Meeting The Orthodox (Page 17 of 25)

By: Fr. Thomas HopkoRead time: 40 mins11778 Hits


17. The Military

What about the Orthodox relation to war? The fact that the Orthodox have blessed the military seems to contradict your entire position, not to mention the teaching of Jesus about non-violence.

On the contrary, we would hope that the Orthodox position relative to the military supports what we have already discussed.

Christ taught that perfection requires the love of enemies and the absolute renunciation of resisting evil by evil. Thus if a man will be perfect he will renounce the relative values of this world totally and will not participate in any act which is morally ambiguous. In this way, for example, the Church forbids the bearing of arms to its clergy and does not allow a man to continue in the ministry who has shed blood, theoretically even in an accidental way!

However, the Orthodox Church follows Christ and the apostles in teaching that the relative and morally ambiguous life of this world requires the existence of some form of human government which has the right and even the duty to “wield the sword” for the punishment of evil.

In the Gospels, for example, we do not find Christ or John the Baptist of the apostles commanding the soldiers which they met to cease being soldiers. Even the early Christians bore the arms of the pagan Roman state for the welfare of society in this world.

But still, if a man will be perfect and give his life totally to Christ, he will of necessity renounce military service as well as any political service which always and of necessity is involved with relativistic values and greater and lesser evils and goods. Such a man will also renounce his possessions and follow Christ totally and in everything.

Thus total pacifism is not only possible, it is the sign of greatest perfection, the perfection of the Kingdom of God. According to the Orthodox understanding, however, pacifism can never be a social or political philosophy for this world; although once again, a non-violent means to an end is always to be preferred in every case to a violent means.

When violence must be used as a lesser evil to prevent greater evils, it can never be blessed as such, it must always be repented of, and it must never be identified with perfect Christian morality.

Also, one final point of great importance is that Christians who are involved in the relativistic life of this world must resist military conscription when the state is evil. But when doing so they must not yield to anarchy, but must submit to whatever punishment is given so that their witness will be fruitful.

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