Writing to the Corinthians, Saint Paul refers to the mission of Christians as imitators of the apostles, as imitators of their spiritual fathers when the faith is persecuted: ‘When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly’. Naturally, this attitude seems incomprehensible to people concerned with their rights. People who don’t want to be treated unfairly. Who demand the truth. Who don’t want any ill to befall them in life. Who are constantly asking ‘Why?’ ‘What have I done to deserve such behavior towards me?’ People for whom bigotry is intolerable. But Saint Paul is talking about another ethos, which transcends what people demand as normality in life and culture. This ethos springs from love. It doesn’t speak of silence in the face of vilification, in the face of persecution, in the face of slander. It speaks of the absence of retaliation to wickedness, of kind words versus bad ones, of forgiveness even for slander.
This is where we need to re-examine a feeling we might have that Christianity rejects the culture in which we live and its norms or that Christianity chooses continuous silence as an attitude of superiority or a transferal of God’s retribution in this life and the next. For Saint Paul, speech is important. But it’s not imitative of evil. It’s not retaliation to the same degree as the Christians suffer from what’s said against them. Rather it exudes a different ethos. Christians answer wickedness and mockery with the truth. With kind words they point out unfairness and error to liars and slanderers. They’re patient and forbearing in the face of persecution. They don’t persecute their persecutors. They don’t want revenge. They don’t wait in the expectation that the time will come when they can make others pay for what they’ve done, but they forgive them, in love, in the full knowledge that they believe in the God of patience and forgiveness.
Let’s dwell for a moment on tolerance. For people today, tolerance means respect for diversity, particularly sexual, and the absence of bigotry. It means the rejection of racism. This idea of tolerance arises from a culture which has rejected the apprehension of Western Christianity in matters of science, the body, secularism. This is a culture which doesn’t want to see an identity, that is something special, on a national, religious or cultural level which might be superior to another identity. It wants co-existence without appraisal. This is not the Orthodox ethos. For this reason, we’re saddened when anyone attacks those who don’t agree with our faith, with our ethos, those who choose sin as a justifiable attitude to life. Anyone who attacks others for these reasons comes from a time of historical fear and a faith which isn’t authentic. On the other hand, we can’t, in the name of tolerance, distort the truth and authenticity of our faith, history and tradition. Love isn’t merely the acceptance of and respect for people who are different; we have to add that it recognizes that diversity isn’t the truth. Love is the boundary between the authentic and the false. Love is to tolerate, but also to speak the truth.
People today have an attitude towards the faithful which demonstrates that they condemn them. Such people are afraid of the truth of the faith and attack those who hold it. They charge us with persecuting those who are different, yet they themselves persecute us. So what they’re invoking isn’t real tolerance. This is why Christians are called upon to show their active presence in the Church. The truth is preserved in the communion of love. We don’t look down on those who don’t accept the faith. The world functions in an authoritarian way, but real tolerance acts from love.
We should examine ourselves to see if we behave in accordance with the Pauline ethos in our dealings with others and in our Christian witness.