Remember, Lord, this country and all those in public service whom You have allowed to govern on earth. Grant them profound and lasting peace. Speak to their hearts good things concerning Your Church and all Your people that through the faithful conduct of their duties we may live peaceful and serene lives in all piety and holiness. Sustain the good in their goodness; make the wicked good through Your goodness.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 33)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, Godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
I Timothy 2:1-4
Christ is Risen!
In the early decades of Christianity, St. Paul wrote a letter (epistle) to his disciple, Timothy. He instructed Timothy, among other things, that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that they may lead a quiet and peaceable life, Godly and respectful in every way.” (I Timothy 2:1-2) Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) The church takes these two sentiments and makes sure that we are praying “for Caesar” in our divine services.
Unless a country is a “theocracy”, it is ruled by secular authorities. There are no Christian theocracies on earth, which means that in every Christian country, there are secular authorities who make the rules and laws. These secular authorities have the power to help or hurt Christians. For instance, in the United States, churches have a tax exempt status (at present), which financially helps churches. If the government decided to take this away from the churches, there would be a significantly negative financial impact.
The government makes decisions every day, some of which are in line with Christian values and some of which do not align with Christian values. The decision to declare war on someone, as an example, does not necessarily line up with Christian values. However, sometimes war has become necessary in defense of freedom. It becomes very tricky at times to govern according to God’s commandments. This one reason why we pray for our civil leaders, to have wisdom to walk what is a fine line between what we Christians believe in and what is necessary for a free, harmonious society.
Our country seems to be becoming more polarized by the day, and the two political parties have become like adversaries in an athletic contest, where one despises the other, where it’s all about winning rather than about governing, where there is angry rhetoric and no problem solving, where we can’t seem to reach consensus on anything, and most egregiously, in my opinion, where the government is overreaching in areas of morality. When I pray this part of the prayer from the Liturgy of St. Basil, my mind and my vocal emphasis goes to the phrase “speak to their hearts good things concerning Your church.” Many people now see the church not as a bastion of truth and love but as one of the problems in our society. Pontius Pilate attempted to walk away from the prospect of crucifying Jesus, saying “I find no crime in this man.” (Luke 23:4) The bloodthirsty mob, however, demanded Jesus be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could not control the mob, and that ultimately a civic uprising might cost him his job, he capitulated and put the Son of God to death. In many ways, society is like the bloodthirsty mob, everyone demanding to have their way. Politicians are swayed by the prospect of losing votes (which is sad, they should be concerned with governing) and are easily swayed by the mob and the media.
I’m sure the week before the crucifixion, if a poll had been taken in Jerusalem, on the likelihood that a murderer like Barabbas would be set free while the popular teacher and healer, Jesus, would be crucified, very few would have thought it possible. Yet that’s exactly what happened. This is one more reason to pray for our civil authorities, who with the stroke of a pen can crucify Jesus and set free Barabbas, they can do what people would think is unthinkable in the world.
There is one high priest, that is Jesus. So people like me, who serve as priests, have to realize, humbly, that we are taking on the role of Jesus in ministering to people. This is not something to be proud of, but rather something to fear, for who can possibly be worthy to take on the role of Jesus in ministering to people. Similarly, there is one true king, that is Jesus. So people who serve as civic rulers have to realize, humbly, that they also are taking on the role of Jesus in ruling over the people. And there should be an appropriate fear, respect and humility in this role, which sadly, many are missing.
God calls people to lead, whether it is in the church or in the secular world. We pray that those God has called will hear the call, heed the call, and respect God in answering that call. We pray for all in public service, whether they be our civic leaders, first responders, the military or anyone who works for the government. We pray first that they will lead us to “profound and lasting peace.” If our goal is to “live peaceful and serene lives in all piety and holiness,” we pray that they will govern in a way that allows for that to happen for us. For those who are good, we pray for the Lord to sustain them in their goodness, to not let them fall prey to temptation. And for those who are wicked, we pray that God’s goodness will come on them and they will embrace that goodness.
As Christians, we live in the world, and the world is governed by civil authorities, who have the power to protect the Church and Christianity or to hurt it. We pray that they will always see the good in Christianity and the Church and that they can make decisions that support and aid the work of the Church rather than anything that might inhibit or take away from the spreading of the Gospel.