Constantine and the Church 3 – What was the Church to do?

Before I dive into Nicaea, about which myths seem to abound, I wanted to reflect on some of the implications of the earlier posts in this series. It should be clear by this point that the Church and those within it had no real input on whether they would be persecuted or not. There are some who accuse the early church of “capitulating” to the state to avoid persecution. But where’s the evidence of that capitulation? Where’s the evidence that Roman emperors even tried to engage the Church in their decisions to persecute or not to persecute?

What do people expect? That when an emperor decided not to persecute, Christians should have marched on the imperial capital and demanded to be tortured and put to death? Really?

Or when Constantine began his conversion and not only ended persecution, but made Christianity legal and looked to the Bishops to help stabilize the empire, what would we have had them do? They had never expected anything but persecution with sometime respite from time to time. When the emperor not only said he acknowledged Christ as Lord, but sought their help, would it have been somehow more Christian to reject him?

Is it not, after all, our proclamation that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord? Is it not our charge to care for all? Are we not told that the powers are ultimately instituted by God and responsible to him? Was it an unexpected shift? Yes. Were they suspicious? Probably.

But what else, exactly, would you have had them do?

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2 Comments

  1. mike
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    UPDATE:..my first visit to a orthodox church last sunday went well..i throughly enjoyed the lithurgy..it was a small congregation less than 100..not knowing much at all about orthodox gatherings i finally realized why it was called a “”Greek” Orthodox church…everyone was Greek or of Greek descent..my “girlfriends” daughter-in-law who is a recent imigrant from Romania chose this particular church …we attended an informal reception dowstairs after church..while we were made to feel welcome we could sense that these people were very close and tight knit..The priest was interested to know our last names and asked of my descent…we both agreed that we did’nt seem to fit-in with this particular “greek” congregation so we will try another orthodox church this sunday……P.S i was somewhat uncomfortable mingling with these practising christians knowing that i live with a woman unmarried….God help me…i hope to take care of that soon though…

  2. Posted August 14, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to hear it was, overall, a positive experience. I tend to read and listen to lots of stories of people in various contexts. One of the things I have picked up is that Greek Orthodox churches in the US tend to be pretty fiercely ethnic. I’ve certainly heard of much worse experiences. That actually tended to be true to one degree or another across the board. Orthodoxy mostly didn’t come to the US in any sort of organized or deliberate manner, but because immigrants from Orthodox countries came here, clung to their faith, and even sent for priests. (The exception would be the Russian mission to Alaska in the 18th and 19th century. But that was pretty much focused on the native peoples of Alaska. It does stand in contrast to the way native peoples were “evangelized” in the rest of the country and even in contrast to what we did Alaska when we tried to “cure” the natives of their Orthodoxy. But that’s really a separate topic.) Orthodoxy in the US is definitely trying to muddle through deciding what an American Orthodoxy will look like. And that more intentional outward looking perspective is a relatively recent development in general. And I understand the Greek churches here are moving a little slower than some of the other ethnic churches.

    As far as your marital situation goes, such things tend to work themselves out. I recall Father Stephen write once that from a pastoral perspective he finds things like pride, greed, and anger more troubling and dangerous in those for whom he cares. They are far more pervasive and distort everything around you. We are all in movement at all times. We can never stay in one place spiritually or relationally. It sounds like you are making positive movements one step at a time.

    Grace and peace.

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