Nationalism is Not Christian

When Christianity first emerged in the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago, it was not welcomed by a majority of Jews, even though Christianity claimed to be a fulfillment of the promises and prophecies of God to Israel. And once the Roman Empire took notice of Christianity, it too sought to ban the nascent religion as dangerous, immoral and seditious.

So the Church came into being in a world in which the powers-that-be proved hostile to it. However, after a few centuries of being denigrated and persecuted, Christianity overtook the Empire and became the establishment religion and this forced the Christians to rethink what their relationship to power and government was. [Which is unfortunate as they needed to spend more time considering what it could or should be, not just what it was, but not many ancient Christians thought about being in power]. Early on Christians seemed to assume they would always be in the position of being a minority religion outside the corridors of power. They believed God’s Kingdom would come before the world had either eliminated Christianity or submitted to it. So they had no real concern about becoming the political force of the world. They had no understanding that the emperor could be a Christian and didn’t make plans for what would happen should they come to power. They did have a number of teachings from Christ that seemed clear enough if the Christians were a minority or a persecuted group in the Empire. But with the acceptance of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine they now had to wrestle with issues of power and the teachings of Christ.

Whether Christianity is a majority or minority religion in a country and regardless of its status as the established religion or not, it still has to come to terms with how to embody or fulfill the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ who showed no interest in worldly power. The teachings of Christ remain the same, it is the status of Christians in the world which changes. When asked by Pontius Pilate if He claimed to be a king . . .

Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus seems willing to accept the title ‘king’ for Himself but clearly views His kingship and Kingdom not to be from or of this world. He is not a king in the sense that Herod was king or Caesar was emperor. Christ’s kingdom is not just one of many worldly kingdoms and cannot be compared to the kingdoms of the world because His is a spiritual and divine kingdom not an earthly one. The implication seems clear – Christ and His followers are not fighting for political power in this world. He and they are claiming a citizenship in a kingdom somehow different from the kingdoms of the world. In fact, in Luke’s Gospel we are given the idea that all the kingdoms of this world belong to Satan and thus are not part of God’s Kingdom at all, indeed cannot be part of God’s Kingdom because they all represent powers and values opposed to heavenly ones.

And the devil took Jesus up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” (Luke 4:5-8; emphases added)

Christ clearly showed Satan that He had no interest in becoming an earthly king (see also John 6:15). Satan, if he is to be believed, claims to be the lord of all worldly kingdoms – a claim Christ does not dispute. Jesus does denounce relying on earthly power such as weapons to accomplish His goal. At His arrest, one of Jesus’ disciples pulled out a sword to defend Christ, but Jesus says to His disciple:

“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53)

St Paul seems to have a similar idea in mind when he says of the enemies of the cross of Christ that their minds are focused on earthly things:

Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:19-21)

St Paul too does not envision an earthly kingdom for Christians, but perhaps dual citizenship – one in the heavenly commonwealth and one in an earthly kingdom. Nevertheless, we are not working to establish an earthly kingdom even though we have to live in one of the nations on earth. We live in the world to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are to have our impact on the world, but our impact is to draw attention to our heavenly Father, not to claim power over others in the world.

Christ famously draws a distinction between this world and its rulers and God and His Kingdom:

Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

There is a difference between Caesar and God, and what belongs to each! God and a worldly emperor are not the same thing and one has to know the difference between the two and give to ‘Caesar’ only those things that belong to Caesar. So if we are to love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), we are not to love ‘Caesar’ in that same way. We can only give such total love and loyalty to one or the other.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13)

Nations and governments may want us to love God and country, but Christians have to beware that Christ tells us it is not possible to serve two masters. Our loyalties will be in conflict. This doesn’t mean that the nation/country is always wrong, it is only that we have to prioritize our loves and recognize that at times loving God will put us in conflict with the nation in which we have citizenship. It does mean that the nation can never be an absolute value – it can only serve a relative role in our lives and must always be subservient to our love of the Gospel. And we have to recognize that the nation may demand certain obligations or loyalties that we Christians can give only to God. We do not recognize any nation or worldly empire as an absolute value – only the Lord God is our ultimate value. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are sojourners and strangers in our own nation. As the early Christian document, the Letter to Diognetus has it Christians

…live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. . . . They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.

Christians are to be good citizens in the countries they inhabit, but they are to always recognize the absolute value only of God and God’s Kingdom and the relative value of the nation. As good citizens they can be patriotic, praying for and supporting the government, but they are never to be nationalistic. Nationalism sets up the state as an absolute value which is in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ.

But if Christian live in a world which is hostile and threatening to them, do they have any right to self-defense or to arming themselves to pre-empt or prevent attacks or war? Here we get into what certainly is the difficult part of being a disciple of Christ who says His kingship is not of this world. Towards the end of His life, according to Luke 22:36-38, as He knows His arrest and crucifixion are imminent, Jesus says to His disciples:

“But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.”

It seems as if Jesus may be giving some tacit approval to the disciples taking up arms, Yet, when they bring only two swords to Jesus, He tells them the two are enough – no more than two swords are needed.

And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

Forget about guns, arms and modern weaponry. Jesus spoke clearly that His disciples were to love neighbors, strangers and even enemies. The values of the Kingdom of Heaven are to be present in our lives on earth. No longer are we to live by the values of a nation or a ‘Caesar’ – weapons, armies, power, war. We are to live such that we do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. We are to govern our lives by the love with which Christ loves us (John 13:34-35). We might remember also what St James writes: Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

Thus those who blend together Christianity and nationalism are denying Christ and the Gospel. We Christians are not trying to escape the earth and save our souls. Rather we are trying to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in our hearts while we still live on earth. We are in the world but not of it. We have to figure out how to live the values of the Kingdom while still in this world to which we do not belong. We are to be lights to the world – we Christians are to reveal the Gospel to the world, to reveal Christ, to reveal God love, to reveal God’s kingdom to rest of the world.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. (John 17:11-16)

Orthodoxy or Death!2/21/2021 11:06 pm
You sir are a marcionite! Man made in the image of G-d is to take Dominion of the Earth. We believe in Cristus Victor, not victimhood. The Byzantine empire is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel and Russia is the third rome. When Christ comes back, heaven will be a remade Earth, we do not believe in the beuatfic vision aka the floaty place. In hic signo Vince's Praise G-d for St Alexander nevsky and st Justinian and st Olga.
Jamie Estevez2/12/2021 1:35 pm
Forgive me Father but had our Orthodox Ancestors adopted your stance on there would most likely not be any Orthodox Nations (or peoples) left on this Earth. The Great Russian People are a testament to that fact. Pacifism is fine for Priests and Monks and Nuns but the grand majority of the faithful are not priests, monks or nuns but Orthodox laymen and women with families (and children). God gave us responsibility to our families and our children to feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads and keep them protected from those and that which would hurt them. This is why communities form. The smallest community is the immediate family, followed by the extended family and your neighbors. Then your neighborhood, your town, your county/province, your state, and then your greater community which is your nation. You are right that a Christian should never make an idol of his nation and put his nation, ethnicity or race above the Almighty Lord. That is a transgression against the 1st Commandment. However I would argue that true Nationalism as opposed to Globalism (as we see it emerging today) is no vice. It is a necessity. A Patriot who loves his country, his family and his neighbor embraces Nationalism not out of hate but out of love for his Motherland, his family, his community and his neighbor. I do not see how that could be unchristian especially if we are talking about an Orthodox people (as in Russia or Serbia) for whom past wars meant not only the survival of nation state and/or kingdom but quite often the survival of Orthodoxy itself against adversaries whom were extremely hostile to the faith especially the Roman Catholics who sought to destroy True Orthodoxy and make Orthodox Peoples become apostates by swearing allegiance to the Pope of Rome. I guess what I am saying is Nationalism does not have to be Nation Worship (Idolotry) and can most definitely be necessary for the greater good. We can say the same about war. War is never good but sometimes it is necessary. Thank you for your time Father. God Bless You and your Community.
Michael2/12/2021 3:36 am
Patrick, the answer to your question lies in the fact that you used the plural: nationS. Nationalism is not about nations. Nationalism is always about one single nation, regarded as the most important nation. At best, in its most "benevolent" form, nationalism teaches that you should only care about people from one single nation and ignore the rest of humanity. At worst, in its most aggressive form, nationalism teaches that one nation should subjugate the others.
Bernard2/11/2021 6:05 pm
II. 3. Christian patriotism may be expressed at the same time with regard to a nation as an ethnic community and as a community of its citizens. The Orthodox Christian is called to love his fatherland, which has a territorial dimension, and his brothers by blood who live everywhere in the world. This love is one of the ways of fulfilling God's commandment of love to one's neighbour which includes love to one's family, fellow-tribesmen and fellow-citizens. The patriotism of the Orthodox Christian should be active. It is manifested when he defends his fatherland against an enemy, works for the good of the motherland, cares for the good order of people's life through, among other things, participation in the affairs of government. The Christian is called to preserve and develop national culture and people's self-awareness. When a nation, civil or ethnic, represents fully or predominantly a monoconfessional Orthodox community, it can in a certain sense be regarded as the one community of faith — an Orthodox nation. II. 4. At the same time, national sentiments can cause such sinful phenomena as aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, national exclusiveness and inter-ethnic enmity. At their extremes, these phenomena often lead to the restriction of the rights of individuals and nations, wars and other manifestations of violence. It is contrary to Orthodox ethics to divide nations into the best and the worst and to belittle any ethnic or civic nation. Even more contrary to Orthodoxy are the teachings which put the nation in the place of God or reduce faith to one of the aspects of national self-awareness. Opposing these sinful phenomena, the Orthodox Church carries out the mission of reconciliation between hostile nations and their representatives. Thus, in inter-ethnic conflicts, she does not identify herself with any side, except for cases when one of the sides commit evident aggression or injustice."
Bernard2/11/2021 6:04 pm
"II. Church and nation II. 2. The universal nature of the Church, however, does not mean that Christians should have no right to national identity and national self-expressions. On the contrary, the Church unites in herself the universal with the national. Thus, the Orthodox Church, though universal, consists of many Autocephalous National Churches. Orthodox Christians, aware of being citizens of the heavenly homeland, should not forget about their earthly homeland. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Divine Founder of the Church, had no shelter on earth (Mt. 8:20) and pointed that the teaching He brought was not local or national in nature: «the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father» (Jn. 4:21). Nevertheless, He identified Himself with the people to whom He belonged by birth. Talking to the Samaritan woman, He stressed His belonging to the Jewish nation: «Ye worship ye know what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews» (Jn. 4:22). Jesus was a loyal subject of the Roman Empire and paid taxes in favour of Caesar (Mt. 22-16-21). St. Paul, in his letters teaching on the supranational nature of the Church of Christ, did not forget that by birth he was «an Hebrew of the Hebrews» (Phil. 3:5), though a Roman by citizenship (Acts 22:25-29). The cultural distinctions of particular nations are expressed in the liturgical and other church art, especially in the peculiarities of Christian order of life. All this creates national Christian cultures. Among saints venerated by the Orthodox Church, many became famous for the love of their earthly homeland and faithfulness to it. Russian hagiographic sources praise the holy Prince Michael of Tver who «gave his life for his fatherland», comparing his feat to the martyrdom of the holy protomartyr Dimitrius of Thessaloniki: «The good lover of his fatherland said about his native city of Thessaloniki, 'O Lord, if you ruin this city, I will perish together with it, but if you save it, I will also be saved'». In all times the Church has called upon her children to love their homeland on earth and not to spare their lives to protect it if it was threatened. The Russian Church on many occasions gave her blessing to the people for them to take part in liberation wars. Thus, in 1380, the venerable Sergius the abbot and miracle-maker of Radonezh blessed the Russian troops headed by the holy Prince Dimitry Donskoy before their battle with the Tartar-Mongol invaders. In 1612, St. Hermogen, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, gave blessing upon the irregulars in their struggle with the Polish invaders. In 1813, during the war with the French aggressors, St. Philaret of Moscow said to his flock: «If you avoid dying for the honour and freedom of the Fatherland, you will die a criminal or a slave; die for the faith and the Fatherland and you will be granted life and a crown in heaven». The holy righteous John of Kronstadt wrote this about love of one's earthly homeland: «Love the earthly homeland… it has raised, distinguished, honoured and equipped you with everything; but have special love for the heavenly homeland… that homeland is incomparably more precious that this one, because it is holy, righteous and incorruptible. The priceless blood of the Son of God has earned that homeland for you. But in order to be members of that homeland, you should respect and love its laws, just as you are obliged to respect and really respect the laws of the earthly homeland».
Patrick2/10/2021 5:30 pm
Fr. Bobosh, I hope you a well. I am trying to wrap my head around your article as it's confusing and seems to run counter to what we have been taught. God provides order and pattern to the universe. There are ranks and divisions in heaven and we fully recognize that as Christianity. God instructs us through a hierarchy within the church from Patriarch to Bishop to Priest to Deacon that the faithful are to obey. We recognize that as Christianity. The family is structured to be accountable to God through the structure of the father, then the mother, then the children. We also recognize that as part of Christianity. We are taught that God is a lover of peace and concord, and that the structures he has created are for our benefit. We see this as we move from the family unit, to the community (emphasis on the Church and its structure). Each proceeding rank encompasses more responsibility Why would God leave the order of the nations out of his order, when he created them? This goes double for the instruction to obey the civil authorities (when they are acting in accordance with God's law). Why are the nations called Christ's inheritance? If the nations and the desire to reorient around the nations is not part of God's order, then is marriage not part of the order? Are we free to ignore the civil authorities at will? Is the Church hierarchy now optional as well?
James2/10/2021 10:48 am
M. Yeoman: I would suggest you actually read the article. There is not even a hint of denigration of national saints in it. Afraid you've missed the point. A good article.
Foo2/10/2021 9:41 am
The opposite of nationalism is the global commercial Hollywood atheist monoculture exported primarily by the United States. These are the only two choices in the equation so coming down against nationalism as a Orthodox Christian demonstrates a profound and deep lacking of spiritual insights.
Borislov2/10/2021 4:54 am
Yet Ephesians 6:12 states, "For ours is not a conflict with mere flesh and blood, but with the despotisms, the empires, the forces that control and govern this dark world--the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare." Even the underworld is under the authority of Christ, "I died; but I am now alive until the Ages of the Ages, and I have the keys of the gates of Death and of Hades!" --Revelation 1:18 We are witness to Colossians 2:15, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." We are told to slaughter the unpardonable in Luke 19:27, "But as for those my enemies, who would not have me reign over them, bring them hither, and kill them before me." Our weapon against the enemy is God himself, and with the fire of the Holy Spirit devour the enemy, and years of martyrdom is enough probable cause to start defending ourselves, let alone daring to offend the enemy that targets us daily. We are not of the world that embodies the forms of Government that Christ was witness to, yet are commanded to pray for "...Kingdom come, on earth as is in heaven..."
Matt S2/9/2021 11:15 pm
Thank you for this article! It seems that many of us today have forgotten that the dividing of the human race into nations was a part of the curse of Babel, a division that is healed in the Church by the descending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that we "have no abiding city, but seek the city which is to come" (Heb. 13:14).
Daniel2/9/2021 8:29 pm
God created the nations and I assume He wouldn't want them to be destroyed, with all distinct cultures disappearing and kneeling to globalism.
M. Yeoman2/9/2021 8:14 pm
What an absolutely nonsense article and virtue signal... Tell it to St Sava, and St Nikolai Velimirovich, and St John of Kronstadt and so many others. Spare me the boomerdoxy.
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