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The Peace of Christ and the Peace Sought in Assisi

Internal and External Peace and the Loss of the Organic Unity of Worship, Ethos and Dogma

by Amphilochios Basiliadis

The synaxis of religious leaders which gathered around the Pope of Rome in Assisi this past week [ed.—Janurary 24, 2002] in a quest for "peace" — in order "to come together and walk with one another on the paths of peace," as the Pope put it — has raised once again, this time more urgently, a set of questions demanding answers. One such question is: Is the peace sought in Assisi, and other such gatherings, the same as the peace given by Christ?

"We have come to Assisi on a pilgrimage of peace. We are here, as representatives of different religions, to examine ourselves before God concerning our commitment to peace, to ask Him for this gift, to bear witness to our shared longing for a world of greater justice and solidarity. We wish to do our part in fending off the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred, armed conflict, which in these last  few months have grown particularly ominous on humanity's horizon." —Pope John Paul II to Religious Leaders in Assisi

These words of the Pope to the world's religious leaders, among whom where present representatives from ten local Orthodox Churches** (including the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch) raise the basic question: what precisely is the peace which God gives? Is it, in fact, a cessation of conflict and the "fending off of the dark clouds of terrorism, hatred and armed conflict" by the "sending out [of] bright beams of light," as the Pope says?

The quest for peace in this world is, of course, nothing new. Due to the unprecedented bloodshed of our century and the seemingly constant threat of deadly conflict, it is, however, especially felt in our own days. Some Christians, among them clergy (perhaps on the "pilgrimage for peace" with the Pope and the assembled religious leaders), even feel that the angelically declared "peace and good will on earth" among men at the birth of Christ is yet unrealized. They even go so far as to hold special prayer services in order to call upon God to finally allow for the predominance on earth of that peace which has "for two thousand years remained far from fulfillment, a simple hope, a noble dream, an anguished expectation."

Twenty years ago such sentiments were far from unkown to the Orthodox world, if, nevertheless, still as yet well developed. Father Epiphanios Theodoropoulos (+1989), the elder and founder of the Keharitomeni Monastery south of Athens, was not unfamiliar with problem. In search of a contemporary, yet patristic reply to the ideas about peace in our age, I stumbled upon a short article he wrote entitled Which is the 'Peace on Earth' of the Angelic Hymn in Bethlehem, published in the October-December 1984 issue of Koinonia.* He wrote a reply to such as the sentiments above, which I think worthwhile to reproduce below, for it is still quite relevant to the events of our days.

"What these blessed souls are, unfortunately, ignorant of, is that the peace declared in the Angelic Hymn is already a reality and has reigned on the earth since the Incarnation of the Lord. Mistakenly they misinterpret the peace of God declared by the angels as external, as a state of friendship between men, individuals toward individuals and nations toward nations, as a cessation of war and fighting. Such peace the Gospel never announced. The peace of the gospel is internal, a state of serenity and inner stillness, which reigns in the soul of the faithful man, of the man that has friendship and communion with God in Christ Jesus. It is peace between men and God and not among men themselves. It is the breaking down of the "wall of partition" which had separated heaven and earth, God and man. It is the end of the rebellion, the putting down of the revolution, of the creature toward the Creator.

"Such is the peace which the Son of God brought into the world, that he who believes in Jesus Christ - Incarnate, Crucified, and Resurrected - has God as his friend and is found in the communion of a son toward Him. He is no longer a rebel, no longer an apostate, no longer an enemy of God. For, the faithful man, the rebellion of Adam is relegated to being simply a bitter memory in the distant past. From the time of the Lord and the power of His Sacrifice on the Cross man entered into a new period, a condition of Grace, Friendship, Adoption.

"And, so, the promises of the Gospel regarding peace do not refer to that peace which is external but to this peace. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you," says the Lord, "not as the world giveth, give I unto you." (Jn. 14:27). And elsewhere, in many passages, He makes it clear that He is not a bearer of external peace, the peace of the world, but, to the contrary, that faith in Him will be the cause of placing at in variance with one another and at war with one another. The faithless will war against the believers and not only will the persecutions not cease, they will increase. "Think not," He says, "that I have come to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her daughter, and the daughter in law against her mother in law." (Mat. 10: 34-35).

"Shortly before He ascended Golgotha, Christ imparted His peace to His disciples, an internal peace, so that they would not be overcome by the myriad of external afflications and persecutions. In spite of all, this peace would endure, precisely because it was internal: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (Jn. 16:33). Indeed, while imparting to His apostles his peace, He knew that martyric deaths awaited them, that He was sending them out as "sheep among wolves." (Mat. 10:16). Was it, therefore, possible for them to have external peace? Obviously, not.

"It is, of course, needless to say that he who has peace toward God is also peaceful toward those around him. He loves everyone, and never hates. Indeed, only such a man is able to say, "with them that hate peace, I was peaceable." (Ps. 119:6). He loves and shows kindness even toward his enemies. Internal peace is a presupposition of the external peace. And external peace is not only unobtainable, but inconceivable without internal peace.

"The tradegy of contemporary man is exactly this: although he declares war on God, he desperately seeks peace among men. While being completely indifferent to internal peace, he seeks aggresively for the external peace."

+ + +

Such is still, twenty years later, the plight of modern man, who has fallen back into the darkness of that ignorance which the "great Light" of the angels' proclamation came to do away with. "And the light shinenth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (Jn. 1:5).

But, unfortunately, the tragedy has not remained static and does not end there. It has extended in our day to include Orthodox Christians, especially Orthodox Hierarchs. It consists in that although they are called to witness to the internal peace of Christ, which "passeth all understanding" and is incomprehensible to the world, they submit to the superficial lie of external peace between men, to the point of even speaking, acting and participating in gatherings where peace is spoken of being attainable apart from Christ, even through calling upon everyone's and every religion's arbitrary idea of "God."

In Assisi, and all such similar gatherings, Orthodoxy is presented as just one of many equal religions, even though it is not equal with the religions of the world, nor is it even a religion, but Revelation. In Assisi the Orthodox were called upon by the Pope to accept that all the religions of the world "have a single goal and a shared intention, but we will pray in different ways, respecting one anothers religious traditions." We are told that peace is "built" by men, above all by "religious" men, of whom the Orthodox are counted: "It is the duty of religions, and of their leaders above all, to foster in the people of our time a renewed sense of the urgency of building peace." Our Orthodox Hieararchs are told that they are to ask for the "gift of recognizing the path of peace," as if they too were in the darkness of ignorance and did not know that the there is only one "Prophet of Peace," and he is not buried in Assisi: "Shortly we shall go to the arranged places in order to beg from God the gift of peace for all humanity. Let us ask that we be given the gift of recognizing the path of peace, of right relationship with God and among ourselves." We are told, contrary to the Revelation (not religion) of Jesus Christ, in whom alone the cure of the world's ills is found, that "religion is the chief antidote to violence and conflict." We are told that "prayer" - whether to the Holy Trinity or not - leads to "dialogue" and a deeper awareness by "each one ... of the duty to bear witness and to proclaim." Bear witness to what? Proclaim what? We are not told, but one is left to infer that "each one" will bear witness and proclaim his own particular experience of "God." Which God? The "one God?" And which God is He? He is the god of all the religions whom all "religious people" worship, who is apparently different but essentially the same for all, "all paths leading to Him."***

This is, unfortunately, the message, not only of the Pope to those in Assisi, but also of the Patriarch of Constantinople in his letter to Muslims at the end of Ramadan. In that letter the Patriarch said: "God is a God of peace and is pleased with the peaceful co-existence of men and, of course, of those who worship Him independent of the differences, which exist in regards to faith between the three great monotheistic religions."****

In opposition to the ideas of the Pope and Patriarch, Christ did not say to the Samaritan woman, "worship God in Samaria, worship God in Jerusalem - it is the same; the important thing is to worship Him as you know how." He did not, as did the Pope in Assisi, tell her that "we will pray in different ways, respecting one anothers religious traditions." Nor did He, as did the Patriarch, in His letter to muslims, tell her differences in regard to faith are independent from the worship of God. Rather, He said quite unequivocally:

"'Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.' The woman saith unto him, 'I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.' Jesus saith unto her, 'I that speak unto thee am he."

Herein lies the heart of the matter. Can worship be divided from revelation, spirit from truth, Christ from the knowledge of all things? Is peace attainable to those who deny that God must be worshipped in spirit and truth, that is, who claim that differences in prayer and the object of such prayer are insignificant or that faith is independent of worship? Listen to what St. Gregory Palamas says:

"The supreme and revered Father is the Father of Truth itself, namely, the Only-begotten Son; and the Holy Spirit has a Spirit of Truth, just as the Logos of Truth. Therefore, those who reverence the Father in spirit and truth and hold to this manner of belief also receive the energies through these. For the apostle says that the Spirit is the One through Whom we offer reverence and through Whom we pray. And the Only-begotten of God says, 'No one cometh to the Father, except by Me [Jn. 14:6].'" [Emphasis mine]

Thus, the path of prayer to God, or "the path to peace" for that matter, does not pass just through the invocation of any "god" or "spirit," but only through the Only-begetton of God and the Spirit of Truth. Furthermore, only those who hold to this manner of belief will receive the energies of God, namely, the energy of peace. The reception of the energy or "spirit of peace," however, doesn't just happen at any time or in any assembly, but from "that hour that cometh," namely, at the hour of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and in that "assembly of saints", namely, in the mystical life of the Church.

The tragic denial of the uniqueness of the Revelation of the Saviour Jesus Christ by the Patriarch and Pope has its roots in the disintegration of the organic unity of worship, ethos and dogma. Dogma and ethos are understood only within the framework of worship and the canon of worship is organically linked to the canon of faith. The consideration of worship independent of dogma and ethos, as seen, for instance, in the Patriarch's statement above ("God is a God of peace. . ."), has already predominated in the West for centuries. Such a type of dualism has been preached by Protestantism from the time of its appearance and before that by scholastic theology. In the East it is seen most clearly in the "anti-Kollyvades" party. At the base of their disagreement with the Kollyvades Fathers, the basic criterion for them was not the truth of faith, which is expressed in the tradition of the Church, but a thoughtless correlation with the spirit of the world and its demands. So too today, in countless examples, such as happened in Assisi, of incomprehensible compromises and outright denials of the unity of prayer and faith, the main criterion for the ecumenists is neither the spirit nor truth of the Orthodox Faith, but temporal gains (often illusive in themselves), political needs and diplomatic demands.

From all that has been said above, therefore, we can conclude that both the peace which was spoken of and sought, but also the prayer which was offered up to "God" in Assisi, was neither that internal, otherworldly peace announced at Christ's birth, nor that  "worship of the Father in spirit and in truth" which was spoken of by Christ to the Samaritan woman. For both the "peace of God" and prayer in "spirit and in truth" are fruits of an organic relationship between dogma, ethos and worship and are divine energies given to those who hold to the manner of Orthodox belief in the Holy Trinity. That ten local Orthodox Churches sent representatives to such a gathering can only be seen as a most ominous sign of the present ecclesiastical schizophrenia, where the truth, meaning and essence is missing, and the attachment to external appearances degenerates into sterile ceremonialism and ritualism, which not only does not save, but even obstructs on the path to salvation, and, finally, leads to such incomprehensible compromises and betrayals as was witnessed in Assisi.

Two examples associated with Assisi suffice to illustrate the foregoing.

One example of the distortion in faith and dogma, which obstructs the path to salvation, is found in the response of the newly ordained Russian Orthodox Bishop in England, Hilarion, representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to the Assisi gathering, to the question: "Do you think unity between Catholics and Orthodox could help to bring peace in the world?"

"Definitely. We are the two traditional Christian religions. We must understand that there are many Christian confessions who have lost the sense of tradition and who do not preserve the inital faith of the Christian Church, who are influenced by liberal way of thinking. It is only the Orthodox and the Catholics who are able to preserve the traditional principles at theological, moral and other levels, including the level of spiritual life. This is why we need to be united as much as possible, and the fact that we are divided does a real harm to the Christian witness in the world." [emphasis mine]

The second example, which illustrates the distortions taking place in ethos and ecclesiology through such events as Assisi, pertains to one of the very few local Orthodox Churches which did not send representatives to Assisi, the Greek Orthodox Church. The Greek Orthodox Church's spokeman attributed his church's absence to "resistance among the faithful." He was, however, also quick to reassure the Vatican that this was not because of "opposition from the hierarchy" and that they just need "more time to form the consciences of the faithful," noting that "it would be difficult to assure the Greek faithful that the ceremonies in Assisi did not indicate acceptance of a "syncretist" approach to religious faith."  "For us, that is a question that we still have to work on," he said.

In other words, what we see is a schism in the Body of the Church between the hierarchy (or, to be more precise, certain hierarchs) and the faithful, the remedy for which the spokesman sees not in uncovering and understanding the ecclesiastical consciousness of the people of God, the defenders and protectors of Orthodoxy (as the Eastern Patriarch's letter puts it), but in its gradual re-formation by the hierarchs. In other words, "give us time to convice them that we're not betraying them." Hence, if it wasn't for "fear of the faithful" hierarchs of the Church of Greece would have been present in Assisi. One might then conclude that 1) they both fear and look down upon the "simple faithful" (including, or, perhaps, especially, the Athonite Fathers) and 2) they are ready to join in more events like Assisi just as soon as it won't "hurt at home." Indeed, it is characteristic of their stance that the Archbishop of Athens even went so far as to assure the Pontiff in a personal letter sent to explain his absence that he would be "spiritually close" to the Assisi participants.

Thus, the ecclesiastical conscience of the faithful (and the prayers of the saints and the Holy Spirit, of course) is the only thing
keeping certain hierarchs from distancing themselves even further from the genuine dogma, ethos and worship of the Church. It is clear, then, what work is cut out for the fathers, pastors, teachers, elders and faithful. For, having already assured us that they are "spiritually close" to the pan-religious enthusiasts, both in letter and deed, what else do we need to understand that of themselves they have no inclination to turn away from the broad path of psuedo-peace and psuedo-prayer and to return to the narrow Way, life-giving Spirit, freeing Truth and abundant Life of the God-bearing Fathers?

They have misled my people, saying "Peace," when there is no peace.  (Ezek. 13:10).

Endnotes

*See the article "Which is the 'Peace on Earth' of the Angelic Hymn of Bethlehem" (1984) by Fr. Epiphanios Theodoropoulos, as found in Articles, Studies, Letters, Vol. I (In Greek), Athens, 1986.

**The Orthodox participants mentioned by the Pope in his address were: Patriarch Bartholomeos I; Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch; Archbishop Anastasios of Albania; and delegates of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania and of the Orthodox Churches of Bulgaria, Cyprus and Poland.

***The idea that there is a "transcendent unity of all religions" and that in each of the "perennial traditions" a path up to the mountain of God has been maintained, has been promoted in our century by those belonging to the "perennialist school of thought." The most well known proponents of what they call "esoteric ecumenism" are Frithjof Schuon, Rene Guenon, and A. Coomaraswamy. However, it has been noted that not a few Orthodox Christians have passed through this school of thought and adopted its views, to one degree or another. Most notable among them are the translators of the Philokalia into English, Philip Sherrard and G.E.H. Palmer, as well as the American scholar and author of "Advice to the Serious Seeker, Meditations on the Teaching of Frithof Schuon," Dr. James Cutsinger. For the most part reserved to the halls of higher learning and the departments of comparative religious studies, it now appears that the "metaphysical truths" of perennialism have made there way to the mainstream of religious life and leadership.

**** Message of Bartholomeow to Muslims; writer Nikos Papadimitriou for www.Flash.gr news, Greece.