Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

The Christian Warrior

Garrison Bauman

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St. Demetrios of Thesaloniki

St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki

If it be possible, as much as it lieth in you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then, not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same...(Romans 13:1-3).

Jesus' message is overwhelmingly one of peace. The way of Christ is the way of the Cross. Many have taken the path of martyrdom, embodying Jesus' commands to turn the other cheek and not to resist evil. At the same time, the scripture is also filled with martial images from St. Paul's "full armor of God" to the war in heaven between angels and demons. The Fathers of the Church call us to unseen warfare against the sin and passions that beset us. We are called to witness to evil and confront it, in ourselves first, then in our communities, and in the world at large. Because evil is not just spiritual, but physical as well. We must be in the world, not of it. In a fallen world, evil often has to be stopped physically, with deadly force if necessary.

How should a Christian respond to these seemingly conflicting imperatives? Often the answer given is Christians can participate in some wars as long as we consider them a "necessary evil". By such an understanding, spiritual war with evil is divorced from the physical war against evil. The spiritual is good; the physical is bad (and therefore wrong), even if sometimes necessary. Such a false dichotomy at times creates bad feelings between fellow Christians and makes those who choose to fight seem less than faithful Christians. This false dichotomy creates a demand by some for a doctrine to settle the issue once and for all. But doctrinal statement forbidding warfare or supporting it is not necessary. The nature and extent of one's participation in war is not, nor should it be, a doctrinal question. Instead, the decision to participate in a war is made within the teaching of the Church and the awareness of one's vocation as a Christian.

That is why I do not agree with the label "necessary evil". All of the moral choices one can make are based on the same imperative: to confront evil with self-sacrificing love. As Jesus said, "Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends." If Christian participation in war is evil, we should not participate. If it is necessary, there is a righteous way to do it. The Christian imperative gives rise, not to a dichotomy of peace vs. war, but to a variety of responses: non-violent peacemaker, just warrior, and martyrdom. All have the same fundamental foundation, all require active measures to achieve peace, all require both a physical and a spiritual confrontation with evil so that it may be overcome. Only by doing peace and acting physically against evil when necessary can we confront evil successfully at all. The Christian is always a warrior.

I will attempt to show that both the non-violent peacemaker and the just warrior are needed. With out both we risk descending into the horror of either unbridled "total war" or "holy war" where anything goes, or giving in to evil just because we do not wish to fight. Whether one is a non-violent peacemaker, or a physical warrior both are needed and good in the confrontation with evil. The task for Christians is to discern how they should act.

Just Warrior

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13).

The scripture reveals a great deal about the occupation of soldiering that is at odds with the commonly held understanding of participation in war as a "necessary evil". St. John the Baptist did not tell the soldiers that came to him to leave their profession but instructed them to be honest and not abuse their power (Luke 3:14). When St. Peter was sent to baptize the centurion Cornelius, he did not question his occupation, only the fact that he was a gentile. In fact I have found nowhere in the New Testament where soldiers are instructed to leave their profession for salvation's sake. Clearly, it is permissible for Christians to bear arms. As an example, St. John of Kronstadt, near the end of his homily on peacemaking says:

There are times, however, when dissent is better than peace, and when one needs to shun peace itself. Such is the peace of lawless people, of whom David says: I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 72:3). It is not a good peace when everything goes as wicked people wish, when they grow wealthy with property and every kind of unrighteousness, when they receive rewards and recognition and decorations, when they are the picture of health, and so on (Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes.

St. Gregory the Theologian writes,

Let no one think that I am saying that one needs to cherish every kind of peace. For knowing that there is magnificent discord and the most pernicious unanimity, one must love a good peace which has a good goal and unites one with God ... But when the matter concerns an evident impiety, then one must go hastily for fire and sword rather than partake of an evil leaven and to touch the infected (St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily on Peace).

In like vein, St. John Chrysostom wrote, "Peace settles in when the infected part is cut away, when the inimical is separated from the good. Only in this way can Heaven unite with earth. For the physician, too, saves parts of the body when he cuts off the incurable member from them; and the military leader reinstates calm when he spreads discord among ill-intentioned accomplices" (St. John Chrysostom, Matthew, Homily 25) (All quotes appear in St. John of Kronstadt's Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p.85-86).

By these words from three of the most respected saints of the Orthodox Church, we are led to consider being a just warrior as an approach to making peace. In the Great Ektenia of The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, we find the following petition: "For the President of the United States and all civil authorities, and for our Armed Forces everywhere, let us pray to the Lord. That He will aid them and grant them victory over every enemy and adversary, let us pray to the Lord." (Unfortunately, some priests and bishops omit the second half of this petition.) Clearly, the Church is blessing victory in armed conflict, but also just as clearly, she is calling us to fight on more than just a physical battlefield. We are also praying for our soldiers to be protected and to overcome the passions inherent in war: hatred, viciousness, and killing just to kill. This portion of the Liturgy is a series of blessings on all of our activities in the world. The prayer is that our actions are for the right reasons and done in a moral and upright manner while maintaining an overall theme of peace. That theme of peace allows for the use of force to overcome our enemies. However, that does not mean that we have a carte blanche to kill, maim, or hurt anyone we want. This also means that 'holy war' or a 'Christian Jihad' can never be allowed.

The just warrior must practice non-violent peacemaking, praying for his enemies even as he at times must restrain them with physical force or even kill them. The just warrior must face the fact that his actions, rather than non-action, in defense of people may lead to the death and destruction of other people. The purpose and intent of the just warrior is to establish an environment of safety and order that allows peace to thrive. To protect and defend others, even at the cost of his own life, is the paramount goal of the just warrior. No one, whatever else they may be, deserves to be killed by a terrorist, mugger, or tyrant. The Church has long recognized that such defense is appropriate. Canon 1 of St. Athanasias the Great, (d. 373) says the following:

It is not lawful to murder, but in war [it is] both lawful and worthy of approval to destroy the adversaries. Thus at any rate, those who are bravest in war are also deemed worthy of great honors, and monuments of them are raised proclaiming their successes; so that the same thing, on the one hand, is not lawful according to some circumstances and at some times, but, on the other hand, according to some other circumstances and opportunity it is permitted and possible (quoted in Webster, The Virtue of War, p.74).

In addition, Canon 13 of St. Basil the Great says: "Our fathers did not reckon as murders the murders in wars, it seems to me, giving a pardon to those who defend themselves on behalf of moderation and piety." Clearly, unbridled war for any reason is not contained within the words of either saint, but just as clearly there is no absolute prohibition against violence.

If a Christian is to be a just warrior, he must go beyond being a simple soldier following worldly order, he must seek justice and a special kind of charity that allows people to live more freely and more peaceably than they otherwise would. While charity to some people is merely loving God and neighbor and giving of our time and material resources to those in need, in my opinion we must also be willing to assume personal risk to help our neighbor. The ideal of Christian charity is loving God and neighbor by giving all you have and all you are. Certainly, charity at the basic level is the giving of your resources such as time, money, food, etc., to help others such as volunteering at a homeless shelter or giving money to various assistance organizations. The just warrior takes the next step, giving his body, skill, and sometimes his life to help a person retain their life, allowing them to create an environment that allows for peace.

A brief mention of two saints of the Church who exemplified that charity illustrates what I mean. St. Demetrios of Thesaloniki (d. 306) was a high ranking officer in the Roman Army and is depicted on icons in military dress. He served loyally as a Roman soldier, only serving his Lord better, for he converted many pagans to Christianity through secret meetings in which he preached the gospel. When the Emperor Maximian found out, he imprisoned St. Demetrios. In one of his final acts, St. Demetrios blessed a friend, Nestoras, to fight and kill the Emperor's champion in a duel. Even though Nestoras was much smaller than the Emperor's man, Nestoras prevailed and killed the other man in the duel.

As the reading on St Demetrios' Feast Day, October 26 says: "Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the precious Cross, he presented himself in the stadium, and said, "O God of Demetrius, help me!" and straightway he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless upon the earth." Maximian ordered that both Nestoras and St. Demetrios be put to death. Fr. Alexander Webster writes:

Unlike his counterpart, St. George, the great soldier-martyr of Thessalonika is often depicted in Orthodox icons astride a horse while lancing an enemy soldier lying prostrate near his horse. That an act of such violence can adorn a sacred image leaves no doubt that the Church regards Demetrios's profession-and his role in particular-as worthy of veneration (Webster, The Virtue of War, p.80).

The other saint is the last emperor of Byzantium, St. Constantine XI. A small excerpt from his last exhortation to his subjects before Constantinople fell to the Turks: "But you are men, men of stout heart, and you will hold at bay these dumb brutes, thrusting your spears and swords into them, so that they will know that they are fighting not against their own kind, but against the masters of animals" (Webster The Virtue of War, p.90).

The existence within the Church of seemingly contradictory courses of action, peacemaker and just warrior is not an indication that the Church is of a divided mind. It is, on the contrary, an indication of the essentially antinomical nature of the Church existing both in the Heavenly Kingdom and the fallen world acting as the bridge from one to the other; an imperfect reflection of the Incarnation of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ as both God and man. Therefore, non-violent peacemaking is the flip side to the coin of the Christian warrior.

Non-violent Peacemaking

Let us therefore follow after the things that make for peace and things wherewith one may edify another (Romans 14:19).

The Church must always call for, and witness to, peace-in the modern world; the Just War concept too easily deteriorates into Holy War, or the Church becomes subservient to the state. The peace of the Bible, the peace to which we are called is not just an avoidance of conflict. It is not anti-militarism but a striving for the dynamic harmony of God, attempting at all times to bring that harmony into every situation. The foundation of such peacemaking is founded in worship of God and a willing submission to His love in repentance. The non-violent peacemaker must practice and apply the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.

The Beatitudes provide the clearest example of what I mean. By such practice a person's words and actions create harmony in the place of violence. Evil is confronted in one's self, one's community, and in the world. The non-violent peacemaker confronts evil in a constructive way practicing righteousness by doing his best to create peace and harmony in all of our inter-relationships. Poverty, the environment, as well as war are also addressed. The non-violent peacemaker prays for those in the military to be victorious over our enemies as well as those who would do us harm all the while asking the Grace of God to protect all people from harm. Such peacemaking is functional and effective and has a significant positive impact in our world.

In an 1869 homily on the Beatitude of the Peacemaker, St. John of Kronstadt said

If a disagreement should occur for whatever reason-because of someone's insult or unfairness, for example, or because of someone's encroachment upon our property rights -- we must try in every way to end it, even if that should require our sacrificing whatever belongs to us -- our property, or our honor, or our precedence -- if only it is not contrary to our duty or does not bring harm to anyone" (Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p.82).

St. John's words show the extent to which we Christians are called upon to be humble before our adversaries, even if our adversaries are in the wrong. Jesus in the Beatitudes instructs us, "But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." Luke 6:35 For many, Jesus' words are a clear instruction that we are not to participate in violence in any way. Nevertheless the Scripture is not so clear. There is evidence for the physical warrior and hence violent measures to confront evil as I have pointed out above. The problem now becomes how to decide whether non-violent peacemaking or the just warrior develops into the primary individual path.


Therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called ... (Ephesians 4:1)

The key to discerning this path is vocation and living vocation is the sacramental life of the Church. "As the organic union of with Christ, who is the perfect sacrifice of love for the world (philanthropia), transfigures the individual Christian into an other-regarding, self-sacrificing person, so the simultaneous union of Christians with one another in the organic communal life of the Church epitomized in the Mysteria, transfigures the Church into a self-transcending, world transforming body" (Webster, The Pacifist Option, p.41-42). Participation in Christ's transforming life allows everything that we do to be transformed. In other words, one submits one's life to the Holy Spirit. Along with the submission one must engage in the unseen warfare against the passions, but without the sacraments that battle is meaningless.

Each vocation is important to the whole Body of Christ, just as each cell and member of the physical body is important to the healthy functioning of the whole. Since a vocation is a calling or a summons by God, people tend to think of vocation only in terms of those called to Holy Orders or to a life of monasticism. But it is more than that. The Roman Catholic writer, Michael Novak describes four important aspects of a calling, 1) it is personal and unique: 2) it requires a talent for the tasks involved and the love of the drudgery they involve; 3) "a true calling reveals its presence by the enjoyment and sense of renewed energies its practice yields us; and, 4) they are not often easily discovered, a period of discernment and testing is necessary (Novak Business as a Calling, 34-35). I would add a fifth, there must be a significant element of self-sacrifice involved, an orientation away from self and toward the good of others. Therefore, vocation extends beyond just the priesthood or monasticism into everyday life. A vocation can be anything from a certain type of job to being a spouse and parent.

As Christians, we have accepted the universal vocation -- following Jesus Christ -- but there is a more specific vocation for us: whatever allows us to be effective for God in the world and brings us closer to Him at the same time. Vocation allows us to establish God's order and virtue in our lives and to assist other people to do the same thus our vocation is an essential part of spiritual warfare. Such warfare is the process of recognizing the passions that tend to control and direct our lives, rejecting them and the temptations that give rise to those passions. It is the war we all fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The battles of spiritual warfare are the most important battles any of us will ever fight. They take place on the battleground of our soul. There we confront evil. As we are victorious there, we will be victorious in the world, no matter what job or career we decide to undertake.

The vocational approach to life in God allows us great freedom, but it also requires that we take positive steps. As the vocation of the non-violent peacemaker is more than just helping people, so the just warrior does much more than just use physical force. There are also specific and identifiable temptations that tend to go with each vocation. The peacemaker must resist the temptation to acquiescence to evil while the warrior must guard his heart against hatred and the desire to kill. Each must recognize God in all people especially the enemy and take every step possible to avert warfare. The just warrior though is the one who stands ready to risk his own salvation in order that others may not have to kill to protect themselves and their loved ones from greater harm.

The just warrior has to, at times, make the unseen warfare seen. To reiterate St. Gregory the Theologian:

Let no one think that I am saying that one needs to cherish every kind of peace. For knowing that there is magnificent discord and the most pernicious unanimity, one must love a good peace which has a good goal and unites one with God ... But when the matter concerns an evident impiety, then one must go hastily for fire and sword rather than partake of an evil leaven and to touch the infected" (St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily on Peace).

Obviously, there are conditions that must be met to enable the just warrior to fight justly. Not all wars can be engaged in, not every time even in war should the just warrior kill. Historically such standards have often been called the Just War Theory.

Justifiable War

Traditionally, just or justifiable war involves five major criteria: 1) proper authority; 2) just cause; 3) right intention; 4) war as the only option; and 5) reasonable hope for success by force. Proper authority requires a legitimate head of state legally giving the order to go to war. In the United States only the Congress can constitutionally declare war. The President can commit troops in a limited fashion but he cannot declare war himself. The War Powers Act has given greater specificity to the Presidential powers. To engage the United States in any prolonged military campaign, the President must maintain the support of both houses of Congress even if no official declaration of war is made. Thus it becomes difficult for a war that is perceived by the majority of the American public to be wrong or unjust to be carried on for long. The populace must see the war as just and that it is conducted with a right intention, i.e., military action must be in self-defense or the defense of another country or people.

These aspects of the just war theory are, to some extent, part of our political process whether or not it is specifically realized. However, Christians are called upon to go far beyond the normal political process when deciding whether a war is just or not. Not only must it be overwhelmingly clear that justice will be served only by military means, we must also be as clear as possible that there are few political or economic reasons driving the decision to go to war. When the aggression is directed at our own country or at one of our close allies support is readily given for military action.

Further, right intention presupposes that the military response will be as limited as possible and engaged in out of a sense of charity and justice. Even after Vietnam, we generally trust our political leaders to only commit troops when our cause is just. However, it becomes difficult to evaluate the relative influence of political and economic forces while the fourth criteria is usually the one most hotly debated and the one most difficult to ascertain-have all other non-military options been reasonably exhausted. Is military action the only feasible way of achieving a just result? Many times we simply do not know until after the fact. Our decision frequently rests on whether or not we trust our leaders.

Even if the war begins justly, the conduct of the war must also remain just. While no war can ever be totally just the major decisions made during the conduct of the war must reflect the ethical standards of proportionality and the least amount of force required to achieve the victory, never intentionally targeting civilian targets. An historical analysis done by my father indicates that of all the major wars the United States has been involved in, only two -- the War of 1812 and World War II -- qualify as just wars following the five major criteria of a just war listed above. With the fire bombing of German cities and the use of atomic bombs against Japan, the ethical standards of a just war were breached in World War II. Depending on how one evaluates the historical evidence, the breaches may be understandable, but they were still breaches. The difficulty of having a completely just war led many people toward pacifism.

The Pacifist Option

Pacifism is a complete rejection of all personal violence, no matter what the circumstances. The spiritual base for an Orthodox Christian pacifism is described as a: "...sense of the mystical union of all the redeemed in their participation in the resurrected Lord ... the innermost core of Orthodox collective and individual ethics, and is continually kept alive by the mystery of the Eucharist" (Ernst Benz quoted in Webster, The Pacifist Option, p.41).

For a pacifist, this means that they are willing to take any abuse or violence without responding in kind, even to save their own lives. Therefore, the iconographic symbol for the pacifist is Christ bleeding on the cross. Fr. Alexander Webster said that "An Orthodox pacifist therefore, refrains from violence against his fellow human beings, chooses not to offer active resistance of any kind, and even suffers abuse, persecution, and death, if necessary, in order to demonstrate his uncompromising, unrelenting, unlimited solidarity with the rest of humanity created in the image and likeness of God the Holy Trinity" (Webster, The Pacifist Option, p.248).

Jesus' voluntary suffering on the cross is the spiritual example for the pacifist and complete non-violence and non-resistance to evil form the practical base of the pacifist choice. Through the virtues of patience, long-suffering, and forbearance, the pacifist believes one can meet the world without the use of violence, imitating our Lord on the cross. These virtues in a pacifist combined with forgiveness of everyone combine to form the practice of non-resistance to evil.

The three practical levels within the pacifist option path that Fr. Alexander Webster describes in his book are "Activist Opposition" which involves not participating in the military and actively protesting against the military. At this level, one can do everything from distributing printed information against the military to obstructing access to military facilities. The second level, "Strict Separation," entails not supporting the military in any way shape or form. At this level you can't enlist in the military, serve in the reserves, serve in the medical corps, serve as a chaplain, or work for the military as a civilian. The third level "Relative Distancing," allows for a limited service in the military: serving in the medical corps or serving as a chaplain.

The weakness of the pacifist way of thought as Fr. Alexander describes it is that it focuses too much on the military and too little on finding constructive ways of confronting evil and non-military violence. The problems of sin, suffering, and oppression in the world are largely ignored for the sake one's own piety. Fr. Alexander recognizes this to some extent when he describes the "Zero Sum Dilemma", i.e., a pacifist's inaction can lead to harm, destruction, and even death that might have been prevented by action (Webster The Pacifist Option, p.257). It seems that pacifism as Fr. Alexander describes it ignores the social responsibility of Christians to protect and defend the innocent and the vulnerable and is therefore an unacceptable choice to me.


To achieve a proper balance, we must divorce the entire discussion from political influences and, as much as possible, from personal biases. We must look at the individual vocations within the Church concerning the military rather than concentrating all of our attention on the big picture. We should help our people discover vocations founded on the historic teaching of the Church, not on any form of current political ideology. What is the body without each individual cell doing its particular job?

Here is what I believe: The Christian should at all times be a warrior. But to be merely a spiritual warrior is not always enough. All Christians are called to non-violent peacemaking, which non-violent peacemaking is. Some are also called to the additional step of being a physical warrior. These people then confront evil on the physical front as well because the physical is just as important as the spiritual. Evil does not hesitate to attack using whatever physical means it can along with whatever spiritual power we give it.

As Orthodox Christians, we must consider and understand how we should approach the military; how we should approach other physical means of confronting evil as well as the spiritual. For Christians to join the military is not only a viable path but a needed one. However, the Church should always maintain her witness for peace and never call for a holy war. I would challenge the reader that whatever questions might arise from this; ask them, discuss them and do not keep them hidden.


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My father, Michael Bauman, provided significant historical, theological, and editorial assistance in the research and writing of this paper.

Garrison Bauman is 20 years old and a parishoner at St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Wichita, KS. He has been serving the altar there since he was 7. Currently he is studying to become a heating and air technician and working toward becoming a sub-deacon at St. George.

Posted: 23-Apr-07

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