Sunday of the Holy Fathers
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous
wolves. By their fruits you will know them Matthew 7: 15, 16.
Concluding this Resurrection celebratory cycle, just prior to the Descent of the Holy Spirit, our blessed Church calls to mind for us the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council because they established the norm, they organized the thinking and spiritual life of the Body of Christ, they gave form to the vehicle of salvation; they established its parameters and give witness to its holiness and divine inspiration. They showed the presence of the Holy Spirit in its life and identified it as a hierarchal and consiliar body.
On the contrary, however, and using the metaphor of a wolf in sheep's clothing, it is easy to conceive what ravages such a wild beast could inflict on a flock of innocent sheep. In applying the metaphor to false prophets, our Lord called them ravenous wolves who can by deception insinuate themselves into the trust of an unsuspecting audience.
Our Lord does not give us the criterion by which we may distinguish the true teaching, true doctrine from the false by the character of the teacher. The character of the person is not necessarily reflected in the true doctrine he preaches. This would make the divine element of the Church dependent on the human nature of man. There are priests who teach the truth while interiorly they are scoundrels. On the other hand, a preacher maybe blameless in his personal life and teach outright heresy. The history of our blessed Church makes sad reading with the scandals of those who are appointed to lead it.
The Fathers of the first Council provided a good example for leaders in the Church to emulate because they repudiated false teaching which is heresy. Heresy is the formal denial or doubt of any revealed truth of Christian faith. All the councils of the Church, ecumenical and local, were assembled to expunge and repudiate many major heresies and abuses that some attempted to introduce into Christianity by false prophets. They maintained by their sincere witness the pristine purity of the faith of Christ. Kooks out of the shadows appeared to offer personal insights and interpretation that included the denial of the very nature of God himself. People today, such as the weird Mormons believe in Almighty God, a Father who is so much like us that he even has a wife which they do not care to talk too much about because it is not that important in our relationship with him. What quaint grandmotherly tales some like to tell and accept as divine truth!
Being religious is necessary and vital, but its practice is only a means to an end. The end is ordained for the sanctification of the nature of man. If this religious profession and living is not effective, it is only because of the interior disposition of the person. "Every good tree bears good fruit," our Lord teaches, "but the bad tree bears bad fruit" Matthew 7: 17, 18. The nature of the fruit certifies the nature of the tree. The thornbush bears only thorns and thistles. The analogy is that the real moral nature of a person is not manifested by the routine observance of religious profession, but by the interior attitude and disposition which forms the basis of God's judgment.
Today all people nowadays claim they can believe whatever they wish about religion and is expression and practice, it is false to assert there is no difference between religious truth and falsehood. Our Christian faith is a revealed truth which is given us by Christ and confided to the care of his Body and Bride, our beloved Church. Jesus commissioned the Church to continue teaching his divine message of good news to the world of every age. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned" Mark 16: 16.
Obviously it is not true our heavenly Father does not care what people believe or disbelieve, accept or renounce. This is because God himself is infinite truth. Without the Church and her divinely guaranteed teaching authority, no person could have certitude about what he or she must believe and live in order to be saved. Religious profession and belief can never degenerate to a matter of mere personal opinion, based on one's personal whims, limitations and prejudices as well as distortions. This in this nation because of the onslaught of Islam and Communism abroad in so many of our homelands has degenerated true expression of our faith. The superficiality of so much we do and faithfully believe to be authentic is a big waste of time while the actual truth is disregarded and repudiated by our lifestyle practice. There is such a great disparity between the purity of Orthodox theory and the repugnance of Orthodox practice in this country that great confusion is the result to the great satisfaction of the devil, of course.
So, the death knell of American Protestantism is sounded by its ignominious approach to Christ which resembles so much the plague that wished to overcome the early Church, Gnosticism. It was fed on and propelled by an inner understanding that God speaks directly to particular individuals and provides them an insight about himself which most others cannot grasp nor understand. They consider themselves spiritually and intellectually elite, chosen by the Almighty. This kind of thinking later led Presbyterians to espouse the nutty theory of predestination.
Nowhere in revelation does our heavenly Father specify each individual is free to be his own judge of revealed truth. We have here in America over two thousand different sects, all claming to be Christian, to base their teaching on the Bible, each differing from the others in important matters. Christ could never have intended such a mismosh of nonsense. Even in the beginning, St. Peter warned of the unreliability of private and individual interpretation of God's revelation to us in Scripture. "There are certain things that are difficult to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable distort, just as they do the rest of Scripture also, to their own destruction" Peter 3: 16.
Does an Orthodox Christian have a right to dissent from the teaching of the Church? Absolutely not in faith and morals. We must accept, believe and live what bishops in council explained to be the truth. Christ does not force anyone or coerce anyone to follow him, but no one has the power to formulate his own brand of religious faith because this is a prerogative that belongs to God alone. The role of the church and its bishops, priests and deacons is to defend the integrity of the faith and sadly in this country we are not doing our job. We are faithful to the liturgical tradition in most instances, but we are not teaching nor preaching the truth of Christ because in so many instances our parishioners have come to believe nonsensical protestant sectarianism about the sacramental Mysteries and we do not challenge them to leave behind their cherished delusions and follow after Christ. The very idea of a parish faith community has been abandoned because the idea of a secular ethnic club has greater appeal. It is not that we are afflicted with false prophets so much, but our bishops, priests and deacons have no backbone, no genuine and zealous faith to war with parish politicians and count on the grace of the Holy Spirit to overcome the sadly bemused people in the pews.
So, today we are called upon to pray and witness, to translate our faith to rich daily living because we will all be accountable to the Lord. Individual members of the Church, bishops, priests, deacons, individually believers, are all human beings, capable of sin and error. The same was true even of the twelve apostles. Judas was one of them and he betrayed the Master. St. Peter denied him three times. St. Thomas was looking for signs in his time. Nonetheless, on the foundation of these frail apostles Christ established his Church, shared with it authority to teach in his name and promised it would endure and last "even to the consummation of the world" Matthew 28: 20.