Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Church’

Pray for peace in Ukraine

Monday, March 17th, 2014

rublev-angels-at-mamre-trinity1In Ukraine, Russia and the contested area of Crimea, passions have been running high for months, leading to many deaths and injuries. Honest and well-informed observers offer very different perspectives on what is happening and what the causes are. The injustices are many and are on all sides.

Without taking sides, one thing Orthodox Christians can do is pray with fervor that more bloodshed can be avoided and that the fever of nationalism will not take control of the spiritual lives of the people of Ukraine.

To help parishes and individual believers with resources for prayer, we are providing several links.

As this page develops we will try to provide helpful information that furthers understanding of the events taking place in the region to help bridge the gap through better understanding.

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O Lord Jesus Christ our God, look down with Thy merciful eye on the sorrow and great pain of lamentation of Thy children in the Ukrainian land. Deliver Thy people from civil strife, make to cease the bloodshed, turn away impending misfortunes. Bring the homeless home, feed those that thirst, console those that weep, join together those that are divided. Let not Thy flock that are embittered towards their kin be diminished, but grant them swift reconciliation, for Thou art compassionate. Soften the hearts of those that have grown violent and bring them to know Thee. Give peace to Thy Church and her faithful children, that with one heart and one mouth we may glorify Thee, our Lord and Saviour, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has called on parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate to include this special prayer for peace in Ukraine to be included in the Divine Liturgy)

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Special Petitions for the Increase of Love: On February 26, the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, issued a statement encouraging the clergy of the Eastern American Diocese to add further petitions for the increase of love during the Divine Liturgy on Forgiveness Sunday. The petitions may also be used as part of a moleben that can be served upon completion of the Divine Liturgy. A special service “For the Increase of Love” can be found in the Great Book of Needs or by following the links: http://eadiocese.org/News/2014/march/increaseoflove.en.pdf

Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine issued in Kiev 25 January 2014:
http://www.incommunion.org/2014/05/08/statement-of-clergy-and-faithful/

Courage between Rocks and Guns: Monastic Peace Witness on Kiev’s Euromaidan:
an interview with Hieromonk Melchizedeck (Gordenko) and monk Gabriel (Kairasov) that first appeared in Orthodoxy in Ukraine, a Ukrainian language website on January 30th.
http://www.incommunion.org/2014/05/08/between-rocks-and-guns/

Patriarch Kirill: My heart is with Ukraine:
http://www.incommunion.org/2014/05/06/kirill-my-heart-is-with-ukraine/

Statements from Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops:
http://www.incommunion.org/2014/05/06/statements-from-ukrainian-orthodox-bishops/

A selection of prayers for peace:
http://www.incommunion.org/2004/10/18/prayers/

Ukraine Crisis: Truth is the First Casualty by Jim Forest:
http://www.incommunion.org/2014/05/07/truth-is-the-first-casualty/

A short sermon by Fr Sergei Ovsiannikov given at the Moleben for peace held March 4 at St Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam:
http://www.incommunion.org/2014/03/17/prayers-for-peace/

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Articles of special interest

Russia, Ukraine and the Church: A Lenten plea for peace
What happens when different parts of a church (and in this case, a church which generally believes in obedience to earthly power) find themselves on opposite sides of a looming conflict? Over the centuries, the Orthodox church has found ingenious ways of preserving the spiritual bonds between its fractured sons and daughters while accepting that in earthly affairs, they were deeply divided. During the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, Russia’s Orthodox church was happy to let its small but vigorous outpost in Japan pray for a Japanese victory; no religious ties were broken in the process. Bear all that in mind when contemplating the latest religious moves in Ukraine…. >> read the rest: http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2014/03/russia-ukraine-and-church

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Photos

An album of photos of peace vigils carried out by monks during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157644484980433

An album of photos of the peace demonstration in Moscow that took place Saturday 15 March 2014: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.655866497784545.1073741945.157033337667866&type=3

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One Time PDF Trial Issue!

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

New to In Communion? Please preview and download our current issue in full color for free below. Take it with you on your e-reader, laptop, ipad or phone. Share it with your friends who might enjoy receiving our journal either on paper or via PDF subscription. If you aren’t already a subscriber, we hope this issue will mark a starting point. To subscribe or make a donation, please click here. 

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Finding Peace by Father Lev Gillet

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Finding Peace 

by Father Lev Gillet

Christ

Christ

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” Jesus gives His peace. He does not loan it; He does not take it back. The peace that is in Jesus “My peace” becomes the disciples’ final possession.

The Savior gives His disciples His peace at the moment when His Passion is about to begin. When He is confronted with the vision of immediate suffering and death, He proclaims and communicates His peace. If at such moments, Jesus is the Master of Peace, then the strength of this peace will not abandon the disciple in moments of lesser strife.

“But I say to you, do not resist evil.” How scandalous and foolish is this statement in the eyes of men, and especially of unbelievers? How do we interpret this commandment about turning the left cheek to the one who struck the right, giving our cloak to the one who took our tunic, walking two miles with the one who forced us to go one mile already, giving a blessing to him who curses us? Have we explored the ways and means of loving our enemy whether he be a personal or public enemy? “You do not know of what spirit you are.”

No, it is a question of resisting the Gospel. The choice is not between fighting and not fighting, but between fighting and suffering. Fighting brings about only vain and illusory victories, because Jesus is the absolute reality. Suffering without resis-tance proclaims the absolute reality of Jesus. If we understand this point, we see that suffering is a real victory. Jesus said “It is enough” when His disciples presented Him with two swords. The disciples had not understood the meaning of Christ’s statement, “He who does not have a purse, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” What Christ meant was that there are times when we must sacrifice what seems the most ordinary thing, in order to concentrate our attention on the assaults of the evil one. But defense and attack are both spiritual.

Jesus goes out to the front of the soldiers, who with their torches and weapons, want to lay hands on Him. He goes freely, spontaneously, to His passion and His suffering. Jesus cures the servant whose ear had been cut off by the sword of a disciple. Not only is Jesus unwilling that His disciple defend Him by force, but He repairs the damage that the sword has caused. It is the only miracle that Jesus performed during His passion.

The example of non-resistance that Jesus gave does not mean that He consents to evil, or that He remains merely passive. It is a positive reaction. It is the reply of the love that Jesus incarnates, opposed to the enterprises of the wicked. The immediate result seems to be the victory of evil. In the long run, however, the power of this love is the strongest.

The Resurrection followed the Passion. The non-resistance of the martyrs wore out and inspired the persecutors themselves. It is the shedding of blood by the martyrs that has guaranteed the spread of the Gospel. Is this a weak and vague pacifism? NO, it is a burning and victorious flame. If Jesus, at Gethsemane, had asked His Father for the help of twelve legions of angels, there would have been no Easter or Pentecost and no salvation for us!  IC

Excerpted and edited from a larger work entitled A Dialogue with the Savior. Fr. Lev is best known as A Monk of the Eastern Church, as he often preferred not to identify himself by name in his writings.

In Communion / Winter 2013

Letter from the Editor: Pieter Dykhorst

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

Pieter Dykhorst

In Communion / Winter 2013

Peacemaking As Vocation: Toward an Orthodox Understanding by Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Peacemaking As Vocation:

Toward an Orthodox Understanding

by Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.   (James 3:16-18)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

                                                                                                       (Matthew 5:9)

In an increasingly complex and violent world, Christian Churches have come to recognize that working for peace constitutes a primary expression of their responsibility for the life of the world. This responsibility is grounded on the essential goodness of all human beings and of all that God has created, continues to sustain, and desires to redeem and make whole. For Orthodoxy, peace—as gift and vocation—is inextricably related to the notions of justice and the freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Peace and peacemaking as a gift and vocation provide opportunities to connect theology with ethical witness, faith with social transformation. The dynamic nature of peace as gift and vocation does not allow its identification with stagnation or passivity or with the acceptance of injustice.

While the Orthodox Church affirms that peace is an integral and indispensable element of the Christian gospel, it has not sufficiently reflected––in a morally consistent manner––on the nature of peace and peacemaking and what peacemaking requires, in practical terms, of their life and witness to the world. Orthodox theologians have noted that offering simply a theoretical presentation of the Orthodox understanding of peace is not a sufficient expression and witness:

It is not enough for us simply to theologize, to describe and to prescribe regarding the Orthodox vision of justice and peace. We must also mobilize and work together for God’s purpose to defeat injustices and to establish justice wherever possible, as well as to overcome the forces which threaten peace on earth.*

The contextualization of peace and peacemaking and the critical appreciation of the ecclesial actions or inactions for the advancement of peace compel the Orthodox Church to explore different but complementary ways to relate liturgical and spiritual experience and faith with the complex and conflictual issues of the world. Such a move evokes accusations that the Church moves from the spiritual realm to politics, an “activism” that would be alien to Orthodoxy. Commenting on the reluctance of the various Orthodox Churches to address issues of public life, Metropolitan John Zizioulas believes that they are right to give preeminence to those elements of their tradition that refer to the centrality of eschatology but they are wrong to disconnect eschatology from history, theology from ethics, and generally to be indifferent in finding and witnessing God in the historical realm.

St. Vladimir's quarterlyOrthodox theologians, because of close association of many Orthodox Churches with the State and their long oppression by totalitarian regimes, have not adequately and critically reflected on either the reflexive relationship of self and society or the Christian imperative of the simultaneous transformation by God’s grace as well as of Christian discipleship of both. Oppressive, unjust, and violent social structures in the past jeopardized the humanity of the oppressed, but now the possibility of just societies is put at risk by unjust, greedy, and self-centered individuals. Fr. Stanley Harakas notes the undeveloped status of social ethics in Eastern Orthodoxy most especially on peace studies:

There are few Orthodox writers and thinkers who have dealt deeply and thoughtfully with these issues. Still fewer, if any, have provided theoretical underpinning for a consistent and authentic Orthodox Christian Social Ethic. Because of this there is the danger that our social concern will become subject to mere sloganeering and, worse yet, the tool of alien forces. For example, Peace as an ideal for the Christian Church is almost self-evident. Yet there is no such thing as a coherent body of Orthodox peace studies. Few, if any, Orthodox theologians have concerned themselves with the problems of pacifism, disarmament, nuclear war, just war theory, peace movements, etc. There is a danger on this issue that we will allow ourselves simply to be used as a propaganda outlet.

Despite this lamentable situation, opportunities for Orthodox theologians to reflect on issues of justice and peace have arisen. Among them, the military invasion of Iraq generated among Orthodox in the USA an interesting debate on whether the war was just, and whether judged by the standards of the Orthodox Church, war can ever be “Just,” or may sometimes be considered a “lesser good” or a “lesser evil.” All three views are problematic. Orthodoxy has never conceived a theory of Just War or the notion that any war may be just; further, violence is neither fully legitimized when it is viewed as a lesser good nor unconditionally renounced when it is considered as a lesser evil. Rather, most Orthodox theologians have defended the peaceable nature of the Orthodox Church and at the same time have conceded that the use of force is sometimes an inevitable tool of statecraft, while some evidence exists that the Byzantines at times attempted to place elements of strict and yet meaningful moral restraint on the execution of war. The theological assessment of violence, however, remains an issue of contestation.

Does the eschatological nature of the Christian faith allow us to give a condition-al theological legitimacy to violence? While the eschatological orientation of the gospel teaches us that a fully reachable earthly shalom is unattainable in history, it places the world in a dynamic process of transformation by the Holy Spirit that moves the world closer to the peaceable reign of God. Eschatology is thus a subversive principle questioning every necessity that legitimates violence. As Gregory Baum states:

Replying to the question “Can society exist without violence?” in the negative gives permission for societies to reconcile themselves with the violence they practice. Replying yes to the question, in the name of divine promises, challenges every society to review its practices and reduce its reliance on violence.

Peace, of course, is more than the absence of violence. It does not deny conflict, an intrinsic element of human relationships, but neither does conflict necessitate violence. Violence is not the only way to resolve conflicts. Peacemakers are con-stantly seeking creative applications of peacemaking principles to conflict situations whereby people and communities can resolve their differences without resort to physical violence. Peacemaking is a dynamic process, often without an absolute end point, that either strengthens conditions that prevent violence or introduces new elements that lead toward greater freedom and justice and away from violence.

Metropolitan George of Mount Lebanon, living in a Muslim country and having experience with the cruelties of religion-sanctioned wars and strife, argues that the Church cannot exercise its vocation of peace and peacemaking and hold onto war:

In the church, a vision of inwardness where peace becomes our vocation is plausible only if war can be exorcised….Nothing can be accomplished until the biblical foundations of violence are shattered. For us the error lies not in history but in theology.

Alongside the image of a bloodthirsty God, there arises the image of a merciful God whose voice speaks through prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea and in the Song of the Servant in Isaiah. We are confronted here with two irreconcilably opposed faces of the Lord in the same Scripture.

Metropolitan George argues that these incompatible images of God must be understood through a “kenotic” reading of Scripture and suggests that the “the Cross alone is the locus of divine victory, and the source of the meaning of faith. Anything in the Scripture that does not conform to the mystery of Love is a veil over the Word.” Other Orthodox scholars, risking the accusation of being Marcionites, tend to bypass the violent texts of the Old Testament as earlier stages in under-standing God’s revelation that the New Testament has surpassed. In the Patristic tradition the violent texts of the Scripture have been interpreted through the allegorical method to describe “Spiritual personal struggles against evil and sin.”

However, the renunciation of violence and war as destructive of human lives, unjust, and oppressive becomes a credible expression of the Church’s faith only when it is complemented with ethical practices that point to their prevention. The peaceable witness of the Church in situations of conflict and war cannot be limited only to its ethical judgment about the legitimacy and rules of conduct of war or even its unconditional renunciation. Peace requires much more than either military action or passive pacifism. If our ethics focus only on when a military action is right or wrong, their scope is limited to the exclusion of preventive actions. A remedy to this limitation is for the Church to develop “just peacemaking” practices that move its ethical discourse from theories that justify or regulate the use of violence to preventive actions that contribute to the building up of a culture of peace.

The Church’s witness may not always prevent war, and Christians may continue to disagree on the justification of a particular war, but it must be possible to work together and reach consensus on what practices of violence prevention and peacemaking the Church should support. Orthodox pacifists have a particular moral obligation to address situations of aggression, injustice, and violent conflicts to contribute to the invention of peaceful means and actions by which justice, peace, and reconciliation are served and not simply to renounce violence and war.

The concern of the Church for peace and its active participation in movements of peace is a testing ground of its faith about the origins, essential goodness, and future of the world. The Church, as the sacrament of God’s peace to the world, must find ways to actively support all human efforts that aim to identify more effective ways of resolving disputes without resorting to violence. The Church’s peacemaking vocation, through prayer and action, is to transform the conditions that breed violence and to help those whom violence and war have put asunder to find wholeness in God’s peace and justice through reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness.

If we do not see the Church as a vessel bringing peace to a violent world, it becomes in effect merely a lifeboat adrift in the wind.

If we do not see the Church as a vessel bringing peace to a violent world, it
becomes in effect merely a lifeboat adrift in the wind.

Theological Foundations for a Culture of Peace: The Orthodox Church understands peace and peacemaking as an indispensable aspect of its faith and of its mission to the world. It grounds this faith conviction upon the wholeness of the Biblical tradition as it is properly interpreted through the Church’s liturgical experience and practice. The Eucharist provides the space and the perspective by which one discerns and experiences the fullness of the Christian faith and is the witness of the Church as it bears its mission for the life of the world. Robert F. Taft concludes that since the formation of the Byzantine liturgy, peace had assumed a central importance as a greeting and prayer that expresses the Church’s understanding of God’s Kingdom. The peace of God in the Liturgy is referred to as “peace from on high,” as in the angelic greeting “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk. 2:14). In the Liturgy, people receive the peace of God through unity with Christ once they enter, by the Eucharist through the work of the Holy Spirit, into unity with God. Finally, at the end of the liturgy, the people are sent away in peace and as bearers of peace to the world.

Peace in Scripture as well as in the liturgy is a greeting and a dynamic, grace-giving word: God Himself is Peace and peace is His gift; peace is a sign of communion with God, who gives peace to those who serve him; peace grants freedom from fear and is inseparable from righteousness without which there is no real peace—in short, “peace” is practically synonymous with salvation; peace is communion with God and Jesus Christ is our peace since, as the bond of communion, “We live in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”; peace is granted to the world and to the Church by the operation of the Holy Spirit, the active presence of God within the world that guides the Church into unity “in one place with one accord” and grants to all peace, justice, love, and joy (Jn. 20:19-21, Jgs. 6:24, Ps. 85:8-13, Rom. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:23, Eph. 2:14-17, Rom 5:1, Acts 2:1, Rom. 14:14).

Christians, as it is reflected in the liturgy, place primary emphasis on the eschatological peace that God grants to them as a gift of communion with Christ. Yet, they do not ignore the conflicts, power struggles, and violence they presently experience in the world. Although the early Christian Church of the first three centuries was primarily pacifist, grounding its attitudes on the Sermon of the Mount, the Fathers of the Church later––without abandoning the pacifist attitude of the early Church––justified defensive wars without developing theories of Just War or giving theological legitimacy to violence. Still, the Orthodox Church gave far more attention to the question of how to establish and maintain peaceful and just societies than it did to justify, or even tolerate, any instance of war. It remains that the Church has a dynamic commitment to the praxis of peace.

In every dimension of life, the Church invites us to embody the way of Christ as fully as we can in the circumstances that we face: to forgive enemies; to work for the reconciliation of those who have become estranged; to overcome the divisions of race, nationality, and class; to care for the poor; to live in harmony with others; to protect creation and to use the created goods of the world for the benefit of all. Advocacy for peace must not stop with praying the litanies of the Liturgy. We can pray these petitions with integrity only if we also move beyond prayer and offer ourselves as instruments for God’s peace in the world, ready to live the petitions out in relation to the challenges to peace that exist among peoples and nations, believing that God has destined the world to live in peace. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas states: “Christians, as disciples of Christ who made all things for peace, are to be ‘craftsmen of peace.’ They are called a peaceable race, since ‘nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace.’” The Third Pre-Conciliar Pan Orthodox Conference (1986) exhorts Orthodox Christians to be active peacemakers grounded in their faith:

We, Orthodox Christians, have—by reason of the fact that we have had access to the meaning of salvation—a duty to fight against disease, misfortune, fear; because we have had access to the experience of peace we cannot remain indifferent to its absence from society today; because we have benefited from God’s justice, we are fighting for further justice in the world and for the elimination of all oppression; because we daily experience God’s mercy, we are fighting all fanaticism and intoler-ance between persons and nations; because we continually proclaim the incarnation of God and the divinization of man we defend human rights for all individuals and all peoples; because we live God’s gift of liberty, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ, we can announce more completely its universal value for all individuals and peoples; because, nourished by the body and blood of our Lord in the holy Eucharist, we experience the need to share God’s gifts with our brothers and sisters, we have a better understanding of hunger and privation and fight for their abolition; because we expect a new earth and new heaven where absolute justice will reign, we fight here and now for the rebirth and renewal of the human being and society.

There remains, then, a need to learn practical ways, develop pastoral projects, and create opportunities that allow Orthodox people and the Church to participate in movements of social transformation and contribute to a culture of peace. For, as the Christian understanding of peace and how it is advanced in the life of the world is guided by the eschatological peace that God grants to the world––the reality of being with God and participating in the glory of His reign––it remains primarily a gift and a vocation, a pattern of life. It discloses the life of those who have been reconciled and united with God. It is primarily this unity that enables Christians to embrace in love all human beings because of the active presence of God’s spirit in them. Since peace is constitutive of the Christian Gospel, Christian believers are involved in a permanent process of becoming more conscious of their responsibility to incarnate the message of peace and justice in the world as a witness of the authenticity of their faith. This is clearly stated by St. Basil: “Christ is our peace,” and hence “he who seeks peace seeks Christ…without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.”

The Orthodox Church insists that the root cause for violence, injustice and oppression in the world reflects the pervasive presence and impact of the still active operation of the “principalities and powers” of the fallen world. Evil, violence, injustice, and oppression reflect the disrupted communion of human beings with God, the fallible nature of our human actions, and the failure to discern and do the will of God in the midst of the ambiguities of history. Violence has multiple manifestations: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless, and innumerable other acts of inhumanity between individuals and groups of every organizational type. In the midst of violence and injustice, Christian faith recognizes the active presence of God’s Spirit, the subversive reality that enables the world, and in particular the suffering victims of injustice, aggression and oppression, to begin a process of liberation and movement towards a culture of peace and justice. A tension between the already given reality of peace and its not-yet-fulfilled reality characterizes the key theological stance of Christians involved in the struggle for peace. The awareness that peace is an eschatological gift of God and of the active presence of God’s Spirit in history makes it impossible for the Church to accept either the historical fatalism that makes wars, lesser clashes, and other violence an unshakable reality or to embrace the possibility of a permanent peace in this world by relying on simple human-centered ideologies.

The Christian notion of Peace in the Public Space: The Christian gospel invites the faithful to a continuous spiritual struggle that leads, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, towards greater justice and peace. Every Christian is called to be a peacemaker and a worker for justice. This calling is nourished through prayer and repentance, by allowing Scripture to form our human consciousness, in participating in the Eucharist, and through recognizing the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed as living icons of Christ.

This calling is noble, and Christians, through the above mentioned devotional practices, receive the gift of God’s peace as the basis of their involvement in the life of the world. They are peacemakers because of their participation in God’s mission. Here it is important to differentiate between the gift of God’s peace and how this gift is received, acknowledged, and communicated by the Church and the faithful. While the gift of God’s peace is given through the Church to all by virtue of their identification with Christ, it is not equally true that the faithful are always the vehicles of God’s grace and peace to the world. Christian responses to situations of violence are always subject to God’s judgment that compels the Church and the faithful to repentance and asking for God’s forgiveness for all their failures to act as agents of His peace to the world.

Orthodox theologians have recognized that there is a need to “lift up in the consciousness of the Church the peacemaking character of Christianity and the Christian duty to serve the cause of peace and Justice.” Articulating only abstract theological truths, which nevertheless are normative for the Church’s identity and mission, cannot raise the consciousness of the Church. There is a need to enhance and concretize these theological ideals with insights about social injustice, oppression, and violence that the social sciences provide. As the report of the Orthodox Perspectives on Justice and Peace states:

It is important that we not only speak about justice and peace, but also develop projects and contribute practically in programs and sustained organized activity on behalf of the concrete realization of the values of justice and peace in our ecclesial life. In this regard the Church must learn to dialogue especially with non-Church bodies to find the most suitable common ways for the implementation of justice and peace.

We carefully note, however, that dialogue between opposing sides is not simply a means to reach agreement. The Orthodox Church should exercise its peacemaking mission through its active participation in peace dialogues seeking to end wars between and within states, resolve violent disputes of all kinds within society, and defeat racism, discrimination, and exploitation of the weak and the poor. The very presence of the Church in dialogue with others is witness to God’s love for all humanity and affirms the dignity of all human beings as well as affirms that dialogue itself is part of a reconciliation process. The Orthodox should defend not only dialogue on peace as such but also the inclusion of people who are very often neglected in crucial deliberations. Those who partner in true dialogue with open and sincere minds, ready to listen and not only to speak, are already on the way to peace.

Harrowing Hell

A defensive Church will never be a victorious Church; a Church that engages the world on its
terms will always be a defeated Church; only when the Church “wages peace” on the Gospel’s
terms will the violence of Hell be defeated and Hell’s gates sundered.

On the basis of the theological understanding of peace, the various Orthodox Churches should participate in movements of peace and justice. However their involvement will not be credible unless they first liberate themselves from ethno-nationalisms that reflect the history of the long identification of church-nation-state relationship in most Orthodox countries where the Churches had been considered as national institutions. Ethno-nationalism has in some instances reduced the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to a “national” church, restricted geographically and shaped by a particular culture, shared history, worldview, language, and other idiosyncrasies that serves the political purposes of a state while helping to preserve its nationalist, racist, and chauvinist ideologies. The suggested liberation of the Orthodox Churches from ethno-nationalism does not mean that their members cannot be patriotic or love their nation. What is objectionable is the exclusive identification of God with a particular nation and the triumphalism that attaches to that. The partiality of ethno-nationalism not only hinders the Orthodox contribution to peace movements, but it debases basic tenets of the Orthodox faith.

The Church must learn to express its deep-rooted commitment to justice in concrete ways relevant in our time. We must continue to affirm, loudly and clearly, the truth that God’s image is present in every human being. We need to seek out and actively cooperate with all forces of good working for the eradication from God’s creation of all forms of prejudice and discrimination. We ourselves must teach our people to respect the integrity and dignity of all peoples of every nation, economic condition, race, sex, and political affiliation, so that reconciliation and tolerance may replace coercion and violence in our relationships. Our goal is nothing less than the reign of God’s love among all peoples.

Is it possible for Orthodoxy to justify wars in defending the dignity, the rights, the freedom and the liberation of oppressed people? As the report on Orthodox Perspective on Justice and Peace states:

The Orthodox Church unreservedly condemns war as evil. Yet it also recognizes that in the defense of the innocent and the protection of one’s people from unjust attack, criminal activity and the overthrowing of oppression, it is sometimes necessary, with reluctance, to resort to arms. In every case, such a decision must be taken with full consciousness of its tragic dimensions. Consequently, the Greek fathers of the Church have never developed, a just war theory, preferring rather to speak of the blessings of and the preference for Peace.

The Church, while it supports all human efforts to repudiate the logic of violence and war, must not forget its greater mission to lead the world to address the deeper issues. Peace is not a moral good in and of itself; it is linked with the most basic human values and practices as a permanent improvement of the human condition on all levels. Defending the dignity of every human person and the sanctity of life cannot be disengaged from the quest for greater justice and freedom as the foundation, source, and origin of real and permanent peace. “No society can live in peace with itself, or with the world, without the full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person, and of the sacredness of all human life.” The Church must be hesitant to fully support those peace movements that disregard fundamental human values like justice and freedom for the sake of merely avoiding the last explicit negation of peace, i.e. massive armed war and lesser applications of violence. Certainly, a Christian would always share in the efforts to avoid bloodshed because life is the most precious God-given gift, but he would try to remind people that when attempting to avoid war and keep peace they should critically examine what kind of peace they represent.

One has to speak of the Christian peace concept and its contribution to the general peace movement not as an absolute one in a general religious, self-sufficient sense but as a radical particularity which is unique in that it goes dynamically deep into the primary causes of war and violence and calls for thorough understanding in shaping a praxis of peacemaking. Particularity here refers to a uniqueness relating to Christ as our Peace, presenting God’s Peace as a paramount gift to the whole of humanity. There are good attempts in the secular realm regarding peace, and a Christian should affirm them as a first point of contact with God’s peace: “Whenever we see harmony, justice, forgiveness, respect for human dignity, generosity, and care for the weak in the common life of humanity, we witness a blessing of the Lord and catch a glimpse—no matter how dim and imperfect—of the peace of Christ.” Then the uniqueness of Christian peace could definitely become a necessary and positive counterbalance against all kinds of unilateral, human-centered and godless peacemaking.

Finally, the contribution of the Orthodox Church in advancing peace with justice and freedom depends upon the unity of all Orthodox Churches in their total commitment to the Gospel of love and reconciliation and on their courage to speak and act accordingly beyond any kind of temporary affiliations in the socio-political realm. Its contribution will, however, be truly Christian, if it is offered in all humility and in that spirit of repentance and forbearance which is the key prerequisite of true peacemakers.  IC

Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis is Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology at Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, MA where he has taught since 1985. In Communion thanks Fr. Emmanuel for his invaluable contribution to our ongoing quest to promote peacemaking not just as an ideal, an eschatological end point, or for those inclined to activism but as necessary for the whole Church. His essay has been edited here for length. The unedited essay with full notes and references may be found at: www.goarch.com

* To save space, all footnotes and references have been removed throughout this issue. Any article is available, with full notes, to anyone upon request.

In Communion / Winter 2013

St. Basil the Holy Fool of Moscow

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The Church occasionally canonizes people known as Holy Fools, people whose lives are so at odds with civil and ecclesiastical society that others, even Christians, find them troubling, but whose lives undeniably manifest the Gospel attributes of humility, obedience, and compassion.

Yet it is the special vocation of Holy Fools to live out in a rough, literal, breathtaking way the “hard sayings” of Jesus. Like the Son of Man, they have no place to lay their heads, and like him, they live without money in their pockets. Also like Jesus, they generally come on the scene when civil society, remade in the image of religion but bereft of its spirit and understanding, requires bracing lessons delivered in counter cultural ways.

Clearly Holy Fools challenge an understanding of Christianity that gives people with certain intellectual and vocational gifts a head start in economic, social, and spiritual arenas. While never harming anyone, Holy Fools often raise their voices against those who lie and cheat and do violence to others, but at the same time they are always ready to embrace these same greedy and ruthless people. No one, absolutely no one, is unimportant. In fact the only thing always important for them, apart from God and angels, are the people around them, whoever they are, no matter how limited they are. Their dramatic gestures, however shocking, always have to do with revealing the person of Christ and his mercy.

For most people, clothing serves as a message of how high they have risen and how secure—or insecure—they are. Holy Fools wear the wrong clothes, or rags, or even nothing at all. This is a witness that they have nothing to lose. There is nothing to cling to and nothing for anyone to steal. Inevitably, the voluntary destitution and absolute vulnerability of the Holy Fool challenges us with our locks and keys and schemes to outwit destitution, suffering, and death.

The most famous of Russia’s Holy Fools is Saint Basil the Blessed, after whom the colorful cathedral on Red Square takes its name. In an icon housed in that church, Basil is shown clothed only in his beard and a loin cloth. In the background is the Savior Tower and the churches packed within Moscow’s Kremlin walls. Basil’s hands are raised in prayer toward a small image of Jesus revealed in an opening in the sky. The fool has a meek quality, but a single minded, intelligent face.

It is hard to find the actual man beneath the thicket of tales and legends that grew up around his memory, but according to tradition Basil was clairvoyant from an early age. Thus, while a cobbler’s apprentice, he first laughed and then wept when a certain merchant ordered a pair of boots, for Basil saw that the man would be wearing a coffin before his new boots were ready. We can imagine that the merchant was not amused at the boy’s behavior. Soon after, Basil became a vagrant. Dressing as if for the Garden of Eden, Basil’s survival of many bitter Russian winters must be reckoned among the miracles associated with his life.

It isn’t surprising that a naked man wandering the streets of the capital city became famous—especially for the wealthy, he was not a comfort either to eye or ear. In the eyes of some, he was a trouble maker. There are tales of him destroying merchandise of dishonest tradesmen at the market on Red Square. He Even hurled stones at the houses of the wealthy; yet as if reverencing icons, he sometimes kissed the stones on the outside of houses in which evil had been committed, as if to say that no matter what happens within these walls, there is still hope of conversion.

Basil was one of the few who dared warn Ivan the Terrible that his violent deeds would doom him to hell. Ivan, whose irritated glance was a death sentence to others,  is said to have lived in dread of Basil and would allow no harm to be done to him.

According to one story, in the midst of Lent, when Orthodox Russians keep a rigorous vegetarian fast, Basil presented the czar with a slab of raw beef, asking him “Why abstain from meat when you murder men?{Anchor:sdendnote143anc}{Anchor:sdendnote143anc}”

Occasionally Ivan even sent gifts to the naked prophet of the streets, but Basil kept none of these for himself. Most that he received he gave to beggars, though in one surprising case a gift of gold from the czar was passed on to a merchant. Others imagined the man was well off, but Basil discerned the man had been ruined and was actually starving, but was too proud to beg.

Basil was so revered by Muscovites that, when he died, his thin body was buried, not in a pauper’s grave on the city’s edge, but next to the newly erected Cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God. The people began to call the church Saint Basil’s, for to go there meant to pray at Basil’s grave. Not many years passed before Basil was formally canonized by the Russian Church. A chapel built over his grave became an integral part of the great building, adding a ninth dome to the eight already there{Anchor:sdendnote144anc}.

We again—or still—live in times like Basil’s, where it is easy to confuse religious and civil society, to cross governmental and ecclesial purposes, or equate spiritual with secular values and aims. These often run parallel but are too often conflated.

While it seems that very few of us are called to live out a corrective message in-the-flesh the way that Holy Fools did, all are called to recognize that message. A popular myth says that counterfeit currency agents working for governments study only authentic bills and thereby recognize fakes because they simply do not bear the right image. Not a bad lesson for us as by contemplating the lives of Holy Fools, we become better familiar with authentic prophetic voices and examples within the Church and society.  IC

(Adapted from a chapter in Praying with Icons by Jim Forest)

Front cover image found at http://www.templegallery.com.

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

We Must Refuse to Hate Each Other: Interview with Archpriest Alexey Uminsky

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Interview with Archpriest Alexey Uminsky

Archpriest Alexey Uminsky is dean of a Moscow parish, Holy Trinity Church in Khokhly. He is also a television presenter, a member of the editorial board of the magazine Alpha & Omega, and an author of various publications on Christian education. Formerly he served as director of the St. Vladimir Gymnasium and is now the school’s chaplain and confessor. Since October 2003 he has been the chief of the television program “Orthodox Encyclopedia.” In 2010 he was awarded the St. Seraphim of Sarov medal by the Moscow Patriarchate. A controversial figure at times, he was recently accused by a fellow priest of “confusing pacifism with Christianity.” The interview that follows was made by Mila Dubrovina, reporter for the Russian journal Arguments and Facts, and was originally published August 29, 2012.

Q: Let me start by asking about the Pussy Riot case. What was your first reaction to this event?

I hadn’t known about Pussy Riot’s performance until it stirred up a storm in the media. What do you think my reaction would be? How would you behave if strangers with such intentions burst into your house? What would be your first reaction? Shock, horror, pain. If it had happened in my church, I would try to stop them immediately, to kick them out, only to do so peacefully.

Q: Have you since changed your mind about this case? What do you think would be a proper punishment for these young women?

When the situation changes, your opinion changes too. When the shock is over, you begin to reflect. People start wondering: Will they get off without any punishment?

Q: That was the reaction of Fr. Andrey Kuraev  [a popular figure in Russian cultural life well known through the mass media]. At first he called for leniency, but then he changed his mind.

Fr. Andrey Kuraev is a very intelligent person. And he hasn’t changed his attitude toward the situation. At first perhaps he responded too kindly, but the main idea of his statements is that the Church should be merciful, not a punitive body.

Q: What do such actions show? What social problems do they reveal?

They do not reveal any particular problem. Their actions however, provoked the same reaction as exploding bombs.

Q: Maybe that the society is somehow out of order…

The society is certainly out of order. There’s no need saying again that it is seriously ill. And it is obvious that the punishment inflicted on the members of the punk-group is unnecessarily severe. But we do not understand the heart of the matter. The events became an excuse for people to hate each other. Hatred lashes out on both sides! On one side, there are ultra-conservative “banner carriers,” on the other people wearing colorful balaclavas with eye slots. You cannot discern human faces. On both sides, we see enmity. This is the most awful aspect.

Q: You’ve mentioned destructive actions. Recently it has been reported that the FEMEN group [from which the Pussy Riot group emerged] is planning to chop down wooden crosses around the country. Should we protect ourselves, recruit vigilante groups, and quickly change the laws?

Journalists take advantage of the situation with FEMEN without giving any moral assessment of it. For them it is just headlines. I was shocked when I saw a picture of an almost naked young woman chopping down a wooden cross [in Kiev]. That cross had been erected in memory of victims of the KGB, people who had been tortured and killed in the Soviet period. The journalists just stood shooting photos! Not one tried to stop the destruction. So on the one hand you have journalists taking pictures of the cross being chopped down and, on the other, Church leaders turning a blind eye toward “Orthodox activists” who are beating up women whom they regard as enemies of the Church. Both situations are similar.

The issue of chopping down the crosses concerns not only FEMEN. The media too is guilty when it portrays such actions as if they were spectacles or even “glamorous” events. They should be seen as acts of unmitigated savagery. I experience the same feeling when I see caricatures of Mohammed.

Now we see certain Russian Orthodox activists forming vigilante groups that are looking forward to incidents when malefactors chop down crosses or behave in an outrageous way. It will simply give them a chance to show off.

Q: When the Patriarch commented on the December events [prior to the Russian general election], he said that an Orthodox Christian would be better off staying at home and praying instead of attending a demonstration. People thought he was in effect opposing protests. 

Well, the Patriarch did not specify which meeting the believers should not attend. There were different meetings in Moscow. Some were pro-Putin and others were against him. The Patriarch opposed all the meetings.

Q: Did the Patriarch demand a harsh punishment for the members of Pussy Riot?

Not at all. He did not comment on this case at all out of principle. Do you remember when and what he said? The only statement was made by the Superior Church Council after the sentencing.…The Church is not guilty of private statements [made by individuals] that are constantly ascribed to it.

Q: Like those made by Fr. Chaplin, for instance? [Archpriest Chaplin is Chairman of the office of Interaction of Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate.]

Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin is a notorious figure. I don’t know with whom to compare him. His only counterpart in politics is Zhirinovsky [the Russian politician who often speaks in a confrontational style bordering on farce]. How could Chaplin make statements that justify those who hit women in the face? He said, “I don’t approve of everything they do, but they are good guys.” How could a Church officer approve of such behavior? Instead he should have sharply criticized them, these so-called nationalists, many of whom are anti-Semites. How can a Christian be an anti-Semite if Jesus was a Jew?

Q: People often forget that.

To go back to you earlier question, the general public is disturbed about the harsh sentence given to the girls, and rightly so. But not many people seem worried about the consequences of the stunt on the young women who did it. How will it affect their lives? If hooligans come into my Church and desecrate it, I shall simply clean it up and continue to celebrate Liturgies there. The Church remains a holy place. But what will happen to their lives?

Q: And if they had come to you and repented, would you have accepted them?

Certainly I would take them in! I pray for it. I pray that we would help them, speak to them. We should speak a lot with them. They do not understand, it seems hardly anyone understands, what a huge gift they have given to Vladimir Putin, what a winning card they have presented to the authorities. At the same time they make themselves a target — people whom we should be united against. People are always willing to unite in hatred against a common enemy. The most horrible thing is now there is so much hatred on both sides. That’s much worse than leaving the Church.

Q: Don’t you think that intellectuals are moving away from the Church?

The main problem is not that anyone is leaving the Church* but rather that those who could have come, don’t. This is much more important. No one can leave the Church completely. The Church changes a person forever. Even if you leave it for a while, you return later. The real problem is that those who were almost ready, who need to come, do not.

As for conservatives, the so-called “banner carriers,” they don’t need the Church. They need a get-together, a kind of narrow circle. They pretend to be Christians, but

their belief has nothing to do with Christianity. If they had really come into the Church, it would have changed them, and they would be cured from nationalism. They would become Christians with a Russophile [a 19th century movement critical of westernization] bias, like Khomyakov and Aksakov, who outlined a particular path for Russia. And if modern oppositionists had come into the Church, they would have become Westernizers, like Chaadaev or Solovyev. Don’t forget that there have been similar disputes within Russian society in the past, but the climate of argument was quite different. It never degraded itself to the level we see today.

Q: What is the main lesson that we should take from these events?

As the proverb goes: “The devil is laughing at us.” People are happy when they can hate each other and this hatred increases every day. The antagonism is telling. We should struggle only to overcome enmity and nothing else. We should never ever lose our human dignity. We should refuse to wear masks and also refuse to merge with the hatred-infected crowd. Most of all, we should always remember Christ who suffered for every human being. The Church, first and foremost, recognizes not the crowd, but the person.  IC

*On the web site of Fr. Uminsky’s parish is this brief message: A word to those thinking about leaving the Church: We should be with the Church not only in the time of its glory.

In Communion thanks Anna Kurt for her translation of the interview with Fr. Uminsky.

Quotes Related to Fr. Uminsky’s Interview:

If I were the keeper of the church’s key, I would treat them to pancakes and a cup of mead and would invite them to come again on the Sunday of Forgive-ness…. What the young women did was an outrage, but a “legal” outrage…after all, it’s Shrovetide, a season of clowning, buffoonery, and hoaxes.  —Archdeacon Andrei Kurayev (Shrovetide is a Bacchanalian festival season dating back centuries in Russian culture during which time all manner of foolery was overlooked by the Church and civil authorities).

The tragedy of the church is that it has always grown too close to the state, and then it pays for it. Now the church is trying to prove to the Kremlin it is a serious and useful player…. We are at a crossroads: either the church starts to stand up for conscience or it will get blamed for all the Kremlin’s faults. But for that we need to abandon our old illusions: the “Third Rome” dreams of an Orthodox superpower.  —Archpriest Alexei Uminsky

The enemies of Holy Russia are everywhere….We must protect holy places from liberals and their satanic ideology. —Ivan Ostrakovsky, leader of a group of Russian Orthodox vigilantes who patrol the streets of nighttime Moscow, dressed in all-black clothing emblazoned with skulls and crosses and the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death.” (A collective of such groups from across Russia is organized under the name the “Banner Bearers.”)

That’s the ironic thing. If they had made a sincere prayer—there’s a long history of Christians praying sincerely for the Lord to deliver them from rulers that they believed to be unjust—instead of a mocking prayer, they might have gotten people on their side. Sincerity is always better than mockery; mockery only has the aim of wounding and hurting people.  —Frederica Mathewes-Green

 

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

A Sermon From Moscow: A Parish Priest Speaks to His Flock

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

by Fr. Alexander Borisov

Dear friends, our short summer is over. It was, as our poet Alexander Pushkin put it, “a parody of southern winters.” On the whole, the weather wasn’t bad: we had it hot and we had it raining. Now it is getting cold. Fall and winter lie ahead with the liturgical year and the school year starting at the same time. During the summer not only our regular work, but also the church activities slowed down. Now we have to catch up and to get into the rhythm of the congregational and spiritual life.

In fact, the current situation offers us plenty of new—or rather recurring— challenges. The whole situation around the Pussy Riot affair, with all of its absurdity and shame, is telling. It reveals the moral state of our society, both of the church and the world. We are seeing a horrible polarity of viewpoints—from harsh, Soviet-Stalinist mythologies to extreme permissiveness. We have clearly seen who we are. We have seen that religiosity coexists with intolerance, reverencing church sanctuaries while hating those of unpopular views.

But didn’t our Lord Jesus Christ say about Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6)? Then in order to live like Christians don’t we need to reflect which of our Lord’s precepts applies to these particular challenges?

There are many relevant passages in the Gospel. Take the episode where Jesus and his disciples on their way to Jerusalem were not accepted in a Samaritan village. “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them even as Elias did?’ But he turned and rebuked them and he said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went on to another village” (Luke 9:54-56).

It seems even his closest disciples were ready to release their “righteous” wrath. They even found a precedent worthy of imitation: “even as Elias did.” But Jesus “rebuked them, and said, ‘You know not what manner of spirit ye are of.’”

We Christians possess a great source of wisdom. Why guess how to act in this or that case if we have a clear word from the Gospel? Follow it, and you will never regret. The Gospel may not give a direct answer to every question important to us, but in this case, there is plenty of advice, more than we will ever need.

But when we yield to our sinful passions, especially when political factors get involved, our reaction becomes inadequate, resulting in absurd and tangled consequences.

It would have been enough to reprimand the girls and to let them go, as Deacon Andrey Kuraev suggested, or at most to sentence them to 15 days of imprisonment. Instead we have a grand trial. The scale of the prosecution and the sentence are clearly out of proportion to the persons and their mis-behavior, with the sentence turning stupid young hooligans into “heroines of our time.”

I recall an episode from the early years of Ivan Bunin, the Nobel Prize laureate in litera-ture. He was eating in a restaurant with some friends. Suddenly Vladimir Mayakovsky, then a young radical poet, appeared. He took Bunin’s glass, started drinking from it and then began eating from his plate. Bunin watched him without saying a word. Finally Mayakovsky asked “Why don’t you react?” Ivan Bunin quietly answered “It would do you too much honor.” This seems to be applicable to the current scandal.

Certainly, every Christian should have his or her own moral stand on these events and on personal moral standards. But obviously we should not be carried away by endless disputes and discussions on the Internet and in the media.

Soon after the Pussy Riot sentencing, there was a scandal in a Moscow café called Mu-Mu. A group of “Orthodox zealots” saw a girl with words from the Pussy Riot “punk prayer” on her T-shirt. They demanded that she remove the shirt. Apparently, the severe condemnation by the state court provided some people with a license to attack anyone who finds the sentence unjust or simply thinks differently.

An annual liturgy is held for the homeless at Sts. Cosmas and Damian, which includes a commemoration of those who have died on the streets of Moscow during the winter.

An annual liturgy is held for the homeless at Sts. Cosmas and Damian, which includes a
commemoration of those who have died on the streets of Moscow during the winter.

As a protest against the harsh sentence, some people—fortunately, not many— expressed their intention to leave the Russian Orthodox Church. Yes, in some difficult situations we may have a temptation to leave and “slam the door.” I think, though, that radical decisions such as “I’ll leave the Church” are the result of spiritual immaturity. In such cases, I strongly recommend that parishioners read the book The Church of the Faithful by Sergey Fudel. It has been recently published with an excellent preface by Archpriest Nikolay Balashov.

This book discusses the same issues as we face today, but it gives the answers based on the experience of the Russian Church history of the first half of the twentieth century, specifically of the “renovationist” schism that occurred within the Church in the twenties. Sergey Fudel was the son of Joseph Fudel, a famous Moscow priest who was dean of the Byturka prison church. The views of Sergey Fudel were born in suffering, in far harsher conditions than the present ones. He was arrested several times, exiled, and persecuted. In his book, he argued that even the errors made by the hierarchy cannot be an excuse for a split within a church.

Recently there was yet another reaction to the Pussy Riot trial. In some areas of Russia, some people have cut down Orthodox crosses erected in public places. (The three condemned girls, I must note, have publicly protested against these acts.) Some lawmakers immediately proposed severe punishment for such actions. However I doubt that these legislative proposals, if adopted, would add sympathy to the Church and to us Christians.

Something similar took place in Crimea in the early nineteen-nineties. The authorities in Crimea did not respond to this—Christians just erected new crosses. Soon the malefactors stopped cutting them down and Orthodoxy was only strengthened. Striving to severely punish offenders is completely opposite to St. Paul’s advice in his epistles. As he wrote:  “See that none of you repays evil for evil” (I Thess. 5:15), and “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom 12:19–21).

I’d like to finish this long epistle on a lyrical note. Our wonderful poet and bard Bulat Okudzhava speaks about dignity as an important aspect of human spirit:

Human dignity is a mysterious instrument:

Created for ages but lost in a moment.

Attacked by the noise of bellows, bombing, or babbling

It’s easily dried out or blasted down at the root.

So don’t waste yourself, brother, damn the vain chase

Or you’ll lose your primeval beauty and forsake your divine face.

Why risk all for nothing? Have you no higher cares?

So get up and go, a servant, climbing only upstairs.  IC

In Communion thanks Anna Kurt for her translation of Fr. Borisov’s sermon.

Fr. Borisov is the rector of the Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian at Shubino in Moscow. Fr. Borisov is in the spiritual lineage of Fr. Alexander Men. His church is active in youth work, social services, and ministries to the poor and homeless. He has instituted an encompassing catechetical ministry in the belief that the path out of despair—the chief sin responsible for 98% of Russia’s problems, according to Fr. Borisov—is a firm grounding in the truths of the Church and the Gospel, the only path that will lead the Russian Church away from ignorance, superstition, xenophobia, Nationalism, and fundamentalism.

  ❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

 

Opening the Doors of Compassion: Cultivating a Merciful Heart

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

by Fr. John D. Jones

As Orthodox Christians, we recognize the ultimate goal of the Christian life to be theosis or divinization—becoming like God as much as is possible for human beings. Yet this process of theosis is not a matter of a discarnate spirituality that retreats from human need and suffering. The journey towards theosis is rather expressed through concrete acts of love and mercy in imitation of God, who is love. As St. Gregory the Theologian writes, ‘Prove yourself a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God. There is nothing so godly in human beings as to do good works.’…[doing so] constitutes a sacred obligation for us to minister in Christ’s name to our neighbor; that is, to every person in need whom we encounter (cf. Luke 10:25–37).  —Metropolitan Anthony (Gergiannakis)

 

“Prove yourself a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God. There is nothing so godly in human beings as to do good works.” So wrote St. Greogry the Theologian near the end of his Oration XIV, On the Love of the Poor. This theme is basic to the oration from the start:

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

Beautiful is contemplation (theoria=the knowledge and vision) of God, as likewise beautiful is action (praxis). The one is beautiful because it conducts our mind upward to what is akin to it. The other is beautiful because it welcomes Christ, serves him, and confirms the power of love through good works (sec. 4)…. Of all things, nothing so serves God as mercy because nothing else is more proper to God (sec. 5)…. We must, then, open our hearts to all the poor [and] those in distress from whatever cause (sec. 6).

But why, someone might ask, this stress on good works? Aren’t we saved by faith alone? Are good works really necessary for salvation? In the Orthodox tradition, salvation is a process of being healed from everything that estranges us from God and from one another. It is a process of growing in the communion and fellowship with the Trinity and one another for which God created us. It culminates in the gift of eternal life with God. None of us, individually or collectively, can save ourselves. Only Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost can save us. Indeed, just as we sing near the end of the Divine Liturgy: “We have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity who has saved us.”

While Christ’s victory “over death and sin…is indeed complete and definitive…. [Our] personal participation in that victory is as yet far from complete” (Metropolitan Kallistos). Created with free will, God cannot compel us to love Him. God won’t drag us into eternal life with Him. We have to freely consent to the gift of life which he offers us. Our faith in Christ, and thus the Trinity, is our consent to and acceptance of the gift of Christ Himself. But faith by itself does not save us.

Certainly, we only know and experience the Trinity through faith. But “faith by itself is dead if it does not have works” (James 2:17). When faith is active with works, it is perfected by those works (James 2:22). Indeed, St. James writes that we are justified or made righteous by works and not just by faith (James 2:24), that is, a faith that is not active with works. Blessed Theophylact develops this idea:

Many are God–fearing, but fail to do the will of God. One must fear God and do His will. Both faith and works are necessary…or, to express it in the most exalted terms, divine vision (theoria) and active virtue (praxis). Faith truly comes alive only when accompanied by God–pleasing deeds.… Likewise, works are enlivened by faith. Apart from one another, both are dead.

But what sort of works? In one sense, any action that conforms to God’s will is a good work: e.g., telling the truth to someone, worshipping God with reverence, etc. In a narrower sense, good works are often identified with giving alms or money to someone in need or to some charity. But alms in this sense narrowly translates a Greek word that literally means “a work of mercy.” God, after all, does not give alms of money to people but God “performs works of mercy and executes judgment for those who are treated unjustly” (Ps. 102:6). These works include giving food to the hungry, setting the prisoners free, giving wisdom to the blind, lifting up those who are bowed down, watching over the sojourners, and upholding the widow and the fatherless (Ps. 145:7–9).

Works of mercy comprise all our actions to assist those who are in need and distress, whether spiritual, mental, or physical. They include counseling people in spiritual distress; comforting people who are grieving; feeding, clothing, and providing medical help to people in physical need or illness; even simply providing a cup of water if we don’t have money or other resources. Works of mercy can and should extend to efforts to change social structures and policies on behalf of, as well as to advocate for, those who are poor, vulnerable, or treated unjustly. Our works of mercy should express the holistic view of the Orthodox ideal that, as Archbishop Anastasios writes, “embraces everything, life in its entirety, in all its dimensions and meanings…[and seeks] to change all things for the better,” that is, the transformation of all things in a life in Christ. Works of mercy also can be performed by the collective actions of Christian communities: cathedrals, parishes, monasteries, lay associations, etc. Christian communities have been performing such works since the very beginning of the Church.

The Holy Martyrs of Paris: SS. Maria, Priest Dimitri, Ilya, and Yuri

The Holy Martyrs of Paris:
SS. Maria, Priest Dimitri, Ilya, and Yuri

Opening the Doors of Compassion: We Christians should consciously perform works of mercy to imitate Christ and reflect His presence within us. Our intentions and our moral character—the kind of person we are—make all the difference in doing good works for the sake of Christ. It’s a great thing to work at a homeless shelter. But if I do so simply to gain praise or recognition from others or to get someone off my back about helping at the shelter, then I am acting out of selfishness and not out of a love for Christ or for my neighbor. What sort of character should we have? What kind of person should we be or become so that our good works imitate Christ and reflect His presence within us?

“God is love” (I John 4:8). Time and again in Scripture, in our hymns, and in the writings of the church fathers and mothers, God’s love means that God is merciful and compassionate. Recall from St. Gregory that “nothing else is more proper to God” than being merciful and, we can add, being moved with compassion. Compassion is not simply a feeling. Compassion is quite different from pity, from feeling sorry for others, or even feeling empathy for others. We can have all of these feelings and remain unmoved to connect with others or do anything for them. We can feel pity for people and feel quite superior to them.

The Greek verb splanchnizomai, found in the New Testament only in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is all too often translated as if it indicates the kinds of feelings I just mentioned rather than compassion. Sometimes it describes Jesus’ response to others, and at other times, Jesus uses the term in certain parables. But it is best translated in English as “being moved with compassion.” Compassion means “to suffer with another,” “to share the suffering of the other, to take it upon oneself” (Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy). Compassion moves us away from ourselves towards others. It expresses itself in actions for others and on their behalf. In the gospels, being moved with compassion always expresses itself in action.

Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20–22): When the father sees his returning prodigal son at a distance, he is moved with compassion and rushes out to him (v.20). He embraces him and welcomes him back home as his son and not merely his servant. This father is one of Jesus’ images of Our Heavenly Father, “who so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). “The Father,” writes Boris Bobrinskoy, “[is] not insensitive in the face of the passion, the suffering, and the decay of humanity,” but moved with compassion, “He sends His Son into the world He so loved.”

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37): Moved with compassion, the Good Samaritan comes to the place where a Jew, typically despised by Samaritans, has been beaten and left. And he acts: “beholding him,” the Samaritan “came to him and bandaged up his wounds … and he put him on his own animal…” (v.34). Jesus tells this parable to a lawyer who tested him with the question “Who is my neighbor?” At the end of the parable Jesus does not tell him who his neighbor is. Rather, Jesus asks the lawyer a question: “Which of these three men”—the Priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan—“was a neighbor to the man fell among the robbers?” The lawyer gets the point of the parable, for he says the Samaritan “who showed mercy” is the one who was a neighbor. Jesus’ point is that if you know how to be a neighbor, you won’t wonder who your neighbor is. True neighbors draw near to others with a God–like compassion and mercy that extends to everyone.

Our icons for this parable always represent the Good Samaritan by Christ. Origen identifies Christ, the Good Samaritan, as our neighbor. St. Clement of Alexandria elsewhere adds: “We call the savior our neighbor because he drew near to us in saving us.” And Blessed Theophlyact develops this idea: “Our Lord and God…journeyed to us…. He did not just catch a glimpse of us as He happened to pass by. He actually came to us and lived together with us and spoke to us. Therefore, He at once bound up our wounds.”

Being moved with compassion involves being attuned to others. The compassionate person, like our compassionate God, takes notice of others and is attuned to whether they are in distress from whatever cause and regardless of who they are. For St. John Chrysostom, compassionate attunement “is most especially characteristic of the saints. Not glory, nor honor, nor anything else is more precious to them than their neighbor’s welfare and salvation.” Compassionate people, in imitating God Himself, are moved to interact with others, to bear their burdens and sufferings with them, and to alleviate them as possible.

Several texts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke indicate that Jesus was moved by compassion. In every case, Jesus’ compassion leads Him to act or do a good work, a work of mercy. Here are some examples:

Moved with compassion, our Lord takes note that the crowds who have listened to Him are hungry and that it is late in the day. Our Lord then takes action to feed them (Mark 8:1–8, cf. Matt. 14:14ff.).

Moved with compassion, Jesus acts to heal two blind men by touching their eyes and restoring their sight (Matt. 20:33–34).

Moved with compassion for the widowed mother who has just lost her only son, Jesus stops the funeral procession and restores the son to life (Luke 7:11–16).

Moved with compassion for the multitude “because they were … like sheep having no shepherd,” He then acts by commissioning the disciples to go to the lost sheep of Israel: “And as you go,” Jesus tells them, “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matt 9:34–37, 10:7–8, cf. Mark 6:34–44).

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23–35) or, what the kingdom of heaven is like: Moved with compassion, a king forgives his servant who owes him a ridiculously large sum of money. The king releases him from debtor’s prison. But when this servant won’t forgive a fellow servant a small debt, he shows he doesn’t really understand the king’s action.

The servant rejects the sort of “economy” found in the kingdom of heaven. This economy is not a market economy in which we are encouraged to make as much money as we can for ourselves. It is not a barter economy in which we trade with others who can give us something in return. It is not a tit–for–tat or you–scratch–my– back–and–I’ll–scratch–your–back economy. It is not an economy in which we do business only with those dear to us or who can do something for us.

The economy in the kingdom of heaven is a gift economy in which we are all invited to participate. When he compassionately forgave the debts of the servant, the king gave a gift of forgiveness and compassion to the servant. The servant, however, did not pass that gift on by forgiving his fellow servant. He wasted both the compassion and forgiveness given to him. So, he excluded himself from the kingdom of heaven. As Blessed Theophlyact writes:

The person who lacks compassion is not the one who remains in God, but the one who departs from God and is a stranger to Him…The master in His love for humankind takes issue with the [unmerciful] servant in order to show that it is not the master, but the savagery and the ingratitude of the servant, that has revoked the gift.

The fundamental economic principle, if you will, in the kingdom of heaven is “freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). We freely receive the great gift of Christ Himself and His love for us in and through the Holy Spirit. What are we to do with this love? As Christ tells us, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). In passing Christ’s love for us to others, we return that love to Christ. That is what it means to do good works for the sake of Christ.

St. Herman of Alaska

St. Herman of Alaska

God’s love for the world is an ecstatic, energetic outpouring of Himself to the world. If we freely accept this gift, e.g., the Eucharistic gifts of the Body and Blood of our Lord, in true faith, what else should we do but join our love to Him and transmit His love to others? This is why faith in God, the Trinity, must express itself in actions. “Faith without works is dead” since such faith amounts to refusing the gift of love, who is Christ, and the Trinity. Faith without compassionate and merciful good works amounts to saying “Thanks, but no thanks” to God Himself and His love and mercy.

TrinityCultivating a Merciful Heart: St. Gregory the Theologian delivered his Oration On the Love of the Poor at a time when leprosy was a major illness. He hammers away at the utterly inhumane neglect and rejection that many Christians of his day showed to lepers. Lepers were often driven from cities, abandoned, denigrated as sub–human, and left to suffer in poverty and terrible pain because many people simply could not stand to be around them and thought they were cursed by God. In our modern societies, people with mental illnesses, serious physical deformities, people with AIDS, prisoners, the poor, immigrants, indigenous people, unborn children and others all too often have been treated like lepers.

If we are moved with a Christ–like compassion for others, then we will be moved to serve all others without any exception—even our enemies—because we affirm and experience all others as brothers and sisters in Christ who bear the image of Christ within them. Our Lord, after all, associated with all of the despised people of his time: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the poor, Samaritans, etc. The Good Samaritan exemplified a Christ–like compassion when he rendered assistance to a Jew, for he broke down all of the common psychological and social barriers between Samaritans and Jews.

Serving and praying for others with compassion is not always easy, and not just because we may be unclear about how to respond to others with compassion.For instead of opening our hearts to others, we often close and harden our hearts, and push others away from us. Think of a time when you’ve been very angry with someone. Think of how your chest tightens, how your mind is filled with animosity towards that person, and how you push him or her away from you. So too, there are many homeless people in our cities. It’s not always pleasant to draw near to them (that is, be neighborly to them) especially if their behavior reflects a significant mental illness such as schizophrenia. They are, however, rarely if ever a danger to anyone. And yet when we see homeless persons, it’s very easy physically and psychologically to recoil from them and avoid them. If we harden our hearts to others in these ways, how can we be moved by compassion to serve them as our brothers and sisters in Christ? What are we to do with our hearts when they all too often become hardened to others and, at the same time, to Christ?

In the Orthodox Christian spiritual life, our hearts are the spiritual center of our existence. Our heart is not a place filled with mere sentimental emotions. It is the place in which each of us—body, soul, mind, and spirit—is able to stand in God’s presence. The heart, as Metropolitan Kallistos writes, is “the center of the person, the seat of wisdom…the meeting place between the Divine and the human…the place of divine indwelling, where…God is at work within me.” But the heart is also the place of all kinds of passions and thoughts that will close off this meeting place between ourselves and God if we yield to them.

We engage in prayer, fasting, repentance, and confession, and we participate in the mysteries or sacramental life of the Church to clear away the thoughts and passions that shut us up within ourselves. To nurture and protect the love and compassion which God bestows upon us, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to cultivate a merciful and pure heart, a heart overflowing with the love of God the Father in and through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14, which is used as the blessing at the beginning of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy).

One traditional way of cultivating a merciful heart is through the frequent repetition of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” We do not repeat this prayer to lull ourselves into a meditative state. We do not repeat this prayer primarily for relief from some particular struggle which we are enduring. We repeat this prayer—which is based on the prayer of the Publican—to stand before God fully attentive to all of the ways in which we betray our love for Him and others, thereby pushing Him and them away from us.

The martyrs and saints were extremely conscious of how often their love and faith faltered. They knew—they experienced—that while God’s love for us never fails (Matt. 28:20, Rom 8:39), our love for God and for each other all too often does fail. They knew with great honesty and humility that we are too easily led astray by the passions and selfish desires that harden our hearts and close us off to God and to one another. The saints and martyrs constantly sought Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. If I am honest with myself—“No matter how often I repent, I appear a liar before God, and repent with trembling” (Compline Prayer to the Theotokos)—as the first among sinners, I become aware of my constant need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

We do not, however, repeat the Jesus prayer to beat ourselves up with guilt and get stuck in our past. Rather, the deep awareness of our sinfulness should make us aware of our utter dependence upon God’s life and healing love. Our repetition of the Jesus prayer can make us aware that God’s healing love and forgiveness are an utterly merciful gift. Nothing we do, say, or believe merits this mercy. The message of Christ’s forgiveness is always a message of encouragement and healing: You’ve stumbled and faltered; ok, pick yourself up. “Arise, take up your bed and walk” (Mark 2:9, John 5:8), and get back to the business of forging a life grounded in faith, love, and mercy.

If our experience of God’s mercy penetrates our hearts and minds, if we become utterly humble before God, then the grace of the Holy Spirit can cultivate a merciful heart within us. The person with such a heart is enabled to become—better: is moved to be—merciful and compassionate to others. She bears their suffering and distress, and prays and acts for the relief of that suffering and distress. The person with a merciful heart bears the crosses that come with loving others. Here is St. Isaac the Syrian’s wonderful description of the person with a merciful heart:

And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for humans, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing….From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or see any injury or slight sorrow in creation.

We can only cultivate a merciful heart and open the doors of compassion to others through the uncreated grace, life, and energy of the Holy Spirit. The great gift we receive from living with a merciful heart is that we are enabled to radiate the love of the Trinity to the world and to bring Christ to others. In doing so, we participate in the process of our salvation, of sharing in the life, love, and energy of the Holy Trinity. Our life in Christ is inseparable from our communion and fellowship with the Trinity and with one another. We cannot, after all, say we love God if we don’t love our neighbor (I John 4:20).

theotokosPut simply, in manifesting Christ’s love in the world, we grow in likeness to Christ, and, thus, the Trinity for which we were created. This is what it means to be a living icon of God. The icon of the Theotokos of the Sign often graces the apse in many ortho-dox churches. In her purity of heart at the Annunciation, she freely consents to the incarnation of our Lord within her. She bears the Son of God in the flesh. That’s why we call her “Theotokos.” Consider too the wonderful way in which we refer to the martyrs and saints: “our ven-erable and god–bearing (theophoros) fathers and mothers.”

A living icon of God is a bit like a wind spinner. The wind blows; the spinner turns and passes the wind on. A well–made spinner doesn’t try to hold onto the wind or hoard it. While wind spinners blow in response to any sort of breeze, we have to be far more vigilant about the breezes to which we respond. There is the breeze of the Holy Spirit which blows us into the gift–economy of the kingdom of heaven. It enables us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. There are, however, the many breezes of our own passions and thoughts as well as the seductive influences of our society. These breezes blow us away from God and our neighbors into the prideful individualism of seeking our own self–interest above everything else. The breeze of the Holy Spirit blows us in the direction of life; the other breezes, in the direction of death.

 

 

The Liturgy after the Liturgy: During the Divine Liturgy, setting “aside all earthly cares,” and drawing “near in faith and love and in the fear of God,” “we…receive the King of all invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.” Immediately after the Divine Liturgy, we pray with St. Symeon Metaphrastes:

Freely You have given me Your Body for my food, You who are a fire consuming the unworthy. Consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart.… Cleanse me, purify me, and adorn me…. Give me understanding and illumination… Show me to be a temple of Your One Spirit and not the home of many sins.

When we return to all of our earthly cares, how can we bear the gift of the Divine Liturgy in the world? What should our liturgy after the Liturgy involve?

The Liturgy has to be continued in personal, everyday situations. Each of the faithful is called upon to continue a personal liturgy on the secret altar of his own heart, to realize a living proclamation of the good news “for the sake of the whole world.” Without this continuation, the Liturgy remains incomplete…. The sacrifice of the Eucharist must be extended in personal sacrifices for the people in need, the brothers [and sisters] for whom Christ died…. the continuation of Liturgy in life means a continuous liberation from the powers of the evil that are working inside us, a continual reorientation and openness to insights and efforts aimed at liberating human persons from all demonic structures of injustice, exploitation, agony, loneliness, and at creating real communion of persons in love (Archbishop Anastasios).

St. John Chryostom also emphasizes the Eucharistic character of our works of mercy on the altar that “is composed of the very members of Christ, and the body of the Lord becomes an altar. That altar is more venerable even than the one [in the sanctuary] which we now use. For it is holy because it is itself Christ’s Body [which] you may see lying everywhere [among the poor], in the alleys and in the market places, and you may sacrifice upon it anytime.”

St Theodosius the Cenobiarch

St Theodosius the Cenobiarch

Indeed, for St. Maximus the Confessor, “the person, who can do good and does it, is truly God by grace and participation, because he has taken on a proper imitation of the energy…of His own kindness.” This is exactly what St. Gregory the Theologian wrote: “Nothing is more Godly in humans than to do good works” since the more literal translation of that text is: “There is no better way for a person to possess God than to do what is good.”

All Christians are called to preach the Gospel, the Word of God, to the world. But we should never underestimate the powerful ways in which our works of mercy can proclaim the Word of God and bring Him, Christ, to others. As a young man and a pagan, St. Pachomius was a conscript in the Roman army. Confined to a prison while awaiting service, groups of Christians came and ministered to him and the other conscripts. Wondering why they did this, he was told that Christians are “merciful to everyone including strangers.” “Pachomius, the pagan, was moved by the charity of these Christians. It remained with him all his life; for him, a Christian does good to everyone.”

Lamenting the low level of social ministry by the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Patriarch Alexis II wrote:

We all know that the Church is built not only by faith and by the preaching of the Word of God, but also by concrete works, without which faith is dead (James 2:18)…. An Athonite elder recently said that the world is tired of speeches. We now need not words but actions that bear witness to faith and mercy. These actions must be a sermon without words that are much more effective and convincing.

St Theodosius the CenobiarchFinally: St. Theodosius the Cenobiarch was well known for his great mercy and compassion to the poor, to those who were ill and dying, and many others. St. Symeon Metaphrastes commended St. Theodosius as “the eyes of the blind, the feet of the lame, the clothes of the naked, the roof of the homeless, the physician of the sick…” And so it can be for each of us—as individuals and as Christian communities— according to the grace and unique gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit; our strengths, weakness, and circumstances; and, above all, our willingness freely to accept and to pass on to others the gift of Christ’s love for us.

We offer prayers to the Theotokos to open the doors of her compassion to us. Let us also fervently pray that she helps us open the doors of our compassion to others and animate our lives with the good works that flow from a merciful heart. Let us be moved with compassion to serve Christ by serving others. Let us be especially attuned to the poor and to all of those in distress whoever they are and for whatever reason. Let us, then, work with the grace of the Holy Spirit to be perfected as living icons of Christ and to join “the cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1)—“our venerable and God–bearing fathers and mothers”—who through their faith, love, and good works bore Christ’s love—the Trinity’s love—in the world.

Priest John D. Jones is Professor{Anchor:_GoBack}, Department of Philosophy, Marquette University and Associate Priest at Saints Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church (OCA) in Milwaukee. This paper is a revised version of a lecture presented at the Orthodox Christian Women’s Association Conference, Doing Good Deeds, in October 2011. A copy of the paper with notes can be obtained by emailing Fr. John at [email protected]

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

Saint Alexander Schmorell: A Canonization in Munich

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

by Jim Forest

Saints come in many sizes and varieties, ranging from kings to beggars, surgeons to street sweepers, scholars to the illiterate, the extraordinary to the unnoticed. Some never marry, some are the parents of large families. Some die in bed in their old age, others die early in life at the hands of executioners. There are millions of saints — heaven is crowded — but relatively few of heaven’s population have been formally canonized. The vast majority are rank-and-file saints, an inspiration to those who knew them, but never placed by name on the church calendar.

Reporting on canonizations, journalists often say that so-and-so was “made a saint” today at such-and-such location, but in fact the Church does not make saints. Canonization is merely an act of carefully considered recognition that a particular person became a saint in his lifetime and is unquestionably among the blessed and thus in no need of our prayers for his forgiveness and salvation. The saints who are singled out for special recognition are mentioned at the Liturgy on a particular day every year, some locally or nationally, others in churches around the world. They are also depicted in icons in both churches and homes.

What is it that makes the Church occasionally canonize a particular saint? In many cases it has to do with some remarkable quality or achievement — their exceptional impact on other lives. The memory of their works and lives needs to be passed on from generation to generation in order to encourage others to follow in their footsteps. It is one of the ways the Church declares, “This is sanctity. This is the path to eternal life.”

Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

The majority of those canonized are martyrs. One of these — Alexander Schmorell — was added to the church calendar this past weekend. His canonization took place at the Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, a church in Munich not far from Schmorell’s grave. On the far side of the cemetery, at Stadelheim Prison, Schmorell was beheaded on 13 July 1943. He was only 25 at the time. He was an Orthodox Christian who had put his life at risk by being part of a anti-Nazi resistance group.

The canonization got underway on Saturday afternoon, February 3, as people began to gather in the church. Aware that the reporters and cameramen present would need certain photos before the ceremonies started, Fr. Nikolai Artemoff, dean of the cathedral, brought out the icon of Alexander Schmorell in anticipation of its formal presentation later in the day. Many photos were taken, a pre-canonization ceremony that would not have been imagined in earlier centuries. The icon showed Alexander Schmorell as the tall, brown-haired young man he was, wearing the white robe of a physician with a Red Cross arm band (he had been a medical student at Munich’s Maximilian University), his left hand raised in a gesture of greeting, the other holding a blood-red cross plus a white rose. He is standing against a pure gold background representing eternity and the kingdom of God.

As Father Nikolai explained to the journalists, the white rose in his hand symbolizes the White Rose group Schmorell co-founded with Hans Scholl in the spring of 1942. Before the arrests began the following February, the group succeeded — assisted by friends in many German and Austrian cities and towns — in widely distributing a series of six anti-Nazi leaflets. All six members of the core group were guillotined. (The story is powerfully told in an the Oscar-nominated film, “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days,” much of which was photographed in Munich.)

Press photos taken and interviews completed, at about 4 PM a procession of about two hundred people set out led by a cross bearer. Behind the cross were six bishops: Archbishop Mark (who leads the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in Germany), Metropolitan Valentin of Orenburg (the Russian city where Schmorell was born), Metropolitan Onufriy of Czernowitz in Ukraine, Archbishop Feofan of Berlin, Bishop Michael of Geneva, and Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart. How many priests? I lost count.

The frigid air was challenging — it was about 15 degrees below zero Centigrade (5 degrees Fahrenheit), with snow and ice on the ground. Though the cemetery, Perlacher Forst, was just across the street, its entrance was several hundred meters away. Once inside the gate, we wound our way through tombstone-lined paths, first stopping to pray at the graves of Hans and Sophie School, the brother and sister who were the first to be executed from the White Rose group, and Christoph Probst, beheaded the same day — 22 February 1943. Here three tall black crosses stand side by side, a single cross piece linking the crosses over the Scholl graves. Sophie, the one woman in the White Rose inner circle, and the youngest, was 21 when she was killed. Today many German streets and squares are named in honor of Sophie and Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and others executed for their part in the White Rose. Hans and Sophie came from a closely-knit Lutheran family. Christoph Probst was baptized in the Catholic Church a day before his execution.

Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff placing a candle of the grave of St Alexander Schmorell

Archpriest Nikolai Artemoff placing a candle of the grave of St Alexander Schmorell

The procession than continued to Alexander Schmorell’s resting place, not far away. A bouquet of white roses was resting against the rough surface of the tombstone and more flowers heaped over the grave. Embedded in the stone was a bronze Russian Orthodox crucifix. Memorial prayers — a panikhida — was sung, concluding with the melodic two-word chant, Vyechnaya Pamyat (eternal memory), sung repeatedly by all present. Every year there has been a panikhida sung at this grave on the 13th of July, the anniversary of Schmorell’s death, but this was the final panikhida. Now that he has been officially glorified, future services at his grave no longer have a penitential character.

The high point of the day came during the Saturday evening Vigil, which began at 5 PM and lasted three-and-a-half hours, by which time an almost full moon was shining through the windows. In the middle of the service, several icon stands were placed in the center of the church with candle stands behind. At least a hundred candles were lit, forming a curtain of light. Finally a procession of bishops, clergy and altar servers poured out of the sanctuary carrying an icon of Saint Alexander Schmorell followed by another icon crowded with images of New Martyrs of the twentieth century. Next came a huge silver-bound Gospel book, a copy that had been a gift from Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, to Russian Orthodox Christians in Germany. The two icons and the Gospel book were solemnly placed side by side on the stands, then incensed. Finally everyone in the church, beginning with the six bishops, venerated the icon of the newly recognized saint.

“When they brought out the icon,” Nancy told me later that night, “it was such a climax, with the servers holding all those fans over the icons and the choir singing with such exaltation. It was as it there were neon arrows pointing at the icon of Alexander Schmorell and saying, ‘This is what really matters.’ It’s the Church pulling out all the stops. They couldn’t do more to make you look in that direction and feel the importance, the challenge, of this brave life. You couldn’t not get it. This is what the Church does in interpreting human events and letting us know what’s truly valuable. This is something that requires all the ceremony the Church is capable of. But it’s not ceremony for its own sake. It’s all meant to confront us with the inner meaning of a young man putting his head on the chopping block. The canonization ceremony pulls you out of ordinary time and confronts you with the message: consider this life and let it influence your own.”

At the Liturgy the following morning, the church was even more crowded than it had been for the Vigil. We were jammed together like cigarettes in a carton — it was challenging to make the sign of the cross without grazing your neighbors with your elbows. Perhaps as many people were present as would fill the church for the All-Night Easter service. (Also present on Sunday– given a special chair placed at the right end of the iconostasis — was Bishop Engelbert Siebler, representing the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich.)

In the Orthodox Church every Sunday is regarded as a little Easter, but rarely have I experienced so intense a paschal radiance. Resurrection was at the heart of Father Nikolai’s sermon, delivered just before communion. He reminded us that the name the White Rose group adopted for itself had been proposed by Alexander Schmorell. His suggestion came from a story in the novel The Brothers Karamazov, written by Schmorell’s most beloved author, Dostoevsky. In one chapter Christ comes back to earth, “softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, every one recognized Him.” He is suddenly present among the many people in Seville’s cathedral square, a place were the pavement is still warm from the burning of a hundred heretics. Responding to a mother’s desperate appeal, Christ raises from the dead a young girl whose open coffin was being carried across the square on its way to the cemetery. Flowers have been laid on her body. “The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at [Christ’s] feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips softly pronounce the words, ‘Maiden, arise!’ and she arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.” This merciful action completed, he is recognized by the Grand Inquisitor, who orders Christ’s arrest.

The white rose is a paschal symbol, a sign of the victory of life over death.

That Alexander Schmorell would one day be canonized at this cathedral had been evident for years. He is shown among of a row of twenty-two martyrs of the twentieth-century included in an icon that has long been part of the cathedral’s iconostasis. After the Liturgy and the emptying out of the church, I went to look more carefully at that older icon. Schmorell is easily picked out — there he is, in the first row, third from the right, wearing a white robe. What is remarkable is that, within the group, he alone group has no halo, for at the time the icon was painted canonization was only anticipated. In one hand he holds a thin cross, in the other a scroll with these words taken from his last letter to his parents:

“This difficult ‘misfortune’ was necessary to put me on the right road, and therefore was no misfortune at all…. What did I know until now about belief, about a true and deep belief, about the truth, the last and only truth, about God? Never forget God!!”

One can imagine future icons of Saint Alexander of Munich will often use the same text while other iconographers may decide to use his last words, spoken to his lawyer as he was being taken to the guillotine: “I’m convinced that my life has to end now, early as it seems, because I have fulfilled my life’s mission. I wouldn’t know what else I have to do on this earth.”

In a time when fear is being sold every minute of the day, every day of the year — where would the “war on terror” be were we not prisoners of fear? — the pilgrimage to Munich to honor a saint who had freed himself from the tyranny of fear gave me an injection of pure courage.

(report written 9 February 2012)

* * * * *

Extracts from Fr Nikolai Artemoff’s sermon:

Holy New Martyrs are glorified by the Church because, in the particular circumstances of their own times, they bore a clear witness to Christ and in so doing sacrificed their own lives. On July 13, 1943 Alexander Schmorell was executed by means of the guillotine in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison. On Sunday (in Russian, the “day of resurrection”) the 5th of February 2012, he shall take his place among the band of New Martyrs of Russia, to whom this cathedral church is dedicated.

The death of a martyr is always comprised of both the love for Christ as well as, through this love, the exposure of wickedness of evildoers in this world, and therefore also those who pave the way for Satan and his complict servant, the antichrist.

Alexander Schmorell’s favorite book was The Brothers Karamazov, from which the name “White Rose” hails, as a symbol of purity and resurrection (as evidenced in the resurrection of the girl at the appearance of Christ in Seville at the beginning of the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”). The path of Alexander Schmorell led from religious instruction which he received from priests in Munich, to the contribution of an Orthodox worldview via F.M. Dostoevsky in the catagorical repudiation of both regimes, enemies of man and idols that they have become of the “Fueher”, Hitler, as well as of Stalin, both nationalist and socialist. The “White Rose” considered Nazi rule as anti-Christian, but for Alexander Schmorell, no less anti-Christian was the regime in which his beloved was enslaved — Bolshevism. “I admit to my love of Russia without reservation. Therefore I also stand in opposition to Bolshevism.”

The last flyer of the White Rose primarily authored by Alexander Schmorell (Nr. IV) witnesses to his concept of the spiritual dimensions of this struggle in the name of God and his Son, Christ. He wrote:

“When he [that is, Hitler] blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war. Behind the concrete, the visible events, behind all objective, logical considerations, we find the irrational element: The struggle against the demon, against the servants of the Antichrist. Everywhere and at all times demons have been lurking in the dark, waiting for the moment when man is weak; when of his own volition he leaves his place in the order of Creation as founded for him by God in freedom; when he yields to the force of evil, separates himself from the powers of a higher order; and after voluntarily taking the first step, he is driven on to the next and the next at a furiously accelerating rate. Everywhere and at all times of greatest trial men have appeared, prophets and saints who cherished their freedom, who preached the One God and who with His help brought the people to a reversal of their downward course. Man is free, to be sure, but without the true God he is defenseless against the principle of evil. He is a like rudderless ship, at the mercy of the storm, an infant without his mother, a cloud dissolving into thin air.

“I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? [...] Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.”

(with thanks to Katja Yurschak for the translation of Fr. Nikolai’s words)

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Hymns sung at the glorification of Saint Alexander of Munich (annual commemoration day July 13):

Troparion, tone 4:

Today a light adorns our glorious city, / having within it your holy relics, O Holy Martyr Alexander; / for which sake pray to Christ God / that He deliver us from all tribulations, / for gathered together in love we celebrate your radiant memory / imitating your bravery, / standing against the godless powers and enemies.

Kontakion, tone 4:

From your mother you did inherit the love of Christ, / and through the love of your care-giver you were nourished in the fear of God, O all-glorious one, / to Whom you did give thyself, O all-honorable Alexander, / and you diligently pray with the angels. / Entreat on behalf of all who honor your memory a forgiveness of their sins.

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A section of the web site of the Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia is devoted to St Alexander Schmorell, with texts both in Russian and German:
http://www.sobor.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=79&Itemid=109&lang=de

A biographical essay (“Alexander Schmorell: a Witness in Dark Times”) is here: www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/02/02/alexander-schmorell-a-witness-in-dark-times/

Russian translation of “Alexander Schmorell: a Witness in Dark Times”: http://www.sobor.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=272:alexander-schmorell-a-witness-in-dark-times&catid=79:alexander-schmorell-verherrlichung&Itemid=109&lang=ru

An English translation of Schmorell’s letters from prison:
www.katjasdacha.com/whiterose/alexbriefe_e.html

A set of photos of the canonization:
www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157629206699911/with/6832060277/

A set of photos having to do of the White Rose:
www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157625346459536/with/5161067764/

Wikipedia entry about the White Rose:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_rose

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Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship — www.incommunion.org — and is the author of many books — see: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/ . He belongs to St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam and lives in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.

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❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012