Christians are raised on the lesson “Turn the other cheek“. We are constantly told that being a Christian means to be a pacifist, but does this apply to all aspects of life, or just in regards to personal offense?
Let us first look at what we are taught in Psalms:
“For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” Psalms 139:20-22
“Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the LORD, but he answered them not. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.” – Psalms 18:40-42
“Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me. LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away. Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them. Send thine hand from above; rid me, and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children; Whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” – Psalms 144:1-8
We can obviously see that God Blessed David in subduing the heathens, whom hated the Faith. These extreme measures were not meant to glorify David, but God, who David served.
Now that we have seen but a small portion of God’s wrath against the non-Believers, let us look at how this was applied in the Patristic age. We will first start with a lesson from St John Chrysostom:
“But since our discourse has now turned to the subject of blasphemy, I desire to ask one favor of you all, in return for this my address, and speaking with you; which is, that you will correct on my behalf the blasphemers of this city. And should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God; go up to him and rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so. Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify your hand with the blow, and if any should accuse you, and drag you to the place of justice, follow them there; and when the judge on the bench calls you to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels! For if it be necessary to punish those who blaspheme an earthly king, much more so those who insult God. It is a common crime, a public injury; and it is lawful for every one who is willing, to bring forward an accusation. Let the Jews and Greeks learn, that the Christians are the saviours of the city; that they are its guardians, its patrons, and its teachers. Let the dissolute and the perverse also learn this; that they must fear the servants of God too; that if at any time they are inclined to utter such a thing, they may look round every way at each other, and tremble even at their own shadows, anxious lest perchance a Christian, having heard what they said, should spring upon them and sharply chastise them. Have you not heard what John did? He saw a man that was a tyrant overthrowing the laws of marriage; and with boldness, he proclaimed in the midst of the forum,
It is not lawful for you to have your brother Philip’s wife. Mark 6:18 But I urge you on, not against a prince or a judge; nor against the marriage ordinance outraged; nor in behalf of fellow-servants insulted. But I require you to castigate an equal, for insolence against the Lord. Truly, if I had said unto you, punish and correct those kings or judges who transgress the laws, would you not say that I was mad? But John forsooth acted thus. So that even this is not too much for us. Now then, at least, correct a fellow-servant; an equal; and although it should be necessary to die, do not shrink from chastising a brother. This is your martyrdom, since John was also a martyr. And although he was not commanded to sacrifice, nor to worship an idol, yet for the sacred laws that were despised, he laid down his head. Do thou too then contend, even to the death, for the truth, and God will fight for you! And make me not this cold reply.
What matters it to me? I have nothing in common with him. With the devil alone we have nothing in common, but with all men we have many things in common; for they partake of the same nature with us; they inhabit the same earth, and they are nourished with the same food; they have the same Lord; they have received the same laws, and are invited to the same blessings with ourselves. Let us not say then, that we have nothing in common with them; for this is a satanic speech; a diabolical inhumanity. Therefore let us not give utterance to such words, but exhibit such a tender care as becomes brethren!” – Saint John Chrysostom (Homily 1 On the Statues #32)
Here Saint John tells us to “sanctify your hand with the blow”, when we are faced with heretical rhetoric. We are called to be guardians of our cities, and to correct all heresies, whether spoken by King or plebeian. When words fail, we are called to use action.
The idea that force is sometimes necessary to combat heresy was further reinforced through St Nicholas, when he punched the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Even St Nicholas’ fellow Bishops thought he was wrong, so they stripped him of his Vestments and imprisoned him. God vindicated St Nicholas, however, and broke his shackles, and returned his Vestments. When the Bishops and St Constantine saw what Christ had done for our Glorious Saint, they freed him and restored him as Bishop of Myra. St Nicholas’ noble action of punching the heretic Arius is now illuminated on numerous Holy Icons, as seen above.
Now these are but a couple instances of our Saints defending the Faith with force. It would take a thousand articles to show all the Royal and/or Warrior Saints who defended the Faithful against pagan tyranny, but I will leave it with just these two for now.
While peace is a most noble virtue, in our fallen world it is sometimes necessary to raise your fist, or even your sword. Please read this book by Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, for more information on the topic of war and peace:
Saint Nicholas Pray for Us!
Thou wast a sharp spiritual sword, O wise one, cutting down the deceitful tares of the heretics and making straight the saving paths of the virtues, O Father Nicholas (canon, 3rd tone, ode 3, troparion 1).
With thy divine eloquence, O Nicholas, thou didst visibly stop the lawless open mouths and saved many from Arius’s destruction… (canon 4th tone, ode 8, trop. 1).
By God’s power, O most blessed one, thou didst trample down the heretic forces, and save thy flock from their deceit, O Nicholas (canon 6th tone, ode 7, trop. 1).