Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom :: The Church Militant

(For the next several months I will be participating in this book club on Desiring the Kingdom, hosted by Mystie at Simply Convivial. If you missed my earlier posts you can find them here)

Last week, rather than really giving an overview of Smith's points in the first part of chapter 3, I gave a sort of overview of the vision of The Kingdom implicit in Orthodoxy. I am doing the same thing this week as I take a look at the Christian vision which counters the secular vision described and examined in the chapter.

In this next section of chapter three, Smith talks about the rituals connected with patriotism. He posits that things like standing for the national anthem and daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance should be approached with some trepidation by Christians whose allegiance ought to be to a heavenly country.

I'm honestly not really sure what I think of his assertions here.  I do understand his assertion that there are physical "liturgies" which point a citizen toward loyalty to his country. I can see how daily recitation of the pledge, or the act of standing during the national anthem can point one toward being a patriot, but I don't see it as a necessarily bad thing. And I don't think I can agree that these things are as formative as he argues that they are. And to the extent that they are formative I would say that loyalty to one's own homeland would be a stepping stone to point to the Heavenly Homeland. I think all Christians would agree that God's Kingdom requires our commitment above all other kingdoms and certainly that commitment ought to trump any others. So, in light of all that, I thought I'd use this week's post to focus a bit on the vision of the Kingdom implicit in the Orthodox Church; specifically the vision that views our lives here on earth as warfare and the idea that our loyalties lie with another Kingdom.

Smith emphasized in the last chapter that the vision of the good life is passed down to us in things like pictures, stories and songs. We have all of those things combining to put a glorious image of spiritual victory before us which can inspire and spur us on to greater efforts.

There are hymns of the Church that speak in military terms. The sign of the cross is referred to as a powerful weapon. We call the Theotokos (Mary, the God-bearer) our "Champion Leader", to whom "we dedicate a feast of victory" - victory over sin and the passions. We have stories of great saints like St. George, a military commander in the Roman army, who was so on fire with love for Christ, that he could not remain silent and fearlessly spoke out against the horrible persecution of the Christians to the Emperor Diocletian. His words led to his own martyrdom and death, to which he went joyfully. We call him the "deliverer of captives" and "defender of the poor"; the "champion of kings" and "victorious martyr".
Then there is St. Demetrios, another soldier whose allegiance to the Kingdom of God completely overshadowed his allegiance to Rome and led to his death.
 These two legendary heroes, along with many other great saints of the Church, stand as models for us of what victory in Christ looks like. They were actual soldiers who fought for earthly king and country and were loyal and obedient in doing so. But we can see that they gave up everything for love of God, including wealth, prestige and power. They were soldiers on earth, whose spiritual victories far outweighed their earthly ones. 
While we believe that Christ was victorious once and for all when He "trampled down death by death" and that the battle has been won, we also know that our participation in that victory is left up to us: we choose to accept or reject God's grace. Always He gives us the freedom to run to Him, or to run away.

The life of the baptized Christian is, from beginning to its earthly end, a constant struggle. From the very moment of baptism, when we defy the devil by blowing and spitting upon him, we acknowledge that we have taken up arms against all that would turn us away from Christ. We become soldiers who are going to war. This excerpt from one of the prayers at the baptism service (right after the newly baptized person has been chrismated) uses language that confirms this:

He that has put on You, O Christ, with us bows his head unto You; ever protect him a warrior invincible against them who vainly raise up enmity against him, or, as might be, against us; and by Your Crown of Incorruption at the last declare us all to be the victorious ones. 
The struggle for victory does not end in this lifetime. We must fight to the very moment of death so that we can overcome in Christ. And so the battle does not end with baptism and entrance into communion with the Church of Christ. Baptism is really just the beginning. We then have to show by our works that our faith is alive and that we are willing to fight tooth and nail to keep it. We are patriots of the Heavenly Country, the glory of which far outshines the glory of any kingdom here on earth. If we keep this vision in front of us then, when the time comes for us to declare our allegiance to our True Home over our temporary one, we will be prepared; prepared to choose death, in order to gain life. And this death might not always mean physical death or martyrdom. More often than not we must be prepared to die to self first. We must be willing to take up our cross in the face of immense opposition from our own passions and from the culture around us. We must be willing to say no to the cultural liturgies that turn us away from Christ, in order to move closer to Him.   


  1. I think this is a brilliant observation: "And to the extent that they are formative I would say that loyalty to one's own homeland would be a stepping stone to point to the Heavenly Homeland."

    I really appreciate this week's post (as well as last week's, which I didn't have time to comment on). I love that you brought up Christian martyrs who were also soldiers. I did think that Smith drew the line between sacred and secular in this one, to the point that there were whole areas of life that were not worth loving, and so the only deduction I could make was that they somehow did not belong to God or originate in His mind, which is faulty ground to stand upon!

    Did I mention that I love your post? I do. :)

    1. I'm glad you liked it. I almost didn't post it because in spite of my many words I still haven't articulated exactly what I'd like to say! Maybe it will come with time. I sometimes have to let things grow in me for awhile before I can get them out.

    2. I know that feeling! :)

      Thank you for taking this tangent. Sometimes I think the tangents are more helpful than the main path. :)


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