I must admit a great sense of relief over the conclusion of this year’s national election. Honestly, I really do not care who won. I am not upset by the outcome. I would not have been upset if the other guy won. They do their thing, they represent their party, they cater to their self interests, they more or less adhere to their ideology. Big government, small government, pro-military, pro-education. There are many, many forces beyond their control, and they have the unenviable task of steering the country through whatever perils lie around it. God be with them.
I do not think I have any illusions about American politics. As an Orthodox Christian, I am one of the 0.4%. Yep, roughly 1 out of every 250 Americans is Orthodox. Pretty low numbers. (I know that Wikipedia says it’s 1.7%. I also know people who attend “nondenominational” churches and call themselves Orthodox because they were baptized there by their grandmothers.) I have no fantasy that some politician is going to represent my Orthodox views, nor would I really want him or her to.
Which leads to an interesting thought experiment. If you were threatened with harm — physical, psychological, financial, whatever — because of your faith, would you endure that harm and remain faithful or would you renounce the faith? Do not answer quickly. Think of Saint Peter. Three times he denied Christ, even to the point of apostasy (uttering a curse and saying he did not know the man), rather than face the possibility of harm. He changed, he was given the chance to repent, so we see him in a positive way. But in a moment of pressure, he caved. Given that same pressure, so might we.
You have heard it said before, by holier men and women than me. What is our purpose? The answer, throughout our great faith, is that we seek to rout out the passions in our lives (blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God, right?); to practice the soul-nourishing virtues (that can be found through the study of scripture and through the reading of our holy fathers and mothers), virtues like self-control, fasting, alms-giving, selfless love, etc, and ultimately theosis, the process of becoming partakers of the Triune God’s divine nature.
Forgive me, but none of these men, not Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, not Joe Biden and not Paul Ryan will teach us theosis. And while they can have certain trajectories that may resonate with some matter that we care about (abortion, or care for the poor), their legislative prowess is really wasted on us. We know who we are and what we are expected to do. This requires no legislation. It just requires us to live out what we have been taught.
You should consider what it was like to live as a Christian in the pre-Constantinian Roman empire. People were butchered for sport because they were strong enough in their beliefs that they were willing to die for them. These were the true martyrs of our faith, not killing others but willingly dying themselves because they knew that what came later was a peace, a love, a rest, that cannot be imagined by those of us on earth. Or in Communist Russia, where icons — not jewels! — were hidden in secret cubbies, not for cloistering so much as so that they could be ready and available when the next time for prayer came along. Priests would go the liturgy knowing that they would soon be dead. And they still went. And prayed. And died.
And we worry about, well, what exactly?
I am saddened. We have allowed our passions to consume us. Those who have lost have reacted in ways that make it almost impossible to discern where the love for man ends and the hatred for same begins. Those whose side won have found many opportunities for gloating, removing all doubt from a person’s mind that ours is not quite as civil a process as one, especially an Orthodox Christian, would hope.
This is not a time for lavish celebration, nor is it a time for inconsolable lament. We are Orthodox. We take the peaks and we take the valleys, not getting too enthralled and not getting too despondent. To give too much time, too much energy to such things would be to give into the passions. We seek apatheia, which is not a care-less-ness to the world, but rather a love beyond all measure care-full-ness for the world.
And ultimately, we just go and do what we do. We remain faithful to our teachings. When they clash with the world, we, with a love that passes all understanding, remain faithful to our teachings. If we are persecuted for it, we do not whine and moan, we do not take up arms, we do not join in the protest, we do not cry to the Internet with podcasts and web-petitions, we endure. We pray. We love. Maybe we suffer. But we know if we are faithful, so is God. If we love God more than these, then we too shall overcome whatever obstacle may come our way.
Do not worry about your “rights”. Do not worry about “freedom”. These are worldly notions that are neither holy nor evil. Worry instead about your salvation. Worry about your nous, that part of your soul that is in contact with the heavenly kingdom, and do the things which nourish and illumine it. Do not count on outside forces — especially worldly political ones — to do it for you. YOU seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all things will be added unto you.