October 11, 2010

An Orthodox Response To Scandals

A Homily By Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, Cyprus

Good evening to you all.

Let's reply to one or two questions first, and then we can move on to our topic, in order to cover them.

Well, one rather lengthy question was posed, as follows:

We daily see the Mass Media reveal all kinds of scandals that pertain to the social, political and financial life of the country. Quite often, it is revealed that political leaders and individuals in high places have been involved; people to whom our countrymen - the simple folk - have entrusted the future of our nation with their vote. And yet, they later prove to have been ruthless and self-seeking individuals who have abused the people's trust in the worst possible way. What should the good Christian's stance be, when he sees all this corruption and injustice, when he sees the law of material profit prevailing, when he becomes a witness to people who step over others' dead bodies and who sacrifice everything on the altar of money? Should that Christian become actively involved, should he demonstrate, protest, and generally do something, or merely remain indifferent and stay silent, and just dedicate all his energy to the salvation of his own soul?

Of course this is a very basic question, which preoccupies all of us; however, let us take things one at a time.

First of all, dear children, we need to keep in mind that all this scandal-mongering, on every single subject and at every level - political, financial, social and even ecclesiastical - is NOT something that is done in a proper manner, or with good intentions. You cannot project something bad in a manner that is not good, otherwise, by projecting something bad in a bad manner, it will become even worse. Even when someone projects a good thing in a bad manner, then regardless how good it is, a bad projection of it will not be of any help to it. It will make it appear like a bad thing.

Let's give an example. A few days ago, I was visiting somewhere and on TV they were talking about a father who was sexually molesting his daughter, then the mother showed up on radio and TV and also talked about it, and we could hear a trembling voice and discern a hair-raising figure of that person... And it gets one thinking: OK, this is a scandal, it is something evil, but must these things be projected on TV? I mean, should these things be entering the mind of a little child watching that program - say for example a little girl? That her daddy or the daddy of another child would do such things? Just imagine, if her own father goes to hug her, and the child is made to feel that his caress is something else.... These things cannot be voiced; and they also cannot be amended in this way. We are not being constructive this way.

Scandals exist in the world and they will always exist. They will never cease to exist, but, are we actually being constructive by publicizing them? Are we being constructive or do we make scandals cease by projecting them in such a way? By projecting a scandal, it only becomes even greater... publicizing it is a magnifying glass that only enlarges the scandal.... OK, so there is a scandal, but is it really that necessary to magnify it?

And then there are all those who are embroiled in the problem: what happens to all of those people? Is the individual's persona tarnished - even the sinner's and the guilty party's? But then, doesn't even the suspect have a certain right? If nothing else, he does have the right to repent. So, how can you crush someone like that? And what if that person is eventually proven innocent? What if things aren't the way you described them? Who is then going to bear the weight of the responsibility of all that victimization?

Then, when all these things come out in the open, we hear about them, you all hear about them, and we too get stirred up. And what do we do? We find ourselves embarking on another process, as we can see in the question posed earlier; in other words, whether we should react. And we can see there, that there is an imperfect reaction in the question itself: "should we demonstrate, protest?" In other words, does "reacting" to this scandal require protests and stone-throwing? That would be rather reminiscent of the displays of protests against the occupying forces (in Cyprus), where we stand outside the green line, eating souvlaki and throwing stones at the Turks on the other side; then, after we are done and having felt that we have fulfilled our patriotic duty, we go to a disco to pass the time....

Is that the way for us to react towards scandals? With demonstrations and reactions of that kind? Scandals are very serious matters and they require very serious handling - as well as extreme prudence - and first of all, one must have the appropriate prerequisites inside him, in order to act correctly. In other words, one must first of all think ahead as to what the outcome of that action will be: will it have a positive result, or will it have a negative result? Then, will the reaction to that action be a good or bad one? Because a bad reaction - even if our intervention is for a good cause - will spoil it; it will spoil everything, even the benefit that could have ensued eventually.

Then, one needs to think about the others who will become embroiled in the entire affair. An example: Let's say you are an eyewitness to a crime, and you were to tell a holy man that a crime was committed - that someone murdered another person - do you know what the sentiments of that holy man would be? He would respond in the following manner: "Well, to be honest I am not a Saint, but I have seen saintly people who, upon hearing such news (and what I'm saying may be wrong - I don't know), would sorrow for the victim, they would grieve for the one who was killed, but they would literally mourn for the one who committed the crime. The one who killed is in a far more deplorable state than the one who died."

Can we comprehend this logic that the Saints possess? In other words, they would pray for the one who suffered the wrongdoing - that is, the victim - but they would pray twice as much for the perpetrator of the crime, because he is "killed" twice as much, and is in a much worse situation than the victim. Therefore, our love and our pain must be such that extends to all people. If we wish to take a spiritual stance towards such an incident, we cannot allow ourselves to "see" that this one is the villain and declare that he is worthy of every punishment and condemnation and hatred and whatever else, while the other is the one who needs compassion and sympathy. Yes, to compassion and sympathy; yes, of course the judicial system must take action, but the guilty party is likewise entitled to love. A guilty person also has the right to sympathy and caring - the pastoral caring of the Church and the people of the Church - because we simply cannot deprive any person of the eventuality and the possibility of repentance.

Therefore, we see things in a different manner than the world does: not with a secular mentality. But you may ask: OK, what are we supposed to do, with so many injustices around us? What can we do? Well, what we should do, is for each one of us to first take a look at himself and ask oneself "What is my place here? What can I do?" Then we also check our potentials, our place and our possibilities... and of course as we already said, what will the result be?

As the Elder Paisios advises: "Man must start with himself first. By making yourself good, you automatically make a piece of the world good, then you also influence those around you, and you eventually influence more and more people and further and further away, and some things inevitably become better. You can react against something bad in a very good manner; if necessary, with a more dynamic reaction, but with dignity and a noble manner. Noone can forbid you to do so, as long as it is within the limits of decency and a noble handling so that you don't annihilate the other person, but instead, help even him."

For instance, if someone has his finger on the trigger and is ready to shoot someone else and I am standing next to him without being observed, can I strike him on the hand and make his gun fall down? I can do that, provided I don't strike him with feelings of annoyance and malice and the desire to break his hand, but only to obstruct him from doing something far worse. In other words, even that educative action of mine should be made with love, with a spirit of love.

We need to ascertain that this move will be an educative one - that it will also educate me as well as the other. And I believe that when things are done with love and pain as the Elder says - with love and pain for the other person - then there will be a proper handling and edification every time. God edifies the other person too; He edifies even the one who is a completely hopeless case. God does not destroy any person. Only the devil destroys the other; God edifies even the worst assassin - He has a way of saving him. And that is what God desires: not to destroy the other, but to save him, out of infinite love. Therefore, if one looks at things this way, I believe they can change.

Now my children, no matter what we do, you need to know that it is impossible for scandals to vanish altogether. Christ Himself said so, in the Gospel: "It is an impossible thing, for scandals not to appear." Look - they even appear inside the Church, where we read the Gospel from morning to night, where we perform so many Liturgies, we receive Communion, we fast, we pray, we do so many things, we have dedicated ourselves to God, and there comes a moment when scandals break out inside the Church, they set fire and you don't know where they came from and how to extinguish them - and you imagine that scandals won't break out in other areas? These are the stamps of human imperfection. We are human beings; human imperfection is inherent, there is human weakness, there are human errors... how I understand something is quite different to how the other individual understands it... It is now a part of human nature for that imperfection to exist - that weakness - and it is only natural for all those problems and difficulties to protrude from within them.

We need to learn to react appropriately and stand firmly with prudence in the presence of scandals, without panicking and saying: "See! Scandals everywhere - nothing has remained standing." No, it is not like that at all. As the Elder used to say, "Even from within scandals, God can extract something good; in other words, wherever the devil plows, God sows..." Satan may plow and turn everything upside down, but God allows him to - there is democracy - hey, let the devil do his work, let him earn his wages too, let him finish his job, and after he is finished and has turned everything upside down and can do nothing more and everything is messed up, then the Good Lord comes and sows His seed and does His work. Sometimes, the devil messes things up so badly, that if God were to tell him to sit down and sort out the mess he made, not even he could straighten it out - that's how complicated things could become. But if one leaves things with complete trust in God's Providence, one will see that in the end, the one who wants to benefit will benefit. Many, many benefits are gained; in the end, noone is wronged - don't you worry - noone is wronged.... and if someone is wronged for a while, he will be vindicated eternally... and the one who loses transient things will gain eternal things, which are incomparably better and greater...

So, we need not worry; we are not the ones who will give out justice in this world. We simply need to learn to extract something beneficial from an injustice. Injustice abounds in the world and it will continue to exist, no matter what we do, because there is the element of human freedom and human imperfection; you cannot extort anyone into observing justice - he is a free person, he doesn't want to.

He will say: "Look mister, I don't want to do that thing - can you force me to do something that you want? Well, I don't want to do it."

"But it is unfair..."

"So, maybe it is unfair. I want unfairness. Can you deprive me of the right to desire unfairness? Can you deprive me of the right to make mistakes, to do things wrong? Well, that's what I desire!"

Fine. It's democracy. Let's say he does what he wants. But it is not something that can hinder us on our path, because injustice and difficulty are to be utilized spiritually - and man can utilize them....