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The Very Reverend Mitred Archpriest
Dr Michael Alexeevich Protopopov OAM
CHRISTIAN TEACHING ON ROYAL POWER
AND THE OBLIGATIONS OF ITS SUBJECTS*
St Philaret of Moscow 1792 – 1867
St Philaret was born Vasily Mihailovich Drozdov, on 26 December, 1782, in Kolomna, a historic provincial city south east of Moscow, into the family of a deacon who later became a priest.
He came to the notice of one of his predecessors Metropolitan Platon Levshin at an early age, and was consecrated a bishop at the age of 35 years. Philaret was often called “the new Chrysostom” for his preaching ability, and Metropolitan Platon said of him, “I give sermons like a man, but he speaks like an angel."
Highly educated, Philaret became professor of Greek and Hebrew at the Moscow Theological Academy, a member of the Russian Bible Society and the Russian Academy of Sciences. He wrote more than 200 books on such topics as theology, Russian and general Church history, explanations of the Canons of the Church, homiletics, government legislation, and other learned subjects. St Philaret influenced the cultural world of his time, especially such writers as Pushkin, Gogol, Tiutchev, Zhukovsky, Khomiakov, and even Dostoyevsky.
As Metropolitan of Moscow and the most influential cleric of his time, St Philaret believed that it was his duty to educate and enlighten his flock about the Church's teachings and traditions. Therefore, he preached and wrote about how to live a Christian life, basing his words on the wisdom of the Holy Fathers. His 1823 catechism has been an influential book in Russia and in other countries for nearly two hundred years.
The so called reforms of Tsar Peter the Great abolished the Patriarchate and severely restricted the Church, placing many aspects of its life under governmental control. Metropolitan Philaret tried to regain some of the Church's freedom to administer its own affairs, regarding Church and State as two separate entities working in harmony – a restoration of the Byzantine ideal of Symphonia. However, not everyone shared his views, and he certainly made his share of enemies, especially when he fell out of favour with Emperor Nicholas I towards the end of his reign. Still, he did achieve some degree of success in effecting changes.
The holy hierarch made a direct, creative, and decisive organisational contribution to the accomplishment of the Synodal translation of the Bible into Russian from Slavonic; a labour which took fifty years. He also wrote a definitive piece on the relationship of mankind to kingship.
And it is on this topic that I wish to speak to you this evening.
St Philaret had a close personal relationship with both Emperors Alexander I and Nicholas I. He prepared secret state documents for the transfer of power from one emperor to the other, to ensure a smooth transition at a time when the revolutionary cancer of the French Revolution was gaining some adherents in Russia. His belief in the system of monarchy is extolled in his work: “Христианское учение о царской власти и об обязанностях верноподданных”- “Christian Teaching on Royal Power and the obligations of its subjects.”
In his introduction, St Philaret reminds the reader that Royal Power is given from God. He cites a number of Scriptural verses to support his argument and concludes that Royal Power on Earth is a reflection of a Heavenly Kingdom. “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” [Ephesians 3:15] and “By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just; by me princes govern...” [Proverbs 8:15]. St Philaret concludes that when mankind forgets its Divine Master then He, the God of All, takes upon Himself the governorship of the world. In the Psalms it is said; “The King of kings and Lord of lords, by Whom all kings rule. The Almighty rules the realm of mankind and those to whom He gives power.” [Psalms 21]
St Philaret describes God as the Great Artist who creates a landscape of people and nature, wherein He acts upon society through people and conversely, acts upon people through society. In an age when people tend to turn away from God and ignore His statutes God sends various trials and tribulations to bring them to their senses, however, God does not deprive people of their free will to choose their own destiny. Nevertheless, the wise person will note the ever-presence of the Heavenly Kingdom and understand that the kingdoms of this world are subject to God.
This relationship between the Heavenly and the Worldly kingdoms is clearly seen in the appointment of David as king of Israel. “And the Lord said unto Samuel, go, I sent you to Jesse in Bethlehem, for I have seen amongst his sons a King for you.” [1 Samuel 16:1]. Philaret concludes that God’s appointment of David as King of Israel is the basis for the Divine Right of kings to rule. Samuel anointed David as a visible sign of the power and effectual operation of the Holy Spirit in the Royal Ministry. For it is written; “The Spirit of the Lord was upon David from that day forth.” [1 Kings 16:13] The anointing also indicates that the king was not accidently appointed, nor was he chosen by the people, but elevated to the kingship by God Himself. That this miracle occurred because; “Nothing is impossible with God.” [Luke 1:37]
The word miracle is not lightly used by St Philaret, he supports its use with the words of St Paul; “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are.” In this way God chose Constantine from the pagan Romans and Vladimir from the barbarian Slavs.
Philaret writes; “If God Himself, by his Word and actions, generates in us the idea that He rules over the kingdoms of Mankind, then it is obvious that such an idea is beneficial for us, for in it is the strength, defence, support and guidance of the kings and those within the kingdom.”
Having established his case for the Divine Right of kings, St Philaret gives an explanation of his view of what monarchy should be. He teaches that just as the heavenly is immeasurably superior to the earthy, so on earth all should be established to reflect the Heavenly, as it was revealed to Moses on Sinai. “See that all is done according to what has been revealed to you on the mountain.” [Exodus 25:40]
So it is that God in His Divine Individuality established on earth the king, as a reflection of His own autocracy, to be an autocrat from generation to generation. That the king put all in order and so that his subjects may glorify God and preserve the harmony of the realm. Furthermore, those who disturb the harmony of the realm rise up not only against the king, but also against God Himself. The whole history of the Old Testament shows that in times of disruption it one person and not the masses that bring peace and harmony to the nation. This was done by Moses at the time of the exodus and by Joshua upon entering into the land of Canaan. The Judges of Israel also protected the tribes of Israel, judging, teaching and settling disputes. And in times of reverting to idolatry, they also lead the nation back to repentance and were not afraid to destroy the wicked in their midst.
“To ensure an unbroken rule according to the laws of Israel, God gave the Israelites a king. Such kings as David, Josaphat, Ezekiel, and Joses are examples of how an autocratic king can successfully rule a kingdom and preserve the wellbeing of his subjects.”
In latter times, God willed to call Constantine to be the sole ruler of the Roman Empire and thus bring peace and prosperity to all its subjects. In Kievan Rus, St Vladimir did the same and brought the future Russian state into the communion of civilised nations. And, there are many examples of such rulers in the histories of other Christian nations. St Philaret comes to the conclusion: “The wellbeing of the people and the realm, in which the single source of purpose and direction is governed by a Christ-loving monarch, who has the good-fortune of his people as his greatest concern, is akin to the love and concern that the King of Heaven has for all Creation.”
On the topic of inheritance of royal power, St Philaret draws one’s attention to the sacred nature of fidelity to the monarch. In the Book of Psalms it records: “An oath of fidelity becomes a bond of eternal union with the king,” [Psalm 65:12] it is given freely and without reservation, one who refuses to give the oath is seen as by St Philaret as having no worth and a cause of disharmony in the natural order of things.
God promised King David His protection and added “and of your body I shall place your seed upon your throne.” From this order of succession St Philaret determines four principles (or as he calls them – dogmas):
1. God places kings on their thrones – Royal power is a Divine institution,
2. God places on the king’s throne his protégé as a right of inheritance,
3. Royal succession is a gift of the Almighty, which is confirmed in the promise, “I shall raise up a Chosen One from amongst My people.” [Psalm 88:20]
4. Royal power and its succession is a great blessing to the people for it is unbiased and governs for the good of the nation.
However, Philaret also warns that the ‘spirit of the times’ as mentioned in St Paul’s letter to Timothy [4:1-3 and 3:4] grows in strength and if one is not vigilant then the good order and wellbeing of the family and the nation can be undermined. The saint warns: “As the darkness falls outside, we must not sleep but increase the light within so as not to be lost in darkness.” The unseen warfare between the powers of good and evil surround the thrones of kings and seeks to destroy the harmony of kingly realms so that the nation can be divided and individual souls lost.
Certainly, we are all witnesses to the truth of this observation. The First World War became the vehicle for the destruction of the kingdoms of Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia and the Ottomans, whilst the Second World War continued this decline into anarchy with the destruction of the kingdoms of Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Italy and Romania. Between the wars the kingdoms of Afghanistan and Iraq, and after WW2, Egypt and Persia fell to revolution. The history of these countries during the 20th century is a litany of death, torture, dysfunction and human misery.
St Philaret prays: “God is with Us! Let each of us be as one with our Sovereign Lord. God is with us in our grace-filled Orthodox Faith and in our God blessed Orthodox autocrats. Let us also be one with God, living a pious life in complete fidelity to God and in harmony with each other.”
When the subjects of a king think about the high calling and responsibilities laid upon the monarch, they should also recognise their obligations to the king. The king is bound by divine obligation to care for his subjects; to guard them from harm; to tend to their physical and emotional needs. The king must provide education for his subjects, he must curb that which is unlawful or evil, repair that which is damaged and strengthen that which is important to the wellbeing and growth of the kingdom.
The symbols of royal authority express these duties in a clear and unambiguous way. The “Crown of precious stones” symbolises the wisdom needed to rule commendably. The Sceptre reflects the need to hold power effectively and not disperse it amongst those who are not solely interested in the good estate of all, but may have ulterior motives of their own. The orb is the symbol of nationhood, strongly held by the monarch to show his daily concern for the wellbeing of his subjects, and finally, the sword – firstly of justice and secondly symbolising the king’s duty to be ever-ready to defend his kingdom and those who live in it.
In return for the king’s diligence towards his realm and subjects, those same subjects have a duty of loyalty towards their monarch. This expression of fidelity in the words of St Matthew concludes that we must: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” [22:21] and becomes the basis of our duty to our Sovereign Lord. St Peter proclaims: “Fear God and honour the king.” [1Peter 2:17] Again we come across the thought that when we render unto one, i.e. God, we also render unto the other, i.e. the King. St Philaret extols his belief in the following terms: “If St Peter calls us to honour the king, when the king was a pagan and cruel persecutor of Holy Church and to pray for him; how much more sweet and dutiful it should be for us to now pray for our Anointed Monarch and honour him. A nation worthy of having a God blessed monarch, must honour him as they would the Lord Himself for a king is created by God.”
St Paul writing to Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, instructs him to: “First of all, then, I counsel that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all human beings, including kings and all in positions of authority; so that we may lead quiet and peaceful lives, being godly and upright in everything. This is what God, our Deliverer, regards as good; this is what meets his approval.”
Considering the harsh times that Christians lived in during the early centuries of The Church, one can only wonder at the tolerance and love that abided in them to pray for their persecutors and tormentors, and the inner strength of St Paul to admonish his spiritual children to honour Caesar with their loving prayers. “You have heard that our fathers were told, `Love your neighbours - and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Then you will become children of your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:44] St Paul goes one step further, showing that he was not only a teacher but a true spiritual guide, and calls upon his spiritual children to not only pray for Caesar, but also to give thanks for him. “I beg you not only to pray, but also to give thanks for the king and all those in authority.” [Colossians 1:3]. Here we are faced with the challenge to prayer for and give thanks for the monarch we are given – that there is no good or bad king – there is just the king.
Eusebius takes up the theme of prayer for Caesar saying; “The Church was admonished to pray with fear and through their tears for Caesar, who was foreign to their nature and yet given to rule of them.” In our times we are given pious and righteous monarchs, who spread the Faith and defend the Church – for these we are called to pray in peace, with joy in our hearts and thanksgiving to God.
“I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. It is he that gives salvation unto kings.” [Psalm 44:9-10] St Philaret concludes: that in this psalm we feel the triumphant nature of David’s gratitude to God for giving the king salvation and that we too should rejoice in the king for he is God’s Protected One.
If we are admonished to rejoice in the king then we are also admonished to other duties of fidelity. St Peter writes; “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” [1 Peter 2:13-14] Consequently, St Philaret emphasises that we should submit ourselves to the rule of the monarch.
Giving obedience to the king and those put by him in authority is a principal form of honouring the monarch. St Peter does not simply stop at obedience, but to do so for God’s sake, that is to say that through obedience to the king one gives obedience to God Himself. The Apostle also infers that there are other forms of obedience which are generated by feelings of social aggrandisement or a desire for appeasing those in authority. St Peter therefore emphasises that only obedience for God’s sake and no other can bring spiritual credit and justification. “He, who obeys for fear of punishment, or out of a desire for personal gain, awards or honours, is unworthy of God, for he only serves himself.”
St Philaret concludes; “Some people obey for the sake of society or to serve their superiors. These often obey from a sense of loyalty and love for their king and country. However, for love for the Sovereign and the Nation to be natural, pure and unchanging it must be built upon a foundation of Godliness. Obedience built on Faith indicates the heavenly origin of earthy power and one, who sacrifices all in obedience to king and country, has become blessed for God’s sake. Blessed are those who are obedient even unto death, for the Lord shall receive their sacrifice as if was done for Himself.”
It is true to say that if one is faithful in small things then one will also be faithful in important things; and the opposite is also true. To betray the king or the Nation in times of war; to steal from the nation’s wealth or to cause injustice to others are all obvious crimes against the Sovereign and sins against God. But, not to be honest, to avoid one’s obligations and not to stop an injustice are also equally despicable and sinful. By being upright and honest one serves the king and is pleasing to God. Such people, who are faithful in small things, can also be trusted with important obligations. Furthermore, true sacrifice can, and sometimes does, call for a complete giving of one’self. Philaret writes: “An honourable worker must always remember the words of Our Lord: ‘Be faithful unto death and I shall give you a crown of life.” [Rev. 2:10]
St Philaret lists a litany of obediences to the king by his subjects:
1. Those who take the king’s coin are obliged to increase that coin so the realm will continue to prosper
2. The king gives the Law and Justice so that order will prevail and we are called to be subject to the Law in humility and obedience
3. The king gives us government for the good order of the realm and we are called to respect its statutes
4.The king gives us social order and we are called to observe the general good of the realm and support its social structures
5. The king gives us a national purpose and identity and we are called upon to defend, and protect the nation, even unto the ultimate sacrifice.
It is impossible to think that the King of Kings, who gives to each individual person according to his deeds, will not give to whole realms and peoples according to their deeds. Yet, it seems easier to consider individual wrongs and transgressions rather than a corporate sinning of a nation. The truth is that the moral state of a nation will bring down upon itself the blessing of God, or His righteous wrath. This was true of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament and is true of nations and empires throughout history. In the Book of Samuel one may read of the desire of the Israelites to be given a king “as have other nations”. Despite Samuel’s protests, God agreed to the desire of the Israelites and granted them Saul as their king. However, God placed a small but extremely significant condition upon the Israelites, He warned them: “That the fate of the people will depend upon the fate of the king.” The proof of this condition was immediately evident in the suspicions of King Saul and how the people were afraid of him. And also in the drought which God sent upon the land when King David sinned and no rain fell until the king repented. Perhaps, closer to home, if we look at the fate of our own nations; Serbia and Russia, we may recognise the consequences of the loss of our monarchs and the fate which befell our nations in the 20th century.
The good and evil of individuals, brings with it the general good or evil of the nation, concludes St Philaret. “Let truth and righteousness elevate the nation for this will bring wellbeing to all.”
Finally, St Philaret invites his compatriots to help the king in his royal service.
1. The first way of assisting, as mentioned before, is to pray for the king. “Much is achieved by the prayers of a single righteous person.” [James 5:16]
2. Secondly, do not interfere in the works of government unless one is called to serve
3. Thirdly, live in peace and harmony and do nothing to disturb the tranquillity of the realm
4. Fourthly, remember that “Love does no evil.” So that justice may prevail in all things
Then, truly the king will be a Father and rejoice in his children, as is expressed in the Lenten Triodion. St Paul supports this position exalting the early Christians to live in love, one for the other, and in doing good deeds: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” [Heb. 10:24]
Having spoken of the duties of the king’s subjects, St Philaret concludes his teachings on royalty and royal power with the words: “Oh, if only kings were fully aware of their heavenly merit and of the awesome duties placed upon them, where their thoughts and actions should be governed by piety and a fear of God. If only all the nations could comprehend the heavenly honour of the monarch, where the earthly kingdom is a reflection of the heavenly. Then all which is done would be a blessing.”
Take care to hold that which is given to you: “That no one will steal the crown given to you.” [Rev. 3:11] Remember the words of Our Lord: “Fear God and Honour the King!”
In today’s climate of secularism, many of the propositions made by St Philaret appear fanciful and outdated. However, that is the result of our living in a society which prizes the rights of the individual over and above the common good. Democracy is the by-word of living a free and self-willed existence. Consequently, all those issues which are alien and abhorrent to the Christian psyche; abortions, euthanasia, same sex relationships, suicide and genetic manipulation are accepted as the free expression of the individual, and as long as it does no harm to others - is perfectly acceptable.
St Philaret reminds us that his teaching are based upon having a relationship with God, rather than with self, which lead us into a spiritual existence where the common good is prized; where we all move towards salvation together, for it is God’s desire that we all come to salvation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]
St Philaret was glorified amongst the saints at the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1994.
*Lecture given in Sydney,
18. November (1. December) 2013.