Pastors Talk About the Struggle With Blasphemy

Every day the godless world tests Christians for firmness of spirit and faithfulness to their convictions. The films, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “The da Vinci Code”, and “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”, Madonna’s cabbalistic concerts, the woeful punk outburst in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, satanic rock bands, and much else provoke us. The reality is that we are forced to face things like this nearly every day.

How should we react to blasphemy? Should we be silent in hopes that it will “go away by itself”, that there is no need to raise an unnecessary ruckus and attract attention to such outrages? In that case blasphemy can in fact go unnoticed, but it could also happen that it will nevertheless become known, and we become betrayers of our faith. Or, to the contrary, should we apply every available connection and means of mass information to openly oppose the blasphemers? In that case our struggle will be shown for all to see, but there is also a great likelihood that this will only give the godless and their outrages more airtime. Perhaps there is some third way that takes into consideration the particulars of each case? Sharing their thoughts on this problem are priests Dimitry Shishkin and Sviatoslav Shevchenko, and deacon Valery Dukhanin.

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A Christian’s main weapon should not be a reaction to someone’s ridiculous outrages, but rather his own positive action.”

Deacon Valery Dukhanin, Doctoral candidate of Theology, Assistant Dean of the Nikolo-Ugresh Theological Seminary.

Deacon Valery Dukhanin Deacon Valery Dukhanin
—It is always painful for an Orthodox Christian to see blasphemous outrages or attacks against the Church. After all, everything connected with the Lord is dear and precious to us. Therefore, a blasphemous act is the same thing as if someone were to insult our mother. This is one of our most painful spots. Of course, we want very badly to stand up against this. But what can we actually do? There are a few possible problems and a few possible alternatives.

First of all, every Christian is located in some specific place, at a specific job, immersed in a sphere of inter-relationships where he can state his position clearly. We are not in a time of an openly anti-religious regime,1 when people mocked Christian values with impunity while the faithful were forced to keep silent. Therefore, I consider that in the case of the famous punk-act in the cathedral, the correct decision was made to take it to court and obtain an appropriate sentence. We recall that the Lord Jesus Christ decisively cast out of the temple those who violated its sacredness by their behavior. [In Russia] we have a union of Orthodox citizens who are able to make such claims. A social movement is capable of achieving much.

Secondly, a Christian should neither be afraid of acting alone. For example, if you work for in the media or in political structures you should put some effort into countering the propaganda of sin, even if you eventually have to pay for it. After all, if the Lord has granted you a measure of authority you are obligated to use it to serve God. Having the opportunity to make a difference but not doing so is a sin. If you are a teacher in a school, an officer in the army, or a doctor in a hospital—witness to faith and opposition to blasphemy are possible in these places also. The main thing here is positive action and a precise, clear expression of your position. If your witness boils down to no more than gossip within a narrow group of friends, such as “Hey, look what that guy’s doing,” there will not be much benefit.

Thirdly, we have to soberly understand that we cannot correct all the evil happening around us. There is no use killing ourselves over someone’s madness. As St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) said, do not attempt to stop the “mystery of iniquity” with your weak hand. The sinful world naturally propagates sin. It is naïve to think that all will be pure and bright. It has always been easier to sin than to be free of sin. And when a person is bereft of a feeling of the sacred, he has no trouble laughing at the sacred—that is, blaspheming. But our main problem is that at times we are rather inept at preaching virtue; we do not know how to convey this feeling of sacredness to people around us. That is, we need to strive to do what is accessible to us and not get despondent over our inability to correct everything around us.

The world will bring forth it’s own, but a Christian is called to bring forth his witness to Christ. Therefore, a Christian’s main weapon should not be a reaction to someone’s ridiculous outrages, but rather his own positive action, preaching the faith through whatever means available, attempting to enter more firmly into modern mass information media and transform them from within. After all, the age-old reason for the problems we are discussing is the lack of religious engagement in our society. A person who lives by sincere faith in Christ has no need for the wares that depraved performers are offering. When no one pays any attention to the show it loses its meaning. Thus, this is a problem of values in society and the significance of faith in Christ for it.

It is worth remembering that by committing blasphemy a person does not harm God but himself, depriving himself of his eternal lot with Christ. In this sense a blasphemer is the most miserable person on earth, and deserves a measure of pity.

***

Whoever looks at evil with disgust will soon look at it with pleasure.”

Priest Sviatoslav Shevchenko, director of the press service for the Blagoveshchensk diocese, priest of the Annunciation Cathedral, Blagoveshchensk:

Priest Sviatoslav Shevchenko Priest Sviatoslav Shevchenko
—The modern world really does challenge Orthodox Christians. And here it is important, in my opinion, to remember the words of St. Basil the Great who said unambiguously that, “Whoever looks at evil with disgust will soon look at it with pleasure.” This is the evolution of sin in man’s corrupt nature. However, on the other side of spiritual lukewarmness is another extreme: hatred of people—when a believer is even ready to beat people up. Both paths are dead ends and never bring any real results.

Our Savior gave us good advice for such situations: Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Mt. 10:16). And if we were to try to formulate a recipe in a patristic vein, it would be this: We should carefully think through any civil actions in response, but we should plan them in a spirit of angerlessness and love for those against whose activities we are protesting. Then everything will come into place.

We can learn this from Christ Himself in those Gospel episodes where people tried to provoke Him. After all, he did not always keep silent. But His answers were always both wise and simple at the same time. Here is clearest example of this: But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said… Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's (Mt. 22:18-21). Essentially the Lord conducted a public action in which he put the provocateurs in their place. Furthermore, His answer was for the most part directed not at those who were asking the question but to all those there listening.

As a person who works in the sphere of information, I would advise writing calm, factually checked posts in blogs and social networks, and leaving intelligent, restrained commentary on forums. Appropriate for defending a position are non-offending demotivators, prepared video clips, and other media content. Our point of view can be presented to young people through some sort of good-natured, creative flash mob, attractive posters, flyers, and booklets. Good-natured humor comes in handy for this kind of work. That is, we must always respond to anti-culture by culture. And most importantly, we need to actively make use of our democratic rights: gather signatures, petition government bodies and law enforcement agencies, and present legislative initiatives.

***

Let’s cross ourselves and say, ‘Lord, grant me confirmation in the fear of Thee!’”

Priest Dimitry Shishkin, Rector, Church of the Protection of the Theotokos in the village of Pochtovaya, Simferopol and Crimean diocese.

Priest Dimitry Shishkin Priest Dimitry Shishkin
—Every expression in Holy Scripture has particular power and depth… We recall the example of St. Paul the Simple, who by one phrase from the Psalms of David, Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, was inspired to take up ascetic labors. Thus, in Holy Scripture we read, The beginning of wisdom is fear of God (Prov. 9:10). Here we have to stop in order to understand what this means as clearly as possible. The fear of God is a feeling that is different from our everyday understanding of what fear is. In one of the “Prayers at the lighting of the lamps” [read by the priest during the first Psalm of Vespers (Palm 103)] are some amazing words that in Church Slavonic are expressed in a way that is almost impossible to render adequately in modern language. It is a request to God that sounds like this: “Make glad our hearts to fear Thy holy Name…” This is a text that is absolutely incomprehensible to an “ordinary” person. How can a person have his heart made glad just so that he can experience fear? The thing is that the fear of the Lord is a feeling that can’t be compared to any other feeling, which has both awe before God’s greatness and thankfulness, as well as joy from the awareness that God is alive, and that the world exists by His inalienable laws. When a person firmly assimilates this understanding, his life becomes different and filled with wisdom, no matter how simple and artless he himself might be. This is because God’s wisdom comes into our lives not when we philosophize and talk about “exalted matters”, but when we act and live in a godly way, preserving the purity of the Orthodox faith.

However, this law has a reverse effect also. If a person falls away from the faith, if he does not accept with all seriousness the call to order his life according to God’s commandments, that person simply becomes stupider, no matter how smart and educated he was. This stupidity manifests itself first of all in his resistance against God, and such resistance destroys that person’s life. What could be more stupid than destroying your own life? Without a doubt, such a person deserves compassion and prayer that he be brought to his senses, because the Lord Himself does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he return to Him and live (cf. Izek. 18:32).

Besides prayer there is also the gift of speech, a possibility for discussion. Holy Scripture invites us to talk with such people, to try and make them understand, to suggest to them the thought of how necessary it is to make peace with God. However, these admonitions should not continue indefinitely. Thus, the Lord says:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Mt. 18:15-17).

That is, rebuke from the Church is the final measure, a conciliatory measure; but beyond that, administrative or criminal laws should come into play. The sense of these laws (if it can be so put, for quarantine) consists in protecting the healthy majority from what is “sick and infectious”, in the spiritual and moral sense, in the minority. The significance of legal action is extremely important. But the law itself should measure up to Gods’ Law; otherwise it could to the contrary call a plague healthy and everything else sick, and even compel others to spread malignant bacteria so that everyone would get the plague more quickly and irreversibly. This sounds like unconcealed delirium? Absolutely! But aren’t we seeing more and more often in recent times that unconcealed delirium is becoming the norm, and even a norm fixed in the legislature? This is happening precisely because of people’s disdain for God’s Law, from unbelief, and the absence of the fear of God. But the end of all such works is known: suffering, despair, and destruction—if, of course, the person does not come to his senses and repent.

So, in encountering any form of blasphemous madness our first obligation is to stop for a moment our external and internal movement, cross ourselves unhurriedly and pray with our whole heart: “O Lord, grant me confirmation in the fear of Thee!” Then, if possible, let’s try to explain to the blasphemers that they are destroying their lives and are a temptation to others. But if the blasphemers do not understand, let’s call for help from society and the Church, and ask it to raise its voice. Well, and if the madmen do not listen to the Church either, let the law cut off their blasphemous activities for the sake of guarding everyone else from spiritual destruction.

Anna Erakhtina
Translation by OrthoChristian.com

6/18/2014

1 The author is speaking of the Soviet Union, when religion was officially mocked and persecuted. There are countries still where Christianity is openly persecuted, such as some Muslim states.
Comments
Zed7/7/2014 1:17 am
Please be careful with the photos included in articles (which up to now, in so many articles, have been very clear and appropriate).I cannot tell if the man with the gun is an actor in the play, or a protestor.Also, it is not good to give 'free' publicity to media-hyped creations, even by publishing their names. You could, however, give information as to who they 'really' are...
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