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Catechism on Government, Nation, and State

In 2016, the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) published its official English-language catechism titled Christ Our Pascha. A catechism is a summary of the Church’s official teachings: dogma, doctrine, spiritual and theological emphases for a particular Church at a particular time. Christ Our Pascha was the culmination of an international effort, acknowledging the increased diversity of the UGCC. Since the last catechism was published during the wartime years of the last century, the UGCC has become well-established in at least a dozen countries, coordinates missionary work in dozens more, and has emerged into a rapidly globalizing world from decades of Soviet subjugation. As you will read, the Church’s responses to these challenges are pretty radical, deeply Eastern Christian, and cut across political and ideological divides. The St. Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship is sharing extended excerpts of the catechism as it relates to the Fellowship’s mission, and you are welcome to read the whole text here.

D. The Christian Understanding of the State


§ 954 The state is a form of organizing the life of a nation. Every people strives to preserve its identity through the creation of a state. As a political community, the state exists for the common good when, through its pertinent activities, it deepens, actualizes, and defends the moral values of a people. Such a state can successfully promote the development of every individual, if it does not neglect the fundamental social values of freedom, justice, and equality.


§ 955 The state performs its functions through the mechanism of political rule. Governance is needed to coordinate the efforts of citizens in achieving the common good. One of the fundamental responsibilities of the state is to limit various manifestations of evil through due process of the law. In this respect, political governance is the moral force of society. State power, which resides supremely in the people, ought to promote the development of civil society and democratic institutions, as well as guarantee the freedom and rights of its citizens.


1. The Functions of State Rule


§ 956 The aim of state rule lies in creating conditions for the harmonious development of individuals, social groups, and society as a whole. From this aim flows the sphere of activity of state rule in the areas of legislation, administration, and judicial procedure.


§ 957 The Venerable Metropolitan Andrey taught that “The aim of governing authority is to service the social good, to preserve and protect the natural and truly authentic freedom of citizens, families, and community organizations.” Representatives of state rule are bound by the moral mandates that society places before the government. Christians who hold political power are accountable not only to society and the law, but to God as well.


§ 958 Among the primary functions of state authority are: defense against external aggression; maintenance of foreign policy; defense of constitutional order, defined by economic, civil, and criminal law; just state administration and a fair judiciary; and finally, concern for general welfare. A government is called to care for the common good, whose distinguishable characteristics are religious liberty, culture, education, and scholarship.


2. The Limits of State Authority and the Death Penalty


§ 959 In accordance with Church teaching, the limits of state authority are delineated by its earthly and temporal character. State authority acts within the limits of its functions. The state cannot fulfill its functions if it violates the dignity of the individual and the moral principles of society. The limits of state authority are defined by a constitution.


§ 960 The Church directs her children to submit to state authority, and prays for it regardless of the religious affiliation of its representatives, for “there is no authority except from God... for [the governing authority] is God’s servant for your good” . However, the Church does not consider the authority of government or its representatives to be absolute and does not accept the idea of its complete autonomy from God. Nor does the Church accept the government’s autonomy from the earthly order of things established by God. “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution” . In other words, the criterion of the lawfulness of state power is its conformity to the Lord’s law. When state authority loses its legitimacy through its lack of conformity to God’s law, the people have a right to resist such a government and to oppose it . The Christian is bound to follow divine law even in difficult circumstances: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” .


§ 961 According to a Christian understanding, punishment for a crime is not society’s revenge against a criminal. Rather, punishment is intended to create the foundation for a criminal’s conversion, reconciliation with God, and return to society. Therefore, punishment ought to be open to the possibility of a criminal’s future reintegration into the life of society.


§ 962 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ challenges the logic of revenge with a new logic of forgiveness, and he teaches us to understand justice from the eschatological perspective of the kingdom of God. This new logic proposed by our Lord creates a new Christian ethic. According to this ethic, the protection of society takes place not by means of capital punishment but through other forms of punishment. Being conscious of the mystery that is the person, and defending the value and dignity of life, the Church supports the non-use of capital punishment .


§ 963 In his encyclical Evangelium vitae, Saint Pope John Paul II describes the growth in society’s consciousness of a yearning to resolve conflicts using non-violent, peaceful means as one of the signs of hope. “In the same perspective there is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of ‘legitimate defense’ on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.”


3. Moral Responsibility for the State


§ 964 In accordance with Christian social teaching, every member of society has moral obligations towards the state. These obligations entail the performance of a citizen’s civic duties. They also require the citizenry to reject the transformation of the state into an instrument in the hands of social groups of various kinds.


§ 965 In a democratic system, all citizens are responsible for the welfare of all, both at the level of the local community, and of the region and country as a whole. Civic duties include: participating in elections, paying taxes, defending one’s country against aggressors, abiding by the law, solidarity with others, and mutual respect among members of society. Christians who run for elected office or serve in government in other ways must not compromise their faith. Metropolitan Andrey states:

“The more that citizens participate in government, the more it is necessary that these citizens be righteous, that is, that they possess a moral formation permeated with gospel principles.”

§ 966 A particular manifestation of self-interested abuse of state authority is corruption and bribery. These ruin the state and deform social relations. A state’s level of corruption is sometimes an indication of the moral state of society as a whole, and of each individual member thereof. Both those who demand and accept bribes and those who offer and pay them perform a corrupt act.


§ 967 Corruption is a dangerous phenomenon for society, and—from the Christian point of view—a sin . A government loses its purpose: it ceases to represent and defend its citizens, and instead becomes a menace to them. A Christian may not participate in corrupt acts, and should not remain silent when others commit them.

Remember, Lord, our nation under God. (Anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great)

4. Love for Country and People


§968 The road to our heavenly homeland passes through our earthly homeland.

Christians benefit their country more than others. For they form and channel the devotion of their fellow citizen to the God of all creation. They also help those who live in their small cities on earth to ascend to the heights of the divine and heavenly city. Thus is fulfilled the Word of the Lord: “You have been faithful in the smallest city, come into a great one” ⛪§74.

For us, a country is a person’s native land, which connects that person to a people and culture. Christian moral teaching refers to love for one’s country as the virtue of patriotism. Love for one’s country derives from the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” .


§ 969 In the words of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky:

A fatherland can be a powerful organization, guaranteeing happiness for all its citizens, only when it is not a whole that has been artificially constructed of different and diverse parts. Rather it should be similar to a monolithic organism, that is, a body vivified by a single spirit which develops from an inner vital force and makes up for its inherent deficiencies. And by its nature, this organism is a healthy, strong body that is conscious of its purpose and not only material but moral as well.

§ 970 Patriotism, as the virtue of love for country, is incompatible with a hatred or belittlement of other nations or races. These are manifestations of chauvinism and racism. True patriotism is active: it promotes the preservation and development of national culture and self-awareness. A patriot will never replace God with the nation, and will not reduce faith to one of the aspects of national culture.


§ 971 In view of this, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky teaches:

A Christian should love all people, but this does not impede one from loving his or her family and country first. And just as love of neighbor does not run counter to love of family, so too, it is not contrary to a love of country. The Christian can and should be a patriot, but his patriotism cannot be hatred, nor can it demand obligations contrary to faith. That which appears to be patriotism, but would entail hatred or would contradict the faith, is not true patriotism. [Pastoral Letter to the Faithful On Christian Labour]

§ 972 Love for one’s people is also a manifestation of patriotism. A people is a spiritual community of persons united by language, tradition, history, and cultural heritage. A people cultivates national values that are the foundation of its identity. In a time of nation-building, Metropolitan Andrey wrote:

The task of the Ukrainian people will be to create such social Christian conditions that would ensure the true and continued happiness of citizens, so that they may find enough inner strength to overcome the centrifugal forces of internal disintegration, and successfully defend its borders from external enemies.

§ 973 A nation is a source and environment for the transmission of both national and Christian values to the individual. One of the greatest treasures of a nation is its native language, a point which Metropolitan Andrey emphasizes: “What makes a group of people one nation? First of all, language. All who speak Ukrainian or regard Ukrainian as their native language will constitute the Ukrainian people.”


§ 974 A people’s culture develops in the religious, moral, intellectual, aesthetic, and social fields. Every Christian, whose life consists of love for God and neighbor, is called to love his or her nation deeply, and to contribute to the preservation and development of its cultural and spiritual heritage. The task of every Christian is to build up and develop an authentic Christian culture, which forms the conscience and assures a person’s spiritual growth and development.


Fill their storehouses with every good thing. (Anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great)

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G. Preserving Peace in the Modern World


§ 986 Peace is a gift from God. It is not merely the absence of war. Peace cannot be attained without the defense of people’s welfare as well as unfettered communication among them. It also requires respect for the dignity of individuals and nations, as well as a constant fostering of fraternal fellowship. Peace is a matter of justice and the fruit of love.


§ 987 Peace is an important value, essential for the development of not only the individual, but whole nations and states. As a value, peace is based on the principle of respect for the human person—his or her life and dignity.


§ 988 Preservation of peace is the obligation of every person, but especially of the Christian. Everyone is called to make a contribution toward establishing and strengthening peace through concrete gestures of peace in families, the workplace, in communities, in civic life, and in national and international organizations. First and foremost, peace should rule the human heart. The way to strengthen peace is through tireless prayer for peace, as well as through the cooperation of Christians with those who sincerely desire to preserve peace.


§ 989 The attainment of peace is also a struggle in the cause of life. Threats to peace, and therefore causes of war, are: injustice, jealousy, suspicion, and pride. These rage among individuals and nations. War is a crime against life, for it brings with it suffering and death, grief and injustice. War cannot be regarded as a means of resolving conflicts. This can be achieved by other means which correspond to human dignity: international law, honest dialogue, solidarity among states, and diplomacy.


§ 990 The use of military force can be justified only in the event of extreme necessity as a means of legitimate self-defense, and the Christian soldier is always a defender of peace. Given the destructive nature of contemporary means and methods of conducting war, practically no conditions exist for a just launching of war. This is because war becomes a terrible threat to humanity owing to new weapons of mass destruction that have the potential to destroy life on earth.



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