Peace in the Face of War

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Winds From the East

Pursuing Peace in the Face of War

Elder Sophrony on Monastic Peace

On Peace in Iraq

Peace Under Seige

On Eschatological Peace

Review: Jonathan Sacks On Confronting Religious Violence

On Israeli Palestinian Peace












Journal of the Community of the

Servants of the Will of God


Father Superior’s Letter – Colin CSWG....................................................2

Introduction to Articles..................................................................................4

Questions of War and Peace in the Theology

of Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov (1896-1993)

– Krastu Banev......................................................7

The Besieged: Spiritual Survival Under

Extreme Circumstances

‒ Caroline Walton............................................13

War and Eschatology ‒ Nicholas Berdyaev.........................................20

Giving Peace a Chance ‒ Andrew White..................................................30

The Map on the Wall: Lessons from History


‒ Uri Avnery..........................................................41

Homily for Br John of the Cross CSWG – Colin CSWG.....................45

Homily for Fr Alex Brighouse, Postulant – Colin CSWG..............48

Review Article Not in God’s Name – by Jonathan Sacks

‒ Christopher Mark CSWG............................51


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Advent 2016 No. 31


Dear Friends,

This Journal comes with our greetings for Advent and Christmas. It has been

just over a year since the last Journal. We are sorry for this long gap and will

try and do better in the future.

Brother John of the Cross

Brother John of the Cross died at Acorn Lodge Nursing Home in East

Grinstead on 12 November 2015. He was 71. He had been in care since a fall

in November 2012. He has been looked after with much patience and we are

grateful to the staff at Acorn Lodge. He began to show signs of decline in the

middle of 2015. He recovered from a chest infection in October but when

another chest infection came along soon after, he didn’t have the resources

to fight it. We visited him each day for the last week of his life, and he was

anointed a few days before he died.

Father Alex Brighouse

Father Alex was admitted as a postulant in December 2014. His quiet and

steady presence has been a great blessing to us. Unknown to him and us,

his long-term smoking had already done its damage. Investigations speedily

conducted at the beginning of this year revealed cancer in his lungs, his

bones and other places. After some radiotherapy to help with pain in his

right pelvis, he spent a few weeks in St Catherine’s Hospice in Crawley. He

then moved to the College of St Barnabas at Lingfield to be cared for in their

nursing wing. He died there on 23 May 2016, having been anointed the day

before. We extend our sympathy to his son Nick and daughter Vicky and

his sister Jean. We are very grateful to Father Howard Such, the Warden of

the College and the care and nursing staff for looking after Alex so well. We

are grateful too to our local funeral directors Ballard and Shortall of East

Grinstead for their generous assistance with the funeral and Brother John of

the Cross’s funeral as well. The homilies at both these funerals are printed

elsewhere in the Journal.


Father Mark Brosnan made his Life Promises as an Associate on 21 November

2015. We offer our congratulations to Father Andrew Wadsworth on his

marriage to Rachel Ison at St Wilfrid’s, Bognor Regis (where Andrew is the

Vicar) on 17 June 2016. We wish them every blessing and much happiness

in their married life. We also offer congratulations to Father David Beresford


who was married to Ruth, the Rector of Christ Church, Christiana Hundred in

Wilmington, Delaware, on 16 January 2016. David is fully occupied assisting

in nearby parishes, and in developing his ministry of spiritual direction.

Dr David Skelton of Edmonton, Canada, died on 25 February 2016, following

three years of declining health. He and his wife Mary became Associates

in September 2005, when David had been well enough for both of them to

make regular visits to this country. They became Life Associates in February

2009. We are grateful for David’s long and faithful support of the Community.

I know how much he valued his connection with us. We send our prayerful

sympathy to Mary.

We have admitted Carolyn Smith and Caroline Walton as probationer


The Conference for Associates was held from 25 to 28 April. Dr Peta

Dunstan, Fellow of St Edmund’s College in Cambridge, a Franciscan Tertiary

and an historian of Anglican religious communities, spoke to us on the first

day, describing the history of the recovery of religious life in the Church of

England, with a particular emphasis on the contemplative communities. In

the afternoon, she challenged the Associates on the need for them to promote

religious life as widely as they could. This was a very stimulating day, and

we are thankful to Peta for sharing her enthusiasm and knowledge. On the

second day we looked at some of the writings of Father Gilbert Shaw.


The annual retreat for the Community followed shortly afterwards. Bishop

Michael Marshall kindly agreed to lead this and took us through Chapter 21

of St John’s Gospel, with some thought provoking insights. We are grateful to

him for spending this time with us.


Sister Mary Kathleen SLG, who lived a solitary life in St Michael Hermitage

from September 2004 until she returned to Fairacres in September 2011,

died on 31 May, aged 92. She had been a hermit for many years, on Bardsey

Island and then at Bede House in Kent. She came to take up residence at our

Monastery when the Sisters of the Love of God closed Bede House. Her death

was very peaceful and gentle, as was her funeral, which I was privileged to

attend on 14 June. She is buried in the Sisters of the Love of God section of

Rosehill Cemetery in Oxford, next to the grave of Father Gilbert Shaw, who

had done so much to encourage her vocation.


Sister Ruth OSB from West Malling Abbey has been living in St Gabriel

Hermitage for some years, pursuing her call to a solitary life. She returned to

the Abbey in December 2015 to assist the community there in their various

developments, particularly in the new guest accommodation. We miss her

presence amongst us very much and also her sterling work in keeping the

gardens around the hermitages in order. We were pleased to welcome her

back for a retreat earlier this year, and hope she will continue to be able to

have such times of solitude with us.

Thank you as always for your gifts, prayers and support expressed in so

many ways.

Introduction to Articles


Colin CSWG

The politically grave turn of events in the Middle East along with the terrible

suffering of the people of Syria and Iraq, both Muslims and Christians, have

weighed heavily on the minds and hearts of us all. The arrival of two articles

on the theme of pursuing peace in the face of war became the seed for the

decision to devote this entire issue of Come to the Father to the investigation

of that subject.

* * *

We have heard of an Anglican monk who waited ten years before his abbot

gave him permission to visit the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex. He

had hoped to procure an audience with the esteemed Elder, Archimandrite

Sophrony. It was some days, however, before the Elder learned of his

existence. Told the monk was scheduled to depart later that afternoon, the

Elder agreed to a meeting. When they were finally seated together in a small

parlour, the young monk asked the first of his several questions: ‘How long

is “long-suffering” (Psalm 13)? When will “this suffering” be over?’ The old

man, whose countenance transmitted that he was no stranger to suffering,

leaned forward, and holding the young monk in a steady gaze, said softly:

’Not until your last breath.’

In a paper by University of Durham theologian, Dr Krastu Banev, we find a

rare glimpse into what lay behind Fr Sophrony’s personal spiritual suffering:

namely, witnessing to a century of wars, ofthe nightmare of men – all of

whom are brothers – killing one another.’ The world is almost continually

fraught with war. However, even in the unlikely event of a total cessation of

war, Elder Sophrony says, people will still not find peace. Peace is not of this

world. True peace is found in Christ, something we are called to strive for

and share in.

Our Associate, Caroline Walton, provides compelling excerpts from her

previously published work on the Siege of Leningrad. She focuses on

manifestations of spiritual peace under extreme physical deprivation, in

this case, mass starvation. Taking us into theatres and along streets to visit

famished actors, craftsmen, artists and musicians, as well as the ordinary

people, she documents how, in spite of their destitution, some shared the

little they had. Those who survived and found spiritual peace, she tells us,

were not the strongest that looked after themselves, but those that shared

their tiny morsels and indefatigable talents with others.

The popular Christian social philosopher, Nicholas Berdyaev, writing

at the start of the Second World War, avers that peace is found through

creative acts. For him, creativity is not necessarily artistic; it is even more

importantly social. The emancipation, the lifting up of those enslaved by

socio-political or spiritual entanglements are for him creative acts. These acts

are accomplished in an eschatological frame of reference; that is, in union

with the Divine. Now the idea of eschatology, or End Time, might require

some unpacking. It presupposes a Divine purpose, an overarching plan for

creation. That purpose is the sanctification of humankind: its deification,

or transformation to God-manhood. Now the End penetrates all things at

all times even though, being Providential, it is itself outside time and space.

Indeed its accomplishment assumes that the world is already encompassed

by Divine reality. The world as we know it will pass away, not physically but in

its present conceptual order with all its distorted emphases. Yet none of this

can be forced: humankind is free to choose. To the extent that we let go of this

world, its passions and desires, and align ourselves with God’s purpose, we

already enter to some degree into the eschatological fulfillment, which brings

us freedom. But to the extent that we hold on to this world and its allures,

that freedom becomes only relative, more an intimation than the fullness.

Christians believe that Christ palpably brought ‘the End’ into ordinary human

time. For Berdyaev, the End is experienced through those true creative acts

that lead others to freedom. These actions to some degree also bring history

to an end, for the historcal narrative is nothing other than a history of war,

the cessation of freedom. The notion of the Apocalypse assumes a final

resistance to Providence, and hence a ‘last battle.’ While Berdyaev does not

discount such, he would emphasise it as a battle for the collective soul to

choose the good and reject evil. Whatever, war and death paradoxically lead

the collective conscious to a sense of the End. War, never to be advocated

or condoned, yet inspires people to desire freedom; it also inspires

creativity. Such creativity renews the world, re-creating it. On the largest

possible scale then, war engages humankind with the End, for good or ill.


Andrew White, ‘the Vicar of Baghdad’, in his article, Give Peace a Chance,

brings us to the negotiating table and gives us a sense of the creative

work involved in negotiating peace at the political level in the Middle East

among nations that are intensely religious. Discussions leading to politicoreligious

peace are built on intellectual/spiritual foundations. It starts with

strengthening relationships of persons, establishing trust. The work usually

suffers many setbacks, but eventually can bring monumental social and

spiritual rewards.

Uri Avnery, a self–proclaimed secular Jew, wants us to distinguish between

true and false kinds of political peace. Drawing lessons from history, he

applies these various scenarios to a two–state solution between Israelis

and Palestinians. As one of its original architects, he writes elsewhere that

nations have to know sovereignty, preferably without dictatorship, before

they can taste the fundamentals of freedom. False amalgamation of cultures

into single nation states that neglect cultural boundaries and identities,

eventually break up into independent sovereign states: Ireland and Northern

Ireland, for example; former Czechoslovakia into Czechs and Slovaks;

former Yugoslavia into Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians, Slovenes etc; the former

Soviet Union into Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine etc;

the Kurds, left out during the formation of Turkey, Syria and Iraq, are now

seeking their own sovereign state; and so it goes on. This natural tendency

toward independent sovereignty along lines of identity is the background for

Avnery’s two–state solution between Israel and Palestine.

For the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his recent book, Not in God’s Name:

Confronting Religious Violence, the key to peace is education. ‘Wars are

won with weapons,’ he writes, ’but it takes ideas to win a peace.’ To this

end, Dr Sacks explores the various kinds of group dynamics that trigger

religious violence in order to understand best how to defuse them; also

the counter-narratives in Hebrew Scriptures and Midrash that provide

sanguine means, such as role reversal, to overcome both the individual and

corporate impulse to violence; and finally the eirenic recourse to the sages

to clear up misunderstandings that religions themselves inadvertently have

caused through their sacred writings, especially when misinterpreted by

fundamentalists. Just as hatred and war are learned, so peace can be taught

and learned. All this is set against the background of a particularly virulent

strain of anti–Semitism that has taken root in the Islamic world since the

Second World War.

Peace is achievable only through a combination of many disciplines and

perspectives coming together collaboratively. None of our authors say that


peace is easy. To the contrary, it requires immense dedication, in patience

and ‘long suffering’. How long is ‘long suffering’? All lovers of world peace

should be advised, as they prepare for the long haul, to expect to endure

‘until your last breath.’





‘The greatest suffering, which I have continuously endured throughout my

whole life, has been caused by the bitter and salty waves of hatred between

people. There are no prayers that can stop and overcome this poison which

fills the air of our planet with the stench of blood and the terror of death.

The soul of man is tired of this exceedingly sorrowful sight and desires no

longer to continue its days on earth drinking from this “cup”.’

Thus wrote Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov towards the end of his long

life. He was born in 1896 in Moscow and died in 1993 in his monastic home

at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. He lived through the whole of the twentieth

century and was a witness to the greatest wars the world had ever seen – a

tragic consummation of the history of Adam’s children, which he diagnosed

with the short phrase, ‘the whole human corpus is sick’. 1

My aim in this paper is to bring into sharper focus the problematic of war

and peace in the theology of Fr Sophrony. I shall seek to demonstrate that his

works provide a uniquely consistent theological response to what he called

the ‘exceedingly sorrowful sight’ of war in the twentieth century. I see my

investigation as belonging to the field of contemporary Orthodox theology

where the assessment of the significance of war for theological thought

is still very much in its infancy. In the context of the growing number of

publications on the topic of war and Orthodox theology, what appears to

have remained less developed is an engagement with monastic efforts to

respond to the ultimate theological questions on the nature of God and on

divine providence in the last century scarred by global military conflicts. It

is here that Fr Sophrony’s contribution breaks new ground and deserves

further attention.

Although I shall argue for the need to see war as a key factor, I do not claim

that my reading of Fr Sophrony’s works offers the key to unlocking the


A. Sophrony, His Life is Mine, tr. by R. Edmonds (London: Mowbrays, 1977), p. 92.


deeper secrets of his theology. This clearly lies elsewhere, more within the

reach of those who focus on his teaching on pure prayer and the vision of

what he called the ‘great Light of Christ’. 1 Here he was an heir to the visionary

tradition of Eastern Christianity, and especially of Athonite monasticism. The

language he used to express himself, however, shows clearly how rooted he

was in the reality of the twentieth century:

I once read a newspaper account of an engineer testing the jet engine of a

plane who carelessly stepped into the air stream, which caught and lifted

him high off the ground. Seeing what had happened, his assistant quickly

switched off the engine. The mechanic fell to the ground, dead. Something

similar happens to the man of prayer: after being caught up into another

sphere he returns to earth ‘dead’ (мертв) to fleshly interest and worldly

gains. He will not seek any career. He will not be too upset if he is rejected,

nor will he be elated by praise. He forgets the past, does not cling to the

present or worry about his earthly future. A new life full of Light has opened

before him and in him. The infantile distractions (детские развлечения)

that occupy the vast majority of people cease to interest him. 2

This passage offers us a translation of the experience of ancient visionary

saints, such as John of Beverley, 3 or Symeon the New Theologian, 4 into an

idiom designed for a twentieth-century audience. The use of the jet engine

illustration is a striking one. It may well be taken as one of those ‘fresh’ rather

than ‘dead’ things, to use an expression coined by Fr Andrew Louth 5 , which

characterise this new type of theology.

The understanding of this ‘fresh’ theology needs a systematic investigation of

Fr Sophrony’s response to the problem of human suffering and, in particular,

war. Fr Sophrony states:

This is what I can say about myself. For over half a century now, I have

been in continuous and terrible pain as a witness to thenightmare of

men – who are all brothers – killing one another. At times, this pain

causes me to howl like a wild animal, to yelp like a poor dog whose

paws have been crushed by a car. And just like the dog, shaking from

pain, to crawl away from the paths of men. But when the pain in the


A. Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, pp. 150–189


ibid. p. 68. Also, op.cit. His Life is Mine, p. 59.


See Folcard, Life of Saint John, Bishop of York, Chapter 11, in S. Wilson, The Life and After-life

of St. John of Beverley. The Evolution of the Cult of an Anglo-Saxon Saint (Farnham: Ashgate, 2006).


Symeon the New Theologian, Ethical Discourses, 10, in J. Darrouzès (ed. and tr.), Syméon le

nouveau Théologien, Traités théologiques et éthiques, SC 129 (Paris: Cerf, 1967), p. 324. See

discussion in H. Alfeyev, St Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition (Oxford: OUP,

2000), chapter 9.


In a paper on Tradition and Innovation in the Theology of Fr Sophrony


heart reaches the limits of our physical endurance, then the invocation

of the Name of Jesus Christ brings PEACE which alone keeps us alive. 1

In a sense, inasmuch as they offer a summary of his own spiritual journey, his

words here are an epilogue to his own life. The fact that a human being could

live with such intense levels of pain and still experience the consolation

of divine peace became for Fr Sophrony a window into a greater mystery.

This mystery is our unique value as persons who become Christ-like by

transporting ourselves into universal dimensions ‘whenever we suffer

tribulation’. 2

It is important to emphasize that war and peace clearly stand out as two

important preoccupations in the forefront of Fr Sophrony’s spiritual

consciousness. Let us examine them in turn to see how he gives to each a

new meaning, and how they contribute to his overall theological vision.

War or ‘Blessed Despair’?

Fr Sophrony speaks of the lives of millions taken away with ‘incredible

ferocity’. Christ had said that even the hairs on our heads ‘are all numbered’

(Matthew 10:30). But this statement and the affirmations that ‘God is love’

and that brotherly love is to be the governing principle of human life (1 John

4:8, 1:5), were now rendered meaningless by the massacres on the front

lines and the m ass murders in concentration camps. What is only hinted

at in the opening page of St Silouan receives a fuller treatment in his main

autobiographical work We Shall See Him as He Is, published in 1985 when

he was nearly 80 years old. The first chapter contains an extensive reflection

on his experience of war. This is set in the context of a discussion on the

remembrance of death as the first step on the way to ascetic renunciation and,

ultimately, true prayer. 3 What we are given is in fact a theological framework

supporting the practice of prayer as an antidote to the ‘black despair’ caused

by the tragic reality of war. This emphasis is mirrored by references to the

First World War and the Russian Revolution.

I frequently speak of ‘pain’ and am often worried that not everyone will

rightly understand this ascetic term. The pain I write of is the leitmotiv of

my life in God. I cannot ignore it…. It is the pain of the love of God which

detaches the one who is praying from this world to transport him into

another. The fiercer the spiritual pain, the more vigorous the attraction to

God. The more dynamic our plunge into the depths of suffering, the surer


A. Sophrony, Тайнство христианской жизни [The Mystery of Christian Life], ‘Epilogue’, pp.

260–261. See also, We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 88; Видеть Бога, p. 85.


Ibid., p. 76.


A. Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, pp. 10–18.


our spirit’s ascent into heaven… The soul pulling away from her normal

confines and stretching up to the eternal God suffers. Having felt the breath

of the Holy Spirit, she sorrows more acutely. 1

This passage introduces a distinction which is crucial for the understanding

of the ascetical concept of pain. The suffering of the soul, on which Fr

Sophrony comments, is first and foremost an experience of profound

personal repentance and deep longing for God. This is the upward ascent,

as portrayed in the story of Moses going up Mount Sinai. This movement

into God’, however, is then followed by a descent into human apostasy.

The pain which comes from the suffering in the world together with that

of personal repentance can thus become an instrument for salvation. Later

on, Fr Sophrony would call this combination of prayerful despair ‘blessed’ 2

precisely because it had helped him identify in his prayer with the suffering

in the world, including that caused by war. 3

One of the first consequences of the primordial Fall was fratricide…. To this

day mankind has not only failed to release itself from the spirit of fratricide

but continues to plunge ever deeper into lethal delirium. The experience of

centuries has taught man nothing. Victory through violence is always and

inevitably short-term in this world. Translated into eternity, it will prove a

never-ending disgrace. ‘All ye are brethren,’ said the Teacher-Christ. ‘One is

your Father, which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 23:8-9) 4

In a personal letter written to his close friend, Fr Boris Stark, who in 1952

had returned to live with his family in Soviet Russia, 5 Fr Sophrony writes:

It is not without surprise that we all observe how quickly humanity

moves away from the Church, from Christ. For me the explanation for this

phenomenon lies in the fact that already for half a century (since 1914) the

whole Earth breathes the air of never-ending fratricide, and no one offers

repentance for this sin. It is only natural that in this state people do not

dare to look up at the great Light of Christ. To believe in the good news of

Christ that all of us human beings are children of the Beginning-less Creator

of the world, to believe in our own eternity through the resurrection from

the dead, to believe that a human being is the image of the Living God – this


ibid. p. 88.


A. Sophrony, On Prayer, p. 50.


Ιbid., pp. 76–78.


A. Sophrony, On Prayer, pp. 111–12.


The collection was published posthumously in, A Sophrony, Письма к близким людям [Letters

to Close Friends] (Moscow: Otchii Dom, 1997). On the context, see N. Sakharov, I Love Therefore

I Am, p. 30.


has now become beyond their strength, and the result is the exponential

growth of universal apostasy.

These views expressed in a private letter of 1966 are repeated in the

Epilogue to We Shall See Him as He Is published two decades later in which

Fr Sophrony speaks of :

...the extraordinarily black despair that envelops the whole universe.

People of our day, often against their will, become moral participants in

endless local and even planetary fratricide. As such – that is, as impenitent

moral accomplices – they naturally lose the grace of the Holy Spirit and

are no longer able to believe in their immortality through resurrection.

Nor do they even seek to. In this self-condemnation to evanescence lies the

spiritual essence of despair. 1

This passage’s central importance lies in the clear link it establishes between

war and the universal nature of despair.

Peace: the ‘Compassionate Heart’

Fr Sophrony approaches peace exclusively as a spiritual reality. Peace for him

is never merely the cessation of military conflict. War exists in this world,

and this world alone. Peace, on the other hand, is not of this world; it is Christ

himself. When he comes, he inspires his chosen servants with compassionate

prayers for the world, which is how he himself wishes to relate to his creatures.

When speaking of the compassionate prayer in the heart Fr Sophrony refers

to a well-known passage from St Isaac the Syrian on the compassionate heart.

It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds,

for the animals, for demons and for all that exists. At the recollection and

at the sight of them such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the

vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart: as a result of his deep

mercy his heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear or look on any injury or the

slightest suffering of anything in creation. He even prays for the reptiles as a

result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure – after

the likeness of God – in his heart. 2

In making a reference to St Isaac, Fr Sophrony positions himself in continuity

with the great spiritual masters of the Christian East. The centrality of


A. Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 236 (modified). See also his On Prayer, p. 127.


Sebastian Brock’s translation in, The Heart of Compassion: Daily Readings with St Isaac the Syrian,

ed. by A.M. Allchin (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1989), p. 9. The central importance of

this passage for the patristic and the modern Orthodox tradition is discussed in M. Kallistos Ware,

‘Dare We Hope For the Salvation of All: Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac the Syrian’, in

Id., The Collected Works, Vol. I, The Inner Kingdom (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary

Press, 2001), pp. 193–215.


compassion for the world is the hallmark of this tradition. Fr Sophrony

arrived on Mt Athos to discover this tradition and dedicate his life to it. The

experience of the heart ignited by the Spirit in prayer for the world was for

him a ‘foretaste of eternity’ (опыт вечности), 1 a moment stolen from time,

and for all souls tossed and tormented by the heavy storms of ‘planetary

fratricide’ – a harbour of safety in the ocean of divine peace. Here true peace

was thus the gift of the Spirit. It came with the vision of Christ himself in

the manner in which he appeared to the young Silouan who had ‘beheld the

living Christ’ with ‘his heart and body… filled with fire of such force that had

the vision continued for another instant, he must have expired’. The vision

had lasted only for a moment. And yet, as Fr Sophrony who lived with St

Silouan in the last decades of his life testifies, afterwards the staretz had

never been able to forget theinexpressibly gentle, infinitely loving, joyous

gaze of Christ full of peace’. 2

The post-Adamic status quo of constant military conflict is thus not devoid

of peace. However, this reality is understood solely as a gift. It comes

from the Spirit who inspires genuine prayer by filling the heart of God’s

chosen ones with Christ’s own compassion for the world. The paradoxical

conclusion of these affirmations is that peace could exist even during

wartime. Such is the outline of Fr Sophrony’s discussion of war and peace

in all his major works. Quite apart from its destruction of millions of lives,

‘strangled with incredible ferocity’ as Fr Sophrony laments, war’s grip was

powerful enough to cause humanity to lose sight of its eternal destiny.

This is where Fr Sophrony perceived the worst effects of war as universal

despair (отчаяние), annihilating the ‘hope’ or, in the words of the Creed, the

‘expectation’ (чаяние) of eternal life. 3 Yet for those whose lives were spared

but whose hearts could never forget, this despair could become salvific if

their hearts would learn, through suffering, to embrace the whole world

with compassion in their prayer. Fr Sophrony’s references to peace are thus

in the context of his discussion of this God-given prayer for the world. Here

was a peace which could never be reduced to the absence of human conflict.

To sum up: I have argued for the need to see Fr Sophrony’s preoccupation

with military conflict as playing a key role in shaping his theological vision.

My claim is that the fratricide, suffering and despair which war causes provide

a historical and theological context for his thinking as a whole, visible

as an underlying frame or an external border in all his major works. The


See the Russian subtitle in A. Sophrony, Св. Силуан, p. 60.


A. Sophrony, St Silouan, p. viii.


‘Talk to the Community’ on 18 November 1991, in A. Sophrony, Духовные Беседы, vol. 2 (Εseex,

2007), p. 185.


establishment of this border allows us to perceive not only the scale of

his creative thinking on the topic of war and peace, but also to see what

distinguishes him in the great tradition of compassionate prayer to which

he belongs.

Krastu Banev

Krastu Banev is a lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of

Durham. This is an abridged version of the author’s much longer paper of the same title, published

by the Journal of Eastern Christian Studies this year. This can be accessed at http://www.academia.






“Without their spiritual strength – a strength that went beyond words – this

city would not have survived.”

In the summer of 1999, I went to St Petersburg to talk to survivors of the

1941-1943 siege of Leningrad, as the city was then called during the Soviet

period. This siege by German and Finnish forces lasted almost 900 days.

Hitler’s objective was to ‘raze the city from the face of the earth’. In the first

winter rations fell to one slice of bread a day for non-manual workers; on some

days there was no bread at all. Temperatures dropped to minus 40 degrees

centigrade; homes had no running water, gas or electricity. People endured

constant shelling and bombardment. Half the city of three million died.

It is not surprising that people cracked under pressure with some

resorting to theft and cannibalism. It was common to find corpses on the

street with pieces of their flesh hacked away. It was dangerous to go out

alone in some parts of the city during that first winter as people were

frequently murdered for their flesh. There were cases of parents losing

their minds and killing and eating their own children. What was surprising

to me was that so many people were able to survive when their rations

were too small to sustain human life. I wanted to know how they did so.

My question was not entirely academic. I had reached a turning point in my

life where I knew I could no longer continue to live as I had throughout my

adulthood, drowning depression in alcohol. But before I left for Russia that

summer, I saw no real alternative.

* * *


Nelly Pozner, a music teacher, was eight years old when war broke out. She

described ‘siege life’ to me from the point of view of a child:

Things became very hard after Papa left for the front. The water was cut off.

We had to go to the river with buckets and boil the water before we could

drink it. One day my mother came back in tears without the bucket. She told

me she had been bending over an ice hole in the Fontanka when she saw a

human head beneath the water. In her horror she let go of the bucket. After

that she had to use a kettle. It only held two litres and emptied so quickly

that Mamma would cry as she pulled on her felt boots again.

Our furniture began to disappear. And our clothes… We exchanged them for

glue. It gave off a revolting smell as we heated it. Then we let it congeal into

a sort of aspic, which we ate with vinegar, mustard and bay leaves – we had

these left over from before the war. It would damage your intestines if you

ate it hot. The hardest part was waiting for the glue to cool down.

One day I was at the baker’s with my mother. We collected our ration – 125

grammes for each of us – when suddenly a youth rushed up, knocked into

my mother and snatched the bread from her hands. He ran off. Mamma

cried out in her loud operatic voice. A patrol of soldiers was passing. They

ran after the boy, caught him and brought him back to the shop. The boy had

already sunk his teeth into the bread. The soldiers asked my mother, ‘Was it

him?’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘It was not him.’ Thieves were shot on the spot.

People said they learned to tell from the eyes when someone was lost. Nelly

said she had never forgotten those of the thief.

His eyes were expressionless, like those you see today in the faces of drug

addicts, eyes that are no longer human. Perhaps it was already too late for

that boy.

Those who understood that the spirit began to die before the body strove to

remain alive by sharing what they had. Ivan Dmitriev, a celebrated stage and

film actor, told me that he had had a daughter who was killed in a bombing


We buried her at Serafimovskoye cemetery. On the way back I came across

a little boy abandoned in the street. He was about two years old, filthy,

dressed in an adult’s quilted jacket. I decided to adopt that boy, but I was

faced with the problem of how to feed him. My ration was not enough for

two, even for a child. So I introduced him to my comrades. Each one of them

donated five grams from their 50 gram sugar ration.


Performers received slightly higher rations but nevertheless many starved

to death. ‘It was an act of great courage on the part of my fellow actors,’

Dmitriev emphasised.

When you are starving five grams seems an enormous amount to give away.

But in fact it was the people who gave to others who survived. The person

who withdrew into himself, who ate his ration all at once under his blankets

– and I saw this happen – usually died.

This was a theme I heard time and again – those who shared what little

they had were more likely to survive. 1 Those with no food to share gave

of themselves in whatever way they could. They taught; they nursed;

they performed. For example, against all odds, a theatre remained open

throughout the siege, with a mortuary by the box office for those actors who

died on stage or in the wings. Ludmila Grigorievna, who has edited several

siege documentaries, told me:

Shows used to begin at four in the afternoon as bombing raids were less

frequent then. Audiences went to the theatre hungry and sat in their felt

boots and fur coats. They relished a bit of light and luxury, the décor, the

costumes. It was medicine. When people were too weak to clap they bowed

to the actors instead.

Evgenii Lind, director of St Petersburg Museum, And the Muses Were Not

Silenced, put the importance of the theatre succinctly:

Imagine a person half dead from hunger walking off the frozen street into a

place where chandeliers blaze, where there is music and laughter. A person

who laughs is unvanquished.

Actors, musicians and dancers discovered the mutually life-sustaining

power of their work. Trumpet-player, Arkadii Kotlyarskii, explained how he

survived at the front, playing before the troops defending Leningrad.

Entertainment is an exchange between you and your audience... It is the

very breath of life to an actor, poet or musician. When you entertain people

who are far from home, they welcome you as though you were a member

of their own family. The gratitude of those troops overwhelmed me. When

you go out hungry in front of a thousand soldiers they revive you. Their

gratitude kept me alive.


There are parallels here with the concentration camps. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

recalls: ‘We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the

huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number,

but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of

human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own



It was particularly hard for children. Nelly Pozner said:

I lay in bed, too weak to move, with the most terrible feeling of being

unneeded, redundant, useless. As I understand it, happiness is the sense of

being wanted, of being of use to others. During the siege I suffered greatly

because I felt I was of no use to anyone.

Yet in her state of suffering, Nelly discovered her own inner resources:

When the hunger became unbearable, I would tell myself that one day there

would be water and sweets and the cinema again. In my mind I would re-run

all the shows I had seen at the children’s theatre. Then I would revisit the

palaces my grandmother had shown me before the war – Pavlovsk, Peterhof,

Oranienbaum… in my mind I would slide along their floors, through their

galleries, in the felt slippers they gave you to protect the parquet.

Faced with a stark choice, Leningraders discovered deep spiritual resources

within themselves. Alexander Boldyrev, an orientalist at the Hermitage

Museum, wrote in his diary that:

…death sucks one towards it like a current beneath a narrow bridge. As

soon as you lower your guard you have to redouble your efforts to escape it.

His diary 1 became his lifeline. He wrote that as the siege wore on he began to

realise its significance. It was more important to him than all his other work:

…it would be more than a miserable record of food consumed, more than

a death rattle, it would be a truthful witness to the time... And there arises

in my mind’s eye an undreamed of pleasure: a study, warm and light. Alive,

well-fed, clean and calm, I sit and write. All horrors are in the past. Siege

Notes are about the past and in the past. The diary is finished, and I am

preparing it for others to read.

This was written on 15 th December 1942. The siege had still another year

to run, but Boldyrev’s spirit was already vaulting over the horrors. The

Hermitage Museum managed to evacuate two thirds of its collection by train

to shelters in the Ural mountains. Most of the staff not mobilised to fight,

stayed. Two thousand men and women lived in the museum’s basement

shelters; they gave lectures, wrote papers. When not on fire-watch duty, they

spent their time sharing all they knew with each other, the older with the

younger, so that their expertise would not die with them. They said it helped

them bear their hunger.


‘Osadnaya Zapis’ [Siege Notes], Alexander Boldyrev, published posthumously, Yevropaiskiy Dom,

St Ptersburg, 1998.


Never in my life, whether before the siege or after it, have I had such a

definite, clearly defined aim in life…People acquired an amazing integrity…I

felt as though something within me had been unleashed, set free…And

[under shelling] I would think what a fool I had been, living the way I used

to live!

So wrote Pavel Gubchevsky, a researcher at the Hermitage.

Despite the official atheism of the Soviet Union some ten churches remained

open throughout the siege. Nelly Pozner told me that her mother used to go

and pray.

When Papa left for the front, Granny gave him an icon, although he was a

Jew. She and my mother prayed over him. Papa took the icon and kept it in

his pocket throughout the war. He never received a single wound. Since the

war I have taken religion very seriously.

Father Andrei, a priest at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, was born in 1945 to a

family who had lived through the siege:

For a Christian, the siege was not a separate part of life. It was just something

else to be lived. Death lost its fear – look at people who work in hospices,

they grow used to death. As for the bombs, people could tell by their whistle

whether to run and take shelter or not.

People even got used to the corpses, piled up everywhere like the carcasses

of pigs and cattle you see in butchers’ vans. They couldn’t do anything about

the situation. It was a form of resignation. You got used to it, but it was not a

situation you could accept. When you step on a corpse because you haven’t

the strength to move around it, that you must not get used to. You must be

aware of what you are doing. You must pray and ask its forgiveness. If you

do not, you are lost.

Ksenia Matus, who played oboe in the Leningrad premier of Shostakovich’s

Seventh Symphony, read to me the following diary excerpts:

December 31 st 1941: A new year begins. All over the world people are

celebrating but what can we in Leningrad hope for? No one knows. Perhaps

each of us can expect to meet only death. How I long to go out into the

deep countryside... to lie in a valley somewhere, in long grass and let the

sun warm my frozen bones. I want to see space around me, so much space

that the eye cannot take it all in at once. I want to listen to nature’s music,

the babble of a stream, birdsong, the rustle of grass; the enchanting music

that no instrument can recreate. Oh, God, how much beauty there is in this

world, only not in ours.


When the Shostakovich score was flown into the city, Ksenia and other

surviving members of the radio symphony orchestra practised under

the direction of Karl Ilych Eliasberg. Ksenia said the musicians had to be

helped up the stairs and could rehearse for only fifteen minutes at a time.

Nevertheless, the symphony was performed publicly in Leningrad’s Astoria

hotel on August 9th 1942, the day Hitler had chosen to celebrate the fall of

the city. It was broadcast both to the city and the besieging forces.

August 9 th made a great difference. The shelling and bombing and hunger

continued but I knew I had accomplished an important deed – that I was of

use to the city.

A less well-known spiritual gift was broadcast live the previous November

1941 to the besieging forces: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with a choir of

120 starving men and women summoning all their strength to sing Ode to

Joy to the German troops surrounding the city.

The ability of siege survivors to harness deep spiritual reserves was perhaps

most vividly expressed by a 70 year-old doctor, Professor Svet Tikhvinskii.

Svet was twelve at the outbreak of war.

After my family left for the front, I gathered lumps of coal from the railway

line. I made wick and oil lamps to light my room. I went to the Neva for

water. I slept on a metal bedstead with a board laid across it. I had one

thin blanket for covering. I was used to austere conditions. I was brought

up in a military family. I cut up my leather boots, boiled and ate them. I

ate all the carpenter’s glue in the house and then boiled sawdust. There

was a vegetable warehouse in the neighbourhood. In the course of decades

vegetables had rotted and formed a layer over the floor. I dug up that earth

and ate it. Then as winter approached I went to the army and asked them

to take me in. I told them my father was a general and I didn’t want to die. I

said I was prepared to do anything, any work at all, if they would just let me

live with them.They agreed, even though my father was not a general but a

colonel in the medical service. I stayed with them for a few months. In the

end they sent me away to study. I left my comrades with tears in my eyes.

Their parting words were, ‘Lad, live for us, study for us.’ Of 900 men, only

one returned from the war.

Svet began to train as a gymnast in the Empress Elizabeth’s former palace

that had been converted into a school and orphanage.

Each day I cycled all the way across the city from the Vyborg Side, sometimes

through shelling and artillery fire. I was very serious about my training. I

became a gymnast, performing with my troupe in hospitals, schools and


theatre halls. There was a strong sense of collectivism among us, which

more than anything else helped me to survive.

I was a communist then. And I remain one today. I cannot betray my ideals.

I joined the party in 1948; I have been a member for over 50 years. Like my

parents before me, I live for society.

The siege set the Professor on a trajectory of inner exploration that lasted his

whole lifetime. He told me:

Two months ago I skied to the North Pole. Our success in that expedition was

due to outstanding organisation, self-discipline and mutual cooperation.

For that I owe a debt of gratitude to the war. It accustomed me to front-line

conditions, in which nothing is your own, you hold everything in common.

We visited some schools in Arctic towns to give talks about our experience.

Yesterday I received some letters from the children who heard me speak. It’s

hard to read them, I get emotional… They show that we signify something to

them as people. In their eyes we have led extraordinary lives. We survived

the war; we come from a different society. I am very happy that we are able

to inspire young people with their whole lives ahead of them.

I believe that we need human solidarity and spiritual inspiration, not only

in the sense of following Christ’s sermons but in building a strategy for the

future. If we are able to raise our children as we ourselves were brought up,

then all that we lived through will not have been in vain.

Life is an eternal conflict, a battle to overcome obstacles. Positive and

negative emotions arise all the time – but within this it is possible to achieve

equilibrium. You do not achieve this equilibrium by doing nothing. We who

have faced hunger and cold understand this.

Professor Tikhvinskii was preparing to ski to the South Pole the following

winter – a journey of 3,000 kilometres.

* * *

The faith of those siege survivors has never left me. It sparked the first

glimmerings of a faith that enabled me to turn my own life around. And four

years after my return to London from St Petersburg, I met and married a

man who turned out to be the grandson of a woman who survived the siege

of Leningrad. I do not believe that was coincidental.

Caroline Walton, Associate CSWG

Caroline Walton is a Russian to English translator and author of several books on Russia. She and

her Ukrainian husband are frequent visitors to the Monastery. Her 5-Star book, The Besieged – a

Story of Survival (Biteback), from which this article is précised, may be ordered from Amazon.




“You shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that you are not troubled:

for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation

shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be

famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes.”

So it is written in the ‘little Apocalypse’ of St Matthew (Matthew 24:6-7)

From Tribal to Universal God The bible is full of narratives about wars. The

books of the Prophets, the summit of ancient Jewish religious teaching, have

as one of their chief subjects, the reconciliation of the terrible horrors and

injustices of wars with Jehovah’s 2 omnipotence, his Divine Providence. For

with the Jewish people especially, there was an acute sense of the almightiness

of God. Great misfortunes in the destiny of the Jewish people were understood

as the inscrutable ways of the Providence of God, Who ultimately led His

people through trials and tribulations, suffering and rebukes for apostasy, to

victory. A similar problem confronts contemporary consciousness. Jehovah

was originally a tribal God, a war-God. Only later did an awareness of a

universal God, a God of the cosmos, emerge. A certain tension arose between

the universal God and the pagan-like, national God. Modern consciousness, in

essence, having returned to ancient paganism, is not far removed from this

ancient pagan consciousness of God that the Jewish people maintained for a

time. Contemporary Germany 3 stands firmly on this ancient pagan mind-set.

From Eschatological to Historical/Apocalyptic World-View The eschatological

problem within Christianity can assume two different perspectives.

All Christian confessions have their eschatological elements; all theological

treatises have their eschatological chapters, although these eschatologies

may have been downplayed at times. But the problem can be stated

differently. A thorough eschatological understanding of Christianity is

possible. Many academic historians of Christianity, free of confessional bias,

insist that Christianity without eschatology is simply not credible. In any

case, early Christianity was eschatological.


This article originally appeared in the journal Put’ {The Way}, No 61 Paris 1939, edited by

Berdyaev 1925-1940.


This was the generally accepted transliteration for the Name of God (the Hebrew tetragrammatton:

YHVH) in academic circles during the epoch in which the author wrote.


In 1939, at the time of writing


An eschatological understanding of Christianity – the proclamation of the

good news, the ‘breaking inof God’s Kingdom – gave way to an historical

understanding. Christianity became a part of history. A long and agonizing

process then unfolded between the First and Second Comings of Christ.

Historical Christianity proved itself accommodating to this world, a

compromise with it, which was a travesty of true, eschatological Christianity

the Christianity of the End, the immediate presence of God’s Kingdom – and

exchanged it for a Christianity of the personal salvation of souls. But we cannot

deny that Christianity is essentially eschatological. There can be no distorting

of Christianity, and nothing other than an eschatological Christianity.

History has always been predominantly militarist and full of wars. There

have only been comparatively short periods of peace, of relative stability,

which were readily overturned. History flows over volcanic soil, where lava

is periodically erupting. History has to end, because history is war. There

is an eschatological moment within history, a kind of inner apocalypse of

history. This eschatological moment is acutely felt particularly in catastrophic

epochs, in wars, in revolutions, in crises of civilization. War is

predominantly an historical phenomenon and, at the same time, the horrors

of war give people a heightened eschatological sense of the approach of the

End. Similarly, eschatological feeling is heightened in the lives of individual

people in catastrophic experiences, in sufferings, in the closeness of death.

War is principally a question of history, but at the same time, war is

always connected with the End of history. We speak in conventional terms

about apocalyptic eras and in such eras people are easily led astray by false

prophecies of the coming End of the world in a certain year of historical time.

But in a deeper sense all epochs are apocalyptic and the End is always near.

Only in relatively peaceful times does the eschatological sense of people

become dulled. The onset of an apocalyptic climate does not mean that the

end is chronologically near yet. Indeed, it is a mistake to understand the end

of the world chronologically, to objectivize it in historical time.

In the year 1000, people expected the end of the world. In the Reformation

era, there were strong eschatological attitudes. After the French Revolution

in the Napoleonic era, the intellectual life of Europe was saturated with

apocalyptic and eschatological currents. They expected the imminent

end of the world, the appearing of Antichrist. Jung-Stilling [1740-1817]

predicted that the world would end in 1836. There is something tempting

about premonitions and predictions of the imminent end of the world, and

people often console themselves with them. They frequently experience

it as the end of the world when an historic era that they liked and with


which they were bound up comes to an end, when the accustomed social

order is destroyed, and the social class to which they belong is overthrown.

Cries that the Antichrist has come all too often greet anything unpopular.

Presentiments of the end of imperial Russia, which was flying headlong into

the abyss, provoked eschatological sentiments and predictions.... Only one

thing is sure and unquestionable. We live in an era of catastrophic historic

upheaval, where we must not judge contemporary events by old standards.

The weakness of politicians in our time can be explained by the fact that they

remain stuck under the influence of their old, historic polemics, which have

been swept away in the intervening struggle.

Problems with the Apocalypse Of all the books of the New Testament,

the Apocalypse always provokes a cautious attitude [especially among the

Orthodox]; [liturgically] it has been completely ignored. This book is an

unpleasant reminder of the catastrophic End, about which people prefer not

to think although they do everything they can to prepare for it. A specialist

literature of commentary on the Apocalypse exists, but it remains of a rather

low quality. It is usually in the form of a completely arbitrary explanation of

the symbolism of the Apocalypse, and is obscurantist in nature. In order to

approach the Apocalypse critically, one must establish the principal by which

we approach the text of Holy Scripture. We can no longer naively credit the

literal text of holy books with a sense of infallibility as we once did. The voice

of God, the word of God, comes down to us through a muddy, dark, human

medium, i.e. one conformed to the spiritual condition of people and the

structure of their consciousness. The word of God is not assimilated by people

automatically, always in the same way and passively, independent of what

sort of people they are. Man is also active in the perception of revelation. And

this activity can often be negative, reflecting people’s lower nature. A human

interpretation of the word of God brings with it elements of distorted sociomorphism.

For this reason there is a constant need to purify, spiritualize and

humanize the means of assimilating God’s word. An immense spiritual effort

is needed to hear God’ s word in its purity. In this process of purification,

biblical criticism, objective historical study, and creative philosophical

thinking can be immensely important. An anthropomorphic (in the bad

sense) and socio-morphic perception of the word of God, corresponding to

the enslaved condition of human societies, has left its distinctive mark on

the apocalyptic books too. A vindictive eschatology took shape. The most

interesting pre-Christian apocalyptic book, excluded from the Biblical canon,

the Book of Enoch, is permeated with themes of revenge by the righteous, by

good people on evil sinners. It describes judgement on sinners, carried out in

the presence of the righteous, who sit as it were over the sinner in judgement


and relish the cruel punishments to which they have been condemned. The

end of the world is a terrible bloodletting, a bitter war. An element of vengeful,

cruel eschatology is found also in the Christian Apocalypse. There is no

greater contradiction in spirit and style than exists between the Apocalypse

and the Gospel according to St John. It is difficult to countenance that these

two books were written by the same author. Vengeful eschatological motifs

also play a large part in the teaching of blessed Augustine in the Two Cities.

For him, the earthly city begins with murder – with the business of Cain

and ends with murder, war, death and hell. In an interpretation that is often

acknowledged as authoritative, the Apocalypse, made to conform to the

conditions of this world, essentially acquires a materialistic hue. This was

an interpretation formed by enslavement to the spirit of this world, where

determinism and Fate prevail. It could not have been otherwise, because the

Apocalypse is, before all else, a perception of the immanent consequences

of the paths of evil, paths that are contrary to those of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore rays of light from the ‘new heaven and new earth’ only occasionally

break through into the darkness of the End, and the vision of punishment

dominates over any vision of transfiguration. Herein lies the conditionality

of apocalyptic prophecies.... The fundamental problem facing us here is the

problem of the relationship between Christian eschatology and progress.

The Apocalypse prophesies about the paths of evil, the appearing of

Anti-Christ, and the destruction of this world. Undoubtedly, pessimistic

interpretations of the Apocalypse prevail. A philosophy of the Apocalypse,

which is a philosophy of history, leads to the following fundamental problem.

Are we to understand the Apocalypse as Fate, as an inexorable Divine

sentence with regard to human destiny, as a denial of human freedom? I

think that such a fatal understanding of the Apocalypse runs deeply counter

to Christianity, the religion of God-manhood. The final destiny of humanity

depends on both God and human beings. Human freedom and human

creativity play their part in preparing for the End: the co-operation of both

divine and human at the End of things. The End of history and of the world

is not just something happening to human beings, but it is accomplished by

them. We venture forth to meet the Second Coming of Christ through works

we have accomplished, and acts of our free creativity pave the way for the

Kingdom of God. Christ comes in power and glory to humanity, which has

prepared itself for His coming. One must not think of God’s action with

regard to humankind and the world as some kind of deus ex machina. Our

attitude to the End of the world cannot be simply one of hope. It must also

include our activity, our creative deed. Least justifiable of all would be human

passivity, or any withdrawal that refuses to be creative on the supposition


that the catastrophic End of the world is drawing nigh. This would be a

spineless response, a betrayal of the task set before us. Each human being is

sentenced to death. When ill-health or old age strikes, a person may not have

the prospect before them of extensive time. But it does not follow from this

personal eschatological awareness that a person should refuse any kind of

activity or effort. Creative activity can even be heightened by it. The creative

works that a person achieves are linked to existential time, not to worldy,

historical time.

Eschatology Realised: Divine-human Co-operation The idea of inevitable

progress and the idea of inevitable regress are equally false. No such law of

progress or regress exists. This is the product of a false, deterministic worldview,

transposed into the the spirit of naturalistic categories. The problem

of progress is a problem of the spirit and not a problem of natural processes.

Progress, i.e. the task of improvement and ascent, is one set before the

human spirit, not some inherent, natural and historical process. In empirical

history, progressive and regressive elements exist in equal measure, and

there is no infallible rule by which one must gain the upper hand over the

other. The 19 th century theory of progress, which in itself turned into a kind

of religion, is false and does not correspond to reality. It is merely a theory.

But this in no way means that the reactionary opponents of progress are

right. ‘Eschatological pessimism’ frequently serves the aims of reactionaries

and misanthropes. This is the negative side of an apocalyptic outlook, and

its destructive aspect. Here we must clear up an ambiguity. Such people tell

us that Christian truth, the Kingdom of God on earth, is unrealisable, that

no progress is possible, that evil only grows in the world, that freedom only

gives rise to evil. And so we ask ourselves: why do they say, Christian truth

is unrealisable? Is it because they are aware of this unrealisability through

experience of grief and affliction, or because they do not wish it to be

realised, and take a perverse delight in its not being realised? I am convinced

that, at the basis of all the reactionary attitudes lying behind ‘eschatological

pessimism’ persists a wish that the truth should not be realised, that man

should not move forward or upward; that in the life of humankind there

should be no increase in freedom, justice, humanity.... Whenever people

tell me that a more just, human social order is unrealisable, I always ask

them whether they would like it to be realised, or whether it is unrealisable

because they are doing everything they can to prevent its being realised. I

think that, in the majority of cases, the latter is more probable.

We must remember that the very idea of progress – however much it may

have been used against Christianity – is of Christian origin and is connected


with a messianic consciousness, with movement towards the Kingdom of

God. The idea of progress was alien to the thought of antiquity; it is absent in

Greek philosophy. The utopias of perfect social order and endless progress

of the first half of the 19 th century were secularized forms of the religious

messianic idea, of messianic hope that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is

staggering how the advocates of ‘eschatological pessimism’ have no trouble

believing in the achievability of their own goals – of powerful government, of

imperialistic expansion of nations, of the dominance on this earth of their own

class. ‘Eschatological pessimism’ does not in the least lead them to retract on

this. The powerful, abusively imposed authority in which they wish to share,

seems to them a matter of divine fiat on earth. On the pretext that the world

is set in evil and human nature is hopelessly sinful, they wish to keep a firm

grip, not on themselves and those of their own kind, but on others, those they

have oppressed. Life in those conditions does not seem to them so gloomy.

Putting into effect an imperialist will for power demands vigorous energy,

which the eschatological opponents of humanity’s liberating processes do

not disdain.

Transfiguration The End of the world and of history is a Divine-human

concern and pre-supposes the active participation and creativity of human

beings. The End is not merely something to be awaited, but something

to prepare for. The End is not to be understood simply as immanent

punishment and destruction. The End is also a task for human beings, the

task of transfiguring the world. ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation

21:5) is a reference to humankind. The End of the world is ‘a new heaven

and a new earth’ (Revelation 21:1). But the way to transfiguration is not that

of worldly, gradual evolution. The way to transfiguration lies through tragic

catastrophes, through desolation and restoration. For the transfiguration of

the world to be accomplished, i.e. for God’s plan to succeed, man must make

progress, must accomplish creative deeds and respond to God’s call. There

is a fate pertaining to evil, i.e. its fatal consequences. But there is no fate in

respect of good. Evil is subject to necessity; good is directed towards freedom,

and is freedom. It cannot be automatic, or simply consonant with the good

consequences of worldly progress. Eschatology sets before humankind a task,

one aimed at freedom. Humankind must transform the world, transform it

with God, i.e. accomplish the Divine-human task. Therefore we must cast

aside both pessimistic and optimistic eschatology alike. One could say that

the world has two possible ends: that of war, the rising up of nation against

nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, pestilences and earthquakes,

living out the immanent consequences of evil; and that of the transfiguration

of the world, the new heaven and new earth, the Second Coming of Christ.


It is not only a mistake, but also actually harmful to imagine this earthly

world to be in sharp opposition to the other world beyond the grave. In such

a case, the realisation of Christian truth is entirely transposed into the world

beyond the grave. For this world, there remains the law of beasts, receiving its

highest sanction from ‘eschatological pessimism’. In reality, ‘this world’ has

absolutely no inviolable boundaries, it is not an enclosed world, it is not at

all a stable, ‘realest of all possible worlds’; it is possible to break through into

it, to penetrate it from ‘another world.’ In ‘this world’, the actual mode of

existence is experienced as ‘heaviness’. But a transfiguration of this world is

possible. In Kant’s terminology, it could be said that ‘this world’ is appearance,

and it corresponds to a certain structure of consciousness; the ‘other

world’ is something in itself which opens up under a different structure of

consciousness. But the-thing-in-itself, contrary to Kant, is not at all enclosed

by any inviolable barrier; it manifests itself within phenomena, is active in a

world of phenomena. What Kant calls ‘intelligible freedom’ is active within

the world. For that reason. one can say that in this world there are two

‘worlds’. There is, in a particular sense, both this fallen world, and another

world, active within this world. The fundamental dualism is essentially not

a dualism of two worlds, where every truth ends up being transposed into

the other world, but rather a dualism of freedom and necessity, of spirit

and nature understood as real, causal connection. But freedom performs

acts in the realm of necessity, the spirit performs acts in the realm of

nature. A struggle of spirit and freedom is possible against humankind’s

enslavement to the world, against the enslavement of the world itself. From

this perspective, the End of the world constitutes a spiritual revolution of the

world, a revolution of spiritual freedom. And it signifies first of all a change in

the structure of consciousness. There has to be a dispersing and overcoming

of a petrified and restricted consciousness, corresponding to the condition

of ‘heaviness’. If there is a false dualism, then it is the dualism that asserts

that eschatology has no kind of relationship to historical reality, to the social

order. Eschatology has a relationship to everything; it has a relationship to

every significant act of life. Seeking the Kingdom of God takes over the whole

of life, not only the personal, but also the social. Seeking the Kingdom of

God cannot be understood as simply seeking the personal salvation of one’s

soul. A reduction of Christianity to personal salvation of the soul betrays the

whole world to falsehood, evil and the devil, and would be a distortion of

Christianity, an adjustment to the condition of the world and a catastrophic

failure. An exclusively ascetic Christianity, despite its heroic manifestations

in the past, is opportunist, a refusal to tread the path of transfiguring reality.


Eschatological Creativity The distinction between the morality of personal

acts and the morality of social acts is totally false, and has had disastrous

consequences in the history of Christianity. Every personal act is also a social

act; it has social repercussions influencing circles in varying dimensions.

Every social act is also a personal act, since behind it stands a human

being. Human beings are integrated creatures and disclose themselves as

such within the acts of their life. A person cannot be a good Christian in

their personal religious life, but, in their social life – as father/mother of a

household, a manager of a business, or figure of authority – indulging in anti-

Christian principles and being inhuman, cruel, a despot, an exploiter. Such

‘double-entry book-keeping’ has been the disgrace of Christian history. Only

one morality exists, one commandment of God. There is no morality based

on serving a fallen and enslaved world. Eschatology has been contrasted

with a morality tailored for those wanting to order this world. But from a

deeper viewpoint, one must acknowledge that there is no other morality

than the eschatological one, nor can there be, if by morality one understands

that which human beings do when they listen to the voice of God, not to the

voice of the world. Every truly moral, truly spiritual, truly creative act is an

eschatological act; it ends this world and begins another, new world. Every

moral act is a victory of freedom over necessity, of divine humanity over

natural inhumanity. If you feed the hungry or free Africans from slavery, to

take two most elementary examples, you are performing an eschatological

act; you are ending this world, for this world is hunger and slavery. Every

truly creative act is the onset of the End of the world; it is a passing over into

the Kingdom of freedom, leaving behind the wizardry of the world.

Towards Freedom The Kingdom of God comes gradually, without dramatic

effects. It comes in every triumph of humanity, in real liberation. Through

true creativity, the End of this world draws near, the world of inhumanity, of

slavery, of inertia. God acts in human freedom, upon freedom and through

freedom. God is present with His energies ... activating liberation. God

revealed in Christ is, first and foremost, Liberator, and so the End of the world

must be freshly interpreted, understood not exclusively as judgement and

punishment, but as deliverance and enlightenment. Of course, the End of the

world is also Dread Judgement, but judgement as the immanent consequence

of the paths of evil, not as extrinsic punishment of God. Humanity’s creative

freedom stands before the problem of the End. And an approach to this

problem of the End must increase the intensity of the creative act....

The Catastrophe of History It was N. Fedorov who perceived more deeply

than anyone else that Divine-human truth, that the End of the world depends


on human activity, on its common cause, on the application of our whole

being to the universal restoration of life, to the final victory over death.

This common cause is the opposite of war, which sows death. N. Fedorov

understands humanity first and foremost as resurrector, as giver of life. But

N. Fedorov was not a vulgar pacifist. He understood the unattainableness

of eternal peace in the spiritual and social conditions of a modern world

founded on the triumph of death. War is predominantly a phenomenon of

history; it is the ultimate denial of the value of the human person, although

war can also be a struggle for man’s dignity, for his right to exist freely.

Liberating wars do exist. Absolute good in a dark and evil world milieu has

paradoxical manifestations.

This is how I would formulate the eschatological problem posed by war

and the catastrophe of history: history must end, because within the bounds

of history, the problem of the person, its unconditional and supreme value,

remains unresolved. A process of repentance must begin in history, not

just of individual people, which has always happened, but of collectives,

of states, nations, societies, churches. The most terrible crimes in history

were committed not by individual people, but by human, or rather inhuman,

collectives. It is through them and in their name more than anything else that

human beings have tortured other human beings, spilled blood, suffered,

set up hell on earth. It means repentance for a twofold moral sin, that of

holding power in the world and justifying torturing people. The most terrible

cruelties and crimes have been committed in the name of idols, to which

human beings have on occasion been unreservedly devoted. And these

were nearly always idols of collective realities, or rather of pseudo-realities,

which always demand human sacrifices. The making of idols is allied to the

catastrophes and horrors of life. Making idols leads to an end, not an end in

transfiguration but to one in destruction and perdition. The most terrible of

all idols are the ones connected with the will to power.

A New Dimension of Consciousness Eschatology is connected with the

paradox of time. This is where the difficulty lies of interpreting apocalyptic

prophecies about the End. The fallaciousness of these interpretations is

usually connected with the fact that the End is objectivized in time and

materializes in accord with categories of this world. The End must come

within historical time. Hence there are predictions of the end of the world

in a certain year. However, the End of the world does not happen at any

point in our historical time; historical time by itself has the perspective of a


grim endlessness. 1 The End of the world can only be thought of as the end

of time, an exit from time, the time of this world, and not as an end in time,

within time. A naturalistic eschatology is unthinkable and absurd; only a

spiritual eschatology is possible. The end of time, the End of the world, the

end of history means a transition to another dimension of consciousness.

The End of the world cannot be revealed to any structure of consciousness

corresponding to cosmic and historical time, establishing that kind of time.

It is revealed rather to a different structure of consciousness, not weighed

down by the constraints and heaviness of this world, but within existential

time; it is revealed in the spirit and to the spirit. In the creative activity of

the spirit, human beings in freedom leave behind the power of this world,

subject to necessity and endless time, and enter into existential time, into

meta-history. They are able to achieve existential acts which, by the same

token, can be called eschatological acts. Then eternity opens up before them,

not a grim endlessness. Because human beings are not only spiritual, but also

natural and historical beings who are capable of objectifying the perspective

of the End, they then foresee horrific, apocalyptic pictures of the destruction

of the world and the triumph of evil. They remain riveted to the objectivized,

material world. There lies the division of the world, the contrast of the End.

We see the End of the world in time, instead of seeing it as the end of time.

Within time, the End can only be seen as destruction, but from the viewpoint

of eternity, the End can be seen as transfiguration.

History cannot not be war, and war is connected to the End, understood as

the immanent result of evil. Everyone is prepared to admit that war in itself is

evil, even if the lesser of evils. There is a demonic principle in war. Moreover,

when war breaks out, people and nations cannot fail to ask the question

about the meaning of war. They try to make sense of it, as they do with all

the significant events of life. But it is a contradiction in terms to ask about

the meaning of war. War has no meaning; it cannot bear the appearance

of any meaning. War is meaningless, it is an outrage against meaning, and

irrational, deadly forces are at work in it. The only purpose of war is victory

over the foe. But the question can be put in a different way. One can ask about

the causes of war and the tasks it sets before people and nations. War in itself

does not create new life; it is destructive. But people who have lived through

the horrors of war, who have discovered a creative freedom in themselves,

can direct their powers to creating a new, better, and more human life. By

walking in these paths they are preparing for the End as transfiguration. One

can say that the world will end in terrible war, and equally well in eternal


Lit. a ‘bad infinity’, a term used by Hegel within a specialist philosophical context, but whose

meaning corresponds to the one conveyed here, that of a grim endlessness.


peace. War bears some resemblance to revolution. Revolution is destructive

and fatal. At the same time, new creative forces can rise up in revolutions, and

new life can emerge. What we must wish for are not destructive and fateful

wars and revolutions, but a creative, free transfiguration of life. And if war is a

matter of fate, embodied in the enigmatic, sinister figure of a German dictator,

then may the life, which springs up after the war, be a matter of freedom.

Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948) was a religious and political philosopher with a prodigious output

of nearly 500 books and articles. He remained a fiercely independent thinker even while a Marxist,

which he later renounced, and subsequently as a practising Christian in the Russian Orthodox

Church. He would take the Church to task on institutional policies that interfered with the

freedom and creativity lying at the heart of his thought: such as departing from tradition in favour

of nationalism, refusing to disdain anti-Semitism, or perpetuating the drive to become the Third


We are hugely indebted to Mike Whitton in the preparation of this essay for publication. Mike

translated the first draft from the original Russian. His other translations include the first and last

theological works by Sergei Bulgakov, The Unfading Light (Kindle) and A Commentary on the Book

of Reve- lation (soon to be published).



ALMOST EVERY DAY I AM contacted by people who want to talk to me about

peace-making. Often they have good ideas – they want to develop intercommunity

relations, perhaps to host some sports activity that would bring

together young people of different religions, races or tribes. Initiatives like

these are important, but I have to confess I have very little experience in this

area. In Iraq, to be honest, I have learned that the established strategies for

resolving conflict – working through political issues, restoring civil society,

supporting the moderates, involving women – are mostly ineffectual. What

is more productive, I have found, is to gain an understanding specifically

of the people who are responsible for the violence and of their culture,

religion, traditions and everything that shapes their expectations. These

are the influences that propel people into conflict; these are the factors that

complicate its resolution.

In the early days after the liberation of Iraq, so much of what we did was aimed

at finding political solutions that we thought would engineer change and

generate hope. It would have been wonderful if those initiatives had worked,

but most of them did not. Of the six working parties set up by the Iraqi Centre

for Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace in early 2004, for example, only the


one concerned with women, religion and democracy ever bore much fruit.

Some of the key women’s leaders we identified were subsequently elected to

Iraq’s new parliament and did a very important job – though now they tell us

that their male colleagues only laugh at them. Mrs Samia Aziz Mohamed, the

Faili Kurd who led this effort for us and became an MP herself, lost three of

her relatives and her house in 2006 in an attack by Shia gunmen.

So much of my work now is about helping people simply to stay alive, and to

keep their remaining loved ones alive, amidst the constant violence. There is

no knowing how many people have been killed, or even how many have been

abducted, since the fall of Baghdad in 2003. Those who are taken are very

rarely returned. The humanitarian situation, too, is dire. People often ask me

why my foundation is involved in relief work. The answer is simple: because

no one else is. Those foreign aid workers who were here in the heart of Iraq

have fled. Many have gone to the north of the country, to the beauty and

comparative peace of Kurdistan. They tell their supporters they are working

in Iraq and of course it is true – but they are in a different world from the one

we are operating in.

Many of these people work for Christian agencies. They were not wrong to

leave central Iraq – they had to. It would have been far too dangerous for them

to remain here. If they had stayed, they would have achieved little and most

probably would have been seen as missionaries trying to convert Muslims.

They themselves would then have been at serious risk of being kidnapped

or murdered, while any Iraqi Christians associated with them would have

been reckoned as supporters of the ‘Crusader’ ideology of the West. This is

the perspective of militant Muslims who do not realize that Christianity took

root here long before Islam, and long before it took root in the West. Such

thinking is dangerously prevalent here.

The flight of the major relief organizations from the heart of this country

has increased the burden on the FRRME 1 massively. Fighting for peace in the

Middle East is always hard, but at times in Iraq it is soul-destroying. So, what

is the role of a peacemaker in this country, amidst the trauma and chaos

that have become so normal here? You soon discard the idea that success

may come quickly: any strategy has to be long-term. You are also soon

disabused of the idea that imposing Western-style democracy will bring

peace. Whenever a democratic system has been introduced to the Middle

East in the recent past, the outcome has generally been bad. Democracy has

given Iran a malignant president and Gaza a terrorist government, and Iraq,

too, has suffered enormously because it took so long for people to agree on


Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East


who should run it. In fact, the most stable governments in the region are

those of Morocco and Jordan, which are essentially benevolent hereditary


Attempts by the West to foster peace in the Middle East by encouraging

democracy show that our politicians have not considered the core values

of these societies, and in particular their religious identity, their culture

of honour and shame, the influence of the family and the pervasive role of

tradition. Many of our Western ideals simply do not work in this part of the

world. It sounds very fine, for example, to try to bring about change from the

bottom up, and in the West it may work; but here it does not. Here, the only

way you can really effect change is to work from the top down. In particular,

it is the religious leaders who determine which way a society will go – and in

order to influence them we have to make friends with them. This, I believe,

has been our most crucial mistake in the West: we have failed to understand

that at the heart of Middle Eastern society is the idea of relationship, which

means that establishing and nurturing relationships have to be absolutely

central to our work.

What is important is not only how strong our relationships are but also who

they are with. We can make progress in peacemaking only when we are

engaging with the key people on both – or all – sides of the conflict. In Israel/

Palestine, that is comparatively easy; but in Iraq it is much more complex. The

parties to the violence include the Sunna, the Shia, the Kurds, the Americans

and their partners in the Coalition, and the Iraqi government and its security

forces. Moreover, there is fighting not only between communities but also

within them, as different factions struggle for control. Everyone needs to be

involved in the quest for peace. Peacemaking of the old woolly-liberal kind

no longer works, if it ever did. We cannot succeed if we do not engage with

the military. By the same token, we have to engage too with the people who

choose to kidnap women and children and blow up buses. We cannot confine

ourselves to sitting down and drinking tea with nice people.

Not everyone is approachable, of course – some groups, such as al-Qa’ida,

are impossible to engage with at any level. How great it would be to meet

with them and talk sense, to restore to them what they feel they have lost

and seek peace and reconciliation! But that is simply not possible, because

it is of no interest to them. They are set only on killing and maiming in the

name of God. I have, however, got very close to the most senior people in the

Mehdi Army and other such radical groups, and I continue to be so. (This can

be quite disconcerting. One day, I was sitting in my study in leafy Hampshire

when I had a phone call from Muqtada al-Sadr. He had heard it reported that


the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had said that shari’a law

should be introduced to England and he wanted me to tell Lambeth Palace

how much he approved.) If anyone who is responsible for violence is willing

to deal with us, we have to engage with them if we are to have any hope

of bringing peace to Iraq. It is often difficult to get these people to meet

representatives of the Coalition, because Western governments do not want

to be seen to be talking to ‘the bad guys’ – though in private they are glad we

are doing it, and the Pentagon especially is now happy to finance this aspect

of our work.

I am involved with both religious and political leaders and I find they often

fail to understand each other. Western politicians do not appreciate that

religious extremists need to be addressed in religious language. On the other

hand, most religious leaders have little insight into the nature of Western

politics and are unaware that most of our politicians find violence in the name

of God incomprehensible. Often, a further obstacle to mutual understanding

is the belief shared by both kinds of leader that the only way to deal with the

other kind is by force. Both of them tend to assume that if you hurt someone

enough they will submit to your will. The problem with this assumption is

that usually it results only in an escalation of violence.

There is no simple formula, no secret, to getting these people to engage with

us or with each other, or to change their tactics; and there is little rhyme or

reason in how we have achieved it. It can take months merely to get to know

some people – and yet often it is when we get to know them, and even make

friends with them, that solutions begin to emerge. Fortunately, Christianity

encourages us in this approach, because Jesus taught us to love our enemies

and forgive them. (Most of those I deal with in the Middle East, however, are

Jews or Muslims, and this concept of loving and forgiving your enemies is

foreign to their religion. It can be difficult to explain it to them.)

As a third party, I and my colleagues play a vital role not only by mediating

negotiations but also by facilitating the forming of relationships across the

divides. Often, our starting-point is enabling each side to hear the other’s

story. As the American poet Longfellow once wrote: ‘If we could read the

secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and

suffering enough to disarm all hostility.’ Or, as someone else has said, ‘Who

is my enemy? It is the person whose story I have not heard.’ Merely to get to

this point of listening to each other can take many months or even years, but

once we have reached it we find that people are often astonished to learn of

the pain the other side is experiencing in the conflict.


Such encounters may be the beginning of a road that leads to reconciliation,

but we need to find a way to keep people moving along it. This may involve

arranging regular conferences, seminars or private meetings between

religious and political leaders, or it may mean something more informal,

such as a meal together. All of this sounds easier than it actually is. In fact,

progress can be excruciatingly slow. Once I thought we could achieve things

quickly, but it did not take long to discover that in Iraq you have to operate by

Middle Eastern, not Western, time. Something that in Britain or America you

might hope to accomplish in a day can take over a year here.

In the meantime, our task is often just to get to know people’s concerns and

to hear them tell their stories in the way they want to tell them. This in itself

can be very difficult: time and time again I encounter views I know to be

seriously flawed or grossly inaccurate. Everything requires tact and patience.

The fact is, however, that while summits can produce stirring declarations

(and I have been involved in many of them), on their own they will achieve

nothing. It is the individuals that come to such gatherings who can make the

difference – as long as we invest enough time and money in working with

them. And they, too, need to spend time meeting with others, on their own

side and the other side, who also have the influence to make a difference.

In August 2007, I met in Cairo with a number of Iraq’s most distinguished

religious leaders. When Abu Ragif, a Shia ayatollah, and Dr Abdel Latif, a

Sunni sheikh, said they wanted to meet at least once a month, I thought they

were being far too ambitious – they didn’t even live in the same country. And

yet that is what has happened. One of Iraq’s most senior Shia leaders has

been sitting down regularly with one of its most senior Sunni leaders. This is

how change is brought about. Declarations are all very well, I have learned,

but they must be followed by action – and it is relationships that make this


Once we have established relationships – and set up the congresses or

institutes or whatever that will sustain them – we then have to dedicate

ourselves to developing them. Every day, we have to address the various

issues they throw up, and this involves meeting with all the different parties

involved – diplomats, politicians, soldiers, religious leaders and terrorists.

Every meeting is different in character.

All of the diplomats I talk to in Iraq work for one or another member of the

Coalition. Generally, my engagement on this front is at a very high level, as I

usually deal with the ambassador of a country or his deputy. My conversations

with these people are always wide-ranging. Some governments are involved

in funding specific aspects of our work with religious leaders and so their


embassies need to know how these projects are developing, to be assured

that their aims are being achieved. Often, I am asked to arrange meetings

for them with various sectarian leaders, and sometimes I am able to and

sometimes not.

Often my discussions with diplomats focus on ways to reduce political

sectarianism, and encourage the building of coalitions across the tribal

and religious divides. (In Iraq’s first democratic election, for a transitional

assembly in January 2005, over 120 different groups and parties put up

candidates, which was impractical as well as daunting for the voters.) I

always leave these meetings with a long list of things to do. My unique ability

to relate to Iraq’s religious leaders means that when I meet with diplomats

from Coalition countries I can inform them of the views I have encountered

‘on the ground’. One question that has been central to our deliberations is:

How can religion advise, rather than supervise, politics? Often I find that

diplomats have only a very limited understanding of the nature of religion in

Iraq, and so these meetings can be very educational.

With some diplomats, I am frequently involved in complex hostage

negotiations. In these cases, the character of our meetings is totally different.

They ask me for details about our dealings with the people we think may

be the kidnappers, and sometimes I can give them that information and

sometimes I can’t. I cannot betray people’s trust, even when they are

generally perceived as ‘really bad’ people. It is crucial in such negotiations

that everyone recognizes that I and my team are not working for any

government. (It is no secret that a large part of my foundation’s funding

comes from the Pentagon, but the Americans have never once told us what to

do and I always make this clear to the people we are dealing with – and they

accept this.) We have to approach these matters as religious, not secular,

leaders. It is this that wins us respect in Iraq and enables us – not always, but

sometimes – to accomplish what we are trying to do.

My relations with Iraqi politicians are not always easy, but they are always

very civil. Some of them, such as the National Security Adviser, Dr Mowaffak,

I have become very close to. All of Iraq’s prime ministers since the war have

also become my friends. When I meet with these people, we talk through

every aspect of their work and ours, from trying to combat religious

sectarianism to caring for my congregation at St George’s. I also have to

engage with politicians from the various countries in the Coalition, and

especially our major partners, America, Britain and Denmark.


My dealings with members of the armed forces, both foreign and (to a much

smaller extent) Iraqi, are always precise and to the point, focusing strictly on

what needs to be accomplished and how it can be done. The key issue is how

the violence can be reduced, for the fact is that the principal peacemakers

in Iraq today are the military. Indeed, I often remind them of this fact. Once

again, I deal chiefly with the senior officers and have little to do with the

lower ranks unless I see them at chapel. I have especially close relations with

the American military, both on the ground in Iraq and at the Department of

Defense in Washington.

My encounters with religious leaders are always intense. It’s essential that I

maintain a good relationship with them in whatever country or situation we

find ourselves. All of the leaders I work with carry great authority in both the

political and the religious sphere, and it is often difficult to get across to them

the fact that in the West religious leaders do not have the same influence.

Many of these men now live outside Iraq, and so I and my colleagues are

constantly flying to other parts of the Middle East. Our endless phone

calls are not enough: we have to visit them as often and as regularly as we

can – and take them presents, as their culture requires. We spend hours

in deep discussions with them about matters relating to Iraq, and usually

they have complaints about the multinational forces, the government and

other religious groups and leaders. Engaging with these people can be

very expensive as well as time-consuming, but it is essential because even

those who live in exile still wield great influence through their broadcasts on

television and through the major organizations they are involved in running

in Iraq.

The most important people I deal with, however, are the terrorists. If our

concern is to stem the violence, we have to work with those who perpetrate

it. As I have said already, this is not always easy, or even possible, and there

are groups such as al-Qa’ida that refuse to engage with the Coalition except

in battle. In these cases, armed force is the only remaining option. Many

people object to the idea that military action has an important role in peacemaking,

but I believe it is true more strongly now than ever. In other cases,

however, you realize that there are non-aggressive ways to pacify people. For

example, many Iraqis have resorted to violence because they perceive that

something precious has been taken from them. They may have lost territory,

money, prestige or political influence, but in the end it all boils down to a loss

of power. The solution is some sort of concession. To win them over to the

cause of peace, we have to persuade the Coalition and the Iraqi government

to give them something back. I can’t reveal what this has meant in practice


– regrettably, for security reasons, much of what we do cannot be disclosed.

All I can say is that mediating the negotiations that this entails constitutes

a major part of my work and it is often very complex and time-consuming.

It is essential in all this that people come to trust me and my colleagues. This

does not happen automatically. A crucial factor is that first and foremost I

am regarded as a religious leader. That is the only reason I can do this job. If

I were not a priest, I could not do it. I am frequently told by members of the

Iraqi government that my two most important qualifications for my work

are that I am myself a cleric and that I have been in Iraq for a long time,

now over a decade. It makes all the difference that I am ordained because

here there is very little distinction between religion and politics. In the West

we may talk about the separation of church and state and it may have big

advantages, but the reality in Iraq – as, indeed, in much of the non-Western

world – is very different. Recently, when one of my team asked some of Grand

Ayatollah al-Sistani’s people what they thought of Iraq’s new government,

they told him matter-of-factly, ‘We are the government.’ Here in Iraq, religion

and politics are inextricably entwined. I was in a discussion group with

Madeleine Albright at the launch of the Clinton Global Initiative in 2005 and

she admitted that her biggest mistake in office, as America’s Secretary of

State from 1997 to 2001, was not to take seriously the role of religion in

diplomatic affairs. As she points out in her brilliant book The Mighty and the

Almighty, it is futile to try to ‘keep religion out of politics’. It is bound up in

so much of the conflict in our world and we cannot be serious about peacemaking

unless we are serious about engaging with it.

The mutual incomprehension between the Islamic world and the West is

certainly one of the biggest problems facing humankind today. Many Muslims

do not understand the fundamentals of Western society. They see it in simple

terms, as recklessly secular, with no God-given ideals. Unfortunately, this

perception is confirmed by much of our television, whose witness they see

and believe. You only have to watch a little Arabic TV to see the difference.

(Curiously, the divorce between religion and politics in the West goes even

deeper in those countries where it is unofficial, such as Britain, than it does

in America, where it is established by the constitution.)

The West, in return, has many false perceptions of Islam, which it associates

increasingly with radicalism and terrorism. We forget that for hundreds of

years Christians, too, waged war in the name of God. Violence in God’s name

is always wrong, whoever it is committed by, but we need to grasp that only a

small percentage of the Muslim community is guilty of this evil. (Indeed, it is

not only Muslims who suffer from our prejudice in the Middle East – Christians


from the region are viewed with the same suspicion. If you are a Palestinian or

an Iraqi, you are regarded as a security threat whatever your religion. Western

unfamiliarity with Arabic names does not help. Two of my closest Christian

friends from Iraq are called Osama and Jihad. These are everyday names where

they come from, but in the West they set alarm bells ringing.) The remarks

of Iran’s (former 1 ) president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, about Israel have

further reinforced the idea that Islam, and especially Shia Islam, is essentially

aggressive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of Muslims

in Iraq are Shia and I have found most of them to be peace-loving people.

This is not to deny the worldwide threat of al-Qa’ida. Today the danger it

poses is real. Kenya, Tanzania, America, Indonesia, Spain, Britain, Algeria

and Pakistan, among others, have all suffered the consequences of its

fundamentalist zeal. The result is that not only Islam but religion in general

has gained a very bad name. So often when people in the West learn that I am

a priest they start complaining about religion. They tell me that it is a major

cause of most of the wars in the world today. I totally agree with them. They

find this shocking, but I tell them that religion is like a hammer and chisel: it

can be used either to create something beautiful or to cause total havoc. Too

often it does the latter – as I point out when Christians tell me, as they often

do, that what the world needs now is more religion. Sadly, when religion

goes wrong, it really does go wrong. My job, however, is to try to make it go

right. As I frequently tell people: If religion is part of the problem, it must be

part of the solution.

I often watch Christian television when I am in Iraq. Most of it is American,

and most of it shows a profound lack of understanding of what is happening in

the wider world. Generally, it seems to be concerned only to make individuals

feel good about themselves and to tell them how they can prosper financially.

I find this hard to take when my people at St George’s have nothing. There is

no financial prosperity in store for them, and yet they are so sincere in their

love for the Lord. On the other hand, I find great encouragement in channels

such as the British-based God TV that have helped the FRRME so generously

to help those who have nothing. I often say to Christians that we not only

must pray for peace, we also must pay for peace. Too often we expect results

to come not only quickly but cheaply. This is a point I am constantly making

to governments and charitable trusts as well.

Demonizing Islam is not the only mistake we have made in the West, however.

We have misunderstood the very nature of this faith. When we talk of the


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the Sixth President of Iran from 2005-13


need to ‘strengthen the moderate Muslims’ and deal only with them, who do

we have in mind? Those Muslims who share our Western ideals. As a Christian

and a priest, I would take great offence if I was called a ‘moderate’ believer.

I am not. I am serious about my faith and my tradition. When I say the creed

on Sundays, I mean it. And I share the concern of my Muslim brothers and

sisters over the growing secularism and apostasy of Western society. True

Islam, like true Christianity, is anything but moderate. Unfortunately, when

we describe as ‘moderates’ those true Muslims who shun violence and abhor

terrorism and are tolerant ofthe other’, whether Christian or Jew, we only

strengthen the position of those who do not and are not, and we encourage

the view that it is they who are being true to their faith. I spend most of my

time in the Middle East, and most of my colleagues are Muslims. Some of

the people I trust most are Muslims – including those who translate for me

now at church services. Not one of them is a moderate. They are ardently

opposed to all forms of violence, but they are also extremely serious about

their faith and their commitment to serving God. I have to say that I have

more in common with them than I do with many of my so-called Christian


If we genuinely want to resolve the very real problems between the West

and the Islamic world, we need to begin by using the right language. In the

first place, we have to abandon this talk of ‘moderation’. We need truly to

respect Islam, which means having regard for those Muslims who are serious

about their faith. In my experience, most Muslims are tolerant and ready to

work with others, but they want other people to respect them, and even to

be willing to learn from them. Indeed, it may well be that the West – and

even the church – has a lot to learn from Islam. Perhaps we should begin by

looking at ourselves and asking how we can become more serious about our

beliefs. We should also disabuse ourselves of the idea that the best people to

engage with Muslims are the liberal Christians. We need people in this field

who are orthodox in their faith and committed. That is what Muslims expect

all Christians to be.

Front-line peacemaking can be immensely stressful. This is not the kind

of work where you can ask people to wait until another day. Often, your

response has to be immediate, when a mosque or a church is blown up, a

hostage is taken or a member of your staff is killed. On several occasions I

have sat with my colleagues in Baghdad and cried at the news of a disaster or

death we had tried to prevent. It has been an incredibly painful experience.

However, there have also been times of immense joy. This is the nature of

our work, put very simply. It is complex and intense and, for the present,


much of it cannot be revealed, though one day I may be able to tell the full

story. Searching for peace in the midst of violence is a risky business. It is

so dangerous sometimes that very few people can do it. Nothing is certain

about it – except that it has to be done. People must realize that it takes a

very long time and we must not give up. Here in Iraq the work is often very

solitary, very lonely and widely misunderstood. There are times when I wish

I had a different calling. Then, suddenly, comes a small sign of progress: a

Sunni and a Shia cleric share a meal together or a hostage is freed and, in a

moment, hope is renewed.

This hope is often far more theological than political. Often Iraqi politics

offers very little reason for optimism, but then unexpectedly the hope of the

Resurrection breaks through. I think of days when all has seemed utterly

bleak and I have gone in my mind to the empty tomb of Christ and just stood

there. That empty tomb has been my inspiration. So, we take heart. The Spirit

and the glory of God are here and, with the angels, are filling the atmosphere

with the presence of the Lord. He is working in our world and I believe that

the Middle East is at the centre of his purposes. The more I have worked in

this region, the more I have come to see that it is God who is in control. I

know that of myself I can do nothing but with God I can do everything. I have

come to realize that what is happening in the physical realm is often just a

manifestation of what is happening in the spiritual realm.

If you had asked me a few years ago what peace-making boils down to, I

would have given you a long and convoluted answer. Nowadays, I would

simply say one word: love. It is love that leads us to forgiveness, which is

the only thing that can prevent the pain of the past from dictating the future.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but generally we do not even like them

very much. So much of my time is spent with unpleasant people, and so

before I approach them I simply pray: ‘Lord, help me to love them!’ If there is

one passage in the Bible that is a prescription for my work, I would suggest

it is Romans 12:9-21:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted

to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s

people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those

who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one

another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low

position. Do not be conceited.


Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes

of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with

everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,

for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, ‘says the Lord. On the


‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him

something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning

coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There are times when it is very difficult to love, when you feel you have

given so much and got nothing in return. Especially is this so in long-running

hostage negotiations. Sometimes I feel angry as I make my way to a meeting,

but I know that, if there is to be any prospect of progress, that anger must

give way to love. In all my dealings with terrorists, it has been clear that they

want something; but often I have had nothing to give them but love. This is

in itself a form of sharing Jesus. So, we love, love and love and pray, pray and

pray and hope, hope and hope that change will be brought about through the

glory of God.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew White. Extract taken from The Vicar of Baghdad by Andrew White,

published by Lion Hudson plc, 2009, and reproduced here with permission.

Canon Andrew White, sometime dubbed, the ‘Vicar of Baghdad,’ because his church is the only

remaining Anglican church in Iraq, was the vicar of St George’s Church, Baghdad, until his

departure for the sake of security in November 2014. His people (the congregation of St George’s)

referred to him as their Aboona (Father). Until recently, he was the President of the Foundation for

Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), which works to mediate and re-establish

dialogue between conflicting groups, particularly between Shia and Sunni, and members of

terrorist groups as well. He is no stranger to danger, having been ‘hijacked, kidnapped, locked up

in rooms with bits of finger and toe and things.’ He has ‘been held at gunpoint, been attacked,’ and

has been featured on billboards in Iraq under the logo, “Wanted Dead or Alive’.”


Lessons from History

A FORMER CABINET MINISTER, an intelligent person (nonetheless) asked

me the other day: “Let’s assume that your plan is realized. A Palestinian state

will come into being side by side with Israel. Even some kind of federation.

Then, in a few years, a violently anti-Israel party will come to power there

and annul all the treaties. What then?”

My simple answer was: “Israel will always be powerful enough to forestall

any threat.” That is true, but that is not the real answer. The real answer lies


in the lessons of history. History shows us that there are (at least) two kinds

of peace agreements. One kind, the stupid one, is based on power. The other,

the intelligent, is based on common interest.

The most notorious of the first kind is the Treaty of Versailles that followed

World War I. It was signed four years before I was born, but as a child I was

an eye-witness to its results. It was a “dictated” peace. After four years of

fighting, with millions of victims, the victors wanted to inflict maximum

damage on the vanquished.

Large parts of Germany were separated from the Fatherland and turned

over to the victors East and West. Huge indemnities were levied on Germany,

which was already totally exhausted by the war.

Perhaps worst of all was the “war guilt” clause. The origins of the war were

manifold and complicated. A Serbian patriot killed the Austrian heir to

the throne. Austria answered with a harsh ultimatum. The Russian Czarist

Empire, which saw itself as the protector of all Slavs, declared a general

mobilization to frighten the Austrians off. The Russians were allied with the

French. To prevent an invasion from both sides, the Germans, who allied to

the Austrians, invaded France. The idea was to knock the French out before

the cumbersome Russian mobilization was completed. Fearing a German

victory, Great Britain rushed to the aid of the French. Complicated? Indeed.

But the victors compelled the Germans to sign a clause that indicted them as

solely responsible for the outbreak of the war.

WHEN I WENT TO SCHOOL in Germany, there hung before my eyes a map of

Germany. It showed the present borders of the Reich (as it was still called),

and around it a prominent red line that showed the pre-war borders. This

map hung in every class in every school in Germany. From earliest childhood

on, every German boy and girl was daily reminded of the great injustice done

to the Fatherland, when large chunks were torn from it.

Worse, every German child was taught that his or her father had fought

valiantly for four whole years against a vastly superior enemy and

surrendered only from sheer exhaustion. Germany had played only a minor

role in the events that led to the war, yet the whole blame for the war was

laid on it. So were the huge “reparations” that ruined the German economy.

The humiliation of signing such an unjust treaty was a permanent sting, and

became the battle-cry of Adolf Hitler’s new National-Socialist party. The

politicians who had signed the document were assassinated. History has

blamed the leaders of the victorious allies for their stupidity in dictating

these terms, especially after the far-sighted American president, Woodrow


Wilson, had warned against it. Probably they had no choice. The terrible war

had bred intense hatred, and peoples were thirsting for revenge. They paid

for it dearly when Germany, under the leadership of Hitler, started World

War II.

THE OPPOSITE example is provided by the Peace of Vienna of 1815, almost a

hundred years earlier. Napoleon’s troops had overrun large parts of Europe.

Unlike Hitler’s Germany, Napoleon’s France brought with it a civilizing

message, but its troops also committed many atrocities. When France was

exhausted and broke down, the victorious allies could easily have imposed

on it the same punitive and humiliating terms imposed by their successors a

century later. They did not.

Instead of treating France as a vanquished foe, they invited it to the table.

Napoleon’s ex-foreign minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, was

welcomed as one of the leaders to shape the future of Europe. The leading

spirit of the Congress of Vienna was Klemens von Metternich, ably assisted

by the British Lord Castlereagh. France was allowed to recuperate within

a short time. One of the great admirers of Metternich and his colleagues is

Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately he did the opposite when he himself became

the US Foreign Minister. The ‘Concert of Nations’ created by the Peace of

Vienna established a solid system that kept Europe peaceful for almost a

hundred years, with a few exceptions (like the Franco-Prussian war of 1870).

The spirit of its founders shines today as an example of wisdom.

WORLD WAR II, the most terrible of all, could have ended with a second

Versailles treaty. It did not. After Germany’s Unconditional Surrender, no

peace treaty was signed at all. After the awful atrocities of the Nazis, no

generous treaty was possible. Germany was divided, but instead of paying

huge indemnities, it – incredibly – received huge sums of money from the

victors, so it could rebuild itself in record time. It did lose a lot of territory,

but a few decades later Germany became the leading power in a united

Europe. Any major war in Europe is now unthinkable.

Winston Churchill and his partners had obviously learned the lesson of

Versailles. They disproved the popular saying that nobody learns anything

from history. Even the new State of Israel behaved with a lot of wisdom –

as far as Germany was concerned. The chimneys of Auschwitz had hardly

stopped smoking when Israel, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion,

signed a treaty with Germany. Sadly, Ben-Gurion did not display the same

wisdom facing the Arab world.


There was the moment of Oslo, when everything was possible. Martin Buber

once told me: “There is a right moment for a historic act. The moment before

it is wrong. The moment after it is wrong. But for one moment it is right.”

Unfortunately, Yitzhak Rabin did not recognize that. I doubt if he knew much

about world history.

WHAT IS the lesson? Kissinger put it well in one of his books, before he

became a war criminal. It is this: Peace will hold only if all sides profit from

it. Peace will not hold if one major side is left out. At the moment of victory,

the victor believes that his power is eternal. He can impose his terms and

humiliate the enemy. But history shows that power changes, the strong of

today may be the weak of tomorrow. The weak may become strong and take

revenge. That is the lesson Israel should absorb. Today we are strong, and

the Arab world is in shambles. It will not always be so.

A peace treaty with Palestine and the Arab world will hold if it is wise and

generous. Wise enough so the Palestinian people, or at least a great majority,

will come to the conclusion that it is both worthwhile and honourable to

keep it.

It is always good to have a strong army. Just in case. But history shows that

it is neither strong armies nor an abundance of weapons that guarantees

peace. It is the goodwill of all sides, based on self-interest. And the wisdom

of politicians – a rare ingredient, indeed.

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery is a former Israeli politician and political writer. He is the founder of the Gush Shalom

peace movement. He was a member of the Irgun as a teenager but later left, objecting to its terrorist

tactics. Born in Germany in 1933 (now 93), Avnery sat in the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from

1979 to 1981. Along with his wife, Rachel, he received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes

called the “Alternative Nobel Prize”, “… for their unwavering conviction, in the midst of violence,

that peace can only be achieved through justice and reconciliation”.


Brother John of the Cross CSWG

6 April 1944 – 12 November 2015

Professed March 25 1994

Homily given at his funeral on November 21 2015

Job 19:23-27; Romans 5:1-11; John 6:27-40

The people said to Jesus, What must we do to perform the works of God?

Jesus answered them, This is the work of God, that you believe in him who

he has sent. (John 6:28-29)

On 7 November 2012, Brother John of the Cross had a fall. This wasn’t

unusual, as his walking had been getting very wobbly. With help he got back

to his cell but as the day went on it was clear that all was not well. He couldn’t

move his left leg, though he wasn’t in pain. An ambulance was called and

he and I went off to the hospital. He hasn’t been resident at the Monastery

since then. The condition of his legs – peripheral neuropathy – meant that

he felt little pain and as the doctors at Accident and Emergency hadn’t seen

him walk in his rather precarious way, their initial concern was to make

sure there wasn’t a reason for his fall – chest pain, a blackout, dizziness and

so on. The trouble was that, though John was his usual chirpy self, the fall

had clearly jolted him onto another level of confusion. He answered their

questions brightly enough but was not, shall we say, very consistent. He

was asked several times if he was in pain. ‘No, no,’ he said. Later, when he

was asked if he was in pain, he said he was, indicating areas on his right leg,

when it was his left hip he had broken. Eventually the doctor said to me, ‘He

seems rather confused,’ and did I know anything of his medical condition

and history. When I reeled off all the things that were the matter with him

and the medication he took to keep it all in some sort of coordination and

working order, she looked somewhat stunned. I was to repeat this to various

doctors over the coming weeks. I must admit I rather enjoyed their amazed

reactions, made all the more comic with John usually sitting there, smiling

happily and largely oblivious of what we were talking about. I can laugh

about it now and I did then, but actually it was the unfolding of a tragedy. It

was the beginning of a slowly diminishing existence, which was to end in his

death on Thursday of last week.

After the operation to repair his hip, he had no pain, so keeping him in

bed or in his chair became a major problem on the ward. No amount of

telling him made any difference. He had no sense of danger and wouldn’t

stay still. We were told he couldn’t return to the Monastery, as it was highly


likely that he would fall again, so he went to The Gables in Crawley and

then to Acorn Lodge Nursing Home in East Grinstead. There he has been

cared for with great kindness and respect – and an awful lot of patience.

We can see now that the confusion, which became worse when he fell, had

actually been going on for a long time. For some years, I had been accompanying

him to see doctors about his various conditions. No complaints about the

NHS from me; he was treated superbly. Going with him meant I could piece

together his history, something he was hopeless at being able to tell. This

isn’t the place to describe that, though it should be said that he had more

than his share of illness and disability. We can see now that the rhythm of

our life kept him going. There were times when he really wasn’t coping but

he covered it up and kept it to himself.

He had investigations at the National Neurological Hospital in London for

many years. They were fascinated by him, mainly because his symptoms

were unusual. ‘Come in, you’re a very interesting case,’ the consultant

would say, as we entered a room with students and other doctors, all rather

intrigued. They knew what was the matter with his legs but they didn’t know

– and never found out – what was the original cause. Eventually one of the

professors said, ‘You’re a diagnostic mystery, you are,’ which summed up

John of the Cross in more ways than one.

John’s father died in 1988 and his mother in 1990. By that stage, John had

trained as a teacher and been working in a primary school, and become

involved in his local church whilst caring for his elderly parents. He visited

the Monastery on many occasions and became an Associate. On the death of

his mother, he felt free to test his vocation to monastic life and was admitted

as a postulant in August 1991. His gardening skills were put to good use, he

looked after the cows and did some cooking. He shared fully in the Office and

the Eucharist, which he loved. He sang well. He didn’t go out much, though

he enjoyed the annual meetings for Anglican religious, which he attended

many times.

His general disposition was joyful and positive. He laughed a lot. He saw much

beauty in creation and the world around him. Most things that happened to

him were, to use his words, ‘Marvellous,’ ‘absolutely wonderful,’ ‘beautiful,’

‘it was delightful,’ ‘we had a lovely time.’ Some things were, ‘Awful,’ ‘terrible,’

‘a disaster,’ or just ‘No,’ with a horizontal movement of both hands. Generally,

though, he saw the good side and the funny side. He had a disposition of

thankfulness, an expression of faith and trust in the providence of God. It is

important to keep all this in mind, and not just concentrate on the last three



He came to monastic life having fulfilled his obligations as an only child to his

parents. He left one way of life and work to take up another one. It involved

a lot of work and he did his best with it but the real work was the work of

God, believing in the one, Jesus Christ, whom God had sent. So he came here

to walk that path, as the Rule of St Benedict puts it, ‘to run in the way of

God’s commandments with liberty of heart and unspeakable sweetness of

love.’ He came to seek to grow in prayer and conformity to the will of God.

He didn’t say very much about this and if he did, was rather inarticulate. We

got used to his unfinished sentences and somewhat mysterious statements.

The fruit of it was clear to see, though, in a life of genuine joy and simplicity,

rejoicing in what he saw around him, in the world and in the loveliness of

other people. Like all of us he had his failings. He was occasionally infuriating

and stubborn and, it must be said, sometimes very odd but underneath it all

was that spring of living water, always welling up to eternal life.

In the eucharistic prayer, we pray for ‘the faithful who are suffering or sick,’

and we have prayed for Brother John of the Cross by name at that point,

ever since he went into hospital those three years ago. It has been a way of

including him in our life of thanksgiving. At the requiem we had for him on

the day he died, we prayed for him in the petition that comes before that –

‘Father, remember in your kingdom Brother John of the Cross and all who

have departed this life in your faith and fear.’ So when we got to the next

petition, I had to pause slightly and realised he had moved – moved from a

place of suffering and sickness to a place of rest, a place where his potential

as a child of God and a believer could now be completed.

He rests now from his labours here; he rests now free from a lot of suffering,

sickness and restriction. He is free from the fuzziness that clouded his mind

and the incoherence of his speech. Now he sees the Real Beauty, not just the

reflection of it in the beauty of creation.

Hymns often come to my mind as summing things up and this one popped in

as I reflected on John’s place of rest:

O what their joy and their glory must be,

Those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see.

Crown for the valiant; to weary ones rest;

God shall be all, and in all ever blest.

Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

Translated by John Mason Neale (1818-1866)

Colin CSWG


Father Alex (George Alexander) Brighouse

Postulant CSWG

2 March 1946 - 23 May 2016

Admitted as a Postulant 7 th December 2014

Homily given at his funeral on 7 June 2016

Job 19:23-27; Romans 5:1-11; John 6:27-40

‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him

whom he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

When Alex came to the Monastery, he didn’t bring much – clothes, books

and a briefcase of personal papers. Amongst these was a card received at his

Confirmation at St Paul’s, Hatton Hill, Litherland, in Liverpool, then his parish

church. It was on 13 March 1960. He was fourteen. The picture (reproduced

on the inside cover of the service booklet) shows a young man steering his

boat. He grasps the tiller firmly with both hands, his head and face, indeed

his whole body, firmly set in the direction he wishes the boat to go. Standing

behind him is the Lord, depicted in a slightly ethereal way, to indicate to us,

looking at the picture, that he is invisible to the man in the boat. Yet to the

eyes of faith, he is pointing, clearly indicating the direction the man should

take. His hand is barely touching the tiller. He indicates the direction. It is the

man who steers the boat.

This seems a suitable image to hold in our minds as we gather to commend

Alex to the love and mercy of God, the God he has endeavoured to serve in

his life.

Even if, like me, you have little experience of steering a boat, the image

remains a potent one of what our life is like. We endeavour to follow the

directions of the Lord. Sometimes we choose not to notice, being too occupied

with our own ideas. Sometimes we deliberately choose another course, with

the inevitable storms that ensue and maybe even shipwreck.

Yet even when we do our best to set our course in the way the Lord indicates,

life is not by all means ‘plain sailing’. There are storms, squalls, heavy

headwinds, as well as some smooth seas with vast horizons before us. What

is important is that we are going the right way. Like the men in Psalm 107,

the Lord calms the storm to a silence, the waves of the sea are stilled and he

brings us to the haven we have longed for. Life has lots of little havens, places

of peace which we find after perseverance and prayer, a sense that, amidst


the ups and downs – ‘up to the sky and down again to the depths’ – our lives

are on the right course.

Alex had his share of the storms of life. He seems to have been involved in the

church from a young age. After leaving school and working for a few years,

he started on the path towards ordination, first trying to get some academic

qualifications that he’d not managed to do at school. It didn’t work out and

after a year he gave it up. Marriage and family life followed, with various jobs,

including looking after the home full time. He trained and was licensed as a

Reader. After twenty years, the marriage came to an end, with the inevitable

wounds, hurt and grief for all concerned. This was something he never spoke

about. At about the same time, he’d been training for ordination and was

ordained deacon in 1990 and priest in 1991. This 30 June would have been

the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, something I was

hoping we would celebrate with him. He ministered, as a self-supporting

priest, in two parishes, and then in October 1992 went to St Wilfrid’s, Lidget

Green in Bradford, to assist Father Paul Bilton, who’d been recently widowed

and had a young family. He remained there until he came to the Monastery

in October 2014. He endeared himself to the people at St Wilfrid’s with

his quiet, unassuming and kindly ways. To Paul he was a loyal and faithful

colleague, willing to do what was needed, whilst remaining something of a

mystery because of his reticence and self-effacement. He began visiting us

and became an Associate and then asked, completely out of the blue – I was

stunned – if he could come and join us. After some discussion, we decided to

give him the opportunity. He continued with his quiet, unfussy ways amongst

us, reluctant to say almost anything about himself – not a bad virtue for a

monk, would that the rest of us had some of it – and getting on gently with

the basics of life – prayer, reading and work. He was happy here. Indeed, he

said to several people that it was the best thing he’d ever done.

Unknown to us, almost a lifetime of smoking had done its damage and

after various investigations, very speedily done, incurable cancer was

diagnosed in the middle of February. In some ways he seemed reluctant

to engage with this but there were also some signs of acceptance that this

was it, and he needed to get on with it. It was the final storm of life. As the

illness progressed and he needed full-time care, there was evidence that an

internal struggle was going on, but by this stage he was unable to articulate

it. As often happens in such circumstances, it was the love and prayers of

others that kept him going in the right direction. A place at the College of St

Barnabas couldn’t have been better, surrounded as he was by a community

of prayer, all seeking to steer their own little boats in attentiveness to


the directions of the Lord. We visited him as much as we could and kept

him in our prayers. As the end drew near, he was anointed. Like oil on

troubled waters, this brought stillness and calm. He died the following day.

I mentioned at the beginning that though it is we who steer our boat through

life, we need to follow the directions of the Lord, in order to reach the haven

we long for. This is found in the Gospels and the other Scriptures, setting out

a way of life that is pleasing to the Lord. Prayer confirms this, as a way of

seeking guidance in specific matters and especially in developing a capacity

to attend to God, to abide peacefully in his presence and to be still whilst

some of the storms of the world roll about us.

It seems to me that Alex’s somewhat surprising request to come here was an

instinctive understanding on his part that this was the way to set his sights

for the remaining years of his life. Little did he or we know how short that

was to be. Life here provided him with a structure and shape, time for prayer

and reading, a life shared with others, the daily Office and, something he

valued highly, a daily eucharist and Holy Communion. He wasn’t the sort

of person who threw himself into something with great enthusiasm and

energetic activity but he got on with it. He was diligent. I feel we can console

ourselves with this, grieved as we are at the suddenness of the end and the

suffering he endured. He grasped the tiller of the boat of his life and, with all

his failings and quirks, strived to follow the gently pointing hand of the Lord.

The steering of the boat is a steady work and it is not seen in a flurry of

activity. This work, the work of God, is to believe in him whom God has sent.

The wages of this work is eternal life. As Jesus tells us – ‘This is indeed the

will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal

life, and I will raise them up on the last day.’

It is significant that the text given to him at his Confirmation, printed under

the picture, was, ‘Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a Crown

of Life’. Now, as the psalm puts it, he has been taken out of his trouble and

reached the haven he longed for. So let us rejoice and, even in our sadness,

thank the Lord for his goodness and for the wonders that he does.

Psalm 107:23-32

Those who go down to the sea in ships:

and follow their trade on great waters,

These men have seen the works of God:

and his wonders in the deep.

For he spoke, and raised the storm-wind:


and it lifted high the waves of the sea.

They go up to the sky, and down again to the depths:

their courage melts away in the face of disaster.

They reel and stagger like drunken men:

and are at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the Lord in their distress:

and he took them out of their trouble.

He calmed the storm to a silence:

and the waves of the sea were stilled.

Then they were glad because they were quiet:

and he brought them to the haven they longed for.

Let them thank the Lord for his goodness:

and for the wonders that he does for the children of men;

Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people:

and praise him in the council of elders.

Review Article:


Confronting Religious Violence by Jonathan Sacks


Colin CSWG

This rich, wise and, with perseverance, deeply rewarding book, is an

important contribution toward identifying the roots of religious violence,

especially within the three Abrahamic faiths, and conceivably using this

understanding for purposes of future peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Nonetheless, the book will try the patience of those who, like myself, had

hoped Dr Sacks might provide new insight for dealing with the highly

charged, deadly impasse between Israel and Palestine, raging now for a half

century and holding many nations at ransom in the process. Were there an

index (there isn’t), the keywords, Palestine/Palestinian, would get but two or

three mentions; this would seem a glaring omission in a book about religious

violence in the Middle East, of which Israel is indisputably a part. As I was

to learn subsequently, the former Chief Rabbi has a long record of reticence

on the subject. According to those reports, he would tell interlocutors that

this is an immensely complex religious and cultural issue that would need

unpacking. Readers of this book will certainly become familiar at least with

the background of the complexity, and, as for the unpacking, they will receive,

Midrashic fashion, some of the most evocative biblical exegesis they’re ever

likely to encounter on the book of Genesis, whose propositions, surprisingly,


Sacks, Hodder & Stoughton , 2015

most unexpectedly, Dr Sacks tells us, seem to be at the heart of not a few of

the innuendos currently driving contemporary religious conflict.

Muslims maintain, for example, that of the three Abrahamic faiths, Islam, the

most recent, surpasses and supersedes the parental religions of Judaism and

Christianity since it is ‘the last revelation of God’s word’. Abraham’s line of

inheritance, they say, runs through Ishmael, Abraham’s first born, and not

Isaac. Jews, they insist, have misrepresented the covenantal lineage from

the start. Dr Sacks handles this and similar presuppositions judiciously.

He recognises Judaism, Christianity and Islam engaged in a kind of ‘sibling

rivalry’ and ‘mimetic desire 1 ’ for the same thing: Abraham’s promise 2 .

At the heart of all three faiths is the idea that within humanity there is one

privileged position – favoured son, chosen people, guardian of the truth,

gatekeeper of salvation – for which more than one candidate competes.

The result is conflict of the most existential kind, for what is at stake is the

most precious gift of all: God’s paternal love. One group’s victory means

another’s defeat, and since this is a humiliation, a dethronement, it leads to

revenge. So the strife is perpetuated. 3

Where did these concepts come from: favoured son, chosen people, etc.

Dr Sacks lays the origin of these categories at the feet of the Hebrew Bible.

Genesis is a book almost entirely about sibling rivalry. Fratricide, ‘the most

primal form of violence’, begins with Cain murdering his brother Abel,

and this not for territorial, socio–economic or moral reasons but over the

business of sacrificial offerings. Sibling rivalry continues with somewhat less

violence through the narratives of election: Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not

Esau. Sibling rivalry comes into play in the falling–out between Joseph and his

brothers; and finally when Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, making the younger,

Ephraim, more blessed, more great, than Manasseh, the older. These choices,

seemingly trifling and culture bound, have had immense consequences

later in the history of mid–eastern religions, indeed throughout the world.

Pauline Christianity announces a new dispensation through faith; the law

is null and void. Dr Sacks sums up Paul’s Genesis exegesis this way: ‘Sarah

represents Christianity while Hagar is Judaism. Christians are Isaac, Jews are

Ishmael. Christians belong, while Jews are to be driven away.’ 4 Then Islam

comes along and upends Christianity. Jesus is not the Son of God, but only a

prophet like Abraham and Moses, preparing the way for the final revelation

whose expression is Islam itself. 5


The wish to have what someone else has; to be what someone else is – the root cause of all

violence, p135


Sacks, op.cit. 98


ibid, 99


Ibid, 95


Ibid, 98


Are religious conflicts today then a consequence of old tribal in-fighting

recorded millennia ago? Dr Sacks cautions against oversimplification. He

says, in any case, we have been reading these accounts incorrectly, from a

in–group perspective, and not the way they are actually written and meant

to be understood:

What if the narratives of Genesis are deliberately constructed to seem to

mean one thing on the surface, but then, in the light of cues or clues within

the text, reveal a second level of meaning beneath? 1

Why does Hagar, mother of the ‘not–chosen’ Ishmael, get better press, not

to mention sympathy, than her rival, Sarah? Who is Keturah (Gen 25:16),

who gave birth to six more sons by Abraham after Sarah’s death, all of whom

are said to have became leaders of nations? Why do Isaac and Ishmael come

together to bury their father Abraham if as half brothers, they were, as we are

led to believe, formerly estranged? (Genesis 25:9) Why does Esau, again the

‘not–chosen,’ elicit more sympathy than his guileful brother, who is marked

to be patriarch? What is the significance of Jacob, the usurper of Esau’s birth

right, doing obeisance before his twin brother in their decisive encounter

in the desert, addressing him no less than seven times as ‘my lord’? As Dr

Sacks peels away layer by layer looking at the nuances in Genesis, we come

to recognise important counter-narrative, missed in earlier interpretations,

imperative for understanding the grand sweep of the book’s concerns. We

must wrestle with the angel and learn humility. The real conflict is internal,

leading to an eirenic bond with God, humankind and all creation, not to

internecine conflict. Humility is the essential starting-point for dialogue

between faiths today.

The coup de grậce in this exegesis comes with the episode of Joseph and his

brothers. We might recall in that narrative as it draws to a climax, Joseph

withholds his true identity from his brothers and he challenges them, or

so it seems, on the authenticity of their truth telling, but is actually leading

them in an exercise that will clear them of their guilt for having sold him into

slavery. He constructs a series of sham incidents holding them in suspense

between starvation and a source of vital food until finally he presents them

with an opportunity of choice, similar to the previous occasion that ended

in guilt for having sold their brother into slavery. It is Judah, Joseph’s older

brother, who at this critical moment rises to the occasion, and begs the man

he thinks to be the Egyptian ruler to accept him as a slave in the place of his

younger brother, Benjamin, the exact opposite of what he had convinced his

brothers to do 22 years earlier by selling Joseph into slavery for a profit. This


Ibid, 103


type of table turning Dr Sacks calls perfect repentance, but to accomplish it,

Judah had momentarily to stand in the place of the one he sold into slavery,

himself becoming a slave. Dr Sacks calls this mental exercise, ‘role reversal’

and a useful tool in all conflicted relationships, but especially useful for those

engaged in modern conflict resolution.

Role reversal then is an intellectual exercise, a kind of empathy, whereby

I imagine myself standing in the ‘place’ of the other person, particularly

when the ‘other’ is facing crisis, experiencing to whatever degree possible

that which they are experiencing emotionally, mentally, spiritually, pretty

much as though I myself was experiencing it first hand. While this narrative

appears in Genesis, it is not something that any of the Abrahamic faiths have

ordinarily encouraged to date, because doing so would weaken the grip of

the group ethic – the idea ofthem’ and ‘us’.

A humanitarian as opposed to a group ethic requires the most difficult of

all imaginative exercises: role reversal – putting yourself in the place of

those you despise, or pity, or simply do not understand. Not only do most

religions not do this. They make it almost impossible to do so. 1

Role reversal is ‘almost impossible’ because it puts us in the opposite camp,

assuming the modes of thought of the other, standing on a precipice as it

were of even a conversion experience, assuming something of the other’s

reality. It is an educative tool and would most likely find its most creative

application in violence prevention:

To be cured of potential violence towards the Other, I must be able to imagine

myself as the Other. The Hutu in Rwanda has to be able to experience what

it is like to be a Tutsi. The Serb has to imagine himself a Croat or a Muslim.

The anti–Semite has to discover that he is a Jew. 2

It amounts to wrestling with the angel. As Dr Sacks emphasises, it is not an

exercise that comes easily to the Abrahamic faiths.

For a Jew, Christian or Muslim to make space for the Other, he or she

would have to undergo the most profound and disorienting role reversal. A

Christian would have to imagine what it would have been like to be a French

or German Jew at the time of the Crusades. A Muslim would have to imagine

what it would have been like to be a Jew in Baghdad in the eighth century,

forced to wear a yellow badge of shame, walk the street with downcast eyes

and stand and be silent in the presence of a Muslim. A Jew would have to

imagine what it would be like to be…


Ibid, 183


In reference to Csanad Szegedi, who, at the turn of this century was a leading member of an ultranationalist

Hungarian political party that held strong anti-Semitic views. Then he discovered his

grandparents were survivors of Auschwitz and that he was a Jew.


And here, in order for the descriptions to remain analogous, i.e. oppressor

switching position with the oppressed, we would expect the Rabbi to say, ‘…

what it would be like to be a Palestinian family forced out of their home by

the Israeli Defence Forces (sometimes at night, and in the middle of winter)

and having to watch helplessly as IDF bulldozers demolish their house along

with most of their belongings and an olive grove, which is not only a source

of their livelihood, but also the work of many generations of husbandry.’

Instead he writes,

…what it would be like to be a Christian or Muslim facing the threat of death

because of their faith in Syria or Iraq.

Jews are not involved in the oppression of Christians and Muslim in Syria

and Iraq today. They are not the cause their shame. On the other hand, in the

case of Palestinian home demolition they, or at least the Israeli government,

is. The application of role reversal here might prove of benefit.

The usefulness of the exercise in any case remains clear. And no less for

those Christian NGOs urgently calling for reconciliation between Israel and

Palestine, saying: ‘While [we]… acknowledge the legitimate grievances of

both Israelis and Palestinians and the responsibility of participants on both

sides to stop any violence perpetrated against the other, we cannot ignore

the gross imbalance of power and resources in favour of Israel’ which is true,

certainly, within the borders of Israel. Israel, on the other hand, is surrounded

by Arab nations who for a time sought Israel’s annihilation. This position

was countermanded in the 90’s with a new agreed statement by the Arab

nations saying that Israel has a right to exist. However, Jews find this hard to

believe since the Arab media is still saturated with anti-Semitic sentiments,

which purport, for example, of having found genuine documents admitting

that Jews mix the blood of Islamic and/or Christian children when preparing

the dough of their matzos for Passover; or again, intercepted documents

written by ‘Jews’ which provide a grand scheme for a Jewish take-over the

world through political and economic domination. For purposes of inviting

us to role reversal, Dr Sacks documents these cases with strict reserve, but

also commendable accuracy. This is not paranoia; it is very well researched.

Yet we hear virtually nothing about this sort of thing in the Western press


There is a work to be done here, an important, urgent and vital work. But

clearly we are working against several generations of Islamic education,

made possible by Western petrodollars, which funded:

… networks of schools, madrasahs, university professorships and

departments, dedicated to … [fundamentalist] interpretations of Islam,


thus marginalising the more open, gracious, intellectual and mystical

tendencies in Islam that were in the past the source of its greatness. It was a

strategy remarkable in its long time-horizons, its precision, patience, detail

and dedication. If moderation and religious freedom are to prevail, they

will require no less. We must train a generation of religious leaders and

educators who embrace the world in its diversity, and sacred texts in their

maximal generosity. 1

By way of encouragement we could say to the Israeli Jew, this is best for you:

remove your thumbs from the throat of your Palestinian brother. Put your

arm around his shoulders instead and comfort him. This is the will of God for

you, for is it not written in your Scriptures to love, forgive, help your enemy,

love the stranger, speak peace and pursue it? To be fair, we would also have

to acknowledge that the Israeli throat is also in a stranglehold grip of a group

of nations that does not seek after its long–term well–being. Role reversal

would help both sides to reveal its pain and bow its head to the shoulder of

his brother, ideally with tears.

Israel’s statehood was a godsend for the Jewish people, but for the Palestinians

it was an unimaginable catastrophe (nakba), as nearly a million fled and/

or were expelled from the homes and towns by an implacable army of new

arrivals. Thus we come to the final, remaining issue of the conflict in Israel,

the conflict over the land. Here the religious Jew finds himself, typically,

between a rock and a hard place, between what might be called sagas of war, 2

written prior to the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and the

rabbinic/prophetic witness after the Temple’s first century demise:

Judaism survived through its scholars, not its soldiers…. They were not

pacifists but they were realists. They knew that the real battles are the ones

that take place in the mind and the soul…. That is the wisdom the zealots do

not understand: not then and not now. 3

To us outsiders, it would seem the land is a symbol of God’s entitlement for

the Jewish people. But it can also be an idol. Killing in God’s Name, the focus

of Dr Sack’s book, is not an option for the people who warned the world

about idol worship. Nevertheless, as a good starting point for understanding

the contemporary Jewish mind, its faithfulness to Bible and Tradition, and

as a consultation document for reconciliation between the three Abrahamic

faiths, I would strongly recommend this book.

Christopher Mark CSWG


Sacks, op.cit., 262


i.e. Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and the Maccabees


Sacks, op.cit. 217


Alex (above) steps out into the light with a pair of ladders, one horizontal, the other almost vertical.

Sunday Tea at the Monastery: an ebullient visitor corrals John of the Cross into conversation.

In January 2014,

in subfreezing


during an interlude of

speeches calling for

revolution, Orthodox

clergy chanting the

early morning liturgy,

stand between


protestors and the

Ukranian police.

Community of the Servants of the Will of God

Monastery of the Holy Trinity

Crawley Down Crawley RH10 4LH

Phone: +44 (0)1342 712074

Guestmaster: brother.andrew@cswg.org.uk

For booking visits to the monastery, please contact the Guestmaster.

To help us keep the silence of the monastery

please telephone between 9.30 am and 5.15 pm

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