Posts Tagged ‘Pieter Dykhorst’

Orthodox Christian Statement Opposing Military Action Against Syria: Supporting narrative

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Supporting narrative

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

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

Pieter Dykhorst

Editor, In Communion
journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship
[email protected]

1.  The OPF foundation of the Statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  The Orthodox Justifiable War position:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A concluding statement

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

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

Thank you,

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

 

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Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

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IC66 In Communion 2013

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Letter from the Editor: Pieter Dykhorst

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

Pieter Dykhorst

In Communion / Winter 2013

Letter from the Editor

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

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

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

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

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

Pieter Dykhorst

❖  Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

 

Letter from the Editor

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Pieter Dykhorst

St. Moses the Black A Patron Saint of Non-Violence By Pieter Dykhorst

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

BLACK AS SIN and white as snow. That was Abba Moses, the 4th century, desert Saint, known not only for the dark color of his skin, but the deep stain of sin from which he was eventually cleansed and declared by his Bishop to “be wholly white.” A conspicuously large man with a particularly violent nature, he was once the leader of a gang of thieves, a carouser, and a brawler. Today, the region of Northeast Africa he once called home remains a tough neighborhood, without sufficient resources, and plagued by people who share Moses’ nasty disposition.Also known as St. Moses the Ethiopian, he was for a time a slave in Egypt. Nubia,Egypt, and Ethiopia (Moses was by one account, Nubian) together covered an area with a length nearly equal to the distance from San Francisco to New York, or from Gibraltar to Kiev, so it is difficult to say exactly where Moses was from, but we know from tradition that his robber gang traveled up and down the Nile, near the vicinity inhabited by the desert monastics. It was in the valley Wadi al-Natrun, then known as the Scetis Valley (from which we get skete as a type of monastic community), that Moses sought refuge from authorities seeking to capture him. And it was here that he would slowly convert to Christianity and eventually die a saintly Father of the desert Christians.

In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (also collected under various other titles),we find many stories of the life and words of Abba Moses. Two aspects of his life commend him to us and bring him to the pages of our journal. One is the nature of his life and conversion, notably that he struggled mightily and long with his violent nature, even as a monk, but eventually became known for his non-violence. The second is that he is African, and he is here today to draw our attention to his home in East Africa where millions in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia suffer from violence,disease, and famine.

Moses the man was once the furthest thing from Moses the Saint. An escaped slave, by one account dismissed for theft, he led a gang of 70 in marauding the countryside. In another account, he sought revenge on a man whose barking dog kept him from an intended robbery. He swam the Nile and found the man gone—hiding buried in the sand—so he killed two of the man’s sheep, swam back across the Nile with them, butchered them, feasted, and walked 50 miles to rejoin his gang.Several accounts note how for years he struggled with temptation to return tohis robber life after he had chosen the monastic way. Once, while alone in his cell,four robbers attacked him. He whipped them, tied them up, slung them over his shoulders and took them to the church where he dumped them, declaring that it was un-Christian to harm them and inquiring what to do with them. When the attackers found out who he was, they repented and joined the community.The Sayings include several stories of Moses’ struggle to keep his peace. In one account, he was insulted and abused but did not respond. When asked if he was as calm on the inside as he appeared on the outside, he replied simply no. Another time,a monk asked his own spiritual father, with specific reference to Abba Moses’ habitual outward calm, what was the value of outward peace if there was no inward peace. The simple reply was that while not perfect, outward calm prevented harm and facilitated God’s grace to others.

An aspect of Moses’ learned humility is captured in a story in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and is found on the icon on our cover. The story comes in a few form sand recounts a time when Abba Moses was asked to come help settle a disputes involving an offense committed by another brother. St. Moses refused. Eventually,he was prodded to come, so he arrived with either a basket or a sack on his shoulder width a hole in it, trailing sand behind him. When asked what this meant, he replied,according to a different version, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them,and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” At his words, the brother was forgiven, restored, and the meeting dismissed.

A deeply moving account tells of the day when “the barbarians” came to the monastic valley and Abba Moses was warned to flee. He refused. He told the monks under his care—the same number as his gang of robbers in his earlier life—to take care for themselves. They asked him again, would he flee? He stood his ground. They asked why, and he responded, neither hostile as in his past nor hopeful with the memory of when the four attacked him in his cell and were captured for Christ, but with clarity of understanding: “I have been expecting this day to come for many years past, so that might be fulfilled the command of our Redeemer, Who said, ‘Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.’” He welcomed the visitors on that day to his community, and they killed him, along with the seven who stayed with him. His witness to us is not one of a gentle temperament, not one of naïve hope that those who do not live by the sword shall live long and in peace, but that faithfulness carries a price, as does sin. On that day, St. Moses exhibited outward calm but stood with perfected, inward peace. To some, St. Moses is appropriately the patron saint of non-violence.

But St. Moses is with us in this issue of In Communion for another reason. Quite simply, as he learned kindness, generosity, and hospitality during his long struggle to overcome his own violence and gluttony, he calls to us with a plea to share in prayer and hospitality with those who suffer in East Africa under the worst drought in decades. This has been much in the news, and we have included an item in our own news section, so no more will be said here. We ask simply that each of you would pray with St. Moses for the people of East Africa, that they may find peace and provision for their bodies and souls. And, if you are able and choose to, please consider contributing to International Orthodox Christian Charities (or to any other reliable charity you might prefer), which is working in the region to alleviate immediate suffering and on long term solutions to mitigate the impact of the natural draught cycles that affect the region. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences,perhaps even a prayer, with the Fellowship on our blog.

St. Baromeou Monastery in the Scetis valley where the relics of St. Moses rest.Photo used with permission by A. Kahzarian

St. Baromeou Monastery in the Scetis valley where the relics of St. Moses rest.Photo used with permission by A. Kahzarian

 

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011