It has been a problem since before Christ. People who read one part of the Law and demand its exact obedience while ignoring other parts of the Law. The Pharisees were good at it, and many today are quickly adopting their way. Many today look at the Holy Canons like modern pharisees, demanding exact obedience to one canon while ignoring another. The problem with modern pharisees is that they didn’t learn the lessons of the original pharisees.
Brethren, we, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? “Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.Galatians 4:28-31;5:1-10
In today’s lesson from Saint Paul about the Law, he points out that many were picking and choosing which parts of the Law they wished to follow. If they were demanding one part of the Law and ignoring another, they were not justified. They lost in the end because they didn’t understand the purpose of the Law.
Today, many ‘super’ Orthodox read the Holy Canons and Scriptures and pick and choose which ones are to be followed with exactness and which are to be ignored. We do this as individuals, which in and of itself, is not an Orthodox practice. The bishops are the ones burdened with enforcing and interpreting the Holy Canons.
It is not an Orthodox practice to pick and choose which ‘rules’ we want to follow. At the same time, the Church has always understood that history has context. What ‘made sense’ for the Church in one century may or may not make sense in another. Choosing which context to follow is not up for grabs. It is the burden of the bishops, not individuals.
I don’t want to leave you without an example. Head coverings have been on my mind this past week since it is the topic of our Bible Study on 1st Corinthians Session 27. It has occurred to me that many ‘super’ Orthodox demand women cover their heads, but never demand men remain uncovered. Enter any monastery and you will see every single monk with his head covered in prayer. Monks, clergy of every rank wear some sort of head covering in Church. Are they disobeying Saint Paul, or is there a different context to better understand the situation?
Fasting is another issue for ‘super’ Orthodox. Some elevate fasting to such a high level so as to avoid Holy Communion rather than keep an unrealistic fasting regimen. Some look at fasting ‘rules’ and forget they have changed over time and across cultures. Some, especially catechumens and new converts, think fasting like a monk from ‘day one’ of joining the Church will get them to heaven. If we are not monastics, we shouldn’t fast like monastics.
How do we avoid being modern pharisees? Find a spiritual father we can trust and listen to him. He understands our situation. He understands the Holy Canons. He has certain authority from the bishops to guide us through life. We can’t and shouldn’t do it ourselves. It didn’t work for the Pharisees and it won’t work for us.