“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24).
Jesus repeatedly warns his disciples about the seductive power of false prophets. These are charismatic figures who look good and seem to say the right things, but are dangerous to the spiritual, mental and even physical health of their followers. This isn’t just about religion. Destructive cults form around people espousing all kinds of ideologies, but religion is a favorite target. And Orthodoxy must be especially on guard for false prophets because we put such a high value on hierarchy, clergy, obedience, spiritual fathers, monks, nuns, elders—all of which are open to abuse.
To make this process of discernment more practical today, what are some of the warning signs of a potentially unsafe group or leader? (This comes from the Ross Institute, which studies such groups and maintains an archive of destructive groups.)
- Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
- No tolerance of questions or critical inquiry.
- No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
- Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
- There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
- Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect similar patterns of grievances.
- There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
- Followers feel they can never be “good enough.”
- The group leader is always right.
- The group leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
Contrast this with the respectful approach that St Paul takes in Corinth. He humbly sees his ministry as a privilege, a gift, a mercy from God—not a right to power. The refuses to manipulate people or teachings, but instead openly sets out what he understands to be the message, and leaves it to the conscience of others to weigh and evaluate what he says. “We have renounced disgraceful and underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2).
At the Chancery
The OCA’s internal auditors have a full day of work ahead of them today. Michael Strelka (chair), Vera Bozko-Summer and Karen Durkish were appointed by the Metropolitan Council and will be reviewing policies and procedures with the Treasurer, Melanie Ringa.
And for something completely different, Bishop Michael of New York, the OCA’s temporary Administrator, will be in his diocese today with his youth, for the annual Diocesan Youth Day. There will be prayers and a talk, but the centerpiece will be the outing to the Six Flags Great Adventure—with roller coasters and and water slides.