Transfigure or Die Trying

US Capital

Orthodoxy in the American Public Square

Source: AOI

by Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster

The prevailing political and cultural elites in America are succeeding, steadily and surely, in plunging our society into a post-Christian vortex that bears a striking resemblance in many ways to the formative centuries of the ancient Church. Faithful early Christians had to endure an inhospitable culture and a decadent ethos, as well as a hostile state.

America is arguably at the mercy of militant secular progressives hell-bent on subverting the cherished moral virtues of life, family, chastity, work, responsibility, and piety. Reaping an unprecedented harvest of more than 55 million legally aborted babies since 1973, our society is drowning in a sea of idolatrous self-worship, pursuing its own modern version of “bread and circuses” through increasingly violent and vulgar forms of entertainment and self-expression, a permanent welfare state from cradle to grave, unrestricted sex, artificially constructed sexual identities, and a push for publicly sanctioned “marriages” between persons of the same sex—a contra naturam abomination that even ancient Rome at its worst moments never imagined.

Until the emergence of the homosexualist juggernaut, one might have thought that Christians could engage a secular, pluralistic society with neither triumphalism nor significant religious compromise by revisiting the apologists of the ancient Church and reviving their cautious, nuanced, but still faithful evangelistic witness.

Unlike our pre-Constantinian co-religionists, we have vivid memories of centuries of Christendom and of an America infused and guided by a Judeo-Christian morality, now foolishly squandered on the altar of the goddesses of pseudo-tolerance, diversity, and equality. The pain of loss is exacerbated by the realization that our situation will only get worse, unless God the Holy Trinity does a mighty work and providentially changes our nihilistic trajectory.

Eastern Orthodox Christians are relative newcomers to the American public square, and their voice is seldom heard. A vigorous, prophetic, Orthodox Christian public moral witness might be welcomed for its sheer novelty as a fresh, “new” contribution to the American public square—a voice crying not in the wilderness but rather in the nation’s capital and its other centers of worldly power.

The Civilizing Ethic

Orthodox Christianity has, at least from the first generation of patristic apologists in the second century, such as St. Justin Martyr, St. Athenagoras of Athens, and St. Irenaeus of Lyons, acknowledged an “inborn moral law” common to all of humanity.

Beginning with his Th.D. dissertation at Boston University in 1965 and throughout his career, Fr. Stanley S. Harakas, my mentor in Orthodox moral theology, has described the natural law, as it is more commonly known in the West, as “a sort of common denominator ethic”—to be sure, “a relatively low-level morality,” but still “a first preparatory step in God’s relationship with men,” which even sin did not obliterate. In the patristic tradition, that natural law “is perceived to be rational, independent of positive laws and customs, universal and unchanging” and “not limited to the special revelation acknowledged by Orthodox Christianity, as found in Scripture and in Holy Tradition.” Through the “effort of unaided reason,” men and women may perceive “the order existing in creation which man is bound to view as good and which claims obedience of him.” Thus, natural law is “a very elemental moral law which articulates the absolutely necessary modes of behavior for the maintenance of the human community.”

As an Orthodox theologian, I prefer to label that minimalist ethic a “civilizing ethic,” since it, without advancing a society toward the kingdom of God, at least keeps that society from reverting to the jungle and provides a modicum of order and decency.

Although the church fathers and modern philosophers and theologians alike dispute the precise content of that sine qua non for human morality, the church fathers tended to identify the content of the natural law with the Decalogue in the Old Testament. Possibly with the exclusion of the first four commandments for their explicitly theological content, the remainder of the Decalogue could still furnish a very basic platform for public debate in American society on ethical issues such as abortion and infanticide.

For example, the prohibition in the sixth commandment against “killing”—which is better translated from Hebrew as “murder” (Ex. 20:13)—may form the core of the pro-life case against the taking of innocent human life. Prescinding from the biblical source itself, we might argue that virtually every human society in history has prohibited murder on the basis of a natural, rational insight. Of course, that only raises the question of whether the preborn child is “a human life,” much less an “innocent” one. But then we have the modern biological science of genetics to adduce in support of the incontrovertible datum of the naturally uninterrupted continuity of essential human life from the moment of chromosomal realignment in the fertilized human ovum.

In any case, the example of abortion illustrates the appeal to reason and science (instead of revelation) that might have, in a less polarized era, reestablished a traditional moral climate in America. But try to conduct such a reasonable discussion with an ardent supporter of abortion “rights” and see how quickly a “pro-choice” ideologue resorts to name-calling (“sexist,” “misogynist,” “war on women”), bullying, and efforts to suppress or even silence his or her interlocutor. Similarly, any serious attempt to dialogue with the engineers of the homosexualist juggernaut is certain to be met with howls of denunciation of us as “bigoted,” “hate-filled,” and “homophobic.” We are also witnessing the initial stage of a vengeful and vicious repression, oppression, and elimination from public life of anyone who dissents from the new sexual orthodoxy. The appeal of Isaiah 1:18 no longer seems operative in America: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.”

Transfigurative Morality

Orthodox Christians, much like our traditional Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant compatriots, affirm a universal and irrevocable duty to maximize our efforts toward the evangelization of America, both spiritually and morally. That evangelistic imperative is also a moral one—namely, for us vigorously and without apology to present Christianity in its revealed fullness, firmly rooted in the “transfigurative morality” of the New Testament and in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

This “higher,” universally normative moral law is, as Fr. Stanley Harakas frames it, revealed in full by the Word-made-flesh, and it speaks to mankind’s “greatest potential and its total fulfillment.” Only that kind of moral perspective enables all human beings and their communities to transcend, or “transfigure,” their own limitations and self-interest and to advance toward spiritual perfection, a process that the Orthodox call theosis—becoming more and more like God (2 Peter 1:4).

Transfiguration requires as its starting point faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the incarnate divine Logos and Son of God, which, alas, our government and our society, “officially” at least, currently lack. Those who do not share the particular faith that undergirds and finds dynamic expression in the “transfigurative morality” of the gospel might never adopt, as their own, the formal moral norms and virtues derived from that revelation-based faith. But possibly unhappy results ought not to deter us from a persistent public moral witness.

If Orthodox and other Christians model their faith and the higher, transfigurative morality in their communities and proclaim it at every opportunity in the public square, there is no telling what kind of metamorphosis might occur in American society. In the present crisis in America, all traditional Christians ought to embrace, not eschew, a muscular prophetic moral and spiritual witness, such as that of St. John the Baptist, who spoke truth to power and denounced the religious and moral abominations of Herodias, wife of King Herod Antipas of Judea.

Bishops with Muscle

Orthodox bishops in America have, of late, assumed the mantle of prophet with encouraging frequency. For example, the “Statement on the Moral Crisis of the Nation” by the nine representative bishops of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) on August 13, 2003—reaffirmed emphatically on May 16, 2012, by their successor organization, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America (AOB for short)—speaks boldly to the wider American society on the moral issues surrounding marriage. The bishops “pray fervently that the traditional form of marriage, as an enduring and committed union only between a man and a woman, will be honored.”

The “moral crisis” they have in mind has arisen from attempts by homosexuals and other advocates of that lifestyle to achieve legal recognition of their faux-marital “unions.” The Orthodox bishops know, of course, that their own influence on public officials, including legislators and judges, may be nil. Nonetheless, they are obliged to respond to a higher summons to reassert without compromise a universal social principle firmly grounded in the history of Western civilization, as well as the revealed tradition of Orthodox Christianity extending all the way back to the New Testament era. In one short, pungent statement, America’s Orthodox bishops attempt at once to transfigure and to civilize our society in at least one of its most crucial institutions now under siege—marriage.

SCOBA’s prophetic voice on the contentious homosexual “marriage” issue has been echoed in the following:

  • “On Same-Sex Unions,” a 2004 “epistle” of Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, or ROCOR) and the rest of his diocesan clergy.
  • Strong, compassionate statements in 2011 by individual bishops of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA): Metropolitan Jonah, then senior hierarch and archbishop of Washington; Bishop Michael of New York and New Jersey; and former Bishop Matthias of Chicago and the Midwest.
  • A similarly strong, compassionate statement on March 29, 2013, by ROCOR’s Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America under Archbishop Alypy and Bishop Peter, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard the second of two cases concerning the issue.
  • A surprisingly political—in the best sense of politeia, or the right ordering of society—remark by Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston in his address to the annual diocesan Clergy-Laity Conference on October 5, 2013: “Lifestyles previously kept in the closet—where they belong—are now championed as reputable and worthy of emulation. I am sad to note that a legislator here in New England (who claims to be an Orthodox Christian and who champions Greek political causes) not only voted to change the law in his state to redefine homosexual unions as marriages—he asked for and received special permission to preside at a civil ceremony uniting a homosexual couple!”

Unfortunately, seven days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor (handed down on July 26, 2013), the OCA Synod of Bishops released an “Affirmation on the Mystery of Marriage,” which urges the faithful merely to pray, continue to instill our moral and liturgical traditions among the faithful, not fear anything, and hunker down; there was no overture to the public or the wider society, much less a coherent advocacy of a proper public policy concerning marriage. Moreover, the silence of the AOB on the Windsor ruling was at once perplexing and disappointing.

On the particular political-ethical issue of abortion, the early church fathers, like their post-Constantine descendants, were unanimous in their condemnation of the practice in the Roman Empire. Remarkably, abortion is one of only several moral issues on which not one dissenting opinion was ever expressed by the church fathers. Thus, it comes at once as a relief and an inspiration that most of the Orthodox bishops in the United States have repeatedly proclaimed a staunch, uncompromising pro-life moral position to the faithful and to the American public, despite the deaf ears of some ostensibly Orthodox public officials and perhaps, if a recent Pew poll is accurate, the majority of the Orthodox faithful themselves.

For example, on the unhappy occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision in January 1973, which instantly legalized the abomination of abortion in all 50 states, the 55 AOB bishops sounded a clarion call to duty:

The Holy Orthodox Christian Faith is unabashedly pro-life. The Lord Jesus Christ was recognized and worshipped in His mother’s womb while yet unborn by the Holy Forerunner who was also still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44); St. Basil the Great (4th Century), one of the universal teachers of the faith, dared to call murderers those who terminate the life of the fetus. The Church has consistently held that children developing in the womb should be afforded every protection given to those outside the womb. There is no moral, religious or scientific rationale which can justify making a distinction between the humanity of the newly-conceived and that of the newly-born. Abortion on demand not only ends the life of a child, but also injures the mother of that child, often resulting in spiritual, psychological and physical harm. On the occasion of this sorrowful anniversary . . . we pray for an end to the violence of abortion. . . . Let us offer to Almighty God our repentance for the evil of abortion on demand and extend our hearts and hands to embrace life.

Another noble example of transfigurative moral witness was an amicus curiae brief signed by 47 Orthodox bishops, priests (including the present author), deacons, professors, and other prominent lay leaders and submitted on February 21, 1989, to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case titled Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (Missouri). That veritable “Who’s Who” in American Orthodoxy also encompassed four of the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in an act of pan-Orthodox unity—extraordinary at that time—for a pressing common moral cause.

Some Orthodox bishops, as well as numerous clergy and faithful laity, have also let their feet do the talking by joining the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., held each January since Roe v. Wade. The forty-plus years that have elapsed since Roe ought to remind us, however, that justice, even on the divine scale, is more often delayed than immediate.

Transfiguration or Martyrdom?

Christos Yannaras, Greek Orthodox emeritus professor of philosophy at the Panteios Institute in Athens, has waxed optimistic about the dynamic quality of modeling the fullness of Orthodox faith in society. “As people live the sacrificial ethos of the Eucharist,” he argued in 1984 in The Freedom of Morality, “it suffuses economics, politics, professional life, the family, and the structures of public life in a mystical way—it acts with a dynamic indeterminacy beyond the reach of objective predetermination. And it transfigures them—it changes their existential presuppositions, and does not simply ‘improve’ them.” Perchance to dream!

And yet, in his 2000 book, Emperors and Elections: Reconciling the Orthodox Tradition with Modern Politics, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, an Orthodox scholar at the U.S. Naval War College, was probably right to be pessimistic about articulating in the public square what I have termed the transfigurative morality:

Barring any major social, political, or environmental upheavals, there is no possibility of any sort of restoration of a pre-industrial, pre-modern society anywhere in the Orthodox world that would permit the recreation of social and political institutions as envisioned in the writings of the Church Fathers and that are assumed to be in place by many of the canons of the Church. Just as Orthodox Christianity had to adapt to the changes wrought by the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century, so too Orthodoxy today must again seek adaptations in its outward social and political forms while remaining faithful to its spiritual Tradition.

To be sure, what I envision in the present crisis in America is not motivated by nostalgia for some “golden age” in Byzantium or “Holy Rus.” The Eastern Orthodox can neither recapture past glories of Orthodox social and cultural pre-eminence nor simply transplant ancient or medieval models, however alluring, to these culturally confused and morally misty shores in the twenty-first century. But the Orthodox community in America may—and ought to—endeavor to become agents of positive transformation with a view toward moving this culture and society closer to the same ideals of the transfigurative morality to which the Byzantines, pre-Soviet Russians, and many other Orthodox cultures aspired, notwithstanding their failure to incarnate those ideals.

If our worst nightmares come to pass and Orthodox Christians find themselves, together with other God-fearing Americans, actually persecuted by the nouveaux secular Caesars in authority, then may God the Holy Trinity grant us the grace and the fortitude to stand our ground in our public testimony and to join the countless Christian confessors and martyrs under the original pagan Caesars, proclaiming, “Over our dead bodies—but under our living souls!”

May we also take comfort in the hope that history will record that millions of Americans in the “greatest generation” on these shores remained, in their public testimony, faithful at once to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the promise of America.

Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, Ph.D., is a retired U.S. Army chaplain (Colonel) and parish priest of St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), Stafford, Virginia.

Originally published in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, Vol. 28, No. 3 (May/June 2015), pp. 24-27.]


  1. Marie Guidos-Maruskin says

    God bless you for your strength and leadership. We sorely need it.

  2. lexcaritas says

    Thank you for your article, Fr. Alexander, and for posting it, George. A suggestion and a challenge. First the suggestion: We Orthodox Christian ought to refuse to acknowledge and avoid using the term “a post-Christian culture.” The language accepts the premise that their is an irresistible trend in history which was once towards and now away from Christ. But this is false. He is Alpha and Omega. He is eternal and is with us always, even to the end of the age and there is no such thing as a post-Christian culture. Unchristian, yes. Anti-christian, yes. Pagan, Luciferian, what have you. But never post-Christian.

    Now the challenge–not so much to you, as to our bishops: You state: <> The same may be said of the Roman Catholic bishops. But why this lack of influence? this lack of actual authority? Because they never use it. The speak, but seldom do. They virtually never exercise ecclesiastical discipline over the legislators and judges who are under their spiritual authority as Orthodox or Roman Catholic Christians. Your article recounts the fine statement by the Metropolitan of Boston bemoaning “an Orthodox Christian and who champions Greek political causes) [who] not only voted to change the law in his state to redefine homosexual unions as marriages—[and who] asked for and received special permission to preside at a civil ceremony uniting a homosexual couple!” So then, why didn’t the Metropolitan bar the man from the chalice? St. Basil did as much; as did St. Ambrose–to imperial legates and emperors themselves no less. We have witnessed over forty years (in my awareness) of blatant disregard by nominal Catholics and Orthodox politician, judges and officials of the teachings of their respective churches, met by episcopal inaction. The latter continually take refuge in the claim that these are private matters, but of course this is false since the former have made the matters very public and the disregard for the Church’s authority is blatant. The failure to act, when one has the obligation and the ability is tantamount to consent and makes one an accessory to the sin. May God give us courage to repent. I have every confidence he will; then, we must accept the gift and use it

    Christ is in our midst.

  3. Patrick Henry Reardon says

    Thank you, Father Alexander.

  4. Carl Kraeff says

    I was curious about the positive spin placed on ROCOR and a negative one put on OCA until I remembered that the author was once a priest in the OCA. C’est la vie I suppose, but coming from a Doctor of Philosophy and former Army full bird colonel, it came across as petty.

    • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster says

      Mr. Kraef, I think I understand your defensiveness and desire to rise to the defense of the OCA bishops. However, your personal insinuation is both hasty and without merit. Please allow me to explain.

      My publication record dating back to 1976 clearly demonstrates that, as a moral theologian who tackles controversial social and ethical issues, I have commended or criticized the decisions, statements, and actions of Orthodox hierarchs, other clergy, and laity without regard to personal favoritism or jurisdiction.

      For example, on pp. 258-259 of my second book titled, The Price of Prophecy: Orthodox Churches on Peace, Freedom, and Security (2d rev. ed.; Washington, DC, and Grand Rapids, MI: Ethics & Public Policy Center / Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995), I challenged the Holy Synod of the OCA (at a time when I served as a parish priest in an OCA diocese) for issuing a lamentable statement on the Persian Gulf War that mimicked similar missives by the National Council of Churches:

      “If such statements produced under NCC auspices—whether with or without the overt collaboration of Orthodox members—may be dismissed as the products of a highly politicized organization, faithful Orthodox Christians must take seriously the utterances of their own hierarchies. Thus it is particularly painful to review the March 7, 1991, statement of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the OCA on the Persian Gulf War.

      “Crafted under the tutelage of Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky in his capacity as ‘ecumenical officer,’ this statement was clearly intended as a sober, even-handed, ‘moderate’ alternative to the NCC’s increasing radicalism. For example, the bishops stressed their personal role: ‘[W]e embrace in our pastoral care both those who argued that the war against Iraq was just and necessary, and those who argued that the war and the suffering it brought to civilian populations was not proportional to the Iraqi aggression, and that means short of war to resist and reverse the invasion of Iraq had not been fully tested and given time to work.’

      “But this pastoral vision was undercut by the OCA bishops’ astonishing disavowal of the justifiable-war ethic. ‘We are moved, furthermore,’ they proclaimed, ‘to point out that the “just war theory” does not reflect our theological tradition. . . . If the assertion that a war is just makes it appear that war is theologically justified, that there can be a “theology of war,” then we believe such an assertion is erroneous and morally misleading.’ What was erroneous and morally misleading was the bishops’ flight from their own mainstream moral tradition on war and peace. If they had opted for the absolute pacifist ethic, this rejection of the justifiable-war ethic (leaving aside any quibbling about their use of the terms ‘just’ and ‘theory’) might have made sense. But they freely admitted in the same paragraph ‘that a lesser evil must sometimes be chosen to resist a greater evil.’

      “The OCA bishops apparently wish to allow for military action on occasion, but without blessing it or calling it ‘just.’ If they persist in this sophistry, they will paint themselves into a moral corner as neither just warriors nor pacifists.”

      In the article in Touchstone reprinted in full here on and on (“Transfigure or Die Trying”) I assess, as a moral theologian, the moral proclamations by bishops of various Orthodox jurisdictions in America (as well as the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America) who have assumed the prophetic mantle and spoken boldly on the abortion abomination since Roe v. Wade and the more recent “marriage” crisis. Most have been highly commendable as fully in keeping with our moral tradition. I include among the latter the “strong, compassionate statements” in favor of natural and biblical marriage by OCA bishops in 2011: Metropolitan Jonah, Bishop Michael, and Bishop Matthias. To be sure, I compare unfavorably the OCA Synod’s “Affirmation on the Mystery of Marriage” on July 2, 2015, to the seven other hierarchical statements on “marriage” that I summarize in the article. I encourage readers to retrieve the full OCA “Affirmation” to determine for themselves whether I have misrepresented those bishops’ views or unfairly assessed them. Here is a direct weblink:

      As it happens, since the woeful Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015—which arrived, alas, two months after my “Transfigure or Die Trying” article appeared in print—more “bishops with muscle” have faithfully assumed the prophetic mantle on the “marriage” issue and issued powerful and courageous statements, most notably Metropolitan Joseph and Bishop George of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Metropolitan Isaiah of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and the entire Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

      In short, Mr. Kraef, I call em’ as I see em,’ and I believe, or at least I hope, I see em’ through clear, untainted spectacles.

      • M. Stankovich says

        Archpriest Alexander,

        I, for one, have always supported your directness and courage in not remaining anonymous; accepting responsibility for your own words, and the associated consequences, is always admirable, in and of itself.

        My only concern in post facto analysis is the group tendency to assume a “score card” analytic: who said what first, with whom, without whom, after whom, before whom, later than whom, much later than most, or who did not say anything at all. As I noted earlier, it is likened to examining the deer droppings in hopes of a “sign” of what it all portends. In re-articulating the Faith we hold, some men are gifted writers, some are not; some engage a “ghost” writer, while others would not have it. Others, as you have noted, in the best of circumstances are vague and leave us uncertain. Is the best course to ask for clarification, to openly challenge, or to “critique?” And on the internet, “critique” too frequently means thrown to anonymous creeps whose sole interest is “agenda,” not the building up of the Body of Christ.

        Obviously, accountability is essential and being held responsible for the management of the flock of the Lord, to which all ordained clergy have been entrusted, is reasonable, prudent, and morally required. You do so by name, hopefully through clear spectacles, and are prepared for the consequences (and I recently read a quote that such responsibility should never be foolishly placed into the hands of people who suffer no consequences for being wrong). But I would likewise suggest that it is your responsibility to demand from others the integrity you uphold.

      • Christopher (the first) says

        Fr. Webster,

        As someone who has followed your attempts to flesh out an Orthodox theology of a “just” or “right” defense (whether corporately or personally – we are all not monks after all and have responsibilities to the innocent, such as I to my children or the policeman to the public) since your 2003 St. Vlad’s Theological Quarterly article that you expanded to your book “The Virtue of War”, I have a question:

        Since your position in the main seems to have been mostly rejected, and the “lessor evil” theology (Harakas seems to be it’s primary explicator these last 40 years or so) now the consensus among most seminary professionals, clergy, bishops, etc., have you come out with a further explication and/or defense of your understanding?

        Despite the “lessor evil” positions internal contradictions, it does seem to appeal (authentically I think) to Orthodoxies natural “ontological” approach to God, the world, and man. In the end however it does not satisfy me – something is missing. In it’s attempt to rise above the mere moral (which of course does not “save”) it leaves something important behind. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

        Because of my life circumstances, I know a man who has killed in defense of the innocent – in a law enforcement situation that is as clear cut as they come in this world. It simply does not make sense to call what this man did an “evil”, of any type (“lessor”, “necessary, etc.). The “ontological approach” seems to lead (necessarily 😉 ) to this sort of nonsensical use of the word “evil”.

        In any case, I appreciate your efforts in this area and was wondered if you have written anything recently that I might have missed…

        • The Thomistic teaching on Just War seems to me to be the only acceptable theory of lethal force. To take a “lesser evil” approach is to admit that we may sin that some good may come of it.

          The lesser of two evils is still evil. I wish Orthodoxy would get over it’s anti-Scholastic bias and admit that there are aspects of it that satisfactorily answer certain moral questions.

          • Christopher (the first) says

            I don’t think Orthodoxy will need to incorporate something as problematic as scholasticism and dialectical theology to properly address this or any other theological conundrum.

            That said, it ( “it” being, modern “ontological” thinkers, seminary professionals, bishops, etc.) will have to possibly reevaluate an approach that so limits the “legal” or “forensic” way of thinking that it leaves behind altogether (something that Scripture and the Tradition clearly do not). OR, perhaps the answer is found within the “ontological” approach itself, which despite it’s best efforts still ends up making moral/legal/forensic “judgments” (e.g., it can’t seem to leave the words “right”, “wrong”, and “evil” behind).

        • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster says

          Thank you for your comments, Christopher, and for you genuine struggle with the moral issues of war and peace.

          Notwithstanding the common invocation among Orthodox theologians and others of some wars or military actions as a “lesser evil” or “necessary evil” (now a veritable mantra), that perspective remains a moral contradiction and sheer nonsense. Until someone can demonstrate from the Old and New Testaments, the church fathers, canonical corpus, lives of the saints, liturgical and devotional literature, iconography, and respected modern Orthodox writers that such an Orthodox “lesser evil” principle exists from the beginning of the Church (as I have shown how the justifiable war and absolute pacifist trajectories do) and is worthy of the “consensus” you mention, then I must simply reject that novelty and the associated claim that Orthodoxy has no “just war theory” (or, more properly, justifiable war tradition). I stand behind my research over three decades, whether or not others choose to acknowledge it.

          Since the Virtue of War in 2004, however, I have published one article that applies the Orthodox moral tradition of justifiable war to the issue of torture as a means of counter-terrorism. Here’s the citation: “Terrorism & Its Civilized Discontents: An Eastern Orthodox Ethical Reflection of Torture as Counter-Terrorism,” Touchstone, vol. 25, no. 4 (July/August 2012): 45-54. My rejection of waterboarding as torture and thus unethical highlights how the “lesser evil” or “necessary evil” sophistry can have deadly, or at least seriously harmful, consequences unbecoming a moral, civilized society.

          • Christopher (the first) says

            Notwithstanding the common invocation among Orthodox theologians and others of some wars or military actions as a “lesser evil” or “necessary evil” (now a veritable mantra), that perspective remains a moral contradiction and sheer nonsense

            I admit I am not as confident about certain “wars”, as I am confident that this theology is a “contradiction” and a “nonsense” when it comes to police action and personal/family defense. Of course, since this theology does not work on that level, it can not work on the corporate or “political” level either. I suspect that many (even most) of those who are applying this theology (such as every member of the misnamed “Orthodox Peace Fellowship” – including the celebrities such as Bishop Kallistos) are going with certain deep political and personal sentiments and then finding a theology that “fits” – that they term “Orthodox”. In the end, I think it is philosophy masquerading as theology (in the name of the Church)

            Thanks for pointing me to the Touchstone article, and the efforts you have put into furthering a proper understanding of the Church’s tradition…

          • George Michalopulos says

            I too agree with you Fr, also in this sense: I think it’s immature of we Orthodox to be skittish when it comes to Scholastic and/or Thomistic language when dealing with the things of this world. I pray that following your example, we will begin to see more Orthodox priests taking on the extra vocation of moral theology.

    • Carl-

      Your comment is the epitome of “petty.” Address the issue raised.

      • Carl Kraeff says

        Let me give you two specific examples.

        Positive spin:

        ‘Another noble example of transfigurative moral witness was an amicus curiae brief signed by 47 Orthodox bishops, priests (including the present author), deacons, professors, and other prominent lay leaders and submitted on February 21, 1989, to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case titled Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (Missouri). That veritable “Who’s Who” in American Orthodoxy also encompassed four of the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in an act of pan-Orthodox unity—extraordinary at that time—for a pressing common moral cause.” (my emphasis)

        Negative spin (omission of the OCA’s leading role):

        “Some Orthodox bishops, as well as numerous clergy and faithful laity, have also let their feet do the talking by joining the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., held each January since Roe v. Wade.”

  5. Monk James says

    Encountering Jesus, the Christ, human and divine Son of God, MUST be a transformative experience — unless we’re not really listening, not really tuned in, not ready to repent and make way for the Kingdom of God.

    And so must be our encountering The Church. Evil bishops and priests notwithstanding, there are many good pastors among us, and far more many good laity.

    The Church is the very Body and Bride of Christ — as confusing as that might seem to be in human terms. But The Church is US and our MOTHER at the same time as it is Christ and His Body and Bride. This is a mystery of our salvation, closely related to our Lord’s Incarnation and our Divinization/Salvation (theosis). It’s all of a piece, completely connected and inseparable

    Lord, we can be SO dense sometimes. Please help us to accept Your love and to return it gratefully.

  6. Daniel E Fall says

    I find it necessary to drag a bit of dirt from another thread which is closed, but had comment from Webster two days ago. How is it wrong for Bishop Tikhon to bring up cogent Nazi references, but perfectly acceptable and beyond criticism for anyone else to do so from the other side of the bell spectrum? Of course its rhetorical…

    The Hitler et al comparisons are all the same. They are weak and show desperation. It doesn’t matter if its Hitler or Mengele or any of the rest of them. I got more flack from a kind comment suggesting the same exact thing you did to the Bishop than one can shake a swastika at!

    So, next time someone pens Hitler or any of his henchmen, might I suggest-you ain’t got much or at least you are making it seem so.

  7. Thomas Barker says

    Father Alexander’s essay is excellent. I read it twice and it is even better the second time. If he steps on a toe or two, it is certainly justified and needed. We’ll done Father Alexander!

  8. Michael Kinsey says

    Human rights are derived from the spirit of a man, not any arbitrary physical condition. We are created equal, as our Constitution affirms. Being created in the image and likeness of God, confirms the spiritual component absolutely necessary for human conception. Calling a fetus or zygote a mass of tissue acting as a parasite in the womb of the mother,( argument of the feminist lawyer who argued to the Supreme Court for Roe vs Wade legalization), is an example of the secular-humanist value system that values the souls of men least in worth, according to St John Revelation with it’s long extensive list of what THEY valued. Authentic Christianity absolutely affirms the Truth of the Christ, having a human spirit is the exclusive requirement for being assured full human rights. The Right to Life. The Command of God is Life Eternal via Life giving Life to Life in our spiritual relationships and the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, unto Eternal Life, a Gift. This we cannot earn by any works. Remember me, when Thou enters into Thy Kingdom. The Good Thief asked with his whole heart, as he returned to fair play and honesty and Divine Justice during his suffering on his cross.. These 3 illumed the sense of the Sacred , innately natural to the whole of humanity.
    As for the goodly responses of the Bishops. let the congregations pray for the zeal that was eating up the Christ, this will match the malice of the occultists. The 200 million man army mentioned in the Revelation exists today in the Chinese Army. The next great war is Armageddon. Abortion will cease forever in China and in the West. Glory be to God, abortion is intolerable and I am weary of my grief and anger. When the mark of the Beast appears, tax and worship, the Total War against it by the Holy Trinity will commence, where were it not for the sake of the Elect, no life would be spared. They sowed it in UN-repentance and they WILL REAP IT!!!!

    • Mr. Kinsey,

      Sorry to burst your bubble but the Peoples Republic of China has an army of less than 2 million. While it is true they have a population of approximately 350 million males that are capable of military service, that is a long way from being able to outfit such a military force.

      The logistics necessary boggles the mind. That would require arming, clothing, feeding and mobilizing a force equal to the entire population of the United States. Don’t read too much into the Book of Revelation.

      • Michael Kinsey says

        I do not accept your claim as accurate. Anywhere near ,accurate, but this site is well known for it’s trolls Selling any magic bullets, today or defying gravity today?

        • Michael Kinsey says

          I stand corrected. I goggled the present size of the Chnese Army. 2,300,000 . We must have googled the same site. You failed to mention the size of the avialble size of the army avialable to them. It will not be hard to get 200,000,000 out of 630,000,000 able bodied men and women. It would take 6 months to get them ready. Tidings out of the Kings of the East will trouble him.

          • Troll??? My but you are being crass.

            I did mention they had 350,000,000 men capable of military duty. The problem is not the manpower, its the logistics. Just the water requirements for 200 million is at least 2.25 billion liters per day. Not to mention food, shelter, clothing, transportation, armaments. It would not be an invasion, it would be a mass migration. And of course all the rest of the world is just going to sit back and watch this migration without doing anything to prevent it. Yeah right.

            Did you ever stop to consider Hal Lindsey and company may have interpreted John’s Revelation incorrectly?

  9. I am a novice in all of this. I venture a comment with that proviso.

    I am suspect of articulating the gospel in terms of some kind of societal project or in terms of some kind of “theology of historical progress.” Dare I use the term Utopian?

    “But the Orthodox community in America may—and ought to—endeavor to become agents of positive transformation with a view toward moving this culture and society closer to the same ideals of the transfigurative morality to which the Byzantines, pre-Soviet Russians, and many other Orthodox cultures aspired, notwithstanding their failure to incarnate those ideals.”

    While I believe that that is not what Fr. Alexander means, it has been something the Church has “taken and run with” over the centuries.

    I favor the hermeneutic of “faithfulness” over “progress” as I read this excerpt from his article and the article as a whole.

    The results are in God’s hands. What is ours is faithfulness by His grace, cost what it will and lead where it may.

    If I am way off track, forgive the dullness of my soul.

  10. Peter A. Papoutsis says

    Well not surprised that the old meme of “Born this way as Gay” BS was going to start disappearing.

    Now that we as America stopped operating under the old “Natural Law” model that we are endowed by God with certain rights and moved to the State just creating right there was no way the old “Born this Way” meme was going to survive. It wasn’t useful any more.

    IMHO “NEW” scientific studies will now start to come out to “Support” this NEW meme of fluid sexuality. I hope the old guard in all the dead former Churches get ready for a very rude awakening after they realize to what and to who they sold their souls.

    Lord have Mercy