Just about every single leader of a nation is bound to be pagan nowadays. What do we do when we are forced to live under their reigns? It’s a difficult question. Our day and era is no different from the past.
St Ephrem the Syrian wrote four hymns about Julian the Apostate. Julian the Apostate was a Roman Emperor who attempted to revitalise paganism within the Roman Empire after Constantine and his three sons issued a Christian era into the Roman Empire. St Ephrem, in the time of Julian the Apostate, was forced into a decision between siding with a magus (the Persian Emperor) and siding with the pagan.
But why do such pagan leaders need to be placed in power over us? St Ephrem addresses that one of the principle reasons for Julian the Apostate’s reign was
so that the pure one might complete the years of his kingship and the accursed one might also complete the years of his paganism. (Hymn 3 against Julian, str. 8)
The downfall of Julian the Apostate became embarrassing for paganism as it showed that the paganism had no value whatsoever. Instead, St Eprem mocks,
Where is the oracle that reassured him? and the goddess of weapons that she did not come to his aid? and the companies of his gods that they did not come to save him? (str. 9)
But what of the magus? St Ephrem sees in the magus a sign of hope in his treatment of Christians. Whereas Julian mocked the Christians calling them Galileans and was mocked in his own death (str. 17), the magus
honored the sanctuary…[God] rewarded the Magus. (Hymn 2, str. 27)
We see in the political theology of St Ephrem that there is but one leader who exists and who controls everything. The human appointee either respects where his authority has come from, grants freedom to the Church to practice its religion, and prospers, even slaying political enemies of the Church who may seem yet more powerful at the time, or he rejects the source of his authority and like Julian, perishes.
The magus is much more comparable to King Nebuchadnezzar and Julian the Apostate is equated to Ahab. There are much similarities. Ahab was the king of Israel and yet apostatized and so St Elijah challenged his authority and then beheaded the priests of Baal. Nebuchadnezzar received the chastisement from St Daniel and acknowledged the source of his authority. Nebuchadnezzar was repentant despite being a pagan and Ahab was unrepentant despite being a Hebrew. The Magus was repentant despite being a pagan and Julian was unrepentant despite being a Christian (or once a Christian).
So when we look at worldly leaders, what are we to do when placed under the authority of a pagan leader? A leader must always be judged by where he acknowledges the source of his authority from. No human leader will be perfect. The magus was not perfect. One parroting Christianity may not always be a good leader either. One who is a pagan may actually be more acknowledging of the genuine source of his authority than a so-called Christian. In measuring a leader of one’s nation, one sees that God is ultimately the one in control and no human leader will last long if he does not acknowledge the source of his authority.