Peace at any Price Vs. Peace that is Priceless

Reading the news this morning  ( 16 August 16, 2008) was depressing to me.  The New York Times: No Cold War, But Big Chill Over Georgia.  On the Times Opinion page:  The New Chill.   Both articles see America as turning away from the past 20 years of American Presidents hoping to work with Russia to form a new alliance for world peace.   Military conflict forever seems more imminent than any peace conflict could ever deliver to earth.

I feel a kinship with President Dwight Eisenhower who in his famous anti-military/industrial complex farewell address said:

“Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war — as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years — I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.”

It seems like the nations of the world cannot live at peace.  And though America is not at fault for the Russian invasion of Georgia, I am disappointed how quickly America embraces a fortress mentality and loves leaders who will saber rattle.  These days, Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be the chief architect of the fortress America mentality, and appears to see death threats as the best way for America to approach any other nation on earth.  Maybe he is right, but with all my heart, I hope he is not.    He may be the real pragmatist, but I do not feel better as an American because of his bluster.  Like President Eisenhower, Defense Secretary Dick Gates recently warned against the increased militarization of American foreign policy.  But it often seems we can’t resist the temptation to militarize, maybe because impatient Americans always want a quick fix to problems, and have difficulty forming long term foreign policy goals.  We have, so the experts say the best military in the world, but we act as if the military is the proverbial hammer – the only tool in our toolbox – so every problem looks like a nail which we must hit as hard as we can with our military hammer.  I wish our politicians would, when forced to turn to military threats also express regret for seeing the death of others as the means for our attaining our goals.  Our leaders seem to gloat over the chance to use the military to kill those who stand in the way of American progress.  (“Bring ‘em on,” said our current President in a cocky, swaggering mood).  Every election Americans seem interested most in electing a Commander in Chief, rather than concerned about electing the leader of the free world who would best work for the peace of the world.  Of course some would argue the two are one in the same, and peace cannot be had without a willingness to threaten war.  But really that sounds to me more like Isalm’s Dar al-Harb than like the Messianic Kingdom where swords are made into ploughshares.

It is discouraging for me, partly because of my pacifistic idealism, and partly because as a priest I pray for peace and in peace every single day of my life, and with my fellow Christians every time we assemble at a worship service and each time we proclaim the Gospel in the Orthodox Church.  And I take those prayers and the hopes they express to heart.

I do not believe a nation which wants to consider itself as Christian can have war as the only policy for attaining peace.  

Christ said,  “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).

Maybe Christ was too idealistic too.  Maybe that is why I love Him.  He did not advocate killing those who were against His message as the way to evangelize the world.  And yet I also admit He did not leave a detailed plan as to how a Christian people living in the fallen world might deal with the violent evil all around us.  And so we have to struggle along trying to discern what is the right course of action for Christians to take in endeavoring to proclaim, let alone establish, God’s peace on earth.

The Byzantine Christians appealed to the Theotokos for protection from enemy assault and relied on the righteous prayers of the saints as the means to propel their armies to victory over adversaries.  American rely on their military and belief in the righteousness of America to assure victory over enemies.  But maybe we sometimes confuse military victory with peace.   Is it possible that in the world one could establish peace without killing one’s enemies?  Jesus seemed to think so.

Abraham Lincoln is variously quoted as having said,  “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”    and “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

“Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them,” said Benjamin Franklin.

More recently Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” 

As for me, I will continue to pray for the peace of the world, and will hold to the ideal that sometime, somewhere that will be done without the use of the military – without having to kill others first – but by people willing to live the Gospel of Christ, which also means willing to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  The truth about this world is it is not Paradise, and so warfare – spiritual for every Christian soul, and military for some remains the price we pay for our sinfulness.

Christ Conquers Hell – Even Those of our own Making

 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
   Or where shall I flee from your presence?
 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!   (Psalm 139:7-8)

A frequently asked question is “What is hell?”   Some think it a place of physical torture of sinners, others believe it to be a state of being (perhaps self created).  Whatever it may be, Christianity affirms that Christ our God has conquered it, in order to submit it to the will, love and lordship of God. 

As St. John Chrysostom says in his famous Paschal Sermon

The One Who was the Prisoner of Death has utterly destroyed it;
the One Who descended to Hades took it captive. …

So, Death, where is your sting?
So, Hades, where is your victory?

CHRIST IS RISEN, and you are overthrown!
CHRIST IS RISEN, and the demons have fallen!
CHRIST IS RISEN and the angels rejoice!
CHRIST IS RISEN and life takes command!
CHRIST IS RISEN, and not a single corpse remains in the grave!

John Chryssavgis writes in his book , BEYOND THE SHATTERED IMAGE:

“Our joyful optimism lies in the conviction that there is no place devoid of God.

Hell- that is to say, the place where God is not- can only be created as a result of an estrangement between our world and God.  If we hold on to the earth and the fullness thereof (Psalm 91:1), then everything (even death and destruction) is a ferment of divine life, the air itself (no matter how polluted) is vibrant with the Spirit.  Beyond the shattered image, there always lies the reflection of the divine reality that has no end and the re-presentation of the vision of God that knows no darkness.  This faith alone can transform evil and pain, while disclosing a loving purpose beyond suffering and isolation.”   

The very icon of Christ descending into Sheol/Hades is one which depicts Christ filling all things, even that region of outer darkness and death so that there is indeed no place where God is not.  (Ephesians 4:9)  And humanly speaking, this means that where ever we are – even in a state of despair, place of pain, the darkest reaches of our minds and when we feel totally forsaken – no place is beyond the reach and presence of God.  That is a truth to give us hope in times and places when we seem unable to believe. 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”  (Romans 8:35, 38-39).

The Dormition of the Theotokos: Death No Longer Has Dominion

The Icon of the Feast of the Dormition gives us some understanding of this commemoration of the death of the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary.  The Dormition is one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Orthodox Calendar Year.  In many versions of the Icon we see Christ holding His Mother, or the soul of the Theotokos, in a pose so similar to icons of the Blessed Virgin holding the Christ Child.  The image is one based in the notion that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have died with Him and have been raised with Him from the dead.   The Feast of the Dormition is taking Romans 6 and applying it to the Theotokos, which in turn helps us to understand our own life in Christ.  Death no longer has any dominion over us.   The Dormition Icon portrays this truth:  death has become for us nothing more than a new birth into the life in Christ, into the life where death has no more power.  Mary the birth giver of life, who brought Christ into this world, is also born again into the new life in Christ, and in this she prefigures all believers.   The Dormition Icon shows the result of living the blessed life: Mary, as a model for all Christians, doesn’t simply die, she is translated to life: the life with Her Son in His Kingdom.   The Feast of the Dormition affirms that the Resurrection of Christ is Good News for us all.   As we sing at the Feast: “Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos, who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!”   Death has been transformed by Christ into a new birth, a passage to eternal life.  And the Virgin Mary’s death becomes for us the very image of Christ destroying death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.