Just war is a belief that warfare can be ethically or theological justifiable. To fully understand the complexity of these issues, it is important to take into consideration the complete teachings of the Church and not resort to exploiting inadequate references. The most crucial issues concerning warfare involve the extremely destructive capabilities of the weaponry in our times that can potentially eliminate any remnants of civilization from the face of the earth. Many sociologists are intrigued with examining the formation and results of wars in order to gain understanding of why war continues to reoccur throughout the world. The Greek philosopher Heracleitus believed war to be the “father of all...”. Quite the opposite, the Church teaches that God is the “Father Almighty”. In St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, God is referred to as a “God of peace” (Romans 15:33). The development of a war is a result of a separation from God, which is also a separation from peace and love. Since God is the source of our existence, separation from God leads to chaos and destruction.
- “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword…” (Isaiah 1:19-20)
- “…for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52)
- “…for the authority [civil] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4)
Christianity is responsible for first introducing the belief of non-violence. A true Christian would rather be killed than to kill. However, it is the civic duty of a Christian to obey the civil authority, not only because of fearing punishment, but since it is ethically and honorably conscience. It is inevitably understood that the will of the civil authority will conflict with God’s will overtime, and it’s important to understand that “we must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). Both St. Ambrose and St. Augustine do not accept the just war theory but recognize the reasons that lead to it – the defense of those unjustly treated. The Church has never presented nor accepted a theory of just war, but has tolerated it to protect greater standards. War promotes its participants to murder one another and encourages all of the participants to bring victory to their side. People in our times even enjoy watching war programs through their televisions at home or in the movie theatres. It is difficult to have peace on earth when a man with a violent inclination has the potential to cause devastating destruction to the world.
The Church during the first centuries was very negative towards the participation of Christians in war. Origen was completely against the idea of Christians participating in any form of military duty, while Tertullian believed that Christians should participate in military duty. Many of the Saints were involved in military duty and many Christians were members of St. Constantine’s army. The Church has always upheld her fundamental resistance towards war and does not allow clergy to be involved in any military activity. St. Athanasius wrote in his letter to Amun that “to kill is not permissible, but to destroy your enemies in war it is both lawful and worthy of praise. Thus the same thing is sometimes not allowed and forgiven for another reason.” St. Athanasius’s words here do not represent the opinion of the Church, but the opinion of the State and its citizens, which is the reason he uses the word lawful and not Christian.
- “Our Fathers did not consider the killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that they are not clean-handed.” (Canon 13 of St. Basil)
St. Basil references the beginning of this canon to St. Athanasius in order to clarify and accurately interpret what was meant in his letter to Amun (The Rudder). St. Basil the Great did not count murders committed during wars as murder, but he does require them to abstain from partaking of the Eucharist for three years. In the Byzantine Empire, the enemies of the State were also the enemies of the Church. So the defense of the State also became the defense of the Church. The State was considered to be protected by God since it was connected to the Church. The Church has upheld its position on war has never deserted its stance. Emperor Nicephoros of Byzantium (963-969) requested the Church to recognize the people dying at war to be classified as martyrs. The response was “How could they be regarded as martyrs or equal to the martyrs those who kill others or die themselves at war, when the divine canons impose a penalty on them, preventing them from coming to Divine Communion for three years." The Church has always condemned war, but has always been tolerant of the Christian soldiers that served in a military unit. War may be necessary under certain circumstances to protect the innocent and to limit even greater evils.
Through spiritual vigilance and focusing on safeguarding the world from destruction, war and the causes of war must be addressed and eliminated. Peace can only be upheld if the causes of war and hostility in our times are being addressed. Some of the causes of war relate with discrimination, subjugation, hostility, and depressing social conditions. As the causes of war intensify, our chances of upholding peace in the world fade away. For these reasons, we must use all of our resources on a global scale to eliminate these causes. The uncontrollable issues that are the strongest contributors to war deal with nations overemphasizing preparations for war and increasing the manufacturing initiatives of military ammunition. Christians have to be focused on peace and must work towards preserving a loving attitude that does not separate us from God.
- “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews." (John 18:34)
- “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
- Mantzarides, George. Christian Social Ethics: An Abridged Translation by Fr. George Dion Dragas. 2001. Brookline, MA.
- The Rudder. Agapios a Hieromonk and Nicodemos a Monk.
For Further Reading
- Bartholomew I. 2003. "War and Suffering." Cosmic Grace - Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew I. Ed. John Chryssavgis. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
- Father Stanley Harakas
- Father John McGuckin
- Father Alexander Webster
- The Pacifist Option: The Moral Argument against War in Eastern Orthodox Theology and more recently
- The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West
- "War and Peace: What does Orthodoxy Teach Us?"
- Father Stephen Tsichlis
- Orthodox Peace Fellowship
- Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000 (Moscow, Russia)