A Christian Response to ISIS

It is difficult to tune in to a newscast or to social media these days without learning about the latest atrocities committed by ISIS (sometimes referred to as ISIL, “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”). This jihadist group controls territory in Syria and Iraq, and claims to be the revival of the historical Caliphate or center of worldwide Islam. It is famous for broadcasting the beheading of its prisoners, including lately some twenty-one Coptic Christians who were working in the construction industry in Libya. All twenty-one were given the chance to save their lives by embracing Islam; all twenty-one refused, and confessed Jesus as their Lord, dying as true martyrs for the Christian faith. What are we as Christians to make of all this? I suggest three responses, one regarding front line of the military, one regarding the public arena of debate, and one regarding the private arena of the heart.

Regarding the military response, it seems clear that ISIS’ bloody progress needs to be stopped, and this can only be done with through sustained military might. We should be clear what the phrase “sustained military might” means—it means the continued killing other human beings in great numbers, and at a cost in human life to our own side as well. Some of our young men will return home in body bags, and innocent people in the Middle East will also be killed including women and children, in what the military will report euphemistically as “collateral damage”. It is useless to suppose that war can be safely waged by one side, and that ISIS can be stopped by simply dropping bombs from a safe distance. Even with today’s military and drone technology, war means “boots on the ground”. The choice is not between “boots on the ground” or winning the war in some other way. The choice is between boots on the ground or not winning the war. War is not something that can be sensibly or successful waged with half-measures. One thinks of Yoda’s counsel to the young Luke Skywalker when he said he would give it a try at a difficult task: “No. Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try”. Or, if one prefers the Scriptures to Star Wars and Solomon to Yoda, one might cite his counsel in Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”.   Some might argue that this is not our war. I would suggest that it is precisely our war, if for no other reason than that ISIS has declared war on Christian nations and will carry out that struggle through terrorism on our doorsteps as it has already begun to do. After all, ISIS’ official motto is “Remaining and expanding”, and it seems as they intend to be true to their word. Killing on the field of battle is terrible and full of sin, but it seems as if we have no other moral choice.

Perhaps scarcely less important is our response in the arena of public debate. In this forum one hears repeated over and over again that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, that its fighters are not true Muslims, and that Islam is a religion of peace. One wonders if such politically correct rhetoric is not at least partially inspired by a desire to get the Muslim vote at election time, or at least the vote of the liberal left. It is certainly not inspired by any reading of history. Speaking of “remaining and expanding”, Islam expanded militarily so aggressively in its earliest years that by 732, a scant one hundred years after the death of Muhammad, Islam had spread as far as north-central France, and were only repelled from there by the heroism of Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours. It is fashionable to deny that such violent men and women are true Muslims. Instead they are referred to as “radicalized Muslims”, “Islamists”, “jihadis”—any term to make clear that their actions do not represent any authentic form of Islam. But the jihadis themselves quote both from the Qur’an itself to justify their actions, as well as the historical precedents set by the Prophet Muhammad. It was Muhammad who beheaded his foes, establishing and spreading his rule by killing in war, and delighted in violent victory.  It was Muhammad’s first and intimate followers who continued to spread his religion with the sword.  There are other ways to interpret the Qur’an and practise Islam, but it seems clear that the jihadist version of Islam has as much claim to be regarded as Islamic as any of the other versions.

In the arena of public debate, we need to ask our Muslim neighbours why it is that Islam has more than its fair share of such extremism. Certainly many Muslims are peaceful, tolerant, and loving. One is heartened to hear of Muslims in Egypt joining hands to protect Christian churches, and of the Muslim who protected the innocent in Paris during the Charlie Hebdo massacre. A family of such lovely and peaceable Muslims lives just down the hall from me in our apartment building; they hail me happily as “Fr. Lawrence”, and when I see them dressed and leaving for worship, I call out, “God bless you!” as they pass me in the elevator on the way to their mosque. But the mystery of Islamic extremism remains. Granted that many Muslims are sensible, tolerant, and peaceful, one still needs an explanation for why the House of Islam holds so many terrorists. Not all Muslims are terrorists, of course, but it seems that most terrorists are Muslim. It will not do to say, “all religions have war-like adherents in them” and then to quote the Crusades as an example of Christian violence. One must be desperate to find examples of specifically Christian violence if one has to invoke the Crusades. The first Crusade was about a thousand years ago, and the last one ended about 800 years ago, whereas the last example of specifically Muslim violence was on last night’s news. Our peaceable Islamic neighbours need to put aside their natural and famous defensiveness, and ascertain why this is so. My guess is that it is so because of the violent nature of the Qur’anic texts and the violent career of its founder. Such things set a religion on a trajectory. But if my guess is wrong, our Muslim friends still need to come up with a better one. As Christians engaged in open debate in the public square, we should humbly and peacefully ask the question and help our Muslim friends look for the explanation for why Islam has bred such extremism. The Muslims themselves will have the most to gain from the conversation.

Finally we examine what our response to ISIS should be in the private arena of our hearts. And here there is not much room for any debate—we are called to keep our hearts free of hatred and rancour and lust for revenge, and to pray for those who do evil. The soldier’s task is to wage war, and the citizen’s task is to debate respectfully. It is every Christian’s task is to forgive and love. The provocative nature of ISIS’ atrocities is intended by them to heat things up, to inflame the passions, and to polarize, dividing everyone into two warring camps of “us” and “them”. It is just here that we must rely upon Christ to give us His peace, and to remain serene in the face of such provocation. ISIS may be our enemy, but the Lord has called us to love our enemies, and pray that God may have mercy on them and convert them. In the public square we hear other shrill voices, voices of political rhetoric, angry and anxious for retaliation. These voices must not be allowed to drown out the still small voice of the Lord, whispering in our hearts and calling us to love. This is our first response to the work and words of ISIS, and the most important one. And this interior work of Christian love is not incompatible with the other tasks of the soldier and the citizen.  It will be difficult to perform all three of these tasks at the same time, and for mere men it may be impossible. But not for Christian men and women, for we know the living God. And with God, all things are possible.




  1. In the spirit of respectful debate endorsed in this blog post, below is a link to another Christian response to ISIS from an Orthodox perspective by an author who 1.) has a peace and conflict studies background and has studied extensively the complex cacophony of root and precipitating causes of terrorism beyond a “guess”; 2.) studies Islam and Christian-Muslim relations as a primary component of his research agenda; 3.) has carried out peace work and research in the Middle East, and specifically interreligious relations between Copts and Muslims in Egypt; and 4.) believes that “every Christian’s task is to forgive and love” and “killing other human beings in great numbers” are irreconcilable, as did Jesus; if he didn’t, of course, this past Forgiveness Sunday could have legitimately looked a lot different and the Our Father must therefore include the petition for God to kill us.

    If anyone reads the above, please also consider the article below:


    1. Andrew: Thank you for your comments, and for the link to the article, which was interesting even apart from the lengthy recitation of the author’s credentials. The issue here regards how a Christian is to confront evil, whether the evil be the Nazi state in 1939 or ISIS in 2015. The pacifist position promoted in the article seems to assume that some non-violent response can be successful, which in turn presupposes that evil people would accept a non-violent resolution. This seems to me to be naive. There are some people in the world who (if one can forgive a quote from Batman) “just want to watch the world burn”. Their presence in the world is why all societies use violence in the form of police, a judiciary system, and prisons–that is, we recognize that sometimes evil people cannot be reformed, but must be restrained. That is why St. Paul spoke of the necessity of using the sword to restrain evil. The apostle was talking about the civil use of the sword (i.e. police using force to restrain criminals), but the same principle applies to armies restraining international evil. Violence is still violence, whether used by the police or by soldiers. It is always regrettable, and sometimes necessary. And it seems to be necessary now, for it is clear that ISIS does not want “peaceful coexistence”, but Islamic world domination. They cannot be stopped or reformed by talking. Like all people of ideologically-driven violence, they can only be stopped by the use of the sword. A refusal to use that sword to restrain ISIS is not love, for it abandons innocent people who will fall victim to their violence. That is one reason why the Orthodox Church never accepted pacifism as an option. Orthodoxy has always said that killing is wrong and has penanced its soldiers when they shed blood. And it has always said that sometimes such blood-shedding is necessary, and said that Christians may legitimately be soldiers.

      1. Fr. Lawrence: To be clear, I am the author of the linked piece and those are my own credentials.

        I hope that I don’t come across as in any way disrespectful, but (to be perfectly honest and blunt) I, of course, believe that you are quite wrong on nearly all accounts in your reply and in your original post; you know the alternatives to what you say and that these alternatives are viewed as perfectly legitimate by many, many reputable Orthodox theologians and ethicists. Yours, I submit, is the minority—but certainly not the only—view among Orthodox theologians, despite how you portray it; it is important, I think, to acknowledge these many, many alternative Orthodox Christian voices to yours on this subject—several pacifist, or a subtly nuanced variant thereof—which you don’t seem intent on doing, instead trying to project your own views as the default Orthodox position—which it isn’t. I only ask for balance so as not to mislead your readership, balance that is achievable in a short post such as yours and that I see in most reputable Orthodox theologians (e.g., Met. Kallistos Ware, Fr. John McGuckin, Abp. Anastasios of Albania, Olivier Clément, and many, many more).

        With reference to the apostle Paul, how should Christians in the emerging Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria read Rom. 13? We have answers, of course, for—as you mentioned the Nazis in 1939—how did Barth, et al. read it during this period in Germany? More to the point, Rom. 13 wasn’t addressed to the state. It was addressed to Christians who resided in Rome, with the Pauline advice meant to dissuade his recipients from participating in any violent insurrections against the Roman Empire (there were many such revolts and riots in Rome)—much like the violence and zealotry that incited the destruction of Jerusalem only 10 or 15 years later (over which Jesus wept because they didn’t recognize “on this day the things that make for peace” Lk. 19:42) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt over sixty years after that. Did Rom. 13 have in mind rulers who were Christians? No, of course not—it was the much feared, occupying Roman Empire. I would like you to therefore show me a passage that says that specifically *Christian* rulers can disobey Jesus by wielding the sword.

        I’m confused though, and the irony is thick (and I’ve had many conversations like this, more than I ever care or hope to have): Those with anti-Muslim sentiments will argue that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that Christianity is not, typically highlighting verses from the Qur’an without understanding the context of these verses. But when I suggest that we oppose violent extremism with nonviolent conflict transformation initiatives rather than militarism because this is in line with Jesus’ teachings on love of enemies and nonviolence, these same anti-Muslim folks take great pains to show me that Jesus actually endorsed violence (usually with the same tired examples of the so-called cleansing of the temple, the “two swords” incident, the “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” statement, etc.—all of which has been addressed in available literature on this topic) in order to justify their desired militaristic response to these violent extremists. So, which is it — is Christianity inherently violent like Islam supposedly is or not? You mention Islam’s violent founder; was our founder violent too then?

        I am also becoming more and more convinced that a Christian’s authorization of a our duty to “take out” a homicidal maniac is an attempt to absolve ourselves of responsibility vis-à-vis the problem of evil — it is a way of telling the world, “Yes, I agree that evil is in this world, but God is not the author of this evil, and because this is a bit awkward for us theologically, I’m going to help you fight this evil — violence being the only way that I know how to do this.” It is, then, the awkwardness of theodicy that sometimes drives Christians to forsake the kingdom of God by fighting the evil in this world by the means of the kingdoms of this world, i.e., the same means as those they fight. You also say, “A refusal to use that sword to restrain ISIS is not love, for it abandons innocent people who will fall victim to their violence.” With that line of thinking, of course, martyrs were actually just committing suicide, as was Jesus, as they were complicit in the violence that killed them because they refused to stop it by fighting back using violence. The blame is somehow shifted to the one who refuses to stop evil/violence by participating in this evil/violence rather than the one directly committing the original act of evil/violence. Of course, going back to the problem of evil, God also doesn’t stop ISIS—is God also complicit in the evil of ISIS as we are if we don’t stop them using violence?

        And, of course, it should go without saying that the comparison is not between Muslim expansion and the Crusades, but between Muslim expansion and Christian expansion—the former of which pales in comparison to the latter, from Constantine to subsequent emperors, to Charles Martel and Charlemagne, to the expansion north and west into rural Europe, to the brutal and racist colonization of the Americas and Asia in the 15th and 16th centuries, to Africa up until the past century. The dominance of Christianity compared to Islam reveals our bloody history far more than do the Crusades, if we’re intent on pointing the finger at Islam in this same manner—to deny this is to legitimate the dehumanizing, violent, racist, brutal history of Christian colonization, a colonization that eventually gave Britain and France combined nearly 1/3 of the earth’s territory at the same time that it tried to stifle German expansion in the 1940s with the help of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Stalin, whose brutality and resulting massacres were (from a numbers standpoint) at least seven times worse than Hitler’s horrific policies and actions. So, who is evil and who wields the sword by divine right? Not so clear-cut. In fact, much of the violence coming out of the Middle East (and it is a Middle Eastern problem rather than a Muslim one, cf. Indonesia—the largest Muslim country in the world) stems from this colonization and our continued presence there (cf. the Robert Pape study link below). My time in the Middle East and speaking to folks there made this quite clear.

        With respect to Christian terrorism, we need look no further than the Central African Republic (look it up in the news today—can we then say the same thing about Christianity that you say about Islam?), the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Anders Brevik, the KKK, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolf, Armies of God, Huteree, Lambs of Christ, Christian Identity, Elohim City, National Liberation Front of Tripura, bombings of abortion clinics, and many, many more. These are not Western problems, so they’re underreported. Of course, so-called Christian countries have the upper hand in the world economically and politically, so fewer instances of Christian terrorism is understandable when we have ready access to the largest, most sophisticated, and well-funded militaries in the world instead of low-grade surface-to-surface munitions and other smaller and unsophisticated weaponry. This is what we need to look at more closely. The 90% civilian casualties in all wars since WWII seems to suggest that we—and our addiction to militarism—are actually the problem, no?

        In the end, I pray for—through hesychia that cultivates attentiveness to the virtues of humility, patience, self-control, temperance, sobriety, compassion, mercy, and love—the inner transfiguration of us all by partaking of the divine nature (2 Pt. 1:4), or the same “stuff” as the Prince of Peace who told Peter to put away his sword and told Pilate “my kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight” (Jn. 18:36), as the ontological capacitation to love our enemies and embrace true forgiveness intuitively based on what we’re becoming rather than imitate Christ’s nonviolence in any contrived, merely ideologically-driven manner.

        At any rate, there’s so much more I could say and I’ve said too much already, but I’ll let the links below be a resource for your readers. We can, of course, discuss the finer points of your arguments in person if you’d like. If I have offended or came across in any way harsh or disrespectful apart from a difference in views and underlying ideas, I ask for your forgiveness.

        “When the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: ‘For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, ‘The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn,’ might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.” – St. Justin Martyr, ‘First Apology,’ Ch. 39

        “The world is going mad in mutual bloodshed. And murder, which is considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse. The offenders acquire impunity by increasing their ravaging.” — Cyprian of Carthage




        Composed of stats from the FBI Database: http://www.loonwatch.com/2010/01/not-all-terrorists-are-muslims/


        1. Wow. You wear your worldly pacifism (which you justify in the name of Christ) on your sleeve, so to speak. You say so much here that is so eccentric, it is really impossible to address it all. For me, your interpretation of Rom 13 has to be the most forced however – never seen anything in the Tradition that justifies a distortion like that….

  2. Andrew,

    I am so grateful for your article. Thank you for writing a very informed orthodox understanding of non violence and providing very practical life giving ways to respond to the current situation. The church does not speak with one voice on this issue and we have the lives of many holy ones to lead us. As you say in your article so many have already made up their mind that violence is the only possible response. And yes, the canons of the church may permit military action but I cannot believe that was God’s intention from the beginning. May we orthodox, through God’s transforming grace, lead the way to peace. Blessed are the peacemakers.

  3. Christ is in our midst!

    Dear Fr Lawrence;
    I read your article and found in it some useful and helpful thoughts and suggestions. In particular I appreciate the need for us to be clear and honest about the differences between the teachings and conduct of the founder of Islam, and the teachings and conduct of the founder of Christianity. Regardless, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. It is possible that Christians forsake their Master’s example and teachings, as it is possible that Muslims listen to their conscience and forsake aggressive violence.

    I also agree with you that non-violence will fail. In contrast, there is no question of the expediency of violent and military force; history is awash in the blood of revolution. It is the most effective way to accomplish one’s will- no matter what one wills.

    And yet it is precisely this kind of failure that is at the heart of the Christian gospel. We Orthodox know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.
    ISIS brings nothing new into the world. It is not a new kind of evil, it is not a new kind of sin.
    I would have us look then to Jesus the Messiah for his response to evil and sin.

    Just as we might wish to turn to military might in response to ISIS, so the Hebrew people had hoped for a military response to oppressive Roman occupation.
    Instead they received a Messiah who came into Jerusalem on a humble donkey rather than a mighty warhorse. They wanted a Military Leader to overcome their oppressors but received the scandal of humility, and the cry “hosanna” quickly turned to “crucify Him!”

    If our Holy Orthodox Tradition is nothing but Christ and Him crucified, then this example and teaching of humility in the cross, God’s failed response to evil, is the narrow way of the martyrs that we must still follow today.
    This sort of “failure” is the very seed of the Church.

    In the love of Christ, our Prince of Peace;
    -Mark Basil

  4. Thank you to all who have responded so far. So as not to overburden the comments section, I would just offer the following.
    Granted that war is an evil and that the Christian Faith is indeed committed to non-violence, are there ever occasions when the violence of war is a regrettable necessity and when Christians may go to war? We do not look to that violence to bring in the Kingdom or as an expression of our faith, but as an effectual civil response to previous violence. It is not much different than the violence used by the police when engaged in a shoot-out with a criminal–no one says that the police violence reflects the Kingdom or Christian values, but it is necessary if civil peace is to be restored and society is to be protected from chaos. That was the essential point of St. Paul in Romans 13. We therefore ask: are there times when a country or countries may morally engage in warfare to meet a threat of violence? The response of the west to Hitler I suggest was one such occasion. I am suggesting that the violence of ISIS presents another such occasion. If one denies the morality of an armed response to ISIS, I would ask in return if one would similarly deny the morality of the armed response to the Nazis. No one suggests that the Second World War’s violence was anything other than horrible. But in a fallen world, it was necessary to avoid a greater evil. Ever since the days of Constantine, the Church has affirmed that Christians soldiers may legitimately go to war, and has refused the pacifist position.
    Also, I suggest that the violence of historical Islam and of the historical church are two very different things. Muhammad himself spread his religion by the sword of violence; Christ did not. The Qur’an mandates violent expansion; the New Testament does not. Islam’s initial spread for its first 100 years was through violent conquest; the Church’s was not. With the exception of the Crusades, Christians engaged in violence never claimed it was mandated by their faith, whereas the violence of the Muslim terrorist does explicitly claim to be an expression of their Islamic faith. Surely the violence in both the Qur’an and the career of Muhammad cannot be irrelevant to the violence found in Islam today.
    Thank you all once again for engaging in this important debate.

  5. Please forgive me for making exceptions to some of your logic. When we talk of violence, Christianity is not less responsible. And we need not go back to the crusades and inquisitions.
    Look at the persecutions of the black community, the impunity of Wall Street in raviging the incomes of citizens, the problem of sexual abuse and discrimination of women in our culture and our “churches”. We also stand by while Russia (specifically Mr. Putin and the Kremlin) kill innocent citizens even shooting down passanger airliners. Are these not equal to the killing of the innocent by ISIS? We have become insensitive to our own violence while raging against the terrorists.
    I do have to agree with your point of individual responsibility of forgiveness and love of the “enemy”. This is the most fundemental aspect of our life as followers of Christ. But this involves repentence and mentanoia. This cornerstone of our faith is so often set aside lightly in our private lives and in our civic dialogue. May God have mercy on us all.

    1. Mr. McKeown, respectfully, you confuse your “progressive politics” with “violence”, as in your thoughts about women and the Church, Wall Street, etc

  6. I first want to apologize for the length of my responses, but one of my main points is that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this issue—comprehensiveness is therefore needed to truly weigh the complex issues at hand; and, to be honest, what I’ve given is less than scratching the surface. Hopefully this will be my final response so that, as you say, I don’t “overburden the comments section.”

    I also want to clarify that I didn’t outline my credentials related to this issue to appear impressive to you or your readership. Instead, as I’ve witnessed you also often railing against pseudo-theologians and pseudo-historians and pointing out their lack of credentials and qualifications, we need to be careful to recognize what we are and aren’t qualified to teach or write on. This requires deliberate discernment and restraint. I can confidently write on only a few things; nothing more. But if we think it’s important to point out the lack of credentials of those who write foolishly, are not credentials and qualification then important? Teaching is, as you know, a weighty responsibility not to be taken lightly when we hold even a modicum of sway over others in the public arena, and it’s important to determine what we know about comprehensively enough—all the multitude of points and counterpoints, methods, nuances, debates, people, and studies beyond popular sound-bites—to teach or write on it confidently.

    Back to your post, however, I submit that we shouldn’t prescribe either militarism or pacifism (even though—contrary to what you’ve said—pacifism has indeed been an entirely, even preferable, Orthodox stance); this dualism is foreign to Orthodox sensibilities. Instead, we need to channel our efforts on acquiring stillness and quietude as the condition for becoming attentive to both the internal passions and virtues in order to cultivate the latter. As James writes, “What is the cause of wars and fighting among you? Is it not in your passions which are at war in your bodies? You are burning with desire, and have not your desire, so you put men to death; you are full of envy, and you are not able to get your desire, so you are fighting and making war” (Js. 4:1). In this manner, we are to subdue—or transform—these passions through cooperation with divine grace in order to instead cultivate the virtues of humility, patience, temperance, sobriety, self-control, self-sacrifice, compassion, selflessness, empathy, mercy, forgiveness, and co-suffering love, so that through this transfiguration, we are capacitated to love our enemies and respond nonviolently *intuitively* based on what we are becoming rather than forcefully comply with any ideology in a contrived, stale, and mechanistic manner—militarism or pacifism. This is my prayer for myself, you, and all Christians who are sincere about becoming pure in heart as the ontological prerequisite for becoming peacemakers—and therefore children of God—as we ascend the Beatific Ladder.

    Likewise, St. Symeon the New Theologian remarked, “‘Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14). Why did he say ‘strive?’ Because it is not possible for us to become holy and to be saints in an hour! We must therefore progress from modest beginnings toward holiness and purity. Even were we to spend a thousand years in this life we should never perfectly attain it. Rather we must always struggle for it every day, as if mere beginners.” Here, our focus should be on the telos of cross-bearing, humility, forgiveness, reconciliation, and genuine love of enemies rather than prescribing failure and deficiency, i.e. the “modest beginnings” that prevent us from authentically living in peace with *all* human beings. Recourse to violence is the behaviour of beginners, not the telos toward which we strive. It is true that we—both you and I—may indeed be beginners ourselves, but this shouldn’t be prescriptive. We shouldn’t champion immaturity or express gratitude toward failure. Ours is a serious responsibility, and the task of teachers is to underscore the telos that Christ—in his kenotic incarnation and crucifixion—exemplified and taught, thereby encouraging our incremental ascent toward this summit of this Holy Mountain rather than prescribing self-inflicted paralysis and squalor in the pit of that violent behaviour over which Jesus wept because the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not know “the things that make for peace” (Lk. 19:42).

    I should also add (since you imply this in your reply), it’s imperative to put an end to the outdated and tired dichotomy that violence = doing something and nonviolence = doing nothing. It’d be more productive to start referring to our actions as peacebuilding and nonpeacebuilding to place the burden of proof on those who advocate for militarism—i.e., using the cause and trigger of cyclical retributive violence as somehow also the solution. In its unimaginative knee-jerk brutality, violence is actually doing much less—it’s the easy thing to do, both from a human nature standpoint and a logistics standpoint—and actually creates far more problems than it solves, especially in the long-term. Alternatively, the tireless creativity, development projects, navigation of human emotions and desires, analysis of human needs and interests, dialogue to affect attitudinal change, and strategic long-term planning of nonviolent conflict transformation—all without succumbing to the same mimetic impulses and sacred violence that killed God Incarnate—is much harder and is *doing* much more than carrying out knee-jerk, unimaginative, unthinking-beyond-that-which-is-taken-for-granted-in-the-mainstream-ethos violent interventions that refuse to do the hard work of nonviolence. Violence is lazy; militarism represents a failure. I’d like to see if those who advocate for militarism would tell Jeremy Courtney—the courageous fellow mentioned in my article linked above at the frontlines in northern Iraq who’s thrusting a stick in the spokes of the cycle of violence without a weapon in his hand—that he is doing nothing. He is carrying out far more positive, constructive, and effective work on behalf of peace, even if constantly undermined by the multiplication of violence through sustained militarism, which is both a perpetuation of violence and a cause of future violence.

    We also need to learn how to ask questions with sincerity—with the genuine intent to find better solutions—rather than asking questions after we’ve already inadequately answered them ourselves in our minds in a defeatist manner through a complete lack of familiarity with viable nonviolent alternatives. The fact that violence persists shows that militarism doesn’t work; it’s like trying to stop the rain by spraying the sky with a hose—the hose water may in fact temporarily collide with and push back the rain, but it ultimately only combines with and compounds the falling water to eventually rain back down on us in increasing measure; it doesn’t make sense. The onus is clearly on those who advocate for militarism to explain to those of us involved in nonviolent conflict transformation and practical peacebuilding why they keep continuing a demonstrably failed experiment—why does the rain persist and even increase? Why do we keep prescribing measures that haven’t worked? It is, of course, because we feel angry and helpless and want to do *something*—anything—and the myopia of the outdated pop “solution” of militarism is the only recourse we know; we choose the only course of action that we think exists—except that it’s not. The one course of action we know in the popular and mainstream world—in this case, militarism—is often a mere remnant of an obsolete and unsophisticated behaviour that more recent, in-depth studies and experience have moved beyond through an awakening to many, many other more effective alternatives. This is the nature of science and discovery, and in many ways, the field of peace and conflict studies is no different.

    We both want the same thing: peace. We’re on the same team and in the same boat; but are we willing to diffuse a potentially violent situation with more creative nonviolent tactics as Jesus did when he prevented the stoning of the adulteress, and are we willing to be killed rather than kill, as Jesus and the holy martyrs did before us? Are we willing to strive toward that which Jesus taught is right rather than rely on what the world tells us will work? Are we willing to strive toward the restoration of the image of God in ourselves and those around us, or will we continue to engage in the most egregious form of iconoclasm by engaging in the same violence against other as the which killed God Incarnate?

    The restoration of the most fundamentalist among us, though a huge challenge, has happened and can continue to take place; I’ve seen it. This is, indeed, the Gospel, as the conversion of the original executioner of Christians, Paul, demonstrates. To begin to learn about the alternatives to the one popular recourse of militarism that everyone already knows, I’d begin by reading books by John Paul Lederach, Marc Gopin, Johan Galtung, David Steele, Susan Hayward, Jacob Bercovitch, Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Scott Appleby, David Smock, John Darby, Lisa Schirch, Craig Zelizer, and many, many others. It’s time to learn about this exciting, hopeful, and more effective way to transform violent conflict so we can quit repeating the same tired, archaic, demonstrable ineffective militaristic refrain. This requires hard work, but it’s worth it.

    1. Mr. Klager, Thank you for your comprehensive response. I am neither a theologian, or a historian. But attempt to use the gospel of Christ and the guidance of His holy church. However, I agree with you especially that the knee-jerk response of violence is the easier and creates more problems. However, non-violence is slower and more difficult and if done right is more productive. This logic which we use is an act of man versus a human act.
      We only have to go back to the response of the apostles who when others were performing miracles in the name of Christ wanted to call down fire and brimstone on them. Christ’s response was a truly human non-violent approach.
      Thank you again for your comments.

      1. Thank you, James — I appreciate it. “Knee-jerk” is, of course, an entirely appropriate way to characterize military responses, especially when compared to the painstaking, long-term challenge of nonviolent intervention (that those who resort to military responses don’t know much, if anything, about). If the West had taken this nonviolent, long-term, repentant course of action after the conclusion of WWI rather than implementing unjust and retributive actions against Germany, Hitler likely would not have risen to power; the challenge today is identifying who will be the next Hitler (or who is the Hitler today) that we’ve facilitated through increased violent pressure and isolation? And it should also go without saying that the word “militarism” has the word military as its root, so it’s impossible to conceive how this label might be inappropriate. These designations—no less than “pacifism” or “Islamic”—provide clarity and precision, even if inconvenient and awkward.

        Your example of the apostles calling down fire is also interesting (the invocation of Elijah / Light / fire / transfiguration in Lk. 9 are all worth exploring in more depth), for it is these same apostles who fled when they couldn’t understand why Christ might die instead of fighting back in order to set up his earthly kingdom. Those of us who advocate for the nonviolence that Jesus taught and exemplified can take solace that those who flee Christ’s nonviolent ways today is not a new phenomenon. As Fr. Alexander Men remarked, “Only near-sighted people can suppose that Christianity has seen its time. Christianity has only taken its first, I would say timid, steps in human history. To this day many of Christ’s words are incomprehensible because we are still moral and spiritual neanderthal men. The gospel arrow is aimed towards eternity, and that which we call Christian history is in many ways a series of clumsy and unsuccessful attempts to bring Christianity about.” Christians continuing to flee amidst the confusion of witnessing their God meekly and kenotically allowing his own death without fighting back or setting up a military kingdom that his followers expected him to do—or our “clumsy and unsuccessful attempts to bring Christianity about”—should not surprise us.

        I count myself among those who flee—or would flee—at times; Lord, have mercy!

    2. “We also need to learn how to ask questions with sincerity—with the genuine intent to find better solutions—rather than asking questions after we’ve already inadequately answered them ourselves in our minds in a defeatist manner through a complete lack of familiarity with viable nonviolent alternatives”

      Again, hard to address all the eccentricities promoted as Christian here. Just wanted to point out that the above is a species of worldly thinking of “progressive” man that (usually through technology but sometimes through “evolved thought”) fixes the world, and makes it a better place. Of course, we Christians know better. We can not in fact make the fallen world a “better place”. This world burns away (see Holy Scripture). Sin, and our existential condition, is the same as it was since the fall and will be the same until He comes again. Technocratic solutions and their promoters will of course fail. Orthodox Christianity takes a much more Realist position on sin, falleness, war, etc.

  7. Mr. Klager, you’ve articulated very well the immediacy of your reactionary pacifism, but you ultimately fail to provide concrete answers to the immediacy of radical Islam’s reactionary violence.

  8. Bradley: 1.) I’m not a pacifist (I already implied as much in my response above); trust me, I am just as violent and lack self-control as much as anyone else. 2.) read books by the authors I already listed in my reply above—they provide the concrete answers you seek (and carry them out in violent conflict settings on the ground); I can’t be clearer than this. Read. It takes more effort than lazily accepting the same outdated retributive actions that have obviously *still* not eradicated violence in the world, but it’s well worth it. Unfortunately, violence still exists; using more violence against violence hasn’t worked. It’s obvious.

    I have nothing I need to explain; what I propose—despite studies that demonstrate effectiveness and success proportionate to the extent to which it is has been implemented—hasn’t actually been tried, supported logistically, or funded nearly to the extent as militarism has … militarism that we still use because it has failed to achieve peace. We have only done what Fr. Lawrence’s post above prescribes we do. Until militarism has successfully eradicated or significantly reduced all violence in the world, the onus is instead on you to explain why you and others who agree with you keep using or supporting these same failed tactics.

    1. Bradley: 1.) I’m not a pacifist

      You most certainly are. Your not even an Orthodox pacifist – that is the Church does allow (and even demands) a type of pacifism from clergy, for example. Your a very modern type of pacifist, one who promotes a sort of bland “peace=the absence of worldly strife” that is quite shallow and has almost nothing to do with the Peace of Christ

    1. It is easy to slap labels on things one dislikes, and a denounce a decision as “knee jerk” if one is opposed to it. A military response to violence is not necessarily “militarism”, and surely debate would be better served without such labels.

  9. At the risk of provoking another comment 300 words longer than the original post, I would like to point out that despite the wealth of Patristic citations, credentials, Scriptural allusions, moralizing, and links to supporting articles, my early question still remains unanswered (unless I somehow missed it in the abundance of verbiage). I repeat the question: are there ever occasions when the violence of war is a regrettable necessity and when Christians may go to war? If one answers, “no”, then one is a pacifist, and stands outside the historic tradition of Byzantine Orthodoxy, and I suppose I have nothing further to say. If one answers, “yes”, I would in turn ask if one regarded the war against the Nazi state to be one such occasion. If one again answers “yes”, I would like to know why such warfare was appropriate then against the Nazis, but not now against ISIS. It is a straightforward question, and really only requires a “yes” or “no” answer. Dodging a straightforward answer would indicate a substitution of sermonizing for actual debate.

    1. Provoke, you did! But, on that note, first forgive me for my “abundance of verbiage,” which nevertheless is accomplishing nothing.

      If being a pacifist means standing “outside the historic tradition of Byzantine Orthodoxy,” we can count numerous Orthodox Saints and current Orthodox theologians, ethicists, clergy, and activists among them (as you well know) as well as our crucified Lord; I would much rather stand with them then indulge in an ecclesiolatry foreign to Orthodoxy.

      I will be clear here in the most Orthodox of terms. We read in Gen. 1:27, “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I therefore oppose the iconoclasm of “the continued killing of other human beings in great numbers” and I oppose the crowd that chants, “Crucify him!” immediately after Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would fight” (Jn. 18:36), both of which violates the cosmogonical mystery revealed in Genesis and John 1:9.

      Nevertheless, yours is—seemingly without you realizing it—a *descriptive* rather than *prescriptive* question. On the descriptive level, if there is evil enough to use violence against other human beings, these human beings will inevitably be seized by enough fear and hatred to react with this same evil use of violence against their aggressors. So, rest assured, if we live in a world where there’s violence against one side, it signals that we live in such a distorted world that this side will inevitably react with violence too. But his is *descriptive*. However, should we—as Orthodox Christians—*prescribe* this participation in evil, especially when it directly contradicts the teachings of Christ? If so, how are we any different than those who aren’t Christians? What’s the point in being a Christian if we’re allowed to ignore the teachings of Jesus that are too inconvenient and uncomfortable—that result in our own path to Golgotha?

      But here’s another question: Fr. Lawrence, you wrote at the end of last year that we currently face a massacre in the form of mass, unchecked abortions that you characterized as worse than the slaughter by Hitler (and, I would assume, ISIS). So, my question is, should we then use violence—military or otherwise—to subdue those who carry out this slaughter? If not, are we then implicated in their slaughter, and if not, why are we able to come up with more creative, long-term, nonviolent ways of changing the situation in this instance—as the killing in the millions continues day-by-day, year-by-year—but not in the examples (both of which the West facilitated) that you give? But, more related to your example, who should have stopped us when Britain and France already controlled over 1/3 of the world through their racist imperialism, Stalin—also worse than Hitler—was our ally and to whom we gave Eastern Europe after WWII, and we carried out such atrocities as Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki? Your example of the Nazis—the only one I’ve seen you give in the years that I’ve known you—has been answered well by others; you just need to search them out sincerely. There is, for example, a section on this in Dale Brown’s ‘Biblical Pacifism.”

      I’ve given all the pointers that I can, where further reading in and internalization of more sophisticated works in peace theology, studies in practical conflict transformation and restorative justice, and lives and teachings of the Saints are available. Despite my many comments that are “300 words longer than the original post,” this comments section is only just barely scratching the surface and is therefore likely not the right venue for such a complex discussion—I have no more to give. Your readers can decide for themselves from here. Forgive me; none of us have all the answers, but all of us can try to work together to find better ones—including behaviour that better reflects that which is *prescribed* by Christ—rather than continuing to prescribe failed ones.

      1. “Fr. Lawrence, you wrote at the end of last year that we currently face a massacre in the form of mass, unchecked abortions that you characterized as worse than the slaughter by Hitler (and, I would assume, ISIS). So, my question is, should we then use violence—military or otherwise—to subdue those who carry out this slaughter? ”

        This is actually a sensible question. I would myself support (either indirectly or directly) a just use of the sword against abortion. However, the fact is that realistically (remember, Christians are Realists) there is no way to actually carry this out – the social and political conditions are not there.

        Spain for example might be a country that opposes abortion and could ethically take the sword against its perpetrators, however they don’t have any military power to speak of. If they were a modern day Rome and were fighting justly against abortion, I would give consideration to supporting them, but this is not reality…

  10. Okay Andrew, I give it up, since calm debate with you is not going to occur. I take it from your indignant and lengthy reply that your basic answer to my question if stately plainly would be “no, there are never occasions when the violence of war is a regrettable necessity”. This is not the mainstream opinion of the Church. Even McGuckin (alluded to by you) writes that though war is a curse “in some cases it falls as a duty upon some of the righteous to be involved with it in order to effect a good end (the protection of the weak, or the pursuit of the unjust)”. I conclude by noting that the innocents in the Middle East being shot, raped, driven from their homes, and sold into slavery find the question rather more straightforward than you do and would welcome rescue from the hands of evil men. I imagine that ISIS’ soldiers are happy enough when men do not confront their evil with armed force but rather respond by studying peace theology, meditating on beauty, lighting candles, and of course by writing to their government asking them to reallocate funds into nonviolent conflict resolution initiatives. Their victims would be happier with a more direct response.

    1. First, I’m not at all indignant, though there’s no hiding that my responses are lengthy! I am, of course, distressed by your prescription of militarism and portrayal of it for your readership as the default Orthodox position; it is not. If my numerous points and difficult questions come across as indignant, I ask your forgiveness; I’m simply used to more rigorous debate over such important and complex issues than simply invoking the Nazis in a vacuum.

      Second, you cut off the end of the Fr. John McGuckin quote, wherein he says that we are to be “involved with it [war], in order to effect a good end…through the best means possible,” after which he continues, “Orthodoxy would never expect all to be summoned to fight: such would be unjustifiable compulsion of conscience. Saint Martin of Tours is a prime example of a courageous warrior who became an objector of conscience, and demonstrated the holy courage involved in this form of peace witness. The appalling abandonment of values that normally takes place in war, however—the indiscriminate killing of civilians, saturation bombing, the land-mining of extensive territories—can never be justified morally, and since these things have now become standard military procedure, one is forced to conclude that no righteous person can safely entrust their confidence in any leadership structure of the modern military world (in the sense of blindly giving over their moral awareness to the hierarchy of command” (‘The Orthodox Church,’ p. 407). And if you read the entire section, it is an even more damning indictment of war and violence. Fr. John, then, legitimizes conscientious objectors as entirely Orthodox (which you refuse to do) and is far more balanced, which is all I asked in the first instance. We wouldn’t want to mislead your readers.

      Third, in terms of responses to Nazism, look at the examples of the White Rose nonviolent resistance movement in Germany of whom St. Alexander Schmorell was a member and martyr, Met. Kirill of Bulgaria who nonviolently prevented any Jews from leaving Bulgaria to outwith concentration camps by threatening to lie down on the train tracks (http://www.incommunion.org/2009/06/23/a-bishop-who-stood-in-the-way/), and Maria Skobtsova who took the place of a Jew in a gas chamber in the Dora concentration camp. THIS—as exhibited by Holy Orthodox men and women—is what we should do and prescribe.

      Fourth, you didn’t answer my question (among the many others), re: abortion. Would the—to co-opt your characterization of the Middle East and its people with whom I already work closely— “innocents in the [womb] being [aborted] find the question rather more straightforward than you do and would welcome rescue from the hands of evil men” also using a military or otherwise violent solution? Why not and what are the alternatives?

  11. Tempting as it is to take the bait and reply, I am bringing this thread to a close as I said, since it has morphed from being a comments section to that of a fruitless personal exchange. Future comments on this topic should be sent to me through my personal email, where I will be happy to respond.

  12. Fr. Lawrence, I am a long time member of a church in the Reformed tradition. I have several Orthodox friends. We have discussed the situation in the Middle East. Your post is one of the most eloquent and brilliant analyses of the ISIS situation I have seen.

    After 9/11 our church’s adult education program did a series on peacemaking , in which the Just War doctrine was presented. We will be repeating this class after Lent.

    I have talked to my Orthodox friends about the Just War doctrine. In my conversations, I have asked what is Orthodoxy’s view of this doctrine, but, the responses have left me confused. They suggested that I go on Ancient Faith Radio and look for an answer. I came upon your blog, and ask two questions . First, what is Orthodoxy’s view of the Just War doctrine? Second, how does Orthodoxy view the impact of its application on the salvation of those who apply it?

    May God bless you and this blog.

    1. Stephen: Thank you for writing. Orthodoxy since the days of Constantine (i.e. since the question became urgently practical) has never adopted a pacifist stance, and has allowed Christian soldiers to serve in the armed forces, though it penanced them if they shed blood in the performance of their duties and allowed for what we would today call conscientious objection. Two books you might want to read are: For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism, ed. by Fr. Hildo Bos and Jim Forest, and The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West, by Alexander Webster and Darrell Cole. As you might gather from the titles, there is some debate in Orthodoxy on the topic, happily of a higher caliber than represented in the comments section of my blog. From the former volume, I quote from a case study Commemoration of Warrior Saints in the Liturgical Services of the Orthodox Church, by Fr. Hildo Bos. In his summary conclusion he writes of the double dimension of the commemoration of warrior saints as follows: “Instead of making any definitive statements on war, peace and nationalism, the services to warrior saints of the Byzantine period reveal certain sensitivities that reflect a fundamental hierarchy of values…The only mention of nations and nationalism is that of barbarian nations, sometimes threatening the peace and order of the Christian commonwealth. The services express a deep conviction that the Christian empire exists according to the design of God and that it enjoys divine protection, particularly in times of war…Enemies are taken on with violence, but martyrdom is accepted without self-defense. Heroism in war is acclaimed, but not as a sacred quality or a ground for holiness…the army of Christ is preferred to that of Caesar…the liturgical services witness the Kingdom of God in counter-balance against possible absolutist temptations of the Empire. The Church has always maintained the distinction between the priesthood and the empire, between the liturgical anticipation of the Kingdom on the one hand and the empirical life of still-fallen humanity on the other…the Roman empire is not yet the Kingdom of God”. There is more, but you get the idea. The theology is quite nuanced. Hope this helps somewhat. Thank you again for writing.

  13. Fr. Lawrence,

    Since you have allowed the comments to continue after you said you were closing comments, I am offering one more.

    I want to say, first, that I am grateful that you allowed this conversation to occur. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from the lengthy discussion. I did not in any way find the length a nuisance, but simply representative of the importance of the issue you raised here and the rich discussion of this issue within our tradition. I did not see it as a personal conversation, but as a very public one. This is especially so since your blog is sponsored by Ancient Faith Publishing, and both you and Andrew Klager are recognized voices in the Orthodox tradition, and therefore speak on behalf of other voices less recognized.

    I come to this conversation as a lay woman who cares deeply about the public representation of the Orthodox tradition, and who seeks to live as nonviolently as possible in this world repenting of my past and current inevitable participation and trying to follow the Holy example of my Lord, his Mother, and so many of the His most holy saints. I cannot encourage a more nuanced and peace oriented response to the violence in this world any more eloquently or in any more of an informed way than Andrew has already done above.

    I am moved to respond again because I was especially saddened by your comments about the inadequacy of prayer – that to light a candle, to pray, is to do nothing, when our Holy tradition teaches us that Prayer, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, is the One Necessary Thing. For me this position is like saying the fiat of the Mother of God is useless, the monastic life is useless, the sacrifice of our martyrs is useless, the time we spend in personal and public prayer is useless, the ascetic struggle against our passions is useless and the beatitudes are meaningless…. I don’t know if you intended to say this, but this is the noise now clanging in my ears after reading your response. I hear this type of comment from many outside our tradition. I have never heard it within our tradition until today.

    I am not a victim of ISIS or the conflict in the Ukraine or the many other military solutions currently happening in this world. So it may be true that I have to right to speak. However, I weep and I pray and I light candles. I am a mother with two young adult sons. I have seen them, at times, be caught up in violence as both victims and perpetrators. I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about what could happen to them or to others because of them – violence is so easy, such a wide way. I have seen them severely injured and have tried to comfort one of them after the near stabbing death of a friend – and by this I mean holding his dying friend in his arms while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Recently, my teenage nephew’s good friend was beaten to death by a group of young men. These events have been very painful, but at no time have I ever or would I ever suggest that the solution to this violence is to increase participation in the violence or to somehow seek retribution myself on their behalf. To know that any tragic situation gives birth to more tragedy is heartbreaking. We are all so broken and in need of great healing. The response of the mother and brothers to the recent martyrdom of the Coptic young men is what heals. There is eternity in their eyes and we all need to see eternity in the eyes of others. Our answers are always poor, but they can be clothed with Christ. This is our only hope – to know Christ and Him crucified.

    I read these words by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom this morning and, for me, these words are THE Christian response.

    “The Lord himself has thus taken upon his shoulder the first cross, the heaviest, most appalling cross, but after him thousands and thousands of men, women and children have taken upon themselves their own crosses, lesser crosses, but how often these crosses, which are lesser than Christ’s, remain so frightening for us. Innumerable crowds of people have lovingly, obediently, walked in the footsteps of Christ, treading the long way, the tragic way which is shown by our Lord, a way tragic but which leads from this earth to the very throne of God, onto the Kingdom of God. They walk, carrying their crosses, they walk now for two thousand years, those who believe in Christ. Then walk on, following him crowd after crowd, and on the way we see crosses, innumerable crosses, on which are crucified the disciples of Christ. Crosses, one cross after the other, and however far we look, it is crosses and crosses again. We see the bodies of the martyrs, we see the heroes of the spirit, we see monks and nuns, we see priests and pastors, but many, many more people do we see, ordinary, simple, humble people of God who have willingly taken upon themselves the cross of Christ. There is no end to this procession. They walk throughout the centuries knowing that Christ has foretold us that they will have sorrow on this earth, but that the Kingdom of God is theirs. They walk with the heavy cross, rejected, hated, because of the truth, because of the name of Christ. They walk, they walk, these pure victims of God, the old and the young, children and grownups. But where are we? Are we going to stand and look; to see this long procession, this throng of people with shining eyes, with hope un-quenched, with unfaltering long, with incredible joy in their hearts pass us by? Shall we not join them, this eternally moving crowd, that is marked as a crowd of victims, but also as little children of the Kingdom? Are we not going to take up our cross and follow Christ? Christ has commanded us to follow him. He has invited us to the banquet of his Kingdom and he is at the head of this procession. Nay, he is together with each of those who walk. Is this a nightmare? How can blood and flesh endure this tragedy, the sight of all these martyrs, new and old? Because Christ is Risen…We know him now in the glory of the Resurrection. We know that every word of his is true. We know that the Kingdom of God is ours if we simply follow him.”

    In your Kingdom, remember us O Lord.

  14. Dear Barbara: Thank you for writing, and for your thoughtful comments. Please do allow me to clarify. My point was not that praying, lighting candles, etc. was useless. Indeed we should do all these things. My point was that our own private devotions can be no substitute for effective action. If a person is hungry and cries out for food, we can indeed pray for them, and light candles and ask God to bless them. But we need to feed them as well, and in the absence of such action our religion (to quote St. James) is vain. My sole point was that our private devotions need to be supplemented with concrete works. Obviously each person has a different task: it is up to governments and soldiers to rescue the victims of ISIS as best they can; everyone can pray, both for the victims and the perpetrators. But we must not imagine that our private prayers can somehow take the place of concrete rescue. Both prayer and action are required.

  15. Thank you for responding to my comment, Fr. Lawrence. A appreciate the clarification, and of course I agree. However, I would not equate peaceful actions with violent actions – as just part of a menu of equal possibilities I would select from. I would also want to affirm that our actions as Orthodox Christians should flow from prayer/out of prayer/be prayer. They can’t be separated – we are all Mary and Martha. My prayers should condition and clothe my actions with a Spirit that is not my spirit. I think this is why St. Isaac says to love stillness more than feeding the hungry and giving alms to the poor. It is not that we shouldn’t do these things, but that our hands, ears, eyes, need healing. Our help so often hurts and is full of our own ego/passions/agenda. This is particularly true for idealists, those who think they are doing good with their actions and bringing about necessary change. I know this because I am a repenting idealist. 🙂

    1. Barbara,

      I like what you say about idealism. I would like to use the example that is quite real, happens everyday. What of the just use of the sword? What of the police officers who have to, as a last resort (not those who use it irresponsibly) use the sword to keep gangs of young men from killing other young men? What of the army and navies who protect people in my country from the hordes (whether they are ISIS or some other demonic philosophy) from sawing off the heads of my neighbors, some of which might be the next Saints such as St. Isaac.

      You see, St. Isaac benefited (directly) from those who kept his head on him, from those who would simply kill him because they could or because they believed they were acting in the name of God. It is this reality that the pacifistic idealists simply do not even admit…

  16. To my knowledge there are quite a few “warrior” and “soldier” saints canonized in the Orthodox Church. To deny military action of any kind would be to deny many of these saints’ sainthood

  17. Fr. Lawrence,

    I commend you for bring this question up. Some of the responses remind me of something David Bentley Hart wrote in First Things around the time of the second gulf war. Going from memory, he relates how he met someone who became Orthodox because is pacifism. He found it as incongruous as “someone joining the Elks club because of the nubile young women”.

    The fact is, that this strain of false Orthodox pacifism (represented by Mr. Klager above) is promoted by many, if not most, of the more well known members of the english language speakers on the Orthodox lecture circuit. Perhaps first and foremost is Bishop Kallistos Ware. He is a fine man and a great promoter of Orthodoxy, you just have to bracket off his opinions on war, womens ordination, and ecumenism (to name just three things).

    The misnamed “Orthodox Peace Fellowship” (it really should be named “Orthodox Pacifist Fellowship”) looms large in the english speaking Orthodox world, and has had an undeserved influence on the thinking of too many of the Faithful. Now, the better representatives of that organization (such as Bishop Ware and Mr. Forest) are very careful to deny they are pacifistic. However, they then go on to reason and “theologize” themselves (in the name of the Church) into what is a de facto pacifistic position – though they explicitly deny this. Their theology is thus not really sound in the end and the faithful are right when they interpret them as saying the Church is radically pacifistic. It also should be noted that most of our leading “seminary professionals”, at least in the states (well, Oxford and Paris also), fall into the same kind of thinking.

    I suspect that Ware and Forest and others are also tainted by a certain unexamined wordly politic that leans heavily on the “progressive” tradition. If the OPF was simply a group of people who have mistaken their liberal left leaning politics for the doctrine of the Church, then that would be one thing. However, they are in fact more than this. This does not account for their theological deconstruction of the Church’s traditional teaching.

    What the Church needs is more men like Fr. Webster, who take a much more historic and balanced theological position. Such men are obviously too far and few between. You are to be commended for taking this issue head on…

    1. Christopher: Yes, I can say along with NT Wright that probably about a third of what I’ve written is wrong; the problem is, I don’t know which third. In true apophatic fashion, however, I’d amend this to say that likely 100% of what I write and say ultimately falls well short of Christ crucified and all the implications of this unfathomable mystery. Please forgive me — Lord, have mercy. May God grant you inner peace and healing.

  18. This may seem like a simple question, but I must ask. ISIS has declared war on Christians throughout the entire world, and is serious about wiping us off the face of the Earth. My question is, if left to their devices is it possible we (Christians) could all end up victims of genocide….all of us? At what point do we, or can we defend our families, or make a proactive stance? All of us fall short of his glory, none of is Jesus Christ, and all of us are sinners. Because we were eventually made this way (after Adam ate the apple), wouldn’t that made us the perfect soldiers to defend our faith? We are destined to commit sin, and there would be no holier cause than to defend or die defending our religion from being completely destroyed.

  19. Lawrence – I think you have missed many other things we can do besides send bombs and bullets, such as use our military for humanitarian purposes first and foremost. I’ve detailed some rather concrete answers to the problem of radical Islam here: kirbyhopper.com/a-christians-plan-to-deal-with-the-isis-crisis/

  20. For anybody who’s made it this far through all the comments, I’d recommend reading Kirby’s linked article. I believe it sums up very well many of the reasons why most in the middle east hate the United States (primarily the government, not the individuals). He also offers some pragmatic suggestions on how to deal with ISIS and the mindset that continues to spawn similar groups. kirbyhopper.com/a-christians-plan-to-deal-with-the-isis-crisis/

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