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Christianity or Patriotism? Which Comes First?

Who are my brothers? Unbelievers in my own country, or Christian believers on the other side of the world?

We must reject kinship with unbelieving relatives, and accept foreigners as our own when they are believers. Orthodox Africans are our own people, while pagans living next-door to us in Russia (or in America) are strangers to us.

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Editor's Note: Fr. Daniel Sysoev is a modern Christian martyr who was shot in his own church. He preached many messages, wrote many books, and convinced many people to leave Islam and become Orthodox Christians. Then one day he was preparing to serve the liturgy in Moscow, when he was gunned down by a Muslim.

Fr. Daniel often talked about "heavenly citizenship", also known as "uranopolitanism". It is an Orthodox Christian principle, found in Scripture, which says that a Christian's primary allegiance is to Christ and the Church. A person may also be a citizen of Russia, America, or another country, but a person's earthly citizenship is only of secondary importance. In the article below, Pavel Vasilyev applies Fr. Daniel's teachings in a discussion about the differences between heavenly citizenship and earthly patriotism.


"Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith." (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Concerning the blessed end, Fr. Daniel Sysoev wrote:

Only uranopolitans can fulfill the commandment of the Apostle Paul: “Always rejoice!” (1 Thess. 5:16). After all, if you think about it, how can a Christian always be happy as a nationalist, a patriot, a liberal, etc. . . . Each ideology will tell him: “How can you rejoice in God when your people suffer? The fatherland is in danger, and you are having fun? Inalienable human rights are grossly violated, and you only think about some kind of happy future?” All this makes a Christian hang his head. And indeed, it is the truth. 

After 10 years, one cannot but agree with this priest. The wars in Donbass and Syria, and the opposition between Russia and countries of the West, have distracted Orthodox Christians in Russia, drawing their attention away from spiritual life. They suffer whenever it seems like Russia is humiliated in the international arena. They cannot rejoice, they lose their peace of mind, and sometimes they fall away from grace completely, preferring to obey the commandments of patriotism more than the commandments of God.

The sad phenomenon occurs, because Orthodox Christians have not sufficiently emphasized the biblical truth of heavenly citizenship, also known as uranopolitism. Many people fail to understand that Christians are not primarily Russians (or Americans) any longer. They are now members of the Church, the "new Israel", and they should be more concerned about this group of people. Orthodox Christianity is not a form of Russian patriotism, nor is it a form of American patriotism. Instead, Orthodoxy involves a necessary departure from one's earthly tribe, in order to join together with the people of God.

We analyzed most of the objections that people give in defense of patriotism, and we set out their refutation in the form of a “Dialogue Between a Christian and a Patriot”. The Christian does not use the word “uranopolitanism”, which is incomprehensible to many, but puts its meaning into the concept of “genuine Christian patriotism”. The dialogue is provided with a significant number of biblical arguments, and can be used as a guide for catechizing Christians who are tempted to substitute national patriotism for genuine spiritual life.


A Dialogue between a Christian and a Russian Patriot:

Our People and True Patriotism

Patriot: Like you, I will honor the missionary feat of the late priest Daniil (Sysoev). The idea of heavenly citizenship is of course very relevant for Christians. Only it does not contradict patriotism. In this Father Daniel was mistaken.

Christian: First, please explain what you mean by “patriotism”?

Patriot: Patriotism is the love of your kind. As St. Luke Voyno-Yasenetsky wrote: “Patriotism is love for one’s Motherland and one’s people. Patriotism is an active and benevolent participation in historical events that determine the fate of a people.” [1]

Christian: Are we called to love only our people? But what about other nations?

Patriot: True patriotism is alien to national exaltation and chauvinism. How well said St. Nikolai Velimirovich said: “True kindred in no way implies hatred of neighbors.” [2] Of course, Christians are called to love all people, but to love their people especially. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that patriotism is the predominant love of one’s people.

Christian: The predominant love of a Christian for his people without a dislike of other nations is without doubt a virtue.

Patriot: Truly so. Patriotism is a Christian virtue!

Christian: I'm glad we agree. Now tell me, what people do you consider yours?

Patriot: My people are Russia. My people is the Winner of the Great Patriotic War (World War II)! It is the Russian people living all over the world that I love and am ready to defend from enemies!

Christian: That is unexpected. You should be aware that the people to which Christians belong is called by a different name. At the end of the Sacrament of Marriage we hear: “And behold the sons of your sons: Peace in Israel” (cf. Ps. 127: 6) [3]. And in the prayer after the Eucharist: “Now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, O Lord, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples. A light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32) [4]. Remember that the New Testament is promised only to Israel (see Jer. 31:31-34). And in the Gospel the Lord Jesus Christ is called the eternal King of Israel (see Luke 1:33). Doesn't it bother you that Christ reigns over Israel, and you consider yourself to be Russian? How can you call Christ your King if you are in another nation?

Patriot: I know that the Church is sometimes called the "New Israel." For example, the priest Daniel Sysoev wrote: “New Israel - The Universal Orthodox Church - leads its children past the shoals and underwater rocks of this world.” [5] As far as I know, when a Russian person enters the Church, he becomes a member of the New Israel and the heir to the New Testament. And they can call Christ their King.

Christian: But if a Russian man entered New Israel (the Church), then he must be a patriot of this particular people, right?

Patriot: Of course. We must be patriots of New Israel, while remaining patriots of Russia. After all, joining the Church does not lead a person out of Russia. Christians have, as it were,  "dual citizenship." Heavenly and earthly.

Christian: You must know that your statement about the presence of "dual citizenship" among Christians is contrary to Holy Scripture. Balaam saw the New Israel in the prophetic Spirit and spoke the following words about this people: “I see him from the top of the rocks, and look at him from the hills: behold, the people live separately and are not listed among the nations.” (Num. 23:9) As you can see, members of the Church are not part of other nations, for their names are written in Heaven (see Luke 10:20). Otherwise it will be absurd, for the Christians themselves will weep on the Day of the Coming of Christ: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven; and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” (Matt. 24:30). If Christians continue to be listed as part of their earthly tribes, then they will cry, for “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The apostle Paul, describing the accession of the pagans to the New Israel, uses the image of the olive: “If the firstfruit is holy, then the whole; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches broke off, and you, a wild olive, took root in their place and became a member of the root and juice of the olive, then do not extol yourself above the branches.” (Rom. 11:16-17) "Wild olive" symbolizes the Gentiles who believed. They took root in the place of the "broken off branches" - the Jews who had fallen away by unbelief. Before grafting a branch, it must first be cut from a wild bush. The apostle mentions this further: “if you are cut off from the wild olives of nature, and not by nature, have grafted into a good olive tree” (Rom.11: 24). Blessed Theophylact, interpreting this place, speaks directly about cutting off the people who believed from his people: "to a good olive tree, that is, to the patriarchs ... " [6].

Patriot: So you want to say that we are cut off from Russia?

Christian: Judge for yourself: you and I have ancestors of the wild olive, that is, Soviet and Russian atheists. When you and I were baptized by the end of the 1990s, we were, according to the word of Scripture, “cut off” (Rom.11:24) from them and grafted to the New Israel. Now we can no longer belong to two peoples at the same time, just as one branch of olive cannot belong to two bushes at once.

Patriot: Your arguments are convincing. However, I am confused by the words of the Holy Hieromartyr Mikhail Cheltsov, in which I see the confession of “dual citizenship”: “In the Church of God, indeed, there is no Greek, no Jew, no slave, no free one, i.e. there is no distinction by tribe and different qualifications; but a Jew, like a Hellene, remains in the church while belonging to a famous people." [7]

Christian: Father Michael wrote these words before 1917. At that time, it was thought that those who believed in Russia were not cut off, because the Russian people were in full membership in the Church. Now the situation has changed. According to statistics, Christians in the Russian Federation are a small percentage of the population. The "Russian Church" and "Russia" are now two different nations. Therefore, the one who now believes is “cut off” (see Rom. 11:24) from the people of the secular nation.

Patriot: Suppose I’m really cut off from today's Russia and grafted to the Church. What prevents me from still loving the Russian people with primary love and actively participating in their destinies?

Christian: It is forbidden by the commandment of the Holy Spirit, speaking through the mouth of the Psalmist David: “The queen is at the right hand of You in the gold of Ophir. Hear, daughter, and see, and lay your ear, and FORGET your people and your father's house. And the King will desire your beauty; for he is your Lord, and you worship him” (Ps. 44:10-12). According to the traditional patristic understanding, "The Queen in gold of Ophir" is the Church, assembled by Christ from the Gentiles. See how St. John Chrysostom interprets this place:

He himself gave birth to the Church by baptism, and he himself made her his bride. “Listen, Daughter, and see” ... Listen, he says, My words, look at my miracles and my deeds, and heed the admonitions. What commandment does He give her first? "Forget your people and your father's house." Since He chose her from the pagans, first of all she commands to reject this kinship, to forget about it, to pull it out of the soul, not only to flee from it, but not to recall it. "Forget your people and your father's house." In the words: “the people” and “home” the prophet expresses everything, what is happening there, and life and teaching. [8]

Patriot: I am very surprised by this interpretation of our father, Chrysostom. So the Lord commands us to forget Russia?

Christian: It works like this. Upon receiving holy baptism, Russian Christians first need to reject their relationship with anything godless and criminal, and they need to abandon any participation in its destiny — it is necessary to stop our crying and nostalgia for the USSR. Forget everything that happened there: both their life and all their false teachings: communism, liberalism, national patriotism, etc. Only in this case “does the King desire your beauty” (Ps. 44:12).

Patriot: To reject, forget, run — to put it simply, do we have to hate Russia?

Christian: Hating their false teachings and their godless way of life does not mean hating the people themselves. We are taught to distinguish the sin from the sinner.

Patriot: Can we continue to love the Russian people?

Christian: You yourself said before that "Christians are called to love all people, but especially to love their own people." We love the members of our people, the New Israel, who wander the earth and triumph in Heaven more than others and show charity to them more than others, as the Holy Scriptures teach us: “So long as there is time, we will do good to all" (Gal. 6:10). For us, Russia and other pagan peoples are in second place.

Patriot: I heard that the priest Daniel Sysoev forbade loving Russia.

Christian: This is not true. This is how he taught: “We are citizens of the Universal Church. In the first place we have the interests of the worldwide Orthodox Church, and in the second place are the interests of Russia. Russia will disappear. We should take care of Russia, but we should take care of the World Church more, because it is our mother, in which we will live in eternity.” [9] Thus, Father Daniel taught us how to prioritize.

Patriot: In what ways should a Christian have concern for Russia?

Christian: First of all, in plundering this people for the Kingdom of Heaven. When Peter and Andrew fished, Jesus Christ called them like this: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19-20). With these words, the Lord clearly likened the world to this noisy sea, the earthly peoples — to the marine inhabitants, and the Christians — to their catchers. Thus it is clear that Christians traveling in the Russian Federation should try to catch as many Russian people for God as possible. This can only be done by being outside the Russian people.

Patriot: Why? 

Christian: Listen to the Gospel: “Yet the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net, thrown into the sea and catching fish of every kind, which, when it was full, was dragged ashore” (Matt. 13:47-48). Christ's fishermen pull people out of their tribes to the "shore", under which it is necessary to understand a solid foundation, that is, the Church. To do this, the fishermen themselves must remain on the "shore". Whoever thinks that his people are in the “sea”, and whoever actively participates in the destiny of such “sea” people, is obviously someone who does not dwell on the “shore”. What would you call people who have a permanent dwelling with fish in the depths of the sea?

Patriot: Drowned.

Christian: Right. A Christian who classifies himself as part of an earthly tribe, and who actively participates in its destiny, is like a drowned man. Such a person cannot save anyone for God, because he himself needs salvation.

Patriot: Your arguments make me seriously doubt my patriotism. However, you are unlikely to decide to deny the fact that a special love for fellow tribesmen is still present in our nature. Well did St. Nicholas of Japan write about this: “Patriotism is a natural feeling, invested by the Creator in human nature, like the feeling of a bird to its nest, a deer to its flock. Religion only sanctifies it, deepens and strengthens it.” [10]

Christian: Patriotism in this sense is not a Christian virtue at all.

Patriot: Why?

Christian: Something that all pagans constantly do cannot be called a Christian virtue. “And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing special? Do not pagans do the same?” (Matthew 5:47). All pagans love a wife, children, native tribe. St. Nikolai correctly wrote that this love is natural for all flesh. This is what Scripture says: “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and warms it" (Ephesians 5:29). Can we expect from Christ a special reward for feeding our wife and putting a fur coat on her? Do not pagans do the same?

Patriot: Now I understand that the natural love for one's flesh in principle cannot be considered a Christian virtue. What kind of patriotism can be called truly Christian?

Christian: Only predominant love for one's own in the spirit of faith. “From now on, we do not know anyone in the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16), the apostle teaches. Remember that, in Baptism, Christians received a second birth "from the water and the Spirit" (John 3:5). Believers “were neither born of blood nor the desire of flesh, nor of the desire of a husband, but were born of God” (John 1:13). Our carnal birth is insignificant compared to the spiritual. So that we would not forget about this, Jesus Christ even commanded us to renounce our earthly fathers: “Do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9). This is our ascetical labor. 

Patriot: You understand this commandment of the Savior too radically. 

Christian: Compare it with the interpretation of the Holy Hieromartyr Cyprian of Carthage:

So, whoever believed in His name and became the son of God, he must also begin by offering thanksgiving and confessing himself to be the son of God, calling him the Father of God; from the very beginning of his rebirth, testify with the words that he refused the earthly and carnal father and began to know and have one Father Who is in heaven according to the Scripture: "he speaks of his father and his mother:" I do not look at them, "and He does not recognize his brothers, and does not know his sons; for they, [the Levites], keep your words, and keep your covenant ” (Deut. 33:9). And the Lord in his gospel commands us not to call anyone our father on earth, because we have one Father in heaven (Matt. 23:9). Also, the Lord replied to the disciple who mentioned his dead father, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22). He said that his father died, while the Father of the believers was alive.” [11]

Patriot: The interpretation of the Holy Hieromartyr Cyprian is much more radical!

Christian: It is. Now you yourself see that we cannot recognize our Soviet ancestors and say about them “these are our fathers and grandfathers . . . this is our history”. He who acknowledges them has no right to call God "Father". After all, the Soviet fathers died, and the Father of believers lives. Let's leave the dead to bury their dead at the patriotic processions dedicated to the 9th of May. And let us turn to the Father alive and true.

Patriot: To reject our native fathers and grandfathers — what is the ascetical labor in this? I don't understand.

Christian: It is a Christian feat to abandon your kinship for the sake of God. Remember how the righteous Noah left his relationship with the antediluvian lineage when, having listened to God, he built an ark (Gen. 6:22). The righteous Eber, who departed from the wicked builders of the Tower of Babel, left his kin. The righteous Abraham left his kin when he fulfilled the call of God: “Go out of your country, from your kin” (Gen. 12:1), and he became the father of all believers (Romans 4:11). The Levites left their kin when — having responded to the call of Moses, “Whoever is the Lord's, come to me!” (Ex. 32:26) — they passed with swords across the Israeli camp, striking “each his brother, each his friend, his neighbor” (Ex. 32:27). For this feat, God bestowed on this tribe the priesthood of the First Testament.

Consider Ruth the Moabite and the relatives of Rahab the harlot, who for the sake of the God of Israel left their heathen nations behind. These righteous women are traditionally understood as a type of the church, assembled from Gentiles. “Rahab is a prototype of the Church, once desecrated by demonic fornication, and now receiving the watchmen of Christ — the apostles,” writes St. John Chrysostom [12]. The apostles of Christ left kin: “Behold, we have left everything and followed you” (Matthew 19:27). Many Orthodox Christian monks and saints also left their kin behind. 

All of them left kinship for the sake of God, being moved by the Spirit of adoption, which the Heavenly Father sent into their hearts. As it is written: “God sent into your hearts the Spirit of His Son, crying out: 'Abba, Father!' ” (Gal. 4:6). And they are all righteous in the eyes of the Most High.

Patriot: Why does the Holy Spirit  prompt the righteous to give up kinship?

Christian: Because the Son of God did this when he came down to earth. Because of his zeal for God, Jesus Christ became for the unbelieving Jews a Stranger, a Newcomer, a Samaritan from a parable of the same name. “For your sake I bear reproach, and with disgrace cover my face. I became a stranger to my brothers and a stranger to my mother’s sons, for jealousy over your house consumes me” (Ps. 68:8-10), says the Son through the lips of the prophet David. Thus, the rejection of kinship for the sake of God is the feat of the Son in the incarnation. It is logical that the Spirit of the Son prompts the saints to this feat. 

Patriot: The Jews considered Christ to be a Stranger — that's true. But He doesn't consider them to be strangers. Pay attention to the love with which the Son of God continues to say about them: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who were sent to you with stones! How many times have I wanted to gather your children, as a bird gathers its young under its wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left to you empty” (Matthew 23:37-38). The Apostle Paul said: “I myself would willingly be excommunicated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, who are my kinship by the flesh, that is, the Israelites” (Romans 9:3). Do not these words of Holy Scripture allow and sanctify patriotism as the predominant love of their own flesh?

Christian: Exactly the opposite. These examples completely refute such patriotism.

Patriot: Why?

Christian: Because immediately after these words, Christ rejected His unbelieving relatives: “Behold, your house is left to you” (Matt. 23:38). And foreigners who turned to God, He accepted as His own, as it is written: “I will call not-my-people, 'my people', and not-my-beloved, 'my beloved'” (Rom. 9:25). Of the tribesmen He composed the Church, which he loved with predominant love, cleansed and consecrated with a bath of water (Eph. 5:25-26). Proponents of carnal patriotism teach the exact opposite: "We must take our own way according to the flesh, even if they go against God."

Patriot: Indeed, the conclusion is the opposite.

Christian: Similarly, the apostle Paul, imitating Christ, rejected the Jewish people and accepted the Gentile believers. The apostle put his kinship very low. Proponents of carnal patriotism, by contrast, put kinship in the flesh very highly.

Patriot: That's true. 

Christian: And only the patriots of New Israel (the Church) imitate Christ and Paul exactly. They reject kinship with unbelieving relatives, and accept foreigners as their own, when they are believers. For them, Orthodox Africans are their own people, while Russian pagans (or American pagans) are strangers to them.

Patriot: Now I clearly see that only such patriotism corresponds to the Holy Scripture and Tradition.

Christian: Verily so, beloved.

Patriot: What will I gain if, for God's sake, I also reject kinship with Russia (or kinship with America) and become a zealous patriot of our people, the New Israel?

Christian: You will perform a truly Christian feat and will be righteous in the eyes of the Most High. Through such an act it will be revealed that God was pleased to reveal His Son in you, Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:15-16), and filled you with the Spirit of the Son (Gal. 4:6). Only by leaving Russia can you lead many Russian people to the Kingdom of Heaven. (And only by leaving America can you lead many American people to the Kingdom of Heaven.) By this you will show true, unfeigned love for this people. Amen. Glory to God for everything.

Originally appeared on orthoview.ru

Translated by Kimberly Gleason

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