Archive for the ‘letters n statements’ Category

Orthodox Christian Statement Opposing Military Action Against Syria: Supporting narrative

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Supporting narrative

The following offers some narrative support for the Statement. Whereas the narrative supports the succinct text of the Statement, it too is necessarily brief; however, numerous supporting materials are offered as background to help broaden understanding (we will begin adding these shortly).

Please bear in mind, this is offered as support and background, not dogma. Mistakes are mine and you are invited to bring them, and dissent or support, to my attention. The supporting documents and our website hopefully fill in many blanks that may exist in the narrative.

Pieter Dykhorst

Editor, In Communion
journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

1.  The OPF foundation of the Statement:

In blessing peacemakers in the Beatitudes as the children of God, Christ makes the vocation of  healing damaged relationships a hallmark of authentic Christianity. Yet, the path of peacemaking is as messy and conflicted, individually and collectively, as is any aspect of Christian faith and living. What follows is a general summary of what we believe and how we apply it to the current situation. It cannot be taken as a dogmatic or binding statement on anyone’s conscience. We are children of the Church working out our salvation within its sanctuary; this is no exception.

a.  While not all OPF members are against all war at all times, we believe war is always an evil that comes about as a consequence of human weakness and that the good we pursue is less a negative avoidance of war but a positive, robust, and broad pursuit of just alternatives that end current wars and make future wars unnecessary. Thus, before we are “anti-war,” we are “pro-peace.”

However, the Christian peacemaking vocation is not passive. True peacemaking requires foresight and is a preventative work requiring wisdom, faith, compassion for all, courage, and a commitment to justice as well as mercy. Preemptive peacemaking undercuts the foundations of violence long before unavoidable crises that produce violence and war result.

Once war comes, violence always breeds more violence, presently or in the future as the roots of pain and suffering, bitterness and anger, revenge, division, and fear take hold and eventually bear the fruit of more violence. The Gospel is anathema to violence as a legitimate conflict resolution strategy.

b.  We believe when war seems unavoidable and does come, it is always a failure and must be terminated at the first possible opportunity and repented of after. Victory in war can never be celebrated but may sometimes be a least-bad outcome that must still be mourned: we should beg God to show us other means to resolve differences with our enemies.

There is sometimes debate among OPF members about when a war might in fact be unavoidable, when some understandable resort to violence seems necessary. We will not enter that conversation here except to acknowledge its legitimacy and to affirm our consistent opposition to violence as an acceptable conflict resolution strategy; however our website is replete with resources addressing this issue. We are united, however, in our conviction that war must never in any case be other than a truly unavoidable last resort.

We do not believe in this case that the current call to military action can possibly, in any rational framework, be considered necessary or an unavoidable last resort. Thus, we not only oppose this action but we believe there is no “economy” possible for it. Too many viable non-violent, political, legal, and humanitarian alternatives exist: they may fail, but they must be tried.

c.  We do not weigh one side’s actions against the other to make some qualitative or quantitative judgement of who is more evil and who less. Obviously, if we deem war always evil, all sides engaged in the Syrian civil war have resorted to evil solutions.

We do not base our opposition on political considerations or on party affiliations.

To be clear, we are not naive or without personal and even collective judgements: our appeal, however, rests on none of them. Active pursuit of all viable non-violent solutions requires a proper understanding of the problem. Our Statement must be understood to go beyond opposition to military action to engaging in finding and implementing just solutions.

d.  We must acknowledge that persuasive ideological, pragmatic, and sometimes impassioned arguments are being made for and against military action and that OPF members struggle with them as much as anyone might. Supporting documents address these arguments as broadly as possible.

The current situation in Syria and the region is extraordinarily complex and volatile, and we appreciate honest debate as Christians struggle for understanding and solutions. Many international actors have conflicted interests in Syria. Syria’s civil war does not consist of two monolithic entities pitted against each other: history, culture, religion, language, and ethnicity combine in a way outsiders cannot easily understand, creating a confusing mixture of loyalties and interests. Too many simplistic views are being presented in the US media and are grossly misleading because of their misunderstanding.

We make this acknowledgement and offer supporting arguments out of sympathy for those reading here who, like many of us have, may come to a similar vocational commitment through long and conscientious struggle and who value thoughtful and prayerful consideration of other views.

e.  Finally, we simply state that legal options exist for dealing with the crime of chemical weapons use. As, for many, this is taken as sufficient grounds for war, please consider that whoever–Assad, other officials, generals or lower commanders, and/or opposition forces–has used chemical weapons, this war will end and avenues for justice exist and will be viable.

The wight of evidence for guilt for the attack on 21 September may point to the Assad regime, but please consider dissenting opinions and evidence that suggests some rebel factions may also have used chemical weapons on other occasions. As a basis for war, none of this is sufficiently clear or conclusive.

2.  The Orthodox Justifiable War position:

a.  For many within the Orthodox Church there exists some uncertainty about when war may be a lesser evil or lesser good or when war may be otherwise justifiable. The OPF’s position is clearly stated in the first section above. We would not, therefore, base our opposition to any war on a conditional framework like Just War theory although we appreciate the robust debate among some Orthodox on the subject.

Our website contains many fine resources dealing with the questions of “lesser evil,” “lesser good,” and other problems created by real-world conflict scenarios.

Our comments here are restricted to the “justifiable war tradition,” as articulated and defended by Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster in his book The Virtue of War because he argues strongly that the contemplated military attack on Syria would not be justifiable. His books are listed in the bibliography. Any further supporting comments from him will be linked as we are made aware of them. He makes a distinction between Western Just War Theory and what he considers to be an Orthodox justifiable war tradition, an argument developed in his book. he has also written an excellent book on the pacifist tradition within Orthodoxy called The Pacifist Option.

b.  Obviously, our consistent opposition to war would not always find common cause with opposition from within a conditional moral framework. But in this case, the OPF finds it helpful to include in our statement an appeal to those who adhere to justifiable war principles. Fr. Alexander argues a “dual trajectory” (of pacifism and justifiable war) within Orthodoxy, and we feel that when we can agree in opposition to a particular war, it only strengthens our appeal and Orthodox unity to do so.

We thank Fr. Alexander for his contribution to crafting a clause in the Statement that allows us to include his “rail” in the dual trajectory, thus allowing him to support us and broaden our appeal to all Orthodox who are concerned about principled approaches to war within Orthodox moral tradition.

c.  We are concerned about the trend among some Orthodox to base their support or opposition to this or any war on purely political, prudential, or other transient moral/ethical grounds. This narrative with supporting documents, not to mention our entire website, intends to help Orthodox who are seeking moral clarity by furthering healthy and informed discussion.

d.  Additional considerations of justifiable war principles applied to the current situation regarding possible US involvement in Syria will be added to our supporting documents. Good sources to include are welcome. Please send these to me at Important points include:

  1. Consideration of punishment for crossing a “red line,” violating an international humanitarian norm, ignoring a US threat, committing a war crime;
  2. Considerations of deterrence against future use of WMD;
  3. Considerations of how this would be a defensive war from the US perspective;
  4. Considerations of what US involvement would look like in a defensive war from the Syrian perspective (including the government’s perspective and Syrian civilian’s perspective);
  5. Considerations of rules of proportionality;
  6. Considerations of non-combatant immunity (re: collateral damage);
  7. Considerations of prompt termination when a clear and just goal is met;
  8. Considerations of last resort;
  9. Consideration of whether doctrines of “Responsibility to Protect” accord with the Justifiable War tenet of just cause.

It is our contention, aside from the OPF’s clear and consistent opposition to all violent conflict resolution strategies, that the contemplated US action would not be merely problematic under a justifiable war framework but would clearly violate all its basic tenets.

We anticipate robust disagreement on one or more points but welcome honest and careful argument in opposition.

3.  Other Orthodox and Christian non-Orthodox positions being discussed:

a.  The OPF locates its opposition to war in the positive and robust vocational peacemaking principles of the Gospel as articulated by Christ, the Apostles, Fathers of the Church, Saints, and contemporary Orthodox writers as well as in numerous writings and icons found throughout our tradition and history. As such, our position seeks to preclude what might otherwise be self-serving, rational, or prudential arguments.

We do not reject those but rather believe them to be transient and reversible and thus not sufficient alone, certainly not foundational.

There are many such arguments currently circulating. We will address as many as is reasonable in our supporting documents; we briefly address two here:

b.  Those whose lives, loved ones, property, and way of life are existentially threatened as the Christians’ are in Syria cannot be considered self-serving in their cry for help from harm. We stand in prayer and tears with all Syrian’s particularly our Christian friends and family, praying daily for prompt peaceful resolution to the conflict. We ask God for wise and courageous leadership to show us how this may be accomplished and for the strength to follow.

Nevertheless, we see no help in the US plan to intervene. Those who disagree are invited to include their views in our conversation. We hope to include these in our supporting documents.

b. Last, we suggest recent polls in the US showing unprecedented opposition among the electorate must surely carry some weight. We do not base our position on transient popular sentiment, but this might be a convergent moment when the sheer weight of dissent from diverse quarters must give pause. We acknowledge minority voices are often lonely prophetic voices and the current majority view does not imply the minority is wrong. We merely take pause.

A concluding statement

Nothing thus far should be taken as an exhaustive or exclusive presentation of important issues and points. We are acting under time constraints and wish to get this posted and to begin adding supporting documents. All feedback is welcome.

Things not mentioned here may be found under categories in the supporting documents.

Thank you,

Pieter Dykhorst
Editor, In Communion
journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship


An Open Letter on a Looming Disaster in Iran

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Dear OPF members and Friends:

In recent days, there has been a proliferation of reports indicating that Israel is preparing an attack on Iran and that it may occur in late September or sometime in October. Never mind that a majority of Israelis do not favor such a step at this time. Never mind that the United States has repeatedly indicated that our intelligence does not support the same feeling of urgency that some of the Israeli leaders evince. Never mind that military experts in both Israel and the United States have cautioned against taking that plunge into such dark and murky waters. Those who are in a position to know feel that it may be likely.

Apparently calculations are being made regarding the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and the possible impact of an Israeli strike on that political equation. Just as Iran waited for Ronlald Reagan to take office to release the Tehran Embassy hostages as a way of punishing Jimmy Carter, Israel might launch a strike (so the theory goes) in expectation of greater U.S. Buy-in or actual participation if it should occur prior to the November election.  It is even reported that official estimates have been made of the projected number of Israeli dead that would result should Iran respond with missile attacks (about 500 persons), and deemed tolerable.

President Obama urges patience, but says “all options are on the table” (code for military intervention by the U.S.). The decision may not entirely rest with him, since America will almost certainly be expected to act as a guarantor of Israel’s security, no matter what happens, based on its repeated official assurances over the years.

For those of us who oppose violations of human rights whether in an Iranian court, at an Israeli road-block, or at Guantanamo, and loss of life wherever it occurs, what should we say about another war in the Middle East? How should we consider pre-emptive war—that which is not justified by  imminent danger, but by perceived potential danger? How should we react to the monstrous calculus of risk that is being done right now in U.S. and Israeli strategy meetings?

Because we are children of God before we are citizens of the United States, Canada, or any other country, we must bring the discussion back to its fundamentals: We are our brothers’ keepers—we cannot sit on the sidelines as spectators at a calamity we might help prevent.

“War,” observed General Sherman, “is Hell.” It is not for us to condemn anyone to the hell of war, despite the fear we may feel or the evil we imagine in another. As Solzhenitsyn wrote “the line between good and evil runs straight through every human heart.” War is always like a bucket filled by a fire-hose—it quickly overflows its intended container, and much is spilled that no one planned to spill. The Law of Unintended Consequences could frame a thumbnail history of the wars mankind has fought. The “good war” is like a flying elephant: something dreamt of but never seen.

America has gone to war in the Middle East repeatedly in recent years—against the Soviets in Afghanistan through our Taliban proxies, then with NATO allies against the Taliban, then against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein (whom we had earlier supported against Iran) based on false, or falsified, information. Even if the first sorties against Iranian targets are carried out only by Israeli planes, this will be a war that quickly involves the United States and its allies, and that will profoundly impact many nations of the world.

Speculation is rampant about the reaction of the Islamic Republic of Iran to an attack, ranging from covert mischief to long-range missiles, from the closing of the Strait of Hormuz to bombings in European or American cities. No one, in fact, can say what form their response might take, but we can be sure that it will not be anything any sane person would desire. It is rare for an act of aggression not to result in retaliation.

As a collection of people who dare to call ourselves Orthodox Christians, we must consider the proposed war with Iran an avoidable catastrophe. Our grounding in scripture (e.g. “turn the other cheek” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword”) and patristic wisdom (e.g. “Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker” –St. Basil the Great) leads us to advocate non-military approaches.

At this point, who can say that every conceivable means has been tried to arrive at a peaceable solution? We are in fact far from certain that Iran is even developing a nuclear weapons capability, despite massive attempts by human intelligence and electronic surveillance designed to reach such a conclusion.

How much of our treasure has actually been spent on finding common ground? We know that the alternative will be horribly expensive in both money and lives. Are we doomed to repeat and make still worse the blunders and failed thinking that have characterized the past fifty years of Iran’s relations with the West?

We pray to God for guidance for our leaders, and implore them to consider deeply the consequences of decisions they take today and in the coming weeks and months. Those who prepare for war, usually get war; those who prepare for peace may find it.

While the current alarm may turn out to be simple posturing or even hysteria, those pushing for an attack on Iran are determined and influential and will seek new oppor-tunities to achieve their aim. We must remain equally vigilant and active as we think, pray, and seek to promote viable avenues to peacefully avoiding this looming disaster.

We ask that you would prayerfully consider how you might help circulate this letter. We suggest posting it on your Facebook page, emailing it to friends, copying it and sharing it on Sunday with fellow parishioners, sending it to an elected representative, or mailing a summary in your own words as a letter to the editor of your local paper.

Signed by the following (alphabetical by last name):

V. Rev. John Breck, Professor emeritus, St Sergius Theological Institute, Paris
Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Pieter Dykhorst, Editor, In Communion
Sally Eckert, Eagle River, AK
Jim Forest, International Secretary, OPF, author/speaker
Justin Grimmond, OPF Canada Coordinator
Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, author/speaker
Alexander Patico, North American Secretary, OPF

Eric Simpson, Medford, OR, author

Philip Tamoush, Redondo Beach, CA

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Renee Zitzloff, Minneapolis, MN

We append the following as useful resources for the general reader:

1. A summary of just war theory (JWT):  In Special Report 98: Would an Invasion of Iraq Be a “Just War”?, published in January 2003 by the United States Institute of Peace*, the director of the Religion and Peacemaking Initiative, David Smock, offered the following summary of the basic principles of “just war” doctrine:

  • Legitimate Authority: Requiring that only legitimate officials may decide to resort to force is one way to protect against arbitrariness.
  • Just Cause: The three standard, acceptable causes are self-defense, recovery of stolen assets, and punishment for wrong-doing.
  • Peaceful Intention: The intention is to use force to achieve peace, using force to restrain and minimize force.
  • Last Resort: Before turning to war, all reasonable approaches to a peaceful resolution need to be employed.
  • Reasonable Hope of Success: In going to war, there must exist the reasonable expectation of successfully obtaining peace and reconciliation between the warring parties.
  • Proportionality: The suffering and devastation of war must not outweigh whatever benefits may result from war.
  • Discrimination or Noncombatant Immunity: The means of warfare must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.

*The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan federal institution created by Congress to promote the prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

Note: A new addition to just-war theory, promulgated by Franciscan Naval Chaplain Louis Iasiello, newly-named head of the Washington Theological Seminary, has drawn some attention. He adds jus post bellum (justice after a war) to considerations of justice of and during war.

2. An Orthodox alternative approach to JWT:  It should be noted that there is a sizable and respectable thread of Christian thought which considers no war “just.” Fr. John McGuckin is professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and professor of Byzantine History at Columbia University. An essay of his, which appeared as a chapter in The Church’s Witness to Peace, edited by Fr. K. Kyriakos, is excerpted here:

Eastern Christianity simply does not approach the issue from the perspective of “Just War,” and endorses no formal doctrine advocating the possibility of a “Just War.”…Its approach is…more complex and nuanced.

Christian reflection in the eastern Church has…been more careful than the West, to remind itself of the apocalyptic and mysterious nature of the Church’s place within history and on the world-stage, and has stubbornly clung to a less congratulatory theory of the morality of War…because it sensed that such a view was more in tune with the principles of the Gospels.

[It has been] argued that the Church progressively relaxed its earliest blanket hostility to bloodshed and the military profession in general…. And yet, no Eastern Christian attitudes to war…have ever borne much relation to classic Hellenistic and Roman war theory.

Origen [of Alexandria]…was pacifist in his attitudes to war and world powers, and was sternly against the notion of the Church advocating its transmission and spread by force of arms.

Basil of Caesarea…emerged as one of the leading theorists of the Christian move-ment…. Eventually the entire corpus of the Basilian Epistles entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Eastern Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.

All violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here [in Basil] stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be “necessary” or “unavoidable” (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never “justifiable.” Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the cathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is “be penitent.” Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.

When it falls across the threshold of the Church in an unavoidable way, it sometimes becomes our duty (so the old canons say) to take up arms; though when that is the case is to be determined in trepidation by the elect who understand the value of peace and reconciliation, not in self-glorifying battle cries from the voices of the bloodthirsty and foolish. But in no case is the shedding of blood, even against a manifestly wicked foe, ever a “Just Violence.”

The eastern canons…retain that primitive force of Christian experience on that front. It may be the “Violence of the Just” but in that case the hostility will necessarily be ended with the minimal expenditure of force, and be marked in retrospect by the last act of the “violent Just” which will be repentance that finally resolves the untenable paradox. Ambivalent and “occasional” such a theory of War might be: but if it had been followed with fidelity, the Church’s hands might have been cleaner than they have been across many centuries; and it might yet do a service on the wider front in helping Western Christianity to dismantle its own “economic” structures of war theory which are so patently in need of radical re-thinking. Perhaps the place to begin…is here and now: with “Christian America” at the dawn of a new millennium, in which we seem to have learned nothing at all from generations of bitter experience of hostility: except the hubris that international conflicts can be undertaken “safely” now that other super-powers are currently out of commission…. In such a strange new millennium, perhaps the wisdom of the need to be tentative, finds a new power and authority.

3. Bibliography:  

A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, Trita Parsi, PhD (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012). Parsi heads the largest membership organization of Iranian-Americans in the United States; he is a former congressional aide.

Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling with the Ghosts of History, Hon. John Limbert (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009. Limbert, a former Peace Corps staff person, professor and diplomat, was a Tehran Embassy hostages in 1979-80.

The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, William O. Beeman (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005). Beeman is a professor at The University of Minnesota, where he is Chair of the Department of Anthropology.

What is Iran?: A Primer on Culture, Politics and Religion, Laurie Blanton Pierce (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2009). Pierce spent two years in Iran with her husband and children, studying at an Islamic seminary; she is Mennonite.

Isfahan, a World Heritage Site, contains many of the world’s most outstanding examples of Islamic art and architecture. It is the crown jewel of Iranian cities and the third largest with a population of about 2 million. It is an important center of education, manufacture, technology, and agricultural research.

Isfahan, a World Heritage Site, contains many of the world’s most outstanding
examples of Islamic art and architecture. It is the crown jewel of Iranian cities and the third
largest with a population of about 2 million. It is an important center of education,
manufacture, technology, and agricultural research.


The nuclear facility adjacent to Isfahan is a certain target with hundreds of buildings sprawled over 150 acres, making anypinpoint attack to destroy the facility impossible.

The nuclear facility adjacent to Isfahan is a certain target with hundreds of buildings sprawled over 150 acres, making anypinpoint attack to destroy the facility impossible.


❖ Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

A Letter from the (Retiring) Editor

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
the OPF newsletter in 1991

The OPF newsletter, The Occasional Paper, in 1991

This is the last issue of In Communion that I’ll be editing. Pieter Dykhorst, an old friend and long-time member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is taking over the job. After this issue goes to press, I’ll be joining the community of people helping as associate editors.

It’s not easy to stop doing a work that has been so significant to me, but – after twenty-one years at the job – it’s time. I’ll be turning seventy in November and want to clear more space in my life for reading, writing and wandering.

Books, newspapers, journals and magazine have figured in my life since I was in the very early stages of literacy. Would that I still had a copy of a one-page family newspaper I made by hand using an alphabet of my own design. A year or two later, having become reasonably literate, mother gave me a set of hard rubber type in several fonts and sizes plus a tiny rotary press with which I turned out a midget publication that could be read by others. By the time I was ten, there were afternoons when I hung around the local daily newspaper, The Red Bank Register, watching several men set type from molten zinc on linotype machines. Occasionally one of them set a headline with my name – an instant treasure. In seventh grade, I started a school paper that was christened The Flame. In high school, on the staff of a monthly student newspaper, I was aware how lucky we were to have as faculty adviser a man who had been a journalist for The New York Times.

The first publication of real consequence that I worked with was The Catholic Worker. Its monthly print run was about 90,000 copies and its circulation was international. Encouraged by Dorothy Day, I acquired enough experience eventually to be appointed managing editor. Later on I was assistant editor of a monthly magazine called Liberation, whose focus at the time was on civil rights and whose authors included James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King.

first issue of In Communion

First issue of In Communion, February 1995

Since then I have been involved with many other publications – newspapers, business journals, press agencies, news services, magazines – but none of these meant more to me or involved me for so long a time as In Communion.

I’ve seen the journal move from a simple two-page newsletter called The Occasional Paper (launched in 1987 by Mariquita Platov and Jim Larrick) to something more substantial after they asked me, late in 1990, to take over the job. It remained quite an occasional paper until 1995, when the newsletter became a quarterly journal named In Communion. (You hold the 61st issue in your hands.)

I don’t recall anything that, on reflection, I wish we hadn’t published. Articles have covered a very wide spectrum – the prevention and ending of war, the making of peace, hospitality, the protection of life at every stage and circumstance of its development, aspects of spiritual life, biblical studies, nonviolent alternatives and the lives of the saints. (Our year-after-year attention to the life and writings of Mother Maria Skobtsova may have played a part in her canonization.)

Thanks to the web, most of what we have published over the years is available at the click of a mouse button via the OPF’s much-visited In Communion site.

I’m delighted Pieter Dykhorst will be my successor. He has experience in all the key areas that the editorship of In Communion requires. It was during a two-year stint Pieter had in Albania that I first met him – I was then writing a book about the resurrection of the Albanian Church and he was working closely with Archbishop Anastasios, a member of our advisory board. Pieter was born in South Africa. He is now in the last stages of completing a master of science degree in international/inter-cultural conflict resolution. As it happens, he lives in Washington, DC, and thus is in the same area as Alex Patico, OPF’s secretary in North America, making face-to-face collaboration between them not only possible but easy.
I’m looking forward to the Fall issue.

– Jim Forest

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011