Vol. 2 No. 3 - Dormition 2007
Submit to Those in Authority
"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors," - 1 Peter 2:13
For great missionary saints like Saints Cyril and Methodius, Patrick, and others, one of the great advantages of ancient Societies - even pagan ones - was the presence of order and authority. Common people looked to their leaders for both political and spiritual guidance: evil or weak leadership saw a general disintegration of society, whereas the leadership of the righteous was a great blessing, even when it was short lived. Where the leaders led, the people followed, for better or for worse.
Few would argue that North American life provides such leadership for Christian living. Knit together by the common goal of prosperity, leadership is now often measured by the ability of the leader to bring the greatest material benefit. As a result, North American leaders are reduced to fellow-strugglers in the battle for the almighty dollar, and authority of any other kind - moral, spiritual, political, legal, or family - is almost forgotten.
Surprisingly, Canadians are perhaps more seriously afflicted with the disease of anti-authoritarianism than are Americans. While Americans will often fight over who will provide political or spiritual leadership in their nation, Canadians usually reject the very idea of leadership and authority, preferring to be left alone to make their personal choices in private. The very fabric of Canadian civil culture rejects common order and common values, and where relativism reigns supreme, one cannot hope to benefit from legitimate authority, or to submit to it.
The disappearance of titles from Canadian society is a case in point. In our day, everyone - even perfect strangers - enjoys rights of familiarity; everyone is a "pal", allowed to move to the most common form of address upon first meeting. Canadians hate titles, so everyone is a "buddy": our family physician is "Rick" (or Richard, if one wants to be formal about it), the local priest is no longer Father Athanasios, but Father Tom, or simply "Tom". After all, we're all friends here, right? Even young children often refer to adults by their first name - apparently as equals.
Where our Yankee cousins speak of "Mister President", Canadian political leaders are our pals: Paul, Stephen, and Stéphane - just like old friends you might have over to watch the ball game. God forbid we should submit to the political authority of these people: if we don't like them, we can always get rid of them. Vive la Revolution!
Sadly, the same flavour of radical egalitarianism infects the life of the Orthodox Church. The strange religious history of Canada which saw the faithful creating parishes, then sending overseas for priests, has bequeathed to Orthodox Canadians a parish structure which is fundamentally Protestant. Parishes are often (indeed, usually) constituted in such a way that parish councils can discipline priests, remove priests, or at least deprive them of basic benefits (we know of one case where a jaded council refused to pay any dental costs for the priest and his family).
At the root of such decisions is a spirit very foreign to the Orthodox faith, a Protestant spirit, where every man is an island, competing for power and authority in all matters, spiritual and temporal. It is a spirit that caters to ever-changing tastes, rather than submitting to eternal Truth. Born out of the dream of immigrants seeking freedoms, Orthodox life in North America, and particularly in Canada, is today afflicted with the very worst aspects of spiritual order, inherited from the "free world": a freedom guided totally by the never-satisfied passions of the human heart.
The Lord warns us to call no man father or teacher, a warning the Church Fathers understood as Christ's injunction against following gurus. Of course, even the Protestants who rebelliously refuse to use the title "Father" understand this, every time they send a Father's Day card, or attend a Parent-Teacher interview at the local school. Modern readers have to look not further than Saint Paul or Saint Ignatius to see the essential role of spiritual fathers and their spiritual children, teachers of the Gospel, and episcopoi (overseers, or bishops) to the unity and integrity of the Church, authority without which we get... Canada.
The spirit of rebellion against authority has taken its toll on our neighbours to the south, where entire religions or "ministries" are are built around one person or one family, the exact thing against which the Lord warned. The harmonious witness of the voice of the Church Fathers is drowned in a flood of emotionalism and celebrity worship, without any ties of real authority to compel submission in personal moral or spiritual life. As C. S. Lewis put it so well, most people don't really want a Father in Heaven - we want a Grandfather in Heaven, one who is most concerned that the young people are having a good time.
Ironically, Canadians who have lost the moorings of the authority of the Church Fathers are not having a good time. Isolated in private worlds of spiritual loneliness, without authority or guidance, we are so often unable to submit to any authority at all, in our work, in our marriages and family life, and - most particularly - in our spiritual life.
With the threads of political authority worn through, the Church is the last bastion of authentic authority. It is the authority of the united voice of the holy and saintly Christian Fathers of the last twenty centuries, without whom we float alone on the troubled seas of modern life, fending for ourselves as we scrape to understand the scriptures, and try helplessly to recover some shred of discipline in the unstable corners of our lives.
Canadians, more than even our American cousins, are fundamentally alone, suffering the effects of decades of rebellion against the only True Authority, Christ and His Church. We cannot hope to restore unity of mind or heart in our nation, until every heart bends its will to that Authority, over and over again.
And it is only in our own, individual heart that such a revolution of humility can begin.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Dormition, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.