04 април 2013

The Agony of the Church (1917) by Nikolai Velimirović - THE EXTERNAL CONFLICTS OF THE MILITANT CHURCH


For the quantity and quality of the conflicts are the conditions of the dramatic life of a person as well as of a society. Well, the Christian Church had plenty of the most extraordinary conflicts, external and internal. Among the gravest external conflicts I reckon her conflicts with Patriotism and Imperialism.

The first Christians were persecuted most fiercely by the exclusive Jewish patriots, as all good Christians always have been persecuted by exclusive patriots. For it is an essential characteristic of a trueChristian not to be an exclusive patriot, exalting his own nation and despising all others. Oppression and suffering are the best soil for a too excited Patriotism. Such a soil was Israel in the time of Christ and the first Church. All parties were united against Christ and His followers upon national and patriotic grounds; the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees and the ignorant people, believers and sceptics--they all accused Christ of "perverting the nation." They accused St Paul of the same crime. Yet St Paul it was who dealt with the  question of Jewish Patriotism very courageously and minutely.

Patriotism is a natural quality, but Christianity is supernatural. Patriotism is a provincial truth, but Christianity is a pan-human truth. Patriotism means love of one's country or one's generation, Christianity means love of all counries and all generations. Christianity includes a sound and true Patriotism, but excludes untrue and exaggerated Patriotism as it excludes every untrue thought and feeling. Of course an exalted Patriotism in a frame of hatred all around excludes the Christian religion and is its most dangerous enemy. St Paul, who remained a true patriot till the end of his life, thought, as we all shall think, that Christianity never can damage the just cause of a country, but, on the contrary, it gives to a patriotic cause a universal nimbus and importance, putting it direct before the Eternal Judge, and liberating it from small anxieties, little faith and unworthy actions. He who is numbering every day our hair, and feeding the sparrows, and clothing the grass in the field--He is a greater warrant for our patriotic justice than any of our exaggerated calculations and sentiment about our country and our nation. Alas, no European nation has right to blame the Jews because of their persecution of Christianity in the name of their Patriotism. There exists no country in Europe which
has not at some time in the name of a false Patriotism either directly persecuted or abased the Church, or at least subordinated her to the cause of the country or put her in the service of its local and temporal cause. The purest Christianity in the nineteenth century had a struggle against patriotic and nationalistic exclusiveness not much less dramaticthan the primitive Church, struggling in Judasa against Judaism and in Greece against Hellenism. The national hero-saints were exalted in Europe over the merely Christian saints: in France, Jeanne d'Arc; in Russia, Serge of Radonez; in Germany, Luther; among the Serbs, St Savva, and St Peter of Cettinje.

Another enemy of the Church from the beginning was Imperialism. First of all Roman Imperialism. Christ's second "crime," for which He was brought before Pilate, was His disregard of Caesar. And Caesar was the symbol of the Roman world-dominion. Therefore, one Caesar after the other did their best to exterminate this dangerous Christian sect. Therefore, among hundreds of religions only Christianity practically was prohibited in the Roman Empire, as a religio illicita. No wonder! All other religions which swarmed in Rome were tolerated as naive curiosities by the people who had lost their own religion. But Christianity was marked as an enemy from the first. Not only a corrupted Caesar, like Nero,  persecuted the Church, but the wise ones like Trajan and Diocletian, and the wisest, like Marcus Aurelius. There were plenty of pretexts to excite the public mind: burnings, earthquakes, diseases, etc. It was Trajan who prohibited by an edict the Christian secret clubs, Hetoerias, as dangerous to the State. And it was the philosopher Marcus Aurelius who sentenced to death the Christian philosopher, Justin, on Imperialistic grounds.

Rome was armed to the teeth and the Church had no arms at all except an ardent belief and the inspired word. Rome drew the sword against the unarmed Christians, and the Christians armed only with Jesus Christ, and with empty hands, took the challenge. The enemies knew each other from the beginning. Rome's conviction was: better to lose the soul than the Empire; and the Christians' was: better to save the soul than to get an Empire. The Roman persecutors were every day sure of their victory, slaughtering defenceless men and women, or throwing them ad bestias, whereas the martyrs saw their victory as a distant vision, and still rejoiced. "The prison was like a palace to me," exclaimed St Perpetua. And Saturus, another martyr, spoke to his executors: "Mark our faces well, that you may know us again in the day of judgment." Such was the spirit of the primitive Church in her duel with pagan Imperialism. 

Islam was another kind of Imperialism against which the Church fought.If the Roman Imperialism was cool, calculating, without any fanaticism, Islam was a unique form of religious, fanatical Imperialism, having in view world-conquest and world-dominion, like Rome and yet unlike Rome. Here the Church fought with the sword against the sword. Before the definite fall of the Roman Empire the crusades of Christianity against Islam began, and it has not been finished until this day. Very dramatic was this struggle in Palestine, under Western crusaders, in Spain and Russia. But I think the most dramatic act of this dramatic conflict
happened in the Balkans, especially in Serbia, during the last five hundred years.

The conflict with Islamic Imperialism was not yet at an end when a French, and English, and Russian, and German Imperialism were formulated. We may call it by one name, European Imperialism, although every species of it is different. What was the Church's attitude towards the European imperialistic formulae? Did she agree with them? Or did she oppose and protest as she did against Rome and the Crescent? No, she neither agreed nor disagreed as a whole, but partially she agreed or disagreed. Yet the true Church of Christ reserves the world-dominion only for Christianity in its most spiritual and perfect form and
excludes every other dominion of man over men. The present cataclysm of Europe may show the world that no earthly king is destined for dominion over our planet, but Christ, the Heavenly King of souls.

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