Should One Kill Moles? Or, How to Avoid Falling Into Traps While Reading Contemporary Orthodox Literature

Deacon George Maximov | 26 June 2012

Deacon George Maximov

Something happened that led me to write this work. Somehow, while correcting papers on one and the same theme, I noticed that five of them – in all else completely separate and independent of one another – used the very same quotation from Holy Scripture to demonstrate their point. At the same time, this quotation was in all five cropped in the same way – so that in the “cropped” version the original thought was lost and it became more appropriate for demonstrating the author’s point. I do not think that any one of them specially sought to crop the sacred text. No, this likely came about automatically – and this is the saddest part. Guilty here is the habit of looking at the Biblical text as material for the demonstration of one’s own ideas, and not as the Word of God, which we must humbly follow, renouncing all “our own ideas” that contradict it.

This is an illness afflicting the majority of us contemporary Orthodox raised in the traditions of Western culture. The name of this illness is modernism.

The formulation of one’s own opinion at the forefront – this is the distinguishing characteristic of the consciousness, and even of the religious consciousness, of one afflicted by this disease. Hence arise distrust of the patristic Tradition – from which only that which is useful for the demonstration of one’s own ideas is accepted – and the tendency to interpret Holy Scripture “from the wind in one’s head,” completely ignoring the patristic understanding thereof. Hence, finally, comes the desire to “update,” “improve,” and “modernize” the Church of Christ, an obsessive desire to introduce one’s own personal opinions, justifying and dogmatizing them.

It is common to associate modernism with a narrow circle of specific individuals, but in fact this phenomenon is much more widespread. Those entering the Church bring with them their pre-ecclesiastical lives. Rejection of authority and contempt for antiquity and tradition are common characteristics of the secular worldview that has been promulgated since the seventeenth century, but which has reached its apogee in our days. It is no surprise that the contagion of modernism has spread so widely precisely now. People are taught in this way in schools and popular culture, as well as in elite culture.

This phenomenon deserves a separate discussion. Here I would like to demonstrate the methods used – frequently unconsciously – by modernist authors to convince their readers that their personal opinions are the teaching of the Orthodox Church.

Inasmuch as every Orthodox Christian knows that the doctrine of the Orthodox Church derives from two sources – Holy Scripture and Tradition – the efforts of such authors are directed towards the manipulation of precisely them.

Let us consider how these techniques “work,” using as an example some incongruous idea: let us suppose that someone considers it essential to kill moles, thinking that this is a requirement for every Orthodox Christian, and that he wishes to convince his readers of this.

First Example: Unsubstantiated Assertions 

It would seem that unsubstantiated assertions are an obviously hopeless means of persuasion; however, they “work” beautifully. It is enough to write: “Many Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church say that it is essential to exterminate moles” – and a significant portion of readers will “swallow” this assertion with full confidence. The author does not offer a single quotation, or a single reference, and the reader does not even think of this, but stores it in his memory so that later, when the opportunity arises, he will repeat this “assertion,” although he will no longer even remember either the name of the author or the name of the article from which he took it.

Such vague references are very common. The majority of authors are not deliberately attempting to mislead readers. Quite simply, someone somehow somewhere read something similar or heard something, not knowing, of course, the exact quotation – but the general impression remained. And what precisely is behind this impression – whether they are authentic words of the Holy Fathers, or someone’s paraphrase of them, or someone’s private thoughts that came into his head while reading the works of the Holy Fathers – is a minor point.

Hence comes the advice: such unsubstantiated affirmations and anonymous references are the least trustworthy. Let us be attentive to what we read and to what we write, because in most cases such references come not from ill will, but from authorial laziness, which the devil uses to encourage us to substitute our own thoughts for patristic ones.

Clearly, there is much about which the Holy Fathers spoke in complete agreement and, in presenting this, the above affirmation comes about naturally. Nonetheless, in my opinion, we should not succumb to this temptation; after all, the more the Holy Fathers wrote on one or another theme, the easier it is to find in their works a specific demonstration of the given thought. It is more pleasant for the pious author humbly to step to the side in order to allow the Holy Fathers themselves to speak, not daring to “summarize” and paraphrase their thoughts to the extent of his understanding.

One may cite a variation of the above example: a more specific, but no less unsubstantiated, assertion: for example, when an author writes without any reference to a primary source (that is, to the works of a Holy Father), such a phrase as: “St. John Chrysostom argued that it was essential to exterminate moles” or even: “St. John Chrysostom repeatedly wrote: ‘Exterminate moles!’” If the author does not give a reference to a specific patristic work – to the chapter or page from which he drew this idea – then what we have before us is still an unfounded and unsubstantiated assertion.

Second Example: Distortion While Quoting 

The following also happens: an author uses a quotation and gives an exact reference, but pulls it out of context, thereby opening up the possibility for just as much distortion. Such misrepresentation is all the more dangerous, inasmuch as the reference elicits confidence from a much greater part of the readers – who, as a rule, do not check the reference.

A well-known example is the affirmation: “Even in the Bible it is clearly stated: There is no God (Psalm 13:1).” Turning to our chosen theme, let us affirm: “Even St. John of Kronstadt urged us ‘to drive away these black moles who destroy the integrity of our soul’ (My Life in Christ, 1:2).” In both cases the words are cited exactly, but their meaning is substantially distorted by being taken out of context.

Therefore, when doubt first arises, the reader should verify the quotations used by the author in order to see how they are used in the text. Not being too lazy to do this, we see that the first verse of Psalm 13 reads: The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God; and St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “Take note of yourself, of your passions, especially in your domestic life, where they freely look about, like moles in a safe place; outside of the home our passions normally hide behind other passions that are more presentable, and there it is not possible to drive away these black moles who destroy the integrity of our soul.”

Therefore, St. John of Kronstadt is not speaking about moles at all, but about passions; it is them that he calls us to cast out, and by no means the animals that dig in the ground, using them only as a metaphor.

Here it is pertinent to recall how the Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council testified against a person who used the method indicated above: “Behold, thou hast chosen this witness of the Holy Father incoherently; it is indecent for Orthodox to disfigure the sayings of the Holy Fathers thusly, selecting them incoherently; this is rather the means of heretics.” [1]

A variation of this technique is to compile a collage from the words of Holy Scripture, thanks to which it is possible to justify any thought to credulous readers, including mole-destroying: “The Lord Himself said in Scripture: ‘These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth: the mole(Leviticus 11:29); ‘Then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous and be valiant’ (2 Kings [2 Samuel] 13:28).”  

Many readers “swallow” such a collage with sincere trust, although the falsity of basing a thought on the mechanical juxtaposition of different phrases, no single one of which justifies this thought, is sufficiently obvious. Not to mention that an appeal to the full text of Holy Scripture exposes the distortion of meaning in these quotations.

Thus, in the first fragment (against moles), also listed as unclean are mice, lizards, chameleons, and others, and nothing is said about the need to kill them. To the contrary, it is forbidden to touch them: These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even (Leviticus 11:31), and this very enumeration is given To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten (Leviticus 11:47).

The second fragment, however, is not presented as the word of God about moles, but as the words of Prince Absalom about his brother: Now Absolom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous and be valiant (2 Kings [2 Samuel] 13:28).

Here it is worthwhile to cite the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who described how the heretical Gnostics used the given technique of “collages”:

“Then, again, collecting a set of expressions and names scattered here and there [in Scripture], they twist them, as we have already said, from a natural to a non-natural sense. In so doing, they act like those who bring forward any kind of hypothesis they fancy, and then endeavor to support them out of the poems of Homer, so that the ignorant imagine that Homer actually composed the verses bearing upon that hypothesis, which has, in fact, been but newly constructed; and many others are led so far by the regularly-formed sequences of the verses, as to doubt whether Homer may not have composed them. Of this kind is the following passage, where one, describing Hercules as having been sent by Eurystheus to the dog in the infernal regions, does so by means of these Homeric verses – for there can be no objection to our citing these by way of illustration, since the same sort of attempt appears in both: –

“Thus saying, there sent forth from his house deeply groaning.”

“The hero Hercules conversant with mighty deeds.”

“Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, descended from Perseus.”

“That he might bring from Erebus the dog of gloomy Pluto.”

“And he advanced like a mountain-bred lion confident of strength.”

“Rapidly through the city, while all his friends followed.”

“Both maidens, and youths, and much-enduring old men.”

“Mourning for him bitterly as one going forward to death.”

“But Mercury and the blue-eyed Minerva conducted him.”

“For she knew the mind of her brother, how it laboured with grief.” [2]

“Now, what simple-minded man, I ask, would not be led away by such verses as these to think that Homer actually framed them so with references to the subject indicated? But he who is acquainted with the Homeric writings will recognise the verses indeed, but not the subject to which they are applied, as knowing that some of them were spoken of Ulysses, others of Hercules himself, others still of Priam, and others again of Menelaus and Agamemnon. But if he takes them and restores each of them to its proper position, he at once destroys the narrative in question. In like manner he also who retains unchangeable in his heart the rule of the truth which he received by means of baptism, will doubtless recognise the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scripture, but will by no means acknowledge the blasphemous use which these men make of them. For, though he will acknowledge the gems, he will certainly not receive the fox instead of the likeness of the king. But when he has restored every one of the expressions quoted to its proper place, and has fitted it to the body of the truth, he will lay bare, and prove to be without foundation, the figment of these heretics” (Against the Heresies, 1, 4).

No less a distortion takes place in paraphrasing the words of the Fathers of the Church. For example: “St. Ephiphanius of Cyprus testifies that moles bring about man’s destruction (c.f., Panarion, 64, 72.)” And what do we find if we look at chapter 64, dedicated to Origen, of this famous encyclopedia of heresies compiled by St. Ephiphanius? This is what we find: “Those who are familiar with natural history say that the mole lives in a hole and gives birth to many offspring at once: up to five and more, and vipers hunt them. If a viper finds an entire burrow but is unable to devour them all, it eats one or two to satiate its own appetite; it then brings food to the others, deprived of eyes, feeding the blind until it takes and eats each one of them when it desires. If it happens that one ignorant should find them, and should take them for use as food, this one will take poison into himself from them, inasmuch as they have been fed with the poison of the viper. So you, too, Origen, have blinded your mind with the above-mentioned Hellenistic doctrine, belching forth poison on those who trust you and making poisonous food for them, harming many with that with which you have suffered harm.”

Let us put to one side the erroneous transference of words about the danger of eating moles fed by the poison of a viper on all moles generally. But from the very text it is evident that it is not about moles, but about the significance of the false teaching of Origen, which the Holy Father explains with the help of a metaphor constructed for the understanding of his contemporaries.

Thus we have sufficiently demonstrated that one must approach quotations from Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers very carefully and that, in case of suspicion, one must check. This is also worth doing because (although rarely, yet it still happens) some authors dare not only to take a quotation out of context, but even to distort the text itself to make it more suitable for their own thoughts.

Moreover, it sometimes happens that an author, introducing a quotation, will seek to use it to support an idea exactly opposite of that expressed in the quotation itself. In contemporary “flexible” reading, it often becomes unimportant what is actually written: in “one must kill moles” and “one must not kill moles,” it is enough that the words “kill” and “mole” stand side by side: it takes the “necessary” meaning, which shall be discussed below.

Third Example: Arbitrary Interpretation  

The modernist author, citing any paraphrase of the words of Holy Scripture, nearly always gives it his own interpretation. Any other interpretation, even a patristic one, is of secondary importance compared with his own opinion. As a rule, such an author does not even consult them, considering, in Protestant fashion, that his understanding of the Bible is the most trustworthy and fully sufficient.

In practice this can lead, for example, to the following hermeneutical somersault: “In Holy Scripture there are such words: ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live’ (Acts 22:22). What is being discussed? By whom? To whom? Of course one must not understand them as only the words of the Jews about the Apostle Paul. Can we possibly think that in Holy Scripture, as in some description of a factory, there could be written an episode from a personal biography not having any significance for all Christians? No! These words concern each one of us. This is a call. And with them is the clear indication: ‘from the earth.’ We all perfectly well understand what is being spoken of here, namely that which lives and digs in the earth; which, as the Word of God invites us, we must mercilessly exterminate, for it is not fit that they should live.”  

One encounters such cases very often, and if an attentive reader seeks to demonstrate to the author (or to those of like mind) the clear artificiality and absurdity of such an interpretation, the latter will announce without embarrassment: “That’s the way I see it,” “I think that Scripture is speaking about exactly this!”

What does one do if two people advocate fundamentally different understandings of the Word of God? Is there a means of distinguishing the true understanding of Scripture from the erroneous? Glory be to God, there is! It is the tradition of patristic interpretation. Canon 19 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council states: “if the discourse be one concerning a passage of Scripture, not to interpret it otherwise than as the luminaries and teachers of the Church in their own written works have presented it; and let them rather content themselves with these discourses than attempt to produce discourses of their own.”

This is a very simple and concrete means. Therefore, in order to expose the interpretation cited above it is sufficient to look at how this place was explained by the Holy Fathers.

St. John Chrysostom writes: “Here he (Apostle Paul) reminded them of their most heinous murder. Then they could no longer endure after such a conviction and fulfillment of prophecy. Great is the zeal, powerful the accusation, brave the speech of the witnesses of Christ’s truth! The Jews could no longer hear the end of his speech, but fired by wrath they cried loudly, saying: Away with him; for it is not fit that he should live O daring! Sooner should you not live, rather than he, who in all things is obedient to God. O, impious and murderous ones! […] And behold: they do not indicate his fault, for they could say nothing; but they think to act by cries, while they should have asked the prosecutors… (The Apostle) willingly bears all that he bears… Let us, too, learn his meekness” (Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 48:2-3).

St. Athanasius the Great: “For the mouth of them is stopped that speak unjust things. Who is this, if not those who dared say: Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live (Acts 22:22)? Their mouth was stopped when the Lord trampled down death and arose on the third day” (Commentary on the Psalms, 62:2). And more: “Thy truth is from generation to generation. There are two generations that accepted the truth of God: the Jewish nation, which had the Law and the Prophets, and the Church. Therefore the truth of God is not in generations, but in the first generation and the second generation. Further nations abide in error. But when the first generation rejected the truth and said: away with such a fellow from the earth, then the truth shifted from the first generation to the second generation” (Ibid., 118:90).

As we see, the “mole-destroying” interpretation cited above is by no means patristic, and therefore not Orthodox. The testimony of two or three Holy Fathers is wholly sufficient, according to the words of the Apostle: In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established (2 Corinthians 13:1).

Fourth Example: Placing in the “Necessary” Context 

There is still another, more sophisticated, group of techniques to convince the reader that an author’s thought is based on Scripture and the Tradition of the Church’s doctrine.

Thus, the modernist author can abundantly produce quotations – exact and unaltered! – for the secondary arguments of his topic, placing his primary personal idea in a bouquet of patristic flowers. So, for example: “St. John of Damascus writes: ‘The name of believer is not sufficient for us; no, we must demonstrate our faith through deeds’ (Homily on the Withered Fig Tree). This means that we must labor. We must act, and demonstrate our standing in truth through deeds. It is insufficient simply to speak about the necessity of exterminating moles; we must also demonstrate our faith in deeds. Yes, this might be unpopular in the eyes of the children of this age, but let us recall the admonition of St. Symeon the New Theologian: ‘He who loves the glory of man is not a true Christian, but a sturdy warrior of the devil’ (Homily 16:2). ‘Therefore, let us recall that day on which we must all give an account for our deeds” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Statues, 21:3).

This is how unscrupulous vendors in the market, selling “young” potatoes, place “old” ones in a bag along with them; but an attentive customer need only check, and the ruse is quickly uncovered. And here the inattentive reader, glancing over the text, will accept it as rich in patristic quotations and seemingly founded upon Tradition, not noticing that, among the authentic patristic thoughts, a completely unfounded “mole-destroying” has slipped through.

There is another technique similar to this one, but more difficult to detect. It consists of attempting to infer logically the “necessary” idea from the words of Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. For instance:

“St. Symeon the New Theologian compares unspiritual people with moles: ‘One who has not yet attained the measure of such love… such a one still lies underground like a mole: for, like this mole, he is blind, and only with his hearing hears what is said above ground’ (Homily 54:2). It is no wonder that St. Nikolai of Serbia wrote: ‘Truly, it is most sad that humanity resembles… moles’ (Prayers by the Lake, 7). For the Holy Fathers, moles are associated with the darkest phenomena and powers, from which man hopes to free himself.

“Let us recall how St. John of Kronstadt likened moles to passions; and St. Theodore the Studite writes that we must live ‘slaying the passions’ (Catechetical Instruction, 73), and St. Theophan the Recluse also writes: ‘Kill the passions and attain purity’ (The Path to Salvation, 3:11). As such, the strict progression of patristic thought is obvious: passions – moles – kill.

“In Scripture the Prophet Isaiah says: ‘In that day a man shall cast his idols… to the moles’ (Isaiah 2:20), and the Prophet Ezekiel recalls their fate: ‘Your idols may be broken and cease’ (Ezekiel 6:6). Here is the same sequence: idols – moles – destruction.”

Taken individually, each assertion may be true and each quotation unaltered; but the author, by means of a false chain of logic, leads the reader to a meaning which would seem to follow from the above, but which actually does not belong to any of the Holy Fathers he cites.

Here the only help, as with the other cases, comes from attentive reading and the capacity to analyze the material offered by the author. Namely, after reading an article, ask yourself the questions: “What was the author’s main idea(s), and how did he justify it (them)?” After repeated attentive readings of a questionable article, even complex intricacies cannot hide themselves from the reader’s gaze, just as groundless, unsubstantiated affirmations disguised as Orthodox doctrine cannot.

Fifth Example: The Best Means of Defense is Attack  

Many authors, seeking to pass off their own inventions as Church doctrine, prefer to attack sound thought that is opposed to them as, ostensibly, heresy. They think that, if they succeed in convincing the reader that the opposing idea is not Orthodox, their own invention will, as it were, be demonstrated to be Orthodox. This is often done in a very aggressive manner.

For example: “In our days many people have appeared who, not ashamed to go against Scripture and the Holy Fathers, subvert all Christian doctrine by claiming that, as it were, one need not kill moles! Such people are infected with the spirit of this age, having gone crazy with ecology, and linking it with the defense of neo-pagan ideas! That is what they are trying to impose on us in the name of Church doctrine!” etc., etc.

This is also a very old trick of the heretics. Here is how St. Gregory Palamas wrote about it: “That the evil-minded Barlaam says that we are ditheists directly proves our piety and his malice. For the great Basil was accused of tritheism by the blasphemers of the Son and the Holy Spirit… And Gregory the Theologian was stoned by the allies of Apollinarius, and brought to trial, being accused of ditheism because he conceived of the Word, the God-Man, as being perfect in two natures. The supporters of Sergius and Pyrrhus did not hesitate to cut off the hand and tongue of Maximus, wise in God, accusing him of ditheism and polytheism because he preached two wills and two operations in Christ – created and uncreated, corresponding to the natures; for, according to his teaching, not only is the divine nature uncreated, but so too the divine will and all the natural energies of the divine essence, which are not natures, but movements proper to God, as he often affirms in his works. We are now being slandered in the same way” (Letter to Akinidios).

Very popular for this sort of technique is the attempt to identify the opposing point of view with some heresy that existed or exists: “Everyone knows that Catholics do not kill moles. Therefore such views, unfortunately, demonstrate the effects of Catholic influence on certain Orthodox.” Here is a false scheme: if something coincides with what Catholics do, this means that it represents Catholic influence. In order to demonstrate its falseness, one can recall, for example, that Catholics also read the Bible; but does that mean that the reading of the Bible by Orthodox represents Catholic influence and heresy? No, it goes without saying. In the case of real, and not imaginary, influence, the correspondence must not be “something or another,” but the very essence of the heresy. Both in relation to Catholicism, as well as in relation to Protestantism, the fundamental points of error separating them from the Orthodox Church are recorded and well known. Everything apart from this (in our case, the reluctance to kill moles) is neither the result of Catholic influence, nor of heresy.

The “historical explanation” is very popular: “After a large portion of the Orthodox world fell under the Muslim yoke, the Orthodox, in new and constrained circumstances, were no longer at liberty to fulfill all the precepts of their religion, especially those related to the destruction of moles, and all the while increased Catholic propaganda played its part. Many were forced to study in Latin schools, from which they emerged already infected with corresponding views.”

In turn, as a rule, their presentation of the opposing point of view reaches the point of absurdity, attributing to them views they certainly do not profess: “Contemporary mole-lovers urge us to hold moles as the apple of our eyes, cherishing them and taking them into our houses, laying them in bed with us! They argue that love and veneration of moles is one of the most fundamental commandments of Christianity! Their apostasy from the truth has led them to such a degree of insanity and blasphemy! We are essentially dealing with the revival of the ancient pagan worship of animals. Therefore faithful children of the Church must be vigilant, identifying followers of the mole-worshiping heresy among priests and directing petitions to the hierarchy that they use the necessary canonical means in relation to these heretics. One must struggle against even the mildest forms of this vile heresy!” 

After such a “treatment” not everyone will dare state directly that, perhaps, the destruction of moles is not, after all, a religious obligation of the Christian. And one who does dare say this must first begin by denying association with Catholicism, heresy, paganism, fruits of the Turkish yoke, etc. Thanks to such an attack, the author blatantly places his opponents on the defensive, while he in fact is in need of defense, given that not a single one of the techniques cited above, however widespread in Orthodox polemical journalism, in any way demonstrates the fidelity of the position of the author himself.

The falseness of such techniques is much more difficult to trace if, rather than the killing of moles, subjects that are more subtle and spiritual are being discussed.

What makes things more difficult is that almost none of the techniques considered above are a formal sign of modernism. One can partially quote a passage, but even so the abbreviated quotation will preserve the original meaning of the entire passage. One can paraphrase in one’s own words, all the while not distorting the original meaning, but reproducing it faithfully. And so on. The only means of knowing where there is a distortion and where there is not is to check all quotations oneself.

Instead of a Conclusion 

The ancient Holy Fathers already knew the techniques cited above. Here is what St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes of them in the second century: “Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words… [they] by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive. These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation… Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. One far superior to me has well said, in reference to this point, ‘A clever imitation in glass casts contempt, as it were, on that precious jewel the emerald (which is most highly esteemed by some), unless it come under the eye of one able to test and expose the counterfeit. Or, again, what inexperienced person can with ease detect the presence of brass when it has been mixed up with silver?’”(Against the Heresies, 1:1-2).

Of course, the attentive and diligent reader will not be afraid to get a grasp of the text, to reflect on it, and to check the quotations, so as not to let the modernist author fool him. But with the prospect of such a labor in reading the articles or books of contemporary authors – comparable to the prospect of eating a ruff – many may ask: is it worth it? If the danger, under the guise of Orthodoxy, of picking up an error is so large that such great and essential means of precaution are necessary, then is it not better to read something tested by time and which the Church has already testified to as containing only that which is profitable?

This is what St. Ambrose of Optina says about this: “Reading spiritual books without instruction, you fear how not to fall into some incorrect thoughts or incorrect opinions. Your fear is well justified. Therefore, if you do not wish to suffer such a spiritual affliction, do not indiscriminately read all manner of new works, even if they are of spiritual content, but are written by those who have not confirmed their teaching by holiness of life; but rather read such works of the Fathers as have been recognized by the Orthodox Church as being fully well-known and doubtlessly edifying and soul-saving.” [3]

Of course, one must also seek to overcome in oneself the modernist condition, which has been absorbed from the secular environment. The fundamental principal and antidote to error is the submission of one’s mind to the Church; to place oneself not above or at the same level as the Holy Fathers, but lower; to believe they are greater than oneself. Such a person, if he should happen to sin in ignorance about Orthodoxy, having learnt the truth, will immediately put aside his error in order to follow the truth. A modernist in such a situation, however, will not only begin to turn in circles and continue in his error, but will plant it in the Church.

Here is what St. Theophan the Recluse writes about this: “Sincere faith is the renunciation of one’s own mind. One must strip the mind and present it like a clean board to faith, so that faith will inscribe itself on it as it is, without any admixture of extraneous utterances and propositions. When one’s own propositions remain in the mind and then the propositions of faith are written in it, the result is a mixture of propositions: the consciousness will become confused, encountering both the actions of faith and the philosophizing of the mind. Such was Simon Magus, the image of all heretics; such, too, are all those who enter the realm of faith with their philosophizing, both previously and now. They are confused in faith, and nothing but harm comes from them: for themselves, when they remain silent; and for others, when they do not keep their confusion to themselves, and it bursts out in their thirst to be teachers. Hence always emerges a party official more or less transgressing in faith, with the unfortunate certainty of his own infallibility and the disastrous desire to remake everyone according to his own model.”

Someone with a faithful and healthy orientation, to the extent of his churching and rootedness in faith, will internally sense and mentally understand when someone with modernist ideas seeks to remake everyone according to his own model.

He will avoid this trap if he remembers “our duty is not to lead religion where you would, but to follow where it leads, and that it is characteristic of Christian meekness and worthiness not to pass on our own to our offspring, but to guard that which is received from our predecessors,” because “in the Church the custom has always thrived that, the more one loved God, the more quickly one opposed new inventions.” [4]

In the Orthodox Church we are given the fullness of truth, and all we are required to do is bow down before it, absorb it, and then pass it on to others without distortion – not reducing it and not adding any “innovation” from our own part. Naturally, we can and must renew something in the Church: ourselves. We must renew ourselves from sin and the passions, putting aside the old man and putting on the new, about which the Apostle Paul spoke: If so be that ye have heard Him, and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:21-24).

Author’s notes:  

[1] Deianiia Vselenskikh Soborov. Vol. 4. St. Petersburg, 1996, p. 94. [In Russian]

[2] These verses are taken from various places of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

[3] Sobranie pisem Optinskogo startsa ieroskhimonakha Amvrosiia. Moscow. 1995. Pp. 101-102 [in Russian].

[4] St. Vincent of Lerins, Pamiatnye zapiski Peregrina. Moscow. 1999, p. 14. [In Russian]

Translated from the Russian by Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky).

This translation originally appeared in Orthodox Life (January/February, 2011).


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If everyone reading Pravmir could donate 5 euros a month, they would contribute greatly to our ability to spread the word of Christ, Orthodoxy, life's purpose, family and society.