VIII. War and peace
VIII. 1. War is a physical manifestation of the latent illness of humanity, which is fratricidal hatred (Gen. 4:3-12). Wars have accompanied human history since the fall and, according to the Gospel, will continue to accompany it: «And when ye hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be» (Mk. 13:7). This is also testified by the Apocalypse in its story of the last battle between good and evil at Mount Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Generated by pride and resistance to the will of God, earthly wars reflect in fact the heavenly battle. Corrupted by sin, man found himself involved in the turmoil of this battle. War is evil. Just as the evil in man in general, war is caused by the sinful abuse of the God-given freedom; «for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies» (Mt. 15:19).
Killing, without which wars cannot happen, was regarded as a grave crime before God as far back as the dawn of the holy history. «Thou shalt not kill», the Mosaic law reads (Ex. 20:13). In the Old Testament, just as in all ancient religions, blood is sacred, since blood is life (Lev. 17:11-14). «Blood defiles the land», says Holy Scriptures. But the same biblical text warns those who resort to violence: «The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it» (Num. 35:33).
VIII. 2. Bringing to people the good news of reconciliation (Rom, 10:15), but being in «this world» lying in evil (1 Jn. 5:19) and filled with violence, Christians involuntarily come to face the vital need to take part in various battles. While recognising war as evil, the Church does not prohibit her children from participating in hostilities if at stake is the security of their neighbours and the restoration of trampled justice. Then war is considered to be necessary though undesirable but means. In all times, Orthodoxy has had profound respect for soldiers who gave their lives to protect the life and security of their neighbours. The Holy Church has canonised many soldiers, taking into account their Christian virtues and applying to them Christ’s world: «Greater love hath no man but this, that a man lay down his life for his friends» (Jn. 15:13).
When St. Cyril Equal-to-the-Apostles was sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to preach the gospel among the Saracens, in their capital city he had to enter into a dispute about faith with Muhamaddan scholars. Among others, they asked him: «Your God is Christ. He commanded you to pray for enemies, to do good to those who hate and persecute you and to offer the other cheek to those who hit you, but what do you actually do? If anyone offends you, you sharpen your sword and go into battle and kill. Why do you not obey your Christ?» Having heard this, St. Cyril asked his fellow-polemists: «If there are two commandments written in one law, who will be its best respecter — the one who obeys only one commandment or the one who obeys both?» When the Hagerenes said that the best respecter of law is the one who obeys both commandments, the holy preacher continued: «Christ is our God Who ordered us to pray for our offenders and to do good to them. He also said that no one of us can show greater love in life than he who gives his life for his friends (Jn. 15:3). That is why we generously endure offences caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbours, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds. Our Christ-loving soldiers protect our Holy Church with arms in their hands. They safeguard the sovereign in whose sacred person they respect the image of the rule of the Heavenly King. They safeguard their land because with its fall the home authority will inevitably fall too and the evangelical faith will be shaken. These are precious pledges for which soldiers should fight to the last. And if they give their lives in battlefield, the Church will include them in the community of the holy martyrs and call them intercessors before God».
VIII. 3. «They that take the sword shall perish with the sword» (Mt. 26:52). These words of the Saviour justify the idea of just war. From the Christian perspective, the conception of moral justice in international relations should be based on the following basic principles: love of one’s neighbours, people and Fatherland; understanding of the needs of other nations; conviction that it is impossible to serve one’s country by immoral means. These three principles defined the ethical limits of war established by Christendom in the Middle Ages when, adjusting to reality, people tried to curb the elements of military violence. Already at that time, people believed that war should be waged according to certain rules and that a fighting man should not lose his morality, forgetting that his enemy is a human being too.
The development of high moral standards in international relations would have impossible without that moral impact which Christianity made on people’s hearts and minds. The requirements of justice in war were often far from being complied with, but the very posing of the question of justice sometimes restrained warring people from extreme violence.
In defining just war, the Western Christian tradition, which goes back to St. Augustine, usually puts forward a number of conditions on which war in one’s own or others’ territory is admissible. They are as follows:
- war is declared for the restoration of justice;
- war is declared only by the legitimate authority;
- force is used not by individuals or groups but by representatives of the civil authorities established from above;
- war is declared only after all peaceful means have been used to negotiate with the opposite party and to restore the prior situation;
- war is declared only if there are well-grounded expectations that the established goals will be achieved;
- the planned military losses and destruction will correspond to the situation and the purposes of war (the principal of proportionate means);
- during war civilians will be protected against direct hostilities;
- war may be justified only by the desire to restore law and order.
In the present system of international relations, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish an aggressive war from a defensive war. The distinction between the two is especially subtle where one or two states or the world community initiate hostilities on the ground that it is necessary to protect the people who fell victim to an aggression (see XV. 1). In this regard, the question whether the Church should support or deplore the hostilities needs to be given a special consideration every time they are initiated or threaten to begin.
Among obvious signs pointing to the equity or inequity of a warring party are its war methods and attitude towards its war prisoners and the civilians of the opposite side, especially children, women and elderly. Even in the defence from an aggression, every kind of evil can be done, making one’s spiritual and moral stand not superior to that of the aggressor. War should be waged with righteous indignation, not maliciousness, greed and last (1 Jn. 2:16) and other fruits of hell. A war can be correctly assessed as a feat or a robbery only after an analysis is made of the moral state of the warring parties. «Rejoice not over thy greatest enemy being dead, but remember that we die all», Holy Scriptures says (Sirach 8:8). Christian humane attitude to the wounded and war prisoners is based on the words of St. Paul: «If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good» (Rom. 12:21-22).
VIII. 4. In the icons of St. George the Victor, the black dragon is trampled by the hoofs of a horse always painted brightly white. This vividly shows that evil and the struggle with it should be completely separated, for in struggling with sin it is important to avoid sharing in it. In all the vital situations where force needs to be used, the human heart should not be caught by bad feelings akin to evil spirits and their like. It is only the victory over evil in one’s heart that enables one to use force in justice. This view asserting love in human relations resolutely rejects the idea of non-resistance to evil by force. The Christian moral law deplores not the struggle with sin, not the use of force towards its bearer and not even taking another’s life in the last resort, but rather malice in the human heart and the desire to humiliate or destroy whosoever it may be.
In this regard, the Church has a special concern for the military, trying to educate them for the faithfulness to lofty moral ideals. The agreement concluded by the Russian Orthodox Church with the Armed Forces and law-enforcement agencies opens up considerable opportunities for overcoming the artificially created dividing walls, for bringing the military back to the established Orthodox traditions of service to the fatherland. Orthodox pastors, both those who perform special service in the army and those who serve in monasteries and parishes, are called to nourish the military strenuously, taking care of their moral condition.
VIII. 5. The Christian conception of peace is based on God’s promises recorded in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. These promises giving history a true meaning began to come true in Jesus Christ. For His followers, peace is a beneficial gift of God, for which we pray and solicit God for our own sake and the sake of all people. The biblical understanding of peace is much broader that the political. St. Paul points out that «the peace of God… passeth all understanding» (Phil. 4:7). It surpasses by far the peace that people are able to create through their own efforts. The peace of man with God, with himself and with other people are inseparable.
The Old Testament prophets describe peace as a state that crowns history: «The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid… They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cove the sea» (Is. 11:6-9). This eschatological idea is associated from the revelation of the Messiah Whose name is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). War and violence will disappear from the earth: «And they shall bet their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more» (Is. 2:4). However, peace is not only a gift of the Lord, but also a human task. The Bible holds out hope that peace will be established with God’s help already within the present earthly existence.
According to St. Isaiah, peace is a work of righteousness (Is. 32:17). Holy Scriptures also refers to the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man. Both are linked with the covenant that God made with the chosen people (Jer. 31:35). In this context, righteousness is understood as faithfulness to the covenant relations. To the same extent as people violate the covenant with God, that is, to the same extent as they are unrighteous, they are deprived of the fruit of righteousness, which is peace. At the same time, the Sinai law contains as one of its basic elements the requirement of justice towards one’s neighbour. The commandments of the law were aimed not to restrict onerously the individual freedom, but to build social life on the basis of justice for achieving relative peace, order and tranquillity. For Israel it meant that peace in social life was not to come by itself through some natural laws, but was possible, first, as a gift of God’s righteousness and, secondly, as a fruit of man’s religious efforts, that is, his faithfulness to God. Where people respond to God’s justice with gratitude, there «mercy and truth are met together; righteous and peace have kissed each other» (Ps. 85:10). However, Old Testament history abounds in examples when the chosen people displayed unfaithfulness and sinful ingratitude. This gives the Prophet Jeremiah grounds to point to the reason for the absence of peace in Israel where people always said, «Peace, peace; when there is no peace» (Jer. 6:14). The prophetic call to repentance resounds as a song of faithfulness to the truth of God. Despite people’s sins, God promises to make «a new covenant» with them (Jer. 31:31).
Peace in the New Testament, just as in the Old Testament, is viewed as a gift of God’s love. It is identified with the eschatological salvation. The timelessness of peace proclaimed by the prophets is especially vivid in the Gospel According to John. While sorrow continues to prevail in history, those who believe in Christ have peace (Jn. 14:2; 16:33). Peace in the New Testament is a normal grace-filled condition of the human soul liberated from the slavery to sin. This is what the wishes of «grace and peace» suggest in the beginning of the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. This peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13; Gal. 5:22). The state of reconciliation with God is the normal state of the creation, «for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace» (1 Cor. 14:33). Psychologically, this state is expressed in the inner order of the soul when joy and peace in believing (Rom. 15:13) become almost synonymous.
Peace by God’s grace characterises the life of the Church in its both internal and external dimensions. Certainly, the grace-filled gift of peace also depends on the human effort. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifested only there where the human heart moves, coming the other way in the repentant desire of the truth of God. The gift of peace is revealed when Christians seek it, «remembering without ceasing… work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ» (1 Thes. 1:3). Aspirations for peace by every individual member of the body of Christ should be independent of the time and living conditions. Pleasing to God (Mt. 5:9), they bring fruit wherever and whenever they are there. Peace as a gift of God, which transforms the inner man, should be also manifested outwardly. It should be cherished and stirred up (2 Tim. 1:6). Therefore, peacemaking becomes a task of the Church of Christ: «if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men» (Rom. 12:18) and seek «to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace» (Eph. 4:3). The New Testament call to peacemaking is based on the personal example of the Saviour and on His teaching. If the commandments of non-resistance to evil (Mt. 5:39), love of one’ enemies (Mt. 5:44) and forgiveness (Mt. 6:14-15) are addressed primarily to the individual, the commandment of peacemaking, «Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God», has the direct bearing on social ethics.
The Russian Orthodox Church seeks to carry out her peace service both on national and international scale, trying to help resolve various contradictions and bring nations, ethnic groups, governments and political forces to harmony. To this end, she makes appeals to the powers that be and other influential sections of society and takes efforts to organise negotiations between hostile parties and to give aid to those who suffer. The Church also opposes the propaganda of war and violence, as well as various manifestations of hatred capable of provoking fratricidal clashes.
Back to: The basis of the social concept