July 6, 2012

Difficult People

Paul is eminently personal and practical in dealing with community problems. Reading the list of names in Romans 16 it is clear how connected he was with men, women, married couples, leaders serving and caring for the church and who had moved to Rome (years before he would get there himself). Many of them he would have known in Corinth, from where he wrote the letter to Rome. Inevitably they would have to address community conflicts, and often these problems were exacerbated by people who were just plain difficult. Paul’s advice on dealing with such people is simple: “Take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom 16:17).

Abba Sisoes, depicted with the Martyr Lucy at Rome

Abba Sisoes (+429), one of the great Desert Fathers whom we remember today, likewise had good advice about difficult people. Of course it’s good to remember that whenever we point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at us.

1. A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba Sisoes and said to him, ‘My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.’ The old man pleaded with him saying, ‘No, my child, leave vengeance to God.’ He said to him, ‘I will not rest until I have avenged myself.’ The old man said, ‘Brother, let us pray.’ Then the old man stood up and said, ‘God, we no longer need You to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.’ Hearing these words, the brothers fell at the old man’s feet, saying, ‘I will no longer seek justice from my brother; forgive me, abba.’

20. They asked Abba Sisoes, ‘If a brother sins, surely he must do penance for a year?’ He replied, ‘That is a hard saying.’ The visitors said, ‘For six months?’ He replied, ‘That is a great deal.’ They said, ‘For forty days?’ he said, ‘That is a great deal too.’ What then? If a brother falls, and the agape [i.e., the eucharist] is about to be offered, should he simply come to the agape, too?’ the old man said to them, ‘No, he needs to do penance for a few days. But I trust in God that if such a man does penance with his whole heart, God will receive him, even in three days.’

35. A brother asked Abba Sisoes the Theban, ‘Give me a word,’ and he said, ‘What shall I say to you? I read the New Testament, and I turn to the old.’

51. Abba Sisoes, the Theban, said to his disciple, ‘Tell me what you see in me and then I will tell you what I see in you.’ His disciple said to him, ‘You are a good man, but a little hard.’ The old man said to him, ‘You are good too, but you are not tough enough.’

(These are taken from Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Oxford, 1975)

Lesser Synod Meets

The Lesser Synod had a very full day of meetings yesterday and completed a long agenda. They approved the establishment—as a pilot project, under the direction of Fr Ian Pac-Urar—of an Office of Continuing Education for clergy and lay church workers. As the program gets underway in later 2012/13 special emphasis will be given to legal and ethical issues (especially training around boundaries, prevention and addressing of clergy misconduct), and leadership and management training for clergy. The bishops discussed procedures for identifying, mentoring and training potential candidates for the episcopacy. They had an initial brainstorming session on how the work of the Orthodox Church in America could most effectively be carried out with a division of labor between central church administration, dioceses, deaneries and parishes. As usual, there were difficult cases to be addressed as well (legal matters, clergy misconduct).

The network of relationships around the Orthodox and ecumenical world was a major focus of attention for much of the morning, with reports from Fr Leonid Kishkovsky, His Beatitude (his trip to the UK), Abp Nikon (his trip to Albania), Abp Benjamin (plans for the 200th anniversary of the Russian settlement of Fort Ross, California).  Abp Benjamin also reported on his participation in a delegation of church leaders (sponsored by the National Council of Churches) that went to Washington DC to meet with President Obama and congressional leaders to protest the Pebble Mine development in Alaska (above Lake Iliamna) that poses a major threat to the native population, the fishing industry and the environment.