Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness'
sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:10)
We criticize and judge those who as it is are scorned and despised by the unbelieving world. In judging members of the clergy, we repeat the sin of Ham, who did not cover his father's nakedness. Moreover, we judge unfairly, as though the priest is not human like the rest of us but possesses some supernatural nature.
Have you stern and merciless judges considered that in becoming a priest a man dooms himself to dishonor by the world -- and he suffers this for our sake, in order that the Divine Liturgy may be served in our churches, that we may commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ; that he might baptize, give Holy Unction, serve funerals, and absolve us of our sins -- which no one but a priest can do. As least for this service -- which comes to us from God through those persons who take upon themselves together with ordination to the priesthood the podvig of voluntary martyrdom I cease your wicked judging.
Saint John Chrysostom Says, "If those who offend the servants of an earthly king are severely punished, what kind of punishment will those Christians incur who not only have no respect for but even offend the servants of the Heavenly King!"
Always bear in mind: Where there is no respect for the priestly rank, there is no respect for religion. Throughout the centuries, immoral people have done their utmost, by slander and malicious gossip, to undermine respect for the priestly rank. And we cooperate with them when we judge and gossip about those who serve the Church. Meanwhile, we imagine that we are fighting for the truth!
Lord, forgive us our blindness and gross foolishness!
Among you there are perhaps terrible blasphemers, who make a pretense of coming to church and receive the Mysteries of the Church, partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord, when in reality they are secret sectarians or infected with all sorts of philosophical speculations. Do not be so rash as to tempt God's longsuffering any longer. Remember, God will not be mocked. Watch that you do not burn up from touching the Holy Mysteries, which are "a fire that burns the unworthy." Open your eyes and come to your senses. You must sincerely repent before a priest who, after this repentance, must then, through prayer, reunite you to the Church from which God has long ago invisibly separated such people. If any of you are personally acquainted with such people, avoid contact with them as you would a contagious disease.
From the life of the apostle of love, Saint John the Theologian, who was meek and loving toward all sinners (he even ran into the mountains after a brigand in order to turn him from sin), there has come to us the following incident.
One day in a bath house, he chanced to meet a heretic. The Saint at once turned to his disciple: "Let us run from here. The bathhouse can go up in flames on account of this wretched sinner who is here!"
Why should you, an Orthodox Christian, pry out of curiosity into false religions and develop friendships with those infected with sectarianism?
"If you wish to be saved," writes Saint John Chrysostom, "be a faithful member of the Church; she will not betray you. The Church is an enclosure. If you are within this enclosure, the wolf will not touch you, but if you leave it and go outside, you will be devoured. Do not stray from the Church. There is nothing in the world more powerful than she. She is your hope, in her lies your happiness!"
Perhaps in our midst there are no such secret sectarians and heretics, and we in all honesty consider ourselves to be Orthodox Christians. Orthodox: i.e., possessing the correct and true faith in Christ. But is this actually so? Do we not often substitute superstition for faith? Perhaps some one of you, not having faith in God's beneficent providence concerning us, has at one time or another consulted witchs, astrologers or fortune-tellers? Repent before the Lord for this grave sin!
God Himself says through His prophet Jeremiah: Hearken ye not to your false prophets, nor to then that divine to you, nor to them that foretell events bi dreams to you, nor to your augur's, nor your sorcerers … for they prophesy lies to you (Jer. 34:9-10). According to Church canons, those who consult sorcerers, sooth sayers and the like are to be denied Holy Communion for a period of six years. Repent before the Lord! Lord, forgive us our lack of trust in Thee. Perhaps some of you have visited a soothsayer or some granny who had a reputation for "healing" by means of incantations, and you justified yourself on the grounds that they say prayers and make the sign of the cross over the afflicted area. Do you thereby mean to say that the service of Holy Unction, established by the Church for the healing of the sick, according to the will of God and through the grace of the Holy Spirit, is less effectual? How is it that you, who call yourselves Orthodox Christians, advise your close ones to go to these "grannies" rather than urging them to hasten to the Mysteries of the Church?
Lord, spare us sinners.
We have mixed true faith with superstition; we believe all kinds of "powers," premonitions, fortune telling and witchery. This is all a vestige of our pagan past. A thousand years have passed since the baptism of Rus', and still we cannot relinquish our superstitions and be genuine Orthodox Christians.
The second thing that the eighth beatitude requires of us is courage and constancy, when we must witness to the Truth or defend it. Perhaps some one of you has at some time betrayed Christ, faint-heartedly acquiescing to those who blasphemously mocked the holy teaching, Mysteries and rites of the Church. Repent before the Lord!
Lord, forgive us, sinners!
Perhaps one of you, when in a group of unbelievers at work or in a communal corridor or communal kitchen or courtyard has felt embarrassed about your religion out of fear of appearing "backward," or not altogether "normal"; you feared being laughed at. Repent before the Lord!
Lord, forgive us, sinful, cowardly and fainthearted people!
In part this fear also comes from the fact that we are ashamed to admit that we are Christians because our relations with our colleagues and the work we do would disgrace Christianity. Perhaps someone here has been ashamed and afraid to put up icons in their homes. All this stems from a lack of faith in God's Providence, which guards and guides our lives. What if a colleague, an unbeliever, should suddenly come in … there would be unpleasantness at work. And neighbors -- if they saw icons, they would use our being religious as the sharpest and most efficient weapon against us. This is how we justify ourselves. Well, but if our behavior is blameless, then our confession will consist in bravely enduring verbal abuse. No one is going to evict you from your apartment, or from your town or village because of your faith. So what are you afraid of?
Lord, forgive us fearful ones of little faith.
To be continued
(Translated from Opit postroyenie ispovedi, Sviato-Uspenskovo Pskovo-pecherskovo monastyria, 1993.6)
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