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HCHC Observes Constitution Day

At the conclusion of the Orthros service in Holy Cross Chapel on Monday, September 18, Dr. Timothy Patitsas, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, spoke about “aspects of the Constitution that we, as Orthodox Christians, might find especially noteworthy.” Constitution Day is customarily observed on September 17, the anniversary of the day in 1787 when delegates to the Philadelphia Convention signed the United States Constitution, but because it fell on a Sunday this year, it was officially observed on the 18th. Here are some of the highlights of the talk presented by Professor Patitsas:

Together with the Declaration of Independence which preceded it by eleven years, and the Bill of Rights which was ratified in 1791, the Constitution is the foundational text of our democratic republic…It is 230 years old. For students of Byzantine history, 230 years is not very impressive. But in relative terms, it is astounding: If you add the ages of the French (59), the German (68), the Japanese (70), and the Russian (24) Constitutions, our Constitution would still be nine years older…The United States Constitution, in other words, is a durable document. It is so for three reasons that an Orthodox Christian can understand:

1. It models government upon the tripartite structure of society and of the soul. It makes explicit space within the structure of government itself for:

  • The fighting powers, entrusting the enforcement of law and the prosecution of wars to the Executive branch.

  • The desiring powers, represented by the people generally in the House of Representatives, and by the commercial elites, in particular, in the Senate.

  • And, thirdly, the intellectual powers, by assigning the Judicial Branch to meditate on the ultimate meaning of justice, citizenship, equality, and human life, while wearing rassos.

One reason for our stability as a nation is that the tripartite nature of society—those who fight, those who work, and those who pray, as each was termed in the Middle Ages—is represented, fractally, within the Federal government itself. Then, within the agencies of the Executive branch, this tripartite structure is repeated a third time. That is, each Federal agency has its own rulemaking, enforcement, and adjudication divisions.

We have therefore created a system of government which respects the most ancient and widespread political philosophy of the human race…

2. The U.S. Constitution allows for both the intractability of human passions and the endurance of the image of God in man. It attempts to be, in other words, realistic but hopeful about human nature. The separation of powers; the doctrine of checks and balances; the doctrine of enumerated powers, spelled out in Article One and backed up by the Tenth Amendment, strictly limit what the government may do because we know that human nature is corruptible, prone to passions and sins. The hope is always for the best, yet the Constitution recognizes that people are afflicted with passions. Therefore, the document puts brakes on human nature, giving our form of government a built-in resiliency.

3. Finally, its flexibility…The United States Constitution was the first constitution in recorded history to make explicit provision for its own amendment. The Founding Fathers themselves knew that certain injustices, overlooked at the beginning…would eventually have to be confronted. The long history of Anglo-American jurisprudence, the common law tradition which is also known as judge-made law, gave the judicial branch certain powers, within reason  and subject to review by the people, to care for the laws of the nation.

We give the glory to our God and Savior Jesus Christ, who has endowed each of us with a tripartite soul, created us his image, and entrusted to us, through the ancient Church, the medicine of the mysteries to heal our passions.