29 November OS 2016 – Nativity Fast; Monday of the 26th Sunday after Pentecost; 11th Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyrs Paramon and Philoumenos
Today we begin reading St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. – I Timothy 1: 1-7
We live in an age of spiritual fakery par excellence. Even within the Orthodox world, even within the True Orthodox world, there is an astounding variety of false teachers, would-be “elders,” professional disputers, and ecclesiastical entrepreneurs whose “enterprise” is to gather followers and make a name for themselves. To whom should we listen? Whom should we trust? Where is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, apart from which salvation is impossible?
St. Paul gives us a good measuring stick: “Now the end [i.e., the goal, the purpose] of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” In other words, the outcome of the teaching must be that it inspires one to live according to the Gospel, provides a solid theological basis for doing so, shows where to obtain the grace for doing so, and gives the practical tools for doing so. Orthodoxy is not a debating club or an ecclesiastical turf war. It is life.
We have no control over bishops, “theologians” (what a useless term that has become!), “elders” (ditto), and priests. We ourselves are, to a greater or lesser degree, deluded and ignorant, and therefore our discernment is extremely poor. Our task is to do what we have control over, which is to apply ourselves industriously to the ABC’s of spiritual life and thereby acquired better discernment, i.e., to become less deluded and ignorant.
So…if someone should come to me and say, “What synod, bishop (elder, priest, teacher, etc., fill-in-the-blank) should I follow?” My answer is, “Have we said our morning prayers today? How are we keeping the Nativity Fast? Let’s go do it, and then we can talk. Perhaps in struggling together, through a free and undeserved gift of grace from Jesus Christ, we two ignorant ones will arrive at some conclusion that will be pleasing to Almighty God.”
We have the books; let’s read them. We have the instructions of the Fathers; let’s follow them.
Let us hide ourselves from the world, immerse ourselves in humility, and be active and vigilant, doing the works of God.