June 04, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Rudakov


The acts of Constantine the Great as an example of resistance to evil by coercion

On June 3, Sunday, Orthodox Christians commemorated Saint Constantine the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles, whose life and acts largely brought to life Christian statehood and the Christian warrior-host. Everyone who adores these sanctities acknowledges the great Czar as his heavenly defender and paraclete.

Though Emperor Constantine is a tremendous historical figure for the whole Christianity, he is divinified today only by the Orthodox Church. Last year, Orthodox Christians holily celebrated the 1700th anniversary of his coronation. In his address to the theological conference on this subject, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II reminded: "Constantine the God-Crowned has become history of the Empire and the Church as the first Czar among Christians, and the Apostle among Czars. His name marks the onset of a new epoch, in which new Christian statehood and culture emerged on the ruins of Paganism. The Church, founded by Christ and acknowledged by first Christians as the Sought City of God and the Transcendent Kingdom, was driven by the imperial hand out of the catacombs and Diocletian's torture chambers”.

In the West, the attitude towards the first Christian Emperor is much different. Protestants regard him as an utterly negative historical figure who allegedly "deprived Christianity of freedom", subordinating religion to the state.

Early medieval Catholic authors tried to prove that Constantine donated the western territories of his empire to Roman popes. When the relevant document, known as Isadore's Decretals, appeared to be falsified, Vatican lost any interest to Constantine and eventually lined up with the Protestant assessment of his Acts.

Nevertheless, Emperor Constantine is the central figure in the political history of the Christian world. He ascended to power in the early IV century A.D. At that time, the Pagan Rome was discredited as a state, reaching the brink of destruction. Ancient Rome's ethical principles, criteria of good and evil, as well as civil ideas which once helped to crush the daemonic empire of Carthage, were ruined to the ground.

Diocletian, the ruler of that time, decided to establish a new statehood on the ruins of the old Rome, somewhat similar to the kingdoms of pre-Colombian America. The solar cult and the power of half-heavenly rulers, imposing awe on the rightless mass of slaves, were supposed to revive Rome. But that was a dead end of civilization – as well as the Incan kingdoms, which used slave labor for building perfect roads but failed to invent the wheel.

Christianity, viewing every human as the image of God, prior to the earthly hierarchy, was perceived by Diocletian as a hostile ideology. In year 304, he decided to excoriate it. Two years later, he abdicated – probably temporarily, entrusting his protégé Galerius to complete the bloody job.

However, the scenario failed. Rome's Praetorian Guard decayed, abandoning Diocletian's ideas and just experiencing pleasure from the right to kill, rob and rape. Electing young gangster Maxentius as it leader, the Guard occupied Rome.

While Diocletian and Galerius had something in common with the Bolsheviks of 1920-30s (they not only exterminated Christians but launched requisitions and imposed directive prices under threats of torture), the regime of Maxentius reminds of the epoch of criminal anarchy of early 1990s. Yesterday's warriors turned gangsters; Rome was overtaken by arbitrary rule, not subordinated to any authorities.

Under the rule of Maxentius, Christians were not prosecuted. Still, the new power was viewed by them even worse that Diocletian's dictatorship.

Meanwhile, the rest of Rome's population was ready to tolerate both Galerius and Maxentius, fearing of one more force – the Barbarians, concentrating at Rome's borders. Diocletian's "ideological police" was ready to kill believers; Maxentius' gangsters robbed merchants; Barbarians brought death to anyone. One could draw a parallel with the terrorist upsurges in Budyonnovsk and Beslan.

Constantine's political biography started in year 306, when he escaped from the blood-stained imperial residence in Nicomedia, present İzmit, to the other side of Europe, Britain, where his true legions were waiting for him. After the death of his father, they proclaimed him Caesar and August. In the same year, he returned to the continent, and started establishing order in the Roman Empire.

He delivered his first blow to the Barbarians who terrorized Roman citizens. His legions performed such a strong mopping-up operation on today's territories of French, Germany, Holland and Belgium that the Limes of Rhine later served as the borderline of "peace and friendship among peoples" during several decades ahead.

The 307-310 campaign was the most powerful offensive on the Rhine for three centuries. However, pacification was accomplished not exceptionally by force. Those who wanted to reside in Roman borders and engage in peaceful labor were granted “residence permit”. The same concerned many of the prisoners of war.

The second blow descended upon the criminal rabble. In 312, Constantine's army besieged Rome, being ready to storm the city. Maxentius hoped to hide behind the city walls, but the population forced him to leave the city and accept the challenge. Before this decisive battle, Constantine saw Christ's sky-sign, and then Christ himself. The army which attacked Maxentius was already partly Christian; the Savior's monograms were inscribed on shields and helmets. Hours later, the battle was over, and the people went out to meet the liberators. Diocletian committed suicide, having cancelled all his anti-Christian decrees. Subsequently, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, introducing religious tolerance.

The third blow descended upon Emperor Licinius, with whom Constantine had been sharing power after the Edict of Milan. Licinius also suppressed Christianity, though rather with methods of a modern secular state – as well as Julian the Apostate. For instance, he prohibited worships under the pretext of "usefulness of clean air" for citizens' health. Fearing of Constantine, Licinius urged the Romans to address "their Gods". But the Pagan gods did not help. Defeating Licinius, Constantine reigned over the whole territory of Roman lands, from Palestine and Egypt to Spain and Britain.

Constantine well realized that the Empire's spirit was heavily affected with egoism and unbridled greed which undermined economy, and the cult of pleasure which ruined the family. He believed that only Christianity could save the Empire and embreathe a new mission into its existence.

Having subordinated the Roman Empire, he spent the rest of his twelve years of life for a comprehensive reform, never seen in any other state. Reviving the notions of moral, kindness and compassion, he made the Church the "educator of the nation", supplying it with all necessary means, and convened the First Universal Council, which approved the major tenets of Orthodox Christianity.

He built a new capital city, selecting the best possible site from an economic and military-strategic standpoint (Constantinople was overtaken for the first time only nine centuries later). He cleaned the Promised Land from opprobrium, building cathedrals in the memory of Christbirth and Resurrection, and made Jerusalem the sacred city for all the peoples of the Oecumene.

At home, he re-established order in the army, with reliance upon his comrades-in-arms, converted into Christianity. He stabilized Rome's financial system, internationalizing the Roman currency.

The impact of Constantine's Acts far exceeded his epoch. The newly-established Holy Roman Empire existed for over a thousand years. Its succession, the Third Rome, is Russia.

The heritage of Constantine is the example of righteous rule and resistance to evil by coercion. Commemorating his name, we re-acquire hope that evil will not triumph in human history, but will be defeated by a common endeavor of human will and heavenly grace.

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