Church & State
A great deal of harm has been done by oversimplifying the relationship between political authority and the truth of the Christian faith. A glaring example of this is the intermingling of political and Church leadership that has occurred in the West at various times throughout the centuries, where bishops and princes became hard to distinguish, and even went to war with each other – the “Papal States” being pure symbol of this unhappy commingling. This form of mixing the spiritual power of the Church and the physical power of the State ended up dividing and embittering the State and corrupting and defiling the Church.
On the other hand, for an individual in power to completely ignore his faith, or for a nation to “put its faith aside” when it comes to politics, is divisive and corruptive not only of a country but even of an individual soul. To believe and be convinced, for example, that a human life is incalculably precious, and then, when it comes to “politics,” to ignore that conviction, is to divide the conscience, to tear the heart into pieces. It is also to tear the mind into pieces: naturally, if something is true it is true; if it is a fact in Church, it is a fact everywhere else. A life is a life equally during a Sunday sermon, when it comes to the question of a country going to war, and when it comes to the legality of abortion. To split the mind and the conscience is to do damage to the deepest part of the human being, and this is contrary to the very nature of the State.
The goal of government, in all classical thinking, Christian and non-Christian, is to encourage its citizens to become good people. Asking them to deny their consciences, or to put them aside, or to split their beliefs into separated modules, is to commit a crime directly against this goal. When a nation does this, it causes division and war within the souls of its citizens, while its main purpose is to bring about virtue, honesty and peace.
It is this peace within the heart of man that is the first goal both of Christianity and of the State, each in its own way. From the part of the State, this peace is brought about by laws which encourage selflessness and love, bringing about peace both in society and within the individual. From the part of the Faith, a higher, truer peace is provided in which Christ himself, described as the “Peace of the World” in the Chaldean Liturgy, comes to dwell within the soul of the believer. The Church and the State have the same goal, and while they should not overlap one another, it is wise that they should work together.
Whether the Christianization of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century was ultimately a good thing or a bad thing, both for the Church and for the State, is a difficult thing to gauge, even for the most seasoned historian. Certainly, there was an increase in the number of believers, but how authentic this faith was if it was forced upon the individual by the State is something visible only to God; certainly, there was a spreading of Christian values, but how seriously the Emperors of Rome lived these values is likewise lost to our judgment. The celebration of the Feast of the Cross is, in its first conception, a celebration of the “Cross of Light” seen by Constantine which led him to victory and to the Christian faith, and to the subsequent finding of the actual wood of the cross of Christ by his mother Helen. As such, it is the celebration of an idealized relationship between Church and State, whether or not this relationship ever existed in reality. Today is a celebration of the peace brought about by the cross of Christ, both in the soul and in society:
May your cross rule in heaven, may your cross rule on earth, and may your cross crown the assemblies who confess your cross.
May the cross which was seen in heaven and revealed in mercies to the earthly exalt our miserable race, and bring and establish it in heaven.
The cross was victorious, the cross is victorious, the cross defeated Satan, shamed the legion of crucifiers, and gladdened the assembly of his adorers.
The cross of light that was shown to Constantine in heaven went to war like a general at the head of his hosts.
May your cross, O Lord, which was obscured due to the evil of the crucifiers let its rays fly over creation and enlighten the world to its ends.
May the cross which reigns in the heights give peace to the lowest depths, for height does not need peace: pacify, O Lord, the sons of men.
The cross gave victory to our nature, the cross lifted up our poverty; the cross exalted our insignificance, and brought and established it heaven.
By your cross may all be reconciled, by your cross may all be renewed, and by your cross, O Lord, guard us from the wiles of the deceiver.
Through your cross, O Lord, may priests and kings, your propitiators, be reconciled, and through your cross may your Church rejoice, O her Exalter through your abasement.
By your cross, O Lord, may the world which is shaken by wars be pacified, and by your command, may the sword which lays waste to our dwelling be abolished.
Through your cross was salvation for the nations who believed in your cross; and by your cross was also condemnation for the nations who denied your cross.
An Ancient Reality
The book of Genesis recounts the inspired understanding of God’s first thoughts when creating the world. The power of its images, therefore, is a real one, because every detail in them is intended to have significance “from the foundation of the world,” that is, to the most mysterious depths of human life on this earth. It is no wonder, then, that the hymns sung on the Feast of the Cross make so many references to the account of creation in the book of Genesis, and other accounts of the “earliest days,” the days when everything became what it is. This is because the crucifixion of the Savior of the world must be the “crux” of all of history; it cannot be otherwise. The cross, in other words, is the fulfillment of all that ever happened before it, and the guiding light of all that occurred after it.
Because the cross of Christ reaches so deeply into human history, down to its very blueprint, we believers are free to make creative parallels between it and the primordial images of the books of Genesis and Exodus:
The holy cross resembles the spring that flowed in Eden, and the wise drank from it and even the ignorant gained clarity.
The holy cross resembles the tree of life in the Church, whose fruits are suitable for eating, and whose leaves are fit for healing.
The cross of our Life-Giver resembles that which Moses lifted up in the desert: that one gave life to the Hebrews, this one to the four corners.
Even deeper are natural symbols, such as the dawning of the sun:
The holy cross resembles the sun which dawns in the firmament, whose rays fly through the air, and whose light gladdens creatures.
Finally, images are brought even from the New Testament and from heaven itself to help express the meaning of this particular piece of wood:
The holy cross resembles a flawless pearl, which head merchants bought and through which became wealthy and exalted.
The assembly of the faithful, when it stands in the churches, resembles the assembly of angels who extol the Divine dwelling.
A Great Light
This all goes to say that the Christian Faith makes an enormous difference in human life. It is not a matter of opinion or of picking a favorite religion. It is a matter of true and false, of right and wrong, of light and darkness, and the cross is the ultimate catalyst of this transition of humanity from darkness to light:
We are not ashamed of your cross, O Jesus the victorious King, for in it you saved our nature from slavery to sin.
O cross, whose authority extends above in heaven and blow on earth: may your peace rule over the Church, that she may sing praise to you every day.
The gorgeous beauty of the cross radiates across the whole world, and the heavenly and the earthy gain true hope.
O cross which is filled with mercies from your procession to your paths: you see creatures shaken and come to pacify them.
May your cross be a guardian to the assemblies which adore your cross, and through your cross protect your Church from the blasphemy of the insolent.
Through your cross, O Lord, may the assembly which extols your feast be guarded, and in its shadow be sheltered from the evil one and his hosts.