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Seminar War & Peace in Eastern Christianity

“Eastern Christian Teachings on War and Peace – Theological Background and Current Events”

The quasi-official justification of Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine, launched in February 2022, by main representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church have caused deep irritation worldwide. Patriarch Kirill “of Moscow and All of Rus’” himself claimed a “metaphysical dimension” for what officially had been labeled as “a special military operation”, and more recently even promised indulgence and immediate forgiveness of all sins for soldiers dying on Ukraine’s battlefield. A large part of the Eastern Christian community, including more than a few inside Russia, belong to those distressed by the Russian Orthodox Churches official line of argument.

Eastern Christianity, as opposed to Western Christianity, does not have a tradition of a “Just War”, that could be referred to in order to justify a military campaign. Neither is there an elaborated system of criteria that would need to be fulfilled in order name a war “just.” War in the Eastern tradition is basically always evil. The ancient Christian and patristic tradition, according to many interpreters, even has a strong pacifist connotation, with soldiers either not admitted to baptism, or at least submitted to church sanctions after returning from war. If taken seriously, these traditional elements, therefore, would offer very little reference points for “just”, let alone “holy” wars.

And yet it happened. Sure, on a closer look also the Eastern tradition, against the background of a long history, is more complex and in the course of time also has produced exceptions to the pacifist rule and concepts that, born under specific conditions, provided a blessing to military actions. In ancient Byzantium, the image of the soldier might be counted as an example of self-sacrifice out of love for the neighbor, or the defense of the Christian Empire against the infidels or the barbarians. However, what seemed to be remnants of the Middle Ages, of ancient times long overcome, appears to have resurfaced in the 21st century. So what went wrong? Current attempts to come to terms with the Russian Orthodox stance allude to Imperial atavisms still active in the Russian Orthodox Church, but also to a “militant piety” that draws its inspiration not only from the Church fathers, but also from World War I and II.

The two lectures in this seminar try to highlight the current debates, and to put the patterns currently applied by the Russian Orthodox Church into historical and theological contexts.

Date:  Thursday, December 8, 2022

Time: 16.30-18.30hrs

Location: Erasmusgebouw, Room E 2.56, Radboud University Nijmegen


16.30-16.40hrs Welcome, Introduction

16.40-17.10hrs Dr. Alexander Zanemonets: "Between the Empire and the Gospel: Byzantine Christians on war with Infidels, with Christians and with Orthodox Christians"

17.10-17.40hrs Prof. Dr. Alfons Brüning: "'The lesser good'? Ascetics of pacifism and ascetics of Warfare in the Eastern Christian Tradition"

17.40-18.15hrs Discussion

Attendance is FREE. Register now by sending an email to: secretariaat@ivoc.ru.nl.


Dr. Alexander Zanemonets is has received his PhD in Byzantine studies from Moscow State University in 2004, followed by fellowships in France and Israel. As of 2005, he lived in Israel and has lectured in Byzantine history and Eastern Christianity at the University of Haifa and several Israeli colleges. He has since written a number of books about the European and Russian Christians in the Holy Land and their interrelationships and history. In 2007 he was ordained a deacon (under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) and in 2021 a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In 2021-2022 he taught Ancient Greek at Moscow State University of Linguistics. He has been living in Finland since March 2022, helping the Finnish Orthodox Church in its work with Ukrainian refugees. As a scientist, he is associated as research fellow with the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies since June 2022.

Prof. Dr. Alfons Brüning is the director of the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies. He also holds an endowed chair on “Eastern Christianity, Human Rights, Peace Studies” at the Protestant Theological University (PThU) Amsterdam. The geographical focus of his studies is, among others, on Russia and Ukraine.