Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.
Bound up with this is a disease of today’s Orthodox Christians which can be deadly: the
“correctness disease.” In a way this is a natural temptation to anyone who has just awakened to Christian faith and to spiritual life — the more one finds out about Christian doctrine and practice, the more one discovers how many “mistakes” one has been making up to now, and one’s natural desire is to be “correct.” This is praiseworthy, although in the beginning one is probably going to be too artificially “strict” and make many new mistakes out of pride (to which we are constantly blind). If you are critical of others, self-confident about your own correctness, eager to quote canons to prove someone else is wrong, constantly “knowing better” than others — you have the germs of the “correctness disease.” These are signs of immaturity in spiritual life, and often one outgrows them if one is living a normal spiritual life.
But especially in our days, the spirit of worldliness is so strong, and there is obviously so much wrong in our church life — that there is a strong temptation to make “correctness” a way of life, to get stuck in it. And this is not only a disease of converts; one of the best bishops of the Old Calendar Greeks, Bishop Cyprian of Sts. Cyprian and Justina Monastery near Athens, has written that this spirit of “correctness” has already done untold damage to Orthodoxy in Greece, causing fights and schisms one after the other. Sometimes 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 of 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. In saying this my aim is not to be critical or to point to anyone in particular — we all suffer from this — but only to point out a pitfall which can cause one to fail to take advantage of the riches which the Orthodox Church provides for our salvation, even in these evil times.
Even when it is not fanatical, this spirit of “correctness” for its own sake turns out to be
fruitless. As an example, I can tell you of a very good friend of ours, one of the zealot fathers of Mt. Athos. He is a “moderate” zealot, in that he recognizes the grace of New Calendar sacraments, accepts the blessings of priests of our Church, and the like; but he is absolutely strict when it comes to applying the basic Zealot principle, not to have communion not only with bishops whose teaching departs from Orthodox truth, such as the Patriarch of Constantinople, and not only with anyone who has communion with him, but with anyone who has communion with anyone who in any remote way has communion with him. Such “purity” is so difficult to attain in our days (our whole Russian Church Abroad, for example, is “tainted” in his eyes by some measure of communion with the other Orthodox Churches) that he is in communion with only his own priest and ten other monks in his group on the Holy Mountain; all of the rest of the Orthodox Church is not “pure.”
Perhaps there are only ten or twelve people left in the world who are perfectly “strict” and
“pure” in their Orthodoxy — this I really don’t know; but it simply cannot be that there are really only ten or twelve Orthodox Christians left in the world with whom one can have true oneness of faith, expressed in common communion. I think that you can see that there is some kind of spiritual dead-end here; even if we had to believe such a narrow view of Orthodoxy according to the letter, our believing Christian heart would rebel against it. We cannot really live by such strictness; we must somehow be less “correct” and closer to the heart of Orthodox Christianity.
In smaller ways, too, we can get carried away with “correctness’:’ 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. While striving to be as correct as we can, we must also remember that these things belong to the outward side of our Orthodox faith, and they are good only if they are used in the right spirit of the true Christianity St. Tikhon talks about. Vladimir Soloviev, in his Short Story of Antichrist, ingeniously suggests that Antichrist, in order to attract Orthodox conservatives, will open a museum of all Christian antiquities. Perhaps the very images of Antichrist himself (Apoc. 13:14) will be in good Byzantine style — this should be a sobering thought for us.
What to do about doubt and faith?
In the Gospel narratives we read the Apostle Thomas told his fellow apostles he would not believe the Lord had risen from the dead unless he put his hand in the wounds of Christ. When He actually saw Jesus, he immediately said “My Lord and my God”, instantly believing without having touched his Lord.
Doubt, in order to be replaced by faith, starts with the desire to be a believer. We must chose to believe, for desire invites God’s grace to abound. We turn to God, saying, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” Our willingness to voice our desire to believe, is the beginning of faith. This faith is a gift from God, and our willingness to receive this gift is the beginning of a life that will be transformed by the Living God, the Father of Lights.
"When all is said and done, at the bottom line faith is a function of will - you must want to believe. The person who does not wish to - even if he sees God, he will not believe." (Elder Pavlos of Saint Katherine’s Monastery in the Sinai).
If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say, Who am I? and do not judge anyone.
Vice takes men away from God and separates them from one another. So we must turn from it quickly and pursue virtue, which leads to God and unites us with one another. Now the definition of virtue and of philosophy is: simplicity with prudence.
Prize the virtues and do not be the slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon fades.
To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole of philosophy.
It is the wisdom of the saints to recognize the will of God. Indeed, in obeying the truth, man surpasses everything else, for he is the image and likeness of God. Of all evil suggestions, the most terrible is that of following one’s own heart, that is to say, one’s own thought, and not the law of God. A man who does this will be afflicted later on, because he has not recognized the mystery, and he has not found the way of the saints in order to work in it. For now is the time to labour for the Lord, for salvation is found in the day of affliction: for it is written: “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”‘ (Luke 21.19)
Abba Poemen used to say this about Abba Isidore: every night he plaited a bundle of palms, and the brethren pleaded with him saying, ‘Rest a little, for you are getting old.’ But he said to them, ‘Even if Isidore were burned, and his ashes thrown to the winds, I would not allow myself any relaxation because the Son of God came here for our sake.’
The same Abba said concerning Abba Isidore that his thoughts said to him, ‘You are a great man.’ He said to them, ‘Am I to be compared with Abba Anthony; am I become like Abba Pambo, or like the other Fathers who pleased God?’ When he said this he was at peace. When the demons who are at war with men tried to make him afraid, suggesting that, after all this, he would still go to hell, he replied, ‘Even if I am sent there, I shall find you beneath me.’
There was a spiritual old man who lived a secluded life. He was held in high estimation in the city and enjoyed a great reputation. He was told that a certain old man, at the point of death, was calling for him, to embrace him before he fell asleep. He thought to himself, if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honour, and I shall not be at peace in all that. So I will go in the evening in the darkness and I shall escape everyone’s notice. But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to give him light. Then the whole city came out to see his glory. The more he wished to Flee from glory, the more he was glorified. In this was accomplished that which is written: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)