Who to pray for?—Several times in each Orthodox …

Who to pray for?—Several times in each Orthodox Christian Liturgy in the USA prayers are said for the President and the Armed Forces (even before 9/11/01). This may derive from the format of the liturgical prayers in Eastern European Orthodox monarchies before 20th-century republicanism there, where often enough there was indeed a single ruler above everybody (e.g., the Eastern Roman Emperor, the Russian Czar, etc.), sometimes even sacramentally anointed upon his accession to the throne; and the army was his efficacious instrument wherever it may be.

The United States is not a monarchy (yet–although the 2000 election may prove a turning point in that regard, returning ‘the House of Bush’ to ‘regal power’ in this country and trashing our federal, democratic, republican, Constitution*). And the Armed Forces are not how the President carries out his will in the nation or the world (at least not technically). It truly is easy to forget that we have three equal Branches of Government…and that the military is but one segment of one of those Branches (the Executive), with proper input from the other two. Would it not be more appropriate to phrase the prayers something like, “for the President, Congress, and Courts of the United States”? (As a former sectarian pacifist, I don’t favor totally excluding prayers for the military. Perhaps adding the other Branches of Government to the existing prayers would suffice to reflect the true place of the armed forces in the American arrangement.) After all, Congress and the Federal Courts are equal to the President, and all three entities share the power formerly wielded by the traditional Orthodox “autocrats”–although in truth even they had their limits, their Councils, etc.

(Some devotional prayers also include “governors of states and provinces.” How about: “and the Governor, Legislature, and Courts of [Name of State],” insofar as they exercise real sovereignty in areas not constitutionally delegated to the Federal Government.)

I like the longer, more inclusive formula, also because it echoes so many of those other Orthodox liturgical prayers, with their expansive diction, their tendency to ‘cover all the bases,’ whether describing the attributes of God or His Mother (“our most holy and immaculate Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary”), or requesting God’s help in detail (“Hear us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, in Thy Grace!”). I find such beautiful language poetic in its own way (whether chanted or merely spoken), as well as Incarnational, inasmuch as Christ, fully God, also became fully Human, with all the details and nitty-gritty that entails (except sin). As Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Greene says, if there’s a short, quick, concise, easy way to say it, it isn’t Orthodox prayer [maybe!].

As for Canada, I can’t speak for them with certainty, but I believe “Her Majesty in Right of Canada” legally embodies the governmental system in her royal person there as in the UK. But Canadians strike me as a little more democratic-minded than that, so it might be appropriate to phrase it something like, “for Her Majesty the Queen, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, Government, and Parliament of Canada.” After all, effective power is held by the PM there as in Britain, while the royal prerogatives are normally exercised by the GG in her name.

(*-Speaking of Britain, lest we forget, they don’t have a monarchy because some time in the last couple centuries they sat down and designed one as the best possible form of government they could come up with, democratically voted on and approved by all the people. They have a monarchy because an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth happened to conquer them 900 years ago! Was America ‘conquered’ in 2000? Only time will tell.)