From “The Basis of the Social Concept” of the Russian Orthodox Church:
[The Church] is the community of the children of God, «a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people… which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God» (1 Pet. 2:9-10). The unity of these new people is secured not by its ethnic, cultural or linguistic community, but by their common faith in Christ and Baptism. The new people of God «have no continuing city here, but seek one to come» (Heb. 13:14). The spiritual homeland of all Christians is not earthly Jerusalem but Jerusalem «which is above» (Gal. 4:26). The gospel of Christ is preached not in the sacred language understandable to one people, but in all tongues (Acts. 2:3-11). The gospel is not preached for one chosen people to preserve the true faith, but so that «at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father» (Phil. 2:10-11).
II. 2. The universal nature of the Church, however, does not mean that Christians should have no right to national identity and national self-expressions. On the contrary, the Church unites in herself the universal with the national. Thus, the Orthodox Church, though universal, consists of many Autocephalous National Churches. Orthodox Christians, aware of being citizens of the heavenly homeland, should not forget about their earthly homeland. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Divine Founder of the Church, had no shelter on earth (Mt. 8:20) and pointed that the teaching He brought was not local or national in nature: «the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father» (Jn. 4:21). Nevertheless, He identified Himself with the people to whom He belonged by birth. Talking to the Samaritan woman, He stressed His belonging to the Jewish nation: «Ye worship ye know what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews» (Jn. 4:22). Jesus was a loyal subject of the Roman Empire and paid taxes in favour of Caesar (Mt. 22-16-21). St. Paul, in his letters teaching on the supranational nature of the Church of Christ, did not forget that by birth he was «an Hebrew of the Hebrews» (Phil. 3:5), though a Roman by citizenship (Acts 22:25-29).
When we talk about the Church, we talk about her being in the world, but not of the world. Many times, we do not work that through into what that means for our “homeland” patriotic relationships here on Earth. And, here is the basic problem, if we do not find the right balance between being in the world, but not of the world, we will inevitably be led down one of two wrong pathways.
On the one hand, if we concentrate too much on not being of the world, we can end up in separate communities. Early Anabaptists experimented with such separation, as do the Amish to this day. That same separatist attitude used to be found in many parts of the USA, when you would hear pastors preaching from the pulpit that the churches ought not to be involved in politics.
Today, that has gone by the wayside, and we have tended toward the other extreme. When we concentrate too much on being in the world, we can end up with a socio-political involvement that identifies what a particular national group believes with what is true about the Kingdom of God. On the liberal side, all too many churches take stances on various social issues that seem to identify the churches with one wing of the Democratic Party. On the conservative side, the Tea Party has many churches that have adopted its platforms as part of what the Bible says on money, immigration, etc.
The Church needs to be clear that the Gospel is preached to all, that we have no «continuing city here but seek the one that is to come …». Our homeland is not the USA (or any other country), our homeland is the Jerusalem above. At the same time, even Jesus spoke as being not of this world and yet being a Jew. Both are true. And, so it is true of us. I am not of this world, and yet I am a Cuban citizen of the USA. Frankly, it is a hard balance to keep, though there are many saints who demonstrate both sides of that balance.
In all times the Church has called upon her children to love their homeland on earth and not to spare their lives to protect it if it was threatened. The Russian Church on many occasions gave her blessing to the people for them to take part in liberation wars. Thus, in 1380, the venerable Sergius the abbot and miracle-maker of Radonezh blessed the Russian troops headed by the holy Prince Dimitry Donskoy before their battle with the Tartar-Mongol invaders. In 1612, St. Hermogen, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, gave blessing upon the irregulars in their struggle with the Polish invaders. In 1813, during the war with the French aggressors, St. Philaret of Moscow said to his flock: «If you avoid dying for the honour and freedom of the Fatherland, you will die a criminal or a slave; die for the faith and the Fatherland and you will be granted life and a crown in heaven».
The holy righteous John of Kronstadt wrote this about love of one’s earthly homeland: «Love the earthly homeland… it has raised, distinguished, honoured and equipped you with everything; but have special love for the heavenly homeland… that homeland is incomparably more precious that this one, because it is holy, righteous and incorruptible. The priceless blood of the Son of God has earned that homeland for you. But in order to be members of that homeland, you should respect and love its laws, just as you are obliged to respect and really respect the laws of the earthly homeland».
If we do not keep that balance, we will fall into non-Christian attitudes, and we will not even notice that we have done so. The cries of “USA, USA” can be good if they demonstrate a simple love of country. That same cry can be evil if it is used to belittle other nations or to imply that they are something less than us. That same cry is also evil when it blinds us to realities in our own country and causes us to deceive ourselves as to what is truly happening.
This danger is most great when the cry of “USA, USA” is changed to say that we are number one in everything. There is no difference between the old-time Russian Communist who kept claiming that everything was first invented in Russia, and the modern apologist for this country who tries to claim that we have the best health system, the best roads, the best [fill in the blank], while ignoring statistics that show otherwise, or worse, claiming that all statistics from outside this country are made up out of jealousy of us. This is exactly what the old Russian Communists used to say.
Out of the sad experience of Russia under Communism, the Russian Orthodox Church makes the following pair of statements:
The patriotism of the Orthodox Christian should be active. It is manifested when he defends his fatherland against an enemy, works for the good of the motherland, cares for the good order of people’s life through, among other things, participation in the affairs of government. The Christian is called to preserve and develop national culture and people’s self-awareness.
It is contrary to Orthodox ethics to divide nations into the best and the worst and to belittle any ethnic or civic nation. Even more contrary to Orthodoxy are the teachings which put the nation in the place of God or reduce faith to one of the aspects of national self-awareness.
Those two statements need to be our statements. Those statements express Orthodoxy.