“For the Lord’s sake be in subjection (ὑποτάγητε) to every human institution / creation (πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει), whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the fellowship of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Pet 2: 13-17)
Is it harder for us, in our Information Age, than it was for St. Peter, to honor civil authorities, when we know so much about them, in 24-hour news coverage? I don’t think so. Because, according to tradition, St. Peter, who left us the above-quoted words about civil authorities who are “sent” by God “to punish those who do wrong,” was himself put to death by governmental authoritities under Emperor Nero. So, St. Peter showed us what it meant, in his case, to “honor the emperor,” and yet “live as free people.”
I’m reflecting on this passage because it is one of our Church’s readings for this Monday, the first day of the Apostles Fast. I’m excited, this year, to spend this Fast reflecting more deeply on what it means to belong to a church described (in our Creed) as “apostolic.” I know that in our day we often focus on, and grapple with, another word that describes the church, namely, the word “one.” – As in, we believe in the “one,” holy, catholic, and apostolic church. And we tend to understand the word “one” in terms of plain arithmetic. However, I’m reminded today that this “one” word does not stand alone, but in the context of other words, like “apostolic,” which reflects the wealth and nuances of experience handed down to me from way back, from the very first eye-witnesses to the resurrected Lord, the Apostles. These were people who preached, for example, subjection to “every human institution,” – and yet stood up to civil authority even unto death. Because their lives in Christ did not, actually, unfold according to any human law, nor according to formulas of plain arithmetic. Holy Apostles, pray to God for us.