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Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy

Author(s): Aristotle Papanikolaou

Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 7598
Published by: Oxford University Press
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Byzantium, Orthodoxy,

and Democracy
Aristotle Papanikolaou

This article addresses the question of the compatibility between Eastern

Orthodox Christianity and modern understandings of democracy. Recent images in the press suggest at worst hostility toward democracy and
at best ambivalence on the part of the Orthodox churches. The source of
this hostility and ambivalence lies in part with Orthodoxy's Byzantine
heritage. The influence of this heritage is especially evident in a recent
debate between two contemporary Orthodox ethicists, Stanley Harakas
and Vigen Guroian, over the proper role of the Orthodox Church in relation to the American democratic state. Through an analysis of this
debate this article argues that there does not exist a "clash of civilizations" between Orthodoxy and democracy and that Orthodox support
of communitarian forms of democracy is warranted on inner theological grounds. This article also intends to offer a concrete response to an
inevitable question regarding the relation of religion and empire: Are religious traditions whose own thinking on political philosophy was shaped
within the context of an empire inherently incompatible with modern
democratic principles of church-state separation, multiculturalism, and
religious pluralism?
The church's ideology is common to that of all authoritarian ideologies.
... It was because of the Orthodox Church that this society was easily convinced that it had to become obedient followers of the Communist Party.

-Miladin Zivotic, former philosophy professor

at Belgrade University (in Hedges 1997)
Aristotle Papanikolaou is an assistant professor of theology at Fordham University, New York, NY, 10023.

I would like to express my thanks to William Schweiker and Charles T. Mathewes for their comments on an earlier version of this article. Responsibility for whatever mistakes, omissions, and deficiencies that may appear in the argument is clearly my own. I would be remiss if I did not also thank
my students in the "Orthodox Christian Social Ethics" class that I taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, in Brookline, MA, from 1997 to 2000. Their interest and insights, together
with their probing and incisive questions, did much to shape this article's form and content.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion March 2003, Vol. 71, No. 1, pp. 75-98

? 2003 The American Academy of Religion

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76 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

The Roman Catholic Church announced in the Second Vatican Council
that it was the duty of believers to support democracy and human rights.
... But the church in the east has never addressed these issues and found

itself unprepared with the fall of Communism.

-Mirko Djordjevic, retired literature professor (in Hedges 1997)

THE ABOVE QUOTATIONS shape one of the questions that this article hopes to address: Are Eastern Orthodox Christianity and democracy
incompatible? Recent images within the press might suggest a positive
response to this question.' Recent writings by Orthodox theologians express a more ambivalent view of the relation between Orthodoxy and democracy. In the early part of the century the Russian theologian Sergius
Bulgakov, known for his political writings, argued that there "is no dogmatic bond between Orthodoxy and any particular political system" (in
Harakas 1976: 408).2 Such a statement gives the impression that the Orthodox Church gives tacit approval even to the worst forms of totalitarian and oppressive governments. More recently, Thomas Hopko, former

1 See, for example, the, by now infamous, "Russian Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association." For discussion on the law, see Witte and Bourdeaux. There is also the recent session of the Joint Russian-Iranian Commission on the "Islam-Orthodoxy" Dialogue held in Moscow
in June 1999: Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the chairman of the Department of
External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and considered the number two person in the Russian Orthodox Church, and Aya Mohammed Ali Tashkiri, the president of Iran's Culture and Islamic
Relations Organization, expressed their unified stance in protecting their traditions against what they
perceived as an attack from western liberal values (reported by Andrei Zolotov Jr. in "Moslems, Orthodox Find Common Foe?" The Moscow Times, 8 June 1999; available at
1999/06/08/008.html; accessed 18 December 2002; for the communique issued at the end of the session,
see; accessed 18 December 2002). Some might also point
to the response by the hierarchs and clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) during the wars in
Bosnia and Kosovo. During the Bosnian war the responses by members of the hierarchy and clergy of
the Orthodox churches in Bosnia and Serbia were confused and contradictory. For such responses, see
Sells and Mojzes. Since the publication of these writings, and in the midst of revising this article, the
SOC has more consistently declared publicly its opposition to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milo'ovic
and its support for the implementation of democratic reforms and structures in Serbia itself and through-

out Bosnia and Kosovo (see Gall). The SOC's (2000a, 2000b) recent position culminated in its immediate acceptance of Vojislav Kostunica as the legitimate president of Yugoslavia (for the statement of support for Kostunica issued by the Holy Synod of the SOC, visit Although there
exist extreme nationalist and fanatical elements within the SOC, the conflict in the Balkans during the
past decade is a manifestation of an Orthodox Church being "unprepared" to deal with the consequences
of the fall of communism and of a church in search for an understanding of its proper role in relation to
a state and culture whose identity it has played a constitutive role in forming. This article hopes in part
to give the SOC's more recent pro-democracy stance theological grounding.

2 The Russian Orthodox Church took a similar position in August 2000 in the publication of its
comprehensive social document, The Orthodox Church and Society: The Basis of the Social Concept
of the Russian Orthodox Church. The document reaffirms a 1994 Bishops' Council of the Russian
Orthodox Church, which declared that "the Church does not give preference to any social system
or any of the existing political doctrines" (3.7). This article argues that on inner theological grounds
Orthodox churches can and must give "preference" to existing political philosophies.

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 77

dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, has written, "As
the grandson of Carpatho-Russian immigrants to the United States, I
cannot imagine my life in any other society except with gratitude for my

personal destiny. As an Orthodox Christian ... I also cannot imagine a

way of life more insidious to Christian Orthodoxy and more potentially
dangerous to human being and life" (364).
The source of this ambivalence is, in part, Orthodoxy's past and, more
specifically, the Orthodox Church's self-avowedly proud link to the heritage of the Byzantine Empire. For the Orthodox Church, the Byzantine
Empire is not a passing moment in its history but, rather, a formative
period for its thought and practices. Within the empire itself, Orthodox
Christianity was culturally and politically dominant. The current and
timely question of Eastern Orthodoxy and democracy is also a question
of the lingering effects of a past in which a particular religious tradition
was the dominant cultural and political force within the context of an
empire. At issue is the relation among religion, empire, a theology of the
state, and a theology of culture.
The first part of this article attempts to show that within the specific

context of the Byzantine Empire, in which Orthodox Christianity was

the established religion and the primary principle of unity within the
Byzantine culture, religion did not simply give theological support to
imperial structures. The structures of the Byzantine Empire, with Orthodox Christianity as the state-sponsored religion, also influenced the
form and content that theologies of state and culture would assume in
Eastern Christianity. In the diverse manifestations of the relation between religion and empire in human history, it is certainly not unique
to the Byzantine Empire that religious beliefs shape and justify particular conceptions of empire; what is unique is that with the conversion of
Constantine I, an inconsistent and undeveloped Christian theology of
state and culture assumed definite form.

The present-day Orthodox churches are the inheritors of the Byzantine

theocratic legacy. The Orthodox Church's encounter with modern democracy raises the broader question of how a religious tradition, whose own
theologies of state and culture were shaped within the context of an empire
in which it was the state-sponsored religion and, hence, the primary principle of cultural unity, is able to accept democratic forms of government and

a multicultural society. The Orthodox Church was unprepared to face issues of democracy and human rights because its own theologies of state and
culture were formed within a context in which democracy had no meaning.
The question is whether there are resources within its theological tradition
that would allow it to give unequivocal support to democracy and the demo-

cratic principles of church-state separation and multiculturalism.

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78 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Contemporary Orthodox thinkers are themselves divided on the

issue of Orthodoxy and democracy. The second part of this article fo-

cuses on a specific debate between two leading Orthodox ethicists,

Stanley Harakas and Vigen Guroian, in part to illustrate how the current discussion is influenced by either positive or negative assessments
of the Orthodox Church's Byzantine past. Harakas, somewhat ironically,
attempts to justify the separation of church and state within the context
of U.S. democracy through a reinterpretation of the constitutive "elements" of the Byzantine theocratic notion of symphonia, harmony between church and state. Guroian rejects both the notion of symphonia
and the notion of church-state separation, hence American democracy,
seeing both as a betrayal of the Orthodox understanding of the church
and its mission to transform the world.3

My own position argues for an acceptance of Harakas's conclusions

using Guroian's methods. Accepting Guroian's interpretation of Orthodox
ecclesiology, I argue that such an understanding of the church necessarily
leads to an acceptance of a communitarian form of democracy that includes,
by definition, the notion of church-state separation and an affirmation of
multiculturalism. I wish to show that in the end, despite its Byzantine past

and contrary to Miladin Zivotic's assessment, Orthodox ecclesiology leads

to unequivocal support of communitarian forms of democracy as the preferred option over other forms of political community.

The importance of addressing the question of the lingering effects of

the Byzantine heritage on contemporary Orthodox theologies of state and
culture, and the correlative question of the compatibility between Orthodoxy and democracy, is threefold. First, this article intends to offer guidance
to an inevitable question regarding the relation of religion and empire: How

does a particular religious tradition, whose own theologies of state and

culture have been shaped within the context of an empire in which it was
the state-established religion and, hence, the main standard of cultural
unity, confront the modern realities of democracy and the democratic
notions of church-state separation and multiculturalism? Do there exist
resources within its tradition that would allow it to embrace these modern realities? In a broad sense, it is a question of whether a religious tradi-

tion that enjoyed political and cultural dominance, and whose thought

3 H. Richard Niebuhr's five "types" of relations that have existed between Christ and culture
through the history of Christianity may be helpful to give some initial sense of Guroian's position.
Guroian would clearly see his social ethic along the lines of the type of "Christ the transformer of

culture," though, as we shall see below, Harakas (1990: 80) has accused Guroian of assuming a
"Christ against culture" stance. See Niebuhr's Christ and Culture.

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 79

and practices were shaped within a particular empire, is able to embrace
modern political and cultural forms.4
Second, this article hopes to contribute toward demystifying and explaining debates regarding Orthodox political theology to a non-Orthodox and primarily English-speaking audience for whom Orthodoxy is
often an exotic religion and who have become increasingly interested in
Orthodoxy since the emergence of many of the world's hot spots in areas where the Orthodox Church has substantial influence. Finally, the
significance of the question is also implied in Mirko Djordjevic's judgment that, unlike the Vatican, Orthodoxy has not dealt with issues relating to democracy and human rights and is presently unprepared in
terms of a coherent vision to deal with the fall of communism that is a
decade old. Whatever the reasons for this lack of preparedness, the Orthodox churches are presently in a state of confusion, and at times contradiction, regarding church-state relations.5 Such confusion, however,

4 In raising this question, it appears that I have established an opposition between the totalitarian and imperialistic empires and the tolerant, diverse, and pluralistic democracies. The potential
for imperialism and totalitarianism exists within all political systems. John Milbank reminds us
that the present "secular order" in western Europe and the United States did not inevitably evolve;
nor is it seemingly a "neutral" space for pursuit of private good and the expression of ideas. According to Milbank, "The space of the secular had to be invented as the space of 'pure power"' (14).
This "new, secular dominium could not, according to the totalizing logic of willful occupation which
now mediated transcendence in the public realm, really tolerate a 'political' Church as a cohabitant" (Milbank: 17). For Stanley Hauerwas, the political philosophy of democratic pluralism is an
"ideology," whose presumption of a "common morality that we all share and that we all know how
to work for" is nothing less than a "message of imperialism" (526). The irony, of course, is that
while religious convictions often contributed to the totalitarianism and imperialism of empire, in
modern western democracies religion becomes conquered and suppressed by being coercively privatized. While not ignoring the potential for, and perhaps the already existing, totalitarianism and
imperialism of modern western democracies, in contrast to the popular impression, it need not be
the case that a "secular" cultural and political space requires the privatization of religion-a point
that is explored in greater detail below. Furthermore, if in fact diversity and pluralism are valued
within a society, then strictly in pragmatic terms within a democratic polity there exists a greater
possibility for a mechanism of subversion of totalitarian and imperialistic tendencies toward securing diversity and pluralism. The recent debate on religion and public life is but one example of
such a mechanism. Subversion within the context of an empire can have no greater hope than to
replace one form of totalitarianism with another.
5 Among other places the contradiction is evident, on one hand, in the well-known condemnation of NATO bombing of Serbia by Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and, on the other hand, in the

same patriarch's adamant defense of Russian aggression in Chechnya. Such actions by the patriarch of Moscow reflect the contradictions and incoherencies in the social document of the Russian

Orthodox Church, The Orthodox Church and Society, especially the section "Church and State."
There is also the Serbian Orthodox Church's support of democratic reforms in Serbia while attempt-

ing to make the teaching of religion compulsory in Yugoslav schools (see Branko, Keston News
Service, available at; accessed 18 December 2002.). The confusion

is also evident in the Church of Greece's recent support of a ban of a controversial book that makes
suggestions of sexual encounters experienced by Christ and its role in the recent debate in Greece

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80 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

is potentially disastrous especially for those in the former communist

countries where the Orthodox Church is an integral, if not formative, part
of the historical and cultural identity of the particular country and a powerful voice in shaping its political future.6 By participating in a debate that
will influence how a tradition will affect the consciousness of its adher-

ents, this article hopes to make a modest attempt toward supporting the
formation of democratic institutions in many of the former communist
countries in which the Orthodox Church continues to be, among other
things, an inevitable political and cultural institution.7



The earliest Christian documents give no clear or consistent

of Christian theologies of state or culture. Christianity wa

religion within the Roman Empire, whose official religion
and against which it would define itself. Although it would
gion, Christians expressed a more ambiguous attitude towa
cal institutions of the Roman Empire. Jesus' own proclamat
unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the th

God's" (Mt. 22:21), although not condemning political i

inherently evil, does not seem to give them divine sanction

later do: "and those authorities that exist have been instit
(Rom. 13:1). The fall of Babylon in the book of Revelation

over the removal of the category of religious affiliation from state-issued ident
should be clear that the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece did not object to t
but, rather, argued that it should be made optional. It also objected to the fact th
discuss the issue with the church before deciding on the removal. Many Orthodo
within Greece and outside Greece, did not agree with the official position of th
that the church should have nothing to do with a matter for which the state al
For a fuller account of Orthodox responses to the modern state and the lack of
responses, see Ramet.

6 These countries include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Ro

Armenia, and Macedonia. Although never communist, Greece should not be e
list. Orthodox influence is also evident in such countries as the Czech Republic,

and Albania.

7 There are obvious parallels with this project and other current attempts to explore the compatibility/incompatibility of a particular religious tradition with democracy. World events have focused atten-

tion particularly on Islam. For a recent discussion on the relation between Islam and democracy, see
Sachedina. My own argument is similar to Sachedina's in showing that there need not necessarily be a
"dash of civilizations" between a particular religious tradition and democratic polity and that it is possible for religious language to articulate democratic principles. I would add that the sense of urgency for
discussions of the relation between Islam and democracy resulting from the ongoing and ever changing
circumstances of the Middle East and the western and eastern areas of South Asia should be expanded
to the tenuous political situation within the eastern European Orthodox countries.

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 81

18:24), the rejection of the "world" in the letters of John (1 Jn. 2:15), and

the metaphor of the "two ways" in the early Christian document Didache
all suggest a harsher assessment of the political institutions of the empire.

These three options-necessity, divine sanction, and condemnation-are

prevalent throughout early Christian literature.
This ambivalence toward political institutions would change within the
eastern part of the empire in the early fourth century C.E. with the ascen-

dancy of Constantine I (324-337) to the throne. In 313 C.E. Constantine

issued the Edict of Milan, which granted religious freedom within the empire but was also the first step toward Christianity becoming the established

religion of the empire (Frend: 483). It became the first step because of
Constantine's "conversion" to Christianity. Although scholarly debate continues on the question of the authenticity of Constantine's conversion, there
is no disputing the popular belief in his conversion and the patronage Con-

stantine bestowed on Christian institutions and churches, which seemed

to support the perception of conversion. Christianity was not declared the

official state religion until 380, under Theodosius I (379-395), but a particular understanding of the Christian state, a Christian theocracy, started
to take shape under Constantine, especially in the person of Eusebius of

Although Christianity was still in the minority during Eusebius's time,

this did not stop him from describing the Emperor Constantine as the
"Viceroy of God" or the empire itself as an image of the heavenly king
dom (Baynes: 48-51; Runciman 1977: 22). The theological horizon for
Eusebius's theocracy is strict Christian monotheism: the one emperor
and his empire are the imitation of the one God and God's sovereignty

(Fowden: 85-90). Eusebius provided the language for describing the

Christian emperor and the Christian empire that would become common in later Byzantine political theory, especially after Christianity would

become the state-sponsored religion. The emperor as the Christian ruler

of a Christian empire was eventually seen not as one option among diverse theologies of state but, rather, as the particular constitutional form
"willed by God and sustained by Him" (Baynes: 48).
The formation of this Byzantine notion of a Christian theocracy is a
classic case of religious influence on the understanding of the imperia
authority; the emperor's authority was justified in terms of a Christian
theological framework and with Christian theological categories. But i
is also evidence of the contextuality of theologies of state. An inconsistent Christian understanding of the state, as seen in the Christian literature of the first three centuries, took definite shape within an empir
whose emperor converted to Christianity and whose subsequent emper
ors, with the exception of Julian, were all Christian. A Christian empero

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82 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

challenged Christians to rethink and justify the newly emerging and favorable structures. Eusebius and later Byzantine political theology would
understand the new Christian emperor as a vehicle for the one God's
sovereign power; the empire was a means for universalizing Christianity,
understood as the true message of the one true God. Eusebius, in effect,
accomplished the "sacralization of empire" (Fowden: 89) by describing
the empire as the divinely willed society of the one true God, but he did
so only after Christianity itself had infiltrated the imperial court.8

The understanding of the emperor as God's representative on earth

would inevitably raise the question of the role of the bishop within this
theocracy. There was little ecclesial opposition to the newly emerging
understanding of the Christian emperor. It was given initial expression
by Eusebius, who was a bishop of Caesarea. Although distinctive institutions, the roles of the emperor and the bishop were understood and justified within the same Christian framework. The Byzantine theocracy
called for the emperor and the bishop to cooperate for the sake of the unity
of the Christian empire, the image of the heavenly kingdom, and the unity
of the faith.

Justinian I (527-565) gave classical expression to this understanding of

harmony, or symphonia, between the emperor and the bishop, in particular the patriarch of Constantinople. Justinian continued the theocratic tradition of Eusebius, as seen by such phrases attributed to him: "'By the will
of God we govern an Empire that has come to us from His Divine Majesty,'
or 'God alone, and the Emperor who follows God, can rule the world with
justice"' (Runciman 1977: 46). Justinian makes a distinction between the
imperium and the sacerdotium; the former refers to the emperor and is responsible for "human affairs," whereas the later refers to the priesthood,
symbolized in the person of the bishop, and "serves divine things" (Meyendorff: 48; Runciman 1977: 46). In his sixth Novella Justinian declares
that "for if the priesthood is in every way free from blame and possesses
access to God, and if the emperors administer equitably and judiciously
the state entrusted to their care, general harmony (symphonia tes agathe)
will result and whatever is beneficial will be bestowed upon the human
8 There is some evidence that Lanctantius, who in his Divine Institutes gives a theological justification for religious freedom, may have influenced Constantine. This influence may extend to the
Edict of Milan, which one could argue stands in tension with the Eusebian understanding of Constantine and the empire. It is clear, however, that the Eusebian model did serve to justify various
forms of religious coercion during and well after Constantine's reign, as Byzantine emperors were
attempting to forge a Christian society. To argue that religious freedom or tolerance is a theological matter whereas coercion is a political concern is to forget that a particular understanding of
God's relation to the world informs the Eusebian model. The Eusebian model does not inevitably
lead to but does allow for the possibility of justifying religious intolerance in a way that Lactantius's
Divine Institutes does not. For Lanctantius, see Digeser.

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 83

race" (Meyendorff: 49). Justinian, however, ultimately affirmed the emperor
as responsible for the harmony between the sacerdotium and the imperium.

As Meyendorff himself states, "The Church and the State ... represent the
internal cohesion of one single human society, for whose welfare on earth
the emperor alone is responsible" (49; Runciman 1977: 46).
The absolute authority of the emperor within the empire was never
questioned. Such authority, however, did not stop the bishops, and in particular the patriarch of Constantinople, from functioning as the "keeper of
the Empire's conscience. On matters of morals the Emperor must listen to
the priesthood" (Runciman 1977: 36). Not only on matters of morals but
also on matters of faith the patriarch of Constantinople and the monastic
community would often challenge the emperor. It is important to note,
however, that there was little, if any, resistance to the notion of the Christian theocracy within the ecclesial community. Challenge to the emperor
did not mean a challenge to the system. The patriarch and the monks
wanted a Christian monarch and empire; they just wanted to assure that
the emperor was Orthodox in beliefs and a person of moral rectitude.

Although tensions would often flare between the imperium and the
sacerdotium throughout the history of the Byzantine Empire, and even
though the authority and independence of the patriarch vis-a-vis the

emperor increased as the empire declined (Runciman 1977: 146), the

notion of a Christian theocracy and empire was never questioned.
The theology of culture implied in the Byzantine theocracy is one that
does not value multiculturalism. With the conversion of the Roman em-

perors to Christianity came the slow but sure conversion of the Roman
Empire from a pagan to a distinctively Christian empire. The principle of
cultural unity within the empire was Orthodox Christianity, with its
system of beliefs, institutions, practices, literature, and art. The emperors

saw themselves as enforcers of both civil and religious laws. Canon law
governing ecclesial life was also enforced as civil law. Throughout the history of the Byzantine Empire, the notion of a "Christian" culture, in which
the constitutive aspects of ecclesial life formed constitutive aspects of the
culture of the empire, was as unquestioned as the idea of a Christian theocracy. The latter implied the notion of a "Christian" culture. Although
the Byzantine Empire is often referred to as a "multinational" empire, it
is clear that other "cultures" embodying Christian beliefs distinct from
the reigning Orthodoxy in the empire or non-Christian beliefs did not
enjoy the same privileges as the established Orthodox churches within the
empire. There is also evidence of religious persecution during various
periods within the empire (see Alexander).
The Byzantine theocracy was the model for theologies of state and
culture throughout the Orthodox world. Most of the traditional Ortho-

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84 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

dox world after the fifteenth century fell to the Ottoman Empire, and
Orthodox Christianity was a minority religion within an empire that embraced Islam as its state-sponsored and culturally dominant religion. This
occupation shielded most Orthodox countries from confronting the po-

litical philosophies and reforms of the Enlightenment. Russia is the

exception, but the Russian ambivalence toward western European culture
and its rejection of Enlightenment political reforms are well known.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, most Orthodox countries assumed
the form of the nation-state, in which the Orthodox Church was the es-

tablished religion. The Byzantine theocracy provided the model for an

"Orthodox Christian" society: the head of state was expected to be an
Orthodox Christian, the church and the state were to coexist harmoniously for the good of the "Orthodox Christian" society, and the state was
expected to support the preservation of an "Orthodox Christian" culture.
After World War II, with the exception of Greece, most Orthodox countries fell under communism, further delaying Orthodoxy's confrontation
with modern democracy.9 Now that communism has fallen and the Greek
monarchy has also fallen, the question becomes whether the Orthodox
churches can embrace modern democratic institutions, together with
democracy's inherent notions of church-state separation and multiculturalism, given that within Orthodoxy's history its only frame of reference for a theology of state is one that is theocratic and does not easily
support the idea of multiculturalism. The Byzantine Christian theocracy
functions as the primary frame of reference for contemporary Orthodox
discussions on democracy.

The legacy of the Byzantine Christian theocracy and its in

frame of reference for contemporary Orthodox discussion
racy are evident in the debate between two contemporary Or
cists, Stanley Harakas and Vigen Guroian, on Orthodox und
of church-state relations.'0 Harakas's own position is detail

9 For a brief history of church-state relations in the history of the Orthodox C

dakis. See also Runciman 1971.

10 Some conceptual clarity is required at this point. The main point of this article is to explore
the relation between Orthodoxy and democracy through an analysis of the debate between Harakas
and Guroian over church-state relations. Recognizing the distinction between the notions of democracy as "a distinctive political form defined by a conception of sovereignty (of the people) that
can take a variety of 'state' forms" and that of the state as the "institutional structure always under
the question of its legitimation with the task of administrating the will of the body politic," my intent

is to address the question of Orthodoxy and democracy by participating in the Orthodox debate
over church-state separation. The notion of church-state separation, however defined and what-

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 85

article entitled "Orthodox Church-State Theory and American Democracy" (1976).11 Though the bicentennial that year probably played no small
part in inspiring him to write the piece, the reflections themselves are the

natural result of the later generations of an immigrant church forced to

give some understanding to a church-state relation that has no precedent in its own history. Although the Orthodox Church has not existed
within a democratic society, the past for Harakas still holds the key for
understanding the present situation of the Orthodox Church within the
American democratic society, particularly on the issue of the separation
of church and state.

The past that Harakas refers to is the Byzantine past, especially the
model of church-state relations often referred to as symphonia or harmony. For Harakas, the symphonia that existed between the church and
the monarchical state during the period of the Byzantine Empire constitutes the paradigm for Orthodox understandings of church-state relations, whatever form the state may assume. In relations of symphonia "the
Church and State cooperate as parts of an organic whole in the fulfillment

of their purposes, each supporting and strengthening the other without

this causing subordination of the one to the other" (Harakas 1976: 399).
Harakas adds that "the harmonious relationship of State and Church is a
result of the belief that both Church and State are creatures of one Lord"
(1976: 399). The one God assigns to each institution, church and state, its
own sphere of influence: church is responsible for spiritual matters, while

the state is responsible for worldly needs.

Harakas identifies more precisely what he terms the "elements" that
constituted the symphonic relationship for the church and the state during the Byzantine period. These elements are (1) the affirmation of God
as the source of both church and state; (2) the independence and sufficiency of both church and state; (3) the identity of the constituency, that
is, that the people of the church and the state are of one faith; (4) a religious and political authority, that is, a patriarch and an emperor; and (5)
what Harakas terms "methods of relationship," by which he means the
fulfillment of the respective functions of the church and the state, whereby

the church influences the state toward a more just society and the state

defends and protects the church (1976: 411-419). For Harakas, these

ever its limits, is inherent in modern understandings of democracy, regardless of the forms of "state"

such a democracy assumes. The definitions of democracy and state cited here are those of William
Schweiker, and I am grateful to him for his assistance in clarifying some of the key terms of this

" For a more recently published discussion of American democracy, see Harakas 1999. In this
article, although the reflections are broader in scope, Harakas's position remains relatively unchanged both methodologically and substantively.

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86 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

elements are normative for an Orthodox understanding of church-state


The central question that Harakas wishes to address is whether the

Orthodox in America, who have traditionally understood church-state
relations on the model of symphonia, can accept the separation of church
and state within this country. Harakas provides an ironic response to this
question by suggesting that a reinterpreted understanding of the elements

of the symphonia model allows for an acceptance of the U.S. situation of

church-state separation. Put another way, what one sees in church-state
relations in America is symphonia, albeit in a different form from that
which existed in Byzantium. But how so?
Regarding the first element, Harakas argues that God is mentioned in
the founding documents as the source of the state and the foundation for
human rights. The second principle, the independence and self-sufficiency
of church and state, is one on which the country itself was founded. One
might expect Harakas to confront insurmountable hurdles with the next
two elements, the unity of the faith of the people and the coexistence of a

patriarch and emperor. Harakas reinterprets the notion of the one faith
in terms of the one common good. In other words, the Orthodox Church
exists in a society in which it shares not a specific religious faith but, rather,

a common good that is included in though not exhaustive of the Orthodox understanding of the good. As Harakas puts it, "Orthodoxy can make
the adjustment if its own identity with the nation becomes sufficiently
broad and deep so that the concerns of the Church transcend its own
membership and seek the welfare of the whole people" (1976: 414).12 The
notion of the common good is contained in the Orthodox faith, and as
the one faith did during the Byzantine period, it serves as a focal point of
unity in the country.
Regarding the fourth element, there is neither emperor nor patriarch
in this country. Instead of the latter, there is the church, which for Harakas

means both the laity and the various degrees of clergy; instead of the
former, there is not the president as much as the people "who rule through

their elected representatives ... the Church can now speak to the political authority by and through the people" (1976: 415). In the people of the
church, church and state converge because the people of the church are
the people of the state. Finally, in terms of what Harakas calls the "meth-

12 Harakas adds, "Admittedly this is not the same as the identity of constituency as presupposed
by the 'symphonia' theory. Yet, if Orthodox Christianity can learn to speak to the nation as a whole,
to concern itself with the common problems of the people of this country, if it can seek to become
in some measure the 'soul' of the nation, it will have made great strides in overcoming that inap-

plicability" (1976: 414).

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 87

ods of relationship," although the patriarch is no longer whispering in the

emperor's ear for social and legal reforms, the church exercises its influence on legislation and public policy. The state offers protection to the
voice and integrity of the church, while the church, "through its example,

its teaching and its preaching ... points to a goal for the State and its society" (Harakas 1976: 415). Reinterpreted, each of the five elements constituting the Byzantine model of symphonia can be located in the American

context of church-state separation. For Harakas, this allows Orthodox

Christians to view the present arrangement not as strange but as consistent with their tradition. More importantly, it avoids sectarianism and
encourages Orthodox participation in public life.
Vigen Guroian, an Armenian Orthodox ethicist, takes a position diametrically opposed to Harakas's. He himself has no love lost for the Constantinian era, as the title of one of his books, Ethics after Christendom
(1994), might suggest. In a chapter entitled "Orthodoxy and the American
Order: Symphonia, Civil Religion or What?" Guroian confronts Harakas's
positions head-on: There "is a sense in which Harakas has merely picked
up where the Constantinian and Justinian synthesis of church and state left

off' (1987: 147).13 For Guroian, the Byzantine model of symphonia is an

inherently accommodationist approach to church-state relations in which
the true nature of the church is sacrificed to the interests of the state.

Guroian accuses Harakas of the same accommodationist attitude, claiming that Harakas is in "the same pit of cultural accommodation into which

the mainline Protestant churches in America thrust themselves earlier in

this century" (1987: 148). He further criticizes Harakas for reducing the
church's role in relation to the American democratic state to the func-

tionalist one of raising social consciousness and promoting the common

good. In this sense, for Guroian (1987: 145), the church becomes simply
another interest group. Moreover, with Harakas's model of symphonia, the

church loses its critical and prophetic edge vis-a-vis the state. As Guroian
puts it, Harakas "would have the Orthodox Church assume its place beside

the other mainline churches in America as contributor to and custodian of

a common American faith and identity" (1987: 147).

Underlying Guroian's critique of Harakas is a particular understanding of the church or, to use a more technical theological term, an ecclesiology. For Guroian (1987: 157), the Orthodox understand the church

13 For further reflections of Guroian's understanding of the church's relation to the state and to

culture, see "The Americanization of Orthodoxy: Crisis and Challenge" in Incarnate Love (1987)
and "The Struggle for the Soul of the Church: American Reflections" and "Church and Armenian
Nationhood: A Bonhoefferian Reflection on the National Church" in Ethics after Christendom

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88 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

primarily as a worshiping community and more specifically as a eucharistic community.'4 The church exists as church in and through the Eucharist, in the event where the community gathers to praise God. The
Eucharist, however, is more than an act of praise; it is also an offering, in

which the community offers the world symbolized in the bread and wine
to God for sanctification. In this sense, the Eucharist has cosmic dimensions, in that it is not an act for individual salvation but, rather, an event

of salvation for the whole cosmos. What is important to remember for

the purposes of our analysis is that this particular understanding of the

church in the Orthodox tradition affirms that in the Eucharist the com-

munity participates in the resurrected body of Christ and, thus, in the

"eschaton." The eucharistic community is fundamentally an eschatological
community, and it is only as such that it can exist as church.
This understanding of the church as an eschatological community in
and through the Eucharist is what defines the church's mission in the
world.'5 Because of this understanding of church for Guroian, it would be
a betrayal of the Orthodox Church's true nature if it were reduced to a func-

tionalist role vis-a-vis the state or another denomination alongside others.

As he puts it, "The field of the Church's mission is nothing less than the
whole fabric of human life, not just individuals, but the social, economic,
and political relations, the institutions and values of human community"
(1987: 143). Moreover, because of its eschatological identity, the church
must exist in a permanent state of tension with the world. As Guroian (1987:

143, 147) argues, there is a necessary antinomy between the church and
world that symphonia inevitably blurs. This antinomy must be maintained
if the church is not to lose is prophetic distance from the state. For Guroian,
this distinction or antinomy between church and world/state does not mean

separation or sectarianism. "Sectarianism," according to Guroian, "is impermissible on Christological grounds" (1987: 162). The logic is that the
church is distinct from the world, not to withdraw but to engage the world
in order to transform it. The missionary goal of the church, because of its
nature, is the transfiguration of the world to realize its divine destiny. For

Guroian, "It is not the business of the Church to impose a new, presumably more just ethic of power on the world. Rather it is the calling of the
14 For more on the Eastern Orthodox understanding of eucharistic ecclesiology, see Zizioulas,
Schmemann, and the classic essay by Afanassieff.
15 It must be noted that world is a distinctively theological term that is not coterminous with either democracy or state. It is introduced here because, as will become clear below, it forms an essential part of Guroian's understanding of church-state relations, for state is part of the "world"
or unredeemed reality. For Guroian, how the church relates to the "world" is the basis for how it

relates to all forms of "state."

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 89

people of God to demonstrate his love for the world through their obedient service to his Kingdom" (1987: 159).16
It is the basis of this understanding of the church that leads Guroian
to reject, contrary to Harakas, the separation of church and state and even

religious pluralism inherent in democratic forms of polity. For Guroian,

"It is impossible to treat the arrangement [meaning the separation of
church and state] as normative, since it is not consistent with the truth of

its ecclesiology and soteriology" (1987: 157). In such an arrangement, a

juridical understanding of the church replaces an eschatological vision
(Guroian 1987: 156). It "perpetrates the secular notion that the world

really does not need the Church or God" (Guroian 1987: 157). It defines the church in privatistic and functionalist terms, contrary to its own

understanding of embodying a message of salvation for the whole world

(Guroian 1987: 143). The religious pluralism that is secured and promoted
under the separation clause is also problematic for Guroian: "Furthermore, an expanding religious pluralism within, somewhat paradoxically,
an also increasingly secular society does not correspond with past Orthodox experience of the world, the Orthodox Church's historic definition
of its relationship to the world, or its experience for the world" (1987: 142).

The bottom line for Guroian is that the separation of church and state
forces the Orthodox Church into an understanding of itself that is contrary to its nature. By accepting this definition, the church allows itself
and its mission to be defined by the state. The church accommodates itself to the interests of the state, and for Guroian, "there is something in-

herently contradictory about Orthodox Christians coming together in

worship to declare that they have experienced such a thing and promising that they will behave consistently with that truth and then going out

into the world to take their directives from a legal arrangement which
declares that none of this is really so" (1987: 159).

The Harakas-Guroian debate indicates in part how the Orthodox

Church's Byzantine legacy is ultimately shaping the debate over churchstate relations within Orthodox thought. It is also interesting to note that

the debate I have presented is between a Greek Orthodox and an Armenian Orthodox, members of two traditions that have different experiences

and assessments of the Byzantine past. In more practical terms, it is this

16 One must ask Guroian how it is possible for a eucharistic community, as an icon of the
eschatological community, not to be concerned about a "more just ethic of power." Even given
Guroian's assumptions, if it is not concerned with relations of power in a political community, at
the very least, as an eschatological community, then it must give witness to a more just configura-

tion of power. Such a statement by Guroian gives the impression that Orthodox thought is not
concerned with justice. But this does not cohere with Guroian's own eucharistic presuppositions.

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90 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

legacy that the Orthodox churches, especially those in eastern Europe,

must grapple with as many of these countries attempt to move toward
more democratic structures. How will the churches respond to such a
movement given that church-state relations in the Orthodox Church have
always been shaped by symphonia?

Any Orthodox assessment of the church's relation to a

munity must agree on inner theological grounds with Guroian

the Byzantine model of symphonia is inherently accomm

can only make sense in a theocratic context and not in a d
The fundamental flaw with Harakas's method is that it seems

because symphonia was the model in the Byzantine past it

the norm for Orthodox understandings of church-state r
present situation. There is no further attempt to justify
being theologically normative. In this sense, the past, as G
is not sufficient justification for guiding the Orthodox

even lead the Orthodox to continue their mistakes. Guroian is also cor-

rect in asserting that a proper understanding of church-state relations for

the Orthodox requires first and foremost an understanding of the nature

of the church, that is, an ecclesiology. Most Orthodox would not dispute
his definition of church as an eschatological community in and through
the eucharistic worship, which embodies a message of salvation and whose
mission is the transformation of the world. Such an understanding of the
church, however, does not lead to Guroian's conclusions.

The first criticism of Guroian's position is that it is untenable. His

rejection of accommodationism is fairly clear; but he also rejects sectarianism as Christologically indefensible, together with any notion of a Chris-

tian state or of a public morality." He has rejected, to my knowledge, the

17 The terms public morality and common good refer to the consensus or unity of a society around

shared moral values. My own position agrees with those who affirm that democracy itself implies
a particular notion of the common good including freedom, equality, justice, fairness, inclusivity,
participation, diversity, and otherness. More concretely, it includes those institutions and structures designed to preserve and protect such goods and which provide the space for the conversation of diverse opinions over further concrete determinations of democratic goods. Certain forms
of diversity, such as religious, political, and cultural, are concrete expressions and embodiments of
the common good of the democratic community. As will be clear below, this article favors an Orthodox affirmation of a communitarian understanding of the common good, which rejects any
vision of public life as the space for simply fulfilling private interest, and sees one's ties and responsibility to the community, as well as the social capital that emerges from such civic bonds, as part
of the common good. For a communitarian understanding of the common good, see Bellah et al.:
250-271, 335. For a helpful discussion of the notion of the common good, see Stiltner.

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 91

three basic forms in which the church relates to culture in general: sectarianism, cultural accommodation (Christian state or national church),

and denominationalism.'8 Guroian himself anticipates that his position

might be labeled as sectarian. But he resists such an identification, for
sectarianism implies a withdrawal of the church from the world. Contrary
to Hauerwas's notions, the church is not, for Guroian, simply the redeemed

community distinct from the world. Guroian's eucharistic understanding

of the church defines the mission of the church as one of engagement with

the world. The church itself is a presence of salvation for the sake of the
world. Guroian's rejection, however, of any notion of public morality ulti-

mately leads him to sectarianism. In a democratic, pluralistic society the

alternative to cultural accommodation and sectarianism is engagement in
a public realm constituted through a plurality of voices. If the church's
message within a pluralistic public realm, as in the American context, is
one that does not take into consideration the diversity and the plurality
within this public realm, then its message will simply be excluded.19 The
nature of its message will prevent the church from having any impact on
a democratic public realm. The church will become a community that
relates simply to itself and, thus is a sect.20

Guroian will argue that the church is already excluded from having
any impact on public life by virtue of the church-state separation. This
leads to the second problem in Guroian's argument, which is a too monolithic understanding of the notion of church-state separation. Two scholars have argued recently that the idea of church-state separation, one that

18 By denominationalism is meant the existence of a plurality of religious expressions within a

public space in which religious association is voluntary and based on religious freedom.
19 Guroian would argue that the very acceptance on the part of the church of simply being one
voice among many in a public realm is itself a form of accommodation of the church to democratic values. Though this kind of accommodation that Guroian fears is evident in American society, it need not necessarily be the case, especially if, as this article hopes to demonstrate in relation

to the Orthodox Church, such a pluralistic, political community can be justified on inner theological grounds.
20 Though for different reasons, here I am basically agreeing with Harakas (1990: 76), who in a
review of Incarnate Love argues that Guroian's understanding of the church in relation to society is

in the end sectarian. Guroian's attempt to weave a social ethic between the extremes of accommodationism and sectarianism is also evident in his "The Americanization of Orthodoxy: Crisis
and Challenge" in Incarnate Love (1987). The fact that he criticizes the Armenian community in
America, on the one hand, for prioritizing its ethnic identity over its religious identity and, on the

other hand, for becoming more American "uncritically and at great cost to the Orthodox faith"
suggests that his "ecclesial" ethics tends toward sectarianism. Again, he does not intend sectarianism, but he leaves unclear what it means to become "critically" more American and be true to one's
religious identity. For further discussion on what Guroian perceives as the mutual exclusivity between American culture and Orthodox Christian faith, see "The Struggle for the Soul of the Church:
American Reflections" in Ethics after Christendom (1994) and his 1999 article in the Journal of Religious Ethics.

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92 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

is inherent in democratic forms of government, need not necessarily lead
to the privatization of religion and to its exclusion from the public realm,

as Guroian suggests. Both Ronald Thiemann, in Religion in Public Life,

and Jose Casanova, in Public Religion in the Modern World, reject the assumption that the principle of church-state separation that is inherent in
the secularization of the public realm entails the privatization of religion.21
They argue that religion can, as it has, have a public voice without threat-

ening secular diversity. Thus, Guroian's argument that church-state separation necessarily excludes religion from public life is based on a too
narrow understanding of this principle.
Given these arguments that church-state separation need not entail
exclusion of religion from public life, Guroian may argue that the very
notion of public life, common good, and public morality based on democratic principles involves the church in a compromise of its nature and
its mission. The question is whether the affirmation of a public space that

promotes diversity, religious pluralism, and public morality that is not

exhaustive of the church's morality is a betrayal of the church's nature
and its mission. Can the church preach a message of salvation for the whole

world and accept a religiously diverse political community? Accepting

Guroian's interpretation of the Orthodox understanding of church as an
eschatological community in the eucharistic worship, I would answer,
against Guroian, that the acceptance of such a community is not a betrayal.

More than this, it is called for by the very nature of the church as an
eschatological community.
The key principle at work here is that the church is church, that is, it

is an eschatological community in the eucharistic worship through faith

or persuasion and not coercion, a principle with which Guroian would

21 Thiemann writes: "Particular moral and religious beliefs can be developed with sufficient generality to provide an overarching framework within which an overlapping consensus can be developed. If that is the case, then it surely follows that religious beliefs should not be prohibited from
providing public justifications within a democratic polity, as long as those beliefs genuinely contribute to the building of an overlapping consensus" (150).
Casanova argues mainly against those who interpret the contemporary cultural situation in terms
of "desecularization" (see Berger's edited work, The Desecularization of the World). For Casanova,
deprivatization does not mean desecularization. Though religion may be emerging from the privatization it was slowly relegated to throughout the history of modernity, there is no evidence of
"desecularization" in terms of the differentiation of secular spheres (state, economy, science, education, law, art, etc.) from religious principles and norms. Casanova makes the further claim that
such deprivatization is not necessarily inherent in the notion of secularization; nor does it necessarily threaten modern differentiation of institutions: "It is the major purpose and thrust of this
study to show both theoretically and empirically that privatization is not a modern structural trend.
In other words, this study has tried to show that there can be and that there are public religions in
the modern world which do not need to endanger either modern individual freedoms or modern
differentiated structures" (215).

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 93

agree.22 The church's mission is to call the world to the salvation offered in
Jesus Christ not by Christianizing the state but through persuading others
to freely join its eucharistic communion, that is, its communal praise, wor-

ship, and offering to God. Such persuasion is the only legitimate way to
expand the boundaries of the church throughout the world.23 Until the
world is included in the church through persuasion, then the church must
confront a political community that is distinct from itself but to which it is
necessarily related, together with the institution of the state that administers,

symbolizes, and expresses the nature of such a political community. The

question becomes whether the Orthodox Church could support a democratic form for the political community and the state or whether it simply

deems such structures necessary evils for the purposes of law and order.
The answer to such a question lies in the principle of persuasion that
is inherent in the church as a eucharistic and, hence, eschatological community. If the church relates to the world through persuasion, then in
order to be consistent with itself, the church must accept a community
distinct from its own that consists of religious, political, and cultural diversity and a state that affirms and protects such diversity. The forms of
political community and state that best express and affirm such diversity
are democratic, for such diversity is what it means, in part, to be a democracy. The logic of the eucharistic ecclesiology demands the existence
of a democratic state that is by definition that institution that is distinct
from the church, in which a community of religious and political diversity is symbolized, and which is made necessary by the fact that all the
people of the world are not members of the church's worshiping community. The important point here is that, contrary to Guroian's position,
the existence of a politically diverse community in which the church is
one voice among others is not a betrayal of the church's nature but, rather,

the necessary result of the church as an eschatological community. Insofar as the church has not fulfilled its mission to persuade others to become part of its eucharistic worship of God, then it must accept the
existence of political and religious diversity. The state as a politically di22 For a discussion on the relation of "freedom of conscience" and religious pluralism in Islam,
see Sachedina: "The recognition of freedom of conscience in matters of faith is the cornerstone of
the Koranic notion of religious pluralism, both interreligious and intrareligious" (25).
23 By persuasion is simply meant that Christian conviction and participation in a Christian community cannot be established through force. If one were to convert to the Orthodox faith, or any
faith, such a conversion would result from one being persuaded, through whatever means, that

Orthodox claims are true. Such conviction does not exclude the possibility of rethinking one's
convictions, for faith itself is more often than not confronted with doubt and challenge. Such con-

viction is itself a precondition for participating in the eucharistic community and, according to
Orthodox theology of the Eucharist, for the reception of the gift of God's presence offered in the

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94 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

verse community is not contrary to but, rather, inherent in the very notion of the church as an eschatological community.
Nor is the support of democratic forms of public morality and a common good a compromise of the church's mission. Guroian cannot envision an Orthodox Christian at one and the same time assuming a missionary
attitude vis-ia-vis the world and accepting the limits placed on the church's

voice in the notion of a public morality. But insofar as the notion of a

politically and religiously diverse community is the necessary result of the

church as an eschatological community in the world, it is not a contradiction for the church to attempt to missionize the world and simultaneously recognize the need for a common good around which diverse
groups unite to form a community. As Harakas suggests, the common
good is included in, though not exhaustive of, Orthodox moral principles.
As a necessary part of the political community, the church should have a
voice in the construction of the common good. As an example, in its attempt to missionize the world the church may attempt to persuade others not to commit murder and to engage in fasting practices. In relation
to a democratic form of the common good, the church must accept its
own limits and recognize that the goal is not the formation of a eucharistic community through persuasion but, rather, the construction of a community in which diversity and multiculturalism are affirmed and protected

and in which the recognition of such diversity and multiculturalism must

be enforced if they are not voluntarily accepted. In light of this particular

end, the church can affirm that laws against murder must form a necessary part of the common good but not laws regulating fasting, for rules of

fasting presuppose a Christian community formed through persuasion

and whose end is distinct from that of the political community.24 It is, then,

24 Thiemann notes: "Even if liberal societies cannot agree on the ultimate telos for all human
beings, it does not follow that they are unable to generate a limited but still real consensus which
concerns the common good such societies should pursue" (108). Guroian may object here, claiming that there can be no ends within the "world" other than that of union with God, which is the
ultimate telos for God's creation. Although it may be true that a eucharistic ecclesiology implies
that the sole telos for the whole world is union with God, the existence of a politically diverse community is made necessary by virtue of the fact that such a telos is yet unfulfilled. Thus, until such a
fulfillment, the existence of a politically and religiously diverse community has a telos distinct from
that of the church, which is, according to the logic of eucharistic ecclesiology, to form a community of diversity in which the integrity of life is affirmed and protected until such time that all are
one with God. Theoretically, once all have become part of the eucharistic community, the community of praise, worship, and offering to God, the existence of the state is no longer necessary.
One could argue that this is consistent with Pauline theology, wherein the necessity of the state is
affirmed in Romans 13, though in 1 Corinthians (6:1-11) Christians, regarded as the body of Christ,
are chastised for resorting to nonecclesial institutions for resolving disputes. My argument parallels that of William T. Cavanaugh, who in Torture and Eucharist argues that "ecclesia is neither polis
nor oikos" (269) and also attempts to "develop a politics embedded in the liturgy" (221).

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Papanikolaou: Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy 95

not a contradiction for the church to simultaneously be engaged in missionizing the world and be committed to supporting public discussions
of the common good.25 In the end, the understanding of "church" in the
Orthodox tradition as an eschatological community through the eucharistic worship demands engagement in both types of activities. More explicitly, it lends support to democratic forms of government as most
consistent with its own theological principles.26

I have attempted in this article to explore the relationshi

Orthodoxy and democracy, arguing that such an analysis is necess

both the current state of confusion of political thought in Or

ology and the presence of the Orthodox Church in eastern E
within American society. I have attempted to show that the
legacy has shaped the Orthodox debate over church-state rela
ticularly that between two Orthodox ethicists, Stanley Haraka
Guroian. It has also led to confusing and contradictory respon
Orthodox churches facing contemporary problems. Orthodox
of democracy, participation in democratic institutions, and co
to the common good are not contradictory to Guroian's und

of the church but, rather, are its natural result. This is not symp

simply a positive theological justification of a particular form

ment. Orthodox thought, particularly its eucharistic ecclesiol

25 This emphasis on the "common good" indicates that the understanding of de

consistent with the understanding of "church" in the Orthodox tradition is the
form of democracy, with its emphasis on the "common good" and its understanding
vidual in relation to the community. The notion of person-in-relation in the Orthod
based on the understanding of God as Trinity, would give further support within t
communitarian forms of government, though the limits of this article do not allow
development of this argument. Trinitarian language bears a striking affinity with t
communitarian position: "We find ourselves not independently of other people a
but through them. ... [I]ndividuality and society are not opposites but require each o
et al.: 84). Elsewhere, it is noted that "absolute independence is a false ideal" (Bel
Such an understanding of "individuality" should allay the fears of Orthodox thinke
racy is synonymous with extreme individualism.
26 The question may arise whether the church, which understands itself to be un
sovereignty of God, can accept the formation of a democratic community for whic
resides in the people. The issue is one of the nature of God's sovereignty and wheth

eignty exists only where it is explicit in institutional structures. Common sense dict
less sovereign in a Christian state that explicitly recognizes the sovereignty of God w
anti-Semitic laws than in a democratic state in which the integrity of the human p
ciple is affirmed and protected. The real issue is whether democratic values can be leg
out reference to a personal God. For issues of divine sovereignty, see O'Donovan; for
of legitimating democracy and theism, see Gamwell.

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96 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

doctrine of the Trinity, has the greatest affinity with communitarian
understandings of democracy. Insofar as both attempt to grapple with
what it means to exist as a unity-in-diversity and how to give form to the
simultaneity of the one and the many, a fruitful and constructive conver-

sation should ensue between these two streams of thought.


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