June 6, 2012

On the Relationship Between Church and State

From an interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos:

Question: A question that presently preoccupies a number of local Orthodox Churches is the relationship between the Church and the State. On one hand we see fervent efforts of many Orthodox hierarchs who try at all costs to preserve the constitutional links of the State and the Church, but on the other hand a dilemma could be put forward of whether it is in the interest of the Orthodox Church itself to have such constitutional links with a state which in its legal system denies the most fundamental tenets of Christian ethics (as seen, for example, in the legalization of abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriages…). How would you comment on these opposing views?

Answer: First of all, I have to emphasize that while we refer to the relation between Church and State, in older times there was a debate about the relation and difference between Priesthood and Kingship, meaning the relation and difference between ecclesiastical and political administration. The latter terminology is the Orthodox one.

In each individual case, the relations “between Church and State” depend on the historical memory and the cultural tradition of each people. This means that in different States there may prevail different traditions regarding this issue. Nevertheless, the basis is that each Local Church has to teach and express the whole revealed truth, has to live the way the apostolic Churches lived, as described in the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles. In these Churches there existed Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, that is, members who felt deeply the gift of the Holy Spirit and had experiences of deification. It is also important that political administration neither enters the internal life of the Church nor regulates it by laws.

In general, we have to be careful so that the spirit of secularism does not permeate theology, pastoral care and the administration of the Church. On the other hand, no State can be completely “Christian”, because it will be forced to pass antichristian laws, but, at least, it should respect the Church and not intervene in its internal affairs.

From Sobornost, September 2006.