You don't have to go far in the search engines to hear the cries of atheists and other non-believers. I hear this type of criticism on a regular basis - in fact left the church for a time because of those same hypocrites. After all, the non-believer or disgruntled christian will tell you, didn’t Jesus say:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (St. Matthew 7)
And, while I might digress about the irony of using God’s Word to support the argument of one who denies Him, it’s a claim worth looking into - obviously- because it never seems to go away.
How is it that we become labeled as “judgmental” when all we’re doing is speaking the Truth, .... right? Didn’t Jesus also give us the Great Commission, telling us to spread the Gospel to all nations? Teaching others to obey and follow Jesus’ commandments? (St. Matthew 28) Didn’t Jesus say, “Go and sin no more...” was this casting judgment? Aren’t we to tell others the same?
How are the words of Christ reconciled to us? Where is the balance? As one who is innately opinionated, seeing things mostly in black & white, it’s no stretch to say that I’ve struggled with this dilemma my whole life. When someone I care about makes a poor decision, I have responded with indignation and judment, labeling it “righteous anger” ...just like Jesus casting out the money-changers from the Temple. Meanwhile neglecting to pluck the log from my own eye. It’s painful to admit my internal ugliness here, but who knows... maybe others struggle with the same thing.
At this season in my life, I’ve learned a few things: one, there is a difference between casting judgment and speaking truth and two, that difference involves love and humility. We can speak the Truth about the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, without pointing a finger and damning others with vicious words and actions. In this way, I have sympathy for my fellow christians who cling to Jesus as fire insurance, rather than a blessed Redeemer and Father.
St. Paul states it so well in his epistle to the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 13) that we may have gifts of men and angels... we may have knowledge and understanding of deep mysteries ... we may give all we have to the poor and yet, without LOVE, we have absolutely nothing. If I give Truth to someone, without love, it is worth nothing. And so, what does it mean to love someone in this way?
It means to speak with humility
to speak, understanding the commandments of God
to speak, acknowledging my sins
to speak because I have a desire for that person to know God
and finally, for me personally, it means to speak and then let it go with prayer...
I had only been attending our Orthodox church for a few months when, as I walked into worship late one Sunday, I realized immediately that we- the congregants- were being chastised by our priest. As I stood quietly in the narthex near the burning candles, you could hear a pin drop between father’s words. He was reprimanded us for immodest dress, bringing cell phones -and not turning them off- into worship, of walking down the aisles at times we should be still, among other things. I could feel my cheeks flush and my spirit subdued , something akin to that emotion of a child, being corrected by a loving parent.
Driving home that Sunday, I had time to think more on Fr. Scott’s words. This sort of thing never happened in my former Protestant church. I can only guess that some folks may have been appalled at such an instance... calling to mind an unrelated comment from an acquaintance, “well, if God can’t love me in my jeans and tank top in church, then He isn’t a God I want to worship anyway...” God looks at the heart, right?
God does look at our heart - yes. And our outward appearance and words testify to the state of our heart. The problem with my acquaintance’s comment is that she disregarded what God says about dressing modestly and appropriate for worship and took on the attitude of:
I am not budging; God can meet me right where I am.
If we were to meet the President of the United States, most of us would not show up in a bathing suit. It’s the same reason I don’t show up to photograph a wedding in a tube top and cut-off shorts. For some reason, though, the worship of our Lord has become, in some places, casual...relaxed... ho hum, irreverent and far from sacred. We are to give God our best, whatever that best may be.
Father’s admonishment was justified. He spoke the Truth to his flock with the love of God. We needed to hear his words; women needed to hear that low-cut dresses and mini-skirts were distracting (for do they understand the struggles of men?) and not appropriate for worship. I was stunned that day, but since then have come to regard this action as one of the greatest things about Orthodoxy. It had the same effect as my Trig teacher making me go to the board to work a problem in class. I learned it internally, not just superficially. The sacred worship of God was upheld here and that felt so liberating!
Love is key. Our life is a shining example to others, as St. John Chrysostom reminds us,
“There woud be no need for sermons, if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words, of we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no pagans, if we were true Christians.”
* This Russian icon of the Virgin Mary (the Theotokos) is very personal to me. It reminds me to seek the foot of the cross rather than a soapbox.