July 2, 2013

Recognizing False Prophets

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

How can one recognize a false prophet?

It’s not apparent immediately.  A prophet is a charismatic figure who draws followers, and one person’s prophet might be another’s devil (our Lord himself was accused of being a false prophet, a Samaritan and having a demon.) And he or she may not be a religious figure at all but a politician, an entertainer, a writer or just someone important in your life. How you discern true from false all depends on your inner “eye.”  As Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). Spiritually healthy eyes look out on the world as God sees it. And for Orthodox Christians that requires a willingness to shape our inward being around communion with Him in time-tested ways: the Scriptures and centuries-long traditions of worship, prayer, fasting, service and spiritual training. 

Drawing on this well of experience we can recognize false prophets by asking some searching questions. Are they bringing an all-too-easy message? Do they preach freedom while being enslaved to money, pleasures and power? Or are they teaching a strict message but don’t “walk the talk”? Are they self-serving? Do they exploit others? Are they impatient, unkind, jealous or boastful? Are they arrogant or rude? Do they insist on their own way? Are they irritable or resentful? Are they gleeful at the failings of others? Do they point toward God or to themselves? Do they oppress and constrain or build up and empower others?

It may take time for you to discover what “fruit” a false prophet is producing and to unmask the wolf in sheep’s (or shepherd’s) clothing. And it may not be apparent to everyone else. But if you come to recognize a false prophet damaging your soul, then run for your life.


Canada Day
Canada Day on Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Belated greetings to Canadians for yesterday’s Canada Day, until 1982 known as “Dominion Day.” For those who don’t know, on July 1, 1867 the British North America Act united the Canadian provinces and created the self-governing Dominion of Canada within the British Empire.

A mari usque ad mare
Canada’s Coat of Arms

Fr James Griggs, Dean of Annunciation Cathedral in Ottawa (where I spent Pentecost), likes to point out that the national day should have remained Dominion Day, because it goes back to a biblical inspiration. In 1866, when the fathers of Confederation were assembled to discuss the terms for uniting the provinces, the premier [governor] of New Brunswick suggested the word “Dominion” from Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.” This was endorsed by the rest of the country’s leaders and accepted by Queen Victoria. “A mari usque ad mare” (From sea to sea) is also the motto on Canada’s coat of arms.