We Must Not Be Traffickers Of Glory

We Must Not Be Traffickers Of Glory February 17, 2021

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There is a trick which many non-canonical Orthodox churches use in order to pretend they have canonical status: they send letters with gifts, such as money, to the Patriarch of Constantinople, while asking for him to give them a blessing. The Patriarch responds with kind words, imparting a general blessing. Once they receive their response, they suggest they have the Patriarch’s blessing for their ecclesial community. Of course, that was not the intention of the Patriarch’s blessing. All that he (or his secretary) did was acknowledge the letter and the gift, and respond with a simple blessing which he can and does give to anyone. The leaders, “the bishops”,[1] of these non-canonical churches nonetheless will try to suggest that the Patriarch acknowledges them and their church. They do this as a way to recruit new members to their churches, looking for converts among those who are not yet Orthodox but attracted to Orthodoxy, because they are the ones most willing to listen to them and be convinced by their arguments.

While the problem of non-canonical churches, and how they rise and fall, shape and reform from each other, is a problem well known by Eastern Christians, Western Christians also have a similar problem. Many Catholics, for example, do something similar with the Pope. They send letters to the Pope, asking for his blessings; they seek audiences with him, hoping to have their picture taken with him. Whatever response they get they use to suggest that their ministry, their work is approved by the Pope, when, most likely, the Pope knows nothing of them or what they represent. Many so-called apologetic ministries, many culture warriors, indeed, many religious and priests, can be seen playing this charade (though, now, many of them play the game by saying they were approved by a former Pope, like St. John Paul II, in order to justify rebellion against the current Pope, Francis).

What connects the non-canonical Orthodox churches and various Catholics hostile to the Pope is that they like to use the authority and charism of others to justify themselves and pretend that they, too, have positions of power and authority. They do so for their own gain and not for the good of the church. This can be seen in the way they quickly turn to rebellion when they find their teachings are not supported by, or are outright rejected by, the church. They want to claim authority from the church and their connection with leaders in the church but also want to distance themselves from the church and say they have been given a special position in history to help protect the church from itself. They are unwilling to listen to the church: all they want is for the church to listen to them. But, if they can, they will use whatever they can get from the church itself in order to appear to be what they are not, that is, having a good relationship with the church. They want it both ways.

This is a problem with spirituality in general. It happens in all major religious traditions. Those who have an authentic charism, those who have an authentic religious experience and message attract attention, and many of those who come to them are those who would like to use them for their own gain. Wannabe kings want to have court prophets, after all.

Many of the Desert Fathers understood this problem. Abba Theodore of Pherme, for example, would often not speak a word to those who came to him. He wanted to make sure they were humble, not looking to glorify themselves:

A brother came to Abba Theodore and spent three days begging him to say a word to him without getting any reply. So he went away grieved. Then the old man’s disciple said to him, ‘Abba, why did you not say a word to him? See, he has gone away grieved.’ Then the old man said to him, ‘I did not speak to him, for he is a trafficker who seeks to glorify himself through the words of others.’[2]

We, likewise, must understand the problem is not just with others, but with ourselves. Those of us who like to study and discuss the faith often find ourselves debating each other, trying to prove ourselves to be more learned than everyone else. What could have started off with good intentions becomes distorted. Study, which can be good, is used, not for that good, but for transitory glory. We risk studying and using the words of those who lived in the past, taking it and using it for our own glory. It is a very human temptation. Who doesn’t like to receive accolades?

Why do we study the faith? Why do we go to the learned masters of the past or those with positions of authority today? What is our purpose? And how, if it is good, can we continue to pursue that good and not find ourselves diverted from it? How do we stop ourselves from becoming traffickers of glory? For some, this might not be a problem, but for many of us, we must always re-center ourselves and make sure we are not trying to use the glory of God, the charisms of God, for such selfish desires. When such desires come upon us, we must not give them any power; we must recognize them for what they are and fight against them.

It is always important for all of us to remember God, and keep God at the center of our lives. This means, of course, we should read, study, pray, worship, and act with God as our focus. We should do what we can for the glory of God, and not our own glory. We should act upon what we study and learn. We must actualize it in our lives. This means, for those of us who like to read and study from the saints, we must make sure we do more than cherry-pick what we like from them and show it to others as a way to receive their praise. Rather, we must live the wisdom which we have learned and do so with full humility. This is how we stop ourselves from becoming traffickers of glory. For without such humility, our selfishness will contaminate the good which we do, and the glory which we thought we had will be taken from us and given instead to those who truly live out honest, holy lives full of love and devotion to God.

[1] Due to the nature of these churches, some of them might truly be ordained bishops, before they created their own independent, non-canonical jurisdiction, but others seem to have developed without such a background, and the so-called bishop have just declared themselves as being such without any authentic line of succession to justify that claim.  So, when talking about non-canonical churches, there are two types; some which have a legitimate line of succession, and have some connection to historical Orthodoxy and represent a political and theological struggle within the Orthodox tradition, and others which emerge, claiming Orthodoxy, but having questionable Orthodox roots.

[2] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 74 [Saying of Abba Theodore of Pherme #3].

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