A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (Saint Matthew 7:15)

St. Leo the Bishop of Catania in Sicily

St. Leo the Bishop of Catania in Sicily

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

"(The) Kingdom (of God), is characterized, as we have shown, by humility and gentleness of heart. It is the combination of these two qualities that constitutes the perfection of the person created according to Christ. For every humble person is invariably gentle and every gentle person is invariably humble" (St. Maximos the Confessor, "On the Lord's Prayer," Philokalia II).

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"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves" (St. Matthew 7:15)

Our Lord Jesus Christ charges us to "beware" because it is possible to be deceived by those who wear a mask of virtue but are "false prophets," or "wolves" who live corrupt lives. However, we must keep fore-front in our mind Our Lord's instruction: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (St. Matthew 7:1-5). Let me judge myself, and God will certainly judge me also.

But we also learn that acts or deeds can be judged. Saint Matthew the Evangelist tells us Our Lord Christ said of His true followers: "You will know them by their fruits" (St. Matthew 7:15-16). The Holy Apostle John and Evangelist John wrote "...All wrongdoing is sin..." (1 John 5:17). Also to be kept in mind are the words of the Holy Apostle Paul: "Speak evil of no one...avoid quarreling...be gentle" (St. Titus 3:2). Saint John informs us what Jesus told him about the acts of a group who had left the Church "...you hate the deeds...which I also hate" (Revelation 2:6).

Therefore without judging the individual involved I can comment on what deeds, works or acts we should display or not display toward others.

Who is God? "...God is agape (love)..." (1 John 4:8). Saint John continues: "If any one says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). This is based on Jesus' summary of all the Commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first Commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two Commandments depend all the law of the prophets" (St. Matthew 22:37-40).

Saint Paul tells the Galatians (5:22-25) what this means: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law." And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." Later in this epistle Saint Paul further explains: "Beware, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1-2).

How can we walk "...according to the Spirit..." (Romans 1:4) and "...put on Christ?" (Galatians 3:27). Saint Paul Evdokimov notes: "God became incarnate so that man may contemplate [H]is face through every face. Perfect prayer seeks the presence of Christ and recognizes it in every being." Saint Paul counsels us to "...pray constantly..." Saint Isaac the Syrian tells us: "it is in proportion to the honor which someone shows in his person to God during times of prayer...the door of assistance will be opened to him, leading to the purifying of the impulses and to illumination..."

For this to take place Saint Isaac, in agreement with all the Holy Fathers of the Church, tell us: "The first virtue is detachment, that is, death in relation to every person or thing. This produces the desire for God...Then the fear of God will establish itself within us, and through this fear love will be make manifest" (Philokalia I). Saint Diadochos of Photiki tells us that spiritual knowledge is the result: "Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment..." Acquiring spiritual knowledge takes personal ascesis, as well as just noted, being in total conformity to the "Mind of Christ and His Church".

Archbishop Hilarion quotes Saint Isaac further understanding of the necessity of detachment and silence: "And this is the definition of stillness: silence to all things if in stillness you are found full of turbulence…your soul with cares…it is ridiculous...[rather we must] separate ourselves from every care." As Saint John Climacus (Ladder) tells us: "The lover of silence draws closer to God. He talks to Him in secret and God enlightens him."

There are many Orthodox Christians who have a very narrow understanding of the Church. Essential for all those who have been illuminated by baptism, is to be in union with Christ and the Church He founded, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic and Orthodox Church As Evdokimov tells us the Holy Fathers of the Church almost take literally: "... continuation of the human person in the Incarnation of the Logos/Word, perpetuated especially in the Divine Eucharist." This is why we are not to imitate but interiorize Christ. The Incarnation states Evdokimov reveals: "...the theomorphosis of man, our transformation in God. Saint Paul tells us: For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:27). By uniting ourselves to Christ in His Incarnation and re-actualized in the Eucharist our nature can tend toward perfection and be truly Christ-like. Our spiritual life and actions will have a Christological structure. Thus our thoughts, words and deeds can reflect the saying of Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain: "Christians must be distinguished for their spiritual nobility."

Saint James the Holy Apostle makes perfectly clear: "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:17). Saint James continues: "Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? (3:12-13). No more can salt water yield fresh. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom." Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain informs us: to be counted among those people who focus on 'the good side of things.'

The Church Fathers inform us of the futility of idle talking and by implication idle praying. Thus consider the words of Saint Isaac of Syria: "Prayer that is not accompanied by a good way of life is an eagle whose wings have been plucked." Our Lord told us this Himself: "By this all men will know that you are [M]y disciples, if you have love for one another" (St. John 13:35).

Orthodox Christians must not be satisfied with the little knowledge they possess about the Holy Orthodox Christian faith and Church. The spiritual wealth of the Orthodox Church is vast and profound. Unfortunately there are many Orthodox Christians who are confused and unable to appreciate what they have inherited. "The Church is the real and sanctified Body of Christ. Orthodoxy is the teaching of the Church and the Divine Eucharist is the true action of the Church. Thus Orthodoxy, Church and Eucharist are joined together. The whole orthodox teaching, the whole revelation is experienced in the Church. A person expresses his [M]ind of the Church not only by his obedience to the Bishop, but also by his obedience to the whole Tradition of the Church."

Be alert and vigilant and beware of the "wolves" among us.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George