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Blessed Are They That Suffer Persecution for Justice's Sake

And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. (2Tm 3:12)

Icon of the Creation

Icon of the Creation

Persecution has existed since the origin of the disorder, the brokenness, now so evident in the world. God created the world good, and man was made for paradise. We know this from God's inspired revelation to Moses: "And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed." (Gen 2: 8) It must be realized that disorder is not intrinsic to creation; the world can be seen as good despite the brokenness that exists within it. Moses tells us in Genesis (1: 31) that what God created was good: "And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day." (Again, if disorder was intrinsic to creation, disorder would be natural to the created order and the categories of good and evil could not apply.) Furthermore, as Moses tells us of mankind: "And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Gen 2: 7) However, although created from the dust and slime of the earth, mankind is a mirror of the Divinity Himself. As Moses once again informs us: "And God created man to His own image: to the image of God He created him: male and female He created them. (Gen 1: 27); Thus, the creation of the God who is good and creates only good things, was also deemed good.

Persecution as told to us in the Old Testament

Our ancestral parents follow the lead of the evil one

The fall of our ancestral parents

The Fall of our Ancestral Parents

God gave a single command to our ancestral parents. As told in Genesis (2: 16-17): "And He commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: "But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death."" However, out of pride they chose not to follow God, but to follow the lead of the evil one. St. John the Evangelist tells us that, "He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning." 1Jn 3:8). Of this sin of the evil one St. Philotheos of Sinai says: ". . .an angel who, in exalting himself [pride], fell like lightening from heaven. Thus his pride was reckoned by God as impurity." (Philokalia III, p.19). St. Gregory Palamas continues this understanding of pride as the cause of breaking with God and disobedience when he says: "The noetic serpent, the author of evil ... desired in his arrogance to become like the Creator in authority. . . ." (Philokalia IV, p. 364 ). St. Gregory goes on to connect this to the spiritual meaning of the fall of our ancestral parents. "The ancestors of our race willfully desisted from mindfulness and contemplation of God. They disregarded His commandment, made themselves of one mind with the dead spirit of [Satan] and contrary to the Creator's will, ate of the forbidden tree." (Philokalia IV, p 367). St. Maximus the Confessor puts it this way: "As man I deliberately transgressed the divine commandment, when the devil, enticing me with the hope of divinity (cf. Gen. 3:5), dragged me down from my natural stability into the realm of sensual pleasure; . . ." (Philokalia II, p. 167) St. John Climacus [of the Ladder] (1991) writes, with great precision, "Pride is denial of God, an invention of the devil, the despising of men the mother of condemnation. . . the cause of falls. . . ." (p. 138) He then tells us" Where a fall has overtaken us, there pride has already pitched its tent: because a fall is an indication of pride." (p. 139).

The first persecution

Cain slaying Abel

Cain slaying Abel

Not only were our ancestral parents broken and subject to sin and death, but the first persecution of someone devoted to God was perpetrated by one of their own offspring. As Moses recounts: "And Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain, saying: I have gotten a man through God. And again she brought forth his brother Abel. And Abel was a shepherd, and Cain a husbandman." (Gen 4: 1-2). When grown up, both sons offered gifts to God. As we read in Genesis: "Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings." (4: 4) Abel gave his gift out of heartfelt devotion, thus his gift was accepted. However, to apply the words of St. Philotheos of Sinai to Cain's gift, it "was reckoned by God as impurity." "But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell. And Cain said to Abel his brother: Let us go forth abroad. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him." (4: 5,8).

The Persecution of Joseph, the Prototype of Jesus

Although speaking about Moses, the following passage of St. Paul would apply, as Breck (2001) points out, to all the Old Testament Patriarchs who are pre-figures of Christ. "And did all eat the same spiritual food, And all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.)." (1Cor 10: 3-4). Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a quintessential pre-figure of Christ. Christ's death and resurrection fulfills the proleptic historical events of Joseph's life. He is so important that the last twenty chapters of the Book of Genesis (30-50) recount his story. It should be emphasized, as Fr. John (Breck) writes, that what is most important is not the veridicality of the actual Scriptural narratives, be they the actual historical events or parabolic symbols (which may be myths), but that "they exist in the divinely inspired religious consciousness of the people of God, they convey revealed truth and serve God's purpose." (p. 26). Also to be noted, and very important for the Apostolic Churches, is that this was also the spiritual exegetical ethos of the Church Fathers in their Scriptural interpretation, in contrast to an understanding of scripture as either literal or mere metaphor held by many reform ecclesial communities. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit, as is St. Paul's.. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings." (8:26) Fr. John Breck goes on to explain that: "This implies that the primary sense of Scripture is not the literal or historical sense, but rather what tradition calls the spiritual or transcendent sense, the sensus plenior." (p. 80).

The Story of Joseph

The Story of Joseph

Joseph was the first prefigure of Christ. As we read in the Synaxarion of the Monday Bridegroom Service of Holy Week, "On this begins the anniversary of the holy Passion of the Savior, he of whom Joseph of exceeding beauty is taken as the earliest symbol." (Rahal, 2006). Joseph was also a symbol of broken and persecuted mankind. In his early years he displayed pride and sinful arrogance. He told his brothers of a dream he had: "we were binding sheaves . . . and my sheaf arose . . . and your sheaves standing about bowed down before my sheaf." (Gen 37: 7). In another dream, he told his brothers that he saw himself as the sun and they the "moon and eleven stars worshipping me." (Gen 37: 9). Joseph's father, Jacob [Israel], loved him more than his other sons. As we read in Genesis: "Now Israel loved Joseph above all his other sons, because he had him in his old age; and he made him a coat of diverse colors." (37: 3). We see brokenness among the brothers themselves: envy and anger at Joseph's favorable treatment and because of his aggrandizing dreams. What happens next is beautifully and succinctly summarized by the psalmist:

He sent a man before them: Joseph, who was sold for a slave. They humbled his feet in fetters: the iron pierced his soul, until his word came. The word of the Lord inflamed him. The king sent, and he released him: the ruler of the people, and he set him at liberty. He made him master of his house, and ruler of all his possession. That he might instruct his princes as himself, and teach his ancients wisdom. (Ps 104: 17-22).

His continuing trust in God during his years of slavery and persecutions allowed him to respond to God's grace and receive favor. Thus he typifies mankind and serves as an exemplar of how we can respond to our own brokenness and any persecution we encounter.

Prophet Elias being fed by God's raven after persecution

Prophet Elias being fed by
God's raven after persecution

here were many other victims of persecution for righteousness sake in the Old Covenant. After the account of Joseph, we may think of Lot, of whom St. Peter writes that God "delivered just Lot, oppressed by the injustice and lewd conversation of the wicked." (2 Pt 2:7). The Prophet Elias was threatened by the followers of Baal (3 Kg 19: 1-3). King David himself, the most important pre-figure of Christ, was faithful to God but was pursued by Saul. "And Jonathan told David, saying: Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: wherefore look to thyself, I beseech thee, in the morning, and thou shalt abide in a secret place and shalt be hid." (1Kg 19: 2).

Angel visits persecuted Prophet Jeremiah

Angel visits persecuted Prophet Jeremiah

Other Old Testament prophets of God were also persecuted, for example, the Prophet Jeremiah, who conveyed God's disapprobation against Judah for her sins saying: "they are all adulterers, an assembly of transgressors. And they have bent their tongue, as a bow, for lies, and not for truth: ... for they have proceeded from evil to evil, and Me they have not known, saith the Lord." (Jer 9: 2-3) The Prophet's message from God was not received well. We learn: "Wherefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they beat him, and cast him into the prison." (Jer 37: 14).

Jesus Himself refers to the persecution of the Old Testament prophets when He tells the Pharisees: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; . . . . And [you] say: If we had been in the days of our Fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets (Mt 23: 29-31). Jesus applies the example of the first to be killed for righteousness to the Prophet Zacharias: "That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar." (Mt 23: 35). The story is in the Book of Chronicles: "The spirit of God then came upon Zacharias the son of Joiada the priest, and he stood in the sight of the people, and said to them: Thus saith the Lord God: Why transgress you the commandment of the Lord which will not be for your good, and have forsaken the Lord, to make him forsake you? And they gathered themselves together against him, and stoned him at the king's commandment in the court of the house of the Lord. (2Ch 24: 20-21)i

The persecuted Prophets point to the persecuted Jesus

Jesus and the Woman <br />caught in adultery confronting <br />the Pharisees

Jesus and the Woman
caught in adultery
confronting the Pharisees

Jesus, who was incarnate as the God-man, brought the righteousness of God to mankind. "Who, existing in the form of God, deemed it not a prize to be seized to be equal with God; but He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, and came to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient even to death—indeed, the death of a cross." (Phil. 2:6-8). The reason for Jesus' rejection by the Jewish leaders and subsequent persecution are no better told than by St. Luke (4:16-21) in the Holy Gospel itself:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and according to what was customary to Him, He went into the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And there was handed over to Him the roll of [Isaiah] the prophet. And having unfolded the roll, He found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, on account of which He anointed Me; He hath sent Me to preach the good tidings to the poor, to heal those who have been broken in heart, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth in deliverance those who have been broken in pieces, "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And after He folded up the roll, He gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were looking intently on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture hath been fulfilled in your ears."

The Persecution of Jesus

The Persecution of Jesus

Reflect now on words of Jesus linking Himself with the Prophets of the Old Covenant: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one that killeth the prophets and stoneth those who have been sent forth to her! How often would I have gathered together thy children, in the way a hen gathereth together her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Lk. 13:34). For Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ preached and was an example of God's goodness and constant stand against evil. He was the incarnate "Spirit of the Lord." Jesus' response to his accusers in healing the man with the withered hand illustrates this:

And He saith to them, "Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. And having looked round about on them with wrath, being grieved for the hardness of their heart, He saith to the man, "Stretch forth thy hand." And he stretched it forth, and his hand was restored sound as the other. And the Pharisees were holding counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mk. 3:4-6).

In the Gospel read in the Holy Orthodox Church on the 5th Sunday of Lent we read Jesus recounting of the consequences of His righteousness:

And He took aside the twelve, and began to tell them the things that were about to happen to Him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death and deliver Him up to the Gentiles. "And they shall mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit upon Him, and kill Him. And on the third day He shall raise Himself." (Mk. 10:32-34).

Jesus' forewarning to His followers to expect persecution

The persecuted followers of Christ

The persecuted followers of Christ

At Christ's priestly discourse to His Apostles at the Last Supper, He gave them a general prescription that they could expect no better treatment than He, Himself, would get. Only in their subsequent sufferings, after Pentecost, would they understand the real meaning of Our Lord's words: "For I gave you an example, that ye be doing even as I did to you. "Verily, verily, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his lord, nor a messenger [apostle] greater than the one who sent him. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye be doing them." (Jn 13:15-17).

In many of His discourses, Jesus had told them what to expect. Once again, at the time of Jesus instructing them, the Apostles would have had little discernment and apprehension of the existential and spiritual significance of His teachings:

  • "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Become therefore wise as the serpents and guileless as the doves. "But continue being on guard against men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. "And also ye shall be brought before governors and kings on account of Me, for a testimony to them and to the nations." (Mt 10:16-18)
  • "Be taking heed to yourselves: For they shall deliver you up to councils; and ye shall be beaten in their synagogues; and ye shall be made to stand before governors and kings on account of Me, for a testimony to them. "And it is needful for the Gospel first to be proclaimed to all the nations. (Mk 13:9-10)
  • "If the world hate you, ye know that it hath hated Me before it hath hated you. "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world—but I chose you for Myself out of the world—therefore the world hateth you." (Jn. 15:18-19)
  • "If the world hate you, ye know that it hath hated Me before it hath hated you. "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world—but I chose you for Myself out of the world—therefore the world hateth you. "Keep on remembering the word which I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his lord.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (Jn 15:18-20)
  • "These things I have spoken to you, in order that ye should not be made to stumble. "They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea moreover, there cometh an hour that everyone who killeth you should think that he offereth God a service." (Jn 16:1-2)

In a short time after the passion, crucifixion, death, Resurrection, Ascension of Our Lord and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Disciples, Christ's Church, that His followers would suffer the same as their Master.

The first persecution of the New Covenant

St. Stephen the Deacon was to be the first Christian martyr,. Persecuted, he told the Sanhedrin of the sins of God's people: "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers." (Acts 7:52).

The dire consequences for Stephen

St. Stephen, the First Martyr

St. Stephen, the First Martyr

No better words than those of St. Luke himself can describe what next happened to St. Stephen for standing up for God's righteousness. "And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him . . . Stephen, invoking, and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord." (Acts 7: 56-59).

From that day forward, in emulation of Christ Himself, to be a Christian in committed purity of heart and in union with Christ and His Church is to be persecuted. St. John of Kronstadt (2003) describes the fate of those who were true Christians:

After Christ's Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, his Faith met dreadful persecutions in the world from the Jews and pagans. Christians were sealed in wells, thrown into dungeons, crucified on crosses, given to be torn apart by beasts. They were struck by swords, drowned in rivers, raked over by iron claws, broken on the wheel; their arms or gradually all the members of their body were hacked off; they were pierced by spears, had boiling lead or oil poured over them, or lowered in boiling cauldrons, they were burned on hot frying pans or on red-hot copper grills; not to speak of the insults, taunts, bows and slaps to which the witnesses of Christ's name were subjected. (p. 89)

Persecution in the Third Millennium

Execution of martyrs at the Soviet Butovo firing range

Execution of martyrs at the
Soviet Butovo firing range

Each epoch has its own spirit and distinctiveness. Except in several areas of the world with totalitarian regimes, such as in Egypt, some Islamic countries and communist states, Christians are not under physical threat. However, where physical persecution does occur, Christians are singled out and the maltreatment is pervasive and brutal. A recent Georgetown University report notes that "Among all of those who are persecuted for their religion, Christians make up 80% as estimated by the International Society for Human Rights. Among the countries in which Christians are killed are China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Mexico, Nigeria, Colombia, Pakistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and India."ii

The subtle evil one tempting us with 'immediate sense experience'

The subtle evil one
tempting us with
"immediate sense

In other areas of the world, persecution of Orthodox Christians has become much more indirect and subtle, but it is so strong that it can be compared to a brainwashing technique. It involves psychological, religious and social pressure - forced indoctrination into a new set of attitudes and beliefs that conform to secular society. In the mid- twentieth century, C.S. Lewis (1961) understood how such work of the evil one would be attempted. Lewis writes under the guise of how a senior devil should instruct a novice devil:

. . . think of doctrines as . . . "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary", "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him [the person being tempted] think materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future . . . . Your business is to fix his attention on the stream of immediate sense experience. Teach him to call it real life and don't let him ask what he means by "real." (p. 8)

Escaping Persecution: Conforming to the world

A so called 'christian<br /> marriage' of two<br /> females

A so called
'christian marriage' of two

Exemption from persecution in today's world can be predicted for those who are conformed to the world, and immunity would be likely for those who are merely ethnic, my-way, nominal or secular 'Christians.' In today's world, avoiding persecution would be easy to envision. It would be for those who justify or rationalize abortion. Such pseudo-Christians euphemistically label abortions as the 'right to choose,' but, in reality, true Christians know that a civil rights claim to a 'right' to abortion is actually a proclamation of a 'right to murder.' Likewise, support of capital punishment is endorsement of 'murder by the state.' Condoning pre-marital sex and same sex marriage (once again euphemistically labeled civil rights and/or self-fulfillment) is sanctioning control, power, and self-centeredness in contrast to promoting self sacrificing, self-giving, procreative love in emulation of God's love and its outpouring in creation (Morelli, 2008) and as blessed by God.

Those who proclaim 'one church is as good as another,' in contrast to those who know they must be and remain united to Christ's one true Church, are deceived by manmade propaganda. (Morelli, 2010b)

Female 'priestesses'

Female 'priestesses'

That same propaganda in today's society that completely misunderstands the Divinity of God, promotes tacit or, God forbid, active support for woman's ordination to the Holy Priesthood, by 'inoffensively' calling it "just fair." This fails to recognize that Christ became incarnate, became human as of the male sex and called His Father: "Father" (Mt. 6: 9) and Himself, Son (Jn 5: 20). Thus, although there is no sex in the Divinity in itself, in terms of the Incarnation, by His adopting the flesh of mankind as a male, thus the only proper icon of Christ, as a priest, is one of mankind who is of the male sex. In a book on Spiritual Counsels with the very apt subtitle With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (2011, p. 34) comments: "Today, if one wants to live honestly and spiritually he will have a hard time fitting into the world . . . he will be swept downhill by the secular stream." We will have more than a hard time; we will be "persecuted."

Pressure to ignore what is orthodox

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev


Even among those who call themselves Christian there is are wide differences in dogma as well as in moral issues. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2002) notes:

In our day there is a widely held view that religious dogmas are not compulsory but secondary: . . . they are no longer vital for Christians . . . theological issues are often neglected. The dissociation of dogma and morality, however, contradicts the very nature of religious life, which presupposes that faith should always be confirmed by deeds, and vice versa.

Certainly it is not religiously or politically correct to talk about heresy in today's secular- relativistic world. However, Metropolitan Hilarion does discuss heresy. The word 'heresy' is derived from the Greek word hariesis, which signifies 'taking out' or 'selection.' "Heresies are separated from the 'context of [Orthodox] Church teaching and opposed to it." In a recent homily I gave at my parish I put it this way: "Now some so called "Christian groups" preach and teach what is "man-made," or omit what a man or woman wants omitted and call it "Christian." Rather, to be connected to the Church means that we remain:

...immersed in the mind of the Christ and His Church: receiving the Holy Mysteries; knowing the teachings of the Holy Scriptures as the Holy Spirit-inspired Church contemplates them; living the spiritual teachings of our Church Fathers; integrating the liturgy, the cycles of the church year, the hours of the day into our life; using icons as a window to experience God; understanding of the temple building as a ship leading us to paradise; catechesis means a life of prayer. (Morelli, 2010b)

Holy Tradition and the Apostolic Churches

Unity with Christ and His Church

Unity with Christ
and His Church

At Pentecost, Christ gave His Apostles and their descendents, the bishops and priests of the now Apostolic Churches,iii the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Christians recall Christ's warning as told to us by St. Matthew (7: 15): "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." St Paul tells us: "For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." (2Cor 11:13).

Metropolitan Hierotheos explains genuine Tradition this way:

According to St. Ireneos, the Apostolic Tradition constitutes the only guarantee of the divine Revelation. This Apostolic Tradition comprises the Church and all that comes to be and exists in the Church, that is to say, the Clergy, the Bishops, the Presbyters, the right faith, the gifts of grace of the Holy Spirit, the ecclesiastical order and organization and the genuine church gatherings for worship, and all the elements which are contained in the local apostolic Churches ... Orthodoxy is the right faith of the Church. And for this reason the Church and Orthodoxy are closely united. (1998, p. 80)

The Orthodox Church does not declare traditional teaching as dogma until its "orthodoxy" is challenged. This occurs when a heresy is recognized and proclaimed as such. A case in point would be the ordination of women to the priesthood, as referred to above, that would lead Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1973) to say: "For the Orthodox Church has never faced this question, it is for us totally extrinsic, a casus irrealis for which we find no basis . . . ." For this reason, the male character of the priesthood has never been dogmatized, but fully witnessed in Church Tradition and practice. However, for maintaining firm such firm adherence to the teachings of Christ and His Body the Church, true, "right-thinking" Christians are being persecuted in the Third Millennium.

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain comments (2011): "People are in such a state today that they do whatever comes to their mind. . .they have turned sin into a fashion." The Orthodox Church is the one true Church. Some Apostolic Churches come close, some reform groups depart very far. Now consider our Lord's admonition: "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) The "plough" is the Apostolic Churches. The "looking back" Is the ecclesial groups that condone relativism, or God forbid ideas like: 'I don't need the Church,' I can talk to God alone.'

In this regard, it is important to recall Christ's rebuke: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48). I am not speaking, therefore, to those who have never been blessed with the fullness of Christ and His Apostolic Church. For example, I am not referring to Protestants, members of other religious groups, or even agnostics, atheists or pagans who have never had the blessing of being exposed to the fullness of the teachings of Christ and His Orthodox Church. By turning back from the plough I am referring to those who have reverted from the Apostolic Churches to some manmade group or ideology.

What is required of us is fidelity and commitment to the true, genuine Church of Christ —not to some manmade group no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible." In this regard, we can think of the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert, quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him... said: It is written,[c.f. Dt 8: 3] Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." (Mt 34: 34).

Christian wisdom from the mouth of a pagan

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (2011) tells a story of a student who "was seeking the truth about religions." An Indian Hindu holy man asked him: "Why did you come here? What you seek is found in Orthodoxy." The Elder's advice: "One must come to know Orthodoxy first . . . properly learn what Orthodoxy is... He won't be easily fooled into thinking that all that glitters is gold . . .I have noticed that only an egotistical person will leave Orthodoxy once he has learned it: a humble person never leaves." Only humility can conquer egoism. As St. Isaac of Syria (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us: "Humility is the raiment of the Godhead."

Unmasking the ways of the gods of the Third Millennium

The Method of Modern Persecution: Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)



More fundamental even that persecution on account of firm adherence to the teachings of the Church is the contemporary threat to the totality of the person: mind, spirit and soul. It can be known under the acronym: PSYOPS, from the military term for psychological operations intended to deceive targeted groups or individuals.

Psychological Warfare, whose meaning can be extended to psychological-spiritual warfare, has been used throughout history.iv In modern times, psychological operations and perception management has reached great scientific and technical sophistication. (Department of Defense (DOD), 1993, Garrison, 1999). Originally intended to influence enemy combatants, it is obvious that PSYOPS is equally effective to shape domestic public opinion. The following summary of the official DOD definitions serves as a working outline of psychological warfare and perception management:



The planned use of selected information, indicators, propaganda and other psychological actions to influence audiences, including leaders at all levels to authority . . . emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of government, organizations, groups, and individuals in such a way as to support the achievement of the originators objectives. Perception management may combine elements of truth, cover and deception.

Psychological underpinning of PSYOPS: The Conformity and Obedience Studies

The Conformity Studies

Social Conformity

Social Psychologists have long known the effects of social pressure on conformity and obedience. In the 1950's, a series of seminal studies were performed by Solomon Asch (1951, 1955, 1956) to investigate factors influencing conformity. Conformity is defined as the real or imagined influence of others on an individual's decision-making. The prototypic experiment has the real subject among confederates (fake subjects) first shown a vertical line of a specific length. All subjects are asked to judge the length of the line imbedded among false alternatives, with the real subject answering last or first.v Depending on how the research data are interpreted, the results show support for the influence of others to induce conformity and/or demonstrate the power of independence (Friend, Rafferty & Bramel 1990). In a nutshell, across the studies, average conformity rate occurred on 37% of the trials. However, about 1/4 of the subjects never conformed. Ash concluded that group size and group unanimity were factors that influenced the individuals' choices. When group size is low, little conformity occurs; when group size was larger, most conformity occurred. However, in the experimental conditions, group size above seven had no effect on rate of conformity. Most importantly, if unanimous agreement was broken even by one objector conformity was greatly attenuated.

The Obedience Studies

Smart Parenti XXII

If individuals in society - composed of militant secularists, anti-Christians or pseudo-Christians - are perceived to be more knowledgeable and have greater expertise than those around them, they are likely to have more authority and be obeyed even to the extent of violating one's moral (Christian) values. Stanley Milgram (1963, 1974) initiated a series of psychological studies relevant to this.. He suggests two possible explanations for his findings "that under pressure [aka persecution] from those in authority, subjects will obey even to the point of harming others, and even if their actions can eventually devolve into criminality." (Morelli, 2010a). Alternatively according to agential theory, the obedient subject, under pressure, merely considers himself an instrument or agent of the experimenter, and forecloses on his responsibility, producing a new reality of 'intra-acting' phenomena composed of authority figure and non-resistant subject. Personal accountability is attenuated (Schweiker, 1995) and transferred to this new 'onto-ethico-epistemological reality.'

Badhwar (2009) proposed another possible explanation for succumbing to the pressure of authority, which I am labeling a form of psychological 'persecution.' The obedient subjects who are violating their values may be in a state of learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). That is to say, after learning that they have no control over the situation, subjects respond by lack of assertiveness, passivity and compliance to the experimenter's instructions, thereby also abdicating responsibility.

A contemporary egregious example of persecution by obedience to authority

Professor Linda Brunton

Professor Linda Brunton

A very disturbing incident of the abuse of authority and the demanding of obedience by students on a Tennessee college campus to values contrary to Christ and His Church was recently reported.vi Psychology Professor Linda Brunton ordered her students to openly and publically support gay and lesbian issues.

The article said she "told her students that persons opposed to gay marriage are uneducated bigots who attack homosexuals with hate. She furthermore demanded that her students in a general psychology course wear Rainbow Coalition ribbons for one day as a method of promoting the advancement of gay and lesbian political issues." This persecutory action was not a 'psychology experiment,' it was perpetrated by a real authority figure on real students at a real university. The report went on to say:

It is also claimed that the professor gave the students an assignment in which they had to tell how they suffered discrimination due to their support of gay and lesbian rights. When students told her that they couldn't do such an assignment due to their religious convictions, she told them personal opinions didn't matter. She allegedly told her students that it is her job to educate the ignorant and uneducated elements of society.

Cultivating Resistance to Persecution - The Psycho-Spiritual Element

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

St. Dorotheos
of Gaza

It behooves the committed Christian, therefore, to take responsibility for developing "resistance to conformity and secular-worldly obedience" and thus decreasing potential acquiescence to PSYOPS style persecution of the orthodox teaching of Christ and His Church. To this end, the understanding of Friend, et. al. (1990) in the conformity studies described above is hopeful. We are inclined to sin by our passions, the brokenness we have inherited from our ancestral first parents. (Morelli, 2006) St. Dorotheos wrote: "(Our passions) are . . . those innate tendencies which lead us to evil. (Wheeler, 1977 p. 80). Likewise, we are psychologically vulnerable, inclined and thus susceptible to be conformed to the world by political, religious and social pressure (i.e., persecution). However, resistance can be cultivated by being exposed to, or even more importantly being part of, a community strenuously opposed to un-Christly secular values.

Icon Corner in the Domestic Church

Icon Corner in the Domestic Church

This community ideally should start with the family, also known as the little Church in the home, the Domestic Church (Morelli, 2009a, 2009b). There should be no disconnect between the daily life in the domestic church and the Mind of Christ and His Church. Morelli (2009a) gives very specific examples of how this should be accomplished. These exemplars are extensively outlined in the Endnote below.vii This is strengthened being an involved member of a vibrant, strongly committed, true Church of Christ. Such exposure should proceed on to the parish level, to being actively involved with spiritual and charity-oriented groups within parishes, then extending this participation to the diocese, archdiocese, patriarchate and, ultimately, the universal Church. In doing this we can work to acquire a Christ-like virtue of the "power of independence."

Interacting Factors in Modeling

Interacting Factors in Modeling

In developing a resistance to conformity that leads to independence, it is also important to keep in mind the one of the important factors Bandura (1977, 1986) found regarding modeling efficacy. As I point out in a previous paper (Morelli, 2011), these elements are:

The amount and quality of attention to characteristics of the model such as: salience (e.g., attractiveness, competence; prestige, similarity to the observer); the affective valence of the model, that is to say whether strong or weak emotions are aroused by it; its functional value and prevalence as well as the attention characteristics of the observer: e.g., their perceptual cognitive capability, cognitive set (thought patterns) and arousal level at the time.

Applying Bandura's factors to resisting and fighting back persecution means that Christians should present themselves as appealing, likeable, knowledgeable, taking on church and community leadership and at the same time being seen as not unlike those around them. For example, at the parish where I have been assigned these past 13 years, St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church in San Diego, we have Graduation Sunday in June at which graduates are honored, as are the leaders in the church community who have enabled their achievements. Parishioners of all ages hear the accomplishments of those around them, seemingly quite similar to themselves, and this has an efficacious modeling effect. Particularly effective models are Christians who have not only been active in Church attendance and ministry, and who have at the same time graduated with many with honors, particularly those in the demanding fields of law, medicine and the sciences.

The strength of Christ: The ultimate armor for resisting persecution

St. Philotheos of Sinai (Philokalia III, p. 31) tells us: "None of the painful things that happen to us every day will injure or distress us once we perceive and continually meditate on their purpose." St. Peter (2Pt 1: 4) puts it this way: " that by these [a life of Godliness] you may be made partakers of the divine nature." St. Maximus the Confessor pinpoints for us exactly what this purpose is:

. . . he [us] knows only one pleasure, the marriage of the soul with the Logos [the Word of God-Christ]. To be deprived of this marriage is endless torment... Thus when he left the body and all that pertains to it, he is impelled towards union with the divine; for even if he were to be master of the whole world, he would still recognize only one real disaster: failure to attain by grace the deification for which he is hoping. (Philokalia II, p. 297)

Defend us in battle

Defend us in battle

Thus, having Christ at the apex of our life's vision is the ultimate armor to withstand the assaults of modern day persecution. This means that we are fully integrated into his Body on Earth: His Church. St Paul tells us in Colossians (1:18) that Christ's Body on earth is His Church: "And He is the head of the ody, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He may hold the primacy." In this spirit, we are guided in all things we do or encounter by his further words: "For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ." (1Cor 12:12)

Thus we live our lives as heroic soldiers of Christ. I cannot summarize this better than by the words of St. Paul to St. Timothy:

Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus: And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also. Labor as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No man, being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular businesses; that he may please him to whom he hath engaged himself. For he also that striveth for the mastery, is not crowned, except he strive lawfully. (2Tim 2: 1-5)

"And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints." (Rm 8: 28)


Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of Group Pressure Upon the Modification and Distortion of Judgment, in H. Guetzkow (ed.), Groups, Leadership and Men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.

Asch, S. E. (1955). Opinions and Social Pressures. Scientific American, 193(5), 31-35.

Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of Independence and Conformity: A Minority of One Against a Unanimous Majority. Psychological Monographs, 70 (Whole no. 416).

Badhwar, N. K., (2009, June 3). The Milgram Experiments, Learned Helplessness, and Character Traits, The Journal of Ethics, 13, 3. www.springerlink.com/content/gp4w0tw81k228845/.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A. (1986).Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Barad, K.M. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC:  Duke University Press.

Blessed Theophylact.  (2006). The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew. House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press

Breck, J. (2001). Scripture in Tradition: The bible and its interpretation in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Department of Defense. (1993). Doctrine for joint psychological operations. Joint Publication 3-53. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense.

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. (2011). Spiritual counsels: With pain and love for contemporary man. (Vol. I. 3rd Ed. Rev.). Thessalonika, Greece: Holy Monastery "Evangelist John the Theologian."

Friend, R., Rafferty, Y., & Bramel. D. (1990). A puzzling misinterpretation of the Asch 'conformity' studies. European Journal of Psychology, 20, 29-44.

Garrison, W.C. (1999).  Information operations and counter-propaganda: Making a weapon of public affairs. Available: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/....

Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Lewis, C.S. (1961). The Screwtape Letters. NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Milgram, Stanley (1974), Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. NY: Harper Collins.

Morelli, G. (2006, July 29). Dealing with Brokenness in the World. www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-dealing-with-brokenness-in-the-world.).

Morelli, G. (2008a, July, 8). Good Marriage XIII: The Theology of Marriage and Sexuality. https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Morelli-Smart%20Marriage-XIII-The-Theology-of-Marriage-and-Sexuality.php.

Morelli, G. (2009a,  July 15). Smart Parenting XVII: Love and Worship in the Domestic Church- Of God or Idols. https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/smart-parenting-xvii.-love-and-worship-in-the-do3)mestic-church-ndash-of-god-

Morelli, G. (2009b, August 13). Good Marriage XVIII. Marriage and Parenting in the Domestic Church. https://www.orthodoxytoday...

Morelli, (2010a, June 01). Living as a Christian in a Post-Christian World: Discernment. https://www.orthodoxytoday...

Morelli, G. (2010b, November 25). The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The Mind of the Orthodox Church.  https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/morelli-the-ethos-of-orthodox-catechesis

Morelli, G. (2011, August 01).Smart Parenting XXII. Witnessing Loyalty, Dedication and Dependability. https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/orthodoxy-today-smart-parenting-xxii.-witnessing-loyalty-dedication-and-dep

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (trams.)(1981). The Philokalia,: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth, Vol. 2. London: Faber and Faber.

Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (trans.) (1986). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, (Vol. 3). Winchester, MA: Faber and Faber.

Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (trans.) (1995). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth, (Vol. 4). London: Faber and Faber.

Rahal, J. (2006), (Ed.). The services of Great and Holy Week and Pascha, According to the use of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Christian Archdiocese of North America. Englewood, NJ: Antakya Press.

Schmemann, A. (1973). Concening Woman's Ordination: A Letter to an Episcopal Friend. St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, 17, 3, 239-243.

Schweiker, W. (1995). Responsibility and Christian Ethics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman

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St. John of Kronstadt. (2003). Ten homilies on the Beatitudes. Albany, NY: Cornerstone Editions.

Vlachos, Bishop Hierotheos, (1998). The Mind of the Orthodox Church. Lavadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.

Wheeler, E.P. (1977). (ed., trans.), Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.


i It should be noted that different translations of Sacred Scripture render some Hebrew names with dissimilar English spellings. St. Theophylact, echoing many of the Church Fathers, notes that Christ's reference to Zachariah could refer both to the Old Testament Prophet as well as to the father of St. John the Baptist. Both of whom were murdered in the temple (God's court). This would be another connection between Old and New Testament. (Blessed Theophylact, 2006)

ii http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/rfp/essays/pope-francis-and-religious-freedom

iii Apostolic Churches of Christ are the: Eastern Catholic Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Orthodox Churches and Roman Catholic Church. These are the Churches whose bishops and priests can be traced back to the Apostles. God willing, these would be the Churches most likely to overcome the sin of disunion. These Churches stand in sharp contrast to the reformed Western ecclesial groups which that broke Apostolic succession, removed or changed many of the Holy Mysteries and have a theology based on the personal construction of their human founders or successors. It should be noted that some Protestant communities have discovered the ancient Church founded by Christ and have returned to Apostolic Christianity. For example, some Evangelical and Protestant-Episcopal communities were incorporated into the Antiochian Archdiocese and Anglican groups as well incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church (of course deficits in theology had to be corrected and re-ordination of clergy and the other Holy Mysteries had to be performed as needed).

iv http://www.psywar.org/


v In a prototypic Conformity Experiment, all subjects are shown the first vertical line card. All subjects (confederate, fake and real) are then shown the card with the three lines A, B, C and asked which matches the first card. In one experimental condition the fake subjects answer first, followed by the real subject. The fake subjects were prompted to answer incorrectly, purposely choosing A or B. The correct choice is obviously C. The real subjects can be influenced or resistant to the answers of their confederates. Conformers are more likely to choose the incorrect line: A or B (depending on the experimental group they were in). Independent (conformity resistant) subjects were more likely to choose the actual correct answer. In another phase of the experiment, the real subject was questioned first, before the fake subjects, in this condition the real subjects were more likely to answer correctly: C.

vi http://www.examiner.com/article/linda-brunton-ordered-psychology-class-to-support-gay-and-lesbian-politics

vii Specific examples connecting the Domestic Church with the Parish and Universal Church:

  • Attending liturgy as a family on Sundays and feast days; dressing in clean, modest clothing; being reverent during the services and praying the Liturgy; avoiding chit-chatting in church.
  • Observing Saturday evenings and evenings before reception of the Holy Eucharist as a time of prayer and spiritual recollection, not for partying or entertaining.
  • Maintaining an icon corner in the family home, with icons of Our Lord, the Theotokos and the family patron saints; teaching the reverence of sacred icons by holding family prayer at the icon corner; reading the daily troparia and kontakia, epistle and Gospel readings; using candles and incense.
  • Praying with children before bedtime and after awakening in the morning; teaching children to make the sign of the cross and how to memorize basic prayers, such as the Trisagion, Our Father, Creed, and Psalm 51(50); praying before and after meals (inside the home and when eating out).
  • Referencing the ‘Presence of God’ around us at all times
  • Following the church fasts
    • Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year
    • Christmas (Advent) Fast
    • Lenten Fast and Holy Week
    • Apostles’ Fast
    • Dormition Fast
  • Teaching children that the purpose of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is building spiritual strength and giving back to God love through love of one another in need.
  • Keeping a program of spiritual reading and learning
    • Holy Scripture
    • Church Fathers
    • Lives of the saints
    • Adult catechism materials (see, for example, www.stgeorgesd.org/stgeor...)
    • Church school lessons (reinforced by parents reviewing each week with children)
    • For families with young children, movies and videos of Bible stories and other wholesome topics
  • Teaching the reverence of the sacred icons
  • Teaching the structure and layout of the church temple
  • Refusing to participate in activities that conflict with worship or are scheduled during the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast-days; protesting to the proper community authorities and teaching children that God comes first.
  • Acknowledging everyday blessings by asking Our Lord’s blessing before each activity; rather than saying ‘Good luck,’ saying ‘Thank you Lord’ or ‘What a blessing’; asking the priest to bless home, cars, and other special objects.
  • Participating in special church blessings:
    • Water [Jan 6 — Theophany]
    • Candles [Feb 2 — Presentation]
    • Flowers [Holy Cross Sunday & Great Friday]
    • Oil [Wednesday of Holy Week]
    • Palms [Palm Sunday]
    • Eggs [Pascha]
    • Basil [Sept 14 — Holy Cross]
  • Bringing children into the spiritual family of the Church
    • Talking with the priest before the birth of the child and reflecting on the mystery of co-creation
    • Having the priest bless the newborn in the hospital
    • Saying the prayers of naming a child on the eighth day after birth
    • Offering or “churching” (presenting) the baby to God on or about the 40th day after birth
    • Conferring with the priest on the meaning of baptism and preparing for it
    • Choosing sponsors who are committed to Christ and His teaching and who will educate the child in the faith and fear of God
  • Parents and older children practicing confessing sins privately on a daily basis and sacramentally on a frequent basis; thanking God for His grace and gift of life; each person examining his or her conscience as to how he or she acted toward God and others and attributing to God any good done and any evil to himself or herself; quickly resolving any conflicts with others, forgiving all who have offended and asking pardon of those have been offended.
  • Availing of Holy Unction during illness or when it is offered at the parish (on Wednesday of Holy Week and special unction services).
  • Ministering at the local parish church and in the community by participating in the parish council, ladies’ society, youth organization, church school, choir, adult ministry, and other special ministries; parents encouraging and accompanying their children in parish activities such as church school, teen events, altar boys’ camp, and choir.
  • Dealing with non-Christian values in news and media
    • Allowing only appropriate TV programs and music.
    • Keeping the children’s computers in an open space with a ‘net nanny’ or parental controls installed; engaging in what children are doing.
    • When a program or ad appears in media or music which contradicts Our Lord’s teaching, immediately addressing it in a Godly manner (see the Smart Parenting series of articles: www.orthodoxytoday.org/in...).
    • Engaging children in discussing television programs and movies in terms of understanding God’s love for us and the love we must have for each other; when a newscast is viewed, parents engaging the family in a discussion about the content in terms of Our Lord’s teachings regarding issues such as:
      • Abortion
      • Capital punishment
      • Casual sex
      • Criminal activity
      • Drugs and alcohol
      • Environment
      • Euthanasia
      • Homelessness
      • Immodesty in dress, song, and speech
      • Natural disasters
      • Pre-emptive war

According to the Premack Principle, the family that engages in the activities outlines above treasures Christ. The members in such a family love God, having no other gods before Him, and teach each other Godly behavior with diligence.

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: August 1, 2013

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