St Paisios of Mt Athos
The letter of the Law can be deadly
I had asked someone once: « What do you believe you are? Christ’s warrior or temptation’s warrior? Did you know that temptation also has its warriors? »
A Christian must not be fanatic; he must have love for all people.
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 (strong, as in “unturning”). 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.
– Geronda (elder in Greek), when someone begins to do something with a good intention and eventually reaches an extreme point, does this mean that he lacks discernment?
– It is a latent egotism that is hidden beneath this action and he is unaware of it, because he does not know himself that well, which is why he goes to extremes. Quite often, people begin with good intentions, but look where they may find themselves! This was the case with the “icon-worshippers” and the “iconcombatters” in the past: both cases were extremes! The former had reached the point of scraping icons of Christ and placing the scrapings into the Holy Chalice in order to “improve” Holy Communion; the latter, on the other hand, burnt and totally discarded all icons….. That is why the Church was obliged to place the icons in higher places, out of reach, and, when the dispute was over, lowered them so that we can venerate them and thus confer the appropriate honor to the persons portrayed therein….
THE SUPER CORRECT
Refrain from the life of the super correct
Driven by fear, there are people who leave the Church and head into schism. In Greece there are at least eighteen “Old Calendar” Orthodox churches who claim to be THE Church, not recognizing each other as canonical. In the United States there are nearly the same numbers, some Slavic and others of Greek origin. They are all filled with prideful people, thinking of themselves as the only remnant of Christ’s Church.
These people practice a form of Christianity that is filled with self righteous rigidity, totally lacking in humility. Walling themselves off from World Orthodoxy, they become extremely pharisitical, harsh, punitive and rotten to the core. In their legalistic approach to the canons and traditions of the Church they enter into a state of constant judgment against anyone outside their arrogant, cultish religiosity.
In their narrow minded approach to the Church, they fail to trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and protecting His Church. They don’t see the Holy Spirit operating in the life of people because they themselves are closed off to the Holy Spirit. Where is the life of the Church manifested among such people? They do nothing for the love of humanity and their lack of love begets more schism. Schism begets schism begets schism. A never ending downward spiral into the abyss.
Their usual premise is based on the issue of the calendar change and false ecumenism. The calendar issue is more important to them than the unity of the Church forgetting, as they do, that the early church celebrated many of the great feasts on different days.
False ecumenism is hardly an issue today, with the numbers of theologians and bishops who are truly caught up in it has dwindled to almost nothing, along with the liberal thinking that has gone out of fashion since the fall of communism. The Russian Church, the largest of the Local Churches, has taken a strong stand against false ecumenism and is powerfully pushing forth the unchanging canons, traditions and faith of the ancient Church.
Orthodox Christianity has withstood two thousand years of attacks and persecution, yet the gates of hell have not prevailed against her. This was Christ’s promise to his disciples before His Holy Resurrection. To believe otherwise is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.
Love in Christ,
Fr Seraphim Rose (1)
In preaching inward Orthodoxy of the heart, Fr. Seraphim warned against being calculating and critical. He identified this as the temptation of following “external wisdom.” “Sometimes,” he said, “one’s zeal for ‘Orthodoxy’ (in quotes) can be so excessive that it produces a situation similar to that which caused an old Russian woman** to remark about an enthusiastic American convert: ‘Well, he’s certainly Orthodox, all right—but is he a Christian?’ To be ‘Orthodox but not Christian’ is a state that has a particular name in Christian language: it means to be a pharisee, to be so bogged down in the letter of the Church’s laws that one loses the spirit that gives them life, the spirit of true Christianity.”
Fr. Seraphim pointed out how we can get carried away with “correctness” even in small ways: “We can like well-done Byzantine icons (which is a good thing), but we go too far if we are disdainful of the more modern-style icons which are still in many of our churches. The same goes for church singing, architecture, the following of correct rules of fasting, of kneeling in church, etc….
“If you get all excited about having the right kind of icons and begin saying, ‘There’s an icon of the wrong style in our church!’ you have to be very careful, because you’re placing all your emphasis on something external. In fact, if there is a church with nothing but good-style icons, I’m suspicious of it, because maybe [the people there] are just following the fashion. There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, paper icon prints in perfect Byzantine style. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. They removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries.”
Fr. Herman recalls how, when he and Fr. Seraphim were first honoring the memory of Fr. Gerasim in The Orthodox Word in the early 1970s, he had expressed his reservations to his co-laborer. “How can we present Fr. Gerasim as a modern giant of traditional Orthodoxy,” Fr. Herman asked, “when he had those nineteenth-century Western-style icons in his church?”
“Those very icons,” Fr. Seraphim replied, ”prove that he was in the tradition, because he accepted simply and lovingly what was handed down to him from his righteous fathers in the Faith.”
“Fight all error, but do it with good humour, patience, kindness, and love. Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause.” (St John Cantius)
Check out also for more relevant information
- Converts – Chapter 88 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works
- Super-Correctness – Chapter 63 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works
- Orthodoxy of the heart – Chapter 86 from Fr Seraphim Rose: His Life and works, http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/fsr_86.aspx