Warnings for the spiritual life: Don’t be fanatical! (Part 2)

Zeal without wisdom

A Christian must not be fanatical or legalistic. They must not use zeal as an excuse to bash people up with words. We ought not to lose our Christian love, decency, sociability, compassion and good humor for others because of our zeal for Christ, although we should still always maintain a headstrong will and seriousness in fulfilling the will of God.

This following piece by Elder Paisios of Mt Athos (-1994) demonstrates this point…

Those who inconsiderately toss comments, even if they are true, can cause harm. I met an author who was extremely pious, but was in the habit of speaking to the (secular) people around him in a blunt manner, which however penetrated so deep that it shook them very severely. He told me at one time: “During a gathering, I said such and such a thing to a lady.” But the way that he said it, crushed her. “Look”, I said to him, “you may be tossing golden crowns studded with diamonds to other people, but the way that you throw them can smash heads – not only the sensitive ones, but the sound ones also.”

Let’s not stone our fellow-man in a…. Christian manner. The person who – in the presence of others – checks someone for having sinned, or speaks in an impassioned manner about a certain person, is not moved by the Spirit of God: he is moved by another spirit. The way of the Church is LOVE; it differs from the way of the legalists

The Church sees everything with tolerance and seeks to help each person, whatever he may have done, however sinful he may be. I have observed a peculiar kind of logic in certain pious people. Their piety is a good thing, and their predisposition for good is also a good thing; however, a certain spiritual discernment and amplitude is required so that their piety is not accompanied by narrow-mindedness or strong-headedness. The whole basis is for someone to be in a spiritual state, so that he may have that spiritual discernment, because otherwise he will forever remain attached to the “letter of the Law”, and the letter of the Law can be “deadly”.

The one who possesses humility will never act like a teacher; he will listen, and whenever his opinion is requested, he will respond humbly. In other words, he will reply like a student. Whoever believes that he is capable of correcting others is filled with egotism.

Saints not fanatical

Read the lives of the saints and you will rarely find them extreme and unbalanced minded whenever they saw wrong things in the church or towards the people who led incredibly sinful lives. But how then did they change the people and the errors of the church? First they loved everyone with a deep, grace-filled love born over years through their ascetical prayer lives. Then after this people were all ears for their wisdom. Hence 1000s changed their lives.


Further references

These all come from the biography of Fr Seraphim Rose. There is no who did more for the spread of holy Orthodoxy in modern-day America as blessed Seraphim Rose. He dealt with 100s of cases of Orthodox converts who once they tasted life-giving grace, were very tempted to fall into the spiritual flaw of “super-correctness”, being a stumbling block to many and forfeiting much of Christian love and beauty.

  1. Converts – Chapter 88
  2. Super-Correctness – Chapter 63
  3. Orthodoxy of the Heart – Chapter 86

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