In today’s heated political season it is important not to get distracted. Saint Paisios warns,
“Now days, too much ‘world’ – an excess of secular spirit — has entered the world and will destroy us. People have taken this ‘world’ into their hearts and have expelled Christ.”
Take for example the current popular political slogan, “Make America Great Again.” (I use this as an example at the risk of being accused of being political, but this is not my intent. Hear me out. It’s not an issue of being Republican or Democrat on any other political persuasion.) Have you thought about what Great means in this context? If you ask around, you will find that there is no agreement what is meant by this. Each person has their own idea about what will make their country great.
We can think about “greatness” in two ways. One is secular or worldly and the other spiritual. Generally we think in secular terms, worldly or politically, seeking ways the government can better our lives. This is the realm of politics. In this realm we all have differing views. Some want new laws while others want old laws revoked. Some want a racial bias in our rulers and others more diversity. Some want an economy where there is some income distribution while others oppose any. Some are pro-life and others pro-choice and so on. The issues are all worldly. The list of differences is endless and sometimes they are very extreme. There is no basis for a common view. Everyone has their own option. There is no absolute truth, right or wrong. When we become aligned with a political party, we are no longer capable of having a rational dialogue with those of another party. Friends are lost as we find ourselves angered by opposing views or personalities. It is like our minds are frozen. Each person thinks that if their idea is implemented by the government it will make society greater and any other view will bring disaster. The political slogans become divisive rather than unifying.
When we think of greatness in spiritual terms, the focus shifts from thinking of the government as our savior to our relationship with God. As we examine the ideal life taught by Jesus, we discover the limitations we have in ourselves. Jesus came to teach that peace and joy only come from within ourselves. It’s no longer about the external laws. The “kingdom of God is within,” “Purify your heart and see God,” He teaches.
Even Jesus struggled with communicating this message because the Jews were expecting a great political leader to make them great and free them from an oppressive Roman government. They could not grasp His spiritual message about the Kingdom of Heaven. They were blinded and distracted by their political or worldly aims of control and power to enforce external laws.
When we view greatness spiritually, we see that for greatness it is necessary for each of us to correct the imperfections in ourselves, learn to control our own passions so that we can truly love God and love others as ourselves. We need to overcome our anger, our desires, our lust, and so forth. This is what is meant by, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven there is no struggle. Greatness in this spiritual sense then becomes unifying. We find that all of us are struggling to become better persons, and with mutual love seeking forgiveness and forgiving others. With this view, a great society is one where everyone is seeking to improve themselves, learning how to love each other as themselves, and with faith calling on the Holy Spirit to help us all.
I think this spiritual quest is the only way we will gain what we are seeking. While there may be some small incremental improvements that can be made in the secular arena, our aim must be a union with God and eternal life in His kingdom. This may not be possible in this earthly life, but we can have hope with faith, and give our best efforts to purify our hearts to be worthy of eternal life is His kingdom.
We must heed the warning given us by Saint Paisios and not become distracted by the many worldly slogans that politicians bombard us with through highly polished advertisements. Don’t let this heated political season distract you from our goal to be united with Christ. Guard against anger. Don’t fall into hatred of anyone or any group of people. Have compassion for those who think differently from you. Try to understand their point of view. Remember we are all made in God’s image and all struggle with our passions. Don’t put time into watching cable news instead of your daily prayer time. Read Scripture and a book by one of our Church Fathers. Attend Liturgy, prepare and receive Holy Communion and pray for the well being of all humanity. Focus on becoming more like Christ in all your daily activities; don’t let the “world” overtake your heart and blot out Christ.