Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia
Tbilisi, August 8, Interfax – Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of All Georgia is concerned with the situation in South Ossetia.
He urged, “Both Georgian authorities and Ossetians, everyone who values human life and peaceful development of the country to spare no effort to cease fire and solve disputes peacefully.”
“Georgian authorities stand for peaceful settlement of the conflict and are ready to carry out the policy of peace. I hope the Ossetian party will not exacerbate the situation. Centuries-old friendship and family relations bond Georgian and Ossetian people and what is most important we united with Christian faith and must live peacefully without blood,” Ilia II’s statement says.
Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia
Moscow, August 8, Interfax – Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia urges parties in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict to show wisdom and sit down at negotiating table.
“I learned about armed clashes in Tskhinvali and its localities and I urge the opposing parties to cease fire and renew the dialogue,” Alexy II’s statement is quoted by the Moscow Patriarchate’s official website.
“Today blood is shed and people are killed in South Ossetia and my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love confront each other,” the Church primate stresses.
Referring to the appeal of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia who urged to peace, Patriarch Alexy also turned his “ardent call” to those “who are blind with enmity”: “Stop! Don’t let more blood shed! Don’t let today’s conflict boil over! Show wisdom and courage: come to negotiating table to respect traditions, outlook and hopes of Georgian and Ossetian people.”
The Patriarch has stated the Russian Orthodox Church is ready to unite its efforts with the Georgian Church to help peace come. “May Our God, Who is “not a God of disorder but of peace,” be our Assistant in it,” Alexy II statement says.
I know this is a controversial issue, but what is your take on the notion that a Christian should not serve in the military? I find it hard to pin down what the Church teaches on this subject except to say that it seems the way of non-violence is the ideal, but the use of violence in some limited cases may be a necessary evil. Coming from a pretty pro-military fundamentalist background I have a harder and harder time reconciling military service with the words of Jesus – especially when considering how many civilians are killed in modern warfare.
Orthodox Christians are not forbidden to serve in the military. Taking a human life, under any circumstances, still has the character of sin about it and should be confessed as sin. The taking of life in war is not treated in the same manner as murder in canon-law, however, though it is still treated as sin.
There are also military Orthodox military chaplains – who, of course, are non-combatants.
Is it true that any person who is ever even casually involved in causing the death of another cannot become an Orthodox priest? (So for instance if a man were driving a car and a drunkard were to fall out in front of him, be struck, and die of his injuries, the driver could never then be a priest?)
I know that “what-ifs” are generally not helpful in discussions, but I am trying to get at what the Church does with the messiness of modern warfare. Taking a page from the book “Generation Kill,” how would the Church view say an officer who ordered the bombing of an entire village knowing he is killing women and children based on the possibility that armed men are also in the village? Would this be treated as out and out murder?
I heard of a case in Russia during the Chechnya war of a soldier who was captured and killed by Muslim extremists in part because of his faith. There was an outcry among the people to count him as a martyr, but there was resistance from the clergy, since he was a soldier, and therefore, he could be considered as having been killed by war and not because of his witness. I don’t recall hearing how it came out however.
At any rate, let us all pray for the people of the Caucuses and their safety.
The presence of Orthodox Warrior Saints, such as St. Nestor, would gainsay any attempt to paint Orthodoxy as a wholly pacifist religion, despite the presence of a decidedly pacifist streak. St Alexander Nevsky personifies the ambiguity.
If someone has been involved in the death of another, generally it would require an exception (economia) from the Synod of Bishops for them to be ordained. When I have presented candidates for ordination (for instance as subdeacons, which is where the Russian practice generally begins to apply the canons) I have been specifically asked about “marriage” and “murder”. Only one marriage in a lifetime (and must be married before ordination if at all) and generally only one marriage on the part of the spouse as well, and not to have been involved in killing another. Being passively involved in a car wreck would likely be viewed more generously than other requests for economy. It is not unlikely, in times following a war (such as WWII for Russia) that it would be hard to find candidates for the priesthood who did not need some measure of economy to be ordained. The truth is, the canons on ordination are so strict, that without some measure of economy almost no one would ever be ordained.
The case you cite would ultimately stand between the Confessor and the Penitent. Orthodoxy is not legalistic, nor are the canons to be read legally. They exist for our salvation alone and for the diagnosis and the cure of the soul. The question would bear on the issue of repentance. In many cases an “epitimia” might be assigned (such as foregoing communion for a period of time) but all of this is for the sake of healing the soul, not punishing the sinner. These become very difficult matters. My experience is that many soldiers come home from war in great need of healing, regardless of how they felt about the justification for their actions.
As a child, one of my neighbors, a WWII vet, had nightmares frequently in which he recalled an incident in Italy, of turning a corner, facing an enemy soldier, both hesitated, and then he shot first. He lived and came home, but he brought with him a deep wound in his soul. These wounds can be healed by the grace of God – but not by philosophy or theodicy, or ethical reasoning. The canons are a help – though I generally see them as existing for the direction of priests and Bishops, and not ever to be used as a “guide book” for the laity. I do not have one in the library of my church or office. I keep mine at home. We live in a legalistic culture (well noted by Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address) that could do itself great harm by the misuse of canon law.
I believe the Church ultimately determined that he was tortured and killed for his faith and canonized him a martyr, but that’s just based on my memories, which can be faulty from time to time. In fact, I forget how often I forget.
I think you are correct that Orthodoxy is not strictly pacifist in its teaching, though I do not know of a warrior being canonized for his military exploits. St. Alexander Nevsky was originally canonized on the basis of his repentance (he became a monk) rather than his great military victory. Peter the Great directed him to be painted as a warrior (like St. George) but icons prior to Peter the Great portray him as a monk.
I agree that St. Nestor is an interesting case (very similar to David and Goliath) but ultimately he is canonized as a martyr not as a warrior.
I understand the appropriateness of defending one’s family or homeland, etc., but it will also be the case that even if this is done “justly” it will involve us in taking human life which, though not treated the same as murder in the canons, is still treated as a matter to be confessed and healed. I would argue that whatever harm (God alone knows this and I cannot judge) St. Nestor may have endured in his defense of the innocent in killing the giant Lyaeus, was healed in his martyrdom. His Troparion does describe the combat exploit (defending innocent Christian women and children) with a comparison to David against Goliath. Recall, however, that God did not allow David to build the Temple because he had been a man of war (as an interesting aside).
The real point, missed by many who argue on these matters, is the healing of the soul, not the legal standing before God (before Whom none of us is justified). But God has made a path to forgiveness and healing for all and it is this path that we must seek for ourselves and guide others as well. Casuistry is of no use in the reality of aiding a soul in its healing before God.
I pray for all involved. I know little to nothing about the reasons and sides in the conflict at hand. If there is anyone clearly right and clearly wrong I cannot say. But there is suffering all around and I pray for all.
The example of David is very relevant. What he did was right, and yet God felt he was a man for one mission and his son was a man for another because of the blood he had rightfully shed.
Taking a cue from St. Paul:
‘For he is the peace between us (them), and has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, by destroying in his own person the hostility, that is, the Law of commandments with its decrees’.
My son wrote the following reflection on war and the Orthodox believer when he was 19 and preparing to go into the Coast Guard which he ultimately did not do. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/BaumanWarrior.php
I was talking to him on the phone while making this post and he wanted me to add “We should think and talk about war before war breaks out not only when it breaks out. We need to know how to respond before a crisis strikes not just try to figure it out after a crisis occurs” My son continues to emphasize the need for us all to think deeply on the matter, to talk with others, especially our young people so that we all may be better prepared. I am convinced that at least part of the trauma that soldiers experience is do to the idealization of warfare. They simply are not prepared to face the the horror of killing, nor do they have the resources to heal them when they return.
The Orthodox faith in not pacifist at all. As my son found out there is a big difference between being a pacifist and a peace maker.
When my wife and I assigned the study and the essay to our son, we did not expect how nuanced a teaching the Church has or how difficult it would be to face some of the conclusions to which my son came. For two years, my son pushed and proded at me to think more deeply and completly about the nature of war and what is required of Christians given the historical witness of the Church. Even as unpolished and incomplete as his thoughts are, I still find them thought provoking.
One saint that may have been cannonized for his military exploits is St. Nikita, the Demon Slayer. He was killed as a captive of the pagan king who was attempting to invade the (probably Arian) Christian kingdom St. Nicetas (Nikita) served. St. Nikita did battle to protect a Christian land. He did not die a marytr but as a soldier just as any other soldier captured in battle at the time would die. It is interesting, however, that the saint’s slayings are recast on his icon and in his name as slaying demons rather than people.
For a short list of military marytrs from a western perspective: http://www.ucc.ie/milmart/shortlist.html
Carl wrote: “I heard of a case in Russia during the Chechnya war of a soldier who was captured and killed by Muslim extremists in part because of his faith.”
Right you are Carl he is St Yevgeny Rodionov the New Martyr martyred for refusing to take off his cross while being tortured or to deny Christ and his faith. He beheaded by his torturer, Ruslan Khaikhoroyev, on May 23, 1996.
And another young man poised for martyrdom. This video by the news media does not want to talk much about the young man’s new found faith and only shows him as a hip California surfer, but listen to his words and read “Secret Believers” by Brother Andrew. I happened upon it in the library while taking the grandchildren for a visit. Muslim converts are showing us the way to True Faith! God Help Them!