by Robert Flanagan


On the weekend after Thanksgiving Day (1996) a small group of Orthodox Christians of several jurisdictions met at the monastery of the Presentation of Our Lord in Jenkintown, PA for a retreat that had as its purpose the beginning of a North American chapter of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (OPF). Under the guidance of Jim Forest the retreatants used the Beatitudes as a theme by which to guide their exploration of how to start and give focus to such a local chapter.

The OPF is affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation/USA and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. The OPF publishes a journal, In Communion, and is headquartered in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. "Members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship try to use life-protecting methods to safeguard justice, peace and the wholeness of creation. Aware that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, we seek recovery of a sense of familial connection which, while respecting national identity, transcends all ethnic and national borders. It is precisely this transcendent oneness that the Orthodox Church, gathered around the chalice, seeks to mirror." (from the organization's pamphlet "Orthodox Peace Fellowship")

The late November retreat examined some specific beatitudes. Glinda Johnson-Medland spoke on "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." The speaker used as a platform for her remarks her own experience of losing an unborn child after having spent seven years waiting for it. She then led the participants in a discussion of the phenomenon of grief and mourning, emphasizing how much both are stifled in American culture, much to the diminishment of persons ability to handle profound losses in a healthy way. One of the most important points Glinda made was that, in the Sermon on the mount, Jesus blesses the most despised and wounded persons in the community: epileptics, demoniacs, paralytics and diseased. In this He affirms them in the midst of their suffering.

In a talk on the beatitude that blesses the meek who are promised that they will inherit the earth, I led a meditation on the meaning of the word meek, a much misunderstood concept and a word with a very negative connotation in contemporary culture. In its fuller meaning the word meek points to a person so gladdened and overcome by God's greatness that he or she counts his own life as nothing but joyfully gives it for the sake of love. The word 'meek', in its original Greek meaning has strength to it, not just sad resignation The meek person is organized in personality and is focused on the Kingdom. Such a person is the righteous one, for whose sake heaven and earth continue to exist.

Jim Forest began the weekend with an introduction to the beatitudes, using the image of a ladder. In this sense one beatitude leads to the next, each one forming the support for those above it.

With this as background the retreatants gathered at the final session to talk about how the OPF might begin to take shape in North America. Each of those present committed themselves to becoming a presence of the organization in their own neighborhood, using their particular gifts to enlarge the presence of the OPF on this continent. One of the ideas put forth was to develop a series of leaflets on each of the topics of the retreat, and others as well, that might be placed in the literature racks of the Orthodox churches around each one of our homes.

One of the principal issues facing Orthodox Christians in North America is jurisdictionalism. This phenomenon flies directly in the face of the Church's sacred mission to mirror, around the Chalice, the transcendent oneness of the image and likeness of God. All present at the retreat recognized the scandal of the presence of this phenomenon in the Orthodox Church and agreed that this must be one of the high priorities of the OPF in North America. The verbal and written violence done in this area betrays the nature of the Church. Other areas demanding the presence of the OPF include widespread abortion, working for the homeless, protecting the environment, helping victims of disasters and visiting the elderly and the ill.

The beginnings of a structure for the North American OPF will crystallize around the service of the organizer of the retreat, Tom (Deacon Athanasios) Johnson-Medland. Tom has offered to take a day off from his job one day a week to devote to the development of the North American chapter. With the activities mentioned above and others, and the development of a modest organizational structure, it is hoped that a network will be established which will serve as the foundation of this chapter.

Those who might be interested in the OPF will be so for a variety of reasons. In general, we will use our vocation and whatever special gifts and resources God has given us, especially our participation in eucharistic community to strive to undertake constructive action on behalf of those who are endangered. We aspire to eliminate violence as a means of conflict resolution, support those who struggle against evil in non-military ways, encourage compassionate treatment of prisoners, and commit ourselves to prayer for enemies, recognizing our own violence.

If you are interested in this work of mercy you may contact the international office at Kanisstraat 5, 1811 GJ Alkmaar, the Netherlands (e-mail: Or in North America, Thomas Johnson-Medland, 222 North Green Street, Langhorne, PA 19047 (e-mail:

[Robert Flanagan, head librarian at the Camden County Library, Voorhees, NJ, is a member of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross, Medford, NJ.]

From Jacob's Well
Newspaper of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey
Orthodox Church in America
Winter 1997