This article is an updating and reworking of the ‘Light of the East’ Summer 2014 SSJC-WR President’s Message.i
The Light of the East President’s Message just two years ago was entitled The New Martyrs in Syria.iiSad to say, two years later the geographic area and ferocity of Christian Martyrdom has greatly expanded. Martyrdom is especially prevalent throughout the Middle East, in Syria, of course, but in Iraq, Gaza, and Palestine and in adjacent areas in Africa, such as Egypt and other Arabic countries, as well. We can look at the violence around the world, and which is now so prevalently raging throughout the Middle East. We hear cries of vengeance on all sides. It is lamentable that scores are being massacred, youngsters being killed or beaten.iii Unfortunately, many consider that such acts of vengeance, retribution and terror are blessed by God.
Sad also is that political differences have led to further divisions among Apostolic Christians such as between the various Catholic and Orthodox jurisdictions in the Ukrainian conflict. We can see increasing divisiveness even within jurisdictions themselves.
It is not hard to see the increasing violent division as the cunningly stealthy work of the Evil One working under the guise of our own particular weaknesses resulting from the brokenness of mankind, that is to say, the passions and prejudices that all of us have inherited from our ancestral parents’ fall from paradise.iv The understanding of the Eastern Church may be instructive in this matter. Reflecting the Mind of Christ, echoed by His Church, is the teaching that there is no such thing as a ‘just war.’ All war, even a war that on a human level seems eminently just, is actually a manifestation of the brokenness of mankind and must be lamented and forgiveness asked for all by all.v
On a human level, speaking of peace may seem totally unattainable. However, it behooves all of us to keep in mind Christ’s words to his disciples as recorded by St. Mark: (10:27) “And Jesus looking on them, saith: With men it is impossible; but not with God: for all things are possible with God.” So we can never give up hope and must do all we can do within our state of life, and with the gifts given to us by God, to preach peace to all at all times, and be cooperators with God in this endeavor.
St. Paul's instruction to St. Timothy may be a good starting point in nurturing the virtue necessary to overcome war with peace: "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing ." (2Tim 2:24). St. Dorotheos of Gaza dedicates a whole chapter his in Discourses (Wheeler, 1977vi), that he entitles 'On Building Up of Virtue.' St. Dorotheos uses the analogy of building a house, that starts with its foundation. Faithfulness which is a foundation that without which "it is impossible to please God." (c.f. Heb 11: 6). The walls are made from the stones of obedience and patience, and with perseverance and courage as the cornerstone of the structure. Humility is the mortar that holds it all together. St. Dorotheos points out that like mortar, humility " is composed of the earth and lies under the feet of all." To accentuate the extraordinary importance of humility, he goes on to say: "Any virtue existing without humility is no virtue at all." To this however, must be added discretion, which braces the building so to speak, and the roof of the building will be charity, which "completes the house." But at the end of his description, he returns back, or rather looks up to humility again, which he calls the house's crown:
The crown is humility. For that is the crown and guardian of all virtues. As each virtue needs humility for its acquisition—and in that sense we said each stone is laid with the mortar of humility—so also the perfection of all the virtues is humility... the man that is getting closer to God looks on himself more and more as a sinner.
We, as members and friends of the Society of St. John Chrysostom, must pray and work not only for Eucharistic union, but for peace throughout society and nurture the virtue to attain it. We can practice being open to alternative views, resisting partisan loyalties, refrain from insisting that others acquiesce to one's own viewpoints and eschewing revenge. The very least we can all immediately apply is the wisdom St. Isaac of Syriavii: " honor silence; for it prevents many wrongs."
At the same Mystical Supper where Christ in His priestly discourse to His Apostles prayed that “all may be one,” (Jn 17: 21) He also uttered these words: “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16: 33).
i The Society of Saint John Chrysostom
The Society of St. John Chrysostom is an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people which promotes Eastern Christianity and Ecumenical Dialogue between the Eastern and Western Churches toward the healing of the sin of disunity. It has sponsored the Eastern Churches Journal and the annual Orientale Lumen & Light of the East Conferences. It has been in existence since 1997 in the United States and for over 70 years in England. (http://lightoftheeast.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/ssjcnewsspring2013.acpcorr.finalreplates.pdf)
ii Morelli, G. (2012, July 29). The New Martyrs in Syria. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/the-new-martyrs-in-syria
iii One recent news report likens these current events to a modern genocide or holocaust [holocaust derived from holocaust comes from “the Greek — holókaustos. Holó — whole; kaustos — burnt.”] : “Today another holocaust is happening. This time it is in Iraq. Christians are being driven out of their homes and brought to death by the sword if they do not bow to ISIS' Islamic god — Allah. Christians are being systematically wiped from the face of the ancient Arab world, which edges the Holy Land.” [http://www.virtueonline.org/isis-worlds-newest-holocaust]
iv In this regard it would be spiritually beneficial to meditate on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost Gospel (Mt 8: 28-9:1). It records Christ’s encounter with the two Demoniacs. Experientially we know that actual possession is rare but of course can occur. However C.S. Lewis (as he whimsically recounts in his book The Screwtape Letters,  NY: Macmillan) would have us consider that the real work of the evil one is done more by stealth, cunning and building up on our own foibles, our own passions, and prejudices. In this same vein I once heard a well-known chef, who was judging a cooking competition say: “We can't help but be fools to our own prejudice.” Well said and so true. In being fools to our own prejudices we lay ourselves open to doing the work of the evil one. The genocide of all who do not conform to ISIS theology and practice is based on such evil prejudices and ideologies.
v In this regard I would like to quote Metropolitan George of Mt. Lebanon (Patriarchate of Antioch), who wrote: “Admittedly, no doctrine of the just war was elaborated in the East. However, it did accept the idea of a defense war ” (p. 319). I would follow this by a spiritually perceptive guideline, that if a defensive war is necessary then as the Serbian Orthodox Peace Appeal (2004) states: “We should not allow ourselves, for the sake of any interest of this world, to commit anything that would be unworthy of the People of God, anything inhuman. During this turbulent time, one should avoid any form of senseless and foolish revenge ” (p. 257). Both quotes from Bos, H., & Forest, J.(2011), (Eds.). For the Peace from Above. Rollingsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute. In Orthodoxy ‘peace’ is the ideal, any departure from ‘peace’ is ‘falling short’-‘missing the mark.’
vi Wheeler, E. P. (ed., trans.) (1977). Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications
vii Wensinck, A. J. (ed., trans.) (1923). Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Nineveh. Amsterdam, Holland: Koninklijke Akademie Van Wetenschappen.
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
He is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is also Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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