Confronting Ecclesiastical Issues

Paisios monachos Agioreitis20The following is advice given by St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, who fell asleep in the Lord in 1994.  It is from his text With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man.  I am posting it because of the buzz of conversation happening in the Orthodox world regarding the Great and Holy Council of Crete. 

-Geronda, what is the right way to confront difficult ecclesiastical issues?

We must avoid extremes; extreme solutions will never solve a problem.  in the old days, the grocer would add little by little with the scoop on the scale until he got the exact weight and the scales were balanced.  In other words, he did not add or remove large amounts abruptly.  Extreme positions always cause suffering for our Mother the Church, as well as for those who hold those positions, because an extreme stance has a way of nailing people into place. 


It’s like having a possessed person, full of spiritual insolence (and contempt for everything), pulling on one end, and a narrow-minded fool, zealous in his ignorance, pulling on the other.  This is the confrontation, in other words, between a foolish zealot and a man steeped in spiritual arrogance.  The two bicker and strike at each other, never agreeing, because what is missing from both is divine Grace.  And the worst that can happen, God forbid, is that there will be no end to their bickering: each side will keep on striking the other, back and forth, without end.  But those who can take the two sides, bend them and bring them together – help them come to an agreement – will be crowned by Christ with two unfading crowns.

We must be careful not to create problems in the Church, or to magnify the small indiscretions that take place here and there, because this only makes things worse and gives pleasure to the devil.  The person who gets overly upset and angry at the sight of a minor mistake and rushes head on, supposedly to put things in order, resembles the foolish sacristan who sees a candle dripping during worship and rushes head on to put it out, knocking over people and candle stands in his way and causing an even greater disorder.

Unfortunately, we have so many people keen on disturbing our Mother the Church these days!  The educated among them have grasped dogma with their minds only, rather than with the spirit of the Holy Fathers.  The uneducated have grasped the dogmas with their teeth, which is why you hear a lot of grinding when they discuss ecclesiastical matters.  As a result, they both cause greater harm to the Church than the enemies of our Orthodox Faith.

It is good if a river’s current is not strong, because strong currents sweep away logs, rocks, even people.  But a slow, shallow river is not good either; it’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes.


Then there are those who spend their time criticizing each other instead of working for the common good.  Instead of keeping watch over themselves, they look for mistakes in others.  They are on the lookout for what others say or write, just to strike mercilessly at them.  However, these same merciless people claim that if they were to speak or write about the same exact topic, they, of course, would have used a great many references from Sacred Scripture and the Fathers to support their work.  These people cause great harm because on the one hand, they do injustice to their brothers and sisters, and on the other hand, they undermine them before the faithful.  In fact many times they sow unbelief in weak souls because they scandalize them.  Those who justify their malice on their supposed rightful inspection of others instead of themselves, or by publishing ecclesiastical issues – even matters too sensitive to [publicly] discuss – on the pretext of tell it to the Church (Mt. 18:17), should begin first with their own “little church” – their own family or their own Brotherhood.  If that appears to be in good order, then they can go ahead and ridicule the Mother the Church.[1]  Good children, I believe, never make accusations against their mother.


Everyone is necessary in the Church.  Everyone offers his services to Her, no matter what his character [or personality] is, mild or strict.  The Body of the Church is like the human body.  Just as we need both sweet and sour foods, even bitter herbs, because each food has something to contribute in vitamins and other nutrients, so too, for the Body of the Church every one of us is indispensable.  Each person complements the character of the other, and all of us are obliged to tolerate not only the spiritual temperament of others, but also their human weaknesses.

Now unfortunately, there are those who have irrational expectations from other people.  They expect everyone to have the same spiritual temperament as their own; and if others do not coincide with their personalities, if they are a bit more lenient or more severe, they immediately conclude that [these others] are not spiritual people.

End Notes:

Text taken from With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, published by the Holy Monastery of Evangelist John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece.  2011.  Text in headings and brackets are my additions.

[1]  I think the most important line is the last one of this paragraph: a healthy soul does not judge the Church.  The great Geronda Paisios was pure of heart, and when he said one should start by being watchful and attending to their “own ‘little church'”, he was not giving a license to be critical to anyone who successfully justifies their own sinfulness or their failures at home.  Rather I think he was stating, “Look at how much you mess up in your own home (or monastery).  Be merciful to those who are in leadership for they too are attempting to work out their salvation.”

One last thought: When speaking with a well-respected monk some time ago, I was advised to keep myself from getting involved in the politics of the Church.  He told me he has seen many pious young men fall into spiritual ruin through Church politics because they have not completed the inner work first.

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