Christ is Risen!
My last post, regarding my Orthodox response to our current COVID-19 pandemic, turned out to be a success. And when I say success, I mean it brought a lot of more-or-less negative replies. But the responses, I found, were all along the same line of thought. They were important points to consider; and so here, I will attempt to address them.
One of the main concerns was the need to be humble and obedient towards the bishops. Another concern that I pinpointed was for us to not fall into pride by making claims that something was heresy. In fact, the strongest objection to my post was my choice in the word ‘heresy.’ I sympathized with their concerns; for indeed, I’ve thought about these things myself. I hope to ensure everyone that I did not come up with my words on a whim. I did consider seriously what I was saying. Brothers and sisters, I speak my beliefs as genuine concerns. I must act out my conviction as an Orthodox Christian. If it turns out that I’m wrong in the end, I’ll gladly apologize; but I will not regret being watchful and wary. For indeed, “Do not trust in rulers and in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” (Psalm 145:3) Do we not sing those very words every Liturgy?
Let’s start by tackling the most controversial part of my post: the use of the word ‘heresy.’ I’m sensing a strong reluctance from others of using this word. It might appear too strong or too harsh (and, when I spoke of heresy before, I can see how that would come across as prideful; so, please forgive me if I misled any in thinking I believed I was better than everyone else). But it’s not necessarily about harshness as much as correction. Let’s look at the definition for the word ‘heresy’:
- opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.
My word-choice, it would seem, made people believe I was being hateful towards our bishops. But as we can see from the definition, this isn’t the case. It has nothing to do with hate. It has to do with being attentive and using discernment. If something goes against the Tradition and teachings of Christ and His Church (aka an opinion or doctrine in variance with our doctrine), is it not heresy then? So, if a bishop is telling us to do something against our own doctrine, is it still heresy? Well…yes. I feel sad that I even have to answer that question. We should all know this. Even Christ told us the elect could be deceived:
For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonder to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. – Matthew 24:24
If the elect can be deceived, then this means we need to be more watchful and discerning. In fact, discernment is named the most important virtue. Humility is still a key one – but humility without discernment does not bring much fruit. Consider this advice from one of the Desert Fathers:
An old man was asked, ‘How can I find God?’ He said, ‘In fasting, in watching, in labors, in devotion, and, above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks; charity and humility.
We can’t just obey everything someone tells us solely based on their title. The bishops are not popes. If we had to follow the bishop without question, the equality we preach in the Orthodox Church would be a lie. We could not see ourselves as the united and equal Body of Christ. No one is holier over the other. I am certainly no more holy than any of my brothers and sisters. And this reflective state includes the bishops as well.
Why is it that a great majority of churches are supposed to be closed, but abortion clinics are open? I’m sorry, brothers and sisters, but if this will not open your eyes, I don’t know what else to tell you. We cannot close our churches over a virus. We cannot deny ourselves the Eucharist because of a virus. To do so is, as I stated in my prior post, heresy. Besides, who are we more obedient to? Christ or the bishop? Again, I’m not trying to disrespect our bishops when I say this. But when I see everyone trying to justify the bishop as being higher than them, I have to question where our loyalties really lie. I have to question whether they are actually acting out obedience or acquiescence.
I know this is a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to go into cognitive dissonance because we want to believe the bishops have our best interests. And I’m sure that they do care for us. But this doesn’t mean that they are immune to deception. This has been referenced to so many times through history that we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens today. St. John Chrysostom even told us this truth in a rather eerie description:
The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.
Our bishops, therefore, have an even greater need to be discerning. For if they lead their own flock astray, how they will explain their directives to Christ when they finally see Him?
I pray for our bishops. Though I’ve not met too many of them in my own time, I still feel a deep love for them. I want to trust them and obey them. Truly, I do. But right now, I believe they’ve been misguided, whether purposely or unconsciously (or both). And I believe I must speak up. Might I dare to ask the question to you, my brothers and sisters…are we obeying the bishops’ decisions of church closures because it’s unproblematic? What I mean by that is it’s easier to acquiesce than to obey. Using the word ‘obedience’ as I’ve seen recently is a tad flippant, like it’s a reason to ignore the issue rather than address it with discernment. We should only obey when we know it’s the correct thing to do, even when it’s hard. Think about how people approached the Desert Fathers to ask for a word. Guess what? Not all of them left being in agreement with the Fathers. Some of their words wouldn’t be what they wanted to hear. But it’s what they needed to hear. Wasn’t this what Jesus experienced in His time too? There were plenty of people who walked away from Him because of what He said. Even people who were dedicated to Him! Think of what happened when Jesus spoke the truth about the Eucharist in John 6:
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
We see that not long after this proclamation, many of His followers left:
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it.”…From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
Brothers and sisters, my fear is that we’re not taking our faith as seriously as we should be. During a pandemic, we should be flocking in droves to the Church. We should be eager to partake of the life of Christ that is presented to us in the chalice. For if Christ said we have no life apart from the Eucharist, our lives in lockdown is nothing but death (perhaps that will be the next word I get ridiculed for; who knows). The evil one conveniently has us cornered with this pandemic; but we don’t have to stay there. Our love of Christ should make us get up and return to the Church, no matter what the circumstances are or what might be ordered of us. Our obedience to Christ should outweigh our fearful response to the world and, as the times seem to present, our obedience to the bishops.
Everything I’ve written here is only scratching the surface of the problem. Realistically, my blog posts should be written as a twenty page college essay. Yet I hope to give my readers time to digest the content presented by writing in segments. Even then, I know many will still disagree with my words. Alas, I know my attempts to persuade any is a far shot. I would ask, however, that you try to be mindful of my words. Mull them over. That’s all I know I can ask. The rest is up to you.