Oct 31/Nov 13 2009 23rd Friday after Pentecost
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: (34) But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: (35) Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (36) Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. (37) But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Mat 5:33-37)
In this scripture, our Lord is referring to idolatrous practices and warning us how to avoid them. As is usual in His teaching, there is something on the surface, and deeper meaning for those with ears to hear.
There is a “do not” in his teaching – it is intended for the simple – those who need to be told things plainly because they are only capable of digesting milk instead of meat – “Do not” swear on anything, such as by heaven or earth, or Jerusalem. Blessed Theophylact explains that these practices lead to idolatry, where men begin to worship the things they swear upon.
We have many Orthodox Christians who need to be told such things. There are those who come to church only when they perceive that they “need’ something- they light a candle and then go away! Others are immersed in various occult practices and superstitions and do not know that such things are idolatry. Even for some, their preparation for communion amounts to a type of idolatry. They never fast or go to church, EXCEPT for a few days before they plan to come to communion. The pastor’s heart aches for such people, because they are “sheep without a shepherd”, and not because the shepherd is unwilling to help them, but because they are not around long enough to absorb any salvific teaching!
“Do nots” are important, but the reason behind them is more important, and even more so, the things we are told to do and their reasons are of even greater importance.
A Christian who is living as a Christian does not need to be told not to swear, because he internally knows this is wrong. Why? Because he is an honest man.
The fundamental cause of swearing upon things is dishonesty. The more flagrant the swearing, and the greater the promises and flourishes in making the promise, the more likely that the one making the promise is lying. Here, involuntarily, the actions of our politicians, and sometimes even some very political Orthodox hierarchs come to mind.
The fundamental principal our Lord is teaching here is not a “not”. It is to be honest. And His teaching is even deeper than this, because honesty is merely a virtue borne of long practice of loving God and following the commandments. Honesty is the fruit of two things – knowledge of God and of self. These twin pillars of knowledge cannot be obtained without zeal and labor, and love of God above all things.
The man who knows himself and God does not have the pernicious passion of self-deception and with it, the addiction to presenting himself to others in such a way as to hide his true nature.
Some hide their nature purposely such as a lying politician, or a manipulator of persons. Such a person thinks of truth as a tool, to be used when needed, and discarded when deemed to not be advantageous. Since Jesus Christ IS truth, such a dissembler is discarding Christ! To such a one, the curse our Lord pronounced is fully active:
“But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Mat 10:33)
This is how important it is that we do not purposely lie!
Other people, actually all persons except the most perfect, lie because their taskmaster of inner pride and vanity blinds them to their true motivations in all matters. The only way to be freed of these lies is humility. Anything not borne of humility, which is in turn born of knowledge of God and self, is a lie, and therefore, “cometh of evil”:
(37) But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Here is what the Lord is teaching us: “humble yourself, and take my yoke upon you. Pursue perfection. With my help and your effort, you will eventually become a totally honest man.”
Sometimes Scripture is intensely personal. We must understand the intended meaning correctly, and after this, we often, if we listen carefully, hear an application to our own life.
I have been thinking about this Scripture for a week, for no apparent reason. I have not read it for a long time, and did not even remember where exactly it was (eSword is helpful!)
I am writing about honesty, so I will be honest. I get disappointed about a lot of stuff. Dejected, tired, feeling worn out, sometimes even mad. I want to see more “results” (whatever those are – I think I do not even know).
Why is this?
This scripture gives me the easy answer, and the difficult solution. My yea is not yea, not my nay, nay. I am a sinful man, with passions that root me to the earth, and I try daily to do heavenly things. I am the embodiment of one of my pet saying: “A priest is a sinful man teaching other people to not sin”. My motivations are polluted by these passions. This is a type of dishonesty. I am sometimes aware of it directly, but this week, the fruits of this dishonesty, as described in this scripture, became clear to me.
None of these passions obliterates the truth of what I do and say, when it is true, but things would be so much easier for me if my motivations were pure. They must not be, because my feelings betray them.
Just recently, I wrote something about 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5:
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance… (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
We cannot have power without perfect motivations. The liar is weak. The honest man is strong. Always.
I am a pastor, therefore I see constantly that people have imperfect motivations. I am not the only one who does things with imperfect motivations, in disobedience to our Savior’s command.
Always test your motivations!
May God help us all to become honest men.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 Heb 5:12-14 KJV For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. (13) For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. (14) But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
 There are also pious Orthodox Christian who are struggling to live the Christian life and do fast and go to church who believe they must fast for several days before their infrequent times of communion. For some, this works, but in my pastoral experience, it is seldom that that the “three day fasters’ are doing this. This practice can be salvific, but not if practiced in isolation to the things we should be doing regularly, day by day and week by week!
 Mat 9:36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
 John 14:6 KJV Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.