O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.
It seems there is a silence in Orthodox theology that is not so in the west. This is not a deficit, this is cultural experience – a difference in things in the west that was, largely, not there in the east. This difference is conversations about democratic government. For the entirety of the first millennium of the Christian Era, all Christians lived in monarchies. These would have been “absolute” monarchies to one degree or another, but everyone had a king. Other forms of government evolved in the West towards their modern forms only after the Great Schism. Yet, at the same time, all the Christians of the East – Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc – continued to live in Monarchies (Christian or not) and after that, in autocracies of one form or another, either Muslim or Soviet-style dictatorships, and although a few traditionally Orthodox lands have moved to other forms, no one has, for more than 100 years, lived in what we might call a fully functioning European-style democracy. It is this lack of experience that has resulted in a large silence on the part of our Bishops, elders and saints to talk about being Christians in democracies. (This did, finally, begin to change towards the end of the last century.)
We have very little theological base on which to read about Christ as our King: having earthly Kings (who were largely Christian) and not living in democracies we never worried about “Christian Laws”. When the state became non- or anti-Christian we shouldered on under persecution. We simply had no power in those cultures to attempt (or effect) change.
In the west this was not so. But even there the Church was late to the discussion – only about 100 years ahead of the east, in fact.
I’ve been reading up a lot on the Roman Catholic idea of the Social Kingship of Christ. I will try to keep this Advent meditation away from the “I took a class once/I read that book once” level of discourse. I do not know enough about this doctrine and, of course, being Orthodox, I disagree with any idea that the Roman church is the sine qua non of earthly manifestations of the Kingdom of God. But that said, I think the idea is one that needs to be studied by the Orthodox. In the Western Rite we observe the feast of Christ the King, which feast on the last Sunday of October is not of ancient origin, but rather “Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical letter Quas primas, in response to growing nationalism and secularism” (quoth the wiki). The first observance of this festal innovation was on 31 October 1926. I see not but that 89 years later we are still suffering from growing secularism. Nationalism won the day a while ago: we no longer think of our religion as our primary identity, or even our secondary one.
In many conversations one may encounter a cultural assumption that the laws of a state define what is good and true rather than only what is legal. Recently I heard voiced a sense of surprise that the Roman and Orthodox Churches would not change their doctrines of marriage based on the decision of the US Supreme Court. (I’m discussing this regardless of the obvious dismissal of those churches as existing outside the USA.) The party clearly had no idea that the Church declares what is moral in the law of God and the laws of the state are judged moral or not by that same law. The Church, herself, has no power to change what God says, only to respond to it. I think this surprise is because of the great silence I mentioned above. We don’t talk about the laws a lot – or about our Christian duties to legislate for God’s kingdom.
O come, Desire of nations, bind,
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of peace.
When a Roman Catholic politician says she will not have an abortion – because it’s a sin – but she will work to pass laws allowing others to get them, she has violated the teachings of her Church: there are documents, encyclicals, and saints to back that up. This is not so in Orthodoxy even though our moral teaching is the same: we have no place to point and say, “See, Senator Snowe, you have violated the teachings of your Church by supporting these laws.” Even now reading this some of my readers will say “but we are a democracy” implying thereby that Christians should not even attempt to legislate their morals into the laws of the land. I, myself, hold a non-Christian gov’t as a nullity, with no say over me beyond keeping the peace between persons – and our gov’t is increasingly poor at that. Yet, is there an obligation to me as a Citizen of the Kingdom of God resident in this nation?
There is a slogan, “No Jesus, No Peace: Know Jesus, Know Peace.” If we are living out the Gospel as our primary function (seek ye first the Kingdom of God) we will become good persons and, being good persons, we can be good residents of the place where we live, good neighbors, good friends and coworkers of those around us. This is not the same as “nice” and “well respected”. Nor is it the same as “productive” or “partisan”. The Kingship of Christ is one of obligation rather than of accommodation: if one lives in the Kingdom of God, one is obligated to transform day-to-day life into that Kingdom. A friend feeds the poor in his city, despite the fact that it is illegal to do so – as the Rabbis say it was also in ancient Sodom. That is a moral thing to do and it makes him a good citizen – even as he violates the law.
The Kingship of Christ is a paradox, as we were taught by Jesus: the first are last, the last are first. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled with what they crave. The rich, however, will be sent empty, away.
America is very rich.
And very empty: spiritually dead and also spiritually corrupting;in this we must agree with those radicals of another religion.
Where is your citizenship.
What is your primary identity?
How do you live the Kingdom present, despite the laws around you?