April 18, 2014

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Give me tired huddled masses yearning to breath free...

I love America. Yes, I know that America is not perfect, that we have a boatload of problems, that rights for some Americans have been hard fought, that we have messed up on occasion throughout the world, and every other complaint you hear again and again. Still, I love America.

And the reason I love America is because at its founding it asserted this fundamental truth: Man is created to be free. Yes, I know this makes some Orthodox uneasy. Yes, I know that ultimate freedom comes only through Christ. Yes, I know that this sounds very close to right-wing fundamentalism. Yes, I know all that. Still, I love America.

The Founding Fathers, said Alexander Solzhenitsyn (perhaps the most profound moral thinker of the last half of the last century) understood this about the freedom of America:

Yet in the early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.

Think this through for a minute. Freedom is dependent on religion. More specifically, only a moral people could handle the obligations that freedom imposes. Freedom, as the saying goes, is not free. It draws from a higher touchstone, a higher good. Lose that touchstone and freedom is forsaken – often in the name of another freedom that is in fact slavery.

I love America because at its founding, in that cauldron of hardship and sacrifice that forged the narrative that would shape its future, something precious was held that needs to be rediscovered in order to be preserved: Man was created to be free.

In this era of materialist fantasy, where ideologies are as numerous as cereal brands in the grocery store all of which promise a road to the man-made Eden, the claim that man is created to be free is too often heard in the same terms. Accepting all religions as equal is the same as accepting none at all, and as man’s religious responsibility is redefined solely in terms of private sentiment, the awareness of the public dimension of our responsibility grows increasingly dim and the path to freedom is lost.

Don’t think this really matters? At one time it mattered a great deal. In the last century all (yes, all) of the great refugee movements were to shores of America. Yes, imperfect America was a beacon of hope to millions. To some it still is.

Peggy Noonan (Making History) asked historian David McCulloch this question recently: “How did so many gifted men, true geniuses, walk into history at the same time, in the same place, and come together to pursue so brilliantly a common endeavor?” McCulloch’s answer? “I think it was providential.”

I believe this too. I believe that God has his hand in the formation of America. I believe in the truths that are self-evident. And I believe them without apology.

Does this mean we should become political activists? Not necessarily. But we should make our voices heard in the public square. If religion, and especially the religion that gave us the moral precepts through which the precious call for liberty was forged is relegated to private experience and thereby rendered irrelevant, the call to freedom will cease to ring.

Happy Independence Day!

Comments

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    George Michalopulos says:

    well said, Fr. We forget that our liberties and our morality (religiosity) are intertwined. When we lose our moral bearings, we will lose our freedoms sooner or later.

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    Cynthia Curran says:

    I agree too. I think that Orthodoxy in both Russia and Greece would probably do better if the churches allow freedom of religion like we do in the United States. Greece and Russia would be better off using the American model rather thean the dated Byzantine or Russian model that forces everyone to belong to the same religous beliefs. Orthodox can learn from American Protestants that people should have a right to choose their religion.

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    Joe says:

    RE:” I believe that God has his hand in the formation of America. I believe in the truths that are self-evident.”

    Father, do you also believe that God has his hand in the formation of Greece? Russia? Ukraine? Serbia? Romania? All the lands in which the Orthodox Christian faith is flourishing?

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Yes, of course, but America is different. It is not monocultural. Different historical trajectory.

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    Andrew says:

    Well said.

    America is the great hope for Orthodoxy because in America Orthodoxy is free and distinct from the state.

    One can say alot of things about churches abroad but we forget that these “mature” churches are often subject to the machinations of governments. How free are state run Churches? Are these Churches really flourishing in the true sense of the word?

    I love American Orthodoxy not because it is perfect -it is not. I love American Orthodoxy because it is free to be something beautiful for God.

    The freedom to live the Gospel and struggle with all our faults and failings is a blessing in America. It is a blessing we should never take from granted.

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    Joe says:

    About America’s “different historical trajectory,” where will it land?

    Priest Andrew Philips of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia-Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland wrote this in one of his pieces for his journal ‘Orthodox England’:

    “Russian Elder Porphyrius of Glinsk (+ 1868) wrote prophetically: ‘With time faith will decline in Russia. The glitter of earthly glory will blind the reason: the word of truth will be in disgrace. But in defence of faith there will arise from among the people those who are unknown to the world and they will restore what has been trampled on’. That prophecy is now coming true. However, it was also prophesied ninety years after this that: ‘What began in Russia will end in America’ (Elder Ignatius of Harbin, + 1958). In other words, the full persecution of the Church in Russia will move westwards. We are fighting against time.”

    The prophecy Elder Ignatius of Harbin tells us that trajectory of America is in the direction of demonic, antichristic persecution of of the Orthodox Church.

    Father, do you have faith in some sort of providential American Exceptionalism that makes (or will make) this country immune to the spirit of Antichrist? Do you believe that the prophecy of Elder Ignatius of Harbin to be a false prophecy?

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Immune to the spirit of Anti-Christ? There is no immunization against the spirit of Anti-Christ except Christ. This was clear in the early years of the Church and is true today. Read 1 John.

    As for the prophecies, well, we’ll see. I really can’t pass any judgment on them either way. Time will tell.

    As for America, as I mentioned upstream, the liberty that is granted by God depends on whether virtue is practiced. Freedom is not built into any social or political structure in the sense that these structures can preserve it apart from virtue. That should be clear from what I wrote. Not sure if you grasped that it is not about “American Exceptionalism,” it’s about touching (and being touched) by the Touchstone.

    As for the prediction “what began in Russia will end in America” might be true. Solzhenitsyn warned as much in his Harvard Address. His first level target was Communism, but his deep level target was (philosophical) materialism.

Care to comment?

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