ENGLISH VERSION: Bishop Gregory (Lourie). The Need for an Army: A Brief Explanation of the Meaning of Christianity for a Medieval Kid Living in Today’s World
The following article, written by Igumen Gregory (now Bishop of Petrograd and Gdov) in December 2006, was originally intended for an audience of young Russians familiar with both the classics of their literature and with the products of the underground counterculture, both Russian and American. While some of the references cited may be foreign to non-Russian readers, we believe that the underlying arguments are relevant to readers from all cultural backgrounds.
1. Why Christianity is Warfare
And truly light and holy
Is the work of majestic warfare
Thus spoke the sound Russian poet, Nikolay Gumilyov, who was destined to live in unsound times. If you want to understand anything about human societies, then you need to understand war above all. It is only now that we pretend to forget, but we remember it well. The same thing applies all the more to the Church. The Church has never engaged in anything except warfare. After all, Christ warned: I came not to send peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Therefore the Holy Fathers call Christian life an “unseen warfare.”
Now this “unseen warfare” is associated with the “soldiers on the invisible front.” And this is fine, since it’s true. A hippy can say of himself that he is an “ambassador of rock ’n’ roll in a spasmodic country,” as the Russian band Akvarium (“Aquarium”) sang. But Christians, if they are ambassadors, are just spies working under diplomatic cover.
Greetings, I am a saboteur,
An unorthodox punk!
Thus sang a sound girl (Arina Stroganova, the soloist of the Russian punk band Solomennye enoty “Straw Raccoons”). She explains well in this song how she should get going so that her grandchildren would be able to piece together an empire out of the existing fragments. But even when our army is broken, we need to continue the war as saboteurs and spies behind enemy lines. Of course, the point isn’t in the shattered Christian empire, which was always a means but not an end for the Church. The fact is that our goals haven’t changed, and war against those who have destroyed the Christian empire remains our sole point of business. With visible enemies the war is visible, but with the most important enemies – the unseen ones – the war is invisible, the war we have within us.
The Holy Fathers explain that for Christians the entire world is the Old Testament city of Jericho, which was the first of the camps of Israel, in the Old Testament Church, to be overrun by spies, before the walls came tumbling down. So too will the walls of this world tumble down, when it’ll be conquered by the Church at the very end of time. But until then there will be no friendship with the inhabitants of Jericho, with the exception only of Raab [Rehab] the harlot and her relatives (read the whole story in the Bible: Book of Jesus [Joshua] Bar Nun, chapters 2 and 6). In this world we make friends only with those who have changed the world, and in our friendships we don’t strive to be closer with “decent people” while keeping a distance from the “indecent.”
It’s by no means terrible to be faced with superior enemy forces. In fact, this is the best thing for stimulating personal development. To be able to do something means, after all, being able to defeat those who aren’t able to do this, even if the preponderance of power is on their side. Every real, interesting, and fun war is only against superior enemy forces. In such a war, it’s no terrible thing to die, although in such a war there are usually the best chances of winning. It’s no terrible thing to die when you’re where you’re supposed to be and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. This was well understood by the Vikings, who strove by all means to die in battle, and not of old age – but, of course, Christian ascetic strugglers understood even better. But it’s for just this very reason that the most terrible thing is to find yourself among enemies before you understand what it means to be at war.
With regard to Christianity, this amounts to the irresolvable task of theodicy (and here we can only rejoice that it’s not our business to resolve such problems). After all, Christianity does not exist in any form except warfare. The Church is the camp of Israel, which is travelling through the desert, where it encounters enemies only, and doesn’t have the right either to return or just to stop in its tracks. In contrast to the Old Testament Israel, the Church does not have any purpose on earth. It will march forward like a military unit throughout all the “end times” of human history: that is, from the Incarnation of Christ until the end. The temporary condition in which the Old Testament Israel lived is also temporary for the Church; but now its time consists of all the time of earthly history. The Old Israel could live either in war or in peace, but the New Jerusalem can live only at war.
2. Why Warfare Belongs to Free People
It’s best of all to get used to war in one’s childhood and youth. St. Olaf Tryggvason, the future apostle of the northern peoples (whose image has merged in ecclesial tradition with that of St. Olaf, the Baptizer of Norway, who was also a sea-king), could handle fighting with an axe even in childhood, by which he killed his father’s killers, and it was for this very reason that he was considered ready to bring up St. Vladimir the Prince of Kiev at court. All the more appropriate is spiritual warfare for children, if they thereby learn combat skills. Warfare, which includes spiritual warfare, isn’t at all suitable for children. It isn’t suitable for civilians. Worst of all is to find yourself in the war zone when you’re a peaceful man, and even worse if you’re not even an adult. This applies to conventional warfare, and even more so to spiritual warfare.
In spiritual warfare one can win or lose, fight for the right or wrong cause, or even be a civilian. Warfare belongs to free people; being part of the civilian population belongs to those bound to the earth. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. When you have something to lose, you’re tied to the earth: you can’t be free. You won’t be called to fight in a war; most likely you’ll live your life in peace. But if the war to which you’ve been called comes to your land, you won’t be spared. More precisely, you won’t be taken into account, either for better or for worse.
You become free, once and for all engaged in war or peace, but then once and for all tied to the earth, by your own choice. This choice almost always takes place during early adolescence. Different societies are interested in different results of this choice, and therefore try to influence their young in different ways.
Once human society could not wage war except with people’s help. Then society sought to adapt everyone possible to the act of warfare. This made it raise the young in such a way that they would convince them to become free, in exchange for accepting the burden of warfare. This concerned, first of all, the spiritual warfare and, only in second place, earthly warfare. For earthly warfare, not all such societies have always striven to attract people from all social classes. But for spiritual warfare, no such class restrictions have ever existed. Christianity reigned everywhere; everyone knew the examples of the saints; and everyone, regardless of class, had the opportunity to learn that Christianity consists only of imitating the lives of the saints.
3. Human Material: Natural and Artificial
In modern times, human society has learned to fight almost without the participation of people. Human individuality has been replaced by a special product of processed human material: human pulp. Human individuality is a product that is expensive, difficult to obtain, and inconvenient to manage. They have learned to replace it exactly like wood is replaced by plastic and crab by mock crab. The plastic world has won (according to the famous quote from Yegor Let