Tough love

25 April OS 2018 – Afterfeast of Mid-Pentecost; S. Mark, Apostle and Evangelist

In the daily reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul deals with a sorcerer:

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark. Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. – Acts of the Apostles 12:25-13:12

Many people today – even, strange to say, some Orthodox Christians – would regard St. Paul’s blinding the sorcerer as an act of “intolerance” or being “mean” (as in the bumper sticker, “Mean people __________”).   If only St. Paul had preached Luv and Peace, perhaps old Elymas would have realized the error of his ways and come to his senses! Thank goodness – so goes this line of thought – today we have kinder, gentler methods to deal with people who are, you know, diverse!

Elymas was not simply different; he was evil in the extreme. Not only was he evil, but he also actively sought to rob Sergius Paulus of the truth of Jesus Christ.   What could be worse than that – to destroy another man’s soul on purpose? Someone who would do that is not open to gentle persuasion, for his heart is hard, he is given over to the service of the devil, and he needs to be “taken out,” as they say. According to the Mosaic law, St. Paul justifiably could have slain him. The treatment he chose was mild by comparison.

Man today recoils at the Church’s strictness in her judgment on such matters, because he does not believe in the soul or eternal salvation or eternal punishment.  “Loving Christians” feel discomfort when the Acts of the Apostles and the Lives of the Saints approvingly chronicle violent corrections – including death – of sorcerers, heresiarchs, persecutors, and other public enemies of men’s souls. The same people also dislike the Church’s disciplinary treatment of grave sins – having to give up sinful habits and relationships, and then having to wait for Holy Communion, and to prepare with a regimen of prayer and fasting.  They will readily undergo all manner of torture – chemotherapy, drastic surgeries, bizarre diets, the myriad pills and potions of “Big Pharma” with their terrible side effects, etc. – in order to eke out a few more years or even months of mere biological existence, but they think it dreadful that the Church uses tough love to save souls for eternity.   It all depends on what you think is real and what you think is important.

We are not sorcerers, and we pray that we will never require the Elymas treatment. But we will never have peace until we accept every pain and sorrow in this life as the necessary correction for our sinfulness, a correction willed by God from all eternity. And when Holy Church, in the person of a bishop or a confessing priest, decides to correct us by her ecclesiastical and spiritual methods, how grateful we should be: We can suffer here for a time and not there for eternity!

O All-Wise Lord, Who has given us the Apostolic Church to guide us to salvation, glory be to Thee!

 

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