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Vol. 1 No. 1 - Feast of St. Nicholas 2006

God Save the King?

"Honour the king." - 1 Peter 2:17

While it is true that most Canadians support the Canadian monarchy, for most people, its relevance to daily life seems at best remote. The monarch who serves as head of state carries an ancient quality of governance, a quality inherited through Byzantium and Russia from the Old Testament: the quality of a ruler selected by God, not human popularity, and anointed by certain spiritual authorities in His name. The result of such appointment - replete with a crown symbolizing martyrdom, and the Byzantine images of throne and scepter symbolizing God's rule on earth - provides the Canadian monarchy something no mere republic can enjoy: leadership (however symbolic), based on relationship with a person, rather than a set of abstract ideas such as freedom, democracy, and the right to bear arms.

Monarchy doesn't matter much for many in Canada, but it does underpin all our institutions, laws, and stable government: no coups are allowed, since any such government would fail to get the approval of the duly constituted head of state. Even the opposition to the government remains "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition", such that when even regional separatists advocate the breakup of the country, they are obliged to do so in an ever-nice, Canadian fashion. In a country with such potential for divisions based on region, language, culture, and politics, it's a worthwhile unity to enjoy. What would be the implications for Canada, however, if the monarch of our country was an Orthodox Christian? At first glance, most people would say this would make little difference, in a country who couldn't care less where His or Her Majesty might find themselves on Sunday morning. Yet the inherited experience of the centuries speaks otherwise. The anointed kings of the Old Testament were not simply someone who happened to be the king: they were God's anointed. The Byzantine emperors carried similar significance. This is the reason on the walls of Constantinople in 1453, the death at the hands of Muslim armies of the last Emperor Constantine Paleologus was a tragedy of biblical proportions: it was the end not just of a dynasty, but the kingdom which reflected God's Rule on earth. The murders of the Royal Martyrs of Russia in the twentieth century bore the same significance, signaling the end of the Third Rome, of Holy Orthodox Russia. Orthodox rulers have always been viewed by the Church as a sign of God's favour toward a country; their deaths have been interpreted as the act of the Lord removing His protective hand from an apostate nation.

Canada, like other countries who share the same sovereign as Britain, has little likelihood of inheriting such Divine favour - or so it would seem. Yet as our Queen celebrates decades on the throne, attention inevitably turns to what the future may hold for the monarchy. The collective opinion of Charles, The Prince of Wales, has warmed in recent years, after a decades-long roller-coaster ride in public opinion. Most Orthodox Christians, especially those with no personal ties to the United Kingdom, have paid little attention to the Prince's activities, beyond what the mainstream media reports. This is the very reason the prospect of an Orthodox Sovereign for Canada has missed most Orthodox.

For many years, The Prince of Wales has been an active (and contributing) steward of a number of Orthodox monasteries, including St. Catherine's on Sinai, and communities on the Holy Mountain of Athos. Introduced to these by his Greek Orthodox father, Prince Phillip, Charles makes regular pilgrimage to both, and is granted privileges of access reserved not just for Orthodox pilgrims, but only for Orthodox bishops. Media reports confirm his regular, private visits to the only Welsh Orthodox priest, in the priest's tiny cottage in the northwestern Welsh nationalist country. His Royal Highness' love for things Orthodox extended to the Anglican marriage blessing at Windsor Castle, at which a Russian singer sang the Nicean Creed - the original Creed used by the Orthodox, not the Latin version with the filioque Clause used by the Church of England, the religion of which Prince Charles would become head upon his ascension. There are numerous indications that the Prince also receives the Holy Mysteries of Communion in the Orthodox Church, from the most strict monastic communities, which raises the question of whether in fact Prince Charles is actually Orthodox. Direct inquiries to those who serve as spokesmen for the Royal Family are met with demure silence: the royal method of avoiding a positive response to a complicated question.

If Prince Charles is an Orthodox Christian, what does it mean for the Church of England, the rapidly declining state religion in a country that boasts better attendance in its mosques on a given day than in its own pews in a month of Sundays? His Royal Highness has already expressed reservations about taking on the role of head of the Church of England; of course, this is a role an Orthodox Christian could not accept. He continues to take his own sons (and heirs) on pilgrimage to Orthodox holy sites, and does so not in the manner of a royal tourist, but as a regular, humble pilgrim, traveling by foot, and staying in regular quarters (with a retinue of bodyguards, to be sure). By God's providence, should the day arrive that he assumes the throne, the implications for Anglicanism may be nothing at all, if Prince Charles gets his way.

For Orthodox Christians, the prospect of an Orthodox Christian king - indeed, an Orthodox King of Canada - should like all things pertaining to the Mind of God, not be interpreted for their outward meaning, but for their inner, spiritual significance. For an Orthodox monarch has always represented God's favour toward a nation, and perhaps in this case, it would represent the Lord providing Commonwealth countries, including Canada, a chance for repentance and salvation. As the drums of war beat with increasing ferocity around the globe, perhaps it will even be our last chance.

Father Geoffrey Korz, (Feast of St. Nicholas, 2006)

© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.