Magnificent Slavonic arrangement of Trisagion Hymn

Here is a beautiful Russian chant “Svyatïy Bozhe” (Holy God) by Russian composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-98). This was performed by the Credo Chamber Choir of Kiev, Ukraine. Whilst it was originally released as a part of “Georgy Sviridov: Hymns and Prayers”, it can also be found on the more easily attainable compilation “Sacred Treasures V: From a Russian Cathedral”.

The image of the Lord Jesus Christ is widely believed to have been painted by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (Ива́н Никола́евич Крамско́й, lived 1837-87). Some, however, believe that El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos, lived 1541-1614) painted it.

In This Great Service: A Theological and Political Defense of Monarchy

Laurits Tuxen's 1898 Coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

Laurits Tuxen’s 1898 Coronation Portrait of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

“Lord God of our fathers, and King of Kings, Who created all things by Thy word, and by Thy wisdom has made man, that he should walk uprightly and rule righteously over Thy world; Thou hast chosen me as . . . judge over Thy people. I acknowledge Thy unsearchable purpose towards me, and bow in thankfulness before Thy Majesty. Do Thou, my Lord and Governor, fit me for the work to which Thou hast sent me; teach me and guide me in this great service. May there be with me the wisdom which belongs to Thy throne; send it from Thy Holy Heaven, that I may know what is well-pleasing in Thy sight, and what is right according to Thy commandment. May my heart be in Thy hand, to accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge and to Thy glory, that so in the day of Thy judgment I may give Thee account of my stewardship without blame; through the grace and mercy of Thy Son, Who was once crucified for us, to Whom be all honor and glory with Thee and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

–Russian emperors’ coronation oath, last spoken by Nicholas II at his coronation in 1896.

“Lord Jesus Christ! Omnipotent Master of heaven and earth! To Thee I deliver the nation and people that were entrusted to my care and purchased by Thy Precious Blood, the children whom Thou didst bestow upon me, and to Thee I surrender my soul, O Lord!”

Georgian Queen Tamar the Great’s dying prayer, uttered in 1213.

This will be no great tract, for such a lengthy essay it is not in my power at present time to write, and wiser men and women than I have already left the world with so many excellent essays on the virtues of the monarchical system. Instead, let this essay serve as a straightforward and simple enumeration of the benefits of monarchy, its inherent virtues, and natural superiority over the republican form of government presently used by most of the world.

Further, let it serve as a theological reflection on the reality that kingship is the sole political model which is recognized and discussed in the Holy Scriptures, even though several forms of government existed in the world at the time of the Scriptures’ composition. As Christ is often referred to as the eternal King of the ages and the Son of David, let the point stand that the Israelites prior to His coming understood and anticipated His messiahship as a typological fulfillment and full realization of their ancient Davidic kingship. That is, as Israel’s kings were anointed by God and consecrated to their duties of holy service to Him and His people, even carrying out specific priestly roles in the Temple, so too have “pious kings and right-believing queens” of the Orthodox Faith, as defenders of the new Israel, the Church, been understood throughout their existence to be consecrated to their people’s service and anointed by God. Reflecting the highly typological language of the Church, which permeates all of her liturgical services, the role of the Christian king is compared to that of Christ: just as Christ the God-Man unites Himself in loving service to the Church His people, all kings are called to unite themselves in a life of service and martyric dedication to their people.

Before Christ’s incarnation, the kings of the line of King David, who was both the Lord’s anointed king and a priest and prophet for His people Israel, served God as the earthly governors of His people, while after Christ’s incarnation—with the world transfigured and time and matter itself made sacred by God Himself having come to dwell among humanity and take on human nature in all things except our sinfulness—Christian kings served God in this way, as stewards, caretakers, and servants of the good order, security, and peacefulness of their people. This is why, throughout Christendom, but especially in the Orthodox East, the rites of coronation and anointing of Christian monarchs emphasize not only their natural and ontological bond with their subjects—an essentially familial bond in which the king is father of his people and the queen the mother of her people—but also the continuation in the Church and with the Church’s blessing of Davidic kingship. Christian kings in general, and Orthodox monarchs in particular, have a claim to the Davidic lineage of kings which has its origins in the very pages of the Old Testament’s books of Samuel the Prophet.

One particularly striking historical reality is the concept of Davidic kingship as it was practiced for some 2,800 years in ancient Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). Preceding Christ’s incarnation by some eight centuries, the royal House of Solomon in what would ultimately become (after AD 451) the non-Chalcedonian kingdom of Ethiopia by its very name claimed not only a theological and ontological continuity with the line of David, but, as the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church’s canonical book “The Glory of Kings” (Kebra Negast) lays out, the foundation of the Solomon dynasty is that they claim to be the literal, biological descendants of King David through his son Solomon’s son Menelek. According to the Kebra Negast, Menelek was Solomon’s son and the successor of Solomon’s purported lover Queen Makeda of Axum (mythically Sheba). As the story goes, the young Menelek purportedly brought the original Ark of the Covenant with him to Ethiopia after leaving his father’s kingdom, and while the House of Solomon no longer rules there, it is in Ethiopia, as the Ethiopian Church claims, that the true Ark resides to this day.

Leaving aside the unique claims made by the Ethiopian kings and their Church, which follows the proscriptions of the Mosaic Law more closely than any other Christian communion, the concept of Davidic kingship is one not limited to mere biological descent from King David (however fascinating that possibility is to contemplate), but one of covenantal kingship in which God anoints and consecrates the king and/or queen as His servant(s) who carry out and bear with His grace the burden of the “great service” of governing His people (see the above coronation oath of Russian monarchs). Davidic kingship, by necessity, is a royal lineage or authority which resides only with the people of Israel. Who are the people of Israel today? By this term, I do not mean Israel the geographical spot on a map (which the Romans called Palestina) or Israel the modern Jewish political state established in 1948. Both Israel on the map and Israel the State are not the ontological entity of Israel, the people of God, which, since Pentecost and the coming down of the Holy Spirit, isthe Orthodox Church, the “New Israel” of the New Covenant.

Because the Church alone, in heaven and on earth, is the full dwelling place and abode of the Holy Spirit, which blesses and consecrates all things and raises up the human race to the heavenly, in the Church alone rests the ability and authority to bless and consecrate kings and queens to God’s service. This is why, from the first Christian Roman emperors of the fourth century (on through the later Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperors) to the ancient kings and queens of England and France, to the Orthodox emperors and empresses of Russia, Christian kingdoms uniformly understood their monarchs and consorts to be first and foremost God’s anointed servants, endowed by the Church at their coronations with the charism or grace of the Church’s blessing of their “great service”. The Church always understood monarchs’ lives—however grave their individual shortcomings or crimes might be—to have been solemnly consecrated to the Lord’s service from their coronation and anointing, and dedicated to the defense, good ordering, and stewardship of His people.

It goes without saying that, as all presidential republics or parliamentary democracies see authority as primarily coming up temporarily to elected rulers from the people of the nation themselves andnot down from God upon divinely anointed and consecrated king and queens, no elected system can theoretically or practically embody, manifest, or make real the solemn and covenantal three-way relationship that exists between God, a crowned and anointed monarch, and his or her people. There is no covenant between President Obama and the American people, nor was there such between any of his predecessors and the people, nor was there between Prime Minister David Cameron and the British people, or President Hollande and the French people. A constitutional oath is not a covenant with God, but merely a promise to the people to respect the existing earthly constitutional laws of the state. Unlike a coronation, at which the new sovereign is mystically and forever joined to his or her people, there is no spiritual dimension whatsoever to the inauguration of a president or the first Cabinet meeting of a prime minister.

An individual president or prime minister may or may not govern well, he or she may or may not be privately a virtuous and ethical person, but whether or not they are virtuous or ethical, never mind pious, devout, and concerned with the state of his or her soul, is of literally no concern to the republican or democratic system itself. It is not so much that democracy or republicanism sanctions or “blesses” the immorality of its rulers so much as both elected systems are 1) entirely unconcerned with morality, 2) founded and enunciated without any real concern for private morality or the idea of corporate, national salvation, and 3) have no authority or license besides a subjective appeal to God or some other kind of transcendent moral framework by which they may appeal to, recognize, or submit to any kind of universal, objective Truth. Democracy is not so much allergic to the notion of objective Truth as it is blind to it; the only real truth in any democracy is the ever-changing will of the people expressed through the act of voting.

A democracy or republic’s people may overwhelmingly follow one religion, for example, as in largely Catholic Ireland or Sunni Muslim Turkey or Pakistan, but any appeal by the president or prime minister of that country to that one prevailing religion is, in a republic or democracy, a fundamentally alien appeal grounded in that elected leader’s personal whim or the perceived political expediency of the moment. There is nothing foundationally or integrally religious in either the democratic or republican systems, since all elected systems have as the basis and fount of their authority the fundamentally secularexpression of the popular will, not some sort of objective Truth (e.g. God’s blessing and sanction to reign following His laws and commandments). Even if one approaches the subject of government from an atheistic perspective, and one does not believe in a God who supposedly blesses and sanctifies a monarchy and the rule of the monarchs, it remains inescapable that the political foundation of monarchy is entirely a religious one (the blessing and authority of God), whereas the political foundation of a republic or democracy is an entirely secular construct in which God’s will and His very existence are both utterly irrelevant to the foundation, mission, and legitimacy of the political state. It is of little surprise that the philosophical and ethical foundations of all modern republics and democracies are the writings of so-called “Enlightenment” thinkers who were, without exception, all deists or atheists in their private religious beliefs.

Built entirely on the inherently and inevitably changing expression of whatever happens to be the popular will at a given moment in time, democracies and republics are fundamentally onlyconcerned with whatever might be the will of their voters, and therefore, they are fundamentally notconcerned with questions of what constitutes objective Truth, whether such Truth exists, or how to best lead a nation’s people toward that Truth. A republic or democracy’s people may live their lives unconscious of, and the body politic may exist entirely ignorant of, for instance, the Person of Christ, Whom Christians know to be God the eternal Son, yet nothing in the elected “contracts” of a prime minister or president oblige them in the discharge of their office to introduce their people to Christ (or if the country is mostly Muslim, to the teachings of Muhammad found in the Qur’an, etc.). This is because any republic or democracy is fundamentally secular in nature (any republics ostensibly rooted in religion such as the world’s many “Islamic republics” are an existential and ontological aberration with literally no credible, ancient theological foundation within Islam itself.)

Since elected rulers’ authority is entirely secular, as it is derived only from the power and authority conferred by a popular election, it is entirely outside the scope of a president or prime minister’s elected prerogative and therefore, his or her necessarily temporary authority, to understand his or her temporary stewardship of the body politic as one uniquely blessed and sanctified by God. An individual president or prime minister might happen to be a devout Muslim or Christian who believes that God blessed his or her leadership of their country, but there is nothing within the political system over which they preside that recognizes this entirely subjective belief. Whether or not a president or prime minister believes in God or that God may have blessed his or her leadership is fundamentally irrelevant to the discharge and duties of their secular, elected office. The only real blessing in the republican or democratic systems is that of the voter who “blesses” the candidate by voting for him or her in an election.

This is why democratic republicanism (or republican democracy, however one prefers to order the term) is essentially a secular, entirely non-religious creation. God’s very existence is a matter of literally no concern within the framework of a republican or democratic government, which, taking its authority only from the people, presupposes onlythat the people themselves are sovereign to the degree that their express approval is required for the election of new leaders of the body politic. The only “blessing” that takes place in the casting of ballots at the poll stations or at the later “inauguration” rites in presidential systems is the manifestation of the popular will through the election-based transfer of political power. It goes without saying that the conferring of the people’s will and approval of this or that candidate is an altogether different framework for conferring and recognizing political authority than the solemn anointing and sacred consecration by the Holy Spirit through the Church of a king or queen, or emperor or empress to their people’s service (or, in Islam, the blessing by Allah of a Muslim monarch’s reign).

These musings on the foundational flaws and problems in the republican and democratic political systems beg the question: What is monarchy? Above all else, it a solemn and covenantal service to God in which the monarch is ultimately subject to the Creator to give an account of his or her stewardship and rule over His people. The greatest monarchs in history are those who were the most effective stewards of the good order, prosperity, and peacefulness of their realms. Just as Christianity understands that is natural for men and women to honor, love, and worship their Creator, as man has his very purpose and end in serving and loving Him, so too it is natural for all righteous rulers to honor, love, and worship their Creator, and see themselves as not so much exalted above their subjects so much as the first of His humble servants. The virtues and values of these concepts are entirely alien to the republican and democratic systems, in which God fundamentally does not matter.

Practically speaking, monarchy is the hereditary inheritance and exercise of either political power, ancient ceremonial authority, or both such power and authority, in which the monarch is understood to be the chief servant of the good of his or her realm. The chief good, in a spiritual sense, in any religious society is mankind’s salvation, so for a Christian monarch, it is his or her fundamental duty to encourage, however deemed best, the living of Christian values and a common Christian life by his or her people. For Muslim monarchs, it is their fundamental duty to encourage, however deemed best, the living of Muslim values and a common Muslim life by their people, the same applying to Buddhist monarchs or Hindu monarchs, and so on. The virtue and values of these concepts (of encouraging the spiritual development and transformation of their people) are again fundamentally alien to the republican and democratic systems.

Any monarchy in a religious society, in which the monarch’s reign is understood to be blessed by God, is one that must essentially and practically value above all else the corporate salvation of the nation as the highest duty, the highest good and ontological purpose or end of the monarchy and the political state itself. Seeing as all republican and democratic governments are fundamentally notconcerned with God or salvation, their leaders understandably do not value this. The greatest purpose or end of a democratic or republican system is, in the baldest sense, the perpetuation and preservation by the dominant party’s elite of their own political power.

It is apparent to any student of history that there have been successful monarchs and terrible monarchs, just as there have been successful presidents and terrible presidents, effective prime ministers and incompetent ones. I would never presume to argue that we should accept various monarchs’ abuses of their authority throughout history, and history is rightfully harsh on monarchs who showed themselves to be either incompetent or tyrannical. Yet, just as the reality that certain presidents and premiers have abused their authority does not singularly prove the defectiveness of democracy as a political system, so too republicans and democrats ought to acknowledge that bad monarchs’ presence in history does not singularly prove monarchy’s defectiveness. My account here is not an ideological defense of the historical record of all monarchs as ‘good’, nor is it a condemnation of all republican and democratic authorities as ‘bad’. Instead, it is an examination of the virtues, benefits, and liabilities of both systems (monarchy and republican democracy), with the implicit realization that in both systems there have been certain authorities who governed better or worse than others.

Nevertheless, I am prepared to argue that, within the framework of political theory, monarchs are actually far more accountable to their people than are elected republican leaders. Most elective, republican systems today are inherently non-theistic in their political constitutions (God does not appear as the ultimate authority and judge of mankind), and thus, their notions of political accountability are completely divorced from God or any notion of objective Truth, salvation, redemption, or eternal consequences. Nothing intrinsic to the nature of the elected office of president or prime minister beholds occupants of either office to see themselves as accountable to God for their exercise of that office. Conscientious presidents and premiers throughout history have naturally held themselves accountable to both God and their people, but this is not something which the elected roles themselves prescribe. In monarchies, on the other hand, the monarch’s accountability to God for their service on behalf of their people is at the very foundation of the office and role itself. This accountability of service is stressed numerous times in the foundational prayers and supplications used in their rites of coronation. It is the primary and defining source of their political authority and legitimacy. An individual president or prime minister might personally believe themselves to rule with God’s help; no monarch may dare to rule without it.

From an iconic Christian perspective, bearing in mind above all else the transformational reality of Christ the God-Man’s incarnation, which sanctifies and raises up human nature to its natural and divine potential, Christian monarchy alone of all forms of political authority has at its core the ideas of self-sacrifice, loving service, individual and collective transformation and growing in holiness, and accountability directly rooted in the Christian Gospel. Of all forms of government, Christian monarchy alone directs and compels those in paramount authority to pursue that which is objectively good and true, because Christian monarchy alone is rooted in, believes in, and is defined as succeeding or failing based on to what extent its rulers foster, pursue, and protect that which is objectively good and true—the corporate and ever-deepening life of the people in Christ. Monarchy alone demands of the ruler an account before God of his or her carrying out of that lifelong role of service and dedication.

To this end, I will share one anecdote: according to Georgian Orthodox priest Fr. Zakaria Machitadze in his book The Lives of Georgian Saints, when Queen Tamar the Great ascended the Georgian throne in 1184 following her father King Giorgi III’s death, she addressed the clergy of her realm with these words outlying the basic duties and obligations of her role as monarch:

At the beginning of her reign, Tamar convened a Church council and addressed the clergy with wisdom and humility: “Judge according to righteousness, affirming good and condemning evil,” she advised. “Begin with me — if I sin I should be censured, for the royal crown is sent down from above as a sign of divine service. Allow neither the wealth of the nobles nor the poverty of the masses to hinder your work. You by word and I by deed, you by preaching and I by the law, you by upbringing and I by education will care for those souls whom God has entrusted to us, and together we will abide by the law of God, in order to escape eternal condemnation.… You as priests and I as ruler, you as stewards of good and I as the watchman of that good.”

St. Queen Tamar the Great of Georgia (1160-1213, r. 1184-1213).St. Queen Tamar the Great of Georgia (1160-1213, r. 1184-1213).

In every monarchy in the world, from ancient times to present, all monarchs have been instructed and admonished in their accession celebrations, coronation oaths, or other installation ceremonies with regard to the tremendous ethical responsibilities and sacred obligations incumbent upon their high office. In Imperial Rome, emperors celebrating triumphal processions were acclaimed as the personification of the supreme deity, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, yet at their side throughout the fanfare stood a humble slave, whose duty was to whisper in the emperor’s ear the humbling and haunting words Momento mori: “Remember: you are mortal.” Imperial China, the world’s longest-lasting monarchy, maintained since the Zhou dynasty the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, by which the emperors (called the “Son of Heaven”, Tianzi) were accountable to the gods of heaven (Tian) for their rule and, if they transgressed beyond all bounds of propriety or became so ineffective that they endangered the empire, the divine mandate to rule could be withdrawn and transferred to someone else worthy of holding it.

While elected civil authorities today commonly swear public oaths to maintain and defend the political constitutions of their respective nation-states, monarchs throughout history commonly undertook solemn, public oaths to govern their peoples with mercy, truth, and righteousness, ideals which are emphatically, and inseparably tied to the Christian Gospel. A modern president or prime minister swears only to defend the integrity of a fallible constitutional document composed by men; the Christian ideals of mercy, truth, and righteousness are entirely absent from any elected head of government’s oath. In the history of the world’s other largest monotheistic faith, Islam, monarchs also saw themselves as accountable to God and the precepts put forth in Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an, and recitations from this book featured prominently in the installation rites of the Sunni Ottoman Turkish sultans and Shiite Safavid Persian shahs.

By the very nature of the democratic system in which they operate, democratically elected leaders in republics are accountable in actuality only to ever-shifting opinion polls, the often amoral and conflicting political interests of their most powerful financial supporters, and the media whose presentation of political events often significantly influences voters’ opinion. Even the best republican leaders in history have always had to balance these often conflicting demands of office, so that the pursuit of the ideals of the Truth becomes clouded at best and often instead entirely abandoned in the fray of partisan politics. In contrast, even the worst monarchs in history are, within the monarchical framework, accountable notonly to their people, but especially and ultimately to God for how they serve and reign. By God’s grace all kings reign and ultimately to Him all must give an account of their stewardship. Therefore, a monarch who has spent his or her formative years being trained in the service of their people and in love and fear of God will feel and understand himself or herself to be accountable to history, to their people, and especially to God who rules over all things. This ancient monarchical process of the formation of the ruler as his or her people’s first servant and dedicated defender is a much more time-tested method of producing able rulers than the comparatively recent, modern notion that a previously partisan, highly divisive elected politician will, once sworn into office, suddenly become a moral, ethically driven person able to execute his or her office above partisan interests. Indeed, while history is replete with numerous examples of selfless and dedicated monarchs, I have yet to come across one politician who operated entirely selflessly and without partisan bias.

Thus, from both a theoretical and a practical viewpoint, monarchs are far truer servants of their state than democratic, republican leaders can ever hope to be. Whether a monarch actively rules (exercising paramount political authority in his or her kingdom) or simply reigns ceremonially, as most do today, his or her coronation or installation oath invariably binds them to serve and reign above all else in remembrance and fear of God, prioritizing the salvation, moral and ethical good, and lifelong service of their people. Democratic and republican constitutional oaths prescribe no such obligations on the part of a president or prime minister.

I include the above coronation oath taken by Russian emperors to contrast it with the oaths of office commonly taken by elected republican heads of state today. Whereas the President of the United States solemnly swears to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to the best of his or her ability “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States”, the Russian emperors, to use just one example, swear a solemn oath before God and their people to “accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge”. The Russian monarchs who were crowned as God’s supreme earthly “judge over Thy people” humbly “bow in thankfulness before Thy Majesty” and acknowledge themselves as subordinate to and servant of their “Lord and Governor”. Likewise, Queen Tamar of Georgia, in her dying prayer, prepared to give her final account to God for “the nation and people entrusted to my care”. A President of the United States is accountable only to voters’ and his or her most influential supporters’ changing opinions of him or her over time, whereas everyone a century ago understood the Russian emperors to be accountable before God and their people for their “great service”, a sacred and solemn obligation far more binding than the temporary discharge of an elected office.

The presidential oath of office does not speak at all of the president’s accountability to either God or his or her people, whereas at the very core of the Russian emperors’ oath is his or her prayer to “in the day of Thy judgment give [God] account of my stewardship without blame”. The highest moral authority referenced in the presidential oath is the Constitution itself, a man-made, amendable, and changing document which so many people in this country somehow treat almost as if it were infallible. On the other hand, in the Russian monarchs’ coronation oath, the highest authority to which the monarch must submit is none other than God Himself, Whose guidance, teaching, and assistance the monarch constantly implores throughout the coronation oath and beyond.

It is telling that nowhere in the coronation oath for Russian monarchs (viewed before the 1905 revolution as absolute autocrats subject to no earthly constitution) is to be found any haughty exultation of their own power or authority, but, instead, a humble prayer that God “teach me and guide me in this great service.” Thus, at the very climax and pinnacle of his coronation as supreme Autocrat of a vast, multiethnic empire, the Russian emperor humbly took on the role of a servant, imploring God’s guidance in his monarchical rule, a role defined above all else as a “great service” to God and his people.

Just as every Christian family is headed by either a father and mother together or just one of these, so too a monarch, either male or female, serves as the symbolic father or mother of his or her nation. Ideally, the monarch and his or her consort serve together as the typological father and mother of their people. This is a profoundly unifying, supra-political role, and the less the monarch actively involves himself or herself in the nation’s political life, the easier it tends to be for their people to view them in this way. In those monarchies in which the monarch reigns with a crowned consort, we see even further the most natural manifestation of the familleidéale, in which a king/emperor and queen/empress preside together in loving service as the symbolic ‘father’ and ‘mother’ on behalf of their national ‘family’. In a very real and symbolic sense, the monarch and his or her consort serve as the earthly heads of their nation, and, regardless of whether or not they rule politically or simply reign, they serve to embody the Christian ideals of marriage, family life, and domestic unity and tranquility for their people, ideals which are themselves salvific when joined to a common life lived in union with Christ and His Gospel. In any democratic model, by virtue of their temporary and elected, intrinsically partisan office, presidents or prime ministers cannot hope to ever serve in this symbolic way, and the people suffer for lack of a unifying, supra-political father and mother figure to look to for moral example and virtuous conduct. It is a telling example of childhood psychology that boys and girls all around the world play at being kings and queens, never president and prime minister.

It is well known in British history that the Anglican Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603, r. 1558-1603) repeatedly and publicly referred to herself as England’s bride, England’s wife, and her Kingdom as her husband; what is less well known is that this concept began with her Catholic half-sister and predecessor, Queen Mary I (1516-1558, r. 1553-1558). Sarah Duncan’s book Mary I: Gender, Power, and Ceremony in the Reign of England’s First Queen is a superb resource in this area of research. Since Mary was the first crowned and anointed queen regnant in English history, her reign necessitated the development of new political language to legitimize and confer royal authority on a woman. To justify and legitimize this anomaly of female rule, a new formulation of sovereignty itself was necessary, since it was unprecedented for a woman to rule England. This new development was known as the theory of the “king’s two bodies”, or, for Mary and Elizabeth’s reigns, the queen’s two bodies. It recognized that the monarch has both a “body personal”, which was mortal, and could be female, and a “body politic” — the timeless, immortal Crown and Throne personified in and through the monarch, which passed from one monarch to his or her successor, and so forth, unto eternity.

Fittingly, as kings were compared to Christ, Mary I was compared to the Queen of kings, the Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven, the chief intercessor for Christians. As Duncan shows, it was the oft-forgotten, largely marginalized Mary Tudor, not her half-sister Elizabeth, who invented the concept of the Queen regnant as Mother to her people and “married” to the Kingdom of England.

Since, as an Orthodox Christian, I am fundamentally concerned with my own salvation and especially the world’s, and interested most in Christian monarchy as opposed to the monarchical traditions of other faiths, it is worth examining what the Holy Scriptures, the divine books assembled and compiled by the Holy Spirit acting through Christ’s Body, the Orthodox Church, have to say about government in general, and kingship in particular. Here are just a few examples from an article written here by Fr. Joseph Gleason:

  • Psalm 2:10-12 urges Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
  • Psalm 24:7 refers to God in the Person of the Holy Spirit as a King: “ Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”
  • Romans 13:1 refers to the divine origins of the “powers that be” (originally kings in every country): “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
  • The Book of Judges repeatedly connects the lack of kingship with the lawlessness and chaos then prevailing in Israel: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:5-6). This refrain “in those days there was no king in Israel” and its equation with lawlessness and injustice appears numerous times throughout the Book of Judges.
  • When the Prophet Samuel was an old man, he prepared to leave his sons after him as judges over the people of Israel, but the people of Israel wanted none of them, reminding the prophet that his sons were not righteous men as he was. Instead, they beseeched him to anoint a king for them (1 Samuel 8:1-22).
  • Proverbs 16:12 warn that kings must act righteously: “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.”
  • Proverbs 20:28 pray that “Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.”
  • Proverbs 29:14 promises an eternal throne (sainthood) to kings who love the poor: “The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established forever.”

As Father Joseph Gleason notes in the same article, numerous further Scriptural passages mark kingship as a special vehicle or mechanism by which God communicates with His people Israel and His prophets:

  • In Genesis 14, King Melchizedek prophetically acts out the first proto-Eucharist in Scripture, blessing Abraham with bread and wine.
  • In Genesis 17, God promises to bless Abraham with kings for descendants.
  • In Genesis 35, God promises to bless Jacob with kings for descendants.
  • In Genesis 49, God promises that Israel’s kings will come from the tribe of Judah.
  • In Deuteronomy 17, Moses lays out the blueprint for Israel to have godly kings.
  • In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah prophesies about the coming monarchy (verse 10) in a very positive context, focusing on the Lord’s anointed monarch.
  • When Israel’s kings behave righteously, Scripture never suggests that they should have been “good enough to abolish monarchy, and establish some better form of government”.
  • Similarly, when Israel’s kings act wickedly, Scripture never suggests that “being a king” was part of their sin.
  • In the New Testament, many people spoke Greek, and the entire Roman Empire was deeply influenced by the Greek culture, which had already been aware of democracy for over 500 years. Yet, Jesus and the apostles never suggest that we should replace monarchies with democracies (or with any other form of government). Individual kings are reprimanded, but monarchy itself as a political form is never condemned.
  • The apostle Peter tells us to “submit … to the king” and “honor the king“.
  • The apostle Paul not only asks us to pray for, but also to give thanks for kings.
  • Throughout Scripture, Jesus is referred to as a great King.
  • In the book of Revelation, God promises us Christians that we will reign as kings.

From Genesis to Revelation, monarchy is presented in a positive light, as God’s plan from the foundation of the world. (1 Samuel 8 is no exception, as demonstrated in this article on “The Long-Awaited King“ by the same Fr. Joseph Gleason.) Things go well when kingship is practiced in a godly way, and things go poorly when it is practiced in an evil way. But the same goes for any job under the sun. In this particular sense, there is nothing unique about the monarchy.

What do the Church Fathers and early Christian bishops have to say about monarchy and other forms of government? These were men who knew the Scriptures better than any others:

“Monarchy is superior to every other constitution and form of government. For polyarchy, where everyone competes on equal terms, is really anarchy and discord.” –Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea

St Gregory the Theologian says in his Third Theological Oration:

“The three most ancient opinions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia. The first two are the sport of the children of Hellas, and may they continue to be so. For Anarchy is a thing without order; and the Rule of Many is factious, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly. For both these tend to the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution. But Monarchy is that which we hold in honour.”

We see also, more explicitly in the writings of St Theodore the Studite, found in volume 4 of the Philokalia:

“There is one Lord and Giver of the Law, as it is written: one authority and one Divine principle over all. This single principle is the source of all wisdom, goodness and good order; it extends over every creature that has received its beginning from the goodness of God…, it is given to one man only… to construct rules of life in accordance with the likeness of God. For the divine Moses in his description of the origin of the world that comes from the mouth of God, cites the word: ‘Let us create man in accordance with Our image and likeness’ (Genesis 1.26). Hence the establishment among men of every dominion and every authority, especially in the Churches of God: one patriarch in a patriarchate, one metropolitan in a metropolia, one bishop in a bishopric, one abbot in a monastery, and in secular life, if you want to listen, one king, one regimental commander, one captain on a ship. And if one will did not rule in all this, there would be no law and order in anything, and it would not be for the best, for a multiplicity of wills destroys everything.”

Likewise, St Emperor Justinian (483-565) elucidates the right relationship of the Church and the State in the Preamble of Novella Six (in the Codex):

“The two greatest gifts which God in His infinite goodness has granted men are the Priesthood and the Empire. The priesthood takes care of divine interests and the empire of human interests of which it has supervision. Both powers emanate from the same principle and bring human life to its perfection. It is for this reason that emperors have nothing closer to their hearts than the honor of priests because they pray continually to God for the emperors. When the clergy shows a proper spirit and devotes itself entirely to God, and the emperor governs the state which is entrusted to him, then a harmony results which is most profitable to the human race. So it is then that the true divine teachings and the honor of the clergy are the first among our preoccupations.”

Here are some additional quotes on monarchy from other prominent Church Fathers:

“Power, that is authority and royal power, are established by God.” –St Isidore of Pelusium

“The difference between a tyrant and a king is that the tyrant strives in every way to carry out his own will. But the king does good to those whom he rules.” –St Basil the Great

“If some evildoer unlawfully seizes power, we do not say that he is established by God…” –St Isidore of Pelusium

“God gave the greatest gift to men: the priesthood and the imperial power; the first preserves and watches over the heavenly, while the second rules earthly things by means of just laws.” –Seventh Ecumenical Council

“A priest who is not a monarchist is not worthy to stand at the altar table. The priest who is a republican is always a man of poor faith. God himself anoints the monarch to be head of the kingdom, while the president is elected by the pride of the people. The king stays in power by implementing God’s commandments, while the president does so by pleasing those who rule. The king brings his faithful subjects to God, while the president takes them away from God.” –Metropolitan and New-Martyr St. Vladimir of Kiev

Monarchy is an icon of Christ. No other form of government images this:

“God has placed a king on earth in the image of His Heavenly single rule, an autocratic king in the image of His almighty power, an autocratic king and a hereditary king in the image of His Kingdom that does not pass away.”—Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

In summary, here are just a few of the reasons, from both a consideration of political theory and practical application, that monarchy is a more moral, stable, and overall better and ontologically higher form of government than any other system. I will not delve into the debate of whether or not absolute or autocratic monarchy is preferable to constitutional monarchy, but I will simply observe that, whether or not a monarchy exists constitutionally within a democratic political framework, its existence is still of great benefit to the broader political society and culture.

1)  Monarchy’s intrinsic end or aim is ontologically higher than the intrinsic end or aim of any other type of political authority. The underlying purpose of monarchy is the rendering to God by each monarch of a successful stewardship on behalf of his or her people. Each monarch is only a temporary steward, but he must give an eternal account of his or her stewardship to the King of Kings. This stewardship is best carried out by the monarch’s zealous maintenance of peace and good order, and therefore, the general protection of liberties and freedoms conducive to that peace and order. An elected leader who abuses his or her authority and violates the constitution he or she has sworn to defend understands himself or herself to face only earthly consequences (possible impeachment, criminal conviction, removal from office, enduring unpopularity, etc.). A monarch on the other hand understands himself or herself to be fundamentally accountable to God for how he or she discharges the duties of his or her office.

2)   Monarchy is the most natural form of government known to mankind, and the most widely practiced form of political authority throughout human history. The fact that monarchies still exist today after thousands of years and numerous political revolutions is remarkable in and of itself, and all the more so given that most monarchies in the world today are seen as highly legitimate by most of their populations. History is replete with examples of bad monarchs and good monarchs, as well as bad presidents and good ones, yet the presidential and prime ministerial systems of government are, at most, three hundred years old in any part of the world, and in most countries, far more recent introductions.

3)      Monarchy is the only form of political authority which images on a national and societal level the most basic and foundational unit of society: the family. Thus, far more than elected prime ministers or presidents, monarchs and their families are able to set an ideal model for family life, which is the basic foundation of the rest of society. A president or prime minister need not be married, and it is becoming increasingly common to see unmarried presidents (France’s Francois Hollande) or prime ministers (former Australian PM Julia Gillard).

4)      Monarchy is the only form of political authority which Christian Scripture and Tradition praise, defend, and encourage.

5)     Monarchy is the only form of government which properly and ideally images the highest Christian virtues of service and self-sacrifice. Almost every Christian society was, historically, a monarchy. Similarly, monarchy is the only form of political authority which has at its core the maintenance of Christian faith and virtues, as seen by the coronation oaths, still taken, of British monarchs, and the ones formerly taken by Russian, French, Hungarian, and German sovereigns.

6)      Monarchy is the only form of government in which the ruler is obliged to defend objective Truth and represent and defend a fundamentally incarnational, Christian worldview. Thus, the Russian emperors prayed to receive “the wisdom which belongs to [God’s] throne; send it from Thy Holy Heaven, that I may know what is well-pleasing in Thy sight, and what is right according to Thy commandment.”

7)     As previously argued, monarchy can be shown to represent and manifest an intrinsically and ontologically higher form of government when compared with republican democracy. Monarchs are held to be accountable not only to their people but most of all to God for their service and stewardship.

8)     My final point should go without saying: Monarchy is an intrinsically and ontologically higher form of government than the modern tyrannies of either communism or fascism, in which rulers are never held accountable except by history, and are free to commit innumerable abuses, as the examples of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Croatia, and Spain, and the communist Soviet Union, China, Romania, Cuba, and Vietnam show.

While some might find it strange that I, being an American, should write an essay in defense of monarchy, I would posit that there are many of my fellow Americans who are monarchists. One of the most tragic and disturbing realities of American political history is the forced extrajudicial exiling, immediately after the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, of hundreds of thousands of American Loyalists from the country; most of them saw themselves as loyal subjects of the King, yet the victorious Patriots viewed them as irredeemable traitors who must be deported.

Many of my friends of all political persuasions feel a natural love for the person of Queen Elizabeth II, who would be our Sovereign, as she is Canada’s, had history not separated our country 232 years ago from its prior centuries of union with the Kingdom of Great Britain. Why, on any moral or ethical level, should Americans feel any less respect or devotion to Her Majesty the Queen than to our own elected political authorities, when the former has made as her life’s priority the furthering of peace around the world, the gentle communication of Christian values to her people, and the closer cooperation of the family of nations of which she is the earthly head? As a living embodiment of monarchy’s core values and virtues of service to God and her people, Her Majesty the Queen is rightly hailed by people across the world of every nation and political persuasion as a model monarch and woman who prioritizes her service to God and her people. As she promised decades ago when she was still Crown Princess Elizabeth, her pledge to the lifelong service of her people is one she has discharged, and continues to discharge, with remarkable humility and enduring grace: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

In closing, I would humbly ask for the blessing of Almighty God, the King of Kings, on all civil authorities everywhere, especially all monarchs and their consorts, and ask that He strengthen all rulers in righteousness, moral conduct, piety, and remembrance of their ultimate accountability to Him who judges all men and women. I would enjoin all people everywhere to pray for the life of their rulers, whether elected or unelected, that by their prayers their rulers may either continue in justice and piety, or, if unjust and impious, be converted to governing justly, carefully, and in remembrance of God, to whom all must ultimately give account of their lives.

Ryan Hunter

Bibliography:

Benisis, Marios. “The Depiction of the Coronation of Byzantine Emperors in Art“.Academia.edu. March 3, 2007. Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Accessed May 5, 2015.

http://www.academia.edu/2648035/The_Depiction_of_the_Coronation_of_Byzantine_Emperor_in_the_Art

Buxhoeveden, Baroness Sophie. The Life and Tragedy of Empress Alexandra Fedorovna.Longmans, Green and Co., 1928.

Duncan, Sarah. Mary I: Gender, Power, and Ceremony in the Reign of England’s First Queen. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Gilbert, Paul. “The Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II”. Royal Russia. Accessed May 5, 2015.

http://www.angelfire.com/pa/ImperialRussian/royalty/russia/coronation.html

Gleason, Joseph Father. “Biblical Monarchy and the Book of Judges”. The Orthodox Life. October 29, 2013. Accessed May 5, 2015.

https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/biblical-monarchy-and-the-book-of-judges/

Hunter, Ryan. “Queen, Saint, and Stateswoman: Commemorating the ‘Lion of Georgia’”. Juicy Ecumenism. May 2, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.

http://juicyecumenism.com/2014/05/02/commemorating-one-of-historys-greatest-christian-rulers-and-saints/

Thurston, Herbert. “Coronation”. Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)Volume 4. 1913. Catholic Encyclopedia. Accessed May 5, 2015.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Coronation

Vasilief, A. A History of the Byzantine Empire. “The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian: Reforms of Diocletian and Constantine” Accessed May 5, 2015.

http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/vasilief/reforms-diocletian-constantine.asp

Wooley, Maxwell, B.D. Coronation Rites. Cambridge University Press, 1915. Accessed May 5, 2015.

http://www.archive.org/stream/coronationrites00wooluoft/coronationrites00wooluoft_djvu.txt

Wortman, Richard S. Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy From Peter the Great to the Abdication of Nicholas II. Princeton University Press. 2006. Accessed May 5, 2015.

The clay and the potter

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every one who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as he is pure.”

1 John 3:1-3

My soul is on fire as if it has been lit by ten thousand candles, and yet I feel a deep calm, an innermost peace, at the same time as this fire. This divine fire which has inflamed my soul is the radiant joy and awe I feel at God’s immediate and immanent presence, which is “everywhere present and fill[s] all things”!

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I am in love with every part of God’s creation, all that is on this earth and in the heavens, but most especially, I am struck by the beauty I see in every face, in every person’s countenance. Old and creased with cares, young and carefree, wrinkled from the accumulation of a life’s work, or soft and smooth in youth – every person I see is beautiful, because each person points to the Creator.

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Whenever I think on the reality that every single person I will see or meet in my life is a child of God, formed by Him before birth in His image (Psalm 138 LXX), I am almost overwhelmed with awe. Every person, at every stage of his or her life, is a precious vessel of the Holy Spirit, the divine Love, the immanent and active grace of our Lord present in all His creation.

Every person is sacred, and the grace of Him who made us all cannot ever be fully absent from anyone. It is always there; the seed of the divine Image remains imprinted upon each soul, no matter what a person does to deny, shatter, or flee from that grace. For we are as clay formed by a master potter; just like clay vessels which travel to the corners of the earth away from the hands of him who formed them, even if we end up far away from Him who shaped us, we cannot escape the reality of our existence. Impressed upon our souls, our very being, is the reality that we came from, and were generated by, the divine Love of God.

The Scriptures are filled with beautiful verses describing God and man in the language of a potter and his clay. Within Genesis 1:26-28, we read:

“. . .So God created [in Hebrew, the word used here is bara] man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.”.

God created man ex nihilo, but the word bara also signifies that He molded and fashioned man as would a potter out of clay. Bara is a word which occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures only in reference to the creative activity of God. It implies that something new has been brought into existence by divine command.

Further, in Genesis 2:1-7, we read that 

“In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed [In Hebrew, the word used here is yatsar] man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [רוח, ruach, or spirit] of life; and man became a living being. . .”.

In Hebrew, “dust” and “clay” are often used interchangeably to refer to soil or earth from the ground. Yatsar, translated in this version as “formed”, literally means to mold as a potter molds clay. The use of yatsar tells us how God formed and sculpted the first of mankind, Adam (אָדָם, whose very name means ‘man’ in Hebrew) and Eve ( חַוָּה, whose name means “living one” or “source of life”). God created man as the summit of His work, the highest of all of His artistic creation, after His own image.

In Jeremiah 18:1-7, we read in the Prophet Jeremiah’s revelation from God a wording very similar to that used in Genesis: “Then the Word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.””

Most beautifully, in Isaiah 64:8, we read:

“Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father;
    we are the clay, and thou art our potter;
    we are all the work of thy hand. . .”

Knowing this by the sweetest and most touching grace of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which imprints Himself upon our souls, we are transformed “by the renewal of [our] mind”, as St Paul writes in Romans 12:2. (Here, “mind”, a latinism, is a very misleading translation of the original Greek word νοός, nous, which is more accurately understood as the eye of the soul or mind of the heart; that spiritual consciousness which makes us aware of God’s immanent presence and grace).

When our noetic faculties are enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we become more and more aware that God truly is “everywhere present and fill[ing] all things. . . the Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life”. When we come to look upon every person — no mater their emotional or psychological state or physical appearance or social status — as a fellow child of God, an icon of the Divine image, we see the spark of His love present all around us in everyone we meet and see, each hour of every day. In this, each moment of our life becomes a great blessing.

How can we not love each person as a precious icon of the Holy Trinity, our God who loves us in a way that is beyond our power to rationally describe or conceptually understand? If we know this, once we discern His love for ourselves, then we must realize He loves every other person just as much as He loves us. How can we not but see that the love God has for each of His creatures is a reflection of the perfect love which unites His Three Persons in a unity which transcends our rational understanding?

We read again and again in the Scriptures variations on the reality that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 3, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-5, Galatians 2:20, Romans 5:8, etc), which the universal witness of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church has maintained through the centuries. Only by integrating into our daily lives this awareness that our God loves us to the depths of our being, who fashioned each body and soul in His image, may we be transformed and become truly Christ-like Christians, little anointed ones, sons  and daughters of the Most High. What a soul-astounding and glorious challenge this is: to live by love in all things, seeing in the other, in every person you meet and know, the presence of your Creator.

Metropolitan Jonah’s 2011 Pastoral Letter at the start of Great Lent

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Dearly Beloved in the Lord:

      The beginning of another Lenten season is upon us, and with it comes the opportunity for us to cast aside those things which have distanced us from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Like a wise mother, the Church provides this period of time as a means for us to prepare for receiving the joy of Pascha and Christ’s holy resurrection.

      This same joy and blessing was granted to us at our baptism, when the following prayer was read:

      “Grant that he (she) who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he may put away from himself the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection; and having preserved the gift of Your Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed to him, he may receive the prize of his high calling, and be numbered with the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

       Our baptism in the waters of regeneration enabled us to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to use the upcoming season of Great Lent to return to those baptismal waters. For this transformation to take place, we must first have a desire for a change of heart. Do we want to turn aside from the passions of our flesh? Carnal thoughts or deeds, idle chatter, gossip, lying, selfish acts, greed, and gluttony are all things which separate us from Christ. Isn’t it time to stop these destructive habits? Simply put, we know our passions stand in our way of entering into the heavenly kingdom. Now is the time to cast them into oblivion. Instead of tearing each other down, let us build each other up, as the Gospel commands. Instead of slander and accusation, judgment and condemnation, let us encourage and love our neighbors.

      If we truly desire to return to God, then let us do so in a spirit of humility. Let God transform our minds and hearts through true repentance, the fruit of that humility. We live in a society which encourages us to have an opinion or comment worthy of posting or tweeting about everyone and everything, but as Orthodox Christians it is time for us to stop thinking we have all of the answers. Let us turn off the rhetoric and excuses while rejecting our arrogance and pride. Denial of self is not easy. Yet we can echo the example of our Savior, who silently, and with meekness and humility approached the cross. When we take up our cross and follow Him, He will make our burden light.

      When we have reacquired a sense of humility, it is possible to more clearly recognize our sins and repent of them. Admission of our sins through repentance will not only help us as individuals, but also as communities of Orthodox Christian throughout North America. The effects of a broken and contrite heart can have a great impact on every relationship in our lives. True repentance replaces discord with harmony, and frustration with love. Individually and collectively, our lives should and need to reflect the love found in Jesus Christ.

      Great Lent is an excellent time for us to rediscover the importance of loving one’s neighbors. If, as Orthodox Christians we are the Body of Christ, then we have a responsibility to ask forgiveness for our failings, while banishing our grudges and egos. It means sharing the love of Christ with those in need, whether they are in our parishes or on the street. Putting an extra ten dollars in the basket is an excellent start. Or try to actually tithe your income (10%) to the Church during Lent. Taking it one step further to make a connection with someone by providing them with a meal or charity can make Christ present in their lives and so fulfill the law of God.

      The joy and radiant light of Pascha will quickly be here, and it is imperative that we make use of the time available for us during Great Lent to work on our spiritual health. It is time for us to cast off the works of darkness, as the Apostle Paul says in his epistle to the Romans. The services, prayers, fasting, and acts of charity we do during Lent are merely tools to help us return to God. Be careful, my beloved ones, that these tools do not become stumbling blocks for us, or that we use them to cause others to sin.

      I believe it is possible for each of us to turn from our sins and draw closer to our God the Father by redirecting our lives through Christ. What a joy it will be if each of us begins taking those first steps in love on the narrow path leading back to God. Our collective journey through Great Lent will bring us closer together as a community of love, and as the baptismal prayer says, may we become partakers of the Resurrection. Let us keep a sober mind to properly prepare for that moment on Pascha when we boldly and confidently may proclaim: Christ is Risen!

      In the many ways while serving as your archpastor, if I have failed or wronged you, I humbly ask for your forgiveness. May the Lord forgive us all!

      With my prayers for a holy season of Great Lent,

       With love in Christ,

      +Jonah

Profound theological truths expressed in Glykophilousa icon

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Profound theological truths expressed in Glykophilousa icon

The icon of the Glykophilousa, the Sweetly Kissing, shows the bond of love between the Theotokos and her son and the physical expression of that love in a tender kiss. Often the Mother of God has a sombre, reflective expression, and her infant Son touches her face to comfort her.

This theological icon proclaims the mystery of the Incarnation. It points to the living, human relationship between mother and son. The infant’s hand is the hand of the Logos, cherishing the finest fruit of his creative love. Her embrace enfolds the Uncircumscribable whom heaven and earth cannot contain. The Glykophilousa shows Christ as a human child, relating to his mother as any other human child does, but also as a divine person whose every human expression, action, gesture reveals something of the Godhead.

This icon is virtually the obverse of the Hodegetria in which the Virgin points to her son as the way, the truth, and the life. Here she gazes at Jesus, not out of the icon at us. She does not point to him, she embraces and kisses him. And the infant is caught in movement as he turns in her arms, returning her embrace, his hand rising up to touch her cheek, drawing our awareness back to her. He does not point to her, he touches her tenderly, with loving trust.

As we contemplate the cyclic interplay of divine and human love, of mother and son, our own humanity is interpreted by the relation between.

Blackwell’s Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (Edited by Ken Parry, David J. Melling, Dimitri Brady, Sidney H. Griffith and John F. Healey).

Blessing of the Waters on Theophany

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Blessing of the Waters on Theophany

Today marks the Great Feast of Theophany on the Julian calendar, when Orthodox Christians commemorate Jesus’ baptism by St John the Forerunner in the River Jordan with the Blessing of the Waters. In warmer Mediterranean climates, priests throw the cross into the body of water for young swimmers to retrieve, bringing good fortune and blessings to whomever finds it, whereas in colder environments such as Russia, priests dip the cross in cross-shaped holes called “Jordans” cut in the ice. Many brave souls still plunge into the frigid waters!

Here is an informative chart detailing the creation of the “Jordan” cross-shaped ice holes (evoking Christ’s baptism in that river) through which Orthodox worshipers submerge themselves in a rite of cleansing purification on Theophany. This ritual also most noticeably evokes images of believers’ own baptisms, in this case, re-baptism or a re-dedication of one’s life to Christ:
Jordan Theophany

Response to YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”

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This is almost a year old, but I hope that the main points I made in response to the popular YouTube hit “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” still hold up:

1) Jesus never said that he wanted people to shun organized worship or live primarily by their own free interpretation of the Scriptures. He opposed religious legalism among those who used their external observance of the exact precepts of Mosaic law as an excuse for ignoring its inner meaning by not caring about the poor or downtrodden.

2) Rather than abolish religion, Christ repeatedly proclaims Himself as God Incarnate, Son of the Father and Lord of the world, proclaiming that salvation comes only through knowledge of Him who is God from all eternity. He endows His apostles with authority to forgive sins in His name and He promises that He will always protect His Church.

3) Anyone belonging to any group or belief system can act hypocritically. Christians and other people of faith don’t have a monopoly on hypocrisy. Look at how the core tenets of all major faiths inspire people to live in peace.

2011 Archpastoral Letter from Metropolitan Jonah on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of The Orthodox Church in America

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Dearly beloved in the Lord,

Christ is Born!

I greet you with the love, joy and hope that is so graciously granted to us with the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, we celebrate the “Winter Pascha,” proclaiming that God is indeed with us! Today, the only-begotten Son of God takes on our human nature, enabling us to become partakers of His divine nature. Today, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled as, in the “fullness of time,” the long-awaited Messiah ushers in that peace which is beyond all understanding!

And today, we celebrate that for which we have prepared during the Nativity Fast. Our fasting, intensified prayer, and almsgiving find their meaning and fulfillment in the Mystery of the Incarnation: All that we have is a gift from God, given to us as faithful stewards, that we might proclaim God’s very presence in our midst. Our calling is to “incarnate” the Incarnate Word into our lives, our actions, our very being, at all times, and in everything we do. This, to be sure, is not easy. The world will challenge those who embrace “The Way” at every turn. Yet, it is the world that, in its self-proclaimed emptiness, precisely reveals its thirst for “something more,” a “sign” or “reality” that gives meaning to life beyond the superficial trappings of the “holiday season.”

In rendering thanks to God for His manifest love for His People, and in strengthening ourselves to proclaim the Incarnation in our lives, it is crucial for every member of the Church to discern his or her gifts and to employ them for the building up of the Body of Christ. How? One of the Nativity hymns gives us a clue.

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sake has appeared on earth as man?
Every creature which Thou hast made offers thanks.
The angels offer Thee a song. The heavens, their star. The wise men, their gifts. The shepherds, their wonder.
The earth, its cave. The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer Thee a Virgin Mother!

It is the Mother of God, the Theotokos, who is the very model of stewardship, of discernment, of embracing all that the heavenly Father called her to do. Where the first Eve said “no” to God, she responded positively. And in so doing, she embraced all that her Son accomplished by His birth in time and space, becoming an example for us.

As we continue our celebration, let not our faith be “shelved” with our ornaments and seasonal decorations. Let not the flame of our commitment wax cold. Let not our devotion to serving the Incarnate Word, even as His Mother served Him. May the grace and peace from above, so abundantly given by our all-merciful Savior, remain with us throughout this most glorious feast, and be strengthened within us in the days, weeks and months beyond!

Let us glorify Him!
Faithfully yours in Christ,

SIGNATURE
+JONAH
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

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Sourcehttp://oca.org/holy-synod/statements/metropolitan-jonah/nativity-of-christ-2011

Talking to Muslims about Jesus

The need for a respectful approach

I have many Muslim friends whom I love and respect very much. Throughout my interfaith service work and dialogues all Muslims I have met and worked with were very kind, charitable, and community-minded individuals. Many have repeatedly told me that they feel freer to practice their faith here in the United States than anywhere else. How do we as Orthodox Christians go about talking about our faith with Muslim friends or colleagues? What is the best way to go about doing this?

I have only discussed theology with a few of these Muslim friends, and whenever we talk about Jesus in Islam and Christianity, they of course tell me they do not believe Jesus was God, and ask, “How could you believe Jesus (peace be upon him/”PBUH”) was a god?”

One thing you will notice right away is that Muslims always attach this honorary suffix to Jesus’ name, as well as any person they consider a prophet other than Muhammad, their final prophet, to whom they say, “May Allah honor him and grant him peace”. On the internet you will see “peace be upon him” often abbreviated by English-speaking Muslims to “pbuh” or the Arabic transliteration into Roman letters, “A.S”. That this suffix should be given to Jesus (Isa in Arabic) should immediately strike Christians as a positive thing.

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            It is very important to recognize in someone the common ground you share, and reaffirm your respect for them before you begin to civilly discuss your differences. A lot of people are very ignorant about Islam and are unaware of both its commonalities with many Christian teachings, and its many differences. There have been many cases since the September 11 attacks of Muslim American citizens being brutally attacked for their faith, as well as Americans of the Sikh faith being attacked because the attackers erroneously thought they were Muslims.

Having a respectful dialog with a Muslim can really go a long way in giving them a positive impression of Christianity in the event that they feel negative towards our faith. It is also an important part of the Christian Way to condemn violence and hatred wherever it is found, whether it is directed against those of our faith, as is often the case throughout the Middle East today where Christians endure severe persecution and restrictions on their basic liberties, or those outside our faith.

One area we have in common with Muslims is that we both accord Jesus a very high place of honor. In fact, someone cannot be a Muslim if she or he does not believe Jesus was a prophet of God and among those “nearest to Allah” (Sura 3:45). (Allah is the Arabic word meaning ‘The God’, the only God). Thus, if a Muslim ever insults Jesus during your conversation or speaks disparagingly about any of His miracles (many of his miracles are mentioned in the Qur’an, as well as some alleged ones which the Bible does not mention) do not be surprised if his or her Muslim friends rebuke or chide them.

Jesus in the Qur’an: in some ways similar, in many very different from Jesus in the Bible

The Qur’an repeatedly and emphatically states that Jesus was only a Prophet of God (4:171, 5:17, 5:75). It goes further, saying that at the Day of Judgment Jesus will emphatically deny before Allah that he ever claimed divinity (5:116, 5:72, 3:55). This is a direct refutation of Christian claims that Jesus was the Son of God and God Incarnate. Islamic jurisprudence considers shirk,  (شرك‎) that is, making partners to God, the sole unpardonable sin: “Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him the garden [Paradise] and the Fire will be his abode.” (5:72). In Sura (chapter) 5:17, those who believe Christ is God are condemned as living “in blasphemy”. Make special note of these passages, since many Muslims today raised in Western countries may not actually be familiar with them.

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            Islam thus incorrectly assumes that Christian belief in the Trinity is tritheism, belief in three gods, and therefore the unpardonable sin of shirk. In effect, the Qur’an teaches that Christians were misled or deluded into making Jesus and Mary ‘gods’ beside Allah (9:31, 19:88-92). This view of course ignores that Orthodox, Catholic and some Protestant Christians honor and venerate (see Luke 1:46-55, the scriptural text of the Magnificat), but do not worship Mary, and consider Jesus to be fully God, not God’s ‘partner’ or a separate god beside Him.

Interestingly, the Qur’an, which Muslims believe to be directly revealed from God, holds that Jesus performed many miracles (5:110, 3:49), but by Allah’s power, not his own. Jesus in the Qur’an is only God’s servant, His prophet. Curiously, the Qur’an refers to Jesus indirectly and by name almost one hundred times in fifteen suras (chapters), far more than it refers to the Prophet Muhammad.

The Qur’an holds Mariam (Mary) in very high regard. In Sura 3:42 the Qur’an calls her “chosen” of God and “pure”, the virgin whom God has “preferred above all the women of creation”. The only woman mentioned by name in the text, it mentions Mary far more than the New Testament does. She is highly honored throughout the book (21:91, 23:50), which affirms her annunciation from the angel Jibrail (Gabriel) and her virgin birth (19:19-22).

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            The Qur’an also promises Jesus’ Second Coming (43:61), yet ironically, Prophet Muhammad is not expected to return to earth. Muslims believe Jesus was a devout Muslim (one who submits to Allah), was the Messiah sent to preach to the people of Israel, and heralded the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.

In its view of Jesus, the Qur’an can be considered an antithesis or attempted refutation of the Christian Gospel. It explicitly denies the Crucifixion (4:157) and thereby the Resurrection, claiming instead that Jesus was assumed bodily into heaven without death. Prophet Muhammad, by contrast, died and was buried at Medina, Islam’s second holiest city in modern day Saudi Arabia, where he and his first supporters found refuge after the Meccans expelled them.

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Correcting two major misconceptions which Muslims tend to have about Christians

1)      “Don’t Christians believe in three gods?”

The Qur’an accuses Christians of believing in three gods. This shows a clear misunderstanding of the Trinity. If the person or group of Muslim friends you are talking with wants to learn a bit more, then you can discuss the Trinity with them, but it is important not to get bogged down in complicated theology. You should share that the only people who claim to be Christians who worship anything resembling three gods are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons, known among themselves as “Latter-day Saints” or LDS). Technically, Mormons are not tritheists, but henotheists because they believe in a possibly infinite number of ‘exalted’ beings who become gods through a process called exaltation, but they only worship the ‘Godhead’ of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Latter-day Saints are tritheists in the sense that they reject the Trinity, believing instead that the ‘Godhead’ of Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three ‘separate beings [gods] united in purpose’. This will likely horrify or shock your Muslim friends, since it fits the very definition of shirk in Islam. You can also share that Mormon prophets historically taught, and many Mormons still believe, that God the Father was once a man who they believe progressed through a process called exaltation to become God, and that He has a tangible body of flesh and bone.

This will horrify Muslims, as it horrifies you. Muslims are strict monotheists, so in establishing common ground with Muslims, you can repeatedly reiterate that you believe Mormons beliefs about God/gods are not yours.

2)      “Don’t Christians worship Mary?”

This is an area where many Orthodox and Catholic Christians struggle in convincing evangelical and some mainline Protestant Christians that we do not, in fact, “worship” Mary. You should make clear that while you venerate and honor Mary as the Virgin Mother of Christ, and therefore the Mother of God Incarnate, (God come into the flesh among Men), you absolutely do not worship her, for she, while exalted and made holy by the power of God, is still human, a created being, and therefore not deserving of worship.

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The Discussion: Planting doubt in a Muslim’s mind that Jesus was only a Prophet

1)      If Jesus never claimed He was God, but the Qur’an says that at his Second Coming Jesus will insist to Allah that he was merely acting as His prophet and servant, why does the Qur’an put Christians (along with Jews) in a relatively protected status as “People of the Book”? Our Holy Book, the Bible, transparently supports Jesus’ divinity, which is considered the sole unpardonable sin of shirk, that is, ascribing ‘partners’ to God. Why then does the Qur’an considers the Christian Scriptures, which, it claims, so distort Jesus’ true message heralding the coming of Muhammad, worthy of honor?

Why, if Jesus truly never said the things about Himself which the New Testament preserves about Him (His repeated claims to divinity and the path to salvation only through faith in Him), would Muhammad order his followers to leave Christians alone, when what we believe about Jesus is the very antithesis of what Prophet Muhammad taught about him, deserving of eternal “fire” (5:72) due to our “blasphemy” (5:17)?

From Islam’s perspective, Trinitarian Christians commit “shirk”, that unpardonable sin of making “partners” to the One God (Allah), so why then does the Qur’an often put us in a more positive light than it does Jews, when Jews are strict monotheists, closer to Islam’s standard for monotheism, than we Trinitarians?

2)      Islam claims to be the fulfillment and correction of both Judaism and Christianity, but nowhere in the Qur’an are Muslims urged to read the Torah or any of the books of the New Testament. The latter makes sense, given that the New Testament clearly lays out that Jesus is the Son of God and God Incarnate, but how can the Qur’an claim to be the fulfillment of Judaism and Christianity when its ‘predecessor’, Christianity, included the Jewish holy scriptures into its canonized scriptures (the Holy Bible) as the Old Testament, and yet Islam does not make any actual use of the Jewish scriptures or Christian ones? Also, given that Muslims mirror Jewish dietary practice by consuming only halal foods similar to Jewish kosher rules of slaughter, and see the Old Testament prophets, especially Adam, Moses, Elijah, and Ishmael, as forerunners of Jesus and Muhammad, why do Muslims still not use the Hebrew Scriptures?

3)      In the Qur’an, Jesus ascends to heaven by bodily assumption, he never dies, and he is foretold to return to earth at the Second Coming. Prophet Muhammad, on the other hand, died and was buried, did not ascend to heaven, and will never return to earth. Muslims at the Day of Judgment believe that Jesus will deny before Allah that he ever claimed divinity, yet Jesus alone of all the prophets in Islam was assumed bodily into heaven and will return to earth close to the Day of Judgment. Somehow, despite his bodily ascension, his miracles, his birth to a virgin, and his foretold return, Jesus is still considered only God’s servant, the same as the Prophet Muhammad or earlier prophets. This does not make sense when you consider that all other prophets, believed to have acted and performed miracles through Allah’s power and grace, died, were not born to virgins, did not ascend bodily to heaven, nor will any of them come again to this earth.

Ultimately, from a Christian perspective, the claims of the Qur’an about Jesus only being a Prophet come off as an attempt to ignore Jesus’ divinity or cover up the claims He made in the Bible, while limiting the miracle-performing parts of Jesus’ life, as well as his true role and scope as Messiah to the people of Israel. The result is a kind of ‘hybrid’ Jesus who is plainly greater than the other prophets given all the unique things the Qur’an teaches about him, but he is still emphatically not considered divine. Why thus did Islam’s greatest and founding prophet Muhammad die, never to return again, yet Jesus in the Qur’an never died, but is to return again to earth? Surely this means Jesus is greater in Islam than the Prophet Muhammad- yet such a statement outrages and offends devout Muslims!

4)     In the Qur’an Jesus’ mother Mariam (Mary) is held in very high regard. In fact, she often appears with the suffix “peace be upon her”, the only woman honored in this way by name in the Qu’ran. In fact, an entire sura (19) is named in her honor. In the text, Mary is a righteous virgin who is astonished when the angel Jibrail (Gabriel) appears to her and reveals that she would conceive Jesus not by a man, but by the “holy spirit of God”. Islam honors Adam, Abraham, Elijah, Ishmael, Moses, and most of the Old Testament prophets, yet no prophet’s mother, not even Muhammad’s, conceived virginally or by the “holy spirit of God”! In the Qur’an, Jesus also miraculously spoke at his birth (19:22-33); not even the New Testament has Jesus speaking at birth! Surely, a mere prophet does not speak from his cradle and proclaim himself, at birth, to be a prophet!

5)      A common explanation I’ve heard among Muslims for why Jesus could not possibly be divine is that in the Qur’an, there is a verse attesting that Jesus and Mary both had to eat food for sustenance.

“Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than a messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. . .” (5:75).

This is a really weak argument. If Allah, the One God, deigns or chooses to  become Incarnate in His infinite grace and love for the world, then why should He not, if He deigns to take on humanity, then eat? Why should He not do so? He is God, capable of all things, of anything He commands or wills! Why should He not partake of a small part of His creation, of some food? Just because God deigns to eat does not mean He needs to eat for sustenance!

Thus, Islam argues, the Christian understanding of Jesus must be some kind of weak or flawed ‘god’—a god who needs to eat, what kind of god can that be? Christianity sees Jesus as fully man and yet fully God, who loses none of His divine majesty and transcendent power by choosing to take on our humanity.

This is what befuddles Muslims more than anything, since they reject the Incarnation entirely, and so once you plant doubts in their mind about Jesus’ role as only a Prophet in Islam, you can hopefully begin to start talking to them about the Incarnation and how everything the Christian Scriptures ascribes to Christ, and indeed, the miracles recorded in the Qur’an, make much more sense as the accomplishments and will of God Incarnate, than a mere Prophet.

Realizing our life in Christ

We are called to love every person as a child of God made in His very image

If anyone professes that man is created in the very image of God, for men are all “children of the Most High” (Psalm 81:6 LXX), then it follows logically that the essential purpose of man’s life here, his very being, is to unceasingly worship His Creator through all his actions, by his words, and in his very demeanor, countenance and spirit.

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If anyone truly and sincerely claims this divine inheritance, through which we are called to “be perfect even as [our] Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), summoned to be “imitators of God as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1), and exhorted to become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), then he or she would naturally seek to conform the entirety of their life, the whole of their inner heart and the depths of their noetic mind, to glorify and praise God in all ways and at every moment.

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Even the etymology of the word by which we have been known to the world since the first days after Christ ascended to heaven, ‘Christians’, from the Greek Χριστιανών, means ‘little anointed ones’. How then can a Christian, a little Christ, thus truly be a disciple of the Lord, much less aspire to mystical union with Him through participation in the divine energies, if he or she does not live, show and even breathe Christ in all they do, from the depths of their being? How can we be Christians, how can our lives be a “Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15 NLT) if we do not truly love all those around us?

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The simple answer is the logical one. If the very essence of the Christian life is to worship and glorify the boundless and ineffable grace, mercy and majesty of God, if the core calling for all humanity is to worship Christ the Savior by loving and honoring His image present in each of His children – even the lowliest or ugliest or rudest person – then any person who does not understand this simplest of the Lord’s commandments (John 13:34, Matthew 22:37-40, Deuteronomy 6:5) cannot, in truth, be numbered among His anointed ones (Matthew 25:34-46).

Our highest calling as Christians is to do as St Paul wrote to the Ephesians in Asia Minor, walking “in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling fragrance.” (Ephesians 5:1-2, KJV). Among all those who lovingly honor Christ’s commandments, we know that the Lord “abideth in him, and he in Him. And in this we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.” (1 John 3:24, Douay-Rheims version).

Certainly, the idea of conforming one’s actions, one’s approach to living and thinking, and even the eye of one’s noetic heart to live chiefly to glorify God runs completely contrary to what “the world” values today, especially in its prevailing secular outlooks of modernism and relativism, which challenge and question the very concept and existence of objective Truth.

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This is why the true heart of the Christian Gospel appears as foolishness to those who live and think and have their being in and of the world, outside of a yearning for God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Indeed, St. John the Theologian, beloved apostle of the Lord, reminds us that our love, if truly selfless, is something the world not only often fails to understand, but indeed, because it is selfless, is something the world often despises:

“Wonder not, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death.” (1 John 3:13-14, Douay-Rheims version).

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Yet if we truly hold to the faith we have received (Jude 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 1 Corinthians 11:2), living out the essential message of the Holy Scriptures and the universal witness of the ancient and holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church, if we rest assured in the vast reservoir of wisdom handed down through centuries of martyrs, confessors, evangelists, teachers and pastors of the revealed Truth, how natural and joyous it is to be a Christian, to take upon ourselves the mantle of Christ crucified for love of the world, even a love it does not want or understand!

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, KJV)

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What a fathomless blessing it is to participate in the divine energies, the very manifestations and grace of God active in the world, indeed, in all who are open to it, through the invisible power and action of the Holy Spirit. It is by our participation in the energies of God that we are motivated, strengthened, and beckoned forth to show the world that we are truly little Christs by our selfless and genuine love for all His children. This love, fired by faith, is the spring, the catalyst in our souls, for our transformation in Christ, our divinization:

“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:34-35, Douay-Rheims version).

For just as we remember St. Paul’s admonition that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26), so too do we recall that works done without a loving spirit of real devotion to the other lack the spirit and grace of God. For any works lacking in love is are not true examples of loving kindness by which we truly desire to serve, selflessly, as little Christs unto our brothers and sisters:

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20, King James Version).

Mother Teresa with baby