‘Person and Violence’: The Dynamics of the Role of Orthodoxy in Modern Age

20 November 2014

Violence, hatred, racism and whatever disturbs the communion of persons are fundamentally opposing human nature. The Gospel, Tradition, the words of the Fathers, continual service, prayer and, above all, the Sacraments are the precious medicines offered by Orthodoxy for the treatment of the pathogeny of violent extremism.

The first page in human history after the exit from Paradise begins with violence. The fraternal blood which Cain spilt irrigated the tree of humanity and so the whole course of history after the fall of man continues accordingly: wars, genocides, terrorism, persecutions and torture. One of the manifestations of violence which is troubling societies today is linked to ideological and religious extremism.

Islamist extremism distorts Islam and calls upon Muslims all over the world to engage in a global Jihad and to impose political domination through violence. The response to the call to Holy War has resulted in Islamist organizations which begin civil wars, carry out beheadings, acts of odious violence and terrorist attacks, all in the name, supposedly, of Allah. The non-Muslim is considered to be an ‘infidel’, an enemy, who must either convert and submit or be wiped out.

In their turn, various extreme political ideologies foster violence with theories that justify and demand its implementation. They inspire groups or individuals, who aren’t satisfied with theoretical quests, to undertake violent and criminal activities. The political vision justifies destruction and the loss of human life as necessary price.

Moreover, racist theories based on skin colour, race or culture render as legitimate targets for attacks fellow human beings, that they do not recognise as having human value and a place in society.

But people don’t become perpetrators of extremist violence by accident. Radicalization has to take place; a process during which exposure to religious or ideological propaganda in combination with the appropriate conditions (usually institutional, social, national or economic problems) creates a pool for the recruitment of violent extremists. Oxygen for the survival of violent extremist activity of the few provides the indulgence of the many, who remain silent, either because they secretly agree or are indifferent, thinking the issue does not concern them.

In Europe today various de-radicalization programmes are being run –with the support of the EU since 2005.  In January 2014, the European Commission issued a press release on ‘Strengthening the EU’s response to radicalisation and violent extremism’, seeking the broadest possible co-operation and action from member states, so that an appropriate ‘tool-box’ can be put together to confront the phenomenon. Particular emphasis was placed on the development of counter messages to de-construct extremist narratives, especially on Internet.

The European Commission, experts and agencies involved in tackling the phenomenon have focused attention on direct or indirect propaganda material which is accessible on sites, blogs, Internet platforms and chat rooms, where recruitment is made possible. Internet has become a weapon in the hands of the extremists and through it they advertise and support their violent activities. Apart from any legal measures, an Internet reaction is needed, one which, as  mentioned above, would deconstruct the extremist rhetoric of violence and promote terms of social peace.

‘Pemptousia’ is responding to this challenge and invitation and is taking an important on-line step in this direction. It’s inaugurating the section ‘The Person and Violence’, within the context of utilizing the riches of the Orthodox Church. The audience it’s aiming to reach isn’t only those who are involved or are at risk of being involved in circles of extremist violence but also those who, at first sight, aren’t linked to the phenomenon and think it doesn’t concern them.

The Christian lives in this world and bears responsibility for it and for his fellow human beings. He is responsible for his brother and for the evil his brother does or undergoes.  He has learned that the response ‘I’m not my brother’s keeper’ (Gen.4, 9) leads to tragedies that affect the whole of the human race. Moreover, Orthodoxy doesn’t project some fantastic utopia to which the faithful can flee to escape the problems of everyday life and reject responsibility for what is happening.

The prevention of radicalization and de-radicalization fall primarily within the context of Church teaching and action. If the golden rule of the Gospel, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6, 31) was put in action, there’d be no social clashes and violence, but rather peace would prevail in human relationships on all levels. Besides, the Church considers life sacred and is opposed to taking it, while it gives prominence to the value of each person, made in the image and likeness of God and living in brotherly relationship to his fellow human beings.

The notions of brother and neighbour are crucial. In Patristic literature we encounter the human being as person, not as an individual and a unit. The person, as a concept and hypostasis always exists in relation to someone else: God or/and the neighbour, in communion and not alone, separated or isolated. Thus, conflict, violence, hatred, the rejection of the other, racism and whatever else disrupts the communion of people is essentially in opposition to human nature.

Central is also the notion of repentance, which does not end with a momentary, guilty and emotional denunciation of past actions, but marks a choice and a way of life with the dynamic and prospect of deification. The repentant continuously tries to escape from the prison of thoughts and actions that keep him captive of behaviours that conflict with sanctity; a sanctity he has placed now as his life purpose which he seeks. And, of course, there can be no compromise between sanctity and violence. The Gospel, Tradition, continual service, prayer, and, above all, the Sacraments are the precious medicines offered by Orthodoxy for the treatment of the pathogeny of violent extremism.

The section ‘Person and Violence’ attempts to function as an Internet counter-weight to the propaganda of extremist violence. Through the content and material posted, its ambition is to provide information to everyone, as well as counter-arguments against the rhetorical propaganda for those who are at risk of being swept away, in the hope of preventing their involvement in extremist violent activity. It also aims to stand by and support those who are looking for a way to disengage and escape, assisting them to discover God’s beneficent power to change people and lives, to transform even criminals into saints, but also His boundless mercy which liberates from the harrowing guilt over past actions.  Equally importantly, it seeks to support the victims of extremist violence, in such a way that they aren’t consumed by pointless, corrosive feelings of revenge or despair, but rather they can live with the power of forgiveness  and faith in God’s providence and love.

As part of this effort, the following articles, which have already been posted on the Pemptousia web-page, are presented:

  • ‘Christianity, Violence and Revolution’, Vasileios Stoyiannos, Professor of the History of the Times and Interpretation of the New Testament at the Theological School of Thessaloniki
  • ‘The Theory of Jihad’, Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania
  • ‘Elder Sofronios talks about Christ and Nationalism’, Elder Sofronios of Essex
  • ‘The Cross and the Swastika: Christianity versus Neo-Nazism’ Dr. Maria Alvanou, Criminologist
  • ‘Political Differences and Violence’ Dr. Maria Alvanou, Criminologist
  • ‘Violent Extremism: Concerns about Greece, too’, Dr. Maria Alvanou, Criminologist
  • ‘Women and Violence’: Aspects of Victims and Perpetrators (Parts 1 and 2) Dr. Maria Alvanou, Criminologist
  • ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Day: And having seen, he passed by on the other side’?,  Dr. Maria Alvanou, Criminologist
  • ‘Victims of Crimes of Violence: the Positive Supportive Role of the Orthodox Church’ (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4) Dr. Maria Alvanou, Criminologist
  • ‘11th September: Observations on the Evolution of Terrorism’, Dr. Maria Alvanou, Criminologist
  • ‘The Morality of War’, Vasiliki Rouska
  • ‘Orthodoxy: An Aide in the Struggles for Freedom, Equality and Dignity’, Panayiotis Polychronopoulos, Theologian
  • ‘Orthodoxy and Movements’, Panayiotis Polychronopoulos, Theologian
  • ‘Orthodoxy and the International Day against Racism’, Nikos Koïos, Editorial Advisor for Pemptousia
  • ‘Fear of the Other: Another 11 September in the USA’, Athanasios Moustakis, Theologian
  • ‘A Bishop Stands up to the World Leader!’ Archimandrite Ananias Koustenis

Other postings will follow with relevant material by a group of specialists who, either through their academic concerns, their spiritual work or their service, they approach  the phenomenon, each one from his own point of view, within the context of the section ‘The Person and Violence’.

There no illusions that such a complex phenomenon and problem can be tackled easily, directly, quickly and completely through this undertaking. But there is the hope that, with God’s help, in His own time and His own way, this small contribution will also be of value.

Christ walks slowly through history. As slowly as a deep river that a child would think as still, but for which a man could not build a dam. Slowly as wheat, which you sow in the autumn and you think is dead in the winter. Spring hasn’t yet come for the seed of Christ. His path is difficult. This is why He walks slowly. He walks through pools of blood, through the darkness of sin and through the thorns of robbers. His path is narrow and lots of fallen sinners find themselves in the abyss on either side of His path. He has to bend down on both sides, pick them up, pull them behind Him and walk forward. This is why He walks slowly. He walks slowly because His fulfilment is far way. His fulfilment extends to the end of history and His place is in the end of times’. (Saint Nikolaï Velimirović, Christ Walks Slowly, En Plo Publications, Athens 2008 – in Greek).