|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Essays about Orthodoxy|
Can there be severe cases of “guruism” in the Orthodox realm?
By Nicholas Stavrianides
When the undersigned had found himself in a convention in Germany that was organized by the Evangelical church, in collaboration with the Adenauer Institute in the autumn of 1996, on the matter of the recently-appearing heresies and an updating on the matter by specialists from all the European countries, a question was addressed by a Lutheran pastor – a special representative on heretical matters – to the Orthodox participants: “Are there in the Orthodox Church any phenomena of dependent relationships, like the ones that are observed in the recently appearing heresies?”
Numerous hands shot up to reply with “zeal”, but the answer came directly from the chairman – also an evangelic (Lutheran) pastor - Thomas Gandow. He very astutely commented that phenomena of that kind are not encountered in the Orthodox sphere, and that even if there are any relations of dependence, these are evaluated as being negative and constitute a problem for Orthodoxy, whereas in the recently-appearing heresies, they are a permanent condition and generally speaking, it is one of their desired objectives.
From the study of the fragility of the human person under the influence of ruthless people like those who create so-called “sects” or “catastrophic cults”, and from the data related to the mentality cultivated in certain Christians of a “blind obedience” to one’s Geron (Elder), who are Christians living in the world and not in monasteries, I am afraid that the question posed is neither pointless, nor simply a theoretical one, and that the above reply, albeit given in good faith, merely covered the topic logically, without however touching on its very serious, latent poemantic aspect.
Imagine an Orthodox priest, who is familiar with the methods implemented by sects, and he himself has a secularized mentality. By preoccupying himself with sects, his understanding of matters that cause fragility and sensitivity to different people evolves into methods of manipulating their minds and behaviors.
A priest such as this will begin – unwittingly at first, and eventually with mastery – to utilize the formidable “know-how” of manipulating people that the newfound heresies utilize. This can happen, when a priest perceives his poemantic duty as something irrelevant to the spiritual benefit of his flock; in other words, when he perceives it as his personal secular labor which might also have the blessings of the official Church - whether that labor is the construction of a spiritual center for the Church, or executing a task assigned to him by his superior Metropolitan.
For this priest, the sole criterion is now the successful outcome of his labors, within the framework of his “ecclesiastic” (or, better still, his functional, public-servant’s) duties. Those who do not comply with his personal secularized and…”diplomatic”-changeable views regarding the extent, the form and the meaning behind the labor assigned to him “by the Church”, is vilified as an apostate – as is done by the recently appearing heresies. Those who display a zeal exceeding the zeal that the secularized and public-servant-minded priest possesses are looked upon as a “nuisance” and a problem – a danger to “his work”. This impassioned priest (impassioned, on account of his secularized outlook) will willingly heed any calumny that relates to a “dangerous zealot”. In other words, he is under the impression that he is obliged to (and can) eliminate such an “apostate”; that he can “burst the abscess” that threatens “his work”, his “service to the Church”.
Unfortunately, he can easily achieve this; for example, by selectively highlighting to some of those who are participating bona fide in the same Church project, certain negative aspects of the “mutineer” or of the more numerous “dangerous zealots”: “So-and-so is far too sensitive”; “Mrs. X is dissatisfied and refuses to help”; or, “So-and-so shouldn’t have interfered in this Church project, because he is doing it, only to attain his own goals”, or, “We can’t trust so-and-so in everything”, or, “He is OK, but somewhat of a fanatic”, or, “Can’t you see? Do you think he is to be trusted?” or, “He is dangerous” (!!! This is the ultimate improvable accusation, which does not stand any contradiction)….
This priest will simultaneously build a relationship of trust, but also of dependence, with a close circle of “confidants”, who usually feel rewarded by the recognition that their leader (the priest) bestows on them when they blindly obey his instructions. This is why they do not hesitate to marginalize the ones that the priest indicates, and instead favor collaboration with only a portion of the flock.
Unfortunately, these things can also happen within Orthodoxy - not as a natural state of course, but as an abnormal and condemnable state.
It is only natural therefore, in such an abnormal situation, that some of the participants of the project that was assigned “by the Church” to the priest (or was arranged by him, so that his personal glory may shine forth before the potentates of this world – including ecumenists), will alienate themselves, as they will have sensed the morbid and in no way ecclesiastic atmosphere being cultivated by the “confidants” of the close circle of this peculiar “sect”.
Then there are other Orthodox Christians, who (in an equally normal approach for such an abnormal circumstance), attempt to discover what is going on; in other words, why the assigned Church project is being conducted with an exo-Christian and totalitarian perception of “obedience” – indeed of submission; why such a close circle of “confidants” was formed at all, leaving out all the other Orthodox Christians who had formerly participated in that project, and why all these things have led to a thorough secularization of that project, in collaboration with circles of this world - a practice that is entirely unjustified by Orthodoxy’s precise living.
Now imagine that during this phase, instead of this same priest giving certain honest explanations to those who are wondering why all these things are happening, he instead perceives these comments of “his” flock as an apostasy from his authority (like he would, if he were the leader of a heresy!) And that, instead of a different reaction, he merely preoccupies himself with discovering which Orthodox Christian has doubted him and his… personal credibility!
Can one really suppose that the priest – an Orthodox priest – can reach such a point as to manipulate members of the flock who are in need of spiritual support, and turn them into personal heralds of his intentions and denouncers of the evil intentions of those who have doubted his good will?
Can one imagine such a priest hesitating to convert those who are susceptible to guruism, or are Orthodox Christians striving for repentance, by exploiting their weak will and their strong predisposition for blind obedience, and transforming them into slanderers or calumniators of the other Christians who doubt his absolute domination over “his” group?
Or, can one imagine a priest such as this projecting himself as the victim of “ruthless” people – implying precisely those Orthodox Christians who have doubted his absolute authority and who have expressed their desire that the same project be continued, but with the appropriate ecclesiastic approach (i.e., “Orthodoxically”) and with the participation of more faithful and pastors - in other words, whatever involves a moral reversal equivalent to that of Scientology?
And can one ever imagine that further along, the said priest – after having lost the absolute domination over “his group”, precisely because of the Orthodox Christians’ comments and their freedom of opinion – would attempt to apply methods of controlling the personalities of the “mutineers”, by implementing the wrath of “morals officials” like Scientology does? (That is, with words used by “his confidants” that would “break” the personality and the resistance of the “mutineers”?) And that furthermore, he would even go as far as characterizing the “mutineers” as “spies” belonging to organizations hostile to “his group” and naturally to…the Church?!!!
No, things like these are not permitted to occur in Orthodoxy. However, there is nothing to guarantee that they do not occur, or that they will never occur!
Especially if it should be heard somewhere, that in the realm of Orthodoxy, “obedience” is meant as an absolute subordination; that a certain circle of “confidants” has been created who accept this subordination and that all other Orthodox Christians of the same environment who disagree with it are “fanatics” or “apostates” or “self-seeking” or “hypocrites” or “self-absorbed” or….or…., then we, as Orthodox, must not only avoid entrusting our being judged by the “cloth”, but should be extremely concerned, because phenomena like these would signify that a certain priest is behaving like the worst kind of guru and that we are all in need, not of being gagged and of silencing the facts, but of more prayer and true repentance; Furthermore, there should be a need for outspokenness, for understanding, for dialogue, for questions to be posed, for investigative objections, and a distancing from the practices and persons selected by the said priest.
Despite their hypothetical character, the aforementioned thoughts might just be useful in today’s circumstances, during which various people aspire not only to altering the mentality within the Church, but also to the neutralizing of persons and resistances within the Church in order to take control of situations for the sake of establishing the so-called “New Age”, even in the Church, overall.
The criterion that should govern our resistance is the Tradition of our Church, and our persistence – without the creation of schisms and with an Orthodox mentality – in observing the canonical justice of the Church and the restricting of ecclesiastic “providence” to wherever it is absolutely necessary, in compliance with the truly independent judgments (and not the constrained, or entrapped, or misappropriated, or undermined by the systematic or circumstantial exclusion of hierarchs kinds of judgment) that are issued by Holy Synods, who are the only ones qualified to express the fullness of the Church.
In the Church - more than anywhere else – our silence, our abstaining from criticisms, from objections, from “returning blows” and reacting to every arbitrariness or injustice, do not signify an approval on our part, but tolerance.
God is forbearing and He waits, not only for the return of the prodigal, but also for the exhausting of the iniquity of the wicked, so that they will be inexcusable in the end.
As for us, the Orthodox Christians, both clergy and laity, who strive – or even suffer – to preserve our Orthodox mentality, show tolerance with all the above (arbitrariness, blows, injustices); we are however outspoken and openly denounce heretical deviations to the dogma or the behavior, even of hierarchs, and we remain waiting, with our hopes in God.
However, God confounds the one who wants his own perdition and who, for this reason, having essentially forgotten God and the observing of Christ’s commandments, interprets our above tolerance as a weakness on our part, or as a silent approval of the iniquities of his egotism….
Translation by A. N.
Article published in English on: 29-5-2007.
Last update: 29-5-2007.