This paper is a revised version of a lecture presented at the Orthodox Christian Women’s Association Conference, Doing Good Deeds, in October 2011. A copy of the paper with notes can be obtained by emailing Fr. John at jdjones47@yahoo.com.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

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 editor@incommunion.org.

 

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:  director@internationalforgiveness.com

 

❖ 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: juliademaree@gmail.com.

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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