THE EYES OF THE CHURCH

Dr. Vladimir Moss

In today’s service to the Holy Apostle Herodion and others we read: “In that ye are the eyes of the Church, open the eyes of many to see unimagined beauty, O godly disciples of the Divine Word”.[1]

The people of God is called “Israel”, which means “he who sees God”. But a people without eyes is blind, and will soon fall into a pit. The eyes of the people of God are the holy Apostles and their lawful, Orthodox successors, the bishops; without them the people will fall into heresy or schism.

the-three-holy-hierarchs-saints-basil-the-great-john-chrysostom-gregory-the-theologianThe Lord Himself spoke of this. “The lamp of the body,” He said, “is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6.22-23).

St. Gregory the Theologian interpreted this passage to mean that the body is the Church, and the eye of the body is the bishop. If therefore the bishop is good, the whole of the Church will be full of light. If, on the other hand, he is bad, then the whole body is plunged into darkness.

No Protestantism here, no theory that we can somehow see God and be in communion with him while remaining under a bad bishop! The whole of World Orthodoxy is now in profound darkness, alienated from God, because the people follow false bishops. “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15.14). Let us note well: it is not only the leaders who will fall, but also those who follow them…

But many people in World Orthodoxy today say to themselves: “I am against ecumenism, I don’t approve of the heretics. And if my patriarch does, that’s his business!” But it is not only his business: it is the business of every single member of the Church. In the early Church, Christians of all ranks appear to have been much less inhibited about criticizing their hierarchs than they are today. The argument so often employed today to suppress dissent – “This is the hierarchs’ business, not yours” – was rejected by the Early Church. Thus we read in The Institutions of the Apostles: “These sheep are not irrational but rational creatures – and we say this lest at any time a lay person should say, ‘I am a sheep and not a shepherd, and I have no concern for myself: let the shepherd look to that, for he alone will be required to give account for me.’ For even as the sheep that will not follow its good shepherd is exposed to the wolves, that is, to its destruction, to also the sheep that follows a bad shepherd is likewise exposed to unavoidable death, since the shepherd will devour him. Therefore, take care to flee from the ravening shepherd.”

Again, St. Athanasius the Great said: “As we walk the unerring and life-bringing path, let us pluck out the eye that scandalizes us – not the physical eye, but the noetic one. For example, if a bishop or presbyter – who are the eyes of the Church-conduct themselves in an evil manner and scandalize the people, they must be plucked out. For it is more profitable to gather without them in a house of prayer, than to be cast together with them into the gehenna of fire together with Annas and Caiaphas.”

However, the objection will arise: “How are we to cast out our bishop? Surely that is the business of other bishops. There are canonical procedures that have to be followed. Let us not act hastily. Breaking with our bishop just like that would indeed be Protestant!”

In answer we may ask: “How long are you prepared to wait? Are you prepared to wait until you die, and then go into the next world knowing that you are still in communion with a heretical bishop? The heresy of ecumenism was first officially proclaimed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920 – that’s 96 years ago! Generations of heretical bishops have already died and gone to hell in that period without their fellow bishops doing anything about it. How much longer are you going to wait?”

Then there is another objection: “But we cannot break with our bishop just because he scandalizes us. He may be a sinner in his personal conduct, but as long as he confesses the Orthodox Faith we have to stay with him. We, too, are sinners after all! In any case, it is better to be under a bad bishop than no bishop at all. Again, that would be Protestantism!”

It is true – the Holy Fathers make this clear – that we cannot break with our bishop for his personal sins. But it is not true that it is better to be under a bad bishop – that is, a heretical one – that no bishop at all. Thus St. John Chrysostom writes: “Anarchy is altogether an evil, the occasion of many calamities, and the source of disorder and confusion… However, the disobedience of those who are ruled is no less an evil… But perhaps someone will say, there is also a third evil, when the ruler is bad. I myself, too, know it, and it is no small evil, but a far worse evil even than anarchy. For it is better to be led by no one than to be led by one who is evil. For the former indeed are often saved, and often in peril, but the latter will be altogether in peril, being led into the pit of perdition.

“How, then, does Paul say, ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves’? Having said above, ‘whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation,’ he then said, ‘Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves.’ ‘What then,’ you say, ‘when he is wicked, should we not obey?’ Wicked? In what sense? If in regard to faith, flee and avoid him, not only if he is a man, but even if he is an angel come down from heaven; but if in regard to life, do not be over-curious…’

“’But so-and-so,’ you say, ‘is a decent man, is a Priest, lives in great self-control, and does this and that.’ Do not talk to me about this decent person, this self-controlled, pious man who is a Priest; but if you like, suppose that this man is Peter, or Paul, or even an Angel come down from heaven. For not even in such a case do I regard the dignity of their persons… For our reckoning is not with our fellow-servants, but with our Master, and to Him we shall give an account for all that we have done in our life.

“When there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone and all unaided to do our duty…”

            April 8/21, 2016.

Holy Apostles of the Seventy Herodion, Agabus, Asyncritus, Rufus, Phlegon, Hermes and those who suffered with them.

[1]Menaion, April 8, Mattins, Ode 3, troparion.
ВЕРНОСТЬ – FIDELITY № 206

Source: http://www.metanthonymemorial.org/VernostNo206.html

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