The Shipwreck and the Silence

To what then shall I liken our present condition?  It may be compared, I think, to a naval battle, fought by men who cherish a deadly hate against one another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the fight.

Do you see the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack?  With a burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out.  Fancy, if you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so that watchwords are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost.

To fill up the details of the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high.  From every quarter of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are dashed one against the other.

Of the combatants some are turning traitors; some are deserting in the very thick of the fight; some have at one and the same moment to urge on their boats, all beaten by the gale, and to advance against their assailants.  Jealousy of authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into parties which deal mutual death to one another.

To make matters worse, there is a confused and deafening roar sounding over all the sea: from howling winds, from crashing vessels, from boiling surf, from the yells of the combatants as they express their varying emotions in every kind of noise, so that not a word from admiral or pilot can be heard.  The disorder and confusion is tremendous, for the extremity of misfortune, when life is despaired of, gives men license for every kind of wickedness.

Suppose, too, that the men are all smitten with the incurable plague of mad love of glory, so that they do not cease from their struggle each to get the better of the other, while their ship is actually settling down into the deep. [1]

COMING OUT OF SILENCE

The above was written by St. Basil the Great when reflecting upon the state of the church during his time.  He laments that the ancient traditions of the church were being trampled upon as men attempted to hijack the church to fulfill their own ambitious purposes.  He reminds us of the scripture:

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set. (Prov. 22:28)

Many of the fathers used this passage as a metaphor to mean that the teachings and tradition of the church have been set with a particular purpose and reason.  Our fathers have set up certain moral and theological limits.  Without them, we cannot be Orthodox and we cannot be in communion with God.  As Abba Agathon said, “heresy is separation from God.” [2]

Some people attempt to move the landmarks to make concessions for popular cultural ideas and values.  At times, these moves are made in ignorance, at other times, they are in pursuit of popularity and human glory.  For quite a while, I have ignored these blogs that post heretical, blasphemous, or just plain ridiculous content in an effort to keep my blog positive and encouraging – and for the most part, that will continue to be my aim.  Like St. Basil, I felt “silence more profitable than speech” because “in the present condition of things, any discussion of these topics must be anything but becoming.”  There is much hate and anger in the atmosphere; most discussions on difficult topics become emotionally charged and it is hard to reason with people.

But then St. Basil admits that sometimes one must come forward and discuss these things in love, especially “when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone and all unaided to do our duty.”  Thankfully, there are others defending the truth, but I thought I would add my two cents as well.

A FAIR WARNING

Our Lord is the first to warn us of the dangers that are to come: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matt. 7:15)  From that verse comes the popular phrase, “Wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  St. Paul echoes this warning:  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:29)

Of course, such problems were already present during the time of the Apostle Paul.  But he wanted to emphasize to the church that we should expect this to be an ongoing occurrence.  St. Peter warns us that these teachers of false doctrine will appeal to our sensual desires, but that the Lord will judge them fiercely:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. (1 Pet. 2:1-2, ESV)

He further explains that this applies “especially [to] those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (v10).  What is indulging in defiling passions aside from encouraging people to behave in whatever ways will satisfy their desires, despite what the church teaches?  And what does it mean to despise authority other than to encourage people to ignore or not be held “captive” by the fathers who have set the ancient landmarks?  In the 2,000 years since our Lord walked the earth, the truth has not changed.  The ways that we explain things, and the expounding of the truth ever evolves with culture, language, and human creativity.  But the core message and values do not change.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21, ESV)

If those who practice immorality will not inherit the kingdom, then there is an even greater warning to those who teach others to indulge themselves.  Our Lord provides such a stern warning:

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Matt. 18:6-7)

Throughout the New Testament, believers are warned to hold to the teachings, doctrine, and/or tradition of the apostles.  It is no different today.

THE NECESSITY OF WOLVES AMONG THE SHEEP

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)

Despite the existence of those who wish to destroy truth and replace it with whatever worldly agendas are currently popular, we should not despair.  In the quote above our Lord says “offenses must come” and we are guaranteed, “Evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of” (2 Tim. 3:13-14).  St. Paul tells us that all of this is necessary and part of God’s plan: “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Cor. 11:19).

By teaching their errors, blasphemies, and heresies, these wolves make themselves known to the sheep in Christ’s rational flock, and they stand in contrast to those who are genuinely teaching the truth.  When we come across these types of websites, or those who try to subvert the Orthodox Faith, we should pray for these wolves, but also avoid them.  (2 Tim. 2:16, 3:5)  Usually no profit comes in trying to dialogue with the authors because they have already made up their minds to reject truth and cling to whatever delusions they are spreading.

AVOIDING THE CONFUSION

In this world of competing voices, technology that desperately tries to grab our attention at every moment, and noise that will not leave us alone, it is important that we purposefully and willfully pursue silence.  Doing so will help us to avoid our own spiritual shipwreck.  Here are some suggestions:

  • We can delete many of the apps on our phones.  “There’s an app for that,” but do we need it?  We can check Facebook, Twitter, and others through the web browsers on our phones; we don’t need an app with notifications for everything.  We can also turn off many of the notifications for apps on our devices.
  • We can turn off the radio in the car or quietly listen to liturgical/praise music, Orthodox podcasts, or profitable audio books.
  • We can turn off the TV and unfollow people or websites that stir up our emotions, even if they are good friends or if the information is distributed under the guise of making us “more informed.”
  • We can avoid websites that are subtly trying to subvert the Orthodox Faith under the guises of dialogue, progress, research, or any other purpose. I generally avoid all such websites.
  • We should read scriptures daily, in the very least those that are set apart for us each day of the year.
  • We should read the fathers and scriptural commentaries by the fathers (see my Resources page for some ideas).
  • We should attend church services as much as is practically possible.

There is a battle for your attention going on right now, especially in the digital world, but even all around us in society.  We must be purposeful about where we let our eyes wander and what we let our ears hear, for those things that enter into us, even subconsciously, make subtle inward impressions.  If they are godly things, then seeds of virtue are planted within us.  If they are worldly or passionate things, then sinful passions and negative thoughts will pervade our thinking.

May God be with us as we struggle onward toward the heavenly kingdom with the promised Holy Spirit dwelling within us, bringing us love, comfort, discernment, and peace as we learn to rely upon Him in all things.


END NOTES:

[1] Throughout the first half of this blog I quote and paraphrase the thirtieth chapter of St. Basil the Great’s De Spiritu Sancto (On the Holy Spirit).

[2] Benedicta Ward, Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Featured image is by Karl Fitzgerald and is from https://insidetherockposterframe.blogspot.com/2015/08/karl-fitzgerald-naval-battle-print.html
The wolf in sheep’s clothing is from http://www.wikiwand.com/de/Wolf_im_Schafspelz

6 thoughts on “The Shipwreck and the Silence

  1. I have a question, why be held captive by the ancient fathers and not be held captive to “Christ” which would mean “love the lord your god with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.” What is wrong with this captivity and trying to live this, so often failing as we do no matter what church we go or belong to. I like to know why to your ancient priests or saints. It says no where to be held captive by the cloud of witnesses, but it does say whom God sets free,is free indeed. Even priests don’t have it all together in the past or in the present. Of course they can be learned and wise, but God has always used the foolishness of our time to communicate his ultimate commandment. God’s Love supersedes knowledge. Why leave this to man’s judgment.?
    Thank you in advance for your reasoning.
    Sincerely,
    Maria W

    1. Hi Maria, I think the quick answer to your question would be that Christianity has never operated in the manner that you discuss. Essentially, if nobody is held “captive” to anything except “loving God” in whatever way they see fit, then Christianity ceases to exist: it’s just a bunch of people doing whatever they want and calling it “loving God.”

      Such a laissez-faire attitude is not at all supported by Christ or the authors of the New Testament. Holding strictly to the teachings of the Apostles was a frequent theme in the Epistles. I would recommend that you read them and look for that theme throughout. Paul went as far as to say that anyone who taught a gospel different from his own, even if it were an angel from heaven, should be anathema (meaning cut off from the church).

      The reasoning is that there is such a thing as absolute truth, which is a salvific truth. God has revealed absolute truth to the apostles and the church through the Holy Spirit. To be “held captive” to the inspired teachings of the Holy Spirit is to be held in the arms of God. I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want that. If we do not hold fast to the truth, then we push ourselves into slavery and death in order to be “free” from God’s “captivity.”

      1. I am sorry to read that is how you see loving God and Christ……in what ever way they see fit. No further dialogue necessary. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

        1. Maria, what standard do you believe would be used? If people reject the teachings of the scriptures and the church, or at least deem them to be optional, then what standard will they hold to? Will it not be whatever they believe to be best at the moment? While that wouldn’t always be bad, it has led to terrible things happening in the name of God or religion.

  2. Hello Deacon Jeremiah, My husband and I returned to Roman Catholicism in 2007. We fell in love with the Eucharist, and all the sacraments. My question is Which Orthodox Church do you belong to, and is it under the Pope’s authority? If not, who is the authority?
    I absolutely love iconography. We have attended class with Jody Cole and learned how to “write” an icon. God Bless you and all your work! And Thank you.
    Catsy

    1. Hi Catsy,

      I am Eastern Orthodox, jurisdiction is the Orthodox Church in America. We are not part of the Roman Catholic Church. My bishop is Metropolitan Tikhon of Washington, DC.

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed studying and learning how to paint icons. They are beautiful and it is a good art to learn.

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