Washington Post / http://www.washingtonpost.com/ April 6, 2003; Page B07

Stripped of Spiritual Comfort

By Frank Schaeffer

A few weeks ago my wife, Genie, and I got the news that our Marine son, John, would shortly be deployed to the Middle East. He is gone to war now. We have been dreading this moment. We don’t dare go for a walk. What if he should call? I wake with a sickening jolt each dawn. Genie is quieter than usual. I snap at her over small things. The ground feels brittle under my feet. My one comfort has been prayer and church. Now I’m feeling forlorn even about going to church.

I am a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Some Orthodox Christians calling themselves “The Council for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America” have circulated an antiwar declaration harshly condemning the U.S. government’s policies in Iraq. In this “peace statement” the authors call all soldiers who kill in battle murderers, no matter what the cause. They accuse our country of using “any means” to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

I don’t agree with the authors, and I believe they have simplistically misrepresented the teachings of my church. But that is not the point. They are entitled to say or believe anything they want, as individuals and private citizens.

I am saddened because so many of my bishops and priests have signed this antiwar statement in the name of my church and my God. They have dragged not only my church but Jesus into their stand against our government and the war in Iraq.

It is cruel to try to hijack the authority of a church to advance political views for or against this war. I would never sign a letter for a “Council for the Orthodox Pro-War Fellowship” just because my son is serving his country in the military. I’d assume that it would be preposterous for me to speak for my fellow Orthodox Christians on such matters of individual conscience, over which honest and honorable people can disagree.

How excluded from spiritual comfort the Roman Catholic parents of our young service men and women must feel now that the pope and so many American Catholic bishops have condemned our government’s policies in the name of their church. The same lonely sadness must be felt by the parents of soldiers from the mainline Protestant denominations, whose leaders have condemned the war in Iraq and our commander in chief in the name of their churches.

I don’t see my son as a murderer. I don’t see my country as evil. I see my country and my son’s cause as just. But maybe I’m wrong. If I’m wrong I don’t want to drag God down with me. I don’t claim that Jesus is on my side. I’m hoping that God is on the side of my pacifist friends too. And I assume God is hearing the prayers of Iraqi parents worried about their sons who are serving their country.

How can a church comfort all its children when it plays political favorites? I believe that the Greek Orthodox whose sons and daughters are marching in peace rallies should find as much comfort in our beloved church as I do. I don’t want them excluded or condemned in the name of God. Yet as the father of a Marine I feel excluded from my church at the very moment when I most desperately need to be included. Why have so many priests and bishops traded their call to pastoral care for a few fleeting moments of political “relevance”?

My son is gone to war. I am sad and frightened. I am also proud of my Marine for his selfless service. But I am being stripped of the comfort of my church in the name of “peace” by people who seem determined to make God as small as we are.

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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. He has written a book, co-authored with his son, Cpl. John Schaeffer: Keeping Faith — A Father-Son Story about Love and the United States Marine Corps.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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A Response by Fr. Steven Tsichlis

Dear Editor,

I was surprised and deeply saddened to read “Spiritual Comfort from Church Stripped Away,” an opinion piece by Frank Schaeffer that was recently printed in The Hellenic Voice. With a son who is a marine fighting in Iraq, one can certainly empathize with Mr. Schaeffer’s concern for his son’s life, his sadness, his fear and his desire to find comfort in Christ and His Church.

Nonetheless, it is simply nonsense to say that the statement issued by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship prior to the beginning of the war has “hijacked the Church’s authority” to advance a political agenda of any kind. Indeed, the OPF statement advances no agenda other than being a “plea for peace” calling “on the US and the United Nations to follow diplomatic paths predicated on mercy, honesty and justice, and to seek peacefully negotiated resolutions to the impasse in Iraq.” This is hardly the stuff of radical politics. Indeed, during the same time that the OPF’s Plea for Peace was being drafted and signatures requested, most of the member countries of the United Nations were urging the same things.

Nor is this statement in any way supportive of Saddam Hussein, whom it describes as “coming to office by intrigue and murder,” who maintains his power “by the same means” and “is his own country’s worst enemy.” Bluntly put, the Plea for Peace states “the Iraqi people deserve to be rid of him.”

However, Mr. Schaeffer “doesn’t agree with the authors” of the Plea for Peace, nor with those clergy who signed it, because “they have simplistically misrepresented the teaching of my Church.” Who are these clergy Mr. Schaeffer accuses of simplistically misrepresenting the teaching of the Church? To name only a handful: His Grace, Bishop Kallistos Ware, arguably the most articulate teacher of our faith in the world today; Father Thomas Hopko, the recently retired dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary; Father Stanley Harakas, before his retirement, the longtime professor of ethics and a former dean of Holy Cross Seminary; and Father Emmanuel Clapsis, the current dean of Holy Cross Seminary. These are not men known for being either simplistic or careless in their understanding and presentation of the Church’s teaching.

But Mr. Schaeffer does not stop with the authors and signers of the OPF Plea for Peace. He is also critical of Pope John Paul II and the many Catholic bishops and leaders of the mainline Protestant denominations who “have condemned the war in Iraq.” Although he does not mention them, he must be equally disappointed in the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Patriarch of Antioch, the Patriarch of Alexandria, the Patriarch of Moscow and the Patriarch of Serbia, all of whom issued statements begging the US not to begin a war in Iraq.

Mr. Schaeffer, in an ad hominem attack typical of much of his writing, asks the rhetorical question: “Why have so many priests and bishops traded their call to pastoral care for a few fleeting moments of political relevance?” Does anyone, including Mr. Schaeffer, really believe that all of these men, many of whom, like Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Pavlos of Serbia, have known the brutal realities of war firsthand, are interested in “only a few fleeting moments of political relevance” and not in being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Perhaps because his son is in harm’s way and his emotions are running so high, Mr. Schaeffer has failed to understand that a priest or bishop may indeed be against military action in Iraq while simultaneously concerned about and praying for the welfare and safety of American troops. Since the war began prayers have been offered “for an end to the war in Iraq and reconciliation among nations” as well as “for our armed forces and their families” in every Greek Orthodox Church in the country. Indeed, since his article appeared I have prayed specifically for the safety of Mr. Schaeffer’s son, John. No one – certainly not the clergy – have “excluded” Mr. Schaeffer from the Church.

I rejoiced to read that Mr. Schaeffer “would never sign a letter” by an “Orthodox Pro-War Fellowship.” To do so would put him at serious odds not only with his “bishops and priests,” the Pope, the Patriarchs and the leaders of some mainline Protestant denominations, but far more importantly, he would be at odds with the Lord Jesus, whom the Scriptures call “the Prince of Peace.”

Father Steven Tsichlis
St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church
Irvine, CA


A Plea for Peace from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America

As Orthodox Christians, we seek the conversion of enemies to friends in Christ. Saddam Hussein is an enemy of the United States and of the people of Iraq, but we declare that there are better ways to respond to terrorism than to respond in kind.

We do not argue against attacking Iraq because of any admiration for Saddam Hussein. He came to office by intrigue and murder, and remains in power by the same means; he is his own country’s worst enemy. The Iraqi people deserve to be rid of him.

The United States is ready to overthrow him by any means, including an attack which would kill thousands of civilians and maim many more, justifying such an attack on the possibility that Hussein’s regime is producing weapons of mass destruction and preparing to use them against America and Israel and their allies. Because we seek the reconciliation of enemies, a conversion which grows from striving to be faithful to the Gospel, the Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good, and fighting an elusive enemy by means which cause the death of innocent people can be regarded only as murder. Individual murderers are treated by psychiatrists and priests and isolated from society. But who heals the national psyche, the wounded soul of a nation, when it is untroubled by the slaughter of non-combatant civilians?

As Orthodox Christians, we find healing in Christ, Who made us responsible for His sacred gift of life. God created us in His image and likeness, and we best reflect Christ — Who neither killed anyone nor blessed anyone to kill — by loving, helping, and forgiving.

Friends help each other do good things, not evil things. We find echoes of holy friendship in the world’s unfolding reaction to events in Iraq.

Many nations traditionally allied with America — along with many patriotic Americans — oppose an invasion of Iraq. They see how difficult a position the US will assume by attacking Iraq, and seek instead a renewed program of weapons inspection.

Iraq’s closest neighbors are far from supportive of the course the United States is pursuing, even though they are aware of Saddam’s shameful, destructive regime. Not having rallied to America’s side does not mean that they support Saddam.

An attack on Iraq will be seen by many as an attack on all Arabic and Islamic states. America, despite the rhetoric, is perceived as seeing itself under attack by Islam. America helped install and maintain the despotic Shah of Iran, but withdrew its support when Iran became an Islamic republic (itself undemocratic in many ways). Now America is seen as the largely uncritical supporter of Israel, against the interests of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian. Bombing Iraq will confirm these perceptions among Muslims.

An attack by Saddam on any nation would be viewed as proper cause for a military response to Iraq by the attacked nation and its allies, as was the case with Kuwait. This may not be good, but it is true. Saddam now attacks only his own people, and they need help — but not the “help” of being killed in an effort by other countries to bring about “regime change” in Iraq.

“Pre-emption” (the notion that one nation may attack another because of what it might do) is philosophically, ethically, and pragmatically perilous. After all, an enemy may return the favor. Once “pre-emption” is established as a valid principle for international relations, nations which invoke that principle will have no conceptual shelter.

If the world can be convinced that it’s possible to work peacefully to make life more livable for all, we will all be better off. This is the reconciliation we hope for as Christians among individuals. Can it not happen among nations, between Iraq and its neighbors, and for all the good people of the world?

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship calls on the United States and the United Nations to follow diplomatic paths predicated on mercy, honesty, and justice, and to seek peacefully negotiated resolutions to the impasse in Iraq.

We implore Christ, Who is our peace, to bless every endeavor directed toward our complete reconciliation with each other, and with Him.

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text with list of signers posted at:


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