Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) died in England yesterday at the age of 87. He had a great gift in the effort to bring eastern and western Christians closer together
“We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” ― Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way. This great British theologian, a convert to Orthodoxy, died yesterday at the age of 87. He will be sorely missed. Let us dedicate ourselves to carrying on the work that he pursued with such charity and diligence throughout his life
“The forces of evil are united. The forces of good are divided.” —Bishop Fulton Sheen in a 1947 radio broadcast, cited by a reader who emailed the words to me this morning. The conclusion one would seemingly draw from these words: that men of good will must unite in these times
Letter #108, 2022, Thursday, August 25: Kallistos
I began yesterday’s letter by writing “I am too tired, and too sad at heart, to write anything of my own.”
I felt sad at heart because the world, following the death in a car bombing of a young woman in Russia — which led in the days that have followed to calls for revenge and an even greater intensity of violence in pursuing the war in Ukraine — now, at the end of August 2022, seems to be once again on the eve of a global war (as Pope Francis, 85, as well as Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 81, have both been warning for many months now).
And because no one seems capable of arranging even the presuppositions for any sort of negotiated settlement.
Of course, my own experience as a father, with two sons, makes me sensitive and sympathetic to all parents, fathers and mothers, who lose their children, whether in war, or in an accident, or from illness, because the children are our future. If we consume our own children — as we did so profligately in World War I, when millions of young men died in the trenches of Flanders — we consume our own future, and are left with a desolate horizon, a horizon that, being without children, is bereft of all natural hope.
Also, having made more than 20 trips to Russia and Ukraine over the past 23 years (the first trip was in December of 1999), and after seeing and even helping to bring about some exchanges on the cultural level between once-Soviet Russia and the West (wonderful concerts, thoughtful lectures, moving common pilgrimages) a hope had been conceived in me that we might not need to “go backward” into recrimination, division, iron curtains, violence, and even war, but that we might find in those many things that we share a possible “way forward” toward peace, prosperity, and the common good which we all long for: a safe world for our children.
Several readers wrote kind emails to me, for which I am deeply grateful, and I include some of their letters below.
But the matter is serious. I have just received word from a source I trust that this present war in Ukraine is killing and wounding tens of thousands (perusing the internet and mainstream news reports, it seems we have no accurate reporting of casualties, and estimates range all over the map.) Ukraine, my source advises me, has suffered an estimated 250,000 casualties thus far, with estimated deaths in excess of 50,000. (My source says Russian deaths are also about 50,000). But if the war spreads, if missiles are launched outside of Ukraine and the war expands, and so will the number of wounded and killed.
This was the source of my sadness yesterday: that I have hoped for 25 years that these conflicts in the east (which always seemed to be simmering) might not erupt, and that I have tried to engage in a number of small initiatives to help construct possible “bridges” to offer a possibility for the initiation of talks based on trust, rather than the use of pure force — and now tens of thousands dead… and yet there is as yet no sign that any agreement will be reached until the logic of force plays its final cards.
There must be another way, my reason tells me.
But what we now see is a scenario that leads, almost inevitably in human terms, to a terrible end, filled with bloodshed, tears, despair, and death.
May God help us, and the Blessed Virgin, yet to find a different way.
Then, earlier today, I received a report from my friend Peter Anderson, who has worked for a lifetime for better relations between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, informing me of the death of the great British Orthodox scholar, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (photo above).
He died yesterday in England at the age of 87.
Kallistos, a brilliant scholar, strove throughout his life to proclaim the Christian message, and he did so always with a great respect for the human person and human reason, though no one was more aware than he that the faith is a matter that transcends the limits of our human reason, while not negating or contradicting our reason.
In this regard he wrote in his great work The Orthodox Way:
“In the Christian context, we do not mean by a ‘mystery’ merely that which is baffling and mysterious, an enigma or insoluble problem. A mystery is, on the contrary, something that is revealed for our understanding, but which we never understand exhaustively because it leads into the depth or the darkness of God. The eyes are closed—but they are also opened.” (emphasis mine)
He believed that “thanksgiving,” gratitude, for life and for all things, was the “way” leading toward knowledge of God and of ourselves. He wrote:
“If I do not feel a sense of joy in God’s creation, if I forget to offer the world back to God with thankfulness, I have advanced very little upon the Way. I have not yet learnt to be truly human. For it is only through thanksgiving that I can become myself.”
And Kallistos Ware believed that love — especially sacrificial love, love that one gives to the other, whether the beloved, or even the enemy, even at the cost of one’s one comfort, or health, or life — could change, could transform, our world, and he believed that Christ’s love, on the cross, showed us that, but did even more than show us, “transforming” us inwardly so that we, incapable of living out such love of our own selves, our own nature, could be able to live out such love, and transform reality itself, as Christ did.
“Love and hatred are not merely subjective feelings, affecting the inward universe of those who experience them, but they are also objective forces, altering the world outside ourselves…if this is true of my love, it is true to an incomparably greater extent of Christ’s love. The victory of his suffering love upon the Cross does not merely set me an example, showing me what I myself may achieve if by my own efforts I imitate him. Much more than this, his suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him.”
It is this “ontological” essence in Christian faith that is the most profound truth that Kallistos is hear revealing to us: that in our very being itself, in the very being of persons at the heart of their personhood, there is an actual, a real, transformation that can occur, a deepening, we might say, or a heightening, which goes beyond our possibilities — a “theosis,” that is, a “divinization” which takes what we are, imperfect, fragile, with a tendency toward selfishness, egoism, sin, and makes of us something different, better, higher, deeper, more loving, more alive, without annihilating or eliminating our humanity, pr our personhood, but transforming it, conforming it to Christ.
And this is the end and meaning of all of our striving, in this life.
May Kallistos Ware rest in peace, and may eternal light shine upon him. —RM