Entries with tag faith matters .

Talk About Depression

Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability and is felt in all countries, both poor and rich. In many ways, this indiscriminate impact makes it unique, however many continue to conceal it from those around them for fear of the stigma that often follows the condition. On this year’s occasion of World Health Day, we are called to embrace and empower those suffering around us to find the aid they need to overcome it.

The theme for this year’s campaign is “Depression: Let’s Talk.”[1] Depression affects people in all walks of life and in all countries. Despite this ubiquity, acknowledgement of the disease, along with access to treatment remains elusive for many. Many believe depression is just a form fleeting sadness, effectively dismissing the severity of the condition and harmfulness that derives from it.

Depression is mentioned throughout the Bible and was discussed amongst the Church Fathers who were cognizant of its harmful propensities. We see in the Old Testament: “My eye has grown dim from grief, it grows weak because of all my foes.” (Job 17:7). St. Paul similarly references depression and its impact, articulating: “...worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor. 7:10). Here, the death he speaks of concerns personal, family, and social death, along with spiritual death of the soul, which prevents God’s love from entering the heart.[2]

In ‘On the Eight Vices,’ St. John Cassian describes dejection, a concept similar to depression, as: obscuring the soul, keeping it from performing good works, preventing us from praying gladly and being gentle and compassionate towards our brethren. Additionally, it instills hatred in our hearts, leaving our soul senseless and paralyzed.[3] Likewise, the American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a condition which “negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act, ” including things such as feeling sad, lacking energy to complete daily tasks, feeling worthless, diminished interest in pleasure and increased proneness to agitation, and general difficulty in thinking or concentrating.[4] These characterizations demonstrate the existing mutuality between our present day medical understanding and the spiritual appreciation of the disease.

According to the World Health Organization (“WHO”), there are approximately 322 million people suffering from depression around the world, equivalent to about 5% of the total population and an increase of 18.4% over the past decade.[5]  It is the most common disability on the planet, with significant implications for both the individual suffering, as well as the loved ones around them.

Depression is most prevalent among elderly and adolescent populations, and its effects vary from decreased inability to complete daily tasks to suicide, all of which demonstrate the need for increased attention. The WHO has articulated that these conditions are mutually reinforcing. There are strong links between depression and other mental disorders/diseases, substance abuse, and physical diseases like heart disease.[6] The opposite is true as well, that most people suffering from aforementioned ailments are at a higher risk to become depressed.

Despite these known features, the problem persists. According to the WHO, the first step in tackling depression is acknowledging its existence. While at first glance this may seem simple, the truth is that many feel shameful or afraid to do so. The Church suggests a similar remedy. St. John Cassian argues: “Thus it is clear that our whole fight is against the passions within. Once these have been [eliminated] from our heart by the grace and help of God, we will readily be able to live...”[7]

The Church represents the healing Body of Christ, and through that we can fight this condition. Similarly, because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we can use our worldly intelligence and knowledge to better understand and treat the condition.[8]

For example, the Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Emotional Dysfunction describes how people’s perceptions of events affect their emotion.[9] According to this model, depression and depressive thoughts can be produced through irrational beliefs, attitudes, or thoughts based on the perception of or reaction to an event. Therefore, we become upset at the interpretation of events around us, rather than the situation itself.[10] Based on this model, we are able to adequately pinpoint the cause of concern, and treat it both pastorally and clinically, because how we react to events is easier to treat and control than the events themselves.

This is one of many studies conducted which studies the effects and causes of depression, as well as how to treat it. While not meant to be an exhaustive list, I hope to convey a sense of awareness that there is help out there for those who need it, both in the clinical world as well as in the Church. The two are not mutually exclusive, but as we have seen, they both acknowledge the problem, and aim to help those suffering. 

 

For more information on World Health Day and their yearlong campaign against depression, visit http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2017/en/

 

 

Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org)

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]http://www2.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12933%3Aworld-health-day-2017-depression&catid=8190%3Ageneral&Itemid=42252&lang=en

[2] http://www.antiochian.org/1141449331

[3] http://dormitionpgh.org/tidbits/eight_Vices_dejection.asp

[4] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

[5] http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/prevalence_global_health_estimates/en/

[6] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/world-health-day/en/

[7] http://dormitionpgh.org/tidbits/eight_Vices_dejection.asp

[8] http://www.antiochian.org/1141449331

[9] https://www.beckinstitute.org/cognitive-model/

[10] http://www.antiochian.org/1141449331

“Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery”—Dispatches from the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The problem of slavery, one of humanity’s greatest evils, remains with us today. The overt chattel form of slavery, which Christian abolitionists raged against in the nineteenth century, has all but disappeared, but new less visible forms of bondage and exploitation have arisen. In fact, one of the most severe abuses of human rights, modern slavery is a concealed crime that is a pervasive aspect of contemporary life, operating on a global scale.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recently became the international fulcrum for addressing the scourge of modern slavery. Under the auspices of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a global gathering, “Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery,” took place in Istanbul, February 6-7, 2017. The result of an initiative by His All-Holiness Bartholomew and His Grace Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Primate of All England, launched during Bartholomew’s official Patriarchal visit to the Church of England’s Lamberth Palace in November 2015, the Forum brought together more than 70 distinguished scholars, religious leaders, government officials, non-governmental experts, and policymakers from across the globe.

Inasmuch as Orthodoxy—the living continuation of the Early Church—has always taught human dignity, personhood, and freedom as fundamental to Christian belief and practice, it is natural and fitting that the Ecumenical Patriarchate should champion the international cause of ending slavery in all its forms. These fundamental Orthodox convictions are affirmed by Saint Paul’s pronouncement that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). The Church Father, Saint, and Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, described slavery as “the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery, the fruit of sin and of human rebellion against our true Father.”

As a Patriarchal successor to Chrysostom, Bartholomew continues in contemporary times the Orthodox Church’s unwavering commitment to universal freedom and human dignity. Moreover, His All-Holiness has consistently made clear through his own long, salient record of work and activism that the Church’s responsibility is to combine belief and practice, to actualize faith through the organic connection to action. Honoring the belief that religious leaders are obligated to speak out against social injustice and exploitation, Bartholomew, through the Patriarchate’s Forum on modern slavery, focused attention on an invisible, but wide-reaching crime against humanity.

The magnitude and pernicious effects of modern slavery are enormous. More people are enslaved today than at any other time in human history. The most authoritative research on this subject, produced by the Global Slavery Index, indicates that at present, almost 46 million people in over 160 countries are captive in some form of modern slavery. This shocking reality, however, is obscured by the continued emphasis on the race-based model of Colonial-era New World slavery, which ignores the shift to globalized contemporary slave practices and forms, and which promotes the modernist conceit that slavery was ended in the West with the American Civil War. The current manifestations of slavery, as systematically outlined and analyzed by several of the Patriarchal Forum’s presenters and discussants, are oftentimes subtler and, therefore, more subversive than past forms of open slavery. Examples of modern slavery include human smuggling and human trafficking, forced sex trafficking of children and adults, involuntary domestic servitude, forced labor, coercive bonded labor or debt bondage, abduction and forced conscription of children as soldiers, and the enslavement of children and women as spoils of war.

Although the enslaved today are predominantly associated with conflict zones in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, slavery in the twenty-first century is deeply rooted in many societies across the globe. India, for example, with 18.4 million people living in slavery, has the ignominious distinction of leading the world’s list of enslaved populations by country. China is second with 3.4 million, followed by Pakistan, which has more than 2.1 million enslaved people. Four other Asian countries each have enslaved populations that exceed one million. Leading the list of Middle Eastern countries are Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, each with roughly 500,000 people living in slavery. The undeniably globalized nature and networks of modern slavery implicates all countries, from developing countries to those in the developed West, as morally damaged and institutionally corrupted by the presence of enslaved human beings in the midst of these societies. In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 58,000 people exist in conditions defined as slavery.

The international community has a mixed record in its response to the problem of modern slavery. While several states, especially those with strong civil societies and traditions of government accountability, enjoy good reputations for combatting modern slavery, many other states, in particular those with closed and authoritarian systems, are characterized by government complicity. With few exceptions, virtually all states and their corresponding media have demonstrated very little interest in addressing the problem of modern slavery. This general attitude of disinterest helps to explain public unawareness, misunderstanding, and indifference to the plight of the enslaved and to the conditions that fuel modern slavery. Finally, although the international community has to some extent evolved to identify the changing forms of slavery and has recognized its gross human rights abuses, it has failed, often despite good intentions, to establish effective enforcement mechanisms to fight slavery.

Through His All-Holiness’ widely recognized leadership in raising international awareness of and activism on environmental issues, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has demonstrated that the Orthodox Church provides both a global network, and a living theological commitment that can transcend geopolitical impediments and the limitations of states in tackling some of the world’s most serious problems. With this same characteristic understanding and vision, Bartholomew inspired and brought to fruition “Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery.” Indeed, as in his seminal work on the environment, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has emphasized the unique transnational structural resources, capacity, and moral framework that enable the Orthodox Church to be a natural agent for change, emancipation, and healing when it comes to ending slavery in today’s world.

In His All-Holiness’ keynote address to the Forum on February 7, Bartholomew reflected on the immutable bonds between humanity’s stewardship of creation and the moral imperative to abolish slavery and protect human dignity: “We live in a world full of contradictions. Prosperity grows amidst famine; the struggle for peace and reconciliation is confronted with terrorism and the spread of hatred and religious fundamentalism; ecological movements coexist with technocracy and the deification of economic growth; the protection of human rights is confronted with social injustice and the lack of respect for human dignity as well as the phenomenon of modern slavery. This is precisely why we are convinced that responding to the problem of modern slavery is directly and inseparably linked to creation care, which has been at the very center of our patriarchal ministry over the last quarter century. The entire world is the body of Christ, just as human beings are the very body of Christ. The whole planet bears the traces of God, just as every person is created in the image of God. The way we respect creation reflects the way we respond to our fellow human beings. The scars that we inflict on our environment reveal our willingness to exploit our brother and sister.”

His Grace Archbishop of Canterbury Justin echoed and amplified Bartholomew’s insights. In His Grace’s address, Justin observed that slavery does not occur in isolation, that it is nourished by conflict, chaos, and the breakdown of rule of law, and that it persists because it remains a highly profitable criminal activity. Speaking to the decisive role played by Christian Churches historically and at present in providing relief to ravaged populations, Justin commented: “I am reminded that the Church, like no other organization, is there before, during, and after conflict. Churches in these situations find themselves in the front line in the battle against modern day slavery. We need to look at ways of strengthening the capacity of Churches in conflict and fragile states to provide compassionate and loving service to those at risk. We need to resource them to identify the telltale signs of slavery and to support them to challenge the stigma that many survivors experience.”

Emphasizing their unity of purpose, Bartholomew and Justin presented a Joint Declaration at the close of the Forum. The Declaration condemned “all forms of human enslavement as the most heinous of sins, inasmuch as it violates the free will and the integrity of every human being created in the image of God.” The Declaration detailed ways the Orthodox Church and the Church of England will collaborate in the battle against modern slavery. In addition to establishing a joint taskforce, the Declaration emphasized the importance of local, national, and global alliance building to widen the networks of public and private institutions that together can produce tangible responses to the problem of slavery.

Earlier, in his keynote address, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew cast in sharp relief the path forward for confronting and defeating modern slavery: “How then can we face this crisis? How can we attempt to heal the wounds of our divided world? It is obvious that such a problem demands from us all immense mobilization, common action, common goals, strength and responsibility. Nobody—no state, no Church, no religion, neither science nor technology—can face the current challenges alone. We regard the worldwide crisis as an opportunity for building bridges, for openness and mutual trust. Our future is common and the way towards it is a common journey.”

The Orthodox Church can help light the path on which that common journey must unfold. Christian theology, Eastern and Western, proclaims that Christ came to free the oppressed, to end abominations to human dignity. Both Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin reminded us through “Sins Before Our Eyes: A Forum on Modern Slavery,” that theology is to be lived and transformed into action. In that way, we all have a responsibility to help break the chains of slavery that deny people their God-given freedom to experience dignity and the fullness of life.

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

Life, Not the Death Penalty

Last spring, I had the privilege of hearing oral arguments for a lethal injection case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Working as a television reporter in Washington, D.C. at the time, I had the station’s legal beat and occasionally found myself at the nation’s highest court.

 

In this case, inmates sentenced to death in Oklahoma were suing the state over its use of a drug called midazolam, the first administered as part of the state’s lethal injection protocol.

 

There was growing evidence that midazolam—which is meant to render a person unconscious before the painful drugs that actually stop the heart are injected—wasn’t doing its job. A man in Oklahoma and another in Arizona were seen gasping and writhing in pain during their respective executions.

 

The legal question was whether executions involving midazolam constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” violating the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court wasn’t convinced, narrowly deciding (5-4) to uphold Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol.

 

The five justices who ruled in favor of the this iteration of the death penalty formed their opinions on legal grounds. I would argue that, perhaps, they were not formed on a moral or ethical ones.

 

However, the Orthodox Church—through several local Churches worldwide—has taken action to oppose it.

 

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken about the perversion of violence and hatred against other people in any form, including corporal punishment.

 

“How can [Jesus] support the death penalty for people’s wrongdoings, especially when He came to save the lost, and desires ‘that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth?’” Patriarch Bartholomew said during a 2013 speech at an ecumencal gathering in Espoo, Finland. “How can life possibly embrace death?”

 

The Moscow Patriarchate has also encouraged mercy over lethal punishment, noting that the abolition of the death penalty provides more opportunities both for the Church to engage in pastoral work and for those who have committed crimes to repent.

 

“Today, many states have either abolished the death penalty by law or stopped practicing it,” the Russian Church’s document on the basis of the social concept states. “Keeping in mind that mercy toward a fallen man is always more preferable than revenge, the Church welcomes these steps by state authorities.”

 

Fortunately, 82 percent of countries have either introduced moratoria on the death penalty by law or in practice or have abolished it entirely.

 

Here in the U.S., where the practice is still legal in most states and in the federal government, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos has worked extensively to put an end to the death penalty, having served twice as president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty before it was finally banned there in 2011.

 

Like virtually all contemporary social issues, this one is vastly complicated and riddled with nuance. But the data and research overwhelmingly paint a picture of a death penalty that doesn’t really work.

 

Death penalty convictions are often based on the race of the accused and of the victims, inmates are frequently removed from death row after evidence is found of their innocence, claims that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder are flawed, and enforcing the death penalty costs taxpayers millions of dollars more than it would to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison.

 

When basing a decision in the supreme value of human life and the virtue of mercy, it becomes even more obvious that the death penalty should be discarded.

 

If your justification for opposing abortion is a personal commitment to champion life, why let the death penalty slide? Surely, “pro-life” has to actually mean “pro-life.”

 

Remember that Christ Himself prevented the legal execution of a woman (John 8:3-11), saying “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

 

World Day Against the Death Penalty is marked every year on Oct. 10.

 

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

 

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

Non-Orthodox Observers at HGC Were Moved by the Conciliarity and Spirituality in Orthodoxy

It was a moving experience for me to be able to catch a glimpse of the hierarchs and other participants in the Holy and Great Council in the space where they did their work.

I had the privilege of being present at the opening and closing sessions where I heard His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew first express his vision and hope for the historic gathering, and then thank God for the successful conduct and conclusion of the Council. I also heard his heartfelt congratulations and thanks to the hierarchs, theologians, and scholars who devoted themselves tirelessly to its holy work.

It was obvious that I was not alone among the observers in being deeply moved by being able to participate even in those modest slices of the work of the HGC.

There were also a number of non-Orthodox observers in the impressive auditorium of the Orthodox Academy of Crete, and I was honored that they shared their thoughts with me.

Inviting non-Orthodox observers to the Holy and Great Council was one of the important matters under discussion during its period of preparation. It was finally decided that they would be invited to hear the messages of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the primates of the other autocephalous Churches during the opening and closing sessions.

The visitors were able to learn about the work of the council during the closed sessions from their Orthodox friends and colleagues, and they were impressed with what they heard.

Official Photo of the opening session of the HGC. Credit: Dimitrios Panagos

After the closing session, I was able to speak with Bishop Christopher Hill, a member of the Anglican Church and the President of the Conference of European Churches.

He grasped what even the Orthodox members of the media sometimes missed: “The Council is not just an event but a process… For me, the importance is the beginning of the conciliar process,” he said.

The bishop also understood the HGC’s significance for the Orthodox diaspora, telling me, “It is enormously important for the churches in North America, given both the tensions and the opportunities for their mission which require different circumstances from what prevail in their ancient heartlands in Europe and the Mediterranean world.  We are in a very different world now and this is a process that will help the mission of the Orthodox churches in today’s world…We support that. Christians need to support each other in their common mission in Jesus Christ for the Gospel of God for human society.”

I was very interested to know what he believed Orthodoxy brings to ecumenical discussions.

“First, you bring tradition in the best sense, the deep sense of the continuity of the Church from the New Testament and the patristic age. A sense of continuity is important in a world that is changing all the time. Second, the spirituality that it brings. It’s is not just a trivial thing of the custom of [non-Orthodox churches] now using icons. The third element is the very special newer thing that the Ecumenical Patriarchate in particular brings is the deep theological concern rooted in patristic and Orthodox theology for the environment,” he said.  

He was also delighted to return to the island of Crete. In between the open and close of the council he enjoyed visiting special holy places on the island and experienced some of the famous Cretan hospitality, which he said his weight gain proved to be very generous.

He first visited the island as a student in 1965. “It’s a fantastic place,” he said, but added what he will bring home this time is being deeply impressed with the work of the Council and its meaning for the future.

I also had a conversation with the Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands is Goris Vercanmen, who is also the president of the International Old Catholics Bishops Conference and he was very pleased to be in Crete.

“I am really touched by the openness I observed, and the Orthodox churches opening themselves up to the modern world,” he said, and continued, “Someone said to me we are here in order to be healed, and we are healing one another. It means the Church is reaching out to the world and to modernity. It’s extremely important for society in the United States and in Europe to engage in social questions, environmental issues, and to the individual need for spirituality.”

Archbishop Goris also noted Orthodoxy’s contributions to the Ecumenical movement, emphasizing ecclesiology.

“Orthodox theology has a feeling of ‘being Church’ that is extremely important,” and he noted also the Orthodox Church’s emphasis on the Eucharist.

“The Church is born around the table of the Eucharist. We are there incorporated and interested in one another, and interested in the world in order to work for the Kingdom of God,” he said.

Experiencing Orthodox spirituality is one of the motivations for non-Orthodox participation in the Ecumenical movement.

The Archbishop said that “The tradition of prayer and the belief that together we are the Body of Christ, that we belong to something bigger than ourselves, that the Church is not an organization, that it is an organism and that organism is given to the world as the living Lord in the midst of the world,” is an important Orthodox contribution.

“In the Ecumenical movement there is such a strong need for this kind of experience and the perspective of being Church, because we lost that a little bit,” in the West, he said.

“The experience of the presence of the Lord is connected to being Church,” he emphasized, adding that “the experience of the living presence of the Lord…has to be experienced in the Church as a living body, where brothers and sisters are entrusted to one another and on behalf of the Lord, entrusted to the world.”

Roman Catholic Bishop Brian Farrell is from Ireland. After we shared observations about the beauty of both glorious islands, Crete and Ireland, he told me his thoughts about the Council.

“This has been an extraordinary occasion in which we have seen how the tradition of conciliarity in the Orthodox Church continues and is taking on new vitality and strength, and we are full of hope that as all churches are challenged by the new situation that exists in the world we will be able to work together more closely and in this way respond to the real questions of the people who look to the Church for answers,” he told me.

The bishop is in charge of organizing the Catholic Church’s ecumenical activities and has been a member of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church for 13 years.

“We have been examining for a long time the structure of authority and conciliarity in the Church. We are presently working to develop the theological principles that were in effect in the first millennium, because in the second millennium we divided, and in the third we must find a model for us to come together,” he said.

Bishop Brian noted that their work is not easy because any model for the new situation for coming together also has implications for the internal affairs of the separated Churches. “But that is the whole point of our dialogue – to bring the two churches together in a way that is respectful of the huge diversities – and that diversity is a richness, not an error of history.”

 

Reflections from Yad Vashem: Israel’s Official Holocaust Memorial

The United Nations is remembering the Holocaust this week through a series of programs and activities related to the theme of “educating for a better future.”

 

Coincidentally, I was in Israel just three weeks ago and found myself at Yad Vashem, the country’s official memorial to the victims of that catastrophe. One of its primary aims is education.

 

For those wondering, the name “Yad Vashem” in Biblical Hebrew comes from the book of Isaiah:

 

Even to them I will give in My house

And within My walls a place and a name

Better than that of sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

That shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:5)

 

The name “Yad Vashem” conveys the memorial’s purpose as a place where the names of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims can be enshrined forever, even those who have no one to carry their names after death.

 

I admit, it came as somewhat of a personal surprise that this visit to Yad Vashem was one of the most moving moments of my life, as the complex’s museum and various monuments present an exceptionally robust and sensitive encapsulation of the Holocaust’s pain, endurance and hope all in one place—on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

 

Yad Vashem is an emotionally weighty site for Jews for obvious reasons; for non-Jews, it is not only an abiding reminder of our shared humanity, but of how a festering prejudice can beguile the public firmament and bring about the worst and most destructive tendencies in all of us.

 

The museum—easily one of the best I have ever visited—begins with a snapshot of the many early 20th century Jewish communities in Europe before pivoting to Adolf Hitler’s rise and the genesis of German anti-Semitism.

 

The museum was careful to illustrate that despite Hitler’s and his ministers’ fanaticism, the bulk of the Holocaust’s many atrocities were committed by very regular people who were deceived and poisoned by decades of propagated fear.

 

Of course, an event like the Holocaust attracts the most sadistic and antisocial individuals in a society; but it’s the horrible crimes otherwise good people committed against fellow human beings—many of them their own neighbors—that should strike a nerve in all of us.

 

The act of murder being so unnatural, young German soldiers often had to get drunk before they could make themselves shoot an innocent Jewish man, woman or child for the first time. But many of them later recounted that it got easier the more times they did it, and that it eventually became easy.

 

In fact, it is important to note that no German soldier was ever punished for refusing to kill a Jew—contrary to popular belief, those duties were entirely optional.

 

This prompted our tour guide to ask: When the humiliation, torture and murder of innocent people becomes easy, who really loses their humanity? The victims or the perpetrators?

 

If those German soldiers occupy one end of Yad Vashem’s portrait of humanity, the opposite can be found in its Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Along with thousands of trees, the garden contains walls inscribed with the 26,120 individuals who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

 

The title “Righteous Among the Nations” is, in fact, the highest honor bestowed by the State of Israel to non-Jews, and entitles the recipient to a medal and a certificate, along with Israeli citizenship with a pension and free healthcare for life should he or she choose to resettle.

 

The distinction is given without regard to the social status of the person—queens and princesses to the most humble individuals have all been recognized. People who fit somewhere in the middle, like the famous Oskar and Emilie Schindler, have their names engraved on the walls as well.

 

Yad Vashem works tirelessly to ensure that visitors remain in the present. Its museum, for example, does not formally end; enormous glass doors lead out of the building to the edge of the mountain and a stunning view of the hills surrounding Jerusalem—meant to symbolize that the history and the memory of the Holocaust itself do not actually end.

 

In a literal sense, they do not end because victims continue to be identified and Righteous continue to be honored. In a symbolic sense, they cannot end because the risk of a similar catastrophe always remains.

 

Hitler, our guide reminded us, did not take power in a violent revolution. He was peacefully elected by a willing public.

 

As the U.N. commemorates the Holocaust this week, we know that its painful memory does not belong only to Jews. It belongs to all of us—to every human being who has a voice in this world.

 

The memory of those 6 million victims charges each and every one of us to recall and revoke the depravity of their untimely and violent deaths, and insists with fervent conviction that such a catastrophe must never happen again. The normalization and institutionalization of bigotry must never happen again.

 

We must educate, like Yad Vashem and like the U.N. this week do, both ourselves and those we know.

 

And then we must ask ourselves: Are we the deceived, or are we the righteous?

 

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).


The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.
Anthony Constantine Balouris
Posts: 8
Stars: 0
Date: 4/19/17
Sam Williams
Posts: 55
Stars: 0
Date: 4/5/17
Maria Pappas
Posts: 24
Stars: 0
Date: 3/31/17
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 22
Stars: 10
Date: 3/3/17
Rev. Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 21
Stars: 1
Date: 2/23/17
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 73
Stars: 8
Date: 2/7/17
Andrew Calivas
Posts: 2
Stars: 0
Date: 2/1/17
Andrew Romanov
Posts: 7
Stars: 0
Date: 1/25/17
Constantine Sirigos
Posts: 9
Stars: 0
Date: 12/3/16
Rev. Dr. Nicolas Kazarian
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 12/2/16