Saturday, February 6, 2016

What Happens when the Church Joins the State

Over the centuries the Church has both enjoyed and suffered eras of close and sometimes total unity with the State. In cases where the State has departed from the ancient and Holy Tradition of the Church, and therefore turning its back on God, the relationship between Church and State suffers. Even in cases such as the United States in which there is not official relationship between Church and State, tensions increase when the State departs from the Way of Christ and the teachings of the Church. We can see this clearly in our current days as the legal battles against Planned Parenthood and so-called gay marriage, which are the most visible, play out in the media and courtrooms of America.

There are other tensions that evolve from Church-State partnerships, both ancient and contemporary, that serve to remind us that our Kingdom is not of this world. Today is the Feast of Saint Photios, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who himself was the center of political controversy; having been elected Patriarch after the Emperor had deposed his predecessor. Long story short, tensions increased between Rome and Constantinople, both politically and spiritually as a result. The truth of the Church was victorious, but not without a cost; there is always a cost. The Photian Schism played a role in what eventually separates Rome from the East.

There are some other more recent Church-State relations that have been a source of tension. Greece right now is undergoing a great deal of political pressure from the European Union to change a centuries old tradition of Mount Athos, by trying to force Greece to allow women to visit the Holy Mountain. Greece thus far has held its head high and refused, thankfully, but at what political cost? The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, invoking his Orthodox Christian faith has very publicly stepped forward in the defense of Syrian Christians and others in the Middle East, using the military force of Russia in defense of the Church. Russia too is under serious pressure by Europeans and others to alter laws, such as homosexuality prohibitions, claiming the Church shouldn’t have such “power” over the State. Many have already forgotten how Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic attempted to use the Church in his war against his own citizens. In that case, thankfully the Church spoke against his efforts.

So whether the Church-State relationship is officially sanctioned as in Greece and Russia, or the tacit relationship as in America where the Church merely speaks her mind amidst the many voice clamoring for attention, the result is the same. So long as the State remains loyal to the truth of Christ, Church-State relations are peaceful and at times even thriving. However when the State departs from the truth of Christ, we can AND SHOULD expect tensions to increase in Church-State relations. The question isn’t whether or not for the Church will stand true to Christ. That should be expected. What remains is her willingness to stand publicly against the policies of the State and risk political ramifications, such as did Photios the Great. As the pendulum continues to swing away from the Way of Christ, we can only pray the Church remains faithful to the end. Our salvation depends upon it.

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