Pastoral Commentary - Fettered by Fear
By Priest Andrew Kencis
Of all of the innumerable temptations that we have to wade through on the path to salvation, there is one facet or "bonding agent" that is common to all of them. It is precisely that which weakens our resolve and allows thoughts contrary to what we know to be proper, according to the Gospel, to enter and torment us. This dreaded element is fear. This is precisely how the enemy of our salvation rules the world and batters us Christians into submission-or at least silence. If we pay attention to our hearts at these moments we will see this fear at work, usually causing us to start rationalizing and reinterpreting what the Gospel is prodding us to do. For priests this fear causes them to be silent about so much, telling them that if they would speak with a clear, full voice they would possibly lose many of their flock and perhaps a nice area or "situation" with which they have become comfortable, Literal threats of losing a salary are thrown at the servant of God by the evil one. When these fail then the pressure of loneliness and abandonment coupled again with fear step in. At these times we should use the shield of faith and cry out: "I will not listen to these lies!" The whole purpose is of course control. If the evil one can get the priest to compromise through fear then he has achieved a great victory. Let us examine why...
The Gospel message of cleansing one's heart, so that it can see God, is watered down. Unless this fear of losing "something" is eliminated, the dreaded verse in the Great Canon of Saint Andrew directly applies to us: "We have made the Gospel of no effect." The infection caused by this fear spreads and manifests itself in all of the priest's actions and is imparted silently and unfailingly to the flock. The actual center, the core that becomes decayed is the fundamental belief that the Holy Church has all wisdom and all power for every aspect of our life without exception. Detached from this fundamental trust, we start to very gently drift and filter everything through our own passions and fears instead of according to the Gospel. The Church, by its "rules and regulations" starts to look constricting and not pertinent and not really addressing the modern issues. This way of thinking is blasphemous. If we take the time to read the Holy Fathers and, more importantly, pay attention to what is being said during the divine services-which Saint John of Kronstadt calls the breathing of the Holy Spirit-especially Vespers and Matins, we will start to understand the entire mystery of salvation, of what occurs within ourselves, of what is occurring around us in the world which has rejected altogether the sober teaching of Christ, in spite of what it believes about itself. With this understanding we will not be confused. We will become hardened soldiers who, while not enjoying the pains of warfare, nevertheless are able to function efficiently.
Throughout the Gospel and the Epistles there is a recurring theme of this call to bravery. To cite only one of many, consider Acts 18:9-10, Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee. What a comfort, what a joy. I was once told of something the reposed Schema-Archimandrite Theophan of Chicago said: "Everyone suffers and has temptations; but when we stand up for what God expects from us He defends us and the pain, although not pleasant, is bearable. When we cower or compromise out of fear then He does not defend us and we feel the full brunt of them." God does this as a loving Father who is trying to teach us and remind us of His simple message.
There is one more type of fear that I believe to be the most pervasive. It is the fear to give up one's own will to the Church. By this I am referring to keeping the fasting rules, the rules of dress, etc. But more importantly obedience to the priests and bishops as long as they speak the truth. Our times are much too dangerous and confusing to waste time with situations that can be easily remedied by maintaining the proper order that our loving and merciful Holy Church has ordained precisely to preserve the flock from the most common and easily accepted temptations. This is so we can concentrate unhindered on "the one thing needful."
Let us be brave, be bold, be not ashamed to be fools for the sake of Christ and His unspotted Church. Let us realize that those things that we read or hear from the Gospel or from the Holy Fathers that we resist or fear to perform are precisely what we need to do to make progress and achieve understanding. The devil knows this and puts up a "smoke screen" of fear to prevent our achieving this progress. Armed with this understanding faith we can speak, we can act without fear, knowing that our life is not for this world but for the one to come; that we have a comforting promise from our Creator that we will not be given more than we can bear and, most importantly, that many, many people have gone this way before us. Never forget: the devil rules by fear.