What Is Peace In a Time of War?

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I try to imagine – fifty-eight years after the event – the impact on the Vietnamese, whether armed Viet Cong in jungle trenches or villagers cowering under a hail of ammo – of massed, youthful choruses, halfway across the planet, screaming in unison Make Love Not War! And how exactly would the men of, say, the 101st Airborne, who had shipped out from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, do that when under the simple command to kill before being killed? There was another shout coming from militants who had better couplets: Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh Viet Nam Is Gonna Win!

There is a war raging around you in Vietnam. How to stop it, if you’re Vietnamese? Make love, or shoot first?

That conundrum of strategy of warfare from another century comes back to me as a kind of haunting. In my twenties I thought I had done my part – after all, Uncle Ho had won – and wore a pin to prove it. I’m looking at it now, small and faded green, from the Young New Democrats. END THE WAR IN VIETNAM! Done.

There is no true peace without fairness, truth, justice and solidarity. Pope John Paul II

End the war in Ukraine. But how? Stepping right up, as though straight from the 1970s, is the Executive Director of Project Ploughshares [Isaiah 2:4: And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares], the peace research project of the Canadian Council of Churches.The ED is writing on February 25, 2023, a day after the first anniversary of Russia’s terror war on Ukraine: “Compromise and a negotiated settlement is the only path to peace in Ukraine.” Top of mind are the “threats” to Russia’s “vital interests, Russian President Putin’s “humiliating defeat” should Ukraine defeat the Russian army “crushingly,” NATO and Russia’s “security relationship” and the “security assurances” delivered through negotiation. Where are the Ukrainians? Presumably among the nameless “tens of thousands” tossed in a mythic cycle “of violence and destruction.”

(Rally in Germany) Peace with Russia Instead of a Third World War

As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin put the question, кто кого? Who whom? Who is doing what to whom? Who is the subject, who is the object, of the “cycle” of violence? It is not as though Russians and Ukrainians are equally haplessly tossed between the millstones of the gods by an agent who shall remain unnamed.On Day 186 of the war in Ukraine a friend who has been a peace activist since the 1960s circulated an opinion that he hoped for “peace movements to break out around the planet.” When I questioned him about the value of such “movements for peace” when Ukraine had to defend herself violently or be overcome by the occupiers’ force of arms (Who whom?), he indeed rejected what he called the “one-dimensional ideological anti-war position” and called instead for support for “antiwar resisters in Russia.” This conjured for me an image of a long tramp of resisters to the Gulag. But I know what he was getting at for on February 15 2023 on World Peace Day European peace activists massing on the streets demanded a ceasefire on the front (occupied Ukrainian territory) while at a rally elsewhere it is NATO that “must be held to account” for its “war crimes,” unelaborated. “We were delighted,” one protester is quoted, “to see Russian flags.” 

Perhaps Russian feminists carried them. Ukrainian feminist, Yulia Lutyi-Moroz, of FemSolution, a queer feminist organisation, averred that before the invasion, feminists like her believed in the solidarity of “sisterhood” with Russian feminists, but not anymore. At a conference in 2022, “We didn’t receive any support from them – neither financial support, nor any interest in ways they could help. ” Her Russian former comrades couldn’t see how their own behaviour was an extension of Russia’s imperial attitude towards Ukrainians.

Where are the Ukrainians? Viewed through the Russian lens, where is Ukraine? It must be said that there are (nonviolent) human rights activists who are actively gathering evidence on the Ukrainian ground (earth, soil, land) of Russian war crimes (rapes, kidnappings, torture cells). At round tables – I try to watch them all – a Ukrainian victory emerges in the vocabulary of a “just peace,” not any old peace but a “sustainable peace” that would deliver “justice, reparations, accountability” once the last Himar has been volleyed and Russia has been defeated on the battlefield. Even Team Navalny, exiled supporters of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, in a Manifesto published February 2023 (better late than never) called for the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine, offered reparations, insisted on the investigation into war crimes in cooperation with international institutions, and ultimately “letting Ukraine live and develop as Ukrainians want.”

official Eurovision 2023 magnets

There is no Golden Mean between Good and Evil (argued the legendary Myroslav Marynovych, Ukrainian gulag survivor), no “other side” to be aired in debate, no “dialogue” in the middle of an unprovoked and murderous assault on a sovereign state. Russian Orthodox clerics would disagree: the way to stop to the war, they insisted, was for the “opposing sides” to engage in “dialogue,”  as though there were no moral let alone military imbalance between the “sides.” Meanwhile, ahead of the Eurovision song contest for 2023 members of a Czech rock band including a Russian musician urge their fans to “choose love over war” and wear a Ukrainian bracelet to that effect. This is to “misjudge the moment,” as Svitlana Morenets wrote in The Spectator (UK): “When this war is over and our borders are restored, Ukraine will join the world in wishing for love and peace.”

Favourably citing Pope Francis, who has said about “reality,” that it is “discerned not discussed,” Georgian Orthodox theologian Tamara Grdzelidze nevertheless argues that “at this point in the war” – July 2022 – it is not obvious that reality is being “discerned” when peaceful resolutions stubbornly dominate “Vatican channels.”  The discernible reality is the need to support Ukraine “in its fight to restore the territorial integrity and retain its sovereignty intact.” 

Enter the churches.

Back in October 2022 Pope Francis, speaking to the thousands thronged in St Peter’s Square, used the occasion for the first time to make a direct appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin “imploring him to stop this spiral of violence and death, also for the sake of his own people.” For its part, the Russian Orthodox Church “has been praying for peace in Ukraine since 2014 with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus.”  Is it peace when monks of the Russian Orthodox Church do not condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, instead intensifying their prayers that the “conflict” stop? Is it peace when to “stop” the violence Ukraine is urged to surrender occupied territory? Or when the Russian president and his spiritual counselor do not utter the word “war” but are nevertheless doing everything possible “for peace to prevail”?

ReligionNews.com: What do you need from the United States to win the war?

Metropolitan Epiphanius I Orthodox Church of Ukraine www.breitbart.com

Epiphanius Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine: First of all, as Christians we need spiritual support and prayer….But we also need, of course, material support because in Ukraine almost all our infrastructure is ruined. That’s why we need financial support to stand and to resist the aggressor country.

Q: And arms?

A: And arms.

“…a terrible dilemma [felt by all Christians] between the moral dubiousness of participating in the sin of war on one hand, and the need for effective resistance against an aggressor who brutally disregards minimum standards of international law and humanitarian rules on the other”. Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, former President of the German Evangelical Church,


I have been reading commentary on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-12). “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” How do we make peace? In his The Ladder of the Beatitudes, the late Jim Forrest writes of this beatitude that “Christ did not say…’Blessed are those who prefer peace, wish for peace, await peace, love peace, or praise peace.'” (Nor did he say, ” Blessed are those that wish to be left in peace.“) “His blessing is on the makers of peace.He requires an active rather than a passive role.” [p. 112] What might that act be, in the middle of a war? Might peace’s actors be makers of justice?

When we speak of war, we first must clarify that there are two kinds of wars: offensive and defensive. In principle, the Orthodox Church always condemns the former, while only condemning the latter most of the time….Orthodoxy makes clear that offensive war and violence are never the means by which God achieves justice….Saint John Chrysostom teaches that changing the minds of our enemies and bringing about a change of soul is far more wonderful than killing them.”

Key to this teaching is the distinction between a war of aggression (invasion, occupation, genocide) and the armed resistance of the victims of this bad or unholy war. When a nation or a people is assaulted, then, the war of defense, although unjustifiable,  has become necessary. When, in its Liturgical Petitions, we Orthodox congregants pray for the armed forces (not once but three times: “For our God-loving and God-protected country of Canada, its government, armed forces, and for all our pious people…”), the priest makes his own silent prayer that a peaceful and pious life be rendered the people by the actions of an army coming to their defense in a time of civil war or foreign invasion. In fact, Fr Roman Bozyk, Dean of Theology of St. Andrew’s College in Winnipeg, told me in a phone call, “a functioning army is necessary for an Orthodox country.” Necessary, but justifiable? He continued:  “Armies are not to be offensive. Why would you want to disturb your neighbour? An army of the Orthodox must never attack.” Our life and death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.“— St. Anthony 

War is never good, of course, but we live in a fallen world after all. Fr Roman continues: “Ukrainians don’t have to justify that they have taken up arms to defend themselves, their families, their communities.It is not considered ‘pious’ to just give up when an aggressor attacks your home. People who fight in self-defense don’t have to repent or explain themselves.What they do may be evil but it’s not a sin. ” The aforementioned Ukrainian feminists began as critics of patriarchy (the Church!) and of nationalism and they still “love unicorns more than blood,”  but as feminists they “strongly support the right to self-defense…the right to resistance.”


the Baptism of Kyivan Rus 988 CE

At the beginning of the war in February 2022, much was made rhetorically of the fratricide at the core of its meaning: “Russians and Ukrainians are ‘one people’...brothers who need to be reconciled.”  As with Cain and Abel, fruits of the same womb, in deadly struggle in the field, site of our first murder, where God calls out to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” The fratricide evoked in 2022 arose from the event in 988 CE when, according to the Russian imperial interpretation, the people of Kyivan Rus were baptized into Christianity, who later diverged as Orthodox Ukrainians, Orthodox Russians and Orthodox Belarusians. They had emerged from the same “baptismal font” but now on the bloodied fields of Ukraine clash in a repetition of Cain’s sin: fratricide. Ukrainians would say it was the people of Kyiv who were baptised – later known as… the Ukrainians. 

Metropolitan Epiphanius of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine makes a distinction between a people and its political leadership who in the case of Russia have led them to war – “The spirit of the Antichrist operates in the leader of Russia” – while Fr Roman disputes the “brotherliness” of a conflict when the spiritual head of Russian Orthodoxy “sides with the aggressor” and his clergy have blessed weapons on their way with Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. What to make of Patriarch Kirill’s prayer – “that the Lord will strengthen the fraternal feelings of the peoples of Holy Russia” and, ominously, for the “establishment of peace in the expanses of historical [read: Imperial] Russia.” – except as a species of magical thinking?

Alongside, I would also argue against the false equivalence implied by Pope Francis’s statement that those “who pay the price of war” are both “the Russian soldiers” and “the people who are bombed and killed” – who are Ukrainians, though Francis did not name them. In some transcendent space far above the darkling plains where “ignorant armies clash by night” this may be true but in the materiality of the clash between a Russian soldier in the turret of his tank and the Ukrainian villager shot at the gate of her shattered fence, there are unequal prices that have been paid.

There is another kind of price to be paid by Orthodox soldiers, Russian and Ukrainian: the price for having spilled blood that has been lost from a body. When they return to their communities or what is left of them they must do penance for the great pollution that they bring with them: “For the life of every creature — its blood is its life…the life of every creature is its blood.”[Leviticus 17:14] And the life blood belongs to the Creator.

Ukrainian Cossack in Kyiv protest www.pinterest.ca

And so the soldier re-enters the church and community by first fasting, making confession and receiving communion.”Even for the best motives in the world,” writes Fr. John McGuckin citing the fourth century Canon of St Basil on war and repentance, “the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the cathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is be penitent.” (In fact Basil prescribes excommunication for fully three years for those who cannot come “clean-handed” to the communion cup.) Fifteenth-century Ukrainian Cossacks who returned from war were forbidden to set foot in church for a year, because “they were covered in shame.”  The priest, for his part, will never have served in the army and, after ordination, must not kill animals; but if he does hunt, he cannot serve Divine Liturgy (Mass) for the succeeding forty days.

A Theology of War and Peace?

The Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said in a message-as far back as October 2022:  “Step by step, day after day, our soldiers are tirelessly liberating our homeland’s towns and villages. Through the eyes of its wounded defenders, we already see Ukraine’s victory. . . ” The Russian Orthodox Church through its Patriarch Kirill has the same vision (double-gendered in his case), that with God’s help, “together with all those who love the Motherland, we could stand up for the Fatherland today and do everything to gain victory.”

When the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine likens proposals for negotiating “peace” with Russia as sitting down at the table with “the mafia;” when he dispenses with appeals to transcendent values in this struggle for peace and argues “Only military deterrence is realistic,” where is the Church headed?

On the first anniversary of the Russian war on Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius had a message: “On this marked day in the history of our nation and all humanity, we beseech the Lord to arrest the spreading evil, to end Russian aggression. We pray for the fulfillment of Ukraine’s approaching victory and, through victory, the establishment of a just peace.”

Through war to battlefield victory; through battlefield victory to peace.



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Penney Kome
Penney Kome
1 year ago

I agree. When a bully is attacking you, suggesting a peace parlay is suicide. Negotiations at this time probably would leave Russia holding Crimea and other illegally seized territory — which would lead to more assaults in the decade ahead. Ukrainians are fighting righteously to defend their homes and families. Ukraine24 is scrupulously ethical in accounting for the almost $300M in donations so far. Unfortunately, too many outsiders are influenced by Russian propaganda (and oil) so they turn a blind eye to the injustice. 🙁

Waschuk Lesia Waschuk
Waschuk Lesia Waschuk
1 year ago

What a beautiful “communion” of theology, political commentary, and timely practical philosophy.

Elizabeth Smythe
Elizabeth Smythe
1 year ago

Very thoughtful. I am reminded of the theories of a just war, jus ad bellum which has a long history. It attempts to find the moral basis on which war could be justified and they include a just cause, war as a last resort, right intention and proportionality, none of which the Russia aggressors could claim as a justification.