I wrote about heresy in a recent post and explained that it is harmful because it distorts the beauty of the Truth of Christianity. But I feel that does not fully reveal the depth of the dangers of heresies and wanted to say a few more words. For most of us, it is not a fun topic. I don’t particularly like writing about it, but it is important.
It can seem like Christianity is nothing but an eloquent fairy tale if all I emphasize is that beauty is destroyed in heresy. For someone who is an artist at heart, the idea of someone taking the most beautiful work of art and distorting it is enough to rile my feathers. But even then, that does not capture the actual danger of heresy.
The Story of Abba Agathon
In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, we read about a group of monks who heard of an old, wise monk named Abba Agathon who was supposedly quite patient. They decided it would be fun to visit him and see if they could tick him off. The story continues,
They said to him, “Aren’t you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?”
“Yes, it is very true,” he answered.
They resumed, “Aren’t you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense.”
Again, they said, “Aren’t you Agathon the heretic?”
But at that he replied, “I am not a heretic.”
So they asked him, “Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.”
He replied, “The first accusations I take to myself, for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.”
Heresies are as old as Christianity; and a general reading of the New Testament will exhibit stern warnings not to even associate with those who distort the faith. In his second epistle, Peter states that those who teach heresy are in darkness. God is light and to be in darkness is to be separated from God. The Apostle John writes:
And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the Light (3:19-21)
An Uncomfortable Blog
I’m not a fire and brimstone sort of fellow. In fact, these are topics that I virtually never write or speak about simply because most people feel like they’ve heard enough of it. Preachers spewing hate on the street corners and groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and even the Jehovah’s Witnesses distort the good news of the gospel and make it sound as though people need to be rescued from a ticked off God.
I believe God is constantly moving in us in order to move us toward him. He is in love with you and wants you to know Him. One of the most popular Orthodox prayers speaks of the Holy Spirit as being “everywhere present and filling all things.” However, the choice is ultimately ours. When we turn away from Him, when we knowingly hold beliefs that oppose what he has revealed to us then we have chosen darkness over the Light.
Defining a Heretic
Most of us mere mortals have ideas and beliefs that are incorrect. That doesn’t make us heretics. And even in Orthodoxy there are a multitude of opinions on different issues. Some of the church fathers even disagree with each other on different minor issues. And that’s ok.
In Orthodoxy, what makes one a heretic is refusing correction; particularly on any issue that distorts God’s character. As the quote from the Gospel of John states above, judgment is not simply walking in darkness, but doing so despite being shown the Light.
So, why am I posting all of this stuff about heresy? In order to show, in a culture of tolerance and relevancy, why some of us refuse to modify our beliefs to fit in; to explain why some of us would rather be thought of as narrow-minded by society than to cave into the pressure of being inclusive of every nice sounding idea. The Christian faith is not a matter of accepting a good philosophical system, but rather a Way of living in communion with the Being of love: in this life and the age to come.