The Shepherd, January 2008
FROM THE FATHERS
“ONE BRANCH of philosophy is, however, too high for me, ... when a man, seeing everyone else rushing hither and thither in confusion, is content to flee from the melee and escape, in sheltered retirement, from the storm and gloom of the wicked one: when the members are at war with one another, and the slight remains of love, which once existed, have departed, and priest is a mere empty name, since, as it is said, contempt has been poured upon princes. Would that it were merely empty! And now may their blasphemy fall upon the head of the ungodly! All fear has been banished from souls, shamelessness has taken its place, and knowledge and the deep things of the Spirit are at the disposal of anyone who will; and we all become pious by simply condemning the impiety of others; and we claim the services of ungodly judges, and fling that which is holy to the dogs, and cast pearls before swine, by publishing divine things in the hearing of profane souls, and, wretches that we are, carefully fulfill the prayers of our enemies, and are not ashamed to go a-whoring with our own inventions. Moabites and Ammonites, who were not permitted even to enter the Church of the Lord, frequent our most holy rites. We have opened to all not the gates of righteousness, but, doors of railing and partisan arrogance; and the first place among us is given, not to one who in the fear of God refrains from even an idle word, but to him who can revile his neighbour most fluently, whether explicitly, or by covert allusion; who rolls beneath his tongue mischief and iniquity, or to speak more accurately, the poison of asps. We observe each other’s sins, not to bewail them but to make them subjects of reproach, not to heal them but to aggravate them, and excuse our own evil deeds by the wounds of our neighbours. Bad and good men are distinguished not according to personal character, but by their disagreement or friendship with ourselves. We praise one day what we revile the next, denunciation at the hands of others is a passport to our admiration; so magnanimous are we in our viciousness, that everything is frankly forgiven to impiety. Everything has reverted to the original state of things before the world, with its present fair order and form, came into being. The general confusion and irregularity cry for some organizing hand and power. Or, if you will, it is like a battle at night by the faint light of the moon, when none can discern the faces of friends or foes; or like a sea fight on the surge, with the driving winds, and boiling foam, and dashing waves, and crashing vessels, with the thrusts of poles, the pipes of boatswains, the groans of the fallen, while we make our voices heard above the din, and not knowing what to do, and having, alas! no opportunity for showing our valour, assail one another, and fall by one another’s hands. Nor indeed is there any distinction between the state of the people and that of the priesthood: but it seems to me to be a simple fulfilment of the ancient curse, ‘As with the people so with the priest.’ Nor again are the great and eminent men affected otherwise than the majority; nay, they are openly at war with the priests, and their piety is an aid to their powers of persuasion. And indeed, provided that it be on behalf of the faith, and of the highest and most important questions, let them be thus disposed, and I blame them not; nay, to say the truth, I go so far as to praise and congratulate them. Yea! would that I were one of those who contend and incur hatred for the truth’s sake: or rather, I can boast of being one of them. For better is a laudable war than a peace which severs a man from God: and therefore it is that the Spirit arms the gentle warrior, as one who is able to wage war in a good cause. But at the present time there are some who go to war even about small matters and to no purpose, and, with great ignorance and audacity, accept, as an associate in their ill-doing, anyone whoever he may be. Then everyone makes the Faith his pretext, and this venerable name is dragged into their private quarrels. Consequently, as was probable, we are hated, even among the nations, and, what is harder still, we cannot say that this is without just cause. Nay, even the best of our own people are scandalised, while this result is not surprising in the case of the multitude, who are ill-disposed to accept anything that is good. Sinners are scheming upon our backs; and what we devise against each other, they turn against us all: and we have become a new spectacle, not to angels and men, as says Paul, that bravest of athletes in his contest with principalities and powers, but to almost all wicked men, and at every time and place, in the public squares, at carousals, at festivities, and times of sorrow. Nay, we have already - I can scarcely speak of it without tears - been represented on the stage, amid the laughter of the most licentious, and the most popular of all dialogues and scenes is the caricature of a Christian. These are the results of our intestine warfare, and our extreme readiness to strive about goodness and gentleness, and our inexpedient excess of love for God. Wrestling, or any other athletic contest, is only permitted according to fixed laws, and the man will be shouted down and disgraced, and lose the victory, who breaks the laws of wrestling, or acts unfairly in any other contest, contrary to the rules laid down for the contest, however able and skilful he may be; and shall anyone contend for Christ in an unchristlike manner, and yet be pleasing to peace for having fought unlawfully in her name?”
St Gregory the Theologian, + 390 A.D.
This quotation, sent us by a priest friend in another jurisdiction, is much longer than those we usually include, but it does speak very clearly of the situation that afflicts the Orthodox presence today. Internet wars have added an extra and lethal dimension to earlier contentions, and we are sure, sadly, that many of our readers will have read postings that St Gregory might well be describing in the extract above. However, let us not lose heart; not everything is black. Perhaps because of the way the name of Orthodoxy is being dragged through the mud by internet war-mongers, a more sober, charitable and Christian consensus is also beginning to take root. It is not without God’s providence that the priest who sent us this extract belongs to what might be crudely considered one of the extremist Old Calendarist jurisdictions, and at the time of its arrival we were also visited a priest of what might be crudely considered one of the more liberal jurisdictions in this country - both are deeply concerned that a conversation of friendship might continue among all the Orthodox in the country. For that, we are deeply thankful to our God.
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