- Orthodox Christian Perspectives on War ed. by Perry T. Hamalis and Valerie A. Karras
This edited volume reflects an evolving conversation within the US-based Orthodox community, which has been shaped in large part by post-1990 military conflicts. It focuses on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, as well as the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The volume includes contributions related mostly to theology and political philosophy and, to a lesser extent, political science and history. There is no meaningful engagement with the fields of cultural studies, anthropology, or sociology. The volume is organized into three uneven parts and includes a very informative and lucid introduction by the editors.
Part 1 consists of two chapters meant to introduce the American dilemmas that have shaped the intellectual conversation that gave birth to this book. In the first chapter, [End Page 102] Aristotle Papanikolaou considers the Orthodox response to war and takes the reader into a fascinating discussion about the role of spirituality in addressing soldiers’ traumas and posttraumatic stress disorder, suggesting that religion can play a formative role in helping people heal the wounds of war. In the next chapter, Andrew Walsh sets the stage of the intellectual conversation by describing how the Orthodox response to the 1999 US-led bombardment of Serbia contributed to the proliferation of Orthodox pacifist views, which in turn generated alternative perspectives that proposed the view that Orthodox theology can in fact see war as a “lesser good” instead of a “necessary evil.” These two chapters help the reader situate the evolving debate, which is explored in further detail in part 2.
In the second part, titled “Reengaging Orthodoxy’s History and Tradition,” six chapters address various facets of the debate. The chapters range from discussions of ancient military technology to assessments of Jesus’s teachings on war and discussions of a just or holy war in Byzantium. There is no chronological or systematic ordering but rather a sampling from Christianity’s vast history, which of course is bound to offer a partial and incomplete picture of viewpoints on Orthodox history. For me, by far the most enlightening parts of the book are chapters 5 through 8. In chapter 5, Valerie A. Karras offers an insightful assessment of Origen’s views on war, and in chapter six, George E. Demacopoulos analyzes the approach of Ambrose of Milan with regard to warfare and the role of Christians in it. These two chapters offer in some respects complementary accounts that help the reader grasp a basic line of argument: namely, that Christian authors before Emperor Constantine I held mixed views on Christians serving in the military, but their positions were not predicated on theological arguments against military service per se but against partaking in pagan rituals associated with such service. Moreover, unlike the pacifist tenor of their writings, historical evidence suggests that, even prior to Constantine I, Christians served in the military, and therefore theological arguments might not have had a direct impact on their behavior. In chapter 7, James C. Skedros offers an excellent discussion of military saints in Byzantium, which highlights the fact that it was martyrdom and not military service that elevated individuals into sainthood. The author also notes the historically belated “militarization” of such saints. (This occurred concomitantly with the Iconoclast Controversy, which involved the issue of whether holy icons represented a form of idolatry that ought to be purged from Christianity’s practices.)
In chapter 8, perhaps the most social-science-friendly chapter in the volume, Alex-andros K. Kyrou and Elisabeth H. Prodromou offer a superb analysis of this volume’s entire intellectual debate that allows readers a better assessment of the debate. They correctly point out, as do some of the other authors in the volume, that the debate on “just war” or “holy war” in Western political philosophy is derived from theological pronouncements that date to the Crusades...