Archive for the ‘Letters from the Editor’ Category

Letter from the Editor

Friday, June 6th, 2014

monks1

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

—Paschal Troparion, sung by monks in Kiev standing in the line of fire between police and protesters

Dear friends,
Likely you are aware of the events that have swept Ukraine onto front pages everywhere and to the brink of civil war in recent weeks. You probably know too that by January 19th, three people had been killed by police, crude barricades had been erected in the Maidan––Kiev’s central Freedom Square—between police and protesters, government buildings had been occupied by loosely organized protesters, and the police were mandated to be tough in restoring public order. And that the first of many fires were lit as the city began to burn.

You have no doubt seen the pictures of the monks who, on the morning of the 20th, stepped into the middle and stood on the Maidan between riot-ready police and angry protesters and said no to violence. The protesters had invited them to side with the people after the Church had been asked to support the government. They did neither. They demanded peaceful resolution and risked their own lives as proof of their seriousness.

Why am I mentioning it here? Is it because since the 20th things have gotten so out of hand and complicated in Ukraine, as these kinds of dramas have so often of late, that I will now pretend to have something new and profound to say about it?
No. I have nothing. I do not pretend to understand the complicated workings of Ukraine’s politics or society––or the virtue and violence that are manifest on all sides––and the further down this road Ukraine goes, the harder it will be to sort out. Instead I want to zero in on one thing, perhaps the thing, in this story that I think matters in the midst of it all:
The monks got it right!

They got faith right. They got courage right. They got love right. They got the Church as mediator right. They got their apolitical witness right, regardless of their personal political perspectives. Their apolitical, Saint-like action before the entire world––which seems to have barely noticed––showed Christians that we are in control of our witness and that Christ-like witness matters in every arena. They showed us that outcomes should not matter to us but that God is in control of outcomes.

For a brief moment, however, a crack appeared in the fortress-like wall of violence that helps hold the gates of hell in place. A moment of solidarity formed, as clergy from other Orthodox jurisdictions—the fathers who led were of the Russian Patriarchate, symbolically significant because they would have been presumed to side with the government and did not officially represent the demographic of most of the protesters—came and stood with them. At least one Protestant minister did too, and a Catholic priest, and a very small handful of the civilian population; a few police prayed with the monks and sang the Paschal Troparion but didn’t join them, though since then no small number have defected from their ranks. An Orthodox website published a document called Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine condemning violence, strictly calling the government and all others in positions of influence to immediately engage in dialogue, and calling on all to pray and begin behaving like Christians. It is a stiffly worded document and pledges all who signed it (including many clergy from various Orthodox juris-dictions––themselves showing unusual solidarity in these days) to repentance and a renewed commitment to Christian deportment in their conduct in the public interest.

Briefly, then, for the space of a held breath, it seems, the police held their fire and the people said they would hold their stones for as long as the monks stood there. But what if all the Christians had dropped what they held in their hands—the police their guns, and the protesters their Molotov cocktails and rocks—and had instead stood with them? Would the crack have widened? Would it have become a chasm through which grace would pour?

On February the 20th, a truce called by the Ukrainian president, prior to which twenty-six people had died, ended after less than twelve hours as violence not only re-erupted, but rapidly escalated. In less than a few hours, police had killed between seventy and a hundred people and injured many more as protesters took police hostage, threw fire bombs, and some with guns shot back. A video was released later in the morning of a police sniper lying prone on the grass and carefully shooting towards the crowd as other officers stood nervously by—they were clearly not under attack. Reports say many of the protesters from among the crowds in the Maidan died from single gunshots to their heads. Another video showed a police officer on fire, the victim of a thrown Molotov cocktail.

Words fail.

The next day, news came that the interior minister, who was responsible for carrying out the strategy of violence in dealing with the protesters, had been sacked and the President had signed an agreement with opposition leaders. A few days later, after more violence, the President went into exile. Today, a scanty calm holds as political tension builds and a new government forms. Will the crack widen or will the edifice of violence strengthen? Tomorrow the news may swing the other way again. But I close with a thought on the lasting accomplishment of the monks.

The monks who led in their incredible witness to peace were not naïve and they did not fail. We don’t know who didn’t die because of their courage or how their resolute faith mitigated against the totality of violence or ultimate protraction of the conflict, or how Christians watching, indeed the Church, were strengthened in their faith. We don’t know––but be assured, no action is without its residual effects. We must only choose our action. Standing for peace and choosing non-violence is not a strategy with a desired outcome like civil, political, or military strategies are. Nor is it for the uncertain, the weak, or the cowardly––read the interview with them that follows this letter and look again at the pictures and determine for yourself what kind of men they are. Heaven is populated with Saints such as these.

Hear them as they sing!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Who knows how much worse the world would be if we didn’t pray, or how much better it will become if we do? God help us all to pray.

Courage, my friends!

Pieter Dykhorst

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:10-17).

Letter from the Editor: Pieter Dykhorst

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Dear friends,

This morning as I searched for some gem by St. Maximos the Confessor to offer as the first word on our theme “Peace: a word with meaning” before I send the issue off to the printer, I found this seemingly random, but relevant, verse instead: “A man writes either to assist his memory, or to help others, or for both reasons.” Amusingly, almost all writers (and editors) I know seem motivated to some degree by bad memory—paper and ink, and hard drives, are miracles! But that aside, it is the bit about helping others that stood out for me this morning.

In Communion is an offering of help as an act of love, each and every issue, nothing more and nothing less. I was reminded recently by my favorite priest that a good sermon should “simply share what we have been given.” I find that good advice generally. Every essay by our authors, every word squeezed into our tiny journal by your editor, is intended as an offering of what we have been given.

And that brings me to what that offering is, to that word, “Peace.” Is there a word more central to Christianity? Is there a word more ironically fought over and strangely employed in conflicted ways than the word peace? We attempt in this issue some effort to reclaim and restore to proper use this most amazing of words that has been so curiously euphemized, politicized, parsed, pimped, and distorted.

You’ll notice we’ve departed from the pattern of offering an icon with a cover story. In this issue, we intend to make clear from cover to cover that Christ and Peace are one and the same: the entire issue is the cover story! But our strategy extends beyond this single issue of In Communion. We aim for two things: creating tools that can help us grow OPF and spread the word, and our 2013 conference. This issue is a planned “give away” to promote who we are and what we are about. The content also addresses the theme of our upcoming conference in Washington, D.C. this Fall: a look at the relationship of the Church to the State through the lens of how Christians, corporately and singly, live out their peacemaking vocation in society and the world, at every level of community and relationship.

You can help. First, always, simply respond to the call of Jesus our Peace and be a peacemaker in whatever circumstance you find yourself. Second, do not keep this issue of In Communion—share what you have been given with someone who might be helped by it. And third, please respond to the letter enclosed by renewing your membership if you are due, helping us to grow by giving extra if you can, or considering other ways to spread the word such as ordering extra copies to give away. We are quite simply at a place where we can happily continue to roll along with just under 500 members, though barely surviving financially, or we can make every effort to grow, increasing our capacity to give away what we have been given with a larger donor base. Truly, humbly, thank you for whatever you can do.

Pieter Dykhorst

In Communion / Winter 2013

Letter from the Editor

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

What would you do if someone broke into your house and behaved like that?” asks Fr. Alexi Uminsky of Moscow about the activist band, Pussy Riot and their sacrilegious “Punk Prayer” performed in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. It is a hard question. Most questions that begin with “what would you do…” are. But while they rarely yield universal, prescriptive answers, they are important nonetheless. By grappling with them, we learn im-portant and revealing truths about ourselves, about others, and about conflict. This process of seeking to understand, more than mere retrospection or puerile indul-gence, is a preemptive work of conflict resolution—by it we grow stronger, wiser, and better prepared as a community to know how to respond when trouble visits.

A number of OPF members have engaged in thoughtful discussion on this topic recently on our online discussion forum. At lease one is convinced this is no more than a “liberal cause de jour” and beneath our mandate. Another has taken a lighter perspective and renamed his cat Pussy Riot—if nothing else, he has redeemed the band’s unfortunate name and given it some playful dignity. Some have expressed sympathy to the group’s message and to them as they begin to serve the severe sentence imposed on them by the Russian courts. Others have focused on the profound insult to Orthodox Christians by the young women’s invasion of sacred space. Most have struggled to make sense of this “intercultural moment,” recogniz-ing in the whole affair an indefinable alien quality along with clear similarities to a kind of protest and social interaction that has long been familiar in the West. We’ve all openly wondered what is being revealed about Russia, its society and culture, the Russian Church and its state institutions, and the interplay between them all.

I sense, though, as I engage with this story, that for many of us outside Russia a myth is dying. The lovely romantic image of a monolithic Orthodox Russia bears no more likeness to reality than the less romantic image of the Evil Empire I subscribed to as a young soldier stationed in Germany just six minutes by fighter jet from the barbed-wire divider that snaked across Europe. I am learning from friends and other sources inside Russia that Russia is gripped in a very real struggle over its soul, its authentic identity, and its future, and whether Pussy Riot is a cause, a consequence, a symptom, or a sideshow, it is all tied together. But why would that be surprising? Convulsive change washes increasingly over the whole world. All of this should really only bring us closer together in prayer and neighborly love and support.

Any attempt to sort it all out would be way above my pay grade, and the 48 pages of our journal would be too few for even a brief introduction. Instead, we offer three perspectives of the reflective sort expected from In Communion through an inter-view with Fr. Uminsky, a sermon by Fr. Borisov (also of Moscow), and a comment on Orthodox culture by Deacon Steven Hayes of South Africa.

Pieter Dykhorst

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

 

Letter from the Editor IC 64

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

ON MAY 4TH, the Dutch celebrate Dodenherdenking, Remembrance of the Dead, a holiday like Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries and Veterans Day in the United States. Both of those evolved from Armistice Day, the holiday commemorating the end of WWI, but the Dutch holiday honors the Dutch who have died, civilian and military, in fighting or peacekeeping efforts in WWII and after.

This year, the celebration was marred by a controversy centered on a fifteen-year-old boy’s poem. Auke de Leeuw won the annual contest commissioned to select a poem to be read publicly at a ceremony in Amsterdam, but the poem was disallowed because, well, the man it honors fought on the wrong side of WWII. The organizing committee eventually agreed with protesting groups, stating that the poem honors a man who “was not a victim” of the war but “a perpetrator.”

Auke de Leeuw is named after his uncle, who was one of some 20,000 Dutch who for a variety of reasons fought on the German side against the Russians. As in all wars, the issues were not clear to everyone at the outset. These men and boys fought out of hatred for Communism, their own Fascist ideology, a naïve belief that they were better serving Holland, or for mere survival. Some, no doubt, believed in Germany’s cause. Auke’s uncle, Dirke, was one of five brothers (of 11 siblings) who fought in the war, the other four on the side of the Resistance. Auke’s poem illustrates the difficulty of the choices conflict forces upon people and is called The Wrong Choice. It seems from the words of the poem that Dirke Siebe felt compelled to his choice by poverty and hope for a better life.

In pausing to consider Auke’s poem, we do no disrespect to the Dutch remembrance of those Holland has lost to conflict, but rather we allow ourselves to ponder an important question we might otherwise miss. “How can we learn from our mistakes if we are not allowed to name them?” asked Auke in an interview, adding “I was born in peacetime. It is hard enough for me to make the right choices, so how must it have been for people during the war?”

The poetry contest asked Dutch youngsters to consider the effects of the war on those who experienced it in all its dimensions. Auke wanted to show that “everyone loses during a war.” His poem does that, though not in the way poems traditionally read at such national ceremonies do. In telling his story, Auke bears his uncle’s burden through remembrance and publicly confesses his own weakness in bearing the burden of choosing. He reminds us that remembering should be a work of building. Sharing the burden of choice helps us preempt future cycles of suffering and remembrance. It is a peacemaking work that strengthens community and builds bridges of compassion and understanding to others. Read Auke’s poem on page 33 in the Poetry section of IN COMMUNION.

– Pieter Dykhorst

 

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

Letter from the Editor

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Dear friends, the summary in our last issue of Fr. Patrick Reardon’s report on his visit to Syria prompted a strong reaction from a number of readers. Several responses are in our from readers section, including one from an OPF member with contacts inside Syria, describing the peacemaking efforts of one Syrian monastery. While some wondered if we endorsed Fr. Reardon’s views or the violence of Bashar Al-Assad’s government, I assure you we do not, neither do we support any violence within or toward Syria or Syrians, from any quarter.

Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in North America sent Fr. Reardon’s delegation, in response to concerns from within the Archdiocese, to investigate what he saw as contradictions between what was widely reported in the media and “the reality based on our many contacts there.” Because of the deep spiritual and cultural roots of the Archdiocese in Syria and Met. Philip’s concerns, the trip and the nature of Fr. Reardon’s views qualified as news.

The world is learning that the Christian support of Assad is a decades-old arrangement made to ensure political stability and the Christian community’s survival. But what today seems bafflingly self-serving should not be judged without understanding that Syrian Christians’ lives and fate hang, literally, in the balance between Assad and the opposition. Staying with Assad works if he wins but not if he loses, while joining the opposition brings uncertainty if they win but perhaps suicide if they lose. Their relationship with the government is like a loaded revolver that they placed at their own heads when they sided with Assad’s father as he rose to power.

All this has provided an occasion for raising necessary questions. What options exist for Syria? Are there only two, the choice between stability at the price of supporting a dictator or justice at the price of violence and war? Do paths exist that might lead without violence to just peace? What responsibilities have we who are doing the talking toward those whose lives are affected? Without belaboring the discussion, these questions bear on who we are and on our deepest conviction, and the answers either encourage us broadly as peacemakers or make us hypocrites at worst, merely confused at best.

Conditions of just peace don’t just happen. Peace is built into societies and systems slowly, deliberately, by careful architects. This has not happened in Syria. Long before the shooting started, peace became the first casualty, for offering support to a dictatorial, unjust, and oppressive regime in exchange for stability and safety is a fraud: a form of peace may exist for a while, but eventually it breaks down into the kind of violence now wracking Syria. Because justice and peace were not loved enough, stability has shattered as events spin rapidly away from peaceful change, out of the control of the principle actors and the Syrians whose lives are most affected. Now, in a climate of fear, self-preservation, hegemony, and revenge—violence begets violence—human lives are harvested as the fruit of neglect, and the work of building peace becomes exponentially more difficult.

It is not news that the commercial media love a crisis—that and change, for with these two, they foster our dependency on them, telling us what to know and how to think, pretending they have the only story to be told. That the various State actors also pursue their own self-interests relentlessly, spinning their own deceptive narratives and breeding all species of violence is also not news. The plot elements of religion, oil, the Clash of Civilizations, Islamism, Zionism, terrorism, nuclear weapons, regional hegemony, and political survival are well worn as Syria, its five neighbor States, the United States, Russia, and Iran each tell a tale.

Yet, we must not feel constrained to choose one myopic, self-interested narrative over another, each unstable, partially informed, leading to its own set of unhappy consequences. As C.S. Lewis wrote, the Devil “always sends errors into the world in pairs … of opposites,” and relies on our particular distaste of one to lead us to choose the other. Lewis reminds us of our calling to find the narrow way between errors. We Christians know that Christ calls us to consciously choose our narrative worldview by which the universe and life in it find meaning, coherence, and harmony. When we do not heed—wisely as the serpent and gently as the dove—the comprehensive claim of the Gospel on our minds, we become vulnerable to competing propaganda.

This is the bias of In Communion. As friends of Christ, we are enemies to none; accepting the love of God, we love even our enemies; loving wisdom, our ideology is to do justice, to love mercy, and to live humbly before God; as peacemakers, we advocate the Gospel principles of reconciliation, forbearance, and forgiveness; as human beings, we oppose all violence and tyranny against others, together with whom we share our humanity; as citizens of God’s Kingdom, we pledge loyalty to Him and His laws; as citizens secondarily of this world, we honor solidarity with our historical, cultural, and social groups where we share the burden of community governance, carefully in keeping with our calling; and as neighbors to all, we encourage dialogue and friendly social intercourse everywhere, imposing on no one. We must work out how we will conduct ourselves toward Syria within such a framework.

Meanwhile, we cannot be shy to speak our minds as we search together for understanding, humbly mindful of our ignorance and weakness. And, of course, we will pray that the way forward toward a just and lasting peace in Syria may soon be found before many more lives and communities are shattered or lost.

 Pieter Dykhorst