God Save the King!

King Solomon. Photo: loandbeholdbible.com King Solomon. Photo: loandbeholdbible.com     

A few days ago, crowds gathered in sorrow around the front gates of Buckingham Palace in London. The waited, and they watched.

Finally, the flag on the palace was lowered, and they knew Her Majesty the Queen had died.

Spontaneously, the crowd broke into song.

They sang, “God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen!”

Most people recognize this as the national anthem of Great Britain.

It is, of course, also Canada’s second national anthem, although many have forgotten it.

But the phrase “God save the Queen”—or now “God save the King”, does not come from a song.

In six places in Holy Scripture, we find the words, “God save the King”. Two are most famous.

The first occurs in 1 Samuel (1 Sam 10:24), where we read, Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen (referring to King Saul), that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king.

The second occurs in 1 Kings (1 Kings 1:39), where we read, Zadok the priest took a horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon.

George Frideric Handel wrote his famous anthem for coronations, based on this verse. We’ll hear it played again in a few weeks, for the first time in seventy years.

The Orthodox Church—from the time of the Old Testament, straight through the days of the early Church to the twentieth century—is filled with kings and queens who are saints and even martyrs for Christ.

These are examples of holiness and self-sacrifice.

We have famous examples, like Saint Constantine the Great, who not only Christianized the Roman Empire, and made Christianity legal, but convened the First Ecumenical Council which defended Orthodoxy against the heresy of Arianism.

Or the Empress Theodora, who after nearly two centuries of the destruction of holy icons throughout the Byzantine Empire, courageously restored them to the churches under her rule, despite fierce opposition.

Or the passion-bearer Tsar Nicholas II, who faced the assaults of the atheistic Bolsheviks, and with his family were led to the slaughter, trusting in Christ, and praying for their captors.

Orthodox Christians who deeply understand their faith also understand why monarchy has throughout time been an instrument of God to sanctify the fallen world.

Monarchs are not chosen by men—they are only accountable to God.

If they fulfill their calling, their reward is very great, and if they fail in their calling, their punishment is very severe.

Christian kings and queens usually do not achieve their positions—or keep them—because of buying off public opinion. They are not voted in, or voted out. The passions of mankind affect them as individuals, but it is the hand of God—not political ambition or an election campaign—which puts them in their place of rule.

A wonderful book, Pious Kings and Right-Believing Queens, compiles the lives of hundreds of such saints—all of them kings and queens. Many of these saints are martyrs for Christ.

One can hardly imagine a book about saints entitled Pious Presidents and Right-Believing Prime Ministers—of course, there is no such book!

We do not have to look very far to find examples of leadership based on ambition, and the kind of results ambition brings to the world.

The Holy Gospel presents us with a stark contrast to these righteous kings and queens, in the person of King Herod.

Of course, this Herod was not a real king—he was a political appointee, by the Romans. He was a fake king.

Saint John Chrysostom contrasts him with the moral purity, the moral excellence of Saint John the Baptist. This is the reason John the Baptist bothered him so much—because he spoke the truth about Herod’s sinful life, and his marital immorality.

The Venerable Bede tells us John the Baptist was righteous because of his truth-telling: Herod was not. He lived by lies. He married the wife of his dead brother, and then, while trying to impress his friends on his birthday, he made a very stupid promise to the daughter of his new wife.

It was this promise which eventually led him to murder Saint John the Baptist.

Brothers and sisters: righteous people are not manipulated by the opinions of their friends.

Righteous people speak the truth.

Saint John Chrysostom tells us we all—as Christians—actually own that to people who are living sinfully. We owe it to people to tell them the truth.

One is reminded of our late Queen’s televised Christmas messages each year, in which she always spoke about the birth of Christ.

Who else would do that? Would some elected political leader do that?

Even as the head of a heterodox church, she spoke the truth, and lived righteously—and was on her knees in prayer for her nations and her family every night—literally, I might add.

You can be sure Herod was not doing that.

Righteous kings and queens—the saintly ones—are given to us as icons, here on earth, as heads of nations, to show us grace, and holiness, and righteousness, incarnate within our very governments.

For Orthodox Christians, this is not a philosophical concept, because we recognize that Christ sanctified all creation—including governments—by His incarnation in the flesh.

Any Orthodox Christian who truly understands the Orthodox faith and the teachings of the Church Fathers will also have learned this—or at least, will not reject this when they hear it.

Dear brothers and sisters, as we give thanks for the blessings of seven decades of rule of a righteous Queen of our own country [Canada], let us recall the hundreds of kings and queens whom God has raised up as saints of the Orthodox Church: true icons of holiness who are praying for us before the throne of God, in the Eternal Kingdom.

Mary10/4/2022 10:09 pm
In response to Anne: that's part of the great Mystery of Anointment if I understand correctly - to be fully responsible of what is going on "your watch" as a king or queen. How God balances it's His Judgement not ours. But if it happened it must be said. It's a Mystery it's not holding a public office. The Church never erased nor canonized Roman Emperors that killed tortured the Early Christian Martyrs unless they expressed deep sorrow for their actions and changed their ways. The Church also did not erase the sad memory of other Apostate kings and queens that fought against Christians. Church militant is constantly inspired by the Grace of the Holy Spirit so Her decision to still keep the memory of what was done under unfaithful kings is not a random act. I don't know how much of a Mystery was for a Protestant Queen and how responsible is she. According to the Orthodox Church she was not even baptized. How can the blind be asked to see? So she needs prayers.
Anne9/20/2022 7:35 pm
Response to Orthodox in Finland: every ruler since the history of the world has been in power when bad things have happened on their "watch." Some have been directly responsible; others have not. Also, no ruler is infallible. Except the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords - Jesus Christ. Queen Elizabeth believed in and followed Him as far as she was able but at the end of the day she is a flawed human being just like the rest of us. I take exception to her making Tony Blair an Order of the Garter - all it does is undermine the privilege. I also took exception to her encouragement of her subjects to take an experimental gene agent inoculation. But I do draw the line at the idea that she would willingly see fellow Christians incarcerated. I will try and get hold of a copy of the book you mention. God bless.
Orthodox in Finland9/20/2022 9:40 am
Responding in turn to Anne, my source is "Offended Christians, Anti-Mission Churches and Colonial Politics: One Man's Story of the Messy Birth of the African Orthodox Church in Kenya". It's a very good read, I think you will enjoy it. I did not slur the late Elizabeth of England, but rather stated a truth that many have chosen to forget about her. Her personal responsibility lies in the fact that she was the head of state of an agressive colonial state that committed unjustifiable crimes in Kenya and beyond. She cannot be exonerated of responsibility while partaking in the privileges that her office brought her. I understand that you might have some connection to her, perhaps as a subject to a ruler, but remember that those of this world have always hated our faith. Pray for her soul, and understand that it was not slander.
Anne9/19/2022 8:55 pm
Responding to Orthodox in Finland: it is highly doubtful that Queen Elizabeth was personally responsible for the "placing of Orthodox clergy in concentration camps during the Mau Mau uprising" as you say. Before placing such a slur upon another human being, please show us your proof. It is just too easy to slander others without proof to back up your spurious claim.
Orthodox in Finland 9/19/2022 9:10 am
I do not think it appropriate for an Orthodox priest to eulogize the figurehead of an empire responsible for placing Orthodox clergy in concentration camps during the Mau Mau uprising. May the Lord forgive her her sins. That is the only thing we need say now.
Tom Rogers9/18/2022 3:40 am
"...the national anthem of Great Britain". There is no such country. The country is Britain, or if you want to be fancy, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or the United Kingdom. I prefer plain Britain. Apologies if you know this already and it was just a slip, but the mistake irks me greatly. You could make the argument that it is merely a technical mistake that arises from how Acts of Parliament arbitrarily define and name the country; but whenever somebody employs the misnomer, they are implying that Northern Ireland belongs to Ireland rather than Britain - and I suspect in many cases (not in your case, of course) it is done on purpose with that reason in mind, as a malicious slight.
Anne9/17/2022 12:06 am
Let's not forget that Charles stated publicly some years ago he would like to be "Defender of the Faiths." Not THE Faith. How will that play out in the Coronation service, I wonder?
Augustine9/16/2022 5:45 am
Does Fr. Geoffrey mean to imply that hereditary monarchy is the only one blessed by God? Does he realize that that's a particularity of Germanic peoples? Many of our saintly kings and queens were often not related by blood to their predecessors. Some were chosen by the preceding monarch and some became monarchs by political or military craft, indeed par for the course.
Mary9/15/2022 10:37 am
But in the specific case of Protestant and Anglican monarchs, what is the truth? Rome, from which the Anglicans split recognizes their Baptism and the pastoral activity of their priests but not their Bishops. Since the King of England is annointed by a Bishop is tbat annointment a Sacrament like in the cases mentioned in the Holy Scripture? I realize this is more a Roman Catholic problem since Anglicans they split from them but is there an official Orthodox positions regarding kings and queens annointed within heretic denominations? Anglicans used ethno phyletism to fight the Pope of Rome and ethno phyletism is listed as heresy within Orthodox Church as well as in the Roman Catholic. How are we to see this coronation?
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