Entries with tag politics .

The Evil of Ignoring Evil

The Church is a place of healing. And sometimes, to create an atmosphere that promotes spiritual development rather than decay, the Church needs to identify and speak against spiritual sickness.

Whenever it does so, one thing is clear: the Church can speak against illnesses of the heart because the Church, as the Body of Christ, is united to the source of holiness and goodness.  

On the first Sunday of Great Lent, for example, we celebrate the restoration of the icons during the Sunday of Orthodoxy. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the faithful process with icons in hand and the clergy proclaim that we depict Christ and His saints in icons because “this is the Faith which has established the Universe.”  

Yet these affirmations of the Faith are also paired with strong anathemas against “those who persist in the heresy of denying icons, or rather the apostasy of denying Christ.” 

We see this in the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. The First Council, for example, composed the Nicene Creed, a positive statement setting forth the Church’s core profession of Faith. Yet the Council also published a long list of anathemas condemning the errors of Arius, who taught that Christ is a mere creation rather than “true God from true God” (as the Creed states).  

Sometimes, the Church needs to clearly and courageously speak out in order to correct a grave error which has taken root in our hearts. 

This correction flows from a clarity of purpose and the sure knowledge of what spiritual health means. 

Last weekend, the world witnessed something ugly and deeply twisted. On Friday night, a group of Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, and other white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, VA in a gathering initially organized to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Conjuring frightful images from decades past, they marched with tourches in hand, spreading darkness and shouting vile slogans: 

You will not replace us!

Jews will not replace us!

They marched for the creation of an “ethno-state,” intentionally identifying with those who gassed and lynched in the hopes of a whiter (yet nonetheless darker) tomorrow.

The scene erupted into violence when the white supremacists and anti-racist counter-protesters clashed.

On Saturday, the buildup to a planned rally further degenerated into more violence. After a state of emergency was declared, the rally was cancelled. A car intentionally careened at high speed through a crowd of counter-protesters. Nineteen people were injured. Heather Heyer was killed.   

Condemning this should be simple and straightforward. As Christ Himself said, whatever we do to “the least of these,” we do to Christ Himself.

Similarly, whatever we do not do for “the least of these,” we do not do for Christ Himself.

When we march through the streets with torches in hand, shouting for the extermination of our fellow human beings, we join the angry mob that shouted for Christ’s blood.

Crucify Him! Crucify Him!

Similarly, when armed mobs itch to play the executioner and we remain silent, we deny our Lord as Peter once did.

White supremacy is inherently un-Christian. Racism is inherently un-Christian. It is premised on the false notion that some human beings are inferior to others.

Differences serve as an opporunity for union and love. Division, however, is overcome in the person of Christ.

Christian preaching is very clear. We die in the waters of baptism so we can rise in Christ, as members of His Body. A body is composed not merely of eyes or hands, but a rich variety of members. Divisions are drowned in the font so we can be made anew.

True identity lies not merely in our biology or nationality or ancestry, but in our union with the true human being: Jesus Christ.

Racism is contrary to our identity as Christians, and it denies the image of Christ in every person.

This is the theology of the Church.

"We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ."

In the past, the Church has publicly denounced efforts to diminish Christ and those who bear His image. Our duty as Christians remains the same today.

When the Church speaks against those who would dishonor Christ or His people, it is in the hope that the misguided would repent and unite themselves to the Lord.

Today, when we speak against nihilistic ideologies contrary to the teachings of Christ, it must be in the hope that they (and we) can be better: that the hearts of all people can soften enough so that we may see Christ in every face we encounter.

People are assembling to harass, intimidate, and even destroy living icons. 

We must not equivocate and mince words. We must not hesitate to courageously denounce what is evil. We must not make excuses for those who try to justify or rationalize such spiritual and societal darkness.

If we are slow to come to the defense of these living icons, is it because we do not value all people, made in the image of Christ? Is it because of the difficulty of freeing our own hearts from sin? Or do we fear the discomfort of naming and fighting the evils before us?

If we are afraid to call out the obvious evils right in front of us, can we be brave enough to confront the evils in our own hearts? And if we do not root out the evils in our own hearts, what hope do we have of being a prophetic voice in a world that desperately needs the Word of God?

May our hope rest in the Lord. May our lips speak His words and may our hands do His works: with generosity and hope, and without any hesitation.

 

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Orthodox Christians, Politics, and Life After Election 2016

With every election, there are winners and there are losers. Naturally, we may be frustrated if our candidates lost or if the vote went the other way on issues we supported or were opposed to. We may still struggle to find hope in 2016. We might even need to be reminded of how to respond and to love those who have hurt us.

 

But besides the joy or despair we may feel after last week’s election results, we need to reconsider our personal priorities as being both Orthodox Christians and citizens. How do we balance our Orthodox Christian faith and our political ideals? How can we move on after the results of this year’s election?

 

1. Jesus is Lord

 

“God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us!” we hear every Orthros service. We repeatedly say, “Lord have mercy” during all of our liturgical services, and we receive the Eucharist as the “servant of God (name).” Over and over we remember that "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Cor 8:6). If Jesus is our Lord, then we are His servants. We can have no other Lord before Him.

 

Jesus Himself was condemned in part because His authority as Lord threatened the worldly authorities. Early Christians were a threat to the Roman Empire because they refused to adore and worship the Roman Emperor as their Lord. These Christians were killed for their faith and are the martyrs we commemorate nearly every day.

 

Our faith is built upon the witness of these martyrs, whose very witness to Jesus Christ as Lord helped to spread our faith. The martyrs lived their lives (and gave of their lives) with this in mind: no earthly authority is the Lord of a Christian. So how do we live today? Is our trust in our government or in the Lord? Do we have more passion when speaking about an election or about Jesus?

 

2. Obedience to & prayer for political leaders

 

Once we are firmly established in living our lives in obedience to our one Lord, Jesus Christ, our second role as Orthodox Christians is to be obedient to our earthly leaders. Both Scripture and the divine services of our Church direct us to be obedient to and pray for our leaders.

 

If our Lord is risen from the dead and reigns at the right hand of the Father, then our “Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Until we go to be with our Lord in the Kingdom, we are to live lives that honor God and yet to “trust not in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). In other words, we are to be good citizens, not giving dishonor to the community or to God, and yet not living as if this world is our focus. We are but pilgrims and exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

 

St. Paul directs us to be obedient to our political leaders. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God...Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed" (Romans 13:1,7). St. Paul goes on to say “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people" (Titus 3:1-2).

 

In addition to being obedient, St. Paul urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim 2:1-2). During the Divine Liturgy, the priest says, "Again we offer You this spiritual worship for the whole world, for the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and for those living pure and reverent lives. For civil authorities and our armed forces, grant that they may govern in peace, Lord, so that in their tranquility we, too, may live calm and serene lives, in all piety and virtue." At another point, we hear this petition: “For our country, for the president, and for all in public service, let us pray to the Lord.

 

We are to be obedient to those in authority over us, and to pray for them both in personal prayer and as a community. Do our lives reflect a trust that we are only passing through, or do our political discussions reveal that our hearts are more concerned with this world than the Kingdom of God? Do we pray for our leaders in our personal prayers as much as we do for our family?

 

3. Living out our faith

 

During the election campaign, we heard a lot about people who feel forgotten or who are suffering either economically or socially in our country today. What are we doing to reach out to those who are hurting? "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27).

 

If our Church – and indeed the Gospel – teaches that life is sacred from conception to natural death (and beyond), how does this inform our daily living? If we do not support abortion, what are our communities doing to support single mothers? Do we visit prisoners on death row? And closer to home, we know many people today are scared about the future. They’re anxious and worried what the USA will look like for their children. As a consequence of the presidential election results, some are scared they are no longer safe.

 

As Christians, it is not our place to argue whether someone’s emotions are legitimate or not. This isn’t our role. Our role is to bring Christ’s loving presence into the lives of those around us. We are to bring His peace into moments of tribulation, to be a listening ear to those who need to share what is on their hearts, even to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). The time of arguments over this election have passed, but the period of figuring out what this means to people will take some time. We Christians need to provide the space for our friends, family, and for our fellow citizens to mourn and to voice their concerns. We need to live out our faith after the election.

 

*****

 

We know that God will provide, but that knowledge does not take away people’s fears or anxieties. We know that Christ is risen, but we must first experience Him risen in our hearts and live our lives with this hope before we can expect others to understand the same in their time of isolation.

 

If we are happy about the results of the election, it is not our place to gloat or assume that any one man or party will be our saving grace. If we are in shock and mourning, we will have to navigate these emotions too. But either way, we have one Savior, and His name is Jesus Christ. No election can change this. As Orthodox Christians, we are called to be obedient to our government and to pray for our leaders. We can live out our faith by reaching out to those in need, and by being a silent witness to the peace and joy of Christ.

 

How does your life reflect a faith that Jesus is Lord? Do you pray for our president and our president elect? How are you bringing the presence of Christ to those around you after Election 2016?

 

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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