2005, An-Nahar, Articles

The Church and the Prophets / 20.08.2005

It was common in the conservative societies not to say that the Church is in the wrong because the Bible and the Creed say that She is holy. And She is so because Christ Her head sanctifies Her. But the Holy Fathers and namely the Syriac among them, called her a prostitute because She has betrayed Christ, her bridegroom.

Those viewed her through her historical and social aspects and not through her Head who preserves her by His grace. The difficulty in talking about her wrongdoing in history – and not only about the wrongdoing of her members – makes us ascertain that She is forever holy and that she being a body is liable to fall. From this perspective the late Pope John Paul II dared to apologize on her behalf; he did not only apologize for the wrongdoing of Popes who came before him.  And in that he showed great humility. I think that humility is the condition for dialogue with the others. Yes She is the body of Christ but She is so because of the Eucharist that She performs and celebrates. Yet the glory She is in, does not stop us from noticing that She is also a sociological body where evil runs across. She is in what is visible and what is invisible. This holy side of her, her heavenliness, makes you live in her and from her and through her. But that “rotten” side of her makes her – as far as she is a body existing in space and time – liable to criticism; thus you cannot be ostrich-like not wanting to acknowledge that the fallenness you see in her is from her.

There are certain periods when the brightness mounts high and there are periods when the darkness is manifested. There is that going back and forth between darkness and light, between what comes down on you from God and the pitfall of mud you fall into. All this is in one body, so do not be in denial of her “divinity”, but also do not blind yourself to what you see of her decaying “humanity”. 

You cannot breathe outside the Church, you have no life without all the great things coming forth from the Saints and accumulating over the years; and there cannot be a meeting between you and the Lord if you do not offer praise through all the golden words (of the Saints in the Church) that have been accumulated for two thousand years. You cannot exist outside the magnificent prayers and teachings that make you see the beauty of the Lord. He who has not tasted that beauty finds it easy to say that “he prays on his own” and that the spiritual side of his life is private. No man is an island; in that sense that naive or deliberately-ignorant person does not know that he can pray on his own only because he is the product of this book (the Bible) and that his blood is of the blood of the Martyrs and that he is unable to utter any word had it not been for Paul and his company and Ignatius and Chrysostom and all those that have been enchanted by Jesus of Nazareth. None of us was born in a desert; we all have drunk from this living water (the Church’s life). He, who thinks he is outside this, might very much be inside; yet there are those who think they are of those inside but in fact they are outside.

Falleness is not restricted to those in positions of responsibility; but because of the authority given to them by God to manage the financial and legal matters of the parishes and their taking hold of the decisions, and the possibility of abusing authority, their decadence spreads and the Church seems “ugly” because of them. And I have no doubt that the “sins” of the Church are historically their sins. And if you track the history of Christianity, you will find that alongside the Beauty of the saints, there are accounts of divisions and of grudges; and surely there is no division without deceitfulness and individual uppity or one elevating one’s self over the other.

The Church as a slice of the society, and has in her all the sinfulness one can imagine. This is why the writer of “The Shepherd of Hermas” saw her as an old woman wearing rags and from another perspective he saw her as a young bride in splendor. There is in the Church great tyranny hidden behind the sacredness of authority. Nowadays you have “polite” ways of “polite” excommunication of certain believers that are not of less spiritual knowledge and piety than others. Each one with authority is threatened with being abusive and despotic. 

The problem is that the bishop is human and what he says is doubtful and you do not have a criterion with which you can tell whether what he says is from God or from the whims of the man; from his tendency to despotism or from his caprice. He alone when he cleanses himself and repents and turns away from being fond of this world and of himself, he can get closer to God’s will and convey it to you. This requires great detachment from and modesty concerning authority. He is supposed to practice authority being aware that he has been entrusted with it, and that he would be free of passions in practicing it and that he be ready to set straight any crookedness in him. When Paul says that the apostles have been entrusted with God’s mysteries, he means that they do not have a word of their own because they have been entrusted to speak God’s word rightfully and justly.

The First among the people is supposed to ask of God the wisdom needed to deal with a certain circumstance in what is good for building the community. He commands according to God’s word and the benefit of the person asking for advice or service. He makes decisions according to what makes people better and closer to the knowledge of God. He is merely a bridge to God.

And if he finds he has to take a position in one situation or another, he has to say what his Book (the Bible) says; that is to listen to “what has been handed down to the saints once and for all” and interpret it according to the situation. He might be very creative with what he says, but all his words are from the Tradition and those who are “in the Tradition” would feel close to him. This is why he does not stereotype any one nor does he show favoritism of some over others and he does nor take sides; he is free of all, a servant for all. And like his Master, he washes feet not counting for anyone his sins.

Not long ago I read, on a panel on the main street of my town, a prayer by some of the faithful asking God for holy priests. And I thought to myself that those brethren have longed for holy pastors due to some shocks they have had. And I think that a parishioner can forgive his priest the lack of theological education but it is more difficult to forgive a mishap that has wounded him.

Our problem is that the Church is founded on legal organization and administration and the problem of problems lies in when many use the authority for their own benefit and get puffed up with it and dominate not considering the hurt resulting from them, being in charge, but dealing with the “divine matters” out of their lustful desires and not out of obedience to God. The Church in its historical predicament is a place where the Antichrist can be as the Bible says and the Antichrist, acceding to the understanding of some of our Fathers, is not necessarily a definite individual but can be the phenomenon of deception (of one’s self and others).

I remember when we established The Orthodox Youth Movement 62 years ago that some of our elders told us “who are you to teach us”. And, out of politeness, the concealed and un-uttered response was: “who are you not to learn from others.” And I expect the reader of my words nowadays to tell me : “who gave you the prerogative to talk about the leadership of a Church you are a part of.” My clear response this time is: I preach because I get preached to. And who told you my friend that I am not exhorting myself first when I exhort others or the whole Church. I am meticulously observant of your matters and those of mine and I cannot stand the wasting of faculties and capacities whether that takes place through you or me, and my hope is that you pardon my pain so that you and I will not be in death but rise from it today to a new life. The Church is not one man’s property that I should be quiet about Her being torn apart.

And when I see this decadence I cannot stop myself from believing that the Holy Spirit is the one who leads His Church generation after generation. He is aided by “human instruments” who are traitors from the beginning or they have learned betrayal by custom. That there would be good intentions is not my concern. Only God justly examines the heart. But I feel sad over the great harm that has occurred in humanity age after age because of those who were supposed to be the “light of this world”.

What do I expect of today’s Church? I expect that Her Divine Bridegroom would renew Her through some miracle. And He has renewed Her every now and then through those who, though few, but are pure. And the crafty ones marginalize the few so that their reproaching silence of the few does not destroy them.  How has the Church crossed the desert of passions without suffocating? How has she shed off the shabby clothes and asked of the Lord to clad her with “the wedding dress”? How has the Church torn apart the wedding dress and become stripped like the prostitute?

Who whispers in the ears of the pure to speak the truth openly with that disposition of Jesus when He said to Pilate”: “I came to witness to the Truth”.  “O God I testify that I have accomplished all” and let whoever dies as a martyr does so and whoever lives does so. “Come Lord Jesus” for the “branches” have dried up and everybody is against the “sap” (that can give life). And if you send your prophets –and the New Testament mentions them –the tyrant will kill them; yet we live of the blood of the Martyrs and apart from such Martyrdom everything is “jesting”.

Will you not send down your Word anew so that the cancer of un-truth will not spread and so that our existence here will not turn into a theatrical play? Can the world go on as if you have not dwelt in it? We know who crucified you then. And you know who crucifies you nowadays.  You manage your affairs as you know, and until that great Day of renewal you do not ask us not to suffer. You do not ask of us not to cry.

You do not want us to pacify people with falsehood. You do not expect us to do less than what you did when you drove out the traders from the Temple. You do not accept to have except pristine splendor in your Temple. Did not you say once through one of your prophets “the breath of our mouth is the Christ of the Lord”?  Yes, we will cry out and tire our voices, and many will rejoice over our tiredness till they close their ears; but also in our silence we remain witnesses to you.

Before that “the new heaven and new earth” might tarry; we have become acquainted with dryness and have learned much from it. Yet our hope is that abundant waters will gush forth in the wilderness to water the few flowers that you have planted. And until those springs flow, we remain in forgiveness and prayer.

Translated by Riad Mofarej

Original Text: “الكنيسة والانبياء” – 20.08.2005

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