Posted by: markbasil | August 3, 2016

The Violence Question is “perfectly clear”


[below is a comment I wrote for Fr Stephen’s blog that I did not end up posting, as it was off topic.]


Christ is in our midst!

I would like to quote Fr Seraphim in the video linked above, beginning at 34 minutes:

If you look at humanity the way Fr Sophrony does, then very hot contemporary issues become instantly clear…
You cannot be a Christian in his sense, and allow for war, or the use of guns against other human beings at the same time. That can only mean two things: Either you have wrong theology and that is reflected in your practical life, or you have a correct theology of God but you dont allow the theology to inform your practical life…
It’s not only about our minds, our prayer, and our spiritual lives, although that’s the main thing. It’s also about the way we behave…
If you dont allow your theology to inform your life, then you’ve missed the point. And You’ll never fly.

As Fr Seraphim stresses we are talking about perfection– about how persons behave, when the “I” refers to all of ADAM and I can no longer differentiate between the “innocent” I am to defend and the “enemies” I am to kill. We are perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
This is what we are aiming for if only as stumbling fools. But the Tradition here absolutely does concern the question of violence against our enemies. There is a peacemaking, nonviolent love of enemies that is at the very heart of the Orthodox spiritual tradition, activated when it encounters violent threat from the worst of the world’s wickedness (a nonviolence that breathes through the witness of our greatest saints and of course completely shining in Christ’s voluntary passion).
St Silouan, with Christ, teaches, “your brother is your life.” Cain in the primordial individualism of his murder said, “am I my brother’s keeper?”
Again I see in this primordial example that the bible is about violence- brother killing brother- if it is about anything at all. War is sin par excellence; God is very much concerned with violence.

I am not talking about a politicized nonviolence, or a nonviolence that is imported from somewhere outside the Orthodox Tradition. I was catechized into Orthodox nonviolence by the priest who baptized me. I then met three monks living like angels who completely affirmed this nonviolence at the centre of the Tradition- and they live it out in their lives, secretly tucked away in seclusion like a pearl of great price. They moved even deeper into seclusion last year and no longer receive lay visitors.
I have a son from a past relationship who is now 14. The last thing Father Moses, one of the three monks, said to my son Josh before he left for a life of prayer and stillness in seclusion was: “Joshua, true Christianity is all about what you do. If someone says to you it’s about prayer, prayer is enough, never believe him. Real Christianity has to be lived out in love of neighbour or it is nothing at all.”
For Father Moses, this was epitomized in a nonviolent love for all of humanity and indeed the whole of God’s creation.

I have learned that contrary to my catechesis and the witness of the three most holy men I’ve met in the Church, most Orthodox dont see this. It’s like a blindness that I can barely fathom; a gaping black hole of broken reflection and limply, cowardly unconsidered implications to our own teachings. It’s the choice to say nice and pretty things in theory about love of enemies (“What is a merciful heart?”), but then shy away from what this really means lived out in social scenarios when such manifestations of virtue would get us in trouble with the politically powerful. What I see in the Church is the second of Fr Seraphim’s options: We have the correct theology (we know and preach that our brother is our life; the voluntary Cross is our salvation; weakness is strength; love never coerces and does no harm; etc.), but when it comes to the gritty affairs of national defense (or personal self-defense) we are like the one-winged bird, unwilling to live according to our own exalted anthropology or ethical implications of our love of enemies.
Perhaps I should not be so surprised given our terrible experiments with “christian empire” and the distortions this brought that plagued the purity of the faith ever since? And given that we have lived in political captivity for centuries since (a just punishment for attempting Empire by force? Constantinian co-opting of the Cross as a military talisman?)
When did we forget that Jesus Christ is our King- this is a political statement; it makes us aliens in every homeland and means that we are soldiers of Christ who shed no blood, not compelled to defend nations of this world who, today, bomb enemies to secure a way of life totally unrelated to the Kingdom of God. And where is the consistent, sustained, vocal Orthodox critique of this militarism?
To the measure that we are complicit with militarism (as the bloody wing of heretical nationalism) we are failing to preach and to live the whole of the good news, the radical life of love that Fr Seraphim says makes “all controversial social issues totally clear.”
We must denounce old errors such as these as much as we denounce new errors such as modernism I believe. Otherwise our voice lacks credibility, honesty, and humility with regard to our own history.

Toward such radical, active, practical peacemaking- that begins in humble, honest repentance for our Church’s historical blessing the use of coercive, violent force- such a counter-cultural commitment to Christ’s Kingship for the Orthodox Church to again take up, my heart hungers and thirsts for this. May God help me to shut up now and become what I long for.
Asking your prayers;
-Mark Basil



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