Priests and politics

Vasilije Tomic

This is the age of politics. Suppressed and concealed for decades, the public opinion has now gushed out from our people and it seems that everyone is engaged in some sort of politics, regardless of their age; they found their own political parties and seek supporters everywhere. There’s a lot happening within the freedoms that had been suppressed and prohibited for decades. There is a lot of confused individuals, for whom it is impossible to cope with so many different views and opinions.

At this point, the role and the stance of the Church and its leaders are becoming a particularly relevant issue in all this. The Church and its ministers had been limited to the narrowest possible field of influence, and even then obstructed and hindered. But now, all the sudden many claim the ownership of the Church, so it turns out that whoever is not on their side is not with the Church either. I personally am apprehensive about the intolerance and “rightful faith” of certain political leaders. Them being “always right” and “the only ones who love their nation” starts to remind me of something we have been listening to for years, something we have already been through. They, too, will need to understand and accept that the Church is no-one’s servant and that it is above all politics, including theirs.

“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), said Christ when a terrible verdict hovered over His head. Even then, just before He was to be spat on and crucified, and the iron nails were to pierce His body, even then, at the cost of His own life, He did not allow himself to be drawn into the earthly quarrels of mankind. There is no better answer than this regarding the Church’s role in the current and daily politics. Ours is not to meddle in those matters. Ours is to preach the Kingdom of God and to advise to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Just how much we are expected to be outside and above the worldly issues and quandaries is illustrated when Christ was gathering His disciples. “He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Luke 9:59) So, do you think that Christ let him do that? No, he didn’t. “Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)

The Church belongs to no-one but God. A priest is “the Lord’s messenger” (Haggai 1:13) and “servant of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17), the communicator and proclaimer of God’s will among people. “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” (Ezekiel 33:7) “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16) “For we are co-workers in God’s service;” writes holy Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth, “you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:9) Therefore, there is a huge responsibility in how a priest “manages” the people of God entrusted to him. That is why, whenever we hear or see that some among us misuse or inappropriately “utilize” their priesthood, meddle where they do not belong, offend the people of God and arbitrarily and incompetently distort the word of God, we are appalled and fear the God’s sword swinging over our heads. Christ paid for his Church with His own blood, and who am I, or anyone else, to treat arrogantly this God’s sacrifice. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

By its nature, the Church is missionary. Its task is to gather people, educate and re-educate, direct and bring people to the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ sends his disciples to “fish for people” (Matthew 4:19) In the Church there is room for everyone – for the most righteous – if there are any on Earth at all – as well as for the biggest sinners. Does a doctor choose what kind of a patient will be brought to him by the next ambulance that sounds its siren through the city? Does he condition admitting the patient on his or her race, colour of the skin, religion, political views, age, moral values, etc.? Neither does the Church – the clinic for our souls – ask such questions. When the Lord says for Himself that he has “not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13) to repent, for “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”, then we, the servants of Christ, also have no right to behave differently from our Master. It is understood that those who have not proven themselves and are not sure of their faith cannot earn any lead roles or honours in the Church. But that is a whole different issue.

This is a Church that is called upon to fight for every human soul. In heaven, the Church is triumphal and heaven is the home for the righteous. The more sinful someone is, even by our human standards, the more he or she is “attractive” to the Church. Christ teaches: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

The Church is not partisan, it does not belong to any political movement. A priest should not align himself with any political party or movement. He has no right to divide people or be a part of any classifications or divisions between people. If he has declared himself in favour of a political party, he has positioned himself against others and cut off the fatherly communication with those parishioners who do not share his political views. Holy Apostle Paul, the true epitome of human kindness and the most ideal God’s servant – and this will surprise you – says of himself: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22) Among his people and among his parishioners, a priest does not have and cannot have a private life and his private position. Some of his privacy is left for him and is protected by the walls of his home. But even then, and even when he is thousands of miles away from his church and parish, he does not stop being a priest and God’s servant.