Church Scandals Must Come

Scandals must come (Matt. 18:7).

These are the words of Christ. He tells us that scandals are not only likely to happen – but that they will happen. They are necessary (ἀνάγκη).

Most readers will marvel that this is a quote from Jesus. The reason is simple: the Greek (ἀνάγκη γάρ ἐστιν ἐλθεῖν τὰ σκάνδαλα) is rarely translated in such a manner. “Stumbling blocks,” or “offenses,” is the more common way to render the word skandala (σκάνδαλα). But the Greek has a very simple cognate in English: scandal.

Why would Christ tell his disciples that scandals must come? It is a description of the nature of things in this world. The entrance of the Kingdom of God and its dwelling among men is not such that men will cease to be broken or evil. Christ warned His disciples that he himself would be betrayed – not by strangers – but by one of them!

And this has ever been the case. From the earliest days of the faith, disciples have been betrayed, misled, robbed, deceived, cheated, taught falsely, raped and abused. There has never been an idyllic season of the Church when such scandals have been absent. In Western Europe where various reform movements have remade Christianity repeatedly – circumstances have presented scandals needing attention – but reforms have never succeeded in ending them. Christ’s words remain true regardless.

Of course, no religious group is free of scandal – I am not as familiar with those of others as I am of our own – but everybody’s got them. And the non-religious are as scandal-ridden as the religious. Hypocrisy is equal opportunity. The problem does not lie within religion or its absence – it is an inherent part of the human condition.

What of Christ’s words? Are scandals part of some Divine Plan? I think that would take his words in the wrong way. The passage begins with the warning, “Woe to the world because of scandals!” and concludes, “Woe to that man by whom the scandal comes!” Of course, the great scandal, is the “falling away,” warned of by Christ and the apostles.

[Christ, speaking of the time of great troubles] And then many will be scandalized, and will betray one another, and will hate one another (Matt. 24:10).

And St. Paul:

[speaking of the coming of Christ] Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first… (2 Thess. 2:3)

We can speculate about the internal nature of the great scandal or the falling away. But there is no New Testament version of the Christian faith that does not contain this aspect. It is part of the most primitive layer of Apostolic Tradition. It is part of Christ’s own teaching.

My experience as a Christian has been that everything “rhymes” with the larger picture of the faith. We can speak about the “last days,” and waste time speculating about such things. But Christian history has been replete with days that fit the pattern offered for those times. There is no Christian journey that is without scandal and a falling away. If we do not fall away, it is not because it never crossed our mind. Everyman in the course of a lifetime has the chance to be Peter or Judas.

If there is an inner necessity to the scandal, it is not within the scandal itself. The inner necessity is within us. The temptation that accompanies scandal is something that must be faced and overcome. Apparently, we cannot enter the kingdom of God without it.

Scandal (a “cause of stumbling”) comes in many forms. It can be as bold as corruption in the hierarchy, or moral turpitude within a priest. It can also be a prayer that we perceive to have been unanswered or God’s strange absence when we thought we could count on him. Anything that causes us to lose heart, to quit, to abandon the journey qualifies as scandal.

We admire the great martyrs and the courage of their suffering. But in most lives, suffering has a very banal quality: it offers us little chance to play the hero. I am very fond of the books on the life and work of Father Arseny. His stories are those of a saint in the Soviet Gulag. Some of the stories are quite miraculous, but most are born of the grace-filled ability to bear the innumerable indignities of a single hour, day after day. Such martyrdom over a period of decades is frightfully boring and tedious. And it is the boredom and tedium that become the scandal that he endured.

Scandal tests and proves the life of the heart. A life lived in the mind (thoughts and emotions) will endure scandal only with the greatest difficulty. Whatever the insult created by an actual scandal, the mind and the emotions will magnify it, rehearse it, argue with it, judge it, replay it repeatedly, become angry and despondent. The work of the mind is much harder to bear than the scandal itself. We are scandalized by our own passions.

The heart does not seek to judge. It understands the nature of righteousness and is not surprised by the presence of sin.

However, I take heart that Christ’s warning concerning the scandal that must come offers no condemnation for those who fall. His truly serious warning is for the one through whom the scandal comes. We all fall (at least everyone I know falls). I pray that when I stumble, I take no one with me. God give us grace.

I find these two prayers (from Orthodox Daily Prayers) to be of great help:

Save, Lord, and have mercy on those whom I have caused to stumble, turning them away from the path of salvation and leading them to evil and unseemly deeds. Return them to the path of salvation by Thy Divine Providence.

Save, Lord, and have mercy on those who hate and offend me, and do me harm. Do not let them perish because of me.

Amen.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. fatherstephen says

    I am aware that Christ only said, “Scandals must come,” not “Church scandals must come.” But I cannot think of anything in his teaching that exempts the Church from this universal phenomenon.

  2. Susan says

    Amen. Living through suffering as a Church, suffering brought by the sins of our own, is redemptive. In taking up our cross and embracing the humility that suffering brings, the Church is reborn anew. Let us pray for a gracious response to the suffering that comes.

  3. SteveL says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I think your post is much more helpful than something I read a few months ago:

    “The second reason which reveals the responsibility which those who are scandalized have is that in some way those who are in these circumstances have a psychological need to be scandalized.”

    By Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos

    I will refrain from saying not-nice things about this man.

  4. says

    “Everyman in the course of a lifetime has the chance to be Peter or Judas…We are scandalized by our own passions.”

    Touche’, Fr. Stephen! And thank you :-)

  5. John Shores says

    “Woe to the world because of scandals!” and “Woe to that man by whom the scandal comes!”

    I do not understand the word “woe” in this context. Can you expound? On a scale from “Bummer dude” to “You’re going straight to Hell”, where does this fall? I could understand an interpretation of “Woe to that man by whom…” being some kind of punishment. But what of those who were not part of the scandal and were hurt by it? Does the same kind of “woe” apply? Or is the hurt itself the actual woe?

    “…those who are in these circumstances have a psychological need to be scandalized.”

    I was once told by a dear friend that being disillusioned is a good thing because it strips away our illusions.

    There are people in the world who do feel the need to be scandalized and victimized. (There is a large part of me that embraces the ideas in the Eagles’ song “Get over it.”)

    I am not saying that a priest having an affair with a parishioner’s wife (for example) isn’t scandalous
    but how we view it is important. Is there enough love in the church community to bring about reconciliation on all sides? That’s the important question, to my mind. When the hierarchy in the church tries to cover up abuses, that is far more scandalous. But can we find a way to correct the guilty without hating them or clinging to the hurt they have caused? That, again, is the real question. More importantly, can we make a distinction between the messenger and the message? If the messenger fails in some way, does that diminish the message of the gospels?

    I am not a big fan of the “woe unto” mentality. To me, it seems a to set people up for failure. Rather, to my way of thinking, the better message is, “You’re gonna screw up but that’s OK. Get back up and keep trying.” If Jesus had said something like, “the message that I am giving to you is not dependent on your perfection level” would have been more reasonable, IMHO.

  6. John says

    SteveL,

    Link, have you? I don’t think you are reading that right, but without context it is hard to know. And frankly, it is true that some folks have a need, as John Shores noted above, to be victimized or scandalized. Not everyone, of course, but many. I would even be so bold as to say the previous sentence has characterized me as well at times.

    John

  7. says

    I am glad you posted this Fr Stephen because I had to look up the passage and to see what other versions had to say: besides offences, there was temptations, stumbling blocks and stumbling. In one of the definitions of skandalon there was any person or thing by which one is entrapped–drawn into error or sin.
    Last night I read this on Habitual Sin…when we give into the temptations of the devil repeatedly, those ways of reacting become ingrained habits and then no devil is necessary to continue to entice us, we entice ourselves. This is an important notion for each of us to ponder. There is a precious period of time before giving into sin when our will inclines either in the seemingly easy direction of the temptation or in the Gospel´s seemingly more arduous call to virtue. If we are not constantly struggling to root out sinful habits, if we are not watchful over our will, that period time decreases until the moment seems to vanish altogether. …we enslave ourselves by our own bad habits and our own proclivity toward habitual sin.
    All I could say was “Amen”!

  8. dinoship says

    SteveL says:

    I do not think you are reading this correctly either:
    “the responsibility which those who are scandalized have is that in some way those who are in these circumstances have a psychological need to be scandalized.”

    It is an allusion to “the pure shall see God” even where the impure see sin.
    An appropriate example is Saint Nonos:
    Saint Nonos, upon seeing saint Pelagia in her former attire – she was the most famous, scandalous “gorgeous” prostitute in her previous life, before she repented- did not look away, as all his other fellow priests did – in order to not be scandalised- but kept looking at her and his immediate reaction was: “if only I had such zeal to adorn myself in order to by liked by the Lord as this woman has in order to be admired by men”…

    Another example is of a remarkably simple and pure monk who went to Athens for a particular assignment after fifty years in the desert of Mount Athos and saw a young couple sitting on a bench kissing (this was in the 60’s when that would have been considered particularly scandalous in Greece) and his immediate reaction was: “look at what pure love this brother and sister have, I wish I could be so pure”…
    Sounds crazy to our super experienced and accustomed to scandal minds.
    I have seen extremely experienced and erudite Fathers who do not have this kind of ‘simpleton’ reaction and clearly know “what is going on” in such situations, yet still do not see ‘scandal’.
    Seeing one’s own true infirmity is key to that purity which makes one shock-proof and scandal proof.

  9. dinoship says

    I have also witnessed many times (and admired deeply) the fabulous ability that holy Elders have to find excuses for the most ‘inexcusable’ -in our eyes- sins of others… It springs from their deep knowledge of human frailty acquired through true repentance.

  10. fatherstephen says

    SteveL
    I read Met. Hierotheos differently. I do not think he means to “blame the victims” which would be one way to describ those with a “psychological need.” I would note, instead, the virtual industry that grows up around scandals. There are those who are genuinely hurt, than there are those who perhaps have a legitimate need to know. Then there are those (and here the psychological need comes into play) who need to discuss, surmise, second guess, express disgust (repeatedly), share more news and speculation, draw conclusions without information (and I could go on and on). The websties that have grown up around this phenomenon are fairly well-known. Sometimes they may do an initial service. But they also become a place for the same people to gather to comment to argue and go on and on, day after day.
    I care deeply about the Church – it is my life – I have known no other. I know that no relationship of any sort would survive the emotional onslaught that follows scandal. I have also held a few positions of responsibility in my jurisdiction – nothing to major. But on a least a couple of occasions where I actually had knowledge (pastoral, etc.) in which people were speculating publically about motives etc., I noticed that they were completely wrong. Plausibility is not the same thing as likely.
    What I know, even from something as small as a parish community, is that most “scandals” can be addressed, repented and forgiven. It’s the scandal-mongering that is actually damaging and destructive. It is there that I most see the work of the passions and the demonic. It is frequently far worse than the scandal itself.
    I am a firm believer in incompetence. I believe most people, including myself, are simply incompetent. It’s one of the reasons I’m not a conspiracy theory type. Generally, people are too incompetent to successfully pull off a conspiracy. I think this applies to government (in spades) and to Church bureaucracies. I know that the people who hold positions of great responsibility are usually no better than me and in the Church, even the clergy in very responsible positions are close to being volunteers or draftees.
    The world is run by amateurs. I haven’t even finished one life-time yet. It’s little wonder that I don’t know what I’m doing.
    Of course, this is different than scandalous behavior such as adultery, pedophilia and the like (these are the less common scandals). The canons for such behaviors are quite ancient. If they are used rightly the Church is well-served.
    I would note that most people are pretty glad that their own job positions are not governed by the canons of the Church. We would almost all be out of a job.
    I might add in Met. Hierotheos’ favor, that he is writing in a situation in which the Orthodox Church is the state Church and a large cultural presence. His words might be rephrased in an American context. As you say, he means well.

  11. PJ says

    It would seem that there are sometimes circumstances in which one can be legitimately scandalized. Part of the reason why liturgical abuse in the Catholic Church got so bad in the Catholic Church is because pious, God-fearing people held their tongues in charity and gave their “progressive” brethren the benefit of the doubt. In many instances, they were rewarded with the wholesale deconstruction of the faith. During the Iconoclastic crisis, surely the orthodox were scandalized to see images of the Lord and His mother and His saints shattered and burnt … ? This does not strike me as wrong, so long as a sense of pious shock and sorrow does not ferment into bitterness and hatred. What say ye?

  12. fatherstephen says

    PJ,
    The faithful used to be much less passive. There were anti-iconoclast riots. During the Reformation in England (whose history I know best), in Devonshire, soldiers imported from Holland were tearing down the Rood Beam (with Cross and statues). Women from the village came armed with farm implements and attacked the soldiers, killing one of them.
    I think that your observation about charity and holding tongues is fairly accurate. People became used to not liking something, complained in clutches during coffee hour or to the Rector, began coming less often, perhaps eventually voting with their feet. Those were simply liturgical scandals. They are rightly less tolerant of blatant abuse.

  13. says

    John Shores:

    It would be wrong to define the word “Woe” as a curse of damnation. The English “woe” is the Greek “οὐαί”. It is an interjection denoting pain or displeasure. It is an expression of grief or denunciation or a state of intense hardship or distress. Amos 5:16 twice uses this word for emphasis: “There shall be wailing in all streets, And they shall say in all the highways, Alas! Alas!’” Christ is warning his followers that offenses/scandals will happen & to not fall into scandal themselves. Unfortunately, even in the Church scandals do happen.

    “But can we find a way to correct the guilty without hating them or clinging to the hurt they have caused?” Most definitely correction is to be done without hating nor clinging to the hurt otherwise it is not correction, but rather vengeance. As Christians I feel that we are obligated to not allow anyone to hurt another &/or to stop harm if at all possible. But we are to do this by humbly remembering that we too have caused scandal/offense to others…in essence, we too are sinners & no better than they.

    I do not think that Orthodoxy has a “scale” from “Bummer dude” to “You’re going straight to Hell”. We are to have remorse for sin & its effects, our own first & foremost & then others. We cannot stop others from sinning, neither against us personally nor against others. What we can control though is its effects upon us & how we react to it. “Hating or clinging to hurt” are choices we make which will only compound the damage far beyond the original offense; this damage we do to ourselves. I have seen people absolutely ruin their own lives by this choice. The alternative to hate & hurt is to choose forgiveness & humility. Christ Himself uttered “Father, forgive them…” as He died.

    “More importantly, can we make a distinction between the messenger and the message? If the messenger fails in some way, does that diminish the message of the gospels?” Many feel that Christianity is no better than any other religion because they fail to make this distinction. Many have even rejected all belief in God; IOW they have chosen to take hate & hurt to the extreme. But is this not like throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water? The reality of our sinfulness does not diminish nor lessen the reality of God, therefore no, the perfection of the message of the Gospels is not diminished because of the imperfections of the messenger. Others will always let us down & conversely we will always let others down…everyone is imperfect; only God is perfect.

    I particularly like this selection from the Desert Fathers:

    “At that time a meeting was held at Sketis about a brother who had sinned. The Fathers spoke, but Abba Pior kept silent. Later, he got up and went out. He took a sack and filled it with sand and carried it on his shoulder; then he put a little sand into a small bag that he carried in front of him. When the Fathers asked him what this meant he said, ‘In this sack which contains much sand, are my sins which are many; I have put them behind me so that I might not be troubled about them and so that I might not weep. And behold, here are the little sins of my brother which are in front of me, and I spend my time judging them. This is not right. Rather, I ought to carry my sins in front of me and concern myself with them, begging God to forgive me.’ The Fathers stood up and said, ‘Verily, this is the way of salvation.’”

  14. fatherstephen says

    John Shores,
    Rhonda is “spot on.” Orthodoxy generally doesn’t have a “you’re going straight to hell.” While there are many stories about not judging – indeed some of the stories are quite scandalous. Example:

    This is a story of what one of what one hermit did when called in to give judgement on a monk who had smuggled a woman into his cell as a mistress. Others had complained and were coming to search the monk’s cell. Hearing of this the monk hid the woman in a large cistern. The hermit realised the woman was in the cistern so he went and sat on it, instructing the other monks to search the cell thoroughly. When the monks who had accused the wayward brother of immorality found nothing they left, very apologetic. On his way out the hermit took the monk aside and whispered to him “Brother, pay attention to yourself.”

    I know many who would love this story for the wrong reason, caring nothing for the damage the monk was doing to his soul. Orthodoxy cares about the damage greatly, but believes that judging may be even more damaging. It is not wrong to give correction, if you can do so without sinning (hard to do).

  15. leonard Nugent says

    It is not wrong to give correction, if you can do so without sinning (hard to do). I think this is the very problem of scandal. It puts a person or even an entire church in a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation.

  16. Aric says

    I think this is a very important piece; obviously fit for the times, but as you mentioned, the time of scandal has always been here. I’d have to do some research, but I think it would be fair to say that we live in an era when scandal is more publicized that at any point in history (and therefore people feel as if criticizing the Church is more ‘legitimate’ and ‘right’ than ever before). Perhaps before the printing press, etc. people were more naive about the sanctity of members in the Church… but then again, as I read local histories I find peasants and townspeople quite aware about the immoral behavior of their local priests/bishops.

    I wonder, Father, if these words of Christ was ever brought up when indictments of heresy were made. Through all the schism, heresy, and tragedy of the Church, I’m surprised I don’t see this verse brought up and preached more often by the Patristics… Or perhaps I simply haven’t found the right texts?

  17. dinoship says

    Concerning scandals and their ‘exposure’ Saint Constantine once said that if I ever see a priest sinning with my very eyes I will simply cover him with my imperial cloak, so as to hide him from others.

    Yes, we “Do not put our trust in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation”, and if we gaze singularly at our Lord rather than to men we will never be scandalised. We must also never honor what is not good with our attention however.
    We can either choose to be like flyes -concentrating on excrement in the middle of a nice garden of flowers- or like bees -concentrating on the beautiful flowers in the middle of a putrid swamp.

    I sometimes think it is the Enemy himself who inspires that idea -resplendent in pop culture- that somehow being scandalous and shocking is the best way to market yourself. This is often combined with a dubious kind of beauty and “magnetism”.(I am reminded of how some pop singers market themselves) I think this because his classsic technique is to be a cheap copy of Christ, and there is no denying that Christ -the God-Man crucified yet exalted- is the most scandalous and shocking notion that humanity will ever encounter. His however, is a scandal of unsurpassed beauty and magnetism.

  18. SteveL says

    I agree there is a cottage industry for those aggrieved by church leaders. However I think there is a specific definition that can be found for spiritual abuse that excludes all those who are never-happy, always-upset-at-someone-or-something that precisely identifies the problem. Unfortunately some of the recent scandals appear to qualify.

    I don’t think it’s all just griping, and I think people find themselves on those sites because they are genuinely hurting and are trying to find a way to stop hurting. I am grateful I have never had to deal with anything like that.

  19. Karen says

    SteveL, I agree with you on that. It seems to me not all “cottage industry” sites are equal either. I have started out reading one thinking it was totally off-base with its “speculation.” I still think there is that tendency at times with its moderator and a few commenters, but over time, a lot of the scandalous actions within the institutions of the Church that have come to light have tended to give strong evidence that those “speculations” were, sadly, well-founded.

    With regard to the scandals that afflict us, I would much rather be facing them head on and working out my salvation knowing as much of the true context of what we’re up against as I can, than be totally in the dark or looking through “rose-tinted glasses” and oblivious to the pain of some of my brethren who suffer more directly from abuses by those in positions of responsibility. To be in the latter position, is at least from my perspective, to risk a kind of insensitivity to others that is at odds with the full expression of God’s mercy and love. I would rather be praying and speaking in solidarity with the vulnerable and oppressed as the Lord so often did, even if it takes me well out of my comfort zone and costs me in some way. I’m a long way from being able to discern exactly how to do that. The only way I know at present is to be willing to continue to pray with eyes wide open to the pain that is around me.

    That said, this is an excellent and timely post. I especially appreciate the prayers posted at the end.

  20. fatherstephen says

    SteveL
    The matter of spiritual abuse is rampant – though I think it is most rampant in those places where there is little tradition to guide things, where clergy are the least trained or ill-trained. It is interesting that as people rebel against religious “institutions” they help foster “non-institutional” situations that are even more prone to abuse.
    A fascinating book on the healing of an abusive situation is Beauty for Ashes, the story of the spiritual transformation of a Greek community.

    Our culture has witnessed the loss of some of the most “natural” structures – those of family and extended family. In my lifetime I have seen American culture go from a fairly stable extended-family network to an atomized nightmare. We have all been abused by the directions of our culture. If an enemy had invaded and in its wake left the American family in its present situation, we would consider them the worst enemy in all history. But we have done this to ourselves (willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly). Those who serve in religious settings are themselves products of this culture of abuse and dysfunction. It is little wonder that we see what we see. There is a great crisis in our age, not centered in the Church, but from which the Church is not immune. Nothing, no one, and nowhere seems safe. There is a deep need for healing and reconstruction that have yet to begin.

  21. says

    “The matter of spiritual abuse is rampant – though I think it is most rampant in those places where there is little tradition to guide things, where clergy are the least trained or ill-trained….There is a great crisis in our age, not centered in the Church, but from which the Church is not immune. Nothing, no one, and nowhere seems safe.”

    Agreed! This is one of the reasons I came to Orthodoxy. The spiritual abuse I saw before was startling & almost drove me away from faith all together. I went a decade without entering a church building. Any clergy/devout believers were viewed with suspicion & shields went up immediately. Conversations with other converts also bear this out. The incidents we discuss are abolutely horrifying. The blindness & excuses are just as horrifying.

    You speak of healing & reconstruction, this is a very long & difficult process! It took me years after my Chrismation to truly feel safe once again in the Church. It took wise priests that in humility kept pointing me toward Christ rather than themselves. It took my new Church family accepting my faults, forgiving my errors & trusting me in spite of those faults & errors. All, priests & laity, were quick to ask my forgiveness as well for their faults & erros. It took the reality of the mysteries experienced through the liturgical services, cycles, writings & ascetic practices of the Church. All worked together to exemplify & manifest the reality of the love of God.

  22. John Shores says

    Nothing, no one, and nowhere seems safe.

    Can you name a time in history when anyone actually was safe? It seems to me that once the RC was established, spiritual abuse was not foreign to its institutions. The protestants are not alone in this regard. I know virtually nothing of Orthodox history but I do know a great deal about human nature and therefore am cautious in presuming that Orthodoxy is a haven of safety either.

    I would also argue that it is not merely the loss of family that makes people vulnerable but rather the loss of community. As society has moved to urbanization, that sense of community has been lost. In our schools and in the workplace we are teaching people that vying for attention is the key to success. We see this in churches as well where the most energetic and charismatic end up in positions of leadership. As I heard someone state recently, “there’s no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

    I think there are a lot of people longing for “community” and so are willing to subject themselves to situations that are unhealthy in exchange for a feeling of belonging. (Wolves enter, stage left.)

  23. John Shores says

    I might add that Jesus showed up at a time when the religious establishment was victimizing the people pretty badly as well.

  24. dinoship says

    I believe Rhonda’s: “wise priests that in humility kept pointing me toward Christ rather than themselves” is the answer to Father Stephen’s: “There is a deep need for healing and reconstruction”.
    I have certainly witnessed this first hand and the key here is “toward Christ”.
    One’s attention to other stuff, whatever that maybe, even ‘holy’ or ‘loving’ tasks, is inversely proportional to their attention towards Christ. I stress this point because we have not got the true power to even love others unless it is through Christ. This is one of the most common advise towards all beginners, who, through Grace have come to realise that love is the meaning of existence, yet, have not yet realised how deep our egotism runs and how “selfless” it can appear -cloaked in ‘good motives’ when not completely and utterly “in Christ” and through the Holy Spirit.

  25. leonard Nugent says

    There’s a saying that it’s all good. But there is no saying that says “take up your wise priests and safe situations and follow me”

  26. Margaret says

    Thank you for this blog post and for these prayers you have included at the end! God bless you in all ways and always, Fr. Stephen!

  27. PJ says

    “I might add that Jesus showed up at a time when the religious establishment was victimizing the people pretty badly as well.”

    The first century, Palestinian Jewish religious establishment gets painted with a pretty broad brush by many folks — most always in the negative. The truth is, many of the pharisees and Sadducees embraced the gospel, as the New Testament makes clear.

  28. John Shores says

    PJ – In reading the gospels, Jesus’ harshest words are for…? Why is that, do you think? I’ll even grant that most of the P&S were probably better people than the sinners who followed Jesus around. What does this tell us?

  29. fatherstephen says

    John Shores,
    Agreed. Community’s most natural basis is the extended family. I grew up in the 50’s and early 60’s. Here in the Southeast things were still pretty stable. Both sides of my family with cousins of many generations all lived in the same county. They were not necessarily my primary community, but it provides a stability. In the US, the Greek Orthodox Church, for example, has statistically had a much lower divorce rate than the culture, primarily, I think, because the Greek communities in the US have often settled down with extended families, and are “community” (sometimes quite “nosey”) to one another in a way that is rare in the US today.

    But people who grow up without extended family and its multi-generational stability, with increasingly mixed families, the result of multiple divorce and an out-of-wedlock birthrate that is over 50 per cent in some groups within our culture, are often clueless with regard to community – not just because their family of origin has issues, but because almost every other child they know in school and neighborhood comes from a family with issues. It’s hard to get good material for monks, priests, (or many other things) in our deeply wounded culture. There have always been scandals, etc, as Christ told us there would be, but very rarely in human history has the simple family structure been so devastated. Two of the last 3 American presidents didn’t know their own fathers. We read history and think we are like people during other times. We are not. In some cases, even the classical “diagnoses” found in the spiritual fathers for spiritual sickness do not fit us. Our alienation, loneliness, difficulties with all things relational, are much deeper than in earlier times. We are like children who were removed from human society and raised by wolves. Words like “brother,” “sister,” “mother,” “father,” etc. no longer mean what they once meant. To have a day in which a mother is going to come to your school for something should not provoke anxiety (for example). But it will for many. We are without tradition, nurtured in the passions by the most massively successful propaganda tools (advertising) ever known.

    There is a grace being poured out on us daily for our salvation that would have raised earlier generations from the dead. It merely keeps us alive. But God’s mercy endures forever.

  30. dinoship says

    Thank you for putting these rarely heard truths into words Father!

    “There is a grace being poured out on us daily for our salvation that would have raised earlier generations from the dead. It merely keeps us alive. But God’s mercy endures forever.”

  31. Devin says

    Dino ship said:

    “We can either choose to be like flys -concentrating on excrement in the middle of a nice garden of flowers- or like bees -concentrating on the beautiful flowers in the middle of a putrid swamp”

    That’s great! I’ll definitely be using that in the future :)

  32. dinoship says

    Devin,
    Elder Paisios of Mount Athos has said that (many times) and I just repeated ti here…

  33. Devin says

    Fr Stephen
    You said: “There is a grace being poured out on us daily for our salvation that would have raised earlier generations from the dead. It merely keeps us alive. But God’s mercy endures forever.”

    Reminded me of something else I read once from a past article here:

    “The holy fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, “What have we ourselves done?”

    One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, “We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.”

    The others replied, “And those who come after us, what will they do?”

    He said, “They will struggle to achieve half our works.”

    They said, “And to those who come after them, what will happen?”

    He said, “The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.”

  34. PJ says

    “In reading the gospels, Jesus’ harshest words are for…? Why is that, do you think? I’ll even grant that most of the P&S were probably better people than the sinners who followed Jesus around. What does this tell us?”

    Jesus certainly reserves harsh words for those who use religion — God’s revelation to man — as a cudgel. However, this disposition hardly applied to every priest and pharisee. Many followed Him, and no doubt many who did not follow Him were pious, kindly, honorable men nonetheless.

    As to whether or not most priests and pharisees were “better people” than the mass of Christ’s followers, I don’t know. It seems impossible to know.

  35. John Shores says

    fatherstephen – That being the case, do you foresee a trend that could lead back to community? If not, how will that impact the role of the Orthodox church? We have already seen that the Anglicans are quite malleable due to societal influences. Will the continued trend away from community impact the Orthodox church? Do you foresee a time when the Orthodox Church is the one place where the Son of Man will find faith on the Earth, however small its ranks?

    Also, what role, do you think, does the Protestant church play in this trending away from tradition and community? Is Protestantism a motive force behind the trend or is it simply a reflection of the trend?

  36. fatherstephen says

    John Shores,
    I’m pessimistic at present. Our economic system is based on individuals (not family) and mobility (the average in America is to move once every 5 years). Thus, like feudalism, it would take a major change (upheaval, discovery or something) to alter our mobility pattern. Since people are still tend to be born into families (at least at first), the family will likely return at some point. The present trend towards non-marriage and children outside of wedlock has shown no sign of abating. So, I think things will get much worse before they get better. Some of this requires a generation to really reveal itself – though it’s already happening. Talk to almost any teacher about the increasing difficulty of teaching school in our culture.

    Protestantism is more or less along for the ride. It’s one of many aspects of our culture rooted in individualism. It’s amazing ability to morph itself to fit cultural demands would seem to me to make it continue to be almost superfluous thing in our society. There’s very little “counter-cultural” about American Protestantism.

    Orthodoxy is not inherently counter-cultural. If possible it likes to create culture and has done so any number of times. But it is notorious unresponsive to non-Orthodox culture. In America, that makes it somewhat counter-cultural. I think that if the “Son of Man finds faith on the earth” in will be Orthodox (if not the “faith” will be some extremely diminished thing).

    I’m no cultural prophet – I just think about trends and have been carried along on this wave since 1953.

  37. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have seen your perspective to JS in my profession of criminal justice in which I have worked 17 years now. The counter-culture 60s & 70s in which every establishment, institution & authority was questioned & rebelled against is greatly reflected in our current society & its mindset. Being from the rural midwest this did not affect my growing up (despite having divorced parents) greatly as traditional family values were still stressed until the late 70s. Locally, I noticed great changes in the early 80s. Now, however it is rampant throughout even the once conservative midwest.

    Sadly, I have been “in the system” long enough to see children grow up visiting their incarcerated relative(s) & then also become incarcerated as well. When I started corrections in the mid-90s, the emphasis was still on rehabilitation programs, but by the turn of the millenium things had become very punitive with longer sentences & harsher conditions. However, even programs designed by the academic & progressive elite seldom focused on restoring the family unit in the inner city environment. The father/husband in the feminist & social culture was deemed unnecessary to the health & welfare of the family. The father/husband, the traditional money earner & disciplinary figure, was replaced by a welfare check to the female/mother so that she was not to be dependent upon the male. Policing & the justice system focused on incarceration (mostly of men) to such an extreme that America–the land of the free–became the premier incarceration nation of the world. While many like to propose legalizing drugs (thus doing away with incarceration for drug crimes), research has shown that we would still lead the world in incarceration rates. Further even our tax laws, social security & welfare systems discourage marriage. If an unwed pregnant mother, usually quite poor, marries then the amounts of welfare are reduced to a mere fraction of what she would receive unmarried. Our current political administration dubs single people earning less than $200,000 as not having their taxes raised while for married couples the cut-off is $250,000. When my husband & I got married 16 years ago, our taxes went up thanks to the marriage penalty written in the standard deduction regulations. Married couples soon will receive reduced social security benefits far less than 2 unmarried people.

    An interesting thing I noted as I did my final masters research project is that academia which once deemed those proposing strengthening of father/mother family units (usually the religious crowd) as uneducated & ignorant for their insistance that men/women are both important to the family are beginning to come around to the idea that adult males are necessary & important to not only the family, but also the community. While their focus had been almost solely on poverty alone as the primary cause of ciminality, they are finally realizing that most (not all) criminals come from dysfunctional poor communities with little/no male influence. Poor communities with families & thus male influence do not experience nearly the crime nor incarceration rates & are around statistical norms found elsewhere. Gee, I guess it’s official now, you men are important & necessary–the academic intelligensia so declares ;-)

    Policing, social programs & judicial systems are beginning to focus on reducing violent crime (i.e. lock up the really mean ones), education & employment skills, juvenile mentoring, parenting skills, rehabilitation & alternatives other than incarceration (transition centers, work-release, supervision, probation for the nonviolent & rehabilitable). Programs are beginning to be developed not only to help impoverished women/mothers, but also impoverished men/fathers.

    I wonder though myself, is it too little too late? The failed policies & social ideals are now deeply & intricately ingrained into our culture. We have been 50 years getting ourselves into this mess. Will another 50 years get us out of it? Will 100?

  38. PJ says

    Father,

    “We read history and think we are like people during other times. We are not. In some cases, even the classical “diagnoses” found in the spiritual fathers for spiritual sickness do not fit us. Our alienation, loneliness, difficulties with all things relational, are much deeper than in earlier times. We are like children who were removed from human society and raised by wolves. Words like “brother,” “sister,” “mother,” “father,” etc. no longer mean what they once meant. To have a day in which a mother is going to come to your school for something should not provoke anxiety (for example). But it will for many. We are without tradition, nurtured in the passions by the most massively successful propaganda tools (advertising) ever known.”

    We live in a culture that slays around a million unborn children every year. We make the Romans look downright compassionate!

  39. MS says

    Father Stephen,
    I am a young mother of four, and a convert to Orthodoxy. My husband, children, and I were received in 2004. We have remained in the church that we were received in, however this church has a long history of scandal. We were not aware of the history when we chose this parish as our home church, and still today we are not privy to all the details. This being said, we are often confused and disillusioned by the politics and dynamics of our church. For us, it feels as if it is one fight after another, and we are very sad. We are young in the faith, and it is difficult to get our bearings in an environment of turmoil. My husband and I disagree to some extent about when it is time to leave a parish. Are there cases where the suffering does more damage than good? I do not feel saintly in this kind of suffering, and I feel that the scandals cause me to sin by judgement and cynicism. I want to remain in God’s will and be willing to obey, but sometimes I feel like I am becoming something very ugly as I remain in this kind of environment. At other times I desire to remain faithful and loyal, and I see how God works in all kinds of ways. I know you cannot give me an absolute answer on what we should do, but any insight or stories from the saints would be kind. We are truly laboring with this decision.

  40. Anonymous says

    MS,

    My heart goes out to you and I will pray for you! In some ways, it seems, I came into the Church in a similar situation in a parish with many wonderful people, but also some significant dysfunction. Different from you, I was the lone convert in my family. Ultimately, my non-Orthodox husband made the decision for us (though, it was mutual) in consultation with my godmother and her husband that for my own spiritual health’s sake and for my family’s sake, I needed to find a healthier Orthodox parish. Fortunately, we live in an area where there are many options, and I was able to find a wonderful parish where my whole family felt welcomed. The jurisdiction to which my parish belongs unfortunately, in many ways fits the description you have given of your parish, but my parish and its Priests do not, so it has not affected me in the same way as the dysfunction at my previous parish. May God grant you wisdom.

  41. John Shores says

    MS:

    I do not feel saintly in this kind of suffering

    You have just so many breaths and just so many heartbeats. Knowingly submitting to a opprobrious leadership is not healthy. If one starts dating an abusive person, it’s always best to break it off ASAP. I tend to see abusive churches in the same light.

    No church is going to be perfect, certainly, but when you cannot even get the details, you know the roots are deep and insipid. It is one thing to walk into a church with troubles that are in the open and where there is a mutual goal of reconciliation and something entirely different when you walk into a church where the leadership covers up its sins. Transparency in leadership is essential to good health. Without it, you will always be wondering “what else is going on?”.

  42. Michael Bauman says

    There will always be ‘politics’ which on one level is simply folks trying to organize and influence others. There will always be hidden sins. Three things I have found that are deadly spiritually: a spirit of scapegoating; tolerance for gross immorality; heretical preaching.

    Scapegoating is the attitude that if we just get rid of so and so everything will be fine. It never is fine and as soon as so and so is gone another so and so takes the scapegoat position only to be driven into the wilderness for the purification of the community. Of the three deadly conditions, this one is almost always fatal becasue it is a complete and utter turning away from Christ and His Church. Once it takes hold in a community, without a miracle of humility, it kills its host(s).

    Gross immorality: in our day and age this is almost always sexual in nature whether it is pedophilia, fornication, adultery or homosexuality. Hidden or not, these sins leave a mark on the entire community and cause many to suffer even if they are not participants.

    Heretical preaching: the tolerance and promotion of ideas, beliefs and ways of living that are contrary to Holy Tradition. Mostly these days it is the ‘acceptance’ that homosexuality is just another acceptable sexual expression that is not inherently sinful. Ideally bishops should take care of this in their capacity to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’, but they don’t always do so.

    All of these are quite difficult for a single lay person or family to effectively counteract if they have a strong hold on one’s parish or jusrisdiction. Unless it is quite clear that you have a specific role that will lead to healing and feel that you have the grace and strength to stand-up for the truth or simply persist without giving-in, it is probably better to depart.

    To fight them,even by refusing to participate takes an enormous dedication to prayer, fasting, almsgiving and constant striving for a deep humility that is quite frowned upon in our modern culture.

    In you decide to ‘fight’ the Biblical prescription should be followed: confrontation with the offender in person, in private and solely to bring help, healing and reconcilliation even if it means one’s own repentance. If rebuffed-involve others with the same goal in mind (do not yourself fall into a scapegoating mentality) and finally to the Church as a whole.

    Do not expect success because even doing as the Bible commands exposes one to possible revenge and abuse even if done properly with great gentleness, deep prayer and awareness and opneness about one’s own sins.

    All of these conditions are present in the Church at any given time locally or more pervasive. All of them are quite visible in our Church now (regardless of jurisdiction). If your local community and her leaders are not infected, Glory be to God, but realize that you will almost certainly be personally faced with one or more of them during your sojourn on this earth.

    As Hamlet said: “If it is now, it is not to come, if it is not to come, it will be now, if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”

    Rarely, however, is the attitude that “This too will pass” sufficient. One has to be activly non-participatory or actively oppositional in a healthy spirit. One cannot serve two masters.

  43. PJ says

    “You have just so many breaths and just so many heartbeats. Knowingly submitting to a opprobrious leadership is not healthy. If one starts dating an abusive person, it’s always best to break it off ASAP. I tend to see abusive churches in the same light.

    No church is going to be perfect, certainly, but when you cannot even get the details, you know the roots are deep and insipid. It is one thing to walk into a church with troubles that are in the open and where there is a mutual goal of reconciliation and something entirely different when you walk into a church where the leadership covers up its sins. Transparency in leadership is essential to good health. Without it, you will always be wondering “what else is going on?”.”

    Absolutely right, John.

  44. leonard Nugent says

    The concept of the Orthodox church being the one place where faith can be found is interesting to me. I’ll have to think more about that.

  45. John Shores says

    PJ – I cannot tell you how happy your comment makes me! I so rarely get anything right but for agreement to come from you, well, that’s a huge compliment. Thanks so much!!

  46. says

    Leonard, if I may:

    The concept of the Orthodox church being the one place where faith can be found is interesting to me.

    That’s not quite it. Faith is everywhere. Without it, the universe simply could not exist. What we can say is that the Orthodox church is a reliable witness. This is to say very much indeed.

  47. John Shores says

    Rhonda – This is used by placing the text between tags called blockquote. The opening tag is <blockquote>. Enter the text you want quoted then close it with </blockquote>.

    These tags always come in pairs with the closing tag containing a /. You can use tags for bold text <b>text</b>, italics <i>text</i>, underline <u>text</u> and strikethrough <strike>text</strike> (where the quotes are replaced by brackets)

  48. John Shores says

    No Problem! You can also create links using <a href=”www.someaddress.com”>click here</a> but this will cause your post to have to be moderated before showing.

  49. leonard Nugent says

    Andrew thanks, I find that there are indeed many reliable witnesses of faith in the Orthodox church. Much to be admired.

  50. dinoship says

    Concerning scandals and our reaction to them, I think that it is key to remember that “I am the worst of sinners” at all times. This mindset renders the possibility to be scandalized virtually impossible.
    When keeping in mind that -according to the Christ- I am the one who owes the Lord “ten thousand talents”, and my brother or sister only owes “ten hundred dinarii”, (as in the parable of the unforgiving servant), I can only put myself in the position of magnanimous understanding of absolutely all human sin. I clearly see that it is me who is capable of the most scandalous sin in existence and not the other, all others are somehow excused. This is what cements my unity with the sin bearing crucified yet resurrected Lord …
    His existence as Savior explains my existence as the most needy of saving.

  51. John Shores says

    dinoship – I think that adopting the attitude of “I am the worst” is extremely unhealthy.

    While I agree that an attitude of understanding “he’s only human” is all well and good on a personal level, it is not the attitude that one should adopt for someone in a position of leadership or power. After all, Paul did get up in Peter’s grill about his hypocrisy.

    I think the path of “I’m a wretch therefore…” is one that allows leaders to continue to abuse their people since the people have to then excuse the behavior in the name of Christian charity (at least that is the practical upshot for the weak who do not know how church discipline should run).

  52. dinoship says

    I have been made aware before here that the idea of considering oneself “the worst of men” comes across as scandalous in a very similar manner to “loving one’s own enemies”.
    I do not think that I can convince someone that this is the path to true freedom, as I haven’t first-hand experience, but have only (second hand) witnessed it.
    Paradoxically, such humility provides the person who possesses it with an inner dignity which makes him utterly unbeatable -no matter what the abuse- as in the example of the heroic and truly unbeatable martyrs.
    Embracing this “keeping one’s mind in hell yet despairing not” (as was revealed to Saint Silouan by the Living Christ Himself) is in fact the only necessary and ‘healthy’ prerequisite in order to discerningly correct the abuser (“get up on the abuser’s grill”) and be actually heard…

  53. fatherstephen says

    John S.
    Orthodoxy frequently has recourse to the “first among sinners,” because of a prayer offered by all the people before receiving communion. The congregation prays,

    “I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

    It would be possible (and doubtless is the case) that many say this without much thinking. Thus we remind one another from time to time that we all claim to be the “first of sinners,” reminding us not to judge…

  54. leonard Nugent says

    Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. I think adopting the attitude of not being the worst is extremely unhealthy because it means that you know of people who are worse than. For example this publican here!

  55. says

    I agree with Leonard. Assuming any stance other an being the chiefest of sinners (St. Paul’s words in 1 Tim 1:15) only indicates pride rather than humility we are exhorted to cultivate. I work security in a prison. I have seen staff explain how they are better than the inmates because they haven’t hurt anyone, drug dealers declare how they are not as bad as murderers because they never killed anyone. The murderers are better than the pedophiles because they never mollested children. The rapists declare…you get the point.

    I think the path of “I’m a wretch therefore…” is one that allows leaders to continue to abuse their people since the people have to then excuse the behavior in the name of Christian charity…

    NO! This definitely is not a valid (nor even logical) extension of the attitudes of humility & nonjudgementalism of which we speak, nor can this in any way be classified as “Christian charity”–EGADS! Knowlingly allowing another to continue to sin is to condone that sin…this is considered to be a sin in & of itself, at least it is in Orthodoxy. We are not proposing an attitude of indulgence or passivity that allows abuse to continue. “Christian charity” extends to ALL–abused & abuser.

  56. dinoship says

    An axiomatic prerequisite in order to understand Orthodox Heychastic (as opposed to Western activistic) humble and discerning reaction to scandal and violence and persecution and abuse is belief that God is at the wheel – he somehow wins even when St. Igantius, for instance, is eaten by the lions.
    Leonard’s point concerning the non-adoption of the belief that “I am the chief of sinners” likening me to the publican is also particularly germane here…
    True humility and love of enemies is the core of what attracts and retains God’s grace to one’s heart and soul and mind and body.
    Without it we are in the dark, no matter how robust our arguments to the contrary appear.
    The bedrock of the Gospel -the Cross- is what this notion (being discussed here) is all about!

  57. fatherstephen says

    dinoship – I think leonard was likening himself to the Publican. We can’t all be publicans.

  58. leonard Nugent says

    Just as soon as you liken yourself to the publican you can be sure you’re the pharasee! Perhaps one of the positive effects of fasting and giving alms is that it allows one to see what a monster he or she is! The idea that I can think real hard and convince myself that I am the greatest of sinners is doomed to failure. Perhaps the prayer, Lord Jesus Christ help me to know my sins and to repent of them, would be useful

  59. MS says

    A few weeks ago, my spiritual father told me that seeing myself as the worst sinner is truly a way to acquire humility, but one that is very advanced because it is so easy to slip into despair. He also gave this prescription, that I would give thanks for everything realizing that I do not deserve anything on my own merit. I have nothing without God. In cases of church scandal it is difficult to give thanks, to celebrate Eucharist in the midst of turmoil and strife. And the kind of turmoil I am talking about is the kind that is inside of me as well as the church. I am full of contradiction, but sometimes I think this is the only place where humility can exist, in a heart that is conflicted and uncertain of its own rightness. If I make a decision because I believe I am right, I know that I lose something very precious. However, in some cases the turmoil inside of me pushes me to make a decision to leave, to disconnect, to ultimately say, I do not agree. It is such a hard road out here, being a Christian. Thank you for this post and the comments that encourage and challenge.

  60. dinoship says

    Sorry! I was meant to say “Leonard’s point concerning the non-adoption of the belief that “I am the chief of sinners” likening me to the Pharisee is also particularly germane

  61. dinoship says

    Seeing oneself as the worst of sinners, the only one who pollutes God’s creation, comes naturally after encountering one’s weakness and wickednessin comparison to God’s goodness and selflessness.
    This comparison is key here. It is a state of no distraction from my relationship with God… It is not really sad, but rather deeply joyful.
    Giving thanks for everything is tightly intertwined with this state of contrition which is sort of like a “sadness” which is mainly joyful and full of hope (“χαρμολύπη”). Despairing of oneself here is not the evil despair of the devil but rather a TOTAL hope in God. My hope and trust in Him has never reached this totality before reaching this “blessed and healthy despair” (not of God I repeat but of myself)

  62. MS says

    dinoship – Your description is how I see the saints….a saint does not compare himself/herself to others but to Christ alone. In this they find true humility, joy, and hope. A sadness that is mainly hopeful is an amazing other worldly gift, one that I think is the perfect description of humility. I have not reached the “blessed and healthy despair” that you describe, although I find glimpses of it in the saints.

  63. dinoship says

    Original Greek word used by the Fathers is “χαρμολύπη” – translates as “joyful-sorrow” (the key word being “joyous”)

  64. Devin says

    Paul specifically says to “Give thanks IN all circumstances…”. But I often hear people talk about giving thanks ‘for’ all things. Is there is difference between giving thanks ‘for’ vs giving thanks ‘in’ all circumstances? I haven’t really heard much yet in regards to Orthodoxy’s understanding of God’s sovereignty in the events of our lives. In broader Christendom I’ve heard all ranges of the spectrum from thanking God for the evil that happens in our lives, to refusal to just accept it all and rebuking the devil.

  65. Michael Bauman says

    By the same token, I don’t think it is necessarily humility that creates silence in the face of bad behavior.

  66. dinoship says

    “There is a grace being poured out on us daily for our salvation that would have raised earlier generations from the dead. It merely keeps us alive. But God’s mercy endures forever.”

    Elder Paisios the Athonite used to say this many times in his typical quirky style…
    Eg:
    “The Good God protects and blesses the world today, with both hands, previously only one. Where would the World be if He did not?”
    “Today, man lives through many dangers, God safeguards him secretly like a mother a toddler, when it starts to walk. We do not understand any of it but, now our Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Saints,help all of us more than ever”

  67. drewster2000 says

    I know I’m coming late to the party, but I’d like to comment on a couple stories way back up at the top. Namely, the hermit sitting on the cistern in order to hide the one brother’s mistress.

    Someone else commented that this kind of averting one’s eyes is what allowed the Catholic church to slip so deeply into scandal. Just keep thinking the best of your clergy and everyone else, with the idea that the one sinning will be so in awe of your example of mercy that they will repent and change their ways…..only, that doesn’t always work.

    Fr. Stephen then commented on how hard it was to correct someone – without sinning yourself. I think all this is a topic worth addressing. If nothing else I would like to do so briefly here. May God give me the right words…

    In dealing with someone in sin, the key is to love them so much that you won’t allow them to continue. So before you’re aware of their sin, think no evil.

    But when something comes to light, discernment is needed. Too often we look on the outside of a person: “How would I act if they had done that to me?” or “What would a just punishment be?” Even with all the talk about mercy, we seem unable to do anything but judge them, measure them & serve them up on the scales of justice – with our only idea of mercy being to politely ignore the evil they’ve done.

    Only when the inside of the sinner is focused on can we begin to see how to treat them. If our brother or sister were sitting there picking holes into their skin, would we not run up and plead with them to stop, holding their hands and having tears running down our face because of the pain we feel for them?

    And yet we often either cannot or will not see the children of God around us in this light (including ourselves) and thus find it very difficult to know how to deal with them.

    This is sad, because they do need to be dealt with. Lord have mercy, they need to be dealt with before they harm themselves and others even further. May we come to see everyone through God’s eyes.

  68. fatherstephen says

    Drewster,
    In the scandals of our time, evil actions were covered, not in order to save a soul, but to save someone’s embarrassment, bureaucracy, etc. This differs completely with the story of the elder and the mistress. I cover sin all the time – in order to save someone. Pointing out every fault you see isn’t helpful even if it’s true. Hiding something in order to save an institution (so-called) is just another sin on top of another sin – a valuing of something other than a soul. The men whose sins were “covered” in such a manner needed, desperately for their sins to be made public – for their salvation!

  69. Drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I totally agree with you and the difference between saving a person and saving an institution. However I would add that covering a person for a sin or omission is different than making a lifelong habit of covering for an alcoholic or a perpetual thief. These perpetual sins speak of sickness and need exposure (in love) so that they can begin to be made well.

    I know we are on the same page but I just wanted to be clear. I’m not about pointing out everyone’s every fault, but with discernment one must decide when a) a sin has become more than just a one-time slip and b) bringing the sin to light (for the sake of healing) is more healthy for the brother’s salvation than to let it go.

    I also believe that the WAY the matter is brought to light is crucial and needs prayer and discernment, but I’m more used to being around people who would rather not rock the boat and therefore use “grace” as a convenient excuse for not doing so. Discernment in all things, I guess.