Looking Up

ORex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makest both one: Come, and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office


THE word gentium, Latin for “nations”, is the source of our word “gentiles”. It is the translation of the Hebrew word for nations, גּוֹיִ֔ם, goyim. A singular nation “goy” is Hebrew (and Yiddish) slang for a singular non-Jew, a goy. So, legitimately, this Antiphon can be called “King of the Gentiles” and I think it’s actually more correct to do so, even if it’s politically incorrect. “Goyim” is not always a polite word in some ways (often used as a derogatory) but it is also the Biblical Word for those of us not part of the Jewish Faith. There’s Israel… and then there’s the goyim- everyone else. This antiphon says that the coming Messiah, the King of the Jews, is also King of the Gentiles, מלך הגויים, Melech haGoyim. The Promised One of Israel is, some how, the unification of the one major division in the Hebrew World: us and them. In Messiah, there is no longer an us and a them there is only us.

if the whole point of the Old Testament Law is to set up a peculiar people, distinguished from everyone by their practices and culture, their religion and traditions, then this verse is a huge paradigm shift. Either it means “the whole world will become Jewish” or else it means “Judaism was important for a time but now it’s not”. In the case of the first option, clearly that has not happened because of Jesus. Sadly the second option is usually taken up by Christians of all flavors. It is also condemned by the Church. The place of the Jewish People in God’s plan is always active (CCC ¶839). There must be something else going on.

Another way to read this history is that God created a people in order to reveal himself to them, that he could then use them to reveal himself to the world, long blind to his presence. Thus the Covenant was intended to form the people, but the imporant part of it was the people. Once the people were formed – and once the world was ready – then the Messiah, revealing all of God’s presence in fullness, could be born to the world in order to heal all divisions, including the one that made his birth as possible.

Returning to the problem of evil, though, we love to make “us” and “them” at nearly every turn. God plays a long game. The end goal is salvation – a restoration of the communion between God and all men (always allowing that some men will reject this). The goal has never been to ban bacon, or to get everyone circumcised, or even to get everyone to avoid meat on Fridays. God works though things that seem bad (to Israel) and things that seem bad (to us) but the end goal is not a new Temple, or even a new Church. The end goal is man’s communion with God. God’s willing to use anything to bring this about – even destruction. “….God wills to see the religious and political institutions of Israel destroyed, like the master builder who destroys the scaffolding that now does no more than conceal the definitive building…” (from  God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology by Dominique Barthélemy, OP.) God’s restoration of our communion with him is the only good that actually is.

The King of the Goyim and Israel is the cornerstone uniting both into one, not just Jews and Gentiles, but also God and Man.

This is why, as I mentioned last time, this is our Faith (the ground of our reality). It is also the source of our Hope. No matter how sucky things get, no matter how much we want to call things evil here, our Hope says God’s will be done. And that will is always for the one Good that there is in our sin-ridden world: salvation. Because we are clay we are not able to do anything on our own. We freely submit to the Cross Christ gives us today, here, and now in order that we may be resurrected in his glory. Because he is the King of All, he has the power to do this.

This is our Hope: that something that can never be taken away.

This is all new, no?

A comment on the previous post:

It’s only been since the 70’s that many Christians became involved in politics.

This idea was also put forth in the classic discussion of post-9/11 America, The Power of Nightmares. That work offers the (I think correct) opinion that American Neo-Conservatives, and the “religious right” share rather a lot in common with Radical Islam. It fails, I think, in holding the idea that both Muslims and American Christians stayed out of secular politics until the 1970s and that only the political manipulations of the secular right lured Christians into activism.

Although I think it’s true that Reagan was the first Candidate in modern political history to run, as it were, on a religious ticket, Muslims and Christians have been in politics since, well… since before there were Muslims.  The Council of Nicea, although a good thing, was summoned by an emperor – not by the Church – for political reasons: the struggle of the true faith against the Arians was causing political dissention in the Empire.  Constantine called the Bishops together to end the public dissention over the matter of the Son of God being divine or not in order to keep peace in his kingdom.

In American History there were clergymen who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Despite the entirely secular tone (“nature’s God”?) of the Declaration, someone managed to get “Year of our Lord” included in the Constitution.  Most of the 13 colonies had state churches and this held true for a while after the Revolution. Massachusetts had a state church until 1834!  The Civil War was fought by clergy and churches on both sides: what do you think the Battle Hymn of the Republic is? Most US Churches split geographically and took up allegiances as appropriate. Emancipation was a religious enterprise; as was the Temperance movement in the early 20th century.  The passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920 was a action pushed by progressive Christians to save families being destroyed by alcohol.  It was seen as part of the social gospel that also gave rise, eventually, to ideas about welfare and insurance.  Most American Churches have stood with the country in the World Wars and in Korea and Viet Nam.  WW2 was seen as a fight for Christian Culture against Nazi paganism by both Churchill and FDR. There are rather famous anecdotes about Cardinal Spellman turning in altar boys who were draft dodgers.  Churches were up in arms about the social uprising of the 60s.  But a new thing began to happen: some groups, in order to be “relevant”, reached out to the social activists.  ECUSA did, certainly, but the “Jesus People” movement was all about “hippie church”.  Baby Boomers began to make religion to be about praise music and a lack of social convention.

As this started to happen, older folks felt driven out of their churches by rock music and clergy in casual clothing. The Catholics had Vatican Two and guitar masses… the parents of Boomers all around were squeezed out.  It didn’t take long before the morality of the wider Boomer culture was also creeping into the Churches: ordaining women, approving various non-marital sexual expressions, etc, all in the name of “social justice” and “relevance”.

What Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan did was, effectively, use each other for their own ends.  Ronald Reagan, veteran of WW2, revitalized his own generation by using religious language and hearkening back to a time when one didn’t need to “vote religiously” because the entire culture was covered with a Christian veneer. There were Nativity Scenes everywhere at Christmas, there were Christian flags carried by Boy Scouts in every parade.  The whole country looked and felt Christian, no matter what was going on under the surface.  But the 60s and the 70s stripped away that veneer.  President Carter, a Baptist Sunday School teacher, confessed to having “lusted in his heart”.  In the 70s you could freely lust in the open.

So, no: I don’t think Christians playing politics is a new thing. Nor is the idea that some politician (from Lincoln onward) is going to do the moral thing and fix the country at all new.  Many elections have been pushed as a “Come to Jesus” moment. And the American Gov’t is often seen as God’s Tool on the national and international stages.

Unfortunately, the idea of Ceasaropapism plays out fully in American Protestantism.  Although there were exceptions (Spellman and the Kennedy clan first and foremost) most Catholics stayed out of it all and with good reason: throughout much of American History the members of the Roman Church have been held at arm’s length by the Protestant majority.  Kennedy and Spellman were both examples of selling out one’s religion to buy into political power.  They are the same sort of person as modern Evangelicals who get behind a political candidate only because of the issue of abortion – without wondering about his or her stance on social care or poverty.  It was this same buying into mainstream political power that led huge number of Greek Orthodox Christians to be supporters of the Democratic Party without asking questions about its anti-Christian platform planks, just as it was the cold war that made many Serbian and Russian Orthodox into unquestioning Republicans.

The writer then wonders..

Maybe it wouldn’t be that difficult to direct our focus back more fully to where it should be.

Since many of the “convert boom” of Protestants coming into Orthodoxy were in the reactionary parts of their denominations – the parts ‘triggered’ by Reagan and Falwell – it is understandable that they would bring their politics with them. Like Constantine’s sword arm – they hold these parts out of the waters of baptism for fear that they would have to give them up. I doubt it would be easy to get them to give up these ideas. They are married to the idea of having a Christian Country led by the right sort of president.  By this they mean, really, a Christian veneer glued and stapled back on society so we all act right in public and so that their kids won’t ask them embarrassing questions in public.  “Mom, why are those two men kissing?”

To this, this series of posts invites them not to baptize their politics and bring their phobias, guns, and hawks in to the church, but rather, come fully into the Kingdom, leaving that demonic crap outside.

No King but Jesus – Part 2 of 2

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.

No King but Jesus – Part 1 of 2

In December, 1925, Pope Pius the Eleventh made a new feast for the Roman Catholic Church: that of Christ the King.  That this is a new feast is evident.  No such thing existed prior to 1925.  The back-story of the feast is one that reaches only 200 years back from 1925, so it’s clearly post-schism.  That said, the Holy Synods of the Russian Orthodox Church and of the Antiochian Orthodox Church have both allowed this feast to be celebrated by their Western Rite communities, thus signifying that, while it was “new” there was nothing contrary to the teaching of the Church in its celebration.  Mindful that many American Orthodox clergy and laity think they know better than their Bishops on these matters, I will dismiss any objections to this feast out of hand as contrary to the mind of the Church. When exploring the concept of Christ’s Kingdom-not-of-this-World, this feast of Christ the King constitutes part of the teaching of the Orthodox Church, and so should be explored.

Caesaropapism. There a word for you! Essentially it takes (almost) all the powers we non-Catholics like to accuse Rome of wrongly giving to the Pope, and gives it all to the Byzantine or Russian Emperor. This – Caesaropapism – is, for example, why the Eastern Church is so lenient on divorce and remarriage: because the Emperor wanted it so, so the Church caved. The Emperor once changed the liturgy of the Church and we still sing the hymn he stuck in there. Almost all of the heresies that took over the Eastern Church, from time to time, had the support of the Emperor. When Iconoclasm took over the Church it was with the support of the Emperor. When it was finally banished by the Church, it was because icons had the full support of the Empress.

In time, however, Constantinople and all the Patriarchs of the East, came under the control of the Caliphate, a Muslim Emperor. His political style – and the currying of his favor – became the modus operandi of the Orthodox Church. Don’t rock the boat and we’ll all get along. This M.O. played out in Russia and in other parts of the Orthodox world. The Russian Emperor (Tsar) changed the music of the Church; and for a long time, the the Tsar changed the governance of the Russian Church as well! Tsar Peter the Great removed the Patriarch in 1721 and caused the Russian Church to be governed by a council. It was not until after the Revolution in 1917 that the Communists gave the Church permission to have a Patriarch again! The oddest part of that story is that in both cases the Church listened to the “CeasaroPope”, asking no questions about the reasons or politics behind the decree; she listened and made changes accordingly.  In the Modern World, the same style plays out.  No politician would (yet) dare to attempt to change the liturgy of the Church (viz, the marriage issue) but we still see the same wimpish currying of favor:

The West has answered the political question in a different way.  One might coin a new word and call it:  “Papalocaesarism”. The Pope of Rome took on the functions of the Roman Emperor. Although there were times when the Papacy came under the control of local secular government, overall the trend was the reverse of the Byzantine east: a strong Pope dominating (or at least fending off) secular rulers. It’s not all cut and dry in this regard – the fight between Henry IV and Gregory VII didn’t end at Canossa, but rather continued on for a while. Ultimately, however, it was a form of Caesaropapism that took over the West. The Caesaropapists of the West – such as Henry VIII and the German Princes, and the wealthy businessmen of Holland – caused or fully-supported the Reformation: it is much better, when possible, to have a Church under state control! Martin Luther finally reversed the defeat of Canossa. Rome, herself, became her own kingdom, ruling from within the Vatican even when the rest of Italy was under different rulers. This created a different sort of political climate for the Roman Church’s meditations on political questions.

Starting from the same theological place as the East – that the Church was Christ’s Kingdom on earth – the Romans came to see the Hierarchy of the Church as a ruling class, pro se: the Royalty of the Kingdom.  Where Christ is the one and only King, the clergy formed, as it were, the royal court, etc.  Bishops and Cardinals are referred to as “princes of the Church” because, in a real way, they are princes of the Kingdom.  (This, too, is echoed in the East where the liturgical robes of a Bishop are essentially the robes of a Turkish prince – even in Russia and other parts of the Orthodox Church that never came under the Muslim yoke.) In God’s kingdom, secular rulers were only lay people.  Kings and Queens of the world may have their place in the world, and even their own special places in Church, but it was not as a special class of clergy.

There is a story in the Golden Legend that highlights this. This text, compiled in the 13th Century by Jacobus de Voragine, is sort of like the Synaxarion of the East, to which is added various pious customs and legends. Rather than the Synaxarion, it is more like the Prologue of Ochrid, in that it is more like pious reading.  The story concerns St Ambrose and the Emperor Valentinian.  Once, after the Emperor had committed a great sin, Bishop Ambrose of Milan denied the Emperor entrance to the churches until he repented and was reconciled to God and man.  By the Power of God, the Emperor was unable to enter any of the Churches, and so he repented.  The text then relates:

When the emperor was reconciled to the church he stood in the chancel. Then said to him S. Ambrose: What seekest thou here? He answered: I am here for to receive the sacred mysteries; and Ambrose said: This place appertaineth to no man but to priests. Go out, for ye ought to be without the chancel and abide there with other. Then obeyed the emperor humbly and went out. And after, when the emperor came to Constantinople, and he stood without with the lay people, the bishop came and said to him that he should come into the chancel with the clerks, he answered that he would not, for he had learned of S. Ambrose what difference there was between an emperor and a priest. I have found a man of truth, my master Ambrose, and such a man ought to be a bishop.

For our purpose here, we needn’t be concerned with the veracity of the story, but only to note that the teaching of it shows the difference in place for royalty in the West.  I think it is interesting to note that the text also indicates that the West, even in 1260 when the Golden Legend was compiled, seemed to think the East had a different (and perhaps wrong) understanding of the place of the Emperor.  Although in the West no less than the East, the King is appointed by God in the West he is only another layman in God’s Kingdom.

From the latter part of the 1700s and into the 20th Century, this mindset – Church as Kingdom of God on Earth – was met with a rising tide of Secularism.  It started in France where they were beheading clergy long before Muslims got into the act, but it spread through Europe and the rest of the “enlightened” world.  Popes met this with a series of statements and decrees.  Eventually it was discerned that “secularism” itself was only part of the problem. The over-arching issue was labelled “Modernism”; which was seen as a pan-heresy, to use a term some Orthodox will recognize.  Modernism includes everything from the theory of evolution, to the idea that Christianity is only one path among many – all to the same place, to the concept that each person or school’s ideas are equally valid, etc. All of which can be seen by the reader to be the very foundations of our contemporary society and culture.

Pope Pius the Tenth gave a full description and resounding rebuttal of this package of codswallop in his letter Pascendi Dominici Gregis; preceded by a Syllabus, Lamentabili Sane, which last is more of a listing rather than a discussion. In Modernism, Pius X saw that “the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself.”  That same Pope, to counteract the teaching of this pan-heresy within his jurisdiction, required of all his clergy and teachers at all levels, to swear the “Oath Against Modernism“.  While this defence utterly failed, the Oath also makes it clear what are the enemies of the faith. One passage is crucial for us in our conversation about the Kingship of Christ and the politics of this world:

I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality-that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful.  

In other words: the idea that a Christian must (or even can) hold a public face as of a critic or disinterested observer of the faith while, at the same time hold a private face conforming to the teachings of the Church is entirely anathema.  In his public actions we are to see a Christian’s faith. If we do not see such actions in his public life, they are void in his private life too. The Roman Church saw (maybe still sees) this as a problem. How can a man claim to be Roman Catholic and yet officiate at a gay wedding? How can a woman claim to be Greek Orthodox and yet vote for pro-abortion laws in the US Senate? How can either party claim to be a faithful member of her church and yet claim to be an “ordained woman”? How can a Church claim to be Christian and not attempt to correct such actions on the part of her (not-so-very) faithful members?

This is where we are today, I think, as Orthodox.  We have no Caesar, and so we are pretty much willing to let anyone make any political claim they wish. If, on top of that, they wish to claim to be Orthodox, we’re ok with that, too. Thus, despite centuries of clear teaching on Christian charity and the role of Gov’t, the Acton Institute claims that all real Christians should be libertarian capitalists, and they do it at an Orthodox Seminary and no one has the power to cry foul.* Senator Olympia Snowe can vote for abortion and be an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The head of the Greek Church in the USA can bless both the Democrats and Republicans in convention without challenging them on their anti-Christian policies.

It’s only a pinch of incense, after all.

* To be fair, the Acton folks, along with the IRD and other Cultural Warriors on the right are doing this in other denominations too, but I’m talking about the Orthodox here. 

Why bother?

A presidential election always brings out the worst in my internet: partisanship, not the least.  There is also rancor, name-calling, anger, hatred, false witness, calling evil good, and murmuring. We can add in the rest of the list from Galatians 5, if we include the politicians themselves: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” Against these, St Paul contrasts the “Fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”  There is no law against these things, but they do put the Christian at variance with the general climate of the Election Cycle and, truth be told, in times past it was these very things that got Christians killed: they might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying.  Have you ever tried to be the voice of reason in a barfight?

Christ says his Kingdom is “not of this World”.  We – especially in America or other parts of the “first world” – hear that to mean “My Kingdom does not have a physical mailing address on this planet.”  That is not only true of people who claim to follow Christ.  Nonbelievers of all sorts will cite that passage whenever Christians seem to get “too political”.  “Didn’t Jesus say his kingdom was ‘not of this world’? What are you doing in politics?”  Christians will use the same argument when talking to another Christian of the “wrong” political stripe:  “Why are you a member of thus-and-such political movement?  Jesus said, ‘Not of this world’!”  Finally there are those who – and I have counted myself in this camp from time to time – take “Not of this World” as a permission to stand “above it all” not wishing to be mixed up in all the partisanship, one gets all holy and stuff, standing aloof.  I’ve held that position pretty much since college.  I’ve never voted in a Presidential election and only three times have I voted locally.  My argument has been “yeah, this isn’t working, why bother?”  Consider this post the beginning of an examination of that POV.

Jesus’ phrase, as recorded in John in Greek, is:

Ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου.
To parse that out in word-for-word: “the kingdom the of-me not is from-among the cosmos this.” The important words seem to be “kingdom” βασιλεία, of course, and also “from-among” ἐκ and “cosmos” κόσμου. As Pilate realized in his reply to Jesus: Jesus used the word “Kingdom” βασιλεία, so, in fact, there is a Kingdom.  Jesus is claiming kingship of one sort or another.  But of what sort? The answer lies in that word, “cosmos” κόσμου.

Yes, Cosmos means “universe” or “this entire everything”.  But that is not it’s primary meaning.  We hear “Cosmos” today and we’re waiting for this:

In a very real sense, Dr Sagan’s version is useful:  Jesus’ Kingdom is not from-out-of this universe in these 100 Billion Galaxies of 100 Billion Stars.  But that’s not what Jesus means by “Cosmos”.  Such a thing “this physical world” is the 4th definition for the word, noted, in Strong’s as “very rarely so in Greek writings until after the age of the Ptolemies”.  Jesus seems to be using κόσμου in the primary sense of his culture: “Order”. As it was in Greek writings from Homer down, an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, (again, from Strong’s).  Jesus is saying “My Kingdom – very real it certainly is – has nothing at all in common with your conception of ‘Kingdom'”.

What that means is – secular issues aside – we cannot say “We have no obligation to this world”.  What we have is no obligation to this worldly system. (St Paul commands us to pray for those in authority: but we know that, over and over, our prayers for those in authority in ancient Rome were – rightly – deemed to be seditious.  As I said, these things might not be illegal, but they can sure be annoying. )

Point of fact, despite my previous political aloofness, I don’t think we have an obligation  – or even permission – to ignore all this.  However, I don’t think we have permission to get involved according to the rules of this κόσμου.  Our obligation  – the command given – is to follow the rules of our kingdom.  But, forgive me my past sins and errors, it seems clear that we should be involved.

In a future post, I will make a little essay towards the truth of what we should be doing.  In closing, for now, a meditation from 1980 on what sort of Kingdom this is.

O King – 6th Advent Meditation

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?

Kingdomtide: The All Saints Project

Tomorrow, 25 October, is the Sunday of Christ the King in the Pre-Vatican II Ordo – the “Extraordinary Form” – for the Roman Church and also in the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, which last also uses the older calendar as well.  On the Novos Ordo calendar this feast is the last Sunday before Advent starts, this year that is 22 November. The ROCOR Western Rite folks use the Novos Ordo calendar to calculate this feast, for some reason. ROCOR, of course, calculates the Nativity feast on the Julian Calendar, so their Advent starts much later: their Calendar commemorates Christ the King Sunday on the 6th of December (NS) which is 23 November on the Julian Calendar.

If we (Orthodox, Old Calendar and New, together with the Roman Catholics on both the EF and Novus Ordo) count everything, we might see the time, this year, from 25 October – 6 December (23 November OS) as “Kingdomtide.”

There is no “Christ the King” on the ER calendar and All Saints Sunday is linked with the paschal cycle, usually falling in May or June.  But I pray the Eastern Rite folks (Orthodox and ByzCath) will join in this project!

If you are inclined to yell “Ecumenism!” please lay aside, for a moment, all superfluity of snarkiness: I want us to take over the internets with saints.

Christ the King Sunday – proclaiming the Kingship of Christ not only in the next world and “in our lives” but also in this world, now, here – is tied to All Saints Day and All Souls Days in the calendars in order to link, liturgically, the idea of Christ reigning as King of all his people in Heaven, on Earth, and in the Afterlife.

In Secular Culture, Christ is not King and All Saints & All Souls Days are not even a time to remember our dead, but to indulge in horrifics and gore. Screen names in social media are being “spookified” and user icons and avatars are being replaced with skulls, jack-o-lanterns, witches, and worse.  It is too easy to hurl labels at this – and perhaps worth doing so – but that’s the not the point of this project:

Let us to take over the internet with saints and proclaim the kingship of Christ!

First off:  All Saints Day is not stolen from the pagans.  Read this.  Let’s reclaim our holiday and our season. 

Here’s my suggestions:

  1. Replace all your social media avatars/user icons with an image of your patron saint; failing that, of Christ the King.
  2. Don’t opt for the “spookification” process. Last year I was “Boo! Richardson”.  Rather, if possible, put your patron saint there.  “William Francis”, “Huw Raphael”, or  “Susan Elizabeth”, etc.
  3. When discussing this, tweeting, facebooking, or blogging about it, use the hashtags #ChristusRex and #AllSaints
Please do this from tomorrow to, at least, 2 Nov… but I would think we could do all of Kingdom Tide this way, from now until at least the start of Advent (on whatever calendar you use, ER/WR OC/NC).
Forgive me for the late start. I know we mightn’t get much done. But we’re laying the ground work for next year!