Orthodoxy and Empire

 

 

I have finished the “proposal” part of my book proposal and am currently revising/writing my sample chapters. The following brief passage comes from Chapter 1.

Emperor Justinian

Historically speaking, the Orthodox Church likes empire. It just feels like home to us! Of course this is true to a certain extent of all Christians. But it takes a uniquely triumphalist form in the world of Orthodoxy.

Roman Catholicism has been forever shaped by its hard scrabble childhood. Its early years were spent wandering through the rubble of the once “Eternal City.” The church in Rome learned to be self-reliant. Nobody but the pope would protect the Christians of the city from the Huns, Vandals, and Lombards. The pope offered some protection from the violent political seas of western europe – the constant battering of barbaric would-be caesars against each other. The see of Peter became a rock to cling to in more than one sense. He was both a relatively stable symbol of eternal power as well as a memory of lost glory (and perhaps a hope for its return).

The childhood of the Orthodox Church was more privileged. Rome had not died, just moved to Greece. Caesar still reigned in Constantinople. Its glory was diminished, but never lost. As western Christians saw in Peter a sign of transcendent security, eastern Christians saw transcendence-made-immanent in the person of the emperor. Even as the empire began to collapse all around them, even as lands were lost to the Slavs, Arabs, and Turks, many looked to the emperor, half-praying/half trying to convince themselves that, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.”[1]


[1] Rev. 21:3

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