I am not commenting on the deeds of those who have never been blessed with the fullness of the teachings of Christ and His Orthodox Church. There are many born into Christian communities who have no other knowledge of Christ and His Church except that which has been taught to them by their mankind-founded communities. It should be noted that many adherents of these communities do, in fact, seek to follow Christ with deep fervor and commitment. Furthermore, we are not even to judge the founders of these man-created communities. Only God can know the hearts of these founders, and their followers' as well. As St. John (1Jn 3:20) tells us: "For if our heart reprehend us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."
The admonition of Christ on not judging others is explicit and can be considered a cornerstone, making up the foundation of His teachings. It stems from the fact that we are all sinners and must never condemn anyone. Recall our Lord's admonition to those about to stone the woman caught in adultery: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (Jn 8: 7)
Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Mt 7: 1-2)
Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. (Lk 6: 37)
Refusing to judge others can be considered an act of worship of God. St. Peter of Damaskos explains it thus: ". . .confess God's grace continually by not judging anyone." (Philokalia III, p. 160-161)
While we cannot judge others, we are required to judge their acts
Jesus revealed to the beloved Apostle St. John the Evangelist, through the mouth of His angel, His condemnation of the nefarious works of an early sect, the Nicolaitians, that departed from the teaching of the Apostolic Church: ". . . you hate the deeds. . .which I also hate". (Rev. 2: 6). The lesson for us is that with careful, sensible and sound judgment, and with great charity and kindness, but with prudent firmness as well, we can point out the position of the Apostolic Churches on ecclesial, moral, theological and other related issues and pray and work toward healing ourselves and all around us. In this regard, it is well to keep in mind a phrase from the year 2000 Synodal statement of the Moscow Patriarchate entitled Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox. In it was noted that throughout history.
The Church struggled on principled terms with the heresies that were infecting her children and that there were cases where those who had gone astray were healed of heresy, experienced repentance and returned to the bosom of the Church. This tragic experience of misunderstanding emerging from within the Church herself and of the struggle with it during the period of the ecumenical councils has taught the children of the Orthodox Church to be vigilant.
There are several other passages from the Synodal statement that are very relevant to this issue and worth serious reflection and study, and which can be found in the Endnote below. The Orthodox Church considers it is the one true Church. The Apostolic Churches are close to one another in many ways and we pray will be most likely to be first in full communion with each other. Unfortunately, some reform groups depart very far.
About those who left the plough they were holding onto and look back
Now, and here I am speaking about, and to, all of us Orthodox Christians, let us consider our Lord's admonition that : "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) Now the "plough" can be seen as our baptism and our commitment to the Orthodox Church. The "looking back," then, is reverting to any attitude that draws us away from that, most particularly the subtle and insidious attitude of condoning relativism or, God forbid, the entertaining ideas like: 'I don't need the Church;' 'I can talk to God alone, by myself;' 'I can pray in any church.' The admonition not to look back in this way applies most especially to those originally baptized, but who are later tempted to look back toward the non-Apostolic communities and what they may seem to offer. To them Christ's rebuke speaks: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48) We need to remember that what is required of us is fidelity and commitment to His Orthodox Church —not to some man-made group. no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible."
In this regard, we remember the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert by quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him '. . .: It is written, [c.f. Dt 8: 3] Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 34: 34) Now, and here I am speaking about, and to, all of us Orthodox Christians, let us consider our Lord's admonition that : "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) Now the "plough" can be seen as our baptism and our commitment to the Orthodox Church. The "looking back," then, is reverting to any attitude that draws us away from that, most particularly the subtle and insidious attitude of condoning relativism or, God forbid, the entertaining ideas like: 'I don't need the Church;' 'I can talk to God alone, by myself;' 'I can pray in any church.' The admonition not to look back in this way applies most especially to those originally baptized, but who are later tempted to look back toward the non-Apostolic communities and what they may seem to offer. To them Christ's rebuke speaks: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48)
We need to remember that what is required of us is fidelity and commitment to His Orthodox Church —not to some man-made group. no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible." In this regard, we remember the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert by quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him '. . .: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 34: 34)
St. Silouan of Mt. Athos: Exemplar of having prayerful love for all
We are required by our commitment to Christ and His Church to go way beyond merely not judging others. We must actively seek reconciliation, and at the very least pray for all, ourselves, as we are all sinners, and extend that reconciiliation to all those who have committed the most egregious offenses. St. Silouan of Mt. Athos tells us ". . . you must love those who offend against you and pray for them until your soul is reconciled to them." (Sophrony, 1999)
A good example is an encounter the saint had with an anonymous hermit as recorded by St. Silouan's cell attendant and spiritual disciple, Archimandrite Sophrony. The hermit, with "evident satisfaction," told the saint," God will punish all atheists." In terms of the theme of this essay, we can add to the word 'atheists:: homophiles, moral relativists, secularists, members of non-Apostolic Christian groups, etc. Of course, the saintly elder was disturbed by the hermit's judgment. St. Silouan responded: "Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy" The hermit responded: "It can't be helped, It would be their own fault." With "sorrowful countenance" the saint responded: "Love could not bear that. . . .We must pray for all." This should be what spiritually animates our hearts, minds and interactions toward all those who do not uphold the fullness of orthodox Christianity.
The Ethos of Raising Children and Ourselves as Orthodox Christians
There is a spiritx that should enliven and permeate the 'domestic church' and its anointed leaders: the Godly blessed (by the Holy Mystery) marriage of husband and wife, parents who are to "educate [their children] in faith and fear."xi This ethos should, however, not be limited to those who are married, but extended to all those who have "put on Christ"xii through their baptism, single individuals as well. This would include all laity and monastics.
We know that Christ's visible Church was sealed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and has passed down to the Church to the present day. Originally, the visible Church started with the Apostles and Disciples. In the Church today, each of the Apostles of the twelve and of the seventy has their own day of commemoration, but on the Sunday after Pentecost is celebrated the synaxis, or gathering, of not only the Apostles but, in fact, all the saints of the Church who shone forth throughout the whole world from all time. This includes the powers of heaven (the angelic hosts) and the holy prophets of the Old Covenant as well. There is a great prayer of the Church that calls all this to mind - the Synodikon of Orthodoxy - which can also serve as the ethos of the spiritual life of all true Christians.
The Synodikon of Orthodoxy
The Synodikon was originally proclaimed by the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 843 AD that reinstated the veneration of icons against the heretics who had persecuted Christ's Holy Church and destroyed its icons. Traditionally, throughout the Orthodox World today, it is prayed at Vespers of the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Lent). It is relevant to be both a daily prayer, and also the ethos of the Christian Life for all those who are true, that is to say, 'non-homogenized,' Christians.
One relevant phrase from the Synodikon is: "As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church received, as the Teachers laid down as doctrine, as the World has agreed, as grace has shone". We see from this that the avowals of all the saints are considered as God-inspired. Divine inspiration is linked with Revelation. The saints experienced God; they attained a spiritual perception of the Divine. They knew a personal God experientially. They received a personal Pentecost. Because of their experiences of a Divine Revelation they are regarded as unerring teachers of the Church. This grace was given them because they embraced Christ's cross by flight from sin, thus attaining theosis ("partakers of the Divine Nature," 2Pt 1:4).
The lives and teachings of the saints echo the mind of the Church. It is unthinkable, therefore, not only for the saints, but for anyone, to be considered an Orthodox Christian if they are separated from the mind of the Church by holding on to erroneous heretical personal conceptions and opinions and, even worse, teach these self-created interpretations to others, either directly or by example (psychological modeling).
Another consideration: The Church as hospital
Let us also recall that another patristic icon of the Church is that it is a hospital (Morelli 2006 b,c) for our spiritual and physical curing. The chief laborers are the physicians with the authority given to them by Christ to heal our infirmities and diseases. Departing from the mind of Christ and His Church by holding on to our personal opinions is a disease to be made healthy by Christ's apostolic Orthodox Church. This healing work of the Church is, and must be, carried out today by the bishops and priests of the Church of apostolic succession by adherence to the apostolic tradition and teaching given by Christ. This calling to service was given to the Church by Christ Himself when He ". . . saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few." (Mt 9:37).
But the laborers in the hospital vineyard are not limited merely to the clergy. As St. Paul reminded the Galatians, we have each received individual gifts and can offer different service to the 'Body of Christ:" "For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (Gal 3: 27-30)
Let us all put our hands to the plough that is Christ and His Church and never take them off or look back. Let us hold fast to the Mind of the Church, to be informed and formed by it so as to courageously model it in our lives. This way we will be faithful laborers in Christ's hospital vineyard (the Church) according to the gifts we have been given. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians:
But be zealous for the better gifts. And I shew unto you yet a more excellent way. (1 Cor 12: 31)
An article by Fr. George Morelli
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