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Orthodox Contribution to a Theology of Just Peace. Developing the principles of a Just Peace

But that light needs to be nurtured and kindled or it is in danger of flickering out. It is fanned and made brighter by correct teaching, and correct example in accord with what the Lord taught in word and deed. If the God-given light within, the gift of the image and likeness of God is not nurtured, then our ability to see reality as God sees it is negatively impacted.

So that not only do we not have that natural inner light, but light from outside is hindered from entering. Our spiritual eyes are no longer sound, we cannot see rightly. This is profound insight which the Lord is sharing. It explains to a great extent why things are the way they are, why people behave the way they do, why the world around us functions the way it does. Its all matter of how much each person can see. How spiritually mature each one of us is. How high a level of spiritual consciousness we have attained. Because we will act according to how we see.

And this has enormous consequences for everyone.


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Spiritual blindness can cause us to see something as good which in reality it may be foreign to God. Spiritual blindness can make us sure that we are right when we are not. How then to be sure that we are seeing rightly, that our spiritual eyes are sound? This is a great question, a great problem in human existence. The Lord himself could not persuade many to see aright. How can we help ourselves and others to see? Perhaps we could consider the oft misunderstood virtue of humility as a starting point.

True humility is to acknowledge that, compared to all that there is to be known, we know very little. Even with much education and advanced degrees, any one person knows only a small amount of reality. If we can start from a perspective of humility, we give space to the Holy Spirit to further enlighten us, to bring us a deeper understanding. Humility keeps us from immediately shutting down or getting defensive when previously held of views are challenged. Humility keeps us open to growth. The pride of many of the religious leaders of Jesus day caused them to react with anger and fear at the new information Christ was communicating.

Pride cannot admit that it does not already know. We are that vessel, that light, as much as we keep our hearts open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians today are unfamiliar with the mindset of Christians in the first three centuries of the Christian era.

Orthodox perspectives on just peace at the IEPC

It is of course the time historically closest to Jesus himself. And the social and cultural conditions under which the Christians of that period lived were much the same throughout the first three hundred years of the Christian Era.

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That is, for the most part they lived under the rule of the Roman Empire. Many spoke the same languages and many endured the persecutions of those early centuries. For them, arrest and execution, were a lived experience. They knew first and second hand what scourging and crucifixion were.

Orthodox Christian Perspectives on War

Most modern Christians know them only as an abstraction. We have to use our imagination or read accounts of execution or watch a film to obtain some degree of understanding of what they were. It is not a living reality for the vast majority of modern Christians. It is instructive then to read through the writings of this early period to see how Christians coped with this very difficult situation.


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After all, it was just not adult men and women who were dragged into the courts and arenas but often children and elderly. What kind of guidance did the Church leadership and early writers offer? While the four gospels were not yet part of an organized canon, they were in circulation and well known. As followers of Christ, the Church leaders and writers would naturally view the crisis of persecution through the lens of Christ himself, both in his actual words and in his deeds.

After all Jesus had passed through the ordeal of arrest, torture and crucifixion, one of the worst possible executions devised by twisted human minds. It is a well known belief in Christian doctrine that the voluntary death of Jesus, freed the human race from the bondage of death.

By his death Christ trampled down death. Humanity had become trapped in a downward spiral of evil and death and all the negative effects that accompanied it. Jesus, the sinless one, encountered death, although undeserving of it, and shattered the stranglehold it had on the human race. If so, could not his death at the hands of Herod when he was an infant have accomplished the same outcome? Or perhaps could he have just died of old age? Or was it his endurance of the worst that humanity could dish out and his returning of love for hate and rejection the determinative factor?

Evil and death cannot survive in the face of love. Love undoes their power. To return injury for injury can only perpetuate the cycle of violence and counter violence, which is largely the story of human history. The early Christians would have been well aware of this dynamic because of being so close historically to the teaching of Jesus and the cultural conditions in which they were uttered.

Evil and death hold no sway over Christ-like love. The early Christian writers exhibit no sign of supporting retaliation for the violence inflicted on Christians nor do they call for self defense even in the face of the arrest and persecution of entire families. There is not even a sentence in the early writings attempting to justify Christian retaliation for the horrors being visited on them. From the modern perspective this seems surprising given our natural tendency to want to protect the innocent.

Because of the fact that one would have been expected to engage in killing of enemies in battle, the military career was seen as incompatible with the clear teachings of Christ. Catechumens were informed that they would have to withdraw from Christian initiation if they decided to join the military. Converts already in the military were told that if commanded to kill they must tell their commanding officers that it was forbidden for them. And if the result was martyrdom, they were to accept it as faithful followers of Christ.

Some have made the case that it was only pagan religious practices that deterred Christians from participating in the military. But clearly it was also the teachings of Jesus on enemy love that prevented them from viewing military service as acceptable. It was seen as failure and confessed as such. This situation continued until the gradual diminishment of Christian consciousness in regards to enemy love beginning in the early 4th century.

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From an outlaw religion where Christians were forbidden to participate in the military, Christianity was first legalized by the Roman government and eventually became the recognized State religion. By the early 5th century only Christians could participate in the military. Pagans were no longer welcome.

The prohibition against killing by the Church was relegated to only the clergy.

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And it was at this time that Augustine began to develop what became known as the Christian just war theory. In examining the many wars throughout history, which have often been declared as just by both sides of a given conflict, none of them have been shown to have met all the conditions of CJWT.

For instance, the protection of non-combatants in a conflict is a primary requirement of CJWT, yet in nearly all wars of the 20th century, noncombatants have been the majority of those killed. It has mainly been promoted by Western. The Orthodox Church views all war, even wars considered to be self-defensive, to be the product of sinful people unable or unwilling to resolve their conflicts peacefully. Description Press Kit Author Bio Reviews Awards Description Many regions of the world whose histories include war and violent conflict have or once had strong ties to Orthodox Christianity.

Author Bio Perry T. Valerie a. Karras is professor of church history at St. James of Jerusalem School of Theology. Most theological treatments of the ethics of war are Catholic and Protestant, and Orthodox Christians offer a fascinating perspective that might stimulate imaginative thinking and chisel away at some impasses.