Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Heresy and Humility

Today we celebrate the memory of Saints Barsanuphius and John, those two great monastic Elders of sixth-century Gaza whose collection of letters remains an eminently practical handbook for all those trying to lead the spiritual life. I cite two questions and answers (numbers 699 and 700) regarding heresy and humility:
Question: If someone asks me to anathematize Nestorius and the heretics with him, should I do this or not?

Response by John: That Nestorius and those heretics who follow him are under anathema, this is clear. But you should not hurry to anathematize anyone at all. For one who regards himself as sinful should mourn over one's sins, and do nothing else. Neither, however, should you judge those who anathematize someone; for each person tests oneself.

Question: But if one thinks, as a result of this, that I believe the same as Nestorius, what should I tell him?

Response by John: Tell him: "Although it is clear that those people are worthy of their anathema, nevertheless I am more sinful than every other person and feel that, in judging another, I may condemn myself. Indeed, even if I anathematize Satan himself, if I am doing his works, then I am anathematizing myself.

"For, the Lord said: 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments' (Jn 14:15). And the Apostle says: 'Whosoever does not love the Lord, let that person be under anathema' (I Cor 16:22). Therefore, one who does not keep His commandments does not love Him; and one who does not love Him, is under anathema. So, then, how can such a person anathematize others?" Say these things to him; and if he persists in this, then for the sake of his conscience, just anathematize the heretic!
Taken from Letters from the Desert, translated by Fr John Chryssavgis. The first volume of the complete collection of their letters, also translated by Fr John, has recently appeared. Fr Seraphim (Rose) has also produced a partial translation from the Russian version.


Phil Sumpter said...

and if he persists in this, then for the sake of his conscience, just anathematize the heretic!

I love that! Really pragmatic. This would seem to mirror Paul's attitude to eating food to idols ...

Felix Culpa said...

You've inspired me to post another - and larger! - portion.