Christ is the king of all mankind by natural right – because he is our Creator – and by acquired right – because he is our Redeemer. He is King (as Creator and Redeemer) even of those who refuse to acknowledge him as such, or those who do not yet know him as such. Regardless of the source of the image above, the teaching is Orthodox, yes? That the Church should be filled with Royalty as a Court around a King makes perfect sense: the Church is the Kingdom of God on earth.
More directly, the Church is the Body of Christ: the presence of Christ on Earth. This is not a mystical saying; that is, this is not some sort of vague, spiritual wooji-wooji. It is literally true. The Church is the Body of Christ in exactly the same way as the Bread of the Holy Mysteries is. The latter constitutes the former. It is through partaking of “this bread which is truly Thine own pure Body, and… this cup which is truly Thine own precious Blood” the Church is the Body of Christ, conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Blessed Virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate, buried by Joseph, and on the third day risen from the dead gloriously after harrowing hell and now reigning at the right hand of God the Father almighty. He is the King of all Creation. It follows that the Church should both celebrate and manifest his Kingship in all the places where she may be found. She is his body. She is his presence on earth.
Let us now return to the Feast of Christ the King. In both her Eastern Rite and her Western Rite, the Church’s teaching is most-clearly laid out in her Liturgical Texts, which include the Bible. As noted before, both the Russian Synod and the Antiochian Synod have approved this feast for their Western Rite Communities. Here we see part of what the Church teaches about the Kingship of Christ. First, for those who are unfamiliar with Western liturgy, let me explain the uses various parts of the text.
The Introit is sung at the very beginning of the service. It lays out the theme for the rite. This one is taken from the Revelation to St John and Psalm 1 (5:12, 1:6):
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive powers and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.
Ps. 1. Give to the King, O God, Thy judgment, and to the King’s Son Thy justice.
V. Glory be . . .
The Collect, the prayer for the day, is the “collection” or summing up of the theme. It is said near the start of the Mass. In many ways it is rather like a prose troparion or kontakion.
Almighty and everlasting God, who has willed to restore all things in Thy beloved Son, the King of all creation, mercifully grant that all the families of nations scattered by the wound of sin may become subject to His most gentle rule. Who liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The Epistle (Colossians 1:12-20):
Brethren: Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
The Gradual (from Psalm 71) and the Alleluia (from Daniel) are sung between the the two lessons. They are the same as the Prokeimenon and Alleluia in the Eastern Rites.
He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.
V. And all kings of the earth shall adore Him, and all nations shall serve Him.
Alleluia, alleluia! V. His power is an everlasting power which shall not be taken away; and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Alleluia!
The Gospel (St. John 18:33-37)
At that time, Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
The Offertory verse (here Psalm 2:8) is sung as the gifts of bread and wine (etc) are brought to the Altar, as it were, at the Great Entrance.
Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession.
And then over those gifts a prayer is said in silence by the Priest, because of that silence it is called the Secret.
To Thee, O Lord, we present this Victim, offered for man’s reconciliation. Grant, we beseech Thee, that He whom we now immolate in this sacrifice may Himself, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, grant to all nations the gifts of unity and peace. Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
As priest and people receive the Holy Mysteries, a Communion verse is sung (Psalm 28:10, 11):
The Lord shall sit as King forever; the Lord will bless His people with peace.
After communion the priest prays the Postcommunion prayer for the day, as a final restatement of the theme:
Having received the food of immortality, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we who are proud to fight under the banners of Christ the King, may one day reign in the eternally with Him in heaven. Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
In classic three-point sermon style, the liturgical texts of the day first “tell them what you’re going to tell them” in the Introit and Collect; then “tell them” in the Bible lessons with psalm texts (and the addition of a homily); and finally, in the Communion and Postcommunion actions, “tell them what you told them”.
Taking those points, by highlighting parts of the liturgical texts, we may parse out a bit of a sermon:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive powers and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. He is the King of all creation, under whose rule all the families of nations scattered by the wound of sin may become subject.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
God will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession: grant to all nations the gifts of unity and peace.
The Lord shall sit as King forever; the Lord will bless His people with peace and we who are proud to fight under the banners of Christ the King, may one day reign in the eternally with Him in heaven.
It still has in it that claim “not of this world” which we have understood to mean “not of this world system”. That assumption is solidly backed up by the other texts: which clearly speak of both spiritual and worldly kingship. Jesus is King, here and now, of this world. It’s the world-system that gets it wrong.
To tie this back to the Caesar/Pope topic: it really doesn’t matter who is the highest authority around: Jesus is King. The Roman Church says the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth – a claim disputed by the Orthodox – but the Church is still the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Eastern Churches say that Jesus is the head of the Church and refuse to give cede any of his authority to a bishop, ok: but – the Church being the Kingdom of God on Earth – it seems the Orthodox are willing to cede all his royal authority to whomever happens to be head of govt in their country. Be it the Emperor imposing Iconoclasm, the Empress restoring Icons, the Tsar talking away the Patriarch or the Communists giving him back. Jesus may be head of the Church, but this guy here has a crown on so “do whatsoever he tells you.”
It’s stranger in countries that have some form of democratic governance.
Once upon a time, one didn’t notice the policies of the party to whom one was speaking: that person was King or Dictator for life and either was or wasn’t a member of your church. In “historically Orthodox” countries, however, that method no longer works. The entire world sees you interacting in an uncritical manner with the wrong sort of people and, even, getting gains for your church from such interaction. But how long will that last?
When I was working at the Episcopal Church Center in NYC, the Presiding Bishop was considered the President’s Pastor. I remember several trips to Washington when the Presiding Bishop, Ed Browning (may his memory be eternal) would visit the President. There was a wonderful picture of the two of them sitting in the Oval Office, laughing. I think it was in Time Magazine. But then the Iraq war broke out. There was a line in the sand and lots of sabre rattling, but we knew when the real attack was coming: our chaplains in the field were alerted early, they told their bishop – he told Ed Browning (who had been his roommate in college, actually). As Ed related to us the next morning, he called the White House almost instantly and was put through to the President who said, “What do you want? Talk to Barbara, she’s the religious one.” And he hung up.
The Problem with the Secular rulers, even through they may be in power by God’s grace: you can’t trust them when you’re going to bring them an uncomfortable Gospel.
What would happen if the Patriarch ever told Putin about Peace? Could he tell Putin about the poor? Generally, emperors never like being told they’re wrong. We’re witnessing this in the US now, but really: who told us that “Justice of the Peace” or “County Clerk” was a title for Christians? What gave us the idea we could not only be officers of the state, but could expect that state to honor our moral choices around sex or women’s health? How did we imagine that the state would allow us – as officers of the state – to be citizens of the Kingdom of our God? Amid all the whines of “persecution”, I hear the state say, “Oh, come, now, it’s only a pinch of incense.” And I hear people who claim to follow Christ who are quite willing to turn the rest of us over, like Judas did to his Lord. But it’s the delusion that we can – at all – trust the state that is the real problem.
Certainly some will wonder if I’m not preaching theocracy or “Christian Reconstruction”. But Christian Tradition, including the Bible, makes clear two things about the secular authority: Firstly it is placed there by God for the doing of specific things (keeping civil order, punishing evil doers, etc). Secondly, the secular authority, being mortal men, is also subject to God – as are all men. And in those ways in which its dictates deviate from God’s revelation, the Church has the authority to tell her people to do otherwise. The Church has the final say on moral issues: if the state falls short, that’s the state’s problem. But Christian people must follow their King. Not the local Alpha Male or Female says otherwise. In the final judgment we will not be able to say “I was only following orders”.
We have a king, we have rules that are not of this world: love, forgiveness, feeding the poor, not taking revenge…The question is why don’t we act like it? Why do we so willingly cave in to whomever is the strongman or strongwoman on the block? Why don’t we have no king but Jesus?
What would it be like to pull out of the politics and really live life as citizens of the Kingdom? That’s an adventure for the next posting.