Sunday, October 31, 2004

Elections, Persecution, and the Orthodox Faith

Some Last Minute Observations Before Tuesday's Election

Thursday's blog was headlined, "Is Persecution in America Possible?" A parishioner spoke to me at length today, and made a few points that are worth repeating.

The strongest of these arises from the Gospel of St. John the Theologian. In what is, in many ways, our Lord's "farewell discourse" to His disciples before His arrest, Passion, and crucifixion, He says, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." (John 15:20) Two points arise from this. The first is that we should expect to be persecuted, if, in fact, we are faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was certainly persecuted; and why, then, should we be surprised if the prophecy He gave to those closest to Him should come to pass? The other point is that we must be aware of the "propaganda" we have been given through our culture. The parishioner making this point (a reader of this blog; who, if permission is given to identify, I will be happy to give the credit for provoking these thoughts) is an emigre from what was, at one time, the Eastern (i.e., Communist) Bloc, and very aware of the reality of how governments -- all governments -- employ propaganda. Is America more perfect than was Christ? Of course not. Those of us who were born and raised here have been taught that this is the "land of the free, and the home of the brave." I do not doubt that no nation has enjoyed more freedom that has been available to us here; nor do I question the bravery of many who helped shape this land, and protect it against enemies. But we should not be mistaken. We should not think that somehow this land is perfect, without flaw, without sin, without the possibility of error. And, being governed by sinners -- and how could this be otherwise? -- why should America somehow be immune from the worst of human impulses? We are not -- and so persecution is indeed possible -- and, given our Lord's prophecy, inevitable. To think or say anything else is simply not an Orthodox understanding of human being, human culture, and human history (past, present, and future).

As I have been considering the passage from the Gospel above, I have recalled other instances as well. One is from the same discourse in the Gospel of St. John: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (16:33) One is even so obvious that I'm surprised (and a bit embarrassed to admit) that I didn't think of it right away. It's from the Beatitudes, which we sing at almost every Divine Liturgy:
[10] Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
[11] Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
[12] Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.
(Matt. 5:10-12a)

Some Last Words About the Election

Our Lord Jesus, speaking to Pontius Pilate, said, "My kingdom is not of this world." As Orthodox Christians, we should also be instructed by this truth -- this world is not our home. This, taken with the admonition, "Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return unto his earth; in that day all his thoughts shall perish," should keep us from getting too twisted up about the choices available to us on Tuesday (or in any election, for that matter). Yes, we are "in this world" -- but we are not meant to be "of this world." We have a duty to fulfill as citizens of this world; but we must do so in a manner befitting being a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven. We are not meant to serve the prince of this world. So pray; pray for God's guidance when deciding to vote; and for guidance in selecting the candidate to support. Once again, there is no "perfect" choice -- and so we must consider the "package" that each candidate brings, the positions for which each candidate stands, and make our choices according to the principles and practices and teachings of our Orthodox faith. As I have said before, we will be held accountable on the great and terrible Day of Judgment for all we have said and done and thought and felt -- and that includes our voting record as well. (No secret ballots where God is concerned!)
And may God have mercy and help us all...