Fr. Preble: Duties to the State from a Romanian Orthodox Church Perspective

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble has this article published recently on Ethics Daily. Fr. Peter blogs at Shepherd of Souls, and Fr. Peter-Michael Preble. He hosts the Shepherd of Souls podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble

I have a Scripture reading system in which I read first from the Gospels and then from the Epistles. I read this as well as a selection of Psalms every day.

One day I came across a section of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:1-7), and it caused me to pause and really think about it. What are our duties to the state?

According to Paul, we have the following obligations:

1. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities

2. Whoever resists authority resists the ordinance of God

3. Those who resist will bring judgment upon themselves

4. Do what is good and you will have praise

5. You must be subject

6. Pay taxes

7. Render therefore to all their due

These are some powerful words from Paul. He states that there is authority from God and what authority does exist is appointed by God. So the rulers serve as God’s appointed rulers.

I am not sure if it’s because I am more active on the blogs and social media the last few years, but I cannot remember such open hostility toward the government as we see in America now. There is talk of revolution, signs comparing President Obama to Hitler, and questions about his faith.

1 Peter 2:13-17 reads, “submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake… For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”

Peter is urging us to obey the civil government. It is God who calls us to submit to earthly leaders for the Lord’s sake. We are not called to separate the church from the state here, but to a sense of cooperation that may enhance the state.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 reads, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

In the Orthodox Liturgy, we pray several times for all civil authorities. But look at why we pray for them: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

This is more a prayer for us than them. If they stay calm, then we can live our lives without fear of molestation by the government.

Paul’s letter to Titus 3:1-2 exhorts us to “…be subject to rulers and authorities.”

So once again we see that we are to obey the rulers that God has placed over us.

But what if we have to choose between obeying God and obeying earthly rulers?

Peter’s actions, as well as Paul’s might I add, show that we are to obey God rather than humans, even to the point of prison or death. We have seen that God commands our obedience to governing authorities, including paying taxes, but obedience to God comes first. When we have conflict between God and government, we believers must be willing to accept the consequences of our actions.

So in the end, if we fulfill our duties to the state, and pray for our leaders and those in authority over us, then we will live peaceful lives as Christians. But when our faith and God’s commands conflict with leaders, then we owe our obedience to God first. We must speak out and defy the leaders even unto death.

As we have an obligation to the state, so we have an obligation, a sacred obligation, to God first.

“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).


  1. I like the use of the generic word “rulers” because it allows for different forms of government, including democratic ones. In countries where rule of law exists, the law is the “ruler”, which is the case of all constitutional countries and, as I understand it, it is also the case in most, if not all, Western monarchies where no king is above the supreme “ruler”: the law of the land.

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Yes. This too is why Orthodoxy has problems organizing itself in the West. The internal problems are due in some, probably significant, measure to the transition from a tribal/medieval model of self-governance dominant in the east to the model of the rule by law dominant in the west. Put another way, two mentalities, two different ways of perceiving authority, are in conflict.

  3. True but sometimes Orthodox misunderstand what Orthodox thought in either the Byzantine or Russian Empires. Case in point, I have the Chronicle of Theophanes, critical of certain Byzantine emperors, so some Byzantines also thought the ruler should also be held accountable for their actions, not a modern concept like the rule of Law but close enough.

  4. I wish people who came from countries without rule of law (middle east, Slavic countries, Central and South America, Africa, etc.) understood that what makes living in western countries so pleasant and equitable is the fact we do have rule of law. They just do not understand. They think they can come here and enjoy the fruits of the western culture but still govern churches, parishes, or neighborhoods like fiefdoms with clan leaders, thugs, and gangs. We need an autocephalous church on this continent to free us from the tyranny of the old world. I wish we had some sort of assimilation plan that would encourage immigrants to let go of their old world way of thinking. A long time ago, our grandparents were able to do it. They came here to North America, learned the language, became American citizens and left behind the chaotic form of governance from the second and third world countries they came from. My one grandmother said over and over again that she would NEVER go back to Syria. The United States was paradise to her.

    • St. John, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Fransisco too came here to US to enjoy “the fruits of the western culture”. This is how who lived, this is my idea of paradise:

      Vladika officiated in the cathedral every morning and evening, even when sick. He celebrated the Divine Liturgy daily, as he was to do for the rest of his life, and if for some reason he could not serve, he would still receive Holy Communion. No matter where he was, he would not miss a service. Once, according to a witness, “Vladika’s leg was terribly swollen and the concilium of doctors, fearing gangrene, prescribed immediate hospitalization, which Vladika categorically refused. Then the Russian doctors informed the Parish Council that they released themselves of any responsibility for the health and even the life of the patient. The members of the Parish Council, after long pleas for mercy and threats of taking him by force, compelled Vladika to agree, and he was sent to the Russian Hospital in the morning of the day before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. By six o’clock, however, Vladika came limping to the cathedral on foot and served. In a day all the swelling was gone.

      Considering tribal those who had to fight for centuries against the Gates of the Hell, and boasting of the pleasant and equitable way of living in the West is not Orthodoxy. It just means that the devil wasn’t yet bothered enough by the people living here to fight against them. When we’ll live the orthodox way, the “battle zone” will move over here.

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