Memorial Day

In America, today is called “Memorial Day.” It was originally established to remember the fallen soldiers of the American War Between the States (Civil War) in the 19th century. Today it commemorates all fallen soldiers of the nation. It marks the unofficial beginning of the Summer holidays and is not often kept as a day of memory. This short video has the Russian hymn Vechnaya Pamyat, “Memory Eternal,” which is intoned in services for the departed.

Too many, everywhere, have died in wars within the memory of those whom I’ve known. May their memory be eternal!

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  1. iblase,
    Yes. My ancestry is Southern, and served honorably in that great conflict. A sad war if ever there was one. Brother against brother.

  2. “…the Lord, by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.” – Tertullian

    I recently visited the War Cemetry in Port Moresby, PNG. At first there was a feeling of gratefulness for the tremendous sacrifice of these young men and women. But gratefulness soon gave way to sadness. It’s just absolutely tragic the lives lost. Why do we have war? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again!

  3. Simmmo,
    It is, indeed, tragic. But I hold in great honor those who have offered their lives in sacrifice for others. Against the naked aggression of empires, many rose up to protect the weak. War is truly tragic and fallen. But even within such fallen actions, there are heroes, courage and honor. The Orthodox faith has always held such in honor and remembered them in prayer, while praying to be delivered from, “earthquake, flood, fire, sword, invasion by enemies, civil war, etc.”

  4. “American War Between the States ”

    Spoken like a true Southerner. Otherwise known to us Yanks as the Great Treasonous Seditious Rebellion. πŸ˜‰

  5. Father, your response to simmo I think captures perfectly (for me) how we must regard soldiers and warfare.
    Sadly I believe there is so much propoganda that gets wrapped in to how we remember those fallen in war, I can rarely stomach public Remembrance ceremonies.

    I honour courage and self-sacrifice, however I cannot honour killing. Sadly these two are so closely knit together in the soldier that I struggle with war memorials.

    -Mark Basil

  6. PJ,
    Much less generous than Abraham Lincoln – who, by the way, is a greatly admired figure in East Tennessee. There is even a local university named for him. It was a very complicated time.

    My memory as a child (in the 50’s) was filled with stories (including direct family stories) about the Civil War. One of my great-grandmothers, whose life-span allowed me to talk with her and know her, was born before the War. My paternal great-great-grandfather died in the War, leaving a year-old son, my great-grandfather. Another great-grandfather fought in the War as did his brother, the latter losing an arm in the battle around Atlanta. In those days (the 50’s), the immigration from the North had not begun, and there were very few encounters with any but native Southerners. I was 8 years-old before I met a “Yankee,” a WWII army buddy of my Dad’s. There was a deep sense of connection, even a deep sense of loss, over the stories of the War.

    My mother’s family had been slave-owners and we knew families who were descendants of those slaves who still lived in farms near my grandfather. They were close family friends. I have no romanticism about the “Cause.” Slavery was wrong, always and everywhere. The South suffered a great blow as God heard the cries of his children for freedom. I would be a fool not to heed that Divinely bitter lesson.

    Just some random thoughts on a topic that I would not write about. Incidentally, most “Yankees” that I meet today, had no family in America in the 1860’s. Peace. πŸ™‚

  7. We’ve only been able to track down one relative who fought. “Fought” — he was a 16-year-old drummer boy. But my mother’s family has been in the country since the 1640s, so likely there were others we don’t know about.

    I was joking around, of course, regarding the Great Treason, etc. There is next to no consciousness of the war in the North anymore. I guess forgetfulness is a luxury of victory. I have some sympathy for the South, but the slavery overshadows even the most legitimate grievances.

    Still, one imagines if another way was possible. Did we need to sacrifice half a million souls on the altar of war?

  8. Markbasil,
    Too often, soldiers are memorialized by non-soldiers, who have not known the violence and terror of war. I’ve known a fair number of veterans who were in combat. They honor courage but carry a great sadness and the topic is full of grief. Soldiers, the best soldiers, have an opposition to war that no civilian could comprehend. Those who do not have such a visceral abhorrence are either not soldiers or have been damaged in some way. There are “cultures” of war in some parts of the globe. These cultures are deeply damaged (as are most, I suppose).

  9. I suppose I have some lingering concerns with how we memorialize soldiers fallen in war.
    I feel there is the conflation of rightly honouring those who courageously gave their lives, and state interests to keep a citizenry of ‘potential warriors’, by emphasizing only the self-sacrifice and heroism, while failing to mention that an ideal soldier does not give his life, but takes other lives.
    This dovetails with my second concern, which is precisely that a soldier’s job is not to sacrifice his life for his country, it is to kill his enemy.
    This can be done for the noblest of reasons- protection of the weak and innocent. However it seems at odds with the way of the Cross, which is stregth in weakness, and does not resist an evil-doer in kind.

    It can also generate a false dichotomy- that we must either use violence or be overrun by evil and injustice.
    Christ did not seem to accept this dichotomy, when he willingly went to his unjust death and did not call down a legion of angels at his command.
    The martyrs followed this way- not defending themselves with arms, but willingly dying for the gospel.
    Gandhi followed Christ’s way, and consequently led a (mostly) nonviolent revolution. We christians are so steeped in militarism it seems that we do not even consider other means. I know of nuns who lay down in front of tanks- when do Christians hear about these creative alternatives to violence?

    It is my opinion that Christianity has been deeply compromised by state and military interests, such that the purity of the gospel expressed in love of enemies and sanctify of life are sacrificed readily by Christians when concerns for justice or national protection arise.

    It is all complicated- the more I write to clarify the more ‘open ends’ I see that would need to be bound up to speak clearly.
    We are called to love our enemies. This message is lost in memorials. This is my fundamental concern.

    -Mark Basil

  10. I share your uncertainly, Mark, though it’s one thing to let yourself be crucified and quite another thing to let your helpless neighbor be crucified. “Creative resistance” can only do so much. It really depends on the nature of the opponent. India 1947 was not Europe in 1941. Creative resistance would not have stopped Hitler. Sometimes, perhaps, the only thing you can do is sin and ask forgiveness. Or maybe not. These questions torture me, too.

  11. True that Father. That’s why I visited the War Cemetery – to give honour to those who had fallen during World War II in PNG, many of them my countrymen. Many of the tomb headstones simply read “Known only to God”. We should be grateful for those who sacrificed their lives for the greater good. It’s still just sad though. Tremendously sad.

  12. Mark Basil,

    While sympathetic with your thoughts on this, I have a hard time believing we can succeed comparing Christ’s kenotic “war” and victory against death –the enemy of us all– with our wars against men. We must love all yet obey our masters. We must do no harm, yet as fathers and brothers we may harm others to protect those we love.

    There is, I think, no way to reconcile things or justify ourselves in these horrible conflicts. All I know is that my life and my death must both be for God’s glory and I must be willing in a moment to give them both, for in Christ both life and death are already irreversibly reconciled. Lord have mercy.

  13. We must do no harm, yet as fathers and brothers we may harm others to protect those we love.

    From my childhood in South Arkansas, though, I can remember lots of assertions of the second bit (“protect those we love”) and almost none of the first (“We must do no harm”).

    And the State, being the State, encourages that confusion.

  14. I think the difficulty we find in discussing the soldier is that we’re trying to figure out how to reconcile apples in a world of oranges. War is an evidence of our brokenness. Christ came to mend that brokenness, not make it fit and feel better.

    Until Christ is in all of us and we in Him, hate and evil will still have a respectable place in our hearts and there will continue to be war.

    I was in the US military and had to give myself a good reason why I would kill another human being in the line of duty (which I fortunately never had to do).

    There IS no good reason. You have to make one up the best you can, shed some tears, and understand somewhere deep down inside that you were going to give away a part of your heart every time you committed murder on behalf of your country or kin. Later at the cemetery the only thing you can do is grieve for the whole world and pray that the Lord will come soon. In the meantime have mercy on our souls.

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