By What Authority?

In the sense in which the West offers it, I don’t recognize any authority “over” me. No president, congress, pastor, leader, boss, block captain, warden, or petty supervisor has authority over me. I accept none. I’m obliged to keep my word, compelled to follow my honor, and committed to adhere to my ethics. But these are comments on my own inclinations, on the authority of character, not of any external force.

Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-centur...
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I used to take a lot of flack for this from the evangelical fundamentalist crowd that talks in terms of overseers, and “the leadership” (as though it were an objective entity that should rightfully rule the world), and that does not distinguish their political inclinations from objective religious obligations – claiming, in their support of corporate structures, that the boss is appointed by God and that the president is “Il Duce” – nothing short of messianic, provided he’s Republican. “You don’t submit to authority,” they would shout.

Right. I don’t recognize an authority to submit to, and wouldn’t if I did – I’d rebel against him and join the opposition. They’ll appeal to the “Bible” (a Protestant contraption made out of clippings and arranged parts from some of the Holy Scriptures we Orthodox authored).

And yes, there are words about authority in there. However, they are several in kind. One is adherence to the Bishop, which the evangelicals certainly are not. Those who think you can think and feel a “church” into existence and then appoint yourself or others to “positions of authority” certainly cannot accept that Christ objectively founded a historical Church in a place and time, laying hands physically on bishops, empowering them to lay hands on others, and so they themselves must adhere to the Church that has never ceased to exist down to our own day. In short, the Protestant cannot accept that rather than inventing the Church, they are required by the only authority to locate and be received into it.

Another type of authority reflected in the holy scriptures is that conditional authority given to rulers, which is limited, not absolute or blanket (not fascist in character) and which is practical and de facto. Remember, Pilate had “authority” to murder Christ. He did not have the right to do it, the divine ordinance or sanction to do it. He merely had the ‘authority’ in the sense that God literally put the power to make it happen in his hands. It’s not so different from the authority of Bishops. Bishops *are* in authority, in the sense that who the bishop is is not a matter of opinion – you don’t create him, you locate him, and adhere to him. With a ruler like Pilate, he’s got the guns and the tanks and the legions – you pretty much can identity who he is. This in no way implies you can’t oppose him, resist him, or even ignore him (things Christ did more than once). Being Pilate doesn’t make you good or right, or make his decisions good or right or the divine intention.

Another kind of authority in the holy scriptures is authority in terms of experience. Obviously the monastics, who have walked long in the desert, fasted fiercely and humbly, and have overcome the Evil One, have experience that may be regarded as authority. If you were consulting an authority on engine overhauls, you would consult an experienced mechanic. He’d speak with some authority. His boss, who might be a corporate geek who has never rolled up his sleeves, has no such authority in that sense. The Orthodox Faith is eminently practical in this way.

We’re basically mechanics of the body and soul, attempting to accomplish our union with God, not create a religious philosophical system to which we can then provide membership or advocacy. As our fathers would say, we don’t have time to argue with your religious philosophies, we’re too busy trying to save ourselves.

So, I know there is a kind of authority in various governmental and industrial (same thing) figures of power – I am usually opposing them, so of course I accept that they exist.

Obviously, I know that there is a kind of authority in the Bishop – I can’t be saved without him – I’d be a fool not to locate him, and be a part of his Church – he is Christ on the earth – to separate myself from him, is to be without Christ.

And finally, I listen to our fathers in the Faith, because they are our authorities – the repositories of the Word of God, which always comes to us as persons. Trying to “cook my own meth”, so to speak (invent and live out my own religious experience) would be a delusional exercise, a kind of inner Protestantism – “personal savior” indeed. I can’t really get by without looking to and seeking the help of those who have gone farther ahead, been proved and made perfect, living and praying for us in their glorified union with God. An example is an authority on what it represents.

This is why our ikons are authorities – they are repositories, in person, of our Faith. When we say “faith” we don’t mean first and foremost “content” in a religious philosophical way, but “history” – experience – what happened, what is happening, and what will happen. That’s the gospel, the Creed, and the means of our salvation – practical, real, tangible, personal, historical, experiential events. We don’t “believe” our Faith so much as live it out.

When we say the words “I believe” in the Creed, it’s not “here follows didactic content” but “here is what happened to us”, “here is what we are responding to”, and “here is how we intend to live”. That too, is authority – the authority of simply being true. A thing that is so has the authority to command our adherence, and when we dispute or disdain it, evading history and experience and reality, we are disdaining that authority.

So, no I recognize no authority in heaven or earth in the sense that Western, Protestant, Republicans do. No such thing. Figment of their imagination. False god – Baal – idol. Illicit authority. But neither do they recognize the authority that layed hands on the apostles and gave them all authority, binding and uniting heaven and earth together as one. If they did, they would join their Church and become their disciples, thereby becoming disciples of Christ who gave them such authority. Not the authority of power – but of truth, reality, and the body of Christ himself. It’s not a Western Protestant, Republican story – it’s the gospel.

I feel completely free to be at once an anarchist (if I like) and an Orthodox Christian. I know some would take exception to that, but then we’ve got all kinds of things that creep into any religious context, including neo-conservative fascism that repudiates the very Faith of the adherent. Someone is bound to think that loyalty to their political system is required of those who follow Christ within it. They no doubt would take exception to Christ having worked on the Sabbath, had they been Jews. I’m OK with someone taking exception. As I said, it’s following Christ, not joining the party of those who trumped up the charges against him. A little more disdain for the significance of one’s government, and a lot more concern with those persecuted by it, would be far more Christian if, by Christian, we mean Orthodox.

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