War and Peace: The Alternatives
A Sermon delivered by the Rev. Fr. Theodore E. Ziton, Pastor of St. George's Church, Indianapolis. Indiana,
at the 25th Annual Archdiocesan Convention in Chicago
Count Leo Tolstoys “War and Peace,” the subject on which I am to speak about today, is a continuously-changing scene of Russian life in that active period of history known as the Napoleonic Era. The whole structure of the novel indicates that Tolstoy was writing a new kind of book. He was not concerned with plot, setting, or even people, as such. His purpose was simply to show that the continuity of life in history is eternal. Each human being and each human life holds its influence on history, and the developments of youth and age, war and peace, are so interrelated that in the simplest patterns of social behavior vast implications are recognizable. Tolstoy seemed to feel a moral responsibility to present history as it was influenced by every conceivable human force. To do this, it was necessary for him to create not a series of simple, well-linked incidents but a whole evolution of events and personalities. Each character must change, must affect those around him; these people in turn must influence others, until imperceptibly, the whole historical framework of the nation changes. War and peace, then, is a moving record of historical progress, and the dual themes of this vast novel — Age and Youth, War and Peace, are shown as simultaneous developments of history.
This is what I would impress upon the young minds of today — the minds of those who have become obnoxious in their “learning,” despising the older generation, ignoring the opinions and advice of those who have learned—and served—before them. They want to do “their thing,” they want to be “turned on,” they want to “find themselves,” to search their inner depths. It is of this generation that I say without hesitation, they do not appreciate or acknowledge their indebtedness to the past, nor do they realize their obligations to the future.
We are beneficiaries of the faithful work of those who lived before us. They labored — not for themselves alone, but for others, for generations unborn. They made mistakes, it is true: but we must not fail to recognize the fact that we are enjoying the fruits of their faithful labors. The blessings we enjoy today have come down to us through the toil and tears, struggles and sacrifices, of generations past and gone.
We exult in our advancement, our knowledge, our arts, and our modern conveniences — but do we remember that these things came to us as a heritage? They are the products of the work, sacrifice, study, thought, and inventions of older generations. There has not been a truly active life anywhere in the past, however lowly, that has not contributed in some degree to the good we now enjoy.
Under the American flag we rest serenely in a freedom not existing in most countries. Our “freedom of speech”—so flagrantly misused today by those who despise their elders— was bought and paid for by the lifeblood of generations past, the blood of men who consecrated themselves upon the altar of their country! And it will not be the wars that engage us in other parts of the world that will undermine and destroy all that our fathers fought for. It will be the subversive and communistic influences from within, those influences that are at work in the youth of today. I pray this generation will not throw away that for which the founders of this nation lived and died!
The democratic system of government handed down to us from those who founded this great country is such as to enable us to change civil affairs—yes, even world affairs— through lawful procedure, and those who want to bring about changes in certain aspects of our national life should work through lawful channels to achieve their goals. Changes for good can be brought about and progress can be made without destroying all that previous generations have established to the benefit of this and other nations of the world and to the glory of God. What has been gained in the past should not be thrown away through the hatred and disrespect shown by this present generation toward the whole world — both past and present.
The log schoolhouse (which served its purpose in its day) has been replaced by beautiful, modern buildings. Furniture and equipment in the schoolroom have been improved over and over again. Methods of teaching have advanced far beyond those of even a generation ago. But this splendid educational system (taken as a matter of course by today’s youth) came about through the faithful labor and determination of preceding generations.
You who boast of your superior knowledge, can you not see that such knowledge was made possible for you by the work and at the expense of others who went before you? The very textbooks you study were compiled by men who lived, studied, and researched long before your time. From the simple “Blue-Back” spelling book of a century ago to the most complete and technical books of this present day, we are indebted to others who prepared and published those books for our use.
As we look back over the glorious past and look forward to the future, may God help us to appreciate the ed with grand and glorious possible-blessings and the sacred trust that have come to us from those who have gone before! The past is gone, irrevocably fixed: but the future is before us and we have an obligation to that future. It may look dark and foreboding—politically, economically, and religiously; but however dark and discouraging the future may appear, the fact remains that it is fillities. We are the custodians of the treasures of the past, both the good and the bad. What will we do about the future?
The older generation will soon pass from the scene and the responsibility will fall upon the shoulders of the young men and women of this hour. The future is dependent upon them for the blessings to be possessed and enjoyed. Will the youth of today meet their obligations to future generations by transmitting to them the blessings that came to us from the past?
We are the golden link that binds together the past and the future — the good of the past bound to the good of the future. God forbid that the chain be broken by irresponsible, disillusioned youth influenced by “hippies,’’ dope addicts, and other subversive communistic factors. We should pray for peace, do what we can to speed an end to war, but without hurting or destroying our American ideals. We should work toward justice for every man without destroying the principles upon which America is founded. May we take into serious consideration the fact that in all probability, as a link in the chain between past and future, each of us will strike a chord in someone’s life which will vibrate forever.
This is the answer to the problems of today. God so made us that only in Christ can the soul find complete satisfaction. The world holds nothing that can satisfy the soul of man. Down through the ages men have tried to satisfy the soul with every imaginable thing the world has to offer—but they have searched in vain. They have become intoxicated with sensual pleasures, only to come eventually to a reaction which leaves them in worse condition than before. The soul is not of the earth, and nothing of the earth can satisfy its longing. It cries out for the living God to which it owes its origin.
To conclude: What will be the message of our lives to those who follow us? Do we really care? or do we live only for the present? God grant that our answer to these questions may be, “We transmit to you the sacred trust inherited from the past! We have cherished the inheritance, we have been blessed by it, and we pass it on to you. May you ever be faithful to that trust.”
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America