In our modern political argument of conservatism vs. liberalism, I couldn’t help but notice that almost no one on either side was making use of two of the most powerful patristic works in Christian literature. On Wealth and Poverty by John Chrysostom and On Social Justice by Basil the Great have stood the test of time when it comes to developing a heart and mind to respond to the less fortunate in our society. This is my self-assigned reading for Lent this year, as well as my assigned reading for the Antiochian House of Studies. I confess that, in some ways, a temptation to proof-text these works to a left-leaning interpretation. Politically, I am a moderate (blue-dog) Democrat. I also acknowledge a need for a Republican source of ideas to aid the poor and marginalized. Being a park ranger, I get to see our nation’s symbolic bird, the bald eagle, flying in the wild. Not once have I seen this, or any other, bird fly with just its left or right wing. Both must act in harmony. To use these, or any other religious writings (especially the Bible), purely as a weapon for one side or the other is a horrible injustice to the Holy Spirit that inspired the authors and a corruption of our faith.
To avoid this injustice and corruption, I will rely on a point made by my friend and mentor, Fr. Jerome Sanderson on the topic of racial reconciliation; before we can be reconciled to each other, we must first be reconciled to God (1). A common problem found among Christians (even some Orthodox) is that we don’t take repentance seriously. Churches with no sacramental practice of confession easily reduce repentance to a mere mumble at bedtime, or a plea to be given only when caught in the wrong. Where we do have the sacrament, it is done only once or twice a year, or when we have been caught in the wrong. Hopefully, we catch ourselves in our own conscience and are not found to be doing, or done, something so wrong as to scandalize us and make a spectacle of ourselves. Too often, our repentance is half-hearted and we’d rather point the accusing finger at the person on the other side of the fence declaring ourselves not as bad as that hateful Trump supporter or murderous Planned Parenthood marcher.
I wish to argue that no matter what side of the political fence we reside on, it is best to concentrate on our own reconciliation with God by taking on repentance as an issue far more pressing than who occupies the seats of our government. as long as we are half-hearted about this matter, we are nothing but angry dogs barking loudly at each other ignorant of our Master’s call. Eventually, the weary Master can and will call animal control and have us both put down. It is only when we are serious about confession and repentance, removing the log from our own eyes, that we can see well enough that our brother has a mere speck that can be removed in one way or another (2). We will no longer be angry dogs, but loving people. Our differences of opinion can be seen as strengths as we stand on some core principles while showing flexibility for the good of all. Martin Luther King Jr noted that “Truth is not found in the thesis of capitalism nor the antithesis of communism, but in the higher synthesis of both”(3). By aiming for the highest and only source of all things, God, by acknowledging how far we have fallen from him as individuals can we find what this synthesis is.
I want to thank my knowledgeable sister Miriam Yousef for inspiring me to pick up these two books. Her podcast, “On Social Justice,” alerted me to the fact that the earliest leaders of our faith dealt with the same issues we are facing today (4). I also want to thank my good friend, Fr. Deacon Turbo Qualls for his call for we members of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black to become steeped in Orthodoxy so that we can do the work of reconciliation (5). It is important for African-American Orthodox Christians to do more than put up icons of St. Moses the Black in our parishes. Our history before and after slavery and segregation are important additions to the growing Orthodox Christian culture in America. But, we can’t correctly add to something that we don’t know in depth. I will begin the series on the first week of Lent with something from John Chrysostom’s “On Wealth and Poverty.”
- Fr. Jerome made this point in his lecture at the 2016 St. Moses the Black Conference and at talks given in Atlanta and Hampton, VA that year.
- Matthew 7:3-5
- From his final speech to the SCLC and last book, both entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here.”
- Ancient Faith Radio, “On Social Justice” podcast
- Dcn. Turbo made this point in his Atlanta lecture with Fr. Jerome.