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Responses to: "A Plea for Peace" Flawed by Moral Equivalency

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Responses are welcome. Send to editor@orthodoxytoday.org
Read "A Plea for Peace" Flawed by Moral Equivalency here.

Responses by:

Fr. Paul Schroeder   Apr 16 03
Steve Collins          Apr 16 03
Fr. Steve Tsichlis     Apr 16 03
Dennis Engleman    Apr 16 03
Joel Thomas          Apr 19 03
Michael Bauman     Apr 28 03
The Monk Maximos  May 14 03
Craig Tuthill           Jun 03 03
Archpriest Michael Laffoon       Jun 05 03

Comments to responses by Fr. Johannes Jacobse:

To Fr. Paul Schroeder     Apr 17 03
To Steve Collins            Apr 17 03
To Steve Tsichlis           Apr 17 03
To Dennis Engleman      Apr 17 03
To Joel Thomas            Apr 19 03
To Craig Tuthill            Jun 03 03


Fr. Paul Schroeder

As a signer of the OPF's "Plea for Peace," I am writing to thank you for posting your article "'A Plea for Peace' Flawed by Moral Equivalency" (or "OPF Tyranny" as your link more bluntly has it) on your website.  I have no doubt that the presence of your article will result in the exposure of a broader audience to OPF and its mission, thus furthering the present healthy dialogue within the Orthodox Church on these important issues.  Thank you for your contribution to this dialogue.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not also point out that your article seems to me deeply flawed in its logic, most significantly in its use of the term "moral equivalency."  In actuality, "moral equivalency" is generally used with a meaning that is precisely the opposite of the sense in which you are using it.  Philosophically speaking, moral equivalence ordinarily describes a situation in which aggression and violence, which are under ordinary circumstances considered "immoral," are justified inasmuch as they represent the moral counterpoint of the actions of the opponent.  For example, a bias towards "moral eqivalency" is sometimes alleged in reporting on the situation in Palestine, wherein the use of immoral means by the Palestinians (suicide bombings, sniper attacks on civilians, etc) is justified on the basis that they are morally equivalent to the violence being employed by the State of Israel.  Israel, of course, denounces such claims , insisting that its methods are not to be compared with the methods of those whom it labels terrorists.  Moral equivalency is therefore essentially the position that when under attack one has the right to respond in kind; in short, that "two wrongs make a right."

The OPF statement is in fact based not on moral equivalency, but on personalism, the belief that every person is created in the image of God, and thus reflects who God is in a manner that has never been since the beginning of time, and shall never be again hereafter.  The destruction of a human life is thus a tragedy that cannot be measured or quantified.  Moral equivalency says "a hundred of theirs for a hundred of ours."  Personalism insists that human lives cannot be weighed against each other in the scale. When terrorists hijack an airplane and crash it into a building, killing thousands of innocent people, it is a tragedy.  And when the United States Goverment kills thousands of innocent civilians in prosecuting its war against Iraq, this is also a tragedy.  The two cases are not equivalent, morally or otherwise.  Quite the contrary.  If they were morally equivalent, then the immoral means used by the terrorists would in fact justify the United States' abrogation of the classic tenets of just war by launching a war of preemption.  If they were morally equivalent, then it would justify the United States' flouting the United Nations and the cause of international cooperation in pursuing a course of reckless unilateralism.  If they were morally equivalent, it would justify the recourse to torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners that has begun to be reported around the margins of the war on terror.   If they were morally equivalent, then it would justify the United States' violation of international law by employing cluster bombs, the brightly colored unexploded bomblets of which will kill Iraqi children for years to come.  But they are not morally equivalent.  And therefore we are not justified.

Fr. Paul Schroeder

Comment to Fr. Paul Schroeder:

Fr. Paul Schroeder argues that my definition of moral equivalency is wrong and suggests that it means equivalent retribution. But that is not what the term means, and it is not how I used it in the article.

Moral equivalency (the victimizer is victim) can be applied in many situations but in my essay I use it to describe the obliteration of moral distinctions between totalitarian regimes and democratic governments. That the peace movement allows no moral distinctions between them is self-evident. It's the only way that the victimization for which the activists share culpability can be rationalized (such as the two and one half million dead after the American withdrawal from Viet Nam). Further, If Fr. Schroeder's definition were accurate, the defeat of Germany in WWII for example, would have to be considered as a great an evil as the thirteen million dead in the concentration camps. Fr. Schroeder, in other words, champions moral equivalency not by addressing the facts raised in the essay, but by trying to change the definition of the term.

This redefinition informs the moral ground to his philosophy of "personalism." But since his definition of moral equivalency is incorrect, the philosophy is suspect also. In any case, his purpose in raising the philosophy was not to explain it, but to attack the American policy in Iraq. Again, reasonable people can disagree about the American policy, but they have to give their reasons. Fr. Schroeder has yet to give his.

One other point. Yes, the attack on the World Trade Center was a "tragedy," but it was also an attack. The death of a person by a drunk driver is a tragedy, but it is also negligence. Negligence is a moral distinction, and this distinction is what makes the tragedy a crime. If the sole distinction Fr. Schroeder allows is "tragedy," then effectively we have no distinctions.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse


From the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website

Steve Collins

Father Johannes Jacobse's critique of the OPF statement opposing war in Iraq is thoughtful and its intent certainly laudable. But its arguments miss the mark in several respects. Comparisons with Vietnam are inappropriate, and it spuriously labels as "moral equivalence" the OPF's defense of the most basic commandment of the New Covenant to love our enemies.

First, consider the comparison with Vietnam.

Regardless of what we thought of the North Vietnamese regime and the insurgency it was backing in the south, that movement had the popular support of the Vietnamese people. Unlike US intervention in Iraq (though even there the verdict is still out), American intervention in Vietnam was never seen as legitimate by the Vietnamese people; we were just another foreign invader in a long history of foreign intrusions aimed at depriving the Vietnamese people of self-determination. Of course, the Johnson/Nixon administrations didn't want to hear this, which is why they'd sacked or shut out experts on the region who tried to call attention to this history.

In addition, US intervention was illegal: it was a gross violation of the accords that had ended the war with France and promised a national election; the US signed those accords, then conveniently chose not to honor its promise to respect an election to a unified government when it was clear its man would lose. (We had similarly ignored the wishes of the Korean people in the early years after World War II by installing a puppet in our occupation zone who had been in exile in the US, had no knowledge of the conditions in his own country, permitted the hated Japanese police to stay on hand to keep order, and was never accepted as legitimate by the people in the south, which made it vulnerable to the communist insurgency from the north that led, ultimately, to the Korean War. Few Americans even know of this history, which makes it impossible for them to understand why such a bizarre and paranoid state as North Korea could come into being.)

Which is to say that the historical circumstances behind the conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq are so different, a comparison of the morality of American intervention is wholly inappropriate. But the US can certainly learn an important lesson from that failure, and from failures in Korea and China: that no matter how squeaky-clean a potential leader or party may be, and no matter how friendly he or it is to the US, if isn't viewed as legitimate by the people, it will not stand.

The only real similarity I see is American's persistence in casting itself as the "city on a hill," whose knights in shining armor will ride to the rescue of our less enlightened foreign friends and liberate them from the shackles of tradition (Orthodox Christian, Islam, animistic, or otherwise) and bestow upon them the gift of capitalism and liberal democracy. It is based on an assumption all of us of faith should see as a dangerous one: that if we could only rid a society of its authoritarian traditions and superstitions, democracy and freedom will take root, and individuals can get on with that which their human natures incline them to want to do more than anything else: consume.

As Orthodox Christians, of course, we'd like to see all peoples free to pursue what we believe our human natures incline us to want: a life in Christ. But I doubt that many of the architects of America's doctrine of preemption, if any at all, would see it quite this way.

The totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein was different, and few reasonable people would knowingly wish to draw a moral equivalence between that regime and those in America or Western Europe. I say few, because certainly there are some who saw Saddam as, yes, a tyrant, but as "our tyrant," an Arab tyrant. And what to do with a tyrant is, ultimately, the responsibility of those over whom he rules. The only justification for an armed intervention that has a clear basis in international law is when that tyrant violates the sovereignty of a neighboring country, as Iraq did in Kuwait in 1990 and Hitler did in Europe in the late 1930s (hence rendering inapt the comparison with Neville Chamberlain, another trite ploy by advocates of white-knight intervention to cast peacemakers as historically ignorant, weak-kneed appeasers).

There are, of course, other grounds for intervention with a less solid basis in international law but which we are compelled by conscience to confront: namely, genocide.

But even here, despite the Baath Party's brutal massacres of Kurds and Shiites, it would be a stretch to call the regime genocidal. And if this were the basis for intervention, where was the US when Hutus were slaughtering tens of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994?

Yes, Orthodox priests blessed military action by Greeks against Turks and no doubt in many other instances when Orthodox peoples were rightly struggling for self-determination against Ottoman Turks and others. But that doesn't mean the church was always right. In an international relations class I teach, I sometimes show a documentary film on World

War I that shows Russian Orthodox priests censing Russian troops marching off to fight the hated Germans and Austrians. I shudder every time I see that; how many tens of thousands of young men were sent to needless slaughter on the battlefields of Europe with the blessings of the Church! The Czarist regime got its just reward for this, as do all autocracies, including Iraq, that have such low regard for human life.

As Orthodox Christians, let us heed the lessons of history and return to the central commandment that underpins our faith and for which there are no qualifications: "...love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you many be sons of your Father in heaven."

No moral equivalence here: just the straight Truth.

Steve Collins

Comment to Steve Collins:

In my essay I indicated that reasonable people can disagree on whether the United States should have entered Viet Nam. Mr. Collins nevertheless devotes two paragraphs (with a decidedly leftward slant) to the topic.

He does not address however, my point about the two and one half million dead by those he characterizes as fighters for self-determination. If self-determination was the goal of the North Vietnamese Communists, and if they had the broad based support of the South Vietnamese people as Mr. Collins claims, why was the first order of business the slaughter of these people? Why did thousands attempt to flee Viet Nam on little more than a piece of plywood? How many drowned that we don't know about? Doesn't this tell us anything?

Mr Collin turns this point around. He says that the American failure in Viet Nam was proof that the Americans did not have the political support of the South Vietnamese people. But there was no carnage and no boat people when America fought in that country. Again, American entry into Viet Nam may have been a wrong decision (Eisenhower warned Kennedy against it), but the withdrawal was not caused by either the political resistance of the South Vietnamese or American military incompetence, but by weak political leadership and peace activism at home. American withdrawal opened the floodgates of carnage, and those who contributed to that withdrawal share culpability for it.

Mr. Collin's also confirms my point that the mythology that the North Vietnamese Communists were freedom fighters is alive and well.

Overlooking the anti-American screed that follows the discussion on Viet Nam, Mr. Collins points out that the only justification for war is when a neighboring country is invaded. I'm glad to see this implicit denial of the point made in "A Plea for Peace" that there is no such thing as a just war, but why is he making it? This rebuttal doesn't jibe with the thinking of the statement. Does he understand what the statement really says or did he sign it without thinking through its ramifications?

Mr. Collins also argues that Saddam's regime was not genocidal. He does not yet understand who Saddam Hussein was and what he did.

Finally, WWI was a senseless war, no doubt about it. It ended when American doughboys went to France and settled it. There was no invasion of America. National interests played a little role in justifying American intervention. It was still the right thing to do.

Fr. Johannes Jacobse


From the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website

Fr. Steve Tsichlis

I believe this debate is very important.

Please allow me to add one thing to the reponses of Father Schroeder and Professor Collins.

Father Jacobse quotes the 13th canon of St. Basil the Great somewhat inaccurately and not in its entirety.

The text actually reads: "Murder in war our fathers have not counted as murder -- in my opinion, making a concession to those who fight in defense of temperance and piety. But it is good to advise those whose hands are not clean to abstain from communion for three years only."

In other words, as I read this text -- and I have the Greek before me -- St. Basil clearly recognized the moral ambiguity of killing in war, even by "those who fight in defense of temperance and piety," and disagrees somewhat with established canonical precedent by suggesting that these men not receive communion for three years because their hands are "not clean."

This, it seems to me, is very different from Father Jacobse's use of the text.

Fr. Steve Tsichlis

Comment to Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Fr. Steve Tsichlis is correct that there is more to the quote to St. Basil than I included in my essay. I decided to omit it because the pastoral question was not relevant to the larger question of how moral equivalency informs the notion that no war is justifiable. The "moral ambiguity" of killing in wartime is certainly worthy of discussion but only if you first agree that the notion of no just war is unsustainable.

Fr. Tsichlis implicitly affirms my argument and I thank him for it. My only question is that given that he obviously thinks about these issues in a deeper way, why did he sign such a flawed document?

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse


From The Christian Activist website.

Dennis Engleman

I have pondered the "Plea for Peace from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America" for several weeks, trying to discover what in this document could have appealed to its signers. Perhaps it was simply the word "peace," which Orthodox Christians are certainly entitled to seek. Beyond this, however, the document appears fatally flawed both in terms of intellectual argument and Christian apologetic.

Its main objectives seem to be not spiritual but political, and these it pursues with a confused disdain for logic, fact and truth. Let us examine various statements from this plea:

The United States is ready to overthrow him [Saddam Hussein] by any means.

The plea disregards the intense diplomatic efforts of the last six months-and in fact of the last 12 years-to compel Hussein's compliance with UN resolutions regarding disarmament. President Bush has clearly stated the consequences that non-compliance would bring about, and has given Hussein multiple opportunities to avoid them. The dictator brought about his own demise by defiance of clearly communicated norms of civilized society.

Including an attack which would kill thousands of civilians and maim many more.

A lawyer would shout "objection!" at these hypothetical speculations, which have already been shown false. The sole purpose of such heated language seems aimed at suggesting the worst possible outcome-why not speak instead of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who will be freed from lives of misery under the dictator?

On the possibility that Hussein's regime is producing weapons of mass destruction.

It is already documented that he has produced and used such weapons.

The Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good . ..

If this assertion were true, Constantinople would not have endured for over one thousand years, but would rather have been trampled underfoot at the very first of its seventeen sieges.

Regarding whether Christian Soldiers could wage war, St. Cyril of Jerusalem replied,

Christ our God commands us to pray God for all those who persecute us, and to do good to them, but He has also said to us: 'Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.' And we therefore submit to the insults that our enemies cast at us individually, and pray to God for them, but as a group we defend one another and lay down our lives for one another."

Christ's injunction to turn the other cheek if slapped means we must endure humiliation, not annihilation. Many other Orthodox fathers have commented on he appropriate role of Christians in war.

But when we speak of the dispensations made for man by our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who will gainsay their having been accomplished through the grace of the Spirit? Whether you wish to examine ancient evidence; the blessings of the patriarchs, the succor given through the legislation, the types, the prophecies, the valorous feats in war, the signs wrought through just men; or on the other hand the things done in the dispensation of the coming of our Lord in the flesh--all is through the Spirit.
St. Basil, Treatise on the Holy Spirit, XVI, 39.

And if you investigate the history of generals who have enjoyed the highest reputation from the earliest ages, you will find that most of their triumphs were achieved by stratagem, and that such are more highly commended than those who conquer in open fight. But one who has been able to gain the victory by stratagem involves the enemy in ridicule as well as disaster.
St.John Chrysostom, Treatise on the Priesthood, 37.

However, there are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death. These exceptions are of two kinds, being justified either by a general law, or by a special commission granted for a time to some individual. And in this latter case, he to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it,is not himself responsible for the death he deals. And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill.'
St. Augustine, City of God, Of the cases in which we may put men to death without incurring the guilt of murder," 21.

Fighting an elusive enemy by means which cause the death of innocent people can be regarded only as murder.

Murder is deliberate and intentional killing, and the mission of the United States military is not to intentionally kill innocent civilians. If some accidentally die, as unfortunately has happened in this war (but not nearly so many as have in most other world conflicts), the blame should be laid at the feet of Hussein, who could have prevented all this by not behaving like a ruthless dictator. The plea's argument of murder by default is neither Orthodox, nor even Christian, but rather partakes of the skewed thinking common among liberal academics.

Individual murderers are treated by psychiatrists and priests and isolated from society. But who heals the national psyche, the wounded soul of a nation, when it is untroubled by the slaughter of non-combatant civilians?

This text paints not only coalition soldiers but even those societies supporting them as a cadre of murderers who need psychiatric help. By what clairvoyance (not to mention cock-sure arrogance) is OPF able to declare that those who support Hussein's overthrow would be "untroubled" by innocents dying? By what omniscience can OPF assume that if any civilians do perish it will be because they were "slaughtered" by coalition troops? This language is clearly designed not to inform but to inflame, to appeal to the worst fears and doubts of readers and portray everyone on the coalition side as unfeeling and callous barbarians.

Friends help each other do good things, not evil things.

This silly line sounds like it came from simplistic "I'm OK, You're OK ideology." St. Cyril offers a much better example of how friends should behave when he reminds us that Christ said, "Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends." The U.S. led coalition is not doing evil in getting rid of Hussein; rather it is behaving as Iraq's greatest friend. Its soldiers are laying down their lives for the sake of that wounded populace.

We find echoes of holy friendship in the world's unfolding reaction to events in Iraq.

Where do we find holy friendship in the duplicitous behavior of supposed allies who won't support the coalition because it goes against their economic interests-countries that have secretly been supplying contraband to Iraq? Where do we find holy friendship in the rallies of peace activists who have dusted off the socialist/nihilist/pacifist anti-American slogans of the cold war era?

We best reflect Christ-Who neither killed anyone nor blessed anyone to kill-by loving, helping, and forgiving.

While the Lord blessed peacemakers, He never indicated the business of Christians was to focus on making earth a peaceful place in which to be at ease. His kingdom is not of this world, and His followers should expect persecutions and conflict while here: "Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword," Christ declared (Mat. 10:34). Nor did He leave His followers defenseless, saying, "He that hath no sword. Let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36). If a weapon is more important than a coat in the Lord's eyes, we should have one and be prepared to use it when necessary.

If the world can be convinced that it's possible to work peacefully to make life more livable for all, we may all be better off.

This smack's of John Lennon's nihilistic song "Imagine," which might well be considered the pacifist anthem, "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, no religions too, Imagine all the people living life in peace ." Christ assures us that there will be wars and rumors of wars until He comes again. To make worldly peace the most important of all objectives is to give it a status it doesn't deserve-and one that can never be attained by men acting on their own power. It is inevitable that brutal and dictatorial men will arise from time to time-men who have no interest whatever in "peace" and will only use the misguided efforts of pacifists to their own advantage. Such men must be confronted and defeated or, in the name of peace the world will be enslaved.

As Orthodox Christians...

To begin the plea with these words implies that the entire Orthodox Christian Church agrees with its self-serving premises. Rather than a Christian declaration, the document reads more like the manifesto for some humanist utopian society. I feel OPF has done no small disservice to the Church by publishing this plea, and is wrong to glorify its highly biased and politicized opinions with the name of Christian Orthodoxy. Finally, I would be curious to know if the signers of this document actually read it with care, and if they continue to support it with their reputations.

Dennis Engleman

Comment to Dennis Engleman:

Mr. Dennis Engleman says many things I agree with and I appreciate his response.

One point he makes concerns the language of the statement. Mr. Engleman says a line in the statement sounds like the "I'm OK, You're OK" pop culture psychobabble. I agree. In fact, there are quite a few sentences thatexpress happy talk sentimentality and nothing more. Take for example, "We find echoes of holy friendship in the world's unfolding reaction to events in Iraq." What is a "holy friendship?" What does this friendship "echo?" Who are these "holy friends?" This sentence does not deal with ideas, only feelings. So what feeling is this sentence meant to manufacture? A waxy awe? It's empty-headed.

I expect better from our Orthodox leaders than the Oprahization of moral theology.

From my vantage point "A Plea for Peace" contains two contradictory strains of thinking: pacifism and justified engagement. Uniting them is the shared conviction that the Iraq war would end in quagmire, and a shared suspicion of American motives of differing degrees that renders the signers susceptible to the logic of moral equivalency. The statement resolves the contradiction in a way where the pacifist could read it as "no war is just" and the proponent of justified engagement as "the war in Iraq is unjust." Either way, Orthodox Peace Fellowship has scored an impressive public relations coup. As creators of the document, they are implicitly granted the imprimatur of the tradition by the bishopsand priests who signed it.

Fr. Johannes Jacobse


Joel Thomas

...I was a bit surprised at the article, "A Plea For Peace Flawed By Moral Equivalency."  While I agree with the general sentiment of the original "Plea for Peace" document and it is signed by some of those God has used to be instrumental in educating, teaching, and ministering both seekers and Orthodox (myself in particular), it is unfortunately ridden by incongruity, simplistic one-sided rhetoric and fails to acknowledge and address many of the complex issues that make the situation in Iraq what it is.

...Unfortunately, the "response article," "A Plea For Peace Flawed By Moral Equivalency," is unable to provide a response willing to rise above the same difficulties readers encounter in the original "Plea for Peace."  Unlike Schaeffer's article, it is grievously one-sided and unable to acknowledge the legitimate concerns and valid points the original document and the anti-war in Iraq presents.  While conceding that "Reasonable people can disagree about the American policy in Iraq" (and adding the important idea that they should give reasons), the author fails to discuss the reasons they do give in a balanced manner he is obviously capable of doing.  His points in the last two paragraphs are well-taken and even as one who does not support the war (I do, however, support the troops and have done so tangibly), I see the danger in certain Orthodox leadership signing their names to such a document.  However, responding to the document in a way that is less than diplomatic and is burdened by the same inconsistent format of simplistic one-sidedness will hardly help to bring resolve to a difficult issue.

Joel Thomas

Comment to Joel Thomas

Mr. Thomas writes that my response to "A Plea for Peace" was "ridden by incongruity, simplistic one-sided...fails to acknowledge and address many of the complex issues that make the situation in Iraq what it is...unable to...rise above the same problems in "A Plea for Peace,"...unable to acknowledge legitimate concerns," and a laundry list of other grievances.

Yet he provides no facts or examples to back up his assertions. There are no arguments here, only finger wagging.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse


Michael Bauman

In the back and forth debate on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship proclamation on the war in Iraq, I find little resort to the fundamental fact of Christian life, Jesus Christ was God Incarnate, fully God and Fully man.  The fact that God choose to become one of us for our salvation should be the starting point on any consideration of contemporary moral choice, not an after thought.  Such a starting point clearly shows that each human being is of infinite value and must be treated with love, mercy and compassion.  The purposeful destruction of human life, simply to destroy it is the one of the greatest sins anyone can commit.  Not far behind is the taking of human life or torturing human beings as an instrument of holding dictatorial political power.

It is quite clear that Saddam Hussein, his henchmen are guilty both the first and the second of those sins.  The question we must answer then becomes how do we respond both as individual Orthodox Christians and as members of the body politic of the only country willing and able to even confront the evil and proclaim it as such.  Religiously based pacifism has as a root belief that our will must always be submitted to God's Will.  Furthermore, God's Will, ultimately, prevails.  Since God went to the cross rather than fighting, so must we too.  The victory will be God's by His power and grace and take place in His time, without any assistance from us except surrender to that Will.  The logic of religious pacifism leads inevitably to the moral equivalency demonstrated by the OPF statement and most pacifist statements since the Vietnam war.

Such a belief is profoundly at odds with the Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation. The Orthodox understanding of the hypostatic union is that our human will was not relegated to a subordinate position within the Incarnate Lord.  The Sixth Ecumenical Council in A.D. 680-681 stated the following:  "We glorify two natural operations indivisibly, immutably, unconfusedly, inseparably in the same our Lord Jesus Christ our true God, that is to say a divine operation and a human operation according to the divine preacher Leo, who most distinctly asserts as follows:  'For each form does in communion with the other what pertains properly to it, the Word, namely, doing that which pertains to the Word, and the flesh that which pertains to the flesh.' "  The Council's position is a natural corollary to the earlier Chalcedonian proclamation of the divine and human natures co-existent in Christ, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation..."  Since we are called to a similar hypostatic union in Theosis, our will in this world, our action in this world is not be at the mercy of God's will, but to cooperate with it.  The principal of synergy.  We cannot passively allow evil to win.  We must act.  In a fallen world, that action will, at times, entail direct, physical confrontation.  At times that means we must fight and even kill.  The reason for the killing is altogether different however.  Evil kills for the sheer joy of killing, to spread discord, terror and confusion.  The confronter of evil kills as a last resort and only because of the continued resistance of the evil doer.  Not unlike Christ's judgment of us.  We are consigned to hell only because of our obstinate refusal to repent.

If the members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship wish to pursue a course of personal pacifism, they have ample theological and spiritual support within the tradition of the Church, however, grave mistakes are often made in attempting to translate such belief and practice into corporate, political action.  They would do well to consider the words of Fr. Alexander Webster in his excellent treatise. The Pacifist Option: The Moral Argument Against War in Eastern Orthodox Theology.  At the end of chapter four he states:  "[The character of the monk Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov is] an expression of the Russian novelist's insight of universal human responsibility and the need for mutual forgiveness:  'The discipline of a constantly experienced sense of one's own radical sin and emptiness, as the basis of a self-giving love, was Dostoevsky's way out of the West's circular violence of the self.'  A person can be certain only of his own intentional evil or sin.  But this sense of sin may, in a manner analogous to Einstein's insight into the mutual convertibility of matter and energy, 'be converted into an undiscovered energy for change.'  If Dostoevsky's Zossima is correct that each of us is responsible for everyone else through the recognition of our own sin and of our fundamental human unity in Christ, then the ultimate source of evil, despite 'its many external agents' throughout the world, 'comes home with startling clarity when we are finally humbled enough by reality to see simply and clearly--that as we are, so is the world.'  That realization is the beginning of a meaningful, truly Christian, spiritually faithful, but politically unaligned activist pacifism."  (The internal quotes are from James W. Douglass in his book, Lightning East to West.)


From The Christian Activist website.

The Monk Maximos

The Holy Fathers on War

There have been many very ignorant and inaccurate statements on this war and the Orthodox perspective relating to it. The two main speakers among the Fathers on the subject of war are St. Athanasius the Great and St. Basil the Great (two of the great ones of the Orthodox Church)

St. Athanasius said in the Epistle to Amun:

It is not permissible to murder anyone, yet in war it is praiseworthy and lawful to slay the adversaries. Thus at any rate those who have distinguished themselves in war are entitled to and accorded great honours, and columns are erected in memory of them reciting their exploits. So that the same manner in some respect at some time but in another respect and at some other time when there is a good occasion for it, may be allowed and permitted.

St. Basil said in Canon XIII:

Our Fathers did not consider murders committed in the course of war to be classified as murders at all, on the score it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps though, it might be advisable to deny them communion for three years on the account that they are not clean handed.

This second part of the three year penance is advisory and is not part of the canon per se. The denial of communion was as a remedy to the soul of the soldier who was blood stained, and never became part of the usual procedure in the Orthodox Church.

Those...who have compared a soldier doing his duty in defense of the nation with a woman procuring an abortion which the canons unanimously identify with murder (30 years penance, sodomy likewise is given a 30 year penance, along with fornication et.al.) are not only wrong, but clearly very ignorant of the Orthodox canonical tradition.

The sinful monk Maximos+


From OrthodoxyToday Blog

Craig Tuthill

One of the facts I find interesting and quite allarming is the complete blindness of those who approve of this war, to the fact that the US backed and helped Iraq in it's fight with Iran (another state that the warmongering President and his Administration want to go after next). Yes, that right, we help support the very entity that we now call evil, and then want to send our boys off to die for the cause of it. And by Fr Jacobse's view, those who object to this sanity are in some way commiting moral relativism and are in league with the liberal hippie of the 60's?

Give us a break! When the US is attacked unjustly, and has no skeletons of blowback in it's collective closet, then your arguments would ring truer, but when this country plots and cooks up the very evil it 10-20 years later wants to destroy under my flag and under my patriotism, that is wrong and theres something that reaks of dishonesty to that!

War always makes government bigger, and people loose their freedoms. To accept war with no question means to accept overwhelming government intrusion, and I don't accept that as a Orthodox Christian. And in conclusion, if this is all about doing the right thing as liberators, then where are you Fr. Jaconse on other tyrants around the globe? Don't read much in your blogs and web site on them, but boy you go to the mat on Saddam and the anti-war crowd. That is shameful! Consistancy is something you might learn as well!

Comment to Craig Tuthill

Craig Tuthill makes a good point about American support of Iraq in earlier years particularly during the Iraq and Iran war. Different conclusions can be drawn than the ones that Tuthill makes above, but the fact that America supported Iraq is not in dispute. Robert Bartley, retired editor of the Wall Street Journal, called American policy towards Iraq "a chamber of horrors" and lays the blame for the inconsistent policy towards Iraq at both Democrat and Republican feet.

But what does this have to do with the moral equivalency in "A Plea for Peace?" Poor American policy doesn't excuse the poor thinking in the document. Mr. Tuthill writes that I see objectors to the war as "commiting moral relativism and are in league with the liberal hippie of the 60's." That is not correct. Instead, I see no difference between the reasoning of "A Plea for Peace" and the thinking of the secular peace movement. My broader objection is the implication that this reasoning conforms to the Orthodox moral tradition. It doesn't.

Reasonable people can disagree about the war in Iraq, but they have to give their reasons. "A Plea for Peace" substitutes moral posturing for clear thinking, just as the secular peace movement does. No one wants war but the moral relativism of anti-war activists creates conditions where war and death are more likely -- the two and one half million dead in Viet Nam for example.

As for other notice of other tyranny on my site, do a search for Sudan, check the link page, etc. There is plenty there.


Archpriest Michael Laffoon

As a pastor of an Orthodox parish and an interested observer of the ongoing debate that the OPF's "Plea for Peace" (and indeed, the Iraqi war itself) has elicited, I will now (hesitantly) enter the dialogue.

To begin, I will share my biases. First, I was against our incursion into Iraq, for a number of reasons, some of them moral (I am still not convinced Iraq presented a significant threat to us) and others more pragmatic (I am doubtful as to whether we can or will accomplish long-lasting changes for good in the region).

Second, I agree with those who believe that it is in the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, the Church Canons, and the prayers and hymns of the Church and all the sources of our Tradition that we must look for answers regarding war and all questions attendant to war.

Some Orthodox say that non-violence is the only true Christian way, and that we should oppose all war, period. They point to the Beatitudes, to the life (and death) of Christ as examples of Christian non-violence. We cannot ignore these lessons in word and deed. Clearly the hurting, maiming and killing of human beings created in God's image is not pleasing to our Creator.

I have also heard and read many Orthodox defend the concept of a "just" or "justifiable" war noting that there have been many armed conflicts that were supported (as a "lesser evil") by the Church. They point to the many instances where soldiers, and even weapons have been blessed before entering battle, and to the historical reality that the Church supported Byzantine, Russian etc. leaders who led their armies against the various enemies of their empires. The Old Testament history of ancient Israel and their divinely ordained use of military force are sometimes referenced.

It seems to me that personal and political predilections most strongly affect the way in which many view war in general and this war in particular. In this regard, I must agree with much of Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse's critique of the OPF "Plea for Peace."

The underlying assumptions in the statement seem to include regarding all act of wars as terrorism, the conviction that no participation in warfare can ever be just or good, that soldiers who kill in war are murderers, that American military action in Iraq would result in "slaughter," and that Americans would be "untroubled" by this slaughter. This does indeed sound very much like the secular left, or rather the secularized religious left and is very reminiscent of the Viet Nam era anti-war rhetoric.

On the other hand, if we laud the "liberation" of Iraq, the overthrow of a totalitarian government, etc. we can cast our invasion in positive, even holy terms. Of course, this tends to conveniently ignore the very inconsistent, even contradictory history of American foreign policy in the region over the years. The comparison with the "appeasers" of pre-World War II Europe is not well made either. The fact is, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the world did band together to beat him back, and did not agree to his territorial ambitions (as did Neville Chamberlain did to Hitler's in the 1930's).

So where do I stand? On war in general, I read the Tradition as being rather against it. But at the same time, the Church has blessed and encouraged her sons to take up arms to defend their families, their homes, their churches and their homelands and even interpreted John 15:13 in this light. Even in such cases, violent defense is seen as participation in the fallen world and not part of "Kingdom" life, but it is not condemned.

My prayer is that since we have made this war and have toppled the Hussein regime, we will indeed do all that we can to see that the new Iraqi government is one that takes care of its people and is a good citizen in the world of nations. If we can do this, then perhaps we will have done the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Furthermore, my plea to all those Orthodox who think and write on such topics is that we first consider the entire Tradition of the Church and let that inform our personal/political opinions and not vice-versa. If we are so inclined we can review the "data" of our Faith and proclaim pacifism to be a dogmatic principle, and portray those who disagree as unfaithful to the Gospel. Likewise, if we are so inclined, we can read the same Tradition and conclude that under many (most?) circumstances the Church is simply willing to "go along" with military solutions, even blessing them.

Both of these approaches have a common appeal: there is little need to struggle and examine the ethics and morals of war in general or of particular armed conflicts. Yet I would submit that that is exactly what we must do, as our forebears in the Faith have done throughout the centuries. May God help us to do so with pure hearts, through the prayers of St. George the trophy-bearer, of St. Theodore the General, of the holy passion-bearers Boris and Gleb and all the saints!

Archpriest Michael Laffoon
St. Mark Antiochian Orthodox Church
Irvine, CA



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