Anarchists, Biblical Kings, Clerical Clothing & the Color Black

Feast of St Sozon the Martyr

priest-wearing-tab-collar-clergy-shirt_SQUARE.pngOUR LATEST Presidential election cycle, and the subsequent media coverage of President Donald Trump, led me to think more deeply about my political beliefs and principles. I have discussed politics with trusted friends and reflected on my own thoughts more than ever. I want to offer you a powerful quote shared with me by one of my closest friends, Deacon Rico Paul Monge. Deacon Monge is a professor at the University of San Diego who specializes in comparative religious studies and philosophical/political thought, and is thus exposed to countless insights from people of varying backgrounds. The quote I will share below caused me to re-think my political philosophies. In addition, it spurred me to contemplate the wisdom of why I, as an Orthodox Christian priest, wear black clerical outfits, and why our Church during Holy Week appoints black as our liturgical color.

Of course, as a Christian I submit to a first principle: my beliefs and opinions must be formed by the teachings of Holy Scripture. With that in mind, before sharing this impactful passage, I turn to a very brief summation of Scripture inasmuch as it relates to the point at hand.

Scripture begins with God creating and interacting with all humanity. That is to say, God’s love and concern was always with all human beings. Only later in Genesis does the biblical narrative focus on the story of Israel. And even then we hear accounts of God showing His concern and love for the nations.

Despite God’s command for us to spread out over the entire earth, we humans congregated in cities and eventually formed nations. Instead of seeing each person as made in the image of God, we viewed people in categories—“us versus them.” Even so, God did not forsake us, choosing to work through the people of Israel, who were to be a light to the nations. But Israel did not want this unique task. We read in 1st Samuel 8 that they desired instead to have a king so they could be “like all the nations.” Before this, God did not give them a king because He alone was to rule over them.

The prophet Samuel prayed to God about Israel’s request for a king, and here is what God told Samuel to relay to the people: “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own…to make his weapons of war… And he will take the best of your fields…and give them to his servants…And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” Scripture continues: “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel,” and the Lord said to him, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.”

Long story short: Israel receives a king and devolves into even greater sin. Yet, despite their disobedience, God still desires for them to be restored. He sends His holy prophets to convict the people of their sin and to lead them to repentance. Going even further, God promises to send a Messiah, whom we Christians confess to be Jesus Christ; one who would be the Suffering Servant mentioned by the holy prophet Isaiah; one who would redeem Israel, but also all peoples and nations—reconciling them both to God the Father and to one another. In essence, the Messiah’s job was to put us—ALL humanity—back on the right path before there was a king, before there were nations and wars and people viewing themselves in artificial categories.

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I bring up this background—and most especially the establishment of Israel’s kings—to provide context for the meditation below. Specifically, I wish to share an extended quote regarding why the anarchist flag is black. Now, I realize many would ask, “Why on earth is an Orthodox priest sharing a quote from anarchists?” That is a fair and reasonable question. I will say a few things about this. First, most people misunderstand anarchy because we use the term pejoratively. We tend to think of anarchists as people who are completely lawless in the sense that they are out raping and pillaging. But what I am referencing are principled, considerate anarchists who believe that humans should live according to basic morality, and that if we did so, there would be no need for rulers over us, dividing us up and sending us off to fight their wars. In other words, significant common ground exists between them and the biblical understanding of kingship as presented in 1st Samuel 8 and throughout the Old Testament.

By no means do I intend to promote anarchy as a political philosophy as a whole. Rather, I share this quote about the anarchist flag for us to consider when we see clergy wearing black; to help us understand that black is much more than symbolic of the death of Christ or death to our selfish desires (as is so often the reason stated for black clerics being worn), but cuts to the core of why Christ died and what He accomplished through that life-giving death.

The quote I share here is about why the anarchists flag is black:

Why is our flag black? Black is a shade of negation. The black flag [represents] the negation of all flags. It is a negation of nationhood which puts the human race against itself and denies the unity of all humankind. Black is a mood of outrage at all the hideous crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of allegiance to one state or another. It is anger and outrage at the insult to human intelligence implied in the pretenses, hypocrisies, and cheap chicaneries of governments.

Black is also a color of mourning; the black flag which cancels out the nation also mourns its victims, the countless millions murdered in wars, external and internal, to the greater glory and stability of some bloody state. It mourns for those whose labor is robbed [through taxation] to pay for the slaughter and oppression of other human beings. It mourns not only the death of the body but the crippling of the spirit.

But black is also beautiful. It is a color by which all others are clarified and defined. New life always evolves in darkness. The seed hidden in the earth, the secret growth of the embryo in the womb: these the blackness surrounds and protects. So black is negation, is outrage, is mourning, is beauty, is hope, is the fostering and sheltering of new forms of human life and relationship on and with this earth.

No matter who we may or may not support politically, I hope we remember to never “put [our] trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” Rather, we hope in Christ Jesus, who has torn down the wall of partition, who has freed us to love one another, paying no respect to the artificial boundaries that divide us. To see that we are all one in Christ Jesus, to Whom is due glory forever and ever.

Fr Aaron Warwick is pastor of St Mary Orthodox Christian Church in Wichita, KS. He earned his MDiv from St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, where he completed his thesis on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Fr Aaron is currently enrolled in a program through the University of Northern Iowa, working to obtain a Master’s Degree in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Development. 

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