How is this any different from the Ukrainian and American flags in my current parish, and the Greek and American flags at my previous parish?
It's a flag.
Umm, how about the fact that there is no such nation, country, or entity as the Byzantine Empire? It's defunct, extinct, it no longer exists.
While we can argue whether flying nation flags like the American or Ukrainian flags is "kosher" as it were, flying a flag from a country that has not existed for over 500 years is completely absurd. It sounds like nationalism run amok to me.
The fact that the Church and state were one entity at one time is a fact our of history. In some ways in was good, and some (many?) ways it was bad. We should not ignore this, or pretend it wasn't so. We should learn from it, and study it and be proud of the good that came out of the Byzantine Empire, (which was a lot more than it is often given credit for) and be horribly ashamed of the evil that came from it. (which also is a lot more than many Orthodox give credit for) But we should definitely NOT ignore it. With that said, it is a thing of the past. 500 years have gone since the Empire fell. The Church existed just fine without an Empire backing in for 300 years, and it has went on just fine without an Empire backing it for the last 500 years. The idea that the Church is now eternally married to an extinct Empire, that in 20,000 years (if Christ doesn't return before then) we will still be flying a Byzantine flag at Greek parishes is just downright weird. Think about it in the idea of thousands, not hundreds of years. Think how you would feel as an Orthodox Christian in the year 12000 CE/AD. By then the existence of something called "the Byzantine Empire" would be but a tiny blip in world history. And yet the church would still be flying a flag from that Empire? Why not fly Egyptian flags? Or flag of the city of Alexandria since much of our Nicene theology was first expressed out of that See? Or how about an Israeli flag? or a Star of David? (or some other symbol of the Old Covenant since the "Church" (assembly of God's people) were wed to the land of Palestine for far longer than the post Petencost Church was wed to Rome. How about flying an Armenian flag since Armenia was the first Christian Empire in history? I mean, heck at Armenia still exists in some form, unlike anything that could be called the Byzantine Empire, which is simply dead!
I love Byzantine history. Love Byzantine theology. I'm a Byzantine rite guy, always will be. But a Byzantine flag? What are we trying to say here? That we want the Eastern Roman Empire to be revived? Or are we just longing for some "golden age" in Christian history that never truly existed to begin with? Ask the Jews, or the Copts, or the Armenians, or anyone who did not submit to Byzantine authority if the age was so golden. Heck, ask people who lived at the time, when the crusades were happening, or the greatest heresies in Church history rose up. I doubt St. Maximus would have thought he was living in a "golden age" of history. It was this very byzantine Empire that exiled him, and cut out his tongue for preaching the Gospel.
The Byzantine Empire in many ways was revolutionary for it's time. It did things that no other nation ever dreamed, and some still have NOT dreamed of such things. (women Emperors/leaders etc) Yet that is true of every Empire on the planet. The Eastern Roman Empire was, like classical Rome, the British Empire, the Turkish Empire and all other Empires in world history...revolutionary and enlightening, and at times brutal and oppressive. it rose and it fell. All empires rise and all Empires fall. The people go on, sometimes with a totally different identity. (like modern day Italy) But those Empires are gone. We must study them, learn from them, even long for what was good and forward thinking in them, but it is dangerous and IMO borders on idolatry to put them up on such a pedestal that we begin to identify ourselves as a part of that Empire. (especially when no such Empire even exists)
The Empire that is truly eternal is the Empire of God, which is the Kingdom of God, which is found in the Church. The Church is eternal. The idea that the Church would fly a flag from an earthly kingdom that no longer exists I find truly disturbing. are citizens of God's Kingdom or Caesar's Kingdom?
I suppose an argument could be made for a reinterpretation of the flag of Byzantium as some "universal symbol" of all nations under banner, united etc... But then why not just fly a flag of the Cross instead? Or of the Resurrection icon? The problem with "reinterpreting" the flag of the Eastern Roman Empire is the same problem many people see with reinterpreting the Confederate flag. For many people the Confederate flag simply means "I'm proud of my southern culture which include George Jones, Alan Jackson, corn bread and fried chicken on Sundays, and hard work in the fields!" The problem is historically it meant something VERY different and something much more questionable in the minds of most people. (slavery, the south will rise again, the KKK, etc) Can it be reinterpreted? The question is not can it be, but should it be? And if it can be, should I petition my Church to fly a Confederate flag alongside the Byzantine flag? Why or why not? To me it means I like Alan Jackson, corn bread and chicken. And nothing at all sinister. Ironically to do this reinterpretation though I have to pull the flag outside of it's historical context. To reinterpret the Byzantine flag as merely a symbol of "universal citizenship" within the Church or something, we too would have to suck the flag out of it's historical context, thus stripping it of any meaning it had in history, and the Empire's true reality. Doing that would do a great disservice to the Byzantine Empire, to the saints (and sinners) it fashioned and those who lived and died as a part of the Empire. Not to mention the flag had no such meaning of universal citizenship unless one was an Orthodox Christian. Are we trying to turn a secular object into a religious one? while for a select few people a flag might represent some universal appeal of Christianhood, to me the Cross symbolizes that much more. And so the whole thing just seems like a weird thing to even be considering. Flying flags of a defunct empire, or preaching the Gospel? hmmm.......it just strikes me as very odd, and I don't think it helps the cause of those of us who actually are in one form or another "Byzantine geeks" because it's going to turn off way too many people.
But that's just my opinion. I think nationalism in the world has run amok (see Israeli-Palestinian conflict for starters) and I just don't like seeing signs of it in the Church. But what do I know...? Not much!