Martyrdom vs Mayhem (II)

putin op de troon

A couple days ago I published the post Martyrdom vs Mayhem in which I commented on how troubling it was that Russian Patriarch Kirill  made comments about the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine in which he suggested Russians would be forgiven their sins if they were killed in battle.  It sounded very much like Pope Urban’s comments to Latin Christians when he called for a crusade in 1095AD.  Orthodox were troubled by Urban’s comments.


On Friday, I saw an article by Fordham Professor and Orthodox scholar George Demacopoulos, PATRIARCH KIRILL’S CRUSADE, calling into question not only Kirill’s attitude toward the war, but also the silence of other Orthodox bishops in the face of what Kirill is doing.  Demacopoulos writes:

To be sure, Putin is not the first politician to attempt to manipulate the church to his own ends. Byzantine history is filled with similar episodes. In the middle of the tenth century, the emperor Nikephoros II Phocas asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to declare martyrdom for all Byzantine soldiers who died fighting Muslims. Patriarch Polyeuktos and his synod refused to do so because, they said, it would break nearly six hundred years of canonical tradition (stretching back to St. Basil the Great) that treated killing in war as a spiritually damaging event, requiring repentance. “How can we declare as martyrs,” the synod asked, “those whom St. Basil claims to have blood on their hands?”


It is exactly because Kirill claims to be a patriarch in the Orthodox tradition, and Putin claims to be an Orthodox Christian, that their behavior is so troubling and unChristian and should be rejected by all Orthodox people. While other Orthodox bishops may be loath to break communion with the Russian Church, surely, they can speak truth to power and denounce what cannot be defended by the Orthodox Tradition.

In Hebrews 12:14 we read the Christian moral perspective: Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  

Those who want to pray with or for Kirill ought to be clear that they are praying that he, like the Prodigal, might come to his senses, repent and humbly change his entire direction and return to our Father in heaven.

Eating With Thanksgiving 


If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. (1 Corinthians 10:27)


Sometimes parishioners, especially converts, would ask about how to handle visiting non-Orthodox relatives or friends during fasting periods. Should they inform their family/friends that they are fasting from certain foods and tell them they would only visit if fasting foods were on the menu? While that is a possibility, one could take into account the words of St Paul above – if you accept a meal invitation from someone, eat whatever they serve without comment to the host, and with thanksgiving to God. This is following love and accepting hospitality with thanksgiving. It fits into other comments St Paul makes such as when he criticizes some whose pious behaviors …

enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4: 3-5)


If you accept an invitation to a meal, accept with thanksgiving whatever foods are graciously given you. This is pleasing to God. Besides, Christ taught us that our fasting is to be done in secret:

 And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)


In this same spirit here are a couple of stories from the desert fathers which enjoin a gracious etiquette regarding food and eating with others. These stories come from monks committed to a life of fasting and asceticism, but who understand that Christ our God’s commands to love others supersedes any monastic fasting rules (which are just manmade rules):

One story tells how during a period of fasting at Scetis some visitors came to see Abba Moses and he cooked some food for them. Seeing the smoke rising from his cell, some of the brothers said to the ministers, ‘Look, Moses has broken the commandment and has cooked something in his cell.’ The ministers agreed that when Moses came to join them for the Sunday synaxis they would speak to him about what he had done. However, when the time came, the ministers, who knew of Abba Moses’ ‘magnificent way of life,’ chose not to condemn him for what he had done, but to praise him instead. They declared, ‘O Abba Moses, you broke the commandment of men, and kept the commandment of God.’  . . .


We see a similar motivation at work in two other stories. In the first, two brothers came to see an old man whose custom it was ‘not to eat everyday.’ When [the elder] saw the brothers, ‘he rejoiced and said, “Fasting brings its reward, but he who eats again through charity, fulfills two commandments, for he gives up his own will and he fulfills the commandment.” And he refreshed the brothers.’ We see here another example of the monk’s willingness to suspend mere customs –whether personal or local—in any situation which called for an expression of generosity or love. ‘Eating again through charity,’ while clearly compromising the elder’s strict ascetical regime, became a means of fulfilling the commandment.


Another story tells of a brother who went to see an anchorite, apparently causing the old man to break his fast in order to tend to the needs of the brother. As he was leaving the brother asked forgiveness from the old man ‘for having taken you away from your rule.’ But the anchorite showed himself to be utterly unconcerned with this perceived breach of his ascetical regime and told the brother, ‘My role is to refresh you and send you away in peace.’  (Douglas Burton-Christie, THE WORD IN THE DESERT, p 288)

Heaven and Earth in Christ 


… that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him. (Ephesians 1:10)


Christ, the incarnate God, is the one in whom all things in heaven and earth are united. All the divisions, separations, alienations which had occurred in the cosmos as a result of sin are overcome in Jesus the Lord. This is high theology which shows us the cosmic and universal salvation which Christ has accomplished. Christ, by whom all things were made (Nicene Creed), as One Person of the Holy Trinity brought all things into existence and then restores all things which had become subject to sin and death. Christ is the healer not only of humans but of all creation. St Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444AD) comments:

As I said above, human nature, right at the beginning of the race in Adam, became subject to death and sin, and is redeemed in no other way except through Christ alone, for, as his disciple wrote, ‘There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved‘ (Acts 4:12). For it was necessary that he, through whom all things were brought into existence (John 1: 3 and Colossians 1:16), should become the restorer of what was corrupted, to nullify the debilitating effects of sin, to do away with pain, and also to bestow richly that good estate upon those who have come unto being through him .   . . .


For in Christ, God the Father has brought together the things in heaven and the things upon earth under one head. What had fallen into an unseemly condition is raised back up to its first estate. It is only through Christ, then, that those things which had intruded into creation are now gone into nothingness, and that those things upon the earth are being restored into a renewed creation. For in him there is ‘a new creation‘ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and this word is true. (GLAPHYRA ON THE PENTATEUCH Volume 1, pp 65-66)


In the beginning, Jesus the Word of God, creates heaven and earth.  But Christ does not remain in heaven,  exterior to and over creation, for the Word became flesh as God enters into creation through the incarnation.  Christ thus saves us and creation from within, now reuniting heaven and earth, the divine and the human, Creator and creation, the living and the dead, saints and sinners.  All things are united in Christ which is the plan of salvation of the God who is love.

Praising the Creator 


For of Your own good will, You have brought into being all things which before were not, and by Your power You uphold creation, and by Your providence You order the world.


When You had joined together the universe out of the elements, You crowned the circle of the year with four seasons.


Before You tremble all the Powers endowed with intelligence.


The sun sings to You. The moon glorifies You.


The stars meet together before Your presence. The light obeys You.


The deeps tremble before You. The water-springs are Your servants.


You have spread out the heavens like a curtain.


You have established the earth upon the waters.


You have surrounded the sea with barriers of sand.


You have spread out the air for breathing.


The Angelic Powers serve You. The Choirs of the Archangels fall down in adoration before You. 

(Prayer from the Great Blessing of Water)

Walking Without Getting Weary 


For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.  (Galatians 6:8-10) 

The Coptic Orthodox monk, Matthew the Poor, considering St Paul’s words that we not become weary in well-doing speaks to us about Christian persistence in prayer. He uses the imagery of those who walk to illustrate the idea of perseverance. Those who use walking as a form of exercise know that sometimes it is hard to get started walking as daily exercise, and some days one doesn’t feel like doing it, but once one gets walking there are physical, mental and spiritual rewards. 


“Persistence in prayer and worship is one of the signs of effective faith. If faith represents the columns on which the temple of spiritual life stands, perseverance represents the stones by which the whole edifice is constructed. But to assess the value of the spirit of persistence in prayer, we should first consider the spirit of despondency. 

Despondency is the folly of pride and stiffness of neck. The desperate man follows his own stubborn counsel and chooses the torment of everlasting hell. He does not wish to yield to God or accept from his hand the sweetness and the bitterness of this life. By doing so, he refuses the crown of eternal life. 


The spirit of perseverance, on the other hand, is a sign of humility and surrender. The man who persists in prayer and worship does not think himself worthy of anything; his self is not dear to him. He persists in submission and obedience because he cannot cease from persistence and submission. On what else can he rely if his self is powerless and worthless in his eyes? ‘Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”’ (John 6:67-68). 


The spirit of persistence springs from an inward conviction that life is but one single way that leads to the kingdom of heaven.  Persistence in walking along that way is then the only means of arrival, the only means of overcoming difficulties.  Those who stop on the way, for whatever reason, have fallen in Satan’s snares:  ‘Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you’ (Jn 12:35).  That is, so long as you walk, the light attends you and leads you, but if you stop, darkness—that is, the enemy—will overtake you at once.  Regression is a kind of miscarriage of the soul, a failure, and a fall into its deadly pride and its strange desire for perdition:  ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62).


It is really amazing that for those traveling along the way of prayer and worship, rest lies only in doubling their pace and increasing their struggle!” (Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way, p 164)


And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13) 


… for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light … (Ephesians 5:8) 

Martyrdom vs Mayhem

I can’t vouch for the integrity of the article which appeared online, but Ukrainska Pravda reports that Moscow “Patriarch Kirill says dying in war against Ukraine ‘cleanses away all sins.‘”

They offer the complete quote as (and again I can’t verify this quote):

“We know that many today are dying in the fields of internecine battle. The Church is praying that this battle will end as soon as possible, that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war.

And at the same time, the Church realises that if someone, driven by a sense of duty and the need to honour his oath, stays loyal to his vocation and dies while carrying out his military duty, then he is, without any doubt, doing a deed that is equal to sacrifice. He is sacrificing himself for others. And, therefore, we believe that this sacrifice cleanses away all of that person’s sins.”


Personally, I think it is troubling that Kirill would make a claim that sounds very much like a promise to Latin crusaders as he continues to bless warmongering rather than peacemaking. One wonders how low ‘His Holiness’ and the Russian Synod are willing to sink morally in their sycophancy to Vladimir Putin.  We see in them why nationalism is incompatible with Christianity and is condemned by the Gospel teaching that you cannot serve God and mammon. Instead of raising the morality of their flocks, Kirill and the Russian Synod seem to be kowtowing to the mammon of nationalism and the favors they receive from the state.

On the other hand, it is also worth noting that at least in the above quote Kirill does not say the soldiers will go to heaven for killing others.  He does recognize that the Russian war of aggression is ‘fratricidal’ and he says he is praying that the fighting might soon stop, but still falls short of condemning the killing of his own flock as well as those in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And he stays close to the Gospel by commending sacrificing oneself for the sake of others, which is not a blessing to kill anyone.  It is only a blessing to be willing to die for others: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Christ does bless laying down one’s life – accepting martyrdom – for one’s friends, but does not bless killing others. So maybe what Kirill is telling his flock: if you become soldiers in the Russian army, you may lay down your life for your country but then refrains from blessing them for killing anyone.   Maybe he is calling his flock to Christian martyrdom?  This would be in the Orthodox spirit of the passion-bearing Saints Boris and Gleb.


Maybe all I have written is to try to salvage something Christian in Russian Patriarch Kirill’s words, for the same article quoted above also says: “Patriarch Kirill has previously claimed that young Russians were ‘doing a heroic deed’ by killing Ukrainians.”  If he said that, it would be pretty hard to find any of the Gospel in his thinking.

[Although I offered a better interpretation of the Patriarch’s words above, it is not hard to imagine more cynical interpretations of his words regarding dying in the war as a cleansing of one’s sins. Maybe he is saying if you kill/murder others in this war, then dying yourself in the war will cleanse you of the sin of fratricidal murder. Or maybe his words are meant for Russian prison inmates in trying to recruit them into the military: your sins will be forgiven if you are killed on the battlefield so enlist now. Or even worse, maybe he is signaling to the Russian troops to be ruthless to the Ukrainians whether soldier or civilian and whatever atrocities you commit against them will be forgiven if you die in battle.]


Much to pray for as one watches the Russian Church slide downhill morally in its effort to engender the Russian state’s favor. The Church is supposed to be the spotless Bride of Christ, but the Russian Patriarchate seems instead to be in bed with the Russian state.

… and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:2-4)

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself 


For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:13-14) 

St John of Kronstadt writes: 

“’Thou shalt love Thy neighbor as thyself.


We ought to have all things in common. As the sun, the air, fire, water, and earth are common to us all, so ought also (in part) food and drink, money, books, and (in general) all the Lord’s gifts to be shared in common; for they are given in common to all, and yet are easily divisible for distribution amongst many.  For we have nothing of our own, but everything belongs to God. And it is not just for the rich to keep their superfluity in their treasuries when there are so many poor people in need of the means of existence, of necessary clothing and dwellings. However, it is just that the laborious should enjoy abundance, and that the idle should endure poverty and misery. Therefore, if we know that some are poor only through their own idleness and laziness, with such we are not obliged to share the abundance earned by our labor. “If any man will not work,” says the Apostle Paul, “neither let him eat.” But the crying poverty arising from old age, exhaustion, from sickness, from fruitless and badly paid labor, from really difficult conditions of life, from a numerous family, from bad harvests, we must always hasten to help, especially those of us who are rich. We must be guided by the history of the times of the Apostles, by the example of the early church…


Bear in your heart continually, the words, ‘Christ is Love,’ and endeavor to love all, sacrificing for the sake of love, not only your possessions, but even yourself. 

Lord! Teach me to bestow charity willingly, kindly, joyfully, and to believe that by bestowing it I do not lose, but gain, infinitely more than that which I give. Turn my eyes away from hard-hearted people who do not sympathize with the poor, who meet poverty with indifference, who judge, reproach, brand it with shameful names, and weaken my heart, so that I may not do good, so that I, too, may harden my heart against poverty. O my Lord, how many such people we meet with! Lord, amend works of charity! Lord, grant that every charity I bestow may be profitable, and may not do harm! Lord, accept Thyself charity in the person of Thy poor. Lord, deign to help me to build a house for the poor in this town, concerning which I have already many times prayed to Thee, the all-merciful, almighty, most wise, wonderful!   (A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, pp 403-405) 


St Basil the Great comments further on the Gospel command to love our neighbors saying that even actions that otherwise might be allowed by Scripture might not fulfill Christ’s command concerning neighbors: 

That the proof of not having the love of Christ for one’s neighbor is doing anything that harms or grieves his faith, even if the act itself is allowed by the letter of the Scriptures. (ON CHRISTIAN ETHICS, p 115) 


The failure to love the neighbor is a failure to obey Christ. Love of neighbor is to guide all our thoughts and activities. We cannot use as an excuse for failing to love our neighbors that we were busy being pious and doing other things allowed in Scripture. If our behavior “harms or grieves” our neighbor’s faith, then we are not acting in love. 

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10) 

We Are Children of the Promise

4587897480_1b6a9b84a3_wNow we, brothers and sisters, as Isaac was, are children of promise. (Galatians 4:28) 

… just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. (Galatians 2:6-7)   

St Paul calls us Christians “children of the promise.” We are children of the promise God made to Abraham because we too believe God, as Abraham did and so are the rightful children of Abraham: not according to the flesh, but according to faith. Biblical scholar Terence E. Fretheim comments on what it means that God makes a promise to humans: 

“As in any relationship of integrity, God will have to give up some things for the sake of the relationship. Thus, God will have to give up some freedom. Any commitment or promise within a relationship entails a limitation of freedom. By such actions, God has decisively limited the option God has for speaking and acting. God has exercised divine freedom in making such promises in the first place. But, in having freely made such promises, thereafter God’s freedom is truly limited by those promises. God will do what God says God will do; God will be faithful to God’s own promises, and that is a limitation of freedom. God’s freedom is not most supremely a freedom for the world, not a freedom from the world. 


[As Fretheim notes as soon as God makes a promise God is committed to following the course of action that will bring the promise to fruition. This means God can’t ignore the promise, nor can God change His will and pursue other ideas instead. Thus, in making a promise God commits Himself to a course of action and history which in effect limits God’s freedom. In promising us something God is imposing some limits on Himself. In tying His promise to our behavior, God enters into a synergistic relationship with humans and ties His own will and activity to ours. God vows to work in, through and with us humans to accomplish His will.] 


Moreover, any relationship of integrity will entail a sharing of power. Each party to the relationship must give up any monopoly on power for the sake of the relationship. Neither party to the relationship can be overwhelmed for the relationship to be a true one. For the sake of the relationship, God gives up the exercise of some power. This will in turn qualify any talk about divine control or divine sovereignty. Total control of the other in a relationship is no relationship of integrity.”  (The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, pgs. 36-37) 


In other words, God continues to respect our human free will and does not endeavor to take it away from us or declare it of no value. Rather in making us children of the promise, God also promises to work with us for our salvation. 

God’s Light in Our Hearts 


For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  (2 Corinthians 4:6-7) 

St Paul tells us that God commanded light to shine out of darkness. It is this same God who shone light into our hearts. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware comments on the heart where God resides in us: 


“In the words of Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, ‘The Name of Jesus, present in the human heart, confers upon it the power of deification.’  . . .    

In the Hesychast tradition, the mystery of theosis has most often taken the outward form of a vision of light. This light which the saints behold in prayer is neither a symbolical light of the intellect, nor yet a physical and created light of the senses. It is nothing less than the divine and uncreated Light of the Godhead, which shown from Christ at his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and which will illumine the whole world at his second coming on the Last Day. Here is a characteristic passage on the divine light taken from St Gregory Palamas. He is describing the Apostle’s vision when he was caught up into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4): 


Paul saw a light without limits below or above or to the sides; he saw no limit whatever to the light that appeared to him and shown around him, but it was like a sun infinitely brighter and vaster than the universe; and in the midst of this sun he himself stood, having become nothing but eye.   

Such is the vision of glory to which we may approach through the Invocation of the Name. 


The Jesus prayer causes the brightness of the Transfiguration to penetrate into every corner of our life. Constant repetition has two effects upon the anonymous author of THE WAY OF A PILGRIM. First, it transforms his relationship with the material creation around him, making all things transparent, changing them into a sacrament of God’s presence. He writes: 

When I prayed with my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvelous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the earth, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man’s sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that everything proved the love of God for man, that all things pray to God and sang his praise. Thus it was that I came to understand what THE PHILOKALIA calls ‘the knowledge of the speech of all creatures’ . . .  I felt a burning love for Jesus and for all God’s creatures. 


In the words of Father Bulgakov, ‘Shining through the heart, the light of the Name of Jesus illuminates all the universe.’

In the second place, the Prayer transfigures the Pilgrim’s relation not only with the material creation but with other humans:

Again I started off on my wanderings. But now I did not walk along as before, filled with care. The Invocation of the Name of Jesus gladdened my way. Everybody was kind to me, it was as though everyone loved me.  . . .   If anyone harms me I have only to think, ‘How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!’ and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all.  (THE POWER OF THE NAME, pp 25-26)


The Kingdom Within Us 


For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20) 

St Theophan the Recluse comments on the Kingdom of God being within us: 

The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as  master ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure‘ (Philippians 2:13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our willful sins, is re-established. This inner alliance is sealed, confirmed, and given the strength to maintain itself by the power of grace in the divine sacrament of baptism, and for those who have fallen after baptism, in the sacrament of repentance: and afterwards it is constantly strengthened by holy communion. 


All Christians live thus; and consequently they all bear the kingdom of God within themselves, that is to say that they obey God as king and are ruled by God as king.

Speaking about the kingdom of God within us, one must always add: in the Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is the mark of the Christian – the kingdom of God within us. God is the king over all, He is the Creator of all things and in His Providence watches over them all: but He truly reigns in the soul and is truly professed there as King only after the reestablishment of that union of the soul with Him which was broken by the Fall. And this union is effected by the Holy Spirit in the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.  (THE ART OF PRAYER, pp 180-181)