Monday, January 28, 2008

History is a Scandal

Here is another installment of the question and answer session with Bishop Atanasije at the Sretinsky Theological Seminary in Moscow.
Q: Vladyka, what is the Orthodox Church's position on war? How does participation in military activities relate to the commandment "do not kill"?

A: You know, history is a scandal; it is not straightforward. Our Orthodox experience is that we must fight. They censured us, the Serbian Church, and me: "What were you saying?" Even in front of the Patriarch I censured certain Belgrade intellectuals. The Patriarch assembled them, they came, and there were frequent meetings of the hierarchy – it was difficult. I told them: "My dears, come to my diocese – there we will talk with you!" One of my Belgrade friends, a writer, a Christian, told me: "How can you approve of this, they're destroying mosques, they are seizing Muslims?" There was a lot of slander, but much evil – we don't hide this. I told him: "My dear, come to me, we will talk there, and not here. And you, at your bishop's, he will not do to anyone what I do, and you will be happy. I'm not your bishop, and so you will not lecture me." I said this in front of the Patriarch. And he was silent.

If during a time of war I weren't in a riassa [robe], and weren't a priest, a Vladyka, I would take up arms and fight. That's what I say. Let someone else go pray on a mountain or something else, but that's what I would do. And at God's Judgment let me be like the last desert-dweller and man of prayer. This can not be defined. What did we suffer during the time of our suffering under the Turks? There were thirty uprisings in Serbia, and we were never given freedom, and they don't give it, and all the time bind us by their will. We can't fight, but they are free to wage war? The Americans can? Now these gentleman from The Hague do everything that the Americans say. Now they are killing peaceful people, but the Americans say: "That's normal." And it wasn't normal here before?

This is war. When you take up a Kalashnikov, the first victim of this Kalashnikov will be you yourself. You can no longer remain normal. One needs to be sincere and realistic: you can't be normal after this. I've seen war, confessed people; people's consciences worked, but they nonetheless defended their people! Remember Soloviev's Three Conversations? Read them: it's the most intelligent thing he wrote; but Soloviev wrote many stupid things, many of them: The Roman Empire and the Pope, The Universal Church, and so on. But the Three Conversations is his best. Read them, I won't repeat it.

Mr Tolstoy said: "do not resist evil." But he said that simply out of vanity. I will not put forward a theory here. One can't give a prescription of the sort a doctor would write you. But I will say something else. And I also said this in Geneva. They asked: "What is this you're saying, that the Serbs are God's people." – "Yes, God's people." – "And it's waging war?" – "And what did Israel do?" It was God's people, and they waged war. My people of God are sinful, but God doesn't have another people on this territory, except that which I have, and this is God's people. I will not blaspheme by saying this is not God's people. God came into the world to save such a people. You know what a hypocrite this Fischer from Switzerland is: Jean Fischer. I chastised him. They sent help from Switzerland: two thousand little packets and then monitored to whom I gave them. I gave them to everyone, to Muslims, to Croats, but there weren't many there – they had left!

How can one not fight against evil? It's another matter that one can not fight evil with evil. But not to fight against evil – this is not Christian, not humane, I assert this. You don't have to accept this, but this is what I think.

In Soloviev in the Three Conversations, an officer kills a criminal who had burned an Armenian village. He says: "For the first night I slept with a clear conscience." When, for instance, a girl is raped, and the father sees this – if he kills him, I won't judge him. Let God judge: He will judge.

Our Patriarch Pavle said that there is a righteous war: the Archangel Michael waged war against the devil and cast him from heaven, and wanted to chase him further, but God said to him: "Wait." Do you know how difficult it was to stop the Archangel Michael? We say that Saints Boris and Gleb were miracles of martyrdom and patience. But not everyone was like Boris and Gleb. And Boris and Gleb are not the only examples for the Church.

During war I did not seek out death, but I did not run from it. Someone in Belgrade said that not a single one of us priests were killed. That's not true! Some were killed, and two of them indeed in martyric fashion.

In general, one must not give in to the world's judgment of what war is. They can wage war? They chastised Serbs, and what have they done now with the Serbs? War is an unavoidable historical evil. Who can say to one or another people: "Don't defend yourselves!" Therefore one must not give in easily to the spirit of these times. We are all against war, but which war? I do not defend war, but one may not pose the question this way: don't oppose evil. That leads to Tolstoy. I do not accept Tolstoy's understanding as human. If, for instance, now two people were to enter a bus and begin to kill all of you, would I say: "My dears, do not resist"? I would say immediately: "Go and bind them up!" I would say that, even as a bishop. Why should one man terrorize thirty or fifty?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bishop Atanasije's comments may sound harsh to some readers, but I can only admire his restraint. I served as a NATO officer for six months in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and at NATO headquarters in Pristina, Kosovo. Driving across Kosovo each Sunday to liturgy in Decani, I passed the rubble of destroyed Orthodox churches and the sparkling dome of a huge newly-built mosque (donated, I think, by Saudi Arabia).

I saw how the monks in Decani lived like prisoners surrounded by a full company of Italian mechanized infantry -- the only thing standing between them and martyrdom.

On Sundays when I couldn't make the long drive from Pristina to Decani, I attended Liturgy at the monastery in Gracanica with a small congregation of bedraggled hangers-on.

I also witnessed, in the face of a deeply suffering and dwindling Serb population, how Albanian thugs -- "former" paramilitaries -- flaunt the victory delivered to them by the US and NATO. And how the former UCK (Albanian insurgents) disregard with impunity the very few restraints that the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 placed on them, turning their disaster relief organization (the TMK) into an openly military organization.

I cannot blame the bishop or anyone else who tells the Serbs that they don't have to take the mass desecration of their holy sites and the bullying of their people lying down.