Written by Vladimir Moss





     The unparalleled power and glory of the Roman Empire, and the acceptance of its authority by almost all the civilised nations of the Ancient World, gave a new legal and moral basis to political power in the ancient world. Briefly, legitimate political power was Roman power, or that power which could claim some kinship with, or descent from it. This was accepted (albeit with different degrees of conviction and satisfaction) by Germanic warriors as well as Roman senators, by Monophysite Copts as well as Orthodox Greeks.


     Thus the British apostle of Ireland, St. Patrick, called the Scottish chieftain Coroticus a “tyrant” because his power was not from Rome. St. Patrick considered himself and all other Britons to be citizens of Rome although the last Roman legions had left the island in the year 410.[1] British and English kings continued to use Roman and Byzantine titles and symbols until late in the tenth century.


     The basic principle was that all power that was Roman or on the Roman model was of God (Romans 13.1), and all power that was anti-Roman was of the devil (Revelation 13.2). For Rome, it was agreed, was that power which held back the coming of the Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2.7), and would be destroyed only by the Antichrist. As Patriarch Nicon of Moscow said: “The Roman Empire [of which he understood Russia, the Third Rome, to be the continuation] must be destroyed by the Antichrist, and the Antichrist – by Christ.”[2]


     After Rome became Christian under St. Constantine, an additional criterion of legitimate political power was that it should be Orthodox. Thus in the late sixth century the son of the Visigothic King of Spain, St. Hermenegild, rose up against his Arian father Leogivild in the name of Orthodoxy, and was supported by the armies of the Byzantine province of Spania (south-west Spain). Hermenegild’s rebellion was unsuccessful, and he himself was martyred for refusing to receive communion from an Arian bishop at Pascha, 585. However, at the Council of Toledo in 589, the new king, Reccared and the whole of the Gothic nobility accepted Orthodoxy. Thus, as St. Dmitri of Rostov writes, “the fruit of the death of this one man was life and Orthodoxy for all the people of Spain”.[3] 


     This helped to establish the principle that legitimate political power is either Roman power, or that power which shares in the faith of the Romans, Orthodoxy. A power that is not Orthodox can legitimately be overthrown from without or rebelled against from within as long as the motive is truly religious – the establishment or re-establishment of Orthodoxy. This does not mean, hoswever, that Christians are obliged to rebel against all pagan or heterodox régimes. On the contrary, since civil war is one of the worst of all evils, the decision to rebel cannot be taken lightly.[4] And in fact, such rebellions have been rare in Orthodox history, and have been successfully undertaken only with the blessing of the Church – as when St. Sergius of Radonezh blessed the rebellion of the Russians against the Tatar horde.


     Could a Roman emperor after Constantine who was not Orthodox be counted as legitimate? In general, the Christians tended to give a positive answer to this question on the grounds that the root of the Roman tree was good even if its fruits were occasionally bad, which is why they obeyed the Monophysite and Iconoclast emperors in all but their religious policies. However, as we shall see, there were precedents for a more rigorous position which accepted a power as Roman and legitimate only if it was also Orthodox.


     What about the numerous emperors who won power by means of a military coup? The possibility that an emperor might rule by might but not by right gave rise to the need for a further, more ecclesiastical form of legitimization – specifically, the sacrament of royal anointing. This sacrament went back to the age of the Old Testament Kings Saul and David, who were anointed by the Prophet and Priest Samuel. The grace of anointing both separates and strengthens the king for his holy task, and gives his person a sacred inviolability. The truly anointed king partakes in Christ’s Kingship in the same way that a duly ordained priest partakes in His Priesthood.


Pre-Christian Anointing


     Of course, the early Roman Emperors did not receive the sacrament of royal anointing because they were pagans. However, the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was born in the Roman Empire, was enrolled in a census by it and paid taxes to it, and that the Apostle Paul was even a Roman citizen, pointed to the fact that Rome had been chosen, separated out from earlier pagan empires, made pregnant with potential for good. Just as the Lord in the Old Testament had “anointed” the Persian Emperor Cyrus “to subdue nations before him” (Isaiah 45.1) and “make the crooked places straight” (45.2), in order that God’s people could return to their homeland in the earthly Jerusalem, so in New Testament times the Lord “anointed” the Roman Emperors to subdue the nations before them and make the crooked places straight, in order that the Christian Gospel could bring all the nations of the Empire to their homeland in the Heavenly Jerusalem.


     Thus the sacrament of royal anointing could be construed as having existed before Christ, just as the sacrament of marriage existed before Christ. Both are “natural” sacraments existing to reinforce the natural bonds of family and state life. Indeed, the state, as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow pointed out, is simply an extension of the family, with the Tsar-Batyushka in the place of the paterfamilias.


     But with the Coming of Christ – which providentially coincided, as several of the Holy Fathers pointed out, with the birth of the Roman Empire – State power was given a more lofty task – that of holding “the mystery of iniquity” at bay and protecting the Church - which required a greater outpouring of Divine Grace. Of course, the Emperors were not conscious of this task, and the grace they received they received, not directly through the Church, but through the invisible anointing of God Himself. But the results – in the stability and order of the Roman Empire – were evident for all to see and admire.


     For with a few exceptions, such as Nero and Domitian, the Roman Emperors did carry out the task that was entrusted to them. For, as Professor Sordi has convincingly demonstrated, the opposition to the Christians in the first three centuries of Christian history generally came not from the Emperors, but from the Senate and the mob (both pagan and Jewish), and it was the Emperors who protected the Christians from their enemies.[5] That is why the Christians considered the emperor, in Tertullian’s words, to be “more truly ours (than yours) because he was put into power by our God”.[6]


     Sordi comments on these words: “Paradoxically, we could say that the Christian empire, made into reality by Constantine and his successors, was already potentially present in this claim of Tertullian’s, a claim which comes at the end of such a deeply committed declaration of loyalty to Rome and its empire that it should surely suffice to disprove the theory that a so-called ‘political theology’ was the fruit of Constantine’s peace. Tertullian says that the Christians pray for the emperors and ask for them ‘a long life, a safe empire, a quiet home, strong armies, a faithful senate, honest subjects, a world at peace’.”[7]


     “Again,” continues Sordi, “they pray ‘for the general strength and stability of the empire and for Roman power’ because they know that ‘it is the Roman empire which keeps at bay the great violence which hangs over the universe and even the end of the world itself, harbinger of terrible calamities’. The subject here, as we know, was the interpretation given to the famous passage from the second Epistle to the Thessalonians (2.6-7) on the obstacle, whether a person or an object, which impedes the coming of the Anti-Christ. Without attempting to interpret this mysterious passage, the fact remains that all Christian writers, up to and including Lactantius, Ambrose and Augustine, identified this restraining presence with the Roman empire, either as an institution or as an ideology. Through their conviction that the Roman empire would last as long as the world (Tertullian Ad Scapulam 2) the early Christians actually renewed and appropriated as their own the concept of Roma aeterna. ‘While we pray to delay the end’ – it is Tertullian speaking (Apologeticum 32.1) – ‘we are helping Rome to last forever’.”[8]


Anointing in Byzantium


     When the Empire became Christian under St. Constantine and his successors, the task for which the Empire had been called into being was made clearly explicit, as we see, for example, in Eusebius of Caesarea’s words: “From Him and through Him [the Word of God] the king who is dear to God receives an image of the Kingdom that is above and so in imitation of that greater King himself guides and directs the course of everything on earth…He looks up to see the archetypal pattern and guides those whom he rules in accordance with that pattern… The basic principle of kingly authority is the establishment of a single source of authority to which everything is subject. Monarchy is superior to every other constitution and form of government. For polyarchy, where everyone competes on equal terms, is really anarchy and discord.”[9]


     But while the task was now acknowledged, the visible sacrament that gave the grace to accomplish the task was not immediately instituted. For the striking fact about the sacrament of anointing in Byzantium is the lateness of its introduction by comparison with the West. Whereas the anointing of kings in the West can be traced back to the sixth or seventh centuries, in Byzantium “the purely ecclesiastical rite of anointing was only introduced into the inauguration ritual in the twelfth century”.[10] True, the first ecclesiastical coronation of the Emperor took place as early as 457.[11] But this act was not felt to be constitutive of legitimacy.


     However, this fact did not mean that the Empire was considered to be a merely human institution. As the Emperor Justinian’s famous sixth novella makes clear, the monarchy was believed to have been instituted – like the Church, but independently of her - by God alone. It did not therefore need to be re-instituted by the Church – although, of course, its union with the Church was the whole purpose of its existence and exalted it to a higher plane.


     The independent origin of the Empire was obvious whether one dated the beginning of the Empire to Augustus or to Constantine. If the Empire began with Augustus, then the Church could not be said to have instituted it for the simple reason that she came into existence simultaneously with it. For, as St. Gregory the Theologian said: “The state of the Christians and that of the Romans grew up simultaneously and Roman supremacy arose with Christ’s sojourn upon earth, previous to which it had not reached monarchical perfection.”[12] But if it began with Constantine, then everyone knew that Constantine had been made emperor, from a human point of view by the people and the senate of Rome (more specifically, the soldiers in York in 306 and the senate in Rome in 312), but in actual fact by God’s direct call through the vision of the sign of the Cross and the words: “By this sign conquer”. For, as the Church herself chants in the liturgical service to St. Constantine, “Thou didst not receive thy name from men, but, like the divine Paul, didst have it from Christ God on high, O all-glorious Constantine”.[13] This was another reason – apart from his truly apostolic activity on behalf of the Universal Church – why Constantine was accorded the title “equal-to-the-apostles”. For just as the Apostles were appointed and ordained for their task, not by men, but directly by God, so Constantine was made emperor, not by men, but by God alone.


      The fact of the Divine origin of the Orthodox autocracy was important for several reasons. First, in the Old Testament the Lord had made clear that a true king, a king acceptable to Him as the King of kings, could only be one whom He, and not the people had chosen. For as He said to the people through Moses: “When thou shalt come unto the land which the Lord thy God shall choose, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me: thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother...” (Deuteronomy 17.14-15).


     When the people of Israel came into possession of the promised land, the land that God had chosen for them, He Himself chose Saul, and then David to rule over them – “I have raised up one chosen out of My people; I have found David My servant” (Ps. 88.18-19). Then, since it is His will that man should work together with Him in the work of salvation, He commanded the Prophet Samuel to anoint him. But the anointing, no less than the calling, was God’s – “With My holy oil have I anointed him” (Ps. 88.19). In the same way, the calling and the anointing of Constantine – for “thou wast the image of a new David, receiving the horn of royal anointing over thy head”[14] – was God’s. And as if to make the point with special emphasis, after His direct calling of the first Christian Emperor the Lord waits eight centuries before commanding the Church, in the image of the Prophet Samuel, to anoint his successors.


     Secondly, the independence of the two institutions - the Autocracy and the Church - lies at the base of the canonical prohibitions against a priest entering secular service and a king entering the priesthood. If Orthodox kings are sometimes called priests, this is only in the sense that they are also pastors, overseers of the flock of Christ, but not in the sense that they can ministers the sacraments. The only man to combine the kingship and the priesthood with God’s blessing was Melchizedek. But Melchizedek’s importance lies, not in his being a precedent for ordinary mortals to follow, but in his being a type of Christ, Who uniquely combined all the charisms within Himself.[15] The combination of the roles of king and priest was characteristic of the pagan god-kings of antiquity, and was to be characteristic also of the post-schism Papacy.


     Thirdly, if the Church had to admit that the Autocracy had a Divine origin independent of her, then the Autocracy had to admit, conversely, that the Church had a Divine origin independent of it. And this concession was vitally important, especially in the early centuries of the Byzantine empire. For the pagan inheritance of Rome was still strong – one of the Emperors, Julian the Apostate (361-363), even reverted to paganism, and it was not until late in the fourth century that the Emperors felt able to drop the pagan high priest’s title pontifex maximus, which had given the pagan emperors religious as well as political supremacy in the Empire. Indeed, as late as the eighth century the iconoclast Emperor Leo III tried to crush Pope Gregory II’s opposition to him in just that way, claiming: “I am emperor and priest”.[16] Even later, in the early tenth century, another, this time Orthodox Emperor Leo (the Sixth) “claimed to be head of Church and State in the sense that, if the Church as led by the Patriarch was irreconcilably opposed to the Emperor, the Emperor could resolve the conflict”[17]. Thus when Patriarch Nicholas the Mystic opposed his fourth marriage to Zoe, the Emperor simply removed him from office, forced a priest to perform the marriage and then, in the absence of a patriarch, himself placed the imperial crown on his “wife’s” head, eliciting the former patriarch’s comment that the Emperor was to Zoe “both groom and bishop”.[18] Then he put his friend Euthymius on the patriarchal throne, who permitted the fourth marriage, saying: “It is right, sire, to obey your orders and receive your decisions as emanating from the will and providence of God”![19]


     However, shortly before his death in 912 Leo was forced to depose Euthymius and restore St. Nicholas, after which caesaropapism was no longer a serious threat in Byzantium. The new, still more serious threat was Western papocaesarism. For by 1100 the Pope, claiming to wield the “two swords” of kingship and the Church, had already crushed the Orthodox autocracies of the West and reduced the monarch to a desacralized lay state.


     It is perhaps for this reason that the sacrament of anointing was added to the coronation service in the twelfth century, at just the moment when the papist threat, not only to the Church, but also to the Empire of Byzantium became clear. For now especially it was necessary to show that the Empire, too, was holy, having been anointed by the Church under Christ the Anointed One. And although the Empire was inferior to the Church, it could not be swallowed up by the Church, as the western kingdoms were being swallowed up by the Western Church, in the same way that Christ’s human nature was not swallowed up by His Divinity.


     However, before turning to an examination of the western conflict, we may ask: what was the Byzantines’ concept of political legitimacy? In what circumstances did they reject an Emperor as illegitimate?


     At first sight, it might seem that the Byzantines, following the traditions of pagan Rome, had no real concept of legitimacy. There were innumerable coups and palace revolutions in Byzantine history, and at no time did the Church refuse to sanction the authority of the man who emerged on top. Even heretical emperors, such as the Iconoclast Leo, or the Latin-minded Michael VIII or John VIII, were accepted as emperors, even while their religious policies were fiercely resisted.


     However, there are hints of a stricter approach in some of the Holy Fathers. Thus when the Emperor Constantius II became an Arian, St. Athanasius, who had previously addressed him as “very pious”, a “worshipper of God”, “beloved of God” and a successor of David and Solomon, now denounced him as “godless”, “unholy” and like Ahab and Pharaoh, worse than Pilate and a forerunner of the Antichrist.[20] Again, St. Isidore of Pelusium wrote: “If some evildoer unlawfully seizes power, we do not say that he is established by God, but we say that he is allowed, either to spit out all his craftiness, or in order to chasten those for whom cruelty is necessary, as the king of Babylon chastened the Jews."[21]


     However, with one exception, none of the Fathers practised or counselled rebellion against – as opposed to passive disobedience to - the evildoer Emperors. The exception was St. Basil the Great, who prayed for the defeat of Julian the Apostate. It was through his prayers that the apostate was killed, as was revealed by God to the holy hermit Julian of Mesopotamia.[22]


     This raises the interesting question: what was different about Julian the Apostate that made him so much worse than previous persecutors and unworthy even of that honour and obedience that was given to them? Two possible answers suggest themselves. The first is that Julian was the first – and last – of the Byzantine emperors who openly trampled on the memory and legitimacy of St. Constantine, declaring that he “insolently usurped the throne”.[23] In this way he questioned the legitimacy of the Christian Empire as such – a revolutionary position that we do not come across again in Eastern Orthodox history (if we except the short interlude of the political zealots in Thessalonica in the 1340s) until the fall of the Russian Empire. And the second is that he allowed the Jews to return to Palestine and start building the Temple. This meant that he could no longer be identified with “him that restraineth” the coming of the Antichrist, the traditional role of the Roman Emperor (II Thessalonians 2.7), but rather was to be identified with the Antichrist himself, or at any rate, his forerunner…


 Anointing in the Orthodox West


     Now in the West papocaesarism was always a greater danger than its opposite, because while the Western Empire had collapsed after 476 and split up into a number of independent kingdoms, the Western Church had remained united, making her by far the most prominent survival of Christian Romanity. Even the most powerful of the western kings did not command a territory greater than that of a Roman provincial governor (which is what they had been in some cases), whereas the Pope was not only the undisputed leader of the whole of Western Christendom but also the senior hierarch in the whole of the Church, Eastern and Western. However, as long as the Popes remained both Orthodox in faith and loyal subjects of the Eastern Emperor in politics – that is, until approximately the death of the last Greek Pope, Zachariah, in 752, – the lack of a political power in the West commensurate with the ecclesiastical power of the Popes was not a pressing necessity. For everyone accepted that in the political sphere the Eastern Emperor was the sole leader, the basileus of the whole of Christendom, and the western kings were his sons or satraps, as it were; but in the ecclesiastical sphere there was no single head, the Body of Christ being overseen by its “five senses”, the five patriarchates, of which Rome was simply the primus inter pares. But problems arose when Rome broke its last political links with the Eastern Empire and sought a new protector in the Frankish empire of Pippin and Charlemagne. This caused changes in the political ideology of the Franks, on the one hand, who came to see themselves as the real Roman Empire, more Roman and more Orthodox than the Empire of the East; and on the other hand, in the ecclesiology of the Popes, who came to see themselves as the only Church of this renewed Roman Empire, having ultimate jurisdiction over all the Churches in the world. Frankish caesaropapism soon collapsed; but Papist pride developed until it claimed supreme authority in both Church and State…


     Orthodox consciousness rose up against Papism from two directions. From the East, St. Photius the Great and the Eastern bishops, together with the Western archbishops of Trèves and Cologne, condemned the Pope’s claims to universal supremacy in the Church (as well as the Frankish heresy of the Filioque, which Rome, too, opposed at first). From the West, meanwhile, there arose powerful native autocracies which disputed the Pope’s claims to supremacy in the State. The most important of these were England and Germany – although Germany, being a successor state of the Carolingian Empire, was still tainted somewhat by the caesaropapist ideology of the Franks. English opposition was crushed by a papally blessed armed invasion and the first genocide in European history (the Norman Conquest of 1066 to 1070); while German opposition was gradually neutralized in a spider’s web of cunning dialectic – although conflict between Roman Popes and German emperors continued well into the later Middle Ages.


    It can hardly be a coincidence that the mystery of royal anointing became widespread in the West at precisely the time that the political rift between East and West materialized. Now that the links with the Eastern basileus were no more than formal, it became necessary to prove that the Western powers were still in some important sense Roman. Otherwise, according to Church Tradition, the Antichrist was near!


     Romanity, it was felt, could be bestowed on the western barbarian kingdoms that arose out of the rubble that was the Western Empire by the Eastern Emperor’s gift of regalia or high Roman rank (usually not the imperial rank, however) on their kings. Thus St. Gregory of Tours writes of Clovis, the first Christian king of the Franks, that he received letters “from the Emperor Anastasius to confer the consulate on him. In Saint Martin’s church he stood clad in a purple tunic and the military mantle, and he crowned himself with a diadem. He then rode out on his horse and with his own hand showered gold and silver coins among the people present all the way from the doorway of Saint Martin’s church to Tours cathedral. From that day on he was called Consul or Augustus.”[24]


     There is an opinion that Clovis also received the sacrament of royal anointing from St. Remigius, Archbishop of Rheims.[25] But it is more generally believed by western scholars that the sacrament of anointing did not appear in the West until the seventh century. However, we know one example of a Western bishop administering this sacrament even earlier.


     In the middle of the sixth century the Italian archbishop Gregory anointed the first Christian King of the South Arabian kingdom of Homer, Abraham, in the presence of St. Elesbaan, king of Ethiopia: “Raising his eyes and mind and hands to heaven, [St. Gregory] prayed fervently and for a long time that God, Who knows the life and thoughts of every man, should indicate to him the man who was worthy of the kingdom. During the prayer of the archbishop, the invisible power of the Lord suddenly raised a certain man by the name of Abraham into the air and placed him in front of King Elesbaan. Everyone cried out in awe for a long time: ‘Lord, have mercy!’ The archbishop said: ‘Here is the man whom you demanded should be anointed to the kingdom. Leave him here as king, we shall be of one mind with him, and God will help us in everything.’ Great joy filled everyone on beholding the providence of God. Then King Elesbaan took the man Abraham, who had been revealed by God, led him to the temple of the All-Holy Trinity which was in the royal city of Afar, put the royal purple on him and laid the diadem on his head. Then St. Gregory anointed him and the bloodless Sacrifice was offered for the kings and all the people, and both kings communicated in the Divine Mysteries from the hands of the archbishop…”[26]


     Not long after this, in 574, Irish apostle of Scotland, St. Columba, consecrated (by laying on of hands rather than anointing) the first Orthodox King of Scotland, Aidan Mor. The seventh-century Abbots of Iona Cummineus Albus and Adomnan both relate the story, according to which, when the saint was staying “in the island of Hymba [Eileann-na-Naoimh, in the Scottish Hebrides], he was in an ecstasy of mind one night and saw an Angel of the Lord who had been sent to him, and who held in his hand a glass book of the Ordination of Kings. The venerable man received it from the Angel’s hand, and at his command began to read it. And when he refused to ordain Aidan as king according to the direction given to him in the book, because he loved his brother Iogenan more, the Angel, suddenly stretching out his hand, struck the saint with a scourge, of which the livid mark remained on his side all the days of his life, and he added these words, saying: ‘Know thou for certain that I am sent to thee by God with this glass book, that according to the words which thou hast read in it, thou mayest ordain Aidan to the kingship – and if thou art not willing to obey this command, I shall strike thee again.’ When, then, this Angel of the Lord had appeared on three successive nights, having in his hand that same glass book, and had pressed the same commands of the Lord concerning the ordination of that king, the saint obeyed the Word of the Lord, and sailed across to the isle of Iona where, as he had been commanded, he ordained Aidan as king, Aidan having arrived there at the same time.”[27]


     The next year, St. Columba went with King Aidan to the Synod of Drumceatt in Ireland, where the independence of Dalriada (that part of Western Scotland colonised by the Irish, of which Iona was the spiritual capital) was agreed upon in exchange for a pledge of assistance to the mother country in the event of invasion from abroad.


     It is perhaps significant that these two sixth-century examples of sacramental Christian kingmaking come from parts of the world that were remote from the centres of Imperial power. Neither Ethiopia nor Ireland had ever been part of the Roman Empire.[28] We may speculate that it was precisely here, where Roman power and tradition was weakest or non-existent, that the Church had to step in to supply political legitimacy through the sacrament, especially since in both cases a new dynasty in a new Christian land was being created, which required both the blessing of the former rulers and a special act of the Church – something not dissimilar to the creation of a new autocephalous Church.


     In the formerly Roman West the sacrament of royal anointing first appeared in Spain. Now Spain, after being one of the most Orthodox and Roman provinces of the West[29], fell away from both Orthodoxy and Romanity when its Visigothic rulers, like the Ostrogoths of Italy, accepted the Arian heresy. The country was then partially conquered by the armies of the Emperor Justinian, after which, as Canning writes, - that is, from the mid-sixth century - “it seems that no western kings sought imperial confirmation of their rule.”[30] However, as we have seen, after the martyrdom of St. Hermenigild a spirit of repentance stirred in the people, the nation was converted to Orthodoxy, and Spain entered the family of Roman Orthodox kingdoms.


     But at this point, as so often in the history of newly converted peoples, the devil stirred up political chaos. Thus Collins writes that in the first half of the seventh century, “principles by which legitimacy of any king could be judged, other than sheer success in holding onto his throne against all comers, seem to be conspicuously lacking. Thus Witteric had deposed and killed Liuva II in 603, Witteric had been murdered in 610, Sisebut’s son Reccared II was probably deposed by Swinthila in 621, Swinthila was certainly deposed by Sisenand in 631, Tulga by Chindaswinth in 642. Ephemeral kings, such Iudila, who managed to strike a few coins in Baetica and Lusitania in the early 630s, also made their bids for power.”[31]


     The only generally recognized authority that could introduce order into this chaos was the Church. And so, probably toward the middle of the seventh century, the Orthodox Church in Spain introduced the rite of royal anointing. From now on, kings would not only be called “kings by the grace of God”, they would be seen to be such by the visible bestowal of sacramental grace at the hands of the archbishop.


     Thus in 672 King Wamba was anointed by the archbishop of Toledo in a ceremony that was described by his contemporary, St. Julian of Toledo, as follows: “When he had arrived there, where he was to receive the vexilla of the holy unction, in the praetorian church, that is to say the church of Saints Peter and Paul, he stood resplendent in his regalia in front of the holy altar and, as the custom is, recited the creed to the people. Next, on his bended knees the oil of blessing was poured onto his head by the hand of the blessed bishop Quiricus, and the strength of the benediction was made clear, for at once this sign of salvation appeared. For suddenly from his head, where the oil had first been poured on, a kind of vapour, similar to smoke, rose upon the form of a column, and from the very top of this a bee was seen to spring forth, which sign was undoubtedly a portent of his future good fortune.”[32]


     In 751, when the last weak Merovingian ruler of Francia was deposed and sent to a monastery (with Pope Zachariah’s blessing), the first king of the new, Carolingian dynasty was specially crowned and anointed by St. Boniface, archbishop of Mainz. For the change of dynasty had to be legitimised, as did the claims of the new dynasty to power over the vast new territories that had just been Christianized by St. Boniface and his army of English missionaries to the east of the Rhine. This anointing of the first Carolingian king led gradually, as we have seen, to the rite becoming standard practice in kingmaking throughout the West. It was some time, however, before anointing came to be seen as constitutive of true kingship. As in Rome and Byzantium, western kings who were raised to the throne by election or acclamation only were not considered illegitimate; it was simply that anointing added an extra authority and sacred character to the monarchy.


     The extra authority and grace provided by the sacrament of anointing produced tangible results; for in Spain, in Francia and in England the introduction of the anointing of kings, accompanied by stern conciliar warnings “not to touch the Lord’s Anointed”, led to a reduction in regicides and rebellions and a considerable strengthening and consolidation of monarchical power.


     In Spain, this process came to an abrupt end in 711, when most of the peninsula was conquered by the Arab Muslims. In Western Francia (modern France), it was also brought to an end towards the end of the ninth century by the Viking invasions, in spite of the efforts of such champions of royal power (and opponents of papal despotism) as Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims; and France did not develop a powerful monarchy until the twelfth century. But in Eastern Francia (modern Germany) and, especially, in England, the monarchy survived and put down deep roots. Thus from the time that Prince Egfrith of the kingdom of Wessex was anointed in 786 even before he had ascended the throne of his father, one dynasty, that of Wessex, came to dominate political life in England, led the recovery against the Viking invaders, and succeeded in uniting most of Britain in a single Orthodox kingdom until the Norman-papist invasion of 1066-70.


     Now Janet Nelson writes: “If relatively many reigning Merovingians and no Carolingians were assassinated, this can hardly be explained simply in terms of the protective effect of anointing for the latter dynasty, at least in its earlier period. More relevant here are such factors as the maintenance of a fairly restrictive form of royal succession (and the Carolingians’ abandonment of polygamy must soon have narrowed the circle of royals) and the growth of a clerically-fostered ideology of Christian kingship.”[33] However, all these factors were related. Once it became accepted that the Church had an important part to play in kingmaking through the sacrament of anointing, then it also became natural for the Church to have a say in deciding who was the best candidate for the throne, and then in administering a coronation-oath in which the king swore to protect the Church and uphold justice, peace and mercy, etc. Theoretically, too, the Church could refuse to sanction a king, and even lead the people in rebellion against him if he did not rule rightly[34], breaking his coronation oath – although in practice this ultimate sanction was very rarely applied, and was not applied with decisive effect until the time of troubles in seventeenth-century Russia.


     A clear example of how the Church intervened decisively in the kingmaking process for the benefit of the nation is the crowning of the English King Edward the Martyr in 975. Now Edward’s father, King Edgar the Peaceable, had been anointed twice on the model of King David: first in 960 or 961, when he became King of England, and again in 973, when he became “Emperor of Britain” and received the tribute of eight sub-kings of the Celts and Vikings. But between these two anointings he had married again and fathered a second son, Ethelred (“the Unready”). When King Edgar died in 975, Ethelred’s partisans, especially his mother, argued that Ethelred should be made king in preference to his elder half-brother Edward, on the grounds that Edgar had not been anointed when he begat Edward in 959 or 960, and his first wife, Edward’s mother, had never been anointed, so that the throne should pass to the younger son, Ethelred, who had been born “in the purple” when both his parents were anointed sovereigns.[35] The conflict was settled when the archbishop of Canterbury, St. Dunstan, seized the holy Cross that was customarily carried in front of him and anointed St. Edward.[36]


     The union between Church and State in England was so close that crimes against the Church’s laws were seen as crimes against the king, and were duly punished by him. As St. Isidore of Seville wrote, it was the duty of the king “through the terror of discipline” to accomplish what the priest was unable to do “through the preaching of doctrine”.[37] “For a Christian king is Christ’s deputy among Christian people”, as King Ethelred’s laws put it. Both the king and the archbishop were “the Lord’s Anointed” – the archbishop so that he might minister the sacraments, and the king so that, as St. Bede wrote, “he might by conquering all our enemies bring us to the immortal Kingdom”.[38] Regicide was the greatest of crimes; for, as Abbot Aelfric wrote, “no man may make himself a king, for the people have the option to choose him for king who is agreeable to them; but after that he has been hallowed as king, he has power over the people, and they may not shake his yoke from their necks.”[39] And so, wrote Archbishop Wulfstan of York, “through what shall peace and support come to God’s servants and to God’s poor, save through Christ, and through a Christian king?”[40]


     In fact, the Byzantine ideal of a true symphony between Church and State was perhaps more passionately believed in – and, at times, more closely attained – among the former barbarians of the Orthodox West than among the more worldly-wise Byzantines themselves. Thus in Northumbria in the eighth century we see the almost ideal harmony between the brothers King Edbert and Archbishop Egbert, of whom Alcuin writes:


So then Northumbria was prosperous,

When king and pontiff ruled in harmony,

One in the church and one in government;

One wore the pall the Pope conferred on him,

And one the crown his fathers wore of old.

One brave and forceful, one devout and kind,

They kept their power in brotherly accord,

Each happy in the other’s sure support.[41]


     Again, on the very eve of the schism, and in Rome itself, Peter Damian wrote: “The heads of the world shall live in union of perfect charity, and shall prevent all discord among their lower members. These institutions, which are two for men, but one for God, shall be enflamed by the divine mysteries; the two persons who represent them shall be so closely united by the grace of mutual charity, that it will be possible to find the king in the Roman pontiff, and the Roman pontiff in the king…”[42]


     Only a few years later, however, the ideal was not simply distorted, but completely destroyed by the Roman pontiff Gregory VII as he anathematized the kings of England and Germany and ordered their populations to rise up against their sovereigns, absolving them of their oaths of allegiance. Rome rose up against her own inheritance and her own defenders, her own inestimable legacy of law and order; the essentially Roman teaching on obedience to secular authority, which was expounded in the epistles of the Roman Apostles Peter and Paul, was destroyed by the Pope of Rome himself, who thereby became the first ideologically motivated revolutionary in European history and the direct ancestor, as Tyutchev, Kireyevsky and Dostoyevsky were to point out, of the Russian socialist revolutionaries. Using forgeries such as The Donation of Constantine, Gregory argued that both secular and ecclesiastical power, the so-called “two swords of Peter”, had been given to him, so that the power of the kings was merely delegated to them by the Pope, and could be taken back by the Pope at will, which meant that a king was no higher essentially than the most ordinary layman in spite of his anointing to the kingdom. Thus Gregory wrote: “Greater power is conceded to an exorcist when he is made a spiritual emperor than could be given to any layman for secular domination.” “Who would not know that kings and dukes took their origin from those who, ignorant of God, through pride, rapine, perfidy, murders and, finally, almost any kind of crime, at the instigation of the Devil, the prince of this world, sought with blind desire and unbearable presumption to dominate their equals, namely other men?” “Who would doubt that the priest of Christ are considered the fathers and masters of kings, princes and of all the faithful?”[43] The only truly anointed ones, therefore, were the priests – or rather, the Popes, who supposedly had the charismas of both ecclesiastical and political government (I Corinthians 12.28).



Anointing in Russia


     Many western scholars have argued that if papocaesarism ruled in the West, the East was no less in captivity to caesaropapism. In support of this thesis, they point to the attempts of many Byzantine Emperors to impose heresy on the Church - indeed, the fall of Byzantium may be ascribed to the successful attempts of the last Byzantine Emperors to force the Church to accept union with the heretical West, which led to the withdrawal of God’s protection from the Empire. As for Russia, they say, it is sufficient to point to the tyrannical reigns of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great…


     However, although Russia succumbed at times to caesaropapism and nationalism, she always recovered from these temptations as a result of several factors which distinguished Russian history from that of Byzantium. First, Russia had a long, nearly five-hundred year training in humility in the shadow of the Byzantine Empire, during which, in spite of her vastly greater size and political independence from Byzantium for most of this period, her metropolitans were always appointed by the Constantinopolitan Patriarch, and her great-princes always looked to the Byzantine Emperors as to their elder brothers. This meant that, when Russia came to take the place of Byzantium as the bearer of the cross of the Christian Empire, she was not tempted to think of herself as the first or only or best Christian people. And when that temptation appeared in the form of the Old Believer schism, it was rejected by the ecumenical consciousness of the Russian Church and State.


     Secondly, while the Byzantine Empire contracted from the large, multi-national dominion of Constantine the Great to the small, exclusively Greek dominion of Constantine XI, the Russian Empire grew in the opposite direction, expanding from its Muscovite heartland to the borders of Sweden and Germany in the West and China and America in the East. This meant that the Russian Empire was always and increasingly multi-national, with a large number of non-Russian saints and a strong commitment to missionary activity right until 1917 and (in the Russian Church Abroad) to the present day. This truly ecumenical, non-nationalistic character of the Russian Empire was emphasized by its last three wars - the Crimean war, the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 and the First World War, which were fought in a self-sacrificial spirit for the sake of the non-Russian Orthodox of the Balkans and Middle East.


     Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, at the greatest crises of national history, and with the exception of a long period in the eighteenth century, the Russian episcopate has refused to anoint non-Orthodox Tsars or princes, still less follow them into union with heretics. This led to the elevation of truly Orthodox Tsars and princes, who led the nation in the struggle against heresy. Let us briefly mention several cases:-


     (a) In the early thirteenth century, when Pope Innocent III sent a legate to Prince Roman Mstislavovich of Galicia, claiming that the Pope with the sword of Peter would soon subdue all the people and make him king, Roman, taking his sword, said: “Is this sword of Peter that the Pope has? If it is, then he can take cities with it and give them to others. But this is against the Word of God; for the Lord forbade Peter to have such a sword and fight with it. But I have a sword given me by God.”[44]


     (b) A generation later, Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod was faced with enemies on two fronts - the pagan Mongols, on the one side, and the Catholic Swedes and Teutonic knights on the other. He chose to submit to the former while fighting the latter, since he judged that the latter were a greater danger to the Orthodox faith of his subjects. In this he made exactly the opposite choice to the Byzantines two centuries later, and won the victory – both the spiritual victory and the military victory.


     (c) When the Byzantines signed the false unia with Rome in 1439, the Russians, led by Grand Prince Basil II, “the new Constantine”, as he was called by the holy Metropolitan Jonah of Moscow, were forced, for the sake of Orthodoxy, to break communion with their former mentors and formed a de facto autocephaly. This was quite unlike the similarly self-proclaimed autocephaly of the Bulgarian Church in the early tenth century, which had a more nationalist character. And so God’s blessing was on it, and the Russian State grew and prospered.


     (d) Later, in the time of troubles

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