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National Identity and the Search for Unity

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

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

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

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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Adam, Where Are You?

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Reflections on Adam, Christ, and Us

by Peter Bouteneff

Many think about Adam and Eve from the perspective of debates about the age of the universe and the origin of human beings. The Church Fathers and the liturgy have a completely different starting point, less in terms of cosmology than Christology. The Church rarely mentions Adam without speaking of Christ, so that we reckon the “Old Adam,” or “First Adam,” in terms of the “New Adam.” This orientation of thinking about Adam helps us to understand our lives as baptized Christians, as human beings who are both fallen and raised, distorted and renewed, dying yet redeemed from death. In our baptism and sacramental life, we have died to the Old Adam and put on the New Adam  yet we are somehow partaking of both. Our cosmological questions may remain, but they receive new perspective from the Church’s reckoning of Adam. Let us humbly ask God and his Church about Adam, and see what we find.

In Genesis, we hear God calling to his creature, Adam, who has just disobeyed the divine command and who has hidden himself: “Adam, where are you?”

We also may ask, with love and in a spirit of holy inquiry, “Adam, where are you?” And perhaps, “Adam, who are you?” “Adam, what are you?”

“Adam where are you? You have hidden from God in shame, but you are also hidden from our view. You are there at the beginning of our Bible and at the very end, and nowhere in between.

“Adam, who are you? Your name in Hebrew means both ‘humanity’ and ‘of the earth.’ Are you ‘man’ as a totality, or a single person? Or both at once? Or are you me and am I you, when I disobey God’s command in my own life? Or are you all of these things, and perhaps more than all? Adam, can you tell us something about ourselves, and our life in this world? For the divinely inspired Scriptures have surely told us about you so that you may teach us about God’s purpose.”

St. Silouan of Mount Athos brings far more beautiful words to Adam. In a deeply moving meditation, he sees Adam at first lamenting painfully at the loss of his closeness with God, and then completely enraptured with joy in the Lord who has given him a still greater Paradise in communion with the Holy Trinity.

O Adam, sing unto us a heavenly song
that the whole earth may hearken,
and delight in the peace of love toward God.

In St. Silouan’s writing, we have an important clue to who and what Adam was in the paradise of old: he was in a state of sweetness and gladness, looking upon God. But he was not perfect. He was not yet in the state of a fully redeemed, deified, immortal man in the “fairer Paradise” given in Christ through his cross.

It is important for us to recall that the Adam we meet in the book of Genesis is not the icon of perfected humanity. He and Eve were “naked and unashamed,” but they were neither perfect nor immortal. As the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great puts it, God put his human creature in Paradise with the promise of immortality. Adam and Eve are human beings in the making. They are works in progress.

This is the conviction of several of the Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Ephrem of Syria. The forbidden tree in Paradise was not evil in itself, and was meant for human beings, but it was meant to be eaten of at the right time and in the right disposition. Adam and Eve’s tragedy was to eat of it when they were still as children innocent and immature.

The biblical story shows us that Adam and Eve are not perfectly fulfilled human persons. What was it in Eve that made her listen to the voice of the serpent? That is not perfection. We speak of God-given “freedom,” but their freedom to forget God is not the genuine freedom of the deified human person. True freedom is freedom in God, the freedom to do the good, not the freedom to listen to this pathetic snake.

Adam and Eve are creatures of potential, on the way to fully realized perfection. They  we were created for life, not death  for life in union with God. But they do not attain it. And so Adam, in the mind of the Fathers, and in the hymns of the liturgy, never represents royal, deified man, but fallen man. When the hymns speak of “Adam” they mean “fallen humanity.” Nearly every feast of Christ recalls this. At the feast of the Transfiguration, for example, we sing:

You were transfigured, O Christ,
And made Adam’s darkened image to shine again as lightning,
Transforming it into the glory and splendor of Your own divinity .

Here we are not talking about an ancient historic man, “Adam.” If Christ came only to raise some single person, that would certainly not have the effect of reshaping the whole cosmos. Christ comes to raise fallen humanity. He comes to raise us.

This leads to the question not just “who is Adam,” but “who are we?” If Adam is fallen humanity, and Adam is us, then are we fallen humanity? Yes we are. But aren’t we renewed humanity, in Christ? Yes we are. We are both, and must choose between orienting ourselves in Christ or orienting ourselves in Adam. As we sing at the Matins of Holy Saturday:

You descended to the depths of the earth to fill all with Your glory;
For my person that is in Adam was not hidden from You.
And when You were buried,
You renewed me who am corrupt, O Lover of mankind.

So I can consider “my person that is in Adam” and at the same time I know my person that is in Christ. I am both. We are back to the paradox with which we began. We are baptized in Christ and in principle dead to Adam  i.e., to fallen humanity yet we still sin. And our every sin reveals us to be still living in Adam.

This is another theme throughout the Church Fathers and our hymnography: Adam is us as “fallen humanity,” but also we are Adam. We are creatures of potential who constantly repeat and perpetuate the sin in the garden. Everything that is reported in the garden of paradise, with regard to Adam’s sin, pertains to us and our sin. “I came to know my nakedness and clothed myself in a garment of skin, and fell from the garden” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 19.14). “My ancestor’s weakness is my own” (Or. 38.12). “We were entrusted with Paradise that we might enjoy life. We received a commandment so that we might obtain a good repute by keeping it…. We were deceived because we were the objects of envy. We were cast out because we transgressed. We fasted because we refused to fast, being overpowered by the tree of knowledge.” (Or. 45.28)

Who is the subject of this sad tale? It is, again, not an ancient historical Adam. It is us. We sing, on the eve of Great Lent:

Long ago the crafty serpent envied my honor
And whispered deceit in the ear of Eve.
Woe is me! I was led astray
And banished from the dance of life.

And so, Adam is our forefather. But the next question is: is he our forefather in the spiritual sense, the moral sense, or in the genealogical sense? In other words, can we be said to have descended from Adam, in the same way that I have descended from a particular line of parents and grandparents and great-grandparents? Genealogically and genetically? This is a further question we are led to ask, especially in view of new perspectives from history and science.

“Adam, where are you: in our historical past? Are you in the same plane of history as Winston Churchill, Leonardo DaVinci, and Plato?” On what basis may we approach this question? To whom may we pose it? Can we look to the Fathers to answer it? Were they even concerned with “historicity” as we are in our post-Darwin era?

In fact some of the Fathers were interested in this question. There were those who answered in a very literal way, such as Theophilus of Antioch, who provided a date in history for the creation of the world and of Adam. (To this day, there are those who assert, in order to be harmonious with the Scriptural genealogies, that the universe was created somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. St. Augustine noticed that if we were to take literally all the chronologies in Genesis, Methuselah would have had to be present on Noah’s Ark.)

Other Fathers were a great deal more open about the Paradise story and what it may have represented. Possibly the best example of this open inquisitiveness was St. Gregory the Theologian, who writes that God placed the human person in Paradise, “Whatever that may mean.” He speculates that the tree of knowledge may have represented theoria, contemplation. He sees the Paradise story as one open to several interpretations. St. Gregory endorsed Origen’s view that the Paradise described in Genesis did not reside in our historical space and time:

Who will be found simple enough to believe that, like some farmer, “God planted trees in the garden of Eden, in the east” and that he planted “the tree of life” in it, that is a visible tree that could be touched, so that someone could eat of this tree with corporeal teeth and gain life, and further, could eat of another tree and receive the knowledge of “good and evil?” [T]hese are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history and not through actual events. [De Principiis 4.3.1. The passage cited here is part of the Philokalia of Origen, an anthology of Origen's texts compiled by Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.]

Some Fathers were interested in the question as to whether Adam and Eve and Paradise existed in the same way that, for us, Hyde Park  and those walking within it  exist in London. They answered this question in different ways. Most probably believed that Adam existed as a historical person rather than in a mythical realm, for they had no scientific reason not to. Yet none of their theological conclusions about Adam and what he represents require him to exist as a particular historical human being.

The Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet proposes two categories of history, or temporal orders. He says that the chronological history which we try to document scientifically is already the history of fallen humanity. Our history resides on a different plane from the “spiritual history” described in Genesis:

The original condition of man as it is presented by Scripture and the Fathers is situated in another temporal order than that of historical knowledge: it does not belong to the time of sensible realities (chronos), but to the duration of spiritual realities (aiôn), which eludes historical science because it belongs to the sphere of spiritual history.[Theology of Illness, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, p. 23 n. 51]

Larchet’s model helps us make sense of modern science while retaining the inspired integrity of the scriptural story.

We may conclude that Adam is our forefather in the sense of representing what we came from, representing a failure of potential, representing us whenever we repeat that failure, representing the Old Man whom we shed in our baptism in favor of the New Man Jesus Christ. He is also our forefather in the sense of showing that there was a beginning to sin and death. Sin and death are not an eternal reality. They began, and spread to all.

When “Adam” means “fallen man,” he is rarely mentioned in our hymns apart from Christ who by clothing himself in Adam (= humanity, = us), restores Adam, recalling the divine image, bringing fallen humanity to the place that was always intended for it: into union with God himself. Christ, therefore, is the New Adam, the Second Adam.

Aside from representing the “Old Man,” Adam is also the prefiguration of Christ. In theological and scriptural language, Adam is a “type” for Christ. In Romans, St. Paul already calls Adam “a type of the one to come” (typos tou mellontos). Adam is a “place-holder” for Christ. Adam/humanity was given the vocation to be a true human person and failed in every respect. It is Christ being the Word of God (the prophet), the living sacrifice (the priest), and the king of glory who fulfills the human vocation perfectly.

Indeed, as several of the Fathers put it, you can either see Adam as the “type” for Christ, or more properly you can see Adam as being made in the image of Christ  even, in the eternal perspective, in the image of the crucified Christ. As St. Nicolas Cabasilas wrote:

It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old. For those who have known him first, the old Adam is the archetype because of our fallen nature. But for him who sees all things before they exist, the first Adam is the imitation of the second. [The Life in Christ 6.91-94.]

As St. Irenaeus has it, “it was necessary that one who would be saved [Adam] should also come into existence, in order that the One who saves should not exist in vain.” [Adv. Haer. 3.22.3]

All of this is a part of the Church’s rich tradition of typology, which we will probably recognize from the Church’s hymnography. Adam is a type for Christ, Eve a type for Mary. The tree in Paradise is a type for the tree of the cross, and paradise itself is a type for the Church, which is God’s Kingdom on earth. In fact, the Fathers leave almost no element in the Old Testament unexplored for its typological potential. Moses’s outstretched hands are a type for the crucified Christ. Christ himself, in the gospels, repeatedly tells his disciples that what was written in the Scriptures, in other words written in the Old Testament, was all written about him. “Moses wrote of me,” says the Lord in John 5:46 and in Luke 24. Christ explains to his disciples how the entire Old Testament concerns himself.

This is illustrated in a beautiful liturgical act. During Lent, at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, we read from the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis: the creation of the world in six days, and the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. And just after this reading, we all bow down to the ground, our faces to the floor, while the celebrant comes out of the sanctuary with a candle placed on the gospel book, proclaiming, “The light of Christ illumines all.” Indeed, the light of Christ illumines all that is told in the Old Testament Scripture.

And so Adam, who represents fallen man, represents a type or prefiguration of the New Man, Christ. St. Gregory the Theologian makes a poetic one-to-one relationship between the two, contrasting the hands of Christ  stretched out in generosity and fixed by nails  with the hand of Adam, stretched out in unrestrained self-indulgence. Christ is lifted up (on the cross) to reverse Adam’s downward fall. Christ ingests vinegar instead of Adam’s fruit. Christ dies for Adam’s death, and is raised so that Adam may be raised. He says, also:

All of us partake of the same Adam, and were led astray by the serpent and slain by sin, and are saved by the heavenly Adam and brought back by the tree of [the cross] to the tree of life from which we had fallen. [Oration 33.9]

This brings us back to the paradox of our lives in this world, both fallen and redeemed, redeemed and fallen. We revisit this paradox in the light of the Old and New Adam.

Let us look at what is practically the last mention of Adam in the Old Testament, in Genesis chapter 5, drawing from the Septuagint Greek translation:

This is the book of the origin of human beings. On the day that God made Adam, he made him according to the divine image; male and female he made them, and he blessed them. And he named their name “Adam” on the day that he made them. Now Adam lived two hundred thirty years and became a father, according to his form and according to his image, and named his name Seth. And the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth amounted to seven hundred years, and he had sons and daughters. And all the days of Adam, that he lived, amounted to nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.

God makes “Adam”  meaning humanity, male and female  in his image. And then Adam, having fallen, has a son according to his image. And what follows in this chapter is a long genealogy that leads to Noah, who lives in an age of violence and depravity. This shows us what “the fall” is: human beings, created in the divine image, are now in the image of Adam. God is not gone, nor is his image in us, but now everyone who is born, is in Adam’s image as well as in God’s.

We know what follows. Jesus Christ, the living image of God, is born in history. The pre-eternal Son of the Living God, is born of a woman, a virgin  herself born in the image of Adam, and he lives a fully human life. It is this Jesus, this New Adam, fully divine and fully human, who restores the image of God. And so, now we may live in Christ, we may die in Christ, and be raised in Christ.

The paradox remains, but it is entirely redefined. Life and death are transfigured by God, in the life and death of his Son. The divine image is restored in all its splendor, and that image, or icon, is Jesus Christ, the New Adam. But like every dimension of our life in the world as Christians in the Church, this restoration is both a gift and a calling.

Our baptism is our death. From that point onward we are alive in Christ, in the Church, through the sacraments. Death, which continues to bind us biologically, no longer defines us spiritually. This is a gift, given to us freely. It is also our calling to take it up, at every moment of our lives. At every moment we may choose to live in the Old Adam  to yield to the self-justifying call of the serpent and pursue a deification without the cross  or to live in the New Adam, taking up the cross and following Christ.

Our call, “Adam, where are you?”, now finally yields to the constant seeking out of the New Adam, and the constant calling out to him by his holy name: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Our paradoxical life as fallen yet redeemed persons is now taken up by the task of constantly reorienting our perspective, training our sites on Christ, the true image of God. That’s what we’re to do in and through the Church, Christ’s body. This is the meaning of asceticism, our universal calling: the redirection of our whole person, mind, body and soul. Living in Christ, we continue to suffer, we continue to be tempted, we continue to sin. But all this is decisively overcome, changed.

But that is not the only message of the gospel. The other vital message that God gives us in the New Adam is that he loves us beyond measure. He gives everything to us. And he knows our suffering in this life of paradox, because he enters it. He is not simply watching passively. No, he knows our pain, and he comes to experience it to its very fullest extent.

With our gaze thus fixed on the New Adam, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we cry out with all conviction and all joy: Christ is Risen!

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Peter Bouteneff teaches dogmatic theology, patristics, and spirituality at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He has a doctorate from Oxford University, where he studied under Bishop Kallistos Ware. This is a shortened version of a paper he delivered in May at the 13th Western European Orthodox Congress, held in Amiens, France. He is the author of Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives (Baker Academic, 2008).

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on forgiveness: For an offense, whatever kind may have been given, one must not only not avenge oneself, but on the contrary must all the more forgive from the heart, even though it may resist this, and must incline the heart by conviction of the word of God: “If you will not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”; and again, “pray for them which despitefully use you.” One must not nurse in one’s heart malice or hatred towards a neighbor who bears ill-will; but must strive to love him and, as much as possible, do good, following the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” And thus, if we will strive as much as lies in our power, to fulfill all this, then we may hope that Divine light will shine early in our souls, opening to us the path to the Jerusalem on High.
St. Seraphim of Sarov

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Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54



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Salt of the Earth

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

An Orthodox Christian approach to peacemaking

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 immediately 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, 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



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The Nativity of the Mother of God

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

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: 1-17). 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.
<p style=”padding-left: 30px;”> 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

Dear In Communion reader

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

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 website:

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

Recommended Reading: Fall 2009

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Hidden Holiness

by Michael Plekon

University of Notre Dame Press, $25

A poem by Matthew Brown that introduces the first chapter to Fr. Michael’s text reveals a “bottom-up” approach to holiness, which understands that the kenosis of Christ altered forever the fabric of the creation and raised humanity into God. In like manner, Brown’s poem portrays faithful people as clinging “to the roots of the saints, growing up from the ground.

Fr. Michael draws the title for his latest book from the widespread misperception that holiness is associated only with extraordinary feats. On the contrary, he argues, holiness often remains hidden from the eyes of those seeking miracles and who define the miraculous in narrow terms, in the process failing to recognize many saints. But for the author, holiness is in itself the miracle of ordinary people clinging to the roots of the saints, “growing up from the ground.”

Most striking in Plekon’s view of ordinary holiness is identifying holiness as a fully human characteristic. For example, Plekon quotes from Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation, in which Merton considers “the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.” He delivers a counter-factual definition by reflection: [The false selves that we create] “are evanescent, imaginary, alienated from others and from our true being and meaning” (pp. 51-2).

While he focused on the Orthodox Church in Living Icons, his new book reaches across Christian communions in his search for “ordinary” saints among all of Abraham’s children, including Simone Weil and Iqbal Mahsi, a Pakistani child.

Introducing the book, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams anchors readers in the common ground of the sacred, refuting those who seek to confine holiness within their own boundaries. Yet, by the same token, Plekon adheres to authentic Orthodoxy, for he is equally unwilling to distill the Gospel of Christ by homogenizing scared histories.

The book includes 16 pages illustrating ordinary holiness in photographs and icons, many in which are seldom seen images.

Ioannis Freeman

That Your Joy May Be Full

by Stephen Ritter

Regina Orthodox Press

288 pp, $28

One of the many strengths of Fr. Stephen Ritter’s book is that again and again he challenges the idea of God as a stern judge from whom salvation can only be purchased by various strategies of proving ourselves worthy.

Western theology, he writes, has spent centuries “trying to devise ways to propitiate God’s anger, and has even created laws to which He must subordinate Himself. Is it any coincidence that such thought is the driving influence behind so much destructive fundamentalism in the world today, whether Christian or non-Christian? A God above that must be constantly appeased inevitably leads to a series of rules and regulations that must be followed below  or to atheism. Along with this comes the lessening of the value of human life, the trampling of the rights of any human being.”

In a section on peacemaking, Fr. Stephen remarks on the futility of pursuing peace when we do everything we can to prevent peace in our own hearts. The nations seek peace by deals and treaties, often backed up by threats of mass murder. Those who live by the Beatitudes threaten no one. The words “blessed are the peacemakers” do not refer “to those trying to force a ‘peace’ that is artificial and unsteady [but] refers to those who have acquired the spirit of the Lord through prayer, ascetic discipline, and genuine piety.”

This is a book to read slowly and return to again and again.

Jim Forest

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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Conversations by email: Fall 2009

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

These are extracts from recent postings to the OPF’s e-mail discussion list. If you are an OPF member and wish to take part, contact Mark Pearson <markp@earlham.edu> or Jim Forest <jhforest@gmail.com>.

Fervent supplication: Here is a petition for possible inclusion in the Liturgy during the Litany of Fervent Supplication. It is intended for use in Orthodox parishes in nations that are still part of the “Coalition Forces” deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan:

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

James Campbell

jrc@owc.net

Gift from an astronaut: Forty years ago, in a cell in a Wisconsin prison, I listened via radio to the astronauts’ voices as they touched down for the first moon landing. I was in the early weeks of serving a one-year sentence for having been one of fourteen people who burned draft files as a protest of the Vietnam War.

Less than a week after the Apollo crew safely returned to Earth, I received a packet from NASA containing a color print of a photo of the Earth taken by one of the three astronauts. It hung on my cell wall for a year, until I was released, then returned with me to New York. I never knew which of the Apollo crew had sent the photo, but reports in today’s newspapers make me wonder if it wasn’t Neil Armstrong. He believes the moon landing may have helped prevent war between the US and the USSR.

“Speaking at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his becoming the first person to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, 78, said that he and the two other Apollo 11 crew members recognized that what for them had been a daring mission in space also may have helped reduce hostilities between the Soviet Union and the United States. ‘The space race faded away. It was the ultimate peaceful competition,’ said Armstrong. ‘It allowed both sides to take the high road. I’ll not assert that it was a diversion which prevented a war. Nevertheless it was a diversion’.”

What must it be like to see with one’s own eyes a world without borders and no bigger than one’s hand?

Jim Forest

jhforest@gmail.com>

Health insurance: Sometimes it helps to be simple-minded about things. I admit I don’t understand much about the insurance industry or about universal health care in other countries. But, it seems to me that the complaint in the U.S. that universal health care is a socialist plot to destroy our private enterprise system is a scamming lie. Private insurance is a socialist system.

Everyone in the system pays into the pot regardless of present need and everyone who has need takes from the pot. The system decides how much each pays and whose needs are addressed and how. The only problem is that the system today is more concerned about its own well-being than of those it is intended to serve.

Insurance of any form is no more than a “society” of members sharing the cost for their collective needs. At best, members are making monthly payments for a product before they actually receive it. Does it matter if the scam is run by the government or business? We need to figure out how to hold them accountable whoever they are.

I may be too simple, but I think we should get over our simplistic fear of socialism and just figure out the best way to provide for people. Forgive me if I put my fingers in my ears when the capitalist choir starts singing about competition and efficiency and blah, blah, blah. The fear that putting the government in charge will lead to “undeserving” people using benefits “I paid for” is nonsense. Healthy people who own insurance are always paying for other people’s healthcare. Monthly premium? Tax? What’s the difference? All I know is I can’t afford any of it at the moment. If we can reform how it is done so that it is affordable and then hold the system accountable, I don’t care who I pay. I enjoy phone service, trash collection, fire fighting protection, police protection, highway construction, and more, all of which I “subscribe to” by my taxes or other monthly payments. When private enterprise does it better, fine; when government does it better, also fine. Lets get our ideologies and isms out of the way so we can be human and get together to get it done.

In late Roman times and in early Europe, the Church cared for its own and welcomed others in, society said “what a fine idea,” and started creating hospital systems. Let’s go back to basics and start setting an example for society at large to emulate, as Christ and the Apostles suggested with the whole body caring for its members.

We, as members of a Christian peace organization, should encourage social cooperation and responsibility as broadly as possible while remembering who our Master is and that his ways are not the same as the world’s ways. Ultimately, we need to encourage each other to live hospitably and peacefully in service to each other no matter the cost to us or the chaos around us while striving to get over the disappointment that the cost and chaos are not going away.

Pieter Dykhorst

pietspad@gmail.com

Back home: After almost nine years in Romania, Joel and I have returned to US and are now living in Wilmore, Kentucky, the college town where we first met and where Joel will be pursuing a master’s degree MA in counseling.

The boys have adjusted well. We appreciate all the educational possibilities here and have found many friends. We’re living close to my parents and having a day with grandma each week is a dream come true.

The transition from missionary life for Joel and me is rockier. I feel like Rip van Winkle waking up to a different world than I lived in ten years ago. What keeps coming to mind is societal insanity. I see the cycles of lust, greed, consumption, self-absorption and waste as ultimately running us into the ground. Sadly, I see these cycles in myself and know I can say, with Paul, that I am chief among sinners.

I am seeking how I can reconcile being a stay-at-home mom with my activist side. Though my time is limited, I hope to become involved with local ministries and peace groups (perhaps one that has no Orthodox representatives) not only to live what I believe but also to help me lift my eyes out of my own little world.

Our work as missionaries in Romania would still be going on, but we had to return home because of our son Simeon’s medical needs. Recent discussions on the OPF List regarding healthcare are very close to home. I have actually cried on the phone this week with healthcare providers over problems with getting appointments, so I understand the urgency of getting the current, broken system fixed.

Monica Klepac

monicaklepac@yahoo.com

Prayer for enemies: Yesterday I had a letter from a friend about an experience she had of praying for a student who had been angry with her for a grade she had given him plus some feedback he didn’t agree with.

Though the student wasn’t her enemy, he seemed to regard her as his enemy. Recalling Christ’s advice about praying for enemies, she decided to begin praying for her student. The next few weeks in the classroom were difficult & his anger was obvious. “But God gave me an incredible amount of compassion for him,” she told me, “and also showed me that I should have communicated with him more sensitively.

“One day he came back to class to pick up something after the other students were gone. Clearly he wasn’t feeling well. I just said that I was sorry and hoped he would be feeling better soon. He then began to cry. We talked for about an hour. He shared many things with me including his rejection of the angry, wrathful God he was brought up to believe in. I mainly listened, but also shared some of my own journey.”

My friend ended up giving him a book that she thought might help, Mountain of Silence. They’ve had more conversations. Things have changed dramatically, both in the classroom and in the student’s life.

Jim Forest

jhforest@gmail.com

A change of heart: Many years ago, I described a particularly painful situation to another monk. He suggested that  whenever this individual’s abuse of me came to mind – I should offer a prayer for her. I did this, and it helped enormously. What happens when we do this is a lot like forgiveness. A change occurs in our own hearts, and it doesn’t matter in the least whether or not our “enemies” know that we pray for them or forgive them. The change in our own hearts relieves us of great stress and even of sin, and makes it possible for us to think about our “enemies” more benevolently, and so to engage them more kindly the next time we meet.

Monk James Silver

frjsilver@verizon.net

Sand bags: Sometimes the best one can manage is to throw a roadblock in the way of the thoughts of enmity, anger, and recrimination before they can move in to take over our mental “real estate.” The Jesus Prayer is certainly good for that, like a row of sand bags before rising water.

Alex Patico

alexanderpatico@aol.com

Healing: To forgive is so healing for the one doing the forgiving, the interceding. It may even play a part in our bodily health in a holistic way. I wonder, too, about the one for whom intercession is made. Holding someone up into the stream of God’s love surely has some effect, as well. Perhaps God finds ways of showing such a person he or she is loved, and that makes a difference in the person’s life. Perhaps a respite of peace or encouragement visits the person in ways only known to God.

Sally Eckert

sally.eckert@gmail.com

Economics and illness: I make my living as a psychotherapist. It seems to me that my patients fall into three groups. Some would be in my office no matter what state of the world they are born into. In other words, they would have mental and emotional illnesses regardless of the nature of the society, economy, and culture that they are in. Another group have no mental or emotional illness; they are normal people who are stressed out by living in the crazy society that we have created. And the rest are people who have some emotional and mental problems that are intrapsychic, but made much worse by living in our crazy system.

This has made me much more sensitive to cultural and societal factors in creating and exacerbating people’s issues. So, in the past four years or so I have spent a lot of time studying economics. I have decided that it is a much bigger issue than I previously thought. I am a bit angry at myself for looking down on it when I was studying classics and theology back in college.

It is now clear to me that ideas about money, property, and the fair handling of them pervade everything else we think. Our thoughts become congruent with one another (except, of course, for inconsistencies that we don’t even notice), and often the economic idea forces others into submission.

So we have the case here in America that we believe our ideas about free markets, private property, and the like simply must be right and true and we turn around and make our philosophical and theological ideas follow after our economic principles.

One result of this is that Christianity in America has become the champion of capitalism and our form of democracy. Many followers of American Christianity (by no means all, but a great many) simply ignore and deny the inconsistency of capitalism and our form of democracy with Biblical teachings about justice, care for the poor, and peacemaking.

All of which is to say, I think it is imperative that OPF spend a significant portion of time discussing economic issues. They contain within them the roots of war. As I never tire of quoting St. James the Brother of the Lord, “What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have, so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war.”

David Holden

davidholden1@bellsouth.net

Regarding Satan: Throughout the Gospel Jesus demonstrates how little power Satan has – the demons have to beg Christ’s permission to flee His presence and enter the swine. We use that in our baptismal exorcism when we say that Satan does not have power even over swine. Neither the Gospel nor the Bible as a whole hold to belief in dualism  where Satan is God’s equal and opposite and God and Satan are at war with each other on almost equal footing. The Old Testament gives very little credit to Satan for anything and rarely mentions him or demons. There are false gods which the Old Testament soundly condemns and certainly Christians should recognize that if we think Satan is divinity in some form  holding such power over creation  we have made him into a god, and that is a false god.

Our baptismal prayers ban Satan from people’s lives permanently. He has no power over us, let alone power over all the kingdoms of the world  that is Satan’s self deception. He is lying to Christ when he declares he has power over all these kingdoms he is the father of lies. He is lying and deceiving and is self deceived.

Jesus’ kingdom indeed is not of this world not of the supposed power, domination and coercion of this world. This doesn’t mean that all kingdoms of this world are pure evil. God used those kingdoms to carry out His will. That is the claim of the prophets about Babylon, Persia, Egypt or Rome. Their downfall was that they did not understand their power came from God and assumed they defeated Israel because of their gods or their own goodness.

If all world power comes from Satan, how could there be kings or princes who become saints? It would mean that God’s salvation and kingdom cannot reach kings, presidents, princes, emperors.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

frted@stpdayton.org

The tears of things: Not everything is broken beyond repair. The stars on a clear night, the sounds of birds, those great waterfalls and that broad and deep river you live near, a child’s hand reaching for yours. These are not broken. The sinfulness and brokenness and woundedness of human beings have led the whole creation to groan, as St. Paul puts it, because we have hurt the animals and the forests and even the mountains and oceans but we and the fallen angels are the fallen creatures.

The rest of the world still has its ancient splendor. That’s why the pigs we hear about in the Gospel drowned themselves  they couldn’t stand for demons to be within them. They, unlike us, are not fallen creatures and know evil when it comes to them.

Our sadness is due not only to the realization that everything beautiful dies but that our experience of the beauty we behold is itself so temporary. We see flowers and hear great music and some part of us knows that this is the future, that they are ambassadors from the Kingdom yet to come. We get glimpses of a Beauty in and around and beyond all things. But only glimpses. Only moments. Then we go back to the colorless and the formless and the emptiness that fill our days. Heartbreaking. But not hopeless.

David Holden

davidholden1@bellsouth.net

Help make OPF better known

Though our members are in every continent and jurisdiction, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship remains unknown to most Orthodox Christians.

You could help make OPF better known if you would suggest persons to whom an OPF information packet could be sent.

If you provide us with an address, we’ll send a letter and folder, a copy of In Communion and an OPF poster.

Consider suggesting not only close friends but rectors of parishes.

Jim Forest

incommunion@gmail.com

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

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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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