Orthodox America

Fear Not

The following article appeared, in Hungarian, in the November-December, 1990 issue of the Egyhazi Kronika (Ecclesiastical Chronicle the official publication of the Hungarian Orthodox Church, Budapest Administration.

The Greek biblical terms for the noun: "fear" and the verb: "to fear" each have a double meaning. They appear at times in the primary sense in which we too make use of them in current, everyday speech, while at other times they are synonymous with the expressions for "honor" and "to honor". In some cases they even convey both notions at once: fear as well as honor.

Regarding who it is who must be feared, Christ our Lord gave a clear directive to His disciples and followers:...do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But...fear Him Who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yea, I tell you, fear Him--fear God (Luke 12:4-5 and parallels).

Another example, to demonstrate that the primitive verb "to fear" synonymously denotes honor, can be found in the letters of the Holy Apostle Paul who, writing about the relationship between spouses, gives this directive:...let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she fear her husband (Eph. 5:33). To convey the intended meaning, our Hungarian Bible translations (as well as the English--Tr.) uniformly replace the original expression of "fear" here with a verb for "honor".

The combining of the two notions, in mutual amplification of their respective meanings, can be found in many places in the Old Testament, always with reference to God: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 110:t0; Prov. 1:7, etc.).

It follows from this that man must fear no one but God. Likewise, he must honor God above all, but give honor to men too in their dignity as children of God, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing (I Peter 2:18).

It is natural that man feels fearful every time he comes into the presence of God or experiences a certain extraordinary theophany. Countless examples of this could be cited from both the Old and New Testaments. Many times, however, God dispels the fear, uplifts man to Himself, and grants him the awareness of His Fatherly love by which their mutual direct encounter, despite its supranaturalness, becomes natural and intimate. In such instances, these two reassuring words are always heard: Fear not!

It is this which takes place in that sublime hour of salvation history too, when the Fullness of the time had come (Gal. 4:4), which God judged favorable for sending into the world His Only-Begotten Son, to be born as a man in Bethlehem of Judea in order to live among men, to teach them divine, eternal truths, to serve them, to give His life for them and thereby to make them children of God, His own "least brothers,"

This is such a forbiddingly supranatural act by the Lord that it plunges man inevitably into a state of dread, where the need at once arises to banish his fear, At the very instant of the annunciation to the Virgin in Nazareth, these words are heard from the Archangel Gabriel: Fear not, Mary ( Later, the shepherds of Bethlehem, startled by the divine light, hear the same: Fear not! And still later, as many times as men, the disciples of Jesus experience directly the nearness of God's power and glory, these words always dispel their dread: Fear not! It which takes place when they glimpse their master walking upon the sea and when, on Mount Tabor, they become the witnesses of His glorification. How much warmth, how much divine love radiate from those words of Jesus, by which He assures them of the Father's provident care: Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32). And finally, at Christ's resurrection - as fearful a moment as His nativity-- the angel descended to His tomb rouses the Myrrh-bearing Women, virtually deadstruck by fright, with these very same words: Fear not!

Throughout the course of its history mankind has many times felt upon itself the over powering, chastening hand of the Lord of history. It is enough for us to think of our own century, and of its grievous trials: two world wars and the millions of their dead, revolutions and their accompanying sufferings and miseries. In the midst these though, we believing Christians never forgot God's forgiving grace because His words, offering hope and courage, always echoed in our hearts: Fear not!

Still today the greatly tried people of our nation find themselves tormented by anxious fear for the future, for what now appears delineated as a nightmare of impoverishment and precariousness on its horizon. And looking beyond the borders of our nation, we see with ever increasing concern how very many internal as well as external dangers threaten and, indeed, already assail our loving and much-loved Mother, the Holy Orthodox Church. In addition to our unwavering faith in God, our constant prayer and our zealous labor, is there yet something which we have need of in order to conquer our fear and distress?

We have need of love, of that wondrous force which can overcome all hardship and anguish and must unite us with God and with men.

Let us accept then...into our minds and hearts the everlasting teaching of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John:

There is no fear in love: but perfect love casts out fear
For fear has to do with torment,
and he who fears is not perfected in love.
(I John 4:18)

The article is Translated by pr. David Lesko, priest of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church [OCA) in Duquesne, PA

See also The Holy Fathers on...Perfect Fear