Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

My kingdom is not of this world

Archbishop Chrysostomos: sick of the constant criticism of the church

By Christos Liasides

Christ’s advice was to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s

WHAT else to say about Christ’s sojourn on Earth after last week? His life, his teachings, his torture and crucifixion and his death on the cross are part of the historical Christ

Last week I said I would deal with the importance to secularist thinking of God becoming human but to complete the narrative from last week first, after Christ’s Resurrection he appeared to his disciples intermittently.  He did not live among them like he had done previously. He remained on Earth for forty days seemingly to confirm his return to life to his disciples and his family.  On his final day on earth he told his disciples to spread the Word to all the world and departed watched by his disciples from the Mount of Olives as he ascended beyond the clouds to heaven.

The purpose of Christ’s sojourn on Earth is explained in the opening column of the Gospel according to St John. It was to teach humanity grace and truth beyond the law. In other words, to provide the world with moral guidance on how to live a good life.

According to St John, God the father is not just the Creator who made the heavens and the earth, but a moral God who sent his son to give grace and truth beyond the laws handed down to Moses.

‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.’ Christ is the Word – the Logos – the ‘true light that lights every man that comes into the world.’

But Darwin’s theory of evolution has convincingly put paid to God as man’s maker in his own image. Although evolutionary theory does not refute the idea of God as the force behind Creation – and the Big Bang theory on the creation of the Universe does not exclude God as that single creative force –  the creation of Man in God’s image is not at all consistent with evolutionary theory.

If the creation of Adam and Eve in the Bible is poetic myth so also is their fall from grace and humanity’s need for redemption. If humans evolved over millions of years, there was no original sin, no need for redemption and consequently no need for Christ to die on the cross. I suspect this is the reason why creationists insist that the Adam and Eve story is literally true, since the whole idea of redemption from original sin is central to the divine mission of Christ on Earth.

But this does not deprive the Passion of Christ of its essential truth or its symbolism. There is a dichotomy between religion and science but it does not affect the depth of the moral teachings of Christ. The historical Christ put to death on the cross by the Roman state is regarded by historians as historical fact. The idea whose symbolism gripped the world and turned a persecuted sect into a world religion, however, was grace and truth emanating from a human being. That in the end had the paradoxical consequence of leading the Christian world away from God in the direction of reason as the source of moral values. Stripped of all inessentials the true significance of Christ in the modern secular world is not that he was God in the flesh but that what he preached was as if it were sent from heaven.

The Old Testament contains truths that appear as metaphorical myths that are not supposed to be read literally. In the New Testament, apart from his Resurrection and Ascension, the life and moral teachings of Christ were a new morality that was clear and practical and the source of many moral and noble causes in the world today.

Amnesty International, Medicine Sans Frontieres, the Red Cross, the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Charter are all inspired to an extent by the teachings of Christ. They are all based on human ideas of love, compassion, mercy, the protection of the meek and the weak and treating others as ends, not as means to an end.

Crucially, his advice to his detractors ‘to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s’ eventually enabled the state in the west to become secular thus ensuring equality before the law with anti-discrimination laws that are the envy of the world.

In Cyprus officially there is separation of Church and State but in practice the Church is ubiquitous. As recently the latter part of the 20th Century Cyprus had an Archbishop as head of state, head of government, and head of the Church all rolled into one.

To be fair this is no longer permissible but, interestingly, to Turkish Cypriots, who are Muslim, the fact that the president was head of the Greek Orthodox Church was not the issue so much as his inability to keep to an international treaty before its ink was dry.

In Turkey, where most of the people are Muslim, Kemal Ataturk had the foresight to make the state secular. He first deprived the Sultan of political power and then abolished the Caliphate against strong opposition from the Muslim world that even offered him the status of Caliph if he would retain the Caliphate. He was not interested and the state in Turkey was made and remains secular. Half the Turkish population and most Turkish Cypriots regard their Muslim faith as a private matter for the individual and the hope is that this will continue.

The hope also is that the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus will cease to be involved in politics completely. As Christ told Pontius Pilate, when he was falsely accused of treason for claiming to be king of the Jews, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’

I have a soft spot for the Greek Orthodox Church. I love the language and the style in which services are conducted and the icons and the architecture in the style of Hagia Sophia. Like Ataturk, I would return it to its past glory as a Church if it were within my power. Alas it is not as indeed it was not in the power of Ataturk who made it a museum instead.

All I ask of the Church of Cyprus, in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ, is please stay out of politics because that referendum it organised in 1950 to unite Cyprus with Greece that treated a quarter of the population as if they did not exist did not just hurt the Turkish Cypriots viscerally that rankles to this day, it has been a disaster for the whole Island.

 

Christos Liasides is better known as Alper Ali Riza QC. He is a barrister and a part time judge in England

 

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