The Sin of Democracy

choosing-god“Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Mat 8:8-10 NKJ)


Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Centurion is one of the least modern experiences in all of Scripture. Of all the stories in the New Testament, this one would be the most difficult to repeat in our culture. In our world, we ourselves are our only authority – we are neither over anyone else nor subject to any. We are filled with the spirit of democracy, and, as such, despise the Kingdom of God.

The world of kings and rulers began to collapse at the very time that nation-states began their rise. In 1534, Henry VIII of England repudiated any authority greater than himself with regard to the Church of England. A little over a century later, Parliament followed his example and overthrew the King himself and beheaded him. The same fate met the king of France 150 years later. The march of modern progress has meant death to tyrants.

Except that it has not. When Henry refused to recognize the Pope’s authority, he made himself a “Pope.” With every advance and repudiation of authority, authority itself does not disappear – it simply becomes more universalized. Today, in contemporary Christianity, it is said that “everyman is a Pope.” Whereas a few generations ago, people asserted that the Bible alone had authority, today, that, too, has been overthrown. Each person is his own authority.

This is perhaps stated in an extreme way. We do have bosses in the work place, teachers in the classroom and other authorities. But as anyone in “authority” can confirm, such positions are under increasing pressure and scrutiny. They often have authority, only because they have coercive power. Authority that rests naturally with a person or position has virtually disappeared from our world.

I am fully sympathetic with the political place of democracy. It evolved as a means of addressing tyranny – though it is often quite ineffective in confronting modern leaders who tyrannize in the name of democracy. But I offer no political suggestions in this article and have no interest in a conversation on the topic.

I am, however, deeply interested in the spiritual disease that accompanies the interiorizing of the democratic project. We have not only structured our political world in a “democratic” manner, we have spiritualized the concept and made of it a description for how the world truly is and how it should be. The assumptions of democracy have become the assumptions of modern morality and the matrix of our worldview. It is this interiorization of democracy that makes the Centurion impossible in our time.

People of the modern world have a sense of inherent equality, and often resent any assertion of authority. Of course, equality is true in a certain manner, and utterly false in another. It is true that all people have equal worth – no one life is more valuable than another. But by almost any other measure, we are not equal, because we are not commensurate. I am of equal worth, but I am not as smart as another. I am of equal worth but I am not as talented, or handsome, or wealthy, etc. Apparently, intelligence, talent, beauty, wealth and the like are not the proper standards of comparison when we speak of equality. But our interior sense of equality often makes us assert equality where none exists.

This is particularly true in the spiritual life. I am sometimes told, “I do not need to confess my sins to a priest. I can pray directly to God.” A young man said this to me recently and added, “The Bible says we should only confess to God.” I pointed out to him that he was actually incorrect, that in its only mention of confession, the Bible says we should confess our sins “to one another.” He was surprised and dismayed.

The Scriptures also speak of elders and leaders and obedience and respect and many other things that have no place within the spirit of democracy. The young man’s mistake was to think that the Bible affirmed his democratic world-view. But the Scriptures belong to the world of the Roman Centurion.

Much of what today passes for Protestantism is nothing of the sort. Rather, it is a thinly veiled cloak for the democratic spirit at “prayer.” “Salvation by grace through faith is a slogan for individualism, a Christianity “by right.” There are no works, no requirements, only a “grace-filled” entitlement. For the ultimate form of democracy is the person who needs no one else: no Church, no priest, no sacrament, only the God of my understanding who saves me by grace.

Our outward forms of Christianity are morphing as quickly as the market can imagine them. Even the new atheist Sunday meetings differ little from many Christian gatherings. God Himself may not be necessary to the spirituality of our democracy. Where does God fit in a world of equals?

The classical world of Orthodox Christianity is profoundly undemocratic. It holds that the universe and everything that exists is hierarchical. This teaching is not an artifact of an older patriarchy (a typical democratic critique), but an essential part of the Christian gospel. For if Jesus is Lord, then the universe has a Lord. Democratic spirituality distrusts all hierarchy – anything that challenges the myth of equality is experienced as a threat. “Jesus never said anything about…”

The veneration of saints, the honoring of icons and relics, the place held by the Mother of God are deeply offensive to modern democracy. The complaints heard by those who reject such things are quite telling. It is rarely the classical protest of true iconoclasts that are heard. Rather, it is the modern declaration, “I don’t need anyone between myself and God.” It is the universal access to God, without interference, without mediation, without hierarchy, without sacrament, ultimately without any need for others that is offended by the hierarchical shape of classical Christianity.

A spiritual life without canon, without custom, without tradition, without rules, is the ultimate democratic freedom. But it unleashes the tyranny of the individual imagination. For with no mediating tradition, the modern believer is subject only to his own whim. The effect is to have no Lord but the God of his own imagination. Even his appeal to Scripture is without effect – for it is his own interpretation that has mastery over the word of God. If we will have no hierarchy, we will not have Christ as Lord. We cannot invent our own model of the universe and demand that God conform.

It is a great spiritual accomplishment to not be “conformed to this world.” The ideas and assumptions of modern consumer democracies permeate almost every aspect of our culture. They become an unavoidable part of our inner landscape. Only by examining such assumptions in the light of the larger Christian tradition can we hope to remain faithful to Christ in the truth. Those who insist on the absence of spiritual authority, or demand that nothing mediate grace will discover that their lives serve the most cruel master – the spirit of the age.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



102 responses to “The Sin of Democracy”

  1. Eric Avatar

    Thank you for this Father Stephen.

    The outworking of this is profound, not least in that Church is understood by most as another element of the Consumer society, in which our Choice is divinised. Thus the counsels of the church, for example on Keeping Christmas or Advent are merely seen as gentle suggestions which can be observed or ignored dependent on our individual temperament. So ‘Spirituality’, which is entirely individualised and interiorised wins over ‘Discipleship’ which we can only do together and publicly.

    It is of a whole, I think?

  2. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    as long as money is more important than God many will do exactly as you say pray Sunday steal Monday. its endemic. those of us who know better and already have accepted the fact there is no ATM in the grave, and the King will have a word or two for the ones who used his Holy Name to reap monetary gain..I understand your political area points, and aggree with all you say, I will say that for me, the ritual and the pace of service and worship is dated. That does not mean I get to do it on my own, it does mean for me, I am judged by what I do, act, provide for and to others, not by how many hours I stood in church and mumbled. I do not find it up lifting or rewarding to (a bit of ethnic problem too) be as Orthodox were a thousand years ago. I just dont. That said, As a addict and drunk in recovery for a really long time and saved by grace and the Orthodox church alone, my debt is great, I can not be troubled by what Gorden Gekko or Barak Obama does or does not do. I must be always busy with the word and the true meaning of go forth and bring. I am going to say this and Fr Matthew Tate will probably have my neck for it. But robes and alters and icons and six hour services do not serve the truly needy or the sick, and demented by drugs and the devil, sure your in the club and you feel a part of and all the trappings and pomp and ritual are comforting. But in this day and age, the rebellion against authorty secular and religous is well founded. Pretty hard to convice a not beliver that we are different than Muslims who preach hate and death, to the uninitated it looks the same. Dont get mad at me Fr Steven, I just feel those of us out here on the front lines of addiction and drunkeness, are doing the same work you are just in a very differnt uniform.At my worst I find a lot of the services play acting, and role playing, I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day

  3. Ron Shillings Avatar
    Ron Shillings

    I like this. I like this a lot. Thank you Father.

  4. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    I might have steped in it my last rant I love your blog and it does me great good to read it and accept it. I just like to sound off but like the last few posts I did really like this one

  5. Joeg Avatar

    Firstly this was a wonderful post that I feel was extremely helpful to me.

    I have a question though. You touched on something that has been plaguing me for some time as an Orthodox Christian with close protestant friends. And I’m sorry if I go down a rabbit trail with this question.

    My question addresses what you called “Grace-filled entitlement”. Many Protestants will take the Epistles to the Romans and Corinthians and come away with the doctrine where one needs no Church no Sacraments no nothing but one’s own faith and belief in God for salvation. They would cite such examples as the Thief on the cross who was saved without baptism etc. I was hoping that you could address this “doctrine” a little more specifically in terms of what the Church teaches.

  6. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Very appreciative of you covering this topic. i’m thinking a lot lately about the permeation of the concept of “rights” in common moral reasoning. i guess i don’t find any theological reason to conclude that there are any such things as natural rights. But then again, it’s very difficult to spell out just precisely what a right is.

    Anyway, it’s very important to think about such things, i think, because many of these concepts are inculcated into us so deeply that their affects on us and our thinking can be hard to trace and identify. (How do you go about listing the presuppositions of which you are more or less unaware of presupposing?)

  7. Lina Avatar

    yes Dominic, the services are long and sometimes seemingly irrelevant and out dated. I have slowly learned in my long life, that we get out of anything what we put into it. If we go to services looking to have an encounter with God, we will. And the service won’t seem long or boring. If I pay attention to the words, often I will glean a bit of insight into my own life. If, when the priest prays that “we commend our life to Christ,” we actively commend ourselves to Him, God can begin to work in our lives. Jesus asked the man by the pool, “Do you want to be made well?” Do you want to commend your life to Christ? do you really want to be made well? Do you believe that where you are is where God wants you to be because He is trying to get your attention? Do you expect your Christian walk to be cushy?

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Guy, et al,
    Your question – listing the presuppositions – is on target. I’ve only scratched the surface in this article. It’s not a new insight for me – I’ve thought about it a long time – but the article came together for me recently.

    I will continue writing about the spiritual consequences of our modern assumptions – the democratic ideal is among the deepest and most far reaching.

    Tonight I’m thinking about some of Albert’s thoughts, viz. politicians, etc. I honestly have no politics in mind in this article. For one, I think the “politics” of our culture are as bogus as democratic spirituality – and often for the same reason. The sickness that is manifest in our political culture is itself part of the spiritual sickness rooted in the false assumptions of our world view. They do not offer solutions or provide benefit to society because the analysis of the world that guides them is flawed. Of course, I think those who hold power in our culture don’t care that their world-view is flawed. They hold a world-view on the most intimate level that values power – as such – their world-view is true and is working for them. But they labor in hell.

    Albert, we probably agree about most of this. I have no large solutions other than living as an Orthodox priest and being transformed one day at a time. And as I’m transformed, I work on sharing that experience, strength and hope with others. I volunteer on Fridays at a local treatment center. I sat today in a group of young people. They are living proof that the notions of individuality, choice, free-will, consumption, etc., are simply bankrupt. They are among those who have come to the conclusion: “our lives have become unmanageable and only a power greater than ourselves can help us.” It’s the recognition of a true God – and the need for a true God. A lot of the work I do with them (my time is spent talking about the “spirituality of recovery”) is helping them come to grips with the false God who has failed them and knowing the true God who will save them, a day at a time.

    I don’t have to fix the world, or buy into the democratic lie of thinking about how to fix the world (and getting angry about it, etc.). I am a man under authority. I obey my dean, my chancellor, my bishop. I serve my people. I’m no saint. I don’t have such a good heart about it. Some days I don’t enjoy serving anyone. But it doesn’t really matter. I’m a man under authority and my feelings can be all over the place – but obedience remains. It’s radical. It’s truly liberating.

    Guy, I’ll be working on a list. It would be a good project. It would also make for an interesting conversational thread here.

    How do you experience the tide of democracy in your life? How do you feel about authority?

    And lastly, Joeg. Your observation about the “Protestant” take on the epistles is quite right. They don’t hear what they’re doing, and do it with great self-assurance. With patience, I sometimes talk with inquirers or others about passages such as John 6:53ff. “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you…” But even this is quickly distorted. That distortion is one of the reasons I write about things like the 2-storey universe and other ideas – working constantly against the false cultural assumptions of contemporary Christianity and holding them up to the mirror of the ancient faith. Every so often the coin drops and someone gets it. I am deeply grateful for the acknowledgements that have come my way over the past 7 years.

    I hope this article will be such a point for some.

  9. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    These things have appealed to me lately not from theological reflections, but from political ones. i find myself in a constant state of confusion and indecisiveness about my own political convictions. i think i’ve decided there’s just no one right or best political system; too much is circumstance dependent. Nevertheless, my basic philosophical views (as they develop ever closer, i hope, to an Orthodox view of the world) seem to add up to something that sounds less and less like liberalism (in the classical sense).

    i think the underlying egalitarianism of liberalism you have written about here is just one facet among many that is embedded in our thinking so deeply such that analysis is very difficult, let alone extraction. i think this notion of rights/entitlements (in the sense of being *natural* or existing prior to the state) is another. Patriotism as a virtue is in desperate need of critique as well, in my opinion.

  10. Alec Avatar

    Thank you for a most timely reminder of this most critical issue for the life and health of the Church.

  11. Bob Pace Avatar
    Bob Pace

    Thank you Father. I know I’m not alone. I have felt this but just couldn’t set it down and explaining it so well. I have so many friends who don’t understand this.

    Interesting that I too have always used the centirion story.
    For me, it was the theological straw that broke the protestant camel’s back. I couldn’t escape this story while the area Christ governs was/is called a ‘kingdom’. And Christ is definitely NOT describing a democracy.

    As they say in Maine, “You can’t get there from here.” If you are starting from a democracy.

  12. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The question of “rights” is central to the moral and spiritual degeneracy of our age. In some ways it is the moral equivalent of the old economic philosophy of mercantilism–a zero-sum game in which the rights of one take away the rights of another. Coupled with eqalitaianism and the “rights” fights become endemic are become increasingly vicious.

    My bishop gave a homily several years ago on “Right to Life” Sunday in which he said we don’t have a right to life (or anything else). Life is a gift. We must receive it with thanksgiving, use the gift in the spirit in which it is given protecting it for others and sharing it abundantly.

    Much to ponder there was in light of Fr. Stephen’s words.

  13. George Avatar

    I am better and worse than everyone else.

  14. Jeff Avatar

    In a world where change is a constant , many young evangelicals and charismatics are coming to ecclesial churches where respect is shown to the fathers , and Eucharistic theologies, confession are consistent …, without manipulation etc., but to ‘see’ this , to see the non liturgical individuality , it takes a liturgically adopted mind , then it’s obvious …, just a thought

  15. Mark Q. Bratton Avatar
    Mark Q. Bratton

    I think what Jeff says is true. The Charismatic movement in the UK (and I think it was the same in the US) was in part a reaction to the perceived ‘dead formalism’ of the worship of the established churches – its failure to take mission seriously or to appreciate what mission required. It was also a reaction to the perceived ‘priest-heavy’ character of the historic churches involving a recovery of the notion of ‘gift-oriented’ ministry inspired by passages such as 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Romans 12. Interestingly, there is a resurgence of interest amongst Charismatics and Evangelicals in contemplative spirituality and the spiritual riches of the ‘liturgical year’. The challenge to all churches is to continually reappropriate those aspects of the apostolic tradition which have for various reasons disappeared from view. Protestantism – admitting its unfortunate tendencies towards radical individualism and fissiparousness – was a reaction against the deleterious, self-interested clerical power-play that damages the Church’s mission.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    If the structures of the Church (such as clergy and liturgy, etc.) are divorced and purged of their proper content – the living presence of the saints, etc., then it indeed becomes empty formalism and will invite every kind of reaction. Anglicanism, to use an example, had largely purged itself of the proper content of its symbols. I recall the grief in my heart a few years back as I traveled in England, visiting several of the great Cathedrals. They were testaments to a spiritual fervor that once existed, but had largely become tombstones, devoid of their proper content. England was once among the most devout and Orthodox lands in the world (it’s the land of my ancestry). The great saints of England stack up well against those of any land. At one time the Royal families of some of its early kingdoms produced something like 27 canonized saints in the course of about 2 centuries.

    The inner ethos of hierarchy requires authenticity and becomes quite perverted without it. It’s like the House of Lords, an institution that once meant something (quite a few centuries ago), but today can be populated with mere celebrities and the like. In America, we just give them lots of money so that we can then rejoice in a festival of schadenfreude when they fall.

    The problem with reforms, whether Evangelical or Charismatic, is that the demos cannot replicate the hieractic structures. The people, in their democratic imagination, cannot recreate the proper forms and structures and sacramentally embody grace and give proper shape and direction to the life of the Church. The result are frequent forms of excess – even silliness. The fault is not with the grace, but with the lack of Church.

    Christ established His Church and set it in order. It was an order that was (and is) alive and able to rightly to its task. The madness of iconoclasm (in its widest sense) that swept the West in the 16th century, no matter how seemingly justified, has left it stripped bare of certain essentials.

    My life as an Orthodox priest, and a former Anglican, has in many ways been a ministry among the ruins. Many people come, having had plenty of “content” in their experience, but long for the sanity of content and structure at last living in a proper relationship.

    The tragic sadness of bishops who do not actually profess the gospel – priests who do not pray – people whose spiritual lives are little more than collections of opinions – is more than heartbreaking. I saw all of these things on a daily basis in my Anglican life. There were, of course, exceptions. But the first time I met an Orthodox bishop I was awestruck (it was the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, TX). His inner life had the content that matched his outer role, and with humility. I occasionally saw glimpses of such a thing among Anglicans, but was constantly exposed to its opposite.

    These, of course, a terrible generalizations. There are corrupt bishops within Orthodoxy, and moribund churches as well. But I think that the sickness that has afflicted our modern world has yet to reach such a pitch among the Orthodox. Doubtless, its lack of reformation, and centuries of persecution, suffering and martyrdom have played a role in its preservation. That preservation is not an occasion for triumphalism or even true comparison. But it does point to something necessary in the life of the Church. We need proper, holy structure. The veneration of the saints, for example, in its true form (which continues in the Churches of Orthodoxy) are not distractions from true devotion, but necessary to its very health. And this is but one example.

    Most encouraging, however, is the fact that the grace of God relentlessly abides among the faithful. I pray that God has mercy on us and delivers us from the spirit of the age.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. I think it best if Christians were to adopt a “tolerant” view of democracy and its politics. But “tolerance” in its original meaning (“to bear a weight”). We can put up with the mess. But we should not think of it as anything good in itself. As an Orthodox Christian, I oppose the taking of human life – whether of a child in the womb or a criminal in prison. But that is not a political position – it’s obedience to the commandments of Christ. And that begins the difficult struggle of not being co-opted by the energies of the political/news cycle. They are spiritually quite similar, and related, to the energies of fashion and marketing, and are inherently destructive of the soul.

    Popular democratic myths tell us that we should have a political philosophy. No where in the Scriptures are we commanded to any such thing. Orthodoxy in not monarchist, libertarian, liberal, tory, etc. It is the Church. We pray for our rulers. One of the most pervasive myths of the modern world is that we the people are the state. No King ever enjoyed such popular support. Patriotism is often an orgy of madness, a form of worship (in fact, with the exception of sport, it is the most common form of worship that modern man experiences).

    We are not the state. I find the dogged persistence of Orthodoxy’s prayer for the executive, “For the President of this Country and its armed forces…” to be wonderfully resistant to the myths of political theory. I remind people that when St. Paul commanded us to “pray for the Emperor,” it was Nero sitting on the throne. In St. Basil’s anaphora we hear:

    Remember, O Lord, this country and all civil authorities. Grant them a secure and lasting peace. Speak good things into their hearts concerning Your Church and all Your people, that we, in their tranquillity, may lead a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity.

    That’s a Christian political philosophy. With it, you can pray in peace.

  18. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen…I am so thankful to our good God for your articles. They speak to heart and mind. Recently my wife had to undergo radiation therapy for lymphoma (no signs of it now…glory to God!). While in treatment everyday for a month I listened to your podcasts. Your voice will always be linked in my mind to her healing. I needed to read what you wrote about the energies of the political/news cycle. It is a temptation for my mind to be co-opted by it. When so it only speaks disquiet to my soul. Thank-you and God bless you for the labor of love which is your blog.

  19. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    I want to thank Linda, and I do hear the call. As Fr Steven puts it, there are some corrupt bishops and priests who have in my view not lived up to holy orders. so what, again just to state my case, I was doing 30 to life in Folsom Prison, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Orthodox church interceded (God did) on my behalf. The judge heard only these words “if you give him to us, you will never see him again” Now I might add this was in the same court room where Blessed John made a case just vanish by his holy presense. That said. I embarked on a twenty year slave mission the the holy mother of God, and took 19acres of scrub and blackberry bushes and turned into a fitting grounds to hold a Church, (Annunication in Oregon) all the wile attending service and being touterd and loved by the Matruska Tate. I got very involved in Recovery (addict and drunk myself) so involved I became a missionary to the addled and drug sick. To this day (I retired in 06) I still do that work, when I moved to Florida, the two churches I went to, seemed more like Catholic (too many collections) and the Greeks, did not like the Russians and all like that. So God help me I stopped going and reciving the holy mystery,I doubled my effort to bring and show by example that God was always and is still the only answer. Now I read Fr Stevens blog, and save every one. I read Fr Seraphim and some other stuff too. I have been torn with the current (gay, hedonist, crooked, slothfull yu name it) state of this country now. So I do the work I do, I pray every day, a lot. I am seeing now after reading all the comments, missing the sacrements is not at all good for me. So no matter what I think, it is important I do the path as the way it was put before me when I was of no use to anyone and less to myself. Praise God, I will find a Church and ignore my demon thinking, and just be part of, instead of out here like some Prod claiming I know better. Forgive me my statemts about dated, it worked for St Mary of Egypt it will work for me. And my baptism name is Dimas, so that quote hit home

  20. jrj1701 Avatar

    Father bless,
    Your message has hit home for me, my problem is that faced with being under a democratic government, I was taught that it is a responsibility to participate, to keep yourself well informed, that democracy was a blessing and that to not participate was disrespectful to God, and led to evils that would destroy society, and as I have studied history and listened to reports of how things were worse in other parts of the world I felt the need to protect our way of life and stand up against tyranny in all its forms. I have come to realize that I can do nothing without God, and the first place to wage this war against evil is with in my own sinful heart, to submit myself to God’s authority where I am, to turn to Him for peace and strength, to not put my trust in princes and the sons of men who die and can not give me salvation and healing, and yet the old me refuses to die gracefully, and that is a struggle. Thank God that there are folks like you who are willing to be a voice of Truth, to inform folks that contrary to the lies of the evil one, the struggle is not in vain. Thank you for your patience with this sinner.

  21. EPG Avatar

    I am wondering if “the Sin of Democracy” is not so much the existence of democracy as a political system, but the habit of transferring the assumptions that inform democracy as a political system to a theological understanding of the structure of the Church, or the Kingdom of God.

    Because, given certain institutions, and a certain frame of mind in the electorate, democracy can work reasonably well. But, it is also true that, given certain institutions, and a certain frame of mind in the aristocracy, aristocracy can work well. And, given certain limiting institutions, and a certain frame of mind in the monarch, monarchy can work well. But, humans being what they are, political institutions are subject to corruption. Monarchies can degenerate into tyrannies, aristocracies are subject to the temptations of oligarchy, and democracies risk falling into mob rule.

    I don’t know that it ought to be that difficult to distinguish between a preference for one political theory over another, on the one hand, and a recognition that the Kingdom of God (and the Church, as the Body of Christ) are inherently hierarchical. I suspect that the trends that Fr. Stephen talks about in North American Christianity have as much to do with the growth of the consumer culture over the course of the 20th century as the political framework hammered out in the former British colonies near the end of the 18th.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course the political system of democracy is not “sinful” as such. That is not the point of the article. However, it is our interiorization of the assumptions of democracy that create spiritual problems. In my 30 odd years of ministry in the US, I’ve noticed that Americans have actually interiorized many of the points of the US Constitution – and worse. I once watched an American Episcopal woman argue with an Anglican missionary to Nepal for interfering with their culture. As we listened, we realized that she had interiorized the Prime Directive of Star Trek (and thought of it as a divinely given moral point). In the same manner, people today actually think that there is something called “rights” that inhere in people.

    Orthodoxy would say that people are created in the image of God and have inherent worth and value. But “rights” is quite problematic as a concept in Christian thought. We are rapidly expanding the concept of “rights” in American popular thought. Almost any question today is resolved with an appeal to “rights,” or is framed as a question of “rights.” Of course, “rights” is quite a distinct thing from simple legislation. For once something is framed in terms of rights, it is no longer just a legislative matter, but becomes charged with an uncompromising moral sense as well. Thus, we today have gay “rights,” and those who disagree are not just in disagreement, they are seen as morally corrupt – even evil. So the US, having only just begun to allow for same sex unions, lectures Russia for legislation restricting promotion of gay issues – and now declares it to be a matter of human rights, when they themselves less than 3 years ago would have been not legally dissimilar in many respects.

    But try to discuss the concept of “rights” with an American and get them to admit that there really aren’t any such things. And their complete surprise that the word pretty much has no place in the Scriptures. And this is only one of many such concepts.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Then their is the consumer choice. One of the groups supporting Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty describes itself as a faith driven consumer organization.

    Never mind that the rights of the Declaration are about the freedom to pursue virtue, establish community and create businesses with as little government interference as possible.

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    I don’t particularly care what the Declaration says. It’s beside the point.

  25. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    i took Michael’s point to be one about consistency. The very concepts which are claimed to preserve freedom and equality are being used in such a way that leads to far less freedom and equality and the creation of something far more authoritarian. As you say, these concepts have been deeply internalized by many of us. Given that, these words can develop far more connotative than denotative content. “Buzz words” some call them. These words become more felt than thought about. Political speech writers have known about this for years, including certain terms and avoiding others when writing speeches based on emotional reactions from focus groups.

    This is really frightening. This leaves us vulnerable to a considerable degree of manipulation. We can end up agreeing to and even approving of heinous things–even things antithetical to the very value terms that are used to describe them. Consider this meme which satirizes this point:

    It would be funny if it weren’t so frightening.

    i understand that this point is really tangential to the one you’re making–even if we were perfectly conscious and consistent in our application of these value-concepts rather than Pavlov-dog-ified by them, they’re still ultimately un-Christian (and therefore it doesn’t ultimately matter what is written in America’s founding documents). But i think as a matter of our experience and the needed corrections as Christians living in America, the fact that the concepts are un-Christian, that we have internalized them, and that they become means for our manipulation are all points that are bound up together.

  26. chuck Avatar

    An apt topic, for me the problem with “democracy” vis a vis orthodoxy is it seemingly entitles everyone to judge the merits of the faith, the priesthood, even the blessed sacraments. How can the Liturgy be boring we come together in a beautiful icon shrouded environment overwhelmed by ancient prayers, beautifu singing, the very presence of the living God. the liturgy is a long prayer in which we converse with our savior we come together as a community to the Cup where we consume the living Lord. The merits of the priest our irrelevant, we all pray that Fr Stephen was our own–but the Lord has enabled him to share his great gift of this blog. May the Lord enable us all to partake and love the liturgy and to sustain this blog. Gory to God!!

  27. guy Avatar


    It’s this very point that leads to think that Western liberal democracy is the egg laid by Protestantism. They are mutually buttressing. Ultimately, it seems the presuppositions between them are the same.


  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m so less desirable in person. 😉

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    Any “religion” that prospers in America will largely be conformed to the culture. And most of the denominations that exist here today were invented in America and for very American reasons. Their success elsewhere in the world has gone hand-in-hand with the export of American democracy and economy. We send Evangelicals along with bluejeans. 🙂

  30. albert Avatar

    This is powerful stuff, all of it. It continually amazes me how the comments bring out points of your initial articles, Fr. Stephen, even when they occasionally seem to challenge or question them.

    For me, the whole concept of authority has been a muddle ever since I rejected the papacy and looked for a more personal relationship with God. Once I began (over many years) to recognize how insubstantial such an approach was, and then learned about the Byzantine Christian ideal (symphonia, I think fr. Martin calls it), I started questioning democracy itself–both as a political system and as a path to becoming a full person (responsibility for choices, following one’s insights and conscience). Now I am really confused. My various intellectual and spiritual “habits” have been thrown into disarray.

    But like others who have spoken here, when I pray in church and participate actively in the divine liturgy, everything makes sense. Although I do not “feel” the presence of God there, and continually am tormented by doubts, distractions, daydreams, and am tempted to opt for service projects in place of the robes and trappings and disagreements over union/communion that Dominic talked about above (I was very moved by his comments), I find that after an hour or two, I am almost totally taken by the spiritual world as Orthodox priests, deacons, readers, choir, people experience it together, and I am part of that, not transported exactly, but certain that God is present and what I am doing is right and good. (Not long ago I heard a priest say that sometimes it takes standing for a few hours before you can begin to pray!)

    So now, where democracy and the spirit of individual creativity and exploration once guided me, I am on a better path I believe, even though it does not seem straight and narrow. What’s so great about this forum is how everyone is free to enlarge, support, challenge, inquire–quite honestly but also respectfully–and you do what you can to clarify and encourage without preaching or belittling. What a special opportunity this is! (Note: nothing wrong with preaching in church. Here I just like the way you present topics and let readers visit and talk.)

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father my point was that the rights conversation has become Orwellian “new speak”. No truth at all–twisted and malign.

    It is axiomatic in the study of modern democracy that it could not have happened without the Reformation and the Protestant ideology that spawned it. The American Revolution was in many ways an extension of the Reformation and a codification of many of its principles filtered through an enlightenment lens–a secular syncretism.

    It has always been antithetical to the Church. I don’t know if we have ever existed in a more hostile environment. Our brothers in the Middle East are certainly feeling the toxicity of “democracy”.

    We are only beginning to realize how hostile or perhaps that is just me being slow.

    The freedom they were after only comes from obedience to hierarchy they were trying to destroy.

  32. PJ Avatar

    I’ve been dismayed by the American bishops’ recent obsession with “religious freedom.” While the campaign has slackened with Francis’ pontificate, for a while it seemed that the whole prayer life of the American church was focused around this sacred cow of the Enlightenment. Bah. Pius IX must be spinning in his grave.

  33. Ron Shillings Avatar
    Ron Shillings

    I would actually wonder if democracy itself was in fact sinful. It does have the nack for creating politicians and, if we are to judge by the fruit…

  34. Alan Avatar

    Outstanding post Father! Thank you so very much!

  35. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    This article stimulates much reflection. I think much of our (or perhaps I should say, “my”) resistance to hierarchical structure is really a resistance to humility and obedience.

    We naturally have a bias that leads us to believe that our own ideas and opinions are correct. Grace and the example of humble leadership are good beginnings to let go of that particular bit of foolishness.

    I do have a question, Fr. Stephen, regarding the discussion of “rights”. Certainly the world would be better if we all focused on our duties rather than our rights. Undoubtedly, Americans have often gone to bizarre extremes about what they think they have a right to.

    However, what SHOULD we call it when a group of people is singled out to be enslaved, persecuted, etc. if not a denial of rights? Perhaps it just a matter of semantics, but if we do not protect basic rights, are we not then giving tacit approval to such un-Christian practices?

    (I know that is not what you are suggesting but I find it hard to eliminate all thought of people’s “rights”.)

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, rights don’t confer value. After all its a “woman’s right to choose”.

    Rights, at best, is a legal construct–law. As much as we need some law it is all in forced by violence or the threat of violence. The situations you describe are the result of no love of God. How many people are to be killed to stop killing? How much harder shall we make our hearts?

    We should care for one another and the rest of creation because God requires it of us. If we are unable and unwilling to submit our own desires to the love of God, how can we get others to?

    No easy answers, but in the realm of “rights” there seem to be no wrongs too heinous not to be considered.

  37. […] (Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Sins of Democracy) […]

  38. Ron Shillings Avatar
    Ron Shillings

    I would actually wonder if democracy itself was in fact sinful. It does have the nack for creating politicians and, if we are to judge by the fruit… 😉

  39. Kenneth Klutts Avatar
    Kenneth Klutts

    A timely and well stated message, Thankyou Fr. Freeman!

  40. David Kontur Avatar
    David Kontur

    Father Stephen –
    Thank you for posting this very thoughtful reflection. Some sad indicators of your point:
    * A billboard stating – “Attend our church and ‘feel your faith’”
    * Another billboard – “Many locations (3 or 4 to be exact) One Church(it is conducted at the main site and shown via video at the other sites)”
    * I am sure that you and many others posting comments have heard of the many stories of Churches with Latte Bars, comfortable theatre seating, etc.
    I am not posting this to make fun of these but to sadly note how pervasive this is.

  41. PJ Avatar

    “Many locations … One Church”

    How novel!

  42. william Avatar

    I agree completely except for the comment about saints and Mary. We should pray to no one but God with his Son as our mediator, not Mary or Peter or Michael or any other saint. Mary cannot forgive your sins. John 14:13-14. “13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” It is not what ever you ask in Mary’s name, or Peter’s name.

    I also disagree with the use of capital M mother of God. God is our creator. Mary bore Jesus earthly body but she did not beget Him, one cannot beget their own creator. Using the title of capital M mother is to infer superiority or at least equality, neither of which are true.

  43. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton


    I’m not sure I understand your response…I certainly agree that we should care for one another and all of creation. I am also not defending or promoting violence as a solution to violations of rights.

    Let’s take an example that I think most would agree on. My father is elderly and currently in a rehab facility recovering from an illness. If he were not being fed, if he were not being kept clean, if he were being beaten by staff there (thank God he is not), I would say his “rights” were being violated. He has a “right” to be treated humanely.

    When you say rights are a legal construct, I would tend to agree with you – the Church, functioning in complete communion with Christ, would not need such a construct within itself. No one living in communion with Christ would think of mistreating my vulnerable father.

    However, we live in societies where people’s well-being is sometimes flagrantly disregarded and people are treated as if they have no worth – for a variety of reasons.

    This is not to say that everyone who claims their “rights” have been violated has a legitimate claim, but neither does it mean that there are no legitimate claims. Thus, I’m not understand why we should be trying to do away with this construct.

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you for the comment. I can see that you do not understand how the Orthodox think about the saints and the proper place they have in the Christian life. You have probably only been exposed to Protestant arguments about these things (your points are the typical Protestant points). Only God forgives sins. Yes, of course.

    God alone may be worshipped, He alone is our creator.

    But, in the teaching of the ancient Church, we understand that holy persons are due proper honor. We also, through the “communion of saints,” properly speak to them and ask them for their prayers and their help – this is not worship nor is it idolatry. It is no different than my asking you for help. Indeed, in older English, the word “pray” simply meant “ask” and doesn’t even carry a religious meaning necessarily. Worship, of course, is something entirely different.

    Mary is traditionally described and addressed as “Mother of God,” in defense of the Divinity of Christ. She is the Mother of Christ, who is God. Rejection of this title has always traditionally been seen as a rejection of the proper understanding of Christ’s divinity.

    Capital letters are just a convention of writing. Germans, for instance, capitalize all nouns. The “M” in Mother of God is capitalized because it is a title, like a name. In English, titles are capitalized. Like Queen Elizabeth.

    These things are badly understood by contemporary Christians (and Protestants), because, as I’ve noted in the article, they have rejected notions that do not agree with the assumptions of democracy. That Mary and the saints are due special honor bothers such Christians, because they’re don’t think anyone is due special honor. Our culture has stopped valuing things of true value.

    The culture of the Scriptures and the Church that Christ founded, has always given honor “to whom honor is due.” It recognizes that some things (and people) are holy, in a peculiar way – a manner beyond what is common. Such persons are properly honored because they can be seen as reflections of God. St. Paul is clear about this:

    Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. (Phi 3:17 NKJ)

    There have been and are many such examples throughout the history and life of the Church.

  45. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    william –

    I ask my friends to pray for me. I pray for others. I ask those in the eternal community of believers (the saints and Mary) to pray for me. We are meant to be a community and our prayers for one another keep us closer to God than we could be as solitary individuals.

    Not only am I invited to union with Christ, I am invited to be in union with all of His Body, the Church. I am more likely to resist this part because sometimes some of His members (i.e. other people) annoy me or thwart my plans. And so the process of “praying for” others – and seeking their prayers – is healing of that weakness in me.

    The Body of Christ is eternal and so we all pray together to God and for those among us still in need of prayer (the saints and Mary, of course, do not need prayer in the way that I do).

  46. guy Avatar


    There is a distinction to be made between natural and artificial rights.

    Artificial rights are, strictly speaking, a legal construct. These are rights that are created in virtue of the establishment of some legal system (for instance, the charter or constitution of a country). These could consist of any thing at all that i am legally guaranteed by the state.

    Natural rights are more of a theoretical or moral concept, but they appear (as best i can tell) to presuppose that morality is essentially legal in form. People like John Locke, Robert Nozick, and others believe we have these kinds of rights merely in virtue of being human beings. –that merely in virtue of being born biologically human, i have certain guarantees or entitlements. One way to understand these (though it is not the only way) is that these guarantees or entitlements come in the forms of claims against other human beings. “i am entitled not to be the recipient of another person’s committing act X.”

    i have to say that i am increasingly at a loss as to why we should accept that there are any such things as natural rights. i can’t find any theological grounds for them. In fact, i can’t find good evidence that anyone believed in such a concept before the year 1600 or so. Artificial rights, however, have been around for a very great long while.

    Part of the puzzle here is that i think, due to our modern conception of rights as natural, when we hear a basic moral claim “x is wrong,” or “people ought not x,” we immediately conceive of these statements “i have a right for others not to x.” i don’t see why it’s necessary to make that move at all. People should treat me humanely and decently because among many other reasons, they have a duty to do so. That need not entail that i am entitled to such treatment or that i have a claim to it.

    Consider how many of the Old Testament prophets spoke at length about the proper treatment of widows, orphans, and strangers. There is much condemnatory language toward those who mistreat and perpetuate injustices toward these groups. What i find interesting though is that i don’t find [someone please correct me if it’s there] any of the prophets directly addressing the 3 classes, saying “Hey, widows, orphans, and strangers: all of you ought to stand up and demand a certain standard of treatment since you are by nature entitled to such.”

    i surmise there is something significantly perspectival about rights–claims from the potential victim’s perspective. This is the talk i find lacking in Scripture/tradition. And i am inclined to suspect that they either are in the nature of the case (or at the very least in practice) a device to justify vengeance or vengeful attitudes. [But these are just speculations at this point. i’d need much more argument than that.]

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, my words are inadequate to express the totality of what I am trying to say. Forgive me for that.

    It so happens that my priest gave a tremendous sermon today as we commemorate the Slaugther of the Innocents shortly after our Lords birth. He linked it to the ongoing slaughter of the Christians in the Middle East and how that slaughter began on the heels of the ‘democracy’ immposed on Iraq (lost 3/4 of her indginous Chaldean Christians since the country was ‘freed’ from Saddam); Egypt and Syria.
    He asked us if any of us feared for our lives because we came to worship this morning and reminded us that the Christians in Iraq, Egypt, Syria and many other places past and present do fear for their lives, but come any way. Evil reacts against the presence of the Light: rage is born and death and destruction follow. Do they have a ‘right’ to that rage?

    My point, an exceptionally difficult one to hear even for me, is that while it is right and proper that your father be cared for with respect and dignity, I am beginning to doubt that any of us has a ‘right’ to such care.

    As Chrisitans, shown to us explicityly by St. Basil and many others, we have a responsibility to care for those whom we can and indeed our salvation may hinge upon providing such care, but that is a Christian duty and a sharing of the gift of life that our Lord has given us.

    Do we have a ‘right’ to salvation? Certainly the Church has never taught that. Where on the spectrum of gifts do rights begin? The children slaughtered by Herrod’s decree had nothing to do with Jesus Christ directly. They were just there. Yet there death glorifies God. How? I’ve asked that of myself from time to time.

    Father Stephen reminds us constantly that we are to give God Glory for all things. If we are to give God Glory no matter what, where do rights and the legal entitlements that follow from that concept (these days) fit?

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    Rights evolved as a legal idea, primarily in the West over a long stretch of centuries. They took a great leap forward with the Reformation and the modern period, where a cultural consensus was gradually formed around them.

    The American Declaration of Independence attempts to ground the concept within the Divine. We are “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights…” But the French Declaration of the Rights of Man only declared that it recognized such rights “in the presence of the Supreme Being.”

    The concept of “natural rights” grew out of various theories of moral theology. But have a strange way of defying any real ability to give an account of them.

    The proper Christian grounding of all this is found in the commandments of God. There, we are told to behave towards others as we would have them behave towards us. Thus, respect for life, property, etc., are inherent in what each of us would want for ourselves.

    Deeper than this, I believe, is the need to ground such commandments in ontology – in our very being and existence. Thus, everything that I do contrary to the commandments of God, draws me away from God and others, and diminishes my existence and well-being. It does not only hurt the one towards whom my action (or lack) is directed, but diminishes and hurts me. Every sin, even against another, is a form of suicide, an attack against my own existence.

    Of course, the language and concept of rights is now well-founded in jurisprudence and in our cultural constructs. It will not be changed, I think. But Christians need to be discerning, not being conformed to the world. It is important in the daily working out of our salvation that we be freed from embracing ideas as “true” that are merely “conventional.” And we should note the habits of the heart that have been formed by such merely conventional ideas and work towards their healing and replacement with the mind of the Church, the fathers’ “phronema.”

  49. AR Avatar

    As a side note… sometimes I enjoy watching Korean dramas. I find it interesting and heart-warming to note the ancient conventions and courtesies still practiced or at least remembered in that culture and the deep and correct feelings that those conventions can allow people to express. Comparing them to things we do in Orthodoxy, I see that a lot of this is simply universal and human, properly applied both to what is holy and to lesser human relations. I am referring to bowing, prostrations, formal declarations, reverence for elders, periods of mourning and of feasting, formal memorials, the function of singing and poetry and dancing, and so forth. Often a drama is about navigating these ancient expectations in a modern world. There are Orthodox Churches in the Koreas, though Catholic is more common. I think some things about converting would be easier coming from that sort of culture although one doesn’t know how much of this as represented in a tv show is just nostalgia or romanticization or whatever.


    The cousin of democracy is republicanism… and I’m not referring to the American political parties. Republicanism is a political philosophy that eschews kings and posits the republic, a rather airy, idealized and convenient construct, as the basic political unit. Supposedly democracy posits everyman as the basic political unit. Fascism, uglier younger cousin of Republicanism, posits the state rather than the republic, with all sorts of sinister, real-politik implications. Communism, though in all practicality it must rely on Fascist measures, supposedly posits the working or common man specifically, and not just “every man” or “every worthy man,” as its more nobly conceived older sibling democracy does.

    Monarchy is not necessarily a political philosophy since it can coincide with literally any form of government. In one sense this is infinitely flexible; a monarch can function as a parent, as a patriarch, as an executive, as a figurehead, or as a governor. He is always an icon; a specialized sort of priest. He can have all power or none; but the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely must, in the hereditary monarch, take into account the natural interests of a man who wants to pass something of value on to his children. So in another sense monarchy is the opposite of volatile; all over the world monarchies are the most stable nations in their regions, with perhaps the exception of the Republic of Switzerland. (Note: dynasties are different than monarchies.)

    When it does translate into a political philosophy monarchy posits family as the basic political unit. One rules one’s family, with one’s family, and for one’s family. Family is mystery; it resides fully both in the individual, in the nation, and in the home. The nation is the monarch’s extended family.

    When it is not a political philosophy, but rather a natural occurrence, monarchy simply replicates the normal structure of everything, from the universe to the human being. As such it tends to be more friendly to religion than any other kind of government. Government, of course, is the personal activity of governing anything, from one’s own being to a family, a classroom, a nation, or a business.


    As for rights… if I understand correctly, “the rights of the common man” was a doctrine invented to answer “the divine right of kings.”

    Thus the recent political history of the world replicates the ecclesiastical history. First, legitimate authority was altered to become absolute and technical, and was thought to reside in the positional right-deserving of the person holding it rather than in the personal right-giving of the person obeying it. (Divine right of kings; papal infallibility.)

    This gave rise to all sorts of horrors and revolutions. The response was an effort to differently arrange this new idea of right, by spreading it out more fairly and safely among many people rather than positing it in one person. (Republicanism; Protestantism.) Various schemes for how to spread out the new sort of authority (rights) were proposed and some were tried. Chaos resulted. Americans often do not understand that our entire from of government is a huge ongoing experiment.

    I think it is very important to understand this progression on both the ecclesial and political levels and so I do not fully agree, Fr. Stephen, that a Christian should not have a political philosophy. I understand the reticence, deeply… I think it’s important not to use religion to justify one’s political delusions, and in today’s political scene, it’s all theater – everything, nearly, is delusion. And yet “knowing what the will of the Lord is” has value. I do not support revolutions, even in the cause of monarchy, but I do value understanding. If we honor what is honorable in our hearts, we see it before our eyes even if no one is enacting it before our eyes. Thus we have an “inner icon” that helps us to more fully convert to true worship.

    Or so I believe.

  50. AR Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I see I was writing my comment at the same time you were writing yours immediately above it!

  51. AR Avatar

    On authority residing in right-giving, my thoughts were improperly organized.

    Genuine right resides in what we give one another, not in what we demand from one another.

    Genuine authority resides primarily in origination (authorship) and functions mostly through credibility (authenticity.) Technicality is a distortion of authenticity and absolutism is a mis-implication of authorship.

    Wanted to clarify that I don’t support the social contract theory much.

  52. fatherstephen Avatar

    One reason I’ve negated the notion of a political philosophy, is simply that the Church doesn’t have one (pace champions of Byzantine symphony). It is a “philosophy,” just an opinion. Maybe a good opinion, but not something our salvation hangs on. If you will, it’s our “democracy,” that makes everyone into their own political philosopher. The landscape of Facebook is simply bizarre with everyone’s political philosophy posted. It’s just silly – but truly iconic of our culture.

    We discuss political philosophy like it mattered – but it is generally just airy opinion – without consequence. As such, it’s a waste of spiritual energy and filled with temptations.

    I vote. And I vote with conviction. And there are some principles that I use to guide me. But I have no political philosophy. My bishop hasn’t told me to have one yet. 🙂

  53. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    boy o boy you opened a can a worms with this one Father. I hold to my original comments, as far as a lot of orthodox practice today is so pie in the sky, as if the eternal was for sure, just because you belive it. I jump around so much but that is part of modern life, I hold again I will be judged by what I did not by how many prokenons I can quote from memory. I also am torn about “rights” as some one who spent almost three years in Vietnam I saw up close and personal how “rights” are subjective. Now, I have a right to a safe place to live and saftey for my family. Unfortunitly there are a lot of criminals politicans and assorted threats to those “rights” I can pray,(ask) God to keep me safe or accept it is His will if tragedy occurs. ok both ways. I guess I am trying to say, I do not trust the goverment or the Church to look out for my (our) best intrests at the risk of thier own power, and power is a funny thing, money, position, status, all kind of wrapped up in class stuff. me, I will defend my home. I will serve the poor and sick where I am able. and keep the faith in my own way, I have seen way to much abuse and head in the sand dont worry it will be alright in heaven to wait. I am not scoffing or in anyway trying to make fun of or demean the work you do and the comfort your blogs give me. This is just for me, I am sick and tired of piety mascarading as greed or vis versa. We are in very troubled times, and my prison ministry and my recovery ministry feel way more real to me than all the chanting sining and prostating ever did.

  54. fatherstephen Avatar

    Just be at peace with these things. I do my best not to worry myself about the state of Orthodoxy, or anything that I can’t actually do anything about. Everything in the world has good and bad, assests and debits. It’s our task to do one day at a time, and to pay attention to the things that are at hand. Doing prison and recovery ministry is clearly the best thing you do with your time. As for Church, attend, make confession and communion and don’t concern yourself.

    For me, I have a parish and this blog. Most of my work is in the parish – it includes a recovery ministry as well (I volunteer). But the Orthodox life sustains me and makes my daily life possible. But it has to be lived one day at a time, and not one prokeimenon at a time. If something makes you “sick and tired,” then let it go, don’t pay attention to it. No day is worth being sick and tired, unless its for the sake of someone’s salvation and healing. Then, God give us the grace to be sick and tired.

  55. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    I appreciate the comments of all. When I was a lot younger, I was involved in politics and was an activist of sorts for a number of years (with regard to a number of causes). As I move through life, I find that I have no confidence in political solutions and little interest in political philosophy.

    I can identify with some of what you write, Dominic, even though our personal histories are very different. The effort to try to bring relief to the suffering of others has always been central to my life, when I felt sure of little else. If there is a God and Jesus is the Christ (both of which I believe), I cannot come closer to Him than when ministering to His suffering Body.

    I have also found that I need a balance though. In encounters with the profound suffering of others, I am no good on my own – or at least of very limited good. It is only through Communion in community and prayer that I come to recognize that God works in me – if only my ego stays out of the way.

    I sense that the word “rights” has taken on an inflammatory tone in our culture. In my activist days – and for quite a while after – I could easily become inflamed over what I perceived to be injustices. I’m not claiming to be totally past that (one of those passions that still haunts me readily), but I am less inflamed by such things than I was.

    God’s way is about humility – as God Himself is humble and self-emptying in Love. Learning to live in His Way is not easy in our world. Humility recognizes injustices and strives to correct them, but not in a way that creates more injustices from unbridled passions.

    (All just my opinion…reflecting as I go.)

  56. deacon john vaporis Avatar
    deacon john vaporis

    Forgive me for assaulting your humility but Thank you for many years of amazing posts. My wife and I cherish every one.

    Thank you again for “The Centurion”example which rings so true. My spiritual father (also a long time reader) Father Robert Stephen Lawrence can often be heard saying “no where in the Bible is there a word for volunteer. There are only three words used: soldier, servant, and slave.”
    As Americans we conceptually understand “volunteer” but as Christians we are called to be no less than “soldier, servant, and slave.”
    As is often the case when an Orthodox Christian says a word like “soldier, servant, or slave” it has a completely different meaning than when a westerner uses those words.
    Thank you again Father,
    deacon john

  57. PJ Avatar


    There is no conflict between worship and service. Indeed, service begins with and terminates in worship. The liturgy makes us God-bearers, not simply for our own sake, but for the sake of our neighbor. We receive Christ and carry him into the world, as lamps in the darkness. The love we receive through the communion of the Holy Spirit we share with all men. We minister not only to the bodily needs of our brother, but also to his spiritual needs. By the grace of God, some will respond to this love in faith, and follow us back to the table of the Lord. We are not simply animals: we are spiritual creatures. We must tend the heart. And the heart is restless til it rests in God.

  58. Michael Avatar

    Father bless

    Thank you for this article and all comments.

    Leaving behind certain political views was the hardest part of my journey from Protestant to Orthodox. Politics is so engrained in so many denominations here. It is hard for some and impossible for others to separate their political and religious views. Christ came to overthrow Caesar right?
    You are absolutely correct – we pray for our leaders regardless…for a Godly mindset, for peace and safety…
    Much love and thanks again

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    A genuinely Christian people will have a genuinely Christian polity. A demonic people will have a demonic polity.

    Lust of power is not the mark of a genuine Christian people but it is a constant temptation akin to Milton’s Satan who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. That is his right after all.

  60. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sorry. Your thoughts sound correct but they’re not sound. A people is not demonic. Nor is one polity, I think, more godly than the next. There will be lust for power in the most divinely ordered kingdom, just as there is within our own republic. Milton was wrong about much. There is no “ruling” in hell, only diminishing reality of true existence. Rule over smoke and command it to obey you, just as well. Milton paints an almost noble rebellion, when it is all so banal and empty, without merit, only capable of God’s pity.

  61. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Not expressing myself well and I obviously haven’t caught the essence of what you are saying. I am trying to say that if the heart of a people is oriented toward Christ, their government will tend to be virtuous no matter what form it takes, but that, as you say lust of power is always a temptation.

    The destructive impluse you point out in Demons of our Time can also take over the ruling mind of a people. Then no matter what the outward form of government, it will tend to be destructive.

    Perhaps the studies I have made in my life in history and government are getting in my way.

    The only influence I have is to strive for virtue and holiness.

    I mention Milton because to me the image is indicative of the delusion of the promise of the lust of power but as you so accurately point out the promise is without substance.

    Our fixation on ‘rights’ is, IMO, a similar delusion. A utopian promise that turns to dust.

    Only in love of God and obedience are we free. The more I attempt to rule from my own will, the more hell I create for myself and those around me. That I see clearly from my own experience. Obedience is difficult for me but when I have approached it, repenting of my own willfulness, blessings have manifested. It is a minute to minute thing.

    I appreciate the opportunity to work out a better understanding of such a crucial topic.

  62. Dino Avatar

    Funnily enough, monastic wisdom and those giants of the Spirit that have been pressed to single out just one admonition by their disciples – as the most significant admonition- for that setting (whether cenobitic or hesychastic) often mention “παραίτησις”. It is a vastly nuanced notion – similar to the other favourite admonition of Nepsis. ‘Paraitisis’ is very close to the ‘cutting-off of one’s will in obedience’ but would normally be translated as ‘resignation’ or ‘retirement’ in English -from one’s rights and supposed entitlements.
    In “Letters: Barsanuphius and John” (a most highly respected Patristic text, resplendent with the most discerning practical advise) our “rights”, (δικαίωμα) is constantly being mentioned as a Christian’s prime practical enemy. – especially in relation to social life.

  63. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is one time that I know of in the Scriptures where rights were appealed to: St. Paul to get to Rome so he could be martyred there.

  64. Dino Avatar

    That is an interesting point. I think we see that St Paul wisely exploits everything at his disposable (as long as there is no sin involved in this) to further his apostolic duty, being “wise as a serpent”. He is the prime example of a man who has given up all ego rights though – to serve others…

  65. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is a big difference between resignation and “cutting off one’s will in obedience”. Resignation is simply accepting one’s fate while the act of obedience to God is one of total trust and love.

    May God raise up some inspired translators for the Church in English speaking lands!

  66. AR Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for your response. As I’ve mulled it over, I think the idea of a philosophy of politics really is something we could do without if you define philosophy that way. So, great, let’s define it that way and let’s make a sharp distinction between philosophy and other methods of thinking about things.

    The argument from an absence of a political philosophy in the Church gives rise to a whole new line of argument, because the Church never develops a philosophy of anything, right?

    Which means that the class of “things the Church doesn’t have a philosophy of” includes everything, from God to Star Trek. Perhaps that class can be further subdivided into “things the church has a theology of instead” (God) and “things that the church doesn’t think about at all” (Star Trek.)

    So which does politics belong to? And which does governance belong to? My guess is that politics, not being real, belongs to the second class, while governance, belonging both to God and to man and carrying such an enormous weight of importance for everything, belongs to the first.

    How’s that?

    Anyway, you probably know what I’m going to say next, but, in the theology of governance I find that there is plenty of latent material in the scriptures and Church doctrine. Basically, God is monarchical even before the creation of the world, and man is monarchical by nature, and human kingship has been “assumed” in the incarnation of the Son of David. Thus, we are all destined to be kings as well as priests and we will not fully understand our duties toward ourselves or our work of salvation until we understand that we have to learn what a king is and how a king works.

    So the sin of internalizing democracy is not just about egalitarianism… it’s about the destruction of this icon of Christ. Even though we say that we must be a monarch to ourselves, the case is the same as with priesthood. It doesn’t mean much to talk about the priesthood of the believers if no dedicated priests are functioning in their proper sphere, the Church. Likewise, it doesn’t mean much to talk about the kingship of the believer, if no dedicated kings (or queens) are functioning in their proper sphere.

    Which is indubitably the governance of nations.

    The worldwide attempt to destroy monarchy is just one part of the total effort to dehumanize human society and to pass off a deception about human nature. We’ve been talking about gender and all the confusion about what happens in families. Well I’m convinced this is part of it. Without an understanding of monarchy, peers, and succession, part of the theology of gender relations within the family is lost.

    That said, of course we should obey whatever government we find ourselves under and not try to overthrow it, and thankfully the ability of the Orthodox Church to work with just about any government to secure protection for worshipers is great! As in this really astonishing article!

    But as I already said, monarchy is not really just another form of government, because it can coexist with literally any form of government! Thus monarchy transcends all political philosophies, although several political philosophies have been made ABOUT monarchy.

  67. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Michael – I might play with the words a little differently (all based on connotations of the words, as I experience them – not to say that you are incorrect):

    resignation – I endure this because I have no choice.

    acceptance – I open my hands and heart to whatever is sent my way.

    obedience – my acceptance is based on loving surrender to God’s will which is infinitely greater and wiser than my own.

  68. AR Avatar

    Father, a comment got lost!

  69. Dino Avatar

    Please keep in mind that what is understood by ‘resignation’ in both English and modern Greek has little in common with what is, essentially, a specialist ascetic term, enriched by and used within a particular tradition.
    Christ is the ultimate example of ‘resignation’ from rights, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross”

  70. Dino Avatar

    So, the above speculations and analysis on ‘resignation’, ‘acceptance’, ‘obedience’ are rather synthesised in one and transcended in Philippians 2:5-8, which is the key to avoiding misunderstandings. This is perhaps a good example of an issue where the ‘Old man’ understands one thing and the ‘New man’ a different thing all together.

  71. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Church’s theology is, essentially, an account of everything – the world, everything. That it doesn’t have a political philosophy doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to be observed or noted with regard to something. But it means that people can indeed order their common lives in any number of ways.

    What I would say is that regardless of the manner in which our common life is organized, there are mutual responsibilities, that can be understood within the commandments of God (“Do unto others,” etc.). Monarchy is by no means the only. Whether it is the best would be something that people, Orthodox people, would debate. “Best,” is always problematic.

    These things (politics, etc.) belong to the category the fathers described as “the garments of skin.” In Genesis, in the Fall, Adam and Eve are provided with garments of skin by God. The fathers see these as symbolic of God’s good providence. He gave us what we needed – not that it was ideal or best – but needed for our being well-enough to be saved.

    We must, I think, always avoid superlatives in this life, they only lead to trouble and aren’t true. There are comparatives, but only God is a superlative, perhaps.

    A monarch can be a decent garment of skin, but so can a republic. I do not think Protestants do very well with monarchs (they strip them bare like all the sacraments). Orthodoxy would probably prefer a monarch, as something of a sacrament of the state. But these are not givens. I suspect that if Russia continues on its present course (which is anyone’s guess), it will restore the monarchy in a limited form at some time, as a means of more or less ratifying the non-binding, but sacramental relationship between the state and the Church.

    America will do well not to simply collapse in our own dysfunction. But, of course, if we do, we’ll take everything with us in an orgy of dysfunction that will produce deep dislocations and poverty with military dangers at every corner.

    I would suggest that without a sacramental world-view, monarchy becomes unmanageable and dangerous.

    We Americans (even as converts) are having a hard time even fitting the normative mysteries into our lives.

    As an American citizen, I would like for the government to adhere closely (way much more than at present) to its stated documents (Constitution), with a genuine and careful process of amendment instead of the “evolving” nonsense of the courts. I am a fan of Edmund Burke in most things – mostly because he was “conservative” out of a belief in the ability of people to mess things up. Thus, slow, slow change and only incremental at any time.

    That, like your observations of monarchy, would apply to anything. I think even Putin (without his own excesses) thought that Russia needed to slow down the process after 1989 and looked for ways to stabilize things. Orthodoxy, historic, Russian Orthodoxy, is one of his primary tools. If it can be done with minimal criminal activity, even better.

    Even China’s incremental moves towards free markets have to be judged perhaps wiser than not – though they could be less criminal as well.

    America just needs fewer criminals in office. But if we removed all of the criminals at once, there would be no one to run the place.

  72. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    We must, I think, always avoid superlatives in this life, they only lead to trouble and aren’t true. There are comparatives, but only God is a superlative, perhaps.

    An in that lies the corrupting influence of all political ideology and philosophy: it always purports to be the best or at least “new and improved”. Messianic in intent. Which always leads to this:

    America just needs fewer criminals in office. But if we removed all of the criminals at once, there would be no one to run the place.

    We participate in and approve our own fleecing, economically, socially, politically and to the deadening of our own souls. We often participate with great passion and conviction.

  73. AR Avatar

    Well, Fr. Stephen, to begin with, you continue to lump politics and governance together. Sure, politics belong to this passing-away order of things. The activity of governance, on the other hand, is a profoundly human and profoundly personal activity. It’s something that not only fallen people, but even more so, unfallen and redeemed people practice. It is seen within the glory of God and within the glory of man. So far, no one has ever granted me this point in such a discussion, but I think they should!

    And they should do so not only because it’s true, but also because no education is complete unless persons learn how to govern, and thus no one can rightly educated anyone else unless they regard governance rightly.

    The natural rule is, “One body, one head.” That is monarchy in its simplest form.

    Within the normative family, for instance, you have a monarch (husband), a peer (wife), and heirs (children.) The subjects of governance are animals, the land, and household affairs. This arrangement pre-dates the fall because St. Paul says, “The man was created first,” which refers to primogeniture. Basically, the male is the “eldest son” in the created order and therefore he inherits the crown of the “high king” to use Lewis’ language. Of course the dignity and crown of the female is such that in the presence of her husband she rules with him – that is she wields his authority over all things (except him -that would be nonsense) and defers to him at the same time, because she possesses his nature in equal measure though as derived from him, and in the absence of her husband she rules with equal authority and (depending on the persons involved) equal, lesser, or greater skill. Such an arrangement produces conflict, leading to domination, leading to abuse and consequent rebellion, ONLY when disunity between the two is experienced. The same pattern of falling away from the ideal is seen in all spheres of authority. The answer is never to sweep away heirarchy but rather to re-establish unity.

    A republic is like a divorce. Not always unnecessary but never desirable.

    Within the human person likewise you see the monarchy of the spirit in relation to the soul and body.

    Secondly, this:

    “We must, I think, always avoid superlatives in this life, they only lead to trouble and aren’t true. There are comparatives, but only God is a superlative, perhaps.”

    I think can turn this one around on you, Father. A superlative is a class of comparative. There are strict rules by which all comparatives, including superlatives, can be properly used. If you’ll suffer me, I’ll point out what I mean and draw a few conclusions.

    First, comparatives can only compare objects within the same class. This is illustrated by the popular phrase, “apples and oranges” meaning, apples can be compared to other apples, but not to oranges. When discussing apples and oranges, we must either resort to contrast, or if we are really set on comparing them, then we must retreat to the larger class “fruit.” In such a case, proving that apples are better than oranges would not prove that apples are the best fruit. The comparative process would have to be repeated with every possible combination of fruit in existence in order to reach such a conclusion. (The immense frustration involved in such a process might suggest to most that the question, after all, is quite unimportant!)
    Not only that, but before different fruits could be compared with one another, a determination would have to be made – a discussion would have to happen – concerning those virtues on which the fruits are to be compared to one another. If “sweetness” is chosen and it is admitted ahead of time that the “we seek the sweetest fruit” then, once it was discovered which fruit is the sweetest, it would be “true” and proper to say, “between apples and oranges, apples are the better fruit” or “bananas are the best fruit,” within the context of that particular discussion.

    Basically, “best” and “better” cannot be said to be “untrue” – such a statement is meaningless and nonsensical. In other words, these particular comparatives are like pronouns. We don’t use “he” unless we have previously designated a male subject and it’s clear that we are still referring to him. Likewise we don’t use “best” unless we have designated a class and a characteristic of comparison and it’s clear we are still referring to it.

    To rule out the proper use of superlatives, is, forgive me, nonsense but it’s nonsense that one often hears from Americans and postmoderns.

    As for the charge that it leads to trouble, of course! The use of comparative and superlative belongs to the discipline of logic – a perfectly wonderful science and heritage of all mankind and constituting part of the health of the mind, when it is used as and where it ought to be used – and since most of us never learn the science of logic, most of us sound quite silly using its language. That anger and silliness often runs high in such discussion is just part of the unfortunate frustration that occurs when two people are trying to reason together (a proper human activity) but because of lack of training they keep their assumptions implicit instead of exposing them at the outset of the discussion.

    From this overview of the proper uses of comparatives and superlatives, we can draw a couple of conclusions. First of all, since God belongs to no class at all and since he is the unknowable and indescribable source of all virtues without qualification (praised be he) no superlative ought to be applied to him unless its opposite can also be applied to him at the same time. Thus, God is both first and last (in the teleological comparatives) but he is not both best and worst (in reference to any virtue whatsoever.)
    So cataphatically you can say, “God is good” because this is not a comparative – good is used here as a qualitative description, almost a Name. But you cannot say “God is best” because no one is with him in any class concerning any virtue in which he can be compared to them.

    No, it belongs to lesser things to have a good, better and best in an order of comparison in regard to specific virtues derived from God’s glory. In the case of Christ, one can say that he is the best man ever to live, because man, not God, is the class, and all virtues are assumed. This is as much as to say that one can now make an icon of Christ since his incarnation – for at best, “best” is an icon of “good.” Thus the dear Lord says, “Why do you call me good? One is good, that is God.”

    Therefore, if we are going to talk about – what? Politics? The activity of governance? The form of Institutional Government? Persons who govern? then the only way to proceed is to recognize types and degrees of excellency within classes of things and offices!

    To recognize kinds and degrees of excellence is the virtue of the mind. That 300 million people look silly failing at it does not prove that it ought not to be done, especially when it is considered that those same 300 million people have all been badly educated together!

    So when you say that all governments are make-do’s and a republic can be a decent make-do, you are assuming the class “theory-based forms of established government” and you are positing a comparative virtue which you fail to name, but of which you assert there can be no superlative, and you are asserting that within this class a republic is “decent” meaning, I think, better than some and worse than others. Basically, you haven’t said much yet. Perhaps that reticence is gentleness on your part? Or a lack of interest? Or is it really that you have never glimpsed any real virtue belonging to this sphere of things?

    But no… I think that in this context, you have forseen that Monarchy would come out “best” in a comparison of “theory-based forms of established government” based on the virtue of “sacramental character,” and that is why you needed to say that in this special case, “sacramental” is a virtue that is NOT preferred.

    I think this is a very odd argument. Do you tell Protestants to shack up instead of marrying just because they aren’t going to experience the sacramental nature of marriage as fully as an Orthodox Christian will? Of course not!

    Do you tell the non-Orthodox people you counsel to try to live life in a less sacramental way because they might mess it up? Or do we want them to live life in a more sacramental way so that they can eventually find their way to the special sacraments of the Church? I think the answer is obvious.

    What then is so different about this question of governance that in this one area of life, the sacramental option is not preferred? My guess is that this belief is based on an interpretation of history that sees kings as the bad guys! If so, that’s begging the question: it’s assuming a republican point of view. Although, you do not generally assume the republican point of view – rather you are challenging it at some points. Well, anyway, in my point of view, it is legislative bodies that are the hardest to manage! Ours have long ago dithered us out of whatever freedoms we supposedly fought for in our bloody revolution. Legislative bodies exist for one purpose only – to make laws – and that is something that can never be said of a human person!

    As far as the constitution, that’s a vain dream. A text cannot defend itself or its people or its contents. Protestants, and Americans, always say, “But we have authority! It’s right in the text! If only people would do a better job of understanding an obeying it, everything would be better!” They always say that a personal authority is not needed for things to function properly.

    I will grant you that there’s a difference in practically working out all this because in the Church you have the ability to spiritually regulate the persons who function monarchically, while there is no guarantee from the Church’s perspective that in a nation you will be able to do so.

    However, the same is true of any ruling person or body. The Church has often been the limiting factor in relation to the monarchy but it is less successful at this with other kinds of government. Thus in a Church-less nation, government of any sort can be difficult.

    Thus, it can be shown historically that legislative bodies came into existence largely to limit the powers of kings. However, I think it can also be shown that these powers which were objected to actually affected the “common man” very little (unlike the power of our Congress.) It was the peers who became envious or were infringed on.


    Finally, you’ve stated that my observations about Monarchy are equally true of anything. Not sure what you mean by this… any form of government? Will proceed on this assumption.

    I think that in order to say this you must have missed my original assertion – that Monarchy does not wholly belong to the class “forms of government.” Monarchy, like the iceberg, exists largely in another realm and naturally emerges into “common life” at several points, among which the governance of nations is one. Again, no one has ever ceded this point to me but it is so obvious that they ought to.

    Monarchy exists within the Godhead.

    Everywhere from the highest to the lowest, there is only one head to any body!

    Thus monarchy is not just “best” (when the right virtues are assumed) but it is “real.”

    As such it belongs to the glory of God. As such it fills all creation and we find the pattern of it in everything. As such it possesses certain virtues which theory-based governmental forms can never possess – it is (in itself, not in its corruptions) concrete, personal, familial, parental, wholistic, natural, healthy, iconic, power-limiting, unifying, stabilizing, energizing, and completing and more I’m sure. And there is no way to seek its virtues except by instituting it in an actual nation and risking the failures that always accompany everything in this life!

    This cannot be said of the theory-form ‘republic’ because republics were invented by agnostic post-pagans and revived by agnostic post-Christians. As such it carries their assumptions, and not any real virtues. (Did any republic ever come into existence except by overthrowing or rebelling from a monarchy?)

    What virtues the United States possesses, it possesses insofar as 1) it is regarded as a nation rather than as a republic OR 2) insofar as they are pagan virtues, not Christian ones.


    So what am I seeking in this conversation? Nothing so unrealistic as an expressed intention to work toward the reformation of our nation into a monarchical republic or anything like that. Just… a recognition of the truth. I think that’s worth a lot, even if we’re not the ones who could enact it.

    I think that’s about it for today. Thanks for talking!

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    AR, I, for one, will cede that you are correct in your assertion that monarchy is the only “natural” form of governance.

    But, so what?

    If we acknowledge the one King out of love and obedience, His order will be manifest in all that we do. If we don’t then disorder, chaos and destruction result as the Israelites found out when they demanded a king “to be like everybody else”.

    We are stewards of the one King, not kings ourselves.

    The governance of the saints is simply to love God with everything and their neighbors as themselves.

    Worldly rule is primarily about order, justice and law and hence the politics of scarcity. No salvation there.

  75. Dino Avatar

    The governance of Mount Athos is extremely interesting in combining monarchy (first), decentralization, democracy. It demonstrates an understanding of what is “best” as well as ‘safety nets’ for its application.
    I cannot find anything in English just yet, but I will post it if I do.

  76. Paul Campbell Avatar

    Michael, your points are always right on the money. Thank you for participating in such discussions in an Orthodox manner. Refreshing to the soul, indeed.

  77. fatherstephen Avatar

    Governance versus politics. Ok. As such, we are speaking of function. The executive, called a President in our system, was intended from the beginning to serve the function of a king, but with a term of office. We seem to have achieved the king status rather well. It was recognized that without an executive critical and necessary functions could not happen. Thus, we are not governed by a legislature, but by the executive. The legislature limits (theoretically), etc. Much like a British Parliament.

    And the executive, regardless of title or means of selection, does carry out something of the “sacramental” role of governance. I think this is greatly dimmed in a secular republic, but the function remains. I would also contend, that despite all constitutional protestations, the executive (like all executives including monarchs) is ultimately answerable to God. It is for this reason that American tradition has always included prayers for the Providence of God at governmental occasions. This, of course, is currently in danger.

    I think you are building too much on the word “monarchy.” Functionally, we have a monarch. Just because kings, queens, emperors, etc., are called “monarchs,” doesn’t actually mean that they are monarchs in a manner that is correctly compared to the monarchy within the godhead.

    Even monarchs (kings, etc.) are theory-based as a governmental form. I understand the arguments of the divine right of kings – but that, too, is theory.

    Sacramentally, kings, tsars, etc., are traditionally anointed, and thus acknowledge a divine order in their service. This is commendable, even sacramental. In practice, I’ll grant that acknowledging that the right to govern is ultimately the gift of God and accountable to God, rather than simply the will of the people is a good thing. Even the popular overthrow of a monarch can be a great sin (though it is not an absolute).

    But even in the Church, the cry of “Axios!” at an ordination is the ancient cry of “he is elected!” And in Orthodoxy, even in contemporary times, the people have popularly chosen some bishops and refused others. There is a role there as well. Thus is not quite as simple or straightforward as some would imagine monarchy to be.

    But, you seem not to have taken my point viz. the “garments of skin.” My appeal has been to the teaching of the Church. And the Church does not have a teaching on the superiority of monarchy over anything else. All social structures, even the most natural, have this fallen aspect about them. They are indeed necessary for our well-being (that’s why God provided them). But they do not belong to the category of “superlatives” in that they are provisional, not ultimate. Israel rejected God as their king and He “provided” them a King. It came with costs. In God’s provision, it also became iconic and the line of the Messiah. But, this did not give it an ultimacy. David’s kingship was a pale image of the kingship manifest in Christ.

    But, it seems to me, that you are raising monarchy (kings, etc.) to a theological level that they have never had in the life of the Church. It begs the question to say that “all republics come from the overthrow of monarchs.” That’s just stating history. The “monarchs” of Britain are no more “monarchs,” I think, than is our President, but with much less power and more ceremony. The present royal family rules because of an invitation from Parliament. My kinsmen, the Stuarts, were booted out by Parliament. I find it tragically amusing as bishops who are not bishops, pour oil (or crown) kings who are not kings. And a nation invests a kind of emotion, even devotion for symbols which they have stripped of all reality.

    That’s my thoughts for the day on the topic.

    A document worth reading is the Basic Social Teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church. It set forth the thoughts of the Church in the new found situation of post-Soviet Russia.

  78. deacon john vaporis Avatar
    deacon john vaporis


    Not sure if this helps but… If the Orthodox Church views sin as illness. Then Church is literally the arc (think of the Nave of the Church as in Naval) of salvation just like Noah’ boat. Our Orthodox Church’s face east towards Jerusalem, whereby we are all sailing towards the second coming together in a community of Love.

    Sin is illness and the sacraments are the medicine we need to as St John Chrysostom says “breath the fire of the Holy Spirit”

    God created us for worship, for worshiping God. Everything else is a distraction from that purpose. What’s so bad about immersing yourself in worshiping our creator? The more you immerse yourself the more you will find you get out of it.

    It is not our job to save people it is God’s job. Hopefully he will use us as a conduit for that salvation. The best that we can do is immerse ourselves in worship- creating a community of Love which will give us the strength to lead a Christian life of feeding, clothing, visiting, and helping the addicts.

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I just read a wonderful article on Road to Emmaus:

    Had some difficulty deciding whether it applied most to this thread of the Demons of Our Time. It applies to both, but, I think, most here

  80. Boyd Avatar

    On a practical level in my town, in Orthodoxy (Eastern and Oriental), I find philitism. (Saying it’s a heresy doesn’t make a difference in practice.) In Catholicism, I find empty ceremony–beautiful but no community (and in the Latin rite, no communion in both species either.) The only communities that I have found that hold out hope for helping me to continue to die to self/ego are the Quakers, an evangelical United Methodist church (who would have guessed?), and a 12-step community. Plus, at the end of the day, unless you are fortunate enough to be born into one of the historic Christian communions, joining them is still a choice that I as an individual make. And that is a tough sell to family members who are not church nerds like I am. I tried to go to confession at an Orthodox church, but the priest would only talk to me–he would not do the absolution thing or whatever it is that he does for Orthodox faithful. It was not a good experience. I read about the wonders of spiritual direction among Catholics and Anglicans and starets in Orthodoxy–but I have given up trying to find one. Maybe I have not tried/prayed hard enough. And on what basis can I trust a candidate should I ever find one anyway? I heard a Greek Orthodox priest call Muslims “pigs.” He was mad about how they desecrated churches. It was in the middle of a story about how different branches of the Orthodox church almost came to blows about their turf/walkways/rights-of-way in the holy land. Is this the spirit that I should emulate? And with the Catholic abuse scandals, how would I know that my children are safe there? I am consoled by the words of George Fox: “But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the Separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’: and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. …and this I knew experimentally. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the Scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew Him not, but by revelation, as He who hath the key did open, and as the Father of Life drew me to His Son by His Spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can get by history or books; and that love let me see myself, as I was without Him.”

  81. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m glad you found something you like.

  82. Boyd Avatar

    Thanks for listening/reading.

  83. AR Avatar

    Michael, we miss the point of the primitive Christian belief about the “kingdom of God” if we believe that Christians are not kings. God does not bring us into his kingdom in order to train us to be good subjects, though we are his subjects by nature. Rather he brings us in, by grace, as sons-in-training, as heirs of the kingdom, as those who will rule with him if we have suffered with him.

    Galatians 5:19-21
    “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

    So the kingdom of God is not something we hope merely to enter, but we also hope to inherit it.

    This is because we are “heirs” and not just “under-heirs,” but even “fellow-heirs.”

    Romans 8:16-18 (RSV)
    “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

    St. James says the same:

    James 2:5 (RSV)
    “Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?”

    This was clearly part of the early preaching of the gospel and evidence of this fact abounds in the scriptures.

    But when we say that we are heirs of the kingdom and that we inherit it along with Christ, does that really mean we wear crowns and rule with him?

    Here’s a story about something the Lord said to his apostles.

    Luke 22:24-30
    “A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.

    You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ ”

    Lest we think that this applies only to the twelve apostles, here’s a picture of the end, in which this inheritance has been extended to all Christians.

    Revelation 5:9-11 (RSV)

    “…and they sang a new song, saying,

    ‘Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals,
    for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on earth.’ ”

    Did Jesus make any promises regarding this?

    Here’s a parable in which Christ speaks of ruling territory as a sort of under-king.

    Luke 19: 11-17 (RSV)

    “As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Trade with these till I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ ”

    Did the early Christians take this literally? They certainly did!

    Here is a reference by the holy Apostle Paul to an early Christian “saying.”

    2 Timothy 2:10-13 (RSV)

    “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory. The saying is sure:

    If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
    if we endure, we shall also reign with him;
    if we deny him, he also will deny us;
    if we are faithless, he remains faithful— “

    And here is another reference by St. Paul to this common belief held among Christians, in which he says that the Corinthians, through their obsession with spiritual gifts instead of with holiness, are “jumping the gun.” Here he uses the actual word “kings.”

    1 Corinthians 4:8

    Already you are filled! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!

    Apparently in the Kingdom of God, rule and reign are things that are shared, which explains why God is king alone and at the same time we are all kings as well.

    In fact if God is King, it is necessary that we should also be kings, or we aren’t saved. That’s the whole idea of theosis, right? What God is by nature we become through grace?

    If you say “so what?” you are simply telling me that you are not drawing any conclusions or making any connections and you don’t care for someone else doing so. I don’t understand that attitude.

  84. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The kingship we have is not inherent in us but exercised by grace and obedience. It is part of God’s image in us but not something that is ever independent of God. Even Christ said the same. “I do the will of the Father”.

    The early Hebrew Kings were always paired with a Prophet for accountability. Thus we have Psalm 50/51.

    Because of the Incarnation we can hope through purification to take on the true Kingship but that is not yet.

  85. AR Avatar

    Yeah, that’s pretty much what I said.

  86. AR Avatar

    Michael, sorry, in case that wasn’t very helpful, there’s something which has been expressed by Protestants as the “already/not yet” principle – a tendency of Scripture to talk about the Kingdom of God both as something which is always present and as something which we have yet to see. Therefore, St. Peter calls us a “holy nation and royal priesthood.” So royalty is something that 1.) has been united to the priesthood in Christ and 2.) granted to us in Christ. We already possess it by inheritance (because as St. Paul says it we have, through our chrismation, the “earnest of our inheritance,”) but we are not yet on thrones, judging angels and the nations. It does not yet appear what we shall be, but apparently it has a share in something from which royalty descends.

  87. AR Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, the way I learned my principles of American government is that we are governed, not by the President, but by three branches of government (executive, judicial, and legislative) which are all supposed to be equal and to limit one another by dividing up the powers of the federal government between them. Furthermore, since all three owe their allegiance to the Constitution, it can be said that we are actually governed by a text. Also, though the president is very “out front” in his function, he does not really govern in a full sense – only in an assembly line sense. He is only supposed to “execute” the laws passed by our legislative branch, and his function in creating those laws is limited to the veto power. (The Presidents over the years found ways to extend their executive power by creating “agencies” – of course! Any experiment that tries to limit power by getting more people involved in power-generating activities is bound to have the opposite to intended effect!)

    I think it’s a stretch to say the President was intended to be a king in all but name, for one reason, that having a king was proposed and rejected – the people, naturally enough, wanted George Washington to be “Sire” in his office, since he was already considered the “father of his people” in reality. However, those in charge (including Washington himself) did not give the people what they wanted. So we got a president instead. No president since then has been popularly considered “father” of our nation. Instead, that whole instinct was stamped out by the form of government that the revolutionaries devised. No one wants a father now – no one knows enough to want one. Thus fatherhood and motherhood even in our families is devalued.

    Not only that, but the President is not a king because a king is not simply ‘a head of state possessing certain powers.’ A republican thinks of all governmental figures in terms of “what powers does he possess?” A monarchist thinks of them in terms of “What relation does he bear to his people?” Because of this, I cannot assent to your contempt for the British monarchs. Yes, they are sadly reduced in their powers. But spiritually, they retain some of this parental relation to their people and that is why you see this devotion that seems to you so empty. Unlike us, the British people have not completely disowned their parents, and that is why they have been able so far to retain more religion, more tradition, and more national identity than their sister-nations in the European Union. As long as they retain their monarch, I do not think that what was done by the E.U. to Cyprus this past year will ever be able to be done to them, because they are still a family.

    Still, Lichtenstein is a much better example of a true monarch and the extent to which, as your Russian document stated, a monarchical form of government is spiritually superior to any democratic form. Just think – no taxes and no abortion! It’s like Jesus said, it’s not natural for a king to tax his own children. Thus, the outrage of the American revolutionaries. However, there’s more to that story. Britain was only taxing America because America was refusing to help pay the costs of military actions taken by the parent country to defend the colonies. As soon as the revolt occurred, taxes went up and they have never stopped rising since. Because we have a whole branch of government whose constitutional function includes creating taxes, the case of our government is different than a king – it is precisely natural for our government to tax us, so much that they invented a tax on income!

    Monarchy as I have been using the term could be considered as “family-based government” where family is defined as “the unit produced by monogamous marriage.” (Of course in God’s Monarchy there is no marriage, but there is something called begetting.) Thus the heads of the tribes in Israel even during the period of the Judges would be included in this definition. However, the fact that it can be described theoretically does not mean it is based on theory. In actual fact it is not one form opposed to another form. It is a form opposed to a person. Since monarchies arose in history prior to any theory about it, unlike our American form of government, it is a natural form – a repeating pattern, like bodies having heads. Might as well call the shape of the body ‘theoretical.’ Like marriage, monarchy can be an Orthodox sacrament, a non-Orthodox sacrament, or a “natural sacrament.” Thus, I believe that Oriental kings are still kings even though their nations are not Christian. They were still images of God to their people. In some cases they were believed to be gods, which is the other “swing of the pendulum” if you will from our current error in which we are unable to see any special likeness to God in kings and suppose that power is all that matters. This error of ours is parallel to our people’s common misapprehension of God in which we see him as a power rather than a personal God.

    “The Lord is King; he is robed in Majesty.”

    The president is an interchangeable official; he is suited in dignity.

    That’s a significant difference if you are reasoning according to essences and qualities, rather than according to theoretical functions.

    Like you, I also don’t believe in “the divine right of kings” as a doctrine or argument. If you recall, I compared it to “the infallibility of the pope.” It has that sort of distortion about it.

    I do understand about the garments of skin. Primarily, it refers to the gross materiality of our current bodily state. By extension, it refers to other provisional situations that we find ourselves in – the garment of skin is what I have referred to as a “make-do.” Thus, while I certainly agree that any social order is temporal and a “make-do” and not “ultimate” I was trying to make a point which builds on this concept and responds to the conclusions you are drawing from it. Where the nation has a single head who is royal, who is parental, who is permanent, and who is part of or the source of a succession that is based on the “Levi principle,” there are essences and qualities and glories that are entering the temporal order from outside it. I think you are right to locate these in a sacramental anointing and in a particular relationship to the Church and ultimately in the divine source of authority, but I do not think that is the only place it can be located. God’s grace, manifestly, does not limit itself to the borders of the visible Church. If “Majesty” and “Royalty” is an aspect of God’s grace, and if “reigning” is one of his activities, then there is indeed something divine about kings – and it is not their “rights” but rather the mantle and the crown and the scepter. These are things belonging not to power but to glory.

    Of course, our government’s authority also comes from God.

    And I’m sorry but I can’t concur that David’s royalty is pale. Yes, he’s an image – but a living image, a colorful image, and one for whom I have a great veneration. His spirit is one of inspiration and the gaiety of worship, and his majesty is weighty. So it’s not that he or his kingship are pale; it’s just that Christ and his kingship is so much brighter. Plus, you have to take into account that fact that Christ’s kingship IS David’s kingship in the same sense that His flesh is Mary’s flesh.

    Thus, like the saints quoted in your Russian document, I also believe that God gave us kings for our benefit. And like the writers of the document I believe that the retrogression to democracy is the sign of a spiritually inferior society. These are my political convictions. I think it was an excellent document, quite diplomatic at some points, well worded, and spiritual. I appreciated your pointing it out to me, it was clarifying.

    Mmm, I’m not trying to raise monarchy to any theological level in the life of the Church, at all. I’m just trying to reason about monarchy theologically – that is, to form my political convictions around my religious convictions. It makes sense to me to do so.

    As for your kinsmen the Stuarts, all I can say is that it’s a pity Parliament won that battle, even if there was cause.

    In Byzantium things went differently. The king gradually phased out the Senate until it was quite empty of significance.

    Finally, I didn’t actually beg the question, for I didn’t mean “Republics are bad because they harm monarchies.” Rather I meant, “It’s inconsistent to approve a form of government that can only arise through revolution while simultaneously disapproving of revolution.” Only I don’t like to say ‘inconsistent’ because it doesn’t seem courteous.


  88. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thanks. It’s a thoughtful conversation. Spiritually, I would agree about the greater possible roles of monarchy. I am, for many reasons, quite unromantic (uh, Un – Romantic), these days and I seem to have developed a great antipathy to anything that seems Romantic to me. I see lots of “monarchists” posting on Facebook, and simply cannot take them seriously. Their monarchist notions seem shallow.

    Monarchy has rarely worked. The history of the Russian monarchy, viz. the Church, is extremely sad. And I say this as a fairly unapologetic Russophile. The largest and worst heresies in the history of Orthodox struggles have only ever been a problem because of Imperial sponsorship.

    My late Archbishop (Dmitri) was once asked what he thought about a State Church. He said, “We’ve tried it a number of times in history. On the whole we haven’t found it to work out.” I tend to think the same way about Monarchs. They would be great if they weren’t so bad.

    There are, of course, great and holy moments as well.

    I am pondering our present world a lot. The piece on the sin of democracy has been an extremely fruitful thought-piece for me. I’ve picked up a book by Ortega y Gasset on The Revolt of the Masses, and someone gave me a book on Crowds and Power that I’ll be skimming. Seems to be a theme in the works.

    A live question for me, is how do we live now? Not how do I vote. I vote for the unborn. At present that usually only gives me a single choice at the ballot box. The 24/7 news cycle has created a politicized culture that, it seems to me, has turned our nation into some sort of nuthouse. I’ve gotten rid of cable tv and no longer watch the news. That was a good move. I’m reading more and watching very little anything. I certain that praying more is good as well.

    Mostly, I think of the news cycle as a demonic fog whose purpose is our delusion. Even our preoccupation with politics seems demonic to me.

    I do not share your assessment of Britain. It is religiously at least as far gone as the rest of Western Europe, I am very sad to say. The Crown remained silent while Britain wrote laws to ban the wearing of a cross in the workplace. Some defender of the faith. Silent.

    Many others have been worse. Henry VIII was a butcher of the worst sort. When he had Walsingham Abbey shut down, he had the monks drawn and quartered. Not just killed. Not just kicked out. Drawn and quartered. Their entrails drawn out while they were alive and then cut into 4 parts. He belongs with Hitler.

    When we speak about these things, we must be sober and speak the truth to one another. The people of Britain have an affection for the monarch. That is a good thing. Americans have affections for many good things, too. But I still see that anything more than that is largely just Romanticism. I wish it were not so.

  89. Dino Avatar

    Very informative conversation!
    A little off-topic here, but, I thought that the make-do notion of the ‘garments of skin’ also entails a constant, dangerous potential – which was manifested in the Tower of Babel. It is a temptation only to be avoided with great vigilance, as it follows our every plan – much more so our secular plans…
    However, our addiction to distraction -especially the news cycle/ current affairs demonic fog- seems to have outdone our propensity to Babelic blunders in separating us from the Truth.

  90. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, you point to the cardinal sins of all participatory rule: the tendency to pander to the passions in a demagogic manner.

    When it comes to God, we do not have ‘inalienable rights’ for He is a jealous God who loves us so much that He demands the best of us and showers the mercy on us at the same time.

  91. Albert Avatar

    Michael and Father, I have trouble connecting “jealous” with God (seems not in keeping with the concept of His love for His creatures – Η αγάπη του Θεού – which is boundless),

    just as I wonder about Orthodox prayer/focus on the word “mercy,” which seems to place more emphasis on our sinfulness than on recognition of and gratitude for the mercy that God has already shown and forever will show, again because of His love. Maybe there is another shade of meaning for “mercy” in the Orthodox tradition? Or is the emphasis on our always being in need of mercy appropriate theologically.

    I ask this because of a reflection I read yesterday at another site ( It is called “God is Agape” and summarizes what I understand is the RC interpretation of this important Scripture passage: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8

    I grew up in the Roman church, but now find Orthodoxy’s approach to God–particularly in its rituals but also in an overall sense of mystery and reverence–more fitting (not the best word, but am trying to avoid using my own reaction as some kind of norm). But then I stumble on what seems like an overly negative, almost fearful attitude contained in the constant repetition of “Lord have mercy.”

    If it is not too presumptuous to compare God’s fatherhood with my own – I. E., my relationship with my birth father, which was very positive and shaped my whole adult life; or my attitude towards my own children – if being a father means what I think it should, then it is so hard to imagine God, or any father, being pleased to hear from children a continual plea for mercy.

    This has been the only big obstacle to my understanding of Orthodox teaching on love.

  92. fatherstephen Avatar

    “Mercy” has very different connotations in Greek than what it has come to have in contemporary society. God’s mercy is not God agreeing not to punish or hurt us. “Mercy” is God’s love poured out on us. Interestingly in Greek, the word “mercy” is almost the same word as that for “oil.” And the fathers love to play with this similarity.

    When I hear “mercy,” I hear “grace,” “love,” “healing balm,” “powerful anointing,” and such things. But rarely do I hear, “Don’t kill me or roast me forever in hell.”

    It’s the language of the legal world that has infected much of our Christian hearing. It generally has little place in Orthodox thought.

  93. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Albert, God is jealous in the sense that He commands us to have no other Gods. That is because He values us so highly and the interrelationship He created with us that He would have nothing less come between us and Him.

    He guards our dignity and worth and takes seriously so that there are consequences to our “missing the mark”: sin

    Those consequences are always paired with transformative grace and mercy. Not as Father points out as an exception to a legal punishment but as a healing balm. “There is a balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole…there is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin sick soul”

    That balm is our communion with each other in and through Jesus Christ. God jealously guards that offering of Himself so that we may be healed by it rather than destroyed by it.

  94. Yannis Avatar


    You have reminded me of an instance about a year ago, when I went to my wife’s Baptist church (something I do once in a while). One of the pastors exhorted the congregation to hold fast to the principles of “Biblical Christianity”. As an example for avoidance, he spoke about Russia, where he had been a missionary. He described it as a land where “they do not have the Bible in their own language”, and where the people go to church and continually plead for God’s mercy, not knowing that all they have to do is “believe in the Gospel”, and they would receive God’s mercy once and for all.

    Though this man would affirm the fatherhood of God “because it’s in the Bible”, never-the-less, in his heart, God is more of a judge-jury-and-executioner. If the “primary paradigm” has humanity on death row for offenses against the Law of God, “mercy” means a pardon. But with an automatic pardon granted to anyone who simply “asks Jesus into the heart”, there is indeed no reason to ever ask for mercy more than once. I can see where he was coming from but at the time I found it rather embarrassing and upsetting, and buried my face in my hands. I later met with some friends of mine who are members there, and we had a good laugh about it. Being post-evangelicals, they take their own pastor “with a pinch of salt” – a most strange situation.

    Interestingly, this was formerly my own church! I was raised Orthodox but “drifted away” as a teen, and joined the evangelicals as a student. As a young engineer, my own “primary paradigm” was of God as creator-and-quality-control-officer. The high standard of manufacture led to all units being rejected (“… for all have … fallen short …”), except that the Son as would have a different set of criteria (“… those who believe in Him …”) by which certain units would be saved from the bin (“… might not perish …”) and added to some sort of motley collection in a museum called “Heaven”.

    I later had a crisis of faith partly over exactly the issue you are raising, having become a father myself. I eventually reverted to Orthodoxy, finding a serendipitously positive view of God, along with much healing. I shall leave it to others to expound on a more Orthodox view of these things. Rather, I would just like to offer you a sort of assurance from personal experience, for what it is worth: “If that’s what you are worried about, then don’t worry!”.

  95. Karen Avatar

    When I hear “mercy,” I hear “grace,” “love,” “healing balm,” “powerful anointing,” and such things. But rarely do I hear, “Don’t kill me or roast me forever in hell.”

    Dear Father, that’s definitely a keeper for me! 🙂

    Yannis, thanks so much for sharing your encouraging story. I liked your “quality control officer” analogy. I’m sure many raised in Western Christian traditions can relate to this distortion of the image of God. I’d say becoming a mom was also an extremely significant revelation of the nature of the love of God to me–second only, perhaps, to the gospel itself.

  96. AR Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve been sick, so it’s been a long time. However there are a few things in your comment that I don’t want to let go, so pray indulge this late return to a conversation that, in blog terms, is already receding into antiquity.

    Thank you, I do think it has been a thoughtful discussion, and I think that you have made your blog a thoughtful place.

    First, I think you will be glad to learn that there is no law, nor was any law ever in any stage of being written, forbidding the wearing of crosses in workplaces in the U.K. This misperception is the progeny of that very “news cycle” you decry. In this case, it was Christians who were using this carnal weapon, and the results, as always, were disastrous.

    It wasn’t the government, but rather two specific businesses, that were forbidding their own employees to wear a cross (or any pendant) on a loose-swinging chain on the outside of their uniforms. One was a health-care facility, the other was an airline. (The airline later changed its policy.) The reason they forbad it was because they had strict uniform requirements. It’s the same with my husband’s new job. He climbs poles, so he is not allowed to wear any loose swinging chain on the outside of his clothing while working.

    Two women, one working at the airline, and the other at the health-care facility, decided to engage in activism. The reason was, they saw Muslim women wearing their hijabs despite uniform regulations, and it turned out that the government had stepped in and granted Muslims special rights. Basically, the government had told all workplaces in the domain: “You cannot fire someone because they are wearing a hijab, despite any uniform regulations you may have.”

    These two Christian women – one a Coptic Orthodox Christian – decided that they wanted to create a test case and force the government to tell their employers the same thing about wearing crosses. They wanted to give the wearing of crosses “equal legal status” with the wearing of a hijab. It’s enough to make your blood run cold – as if the two practices could really be compared! So they sued their workplaces and took the case, first to a British court, and then to an E.U court. The E.U. court found the whole thing so silly they didn’t even take the case.

    Meanwhile the women had gone to the press. It created a huge hullabaloo as it was reported in terms of the government threatening to create a law forbidding the wearing of a cross. Actually, it was the opposite. The government was considering creating a law protecting the wearing of a cross.

    Eventually, the government decided not to intervene, leaving it up to individual corporations to determine the loose-swinging chain issue. Their reason was that, unlike the case of the Muslim woman and her hijab, the Christian churches will not kick someone out if they don’t wear a cross on the outside of their clothing. Thus, a woman does not have to choose between staying Christian and getting a job. She can just wear her cross inside her clothing during work hours.

    The outrage, false reporting, coercion, and ugly activism perpetrated by Christians during this whole fiasco really turns my stomach, and I think it would have been highly inappropriate for the queen to be involved.

    Even if she had had the power to do so, ideally a monarch doesn’t regulate every little aspect of his subject’s lives. That’s the beauty of having the head of state be a single person rather than a general body of persons. The American constitution granted the federal government a few rights, and left the rest up to the states. But because the constitution is a text, not a person, it cannot protect the interests of the nation. The federal government has not only taken back most of that power, but created many new powers as well. Everywhere you look, it’s the same. Wherever a “governing body” is hired by a nation to sit around making laws, that’s what they do. They sit around making laws, creating new powers and seizing those powers.

    And wherever you have elections, you have an unstable political condition that basically gives birth to constant outrage, trauma and the lure of the news cycle. Whatever the “founding fathers” meant to do, what they have actually done in practice is created a way of life where everything changes every two years and political balance is only maintained by people constantly striving against one another. The ideal of living in peace and repentance is hardly possible under these circumstances.

    Not that Britain is any different. The idea didn’t originate with Americans – they just rejected the hybrid government that had come to be in England. By the time George III was on the throne, he felt that the monarchy had already lost all real power. He decided to become politically powerful by involving himself in the politics of Parliament. How he finagled this is an interesting story, but he was more politician than monarch.

    I’m reading Origins of the American Revolution by John Chester Miller. He represents the whole thing, pretty amusingly, as a squabble between competing mercenary interests. Basically, he says, it was the merchants of each country pitted against one another, using the governments. People often say our nation was “founded” on some noble religious or philosophical principle. Wouldn’t it be funny if actually it was “founded” on whatever would allow merchants to do the most business with the most profit and the least interference?

    Romanticism: this is an interesting topic to me, as well. For a while I was reading the blog of a pretty bright fellow who was writing stories and poetry and was promoting a sort of neo-Romanticism. He’s over at

    His argument was that romanticism is a belief that the subjective viewpoint has validity. It is a retreat from the pure objectivity idealized by modernity. He saw romanticism, not as absolute truth, but rather as a way of thinking and feeling which produced artistic forms that could function as an antidote to the modern misperception that the human capacity for instinctive, intuitive knowledge is invalid for all fields of inquiry.

    I recall that you protested a few years back, in one of your posts, about a group of people who had retreated to the woods in Russia to live in a Lord of the Rings colony of sorts. I confess I am rather more sympathetic to that sort of thing. I don’t see it as “mere” romanticism in the sense of having no real-world significance. This feeling has to do with my respect for form. Enacting a form is such an important part of internalizing previously unrealized truth. It is almost the essence of nurture – that most natural human way of learning. I think our world is impoverished of such forms, such enactments, such nurture. I don’t mind people play-acting – I think it’s just a matter of taking one of childhood’s most fertile learning rituals into adulthood, where it’s sadly needed for many of us who have a feeling of not having completed our childhoods. Because we are adults and not children, the play-acting has to be more realistic, more serious. We can’t make do with a paper crown and a foam sword and an afternoon of slaying stickbugs and caterpillars from behind a fort of cardboard boxes.

    It’s a similar case with monarchy. Without the existence of the form, and other natural human forms in society, people begin to crave substitutes and have an experience of a sort of gut-reaction against a world that is so artificial and so contrived. They find other ways to fill the imaginative void. Fantasy novels, LARP, tv shows and video games, whatever.

    But, some of this may be a generation-gap thing. I know that my generation feels far more culturally, spiritually, and imaginatively impoverished than previous generations did. The idea that the power to appoint rulers has been divided up into 300 million parts and I get a share of that power and that makes me somehow responsible for the “outcome” of a constant political turmoil which can have no permanent or even stable outcome at all, is the silliest I’ve ever heard, but our whole national life is based on that idea.

    Meanwhile, we are starved of all the things that previous generations have jettisoned, many of which were precisely those that made life worth living. The possibility of offering one’s lealty or loyalty to a king, rather than a politician, is just one of those things.

    I think you can see a parallel case with the current progressivist attacks on family. They use the precise argument you have used against monarchy. “It doesn’t work.” And there is plenty of dysfunction for them to point to. When I grew up, I didn’t know a single child who wasn’t regularly beaten by his parents in the name of God. And I am talking real beatings – leaving bruises, welts, drawing blood, and creating emotional, academic, and sexual dysfunction. My parents’ generation, in turn, had as children dealt with paternal coldness and distance as a result of having fathers who went through World War II, and who, in their turn, had fathers who had had seen the unmasking of the modern world in World War I. Child abuse, divorce, an epidemic of sexual disorientation, the necessity for a two-income household, it’s all there to point at and say, “People would be better off free, they’d be better off without the chains of marriage and children, or at least, should have these things or something like them only on their own terms.”

    And yet I still believe in marriage, family, and honoring parents. I believe in the form of these things! Merely shacking up is not enough – as far as possible people should enact the actual form of marriage. It should be marriage and not just a partnership.

    I believe that the only answer possible to such challenges is precisely the romanticist’s answer. Statistics and social science will never do it.

    Nor will pronouncements of God’s law. We are past the point in “redemptive history,” for lack of a better word, where people tremble before God’s law. We’ve seen the Man of Mercy eclipse the terrors of the law and refuse to condemn us. Not only that but we are living with the hugest load of generational sin, disease, and dysfunction that the world has ever seen, and we are dead tired.

    The only answer is that marriage, family, and childbearing is human, natural, and good, and that even when things so often go wrong, the horrors of life in a world without such things would be worse. It would finally and irrevocably destroy the humanity of humans. One must think qualitatively, essentially, in order to understand such an argument, but that is the way we must challenge one another to think, I believe.

    The loss of monarchy was simply a way-station on the path to this current destruction. It always begins with the dysfunction of the natural institution and proceeds to the abandonment of the natural institution. We have to recognize and stand against that pattern.

    Facebook is not really a venue for thoughtful discussions. For one thing, everything happens too quickly!

  97. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    AR, while there are many strands that created the American Revolution, the one you suggest, merchant profit was one of them to be sure. There was also an element of a continuation of the English Civil War and its anti-monarchism. The anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment all of that and more.

    Nevertheless there was also a real quest to understand how best to govern people and what freedom really means. It was a work of syncretism to be sure but so is the whole of the United States. They took ideas from the Enlightenment, the English common law (greatly influenced by the Justinian Code); ancient Greece; Protestantism; the Iroquois Confederacy (a matriarchy BTW) and more.

    Like all things human in this world–mixed motives. For that reason the utilitarian argument that “it doesn’t work” can be brought against anything human beings do and you are right to object to it.

    The issue of monarchy is quite difficult to work out, steeped as we are in the democratic ideal and Protestant egalitarianism.

    When I was young I was a romantic monarchist and I’m still a bit of a fan of Alexander Hamilton who alone of the founders remained a monarchist.

    Certainly there is a great deal of support for a monarchical form of government in the Church but most of us here in this country instinctively cringe at the idea of being ruled.

    Overt autocracy, especially in this day and age, is not going to fly. Any functioning monarchy will have to rest much more in the governed community than on top of it. (I call it nested hierarchy). That is the primary reason monarchies (or any government) falls–it become distant from the people being ruled. Democracy does not prevent this BTW as we can easily see.

    When power becomes more important than governing/ordering rightly in accord with a higher law for the sake of the entire governed community, things start to fall apart. IMO, this crystalized in the United States at the time of the Civil War when the principal of voluntary union was replaced with forced union and the Constitution became, not the supreme law of the land, but merely a tool to enforce ideological beliefs. The age of populism and plutocracy was born (one of the worst ways to govern IMO). We lost the Republic as Ben Franklin warned we might.

    Andrew Jackson may well have been correct with his famous toast in the face of John C. Calhoun: “Liberty and Union, one and inseparable” but Jackson had a much different understanding of union than we do currently. For him the ideal of union was the organizing principal in place of the monarchy.

    So, we see throughout U.S. history this longing for order from above while denying any actual physical/personal embodiment of that order. It is a sort of political Gnosticism stemming from religious Gnosticism that was/is so prevalent. At the same time, the nihilist/fascist part of the U.S. character longs for the passions of the rabble to rule outwardly while the elite demagogue them. The nihilist-fascism is currently in the ascendant (without regard to party).

    That is the essence of modernism, IMO: the iconoclasm of the nihilist combined with the demagoguery of the populist.

    The question is: Is it a fulfillment of the Gospel for the Church to order the world or a distortion of the Gospel? Peter J. Leithart addresses that question in his book: Defending Constantine. It is a profound question to ask and one whose answer is often an unspoken assumption.

    If we are, then a monarchy makes a lot of sense. If we are not to do so, but to remain sojourners in a foreign land wholly citizens of another kingdom, it matters little what form of government there is. It is neither and easy nor obvious choice.

    Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

  98. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’ll try to wrap this up.

    After a couple of weeks’ reflection (sorry you’ve been sick), I think there is more to be said positively about monarchy than I’ve allowed. Monarchy belongs naturally within a Classical model, where it has been the most common form of political expression. The public liturgy (in the best possible sense of the word) of the monarchy does indeed give expression to something quite classical and important.

    In Britain, the monarchy, like the established Church, both represent something remaining from the Classical period, and are probably “preservative” elements within Britain.

    Some of this seems clearer to me on this side of the Modern series. I apologize for the factual errors in the British cross-ban. I checked sources when it first became news and it checked out – there really was a law-suit. But that did not give me the “back-story.” It was indeed exploited. I think we will continue to see “hair-triggers” in the culture wars.

    The Modern Project is the breeding ground of democracy (in its current forms). And just as it has created silliness for the Church, so it creates political silliness as well. But it doesn’t make the Church silly nor government inherently silly.

    I would add that monarchy without a Classical civilization is bound to be somewhat empty, a “sacrament” of the past, although more like “sign” of the past. I think of the tragic/comic conversation between Ransom and Merlin in Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, when Merlin realizes that there is not even an Emperor to whom they could appeal.

    But I rather like the fact that the Pendragon had not disappeared from Britain – Logres remains. I’m enough of a mystic to give some credence to that.

  99. Christina Avatar

    Father, forgive me if I am too off topic here, but this discussion reminded me of a question that’s been niggling in the back of my mind, and I’m not sure where else to ask. I apologize for the disjointedness of my thoughts.

    A few months ago, a friend mentioned something that, at least in her opinion, pointed to the decline of our country on some level, and said that it was part of the Deuteronomical cycle- that it was God punishing the America for wandering from Him. Am I correct that that is not an Orthodox view of matters? It seems to me that 1) we (Americans) are not God’s chosen people, and 2)this has never been a particularly Christian nation, founded on solidly Christian principles (a belief which your article gave words and substance to :)). I cannot find that God has ever promised that if we pass certain laws that our economy will be great, we’ll win all our wars, etc., and if we truly were part of a Deuteronomical cycle, wouldn’t that have to be true? I believe that God is concerned with winning each of us to love Him and each other, and that, in the rise and fall of empires, He is concerned with the actions and thoughts of the people involved rather than wanting country A to win over country B because country A has more churches per capita than country B.
    I suppose another way of stating the above is that why should God particularly care about America’s security/prosperity? And if He doesn’t, then it doesn’t stand to reason that our problems as a nation are His judgement on us.
    Am I too terribly far off track?

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