August 31, 2010

Orthodoxy as the Official Religion of the Roman State

By Fr. John Romanides

The Byzantine State sought to have Orthodoxy as its official religion and it made so many efforts to preserve Orthodox doctrine intact.

Why did it do so? Simply to preserve doctrine as doctrine? Or perhaps because Orthodox doctrine in particular was a precondition for the cure of its citizens, which cure would occasion a social restoration to health through the healing of the personality of each and every citizen? More likely the latter.

What was the national anthem of the Byzantine Empire? Was it not “Save, O Lord, Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance; grant victories to the emperors over barbarians, and through Thy Cross preserve Thou Thy commonwealth”?

This hymn expresses the ideology — if we can call it that — of the implementation of Orthodox teaching, faith, and life within the State; that is, on a nationwide scale.

Since the State foresaw the contribution to society and the benefit that would result from the Orthodox therapeutic teaching and method, if it were implemented, it instituted and promoted the Orthodox Faith as the official State religion, such that the State would be filled with parishes in which Priests would practice this therapeutic regimen.

Thus, the parishes would grow with time into [communities of] healthy citizens, as would the State itself, by extension. The Church naturally did not refuse this, but rather worked in consort with the State.

It so happened, however, that this power given to the Church, together with the requisite ecclesiastical administrative organization, created a public service problem as a necessary evil. That is, many who coveted public positions pretended to be Orthodox, though they were not, and the Church began to be secularized.

Aside from all of these things, the Church had as its parallel task to protect the State from quack doctors, that is, from heretics. The local and Ecumenical Synods attended to precisely this.

In the Acts of the Ecumenical Synods, we find the phrase: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us....” Those present at the Synods said this because they possessed noetic prayer, by which they were inwardly informed concerning the truth of the Decrees that they formulated.

Today, on the other hand, when the practice of noetic prayer has grown rare among Bishops, if a Synod of Bishops were to come together and they were to stand up at the opening and all say together: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things...” would the Holy Spirit illumine them without fail? That is, simply because they are canonical Bishops, assemble at a Synod, and say a prayer?

The Holy Spirit does not work this way — that is, under these conditions; others are needed. The one praying needs to have noetic prayer already working inside him, when he attends a Synod, for the Grace of God to illumine him. Those attending false synods did not have this prayerful state.

The Bishops of old, however, did have such spiritual experience, and when they would come together as a Body, they knew what the Holy Spirit was informing them in their hearts on a particular matter. And, when they issued resolutions, they knew that their resolutions were sound. For they were in a state of illumination, and certain of them had even reached glorification, that is, deification.

Thus, we see that in the ancient Church the charismatic element prevailed (that is, its members were governed by gifts of the Holy Spirit), and the institutional elements (that is, formal ecclesiastical and administrative qualifications) followed.

This is very clear in the New Testament, in the ancient Church, and in the great Fathers of the Ecumenical Synods, from the First Ecumenical Synod (fourth century) through the Ninth Ecumenical Synod, which took place under St. Gregory Palamas (fourteenth century).

This kind of testimony of the Holy Spirit within the heart is well known only to those who have noetic prayer working in their hearts.

Noetic prayer is an empirical verification and assurance that a person’s mind has been cured. Such a cure is feasible for all people, as long as the spiritual preconditions of the therapeutic method are met.

In other words, this method is not destined or designed only for certain monastics — that is, for certain people wearing rasa — but for all people. For nowhere in Holy Scripture does any distinction seem to be made between monastic spirituality and lay spirituality.

Holy Scripture speaks of only one spirituality. Have you ever found a passage in Holy Scripture that speaks separately about the spirituality of lay people and the spirituality of the clergy? There is no such thing in Holy Scripture. Spirituality in Christ is the same for all of the faithful.

This Christian spirituality is essentially a therapeutic regimen, which is offered by Christ to all people. It is designed for all people. It is not just for monastics, or the clergy, or the educated, or intellectuals, because there is no intellectualism whatsoever contained therein. Nor does it deal with the outer and visible aspects of man, but rather with the inner and hidden aspects.