A Separation of Church and State

The state is, to be sure, wholly  of “this world.” It belongs to the level of the reality which in the light of the Kingdom “fades away.” This does not mean, however, that it is either evil or neutral, an enemy to be fought or an entity to be ignored for the sake of “spiritual values.” On the contrary, it is precisely the experience of the Kingdom that for Christians gives the state its real meaning and value. The fall consisted primarily in the disconnection of “this world” from God and in its acquiring therefore a pseudo-meaning and a pseudo-value which is the very essence of the demonic, the Devil being “the liar and the father of lies.” To redeem the world, or anything in the world, is then to place it in the perspective of the Kingdom of God as its end and ultimate term of reference, to make it transparent to the Kingdom as its sign, means and “instrument.”

…The essence of all that exists is good, for it is God’s creation. It is only its divorce from God and its transformation into an idol, i.e. an “end in itself,” that makes anything in this world evil and demonic. Thus, as everything else in “this world,” the state may be under the power of “the prince of this world.” It may become a vehicle of demonic lies and distortions, yet, as everything else, by “accepting” the Kingdom of God as its ultimate value or “eschaton,” it may fulfill a positive function. As an integral part of “this world,” it exists under the sign of the end and will not “inherit the Kingdom of God.” But its positive and indeed “Christian” function lies in this very recognition of its limit, in this very refusal to be an “end in itself,” an absolute value, an idol, in its subordination, in short, to the only absolute value, that of God’s Kingdom.

It is well known that from a purely legal point of view the crime for which Christians were condemned and denied the right to exists (“non licet vos esse”) was their refusal to honor the emperor with the title of Kyrios, Lord. They did not denounce, reject or fight any other “defect” of the Roman Empire be it, to use our modern “fixations,” injustice (slavery), colonialism (the regime of imperial versus the senatorial provinces), or imperialism (expansion at the expense of other states and nations). Yet what they denounced and fought by denying the emperor the divine title of Kyrios implied in fact much more than all this, for it challenged once and for all the self-proclaimed divinity of the state, its claim to be an absolute value, a divine “end in itself.” And it implied therefore not only a negation, but also an affirmation. (Alexander Schmemman, Church World Mission, pp. 30-32)

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A Statue of Responsibility

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“In a universe where values are relative and individual autonomy reigns supreme, personal responsibility is a doubtful proposition. Responsibility implies accountability to a higher authority than the face in the mirror, there is no need for shame or guilt. Even if you get caught, it is always the fault of someone else: your parents, your teachers, the government, faulty genes (again your parents! And no need for repentance if you can obtain the services of a clever lawyer!). Dr. Victor Frankl was an admirer of the United States and the many freedoms enjoyed by its citizens, but with some caveats. ‘Freedom…is a negative concept which requires a positive complement. And the positive complement is responsibleness..[which] refers to a meaning for whose fulfillment we are responsible, and also to a being before whom we are responsible…Freedom threatens to degenerate into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness..the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast [of the United States] should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.’” (Daniel B. Hinshaw, Suffering and the Nature of Healing, p. 81)

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Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?

On Memorial Day, I visited the Dayton National Cemetery.  This is the final resting place for several of my parishioners who also served in our nation’s armed forces.

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so galantly streaming?

One sees the numbers of graves of soldiers in one tiny part of our country, and one realizes the enormity of the sacrifices made by so many.  On so many beaches and battlefronts, countless dreams of young men and women died, disappearing stars in the heavens that will never glitter again – and yet they were extinguished so that the rest of us could see and enjoy the light.

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.

Perhaps  in our flags we still see those stars, the dreams of those who are no longer dreaming about this world.  We must live so that their lives are not simply lost, but are the sacrifices upon which we build a better America.  They gave up their dreams so that we can realize ours.  That is why we need to fight our tendencies to divide and to polarize and instead build up and build together these United States.

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

(The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key, 1814)

Each grave is individually marked by a small flag, but it is the same flag no matter how different the people.  And in the cemetery, no matter how different they were in life or how they disagreed, now they rest in peace together under that same one flag.  We the living need to work together so we can enjoy the peace for which they sacrificed.  They are free from the tyranny of the world and from passions.  We need to struggle against those same tyrannies.

Refugees or Refuse?

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. . . .    we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.  (1 Corinthians 4:1, 13)

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The current kerfuffle about refugees being a threat to America exploded when President Trump carried out a campaign promise to close our borders to terrorists by forbidding people from certain Islamic countries to enter into the United States.

And while many are in agreement with what the President endeavors to do to protect the country from terrorists, there are many who are troubled by the way in which it is being carried out.  It judges broad swaths of people guilty even if they have done nothing and are themselves trying to escape the very Islamic extremists our country has proclaimed as its enemies.   It consigns the innocent and some victims to further suffering, even though they did nothing wrong, and may have in fact followed all the rules and jumped through all of the hoops that were placed before them on their road to freedom in the United States.

In the refugees we begin to understand how St. Paul felt when he wrote the words above to the Christians at Corinth.  He knew what it was to be treated as refuse, garbage.  Most likely when he made his escape from Damascus, he was lowered in a basket used to dump garbage over the city wall.  He was speaking literally when he said he was refuse!

For many immigrants now living in America and for the descendants of immigrants, the whole current American effort is very troubling because many know there are people in the world who desperately need our help and need to get out of war torn areas of the world for the sake of their children.  Some Americans have taken to the streets to protest President Trump’s mandates – the protesters may not all have the same motives for coming out, but at least some immigrants and children of immigrants know what it is like to be unwanted in the world.

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(Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Certainly, as Christians, we should never cease praying for these refugees, even if our country won’t let them in.  Praying for the suffering of the world is our task – it doesn’t matter whether or not we agree with what the President is trying to do.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.  (Hebrews 13:2-3)

We do need to remember that our fellow Christian people from the time of the apostles were often rejected by society and made to suffer with little hope of rescue, as St. Paul himself notes.  Our prayers and sympathies should be with the current refugees of the world.  We may feel uncertain about what our role as Christians should be – on the one hand we sympathize with the refugees, on the other hand we want to stop terrorists from coming into the country, I am reminded of a story from the desert fathers:

Certain brethren came to Abba Anthony, and said unto him, “Speak to us a word whereby we may live.” The old man said to them, “Behold, you have heard the Scriptures, and they are sufficient for you.”  The brethren said, “We wish to hear a word from you also, O father.” Abba Anthony said to them, “It is said in the Gospel, ‘If a man smites you on one cheek, turn to him the other also’ (Luke 6: 29). They said to him, “We cannot do this.” Abba Anthony said unto them, “If you cannot turn the other cheek, at least allow yourself to be smitten on the one cheek.”  They said to him, “And this we cannot do.” The old man then said to them, “If you cannot do even this, do not pay back blows in return for the smiting which you have received.” They said, “We cannot even do this.” Then the old man said to his disciples, “Make then for the brethren a little boiled food, for they are ill,” and he added, “If you cannot do even this, and you are unable to do the other things, prayers are necessary immediately.”   (adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 770-77)

We Christians may be far from behaving perfectly toward the refugees, but we still can do something for them – prayer at the very minimum.  [Though I am not down playing the importance of prayer.]   Even if we can’t give them maximal love through our charity, we can offer to these refugees some love, as noted in the story from the desert fathers above.   It is not an all or nothing situation for us.   We aren’t to say since we can’t help them, forget about them.  NO!   Perhaps if we prayed for these suffering people at every Liturgical service, our hearts as the Orthodox living in America would be open to what God would have us do.

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Again we pray for mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, and visitation for the servants of God the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of their teeming shore, the homeless and for the pardon and remission of their sins.

We might also think of some words that St. John Chrysostom said while he was sent into exile.  As he was on the forced march, he commented that if Christ says in Matthew 25 that those who did not give nourishment to Christ when he was hungry are condemned to the fires of hell, what will happen to

“those who have not only not welcomed strangers but have chased them away; and those who have not only not cared for the sick but have afflicted them yet more; and those who have not only not visited the captives but have cast into prison those who had been free of chains?  Imagine what torments they will suffer!”  (LETTERS TO ST OLYMPIA, p 77)

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All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

It is not just the State Department than needs ambassadors.  St. Paul says we are the ambassadors for Christ to the world.  We bring Christ to everyone, and our mission is the same as that of Christ’s – to reconcile the entire world to Him.

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation 1863

Lincoln2The recent U.S. presidential election was particularly rancourous and divisive.  There was unrest after the election as some were so shocked by the results that they couldn’t even accept it.  Even through the Thanksgiving  Holiday, some were still unsettled by the results of the election.  All of that made me call to mind President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.  Talk about a divided nation – at that time we were in a civil war.  Yet, despite the war and the divided country, Lincoln still could see there were plenty of things for which the American people could be thankful.

And though Thanksgiving is already past us, I felt it is good for us, as Americans, to remember those things for which we owe our Creator thanksgiving, even in times of uncertainty or unrest or dissatisfaction.   Whatever our differences, however politics push us in polar opposite directions, we Americans also need to remember those gifts from God which we all enjoy and which make us the great nation we are.  Let us never forget our blessings and let us always remember that to be an American is to be thankful at heart, and to have gratitude for those gifts whether of nature or of freedom that we hold in common.

Here is what President Lincoln wrote to the nation:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Caesar, Jesus and the Constitution

“In a world where mainstream religion was emphatically a branch of the state, emperors took the senior priestly roles. He became pontifex maximus (‘chief priest’ in Latin) and passed that role too his successors. Meanwhile, Augustus’s court poets and historians did a great job with their propaganda. They told the thousand-year old story of Rome as a long and winding narrative that had reached its great climax at last; the golden age had begun with the birth of the new child through whom peace and prosperity would spread to the whole world. The whole world is now being renewed, sang Virgil in a passage that some later Christians saw as a pagan prophecy of the Messiah.

Constitution Detail(The fathers of the American Constitution borrowed a key phrase from this poem, novus ordo seclorum, ‘a new order of the ages’, not only for the Great Seal of the United States, but also for the dollar bill. They were thereby making the striking claim that history turned its vital corner not with Augustus Caesar, nor even with Jesus of Nazareth, but with the birth and Constitution of the United States.”(N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus, pp 29-30)

 

 

Elections: Making Sense of the Senseless

I have no profound insight to offer as a result of the election, but was thinking about the main presidential candidates and what they represent.  I read a sapiential comment from the desert fathers which made me think about candidates in the election.  As with many sagacious sayings one has appreciate them by meditating on them.

It is why art museums place benches in the galleries – to give the viewer time to take the art in, to appreciate the details and all that is captured in the art. [Interesting that a bench gives us time!]   Or, it is why one has to sit in the garden for a bit to fully appreciate all the colors, scents, movements of the flowers to truly imbibe all that is being offered to us.

Though I read this some days before the election and I thought it relevant to our election, it didn’t help me decide how to vote for I remained unconvinced that our candidates possessed all the virtues praised here.

An old man used to say, ‘Wisdom and simplicity form the perfect order of the Apostles’ and of those who examine closely their rules of life and their conduct, and to this Christ urged them, saying, Be  harmless as doves and subtle like serpents (St. Matthew 10:16). And the Apostle [Paul] also admonished the Corinthians to the same effect, saying, ‘My brethren, be not childish in your minds, but be as  babes in respect of things which are evil, and be perfect in your minds’ (1 Corinthians 14:20). Now wisdom without simplicity is wicked cunning, and it is the subtlety of the philosophers among the pagans of which it is said, He catches the wise men in their own cunning (Job 5:13; 1 Corinthians 3:19), and again, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain (Psalm 94:2; 1 Corinthians 3:20).

And simplicity without wisdom is the foolishness which is prone to error, and concerning this also  the Apostle spoke, and he wrote unto those who possessed it,  saying, I fear lest, even as the serpent led Eve into error by his craftiness, so your minds also may be destroyed in respect of your simplicity which is towards Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3). For they accepted every word without testing it, even as it is said in the [Book of] Proverbs, The simple man believes every word “ (Proverbs 14:15).     (adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3403-13)

There is a difference between wisdom and intelligence just as there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.  In the wisdom of the desert fathers there was a recognition that even wisdom had to be combined with other virtues to be of value.  A criminal can be very wise and knowledgeable about his illegal activities.  Politicians can be astutely wise but that can mean only that they are wickedly cunning if they lack integrity and humility.  There can even be a person who has a certain simple straightforwardness but who lacks wisdom – that becomes nothing more than total foolishness.  Folly is sin according to the Bible (Proverbs 24:9; Mark 7:22)

Election Loses and Regrets

This is about all I’m going to say about our current election.  I don’t endorse candidates or political parties.  As a parish priest, my job is to pray for this country, its president, the congress, supreme court, its armed forces, all civil authority and for all its people.  I do this no matter who wins the election.  My prayers are not based on election outcomes, but upon my faith in the Trinitarian God’s love for creation including all people on the planet.

It is no wonder that Americans suffer from election fatigue.  From the moment the presidential election is decided, the political parties and machines begin gearing up for the next election.  Running campaigns has become a full time process, not just once every four years but every day of every year.  The political parties and PACs raise millions of dollars to spend on electing candidates, but how much does anyone invest in actually doing governance?  How much time and energy do the political parties, the PACs, the political pundits put into helping these candidates learn to govern in a democracy in a diverse society?  Precious little, which is part of the terrible money imbalance in American politics.  Political office is treated as “for sale to the highest bidder” rather than as the means to serve the nation and to lead the free world.

As soon as the election is decided, political parties and political fundraisers begin focusing all their time and energy on the next election and getting their party’s candidates elected.   If they invested in good candidates who could actually govern and who could help build American democracy we all would be better off.  They however are really interested in investing in winning and holding on to power, even if they have no wise or virtuous candidates to put forth.   How much better for us all if they focused on how to make the American democratic process work and on how to help our leaders govern our country in the 21st Century with its diversity, all its many issues and problems and with the world as it is today (not as we wished it were).

The political machines pick candidates who can win elections, not necessarily those who are capable of governing.  The political machines spend tens of millions of dollars on getting people elected, but nothing on training them in governace – how to work in, with and for a democracy.   Forget having a candidate be a statesman, as they will have no time for that – their purpose is only to win elections.   Any wonder that the Putins of the world have an easier time being statesmen, being world leaders and getting things done?   The Putins of the world can set goals and accomplish them while American presidential candidates are forced to short-shortsightedly focus on winning elections.  Putins can conquer enemies, American presidential candidates have to conquer the electorate which turns half of the very people they are supposed to serve into enemies of sorts and the rest into the vanquished.  This is why negative elections seem to work so well, in my opinion.  Americans have forgotten that both political parties and all elected candidates are supposed to represent and serve all the people not just the ones that agree with them.

Presidents are said to have about 100 days of their first administration to accomplish anything.  We spend 1461 days to elect a person who apparently is only going to be able to accomplish anything about 100 days in four years.   The rest of the time (935 of their four years) they will spend campaigning for themselves or others in their political party.  The elected politicians have to cater to those who financed their election and to the talk show hosts and their legions who endlessly criticize the politician.  Apparently,  the politicians weren’t elected to lead, but only to cater to money and to continually appease the squealing media wheels.  The “next” election looms over everything elected do not because of the electorate but because of the big money and big voices.

The media superstars, not elected by anybody, dominate the airwaves and the Internet and so it appears also the thoughts of the many who listen to them.  They fire up their base so that the president and congress have to spend most of their time paying attention to the political machines and to the media commentators rather than to issues before them.   The media moguls do not want the politicians to see anything except through their lens.  Don’t pay attention to the issues but only to those who loudly yell about the issues.   But these commentators do not pay attention to or care about  what strengthens democracy in a diverse culture.  Rather they really advocate against democracy and in favor of a one party system, with their own way as being the only acceptable way to see the world.  The word dictator comes from a Latin word meaning  “to say often, prescribe, to speak frequently.”   All talk show hosts are dictators.  Why do we listen to them?  We should favor democracy not dictatorship.  We are addicted to them and the next thing they might say, which is what also comes to haunt and fixate the politicians.

We invest so heavily in the elections but do not invest in governance.  We need to change the system so that it works to strengthen democracy not tear it down like the media people and political chieftains do today.  Their goal is purely to get their people elected.  But that isn’t necessarily what is good for the country or the world.

votevoteThere is in our country the wonderful freedom of speech, which unfortunately the Supreme Court says includes setting no limits on how much money people can spend or raise on elections.  But we the people should learn “freedom of listening.”  We can turn off all of the political talk show people.  We can stop listening to or watching political ads whether from the airwaves or on the Internet.  We need to find something better to do with our minds, like learning more about democracy and how it works, why it is so important to our lives and what we need to be as voters to make democracy work.  We should shake off our own laziness of listening to dictators and encourage politicians to be statesmen and leaders.  If we don’t like their ideas we vote them out of office.  Those candidates in favor of democracy should also support the idea that they can be removed from office rather than spending all their time and energy making sure they stay in office.

I have never made it my position to comment on “who” to vote for in an election.  However, I do value American democracy and consider it a strength of our nation.  I do think our current election trends and the power ceded to political parties and to media talk show hosts is weakening democracy.  We need to work on changing the system, and then we would get better candidates.

Dems-GOPIn a democracy, the majority decide which direction the country will go.  Political parties can hold to an ideology, but face the reality that their beloved convictions can’t win a majority of voters.   They can change their position to try to create an alliance of voters to win the election, or they can hold on to their ideology but lose elections.  What shouldn’t be accepted is that they try to buy elections or to have their unpopular ideas win through deceit or negative campaigning.  If they can’t convince us that their ideas are good for the country, even if painful, they need to try harder, improve their message, or find a combination of ideas that convince us to vote for them.  In my opinion as it is they instead just spend all their time and energy trying to get their candidates elected with no regard for how that effects the country. For them the end justifies the means, no matter what price democracy has to pay.   Their goal is to stay in power not necessarily to strengthen the American democratic process.  We voters can changes this, but we have to change our habits to do it.

I would recommend listening to the TED Talk: Democracy on Trial for further thinking about democracy and its importance and why we need to strengthen it through the election process rather than weaken it by allowing ourselves to become part of the partisan polarity problem.  I think a total reform of the party driven primaries would be helpful.   Let all candidates from all parties be put into a common pool in the primaries, and the voters decide who are the top two candidates – no matter what party they are from.  The general election would have the top two vote winners in the primary face off.  That way all candidates in all elections would have to offer a message that appeals to all or the most voters.  This I think would help end the parties become more polarized through the primaries and then offering no middle ground for voters.  I’m sure this would create other problems, perhaps some unseen at the moment, but it would help change the tenor of the election process now at work in America.

St Paul & the Kingdom of Heaven

When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.  (1 Thessalonians 5:3)

“Paul understood that God’s messiah was not to be the exclusive king of the Israelites, but he was meant to be the world’s king, a light to the Gentiles, and as such his kingdom must include Gentiles from throughout the empire.  […]  In 1 Thessalonians 5:3 Paul seems to be making a scathing critique of those whose hope is in the peace (pax, eirene) and security (securitas, asphaleia) of Roman rule.” (Aristotle Panaikolaou, Thinking Through Faith, pp 33 & 35)

 Interesting that at a time when Christians were an insignificant minority in the Roman Empire that they might have been relying on the stability of the Empire to give them peace and security.  It was this very Empire that had crucified the Lord Jesus and would eventually turn its imperial power against the Christians.

But through the centuries Christians have often relied on worldly power to be the sign of God’s Kingdom on earth and to insure that there would be stability on earth.  The Byzantine Orthodox certainly did it with their Byzantine Empire.  Russian Orthodox in the old Russian Empire had a similar hope.  Some think Russian Orthodox today are looking to Putin and the Russian state to again provide stability to the world for Christians.  Even a few American Evangelicals have apparently thought modern Russia might be the last defender of Christian family values.  Certainly some American Christians have believed the United States, up to this point in history, has been the guarantor of peace, prosperity and stability in the world for Christians.  They fear that changes in American culture will mean God will no longer protect America or Christians.

St. Paul would probably still have the same message for us today as he had for Christians in the first century – beware of putting your trust in worldly rulers, empires and powers for providing you peace and security.

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

For no worldly power is defending the Kingdom of God and none can prevent the Kingdom from coming.

Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”  (John 18:36)

Jesus apparently wasn’t a proponent of God and country.   All worldly empires and nations belong to the world which is passing away and which will be replaced by God’s kingdom.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.”  (Matthew 25:31-33)

All of this is why we pray at our services for our nation, our president, all civil authority and the armed forces.  It is our nation which needs the protection of the Kingom of God not the Kingdom which needs the nation to protect it.

The Power of God and of the State

It is a presidential election year in the United States, which as I’ve noted before tends to cause a fair amount of angst in my fellow parishioners.  This year’s election has been even more troubling.  Often people are afraid what will happen if “the other” party wins the election.  This year people seem anxious and afraid even if their party wins.  Here is a quote from Russian Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov describing what the proper power of government is from a Christian point of view.  All of the things we might think of as the duties of government have a spiritual basis.

“Here there is a direct analogy with evil. God does not suppress it automatically by his omnipotence. Likewise he does not suppress social inequality by force, but makes it a spiritual victory over the passion of possession. In extreme cases, public authority ought to intervene. However, the state is not called upon to realize the Kingdom of God on earth. Its task is to prevent the world from becoming a hell and thus to place limits against the progression of evil among us.” (In the World, of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader, p 88)

 Government, big or small, cannot create the kingdom of God on earth.  As Evdokimov notes God Himself does not “suppress social inequality by force.”  Rather Christ appeals to us to overcome our passions by voluntarily engaging in a spiritual warfare.  As Christians we should strive for a spiritual victory over our self-centered interests by making love our aim (1 Corinthians 14:1).  Sometimes the government has to intervene when social inequalities exceed what is humane, when the powerful behave inhumanly and the poor are dehumanized.  But he sees this as the exception, not the rule.   Certainly in history Christianity changed the all powerful Roman Empire, but did it without violence and without an election.  It was a change of hearts that occurred in enough citizenry to make a difference.

As Evdokimov notes the task of the state “is to prevent the world from becoming a hell.”   That in itself is no mean task.  It is of course made even more difficult if the election itself seems like hell!   The role of the state according to Evdokimov is “to place limits against the progression of evil among us.”   Evil however is not a nation with an army whom we can fight with conventional weapons.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…”   (Ephesians 6:11-18)

What it means for us is that politics is not purely secular with no religious element.  Evil is a theological concept.   Without God we cannot win that battle against evil.  Without God, we will never even be able to agree on what evil is.  But even with God, we are not going to establish Paradise on earth through government or armies.  We can resist the forces of evil.  We can work to make sure the earth does not become hell by opposing evil.