Norms of War in Eastern Orthodox Christianity (Yuri Stoyanov, 2009)

NOTE: The following article examines the Scriptural and Patristic basis of the Eastern Orthodox attitude to war and peace. It is taken from the book World Religions and Norms of War, pp. 166-219 (A link to the complete 45 page article is at the bottom):

The Holy Great Martyr Mercurius,
The Holy Great Martyr Mercurius,

The attitudes of the Eastern Orthodox churches to the use of armed force and the means and methods of warfare have not received such exhaustive treatment as the corresponding attitudes to the same phenomena in Western Christianity – Roman Catholicism and the various denominations of Protestant Christianity. Yet lately a thought-provoking debate has developed among Eastern Orthodox theologians and scholars centred on the historical development and transformations of the notions of ‘‘justifiable war’’ and ‘‘just war’’ or the categorization of war as a ‘‘lesser good’’ or a ‘‘lesser evil’’ in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.1 These debates, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Christian responses to modern developments in international humanitarian law and new weapons and tactics of mass destruction, need to be considered in the context of the historical development and transformations of the Eastern Orthodox perspectives on war and peace, their principal stages and figures, their scriptural and patristic basis and their reinterpretations in modern ideologized and reformist trends in Eastern Orthodox thought.

Eastern Orthodox attitudes to the problems of warfare, just war and the ethics of war offer important parallels to and differences from the respective Western Christian attitudes, which need a careful and balanced analysis. It is worth mentioning at this stage that it is still difficult to present a definitive reconstruction of the evolution of the notions of just and/ or justifiable war in Eastern Orthodox thought and societies, because some of the main relevant works in its classical representative tradition, Byzantine Christianity, either have not been edited and published or, when edited, have not been translated into modern West European languages and thus remain inaccessible to the larger scholarly audience.2

With the present state of evidence and research in this field of study, it will be possible to introduce what seem to be the most important Eastern Orthodox perspectives on the use of military force and right conduct during warfare, while remaining conscious of the above problems and the amount of unpublished source material in this particular field.

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