Excerpts from Violence and the Gospel

Excerpted from "Violence and the Gospel" by Metropolitan Archbishop George (Khodr), Orthodox Archdiocese of Byblos and Botris, Church of Antioch, in Supplément de la vie Spirituelle.

"You have heard that it was said...
...but I say to you"
-Jesus the Christ, King, General, Supreme Ruler of all that is, dead man.

"When the soul is invaded by the thirst for blood, faith gives way to ideology. The religious vocabulary is maintained but the words change their content. The hieratic society that empties the name of God of all content practices a horrible paganism. "God" becomes just a word used to express the will to power and the religious symbol becomes a sign of terror. In this way God can ultimately be transformed first into a concept, and then into an idol. Our faith in God at that point is based on this idolatrous foundation. It is now God who scatters death among our enemies, not us. Holiness gives way to heroism: the warrior is holy, salvation through combat on behalf of God.

There is no possible path from the warrior-God of Exodus and Joshua to the God of Jesus Christ. That monstrous image cannot be made acceptable. I refuse to attribute the wars waged by Israel to the divine will. Otherwise we get trapped in the morality of means, making death an instrument of life, and the destruction of various peoples becomes a condition of faith. God, whose name, presence, truth and unicity are love [agape], cannot lend Himself to the massacres perpetrated by Joshua son of Nun. The God Sabaoth [of armies], in the service of Israel and its hegemony over the land of Canaan, only reflects the thirst for conquest of a confederation of Semitic tribes, a spirit that is totally foreign to the unfailingly loving nature of the One who is God and rules history in all its developments.

If everything was consummated on the cross, the ultimate truth about God is a truth of love. If Christ is the revealer and locus of divine discourse, He presents himself, in His life and death, as the only exegete of Scripture and its sole reference point. Therefore, God was not the author of the sufferings of Canaan and of conquered peoples when Joshua commanded armies. He who will later bear the same name as Joshua [Joshua=Yeshua=Jesus] was already, in his precedence to Abraham ["Before Abraham was, I am."], on the side of the victim, Isaac.

I will pass quickly over the history of Christian peoples in their justification of violence. "Holy wars" were led against "infidels" by various Christian sovereigns. It is not my intention to discuss the idea of just war in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. I don't believe that Christian reflection on this theme has ever been as perverted as in Byzantium, where each morning every Orthodox Church in the world sings: "God save our people and bless our heritage. Give our pious emperor victory over the barbarians." How could the Church, for so many centuries confuse the cause of Christ with that of the Empire, and later of all the Orthodox kingdoms? How could it affirm in its liturgy that the Cross is the power of the emperor?

It is out of an interior strength that one can renounce the use of force and of every form of domination. That is the liberating knowledge to which the meek of heart bear witness, in imitation of the One of whom it is written: "He will not brawl or cry out, his voice is not heard in the streets, he will not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick" (Mt 12:19-20; see Isaiah 42:3-4). Jesus' Way, already described in the Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah, reflects the very behavior of Yahweh—kenosis.

We do not sufficiently realize that murder springs from the heart, that no evil is external, and that violence is simply the forthright expression of the vanity of tribes who cannot recognize God's face in the other. A Christian people, whose heart has been converted to the Holy Face and which lives the kenosis of the face of God, may in fidelity to the absolute never produce anything spectacular in this world, but simply transmit the words that have been said to it. Carrying the cross of Jesus in obedience to the commandment of love, it will bear witness, in the darkness of history, to the truth of Jesus, the eternal Passover."