“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away have made shipwreck concerning the faith.” (I Timothy 1:18-19)
Christian neocons rejoice! I have found the great justifier in our Holy Writ that advocates Holy War. There is good war and there is bad war. Therefore, I’m sure we can use this little nugget to justify whatever military conflicts we need to, provided we are “prayed up” and in line with the will of our God, our leaders (provided they are Republicans, like God), and, no doubt, our pastor (as long as he leads a God-fearing, Bible-believing, Protestant church).
Er, perhaps I’m jumping the gun a little here. Because upon researching this little bump of bellicosity in the Apostol (Russian Orthodox for “Epistle”), I realize that the Holy Fathers, and indeed, the Holy Apostle St Paul had different kinds of battles in mind than those with sticks and mortars. Of course, they are speaking here of spiritual warfare. Let us first contrast this to another Pauline epistle: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12).
OK, so forget that small geyser of sardonicism about the Bible Protestantism back there. God could care less about labels (as long you’re Orthodox) and about politics (dhimmocrats need not apply).
Writes St. John Chrysostom, “He named ‘a good warfare,’ since there is a bad warfare, of which he says, “As ye have yielded your members instruments (from Greek ὅπλα, meaning arms) to uncleanness and to iniquity” (Romans 6:19). Those men serve under a tyrant, but thou servest under a King. And why calls he it a warfare? To show how mighty a contest is to be maintained by all, but especially by a Teacher; that we require strong arms, and sobriety, and awakenedness, and continual vigilance: that we must prepare ourselves for blood and conflicts, must be in battle array, and have nothing relaxed. ‘That thou shouldest war in them,’ he says. For as in an army all do not serve in the same capacity, but in their different stations; so also in the Church one has the office of a Teacher, another that of a disciple, another that of a private man (emphasis mine).”
Context: St. Paul was ordaining Timothy to be an elder of the Church, in essence, a Priest, or Presbyter. He was preparing him to be ready for constant spiritual battles. Writes Theodoret of Cyrus, “You ought to make youself worthy of the election, bring the prophecies to realization and bravely take up the fight against the demons, who oppose us. The disciple, after all, needs to be firstly a disciple, and the general must be a good soldier.” Timothy was called to be a general for a flock that was a bit errant in its faith and was given over to deceptions by blasphemers, apparently. Teachers had to be above falling for false gospels, else what would have happened to the Church?
It is said of St Anthony that he was a skilled warrior, and likely never raised a hand against a man. “What sort of a man the monk Anthony was, who lived in the same age, in the Egyptian desert, and how he openly contended with devils, clearly detecting their devices and wily modes of warfare and how he performed many miracles… Of such good men there was a large number at one time during the years of the Emperor Constantine,” said the Ecclesiastical History by Socrates Scholasticus.
I would say that arms and men aside, we probably could use a few such good men today.