The Nativity Canon is one of foremost poetic masterpieces celebrating the donning of flesh by the pre-eternal Logos Jesus Christ. It features excerpts from Gregory the Theologian’s famous homily on the Birth of Christ, including the opening line “Christ is born; glorify Him! Christ comes from heaven; go to meet Him! Christ is on Earth; be exalted! Sing to the Lord, all the Earth! And praise Him in gladness, O people, for He has been glorified!”
In the more difficult, but equally exquisite iambic canon of the feast, there is a characteristic phrase in the 9th Ode that includes the Greek phrase “ῥᾷον σιωπήν” (silence is easier).
Essentially, it represents a supplication from the hymnographer, who shrinks at the task of magnifying the Mother of God with hymns perfectly composed, noting however, that since he so deeply desires to do so, he prays that the Theotokos grant him the courage and perseverance to proceed with this composition, in a manner fitting to his eagerness.
One would hope that phrase “silence is easier” might inspire certain outspoken priests and prelates to embrace laconic speech, because it would seem, in the midst of the pandemic, that they have set aside their lofty ministry to play the role of bureaucrats or epidemiologists.
Aside from COVID-19, today’s world is threatened by many other things, including information overload. Is there honestly any average citizen out there who hasn’t had their fill of ad nauseum admonition from politicians, bureaucrats, journalists/commissars, doctors, and scientists regarding social distancing, mask-wearing, the enlightened self-sacrifice of quarantining or other unproven novel slogans, so that they need to hear them regurgitated by bishops and priests?
A characteristic quality of the Church throughout its history has been the authenticity and uniqueness of its rhetoric: “Never has anyone spoken like this” (John 7:46); “and all began to speak foreign tongues, foreign doctrines, foreign teachings, of the Holy Spirit … a strange thing to hear, a strange spectacle: fire divided into gifts of grace” (The Great Vespers of Pentecost).
Toward this end, note St. Basil’s famous reply to the powerful Prefect Modestus, which was recorded and saved for us by Gregory the Theologian: Modestus: “No one has until now spoken to me, the Prefect in such a manner and so boldly.” Basil: “You probably never came across a bishop, because had you met a true Hierarch, who struggled on behalf of the true faith, he would respond in like manner.”
When Church officials begin to sound like politicians or journalists, they negate themselves. That is likely the moment when the rational sheep should be concerned, because the voice of the shepherd sounds eerily similar to that of the hired hand, who “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away.” (John 10:9-16). If the ancient science of theology has been limited to hygiene tips and rituals for hypochondriacs, let them say so openly so we don’t waste any more time listening to empty encyclicals and tiresome, boring sermons. The people have suffered enough.
Just like one consults a doctor for their health or an elected official for civic matters, so too do they come to Church to attend to their souls. If the public speakers of the Church end up talking to the people about soap, social distancing, and masks instead of the Uncreated Energies of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifying grace of the sacraments, the presence of the saints in our lives, and the manner in which the Holy Fathers and the two-millennia-old experience of the Church deal with infectious diseases and protect the plentitude of the Church, there is really no reason for them to be on the pulpit, because they don’t have anything worthwhile to offer. If this keeps up, they will end up receiving the welcome that the literary great Alexandros Papadiamantis once warned of: “As is widely known, just the sight of them on the pulpit is enough to drive the few faithful visitors out of the churches.”
Those writing encyclicals for our bishops and advising them to flaunt their masks like a runway model are doing a tremendous disservice not only them, but more importantly, the Church. Besides, if they want to don the scientific lab coat over their mantle, let them at least keep up to date with research developments. For example, the largest and most scientifically sound study (from Denmark) to date indicates that benefits of mask-wearing to protect against COVID-19 are negligible…
May the arrival of the Nativity feast help the Church hierarchy rediscover their predecessors’ unique freshness of speech, which has characterized the Church throughout the ages. We conclude with the following observation by Papadiamantis: “The Church triumphed in the world without the slightest support of the state. On the contrary, in fact, it was frequently persecuted and suffered at its hands. This didn’t occur only in the early Christian centuries. The Church prevails against all persecution today as well, when its prelates are conscious of its lofty mission and seek to fulfill it by all means.”
If some clerics aren’t up to the challenge of speaking conscientiously as their office demands, and to admonish the earthly rulers for their autocratic behavior, let them at least leave the posing and newspeak to the politicians. This way, they’ll save themselves from a certain comedown and the people from the political and journalistic parasites who seek to alter the message of the Gospel. And if they fear the Scribes, Pharisees, and armed guards, better that they remain quiet and allow God to handle the matter as He knows best.
As far as encyclicals and sermons on hygiene, “silence is easier.”
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