Troparion of St George
As the deliverer of captives and defender of the poor, healer of the infirm and champion of kings, victorious great martyr George intercede with Christ our God for our souls salvation.
Our last conversation focused on the macro-level of the Church’s moral witness on matters of war and peace. In this second post I want to focus on the what is for me more interesting, observation micro-level and pastoral observation made by the fathers of the Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in their encyclical , “The Basis of the Social Concept.” Specifically, I am interested in the positive view the fathers hold for military service for Christians in general and of the Christian warrior in particular.
The fathers are explicit on these matters (VIII.2):
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).
Reflecting on the icon of St George the Great-Martyr and Trophy Bearer, they observe that in the battle between the saint and the dragon the Church sees
“vividly . . . 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.”
They continue by observing that the just use of force is only possible if one has
“victory over evil in one’s heart” (VIII.4)
With somewhat inelegant phrasing they argue that the tradition of the Church assert “love in human relations” while at the same time “resolutely reject[ing] the idea of non-resistance to evil by force.” For this reason, and here I think the bishops speak not simply prudentially but normatively,
“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” (VIII.4, emphasis added).
For military personnel this standard is, and again to quote the synodal fathers, a “lofty” one and demands not only a great ascetical effort from them but “a special concern for the military,” by pastors who are called by Christ to “educate them [in] faithfulness” to their call to defend the innocent and the defenseless against unjust aggressors. As I have mentioned in other places, the vocation of the Christian warrior is a dangerous and demanding one requiring as it does that the solider stand physically between the aggressor and his intended target and that he respond with force—even deadly force if needed—and yet do so without malice.
This requires to be sure not only intense self-discipline and physical courage equal to any monastic asceticism, it also demands that the warrior bear the physical, psychological and spiritual scars of his service. This burden is made all the more difficult I think when military personnel (to say nothing of law enforcement professionals) are greeted with a lack of appreciation for the positive good of their service to say nothing of open hostility and moral censure what their service.
It is important to understand that the council fathers’ reflection on war—and so my own thoughts on their words—are presented within a particular theological understanding not simply of war but of peace (section VIII.5). Peace is not, to risk a cliché, the absence of conflict but the fruit of
“God’s promises recorded in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”
Unlike the partial, and often deceptive, views defended and advanced by us the rulers of this world who would lord it over others (see Mark 10:35-45), the Church understands peace as
“a beneficial gift of God, for which we pray and solicit God for our own sake and the sake of all people.”