My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
JESUS CONDEMNS HYPOCRISY
“Therefore, laying aside ALL MALICE, ALL DECEIT,
HYPOCRISY, ENVY, AND ALL EVIL SPEAKING…” (1 Peter 2:1).
“But the wisdom that is from above is first PURE, THEN PEACEABLE,
GENTLE, WILLING TO YIELD, FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS,
WITHOUT PARTIALITY AND WITHOUT HYPOCRISY” (James 3:17).
As we, Orthodox Christians, proceed on our journey to the Feast of the Holy Dormition (Koimisis), along the way we encounter new spiritual challenges which need to be corrected and changed if we are to make any measurable progress. One of the spiritual objectives is to do more listening to God and less talking. In Byzantine hagiography the person depicted on holy icons is shown with a smaller mouth and larger ears, a subtle sign of speaking less, and listening more. What we have to say to God is not as important as what He has to say to us. God already knows what we have to say before we even say it or what we think, or what we need. It is important, however, to do some serious introspection and honestly examine our conscience, our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions.
Our Divine Redeemer Christ expects us to be truthful and avoid falsehood and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy offends Him and He will not have it under any conditions. He exposed the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. But what is hypocrisy? The classical Greek word υπόκρισις (hypocrisis) means “an actor playing a part on the stage, playing or acting, feigning, a pretender, an actor.” Today we would say a person who is fake, an impostor, a deceiver, and someone who is theatrical or showy.
This is how Jesus dealt with the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-36:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi…
“WOE to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and as a pretense you make long prayers. Therefore, you will receive a greater condemnation.
“WOE to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the Kingdom of Heaven in the face of people and you yourselves do not enter! And those who would enter, you prevent them from doing so…
“WOE to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel around by sea, and land to make one convert and when one is converted you make him twice as much of an heir of Gehenna as yourselves.
“WOE to you, you blind guides, who say, ‘if someone swears by the sanctuary, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound. You blind fools! Which is greater, the gold, or the sanctuary that sanctifies the gold?
Jesus truly reveals His stand on hypocrisy and exposes those who practiced it and who deceive the Hebrew people. Saint Theophylcat says, “The Lord, therefore, is accusing the Pharisees of themselves not wanting to carry the weight of the Commandments and to practice them. Not only do they not do anything good, but they pretend that they do good.” They have God-given authority and many God-given Commandments, but they are personally ungodly, cold-hearted and vainglorious. Their teaching is to be honored, but they are not to be imitated. A true leader or teacher leads his people to God. The Pharisees do the opposite, placing themselves in God’s stead. Our Lord Christ accuses them of inverting God’s values and, with being mean-spirited, greedy, ambitious, absorbed in externals, hypocritical, and blindly self-righteous. How much worse will it be for Christians who lapse into patterns of religious life similar to the scribes and Pharisees?
These warnings are especially important to Orthodox Christians. This historic Church has maintained the ancient liturgical obligations, beautiful holy objects, specific rituals which externally guard righteousness and imposing tradition, handed down through God-fearing Fathers. These rites can be performed, invoked, defended and passed on without ever being taken by faith to heart; or they can be aids, safeguards and doorways into the True Life of Christ in us, which transform us from glory to glory.
The purpose of this spiritual struggle is to transform us and help become genuine Christians and not hypocrites. There are those that accuse the church-attending faithful of being hypocrites but, I ask you truly, which one of us is not a hypocrite? Everyone of us has a tinge of hypocrisy. What that tells us is that none of us are either righteous or perfect or saints. It is a passion though that needs to be overcome. The scribes and Pharisees focused on the letter of the Law and obeyed it with pride, but they missed the most significant things of God. Their religion was external, therefore, their hearts were not transformed. They conduct religious acts but do not have God-loving hearts. It does no good, Christ says, to clean up the outside when the inside is “full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). They were so blinded by their arrogance and do not understand that when the inside is changed, the outside, also, will be transformed.
Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees that they are just like their ancestors who persecuted and murdered the Prophets of old (Matthew 23:29-31). In building monuments to the Prophets, testify themselves, openly admitting that it was true. Nevertheless, their claim that they would not have done so, however, they are the ones who will very soon plot the murder of the Son of God Himself (Matthew 26:4). The religious leaders made a mockery out of following God. Our Savior’s desire was that the Hebrew people would come to know God and be reconciled with Him.
What lesson do we take from Jesus’ encounter with the scribes and Pharisees? Yes, Jesus was harsh with them but He needed to protect His people from them who for years deceived them, exploited them, abused, and enslaved them, and deliberately kept them away from God. “He calls them hypocrites for professing piety and doing nothing worthy of what they profess, but instead, they would make pretense of long prayer and would devour the widows’ means. They deceived the ordinary people and like leaches sucked them dry.”
No Orthodox Christian should fall into this evil trap. It matters not if one is a religious leader, a follower or a disciple. People may be fooled by a pretender, a hypocrite, but God can never be deceived by anyone. Unfortunately, there are many charlatans or religious frauds today as well. People who have mastered deception and false piety. People who seek to gain one’s confidence and trust. They usually are cunning and manipulative to the point of convincing one of how virtuous they are and to impress one with their knowledge on various subjects and topics. These people, just like the scribes and Pharisees can, if allowed, bring harm and hurt to many innocent people.
The authentic Orthodox Christian must always be truthful, honest, honorable, and always be himself. Never pretend to be something that you are not. Keep your dignity uncompromised, be humble and be loving to all people. There an old Greek saying, “The liar and the thief rejoices only the first year.” In other words, they rejoice over their success to trick someone only for a brief time because he/she is usually exposed soon after. Always do the right thing and give of yourself, your time, talent, and treasure to those who need help without any strings attached. Don’t seek and invite any attention unto yourself but always remain meek unpretentious. Do not seek glory for yourself but give glory to Almighty God the Father.
Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever unto the ages of ages. Amen.
“Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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– With sincere agape in His Divine and Glorious Diakonia (Ministry),
– The sinner and unworthy servant of God