Archive for the ‘Summer Issue IC 57 2010’ Category

Dear In Communion reader,

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

opf summer 2010

August 2010

Dear In Communion reader,

At the eucharistic Liturgy, the word “peace” or “peaceful” is heard at least forty times. Its final use is in the Prayer at the Ambo at the end of the service: “Give peace to your world, to your churches, to the priests, to all in civil authority, and to all your people.” The Liturgy itself is an experience of God’s peace.

Yet in many parishes peace is far from obvious once the Liturgy has ended. In one dramatic instance several years ago, the priest of an Orthodox parish in the US shot himself in the foot while in a struggle with the president of the parish council (the bullet was meant for his opponent). Many Orthodox families are torn by bitter internal conflict. Antagonism between Orthodox jurisdictions is a grim reality of Church life. Orthodox Christians can even be found poised to kill each other in the armies of their respective nations — such killing happened not long ago in the war between Georgia and Russia.

With realities like these in mind, I’m deeply grateful that we have Fr. John Mefridge’s article on peacemaking in this issue of In Communion. It’s practical, down-to-earth and at the same time theologically grounded. If we carry out our plans to produce a series of OPF booklets for parish use, Fr. John’s text will be a must.

The article by Kate Karam Moore poses a related challenge — that Orthodox Christians should play a much more significant role in efforts to outlaw torture, which in recent years has not only become a more common practice but, repackaged as “enhanced interrogation methods,” has become an accepted tool in “the war against terrorism.” (OPF in North America has recently become a member of the National Religious Coalition Against Torture.)

These are a subjects of ongoing significance for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Sadly, it is rare to hear about them in other Orthodox journals or to find such material on other Orthodox web sites.

We cannot carry on our work without your help. Thank you for whatever you manage to send, even if only once a year. One way to help is to make more than one donation per year to OPF, or who give more than the minimum. We are deeply grateful to those who manage to make monthly or quarterly donations. Such help makes a huge difference. You might also consider giving someone — a friend? your parish priest? — a subscription to In Communion.

In Christ’s peace,   Jim Forest, OPF co-secretary

Above: Transfiguration icon by Theophanes the Greek (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

A Christian home is incomplete without a Christ room

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
drawing by Fritz Eichenberg from Works of Mercy (Orbis Books)
above: drawing by Fritz Eichenberg from Works of Mercy (Orbis Books)

“I was a stranger,” Christ says, “and you took me in.” (Mt 25:35) And again, “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)

In every believer and brother, though they be least of all, Christ comes to you. Open your house, take them in. “Whoever receives a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward.”… These are the qualities that ought to be in those who welcome strangers: readiness, cheerfulness, liberality. For strangers feel abashed and ashamed, and unless their host shows real joy, they feel slighted and go away, and their being received in this way makes it worse than not to have received them.
Therefore set aside a room in your house to which Christ may come; say, “This is Christ’s room; this is set apart for him.” Even if it is very simple, he will not disdain it. Christ goes about “naked and a stranger”; he needs shelter: do not hesitate to give it to him.

Do not be lacking in compassion or be inhuman. You are earnest in worldly matters, do not be cold in spiritual matters…. You have a place set apart for your wagon, but none for Christ who is wandering by? Abraham received strangers in his own home (Gn 18); his wife took the place of a servant, the guests the place of masters. They did not know that they were receiving Christ, that they were receiving angels.

If Abraham had known it, he would have lavished his whole substance. But we, who know that we receive Christ, do not show as much zeal as he did, who thought that he was receiving mere men.

— St John Chrysostom
Homily 45 on the Acts of the Apostles; PG 60: 318-320

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution in the Church

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

by Fr. John Mefrige

A priest mediating a dispute in a Greek village
A priest mediating a dispute in a Greek village

Although Christ proclaims, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,” too often we see the children of the Church embroiled in destructive conflict and controversy. Has there ever been a parish council free from conflict? Who has not experienced rancorous divisions among fellow parishioners? Who does not know Orthodox families who have gone through acrimonious divorces? We can shrug it off, saying such conflict is “normal” and do our best to survive it. But in reality conflict often leaves behind enduring damage – severed relationships, broken ties, people left scarred and embittered.

Should we Christians not do better than this? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could respond to conflict in gracious and constructive ways? Might we learn how to handle conflict so as to build relationships rather than harm them? I believe we can – that we can learn to see conflict as a way to minister to each other and to glorify God. We can harness conflict as a transforming power toward growth and healthy change.

Christ gives us a model of handling conflict constructively when a young man approaches and asks his help in settling an inheritance. Instead of behaving as a judge, Christ addresses the underlying issue: “Take heed and beware of all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” He then illustrates this truth in the parable of the rich fool. (Lk 12:13-21)

When faced with conflict, we often focus on what the other person has done wrong. In contrast, scripture and Church tradition call us to focus primarily on what is going on in our own hearts when we are at odds with another. In the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, we are called first to see our own sins, and not to judge our brother. Why? Because according to scripture, the human heart is the wellspring of conflicts. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Mt 15:19) The heart’s central role in conflict is vividly described in the epistle of James:

What causes wars, and what causes fights among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your bodily parts? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. (James 4:1)

This passage hints at the underlying cause of destructive conflict: conflicts arise from unmet desires within what the Church Fathers call the “heart.” When scripture and the Fathers speak of the heart, they mean both the spiritual heart (nous) and the physical heart (kardias) – the place reserved for the contemplation of God, the center of our being where we have communion and union with God. When the desire for something earthly replaces our desire for God, we commit idolatry.

When we feel we cannot be satisfied until we have something we think we need, desire becomes a demand. In relationships, if someone frustrates or fails to meet our desires, we judge him or her in our hearts, and a fight ensues. In short, conflict arises when desires grow into demands, and then we judge and punish those who oppose us. This is the normal progression in the establishment of an idol, and an idol always demands sacrifice. Let’s look at the four stages of idolatry one step at a time

Stage 1: “I Desire”: Conflict always begins with some kind of desire. According to scripture, some desires, such as vengeance, lust or greed, are categorically evil. But many desires – the desire for peace and quiet, a clean home, an intimate relationship with a spouse, or children who are respectful and well-behaved – are not wrong in themselves. If a good and holy desire is not being met – for example, there are problems in a marriage – the two partners need to talk about it together. They may discover ways that they can better understand, help and serve each other. It may be a slow and difficult process. One partner may be unwilling to discuss particular issues. Husband and wife then stand at a crossroads where conflict can either be avoided, even at the cost of stagnation, or seen as opening a gateway to growth. Each has a choice between dwelling on frustrations and allowing these to control his or her life – which is likely to result in self-pity and bitterness – or actively looking for solutions while continuing to love the other and praying for God’s help (and also the help from others, such as a marital therapist).

Stage 2: “I Demand”: Unmet desires can work themselves deeper into our hearts, especially when we perceive a desire as something we need for our happiness or fulfillment. We justify and legitimize desires:

I work hard all week. Don’t I deserve a little peace and quiet when I come home?
•    I worked two jobs to put you through school; I deserve your respect and attention.
•    I spend hours managing the family budget; I deserve a new car.
•    My family has been in this church for generations; we deserve to be recognized.
•    I have given a lot of money to this church – you’d better listen to what I say.
•    Scripture says a husband and wife should be one flesh. I need more sexual intimacy.
•    I only want what God commands – children who respect and honor their parents.

Each of these demands contains an element of truth, but we find it easy to let unmet desires lead to destructive entitlement. The more we think we are entitled to something, the more convinced we are that we cannot be happy or secure without it. Again, this is the normal progression in establishing an idol. “I wish I could have this” becomes “I must have this.”

Even if the initial desire was not inherently wrong, it has grown so strong that it becomes an idol that controls our thoughts and affects our behavior. According to scripture, an idol is something other than God that we set our hearts on (Lk 12:29), that motivates us (1 Co 4:5), that rules us (Ps 119:133; Eph 5:5), or that we trust, fear, or serve (Is 42:17; Mt 6:24; Lk 12:4-5). In short, it is something we love and pursue in place of God. (Php 3:19) The reality is that every sincere Christian must struggle with idolatry. We may believe in God and profess the Creed, but at times we allow other influences to rule us.

The question then arises, how can we discern the deterioration of a good desire into a sinful demand. We begin by looking inward and asking ourselves these questions to reveal the true condition of our hearts:

•    What am I preoccupied with? What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night?
•    How would I complete this statement: “If I only had [x] I would be happy.”
•    What do I want to preserve or avoid?
•    Where do I put my trust, and what do I fear?
•    When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger, or depression?
•    Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?

As we search our hearts for idols, we often encounter multiple layers of concealment, confusion and justification. One of the most subtle ways in which we may develop a sinful demand is to argue that we want things that are in and of themselves good and holy. A mother may desire that her children be respectful and obedient to her and kind to one another. When they do not fulfill these goals, even after her repeated encouragement or correction, she may feel frustrated, angry, or resentful. She needs to ask herself, “Why am I feeling this way? Is it a righteous anger, or selfish anger?” Most often it will be a mixture of both. Part of her truly wants to see her children grow in the image of God, but another part of her is motivated by a desire for her own comfort and convenience. She must ask which desire is really controlling her heart.

If the God-centered desire is ruling her heart, her response to disobedient children would resemble God’s discipline toward us. “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.” (Ps 103:8) As she imitates God’s love for us, she will respond as in Galatians 6:1: “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Although her discipline may be direct and firm, it will be wrapped in gentleness and love, and leave no residue of resentment.

On the other hand, if her desire for comfort and convenience has become an idol, she will react with harsh anger and hurtful words or discipline. She may feel bitterness or resentment because of her frustrated desires. Even after disciplining her children, she may maintain a lingering coolness or a distance toward them that extends their punishment and warns them not to cross her again. If attitudes and actions of this sort tend to characterize her response, it is a sign that her desire for godly children has probably evolved into an idolatrous demand.

Stage 3: “I Judge”: In judging, we play God. A sign of idolatry is the inclination to judge. When people fail to satisfy our demands, we criticize and condemn them in our hearts, if not with our words. The truth is that when we judge others – criticize, nit-pick, attack, condemn – we are literally acting like a god. We commit the sin of Lucifer, coveting the judgment seat reserved only for God. Scripture tells us clearly that “There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)
When we fight, accusations fill our minds. We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish in our families, workplaces, and churches. When we judge others and condemn them in our hearts for not meeting our desires, we are imitating not Christ but the Devil. We have doubled our idolatry: we have let an idolatrous desire rule our hearts, and we have set ourselves up as mini-gods. This is the formula for destructive conflict.

This is not to say that it is inherently wrong to evaluate – even judge – others within certain limits. Scripture teaches that we should observe and evaluate others’ behaviors so that we can respond and minister to them in appropriate ways, which may even involve gentle confrontation. (Mt 7:1-5, 18:15; Gal 6:1) But we cross the line when we begin to judge others based on feelings of superiority, indignation, condemnation, bitterness, or resentment. Sinful judging often involves speculating on others’ motives. Most of all, it reveals a self-centered love for ourselves and the absence of a genuine love and concern toward others. These attitudes show that our judging has crossed the line, and we are playing God. We expect more of those who are closer to us, and we are more likely to judge them when they fail to meet our expectations. We may look at our spouse and think, “If you really love me, you above all people will help meet this need.” Or we look to our children and say, “After all I’ve done for you, you owe this to me.” We can place similar expectations on relatives, close friends, or members of our church. Expectations are not inherently bad, but expectations can become conditions and standards against which we judge others. Instead of giving people room for independence, disagreement, or failure, we impose our expectations on them. We expect them to give allegiance to our idols. When they refuse, we condemn them in our hearts.

Stage 4: “I Punish”: Idols demand sacrifices. Whether deliberately or unconsciously, we find many ways to hurt or punish people who refuse to gratify our desires. Sometimes we react aggressively in overt anger, with hurtful words toward those who fail to meet our expectations. Only if they give in to our desires and demands will we stop inflicting pain upon them. Children may use pouting, stomping, or dirty looks; adults, alike, may do the same. We may withhold our stewardship from the church as a punishment. Some may resort to physical violence or sexual abuse.

As we grow in the awareness of our sin, most of us recognize and reject these obviously sinful tactics. But our idols do not give up easily, and they often lead us to withdrawal from a relationship, giving the cold shoulder, withholding affection or physical contact, refusing to look someone in the eyes, ignoring phone calls, or abandoning a relationship altogether. Sending subtle, unpleasant cues over a long period of time is an age-old method. Often our churches and family relationships are filled with such behaviors. The message is “Either get in line with what I want, or you will suffer.” In reality, such behavior shows we depend on ourselves instead of relying on God. Inflicting pain on others is one of the surest signs that something other than God – an idol – is ruling our hearts. (Jam 4:1-3) These behaviors warn us. The psalmist counsels, “You take no delight in sacrifice. Were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Ps 50: 18-19)

The Cure for an Idolatrous Heart: An idol, as we have seen, is any desire that has grown into a demand – something we love, fear, or invest with faith. Love, fear, faith … aren’t these terms of worship? In the Divine Liturgy we hear, “With fear of God, with faith, and love, draw near” at the very moment we are invited to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. In scripture we are commanded to love God, fear God, and have faith in God. (Mt 22:37; Lk 12:4-5; Jn 14:1) Any time we long for something other than God, fear something more than God, or trust in something other than God to make us happy, fulfilled, or secure, we are worshiping false gods. The way out of this bondage and judgment is to look to God Himself, who has provided the cure for our idolatry by sending His Son to free mankind from the bondage of sin and death. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1-2)
Not only have we been freed from sin and death, but also from the specific day-to-day idols that control us and cause conflict with those around us. Our deliverance, however, does not consist of having all our idols swept away once and for all. Instead, we are called to identify and confess them one by one in the sacrament of confession. To receive forgiveness from God and freedom from our compelling sins, we must acknowledge them and repent. (Acts 3:19) When we do this, we are – by adoption – His children and heirs of the Kingdom. (Gal 4:4-7) This is the Gospel, the good news – forgiveness and eternal life through our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ!

In confession, we examine our hearts before the icon of Christ in a regular, ascetical practice to free ourselves from idols. With the priest’s help, we lay them before the Lord so that He can remove them from our hearts.

To prepare for confession, we do well to use a procedure involving several steps.

1. Prayerfully ask ourselves the questions listed previously to discern the desires that have begun ruling our hearts.
2. Record our discoveries in a journal to identify patterns and steadily go after specific idols.
3. Describe our idols in detail to our spiritual father, spouse, or an accountability partner; ask them to pray for us and confront us with any signs that the idol still controls us.
4. Realize that idols are masters of change and disguise. As soon as we gain victory over a particular sinful desire, our idol is likely to reappear in a related form, with a redirected desire and more subtle tactics.
5. In the case of a particularly difficult idol, we should seek assistance from a licensed professional or such twelve-step groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.

If someone told you that you had a cancer that would take your life if left untreated, you would spare no effort or expense to pursue the most effective treatment available. Well, we human beings living in this fallen world have a “cancer” of the soul: sin and idolatry. But the cure has been given to us freely on the cross of Christ. This cure is administered through the Word, the Spirit, and the Church. The more rigorously we avail ourselves of these means of grace, the more power we will have to be delivered from the idols that plague us.

Replacing Idol Worship with Worship of the True God: Ultimately, idolatry is what we do when we do not fully satisfy ourselves in God, instead seeking other sources of happiness and security. If we want to eliminate the idols from our hearts and leave no room for them to return, the cure is to pursue whole-heartedly an all-consuming worship of the living God. We must ask God to teach us how to love, fear, and have faith in Him above all else.

Replacing idol worship with worship of the true God involves several steps:

Repent before God. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Ps 50:19; Isaiah 66:2b) This is true worship. (1 Jn 1:8-10)
Fear God. Stand in awe of the true God when we are tempted to fear another person or the loss of something precious. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” (Prov 1:7) “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28)

Love God. Desire the One who forgives us instead of looking to other things that cannot save: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 22:37, 6:33)

Have faith in God. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” (Ps 118:8) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Prov 3:5)
God has designed a wonderful cycle for those who want to worship Him above all things. As you love, praise, give thanks, and delight in God, you will look less to the things of this world for happiness, fulfillment, and security. By God’s grace, the influences of idolatry and conflict in your family will steadily diminish, and you and your family can enjoy the intimacy and security that come only from worshiping the one true God.

Fr. John Mefrige has theological and psychological training, holding both a Master of Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and a Master of Science in Marital and Family Therapy from Fuller Theological Seminary. Presently he is pursuing a doctorate in Ethics and Christian Peacemaking. He is founding priest and Proistamenos at St. Ephraim the Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Church in San Antonio, Texas. He serves as chaplain to the San Antonio Police Department and is founder of the Coalition of Orthodox Peacemakers. For additional resources for those dealing with conflict, he recommends The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries.

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

Saying No to Torture

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

by Kate Karam Moore

tortureAn alarming number of people, including many active in church life, have come to regard torture as an acceptable interrogation method rather than a violation of human rights or a degradation of the image of God in each person. This is especially when the accusation of terrorism has been made. Euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation methods” and “water-boarding” are frequently published in newspapers and heard on our radios and televisions. Over time we have become less disturbed by reports of U.S.- sponsored torture.

One can only hope that the recent White Paper issued by Physicians for Human Rights – recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 – will help awaken our ethical senses. The 30-page report, issued in June, indicates that since 9/11, CIA medical professionals have engaged in medical experimentation on detainees. These doctors were not caring for the health of individuals. They were not prescribing medicine or diagnosing disease. They were involved in torture. To quote from the report:

Health professionals, working for and on behalf of the CIA, monitored the interrogations of detainees, collected and analyzed the results of those interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations. Such acts may be seen as the conduct of research and experimentation by health professionals on prisoners, which could violate accepted standards of medical ethics, as well as domestic and international law. These practices could, in some cases, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.” (To read the full text, go to: http://phrtorturepapers.org)

Responding to the physicians’ initiative, on June 8 the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) organized a press conference at which Executive Director Rev. Richard Killmer announced that NRCAT has formally requested a federal investigation into allegations of CIA use of torture and experimentation on prisoners. For Linda Gustitus, President of the Campaign, the physicians’ report provided disturbing evidence that “doctors employed by the CIA monitored, recorded, and assessed” torture practices “to improve their effectiveness.” Not only were doctors used to develop interrogation techniques, but their involvement protected non-medical personnel involved in torture from prosecution for what they were doing – “a cynical effort,” said Gustitus, “to meet the conditions manufactured by the Department of Justice to get around the well-established definition of torture.” In this way the U.S. government can declare that it vehemently opposes torture while departments of government research and practice torture.

Several Orthodox bishops have signed NRCAT’s Statement of Conscience against U.S.-sponsored torture, including Greek Archbishop Demetrios, Antiochian Metropolitan Philip, Armenian Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Romanian Archbishop Nicolae Condre, and Metropolitan Christopher of the Serbian Orthodox Church. By signing the Statement, they agree that torture “degrades everyone involved – policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.”

tortureThank God they are taking a public stand. It’s a beginning. In other areas of the world, Orthodox bishops, priests, and lay people are prominent in the anti-torture movement. Sadly, American Orthodox believers remain far more passive regarding torture, a silence that can only create a breeding ground for more torture and other acts of abuse. We must speak out. If ever there was a time to speak out against torture, the time is now.

Given our experiences with torture, the Orthodox Church is uniquely prepared to speak out against torture practices in our governments. The Orthodox Church has experienced the evil of torture from our founding to the present day. Following the torture and crucifixion of Christ, the apostles faced torture and imprisonment, in the end giving their lives as martyrs. Many of our churches are named after martyrs who were tortured, among them St. Christina of Tyre and St. Katherine of Alexandria. One cannot imagine an Orthodox church lacking icons of saints who suffered torture. Our faith is dynamically shaped by the sufferings of the faithful.

Many of our parishioners have fresh memories of torture, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Indeed, we have living witnesses in our midst who carry on their bodies and in their minds the scars of torture. CIA doctors are alleged to have used techniques on detainees that are reminiscent of Ottoman, Nazi, and numerous Communist regimes. During the Armenian Genocide, doctors used typhoid injections to kill thousands of Armenian prisoners. In Romania, Communist doctors tested sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures on captives in the gulags. Torture was commonly carried out against prisoners in Russia in the Soviet era, including many Christians. Now it appears America has joined the ranks of history’s torturing nations.

God reminded Israel, “You shall not enslave others because you were slaves in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21, 23:9) Likewise we, whose community includes so many victims of torture, should feel a special obligation to prevent torture because we know what it is like to be tortured. As a communal Church, each of us is included in the experience of our co-communicants and is accountable for protecting others from torture. Every time we enter the church building, see the icons, light a candle, we are including ourselves in the great flow of the Orthodox faith. When we prepare ourselves for the Eucharist, we acknowledge that we are surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses,” many of whom were tortured and degraded. When we include ourselves in the Church, we are incorporating the lives and struggles of the apostles, martyrs, and saints into our own experience.
During funeral services, when we sing, “May their memory be eternal,” we are asking God to further include us in the great movement of the Church. We are asking that the memory of past Christians be so absorbed by the souls of the present believers that their memories might be passed down eternally. There is a social responsibility involved in this process – that the faith, courage and values of earlier Christians would become ours.

None of us personally witnessed the actual death of Christ, yet we remember His death in the mystery of bread and wine. We participate in a historic event even though we were not there. When we receive communion, we are in communion both with Christ’s death and resurrection and with those who have lived the faith before us. In this way, for Orthodox Christians the experiences of the martyrs should be personal. They were tortured. They suffered under unjust governments. Torture threatened to degrade the image of God and the dignity of their faith. Although we, as individuals, may not have been tortured, we are included in the experience by “their memory eternal.” Accordingly, when Orthodox Christians encounter torture in our governments, we have a responsibility to act with the collective voice of the martyrs and saints and fight against the use of torture.

As Orthodox Christians, our understanding of community differs significantly from many of our Western counterparts who speak of Christ’s life and actions in the past tense. We are not asking God to help us learn from historic figures – we are asking for their actual, living faith, the intense and radical faith of the Apostles. When we say the words of the Creed, we are connecting ourselves with that faith. When we care for the sick or homeless, we are connecting ourselves with that original faith. The Apostles and Church Fathers took such strong stances in upholding the truth that they challenged the power structures of their governments. They loved the faith more than their own lives.

Care for the basic needs of others is at the heart of Christian faith. Christ represents a turn-the-other-cheek justice, a lay-down-your-life-for-the-lives-of-others type of justice. As Christ said, “What you have done to the least person, you have done to Me.” Through the Church calendar and our many commemorations, we remember the Christ-revealing lives of those who have gone before us. Yet in honoring heroes of the past, we cannot forget our responsibility to help shape the future. Christ’s crucifixion and His legacy mean nothing if we do not protect those being tortured and stripped of dignity in our own time. In communion with the radical faith of our forebears, we must stand against torture.

A significant action an Orthodox Christian in America can take is to join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture as a member, as the Orthodox Peace Fellowship has done recently. Via our web site, you can sign its “Statement of Conscience.” Encourage your parish to use NRCAT’s Orthodox materials. A video for adult parish use is available, including an Orthodox-specific discussion guide. Support our Metropolitans Christopher and Phillip and Archbishops Demetrios, Nicolae and Vicken by getting involved.

As Archbishop Demetrios stated, “The deliberate torture of one human being by another is a sin against our Creator, in whose image we all have been created. This practice should not be condoned or allowed by any government. It must be condemned by all people of faith, wherever it exists, without exception.”

Bearing the wounds of torture, Christ looks at us from our cathedral ceilings. In loving our Lord, Orthodox Christians ought to be doing all we can to abolish the abuse of captives, for whose protection and salvation we pray at every Liturgy. For the peace in the world, we pray to the Lord. For the sick, suffering, and the captives, we pray to the Lord. May our Liturgy so permeate our lives that our actions reflect our prayers as instruments of divine justice and compassion. ❖

Kate Karam Moore is a second-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary. Her studies include the Syriac and Coptic traditions, theology of the early Church, and modern applications of such Orthodox concepts as theosis. She writes, “I am Antiochian by baptism but was raised in between my mother’s Lebanese traditions and my father’s Protestant German ones.” She is currently a summer intern with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture <www.tortureisamoralissue.org> in Washington, DC. The graphic above was made by the author.

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

More Than Just Justice

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

by Alexander Patico

When I was a kid, there was a comic book series called “The Justice League of America.” Its members included Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman plus some lesser-known superheroes. The outcome of each confrontation was that the innocents were saved and the “bad guys” got “what was coming to them.” In fact, this was the never-varying plot-line of Dragnet, Zorro, the Lone Ranger and indeed all the fantasy worlds kids inhabited in those days. Justice triumphed, evil-doers were punished.

We’re not kids anymore. Our worldview isn’t shaped by comic books. We’re old enough not to see mutual destruction or the triumph of the powerful as desirable outcomes in human conflicts. We tend to think in terms of peace and justice. But here lies a tension. Is peace the goal? Or is justice our priority? Or shall we glue them together into “just-peace” – a hybrid word that welds justice and peace together, like yin and yang, inseparable segments of a whole?

Looking back on my initiation into American superhero justice, I am reminded of one of the dialogues of Socrates with his young colleagues in Book One of Plato’s The Republic. Plato presents (in the words of editor Benjamin Jowett), “a refutation of popular and sophistical notions of justice” (such as doing good only to one’s friends, justice as the interest of the stronger, etc.). In the process, Socrates questions the definition of justice as “everyone getting his due” – pleasant rewards going to the virtuous and negative consequences being meted out to the evil. Sounds like what most people mean when they say “justice.”

For Plato, justice was “based on the idea of good, which is the harmony of the universe.” Now Christians believe that “The Good” equals God and that the harmony of the universe is the peace of Christ. Therefore, “giving to each man what is proper to him” might include a good deal more than what usual human standards have regarded as appropriate.

If we Christians believe that each person is a bearer of the image of God, and that our ultimate destination is to be with God in heaven, then the concept of “what is due” each of us expands considerably.

Looked at this way, God asks much more of us than the promotion of human justice. If we give each “his due” – thinking about this in the usual constricted and grudging sort of way, then we are in danger of being like the persons mentioned in Luke 6 about whom it was said “even sinners love those who love them.” That is, even a non-believer might be willing to say that everyone should get what is due him, if they mean only a juridical type of “due-ness.” We, however, are bound to make the definition of the word “justice” subsume all that our instruction in the faith would lead us to include in it, the fullness of justice, if you will.
St. Isaac the Syrian actually made this distinction between God’s grace and man’s justice when he counseled, “Never say that God is just. If He were just, you would be in hell. Rely only on His injustice which is mercy, love and forgiveness.” Surely this explains why “Lord have mercy” appears so often in the Liturgy. Indeed, we strive to become people of mercy, as our Father first extended mercy to us. “Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Mt 5:48)

Added to the Christian’s calling to manifest mercy is the goal to seek out occasions to show mercy, especially under adverse or uncomfortable circumstances, and to strive for more than just expedient answers. As Laurel Rae Matheson recently wrote in Sojourners, “Justice is not just a matter of fairness or equity [but of] creating sustainable solutions for conflict.” In other words, justice should be strongly conciliatory and constructive, rather than “restorative, distributive or punitive.” The end result we seek should be better than any ante bellum condition, hewing much more emphatically toward “the peaceable kingdom.”

As real “just peace” is achieved, we will know it not by the fact that oppressors have become captives or corpses in the cemetery, or that the poor have finally become rich – as satisfying as that kind of compensatory balance might be. Rather, the sword will have been beaten into plowshares.

The peaceable kingdom is described in these amazing words: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” This is a vision that would be laughed out of most negotiating rooms as naively idealistic, yet our faith bids us embrace it. Micah’s prophecy promises that “every one shall rest under his vine, and every one under his fig tree, and there shall be none to alarm them…. All nations shall walk every one in his own way and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah: 4:4-5)
Justice? We might not all call it that all the time. Peace? Surely. Hurry, Christ, bring us Your peace, that we might learn what Your justice truly is!

Alex Patico is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America.

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

The Church Fathers on Oaths, Revenge and Love

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Patristic commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount, continued…

Christ of the Last Judgment mosaic in the Baptistry of the Duomo in Florence (late 13th century)

Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No.” Anything more than this comes from evil. 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 one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:33-48

A simple yes or no: [Jesus] has prohibited anyone from swearing by his head, for in doing so one would be worshiping himself. Rather, Jesus intends to refer all glory to God, signifying that human beings are not finally masters of themselves…. Our understanding of the principles of virtue has advanced beyond the time of Moses. Therefore divorce is now seen to be adultery and the necessity of an oath to be from the evil one. If the earlier laws had been devilish from the first, they would never have resulted in such goodness. Had Moses’s laws not been forerunners, Jesus’s teaching would not have been so easily received. Chrysostom. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 17.5-6.

Do not deify creation: Jesus prohibits us from swearing by heaven or by the earth … in order that we should not give to creation an honor surpassing creation. Do not deify creation. Those who swear, he says, “swear by the greater,” as the apostle has said. And he also forbids swearing by Jerusalem. For the earthly Jerusalem is a type of the Jerusalem above, and God swears only by himself, that is, by his own glory. Wherefore, since the similarity transcends us, we are obliged to swear neither by ourselves nor by our own glory. Cyril of Alexandria. Fragment 63.

Do not return evil for evil: A law prescribing an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, has this foundation: each will spare the other as long as one fears for one’s own limbs. It was thereby imagined that no evil person would be found. But woe to the earth for its failures! For as long as we live in this world, over which the devil rules, slanderers, fighters and persecutors will necessarily abound. If therefore we begin, according to the mandate of the law, to return evil for evil to everyone, we are all made evil, the foundation of the law is dissolved, and what results? While the law wanted to make the evil good, it also made the good evil. If, however, following the mandate of Christ, we do not resist evil, then even if the evil ones are not harmed, still the good will remain good. Thus through the mandate of Christ, the mandate of the law is also filled. For one who fulfills the mandate of the law does not at the same time fulfill that of Christ; but one who fulfills the mandate of Christ at the same time fulfills that of the law. Anonymous. Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 12.

Resist not evil:
For this reason Jesus has also added, “but I say to you, do not resist the evil one.” He did not say “Do not resist your brother” but “the evil one.” We are authorized to dare to act in the presence of evil through Christ’s influence. In this way he relaxes and secretly removes most of our anger against the aggressor by transferring the censure to another. “What then?” one asks. “Should we not resist the evil one at all?” Indeed we should, but not in this way. Rather, as Jesus has commanded, we resist by surrendering ourselves to suffer wrongfully. In this way you shall prevail over him. For one fire is not quenched by another, but fire by water. Chrysostom. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 18.1.

Avoid every lawsuit: Beyond the tolerance of physical injury, the Lord wants us also to have contempt for things of this world and to be so far removed from every lawsuit or contest of judgment. If … a slanderer or tempter comes forward to initiate a lawsuit for the sake of testing our faith and to rob us of the things which are ours, the Lord orders us to offer willingly not only the things that the person goes after unjustly but even those not demanded. Chromatius. Tractate on Matthew 25.2.1.

The second mile: Do you grasp the excellence of a Christian disposition? After you give your coat and your cloak, even if your enemy should wish to subject your naked body to hardships and labors, not even then, Jesus says, must you forbid him. For he would have us possess all things in common, both our bodies and our goods, as with them that are in need, so with them that insult us. For the latter response comes from a courageous spirit, the former from mercy. Because of this, Jesus said, “If any one shall compel you to go one mile, go with him two.”Again he leads you to higher ground and commands you to manifest the same type of aspiration. For if the lesser things he spoke of at the beginning receive such great blessings, consider what sort of reward awaits those who duly perform these and what they become even before we hear of receiving rewards. You are winning full freedom from unworthy passions in a human and sensitive body. Chrysostom. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 18.3.

Give to one who begs: If we think that only [giving to beggars] is all that is taught about almsgiving, then there are many poor to whom it cannot apply, and even the wealthy can give forever, if they are always giving. For the sake of goodness, therefore, this doctrine of almsgiving was given to the apostles: that they who have freely received should freely give. Money of that sort is never lacking. As much as is given, by that much it is increased, and though the fountain water drench the fields below, it never runs dry. Jerome. Commentary on Matthew 1.5.42.

The rich and the poor: It is the law that you do not take from another, even if you do not give what is yours. It is grace, however, that you do not take from another and you give what is yours. Therefore whoever gives a loan fulfills both the law and grace. For he who gives freely of his own, would he then take the goods of another? The rich man therefore cannot be tested or proved through physical suffering. No one will likely do him violence; rather, he is tested and proved by generosity. Anonymous. Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 12.

You destroy yourself by hating: We have seen how murder is born from anger and adultery from desire. In the same way, the hatred of an enemy is destroyed by the love of friendship. Suppose you have viewed a man as an enemy, yet after a while he has been swayed by your benevolence. You will then love him as a friend. I think that Christ ordered these things not so much for our enemies as for us – not because enemies are fit to be loved by others but because we are not fit to hate anyone. For hatred is the prodigy of dark places. Wherever it resides, it sullies the beauty of sound sense. Therefore not only does Christ order us to love our enemies for the sake of cherishing them but also for the sake of driving away from ourselves what is bad for us…. If you merely hate your enemy, you have hurt yourself more in the spirit than you have hurt him in the flesh. Perhaps you don’t harm him at all by hating him, but you surely tear yourself apart. If then you are benevolent to an enemy, you have rather spared yourself than him. And if you do him a kindness, you benefit yourself more than him. Anonymous. Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 13.

Pray for those who persecute you: Christ did not simply command to love but to pray. Do you see how many steps he has ascended and how he has set us on the very summit of virtue? Mark it, numbering from the beginning. A first step is not to begin with injustice. A second, after one has begun, is not to vindicate oneself by retaliating in kind. A third, to refuse to respond in kind to the one who is injuring us but to remain tranquil. A fourth, even to offer up one’s self to suffer wrongfully. A fifth, to give up even more than the wrongdoer wishes to take. A sixth, to refuse to hate one who has wronged us. A seventh, even to love such a one. An eighth, even to do good to that one. A ninth, to entreat God himself on our enemy’s behalf. Do you perceive how elevated is a Christian disposition? Hence its reward is also glorious. Chrysostom. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 18.4.

Joint heirs with Christ: Since we have received the power to become sons, we are made sons insofar as we fulfill the precepts given to us by the Son. “Adoption” is the term used by the apostle to denote the character of our vocation to the eternal inheritance, in order to be joint heirs with Christ. By spiritual regeneration we therefore become sons and are adopted into the kingdom of God, not as aliens but as his creatures and offspring. Augustine. Sermon on the Mount 1.23.78.

The perfection of loving the enemy: He who loves his friends loves them for his own sake, not on account of God, and therefore he has no treasure. The loving itself delights him. However, he who loves his enemy loves not for his own sake but on account of God. Hence he has great treasure, because he goes against his own instincts. For where labor sows the seed, there it reaps the fruit. “Be ye therefore perfect, just as your Father is perfect.” He who loves his friend does not in fact sin but does not work justice. It is half a good that one depart from evil and not pursue good. It is perfect, however, that one not only flee evil but also accomplish good. So he said, “be perfect,” so that you might both love your friends on account of shunning evil and love your enemies on account of possessing justice. The former frees us from punishment; the latter leads us into glory. For a representative of God is not perfect who does not resemble God through his or her works. Anonymous. Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 13.

All things are perfected by goodness: The law used to demand that your neighbor be loved and allowed hatred against an enemy. Faith, rather, requires that enemies be cherished. It breaks the tendency we have to be peevish and urges us to bear life’s difficulties calmly. Faith not only deters anger from turning into revenge but even softens it into love for the injurer. It is merely human to love those who love you, and it is common to cherish those who cherish you. Therefore Christ calls us into the life of heirs of God and to be models for the just and the unjust of the imitation of Christ. He distributes the sun and the rain through his coming in baptism and by the sacraments of the Spirit. Thus he has prepared us for the perfect life through this concord of public goodness, because we must imitate our perfect Father in heaven. Hilary. On Matthew 4.27.

The law of gospel love: The Lord has shown that we cannot have the good work of perfect love if we love only those from whom in turn we know the return of mutual love will be paid in kind. For we know that love of this sort is common even to nonbelievers and sinners. Hence the Lord wishes us to overcome the common law of human love by the law of gospel love, so that we may show the affection of our love not only toward those who love us but even toward our enemies. Thus we may imitate the example of true piety and our Father’s goodness. Chromatius. Tractate on Matthew 21.2.1.

❖ The Authors ❖

St. Augustine (354-430) was a key figure in the development of Christianity in the West. Born in North Africa, in 383 he moved to Rome, and the following year to Milan to teach in the imperial court. The influence of St. Ambrose of Milan plus the impact of reading a life of St. Anthony brought him to baptism in 387. In 388 he returned to Africa. After converting his family home into a monastery, he sold his patrimony and gave the money to the poor.

Anonymous: Not all the names of the authors of ancient New Testament commentaries have survived. Recognizing the value of their writings, the Greek and Latin Fathers preserved surviving fragments in collections of their own writings.

St. Chromatius of Aquileia (+406/407), one of the most celebrated prelates of his time. He urged St. Ambrose to write exegetical works and St. Jerome to undertake translations and commentaries. In the bitter quarrel between Jerome and Rufinus, Chromatius sought to make peace between the disputants. He gave loyal support to St. John Chrysostom when he was suffering oppression from the imperial court.

St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) wrote several exegeses, including Commentaries on the Old Testament, Thesaurus, Discourse Against Arians, Commentary on St. John’s Gospel, and Dialogues on the Trinity.

St. Jerome, born in Stridon about 340, went to Rome in about 360, where he was baptized. He next went to Trier to begin his theological studies. About 373 he traveled to the East, first settling in Antioch, where he was ordained a priest. He went to Constantinople where a friendship sprang up with St. Gregory of Nazianzus. In 386 he settled in Bethlehem, where he led a life of asceticism, study, correspondence, writing and translation. He is best known for his translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.

St. John Chrysostom, born in Antioch in 347, was famous for eloquence and his denunciations of the abuse of authority in both Church and government. He was nicknamed chrysostomos, Greek for “golden mouthed.” Baptized in 370, he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. In 398 he was chosen as the bishop of Constantinople. Concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor, he emphasized almsgiving and modest living in his sermons. He often spoke out against the abuse of wealth and refused to host lavish entertainments. An irritant to the imperial court as well as to worldly prelates, he died in exile in 407. His final words were “Glory be to God for all things!” He is regarded as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.

Note: These commentaries are taken from Matthew 1-13, edited by Manlio Simonetti, in the series The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (InterVarsity Press). The Pantocrator mosaic is in the Baptistry of the Duomo in Florence, Italy. The photo is by Jim Forest.

In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

The Road

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

by Jim Forest

Consider well the highway, the road by which you went.
– Jeremiah 31:21

One could spend long hours making a list of great human achievements, from the wheel to the great cathedrals to the discovery of DNA and the development of computers, and yet leave out one of the important attainments because it is too obvious, too ordinary and too ancient: the road.

The Ancient Appian Way south of RomeRoads are the circulatory system of the human race, and the original information highway. From times long before the written word, roads have linked house to house, town to town and city to city. Without roads there are no communities. Roads not only connect towns but give birth to them. They pass beneath all borders, checkpoints and barriers, connecting not only friend to friend but foe to foe. Far older than passports, the road is an invitation to cross frontiers, urging a start to dialogue and an end to enmity. Each road gives witness to the need we have to be in touch with other.

There was a time before roads when the world was pure wilderness, but even before Adam and Eve there would have been countless tracks and paths created by animals that moved in packs or herds, following their prey or migrating with the seasons. With the arrival of human beings, many of these pre-human pathways would have become roads for hunters, here and there providing ideal sites for encampments and villages.

Supreme collective endeavor that they are, roads reveal the cultures that made them. Roman roads tend to run straight as Roman laws, but in many cultures roads take many turns as they search out fords, avoid marshes, find higher ground, touch wells and pubs, and seek holy places.

Roads are life-giving. They provide the primary infrastructure of social life. Without them, there is no commerce. Without roads and the delivery systems they support, we would starve to death. Even more important than safeguarding weights and measures and punishing those who watered down the beer, it was the primary task of kings and queens to maintain and keep safe the highways.

Human history is the history of roads. Empires have been ranked according to the quality of their highways. Roman highways were so well built that even today, two millennia later, portions of them not only survive but remain in use.
Roads mark the way to safety. Paths tell the traveler how to get round a chasm or find a fording place in the river. They point the way through marshes and around quicksand.

If roads sometimes speed armies on the path of destruction, more often they guide pilgrims toward encounters with the sacred. They connect not only capitol cities and great cathedrals but remote churches that house the relics of saints. A saint’s relics have many times widened a road or even created a new one.

Roads not only take us toward each other but, when we need to be rescued from society, they lead us to solitude. The same road that leads to Rome is, in reverse and at its furthest reaches, a route to the desert.
Roads have a sacramental aspect: a road is a visible sign of a hidden unity. Roads are a map of human connectedness.
The road is a primary metaphor. In the Gospel Christ speaks of choosing the narrow path rather than the broad highway. Early Christians called themselves “followers of the way.”

The road has often been a place of religious breakthroughs: Two disciples walked with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, unaware of who he was. Later they took the same road back to Jerusalem where they related how Christ revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.

Paul – Christianity’s first great pilgrim – encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Traversing the highways of the Roman Empire, Paul became one of history’s great men of the road.
Old roads still exist, in some cases quite visible and still in use, in some hidden under modern highways, in other cases grassy pathways once again, in places hardly more than faint indentations in the soil.

The old pilgrim road from Winchester to Canterbury is in turn all of these. A road as old as England, some parts are now rarely walked while other sections have become major motorways. Yet, in part thanks to a steady trickle of pilgrims still making their way to the church where St. Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, the pilgrim path still exists from end to end. In 1904 Hillaire Belloc published his book The Old Road in which he managed to stitch together the road’s fragments into a continuous whole, which he himself walked in one of his many acts of pilgrimage.

One of the pilgrims of recent years, Shirley du Boulay, walked from Winchester to Canterbury in the early nineties and has left us one of the best contemporary memoirs of pilgrimage, The Road to Canterbury. Old roads, she writes, “are hallowed by time and the footsteps of men and animals. … We respond to old roads as to old buildings. Even their names – Watling Street, Ermine Street, the Fosse Way, the Maiden Way, Stane Street – echo in the imagination. I remember as a child being told, as we walked the Berkshire Downs, that we were on a Roman Road called Icknield Street. I remember too my pride thereafter in recognizing a long straight road as Roman…. A road does not just appear. It is the fruit of long years of trial and error. It is the supreme collective endeavor, a long experiment in which the individual can only be subsumed.”

It’s a special feeling walking an old road. The pilgrim may see no one else behind or ahead and yet be profoundly aware of not being alone. Hundreds of thousands of others have passed this way, generation after generation. At times the multi-generational river of travelers seems almost visible. If a file of medieval pilgrims were to appear before us on small horses, Chaucer himself among them, it would hardly be surprising.

Among those who walked or rode before us, not all were pilgrims heading toward a shrine. But many were, and even those on more prosaic errands may have traveled with the God-alert attitude of a pilgrim. Many were people aware that each step they took was an act of prayer. Roads that have been intensively used by people at prayer seem afterward to hold a rumor of prayer. The road itself becomes a thin place.

One of the celebrators of the road was the Oxford don, J.R.R. Tolkien, through whom an invented history of Middle Earth made its way into the modern world. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are celebrations of roads. For Tolkien it wasn’t roads in the plural but simply The Road, singular. However many intersections, however many forks along the way, however many rarely walked paths reach out from it, all the tracks human beings walk are connected and form a single system, like the body’s capillary system through which a single river of blood makes its way away from the heart to the remotest cell and back again.
Tolkien’s Bilbo sang the song of the road as he made his first step along a path that led at last to the edge of death in his encounter with a dragon. Bilbo’s heir, Frodo, sang it as he stepped out the door of his snug burrow on his way to overthrow a kingdom of evil, though at the time all he was aware of was his hope of delivering a magic ring to a place of safety: Rivendell.
The core text of Tolkien’s tales is Bilbo and Frodo’s song that celebrates stepping out the door into the unknown without the certainty that one will ever see one’s home again: The Road goes ever on and on / Down from the door where it began. / Now far ahead the Road has gone, / And I must follow, if I can, / Pursuing it with eager feet, / Until it joins some larger way / Where many paths and errands meet. / And whither then? I cannot say.

Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. This is a chapter in his book, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life (Orbis).

In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

News Summer 2010

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

USA: First Episcopal Assembly Convened

The first Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in North America was convened on May 26 in New York City by Archbishop Demetrios, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America. The Assembly, attended by most hierarchs of local Orthodox dioceses in North America, resulted from decisions made by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference at its meeting in Switzerland in June 2009.

The main goal of the Assembly, said Demetrios, is to witness to Orthodox unity in a “new world” and to secure a more effective organization of mission, witness and cooperation of the local Orthodox Churches.

Demetrios chaired the gathering, with Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Justinian of the Moscow Patriarchate as co-chairs. Bishop Basil of Wichita, of the Antiochian Archdiocese, was elected secretary.

“We strive for unity because the Lord asked of us to be one, but diversity and differentiation are not to be feared. They are gifts that are to be used for the glory of God,” said Demetrios, adding that “our unity cannot exist to destroy such differentiation; rather, our unity is meant to flourish as a result of our natural diversity, be it linguistic, cultural or ethnic. Is this not exactly the condition of our universal Orthodoxy today?”

“Of course,” he reminded his fellow bishops, “problems related to unity, or to differentiation, or to both, always existed in the Church, starting already in the time of the Apostles, as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles testifies.”

Demetrios explained that the nature of the assembly is temporary, a preparatory step intended to facilitate the creation of a council that will decide “the final form of the Church in a particular country.” At the end of the process, the Assembly anticipates becoming a Synod of Bishops enjoying autocephaly.

The Assembly took place behind closed doors, with the bishops in attendance reportedly having committed themselves not to speak to the media regarding the details of their discussions.

The Assembly decided that such projects as International Orthodox Christian Charities will now operate under the auspices of the Episcopal Assembly. Committees of bishops are being set up to address legal, pastoral and canonical issues.
It is likely that the Assembly will be comprised only of the parishes in the US, with Mexican parishes becoming part of a Latin American grouping and Canadian parishes constituting a third region.

One of the complications in arranging the meeting concerned Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America. Patriarch Bartholomew had asked Archbishop Demetrios not to invite him because OCA’s autocephaly is not recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the end a compromise was worked out – Jonah attended as an individual bishop rather than as the head of the OCA. Jonah accepted the compromise “with all humility.”

Tentative dates for the next meeting of the Assembly: May 25-27, 2011.
Similar Assemblies are to be convened around the world in regions where there is no single Orthodox jurisdictional presence. Participation in these meetings will be restricted to active canonical bishops who reside in the designated region. At each Assembly, the chairman will be the senior bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Meeting in Moscow:
Kirill and Bartholomew stress unity

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople celebrated Pentecost in Moscow, giving sermons that stressed the importance of pan-Orthodox unity. The Pentecost Liturgy took place at the ancient Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery north of Moscow.

In his sermon and greeting to Bartholomew at the monastery, Kirill spoke of the close ties between the early Russian church and Byzantium, and thanked God for the opportunity to celebrate the service with Bartholomew.

At the Savior Cathedral in Moscow the following day, 24 May, they jointly celebrated the memory of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Greek-born brothers who, in the ninth century, created the Cyrillic alphabet and preached to Slavic peoples. Their feast day is now marked in Russia as a celebration of Slavic and Orthodox unity.

In stressing unity, Kirill and Bartholomew both alluded to the travails Russia endured in the 20th century, also noting the challenges posed by the secular world.

“In spite of the decades in which atheist ideology dominated, the majority of the people of the countries of the Russian world regard themselves as believers, as children of the Russian Orthodox Church,” said Kirill, referring to the faithful in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, countries of the former Soviet Union that are still predominantly Orthodox. “This is the triumph of Orthodoxy in our day. The heritage of Cyril and Methodius unites the Slavic peoples. It is also a bridge between the Slavic and Greek worlds. This celebration is especially complete from your presence among us, Your Holiness, primate of the Holy Church of Constantinople, the living bearer of the thousand-year-old Byzantine heritage. In communing with you, we perceive that we are all members of one, unbroken Church Tradition.”

After the service at the Savior Cathedral, Kirill and Bartholomew led a procession to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square where they addressed young people. Referring to Russian believers and decades of atheism, Bartholomew said, “You not only preserved but strengthened your amazing culture, at the heart of which is the Christian faith. You fought, endured, and became worthy of the calling you received from Constantinople.”

Speaking at St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg on the last day of Bartholomew’s eight-day visit, Kirill reported that “with each meeting we are becoming closer to one another…. The holiness and fullness of Orthodoxy overcomes all division.”
Kirill had visited Bartholomew in Istanbul in July. There the two patriarchs spoke of the need to cast differences aside and present a united Orthodox front against secular evils.

The visit by Bartholomew to Moscow comes after a mission to the Vatican by Metropolitan Hilarion, chairperson of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations. [Sophia Kishkovsky/ENI]

Environmental Day message
from Patriarch Bartholomew

In a June letter written for World Environmental Day, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said that “the fundamental cause of the abuse and destruction of the world’s natural resources is greed and the constant tendency toward unrestrained wealth by citizens in so-called ‘developed’ nations.”

He stressed the words of St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” “As St. Basil the Great instructs us,” the Patriarch added, “everything beyond this borders on forbidden ostentation.”
Bartholomew’s brief letter ended with a classic story “from which everyone can reasonably deduce how uneducated yet faithful and respectful people perceived the natural environment and how it should be retained pure and prosperous.

“In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers on the Sinai, it is said about a monk known as the righteous George, that eight hungry Saracens once approached him for food, but he had nothing whatsoever to offer them because he survived solely on raw, wild capers, whose bitterness could kill even a camel. However, upon seeing them dying of extreme hunger, he said to one of them: ‘Take your bow and cross this mountain; there, you will find a herd of wild goats. Shoot one of them, whichever one you desire, but do not try to shoot another.’ The Saracen departed and, as the old man advised, shot and slaughtered one of the animals. But when he tried to shoot another, his bow immediately snapped. So he returned with the meat and related the story to his friends.”

Russian Orthodox and new WCC
leader discuss controversial issues

It is outside the scope of the World Council of Churches to put forward a view on the issue of same-sex marriage and female clergy, the WCC general secretary told journalists in Moscow after meetings with Patriarch Kirill and other leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Speaking at a press conference on 30 June, the new WCC general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Russian Orthodox leader responsible for ecumenical dialogue, dealt with challenges facing the WCC and inter-Christian dialogue in general.

Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, has made contacts with Orthodox churches a priority since he assumed his position in January.
Responding to a journalist’s question about same-sex marriage and female clergy, Tveit said that the WCC cannot express a position until there is a consensus within the organization. “The WCC has 350 churches,” he said, “and they hold different positions on such issues. We work on establishing consensus. That means that the Council doesn’t have an opinion on issues that have not reached the level of consensus.”

Tveit noted that the WCC works to foster conversations and open space for discussing issues about which member churches have different viewpoints. “I don’t foresee that the World Council of Churches will have one point of view on either of these issues in the near future,” he stated.

Tveit praised the Russian Orthodox Church for fostering interfaith dialogue in Russia and thanked the Moscow Patriarchate for organizing meetings for him with government officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Denisov and Konstantin Kosachev, chairperson of the Committee on International Affairs of the State Duma, Russia’s lower legislative chamber.
Regarding his meeting with Tveit two days earlier, 28 June, Patriarch Kirill spoke of the WCC’s potential in defending Christianity in the world and in dialogue with other civilizations. “We live in a world in which relations between different civilizations are becoming more and more significant,” said Kirill. “In these conditions it is important for all Christians to ensure the preservation of Christian civilization and to cooperate in building good relations with communities of other civilizations. The WCC can help in achieving these two goals by defending the Christian system of values and developing the dialogue of Christians with other religions and with non-religious world views.”

Violence against Copts
on the rise in Egypt

In late April, in the Egyptian coastal city of Marsa Matrouh, some 3,000 angry Muslims gathered after Friday prayers during which the mosque’s imam had exhorted them to cleanse the city of its “infidel” Christians. The enraged mob went on a rampage – 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars were destroyed. For ten hours, 400 Copts barricaded themselves in their church until the frenzy died out.

This was only the latest of more than a dozen such attacks during the past year, including in the village of Kafr El-Barbary on June 26 last year, the town of Farshout on November 21, and the village of Shousha on November 23. Then came Naga Hamadi, where passengers in a passing car fired at Christians leaving a Coptic Christmas service on January 6. Seven were killed and 26 were seriously wounded.

Although the Copts have long been the target of sporadic attacks, the violence of the last few years is more like a purge, as waves of mob assaults have forced hundreds, sometimes thousands of Christian citizens to flee their homes. In each incident the police, despite frantic appeals, invariably arrive after the violence is over. Later the injured are coerced by the special security police forces into accepting “reconciliation” with their attackers, in order to avoid the prosecution of the guilty. No Muslim to date has been convicted for any of these crimes.

Egypt’s Christian Copts, about 12 percent of the population, have long been subject to customary and official discrimination. No church, for example, can be built or even repaired without a presidential decree. Copts are excluded from the intelligence and security services because they are deemed a security risk.

This discrimination springs from a belief deeply grounded in the social psyche of the ruling elite and large sectors of the Muslim community that it is unreasonable in an Islamic society to expect strict equality between Muslims and the infidels.
“The dhimmi status of the Copts,” said Moheb Zaki, former managing director of the Ibn Khaldun Center, an organization that supports democracy and civil rights in Egypt and the Middle East, “will not be changed by persuasion. It will only change by persistent domestic struggle supported by vigorous international pressure. The Copts do not demand the tolerance of Muslims but equal rights with them.”

Moscow Patriarch appeals
for Orthodox unity in Ukraine

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, on an official visit to Ukraine, has appealed to Orthodox believers there who have broken with the Moscow Patriarchate to return to its jurisdiction.

“There are no barriers preventing the return to ecclesial communion,” declared a statement issued after a 26 July meeting in Kiev of the Russian Orthodox Church’s bishops’ synod, chaired by Kirill.

The Orthodox church in Ukraine divided after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are now several different Orthodox churches in Ukraine, including one that comes under the Moscow Patriarchate and another, the Kiev Patriarchate, that is not recognized by any of the world’s canonical Orthodox churches. The Moscow-linked church accounts for a significant part of the membership of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ukraine, once the center of a Slavic state, Kievan Rus, is seen as the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy because of the Baptism of Rus that occurred in Kiev in 988 following the conversion of Prince Vladimir.
At a 28 July service in Kiev commemorating the Baptism of Rus, Kirill spoke of the spiritual ties that bind Russia and Ukraine, separate countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“There were sinners, there were crimes, there were weaknesses in the lives of the people, but we carried through a thousand years, and continue to carry the great ideal of Holy Rus,” he said in his sermon at the Kiev Monastery of the Caves.
Responding to journalists’ questions, Kirill denied that the Moscow Patriarchate had plans to take away the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Kiev Patriarchate is led by Filaret Denisenko, a former metropolitan in the Moscow Patriarchate during the Soviet era. He reacted angrily to the appeal for reunification, saying that there is no schism, only jurisdictional division. [Sophia Kishkovsky/ ENI]

Christian peace gathering
in the American heartland

The closing days of July found nearly two hundred Christians of every stripe gathered on the campus of a Mennonite seminary in the American heartland. Their coming together was both the latest event in a centuries-long witness to the nonviolent way of Christ, and a preliminary to an event slated for next May, an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, to be the culmination of the Decade to Overcome Violence program of the World Council of Churches. The conference in Indiana, called Peace among the Peoples, was intended to take the pulse of the faith-based peacemaking community in North America in preparation for that 2011 gathering.

The Mennonites were best represented, but the other “historic peace churches” – Quakers and the Church of the Brethren – were also an active presence. Added to this core were delegates from the full spectrum of American Christianity, from Pentecostals to Presbyterians, Catholics to Unitarian-Universalists, and Baptists to Orthodox.

Speakers presented new ways of looking at old issues – topics such as conscientious objection in an era of terrorism and upholding family values within new definitions of “family.” They brought new passion to perennial concerns, such as Christian understandings of war or the impact of empire on faith. Conferees wrestled with the theological issues (atonement and costly grace), ecclesiological questions (parish priorities vs. nationalism and globalization), and practical matters (how to reach out to youth, ethnic minorities and those of other faith traditions).

Voices from the Eastern Church took the form of three talks by Orthodox Christians: “An Orthodox Approach to War” by Fr. Philip LeMasters of McMurray University,”The Eucharist and Peacemaking” by Alexander Patico of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and  “A Reflection on War,” a sermon by Fr. Bogdan Bucur, a Romanian now at Duquesne University.
Special initiatives that were carried forward during the conference included:

• Truth Commission on Conscience in War – giving respect to those who have chosen, on the basis of conscience, to withdraw from the current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. [see: www.truthcommission.org]
• North American Ecumenical Peace Center – envisioned as “a visible expression of a common call by God to advance the non-violent way of Jesus Christ by providing resources, facilitating networking, furthering communication and being a catalyst for collaboration among existing and future communities dedicated to peace and witness.”
• Global Peace Network – a way to lace together the work being done around the world to promote peace among all of God’s children, using today’s technology in the service of a timeless and universal path of reconciliation.
• Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace – several drafts of this seven-page document have been done; it will be finalized as a part of next year’s meeting in Jamaica. To accompany it, the writing committee is compiling a 100-page supporting document, which goes into greater detail about specific actions that have been or might be taken, and theological grounding for peace-work. (A text on this theme was prepared at an Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Consultation held in Leros, Greece in September 2009. Fr. Philip LeMasters attended on behalf of OPF.)

– Alexander Patico

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

Conversations by e-mail – Summer 2010

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

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 (a) earlham.edu>
or Jim Forest <jhforest (a) gmail.com>.

Weapons for peace: A little historical trivia. The Gatling gun, first used in the American Civil War, was the first successful machine gun and the predecessor of modern automatic weapons. Henry Gatling, the inventor, believed it would reduce deaths in war.

Gatling invented the Gatling gun after he noticed early in the American Civil War that a majority of the dead were lost to disease rather than gunshots. In 1857, he wrote: “It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine — a gun — which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease would be greatly diminished.” (From the Wikipedia entry on Gatling)

No doubt Gatling was sincere, but it’s difficult not to notice that this rationale crops up again and again in the history of modern warfare: some used it to justify the atomic bomb, and now it is used to justify the growing use of robotic weaponry.

John Brady
[email protected]

Rejecting limits: Men take war as inevitable, and moral limits that seem unbreakable at the beginning of a conflict seem foolish by the middle (thus Roosevelt, one of the biggest critics of bombing of cities before the US joined World War II, became one of the advocates of city bombing later in the war). So many horrible things have been done already that they tend to make old restrictions seem pointless.

I can think of only one case of the rollback of a technology of war by deliberate choice – the abandonment of guns in Japanese warfare after a time. They were simply too deadly, so they went to older technology for about two hundred years. Other than that, every lethal technology – however deplored at the beginning – seems to become standard technology pretty quickly after its development. Those who refuse to use available technology become the prey of those who revel in its use. And that becomes a powerful excuse to ignore old strictures – if we don’t use it, those evil people over there may defeat us. The result? Humanity as a whole suffers more.

Daniel Lieuwen
[email protected]

A question overheard: I was in Uganda earlier this month. While waiting at a service station for my car’s air conditioning to be repaired, I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone. I do not know what she was talking about or to whom she was talking, but I heard her say, in the rich accent of that country, “What does the Bible advise you to do about that?” We sure don’t hear that question asked very often here in the USA.

David Holden
[email protected]

Forebodings of Nicholas II: In the same vein, I’ve been reading Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra and came across a section on Tsar Nicholas’s concern about the “grim horror of any future war” and his proposals to avert it by bringing the governments of the world together to talk about disarmament and other ways to keep the peace. This was in 1898, about 15 years prior to the First World War.

Aaron Haney
ze[email protected]

Seeking blessings: As a priest, a few times parishioners have asked my opinion (blessing, permission, approval) for something which clearly they have their own doubts about. When I ask them, “Would Christ bless this?” they say “No.” I always say to them, “Well if you know Christ wouldn’t bless what you want to do, why do you ask me for my blessing?”

Fr. Ted Bobosh
[email protected]

A burial: This past week, a family in our parish, who had been rejoicing in the expectation of a third child, learned during a check-up that their child was dead in the womb. The next day the mother underwent a D&C to remove the child. The family asked for a memorial service and burial, which we did. It was intensely moving. Our priest found a service for a stillborn child online, and it was quite beautiful — obviously from some OCA source, it was original but followed the tradition of Orthodox hymnography very closely.

The child’s grandfather had spent many hours producing a beautifully-crafted oak box no bigger than a cigar box, which held the body.

Following the church service, there was a burial at our parish cemetery, using the customary Orthodox grave-side service. Family members filled the very small grave by hand. Somehow I was especially touched to see the tiny hand-made casket buried within 24 hours of its being fashioned.

The parents had named the child, and he was commemorated by name many times during the service, and again at a panakhida on Sunday.
Families react to miscarriages/stillbirths in various ways – some desire complete privacy; others like this family are willing to grieve openly, in the company of the Church. I hope that services like this one will become more common.

John Brady
[email protected]

Naming: A couple of years after we lost Oscar, we were having dinner with friends at which Bishop Seraphim of Canada was a guest. I told him the story of the miscarriage. He asked if we had named the child. I said yes, his name is Oscar. Bishop Seraphim said, that’s good. Now you have an advocate in Heaven. Instantly it changed my feeling about the experience. I know that one day we will meet Oscar face to face, and see him as we were never able to see him here.

Nancy Forest-Flier
[email protected]

Circle of concern: Any of us who have anticipated the birth of a child know how much we ourselves grow during the gestation period – in depth of feeling, reflection about the future, and capacity to include another individual in our circle of concern and caring. When a preg-nancy ends prematurely, all that is expected to just come to an end. That process is aborted, even if the first loss was not medically engineered. Just as we don’t stop loving a parent when he or she dies, we should not stop loving the very young person who almost was amongst us. To do so is to voluntarily diminish ourselves, to pare back the growth in humanity/divinity that has occurred through the grace of God.

Alex Patico
[email protected]

Friends huddled together: Before Joel and I were Orthodox, when we miscarried, we had a small ceremony. We didn’t even know what we were doing, just that we wanted to honor this little life that had already changed us so much. This was almost a decade ago, but I still get tears remembering that small group of friends huddled together. It was a great comfort to us.

Monica Klepac
[email protected]

Redemptive Suffering: In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil writes: “Redemptive suffering is that which strips suffering naked and brings it in its purity right into existence. That saves existence. As God is present through the consecration of the Eucharist in what the senses perceive as a morsel of bread, so he is present in extreme evil through redemptive suffering through the cross.”

With all due respect to Simone Weil, it seems to me that in such passages she embraces religious masochism, expressing a pseudo-spiritual pathology which we ourselves would do well to avoid and discourage in others. Suffering, even redemptive suffering (whatever that is, apart from the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ) doesn’t save anything, let alone save existence itself.

Suffering and misery are to be avoided by us Christians, and alleviated when we see the opportunity to comfort others. Were it a good idea to suffer, there would be no reason for us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. Clearly, the Gospel teaches us that human suffering is to be alleviated, not encouraged.

Weil’s mention here of “the cross” rather than “a cross” or “our crosses” suggests that she has in mind only the cross on which our dear Lord Jesus was tortured to death. While our Lord tells us that we must all follow Him and take up our crosses, those crosses are different from His, and they are probably symbolic and don’t involve physical torture. Still, just accepting and dealing with the troubles and trials which come our way every day and test our faith and love is enough of an ascetic exercise; even we monastics seek no more.

God is not present in human suffering – especially as such suffering is inflicted by some of us on others of us – except in the identity which we, in our suffering for the sake of Him Who suffered for us embrace and yield our strength and health and our very lives. This is the essence of martyrdom, which isn’t always bloody.

Monk James
[email protected]

Valley of the shadow: This reminds me of Iulia de Beausobre’s book, Creative Suffering, written as she struggled with suffering in her own lifetime. It is a difficult subject because, as Fr. James says, we must not make an idol of suffering. Idolatry is idolatry, and it misses the mark and departs from the path in an unfortunate sickness. It is even hard to talk about this particular subject because we express ourselves imperfectly!

What is said by Simone Weil could be interpreted as idolatry, but I think it need not be seen in that way. Iulia de Beausobre was talking about accepting our crosses and giving ourselves so totally to God so that we might participate in His redemptive act – suffer with Him, just as the martyrs have throughout our fallen age. After all, He tasted suffering and death in order to come to us in our low estate (in our world where there is suffering and both biological and spiritual death). It is His solidarity of love and compassion that save us. And it is clearly not a love of suffering, itself, that brings Him to the cross. He models the correct attitude: “If it be possible, let this cup pass; nevertheless…” There is only one Christ and one Cross and one salvation working in the midst of the earth, just as there is one Priest and one Prophet (the Logos) and one King in whom all anointed for such services may participate. Those who have given themselves to Him voluntarily take up their crosses and vocations to participate in what He is doing.

Perhaps we can hear Simone’s words in that context – that if we find ourselves unavoidably in the tragic position of suffering, there is still this element of companionship and solidarity that we may apprehend creatively as we suffer. It may be a creative and life-giving witness if we remain joined to Christ through it. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me…” At least, that is one way to hear what she is saying – with hope!

Sally Eckert
[email protected]

Made for joy: Metropolitan Kallistos has written that martyrdom is a universal vocation – each of us can place ourselves at the disposal of God’s intentions for us, and stand firm, come Hell or high water, for His Kingdom. But it always is to be a voluntary decision on our part, not merely a passive default position for everyday life.

Kallistos also said, “He made us not for sorrow but for joy – as St. John Climacus puts it, not for mourning but for laughter. …We are not to say that suffering as such is a blessing from God. And yet, by the divine mercy, what is in itself evil can be turned to good.”

We don’t say that a tornado ripping an infant from his crib is a blessing, but we can say that God working in the lives of his surviving family can create grace-ful outcomes in the aftermath of the tragedy. This is most definitely not a plug for reckless tornado-chasing, only for opening our hearts to God’s healing and cleansing.

Alex Patico
[email protected]

If this cup: When we go through any extreme suffering – physical, psychological or spiritual – it leaves a terrible wound in us that can only be healed in the Cross of Christ. It’s not a matter of balancing suffering with joy.

Once our innocence has been lost, which is what all deep suffering does to us, when we experience the shattering presence of evil, precisely the radical absence of God, we desperately in our depths need to find God in this shattering of our lives. We find him in the Cross of Christ.

This is what Simone Weil means to me. For me it is very hopeful. Of course we don’t go looking for this type of suffering, what Weil calls affliction. We can’t. It would be crazy. Jesus didn’t either. “If this cup may pass from me…”

Paul del Junco
[email protected]

Least person: Each of the sentences that Christ uses in Matthew 25 to describe ways in which the saved, knowingly or unknowingly, responded mercifully to Him describes actions which are the polar opposite of what combatants are required to do in war.

Turned on its head, the text then becomes: “I was hungry and you destroyed the fields, I was thirsty and you bombed the water works, I was naked and you burned the flesh from my body, I was homeless and you destroyed my city, I was sick and you fired missiles into the hospital, I was in prison and you tortured me. I tell you solemnly that what you did to the least person, you did to Me.”

Jim Forest
[email protected]

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

Recommended Reading – Summer 2010

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The Compassion of the Father
by Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, $15

The book is a collection of essays arranged around three themes. The first is that of facing evil and suffering. Here Bobrinskoy addresses the reality of sin, the challenge of loving one’s enemies and the mystery of forgiveness. This is clearly no cheap Gospel, but neither is it a set of abstract moral demands that leave us wallowing in our powerlessness to respond, for healing and forgiveness become possible by entering into the life of the Trinity, into a life of repentance.

This leads into the second theme, that of the liturgy of the heart, in which entering into the depths of our heart becomes the only way in which we can respond to suffering without becoming hardened or embittered by it.

Here we encounter the invocation of the Name, not simply as a technique, but as a theological and ecclesial reality that links us to the earliest Christian invocation and longing. It is an inner Eucharist that remains inseparable from the Liturgy of the Church and which, like that Liturgy, has cosmic implications.

The third theme, on our knowledge of God, includes essays on the relationship between theology and spirituality, on the relationship between theology and language, and on tradition. These essays help to ground the book in a rigor that is not only theological but also spiritual. There is no escaping the centrality of dogma, of the Church and of the tradition, but if these are merely abstract realities then it is too easy for them to become tools for our hardened hearts. Instead our intellects need to be baptized and the ascetical life and the life of the theologian are deeply connected, for everything converges “in the one crucible of holiness.”

– Macrina Walker

Tall Grass
by Carlos Rodriguez Soto
300 pages, $30

Carlos Rodriguez Soto, a Catholic from Spain, worked in Uganda from 1984 to 1987, then again from 1991 to 2008. In the northern part of Uganda he witnessed a horrific civil war which he describes in Tall Grass. (The book is published by Fountain Publishers in Kampala, Uganda. It is distributed in North America by Michigan State University Press and in Europe by the African Books Collective in Oxford, UK.)

These are stories of the effects of war on ordinary people, forgotten by the charismatic leader who led the insurrection, the government and military of Uganda, most of the leaders and diplomats of other nations, and most of the media. The rebels killed and mutilated many, also abducting boys to make them soldiers and girls to make them sex slaves. The economy was ruined. Families that once owned droves of cattle were driven into poverty and had to live in camps.

Fr. Carlos remarks that the sound of war is not explosions but a deep silence, pregnant with fear, waiting for shots and shouts to ring out somewhere not far away. He relates stories of great courage. Fr. Carlos himself displayed it, driven as he was by love for God and for suffering people. He is also brave enough to talk about the consequences that he suffered because of his work for others. But he was not the only person of great heart in this struggle – he tells of many others, some of whom sacrificed their lives in the service of peace.

These are also stories of a resilient and beautiful people. Before suffering these most recent crimes, the people of northern Uganda had long been bought and sold as slaves both in the Americas and Muslim nations. The people who remain there now know suffering and poverty – but also faith, hope and joy. The book tells of one man who defined peace. He said, “Peace is when a man fears only snakes.”

Many lessons are to be gained from this deeply moving book, but I think one is especially important: theology matters. On the one hand, the war that exists in northern Uganda today would never have happened if the people had had a deeper understanding of the Ten Commandments and the work of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, the reconstruction and peace in northern Uganda now would never have happened if the people had lacked the fundamental attitudes of love and forgiveness that they do in fact have. Western Christians might profit from a study of people who are poor both in possessions and in spirit. They give us a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.

– David Holden

Hidden & Triumphant:
The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography
by Irina Yazykova
Paraclete Press, 196 pages, $27

Irina Yazykova, an Orthodox art historian teaching in Russia, relates ancient and medieval episodes of iconoclasm leading up to 20th-century Russia. The modern part of her story happens more than a thousand years after St. Maximos the Confessor and St. John Damascene defended the veneration of icons.

Bridging a millennium by exploring the theme of iconoclasm is reason enough to read this book – namely, to glean how the author draws simple but poignant links between Byzantine and Marxist iconoclasts.

In addition to historical links, Yazykova writes superb stories of personal and collective sacrifice. Each story is long on details and short on platitudes. The stories make this book a gem for families to read aloud. Even a middle-school child can identify with characters and situations, while adults can plumb complex details likely to encourage re-reading and discussing the book.
Hidden and Triumphant answers a general question: What broke the yoke of Soviet suppression of icons and iconography? Her answer unfolds across 196 pages. Beauty triumphed over totalitarian oppressors.

– Ioannis Freeman

Talking Back: A Monastic Handbook
for Combating Demons
by Evagrius of Pontus (Evagrius Ponticus)
Cistercian Publications, $16.50

Professor David Brakke translates Antirhetikos, a work authored by the fourth-century monk Evagrius of Pontus, as “Talking Back.” To whom is Evagrius talking back? To demons. Indeed, his book has been a staple for Christian combat with demons ever since.

The benefits of identifying demonic thoughts and dismissing them are many. Talking back to demons with scripture “cuts off” any chance for the seeds of proto-passions to take root in the soul. The demons under attack are gluttony, fornication, love of money, sadness, anger, listlessness, vainglory and pride. In every case, Evagrius proposes using passages from scripture as weapons of self defense. By quoting biblical passages aloud, we don’t let the demons get as far as a tempting thought – a simple method but one that works.
– Ioannis Freeman

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: Essential Writings
Gillian Crow, editor
Orbis Books, 188 pages, $18

As a young physician working with the Resistance in France during the German occupation, Anthony Bloom decided that, should he survive the war, he would become a monk. He did so and went on to become a priest and later a bishop. For half a century, he led the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain. Thanks to his frequent BBC broadcasts, he became one of the major voices of Christianity in both the English and Russian-speaking worlds, making a difference in many people’s lives, both Christian and non-Christian.

It often seemed to me that, in being with him, I was meeting one of the original Apostles gathered together by Christ. He spoke not as an expert on Christ, but as someone who knew him personally and had been among the first witnesses of the resurrection.
This is well-edited anthology gathered from his principal writings plus a selection of talks and sermons. An excellent introduction is provided by his biographer and the book’s editor, Gillian Crow.
– Jim Forest

Toward the Endless Day: The Life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel
by Olga Lossky
University of Notre Dame, 344 pages, $35

Elizabeth Behr-SigelElisabeth Behr-Sigel was one of the most challenging – often controversial – Orthodox theologians of the last century. For decades, until her death in 2005, she was a key participant in building up an Orthodox presence in France in a process that integrated both refugees from Eastern Europe and converts from the West.

Born in 1907 in Alsace, France, to a Protestant father and a Jewish mother, she received a master’s degree in theology from the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Strasbourg and began a pastoral ministry, but it lasted only one year. Attracted by the beauty of the Orthodox liturgy as well as its spirituality and theology, at age 24 she embraced the Orthodox faith.

Her many friends and mentors included Sergius Bulgakov, Mother Maria Skobtsova (St. Maria of Paris), Vladimir Lossky, Georges Florovsky, Lev Gillet, John Meyendorff, Olivier Clément, and Kallistos Ware.

During most of World War II, with her husband André Behr and their children, she lived in Nancy, France, where she taught in public schools. Living under military occupation was her apprenticeship in ecumenism, when people of different Christian traditions came together in the Behr-Sigel home for religious dialogue, at the same time finding the inner strength to oppose Nazism, hide Jews, and provide escape routes.

The book includes many extracts from the prophetic letters Elisabeth wrote during a year spent in Berlin shortly before Hitler came to power. No less remarkable is the diary she kept during the war. In the midst of falling bombs, the Jesus Prayer became vitally important to her – “a cry of the heart, a cry of despair and of hope, an irresistible and never-ending need to call upon Christ to help us in our powerlessness.”

After the war she studied at St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, later joining the school’s illustrious faculty. She wrote and published essays and books on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and the role of women in the Church. When at last the role of the deaconate of women is restored in the Church, it will be in part thanks to the labors of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

During the last year of her life, she met weekly with Olga Lossky, discussing her life and providing access to her journals and letters, thus giving this biography a climate of intimacy.

I only regret the biography does not include attention to Elisabeth’s engagement with the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. She was a member of its advisory board, wrote for this journal, and took an active part in several OPF conferences.

– Jim Forest

* * *

Peacemaking and the love of enemies

One of the greatest dangers that face peacemakers: that peacemakers themselves become the victims of the evil forces they are trying to overcome. The same fear of “the enemy” that leads warmakers to war can begin to affect the peacemaker who sees the warmaker as “the enemy.” Words of anger and hostility can gradually enter into the language of the peacemaker. Even the sense of urgency and emergency that motivates the arms race can become the driving force behind the peacemaker. Then indeed the strategy of war and the strategy of peace have become the same, and peacemaking has lost its heart.

One of the reasons why so many people have developed strong reservations about the peace movement is precisely that they do not see the peace they seek in the peacemakers themselves. Often what they see are fearful and angry people trying to convince others of the urgency of their protest. The tragedy is that peacemakers often reveal more of the demons they are fighting than of the peace they want to bring about.

The words of Jesus go right to the heart of our struggle: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” (Luke 6: 27-28)  The more I reflect on these words, the more I consider them to be the test for peacemakers. What my enemies need is not my anger, rejection, resentment, or disdain, but my love. Spiritual guides throughout history have said that love for the enemy is the cornerstone of the message of Jesus and the core of holiness.

— Henri J. M. Nouwen

in Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community (Orbis Books)

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57