Today is the feast day of St. Cybi the Tanned. He was born in 483 the son of Salomon, a warrior king in Wales. Cybi left his home while he was still young and traveled to Jerusalem and to Rome to venerate the Holy sites of Christianity. While there he became a priest and then a bishop. When he returned home he discovered that he was now the king and the commander of his father’s army. He refused to accept these positions. He refused to be the commander-in-chief.
Today is also election day in the United States. Many Americans today will go to the ballot and choose the next commander-in-chief, as well as many other officials. This will conclude a very lengthy and divisive election season that has seen many self-proclaimed Christians compete for the office of commander-in-chief.
In the Church, we confess Jesus to be the King. He is our ruler. At various times during Church history, this has distinguished Christians as a peculiar people. St. Theagenes of Parium for example, who lived during the reign of St. Constantine, was martyred for refusing to pledge allegiance to Licinius, Constantine’s co-emperor who co-wrote the Edict of Milan. St. Theagenes said “I serve my King, and I cannot serve another… I am a Christian, and it is not possible for me to desert my Lord and King.” Or in another of my favorite anecdotes, after the fall of communism in Russia, a monk was interviewed. He was asked if he were glad that the oppression had ceased and that a better government was now in place. The monk replied that it did not make much of a difference to him. He said he was only surprised that it happened during his lifetime. He told the reporter that earthly kingdoms come and earthly kingdoms fall, and we should care not much for these, for it is the eternal kingdom where our hope is.
Christians were often reviled in Roman empire for their proclamation that Jesus was King. They were called atheists for refusing to worship the imperial gods. And their proclamation that Jesus was King often meant that Caesar was not. St. Luke records the anxiety that some had about Christians in the Book of Acts: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too… and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”
St. Cybi is not the only saint who has refused to rule because of his Christianity. St. Cadoc, a contemporary of Cybi who lived not to far from the saint also refused to succeed his father as king and refused to command his father’s army. Similarly, in 155, in one of the earliest works of Christian apologetics, a disciple of St. Justin named Tatian writes: “I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices connected with military command.” Such a sentiment is not that far off from what Jesus himself practiced. Before Christ began his ministry, he went off into the wilderness to fast and pray. While there Christ faced several temptations sent by the devil. These temptations all concerned various ways that Christ could fulfill his messianic mission, different ways that he could conduct his ministry. Christ was tempted to act as many of his contemporaries expected him to, to perform great miracles and to conquer the world, ruling it as Messiah and King. Christ refused these temptations, instead choosing to be a different type of Messiah, a different type of King. The evangelist tells us that if Christ were to have conquered the nations and ruled them all, that this would not have served God, but would have served Satan. “The devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.””
Jesus must have told his disciples about these temptations, since none of the evangelists were there to witness this event. So it is likely that he wanted them to know just what kind of Messiah he was to be. And the evangelists must have included them early in their narratives to signal to us what kind of ruler Christ was. But not all of his disciples got the point. One tradition states that Judas betrayed Christ not because he hated him or did not believe in him. Rather, Judas was fed up with Christ not fulfilling the Messianic prophecies. Judas was likely a Zealot, who wanted the Messiah to rise up and conquer the Roman empire and rule as King in their place. Is possible that Judas thought that if the Romans came to arrest Jesus, it would force his hand and he would begin the revolution. St. Peter may also have had this in the back of his mind when he drew his sword and cut off the ear of the soldier who tried to arrest Christ. But here again it is recorded that Christ broke with expectations, healing the soldier and reprimanding Peter.
So what do we make of St. Cybi and the rest of these traditions? Should we conclude that temporal rule is always incompatible with Christianity? Some may draw this conclusion, and there is evidence that many saints thought as much, but this is not that kind of essay. There are in the Christian tradition many saints who were rulers. I’m particularly fond of the saying of St. Vladimir, the great Christian prince:
Above all things: do not forget the poor, but support them to the extent of your means. Give to the orphan, protect the widow, and permit the mighty to destroy no man. Take not the life of the just or the unjust, nor permit him to be killed. Destroy no Christian soul, even though he be guilty of murder.
This essay isn’t meant to criticize any Christian who seeks higher office (Lord knows that they will get plenty of criticism without my help). Nor is it meant to discourage anyone from voting. I voted in this election with St. Vladimir’s words in mind, using my vote to support the poor, protect the widow, and to keep the mighty from destroying men and from taking the lives of the just and the unjust. But I also have many Orthodox friends who never vote, because they consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians and for them this means living as the citizen of another Kingdom. Vote shares the same root as devotion after all. Some of these friends are monastics and clergy who refrain from voting as an expression of their tonsure, while others are lay. But however you vote or don’t vote, the life and witness of St. Cybi still remains relevant.
The witness of the saints should redirect our lives towards greater piety and a deeper life in Christ. So in celebration of St. Cybi we should prayerfully examine ourselves and our conscience. Where do we place our hope? It is in rulers and in princes? As we Orthodox pray in the words of the psalmist during our divine services, “Put not your trust in princes, or in mortals in whom there is no salvation.”
While we might not get martyred for proclaiming Christ as King, we still may ask ourselves, do we really behave as if Christ were the King of our lives? How often over the past year have we talked about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? How many hours have we spent watching clips of them, reading about their activities, attending events, giving money. How many times have we promoted them on social media? And how often over the past year have we talked about Jesus Christ? How many hours have we spent praying to him, reading the gospel, attending Church, giving our money and time to meet him in the poor, the prisoner, the sick, and the hungry? How many social media posts have we made promoting Christ? Have we used our social capital to push people towards our preferred candidate, who will be gone in 4 or 8 years or have we used our social capital to promote our King, who will reign forever? How anxious are we about the next 4 years? In the Gospel for yesterday (on the new calendar), Christ tells us “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on… For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.” Are we mindful of this, or do we seek what all the nations of the world seek?
Though we may vote and throw our lot in with the nations of this world we should not forget to devote ourselves to Christ first and foremost. We should not allow political divisions to keep us from loving others, and should not allow politics to give occasion to hate our brethren. We proclaim that there is another King (or another president) named Jesus whenever we place the Kingdom first, whenever we choose love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, charity over greed. We pledge our allegiance to Christ whenever we live according to the Beatitudes rather than the virtues of the world, mercy rather than severity, peacemaking rather than warmaking, meekness rather than strength, poverty rather than wealth. And in this way how we live on November 7 and November 9 matters far more than how we vote on November 8. We live according to the words of the anonymous second century Christian apologist, “The Christians dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.” We share in the responsibilities of this world as citizens, while at the same time being a stranger to it.
And this leaves us with one final reflection. What is November 8, 2016? Is it election day first and the feast of St. Cybi second? Or is today the feast of St. Cybi, a day for celebration and greater commitment to Christ first and foremost, which also happens to be the day of the election? We should ask ourselves what we are trying to gain today. Are we seeking to gain wisdom and devotion from the holy saints, or are we trying to gain a political victory? Which matters to us more, truly and sincerely today? Is it Christ? And what good will it do us to gain the whole world if we are to lose our soul?
St Cybi was called “the tanned” because he would often walk facing the sun, and so grew tan. The Church teaches that Christ is “the sun of righteousness” and that if we spend our life seeking him, we will glow with the radiance of his light. Let us then seek to always hold the sun before us, above all else. Let us walk in this light and not stray towards any other goal.
May St. Cybi give us the strength To walk facing the Son of God, seeking not to rule others, but to be ruled by our Lord.