03 February 2010

St. Blaise, and the Enemies of Truth

from the Synaxarion:

Saint Blaise of Caesarea lived in the 3rd Century. He hailed from Caesarea Cappadocia (Asia Minor) and was a shepherd. When began a persecution against Christians, Saint Blaise virtuously gave himself over into the hands of the torturers. They subjected him to torture, and beat him with leather thongs, but the Lord healed his wounds. They then threw Blaise into a cauldron of boiling water, but he remained there unharmed. The pagan soldiers, seeing this miracle, came to believe in Christ Jesus. The governor, wishing to show that the martyr remained unharmed because the water had cooled, jumped into the cauldron and died. Having brought many to faith in Christ, Saint Blaise peacefully offered up his soul to God. They thrust the shepherd's staff of the saint into the ground, and it grew up into an huge tree, which covered with its branches the altar of a church built over his relics.

First of all, I love the story of St. Blaise. Indeed, I love all the stories of God showing, through His saints, His one-upmanship to pagans, heretics, and other enemies of the Truth.

Of course, maybe it is the romantic in me that has not yet ascended the self-crucifixion of the 'old man' who looks back on these stories and sees such a marvelous simplicity of witnesses to the Truth of the Gospel. Living, as we do, in a world which takes for granted that truth is a product of one's own point of view (thank you, Obi-wan Kenobi) it is difficult to even get people who call themselves Christians to commit to the secure, unwavering Truth. Perhaps that is why these stories of the saint's lives are so scandalous to so many modern readers; after all, wouldn't it have been better if, rather than rushing to martyrdom, they had bided their time, working in the background, not being noticed overmuch by the pagan authorities, and so hope to change their society from within?

That is how, I think, most modern Christians would think. Of course, to me, this has disturbing parallels to the course of action advocated by Saruman to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings; deploring, maybe, evils done along the way, but knowing that they lead to a greater good. That sort of thinking is something that I utterly reject. I am not saying that, for the health and salvation of a particular person (even, perhaps, of a particular community), in a particular time and particular place for particular reasons, the economia of the Church cannot be exercised, such that the Truth is proclaimed gradually, so as not to break the weakness of faith in some. But, when such a doctrine becomes our whole policy--when, to completely avoid the risk of offending anyone, we intentionally obfuscate, intentionally make vague the Truth of the claims of the Church--we begin to act in a way contrary to the teaching of Christ Himself.

I don't think it unreasonable to take His warning that "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Gospel of St. Mark VIII:38) very seriously.

And we look at the example of St. Blaise; the same boiling water that was intended for him as a torture convinced the soldiers of the Truth to which he was a witness and also killed the prideful governor who denied the power of God he saw demonstrated before him. In some ways, that cauldron of boiling water is symbolically like the Truth itself; those whose hearts were disposed toward it, who accepted it in humility, were saved--those who rejected it, and sought to explain it some other way, were killed by it. To me, this is both promise and warning, much like the verse from St. Mark's Gospel. If we, as Orthodox Christians, begin to take compromise positions--seeking, of course, not to offend our neighbors and family and acquaintances by telling them the Truth (when asked), then we do damage to not just our own souls, but to the credibility of the Church itself, and thus to Christ, who is both its bridegroom and head.

I am not saying we ought to beat people over the head with the claims of the Orthodox Church. We do not go on crusades. But when asked in the spirit of honest inquiry about those claims of the Church, to pretend that they are of little consequence in hopes of bringing someone into the communion is a disastrous proposal. Some would say, "But you need to do more than just speak the Truth, you have to speak the Truth in Love." Well, in my experience of childhood, there are times that my parents and my grandmother corrected me--in love--that involved my backside becoming red and smarting through a good spanking. I didn't enjoy it or even consider it very loving at the time, but in retrospect, I see now that what they were doing is correcting the seeds of very bad behavior that would have done me greater harm, in the long term, than the spanking. And I love and respect them for that. The same is true of those coming to the Church; the Lord says that you have to become as a little child to receive the kingdom of heaven (Gospel of St. Matthew XVIII:3). Literally, inquirers and catechumens are infants in the faith (indeed, some of us who have been in the Church a while are not much better than mewling babes ourselves), and they need to be treated that way. No matter how useful a good kitchen knife is for all sorts of things, you don't give one to a baby to play with.

Some people will probably say this is overly patronizing, but I don't think it is. Given the horrendous attrition rate of adult converts to Orthodoxy, I can only blame bad parenting. And part of that comes from just this refusal to say what we mean, and to mean what we say. In other words, sometimes, the Truth--and Love--hurts.

St. Blaise, lead us all to that Truth for which you struggled and suffered!


Anonymous said...

Excellent words, Justinian! You're right, our society tends very much toward this inoffensive, feel-good, keep-everybody-happy attitude, no matter how serious the topic. It has come to the point where you can't talk about anything substantial with most people anymore. Just small talk. It's sad. I think you're right too about "infants of the faith" needing the firm hand of truth and discipline. Thanks for this post.

Justinian said...

Todd, thanks for leaving this comment. You have no idea how often I thank God for you; you've often been a reason to keep on with blog, when it all seems like vanity and wasted time. God bless you and your family, my friend.


Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Justinian. And thanks for keeping up with your blog. I know I can always come here to find food for my soul. Your prayers are coveted by this sinner.