The Peaceable Kingdom in a World at War

The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, described the world as composed of autonomous, competing self-interests. We are at war with one another, a reality, he said, that can only be controlled through external force. The state serves as the enforcer of a negotiated peace agreement, a social contract, in which we legitimize its use of force in order not to kill one another. Hobbes himself preferred a strong monarchy. Certain times in our culture feel more “Hobbesian” than others.

In a conversation with a young friend, I was told that “politics is the only way to get anything done.” This is not true. Politics (the use of civil power) is a means to gain the upper hand in a Hobbesian struggle. It is war, fought by other means. It is for that reason that politics is a questionable activity for Christians. The victories achieved are often brief, and, depending on the opposition, only maintained by the continued use of force.

It is profoundly the case that civil (or military) force are not the tools of the Kingdom of God. It is among the many reasons why the Kingdom of God is not, and never can be a human project. The Kingdom of God is not a process or a progressive movement within history. The Kingdom exists utterly complete and finished. Indeed, this is the very point of the Kingdom. It is the will of God in its fulfillment, the true righteousness where everything has been (yes, has been) set right.

The Kingdom of God is the End of all things, the fullness of the age to come. What is little understood is that its “coming” should be thought of as its “touching” or “penetrating” our present age. And where that penetration occurs, its reality is made manifest. In Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, the Kingdom of God was personally present. Everything that surrounded Him, His miracles, His teachings, were manifestations of the Kingdom of God.

In the Eucharist, Orthodox Christians hear this:

It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your kingdom which is to come. 1

What Christ brought was not a set of ideas to be shared in the Hobbesian conflicts of this world. What He brought was the Kingdom itself and the means for our entrance into that Kingdom and for its life to be manifest in us. It has become commonplace for modern Christians to espouse some ideas based on Christian “moral principles” and to make them the guiding light for political projects, sometimes saying that they are “building up the Kingdom in this world” (or words to that effect).

If they could build the resurrection of the dead, then their words would have meaning. But they cannot. There is nothing in the character of the Kingdom that can be achieved by human efforts. Nothing.

It is this transcendent, eschatological life of the Kingdom into which we are Baptized, and it is its very life that is birthed in us. That new life is nothing less than the life of Jesus Himself. Learning to live from within that new birth of life is the proper nature and character of the Christian life. Christ did not come to reform the world: He came and brought a new world with Him.

When the Christian life is reduced to moral and political principles, it simply becomes one more warring voice within Hobbes’ nightmarish description of life. This is true regardless of how noble our intentions might be. This is also deeply frustrating for us. The Christian life as moral and political principle does not require anything more than new opinions. It masquerades as renewal and change when it is nothing more than the same war fought by unbelievers.

St. Seraphim of Sarov famously said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” He could have added that without that acquisition we cannot do anything of note for even a single soul.

The Acquisition of the Kingdom

Christ says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again (or born from above).” This is not a reference to an emotional experience of conversion. It is a reference to the Kingdom of God birthed in us through Holy Baptism.

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Jn. 3:4-6)

The Christian life is that which is “born of the Spirit.” The strange paradox that marks the commandments of Christ is a key to this manner of life.

  • Forgive your enemies
  • Give without expecting in return
  • Lose your life rather than save it
  • Resist not evil

None of these actions make sense in a Hobbesian world. Instead, we discuss the commandments as though they were ideals too difficult to achieve, but very noble in their sentiment. Hobbesian Christianity has its own commandments:

  • Manage your enemies
  • Give to those who deserve it
  • Be careful with your life, it’s the only one you have
  • Resist evil, and where necessary, kill it

It is in the life of obedience to Christ’s commandments, in the fullness of their paradox, that we are thrown into a radical dependence on the Spirit of Peace, the Kingdom of God birthed within us.

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (Jn. 14:23)

Another way to describe this life is continual repentance. To repent does not mean to feel bad and ask for a moral reprieve, a relief from guilt. Repentance is a true change of mind/heart. That change is the rejection of life in a Hobbesian mode and the acceptance of life rooted and grounded in the Kingdom of God. That is the meaning of Christ’s words, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”

St. Paul has this in mind when he writes:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:1-2)

In a time when the world is entering ever deeper into its madness, it is difficult for Christians not to be drawn in. The voices calling us to the barricades (on both the Left and the Right) easily describe their cause in Christian terms. They fail to understand the fundamental nature of their own madness. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, when asked about how the tragedies of the Soviet Union occurred answered simply, “We have forgotten God.” When he was exiled to the West, he observed quietly for several years and then told us, “You have forgotten God.”

This is not a slogan for anyone’s political agenda. It is nothing other than the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. It is inaugurated (already) in the hearts and lives of faithful believers, manifest in the lives of the saints. Thousands of souls around us stand weary and hungry for salvation. Acquire the Spirit of Peace.

Footnotes for this article

84 comments:

  1. Amen Father. This post is spot on. In this time of irreconcilable differences in politics, the name calling and the threats and encouragement of violence on opponents, the last thing I want is to be involved. I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils and have decided to disengage from political discussions and actions. In the end of things, none of the noise and action of politics will matter. All that matters is living in the Kingdom even here in the midst of the battle.

  2. Very timely. Politics were on my mind this morning; thanks be to God for re-focusing me.
    Thank you, Father

  3. Some thoughts in passing: apophatically we can say that whatever the Kingdom of God is, it is not anything produced by our will for our purposes. That is Nihilism. The celebration of death and destruction even if it appears good.

    The Church has always condemed any form of spiritual dualism, the mixing or the opposition of the created and uncreated. There is only the uncreated bringing the created into Him who is. Raising the dead into life.

    The door into this union is through the Cross. Repentance, prayer, offering thanks together, bearing the whips and scorns or outrageous forrune and sacrificially sharing of what we are given seems to be the way into and through the Cross. The life of Ressurection.

    Anything else risks worshipping the created thing more than our Creator.

    “To be or not to be, That is the question.”

  4. Father Stephen, I think this is one of, if not the best post you have ever written. You may now retire. (just joking, of course!)

  5. Sharon,
    Thanks for the encouragement. I had a couple of “senior moments” over the past few weeks that shook me to a degree… To still be able to swing for the fence (and connect) is a joy.

  6. Father, we old guys all get those. It is not Alzheimers, but sometimers, sometimes I remember and sometimes I don’t . Thank God for liturgy books so I can remember what I am supposed to do.

  7. What is so poorly understood by so many (and so I come back to emphasize it) is the actual nature of the Kingdom of God. To a degree, until it is understood, the gospel will almost always be presented in a perverted or distorted form.

  8. Fr. Stephen,
    The title of your article made me think at once of the Quaker preacher and painter, Edward Hicks, and his famous painting, “Peaceable Kingdom.” His painting references Isaiah 11:6-8 where peace reigns over God’s Kingdom such that a child can sit with wild animals, even lead them, and not be harmed. At that time, “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.” Yes, none of this will occur due to man’s great planning and schemes. As you say, the Kingdom in its fullness already is–even now penetrating into our world in the lives of holy saints, in the liturgy, through noetic prayer, etc. Man in his hubris thinks he can bring about an idyllic kingdom, of course through violence and force. But for us Christians the only violence that we can rightly use is that against ourselves (Mt. 11:12), struggling to enter into this truly Peaceable Kingdom.

  9. Thank you, Father. I have lived most of my life with a Hobbesian worldview. It is very hard to break out of. Its pervasiveness among the people I know, love and work with makes it even harder to overcome. All I can do is turn it over to God.

  10. It occurs to me that “turn it over to God” may not be what I need to do. It may be that what I need to do are much more concrete things, like forgiving my enemies, giving without expecting in return, losing my life (rather than trying to save it) and ceasing my futile resistance to evil. The last may be the most difficult to understand, and do.

  11. If they could build the resurrection of the dead, then their words would have meaning.
    If these words do not at least give the “builder” pause, I don’t think anything will. A classic line, Father!
    Thank you for a very excellent post!

  12. David Waite,
    I am in the same position as you, realizing that turning it over to God involves definite actions and attitudes.
    God bless you!

  13. Given that we commemorate St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco today, I’d like to point out that after World War II, he lobbied in Washington D.C. to change a law that prevented his flock from being refugees in America. While this might not be generalizable to anything happening in current times or in my life, I would be remiss in forgetting that sometimes it is necessary to change laws to allow people to worship where they can.

  14. Megan,
    This is not a use of political power. It was asking a favor from the government. He did not exercise any coercion or cause anything to happen in the political sense.

  15. Dear Father Stephen, “Resist not evil” – I struggle with that one. I must confess that I rejoice at the accuracy of those British snipers picking off ISIS instructors giving beheading lessons in front their next victims. Or the numerous accounts of Jewish children and adults being safely hidden away by people risking their own lives to resist the evil of the Nazis. And so on. And so on…Help me out, please. I want to know how to correctly think about these things

  16. Juliana,
    Of course, “Resist not evil” (or an “evil person”) is Christ’s own saying. It’s also true that this is a hard saying, and that not all can receive it. At the very least, if an Orthodox believer acts on behalf of the state and kills someone (an evil-doer), they must recognize that this is not a “good” thing. It has the character of sin and needs to be carried to confession – it stains and injures the soul and needs healing. There are those, on the other hand, who are able to bear this word and keep it. They become martyrs, or watch others become martyrs. There are mothers of children who refused to renounce their faith which would have saved their children’s lives. These are great saints of the Church. It is the blood of the martyrs that is the “seed of the Church.”

    What we should resist, at the very least, is agreeing to agree with the Hobbesian model that says the way of violence is the only way or is utterly necessary, or is “justified.” We bear witness to the Kingdom. And, we also pray to be spared the test (that is the meaning of “lead us not into temptation). Many have failed (I have) and fall into hatred of enemies, etc. and take some delight in seeing them suffer or die. It’s something to carry to confession and to ask for grace from God.

    The Kingdom of God as Christ taught it – is not a “moral” position (such as pacifism). It is a faith, trust, loyalty to the reality of the Kingdom and its victory over all things. And this is something that we can only do by the gift of grace working within us. So, when this stuff seems hard or impossible, we should pray. Ask the saints and martyrs to pray for you. Ask the Mother of God to intercede – who willingly offered her Son and endured a sword in her own soul. The commandments of Christ are instructions for saints. That is our high calling.

  17. I am so grateful because Orthodoxy provides a sense of time that is full of hope. Rather than extending forward like a brochure being unfolded, leaving us looking backward at the Resurrection, we are connected to it and brought to it. This has only begun to dawn on me these past few years.

    My parish priest explained two things that I love, that the icons are not windows into heaven but mirrors. If I understand correctly this implies they show who we are worshiping with at each Divine Liturgy. He also explained that the prayers at the blessing of candles in January really teach us about our calling, that our face should be lit up with the warmth of Christ’s love. The rage we are constantly invited to at ‘the barricades’ is the opposite. The book ‘Children in the Church Today’ has a quote about nothing exceeding the beauty of a face light up by a warm heart and I was so glad to see it. I do believe this is the true Evangalism of the Good News, such good news, overwhelmingly good news.

    I have seen this transformation first hand. Growing up my mom took us to St. George Antiochian in DC on 16th Street. Fr. Paul Saliba was the pastor as I grew up. Around 1998 he had a heart attack and when he came back he told us that in the hospital the Theotokos had appeared to him. At least one other parishoner recalls this sermon. Fr. Paul went on to become Metropolitan Paul of Sydney Australia. He visited a few times again. What I can say without question is that before his heart attack he was an old man and after his heart attack he was a vibrant and ageless Man. My friend explained that Metropolitan Paul was tasked with closing down several of the handful of parishes that existed out there, and instead there was renewal and huge growth. He passed away about 2 years ago but each time he came back to DC I saw him and was amazed by his radiant face and gentle brightness. The Word magazine Jan 2017 notes that his area of service included the longest flights of any Metropolitan, all the way up to the Philippines.

    The book Networks, Crowds and Markets has a section in chapters 16 and 19 on diffusion. I like it very much because I think it shows (inadvertently) why those who see a martyr die with faith, gentleness and love themselves may convert. It outlines math that shows how an infinite payoff is worth taking regardless of how many around you have also taken it. St George’s martyrdom lead to others converting instantly and being martyred as well, nd the same occured with other saints.

    I do hope people have documented Metropolitan Paul’s encounter with the Theotokos. I have a strong sense he may have become a saint.

    My aunt who passed away from cancer 20 years ago had a radiant face on the night she passed away. It is just amazing. I think, through the grace of God, when we can face struggles with faith, that daily dying, and trust we are not in the wrong place, our Lord may Light up our hearts for quiet evangelism.

  18. Modern politics reminds of Chance the Gardener in “Being There”.
    Peter Sellers delivers choice phrases like “There are spring and summer, but there are also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again. As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all be well.”

  19. Father,
    I am troubled by your reply to Juliana. It is one thing to “resist evil” in the sense that a sniper does when shooting an ISIS executioner. However, to hide children from the Nazis is to “resist evil” in, surely, a very different sense. You only seem to address the former kind of resistance.
    If I hide or remove someone or myself from the reach of violence, if I vote against a law which would promote evil, if I lovingly attempt to persuade someone of the evil of their actions, if I address abuse in my personal life instead of passively accepting and living with it, etc., I am “resisting evil” in some sense of those particular words. Does Christ mean that we are not to do these things?

  20. Ben,
    I do not think it carries the meaning of a purely passive existence. Most of what you describe is not a matter of resisting evil so much as it is a matter of doing a positive good. Yes, hide the child, or yourself, etc. Yes, vote for a good law, or against a bad law. Etc.

  21. Ben –

    In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”

    In Matthew 25:25-36, He says of those entering the Kingdom, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”

    Aren’t those actions, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned, all ways of “resisting evil” in the same way as the things you describe?

    Perhaps it is “both/and” and not “either/or.”

    Thanks and praise to God.

  22. There are some of those “evil people” who will enter the kingdom before me.

  23. Ben,
    Elder Aimilianos says that when man retains an unaffected conscience and will,
    when sin does not act within him,
    he can be assured of being saved.
    He brings attention to the truth that there are sins that happen without wanting them and for which one is blameless.
    Saint Dionysius had to lie in order to hide his brother’s murderer and yet he confessed this lie (which is how we know of it).
    He reminds us that the Fathers say: If you marry, you will have to participate in the sins of the husband or wife that necessarily exist in marriage, but with your hope in God. You cannot avoid them. You are in obedient communion with another freedom.
    Also, the imperfection of human life causes us to sin against our will, for example: the oath.
    It is a clear command of God that the oath is never permitted. Yet, even if you are Metropolitan, you will have to take an oath. It is part and parcel of the imperfection of human life. There are, therefore, sins for which a person is without blame, for which he repents, and cries, but does they do not cause him to lose his boldness towards God.

  24. Dino,
    I have always appreciated this insight of Orthodoxy. It does not excuse or make up legalistic fictions. Rather, it acknowledges the difficult realities of our lives and then prays for help and mercy.

  25. I also greatly appreciate the pragmatic ontological –instead of the legalistic– approach Father, all the more when it is manifest in pastoral discernment.

  26. This blog has been a blessing to me since my first “accidental” encounter of it in 2008. I thank all if you for your kindness, wisdom and patience with me.

  27. Fr. Stephen,

    What is the Orthodox Christian view of the political activism of a Roman Catholic priest such as Daniel Berrigan, in his protest against nuclear arms, the Vietnam War, etc?

  28. Dino…thank you for mentioning Saint Dionysius in your wonderful response to Ben. It actually took a few seconds to click that he actually hid his brother’s murderer. His story and commemoration is inspiring. And yes, a very good example of life’s imperfections. Also, can’t help but think of the OT Rahab who hid the Hebrew spies and she too, like St. Dionysius, had to lie as she sent the authorities in the opposite direction of the “wanted”. In God’s great mercy, this woman (who’s own past was notable) was to be in the lineage of The Lord Jesus Christ!
    Thank you too Father for your reflection about the Orthodox faith. That we put our trust and plead God’s mercy and compassion rather than assume He takes a legalistic approach makes a tremendous difference on our thoughts toward Him and Him toward us. It’s a beautiful way of the Faith…something I’ve not encountered in the past.

  29. Sean,
    There’s not really “an Orthodox view.” The canons forbid a priest to hold a public office (though I’ve known of some rare exceptions). The Greek revolution (against the Turks) was certainly signaled and fueled by a Metropolitan back in the day. So, there are those who, for whatever reasons, choose political movements. My own thoughts are those in the article.

  30. Hello Father,

    I’ve appreciated your writings on these topics, but I must admit that I’m not entirely clear on the practical implications. At first I understood you to mean that we should not be involved in the modern political process. However, in one of the previous comments you mentioned that we should still vote on laws, which seems to go against this idea of non- involvement. I agree that politics will not save us, and they most definitely will not bring about the Kingdom of Heaven which already exists! But how far should we be involved in politics? Do we just vote for laws? Do we vote for politicians as well? Do we support political parties? Where do we draw the line?

  31. “What Christ brought was not a set of ideas to be shared in the Hobbesian conflicts of this world”…
    “Christ did not come to reform the world: He came and brought a new world with Him”…
    “The voices calling us to the barricades (on both the Left and the Right) easily describe their cause in Christian terms”
    I have just exit twitter and given the political situation here, in Spain, I have been blessed by this words.
    Thank you, Father.
    The advice “resist no evil” is difficult for me to understand. I hope you can give us further examples on this

  32. Peter,
    I don’t think there are hard and fast guidelines. Some will even run for office. If we pay attention inwardly to the Kingdom itself (seek first the Kingdom), and refuse to believe in the Kingdoms of man, then these things will be clear – though different people will approach them differently.

  33. Peter W.,

    Let your focus be on doing good, not on “resisting” against something, and you will find that you walk with God. How that is done will vary, depending on your opportunities.

    So much of what we do is a reaction (as in “they said what? Let me tell you why that’s wrong!”). It’s the reaction itself, the focus on correction, that is at the heart of “resisting”. From a practical standpoint, simply do good as you can and don’t react. It’s very difficult to do in today’s world.

  34. Byron, or as Met. Jonah has written:
    “Don’t react, don’t resent, keep inner peace.” Differing ways of saying the same thing.

  35. I’ve always struggled with this. It is only human to want to enact justice in the world and to defend the ones you love and society against evil and hardship. Something that can only be done through war and politics. Whenever I hear Christ’s words, “My kingdom is not of this world” , I find myself in a place of hope and doubt. In the light of the resurrection I understand the hope of salvation and the restoration of all things in Christ. But, I also see the suffering of those around me and in my own life and hear the accusation of people like Nietzsche , that Christianity is simply an escape from the struggle of life. This has been a paradox of the faith from the beginning. Yes, we are to love our enemies, give ourselves for others, and to resist not evil. But what if that evil is a threat to those you love? Do you simply accept the threat and watch those you love suffer or do you defend against it? I know, at least I think I know the answer. Which is that we must accept all things as being from the hand of God, who is the fulfillment of all things. That we must cease trying to control our fate and surrender to God. I understand that and I believe it but not with my whole heart, unfortunately. I think that might be my problem. I don’t have enough faith, Lord have mercy.

  36. Roman, the word “defend” is something of a two-edged sword. I found some encouragement reading of the French village Le Chambon, which resisted the Nazis during WW2. Their resistance was passive–hiding and moving Jews to Switzerland throughout the war. It was also surprisingly honest–when asked by the Nazis if they were harboring Jews, they would simply answer “yes” but would never tell where they hid them! Importantly, they would never act in hate or violence towards their oppressors.

    I think this itself is a form of “defense”. But it entails only acts of love towards everyone around oneself. I think this is the role of the Church, of which we must be a part. Evil will eventually destroy itself, as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did; it is unsustainable.

    The true difficulty is in the times of extreme trial that you and others mention: violence towards oneself and one’s loved ones being the most acute. We live in a tragic world. If we recognize that we at times take part in that tragedy, in defense of others or self in some manner, we also must recognize the sin in which we take part and confess it so the wounds we bear will not fester and numb our soul(s). It is dangerous to think, in spite of the words of Jesus, that the violence of the world is justified and our actions that take part in that violence are also justified.

  37. Roman, it is right and good to defend the ones you love. To be honest, I hope I never have to defend my wife and child. I pray I never have to. But I will unquestionably do it if the need arises. I will do it regretfully, I will morn any violence I commit, and I will pray for forgiveness.

  38. Roman,
    Beginning in the late 18th century, with the advent of democracy (very limited at first), the notion that to be a citizen meant that an individual was responsible for running the country, for good or ill. That is really problematic. No one prior to that time thought in that particular direction. You did your best with what you had in front of you, and prayed that the rulers (part of a larger monarchy) would be kind and just. You did your best to do your duty, but did not think that the whole shabang was your own personal responsibility.

    With the advent of democracies, the mythology of individual responsibility began to grow. In fact, you and I are not responsible for running the country. Those who have that power are responsible for it. By and large, the only real use of a democracy is to try and prevent tyranny – you can vote them out. But you cannot vote virtue into existence, and only virtue makes a country good or bad.

    If those in positions of power are virtuous, the country will be well-run. There will be a generous application of justice and a minimum of oppression and interference. At present, we do not have virtuous people in power, even on a local level. The system is set up in such a manner to deliberately empower corporate interests of various sorts. Added to that, we ourselves are not a virtuous people. We are the products of consumer capitalism which means that we are daily trained, formed and shaped, into consumers. Consumers are driven by the passions (which is the opposite of virtue). Thus, it’s like trying to raise nice polite fish children in a sea of sharks.

    It is better, I think, to pull back and turn to the world in which you actually and really live – largely that which is local. Pay attention to the commandments of Christ and live as simply and faithfully as possible. Work at becoming a good person – cultivate the virtues. Associate with other virtuous people. Such communities have survived throughout the centuries – and even produced saints. Hardship is not our enemy. Consumerism is far more dangerous to the soul than any hardship. We need a serious reconsideration of the nature of our existence in light of the Kingdom of God. The American Dream is the work of the evil one and not the blessing of God. Christians are people who willingly suffer for the life of the world, on behalf of all and for all. How to be such a person, with joy and thanksgiving, is the path of virtuous living. Learning how to form and shape children in that image is the life of grace lived in a family. If we do these things, then we should trust God for the outcome of history. The Soviet Union did not collapse as a result of political action. The Berlin Wall did not fall because of political action. We can trust God. But trusting God can get you killed. He is quite clear about that.

  39. Roman,

    I also see the suffering of those around me and in my own life and hear the accusation of people like Nietzsche , that Christianity is simply an escape from the struggle of life. This has been a paradox of the faith from the beginning. Yes, we are to love our enemies, give ourselves for others, and to resist not evil. But what if that evil is a threat to those you love? Do you simply accept the threat and watch those you love suffer or do you defend against it? I know, at least I think I know the answer. Which is that we must accept all things as being from the hand of God, who is the fulfilment of all things. That we must cease trying to control our fate and surrender to God. I understand that and I believe it but not with my whole heart, unfortunately. I think that might be my problem. I don’t have enough faith, Lord have mercy.

    From what we have witnessed in the actions, reactions and overall worldview made manifest in some truly holy people, I think that indeed, to “cease trying to control our fate and surrender to God” is both:
    (1) the answer to how ‘not to resist’ (and to when ‘not to resist’ too),
    as well as to:
    (2) how and when and if to actually resist too.

    To be able to judge and to discern such things however, only comes from long experience and profound reserves of genuine trustful surrender in God’s providence. It is what makes a soul both humble as well as majestic in equal measure. It’s worth noting that, even the so-called “suffering of those around” or the “evil threat to those we love” might not always be what it seems at first, but one would need a charismatic spiritual discernment (based upon these deep reserves of trustful surrender in God’s providence) to discern such things.
    The broad-spectrum (yet very practical) answer is therefore that we must become ourselves holy, to acquire ourselvesthe holy spirit and then ‘the rest shall be added unto us.’ (Matthew 6:33).
    Making ourselves buoyant is what helps us float, far more than fighting the waters while holding weights or worrying what the best way to float is while still wearing heavy coats.

  40. Father, your comment yesterday to Roman is pure gold to me. I especially like the image you used of being polite fish in a sea of sharks. It is apt. Living with this knowledge would be frightening beyond bearing if I did not believe in the God who can deliver us from the belly of the big fish when we cry out to Him.

  41. Fr. Stephen,
    In your article you mention how the Kingdom touches, sometimes penetrates into our world. What divides the two is thin indeed, I imagine something like gossamer fabric, very thin, permeable (of course using earthly images). This same permeable membrane exists in our heart. One can just imagine how Christ’s coming will be quick, sudden indeed. A lightning entrance through this veil as He ushers in the Kingdom with His very presence. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

  42. Thank you Father Stephen and Dino for your wise words.
    Father your words always ring true and are comforting, especially when we are in the midst of such evil in the world. I remind myself constantly that Christ conquered, is conquering and will always reign as Lord, Savior, and King. He and all the triumphant with Him are with us, literally…we may not visually see them, but we don’t have to….they are with us…the Kingdom is come. Thank you for constantly “bringing this home” to us.
    Also Father, in the previous post you mentioned the faithful prayers of your wife, where they even have much to do with the success of this blog. I don’t know if it is appropriate to thank her, but I am very thankful for her prayers…so I say “thank you Matushka Beth, dear Mother.” I often wonder about the seeming silence of Priest’s wives (we seem to know our Priests well, as they are in the forefront)…but it is really an image of our Blessed Mother. It is an image that I long to emulate but have great difficulty with. Thank you again for your prayers Matushka…we need them!

    Dino…I zero in on your words about “trustful surrender” to God. It take it you are saying that without this trust, our growth in the wisdom and knowledge of God will be hindered (I have in mind how the child Jesus ” increased in wisdom and stature” by fully attending (in full trust) to His Father’s business). But we can not make ourselves trust but by the grace of God. Trust is a deep issue. I think God is very patient with us because He knows our brokenness better than we do ourselves, and He works with us (even with that mustard seed of faith) even to make us want to want to trust!

  43. Father,
    We seem to want to omit the last sentence of your last comment (July 4). Indeed trusting God can get us killed. As ‘”the good-life” consumers’ do we honestly want to step up to that virtuous plate? (I suspect not) Also, we seem to want to think that we can designate others to be killed on our behalf–to support our “good-life”. And I don’t think God’s workings, work that way either. When we are in that modality, and as a nation we are and have been, we are not aligned with God and we are not ‘champions’ of God.

  44. I hear Julianna and Peter and others asking for rules, i.e. what to do in each situation, just how far to go, where the guidelines are. I understand and resonate with these wistful desires all too well, but the older I get the more I understand that real life, the life Christ called us into existence to live, is not that tidy.

    One illustration that helped me years ago was from a youth group leader. He said that in the Old Testament the Law was like a big circle, and everyone concentrated on staying within the boundaries of the circle, how close they could get to crossing the line, and what happened when they did. But when Christ came He stood in the middle of the circle, calling all to Himself. Then the focus changed from watching the edges to walking toward the light in the middle.

    The popular saying “What Would Jesus Do?” comes close to this but seems too inaccessible. I have no idea what He would do because He’s so much better than me. Perhaps a better framework for helping us know how to act in each situation is a question like “What would a good person do?” or “If my heart was full of love, joy or peace, how would I respond in this instance – given that I am only one person and have limited resources?”

    I very much resonate with Fr. Stephen’s words above: (paraphrased)

    You do your best with what you have in front of you, and pray that the rulers (part of a larger government) will be kind and just. You do your best to do your duty, but do not think that the whole shabang is your own personal responsibility.

    You act out of a place of weakness – which is our reality. This causes you to turn to God and learn to relate to Him – very intimately – in a manner described by Francois Fenelon:

    Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend.
    Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart that He may heal them…Tell Him how self-live makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others.

  45. Thank you Drewster. It is as you and Father point out. Meekness as a response to God and to others in our own hearts and voices is where we begin.

    Recently I was exposed to ‘talk’ exalting ‘the American Dream’ —‘what’s in it for us’ and how do we vanquish ‘the other side’ incendiary talk —and those propounding such goals of ‘the dream’ appeared forgetful of the cost of lives such ‘dreams’ can entail. Such lives seem to be or are made to be invisible.

    I’m sorry to be vague but I’m keeping to Fathers rules. Regrettably the ‘talker’ was an Orthodox priest. For this reason I’m very grateful for Fathers words in the article and in his comments.

  46. On my mom’s side of the family are Syrians who left around 1930 for America. My gradfather was an educated man who had a degree from the University of Damascus and won a scholarship to the Sorbonne but had it taken from him because he was Christian. He settled in Charleston WVA which has a large Syrian community. St. Raphael visited there. My grandmother was from Majdel Shums (spelling?) which is in the Golan Heights and means ‘Sunny Mountain.’ It is also believed to be the same village from which the word Magdalene comes. It is the kind of place where things grow well and that is why the hills of Charleston attracted Syrians from this area, similar to how the Germans went to the midwest and the Scandinavians went to Minnesota.

    I believe they were part of bringing Orthodoxy to our country. I have only 4 memories of my grandmother and one of them is seeing her make the Sign of the Cross in dough before she baked pita bread. When I was in college I heard her sister, a very old woman by then, talk about the Druz Muslims in Majdel Shums and how they threatened her family. Lord have Mercy, I said to her “Why didn’t you just convert?” and from the depth of her being she said immediately “We would rather die than convert.” I had an immediate and profound sense that Orthodoxy is more than what I realized or knew it to be. It really changed my life through the grace of the Holy Spirit. She did not embarass me and the conversation quickly changed but it was a testamony to what is True that I had never seen.

    When I first learned about Fr. George Calciu I though his years in America might have been a happy ending, but he referred to them as harder than his years in prison in Romania. He was exiled from his homeland and saw clearly the trap of the American Dream.

    I have tried to pin down the meaning of the word culture. Years ago I heard someone say it was related to the word cult, so I think of it as related to beliefs in practice. Often we have to look at the practices and work back to the beliefs. Recently a Linguist explained it was related to the word for cultivate. I have been perplexed recently seeing how the behaviors of ‘superfans’ are cited as stories in the news as though they are meaningful, or as though we should be interested. I believe the American ideal is to be richly entertained.

    I think about the America my grandfather entered. I watched PBS’s American Experience on the Great War and was quite shocked at the amount of pressure and coercion the American government used to silence opposition to the war. I noticed the personification even more of Uncle Sam, the attempt to make us thank a thing, a place, rather than the Creator.

    I also want to apologize for using the ‘before’ description I did in my previous post.

  47. Dee,
    We often have done the same thing to the enemy in wartime. We dehumanize them, making them a non-person. You’ve probably seen some of the WWII propaganda posters of the Japanese, illustrated in very dehumanizing form. Yet I grew up in a farming region with many Japanese friends. In the recent past .I went to my elderly neighbor’s funeral, he a Japanese Buddhist. At his home after the service, his wife told me what he had done shortly before his death. He called each of his 3 children, one at a time, into his bedroom. There he told them what a wonderful life they had given him, blessing them in this way. Lastly he called in his beloved wife to give her his parting words and love. My heart filled with love toward this bent-over old Buddhist friend, with whom I would sometimes take leisurely walks, or he at times showing me the bonzai trees in tended in his yard.
    Yes, we have done, and continue to do some terrible things as a nation to keep alive the “American Dream.”

  48. Nichole,
    Thank you so much for your comments, for sharing your family history and your own personal reflections in this comment thread and in the previous. They are so edifying.

    And thank you too Dean. I’m grateful for your understanding.

  49. Earlier on, Byron and Dean offered interesting comments on “reaction”. “Do not react” is what we’d like to do, only to find it impossible to consistently do so. That is, unless you have reached a higher spiritual state, which not a few have done. You know these people when you come across them…they have that spirit of peace about them that you instinctively know that this is not a fake piety. There is nothing fake about them. Their humility and meekness are evident. Love exudes from them and you want to be around them, hoping that somehow their blessedness rubs off on you.
    I say this because to simply not react may look good on the outside (to others) but the inside (for many of us) is ‘full of dead man’s bones’. Inward thoughts can not be seen by others, but it eventually rears its ugly head in our inconsistencies and contradictions. And it is a shameful thing to have to admit to our own nothingness, in which usually results anger and resentment toward the self. So in a matter of self preservation (to preserve the self from the death of of sin) we cover up the shame with all sorts of behavior…from wallowing in self pity to fake piety. So, to ‘not react’ without trust in God for His grace and mercy, to be able to even recognize our utter nothingness and plead that He grant us the ability to repent, is no better than one who consistently ‘reacts’. Either way, it is a movement toward nothingness.
    How can I say this about reacting, nothingness, self pity and fake piety? Because I know it so well within my own self. It’s like the saying “it takes one to know one”. This is why I can say I “blindly” trust God…I trust nothing or no one else with my life. He has been very patient with me.

  50. Paula AZ
    For some of us trust is indeed hard (I’m looking at my own heart). Thank you so much for your comment.

  51. David, I appreciate Fr Farley’s article as well. The helpful part for me is his delineation between the voice of an individual vs that of the Church.

    Admittedly I’ve become distressed and distracted by the proclamation of an individual (repeatedly presented in public ‘forums’— not blogs.). My own exposure to his talk was accidental. He disparaged particular groups of people who have had a history of ‘censorship’, who also now speak openly and press for ‘positive recognition’. It isn’t that I wish to take a side against a priest of the Church, but I fear the ramifications of the authority of ordination be misused (if I’m allowed to call it that) to put forward a very specific political agenda by the person. Thankfully the Church has resisted this somewhat, regarding the higher levels. But not entirely.

    For now I will let this ‘rest’ and will say no more.

  52. Father Stephen,

    (1) You wrote in a comment: “The Kingdom of God as Christ taught it – is not a “moral” position (such as pacifism). It is a faith, trust, loyalty to the reality of the Kingdom and its victory over all things.” I am eager to understand the distinction you’re making here. Can you elaborate? What conditions make something “moral” as opposed to not “moral”?

    (2) I’m curious to know why you don’t consider voting a form of coercion. Doesn’t any given 51% impose it’s will on the rest?

  53. As well as the truth that:

    “ By and large, the only real use of a democracy is to try and prevent tyranny – you can vote them out. But you cannot vote virtue into existence, and only virtue makes a country good or bad”

    The additional element of a systematically escalating globalization, makes democracy quite a travesty. It only serves as a façade of freedom, especially considering that governments cannot have much more than an –fundamentally- decorative role, in a world of far more powerful multinational influences.

  54. Thank you for your reply Father Stephen, and everyone else as well. I will definitely consider what you all have said. Thanks again.

  55. Guy,
    If you go to the bottom of this page you will find a plethora of articles Father has written on morality. Under “categories” click on -morality.- Father covers the difference in depth between what is moral and what is not.

  56. To choose the replacement for Judas lots were drawn or cast. Matthias was chosen as an Apostle. Engaging in some sort of apparently random process in order to make decisions is ancient and seems to be part of the human psyche. The hanging chads of the 2000 US presidential election are about as close to reading entrails as we moderns are likely to get.

    Modern politicians spend billions of dollars and engage in frequently illegal acts to decrease the randomness. But is it random? True randomness is difficult. Creation tends to order. The ultimate order is God’s Logos.

    I am not a big fan of democracy but I think it is a bit much to call voting coercion although it can seem that way in an ideologically polarized electorate.
    We pray for all of our leaders, even the most heinous.

    Fast and pray.

  57. Guy,
    There are indeed a lot of articles that I have written on “morality.” By “moral” I mean the mere keeping of rules, and outward observance of a standard. I know that the word can have much broader and deeper meanings, but that is how I use it. Most atheists are “moral,” that is, observe some sort of rules, etc. They can’t give a good reason for doing so, but they do. What I think is true of the Kingdom is that we are to be transformed, such that we do inwardly, willingly, and naturally what is good and right. This is an “ontological” change, rather than merely moral. It is sometimes discussed under the heading of “acquiring the virtues.” It is a work of grace.

    Voting: If a group of people agree that the rules they will accept is 51% wins, then those who lose are not coerced – for they agreed to that bargain. So, voting is not necessarily coercive.

    But, of course, in our society, there is much that is coercive about voting. First, the bargain is improper. We are told: “Here are two choices, which one do you want?” What if I want neither one? That is not a choice. So, the very proposition put before us is coercive. I have long thought that there should be “none of the above” on every ballot. That alone would probably fill the voting booths with people who at long last have a candidate they can believe in: “None of the above.”

    In Greece, there is a holiday called “Ochi Day.” “Ochi” is the Greek word for “No.” In 1940, Musollini, as Hitler’s puppet, demanded that Greece allow the Axis powers to occupy the country. Greece said, “Ochi,” and thus numbered themselves with the Allies. For a short period, Greece was Britain’s only ally in the war. Of course, this brought the immediate invasion and occupation of Greece. But they were “free.” Having said “no,” and chosen to suffer rather than submit, they were free.

    Our system only allows sitting at home and refusing to vote. A little more than half of the population votes in a general election. Worth noting, the rate of voter participation grows according to wealth. The more money you have, the more likely you are to vote. For those making $30k or less, not even half vote. The wealthy complain that the poor only want handouts – but non-participation doesn’t sound like a handout to me. Rather, those with wealth invariably have the most to gain in the system. The unofficial welfare of our state (like tax-breaks, etc) is skewed towards the wealthy.

    Our system is highly coercive and the playing field is radically tilted against the poor and the weak (and, sadly, many think they deserve it). In terms of Scripture, our nation is extremely “unjust.” That is a spiritually precarious position. God will exalt the humble and meek and send the rich away empty. Don’t know when, but we can count on it.

    Forgive me for saying so much in the political vein…but you asked. For the record, I have no political affiliation and, at present, do not vote. It is my “ochi.”

  58. Father, thank you. To the extent that I am, it is a gift of grace that overcomes my selfishness. My wife is kind, I try to learn from her.

  59. Persons have agreed to abide by the majority decision when they participate in the vote–Hobbes made that very point. But he made it under the assumption that there’s already a sovereign in place to enforce agreements. (1) Unless we’re talking about direct democratic anarchism, doesn’t voting still presuppose a coercive system (keep your agreement, or else)? (2) In the case of establishing a law by ballot, if I vote for the law, I’ve in part enacted an instrument by which others will be coerced, no? Just because I’m a few steps removed, I don’t see how that properly disconnects me from the acts of coercion (any more than tying a string to the trigger of a gun and pulling the string from far away means I didn’t really do the shooting).

  60. Guy, all state power is predicated on the sword-coercion. Indeed the Biblical expectation is that the state in the person of a monarch will wield the sword to restrain evil. Therefore any worldly government is coercive by nature. Ultimately all government is corrupted by lust of power. Because most all of us are tempted by power-from the Garden on.

    The only way out of the coercion is a life of Providence. Worship, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Voting or not voting is irrelevant.

    All government will ultimately find itself in conflict with God’s order because of our sins, individual and collective. Whether we vote or do not vote the coercion of those sins remains.

    Repenta0nce, worship, prayer, fasting, almsgiving and witness are the Christian answer.

  61. Michael,
    That sums up my understanding much better than I could’ve put it with the exception of the “voting or not voting is irrelevant.” Seems entirely relevant to me. To put it sloppily, I take it that a state is an altogether different kind of project or process than the Kingdom, and voting is one form of a mechanism integral to that project. In the case of an absolute monarch, functionally, only one person votes. Whether one does or all do, it’s still a mechanism by which outcomes are decided by wills and some wills win out (as opposed to casting lots and letting “chance” or providence decide). Suppose I were on a jury. If I vote guilty, how am I not part of the very instrument by which a defendant is coerced?

  62. “But they were ‘free.’ Having said ‘no’ and chosen to suffer rather than submit, they were free.”

    You sound a bit like Sartre, Father.

  63. David, I would disagree. Not like Sartre’ at all. Sartre’ thought that humanity was existentially bound to suffering and there was No Exit.

    Just the opposite of what Fr. Stephen is saying. Suffering existentially to some degree unavoidable but the voluntary nature of the Greeks suffering led to an ontological freedom.

  64. No need to go so deep, Michael. Freedom for Sartre was, in part, making a commitment despite the social and political consequences. That is all I found similar in Father’s statement. It was just a little joke. Not a profound philosophical statement. I understand that Father is not an atheist and not an existentialist in the tradition of Sartre and Camus. Kierkegaard, perhaps. I will let Father speak for himself.

  65. I was really glad to see your reference to how Matthias was chosen, I have been thinking of similar themes recently. When I studied in England in 2000 I had the chance to hear one of CS Lewis’ step-sons speak and share about his faith. He talked about his experiences with Lewis, the Shadowlands movies and also talked about uncertainty. He shared a story from his adult life on uncertainty, that he and his family had been trying to decide on a brand on yard tractor (or equiptment) and had a salesman come in and discuss options. It was a lengthy process and a long term use item. Two brands emerged in a tie after the sales information, etc and he and his wife couldn’t decide which was better. He said they took a Bible, opened it to a page and reading it found within the name of one of the brands. They said the salesman was shocked, not by their method but to see the name of the brand. It must have been a less used word in general.

    Hearing this story really stood out to me. We frame so much of everything as choice but less time is spent on the theme what do you do when you don’t know what to do. I recently saw a sitcom that had someone crying in the aisle of a store unable to decide and remembered Lewis’s step-son again. There are so many variables. I was so glad to recently learn the word discernment. I had honestly never noticed it before.

    I also enjoyed reading Dean’s comments on his sweet Buddhist neighbor. I have heard, but have trouble believing, that an iron nail in contact with a magnet becomes magnetic to other nails. I have begun to believe the role of an Orthodox person is not to convince others with words but to be like that iron nail in contact with our Lord, the opposite of the onion story I have heard retold from the Brothers Karamatzov.

  66. Thank you Nicole. I sincerely appreciate your comment on ‘randomness’ and ‘attraction’.

  67. Nichole…thank you…your comments go deep, like many here on this blog, and are a blessing. I love the tractor story and your analogy of the iron nail.
    You mention the word discernment. I recall Michael, in the past, comment about the importance of this gift. God gave us a mind to think clearly, but so many variables get in the way. It takes a lot to recognize that there is more, much more, to life than what meets the eye.
    Thanks again Nicole, for your kindness and sweet spirit.

  68. Father, Iike your “None of the above”. I wrote that in on most of the choices the last election. Of course write-in votes probably are not even tabulated by computers.
    My favorite system would be drawing lots. Put the names of every eligible citizen in a hat and draw out a name. That way each of us really could be President.

    It would have to be accompanied with more turn over in the bureauracy though.

  69. David, thanks for posting the link to Father Farley’s blog. A good discussion of a similar theme.

  70. You really can pick up on someone’s spirit here, can’t you? Some who comment are intellectuals, others scientists, housewives, farmers…you name it. Good God didn’t make us all the same! Would be rather boring. So, like Michael, forgive my many faults, stumblings, et cetera, here on the blog. This spot treats my heart (especially), mind and many times my funny bone. And more often than not I am challenged by Father’s articles. This fruit salad really works… Thanks to all!

  71. I haven’t read all of your posts on this subject, Father, nor all the comments, but I find myself relating it to your recent discussion of how one reads the Old Testament, always in light of the coming of Christ into the world. At that discussion, which I think was mostly in the comments section (as so many of your good conversations are) I followed along thinking of an idea of Kirkegaarde’s – I think in his Philosophical Fragments, that suggested the life of Christ to be that moment in time touched by eternity towards which earlier and later historical events converge.

    Of course, we are in time, but there is always a wondrous sense in which eternity continually manifests itself (‘now and ever and unto ages of ages’) so we are perhaps charged to be more aware of the goodness that invades even our modern idea of progress, since it is hard to think of end times without that concept. And when that eternal Now penetrates our awareness there cannot but be a sense of awe and greater purpose to our lives, even if we cannot fully know what that involves – all history, all literature, all art bearing witness to it fragmentally speaking.

    I think we are asked not only to do all the good things you have elaborated upon, but also to be witnesses, as our tiny segment of historical time contributes to and is embraced by eternity. John the Theologian gave us a glimpse of how the eternal had entered and began the time event of Christ’s life on earth – from the same beginning poetically recorded in Genesis. Back then too, modernity reared its ugly head as Cain became a wanderer and built cities – back then, as now.

    So, rather than thinking in terms of ‘progress’, we might fit the pieces together rather as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, to activate a timely whole not of our making but of God’s continuing creation. He seems to want us to be witnesses, and as you explained in another post, imitators as best we can manage, of Christ. (It’s not to be sneezed at, even if it only amounts to the magnitude of planting a mustard seed.)

    It’s how I make sense of the concept that we stand on the shoulders of giants, with respect to literature and art, not to mention that evergrowing cloud of witnesses awaiting our company after time’s fulfillment. Thank you for your posts!

  72. I have been truly despairing in the past few weeks largely due to the current political climate. My eldest son is very involved in a national organization seeking to change the systems of government in our country. While I believe that many of the causes they are working for are laudable, I just have reservations that I cannot explain, but he and I have had some good dialogues although I am not sure that I agree with his conclusions. This post and many of your other posts have helped to clarify some of that. I have often felt that I would just like to abstain from the political arena all together and I have been tempted not to vote. Last election I voted for a third party person I knew would not win to avoid the choice, but probably should have just not voted. Anyhow, this is a long way to say thank you, as always, for your thoughtful posts.

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