In these paschal days when we sing and greet each other with “Christ is risen,” the people of Ukraine suffer hunger, cold, injury, and death. While individually we help through IOCC and other charities, at the level of the global Church we are too often passing them by on the other side of the road. Like the priest and Levite in Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we may tell ourselves we can’t do anything meaningful or that more important duties call us—loyalty to Church hierarchs perhaps, some who have blessed the invasion and others who remain silent about it. Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, meanwhile, remain bleeding by the wayside.
On Pascha, a small pan-Orthodox group of Christians in Iowa City decided to change this by launching GOLD: the Global Orthodox Laypeople’s Demonstration Against the War in Ukraine. We call our Orthodox family worldwide to join together on Sunday,May 8, 2022 to pray and witness for the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) against the war in Ukraine and hierarchs who have sanctioned it. Act now and plan a demonstration: contact a friend or two (Matthew 18:20), involve your children, designate one hour to meet together in front of your church, and spread the word on email and social media. Carry icons, signs, flowers, and flags, speak your conscience, and pray for peace in Ukraine. Post pictures and video to social media and to our Facebook group. Let our brothers and sisters around the world, from hierarchs to laypeople, in Russia and Ukraine and elsewhere, hear our testimony: Orthodox Christianity cannot be used to endorse this war. If the war continues, we will plan a second demonstration for Pentecost.
One night terror I experienced during my childhood included bombers flying over the roof of our fifteenth-floor apartment in Moscow. No wonder, as every evening the news reported heavily on the enemy’s military build-up. At the time I could not quite understand why such a nice girl’s name as Nata (short for Natalia) was used for the organization that was terrorizing our people. All we knew was that we did not want war; we were always for peace; it was always them attacking and threatening, never us.
A patriotic education did not deter some of my generation from taking a radical stance against the violence of war, which extended to all institutions and ideologies that supported it. Perhaps it was a belated wave of the Western youth rebellion of the 1960s that found its footing in the late Soviet counterculture, or some revival of interest in the nonviolent teachings of Tolstoy and Gandhi in the 1990s. Some of my friends burned their military service books, resulting in compulsory months in a mental hospital. In my country, conscientious objection was seen as either mental illness or a criminal act, publicly regarded as a lack of patriotism and masculinity. What I did not know at the time was that the roots of this radical, moral stance toward violence and war could be found in Christianity.
I first encountered the writings of Jim Forest in the summer of 1969. It was during the height of the Vietnam War. I was 19 years old. The previous December I had dropped out of Fairhaven College in Bellingham, Washington, and sent my draft card back to the Selective Service System with a lengthy note revoking all my ties with the system.
During the next seven months I embraced the hippie lifestyle, hitchhiking to California, traveling to Mexico, and living in a communal house in Washington. During this period my parents forwarded letters from the draft board declaring me “delinquent.” I was aware that I ran the risk of going to jail.
In June I had a “born again” experience, and got involved with the so-called “Jesus Freaks.” During a Bible study in August, I was confronted with St. Paul’s statement in Romans, “Be subject to the governing authorities.” I realized that I needed to get right with the Draft Board, so I sent them a letter letting them know where I was, but also asking for an application for conscientious objector status. (I had been raised in a liberal Protestant denomination where Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, and even Jesus, were presented as role models of non-violence. In 1965, at age 15, I had decided that the Vietnam War was wrong, and that Fall I participated in the first antiwar march in Seattle. I had also spoken out against the war at my conservative suburban high school where I was branded a “communist.” And as a budding folksinger, I had sung at an antiwar event sponsored by the Students for Democratic Society [SDS] when I was still 17 years old.)
On April 5, 1977, Jim Forest received a phone call that his friend and collaborator Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, had been kidnapped by the Argentinian government. The most likely outcome was death. From his office in the Netherlands, Jim and his staff worked to free Adolfo. They nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize as a publicity stunt to embarrass the Argentinian government. Within hours, hundreds of papers picked up the story, and fourteen months later Adolfo was released. Expecting nothing more to come of this, Jim thought he had received a prank call the next summer when the Nobel committee called to inform him that Adolfo had won the prize.
Not wanting to waste this opportunity, Jim arranged for a meeting in Rome with Pope John Paul II. At this meeting, their goal was to ask the pope that Arturo Rivera Damas be appointed as the permanent successor to the recently assassinated Óscar Romero. Pope John Paul went on to grant their request.
Jim was born November 2, 1941, to two communists. Though Jim was at times embarrassed by his family’s outsider status, he attributed his upbringing to teaching him about the plight of the poor, something that paved the way to becoming a Christian. As a child, he also learned about the horrors of war when a minister at a local Methodist parish hosted two victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had come to the US for reconstructive surgery. Peering at their silk veils, Jim came to learn that hospitality to those in need, those suffering, was far more important than politics. Despite his many encounters with political events over the coming decades, he always kept in mind that it was people who ultimately mattered.