Orthodox Survival Course
St. Irene Orthodox Church
Rochester Hills, Michigan
The notes below are just a brief summary of everything that we talk about. For the most benefit, listen to the audio! The podcast of this session can be listened to at www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-8
Class 8 – The Church of the Romans: Topic 5, Church and Nation
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, after whom every family [Gk patria = paternity, family, nation] in heaven and earth is named… Ephesians 3:14-15
[God] hath made out of one blood every nation [Gk ethnos] of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us… – the words of St. Paul to the Athenians, Acts 17: 26-27
Once, when He descended and confounded the tongues, the Most High divided the nations; and when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity; and with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit.- the Kontakion of Pentecost
Introduction – I had originally intended to treat the Church’s relationship to the nation and to the state in one session, but later I realized that we really needed two classes to discuss these two related yet distinct questions. The nation is the organic reality of a people formed over many generations and united by some combination of religion, blood, language, soil, and culture, which may or may not enjoy its own proper political independence, sovereignty, and unity. Some nations have endured for many centuries as identifiable ethnic entities under the rule of other people, but they are still nations. The state is the political system set up over a nation or, in the case of an empire, a group of nations. Historically and theologically, the Church has a relationship to both of these things as distinct yet related realities. Tonight we will discuss Church and nation.
When we come to our study of the West after the schism and the rise of secular culture during the Renaissance, we will notice that a key element of the new, post-Orthodox culture, is the glorification of the individual. This individualism, which has come to be seen as a defining “Western value,” is inimical to the Christian Faith and to one’s salvation, because it ignores two fundamental structures God designed to be the mandatory schools of love and self-sacrifice, within which the Christian must function to be truly human as well as truly Christian: the family and the nation, which is the natural extension of the family. An orphaned and rootless person with no family, no nation, no identity other than simply being a human being, can be saved, but only with great difficulty. God designed family and nation, and the Church baptized whole families, tribes, and nations, as the normal framework within which the soul can find its way with greater ease and security to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Back to Genesis – Patriarchy, Family, and Nations
Monogamy, fruitfulness, patriarchy – The family, of course, goes back to the beginning of the human race, an integral part of God’s design for man. God creates Adam, creates Eve from his rib, and commands them to “increase and multiply.” In the book of Genesis there are several genealogies, tracing the “increase and multiplication” of the various races of man, father to son. Thus we see monogamous marriage marked by fruitful childbearing and patriarchy from the very beginning, as God’s plan for the human race. In all subsequent human history, these three pillars of the family – monogamy, fruitfulness, and patriarchy – are the mark of healthy societies and strong nations,
and in particular they are the only arrangement for family life blessed by the Church. Societies marked by matriarchy, the avoidance of childbearing, and/or polygamy, polyandry, and so forth, are invariably stunted, chaotic, and degenerate in comparison.
The division into races of men – Before the Flood, the great division in the races is between the sons of Cain and the sons of Seth, the wicked and the good. Finally the sons of Seth, except for Noah, are seduced by the beauty of the daughters of the Cainites, they fall away, the entire human race becomes depraved, and God destroys all but Noah and his immediate family by the Flood, after which Noah becomes the father of the human race all over again. His descendants in turn become corrupt, attempt to build the Tower of Babel, and are scattered by God across the face of the earth. This scattering, with its concomitant multiplication of languages, is the origin of the races and nations of man we see until this day.
Thus the origin of the races is due to sin, but creating the various races or nations was the act of God, in order to limit the spread of sin, and therefore the division into various races and nations is blessed by God and becomes part of His plan for man’s salvation. It is essential to understand that all plans in history to create a “universal brotherhood of man” apart from the grace-filled unity of the Church contradict the express will of God.
II. The Chosen People
After the division of the nations, God chose one nation, the descendants of Abraham through Isaac, to be the Old Testament Church. The prophets prophesied the day when all the nations would be called into God’s Church, but the carnal-minded among the Old Testament Church stubbornly refused to accept their word and persecuted and killed several of them. When the leaders of the Jewish race turned against the promised Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, they decisively chose to worship their own race over God Himself. This ethno-idolatry is the “flip side” of the coin of universalist utopianism, the One World idea. Both are heretical.
III. The Pentecostal Unity
As expressed by the Kontakion of Pentecost, which we read above, God restored human unity in the Church. In so doing, He did not eradicate racial or national differences, as indicated by the Apostles’ miraculously speaking in the various tongues of the nations gathered in Jerusalem. Rather, He sanctified and elevated national characters, creating a spiritual unity among the diversity of nations, just as He does not eradicate our personalities and make us uniform “clones” as we grow in the Orthodox
Faith, but rather enhances and sanctifies our unique personalities as we simultaneously, paradoxically, grow closer in spiritual unity with each other. In the Church we have the true and life-giving “diversity” and “multicultural” humanity, as opposed to the deadly uniformity created when fallen man tries to create a “global society.”
The Church Herself is supernatural and supranational. She is from above, a divine institution. She is not limited to one nation, but gathers all the nations into a supranational unity in the Body of Christ. This unity, however, does not destroy personal, family, clan, national, or racial characteristics, but elevates and sanctifies them.
The Roman Empire and the Nations
The Roman Empire was not an ethnic group but a vast polity encompassing many ethnic groups. The Hellenistic culture of the society in which the early New Testament Church first grew was not a racial phenomenon but rather a paideia, a training to live as civilized men. Just as the Church gathered in the nations, into spiritual unity that simultaneously allowed the healthy expressions of race and nation, so the Empire and its ancient culture, baptized by the Church, hosted and leavened a multitude of nations that today still trace their origins to Church and to Empire. At first the Church baptized the existing nations within the Empire, peoples who already possessed the civilized arts. Later, with the incursion of the barbarian tribes into the Empire, and the missionary outreach of the Church outside the Empire, the Church gave birth ab initio to entire Christian nations, giving formerly uncivilized people the arts of civilization. As She made Christians out of heathens, she simultaneously made Romans out of barbarians. This process characterizes in particular the baptism of the German and Celtic nations by the Western Church and the baptism of the Slavic nations by the Eastern Church.
The Church of the first millennium then, prior to the schism, both East and West, understood Herself as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, supernatural and supranational, but at the same time a communion of local or national churches, each of which possessed the fulness of the catholic faith and unity with the entire Church, Whose mission was not to obliterate but rather elevate and develop the character of the newly baptized nations. By remaining faithful to God’s plan for the human race to remain divided into nations, the Church avoids the heresy of universalist utopianism, of chiliasm. By insisting on the ontological oneness of the universal Church in Her dogmas, priesthood, and Holy Mysteries, the Church avoids the heresy of ethno-idolatry. From “the rising of the sun to the setting thereof,” the Church is One.
Later, after the Schism, the exaggerated pretensions of the papacy will develop into a type of universalist chiliasm, and, later still, the Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment will encourage the growth of individualism. These two errors will lead the West farther and farther away from the diversity in unity and unity in diversity of the Catholic Church.