The Grace of Peace and the Curse of War

Martyr Xenia of Rome, and her two female slaves

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

A Prayer of Thanksgiving to the Benevolent God the Father
[Saint Basil the Great]

Lord and God of the whole world, most Benevolent Father of all mankind; You Who exist and remain forever, You Who pre-existed without beginning before all ages, and Who always possess the same and immutable existence and life, which never began nor will ever cease; You Who are incomprehensible in essence, unlimited in magnitude and infinite in Your benevolence; You Who are the most abundant source and the indescribable abyss of power and wisdom; You I humbly thank and glorify for having looked upon my miserable self with mercy and compassion. I thank You for redeeming me from the base and material thoughts and deeds of sinful world, filled with many and various deceptions of the diabolical Satan, the ruler and authority over the darkness of deception and sin, who rules in this world. I thank You, Lord, and I glorify You for having demonstrated so marvelously Your merciful nature to me, a sinner, and for revealing to me Your love for mankind in so many circumstances, thus becoming the Master and Guardian, the Protector and haven, indeed, the Savior of my soul and body.


On January 24th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Xenia, Deaconess of Rome; Saint Felician, Bishop of Foligno in Italy; Saints Vavylas, Timotheos, and Agapius of Sicily; Saint Philo, Bishop of Carpasia; Saint Zosimas, Bishop of Babylon; Saint Gerasimus, Bishop of Perm; Saint John of Kazan; Translation of the holy relics of Saint Anastasius the Persian; Saint Xenia of Petersburg; Holy Martyrs Hermogenes and Mamas; Saint Neophytos of Cyprus; Saint Philip the Presbyter and Saint Barsimus of Syria and his two brothers; Saints Paul, Pausirius, and Theodotian of Egypt; Saint Maacedonius of Syria; Saint Lupicinus of Gaul.

OUR HOLY MOTHER XENIA. Born in Rome, she was the only daughter of a famous senator. Drawn by the love of Christ, she refused to marry as her parents desired. In order to escape this, she fled from her home with two of her slaves and came to the island of Kos in Greece, to a place called Mylassa, where she started a community for virgins, remaining there is asceticism till her death. Though she was a weak woman, she had a man's perseverance in fasting, prayer and vigils. She often spent entire nights standing in prayer, was dressed more poorly than her sisters, and on her bread, when she ate, she often put ashes from the censer. At the hour of her death (in 450 A.D.), a wonderful sign appeared over the Monastery: a wreath of stars encircling a cross more resplendent than the sun. Many of the sick were healed by her holy relics. Her two slaves girls followed the example of their Abbess (Egoumenissa) in all things, and when they died, they were buried, by their wish, at the feet of blessed Xenia.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Ascetics, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: Galatians 5:22-26, 6:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 22:2-14


"For sin harms more than any poison. Sin is more venomous than any serpent. Sin strips us bare more than any robber, and deprives us of temporal and eternal blessings, and kills the body and the soul. These are the fruits of the bitter seed of sin!" (Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk)

by Father John Anthony McGuckin, Professor of Early Christian and Byzantine Church History  

[source: The Orthodox Church. An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture]

Another of Orthodoxy's 'new conditions' is the manner in which war is conducted in the contemporary world. War is nothing new to the Church. Despite the voices that are often ready to invest it with the trappings of 'glory', it remains what it has always been, one of the curses of the human race, dragging after it the shambling train of death, orphans, widows, disease, destruction of the environment and of cities, rape, forced prostitution and all man of human wickedness and misery. The voices that glorify war are not illumined ones, and never have been. It may have been the case, some of the time, that wars have been fought by the just, and for a 'just cause' (by which the Church understands the legitimate defense of one's home or nation, or the protections and rescue of the weak from insupportable oppression). But the majority of wars have not been fought on these terms at all. And even in those that have, the corruptions of war have led to many instances of the just finally acting as badly as the wicked and losing sight of their goal. War is a curse; and even when the situation of war seemed unavoidable, and might be said to be for reasonable and defensible goals, the Orthodox Church has never endorsed it with anything comparable to the theory of the 'just war' that has played such a large part in the consciousness of western Christianity. Even a military engagement that has been conducted on strictly 'just causes' (have there ever been any?) is a matter of lamentation. Those who seek to justify military action as God-given, God-blessed, or God-pleasing are bewildered indeed, and seem to take their theological justifications from a decontextualized and fundamentalist reading of the Old Testament. Those who believe they can find glorification of righteous war in the teachings of Jesus have made some serious mistakes in their interpretation of the New Testament.

Christianity was, and remains at heart, an apocalyptic religion, and it is no accident that its numerous biblical references to war and violent destruction are generally apocalyptic ciphers, symbols that stand for something else, references to the 'Eschaton' (the image of how the world will be rolled up and assessed once universal justice is imposed by God on His recalcitrant and rebellious creation). Biblical descriptions of violence and war, in most of Christianity's classical exposition of its biblical heritage, rather than being straightforward depictions of the life and values of the existing world order are thus eschatological allegories.

...Christian reflection in the Eastern Church has, I would suggest, generally been more careful than in the West, to remind itself of the apocalyptic and mysterious nature of the Church's place within history and on the world stage, and it has stubbornly clung to a less congratulatory theory of the morality of war (despite its advocacy of 'Christian imperium'), because it sensed that such a view was more in tune with the principles of the Gospels.

The Fathers of the Church, following the general example set by Saint Basil the Great in his influential canons, argued that a Christian who is faithful to the Gospel must sometimes take up arms to fight. His argument is illustrative of a much wider attitude in the Orthodox tradition. Saint Basil's canons (ethical judgments as from a ruling bishop to his flock) on morality and practical issues became highly influential in the universal Church because of his role as one of the major monastic theorists of early Christianity. His canonical epistles were transmitted wherever monasticism went: in the Eastern of antiquity (because monasticism was the substructure of the spread of the Christian movement) that more or less meant his canonical views became the standard paradigm of all of Orthodoxy's theoretical approach to the morality of war and two canonical epistles were adapted by various Ecumenical Councils of the Church that followed his time. His writing is appealed to in canon 1 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which took place at Chalcedon (451 A.D.), and in canon 1 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II (787 A.D) and it is cited verbatim in canon 2 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, at Constantinople (681 A.D), which paraphrases much else from his canonical epistles. By such affirmations his canons entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.

Saint Basil has several things to say about violence and war in his diocese. It was a border territory of the Empire, and his administration had known several incursions by 'barbarian' forces. Canon 13 considers war:

"Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable 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 refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean."

In his Epistle to Amun, Saint Athanasius had apparently come out quite straightforwardly about the legitimacy of killing in time of war, saying:

"Although one is not supposed to kill, the killing of the enemy in time of war is both a lawful and praiseworthy thing. This is why we consider individuals who have distinguished themselves in war as being worthy of great honors, and indeed public monuments are set up to celebrate their achievements. It is evident, therefore, that at one particular time, and under one set of circumstances, an act is not permissible, but when time and circumstances are right, it is both allowed and condoned."

This saying was being circulated and given authority as a 'patristic witness' simply because it had come from Saint Athanasios. In fact the original letter had nothing whatsoever to do with war. The very example of the 'war hero' is a sardonic reference since the letter was addressed to an aged leader of the Egyptian monks who described themselves as asketes, that is, those who labored and 'fought' for the virtuous life. The military image is entirely incidental, and Saint Athanasios in context merely uses it to illustrate his chief point in the letter, which is to discuss the query Amun had sent on to him as Archbishop: 'Did nocturnal emissions count as sins for desert celibates?  Saint Athanasios replies to the effect that, with human sexuality, as with all sorts of other things, the context of the activity determines what its moral, not some absolute standard which is superimposed on moral discussion from the outset. Many ancients, Christian and pagan, regarded sexual activity as inherently defiling and here (as is often the case) it is read out of context as an apparent justification of killing in time of war. He is not actually condoning the practice at all, merely using the rhetorical example of current opinion to show Amun that contextual variability is very important in making moral judgments.

War is a curse on the human race. It arises only from evil, and causes only wickedness. The Orthodox Church can never legitimately endorse it. In some cases it falls as a duty upon some of the righteous to be involved with it, in order to affect a good end (the protection of the weak, or the pursuit of the unjust) through the best means possible. Orthodoxy would never expect all to be summoned to fight: such would be unjustifiable compulsion of conscience. Saint Martin of Tours is a prime example of a courageous warrior who became an objector of conscience, and demonstrated the holy courage involved in this form of peace witness. The appalling abandonment of values that normally takes place in war, however--the indiscriminate killing of civilians, saturation bombing, the land-mining of extensive territories--can never be justified morally, and since these things have now become standard military procedure, one is forced to conclude that no righteous person can safely entrust their confidence in any leadership structure of the modern military world (in the sense of blindly giving over their moral awareness to the hierarchy of command.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George