We gathered here today as citizens of the same nation, to pray together for the commencement of Parliament.
Though socially we are categorised into people who govern and who are governed, before God we all feel as His humble children, asking for wisdom, patience and courage in order to be able to fulfil His will in the duties which each one of us has been called for.
The three Biblical passages which we have just heard, converge in a wonderful way upon the main theme of today's service, which is obviously the common commitment to certain values and public responsibility.
It is very constructive, and comforting at the same time, to observe that Psalm 23, though composed by a King, speaks about a Shepherd who could not be from this world. A mortal cannot carry out such an overwhelming responsibility. The needs and fears of people in this world are so manifold that no one can console them, unless he is the "Divine" Shepherd:
The direct reference of all this world's affairs to the Lord Himself should then be the first article of faith for all those involved in any kind of leadership in human society. However, this does not mean that those elected to be leaders have to be afraid or even resign before their responsibilities. On the contrary, they have to undertake these responsibilities with sincere fear of God, and with fervent zeal, having the noble ambition only to serve their sisters and brothers.
Yet, this is by no means an easy task. This can be achieved only if the servant is fully aware that he is a simple instrument in the hands of the living God. The faith of course that the leader acts "for the sake of God's name" could easily prove to be an illusion, or an impious audacity. On the other hand, however, if this awareness comes out of deep faith and humility, it could undoubtedly mean a tremendous source of inspiration, courage and patience, qualities which a leader needs terribly, especially today when human conditions become more and more complex, both nationally and internationally.
Having said all the above, we wish to emphasise that leadership of any kind which at first glance perhaps appears to be a merely secular arrangement is in reality a true mystery.
The mystery of leadership demands from the one who is expected to be a leader, that he firstly humbles himself before God, in order to be led accordingly by God's will.
In this context, it would be of interest to recall a characteristic derivation in the English language. The term "duke" i.e. "leader", coming directly from the Latin "dux", shows clearly that the making of a dux presupposes education. However, e-duc-ation, primarily means, "discipline". In addition, this again literally means to become a disciple, in obedience to a higher authority.
If we now try to briefly analyse also the two other Biblical passages, we shall easily see that government and public life in terms of serving properly the common good, or even of leading people into the fulfilment of their true needs, requires more than humility and appropriate education. It requires, namely, true sacrifice, a term which sounds so prosaic, if not pejorative, in our consumeristic society. However, the heaviest sacrifices of a leader are not those of time, effort, money or other more or less material goods. The sacrifices, which render leadership into a powerful witness of almost missionary character, are the sacrifices of deep personal interests such as reputation, prestige, health and perhaps even life itself.
The incarnate Son of God, who was the only one to teach humankind true love and care for the other, made it clear, as we heard, that "no one has greater love than this, than to lay down one's life for one's friends". Here we should perhaps ask, "Is there any politician in any country who would not claim to be a "friend" of his voters?"
For the Judeochristian tradition at least, the sound criterion of any kind of leadership cannot be any other than such a willingness of the leader to serve the people of God unreservedly, no matter what the price.
Since in the Judeochristian tradition people in general are never regarded as a crowd of anonymous individuals, but, primarily, as God's property with a special mission, it is only natural that all leaders of the people of God should understand their term of service as a God-given challenge to participate, one way or another, in the overall plan of Divine Economy.
I am of course aware that some members of our Parliament today could perhaps feel uneasy at such a more or less "theocratic" view of political leadership, which I may seem to be presenting here. Although I do not underestimate the merits and benefits of secularism for society, particularly after the Medieval period of tyranny, as a religious leader I would not accept that secularism as such could ever meet all human needs. And this for the simple reason that the human being has not only material goals, but also a characteristic yearning for the transcendent. Therefore, I have to state, in all sincerity, that I do not know any other spirituality among all religions, which respects human beings in their uniqueness and sacredness more than Biblical spirituality.
For, who could really claim to have a higher estimation of human beings than the Biblical doctrine, according to which man was created in the "image and likeness of God"? (Gen. 1:26). Who else recognises the unheard privilege of human beings to become not only co-workers of God in all affairs of this world, but also of becoming "God by grace" as the culmination of human perfection in the life to come?
It is precisely this high estimation of human nature as such which is the reason, and at the same time constitutes the true measure, of all moral demands that one is entitled to place upon any kind of leaders in human society.
The above-mentioned Biblical and theological view of the value of the human being as such, which decisively determines also the limits of the sovereignty of a leader, has, in modern times, been unfortunately undermined by a mere populism as a result in fact of the French Revolution.
Though we all usually praise unreservedly the French Revolution as the real starting point of individual human rights and of true democracy in modern times, I am afraid that, in so doing, we often overlook that this kind of liberation could also open the door to manifold potential dangers, which can culminate in the most aggressive form of anarchy. Some writers went so far as to say that, through the French Revolution, it was actually not the King who lost his throne, but God Himself. In this spirit we could perhaps say that the declaration of Nietzsche "God is dead" was only an echo of the French Revolution.
By stating this, I am not speaking of course politically for or against the inherited monarchy, especially now when our nation is trying to freely decide about the more desirable form of our government. All I want to wholeheartedly emphasise here is only the importance of tradition as such, which is the most precious asset for a nation.
The true meaning of tradition is given by the very succinct definition of the Greek Nobel-prize winning poet George Seferis, who stated that "tradition is the limitless solidarity between the living and the dead".
Yet, being reminded of the "dead" and their contribution to our life in the form of limitless solidarity", we should admit that such a tacit collaboration is not only possible or acceptable. It is rather a basic requirement of true democratic thinking itself. For, if democratic thinking is really to allow the voice of the majority to prevail, without of course neglecting the voice of the minority, then it is obvious that in human history, the majority is always expressed more by the definite past than by the fluid present.
In such a dynamic perception of tradition, we express not only the standard of our culture or our democratic sensitivity; more than that, we express our awareness of our common debt towards those ancestors who entrusted to us their tried and sanctified values of knowledge, experience and memory.
For all these reasons, political revolutions or any other form of experiments and changes in social life should always be sensitive enough not to destroy the real achievements of the past, which are a legacy for all time.
The greatest dilemma for a political leader but also for society at large, is how to combine the need for progress and development with the rudiments of tradition, which are in themselves the real presuppositions for true development. Continuity and discontinuity in social and historical life are not only demands, but at the same time they include serious dangers for all of us.
For this reason, we must know that fidelity to authentic traditions in no way means stagnation, but on the contrary, the safest method for renewal.
If human responsibility towards all three dimensions of time - that is, past, present and future - is accepted in such a dynamic way, then it is clear that each one of us has his own place in life - a place which is non-negotiable. Precisely for this unique place, one should be ready to sacrifice even their life, at least out of self-respect.
The heroic figure of St. John the Baptist will always remain an example of unique consequence, not only in religious, but also in moral, social and political life. If we consider his case carefully, we shall realise that it was not the blind hatred of Herod, which beheaded him. Rather, it was his own persistence to preach unreservedly what he believed to be the approaching Kingdom of God. If he was not ready to do so, he would have proven himself unworthy to be called The Forerunner". Would it really be necessary to humbly remind all our political, religious and other leaders that their first obligation is to be "forerunners" in all duties and responsibilities towards God and His people?
Only when we understand leadership as the service to values, which transcend all mortals and their temporary interests, shall we be able to deal effectively, in a God-pleasing way, even with the most secular matters in human society. How much more so if we are dealing with problems such as "human rights", "equal opportunities", equal respect to indigenous people -even if we have to apologise to them for whatever they suffered because of us - and so many other sociopolitical issues.
We fervently pray at this solemn hour that God the Almighty give strength and inspiration to all our representatives in the Federal Parliament, so that they may always take decisions which glorify God in serving the true needs of His people.
from Voice of
Orthodoxy, v. 19(3), March 1998
a publication of the Greek Orthodox Archbiocese of Australia