“Give ear, you that rule over multitudes and boast of many nations. For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High, Who will search out your plans. Because as servants of his kingdom you do not rule rightly or keep the law or walk according to the purpose of God, He will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because sever judgment falls on those in high places” (Wisdom of Solomon 6:2-5).
Ultimately, every earthly authority is allowed by God. Even evil rulers do not arise outside of the knowledge of God. Evil rulers are permitted as a result of mankind’s rebellion against God. They are the result of humanity’s perversion and abuse of free will. Nonetheless, every ruler, be they evil or just, unbelieving or believing, will answer before God for the authority that they wielded over other men.
Earthly governmental authority is a lesser authority in comparison to the Gospel because it is a passing fading authority. It has a proper and needed place in this world, but it is passing away with this world. Just and beneficial government is indeed a blessing and to be desired and sought for, but it is still passing away. Worldly governmental authority left to its own powers, unchecked by eternal restraints, inevitably descends into tyranny. It sets itself up as god and raising an image of itself on the plains of mortal existence, demands that everyone bow down before it.
There is, of course, a proper symphony between earthly authority and Heavenly but that is not my subject at current.
For the faithful Christian, the Truth of the Lord Jesus Christ is the all-encompassing and ultimate Truth. In light of the Truth of the Holy Faith, the Christian is called to evaluate and subordinate everything else. The most authoritative standard for a Christian is the Truth of the Faith.
One of the aspects of what has been called “Sergianism” is precisely an ungodly subordination of the Heavenly Kingdom to the kingdoms of this fading age. (In truth the Heavenly Kingdom cannot be subjected to them, but members of the Church may make themselves servants of passing kingdoms rather than servants of the Eternal Kingdom.) Sergianism, or also called “Adaptation,” confesses a false separation of the spiritual needs of man into purely religious and the socio-political. It reduces the church to an institution that exists only to satisfy the “religious needs” of people. It would say that in the spheres of “politics,” “science,” and “medicine,” as a few examples, “we must leave it to the experts.” “Faith has nothing to say on the matter; we must follow the experts of the fields in question.” In such a state, religion becomes a cheerleader for the “wisdom of this age.”
Frequently, themes and talking points are imported directly from the world and its corresponding authority, with little to no discretion. Sadly, in our times, many of the sources of “worldly wisdom” are anything but godly people. Yet, somehow, they have a clarity of thought in their secular field which is worth following. Never mind that many are openly hostile to faithful Orthodox Christianity.
“Adaptation” remains, essentially, a slavish subordination of the Faith (as if possible) to “secular” powers. There have been plenty of examples in just the past years and the past century. In reality, this falsehood did not originate with Sergius of Russia and his capitulation to Soviet power. Although one might say that the symptoms advanced in a much greater degree under him and others in the 20th century.
As always, the lives of the saints provide timeless wisdom for us. I will draw on two examples. One from the life of St. John Chrysostom and the other from St. Theodore the Studite. Both examples are taken from the November volume of the Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, by St. Dimitry of Rostov.
St. John Chrysostom was a fearless upholder of Orthodoxy. At his speech upon being elevated to the patriarchal throne of Constantinople, he makes clear that he will not shy away from calling civil authority to the eternal standard of the Gospel. “May Your Piety (the Emperor, my note) know that I shall not fail to reprove and correct you when necessary, even as the prophet Nathan did not hesitate to upbraid King David for his transgression” (pg. 266).
It would be a blessing if the clergy of our day had this courage. Sadly, certain ones even pander to outright ungodly world leaders – to the point of showering them with awards – those who brazenly support the unrestrained murder of children in the womb; those who champion “population control,” which entails systematically reducing the global population of humans – i.e. a purposeful killing of people to reduce population; those who clearly work for the destruction of Christian teachings and morals; those who actively subvert and deconstruct the family; those who exploit their fellow man like cattle for personal gain. Such are the ones that even some Orthodox leaders laud and seek approval from!
Do we think as Christians that God will bless our adulterous union with ungodly powers of our days? Indeed, if it is from them that we seek protection and approval, then we will suffer the same fate as them. But if we place our hope in the Most Holy Trinity, He will be our refuge and fortress.
St. John’s simple upholding of Orthodoxy eventually aggravated many who then began to resent and oppose him. One such person was the Empress of Byzantium, Eudoxia. In various ways the Empress strove by both flattery and threats to bring St. John under her control. “Cease your opposition to us, and do not interfere in matters of state,” she told the saint.
St. John’s response to the various threats of Eudoxia is of great instructive value for us, “The Empress desires that I should be like a corpse, which sees no evil and neither hears the voices of the wronged, their weeping and sighs, nor says anything to accuse those who sin. But since I am a bishop and the care of souls has been entrusted to me, I must watch over all with a never-sleeping eye and hear the petitions of all, instructing and upbraiding those who do not wish to repent. Indeed, I know that if I do not censure iniquity and chastize transgressors, I bring about my own damnation. I fear to keep silence in the face of evil, lest the words of Hosea serve to condemn me: The priests have hid the way of the Lord (Hos. 6) … In my sermons I do not denounce the iniquitous, but iniquity … I will not cease to speak the truth. It is better for me to please God than man, for if I yet please men, I should not be a servant of Christ” (pg. 281-282).
The spirit of Adaptation desires that Christians – especially clergy – be like a corpse. In fact, to be a corpse becomes a virtue! Dead to the things of God and alive to the dictates of the world. Just swing your censer but don’t interfere with things outside of the four walls of your church building. The spirit of the age constantly seeks to emasculate Christianity. It fears the voice of truth above anything; it fears the courage of the saints. Thus, it seeks in various ways to silence any voices of truth. It seeks to contain and control especially clergy, making them obedient preachers of the spirit of compromise.
St. John understood that it is a vital vocation of the Church to call the authorities of this age to the account of the Gospel – the Eternal. The authority of the Faith is a greater authority than all earthly powers. To sacrifice the inner life of the Church to preserve the outer institution ends in spiritual suicide.
Vain is any attempt to seek and keep the good rapport of worldly authorities, those who sacrifice inner life for the sake of external preservation only become slaves to the worldly powers that they pander to. When the approval of the world is desired then the inner life is sacrificed, and when it is sacrificed one is but left with sterile institution.
The powers of this world brought all to bear to crush St. John. He was exiled to a distant land and died in poverty. Yet, his eternal triumph is visible to all who have eyes to see.
During the terrible period of the heresy of iconoclasm, an encounter and exchange between St. Theodore the Studite and Emperor Leo the Armenian (early 800’s) provide another profitable example of the Christian relationship to earthly authority.
“Leo the Armenian made a show of piety and meekness when he first ascended the throne, but as he firmly established his power, he gathered around him those who shared his unholy beliefs (i.e. iconoclasm, my note). They began to blaspheme the holy icons and to revile those who venerate them, calling them fools” (pg. 206).
It is interesting to note the hypocrisy of Leo, which ultimately will be a feature of the Antichrist. Such worldly powers play pious and good, they wear a mask, and when they consider their power secure, they always reveal their true intentions. This is why the Christian is called to cultivate discernment. False appearances are very much a part of our modern political systems. Much evil is passed under the cover of “good intentions.”
The Patriarch of Constantinople, Nicephorus, together with St. Theodore and other pious clergy, subsequently reproved the emperor for his impiety. It is interesting to note that the heresy of Iconoclasm began, in great part, as a government policy under an earlier Emperor also named Leo (the 3rd) in the 730’s. To a certain degree, it entered the Church because some of the clergy chose to appease worldly authority over upholding the Truth of the Faith. This is an early manifestation of “Adaptation.”
Maybe early on some could just claim, “But we are just obeying government edicts!”
St. Theodore’s eloquent defense of icons before the Emperor is indeed very profitable but outside the scope of this article. Of interest to our theme is Emperor Leo’s response to St. Theodore and what follows, “The Emperor replied, ‘We know that you always speak foolishly and that your are a contentious man, proud and eager to dispute with all … If your refuse to submit to my authority, your foolishness and obstinacy will be punished in a fitting manner’” (pg. 209).
It is worth noting how many times those who are simply striving to hold to the truth are labeled as “contentious, proud, and eager for disputes” by those who are seeking to alter the truth in some way. St. Nikodemus the Hagiorite teaches, “Those who do what is outside of the commandment of God are the ones who cause scandal and disorder, and not those who struggle as much as they can to keep the Master’s commandments” (Concerning Frequent Communion, Uncut Mountain Press, pg. 168).
The narrative continues, “The blessed Theodore took up the sword of the Spirit and answered the Emperor thus, ‘Know, O Emperor, that it is not your affair to review or alter the ordinances of the Church. It lies within your power to judge and resolve worldly matters, but ecclesiastical matters are the concern of the hierarchs and teachers of the Church. It is for you to but obey and submit to these authorities. Thus the Apostle says, God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers (cf. 1 Cor. 12), but he makes no mention of kings. And there are other passages in the Scriptures where it is said that the teachers of the Church are to concern themselves with ecclesiastical affairs, but they say nothing of kings.’
The Emperor then demanded, ‘Would you therefore cast me out of the Church?’
The saint replied, ‘It is not I but the traditions of the divine apostles and the Holy Fathers which drive you out. For should an angel from heaven preach unto us what is contrary to the holy faith, let him be anathema. If you wish to remain in the Church of Christ together with us who venerate the icon of Christ, then follow the Patriarch and his honorable clergy!’” (pp. 209-210).
The Emperor hardened in his stance and through the Eparch of the city (Constantinople) issued a decree that no one converse about matters of the faith or dispute concerning holy icons. When word of this was brought to St. Theodore, he answered with these words, “Judge for yourselves: would it be right for me to obey you rather than God? It would be better that my tongue were cut out than for me to keep silence and not defend the truth” (pg. 210). In another place, St. Meletios the Confessor says, “It is not just, lawful, or right for the faithful to be silent when the Laws of God are being violated, and the evil seek to support their deception … it is better to stand against those who do not believe correctly, than it is to follow them and be of one mind with them, thus being united with the and separated from God” (As quoted in Concerning Frequent Communion, Uncut Mountain Press, pg. 168).
The aggressive attempts to Adapt the Faith to the spirit of the age will not end until the end of this world. Yet, it is a terrible thing to subject the commandments of Christ to the laws of mortal men. The primary concern of the saints was always holding to the inviolable commandments of the Heavenly Kingdom. This must be our primary concern also.
In closing I offer these words of consolation that St. Theodore spoke to the faithful Orthodox during the implementation of the ungodly laws of Leo the Armenian, “The Lord will never forsake us, nor permit trials which are beyond our strength to befall us, nor allow this evil heresy to prevail. Although the foe has raised up strife against the Church, it will not be long before tribulations return upon his own head. Remember the words of the Lord: It must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh (cf. Matt: 8). How many heresies have depraved men raised up against the Church from the days of the holy apostles even to the present? What things did the holy fathers before us not suffer at their hands? Yet the Church always remained unvanquished. Those who endured sufferings have been splendidly glorified and received their crown, but heretics have received that which they merited for their deeds” (pp. 210-211).
2 thoughts on “Church, Government, and Sergianism”
It’s very possible that the reason the Bolsheviks were eventually able to take power in Russia is that Church authorities stopped reproving the Government. When the Church came to be regarded as a Department of State, and Tsars would intervene in Church affairs, saying only “I will that it shall be so” as the pretext, no one was found among all the holy people of Russia that would speak the inspired words of St. Theodore to reprove the usurping government power.
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