“Our President, civil authorities, and armed forces, the Lord God remember in His Kingdom, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.” No matter who is president , what party controls what offices, or how American troops are being deployed at the moment, we pray this petition in the Great Entrance. We praying for their salvation and for the Lord’s will to be accomplished for and through them. My Romanian friends remind me that they prayed the same petitions for decades for the Communist head of state. Even during the early Roman persecutions, the Christians prayed for the emperor. The Scriptures instruct us to do so.
As we settle in for another presidential election, it’s important to remember that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between any political ideology and the Kingdom of God. The history of Orthodoxy includes many different arrangements of politics and religion, and the Church has somehow survived them all. Political regimes have come and gone, but the Body of Christ lives on. Some Byzantine emperors became saints and others became heretics. Some Orthodox rulers, such as Czar Nicholas II, manifested their holiness through the consequences of political failure—at least in worldly terms– to the point of martyrdom. Periods of persecution and of peace for the Church have both produced saints.
Orthodoxy is relatively new both to the American scene and to the challenges posed by western democracy. Our Church is not a partisan political party, and I doubt that American politicians spend much time worrying about how the Orthodox bloc will vote due to our small numbers in most parts of the US. Nonetheless, it is a good thing for our members to vote according to their consciences for the candidates whose positions best reflect an Orthodox vision of society. What an Orthodox vision of society is in a western democracy has not been clearly defined, however. People with identical moral and spiritual values may well at times choose different candidates because of prudential judgments about what policies will be most effective in achieving certain goals. Politics remains the art of the possible, and it’s apparently impossible to avoid at least some shades of grey.
It’s important to keep that note of realism in mind because human beings often fall prey to the temptation to absolutize the relative, to worship false gods, to claim more for our feeble schemes than we really should. Just listen to any impassioned political speech and you’ll hear virtually apocalyptic language about how the world will end if the opposing side wins. Likewise, the happy narrative of America will flourish if one’s own side wins. The old heresy of Manichaeism lurks behind such rhetoric about a dualistic struggle between Good and Evil, capital G and capital E, in the choice between two invariably flawed and ambiguous political parties.
The danger is that we will waste our energy on false messiahs, looking for our salvation in passing schemes for transforming our corrupt world into a realm of perfection. The odd thing is that many people speak of American politics in such terms, regardless of their party affiliation or political ideology. They do actually seem to think that the salvation of the world rests on the question of who is in power at any given moment.
Yes, the United States is the one remaining super power of the world with the strongest military in human history. The policies that guide our government will certainly impact the world well beyond our borders. It is perfectly legitimate for citizens to debate which vision of American foreign policy best serves our national interests and reflects the values of our faith. The same is true for a variety of domestic issues, ranging from the economy to the environment , health care, the family and marriage, religious liberty, capital punishment, and abortion.
But there is a difference between that kind of dialogue and overblown rhetoric about the political decisions of a fallen world amounting to a choice between God and Satan. The Lord Himself rejected the option of a worldly messianic reign. We do not live in Byzantium, the Czar’s Russia, or even in a nation with a large number of Orthodox: no political arrangement has yet ushered in the eschaton. So I’m certainly not looking for a politician or party to save us in November: Jesus Christ is in charge of that. But I will pray for “Our President, civil authorities, and armed forces, that the Lord God will remember them in His Kingdom, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.” No matter who is in power, they need our prayers and our Lord’s mercy and salvation. Any political ideology that obscures that truth is definitely not Orthodox. For our salvation is not in earthly princes and their apologists, but in the Lord who reigns from a cross and an empty tomb and Whose Kingdom is not of this world.