Book Review: Unruly Saint

Unruly Saint:
Dorothy’s Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Time
By D.L. Mayfield

D.L. Mayfield is a writer as well as an activist. Raised in a conservative Christian church, her childhood years were ones of her family moving around in a van as her father helped small congregations get started. The dream of missionary work she acquired while in bible college brought her into contact with Muslim refugees and this experience took her out of the confines of evangelicalism. She’s worked with immigrants and refugees for over a decade. Her writing has appeared in Sojourners, the Washington Post, Christianity Today and Vox among other outlets. She maintains a podcast, “The Prophetic Imagination,” and earlier books include Assimilate or Go Home (HarperOne, 23016) and The Myth of the American Dream (IVP, 2020).

Is it any surprise then, that she would produce the present volume on Dorothy Day and her radical vision and its relevance for us in the 21st century. Mayfield draws substantially on Day’s own sizable body of writing, the books and numerous periodical articles as well as The Catholic Worker columns and her letters and diaries, edited by Robert Ellsberg. She follow a chronology which essentially is Dorothy’s biography. All of the early radical activities and journalism are examined. So too Dorothy’s open, radical lifestyle and perspectives. She hung out with writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, socialists and Communists and anarchists, writing for their publications. Mayfield covers Day’s personal life as well, her political and activist connections and her complicated sexual relationships with colleagues, lovers and the occasional husband. Dorothy as parent also looms large in this book, as grandmother too.

The cover art is a sketch of the young Dorothy drawing hard on a cigarette. Not kneeling in a chapel, or hands joined in prayer. This is precisely Dorothy’s hidden holiness. She was reputed to curse like a teamster, this same daily Mass-goer and prayer of the Office. She walked into the archdiocese of New York’s chancery and defended the title of her publication against the charge it sounded almost Communist. She would write to people discouraged by the seeming absurdity of bishops and priest by assuring her correspondent that it had always been like this in the church. And that Christ surely was at work and present, despite this lamentable behavior.

Likely there would have been a bottle and glass on the table in from of her. For many years the cigarette would remain there, along with the coffee cup and the daily psalms, from the breviary. Her houses of hospitality gathered for evening prayer together, and where there was one to celebrate, there would be daily or when possible, a celebration of the Eucharist. Every day she would be soaking in the writings of Dostoevsky or Teresa of Avila or some other holy one. She corresponded with and published Thomas Merton for years, welcome Daniel Berrigan to speak and preside at Eucharist, among many other contemporary teachers and activists, not the least of which was Jim Forest. Mayfield chooses to call her an “unruly” saint which of course Dorothy was, from her youth till her last years as an eighty year old. And at the same time, her faith and her prayer life were remarkable, solid, without pretense or artificiality. She was unruly. She was passionate. She saw through all the myth of the American Dream to the capitalist and militarist and racist systems that tried to control the country, using the churches much of the time. But her own life, as Mayfield shows quite vividly, was one of protest against and resistance to this kind of state and culture. She was the real thing.

There are other fine overviews of Dorothy Day’s life and work. Jim Forest’s All is Grace (Orbis , 23011) is my favorite. Her granddaughter Kate Hennessy’s is another, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, (Scribner’s, 2017) and Rosalie Riegle, Dorothy Day: Portrait by Those Who Knew Her (Orbis, 2006). However, the great contribution of Mayfield’s book is its constant attention to what Dorothy Day means to our mangled world now. There is an immediacy, an urgency to Mayfield’s narration of Dorothy’s life and thinking. She gets Dorothy exactly right and she does not avoid the unpleasant, difficult, even sometimes nasty details. She listens to Dorothy’s daughter Tamar’s side of things in her relationship to her mother. Tamar came to detest the rigidity of Fr. Hugo, the regular retreat master for the Catholic Worker communities, his arrogance, his extremes in deeming most everything worldly, an obstacle to holiness and thus to be given up or at least avoided. Fine, Tamar said, it got her mother to stop smoking in her early 40s. But the priest took issue with listening to opera and classical concerts on the radio, to reading the newspapers, to being engaged with the racism and protectionism of government for big business, a deadly reality in the Great Depression. Tamar also recognized the uncharacteristic submission her mother made to this priest, also to the questionablye emotional health of Peter Maurin, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, though it would never have come into being without Dorothy’s organizational and journalistic tools. Mayfield brings to life the fierce passion of Dorothy for the starving, homeless suffering people tossed out of jobs and into the street by corporations. She lauded the efforts of FDR to alleviate the massive dislocation and pain of millions of Americans, even when this brought her attacks from fellow Catholics for drifting toward Communism.

This is perhaps one of most passionate accounts of Dorothy’s great love for Christ and for the suffering sister and brother before us. Only someone similarly impelled to work with the dislocated and suffering as D.L. Mayfield could have pulled this off and we should be grateful to her for this powerful story of a powerful soul, a most unruly saint.

Mayfield, D.L. Unruly Saint: Dorothy’s Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Time. Minneapolis MN: Broadleaf/1517 Media, 2022. 256 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9781506473598.

REVIEWER: Michael Plekon
Michael Plekon is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Religion,
The City University of New York, Baruch College,
and has been a priest in the Western and Eastern Churches.
Community as Church, Church as Community
 (Cascade, 2021) is his most recent book.

The Liturgy of the Gun

In an article appearing on 30 April, the Washington Post reported that “across the country this month, at least four men have opened fire on someone who’d stumbled upon their space, resulting in one death, two injuries and a car pocked with bullet holes.”

  • In Elgin, TX, two cheerleaders misidentified their car in a store parking lot. The owner shot them.
  • In Hebron, NY, a young woman in a car made her way up what she thought was the driveway for her destination. She realized her mistake and turned the car around.  The home owner shot and killed her.
  • In Davie, FL, an Instacart delivery driver knocked at the wrong door. The home owner shot at the driver, hitting the driver’s car.
  • In Kansas City, MO, a boy knocked on a door thinking that he was at the house where his siblings were playing. It was the wrong house.  The home owner shot him.

There are other recent incidents, including the Texas man who shot and killed some his neighbors after they asked him to stop firing his gun in his yard but here I want to focus on the indented items above.  All of them involve simple honest mistakes on the part of those who were shot.  Guns in the United States so often leave a trail of misery and death in their wake that the litany of sorrow numbs me.  However, in my judgment these four incidents sound a variation in that litany.

Perhaps the experts cited in the 30 April story are correct when they attribute these shootings to “the easy availability of guns, misconceptions around stand-your-ground laws, the marketing of firearms for self-defense — and a growing sense among Americans, particularly Republicans, that safety in their backyard is deteriorating.”  However, my attention is drawn not so much to the cause of these four shooting incidents as it is to the effects.

As a theologian who researches the interplay between consumerism and sacramental worship, I have been fascinated by what James K.A. Smith has called “liturgies of mall and market . . . that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world.”*  The practice of shopping (or even just being present as other shop) can condition one to perceive the world in a certain way.  This “certain way” might be characterized by the idea that everything is or should be immediately available.  It might include comparing one’s bodily appearance and one’s clothing to the ads plastered everywhere.  It might even include judging one’s associates by the standards of those ads.  In this way, shopping can invite a kind of competitive individualism.  Christian worship, on the other hand, at least ideally involves curtailing individualism.  No. 95 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that “[members of the assembly] are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other.”

I wonder now about the liturgy of the gun, which in the four highlighted cases amounts to “make a mistake – get shot.”  I am not inviting anyone to be the next shooting victim.  Yet what are we (and what am *I*) doing to be a vital part of a “Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 49)?  What are our liturgies doing to form us into believers who will reach out to others and risk the honest mistake?  What are *we* doing to form our liturgies so that these liturgies will help us to respond, in ways large and small, to the liturgy of the gun?

*James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009). 25.  His fuller treatment of these liturgies appears on pp. 96-101.  See also my November 2019 post on The Liturgy of the Mall.

Book Review: Remove the Pews

Remove the Pews: Spiritual Possibilities for Sacred Spaces
By Donna Schaper

Till her recent retirement, Donna Schaper was Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City’s Washington Square, in Greenwich Village.  After work at the University of Chicago Divinity School she received her MDiv from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 1973. She has been a dominant voice among women pastors and has been active in social justice for decades. Schaper served churches in Tucson, Arizona, Philadelphia, Amherst, Massachusetts, Riverhead, New York and Coral Gables, Florida and was Associate Chaplain at Yale from 1976 – 1980. She has published numerous books on a range of topics from spiritual practices and Sabbath keeping to prayer and end of life questions, among others.

Remove the Pews is, like Schaper, thoughtful and at the same time explosive. She starts us with Judson Memorial’s decision some years ago to remove its pews. This was to allow many different religious communities to use the space—several others worship there—but also to initiate a redefining of what it means to be church. The rest of this fast moving set of reflections is essentially focused on rediscovering what church is in the 21st century, no small task as I found in my own study, Community as church, church as community (Cascade, 2021). Having also led a group aptly named Bricks and Mortals, she well understands the importance of place, the great significance of the historic houses of worship in which we pray, study, gather as community and use for the good of the neighborhoods around us. But much as Christ in the San Damiano icon of the crucifixion told Francis of Assisi to “rebuild my church,” something Francis took quite literally, the Lord had much, much more in mind. The same is true for Schaper and pews in the nave.

The pews are not, for Schaper, a mere relic of a useless past. The Church is too keen on the past, on all those saints before us, to simply a rush after what is new right now, only to be old and outmoded very soon. We ought not to get rid of ancient sacred texts that may baffle or enrage us. The same is true of the sacred songs of years past. We ought to keep adding to this tradition while at the same time letting its history teach us, challenge us. The pandemic closed the churches along with restaurants, schools, offices, and stores. This side of the lockdown we are glad to be able to be in all those places in person. But we also need to keep hold of Zoom or whatever platform we used to be together when we were separated. Contrary to the trend among some to sell off or completely redo sacred spaces, Schaper insists that they have deep roots in neighborhoods, in families, in peoples hearts even if they do not regularly attend services in them. She reminds us that the “rites of passage,” that is baptisms and confirmations and first communions, weddings and yes, especially, funerals remain gatherings for even the most distanced from church.

Schaper has a great deal of insight to impart in this book, some pointed observations on trying to “grow” churches by “selling” religion as a product or commodity. She takes up this and much more in a reflection on “Religion 201, A New Vision,” a wide ranging wondering about what faith and communities of faith could be moving forward. Readers will find that Schaper is solid, a seasoned pastor and theologian as well as social activist. She knows the scriptures and liturgy, she understands what living out the word and sacraments looks like in a congregation and how mission and reaching out to the “nones” and “dones” looks like today. Schaper looks at her own life and her evolution in faith, in ministry. She shows how we develop our own language of faith, our own paths that we have to accept as different from those of others. The pressure to conform is something she vigorously rejects, seeing in the Spirit’s work a freedom and thus, a freedom in our response to the Spirit. Schaper also wonders out loud about how we could look within our congregations and see not just projects and plans we’re been given by others or read about but the genuine promptings of the Spirit, challenging us to act differently but also to hold tightly to what is true and good and beautiful. For Schaper, there’s no rude throwing out everything traditional, all that is from the past. And this says a great deal for a soul as progressive and open and even rebellious as she is. Equally, she has no time for sentimental fans of tradition, only for lovers of “living tradition.” The Spirit yet has so much for us to learn and in which to delight in living out the Gospel.

There is a LOT in this slender volume and questions for discussion at each chapter’s end make it something for a group to read, ponder and discuss. A valuable reflection for us in communities of faith from a pastor of real discernment.

Schaper, Donna. Remove the Pews: Spiritual Possibilities for Sacred Spaces. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2021. 150 pages. $14.95. ISBN: 9780829821109.

REVIEWER: Michael Plekon
Michael Plekon is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Religion,
The City University of New York, Baruch College,
and has been a priest in the Western and Eastern Churches.
Community as Church, Church as Community
 (Cascade, 2021) is his most recent book.

Over 1,300 Orthodox theologians condemn “Russian World” heresy

On March 13, 2022, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, a Declaration of Orthodox Theologians on the “Russian World” (Russkii Mir) Teaching was issued. (The full text is below.) As of April 11, it has been signed by over 1,340 theologians worldwide.

The declaration states that the Russian invasion of Ukraine “is a historic threat to a people of Orthodox Christian tradition.” It decries “a form of Orthodox ethno-phyletist religious fundamentalism, totalitarian in character, called Russkii mir or the Russian world, a false teaching which is attracting many in the Orthodox Church.”

This teaching, which the signatories reject, says

“that there is a transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world. It holds that this “Russian world” has a common political centre (Moscow), a common spiritual centre (Kyiv as the “mother of all Rus’’), a common language (Russian), a common church (the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate), and a common patriarch (the Patriarch of Moscow), who works in ‘symphony’ with a common president/national leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as upholding a common distinctive spirituality, morality, and culture.”

According to the Declaration, all this “thwarts the theological basis of Orthodox unity,” and under it “the Orthodox Church ceases to be the Church of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The declaration declares this “Russian world” teaching to be a heresy:

Therefore, we reject the “Russian world” heresy and the shameful actions of the Government of Russia in unleashing war against Ukraine which flows from this vile and indefensible teaching with the connivance of the Russian Orthodox Church, as profoundly un-Orthodox, un-Christian and against humanity.

Pray Tell invited four signatories of the Declaration, all regular Pray Tell contributors, to share why they signed. Their words are below.

Mark Roosien, Orthodox deacon and lecturer in liturgical studies at Yale Divinity School:

Russian World is not some new heresy, but merely the most recent example of Christianity being marshaled for all-too-human aims that have, in the final analysis, nothing to do with the Gospel. I felt it was important to sign the Declaration as an expression of protest against this distortion of Christian teaching taking place in my own communion, and as an expression of solidarity with Orthodox Christians around the world (not least in Russia itself) who refuse to identify their faith with any worldly political or civilizational project.

Nick Denysenko, Orthodox deacon and theology (liturgy) professor at Valparaiso University:

Nicholas Denysenko

I signed the statement because the Russkii Mir ideology was one of the primary contributors to the hatred and xenophobia that inspired Vladimir’s Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine. This ideology relies upon a false nostalgia for a unity of peoples and “holy” civilization that never existed. The ideology also implied that the people who belong to the Russkii Mir were somehow better than everyone else. This is not only a violation of authentic desert spirituality, held dear by the Orthodox tradition, but also creates a false sense of a “sinless space” inhabited by “right” believers. For over a millennium, Orthodox faithful have confessed that One is holy, one is the Lord Jesus Christ during the Divine Liturgy. The rest of us are the same – sinners struggling to become like God by divine grace. The Russkii Mir engendered hatred of anyone who did not belong – it is a heresy that needs to be condemned for the rest of human history.

Teva Regule, president of the Orthodox Theological Society in America and adjunct professor at Boston College:

The Orthodox world, in particular, has been totally consumed by the events in Ukraine. My own reason for signing the Declaration is that I wanted to speak out against the use or, more pointedly, misuse of Orthodox Christianity to promote, justify, or even acquiesce to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In my opinion, the faith has been hijacked and is being cynically misused in order to justify this invasion in furtherance of a “Russian World” identity, especially by those in both secular and ecclesial power. Fundamental to that identity is a hostility to the “decadent” West which overshadows our baptismal identity in Christ. It also saddens me because, as Russian history suggests, when this is all over, the Orthodox Church in Russia will most likely be rejected once more by more and more of its own people.

Michael Plekon, priest, professor, and author:

I signed the document because it gave a clear refutation of the pseudo-spiritual myth that is Russkiy mir, something Patriarch Kyrill has further called a “metaphysical” struggle or war of Christianity with godless culture and values of the West. This is not only bad theology, but a fabrication of the actual history of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, all of which have distinctive pasts, distinctive language and literary and cultural legacies. Christianity unites. Yes we are one in baptism, in faith, in Christ. But the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church is, on the contrary, dividing rather than gathering the people of God. Lastly, the “blessing” by the patriarch of the “special military operations” is a blatant lie. He is supporting, endorsing an invasion and the murder of sisters and brothers in Christ. A Christian must stand against this.

Full Text:

“For the peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God,
and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.”
(Divine Liturgy)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, is a historic threat to a people of Orthodox Christian tradition. More troubling still for Orthodox believers, the senior hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church has refused to acknowledge this invasion, issuing instead vague statements about the necessity for peace in light of “events” and “hostilities” in Ukraine, while emphasizing the fraternal nature of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples as part of “Holy Rus’,” blaming the hostilities on the evil “West”, and even directing their communities to pray in ways that actively encourage hostility.

The support of many of the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate for President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine is rooted in a form of Orthodox ethno-phyletist religious fundamentalism, totalitarian in character, called Russkii mir or the Russian world, a false teaching which is attracting many in the Orthodox Church and has even been taken up by the Far Right and Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists.

The speeches of President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill (Gundiaev) of Moscow (Moscow Patriarchate) have repeatedly invoked and developed Russian world ideology over the last 20 years. In 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea and initiated a proxy war in the Donbas area of Ukraine, right up until the beginning of the full-fledged war against Ukraine and afterwards, Putin and Patriarch Kirill have used Russian world ideology as a principal justification for the invasion. The teaching states that there is a transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world. It holds that this “Russian world” has a common political centre (Moscow), a common spiritual centre (Kyiv as the “mother of all Rus’’), a common language (Russian), a common church (the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate), and a common patriarch (the Patriarch of Moscow), who works in ‘symphony’ with a common president/national leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as upholding a common distinctive spirituality, morality, and culture.

Against this “Russian world” (so the teaching goes) stands the corrupt West, led by the United States and Western European nations, which has capitulated to “liberalism”, “globalization”, “Christianophobia”, “homosexual rights” promoted in gay parades, and “militant secularism”. Over and against the West and those Orthodox who have fallen into schism and error (such as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and other local Orthodox churches that support him) stands the Moscow Patriarchate, along with Vladimir Putin, as the true defenders of Orthodox teaching, which they view in terms of traditional morality, a rigorist and inflexible understanding of tradition, and veneration of Holy Russia.

Since the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill in 2009, the leading figures of the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as spokespersons of the Russian State, have continually drawn on these principles to thwart the theological basis of Orthodox unity. The principle of the ethnic organization of the Church was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 1872. The false teaching of ethno-phyletism is the basis for “Russian world” ideology. If we hold such false principles as valid, then the Orthodox Church ceases to be the Church of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Ecumenical Councils, and the Fathers of the Church. Unity becomes intrinsically impossible.

Therefore, we reject the “Russian world” heresy and the shameful actions of the Government of Russia in unleashing war against Ukraine which flows from this vile and indefensible teaching with the connivance of the Russian Orthodox Church, as profoundly un-Orthodox, un-Christian and against humanity, which is called to be “justified… illumined… and washed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (Baptismal Rite). Just as Russia has invaded Ukraine, so too the Moscow Patriarchate of Patriarch Kirill has invaded the Orthodox Church, for example in Africa, causing division and strife, with untold casualties not just to the body but to the soul, endangering the salvation of the faithful.

In view of the “Russian world” teaching that is devastating and dividing the Church, we are inspired by the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Tradition of His Living Body, the Orthodox Church, to proclaim and confess the following truths:

  1. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36).

We affirm that the divinely-appointed purpose and accomplishment of history, its telos, is the coming of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, a Kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, a Kingdom attested by Holy Scripture as authoritatively interpreted by the Fathers. This is the Kingdom we participate in through a foretaste at every Holy Liturgy: “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages!” (Divine Liturgy). This Kingdom is the sole foundation and authority for Orthodox, indeed for all Christians. There is no separate source of revelation, no basis for community, society, state, law, personal identity and teaching, for Orthodoxy as the Body of the Living Christ than that which is revealed in, by, and through our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.

We therefore condemn as non-Orthodox and reject any teaching that seeks to replace the Kingdom of God seen by the prophets, proclaimed and inaugurated by Christ, taught by the apostles, received as wisdom by the Church, set forth as dogma by the Fathers, and experienced in every Holy Liturgy, with a kingdom of this world, be that Holy Rus’, Sacred Byzantium, or any other earthly kingdom, thereby usurping Christ’s own authority to deliver the Kingdom to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24), and denying God’s power to wipe away every tear from every eye (Revelation 21:4). We firmly condemn every form of theology that denies that Christians are migrants and refugees in this world (Hebrews 13:14), that is, the fact that “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3:20) and that Christians “reside in their respective countries, but only as sojourners. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home, and every home a foreign land” (The Epistle to Diognetus, 5).

  1. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

We affirm that in anticipation of the final triumph of the Kingdom of God we acknowledge the sole and ultimate authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this age, earthly rulers provide peace, so that God’s people might live “calm and ordered lives, in all godliness and sanctity” (Divine Liturgy). Yet, there is no nation, state or order of human life that can make a higher claim on us than Jesus Christ, at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10).

We therefore condemn as non-Orthodox and reject any teaching which would subordinate the Kingdom of God, manifested in the One Holy Church of God, to any kingdom of this world seeking other churchly or secular lords who can justify and redeem us. We firmly reject all forms of government that deify the state (theocracy) and absorb the Church, depriving the Church of its freedom to stand prophetically against all injustice. We also rebuke all those who affirm caesaropapism, replacing their ultimate obedience to the crucified and resurrected Lord with that of any leader vested with ruling powers and claiming to be God’s anointed, whether known by the title of “Caesar,” “Emperor,” “Tsar,” or “President.”

  1. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

We affirm that division of humanity into groups based on race, religion, language, ethnicity or any other secondary feature of human existence is a characteristic of this imperfect and sinful world, which, following the patristic tradition are characterized as “distinctions of the flesh” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 7, 23). Assertion of superiority of one group over others is a characteristic evil of such divisions, which are entirely contrary to the Gospel, where all are one and equal in Christ, all must answer to him for their actions, and all have access to his love and forgiveness, not as members of particular social or ethnic groups, but as persons created and born equally in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).

We therefore condemn as non-Orthodox and reject any teaching that attributes divine establishment or authority, special sacredness or purity to any single local, national, or ethnic identity, or characterizes any particular culture as special or divinely ordained, whether Greek, Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, or any other.

  1. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

Following the commandment of our Lord, we affirm that as St Silouan the Athonite declares, “The grace of God is not in the man who does not love his enemies”, and that we cannot know peace until we love our enemies. As such, the making of war is the ultimate failure of Christ’s law of love.

We therefore condemn as non-Orthodox and reject any teaching that encourages division, mistrust, hatred, and violence among peoples, religions, confessions, nations, or states. We further condemn as non-Orthodox and reject any teaching that demonizes or encourages the demonization of those that the state or society deems “other,” including foreigners, political and religious dissenters and other stigmatized social minorities. We reject any Manichean and Gnostic division that would elevate a holy Orthodox Eastern culture and its Orthodox peoples above a debased and immoral “West”. It is particularly wicked to condemn other nations through special liturgical petitions of the Church, elevating the members of the Orthodox Church and its cultures as spiritually sanctified in comparison to the fleshly, secular “Heterodox”.

  1. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew 9:13; cf. Hosea 6:6 and Isaiah 1:11-17).

We affirm that Christ calls us to exercise personal and communal charity to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the refugees, the migrants, the sick and suffering, and seeking justice for the persecuted, the afflicted, and the needy. If we refuse the call of our neighbor; indeed if instead we beat and rob, and leave our neighbor to suffer and die by the wayside (Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37), then we are not in Christ’s love on the path to the Kingdom of God, but have made ourselves enemies of Christ and his Church. We are called to not merely pray for peace, but to actively and prophetically stand up and condemn injustice, to make peace even at the cost of our lives. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9). Offering the sacrifice of liturgy and prayer while refusing to act sacrificially constitutes a sacrifice to condemnation at odds with what is offered in Christ (Matthew 5:22-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

We therefore condemn as non-Orthodox and reject any promotion of spiritual “quietism” among the faithful and clergy of the Church, from the highest Patriarch down to most humble layperson. We rebuke those who pray for peace while failing to actively make peace, whether out of fear or lack of faith.

  1. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32).

We affirm that Jesus calls his disciples not only to know the truth but to speak the truth: “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37). A full-scale invasion of a neighboring country by the world’s second largest military power is not just a “special military operation”, “events” or “conflict” or any other euphemism chosen to deny the reality of the situation. It is, rather, in fact a full-scale military invasion that has already resulted in numerous civilian and military deaths, the violent disruption of the lives of over forty-four million people, and the displacement and exile of over two million people (as of March 13, 2022). This truth must be told, however painful it may be.

We therefore condemn as non-Orthodox and reject any teaching or action which refuses to speak the truth, or actively suppresses the truth about evils that are perpetrated against the Gospel of Christ in Ukraine. We utterly condemn all talk of “fratricidal war”, “repetition of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy” if it does not explicitly acknowledge the murderous intent and culpability of one party over another (Revelation 3:15-16).

We declare that the truths that we have affirmed and the errors which we have condemned as non-Orthodox and rejected are founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Christian faith. We call all who accept this declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in church politics. We entreat all whom this declaration concerns to return to “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

March 13, 2022 — Sunday of Orthodoxy

Heaven and Hell

The story of the tenth-century Prince Vladimir of Kyiv is fairly well-known among liturgical historians.  Desiring to discover the true religion and the best way to worship the true God, Vladimir sent out emissaries to assess religious worship in regions near and far.  The emissaries sent to Greece offered this report to their sovereign:

So we went into Greece and were taken to the place wherein they worship God—and we did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth, for nowhere else in the world is there so beautiful a sight.  We cannot describe it: we only know that it is there that God tabernacles among men.

Vladimir subsequently embraced Orthodox Christianity and there followed the widespread Christianization of the Kyivan Rus.

As I write these words, believers gathering for worship in Kyiv might more fairly wonder whether their country is on earth or in hell.  Whatever other responses may be appropriate and just under conditions of unprovoked military aggression, worship, too, is called for.  We urgently need prayers for peace.  We urgently need to give voice to lament before God.  In time of war, the joy of worship needs moderation.  In time of peace, too, joy needs moderation.  Peace is all too often precarious and even in the absence of war there is pain and suffering in the world which, as Matt 25 reminds us, we ignore at our peril.