Orthodox Survival Course, Class 72: Orthodoxy in America – Rendering Unto Caesar, Part I 

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc72

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Introduction –   

We promised last time to continue a discussion of what it means to live as an Orthodox Christian and somehow also to be American. This discussion should prove useful not only for those living in the United States, of course, because “American” ideas about society and government have come to influence the whole world in one way or another.  Today I’d like to ponder with you a specific moral question and its application to life in the United States and other nations that have adopted republican government inspired by the American example:  What does it mean, in general, to obey the civil authority, as commanded by the Old and New Testaments and the Tradition of the Church?  What does it mean, in particular, to those under a republican constitutional authority as opposed to a monarchy?  

You may recall that two years ago this summer I gave two talks in Serbia about the Covid crisis, the content of which became Survival Course Class 57, entitled “The Corona Delusion in the Light of Truth.”  (If you would like to read again what I said, you can read the text here https://orthodoxtruth.org/uncategorized/orthodox-survival-course-class-57-the-corona-delusion-in-the-light-of-truth/, and you can listen to the audio podcast here:  https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc-57.    

Two years later, this year in 2022, a bishop who is a member of our Holy Synod edited the original videos of the talks in Serbia, taking out the Serbian interpreter’s interjections in order to create a continuous all-English presentation.  He then added a contemporary, interpretive introduction, in which one of our pious American laymen states the obvious, that the actual experience of the last two years has verified what we were saying in 2020.   The speaker magnifies the poignancy of this melancholy fact by narrating his own family’s needless suffering caused by the civil and medical authorities’ anti-God, anti-human, and anti-scientific Covid policies.  The producer published this video on his Greek Orthodox Television channel on YouTube. YouTube, of course, promptly took it down (a badge of honor!), and it may now be seen on Rumble, here:   https://rumble.com/v15va4j-the-corona-virus-fraud-in-the-light-of-truth.html.   

Not everyone in the Orthodox world, however, agrees with my explanation of this situation even now, despite two years of our being traumatized by the carnage and chaos of the crazy Covid regime.  There are even some clergymen who still maintain that to disobey the Covidian establishment, or even to point out what is wrong with the Covid regime, is a sin, because it encourages Christians to “disobey the government,” which is a violation of Christian morality.  The ineluctable conclusion of their argument is that the utterly godless and impersonal bureaucratic agencies and their enforcers, the increasingly KGB-style security apparatus, of 2020s America – or of the E.U. or other, similar technocratic polities – possess all the sacred authority bestowed by God upon the “ruler” as understood in Sacred Scripture, and therefore to disobey the command of such an august and God-appointed authority – when they command you to close the doors of Orthodox churches or abandon one’s parents to die alone in a nursing home without the sacraments or destroy one’s livelihood or retard one’s children’s education or even to inject oneself and one’s children with genetic engineering technology created by experimentation with aborted fetuses – to refuse to do any one of these things when commanded by such a “holy” government constitutes disobedience to Almighty God and renders one liable to the divine judgment.   I know that this sounds absurd, dangerous, and immoral, but it does represent the actual position openly stated or least implied by the writings of some of the reverend gentlemen who from sincere intention – no doubt – but with mistaken judgment are still preaching absolute obedience to the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, and their technocratic satraps in state and local health departments. 

We should welcome the open statement of such an indefensible position, however,  because the task of rebutting it provides an opportunity to explore what are genuine and important questions:   How does the Scriptural command to obey the ruler and to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s apply to us today, and in what circumstances?   In what sense are the present day civil authorities God-appointed rulers?   Is obedience to every command of the contemporary national government a moral obligation?  What does good citizenship entail for an Orthodox Christian in a non-Orthodox republic, according to the principles of the American or similar constitutions?  

These are real-life questions for us, and we need to find answers – if not theoretically perfect answers, at least working hypotheses – as soon as we can, because, as we all know by now, the Covid experiment was designed, among other sinister reasons, to test how much criminal chaos the People in Charge can instigate with impunity:   how far can they push a critical mass of the people to go in the direction of destroying themselves by obeying the most absurd and counter-intuitive policies, supposedly in the service of a dimly understood and constantly mutating concept like “public health” or “public safety,” over a period of time during which the goal of “health” or “safety”  becomes an ever receding horizon, because the People in Charge continually re-define it in order to serve their agenda of gaining absolute and universal power over the human race?     In other words, we need to understand what our contemporary government really is and what obedience we really owe them, because these manufactured crises are probably going to continue on a predetermined schedule for the rest of our lives, and we have to be prepared to make a response pleasing to God.  We want to obey God’s command to respect the authorities He places over us; we want to be good citizens.  Good Christians have always tried to be good subjects or good citizens.   So we urgently need to form a clear understanding of the kind of authorities  we are now dealing with and to what extent and in what way the Scriptural principle of obedience to the civil authority applies to them.  

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that what I am about to say is not, as far as I know, an official position taken by a specific Orthodox hierarchy, as a formal ecclesiastical judgment on the subject.  I am simply speaking as a man, an American citizen, a Christian, and a priest, who has a moral obligation to speak the truth in public and not shrink from controversy for fear of contradiction. 

Where Does Government Come From?  

The Orthodox Church does not teach anarchism.  All legitimate civil authority comes from God. Our Lord, as we all know, commands us to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.   His great Apostle St. Paul summarizes the orthodox position succinctly in Romans 13:   

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. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.   –    Romans 13: 1 – 7.   

The fundamental teaching here is not complicated.  Human beings are naturally social; they live in societies, and not only societies in a general sense, but specifically in polities, that is, societies that function under some kind of political constitution; as Aristotle says, man is naturally a “political animal.” God established rulers over the nations, in order to curb the spread of evil, to bear the sword in order to punish evildoers.   

Because of the Ancestral Sin, people are flawed and they do bad things. If they are allowed to do whatever they want, evil will prevail as the stronger devour the weaker in a never ending war of all against all.  In order for us to live together peacefully, therefore, someone has to be in charge, preferably someone who loves the True, the Good, and the Beautiful,  and possesses enough coercive power to protect those who also love these things, which necessarily includes the power to chastise those who teach false things, do evil things, and make ugly things.   So God delegates a limited portion of His authority to a ruler:  a high priest, a prince, a magistrate, a general…someone has to be in charge. How do you know that the ruler really possesses authority from God?  Simple:  He bears his sword not in vain, but as a terror to evil works and not to good works.  When he does this, this is the evidence that his authority is from God.  No legitimate human authority is unlimited and arbitrary.  To the extent that a ruler acts as a man above the law, or as a framer and enforcer of evil laws that do not reflect the divine law – when he bears the sword to be a terror to good works and a promoter of evil works – he is outside the law, no longer a legal authority, and himself subject to the punishment prescribed by the law for his behavior.   

The ruler who is God’s representative, as St.Paul says,  is, then, a terror to evil works but not to good works.  To the extent that a ruler becomes a promoter of evil works and a terror to good works, he becomes no longer a ruler but a criminal.  He loses his delegated divine authority, loses the respect and obedience of his people,  and if he does not repent, then at some point he has to be replaced.  Various political constitutions, from the earliest recorded history to our own time,  have allowed for various legitimate mechanisms for resisting and, if necessary, replacing a criminal authority, means either peaceful or violent depending on what is needed.  This is just as true in the history of monarchies as it is in the history of republics, just as true in Christian as well as non-Christian polities.  This process of a ruler’s losing his legitimacy –  losing his claim to being God’s representative because of his crimes and thereby losing his claim on his people’s obedience – has been repeated countless times in the history of every civilized nation, as everyone knows who has read one good survey of the history of civilization.   This is not an obscure or isolated bit of information:  every educated person is familiar with this oft-repeated drama that recurs throughout human history. 

To summarize then:  God established human political authority from the beginning, because people are sinful and they need to be ruled. But legitimate government is neither unlimited, nor arbitrary, nor above the law.   Moral persons, including Christians, do not owe unconditional and unthinking obedience to any human authorities, even Christian authorities, much less to non-Christian authorities, and especially not to explicitly anti-Christian authorities, which is what we have today. To regard any human institution as possessing an unlimited claim to obedience is idolatry, a sin against the First Commandment. A legitimate polity in the eyes of God, whether Christian or non-Christian, is neither a brainwashing cult, nor a a hive of insects lacking free will, nor a contraption designed as a machine with human beings as mindless cogs in the machine.  A legitimate political authority is a carefully defined and thereby carefully limited human institution possessing an authority delegated from God, and it must possess just enough power – not too little and not too much – to curb the bad and to promote the good, in accordance with the divine law and with those human laws that do not conflict with the divine law.  That is all.      

The American Constitution 

The American founding was not a thoroughly Christian project, and the American constitution is not a thoroughly Christian document, as some heretical Christians who love America fondly like to think, along with some non-Christians who hate both America and Christianity.   The Founding Fathers were a collection of heretical Christians and of Deists who were in some cases also Freemasons, including the Father of our Country, George Washington.      But the American founding was not devoid of Christian influence; it could not help but reflect a thousand years of English Christianity. Our constitution was not a thing entirely new under the sun, not a thoroughly modern document consisting only of 18th century Enlightenment ideology.   Equally influential on American political thought of the time was the English constitutional tradition, which reaches back to the first millennium, to pre-Norman, Orthodox England.   

The Norman conquerors found that they could not entirely wipe out the Old English love of local rule, property rights, and personal freedom.  As a matter of fact, the Norman nobility gradually imbibed these principles to a great extent; they realized that they were good ideas, and that it was lot more enjoyable to rule a free people who loved you than an enslaved people who hated you.  The famous Magna Carta extracted from King John by the church and the nobility in 1215, considered the foundational document of Anglo-American political thought, is in essence a re-statement of principles that all Englishmen had believed in for centuries; it was not really a new thing. Trial by a jury of one’s peers, the right to habeas corpus, the security of one’s property from seizure by the government, the inviolability of private homes from unwarranted intrusion by the police or military  – these are anciently understood principles based on revealed and natural divine law, and a long tradition of human law, not newly invented ideas from the 18th century that the American Founders somehow discovered for the first time.  Insofar as they were upholding these ideas, the American Founders were simply insisting on their rights as Englishmen, not inventing a new list of human rights unknown to man before the Enlightenment. 

It is critical – and for many people, revelatory – to understand that these old English Christian ideas are not secularist, anti-royalist, and anticlerical Enlightenment ideology; they are ancient and traditional conceptions rooted in the law of God, in the understanding that every man is made in the image of God and must be respected as such, that all human beings live in families, and that families need a sufficient amount of freedom and of property in order to fulfill their purpose, which is to enable their members to live according to virtue.   Families cannot provide or guarantee freedom and property for themselves by themselves; a family, as Aristotle observes, is not a perfect society in the sense of being self-sufficient,  of being able by itself to fulfill all its needs; it needs the state.  The state is doing its job to the extent that it performs this function.  Authorities that do the opposite, and keep doing the opposite without repentance, thus disobey the will of God, and such authorities do at some point lose their divine sanction, meriting first the resistance of their subjects and finally their own destruction at the hands of some agency either directly willed or allowed by God.  

These principles have been enshrined in both monarchical and republican constitutions, in various ways throughout the history of both Anglo-Saxon and Continental politics and jurisprudence.   Whatever is good about our American political thought comes from this ancient lineage of thought and practice, not from the 18th century abstractions and delusions usually cited by American liberals and most American “conservatives” to support their idolatrous civil religion of American exceptionalism.    Whatever American political thought has in common with ancient  Christian tradition is good.  Whatever it has in common with the French Revolution is bad.   That’s a reliable rule of thumb you can use as you try to understand how an Orthodox Christian should regard our constitutional tradition.    

“A republic, if you can keep it…” 

Benjamin Franklin, when asked what the Founders had created by drafting our Constitution, famously responded “A republic, if you can keep it.”  Franklin was a deist and a freethinker, and therefore I am not recommending him as a fountain of Christian wisdom.  But he was also a devoted student of history, and he understood that monarchical polities are inherently stable and tough, and they tend to last, while republican polities are inherently unstable and fragile, because they require so much work to keep them going, and with few exceptions, such as the commercial republic of Venice, they tend not to last for long. 

If we examine history carefully, we note that successful republics all have some attributes in common: They work only when they function on a small scale, and when their citizenry is homogenous in race, language, religion, and culture, and when the citizens are well educated, pious towards ancestral tradition, and highly disciplined.  The paradigmatic case study for the rise and fall of republics, valid for all time, is the history of the Roman Republic and its degeneration into moral corruption and resultant tyranny as it acquired an empire.   The American people, so far inferior to the old Romans in so many ways, could not be expected to keep their republic for long, and indeed they have by now almost entirely lost it after only two centuries, a brief moment in the story of the human race.  Since the latter half of the 19th century, we have witnessed a transition from a limited republican government of a free people with diffused and decentralized centers of power to an increasingly powerful and consolidated government under the control of a financial and commercial oligarchy devoted entirely to its own private interests, that uses the appearance of republican institutions to pursue its aim of the unlimited expansion of its wealth and power.   Because the American constitution is wisely constructed, and because our country is so big and hard to control, and because the core American population from the European racial stock has proved harder to kill than anticipated, this transition is even now not quite complete – somehow, miraculously, the oligarchy has not killed us yet.   But the end does seem to be near, unless the Lord grants us a respite that human calculation cannot predict based on current evidence. 

There are three points here to consider when asking this question about “obeying our government”.   

The first point is that our old republican system is nearly dead, and that our elections, at least on the national level, can effect very little change, both because the candidates on both sides are usually beholden to the same unelected interest groups and because there is now a vast, unelected bureaucracy dedicated to its own power and incapable of being ousted by the electoral process.  The Founding Fathers wisely limited the franchise to male heads of household who owned property, paid taxes, were not on public assistance, and were not atheists.  They assumed that the voter would be a propertied gentleman or landholding yeoman of European Christian origins who was literate, patriotic, and at least nominally religious. Republics require such cultural homogeneity and such an aristocratic limitation of the franchise simply to exist, or, if they are not transformed into virtuous monarchies, they will naturally degenerate into criminal oligarchies or tyrannies as successive generations of demagogues sway the minds of what is no longer really a citizenry, but rather a vast and confused multitude of competing ethnic and religious groups who are not capable of republican government, but rather need a virtuous and powerful monarchy that will to grant each group its rightful place in the polity and enable each group to maintain its own religious and cultural traditions while contributing to the overall good of the commonwealth.  In the United States, however, such a monarchy and such a carefully confederated imperium of religious and traditional ethnicities never came into existence.  Rather, what we have now is a confused multitude of deracinated individuals held together only by the shared venal interests of money, pleasure, and entertainment, easily manipulated by a small financial oligarchy that uses the power of brainwashing technology and a powerful security apparatus to enforce their policies.   In each generation, those in power appeal to lower and lower passions to retain the loyalty of the stupefied masses, and both rulers and ruled sink into a moral degeneracy incapable of virtuous self-government. 

Therefore when the apologists for absolute obedience to the current regime tell us that we must close our churches and inject ourselves with poisons when ordered by those in power to do so, and that if we don’t like it, we should not complain, because the next election will give us the opportunity to change our national leadership, they are demonstrating simple ignorance of our political history and our current situation.  The American republic as originally conceived no longer exists; we are ruled by a small oligarchy of private interests who have usurped our institutions and work openly and explicitly in defiance of our constitution, and therefore no longer constitute legitimate authority in the sense intended by the Founders.   Insofar as the laws of the United States, our several states, and our local polities still accord with the revealed and natural divine law, we should of course continue to obey them (we should still stop at stop signs and not rob banks!) – these wise laws were, after all, framed by our virtuous fathers, not these monsters who rule us today from the imperial capital of Washington D.C., which has degenerated from the capital of a confederated republic of free states into the administrative front office of a consolidated corporation owned by an Antichrist globalist cabal.  The ipse dixit of these criminal monsters does not bind us under pain of mortal sin, especially when they use anti-constitutional means to compel us to do things that really are sins, like closing our churches, abandoning the elderly, injecting poisons into our children, and employing pharmaceuticals resulting from research involving infanticide.

The second point is this:  The Church cannot tell her faithful in America that we are Americans and must function under our American laws, but at the same time tell us to render to such a government that especial reverence and obedience due only to traditional monarchical authority.   It’s either one or the other.   Either the American government is not due reverence because it is not a Christian monarchy or the American republic does possess the divine sanction of a legitimate government, and, since we are Americans whether we like it or not, we have a moral obligation to act as conscientious American citizens, literate in our constitutional tradition, and active by all honorable means to restore the stability and constitutional legitimacy of our stolen republic. Yes, our country has degenerated from a patriotic and virtuous republic of European Christian stock into a motley commercial empire dominated by an internationalist and non-Christian interest group. But the mechanisms of our old republic are still the only political framework within which we can still function, if we are to fulfill our duty as citizens.  Real American law allows for various means to resist usurped authority, and those means are certainly not limited to elections.   The Second Amendment to the Constitution is a clear example. 

 The third point:  A tiny, usurious, cosmopolitan, Christ-hating oligarchy, fanatically devoted to the imposition of their cult of human sacrifice and sodomy, and cynically manipulating the mechanisms of our one-time republic to hasten the advent of the One World Ruler and One World Religion, possesses the authority neither of a  constitutional republican leadership nor a divinely established monarchy.  They are simply a criminal gang, and, under the laws of God and man, they deserve the response that law-abiding men are morally obliged to offer to criminal powers who by deliberate policy violate the sanctity of their homes, spit on the Christian religion, and desecrate the image of God in man. 

 Is it really that bad?  

 Wait a second, you may be saying, is it really that bad?  Has our national government really been transformed into an unconstitutional, anti-Christian instrument of oppression wielded by international interests dedicated to the project of One World Government and One World Religion, a form of government explicitly forbidden by God and therefore not qualifying for the reverence owed the ruler as understood in Scripture?  If not, if the American republic is still essentially intact, and if our nation’s rulers are still really 1. Patriotic national authorities dedicated to national sovereignty and not One World Government, and 2. Are dedicated to curbing the evil and promoting the good, according to revealed and natural law, then perhaps Fr. Steven is wrong and those who disagree with his position on the Covid policies – and all the other similar programs of our rulers – are right!  We must obey them, no matter what!    

 We’ll answer that question next time. 

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