Orthodoxy and Politics

by Fr Jonathan Tobias

It’s hard to put the Orthodox Church on a political spectrum. If asked whether Orthodoxy is Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, an Orthodox Christian would (or should) say “None of these.”

To be sure, the Orthodox Church has always taught what is commonly called “traditional morality.” This includes a high view of family life; sex within a heterosexual marriage; rejection of abortion and euthanasia. 

It is lamentable that these traditional affirmations are often taken as a “rightwing” affiliation, and that Orthodoxy — just because it is traditional — is lumped in with partisan politics.

This is not the case, mainly because there is a lot of Orthodox traditional morality that cannot fit nicely into a partisan agenda. From the time of the Lord’s ministry upon the earth, the Church has always held to the standard “Put not your trust in mortal princes” (Psalm 146.3). It has always criticized politics for its tendency toward empty words, economic injustice, and oppression of the weak and the poor.

The Orthodox Church has always waved the banner of protecting humanity and the earth. St Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century, condemned slavery outright: “… if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God’s?” It is because of this old Christian tradition of human dignity that the Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos joined with Martin Luther King in the Selma March in 1965 — one of the few white leaders who participated.

Gregory, along with many other Fathers of the Church, also condemned “usury,” which is the charging of interest. And thus, the Church has never signed on to an economics based on centralized industrial profit-making. St John Chrysostom, later in the fourth century, was never shy about denouncing the Emperor and Empress for their failure to take care of the poor — sometimes to their face while sitting in the balcony of the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. He was frog-marched across modern-day Turkey for his behavior, and died of exhaustion along the way. 

Such facts, indeed, do not fit within the simplistic labels of modern politics. That is a good thing, actually. The Orthodox Church is “traditional,” certainly: but it is neither Republican nor Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, rightwing or leftwing just because Orthodoxy witnesses to the whole Christian Tradition, not just part of it.

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