The Church is a place of healing. And sometimes, to create an atmosphere that promotes spiritual development rather than decay, the Church needs to identify and speak against spiritual sickness.
Whenever it does so, one thing is clear: the Church can speak against illnesses of the heart because the Church, as the Body of Christ, is united to the source of holiness and goodness.
On the first Sunday of Great Lent, for example, we celebrate the restoration of the icons during the Sunday of Orthodoxy. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the faithful process with icons in hand and the clergy proclaim that we depict Christ and His saints in icons because “this is the Faith which has established the Universe.”
Yet these affirmations of the Faith are also paired with strong anathemas against “those who persist in the heresy of denying icons, or rather the apostasy of denying Christ.”
We see this in the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. The First Council, for example, composed the Nicene Creed, a positive statement setting forth the Church’s core profession of Faith. Yet the Council also published a long list of anathemas condemning the errors of Arius, who taught that Christ is a mere creation rather than “true God from true God” (as the Creed states).
Sometimes, the Church needs to clearly and courageously speak out in order to correct a grave error which has taken root in our hearts.
This correction flows from a clarity of purpose and the sure knowledge of what spiritual health means.
Last weekend, the world witnessed something ugly and deeply twisted. On Friday night, a group of Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, and other white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, VA in a gathering initially organized to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Conjuring frightful images from decades past, they marched with tourches in hand, spreading darkness and shouting vile slogans:
You will not replace us!
Jews will not replace us!
They marched for the creation of an “ethno-state,” intentionally identifying with those who gassed and lynched in the hopes of a whiter (yet nonetheless darker) tomorrow.
The scene erupted into violence when the white supremacists and anti-racist counter-protesters clashed.
On Saturday, the buildup to a planned rally further degenerated into more violence. After a state of emergency was declared, the rally was cancelled. A car intentionally careened at high speed through a crowd of counter-protesters. Nineteen people were injured. Heather Heyer was killed.
Condemning this should be simple and straightforward. As Christ Himself said, whatever we do to “the least of these,” we do to Christ Himself.
Similarly, whatever we do not do for “the least of these,” we do not do for Christ Himself.
When we march through the streets with torches in hand, shouting for the extermination of our fellow human beings, we join the angry mob that shouted for Christ’s blood.
Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
Similarly, when armed mobs itch to play the executioner and we remain silent, we deny our Lord as Peter once did.
White supremacy is inherently un-Christian. Racism is inherently un-Christian. It is premised on the false notion that some human beings are inferior to others.
Differences serve as an opporunity for union and love. Division, however, is overcome in the person of Christ.
Christian preaching is very clear. We die in the waters of baptism so we can rise in Christ, as members of His Body. A body is composed not merely of eyes or hands, but a rich variety of members. Divisions are drowned in the font so we can be made anew.
True identity lies not merely in our biology or nationality or ancestry, but in our union with the true human being: Jesus Christ.
Racism is contrary to our identity as Christians, and it denies the image of Christ in every person.
This is the theology of the Church.
"We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ."
In the past, the Church has publicly denounced efforts to diminish Christ and those who bear His image. Our duty as Christians remains the same today.
When the Church speaks against those who would dishonor Christ or His people, it is in the hope that the misguided would repent and unite themselves to the Lord.
Today, when we speak against nihilistic ideologies contrary to the teachings of Christ, it must be in the hope that they (and we) can be better: that the hearts of all people can soften enough so that we may see Christ in every face we encounter.
People are assembling to harass, intimidate, and even destroy living icons.
We must not equivocate and mince words. We must not hesitate to courageously denounce what is evil. We must not make excuses for those who try to justify or rationalize such spiritual and societal darkness.
If we are slow to come to the defense of these living icons, is it because we do not value all people, made in the image of Christ? Is it because of the difficulty of freeing our own hearts from sin? Or do we fear the discomfort of naming and fighting the evils before us?
If we are afraid to call out the obvious evils right in front of us, can we be brave enough to confront the evils in our own hearts? And if we do not root out the evils in our own hearts, what hope do we have of being a prophetic voice in a world that desperately needs the Word of God?
May our hope rest in the Lord. May our lips speak His words and may our hands do His works: with generosity and hope, and without any hesitation.
Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.
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