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Blessed Feast Day of the Forerunner's Nativity!

Thank you for your response Fr Jonathan.
It appears you are correct, we agree more than I realized. I'm sorry to have overstated the case, and am grateful for your clarification.

Still I wonder if we do yet disagree substantially? (I am very young and genuinely desire to acquire the mind of the Church on this, and believe I have not yet certainly on the topic of violence I am still confused. I pray daily that "this mind be in me which is in Christ Jesus...").

I think the disagreement is in emphasis. You chose to state, "I am not a pacifist, but...", while I feel the corrective needed is in the opposite direction. "I am a pacifist, however..."
This is because in my experience, few Orthodox realize how contrary the gospel is to the use of violence. Governments are extremely powerful 'alternative (to the gospel) influences' and the interests of Empire-- the powers that be-- will always need to persuade the masses that 'violence in defense of justice' is a noble cause. The interests of governing powers are always threatened by nonviolence, and so the overwhelming influence of national socialization will be overwhelmingly in the direction of legitimizing violence.
This seems reason enough to push in the other direction, "I am a Christian and so a pacifist," and let our distinctive nuance follow, "but...".
If killing is always a sin, why are we not pacifists?

This is similar to my feelings about divorce and remarriage (the latter absolutely prohibited by our Lord in the scriptures), which is to say that we teach divorce and especially remarriage is always a sin, yet realizing the hardness of our hearts when it happens we find the best way to deal with it in the hopes that through repentance grace may abound still.
As with divorce and remarriage, I feel our current culture is extremely inclined and socialized to normalize the sin, and as a corrective more emphasis should be placed on the absolute prohibition, letting economia (and mercy) follow when human weakness triumphs.

"The 2005 U.S. military budget is almost as much as the rest of the world's defense spending combined [at $651.2 billion for 2009]"
(from here:
Again it seems clear that there is an overwhelming bias in one direction, and in this light the prophetic emphasis of the gospel needs to be stated sharply in the opposite direction; "we are Apostolic Christians, we are pacifists." Again it seems to me that the absolute prohibition of the shedding of blood placed on the liturgical preisthood (under any circumstances-- including self-defense, defense of one's family, defense of one's nation), can only be understood as the Christian ideal-- a pacifist ideal.

The nuance should be, I think, in clarifying the height of this calling, and never becoming ideological or moralistic about it. Christ directly identifies both "peacemaking" and "love of enemies" with Sonship, and the perfection of our Father in heaven. It seems clear to me in this light that love of enemies is directly tied to nonviolence (we cannot make peace with violence, contrary popular propaganda). And yet equally clear that this is one of the hardest commandments-- one of the highest indications of theosis is to love our (national, not just personal) enemies as dearly as we love our friends and family. So few will have the strength to show forth this nonviolent love. (I know without question that I kill my enemies daily in my own heart).
But if the Cross is intrinsically nonviolent, then the gospel is necessarily nonviolent, and we , with nuance, economia, and mercy for the weakness of immature hearts such as my own.

I am also puzzled by your reference to state violence as "involuntary sin." I guess it just seems strange to consider intentionally killing someone, as involuntary?
Involuntary because of a 'role' one must play? But then I ask, why *must* a Christan play this role? Why *must* a Christian be a soldier? Why would we not clearly dissuade the faithful from a vocation that may require sin? If a person persists, then of course he may be a soldier and like many others advance along a path of salvation far beyond the likes of me. But this is only ever *inspite* of his vocation, isn't it? Being a soldier is only ever a hindrance to perfection, love of enemies, if killing is always sin.

You asked if I think St John the Forerunner would have told the soldiers to cease being soldiers, if he "knew the gospel."
I dont know, but I'm inclined to say No, I dont.
Yet I would hesitate to make very much of this. A few verses before he only told tax collectors (real crooks of that day) to not overcollect. This seems a very meager corrective to their profession (what about repaying the countless victims of their past extortion, as the tax collector who encountered Christ the Way was inspired to do?). But change is slow, and a small step can set a heart on the right path, to prepare the way. I would not tell every soldier that he must quit his job, either.
I would say that it seems risky to extrapolate too much from the Forerunner's silence.

I am especially interested in the witness of the Church before the conversion of St Constantine. Not surprisingly. :)
For example I have read hear (and seen in before):

Killing in war had been forbidden completely in earlier canons, such as Canon 14 of Hippolytus in the fourth century, which states:

A Christian is not to become a soldier. A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is compelled by a chief bearing the sword. He is not to burden himself with the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, he is not to partake of the mysteries, unless he is purified by a punishment, tears, and wailing. He is not to come forward deceitfully but in the fear of God.

Here, in the early church, it is very clear that there is incompatibility with soldiering and the gospel (I feel this is already clear in St Paul's exposition that we do not make war according to the flesh, and St James' comments that war are only ever a result of our passions). I wish this were preached and taught more clearly in the Orthodox Church today.
It does not seem unreasonable to me that the gospel has been very much marginalized on this point, since Empire (through the centuries) has had its powerful influence on members of the church.

I will end where I began, that we doubtless agree more than I realize. Yet does it seem to you that my position is still significantly different than yours? Why should we not state outright that we are pacifists?
Perhaps I have an axe to grind; if so may God forgive me and you too! I do seek the truth only and want to listen, though I sound like a loud noise. And I am trying to "let this mind be in me which was in Christ Jesus."
Please pray for me and I will appreciate very much your response.

The sinner;
-Mark Northey

Dear Mark,
He is and always shall be!
Your pardon would be appreciated for the delay in response. I've been out and about.
I do not support a punitive justice system and the making of war at all. But I also think that these activities are going to be inevitable in the course of civic power and government: "there will be wars and rumors of wars" is a sad description of the world before the Parousia.
Of course, you stipulate this.
I am not sure where, in my essay, I suggested any condoning of state killing or warmaking. I think I said quite clearly that there is no possibility for a "just war" theory that could be extrapolated from Holy Tradition.
I will quibble with you on what the Forerunner knew and did not know. Do you suggest that had the Forerunner known the Gospel, that he would have told the soldiers to quit their post? I don't think so.
I have gone on record, on this site, as being quite opposed to modern warmaking, especially in the neocon idiom. I am against capital punishment, but a draw a sharp line between it and the subject of abortion -- my opposition to abortion is of a completely different line.
I can preach this to the faithful. But I cannot demand that the state swear off the sword.
I already agreed with you that the commission of violence is at least at the level of "involuntary sin" -- i.e., the participation in the deathwork of the world.
I think we agree with each other more than what you think.
Fr. Jonathan

Christ is in our midst!

Dear Fr Jonathan;
I really appreciated this post. However I think it is a strange thing to object to torture while still condoning killing.
Of course war is inevitable, and of course governments must do what the world asks them to do. However, against the grain of mainstream interpretation of Rom. 13 to condone the use of the sword I think it does not at all suggest this. (have you encountered this interpretation in the Orthodox Fathers? I am genuinely curious as I know it is ubiquitous in the 'West', where great effort has been made to support a punitive justice system and the making of war in defense of the material life of those people we identify as closer to us than others).
St Paul states matter of fact what the governing powers can and will do-- use lethal force to enforce the law. And this authority is God's servant; what else could it be? For God is sovereign and all things are according to His providence. He will likewise use natural disaster and any calamity as an agent of His wrath, and work all thing for the good of those who believe.
And we see how Christ Himself did submit to this authority, in the silence leading up to His passion.
A christian submits to all who would seek to oppress us, going the extra mile and giving more than is asked of us.
But if the worldly authority St Paul tells us to submit to is a more or less evil Roman empire, responsible for the oppression of himself and the dealer of death to our Lord, then it seems to me our submission is not based on the 'ostensive justice' of the authority. It seems more plausible to me that it is simply part of the Christian way of loving one's enemy; the Roman authority was a brutal enemy of the Way, yet even it is within God's providential right hand, and the persons who are within it may be wone over by our witness and our love (though this isn't the point; the point is that we willingly participate in Christ's passion as co-conquerors of death by death).

I do not see why we must take Rom 13 as anyway condoning the violence of government. This worldly authority is utilized by God but we as Christians abhor the shedding of blood. How can we be iconoclasts with respect to human persons?
If killing is *always* a sin (as I have been catechized by my patron saint), how can it ever be right for a Christian to condone or participate in it? Yes, many of us still will as a fallen matter of fact. We who do have not achieved theosis. There may be divorce and remarriage too but this is because our hearts are hard. We do not 'support' it, we allow it. Why do we not teach the same thing about state violence?
How can we who serve the resurrected King, ever support the dealing of death? Every Christian will do as his heart dictates; if we are not ready to love our enemies we will kill them, and we must repent and receive God's forgiveness. But this is a failure, is it not? Never advocated, only recognized as inevitable and dealt with pastoraly and with God's economia.
If priest cannot shed blood ever, does this not set the bar for all the faithful if we would be perfect? Or is theosis only for the clergy and not the faithful? It really makes no sense if it is not suppose to be normative (for the ideal is normative; perfection is normative)

As for St John the Forerunner's response to the soldiers; is he not the greatest of men but still least in the kingdom, being last of the OT prophets? He had "heard that it was said..." but did not know that Christ "says unto you" love of enemy is the condition for Sonship. He did not know that our warfare is *not* carnal, but with principalities and powers.
And of course a Christian can be a soldier and progress along a path of salvation, but ultimately he must leave this 'vocation' that requires the dealing of death if he would be perfect. Is this not clear from the ladder of the beatitudes? "Be pefect..." Is this not the case with St George and all of our 'warrior saints'? None of them are glorified by God because they efficiently shed the blood of others, but only because of their subsequent witness through the shedding of their own blood.
What would we make of St Martin of Tours, who renounced the violence of his worldly vocation?

It seems to me undeniable that we cannot love our enemies with Christian love, with the love Christ shows his enemies, while killing them. Shouldn't this be the end of the debate about christian participation in violence? This is always sin; how can it be right-- i.e. an act of godly perfection-- to sin under any circumstance?
If we would obey Christ's command to love our enemies, then we must not kill or condone killing. The governments of the world will carry on, war will carry on. Sin is inevitable. But we cannot condone it in any way.

Please forgive me for my boldness.
-Mark Basil

Would you say that your two-thought criteria are rather soft within the context of the historical use of torture?

It seems that your two-thought criteria lack an objective element and are purely introspective. Does the lack of an objective element bother you?

I rather liked your post. Even though we disagree on issues, your presentation is fair and balanced.

And there are other questions that this episode raises. Who was afflicted? Noriega, or the Embassy of the Nuncio?

What was the instrument of affliction? The loud music, or Noriega himself?

What was the nature of the affliction? Torture? No, because the Nuncio and his staff did not think they were going to die, or wish for death as a relief.

Now if you asked if waterboarding were torture, where both of these thoughts are common, then yes, I'd say it's torture.

Fugitive Manuel Noriega holed up in the Vatican Embassy in Panama until the Embassy got tired of listening to loud music.


I am troubled by the ease of many self-identified Christians, in accepting the rubric "in order to save many." It sounds suspiciously like Caiaphus' "it is expedient" slogan for Good Friday (i.e., "good" for him and status quo).

I think that this torture controversy spells out some of the extent of the moral decrepitude of the neo-cons, who tricked callow evangelicals and ex-prot-Romans (you know who) -- and even Christopher Hitchens with them -- into a globe-trotting rambunctious immorality.

Despite their teetotaling, evangelicals before the IQ drain of the 1950's were more ethically astute.

Your point about the affront to human dignity puts me in mind of the shock that we would suffer at the defacement of an icon of Christ. This shock is only a representation of the outrage that should obtain whenever a man is butchered before death.

I don't think it matters, ever, what intention determines the torture of a man -- even a ticking time bomb. Human dignity is such that it cannot be calculated in individuals or populations.

"The dignity of the human image is distorted in me when its security is found in the disfiguring of another."

Rem acu tetegisti.

Spot on.

I struggle to come to terms with the mystery of it - but it seems to me that there is a quality of the dignity of the human image that demands what can only be considered a certain incoherence - that it is an affront to the dignity of the human person to torture one in order to save many (this assumes that the torture actually results in the material salvation of the many). There comes a point where the Christian must say that it is better for me, and my family, and my friends to die, than for that man, whatever sort of man he may be, to be tortured. The dignity of the human image is distorted in me when its security is found in the disfiguring of another.

Amen. And thank you God that said ex-Mayor is not our President.

Preach it, Father.

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