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Boromir and Faramir (Revisited)

September 4, 2010

On September 1st the Orthodox Church commemorates a Saint known as Symeon Stylites, among others for that day. Let me share an excerpt from

Our Holy Father Symeon Stylites (459)
Born in Syria, he was a shepherd, but at the age of eighteen he left home and became a monk, practicing the strictest asceticism. At times he fasted for forty days. After a few years at a monastery he took up an ascetical discipline unique at that time: mounting a pillar, he stood on it night and day in prayer. Though he sought only seclusion and prayer, his holiness became famous, and thousands would make pilgrimage to receive a word from him or to touch his garments. Countless nomadic Arabs came to faith in Christ through the power of his example and prayers. To retreat further from the world, he used progressively taller pillars: his first pillar was about ten feet high, his final one about fifty. He was known also for the soundness of his counsel: he confirned the Orthodox doctrine at the Council of Chalcedon and persuaded the Empress Eudocia, who had been seduced by Monophysite beliefs, to return to the true Christian faith. After about forty years lived in asceticism, he reposed in peace at the age of sixty-nine.
He was at first suspected of taking up his way of life out of pride, but his monastic brethren confirmed his humility thus: They went to him as a group, and told him that the brotherhood had decided that he should come down from his pillar and rejoin them. Immediately he began to climb down from the pillar. Seeing his obedience and humility, they told him to remain with their blessing.
Why am I sharing this in the context of the prior post about the two sons of Denethor? During the Vespers Service I attended on August 31st, we sang hymns of commemoration for this Saint of the Church. Upon finishing a very short history of the reasons that the Church observes September 1st as the Liturgical New Year, Fr Patrick gave a short teaching on the life of St Symeon the Stylite. The thing that caught my attention was when he explained that the Orthodox way of evangelism and leadership is exemplified by the life of this Saint. He first focused on the salvation and healing of his own soul, so that he could properly point people to Christ and His Good News. Just as the apostles were first Disciples of Christ for three years before He sent them out to the whole world (even though they were sent throughout Judea before the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Illumination and healing first, evangelism second.
He went on to point out that this is in contrast to a “half-baked” (his words) evangelism that is rampant in Protestantism, especially as is found in Fundamentalist Evangelical circles. Fr Patrick went on to point out that one cannot truly help to heal others before one’s self is not healed. Instead of spreading healing, one spreads the sickness inside. I think this applies to leaders more than anything. On that note of half-baked, it is distressing to see novices get thrown into positions of leadership in Evangelical Churches. Many denominations send people to seminary first, which is at least something, but my old church (Calvary Chapel) does not believe seminary is necessary. This is a dangerous tactic to take.
You may be wondering about the example of the Apostles when they first heard of Christ. Weren’t they “half-baked”, when they simply said, “Come and see” ?   This is absolutely true. Anyone can say, “Come and see.” I am not arguing with that. But after they come and see, who will teach them, and show them the way of salvation? Christ, obviously. But Christ left His Church on the earth to be co-laborers in His work. This is where the presbyters and bishops come in to the picture. Men of God, whom He has prepared for a leadership role, shepherding those who have been brought into the Church, guiding them on the path toward salvation.
This is what I was getting at in my prior post. I also think this gets at the heart of the exhortation of St Paul to St Timothy to never elevate a novice to teach the Word, lest they fill with pride and destroy themselves. The biggest danger is that a person’s destruction is never truly alone. They will take others with them. If the “shepherd” doesn’t know where he’s going, then the flock is lost too. I know most modern, Western thought tends to believe that believers are independent of each other, in regards to salvation, but the reality is, we are truly connected.
If a leader is not rooted and grounded in the Tradition and teachings of Christ through the Apostles and the Church, what grounding do the followers have? His confusion (or her, in Protestant churches) will spread to the followers, and they will be “scattered”, leaving them open to attack. This is what Fr Patrick was getting at about spreading “disease” instead of “Good News.” For people unwittingly become attracted to the personality rather than the Savior. In such a case, the very person meant to lead one to Christ has become an idol. That is what I meant by comparing a personality driven church to Boromir and his being lured by the One Ring. This is truly a matter of life and death.
The wisdom of the Orthodox Church in this regard is what I was getting at, in comparing it to the wise refusal of the One Ring by Faramir. Be healed first, then heal others. I am not saying that Orthodox couldn’t be better at sharing the faith with those outside the Church, because they need a lot of work in that area. But I think the model set forth by St Symeon is truly wisdom from above.
I hope my thoughts weren’t too incoherent. And I hope I don’t come across as judging people. I am criticizing the situation and circumstances created by the problem of personality driven churches. I am not, however judging the person in charge, or their followers. For many of them truly believe themselves to be following Christ, and have not intention of leading people astray. But that doesn’t mean the results cannot still be disastrous.
If this post has been a bunch of incoherent drivel, please let me know.
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