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News: Fall 2009

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Patriarch Kirill visits Ukraine

A ten-day trip to Ukraine by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church included visits to a monument to victims of the Stalin-era famine, a liturgy that drew thousands to the scenic but tense Crimean peninsula, and a pilgrimage to Pochaev, one of the most important monasteries in the Orthodox Church. The visit started July 27.

“It is not my goal to give political recipes, or offer political analyses,” Kirill said at the outset. “My task is, praying together with the people, to ponder with them our common spiritual present and future.”

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate accounts for more than a third of the Russian Orthodox Church, but calls are growing for its autocephaly. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko advocated uniting his country’s Orthodox churches under the Istanbul-based Patriarch of Constantinople. The Moscow Patriarchate speaks of Kiev as the southern capitol in the Russian Orthodox Church, part of “a unified spiritual expanse that is much deeper and more enduring than political space.”

While in Kiev, Kirill said that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church already functions as an independent church and that formal autocephaly at this time would be detrimental to church unity.

With President Yushchenko, Kirill visited a monument to those who died during World War II and to victims of mass hunger that occurred under Stalin in 1932-1933. “This was the common tragedy of our entire people, who lived in that time in one country,” Kirill said.

During a visit to Rivne in western Ukraine, Kirill was the object of protest from adherents of the breakaway Kiev Patriarchate, who carried signs with slogans such as “The Russian Orthodox Church is the agent of Moscow’s empire.”

Kirill’s first words to the crowd were “Christ is Risen!” He compared parishioners of the church that is faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate to catacomb Christians of the early centuries of Christianity. “Preserve the Orthodox faith, in spite of all divisions, preserve your unity, because in unity is spiritual strength.”

On August 2, Kirill presided at a liturgy in Kherson, near the port of Sevastopol in Crimea.”Today it is my fervent prayer that never and under no circumstances should brothers ever take aim at each other,” he said, “that never and under no circumstances should the hand of one be raised against another, because nothing divides brothers so much as spilled blood.”❖

Russian, Georgian patriarchs commemorate South Ossetia war

While their political counterparts lobbed charges of aggression in marking the first anniversary of the South Ossetia war, Orthodox Church leaders from Russia and Georgia called for peace.

Patriarch Kirill and Patriarch Ilia stressed the shared spiritual heritage of the warring sides, continuing the line taken last year by Ilia and the late Patriarch Aleksy, who together had sought reconciliation as the conflict raged.

At a panikhida at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on August 8, Kirill said that the war was “a tragedy of three fraternal Orthodox peoples.”

“Recalling this event, today we will pray for the repose of the souls of all those who died regardless of nationality. We pray for all Orthodox people, who lost their lives in this war,” said Kirill. “At the same time, we will entreat the Lord that never again and under no circumstances should Orthodox peoples raise their hands against one another and spill one another’s blood.”

Patriarch Ilia of Georgia spoke of the deep links between Russia and Georgia. He said that the churches would continue to encourage peaceful solutions. “We pay great honor and respect to Russia, its culture, and its spirituality,” he said. “We have common saints. Russia must know we never reconcile ourselves to violations of Georgian borders. About this, Georgians are unanimous. We shall seek a peaceful way out. Orthodox churches of Russia and Georgia always support peaceful solution of the problem.” ❖

Kirill and Bartholomew Meet

In July Patriarch Kirill of Russia, visiting Istanbul, held talks with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople aimed at overcoming post-Soviet-era tensions that have divided the two Orthodox churches.

“From time to time, clouds have temporarily overshadowed ties between the brethren churches,” Bartholomew said in greeting Kirill. “These clouds must be sent to their places in the pages of history.”

Responding, Kirill said the two churches should unite to bear witness in the modern world.

“In conditions when religion is being pushed to the sidelines of public life, when the very understanding of sin is being wiped away, traditional moral values are being radically reconsidered and the profit motive is placed at the foundation of economics, we must unite efforts to defend Gospel norms and develop a unified Orthodox response to the challenges of our time.”

The Moscow Patriarchate was angered in the 1990s when Constantinople recognized the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church as a separate entity. The status of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has also become a thorn in relations between the patriarchates. ❖

Role of the churches in secular Europe

Meeting in Lyon in mid-July, a gathering of European churches opened with a call for Christians to be at the forefront of resisting all forms of violence and racism.

“As Christians, we dare to hope, even in an age when millions of people all over the planet are in despair, under pressure from the global economic crisis, and are overwhelmed by uncertainty,” said Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, in welcoming delegates to the Assembly of the Conference of European Churches.

“There is hope when we resist all forms of violence and racism, when we defend the dignity of every human person,” he said. “There is hope when we insist on the obligation for unselfish solidarity between people and peoples, when we fight for unfeigned respect for the creation.” Christians, he said, must be at the forefront of “defending the dignity of all human beings.”

Patriarch Daniel, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church, warned against attempts to restore a “Christian medieval Europe” as a response to increasing religious plurality. “We will have to become more and more used to religious pluralism, with respect for the others, without falling into doctrinal or moral relativism.”

The migration of people, he said, had radically changed the religious map of Europe. “In this complex context, we cannot afford to be nostalgic by attempting to restore a Christian medieval Europe. This is a new reality which brings about new challenges, where the churches must find together new solutions for new problems. European integration regarded only from an economic, juridical, financial and strategic-defensive viewpoint is not sufficient. The spiritual factor and, most of all, the religious one, because religion is the most profound dimension of human spirituality, cannot be disregarded.”

Europe was experiencing, he said, a “profound spiritual crisis” marked by a tension “between tradition and modernity, a loss of traditional Christian values, and a painful instability of the family,” as well as atheism, sectarianism and religious fundamentalism.

The economic crisis, he said, reveals “a spiritual crisis of greed that could be converted into an opportunity. This would entail promoting a change of attitudes about “the relationship between spiritual and material, between the amassing of wealth and the solidarity with the poor. The Gospel shows that Jesus Christ had a preference for the poor, for those in suffering, for those who cannot rely entirely on themselves.” ❖

Archbishop Hilarion: Stalin a ‘monster’

During an interview in Moscow in August, Archbishop Hilarion, head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, condemned Josef Stalin for committing the crime of genocide.

“Stalin was a spiritually-deformed monster, who created a horrific, inhuman system of ruling the country,” Hilarion told the news magazine Ekspert. “He unleashed a genocide against the people of his own country and bears personal responsibility for the death of millions of innocent people. In this respect Stalin is completely comparable to Hitler.”

Hilarion’s statement contrasts with a study guide for high school teachers, approved by Vladimir Putin when he was president, in which Stalin is portrayed as an effective manager, comparable to the Russian tsars or to Bismarck, who united Germany in the 19th century.

Archbishop Hilarion in his interview said that “the number of victims of Stalinist repressions is comparable to our losses in the Great Patriotic War.”

Yet, Hilarion also warned against idealizing pre-revolutionary Russia. “If everything had been right in the pre-revolutionary church, then there wouldn’t have been a mass retreat from it during the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period. Maybe the revolution itself wouldn’t have happened.”

The situation today, said Hilarion, requires a different approach to relations between Church and State. “Of course, there were many positive things as well in the pre-revolutionary status of the Church in the State,” he said, “but under no circumstances must there be an attempt to recreate the pre-revolutionary situation. We must create a new model of Church-State relations that would exclude those negative phenomena in church and public life that led to the revolution.”

Shortly before Victory Day celebrations in May to mark the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, Patriarch Kirill indicated an interpretation of events that might diverge with that of the Kremlin. The Soviet victory in the war was “a miracle,” Kirill said, and the suffering of the Soviet people during the war can be seen as atonement for its rejection of Christianity during the Bolshevik era after the Russian Revolution in 1917. ❖

Solovki: from Gulag to spiritual center

new martyrs of Solovki

The Solovetsky Islands off the coast of Russia’s northern Arkhangelsk region settled by monks in the 15th century became a center for the Gulag system of prison camps in the 20th century. Now the monastic archipelago is becoming a spiritual center not only for Russia but for all of Europe, said Patriarch Kirill when he visited the Golgotha-Crucifixion Hermitage on Anzer Island, where sick prisoners were sent to die.

Kirill’s grandfather, Vasily Gundyayev, a priest, was a prisoner in the island camp, whose cruelty was immortalized in dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago. Kirill said it was a miracle that his grandfather had survived.

“We believe that these sufferings and torments have strengthened the power of the Church as it grows with a divine power rather than with a human one,” Kirill declared. “It would be good if here, on Solovki, a national center for the study of the feat of the Russian church in the 20th century, the feat of the martyrs and confessors, was created.”

When the Solovetsky Islands were seized by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution, its monks became prisoners. They were joined by thousands of other clergy, believers, intellectuals, and aristocrats whom the new regime wanted to eradicate.

“The Lord himself chose this deserted place, so that his death and resurrection were specially commemorated here,” said Kirill. “The Lord himself chose this place for people to take incomparable sufferings and torments.”

While on the islands, Kirill called for the State to turn over all the property of the monastery to the Russian Orthodox Church to allow it to complete the restoration of the complex and open an Orthodox educational institution there. Solovki, as the islands and monastery are known, has in recent years witnessed disputes between the church, museum workers, and non-governmental organizations on how such monuments should be run. The monastery and grounds are shared by the church and a State-run museum.

Many pilgrims and tourists have been coming to Solovki, famous both for its many martyrs and its scenery and marine life. ❖

Bartholomew: Global Crisis an opportunity

The global crisis offers an opportunity to deal in new ways with our problems, said Patriarch Bartholomeos in a message to mark a day of prayer for God’s creation, September 1.

“Human progress is not just the accumulation of wealth and the thoughtless consumption of the earth’s resources,” he said.

“We have rendered the market the center of our interest, our activities and, finally, of our life, forgetting that this choice of ours will affect the lives of future generations

“The present crisis offers an opportunity for us to deal with the problems in a different way, because the methods that created these problems cannot provide their best solution.

“If we believe that we are no more than consumers, then we shall seek fulfilment in consuming the whole earth; but if we believe we are made in the image of God, we shall act with care and compassion, striving to become what we are created to be.” ❖

Ministry of urban parishes explored

The ministry of parishes in urban U.S. settings was the topic of a meeting hosted by the Diocese of the Midwest at Saint Theodosius Cathedral in Cleveland and Archangel Michael Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio, the weekend of July 16-17.

The program included presentations from Orthodox and non-Orthodox contributors, roundtable sessions, case studies, relevant workshops, and fellowship.

Fr. Justin Mathews of the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS) gave examples of urban Orthodox parishes serving the homeless and hungry. Charles Robbins, outreach coordinator at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Church, Columbus, Ohio, offered personal insights into the outreach ministry of his parish. Through a combination of speakers and workshops, participants were encouraged get “unstuck” and think creatively about new initiatives in urban parish life.

In many cases, this could involve partnering with existing institutions, other Orthodox parishes, and non-Orthodox faith communities. ❖

Calley apologizes for My Lai Massacre

Speaking in a soft, sometimes labored voice, the only U.S. Army officer convicted in the 1968 slaying of the occupants of My Lai in Vietnam made a public apology while speaking to a small group near the military base where he was court-martialed.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” said William Calley in August. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Calley, now 66, was a young Army lieutenant when a court-martial at nearby Fort Benning convicted him of murder in 1971. More than 500 men, women and children were killed in the massacre.

Though sentenced to life in prison, Calley ended up serving three years under house arrest after President Richard Nixon reduced his sentence.

Calley never denied taking part in the slaying, but insisted he was following orders.

“If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them foolishly, I guess,” he said. ❖

Palestinians study nonviolence

In the West Bank city of Hebron, nearly 30 percent are unemployed. Confronted with 78 checkpoints monitored by Israeli soldiers, for Palestinians even the shortest of trips is frustrating and time consuming.

Four Israeli settlements within Hebron’s city limits, and another five just outside of the city, are home to some of the most aggressive and dangerous settlers in the West Bank.

In the midst of the violence and desperation, a dozen young Palestinian men and women have been meeting together to discuss the words and deeds of such advocates of nonviolence as Dr. Martin Luther King.

“They have come because of their refusal to accept defeat and because of their conviction that there is a way forward that does not involve violence, but chooses to draw its strength from love,” according to The America-Palestine Report.

“They are participants in the Nonviolence Youth Hebron training program, and they are joining their voices with thousands throughout the Palestinian territories who are convinced of the potential to create change through nonviolent resistance to injustice.”

Nonviolent Youth is a project of Love Thy Neighbor, a group based in Bethesda, Maryland, which for the past two years has sponsored nonviolence summer camps for children and nonviolence training seminars for young adults.

Through music, literature, art and role play, participants are given the opportunity to build and practice their nonviolence and conflict resolution skills.

Organizers draw on “the long history of nonviolent resistance that is woven throughout Palestinian society and culture,” according to LTN’s director, Tarek Abuata. ❖

Rabbis start fast for Gaza

A group of rabbis has organized a monthly communal fast to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Called Ta’anit Tzedek (Jewish Fast for Gaza: http://fastforgaza.net), the water-only fast takes place on the third Thursday of every month from sunrise to sunset. The first fast took place on July 16. Participants also are being asked to sign a statement at the group’s Web site and donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid, a campaign fighting malnutrition among Gazan children.

The 13 rabbis who initiated the fast said that the project is based in Jewish tradition, in which “a communal fast is held in times of crisis both as an expression of mourning and as a call to repentance.”

The fast has four goals: calling for a lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has been in place since Hamas’ electoral victory in early 2006; providing humanitarian and development aid to the people of Gaza; calling on Israel, the U.S. and other nations to negotiate with Hamas to end the blockade; and urging the U.S. government to “vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

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Whenever people say, “We mustn’t be sentimental,” you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, “We must be realistic,” they mean they are going to make money out of it.

Brigid Broph

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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National Identity and the Search for Unity

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

by Archbishop Makarios of Kenya

Despite many areas of progress, the past century has been the most brutal age in the history of humanity. What is most shocking about the many conflicts is that it is not the combatants who were the main victims, but rather the most vulnerable members of society children, women, the elderly, the sick. This is due not only to violence also to from malnutrition and disease made worse by armed conflict. Wars disrupt food supplies, destroy crops and agricultural infrastructure, wreck water and sanitation systems, and disable health services. Wars displace whole populations, tearing families and communities apart.

Most wars are due to what might be called the “phyletistic personality syndrome,” a phenomenon which pits humans against humans in the most violent of confrontations in the name of national or tribal identity, ethnic cleansing, racial supremacy and cultural exclusivism.

Nationalism, in the sense of fanatical patriotism, is an obsessive sense of national superiority over other nations and a belief in one nation’s inherent and pre-determined glorious future destiny. Ethnocentrism gives rise to tribal or racial intolerance and may lead to the perception that one must eliminate the “lesser tribe.” In the case of cultural-ideological exclusivism, the values and norms of one’s culture are regarded as superior to all others and must therefore be adopted by others or imposed on them.

To better understand the phenomenon of ethnic and national identities and cast some light upon the search for human unity, it is necessary for us to explore the biblical and theological explanations for our propensity toward tribalism and nationalism.

In the period immediately preceding construction of the Tower of Babel, we learn that all people were of one race and spoke one language. The diversification of human languages was a consequence of human sin incurred during the building of the Tower of Babel rebellion against God’s ordinances, the ambition of “making a name for one’s self” by constructing a human empire and culture independent of the will and assistance of God.

Despite the post-Babel second human Fall, the freshly diversified global situation provided humans with the freedom either to identify with a wise and blessed sense of ethnic affiliation in a theocentric direction or to let their differences degenerate into demonic anthropocentric nationalism, ethnocentrism and tribal pride. Clearly, the latter path was taken.

The step from ethnic identity to fanatical ethnocentrism, and from national identity to obsessive nationalism which lies behind our violent conflicts, must be understood through a theological and biblical prism as a fallen, corrupt human state, a spiritually dysfunctional condition, which must be condemned by the Church.

How then can the Church assist in the search for the path of human unity? Can the Church be effective? I believe the answer is yes.

A Byzantine kontakion chanted on the Sunday of Pentecost is most illuminating in terms of the post-Tower of Babel potential for a unified human condition initiated by Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit:

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the all-holy Spirit!

The Pentecost event in the Upper Room is God’s reversal of the punitive measures taken at Babel. Through the “tongues of fire” and the speaking in various human tongues, the potential for re-unification of humanity is made possible through the unifying operations of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit possesses a creative force to transform and renew. The Pentecost event transformed the disciples into bold witnesses for Christ by renewing their hearts and minds. This transforming “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is capable of transfiguring human hearts and making former enemies into friends and brothers. In our search for human unity, we need to consistently experience the empowering anointing of Pentecost and become faithful instruments of the Holy Spirit.

The initial celebration of the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated not as an individual institution but within a communal setting, that is within the messianic or ecclesial community presided over by Jesus amidst his disciples. He formed a new, united community dedicated to loving and serving one another as well as “giving thanks” to Him who established it. The partaking of the holy Body and Blood of Christ by the ecclesial community becomes a source of growth in the image and likeness of Christ and the ultimate bond of spiritual and social unity, for it doesn’t discriminate against gender, class or wealth in its sanctifying energy. In this way we are made ready to “receive one another as Christ received us.”

The challenge we face is eradication of phyletism within the Church. Sadly, we Church members are often guilty of promoting nationalism at the expense of our catholic (in the sense of universal) identity. Churches constituted on national lines often involve themselves in national wars, even blessing weapons before battle, and even encouraging war and nationalism in the name of Jesus Christ! While nationalistic church leaders are certainly well intentioned, in reality they oppose the work of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ.

It is significant that, at a time of heightened nationalism, a pan-Orthodox Synod held in Constantinople in 1872 condemned ethno-phyletism as a heresy: “We renounce, censure and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds and dissensions within the Church of Christ, as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed Fathers which support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it and lead it to divine godliness.”

As the Orthodox canon lawyer, Grigorios Papathomas, explains, “the Church must not be confused with the destiny of a single nation or a single race.”

In Pauline terms, we may say that nationalism is the direct consequence of a “fleshly” anthropocentric disposition rather than a spiritual and theocentric human orientation. Nationalism remains in the realm of the “flesh” rather than the “spirit” as a manifestation of the powers and principalities at work in the “present evil age.” In his letter to the Galatians, Paul insists that among Christ’s followers there is “no longer Greek nor Jew” but only the unity, peace and blessedness that derives from membership in the new “Israel of God,” the Church. This unity however can only be perceived, appropriated and accomplished in a theocentric manner, by those who are reconciled in Christ. It can only be made manifest by those who bring forth the “fruits of the Spirit.” It is in this way that we may receive one another as Christ receives us and thus aspire toward authentic human unity. History is littered with the failed scraps of torn anthropocentric peace treaties, international accords, and cease-fire agreements.

If the Church is to accomplish the task of human unity, it must practice its God-appointed calling. This requires that we abandon ethnic ghettos. We have been appointed to participate in Christ’s great commission, the evangelization and baptism of all nations. This global evangelization mission of the Church bearing the message of unconditional love and forgiveness will eventually enable humans to “Receive one another as Christ received us.” (Rom. 15:7)

I end with this question: Who is Jesus Christ for us? Is he merely a tribal leader who facilitates national unification? Or is he God, who saves us from malediction and death? For the believing mind, the answer is self-evident.

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Archbishop Makarios (Tillyrides) was born in 1945 in Cyprus. After graduating from the St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, he studied church history at Oxford University, receiving a doctorate in 1976. He has served as dean of the Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi, Archbishop of Zimbabwe and, since 2001, as Archbishop of Kenya. This is a shortened version of a paper he presented in 2004 in Malaysia at a conference of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission of the World Council of Churches.

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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On God and Justice

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

There are many who imagine theologically that at some later point, a final judgment, God’s justice, will be manifest. In this manifestation of justice, the punishments of hell figure prominently. Of course, this is simply poor theology. Eternity in hell is not a matter of justice nor can it ever be. Justice involves equality. For what failure or crime is eternity in hell an equal payment? And, of course, such justice is unsatisfactory at best. There is nothing that can be done to the murderer of a child that in any way creates a balance. Nothing satisfies. This is the point of Ivan in the chapter “Rebellion” in The Brothers Karamazov. This chapter is a tour de force demonstrating not the bankruptcy of belief in God, but the bankruptcy of the concept of justice interjected into the theological mix.

I belong to a family that has lost two members by murder. I am familiar with the grief and anger that accompany those experiences. I have also, for a time, been involved in “victim’s rights” ministry and been deeply aware of the pain of those involved and the hunger for justice that often accompanies grief. It is certainly the case that no punishment inflicted by the state ever satisfies this hunger for “justice.” I know, I have been there.

The truth is that this hunger for “justice” is, in fact, a hunger for the event never to have happened. The injustice is not created by the lack of punishment (for there are no truly “just” punishments). The injustice is created by the event itself an event in which an innocent is made to suffer for no reason whatsoever. That innocence is not restored by any amount of punishment inflicted on the perpetrator. Hell is not a scheme of justice any more than the American prison system is a scheme for justice. Any thought that either of them has anything to do with justice is a fiction and a dangerous fiction.

These deep wounds inflicted on us by the evil wills of others can only be healed by mercy and forgiveness.

Such mercy and forgiveness is nothing less than miraculous and does not come easily or naturally to us. It is something which belongs to the character of God, and only by being transformed by the grace of God can we become people who are capable of such extraordinary love and mercy.

I have seen such love and mercy. It is astounding and utterly without justification. To show mercy upon a murderer or someone who is guilty of inflicting deep injustice is an act of pure grace. It is a gift whose existence can only be explained by the love of God. It is the voice of Christ to the thief on the cross, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

I wonder what the thoughts of those who had been the victims of this thief would have been had they heard the words of Christ? Would they have shouted that an injustice was being done? Would they have said that his death on the cross was insufficient punishment for all that he had put them through and that paradise was an unjust reward for the simple request, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom?”

Of course, the victims have justice (as we humans understand it) on their side. Justice has a voracious appetite that can never be satisfied. For no matter how much the thief were to suffer, the crimes he committed would not be undone. The money would not be replaced. The fear and shame inflicted on the innocent would not be undone. Once the passion for justice is awakened, it is insatiable.

There are many stories of political madness that have at their core the lust for justice. The insanity of the Bolsheviks was, in many ways, fed by the perversions of the human lust for justice. The crimes (real and imagined) of the Tsar and of those who held power in pre-revolutionary Russia, fed the imagination of those who were “setting things right.” There was no humiliation or crime that they themselves were forbidden to inflict in the name of a Marxist version of justice. By the time of Stalin this “justice” had murdered many more millions than had ever suffered in the entire history of Russia. Such is the insatiable appetite for justice.

On smaller scales, this same appetite has accompanied every revolution in the history of the world. Those who come to power feel compelled to administer justice. But no amount of blood-letting is ever truly sufficient.

The one revolution that stands apart is the revolution of the love of God who answered injustice with mercy, who answered hatred with love. Love does no harm and does not add to the madness of the scales of justice. It relieves the burdens created by our own sense of entitlement that we call “justice.”

The commandment to “love your enemies” is frequently a painful commandment for it asks us to forego our perceived rights. We renounce our claims to justice and give ourselves over to the hands of a merciful God. It is an act of faith which accepts that unless we become conformed to the image of Christ unless we can love as He loves we will never be free of the madness and the self-made hell that our lust for justice births in us. The Cross is the only form of freedom. Nothing less than its radical mercy will heal the human heart.

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Fr. Stephen Freeman is priest at St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. A convert from Anglicanism, where he was a priest for 18 years, he was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood in 1999. This first appeared on Fr. Stephen’s blog, Glory to God for All Things: http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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Salt of the Earth: An Orthodox Christian Approach to Peacemaking

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

by Jim Forest

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” This verse from St. Matthew’s Gospel comes just after the Beatitudes.

But how many of us want to be become like salt? Perhaps we ought to advise Jesus that it’s time to revise the Sermon on the Mount? “Dear Lord, we revere your every word, but couldn’t you use more attractive metaphors? How about, ‘You are the sugar of the earth, but if the sugar should lose its sweetness, it is tossed out the doors and trodden under foot by men’?”

Living in a sugar-addicted world, surely sugar would be a much more welcome term for modern people. Salt is bitter. Sugar is far more appealing.

But for the time being we are stuck with the Gospel Christ gave us rather than the one we might write ourselves. He tells his followers that we are intended to be like salt, a substance normally used in small amounts.

Salt was more valued by our ancestors. In commentaries on this passage, the Church Fathers stress the value of salt as a preservative and thus a life-saving substance. “Salt preserves meat from decaying into stench and worms,”says Origen. “It makes meat edible for a longer period.”

St. John Chrysostom comments on the salt metaphor in these words:

It is a matter of absolute necessity that he commands all this. Why must you be salt? Jesus says in effect: “You are accountable not only for your own life but also for that of the entire world. I am sending you not to one or two cities, nor to ten or twenty, not even to one nation, as I sent the prophets. Rather I am sending you to the entire earth, across the seas, to the whole world, to a world fallen into an evil state.” For by saying, “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus signifies that all human nature has “lost its taste,” having become rotten through sin. For this reason, you see, he requires from his disciples those character traits that are most necessary and useful for the benefit of all.

There is a great deal of salt in the Gospel, and not much sugar.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ identifies peacemakers as God’s own children, but peacemaking is often a bitter, salt-like undertaking. To stand against hatred and killing in time of war (and when is it not time of war?) is no sweet task. One is likely to be regarded as naive, if not unpatriotic, if not a traitor.

Yet at every service, Orthodox Christians hear the challenge: “In peace let us pray to the Lord.” We begin the Liturgy with an appeal to God not just for a private peace or the peace of our family or the peace of the parish community or the peace of our neighborhood or the peace of our city or the peace of our nation, but “for the peace of the whole world and the union of all.” The Litany of Peace draws our attention to the world-embracing mission of the Church. We are, as St. John Chrysostom said, “accountable not only for [our] own life but also for that of the entire world.”

Prayer is not simply a request that God do something or give something. It is a summons to responsibility. What I ask God to do implies a willingness on my part to participate in God’s answer to my prayer. If I am unwilling to help in doing what I ask God to do, can it even be thought of as prayer? Why would God do at my request what I refuse to do? We are talking then not only about what we ask God to do but what we are asking God to equip us to do. If we ask for peace, the peace of the whole world, then we must be willing to become people actively doing whatever we can that contributes to the peace of the world.

Consider three key words: Orthodox, Christian and peace.

Often the word “orthodox” is used as a synonym for rigidity. Not often is it understood in its real sense: the true way to give praise, and also true belief. Attach it to the word “Christian” and it becomes a term describing a person who is trying to live according to the Gospel. He may have far to go, but this is the direction he is trying to take. “To be an Orthodox Christian,” said Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “is to attempt to live a Christ-centered life. We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.”

To be an Orthodox Christian means belonging to the Orthodox Church. It is not possible to follow Christ and remain alone. I am part of a vast, time-spanning community of people with a collective memory that goes back as far as Adam and Eve. It is a community that includes the Church Fathers, whose words we are encouraged to read.

It is also a Church of Councils. We hold ourselves accountable to the results of those councils even though they met many centuries ago. This means not letting my own opinions or those of my peers take charge of my faith. This requires guarding myself from the various ideologies that dominate the world I live in.

We are also a Church of saints. Day by day we remember them. We bear their names. We call on them for help. We remember what they did and sometimes what they said. We have icons of some of them in our churches and homes.

Attention to the Church Fathers and the saints can be a bewildering experience. For example we discover one Church Father showers the highest praise on marriage while another regards marriage as a barely tolerable compromise for those unable to embrace the real Christian calling: celibate monastic life. It can be disconcerting to discover that on various questions different Church Fathers may have different ideas or different emphases or just plain disagree.

Or we look at the saints and find one who was martyred for refusing to be a soldier, then the next day discover a saint who was a hero on the battlefield. Or we read about a saint who wore the rich clothing of a prince and then find another saint whose only clothing was his uncut beard. Here is a saint who was a great scholar while there is a saint who was a holy fool. Here is a saint who raced to the desert, while over there is a saint who refused to leave the city and was critical of those who did. Each saint poses a challenge and each saint raises certain questions and even certain problems. The puzzle pieces don’t always fit. We discover that neither the Church Fathers nor the saints on the calendar are a marching band, all in step and playing in perfect harmony.

Devotion to the saints solves some problems and raises others. In the details of their lives, they march in a thousand different directions. They also made mistakes. They were not saints every minute of every day. Like us, they had sins to confess. But their virtues overwhelm their faults. In different ways, each saint gives us a window for seeing Christ and his Gospel more clearly.

To be an Orthodox Christian means, as St. Paul says, that we are no longer Greek or Jew. Nationality is secondary. It is not the national flag that is placed on the altar but the Gospel. For us, even though we find ourselves in an Orthodox Church divided on national or jurisdictional lines, it means we are no longer American or Russian or Egyptian or Serbian. Rather we are one people united in baptism and faith whose identity and responsibility includes but goes beyond the land where we were born or the culture and mother tongue that shaped us.

On to the next word: peace. This is a damaged word. It’s like an icon so blackened by candle smoke that the image is completely hidden. “Peace” is a word that has been covered with a lot of smoke from the fires of propaganda, politics, ideologies, war and nationalism. In Soviet Russia there were those omnipresent slogans proclaiming peace while the Church was often obliged to take part in state-organized and state-scripted “peace” events. As a boy growing up in New Jersey, it was almost the same situation. “Peace is our profession” was the slogan of the Strategic Air Command, whose apocalyptic task — fighting nuclear war — was on stage center in the film “Doctor Strangelove.” In more recent years, there was a nuclear missile christened “The Peacemaker.”

Not only governments but peace groups have damaged the word “peace.” Anti-war groups often reveal less about peace than about anger, alienation and even hatred. It’s always a surprise to find a peace group that regards unborn children as being among those whose lives need to be protected.

In wartime talk of peace can put you on thin ice. I recently heard a story that dates back to the first Gulf War. Three clergymen were being interviewed on television. Two of them insisted that the war was a good and just war and had God’s blessing. The third opened his Bible and read aloud the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers Love your enemies ” But he was cut short by a shout from the angry pastor next to him: “That’s not relevant now! We’re at war!”

War does this to us. Parts of the Gospel are simply abandoned. They are seen as temporarily irrelevant, an embarrassment to the patriotic Christian. “Peace” is put in the deep freeze, a word to be thawed out after the war is over. Thus the salt loses it savor and sugar takes its place.

Part of our job is to clean words like “peace.” It’s a work similar to icon restoration. Otherwise it will be hard to understand the Gospel or the Liturgy and impossible to translate the Gospel and the Liturgy into daily life.

Peace is one of the characteristics of the Kingdom of God compressed into a single word. Consider how often and in what significant ways Christ uses the word “peace” in the Gospel: “And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.” “And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’” “And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’” “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” His greeting after the resurrection is, “Peace be with you.” In Mark’s Gospel, once again we come upon the metaphor of salt: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

In the Slavic liturgical tradition, the custom is to sing the Beatitudes while the Gospel Book is carried in procession through the church. Why? Because the Beatitudes are a short summary of the Gospel. These few verses describe a kind of ladder to heaven, starting with poverty of spirit and ascending to readiness to suffer for Christ and at last to participate in the Paschal joy of Christ. Near the top we come to the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Christ’s peace is not passive nor has it anything to do with the behavior of a coward or of the person who is polite rather than truthful. Christ says, in Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He means the sword metaphorically, as Luke makes clear in his version of the same passage: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” To live truthfully rather than float with the tide means most of the time to swim against the tide, risking penalties if not punishment for doing so. Christ had, and still has, opponents. Christ’s words and actions often brought his opponents’ blood to a boil. Think of his words of protest about the teachings of the Pharisees who laid burdens on others they would not carry themselves. Think of him chasing the money changers from the Temple. No one was injured, but God’s lightning flashed in the Temple courtyard.

Jesus speaks the truth, no matter how dangerous a task that may be. He gives us an example of spiritual and verbal combat. But his hands are not bloodstained. Think about the fact that Christ killed no one. Neither did he bless any of his followers to kill anyone. There are many ways in which Christ is unique. This is one of them. His final miracle before his crucifixion is to heal the injury of a temple guard whom Peter had wounded. He who preached the love of enemies took a moment to heal an enemy while on his way to the Cross.

In the early centuries, Christians got into a lot of trouble for their attitude toward the state. You get a sense of what that was like in this passage from second-century hieromartyr, St. Justin:

From Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.

The big problem for early Christians, a problem that so often got them into trouble, was their refusal to regard any ruler as a god. This doesn’t mean simply a ruler who claims to be a god, but the persistent tendency of so many rulers down to the present day to behave as gods and expect to be treated that way. Christians were obedient members of society in every way they could be without disobeying God, but were prepared to suffer even the most cruel death rather than place obedience to Caesar before obedience to God.

While eventually the baptismal requirements of the Church were relaxed, it was once the case that those who did not renounce killing, whether as a soldier or judge, could not be baptized. It is still the case that those who have killed another human being, even in self defense or by accident, are excluded from serving at the altar. Presumably this would also bar anyone whose words incite others to kill.

What’s the problem? Killing in war is often awarded with medals. Aren’t soldiers only doing their duty, however horrible it may be? Is there not virtue in their deeds, however bloody? I am reminded of an interview with an American soldier in Iraq that I heard on television recently: “A part of your soul is destroyed in killing someone else.” He might have said, but didn’t, that a part of your soul is wounded when you kill another. The Church looks for ways to heal such wounds.

Christ is not simply an advocate of peace or an example of peace. He is peace. To want to live a Christ-like life means to want to participate in the peace of Christ. Yes, we may fail, as we fail in so many things, but we must not give up trying.

How do we give a witness to Christ’s peace, especially in time of war? There are at least seven aspects of doing this.

The first is love of enemies. Love is another damaged word. It has been sentimentalized. It has come to mean a nice feeling we have toward a person whom we enjoy seeing and being with. The biblical meaning of the word is different. Christ calls on his followers to love their enemies. If you understand love as a euphoric feeling or pleasant sentiment, fulfilling this commandment is impossible. But if you understand love as doing what you can to protect the life and seek the salvation of a person or group whom we fear or despise, that’s very different.

Jesus links love of enemies with prayer for them. Without prayer, love of enemies is impossible. One of the saints who gave special emphasis to this theme was the 20th century monk St. Silouan of the Holy Mountain. Silouan’s stress may have its roots in the fact that, before becoming a monk, he nearly killed another young man. Not long afterward, he went to Mount Athos. Much of his teaching later in life centered on love of enemies. “He who does not love his enemies,” he insisted, “does not have God’s grace.”

The second aspect is doing good to enemies. Jesus teaches his followers, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:28)

Jesus’ teaching about a merciful response to enemies was not new doctrine. We find in the Mosaic Law: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under a burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it.” (Ex 23:4-5)

In his letter to the Church in Rome, St. Paul elaborates:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will reap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Christ’s teaching to do good to enemies is often viewed as unrealistic, but in fact it is a teaching full of common sense. Unless we want to turn the world into a cemetery, we must search for opportunities through which we can demonstrate to an opponent our longing for an entirely different kind of relationship. An adversary’s moment of need or crisis can provide that opening.

The third aspect is turning the other cheek. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other also.” (Mt.5:39; Luke 6:29) Contrast this with the advice provided in the average film or novel, where the standard message might be described as “The Gospel According to Hollywood.” This pseudo-gospel’s basic message is: If you are hit, hit back. Let your blow be harder than the one you received. In fact, as we saw in the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003, you needn’t be hit at all in order to strike others. Provocation, irritation, or the fear of attack is warrant enough.

“Turning the other cheek” is widely seen as an especially suspect Christian doctrine, an ethic that borders on masochism. Many would say it is Jesus at his most unrealistic: “Human beings just aren’t made that way.” For a great many people the problem can be put even more simply: “Turning the other cheek isn’t manly. Only cowards turn the other cheek.”

But what cowards actually do is run and hide. Standing in front of a violent man, refusing to get out of his way, takes enormous courage. It is manly and often proves to be the more sensible response. It’s also a way of giving witness to confidence in the reality and power of the resurrection.

The fourth aspect is forgiveness. Nothing is more fundamental to Jesus’ teaching than his call to forgiveness: giving up debts, letting go of grievances, pardoning those who have harmed us, not despairing of the other. Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we are telling God that we ask to be forgiven only insofar as we ourselves have extended forgiveness to others: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

How hard it is to forgive! For we are wounded and the wounds often last a lifetime; they even spill across generations. As children, as parents, as husbands or wives, as families, as workers, as jobless people, as church members, as members of certain classes or races, as voters, as citizens of particular states, we have been violated, made a target, lied to, used, abandoned. Sins, often quite serious sins, have been committed against us. We may feel damaged, scarred for life, stunted. Others we love may even have died of evil done to them.

But we are not only victims. In various ways we are linked to injuries others have suffered and are suffering. If I allow myself to see how far the ripples extend from my small life, I will discover that not only in my own home but on the far side of the planet there are people whose sorrows in life are partly due to me. Through what I have done or failed to do, through what my community has done or failed to do, there are others whose lives are more wretched than they might have been. There are those dying while we feast.

But we prefer to condemn the evils we see in others and excuse the evils we practice ourselves. We fail to realize that those who threaten us often feel threatened by us, and may have good reasons for their fears. The problem is not simply a personal issue, for the greatest sins of enmity are committed en masse, with very few people feeling any personal responsibility for the destruction they share in doing or preparing. The words of Holocaust administrator Adolph Eichmann, “I was only following orders,” are among humanity’s most frequently repeated justifications for murder.

The fifth aspect is breaking down the dividing wall of enmity. In Christ enmity is destroyed, St. Paul wrote, “for he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of enmity that he might create in himself one new person in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing enmity to an end.” (Eph 2:14-16)

Walls would have been on Paul’s mind at the time; in the same letter he mentions that he is “a prisoner for the Lord.” His words of guidance were sent from within the stone walls of a prison.

Consider Christ’s response to the centurion who asked him to heal a sick servant. It must have been hard for his more zealous disciples to see Jesus responding positively to the appeal of an officer in an occupation army and galling to hear him commenting afterward, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In this brief encounter, the dividing wall of enmity collapsed.

We live in a world of walls. Competition, contempt, repression, racism, nationalism, violence and domination: all these are seen as normal and sane. Enmity is ordinary. Self and self-interest form the centering point in many lives. We tend to be a fear-driven people. Love and the refusal to center one’s life in enmity are dismissed as naive, idealistic, even unpatriotic, especially if one reaches out constructively to hated minorities or national enemies.

Many wars are in progress at the moment. The cost in money, homes destroyed, damaged sanity, in lives and injuries is phenomenal. So many deaths, and mainly non-combatants — children, parents and grandparents, the very young, the very old, the ill, all sorts of people. Countless hideous wounds, visible and hidden. There are also less tangible costs, spiritually, psychologically, for we have become a people who make war and preparations for war a major part of our lives. We hear of many people who expect to die a violent death and who live in a constant state of “low grade” depression. Fear and despair are widespread. Stress-relieving pills are selling better than ever in today’s world.

The sixth aspect is nonviolent resistance to evil. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” When Peter used violence to defend Jesus, he was instantly admonished, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” For several hundred years following the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were renowned for their refusal to perform military service. But for many centuries, Christians have been as likely as any others to take up the sword and often use it in appalling ways.

The refusal to kill others can be a powerful witness, yet Christian life is far more than the avoidance of evil. It is searching for ways to combat evil without using methods that inevitably will result in the death of the innocent.

Responding to evil with its own weapons, even with the best of motives, often results in actions which mimic those of the enemy, or even outdo the enemy’s use of abhorrent methods. When Nazi forces bombed cities, there was profound revulsion in Britain and the United States, but in the end the greatest acts of city destruction were carried out by Britain and the United States.

Yet what is one to do? Christians cannot be passive about those events and structures which cause innocent suffering and death.

For centuries men and women have been searching for effective ways of both protecting life and combating evil. It is only in the past hundred years, because of movements associated with such people as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day, that nonviolent struggle has become a recognized alternative to passivity, on the one hand, and violence on the other.

Such acts of nonviolent protest are far from unknown in the Orthodox Church. One powerful example occurred in Constantinople in the year 842 when, opposing the iconoclast Emperor Leo V, a thousand monks took part in an icon-bearing procession in the capital city. They were exhibiting images of Christ and the saints which, had they obeyed the emperor, should have long before been destroyed. Their act of civil disobedience risked severe punishment. Iconographers had been tortured, mutilated and sent into exile. Thousands of icons had been destroyed. The death of the emperor later that year was widely seen as heaven’s judgment. In 843 his widow Theodora convened a Church Council which reaffirmed the place of the icon in Christian life. The first Sunday of Lent was set aside to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

There is one last element of peacemaking: It is aspiring to a life of recognizing Jesus. In his teaching about the Last Judgment, Christ tells us, “Truly, I say to you, what you did it to one of the least of these, you did to me.”

Occasionally the question is raised: “Why are we judged together and not one by one as we die?” It is because our life is far from over when we die. Our acts of love, and failures to love, continue to have consequences until the end of history. What Adam and Eve did, what Moses did, what Plato did, what Pilate did, what the Apostles did, what Caesar did, what Hitler did, what Martin Luther King did, what Mother Maria Skobtsova did, what you and I have done — all these lives, with their life-saving or murderous content, continue to have consequences for the rest of history. What you and I do, and what we fail to do, will matter forever.

It weighs heavily on many people that Jesus preached not only heaven but hell. There are many references to hell in the Gospels, including in the Sermon on the Mount. How can a loving God allow a place devoid of love?

A response to this question that makes sense to me is one I first heard in a church in Prague in the Communist period. God allows us to go wherever we are going. We are not forced to love. Communion is not forced on us. We are not forced to recognize God’s presence. It is all an invitation. We can choose. We can choose life or death. Perhaps we can even make the choice of heaven while in hell. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis has a tour bus leaving daily from hell to heaven. But the bus is never full and tends to return with as many passengers as it took on the trip out of hell. Heaven is too painful, its light too intense, its edges too sharp, for those who are used to the dullness of hell. In fact the older we are, the more we live by old choices, and defend those choices, and make ideologies, even theologies, out of our choices, and finally become slaves to them.

We can say, not just once but forever, as Peter once said of Jesus, “I do not know the man.” There are so many people about whom we can say, to our eternal peril, “I do not know the man,” to which we can add that he is worthless and has no one to blame for his troubles but himself, that his problems aren’t our business, that he is an enemy, that he deserves to die — whether of frostbite or violence matters little.

As St. John Chrysostom said, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” If I cannot find the face of Jesus in the face of those who are my enemies, if I cannot find him in the unbeautiful, if I cannot find him in those who have the wrong ideas, if I cannot find him in the poor and the defeated, how will I find him in bread and wine, or in the life after death? If I do not reach out in this world to those with whom he has identified himself, why do I imagine that I will want to be with him, and them, in heaven? Why would I want to be for all eternity in the company of those whom I despised and avoided every day of my life?

Christ’s Kingdom would be hell for those who avoided peace and devoted their lives to division. But heaven is right in front of us. At the heart of what Jesus says in every act and parable is this: Now, this minute, we can enter the Kingdom of God. This very day we can sing the Paschal hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb he has given life!”

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Jim Forest, international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is the author of many books, including The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life and Ladder of the Beatitudes. The text is based on a lecture given at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York.

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How St. Telemachus of Rome ended gladiatorial combat

Honorius, who inherited the empire of Europe, put a stop to the gladiatorial combats which had long been held at Rome. The occasion of his doing so arose from the following circumstance. A certain man of the name of Telemachus had embraced the ascetic life. He had set out from the East and for this reason had repaired to Rome. There, when the abominable spectacle was being exhibited, he went himself into the stadium, and stepping down into the arena, endeavored to stop the men who were wielding their weapons against one another. The spectators of the slaughter were indignant, and inspired by the mad fury of the demon who delights in those bloody deeds, stoned the peacemaker to death. When the admirable emperor [Honorius] was informed of this, he recognized Telemachus as a victorious martyr, and put an end to that impious spectacle.

– Theodoret of Cyrus (393-457); The Ecclesiastical History, book 5, chapter 26

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

The Nativity of the Mother of God

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The first great feast of the Liturgical year celebrates the nativity of the Blessed Virgin. It is appropriate that, during these first days of the new year, we should be brought into the presence of the highest example of human holiness, that of the mother of Jesus Christ.

During vespers, several lessons from the Old Testament are read.

First there is the account of the night which Jacob spent at Guz (Gen 28: 117). While Jacob slept, with his head pillowed on stones, he had a dream: he saw a ladder reaching up from earth to heaven and angels ascending a descending along this ladder; and God himself appeared and promised that he would bless and keep Jacob’s seed.

Mary, whose motherhood was the human condition necessary for the Incarnation, is, in herself, a ladder between heaven and earth. As the adoptive mother of the adopted brothers and sisters of her Son, she says to us what God said to Jacob, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” She, who carried her God in her womb, is truly that place, Beth-El, of which Jacob could say, “Surely this is the house of God, and this the gate of heaven.”…

The final lesson (Prov. 9: 1-11) presents us with personified divine Wisdom: “Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars…. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town.”

The Byzantine and the Roman Catholic Church both have established a link between holy Wisdom and Mary. She is the house built by Wisdom: she is, to the highest degree, one of the virgins sent forth by Wisdom to men; she is, after Christ himself, the highest manifestation of Wisdom in this world.

Fr. Lev Gillet (writing as a Monk of the Eastern Church)

The Year of Grace of the Lord

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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Dear In Communion reader

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Dear In Communion reader,

One of the topics discussed in this issue is how often we prefer justice, as humanly understood, to forgiveness and mercy. For Fr. Stephen Freeman, the matter isn’t an abstract question. Two members of his family were victims of murder. Similar wounds exist in many American families, mine among then. I still grieve over the death of my stepmother, whose life was cut short by a bullet as she stood waiting for a bus in San Francisco.

It is stories like these which, most notably in the United States, help explain the widespread support for the death penalty an urgent longing to “settle the score.”

One never has to travel far in the U.S. to find a Christian church of one sort or another. They often stand side by side. Yet the cross on each church is rarely seen by Christians or anyone else as a symbol of capital punishment or as an invitation to become a life-protecting people.

Of course it isn’t only Americans. While capital punishment has been outlawed in most countries, there are many ways, direct and indirect, to kill our neighbor. No matter where we live, it is a day-by-day struggle to become guardians of life.

How odd we 21st century Christians would seem to our forebears in the early Church! For hundreds of years, Christians even those who were judges understood they could not be baptized unless they first committed themselves to have no part in anyone’s execution.

It is part of the work of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship to recall such forgotten traditions and disciplines in the hope that the Church might once again be known for its love of enemies.

We cannot carry on our work without your help. If you are not a member already, please join. You can do so via our webs ite:

http://incommunion.org/articles/introduction/what-is-the-opf

If you donate once a year, what about donating more than once?

Or you might consider giving someone your parish priest or a friend a subscription to In Communion.

Thank you for whatever you can manage.

In Christ’s peace,

Jim Forest

Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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The Georgia Russia Mini-War

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

by Jim Forest

The recent Georgia Russia mini-war in and around South Ossetia was definitely not a religious war, but serves as a reminder that religious identity doesn’t come in first place when issues of national identity are at issue. While the battle raged, most soldiers – and casualties – on both sides were Christians.

In both countries, the Orthodox Church – in practice, though not officially – functions as the national church. Russia has an icon of St. George at the center of its national coat of arms; the average Russian atheist regards himself as an Orthodox atheist. Georgia prides itself on having adopted Christianity in the 4th century, six centuries before the baptism of Russia.

No matter how borderless Christianity is in theory (Aneither east nor west, neither Greek nor Jew”), in practice, national borders are as solid in church as outside.

The Orthodox churches in Russia and Georgia – led by Patriarch Alexei in Moscow and Patriarch Ilya in Tbilisi – are no exception. It’s rare for either church to stand in opposition to its government. The Russian Orthodox Church has been especially notable for being quick to bless Russia’s military – and has been all but silent in voicing criticism about Russian actions, no matter how brutal. Patriarch Ilya also has been equally silent about post Soviet Georgia’s deepening association with the United States and the US sponsored military buildup that has resulted.

Thus it has been a surprise to note the efforts made by the leaders of both churches first to prevent the recent war and then, their efforts having failed, to speed its end.

Ilya seems to have been the one who took the first step. In April he sent a letter to Alexei in which he noted the potential Arole and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

While Alexei’s response has not been made public, is likely that he intervened with Russia’s president and prime minister (he is on close terms with Medvedev and Putin) in hopes of encouraging renewed diplomatic efforts to prevent conflict.

But when Georgia’s military bombarded Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on the night of August 8, hopes to prevent war were shattered. (What lay behind Georgia’s action is baffling. It was something like Connecticut opening fire on New York. The Russians had already made clear what would happen in such a case. Georgia’s small army hadn’t a chance against Russian forces. Was President Saakashvili imagining that America, his military sponsor, would join the battle? Had he even been encouraged to open fire? I’d love to know.)

What is remarkable in the context of the days that followed was Patriarch Alexei making a public appeal to the Russian state to declare a cease-fire.

“Today blood is being shed and people being killed in South Ossetia,” he said, Aand my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox people, called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love, confront each other.”

In a sermon given in Tbilisi two days later, Patriarch Ilya said that Aone thing concerns us very deeply B that Orthodox Russians are bombing Orthodox Georgians.” Speaking with journalists, he said, “Any Georgian who kills another person shames his nation.”

Note that when Alexei made his appeal, he was definitely not acting as the Russian government’s amen chorus. At the time, Russia’s leaders were strongly resisting international pressure for a cease-fire. It seems likely Russia was hoping, war having begun after years of tension, to seize the moment to bring South Ossetia, bitterly with odds with Georgia for many years, into actual rather than ex officio inclusion in Russia – a goal Russia is still pursuing, but at present without warfare with Georgia.

Will the two churches make more vigorous efforts to prevent renewed conflict? And if so how? How willing are the two churches to prevent the cross from being used as a flag pole?

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Jim Forest is editor of In Communion and secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Fall 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 51

Orthodox Peace Fellowship letter to the Patriarchs of Russia and Georgia

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship, an association of Orthodox believers seeking to apply the principles of the Gospel to situations of division and conflict, has written to the leaders of the Orthodox Churches in Russia and Georgia to express support of their recent efforts first to prevent war and then to bring about a cease fire.

“What a sin and a scandal it is to see these armies shedding each other’s blood.” the letter notes. “That such an event can happen is a poignant reminder of how often, among Orthodox Christians no less than others, national identity easily takes priority over our common identity as children of the One God.

“We hope to see you both standing side-by-side in continuing efforts to promote peace between the Russian Federation and the Democratic Republic of Georgia, to collaborate in healing the deep wounds left by this tragic conflict, and to bear witness in unity to the Gospel of Christ’s Peace, who called us to love, not slay, each other.”

The full text of the letter is attached.

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August 13, 2008

Beloved Patriarchs Alexei and Ilya,

Though your efforts to prevent armed conflict between Russia and Georgia have received little attention in other countries, we have followed them as we have been able, including Patriarch Ilya’s proposal in April in which he noted the potential “role and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

Sadly, despite work for peace by both of you, Russia and Georgia entered into armed conflict. Many have died, not only soldiers but innocent people. Many of our Orthodox brethren have blood on their hands.

More recently, with the conflict at its height, there was the cease-fire appeal made by Patriarch Alexei, which included these words:

“Today blood is being shed and people being killed in South Ossetia and my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox people, called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love, confront each other.”

What a sin and a scandal it is to see these armies shedding each other’s blood. That such an event can happen is a poignant reminder of how often, among Orthodox Christians no less than others, national identity easily takes priority over our common identity as children of the One God.

We hope to see you both standing side-by-side in continuing efforts to promote peace between the Russian Federation and the Democratic Republic of Georgia, to collaborate in healing the deep wounds left by this tragic conflict, and to bear witness in unity to the Gospel of Christ’s Peace, who called us to love, not slay, each other.

We write on behalf of members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship who reside in countries around the world.

Jim Forest, International Secretary, Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Alexander Patico, Secretary for OPF in North America

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Written September 11, 2008 for the Sojourners magazine blog: http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/

Orthodox Response to the Russia-Georgia conflict in South Ossetia

The recent Georgia-Russia conflict in and around South Ossetia was definitely not a religious war, but serves as a reminder that religious identity doesn’t even come in third place when issues of national identity are at issue. While the battle raged, the majority of participants — and casualties — were Christians on both sides.

In both countries, the Orthodox Church — in practice, though not officially — functions as the national church. Russia has an icon of St. George at the center of its national coat of arms; the average Russian atheist regards himself as an Orthodox atheist. Georgia prides itself on having adopted Christianity in the 4th century, six centuries before the baptism of Russia.

No matter how borderless Christianity is in theory (“neither east nor west, neither Greek nor Jew”), in practice national borders are as substantial as cathedral walls.

The Orthodox churches in Russia and Georgia — led by Patriarch Alexei in Moscow and Patriarch Ilya in Tbilisi — are no exception. It’s rare for either church to stand in opposition to its government. The Russian Orthodox Church has been especially notable for being quick to bless Russia’s military — and has been all but silent in voicing criticism about Russian actions, no matter how brutal. Patriarch Ilya also has been equally silent about post-Soviet Georgia’s deepening association with the United States and the US-sponsored military buildup that has resulted.

Thus it has been a surprise to note the efforts made by the leaders of both churches first to prevent the recent war and then, their efforts having failed, to speed its end.

Ilya seems to have been the one who took the first step. In April he sent a letter to Alexei in which he noted the potential “role and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

While Alexei’s response has not been made public, it is likely that he intervened with Russia’s president and prime minister (he is on close terms with both Medvedev and Putin) in hopes of encouraging renewed diplomatic efforts to prevent conflict.

But when Georgia’s military bombarded Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on the night of August 8, hopes to prevent war were shattered. (What lay behind Georgia’s action is baffling. Whatever provocations there may have been, it was something like Rhode Island opening fire on New York. The Russians had already made clear what would happen in such a case. Georgia’s small army hadn’t a chance against Russian forces. Was President Saakashvili imagining that America, his military sponsor, would join the battle? Had he even been encouraged to open fire? I’d love to know.)

What is remarkable in the context of the days that followed was Patriarch Alexei making a public appeal to the Russian state to declare a cease fire.

“Today blood is being shed and people being killed in South Ossetia,” he said, “and my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox people, called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love, confront each other.”

In a sermon given in Tbilisi two days later, Patriarch Ilya said that “one thing concerns us very deeply — that Orthodox Russians are bombing Orthodox Georgians.”

Note that when Alexei made his appeal, he was definitely not acting as the Russian government’s amen chorus. At the time, Russia’s leaders were strongly resisting international pressure for a cease fire. It seems likely Russia was hoping, war having begun after years of tension, to seize the moment to bring South Ossetia, bitterly with odds with Georgia for many years, into actual rather than ex officio inclusion in Russia — a goal Russia is still pursuing, but at present without warfare with Georgia.

Will the two churches make more vigorous efforts to prevent renewed conflict? And if so how? How willing are the two churches to prevent the cross from being used as a flag pole?

– Jim Forest

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Jim Forest is the international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (www.incommunion.org), editor of its journal In Communion, and author of Praying With Icons and The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life.

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News: Summer 2008

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Belarus pressures Orthodox not to venerate martyrs

Belarus is discouraging the commemoration of Orthodox Christians killed for their faith by the Soviet Union, according to a report issued in May by Forum 18. The Belarussian KGB sought to have icons of the New Martyrs removed from the cathedral in Grodno.

New Martyr St. Pavlin, Bishop of Mogilev, shot in 1937 Deacon Andrei Kurayev charged that KGB officers had asked Grodno clergy “why they were inciting the people in such a way.”

Bishop Artemi (Kishchenko) of Grodno and Volkovysk refused to take the icons down. “He told the KGB that he couldn’t rewrite history.”

During the 1920s and 30s, over 20 Belarussian clergy, including three bishops, were shot in Minsk for their faith, according to Fr. Feodor Krivonos.

“There is a certain circle of people who don’t like these icons,” said Fr. Aleksandr Veliseichik. He said icons would be removed only if they were not Orthodox, “but these were painted entirely according to church canons.”

Some of the icons, he said, were copied from originals in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. One of the icons is of St. Pavlin, Bishop of Mogilev, shot in 1937.

KGB officers also often monitor visitors to Kuropaty, where many New Martyrs are buried in mass graves. Possibly 100,000 victims of Stalin’s purges are thought to have been shot at Kuropaty in between 1937 and 1941, but no archaeological research has been conducted at the site since the 1990s.

The act of going there is “fraught with tension” with the current Belarusian regime, said an Orthodox Christian who asked not to be named. An Orthodox chapel planned for the site has never been built.

The Moscow-based St. Tikhon Orthodox University estimates that 90,000 Orthodox were killed for their faith by the Soviet state.

Over 1,000 New Martyrs were formally canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000.

[F18 News, 12 May 2008]

Russia seeks to draft priests into the army

The young priest was not intimidated by the words “criminal case” and the green file that the officer said would land him in jail for refusing the draft. He was articulate and patient as he stood, wearing a cassock and cross, in front of a colonel at his district military commission, trying to persuade him that as an Orthodox priest there is no way he could serve as an army recruit. The priest, who asked to remain anonymous, serves at one of the city’s largest churches.

Following the February passage of a law that for the first time makes Orthodox priests subject to conscription, all draft-age Russian priests find themselves torn between a legal obligation and their religious obligations.

It is a serious dilemma. The Orthodox Church forbids priests, on pain of being defrocked, from carrying guns or being involved in military activities, while the law threatens them with imprisonment if found guilty of refusing the draft.

“The officer gave me a sour look and asked what village I was from, but that initial bravado disappeared when he saw that I was honest, respectful, and serious,” the priest recalled. “Soon I saw he was baffled. He even rang his superior in my presence to ask what he should do.”

In the end, the officers made a joint decision to let the priest go, but his battle might not be over, as the spring draft continues for two more months. “I’m prepared to have as many conversations with the officers as it takes,” the priest said. “I believe in the power of the word.”

Colonel Yury Klyonov of the Leningrad military district says the presence of priests in the army is bound to improve the moral climate among recruits. “This new measure is going to be beneficial for both the church and the army. After all, the Orthodox Church has always supported the idea of serving the motherland.”

“If priests are to be conscripted at all it must be only as chaplains,” said Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov of the Moscow diocese. “They must be allowed to fulfill their duties without having to compromise and betray their beliefs.” But the position of chaplain does not exist in the Russia armed forces.

Xenia Chernega, a lawyer representing the Moscow diocese, said the law was “a sign of blatant disregard for the canons of the Orthodox Church. The restriction is set by apostolic rule number 83: ‘anyone exercising military activities must be expelled from the priesthood’.”

The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly has appealed for the amendment to be vetoed. “Breaking into churches and dragging priests off to the army would be shameful. As a political successor of the USSR, Russia is still greatly indebted to the priests who perished in Stalin’s purges,” said one of the authors of the appeal, Vitaly Milonov.

In response to such criticism, Nikolai Pankov, the Deputy Defense Minister and one of those who instigated the changes in the conscription rules, accused critics of a “lack of patriotism” and of failing to support Russia’s defense needs. He and others argue that serving the motherland does not conflict with religious beliefs. One of their arguments is that drafting priests will help to reduce the bullying and brutality for which the Russian army has become notorious.

“Several thousand young men desert the army every year because they cannot bear the humiliation, beatings, and extortion of money by the senior recruits,” said Ella Polyakova, chairwoman of the St. Petersburg pressure group, Soldiers’ Mothers.

She believes the move was meant to send a tough message. “Russia has become a police state. True to its name, it has to constantly remind the people who’s boss. The other amendments are equally repressive. Just think about a young man having to leave a sick mother confined to her bed or a breast-feeding wife with no income. The authorities openly show that they see our citizens the way feudal lords saw their serfs.” [St. Petersburg Times, 29 April 2008]

‘Instant’ churches to ease church shortage in Russia

A group of Russian Orthodox benefactors has found a way to ease the continuing post-Soviet shortage of places of worship by devising a plan to provide prefabricated churches that can be erected in 24 hours.

A prototype is now in place at Kemerovo in Siberia, where church shortages are most acute, said Vasily Smirnov, director of the Russian Club of Orthodox Philanthropists.

“Communism changed the Russian landscape by introducing neighborhoods filled with towering apartment blocks, but because of official atheism, they almost never had churches,” Smirnov said. “In densely populated bedroom communities, there aren’t enough Orthodox churches and residents have to travel to the town center. We’re developing some innovative techniques in this sphere for people who want to build churches.”

The buildings, able to accommodate up to 200 people, will be erected in large numbers once the project gathers pace.

The Russian Orthodox Church opened more than a hundred churches and chapels in 2007 in Moscow, where a further 86 are under construction. However, Russia’s 142 Orthodox dioceses and 27,942 Orthodox parishes still have only a third of the churches the country had before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. [ENI, 7 May 2008]

Danger of War in the Caucasus warns Patriarch Iliya

War could erupt in the Caucasus unless Russia and Georgia take affirmative steps to reduce tensions, Patriarch Iliya II, Patriarch of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, warned in April. He stated the border dispute between the two former Soviet republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was in danger of spiraling out of control. He called on Patriarch Alexy of Moscow to join him in using “the role and authority of our churches to prevent the escalation of tensions and help restore good bilateral relations.”

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two northern regions of Georgia, broke from the Tbilisi government following the collapse of the USSR. Georgia has not relinquished sovereignty, but has been unable to put down the Moscow-backed secession.

Four days before Iliya’s appeal, Russia announced it would strengthen its economic and cultural ties to the two breakaway regions and provide “complete protection” to Russian citizens resident in the country. Moscow had previously granted Russian citizenship to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“The current condition of the bilateral relations,” said Iliya, “fails to meet the spirit of neighborliness and fraternity of the two peoples. Both sides have made mistakes in their attempts to normalize interstate relations…. I fear that the bilateral relations may reach a critical limit and plunge into uncontrollable processes…. We think that any confrontation, armed conflicts or military actions are unacceptable, because they will lead to irreversible consequences. That is why we think that regardless of the difficulties of launching negotiations in the present-day tense situation, there is no alternative. A peaceful dialogue is the only way out of the current situation.”

Church restoration in Kosovo to resume

The Serbian Orthodox Church has decided to resume the restoration of destroyed monasteries and churches in Kosovo. The restoration will continue in cooperation with the Culture Ministry, international institutions and the UN.

At the conclusion of its spring meeting, the Synod stated that the Church and the Serbian people would never countenance the unlawful, violent usurpation of Kosovo, and thanked all the countries that had not recognized the province’s unilateral independence declaration. [B92, 22 May 2008]

Serbian Orthodox Church relieves Patriarch Pavle

The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church announced in May that 93-year-old Patriarch Pavle would no longer head the church because he is too ill to perform his duties. The synod will take charge of the running of the church, while the oldest bishop, Amfilohije, will act as president of the synod and “Guardian of the Throne,” it was announced. Pavle, who became leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1990, has been in and out of hospital over the past two years.

Serbian Orthodox church law states that a successor to the Patriarch must be elected by a secret vote during a gathering at which at least two-thirds of the 40 bishops attend. If two candidates receive the same tally of votes, a patriarch is chosen by the drawing of lots. [ENI, 19 May 2008]

Iraqi bishop urges pressure on US to keep its ‘broken promises’

An Iraqi Christian leader has appealed to US churches to pressure their government to keep promises made to Iraqis to improve humanitarian conditions after the 2003 US-led invasion.

“There is a tragedy in Iraq now because the promises made were never kept,” said Archbishop Avak Asadourian, primate of the Armenian Church of Iraq, during a meeting in June in New York. Asadourian is the current general secretary of the Council of Christian Church Leaders in Iraq.

He lamented that though Christianity has deep roots in Iraq, war is slowly depleting Iraq of its once-vibrant Christian communities. Christianity came to Iraq in the first century, when St. Thomas the Apostle is said to have visited Mesopotamia.

“Our natural resources, which are tremendous, must be utilized for the betterment of the Iraqi people,” said Asadourian. “Until now, the infrastructure in Iraq is in shambles, and people are still waiting for basic necessities, so they may live in a normal fashion. We were promised clean water but what we got is Blackwater” (a US-based private security firm that has played a notorious role in Iraq).

Asadourian described Iraq as “a severely wounded country,” with Iraqis living “under the strain of several hardships stemming from so many wars.” These included, the archbishop said, a 13-year US-led international embargo, “which in and of itself is an act of war” and which was in place before the invasion in 2003.

The 2003 occupation brought with it hope that conditions might improve in Iraq. Instead, Asadourian noted, the occupation had led to five years of terrorism, forcing tens of thousands of people, many of them Christian, to flee Iraq.

“People are aware that they can leave home alive and never return to their families,” Asadourian said. “My cathedral closed for a year and a half because of the lack of security,” he said. “What Iraqis need, before anything else, is security.”

“It is very difficult to live under the shadow of death for so many years,” the archbishop said. “It takes its toll on you.”

Until the military action in 2003, Christians accounted for roughly 3 per cent of Iraq’s 29 million people. Approximately 70 percent of the Christians belong to the Chaldean church, which follows the ancient Chaldean rite but is in union with the Catholic Church.[ENI, 18 June 2008]

Armenian spiritual leader decries Turkeys’ genocide denial

Catholicos Karekin II, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visiting Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in May, spoke of the genocide suffered by his compatriots in the Ottoman empire, and said that those with power should ensure that justice prevails.

“We appeal to all nations and lands to universally condemn all genocides that have occurred throughout history and those that continue through the present day,” Karekin said in St. Peter’s Square on 7 May, where he had been invited by Pope Benedict to speak at a general audience. “The denial of these crimes is an injustice that equals the commission of the same.”

“Today many countries of the world condemn the genocide made by the Ottomans against the Armenian people, as John Paul II said when I was in Rome,” noted Karekin.

“The recent history of the Armenian Apostolic Church has been written in the contrasting colors of persecution and martyrdom, darkness and hope, humiliation and spiritual re-birth,” said Pope Benedict.

Armenia estimates 1.5 million of its people died between 1915 and 1923 in a systematic genocide initiated by the Young Turks’ government ruling then in Istanbul. Turkey rejects the term “Armenian genocide,” claiming that mass removals were intended to clear people from a war zone. It acknowledges that people died, but holds that the number was far less than that given by Armenia. [ENI, 13 May 2008]

Food crisis ‘artificially imposed’ says Kenyan theologian

The roots of the global food crisis that has led to soaring prices for basic foodstuffs are to be found as much in political as in economic factors, Professor Jesse Mugambi, a Kenyan academic, charged in May. Mugambi, who teaches religious studies and philosophy at the University of Nairobi, belongs to a church environmental network.

“The rise in price is not only because of decline in supply,” he said. “It is artificially imposed by rises in fuel costs and other constraints more political than economic.”

He said there could be no short-term solution to a long-term problem. “The long-term solution is equity, not charity. Equity is based on long-term investment.”

“Food prices have soared, without an improvement in personal and family income,” he said, adding that “current international economic and agricultural policies discourage Africa from growing staple foods in favor of cash crops. Africa is the only continent which produces what it does not consume, and consumes what it does not produce. Tropical Africa has some of the best soils for agricultural production in the world. Why should those soils be used for the production of non-staple agricultural commodities, while some of its people go hungry every day?” [ENI, 9 May 2008]

More than half of US firearm deaths are suicides

Suicides accounted for 55 percent of America’s nearly 31,000 firearm deaths in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, CNN reported on 30 June.

Gun-related suicides outnumbered firearm homicides and accidents for 20 of the last 25 years. In 2005, homicides accounted for 40 percent of gun deaths, accidents for 3 percent and 2 percent either for “legal killings,” such as when police do the shooting, or cases involving undetermined intent.

Public health researchers have concluded that in homes where guns are present, the likelihood that someone in the home will die from suicide or homicide is much greater. Studies have also shown that homes in which a suicide occurred were three to five times more likely to have a gun present than households that did not experience a suicide, even after accounting for other risk factors.

More than 90 percent of suicide attempts using guns are successful, while the success rate for jumping from high places was 34 percent. The success rate for drug overdose was 2 percent.

Israeli human rights group warns of grave West Bank water shortage

An Israeli human rights group anticipates a serious water shortage in large areas of the West Bank, the territory Israel occupied in 1967, as a result of what the group says is the most serious drought in the area in the past decade and Israel’s “discrimination in [the] division of water sources.”

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said, “The shortage will have serious repercussions on the economy and the health of tens of thousands of Palestinians.” The shortage, they said, was the consequence of “unfair distribution of water resources shared by the Palestinians and Israel.”

B’Tselem also blamed the water shortage on limits Israel places on the Palestinian Authority to drill new wells. “Access to water without discrimination is recognized by international law as a fundamental human right,” the group said in a 1 July press release.

The human rights group called on Israel to ensure an, “immediate, regular, adequate supply of water” to all residents of the West Bank and, “to allow the Palestinian Authority to develop new water sources.”

Najeeb Abu Rokaya, director of the field research department of B’Tselem, said, “Even if there is a little amount of water in this area, I believe there is enough for every human being, but we need to plan for it, and first of all make sure that every human being has enough drinking water. God created the world, and in this the water for all people, not just for Jews or Palestinians or Christians or any other group.”

B’Tselem said that many Palestinians who are connected to the water supply reported disruption because Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, which also controls the water supply to Palestinian areas, reduces the supply to Palestinian towns and villages in order to meet the increased need of Jewish settlements.

In Nablus, Fr. Ibrahim Nairouz said that he gets water only once every eight days.

B’Tselem reports that many poorer families draw water from unsupervised wells, resulting in an increase of infectious diseases.

“The average water consumption per capita of Israelis is 3.5 times that of Palestinians,” said B’Tselem. [ENI, 2 July 2008]

A gentler vision of Islam:Turkey’s import to Pakistan

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey. He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.

“Show me a verse in the Koran where it is forbidden,” Kacmaz said to the men who insisted Muslim men cannot wear ties. He told the two men, both were wearing glasses, that scripturally there was no difference between a tie and glasses. “Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, “only misunderstanding.”

“Kill, fight, shoot,” Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, where schools, fueled by Saudi and American money, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.

Kacmaz is part of a group of Turkish educators who have come to this battleground with an entirely different vision of Islam.

The Turkish schools, which have expanded to seven cities in Pakistan since the first one opened a decade ago, cannot transform the country on their own. But they offer an alternative approach, prescribing a strong Western curriculum with courses, taught in English, from math and science to Shakespeare.

This approach appeals to parents, who want their children to be capable of competing with the West without losing their identities to it.

The model is the brainchild of a Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen. A preacher with millions of followers in Turkey, Gulen argues that “without science, religion turns to radicalism, and without religion, science is blind and brings the world to danger.”

In one of his books, Gulen states: “In the countries where Muslims live, some religious leaders and immature Muslims have no other weapon in hand than their fundamental interpretation of Islam. They use this to engage people in struggles that serve their own purposes.” [New York Times, 3 May 2008]

Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50

Death: A Second Baptism

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

by Fr. Patrick Radley

Apse mosaic, Basilica of San Marco, Rome

apse mosaic, Basilica of San Marco, Rome

“I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” – Luke 12:19-20

Do we not recognize the reactions of the rich man in this familiar parable? How often have we felt a burst of self-confidence because life seemed to be treating us well! We were successful at work, or were appreciated by someone whose opinion we value, or completed a difficult task, or even were able to help someone in need. Whatever the reason, we were boosted, felt more secure. “Life’s on my side. Why don’t I give myself a good time?”

But the rich man’s response, and ours if we behave like him, is wholly superficial. By not recognizing as God’s gifts both the land that produced his crops and the crops themselves, the rich man blinds himself to the fact that the whole pattern of his life is in God’s hands.

Moreover, death takes no account of good or bad fortune. And so, for good or ill, we let ourselves be driven to concentrate on our own experience as separate individuals, thereby denying the unifying source of being throughout creation.

This denial is nothing more nor less than sin, testifying to the power of evil within fallen human nature. And with it comes the belief in death as the end of all that we take for granted within our consciousness of life.

If we can no longer lay up treasures for ourselves – that is to say, satisfy those insistent individual demands we make on life – what is there left to us?

Through this parable, Jesus shows that when we are faced by the prospect of this apparently total dissolution of our selves, we are forced to ask: “Is death the final destruction of all that makes us human?”

We may even be shocked into considering how our lives, rather than being locked up within our own closed worlds, could be – in St. Luke’s words – “rich towards God.” At which point we have to say at once that we are standing here in the Church precisely in the desire to witness to our faith that Christ himself is the answer to all our questions.

For God’s response to the power of evil and the presence of death on earth brought about by man’s decision to lock himself away from the Creator’s universal love is to bring that very love to a climax. Having created us in his image and likeness in the first place – itself an act of infinite love – he now sends his only-begotten Son to become man and to make reparation in his own self for our sins in the suffering and death on the cross. Not only that, but having expressed through his death his total love for us, he rises on the third day and appears to his disciples, discussing with them, eating with them, and convincing them totally of his presence with them.

If, before the time of our own deaths, we wish to count ourselves among those whose faith is in Jesus Christ, and whose hope is in his resurrection, how are we to react to this reversal of what we thought of as death?

St. Jerome speaks of the effort that we must make to “know the hope of our calling.”

“This effort,” he writes, “comes in response to that renewing gift which God Himself gives in the glorious Resurrection of his own Son. This gift he gives not once but continually…. Every day Christ rises from the dead. Every day he is raised in the penitent.”

It is in this last sentence that we begin to see the true way to approach death. Repentance is where we must begin. We must repent of all we have done to close ourselves to the love of God and thereby opened ourselves to crucify Christ. We must turn our hearts at all times to the prayers of penitence; we must die to ourselves daily; and we must learn to live, to flesh out, Christ’s words, “he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

St. John Climacus calls the thought of death “the most necessary of all works… The remembrance of death, like all other blessings, is a gift of God.” Finally he affirms, “Just as the Fathers lay down that perfect love knows no sin, so for my part I declare that a perfect sense of death is free from fear.”

Let us, in true repentance, in freedom from fear and in love for God, offer our death to God. Let us recognize that death is, for each of us, living or dead, a second Baptism, a cleansing of our souls in readiness for that general Resurrection of which we are meant to be a part. The Saints have led the way: “Not I live but Christ lives in me.”

God cleanse me, a sinner, and have mercy on me. Amen.

Our dear friend Fr. Patrick Radley, rector of the Parish of the Holy Transfiguration in Great Walsingham, England, died 28 March. He was a longtime member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and also its treasurer in Britain until failing health made it necessary to hand on that responsibility to Seraphim Honeywell. Please pray for him, his wife, Helena, his family and parish.

Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50