The growing anti-war views of Eastern Orthodox leaders may be causing new tensions in these churches.
Although not featured in much of the media, there was almost unanimous agreement among Orthodox leaders that the war with Iraq was immoral with anti-war pronouncements issuing from the high level of the partiarchates of Moscow and Constantinople to the bishops of the various jurisdictions in the U.S. The churches’ position on the war prompted Frank Schaeffer, an Orthodox lay activist and father of a Marine in combat, to challenge the bishops in various media, claiming that Orthodox leaders were withholding spiritual comfort from him and others in the same situation.
Touchstone magazine (November) reports that Schaeffer’s views prompted letters of support in Orthodox periodicals, though clergy tried to quiet criticism of church leaders. But when the Orthodox Peace Fellowship circulated a petition on its web site to protest the war, the action generated a firestorm of protests. Critics charged that the OPF’s position went beyond its normal neutral and ascetic condemnation of all armed conflict by its use of a petition and its attacks on U.S. foreign policy (claiming, for instance, that the slaughter involved in the war “could only be regarded as murder”).
Writer Patrick Reardon notes that there was no poll of Orthodox members, but it is likely that they were more critical of the war than most other Americans. The traditional Orthodox coexistence with Islam along with a fear of encroaching Western (non-Orthodox) power may help explain such attitudes. But the growing tendency among Orthodox leaders and thinkers to oppose all armed conflict, with little allowance for a “just war,” is leading more conservative members to fear, that the Orthodox Church, “committed to an ethics of pacifism, will remain forever on the fringes of American life, along with other pacifist groups, like the Amish,” Reardon concludes.