Life of Virtue & Righteousness (4)
Pope Shenouda III | 1 August 2010
The danger of focusing on one virtue (B)
The Virtue of Obedience
In continuation of the same topic, we shall speak here about:
The Virtue of Obedience:
God commanded us to obey our spiritual guides who watch out for our souls as those who must give account (Heb 13: 17). Moreover, we have in the Paradise of Monks various wonderful examples of obedience to the fathers in holiness. However, we should not obey blindly whatever the case may be; for "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5: 29) We ought to be discerning, and our obedience be within obedience to God. We ought to be sure of the spirituality of the guide, and of his obedience to God.
The same applies within the family. Children are required to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph 6: 1).
Obedience should be "in the Lord", that is in things not contradicting God's commandment, which matter needs discernment. Among the many examples in the Scripture, we see that Solomon the Wise did not obey his mother Bathsheba, nor Jonathan his father Solomon!
1. Solomon and obedience to his mother:
Solomon honored his mother, as we see when she came to visit him, he rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, sat down on his throne, and had a throne set for the king's mother at his right hand (1 Kgs 2: 19). He even promised not to refuse her request (1 Kgs 2: 20). Yet, when she asked him to give Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah his brother, Solomon refused and commanded that Adonijah be killed (1 Kgs 2: 25).
Solomon did not obey his mother's request which was violating the law.
Abishag the Shunammite was the wife of their father David, (1 Kgs 1: 1- 4), how then dare Adonijah ask to marry his father's wife? It is an express violation of the Law (Lev 18: 8), which necessitates killing Adonijah. His mother likewise was wrong, for she asked something against the Law (1 Kgs 2: 18). So, Solomon rejected her request and rebuked her for it (1 Kgs 2: 33) although he had bowed down before her.
2. Jonathan and obedience to his father King Saul:
King Saul envied David fearing that he would take the kingdom from him, so he attempted more than once to kill him. Jonathan, on the other hand, supported David against his own father Saul and kept revealing to David his father's plots, that he might be on his guard and flee from him (1 Sam 19: 2). Jonathan also rebuked his father Saul because of his attempts to kill David, and said to him, "Let not the king sin against his servant, against David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his works have been very good toward you …Why then will you sin against innocent blood, to kill David without a cause?" (1 Sam 19: 4, 5) Then he made his father's plot against David fail, and rescued David (1 Sam 20).
Obedience should mainly be to God, whereas obedience to fathers and guides should be within obedience to God.
The scribes and the Pharisees were teachers and leaders, but the Lord Christ described them as "blind guides" (Mt 23: 16, 24). Therefore, it was not required from people to obey them, especially their teaching concerning the Sabbath, the Altar, the Temple, and the gifts (Mt 23). To those and others like them these words shall apply: "O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err." (Isa 3: 12; 9: 16)
Some people perish due to disobedience, while others perish due to obedience!
It depends on the kind of obedience or disobedience, and on the kind of counsel provided, whether in conformity with God's commands or not. If God's command is clear, one should obey it, no matter the person providing the counsel or the command.
At least one should follow one's conscience.
A clear example is the story of Uriah the Hithite and King David, God's anointed. To cover his sin with Uriah's wife, David asked Uriah to go down to his house, but Uriah's conscience did not allow him to be at his house eating and drinking and lying with his wife, while the army is encamped in the open fields. He said to David, "As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing." (2 Sam 11: 11)
The Scripture commands us not to obey unsound teaching.
St. Paul the Apostle says, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1: 8) No matter who gives the teaching, an apostle or an angel, if it contradicts God's word, we should not obey it. Whoever obeys it will be anathema. This applies to all teaching, whether from a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, even if such a person gives a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass (Deu 13: 1- 3)! "You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deu 13: 3)
St. Demiana and her father:
Her father was the Governor of Borollos and Zaafarana. When he obeyed Diocletian and denied faith in fear, St. Demiana refused to obey him, and she even rebuked him severely and said that she would deny him as a father if he continued denying faith. In this way, she restored him to faith and he was martyred.
Obedience to the parents should be in the light of the Lord's words, "He who loves mother or father more than Me is not worthy of Me." (Mt 10: 37)
You have to honor your father and mother to the farthest extent, which is the first commandment with promise (Eph 6: 2), and to obey them as far as possible, but within God's commandment, for obedience to God should be in the first place. The same applies to the spiritual fathers and guides. Arius was a priest and had spiritual children, but when he fell in his heresy, they were free not to obey him. This applies to those who deviated from sound faith, to false teachers like the scribes and Pharisees, and to the priests who use the authority of absolution and binding against God's commandment.
Any absolution against God's commandment is invalid.
No matter the rank of the clergy giving the absolution, he is only executing God's commandment, for "People should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." (Mal 2: 7) Therefore, if the absolution is contrary to the church law, it will be invalid. This applies to the priests who give the party divorced against God's commandment permission to remarry or to marry illegally.
You have to obey the priest or the guide, and the priest or the guide has to obey God. No priest or guide can give absolution for breaking God's commandment. A monk, for instance, who marries breaks the commandment of vows (Eccl 5: 5).
Obedience is a good virtue revealing decency, humbleness, and respect and submission to the elderly, but some situations need to be confronted with "NO". I dare even say that some holy and righteous persons used the word "No" with God Himself!
Moses the Prophet argued with the Lord when He said to him, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them." (Ex 32: 9, 10) Moses said to Him, "Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people." (Ex 32: 12) "Yet now, if You will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written." (Ex 32: 32) Neither this was disobedience on the part of Moses, nor God's words were a command to Moses, but rather a test of Moses' love for the people and his longsuffering.
Discussing with God does not mean disobedience to His will and commands.
Take for instance the discussion held between our Father Abraham, the father of fathers and prophets, and God concerning destroying Sodom. Our father Abraham said, "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked; far be it from You!" (Gen 18: 23, 25) He did not say, 'O Lord, let Your will be done. Burn Sodom.' His discussion was part of his righteousness. Also Jeremiah the Prophet said to God, "Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?" (Jer 12: 1)
One can say "No" to the elderly in certain cases, but with decency.
This is what Abigail did when David wanted to kill Nabal of Carmel. She said to him, 'No', but with respect, advice, and love. After many words of praise to him she said, "This will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself." (1 Sam 25: 31) So David praised her wisdom, saying, "Blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand." (1 Sam 25: 33)
John the Baptist likewise felt it his duty to say to King Herod, 'No', "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." (Mk 6: 18)
In certain situations, one should witness to the truth under two conditions:
1. Making sure first that one defends truth, instead of being ignorant of it.
2. Saying it decently, without sinning with one's tongue, teaching, or emotions, nor causing the others to follow the same way, imagining that they defend the truth, or what they think is the truth.
Virtue needs much more talk, which we shall do in other articles, God willing.