Get thee behind me, Satan
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
Matt 16, 21-24
In His earthly life Christ was opposed by three groups among the Jews, the Saducees, the Scribes and the Pharisees. The Saducees were the Conformists, the elite, the aristocrats of the day, who were not too bothered what they believed, as long as they had their practical comforts and so were happy to co-operate with the Roman occupiers. The Scribes were the Intellectuals, the literate and educated class of the day, forever debating details, but always missing the main point. The Pharisees were the Sectarians, the superior and hypocritical ritualists, who separated themselves from ordinary believers, convinced that only they observed the true faith, which they reduced to the complex but external and ritual observations of the Jewish Law.
All of them had one thing in common. They all refused to suffer for the Faith, they all refused to take up the Cross of attempting self-improvement and therefore they all denied themselves the Resurrection. The Saducees rejected the Resurrection through their lack of faith, the Scribes and Pharisees rejected the Resurrection, actually bribing the Roman guards to deny its disturbing reality.
Because human nature does not change, today we see the same forces at work, Conformists, Intellectuals and Sectarians, always attempting to undermine the Church and Her essential Good News of the Cross and the Resurrection. Unlike the great ship of the Church, their fragile boats are smashed into pieces on the rocks surrounding Golgotha, which they never succeed in reaching.
THE SADUCEES OF TODAY
The Conformist Saducees, the pragmatic ruling class, unprincipled careerists and comfort-lovers, are ready for any compromise. They have always existed, for there have always been human beings ready to swim with the tide. For instance, in Tudor England the Saducee grandees of Roman Catholicism made their Roman Catholicism into a Protestantism almost overnight, at State command. It is clear that these erastians had virtually no principles and perhaps little faith. More recently, in Soviet Russia, there were the Sergianist Saducees, who were willing to co-operate with atheists in order to save their skins, admittedly only after hundreds of principled bishops had already been massacred or exiled. In both cases, their refusal of the suffering of the Cross disqualified the Resurrection. As a much more recent example, we have seen the two recent cases of apostasy in Romania and the compromises among some in the episcopate in order to keep State salaries and all the comforts that go with it:
Thus, on 8 and 9 July the Synod of the Romanian Church met and decided to ‘forgive’ Metropolitan Nicolae of the Banat and Bishop Sophrony of Oradea for their apostasy of intercommunion and concelebration with Uniats. Prior to this, the Community of Mount Athos had sent a letter to the Romanian Synod and the Patriarch expressing their concern that the Synod should not give in to secularist/Vatican pressure, but rather judge the bishops according to the canons (it was the first letter ever sent by the Community directly to the Romanian Synod). At the same time a petition was presented, signed by some 50 Orthodox lay associations, 100 Romanian monastic communities and thousands of laypeople. It pointed out the errors of the two bishops, urging the Synod to judge them according to the canons and not give way to secular pressures.
At the Synod it seems that the problem of the two bishops was not even discussed separately, but rather discussed the issue together with other matters. When asked whether the bishops should be forgiven or not, 47 raised their hands in approval and only 1 was against. This was the elderly Metropolitan Bartholomew of Cluj, who was a notable confessor for the Faith under the Communist yoke. Thus, once more he earned the privilege of standing against the whole Synod and confessing the Faith like St Mark of Ephesus of old.
A decision was issued, stating that the two apostate bishops had acknowledged their sin and repented and that the Holy Synod had taken note of their repentance. The decision continued by stating that the Orthodox Church does not allow intercommunion, and that any who in future commit such acts will be excommunicated from the Church. If they are clerics, they will be defrocked, if laypeople, they will be excommunicated. The Synod also forbade concelebration of any kind.
If applied, this decision will show that the Synod is still Orthodox and that this would be a way to prevent future such acts, without unleashing the rage of secularist-European-politically correct-Vatican pressures. Some said that this was the best the Synod could do, that the Synod could not in just one day cut through the tangled knots that its ecumenists have been tieing for decades.
The decision brought disappointment, sorrow and unrest to very many Romanian Orthodox. It is not even known if the bishops actually read the petition signed by so many. The news agency of the Patriarchate did not even mention it. When Metropolitan Nicolae came out of the Synod, he made an amazing declaration, showing that he did not repent at all. He said that, ‘for now (!), the Holy Synod disapproved of his act...’. Asked if he regretted it, he replied that he ‘regretted that matters had reached that point’.
Those who had signed the petition had asked Metropolitan Nicolae to make a public profession of faith and express his repentance. This was, after all, the man who for 45 years was one of the most prodigious informers of the Romanian Secret Police (acknowledged as such by the Securitate itself). Ironically, at that time this Saducee Conformist did great harm to the Uniats in particular. After the Communist regime fell in 1989, many secularists and Roman Catholics accused individuals in the Romanian Church of having been ‘collaborationists’ (conveniently forgetting the collaborationist actions of Roman Catholic bishops in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary). Yet, these same accusers are now Metropolitan Nicolae’s greatest supporters. This is because the Romanian State is now swimming in the Roman Catholic/secularist EU mess of pottage as they and the ever-adaptable Saducee Metropolitan swim in. The erastian Saducees always co-operate out of self-interest, for they lack principles, integrity, showing rather overweening vanity and personal ambition. If they had faith in the saving power of the Cross, they would confess the Resurrection instead of their own ambitions, trusting in Christ instead of in the world.
As a result, in Romania there is still great unrest and tension. Some are satisfied by the decision of not allowing any future concelebration and hope it will be enforced. Others are greatly disappointed at the decision, especially without any public sign of repentance. In Oradea, the see of the apostate Bishop Sophrony, predictably, some are discussing setting up a schismatic old calendarist diocese. The only positive aspect is that the faithful people and clergy of the Church proved that it can act and that the Saducees have to listen to their voice and cannot manipulate them as they want.
Orthodox hope that God will not forsake His people in Romania and everything will turn out well. May the prayers of the Romanian Confessors, their holy elders and all faithful people save Romania from the latterday Saducees and their conformist comfort and careerism. Certainly, these latter have their seats of power, but they may not be for their salvation, which comes from the Cross and the Resurrection alone.
THE SCRIBES OF TODAY
Secondly, we have the Scribes, the modernist and secular-minded Intellectuals. Today, these are well-represented among heterodox and those on the fringes of Orthodoxy. Let us take three examples, all quite different, but all demonstrating the Scribe mentality.
The first example is that of over ninety years ago in the case of the apostatic Russian Provisional Government of March 1917. This was led by the freemason Kerensky, who later found refuge in London, and was supported by the apostatic Saducee aristocracy and bourgeoisie, who later fled mainly to Paris. For years the Scribes had bitterly attacked the Church, for example in the figures of St Seraphim of Sarov (‘an obscurantist monk’) and St John of Kronstadt (still today reviled as ‘an anti-semite’ by the grandchildren of Paris emigres) and had vilely slandered and betrayed the Orthodox monarchy. Their refusal of the sacrifice of the Cross led to their refusal of the Resurrection and so their ‘cowardice, deceit and treachery’ led to the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917. Thus, they died in exile, never accepting to return home. When the English ‘Kerensky’ branch of these Scribes had the opportunity to return home in 2006, they actually deliberately rejected the opportunity and joined their spiritual home in the Paris branch. And the Paris branch has set itself against the Russian Church in hatred, taking every self-justifying opportunity to slander and malign Her.
The second example is that of certain Western converts to Orthodoxy. Here there are some who do not integrate the Church, but remain on the outside, always criticising Her, always seeking to ‘reform’ Her. Although some of these Scribes were ‘traditional’ Evangelicals, Anglicans and Roman Catholics in their original confessions, they became ultra-liberals when they joined a ‘convenient’ Orthodox jurisdiction, refusing the fullness of the Tradition of the Church. But in reality there is no such thing as ‘traditional’ Protestants or Roman Catholics, because they do not have the Tradition. True, there are conservative Protestants and Roman Catholics, but conservatism is simply a relative mentality, not necessarily anything to do with the Tradition. Once some such people become Orthodox, they discover that what they thought was ‘traditional’ (that is, conservative) is not traditional at all in the Orthodox sense and they position themselves on the liberal fringes of the Orthodox Churches, never integrating. The Tradition is at once far more traditional than mere ‘conservative’ and far more radical than mere ‘liberal’. But you can only have this understanding, once you have the sense of the Cross, and that is unavailable outside the Church. For the Tradition is the Cross and the Resurrection – quite unacceptable to today’s Scribes, who want only their intellectual convenience and self-flattering comfort.
The third example is that of the increasingly eccentric Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. On Wednesday 16 July he stated in a letter to Muslims that the teaching of the Holy Trinity is ‘offensive to Muslims’. The apostasy of the Anglican leader, who seemingly a proud intellectual is patronising towards the Christian Tradition and despises the humble faith of so many ordinary Christians, is now clear. Not surprisingly, his current, secularist-agendaed Lambeth Conference is being boycotted by nearly a quarter of his own bishops. This situation is so obviously conditioned by the Archbishop’s concessions to political correctness and secularism that it does not need commenting on further. His lack of faith in confessing the basic doctrine of Christianity, the Holy Trinity, reflects his refusal to take up the Cross and therefore to confess the Resurrection.
THE PHARISEES OF TODAY
Finally, we come to the Pharisees of today, the Sectarians who adopt the Church as a mere external and self-justifying ideology. Thus, outside the mainstream of the Russian Orthodox Church, for example, there is a division. This division is in the opposition between the modernist and secular pseudo-Intellectual Scribes called Renovationists, supported by the comfort-loving Saducee Conformists with their personal ambitions, and, on the other hand, the Sectarian Pharisees.
These latter are often represented by individuals who display ill-educated extremism, pessimistic sectarianism, ritualism and legalism forever debating the composition of the services, censorious and self-justifying condemnation of others, nationalism, apocalypticism and alarmism, the display of hypocritical pietism, narrowness in mind and narrowness also in soul. These see the Cross, but neither take it up themselves nor make of it a weight light enough for others to take up. In this way, by denying the Cross to all, they deny the Resurrection to all.
The confrontation between these extremes is now under way. The future of the Church is in the mainstream of spiritual wisdom, humble faith, living hope and genuine love, which enable Churchpeople to pass through the thick layers of sin of the falsehoods of Conformist Saducees, Modernist Scribes and Sectarian Pharisees, around them. What is required in the Russian Church is united action against the real enemy, whose secularist face is bursting through the open door of the Russian Orthodox house with its divide and rule ideology of the New World Order.
As we approach the end times, we will expect the Conformist Saducees of the State, the Intellectual Scribes of the mind and the Sectarian Pharisees of the soul to oppress us, as they have already done for the past ninety years in the emigration. Our solution is to take up our Cross and to follow the Saints, especially those closest to the situation, the New Martyrs and Confessors, onwards to the Resurrection. Amid persecution from all sides, the victorious Saints are the only reason why we remain optimists.
God in His mercy has given us just one last chance before the Coming of Christ. Let us all say: Get thee behind me, Satan. Let us take up our Cross, not being swayed by the ambitions of the Saducee Conformists, by the modernism of the Scribe Intellectuals, by the self-righteousness of the Pharisee Sectarians, and confess the Spirit, Who alone ‘will guide you into all truth’ (Jn 16, 13), which ‘truth shall make you free’ (Jn 8, 32).
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his Kingdom.
Matt 16, 25-28
Priest Andrew Phillips,
5/18 July 2008