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Durham University

Faculty Handbook Archive

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2014-15. The current handbook year is 2020-21

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO3551: War and Peace in the Orthodox Tradition

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2014/15 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • ▪ To offer students the opportunity to engage in an informed and critical manner with the major voices on war and peace in Orthodox theology;
  • ▪ To enable students to develop their critical ability in reading original sources;
  • ▪ To develop students’ confidence in using secondary scholarship;
  • ▪ To enhance students’ presentation skills, both orally and in a written form, through presentations to the class, written essays and an exam.


  • ‘A soldier of the government must be told not to execute men’, so wrote around AD 215 Hippolytus of Rome. Despite the Gospel-like simplicity of his directive, however, theologians since the earliest days of recorded church history have continued to debate what the appropriate attitude of a believer should be to the questions of war and peace. The longer a theological tradition has been around the more substantial its reflection on these central questions will be. In this module, students will be able to engage first hand with the thinking and practice of the Orthodox churches (for example, in Greece, Russia, Serbia, Romania and Syria). The defining feature of these churches is uniquely expressed in their claim to be in direct continuity with the apostolic age and Byzantium.
  • To engage appropriately with this longstanding tradition, the present module will adopt an explicit historical perspective and focus on the study of primary texts in their context. We will begin with the earliest war-related church regulations and will study the interpretation of key biblical passages on the topic – such as the book of Joshua – in the third-century author Origen. We will then analyse the Life of Constantine by Eusebius and other relevant fourth- and fifth-century sources (including Ambrose and Augustine) with the purpose of examining variations in the engagement of pre- and post-Constantine authors with the issues of war and military violence. It is here that we will uncover the roots of the nuanced approach which will become characteristic of the later Orthodox theological tradition which would not evolve to articulate a doctrine of ‘just war’.
  • The longevity of these early witnesses will be demonstrated through a study of the Orthodox liturgical tradition in its contemporary form. The themes which will occupy us will include the emergence and the growing influence of the sixth-century designation of the Virgin Mary as ‘invincible general’ and ‘protector’ of Constantinople and how this notion was used in the early nineteenth-century war for Greek independence. In the context of later Byzantium, we will study the lives of the so-called military saints, such as Demetrius the patron of Thessaloniki. In Russian Orthodoxy, we will review the legacy of the Life of Sergius of Radonezh in the fourteenth century whose prayers were believed to have secured the decisive victory against the Tatars. The subtle but important differences in the criticisms of military action in Vladimir Solov’ev and Leo Tosltoy will guide us into the modern world where we will engage with Orthodox theological responses to war in the twentieth and the twenty first century. A key document which we will analyse in this context will be the Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted after the fall of communism. This document and the post-2011 pronouncements of John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, and of other ecclesiastical and political leaders in relation to the latest conflict in Syria will allow us to measure the degree of continuity and change in the articulation of Orthodox Christian responses to the perennial questions of war and peace. We will see a variety of perspectives – theological and pastoral, political and historical – all held in a creative tension most clearly visible in the continuously ambiguous role of military depictions in Orthodox iconography, in churches as well as in nuclear submarines.
  • All reading of primary sources will be supplemented with contributions from the most recent scholarship in the field. The following books will form the core of recommended reading: • Bos, H. and J. Forest (eds.) ‘For the Peace From Above’: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism (Bialystok, Poland: Syndesmos the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth, 1999) • Cadoux, C.J., The Early Christian Attitude to War (London: Headley Bros., 1919) • Dennis, G. T., T. S. Miller, and J. Nesbitt (eds.), Peace and War in Byzantium (Washington D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1995). • Harnack, A., Militia Christi. The Christian religion and the Military in the first three centuries, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981 • Helgeland, J., R. J. Daly, and J. P. Burns, Christians and the Military: The early experience (London: SCM Press, 1985) • Swift, L. J., The Early Fathers on War and Military Service (Wilmington, DA: Michael Glazier, 1983)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Critical understanding of the history and theology of the Orthodox Churches;
  • Solid grounding in the debates on war and peace in the Orthodox tradition.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to engage key texts, historical, theological, biblical, and philosophical with critical depth;
  • an ability to assess a range of issues surrounding theology and religions in an interdisciplinary environment.
Key Skills:
  • Students will develop the skills for research, presentation, and writing skills;
  • an ability to read multivalent texts with intellectual nuance;
  • an ability to articulate their assessments in a clear and scholarly way.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching: This module will be taught in regular weekly classes of 1.5 hours each. Each class will include a lecture and a seminar section. The aim of this combined mode of teaching is to create a dialogical learning environment where students can engage, with suitable guidance, in advanced level discussions focused on key primary texts.
  • Assessment: One formative essay. This will allow students to explore a question in sufficient depth and to receive constructive feedback prior to any summative examination, One summative essay, and one oral presentation. These will develop subject-specific knowledge and understanding, along with student skills in the acquisition of information through reading and research, and in the structured presentation of information in written and oral form.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 22 weekly 1.5 hours 33
Preparation and reading 167
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
essay 3000 words 100%
Component: Oral presentation Component Weighting: 15%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
oral presentation 1500 words 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
examination 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One 2000-word essay due in the first term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University