Normal Orthodoxy Handles Conflict Well

It seems we humans have an ingrained “love” of fighting, defending ourselves, and drama. We are really good at it. Just look at the conflicts that are raging today in our world. We seem to love to fight, and that, in itself, should be a sign of deep brokenness in us. Our impulse to fight, to demand our rights, to “get even” and “settle the score” all reveal a wound in humanity that must be addressed and healed. Just look at the recent conflict over a baptism in Greece and you can see all the elements of all too human conflict handled poorly! Everybody picking sides and keeping score, all the while we are meant to handle these realities in a much more mature fashion.

A wise man once taught me that conflict is necessary if a community is going to grow and be strong. This is because conflict reveals people’s true intentions, and uncovers where hearts need to be healed. So, avoiding conflict isn’t good, but handling conflict badly isn’t good either. That always leads to division instead of healing. Handling conflict well is the key to community and to peace!

Look at our lesson today in Acts 6:1-7:

“IN THOSE DAYS, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochoros, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaos, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

So, the crux of the dispute was between the Hellenized Jews and the “native villager” Jews from Jerusalem. It seems that while all the widows were “equal” in this new community of the Church, some were more “equal” than others. And the danger to the community was growing because of this inequity to the point that it got the Apostles’ attention.

There is great wisdom in how the Apostles dealt with this conflict and their wisdom should be applied to our day as well.

First, the Apostles Understood their Priorities. It is a waste of resources when we encumber our leaders with duties that we should be taking care of in our parishes. The purpose the Apostles understood was their first priority was to obey the command of the Lord to them to go and make disciples through preaching (declaring) the Word of God. To take them off this necessary and vital task to make sure all the widows were cared for was to threaten the community. It is never in the best interest of the community to cause our leaders to have to come off their calling to do what we should all be doing. Setting our leaders free to be who they are for us and to us is ultimately for our benefit!

Next, the Apostles Saw their Purpose. The apostles understood that one of their tasks to keep the Church healthy was the recognition of the gifts of others that should be active in the community. Inactive parishioners mean the parish is missing those particular gifts and abilities and that impoverishes us all. So, the Apostles called the people to purposeful participation in the community, and thus our Faith was blessed with the ministry of Deacons! The men named were the first deacons in the Church!

Finally, the Apostles Acted on their Plan. The Apostles blessed these newly ordained deacons to serve the Church, and by doing so, they acted as true fathers in the community by enabling the community to be healthy and not encumbered with the immature bickering that always leads to a weak and unproductive parish. Empowering the vast resources in the people of our parishes is absolutely vital to the full witness of the Kingdom of God in our local parishes. And look at the results of this wise dealing with conflict! More people found the Faith and the Word of God “increased!” Isn’t that what we want?

Today, are you allowing your leaders to be who they are, or are our leaders weakened by having to take their energies that should be exclusively focused on serving before the Lord in prayer and the declaration of the Good News to the wider world and tending to issues in our parishes that we should already have dealt with as brothers and sisters in Christ? What is your role in your parish? What are your gifts? Are you fulfilling your part in this community or have you fallen into the temptation of handling conflict badly? The choice today is really between being Orthodox on Purpose or wasting our talents on efforts that don’t work anymore!

P.S. Dear Lord, we really are petty at times, and we overreact and we get our egos in the way and we think we should keep score in our lives about when we are mistreated or when we are convinced others are wrong. Please forgive us for our petty bickering and choosing sides and reducing our lives to some sports game with winners and losers. Help us to grow up Lord and learn to handle inevitable conflict with grace and wisdom. Help us love You more than our “team”  winning or the prideful desire to be “correct.” Grant us Your mercy and then give us the strength to show that same mercy to others, even our “enemies.” Amen.

 

6 comments:

  1. Thank your for sharing about a very important issue in “Church Life” – and that is conflict, and disagreements – and how we handle it is very important!

    In my way of thinking, however, there are issues in the Church worth “going to the mattresses” over, and conversely, there are things that a conciliatory path should be relatively easy if we have our spiritual wits about us.

    You mention the “baptism in Greece.” I would assert that this is an issue worth “going to the mattresses” over. I wont even mention my personal opinion on the matter in my reply, as its irrelevant to the point, and my further comment does not depend on my personal opinion. The fact is the “baptism in Greece” is a very big deal, no matter what “side” you are on. I seem to recall a very important bishop in the church whose name is Nicholas who felt very deeply about some issues of his day. I understand that conversation produced no small amount of friction. Of course I am referring to St Nicholas of Myra at the Council of Nicaea; and yes, he lost his cool. Because somethings MATTER a great deal. Was that a “petty” issue? Was what went on at the council “bickering”? I dont think so. Yes, we do our best to “speak the truth in love,” But there are things worth “fighting” for. I assert the baptism in Greece is one issue worth going to the mattresses over, even if we are not all as “dispassionate” as one might like, due to the ramifications and implications of that baptism.

    1. Yes and yes. This is important and cannot be dismissed as a mere squabble between morally equivalent positions.

  2. Sadly the hurt inflicted upon our Church is huge to say the least. We have not heard one iota response with any act of repentance. I believe the faithful are willing to forgive . We are subjected to further division among the entire Orthodox Family. Even the actions of our Ecumenical Patriarch seem to cast an “I don’t give a damn” attitude.. In the words expressed by the Sean Connery character in the movie, “The Untouchables”, “What are you prepared to do?” Yes, our hands are tied. Fortunately, we have the ability to pray that our Lord step in and remove the rocks and thorns and allow His seed fall on fertile soil for our tears to water His garden to raise the “Lilies of the Field.”
    How great is our desire for our Lord’s mercy

    1. Perhaps, Dn. Kakis, we have heard “one iota of response” through the voice of archdeacon and theological adviser to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America? Is this the final word?

  3. I missed something, but the church folk are sure “stirred up.”
    What say you? Love em, “Forgive em, Pray, and if your going through hell
    don’t stop an pitch camp!
    🙏🤠🙏

  4. Fr. Barnabas made the salient point, we grow and become stronger when we handle conflict well. Of course, the converse is true. The problem is that our hierarchs, in the GOAA in particular, have been avoiding (and a few creating) serious and damaging conflicts for so long that their flocks have become lost due to a dearth of manly leadership. Conflict and adversity cultivate a need in us to rely on God and then to trust God, no matter what He permits. When will those to whom we have been entrusted to by God exemplify that reliance and trust in Him for us to follow?

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