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|Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)|
Explanation of the four Gospels
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At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord warns the faithful against false prophets, likening them to wolves in sheep’s clothing. The “dogs’ and “swine” about who the Lord spoke, are not as dangerous to the faithful as false prophets, because their iniquitous lifestyle is obvious and would only repulse the believer. False prophets espouse lies as truth and their own rules for living as that of the God’s. One has to be very perceptive and wise, in order to realise what spiritual danger they represent.
This comparison of false prophets with wolves, pretending to be sheep, was very convincing to the Jews that listened to Christ, because over a period of many centuries, these people suffered much misfortune from false prophets.
In the backdrop of false prophets, the good deeds of true Prophets were especially evident. Genuine Prophets were conspicuous with their non-covetousness, obedience to God, fearless exposure of people’s sins, deep humility, love, self-discipline and chaste life. Their aim was to attract people toward God’s Kingdom, and they were the constructive and uniting beginning in the lives of their people. Although these genuine Prophets were often rejected by the general masses of their contemporaries, and persecuted by people that stood at the helm of authority, their actions cleansed society, enlivened the best sons of the Jewish people toward a virtuous life — in other words, led them toward God’s glory. Such were the fruits that were produced by the activities of the true Prophets, which captivated the following generations of faithful Jews. They recalled with gratitude such Prophets as Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and others.
The false prophets — who numbered quite a few - pursued completely different activities and aims. Avoiding the exposure of sins, they skilfully flattered people, which secured their success among the common masses and favours from those of earthly power. Promising prosperity, they lulled the conscience of the people, which in turn led to societal decay. While the true Prophets were doing everything for the good and unity of God’s Kingdom, the false prophets sought personal glory and benefits. They weren’t averse to perjuring against them and persecuting them. In the final analysis, they contributed to the nation's destruction. Such were the spiritual and social results of the efforts by these false prophets. But the quick-ripening glory of these false prophets soon rotted quicker than their fragile bodies, and the following generation of Jews remembered with shame, how their ancestors submitted themselves to this deceit (Saint Jeremiah the Prophet, in his “Lamentations,” complains bitterly about false prophets that ruined the Jewish people, see Lamentations 4:13).
During periods of spiritual decline, when God used to send His Prophets so that they may direct the Jews toward the true path, simultaneously, a great many self-styled prophets used to appear in their midst. Thus, for example, there were especially a great number of them preaching from the 8th to the 6th century BC, when the Israelite and Judean kingdoms were destroyed, and later — on the eve of the destruction of Jerusalem, in the seventies of our era. In accordance with Christ’s and the Apostles’ predictions, before the end of the world, there will be many false prophets, some of whom will even create astonishing miracles and signs in nature (of course, false ones) (Mat. 24:11-24; 2 Pet. 2:11; 2 Thes. 2:9). In our New Testament times, just like in the days of the Old Testament, the false prophets have inflicted many harms to the Church. In ancient times — by lulling peoples’ consciences, they accelerated the process of moral decay, and in contemporary days — by leading people away from the truth and implanting heresies, they severed branches from the tree of God’s Kingdom. The contemporary surfeit of every type of sects and “denominations,” is undoubtedly, the fruit of modern-day false prophets. Sects sooner or later disappear and others sprout in their place. Only the true Church of Christ will remain till the end of time. On the future of false teachings, Christ had this to say: “Every plant which My Heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (Mat. 15:13).
It has to be explained, that it would be an exaggeration and stretching the meaning of this to include every contemporary pastor or non-Orthodox preacher as a false prophet. After all, among religious ministers of different faiths, there undoubtedly would be many genuinely faithful, deeply selfless and decent people. They belong to one or another branch of Christianity, not through objective choice but through inheritance. On the other hand, false prophets are precisely those that founded the non-Orthodox religious outpouring. Modern television “miracle-workers,” exalted demonic exorcists and vain preachers that project themselves as God’s chosen, and those that have converted religion into a personal money-making enterprise — can all be called false prophets.
In His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord cautions His followers about false prophets, teaching them not to trust their outward attraction and eloquence but to pay attention to the “fruits” of their activities: “ A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” The term bad “fruit” should not necessarily be understood as sins or abominable deeds, which the false prophets skilfully conceal. The harmful fruits of the false prophets’ labours — common to all of them — is pride and wrenching people away from God’s Kingdom.
A false prophet is unable to conceal his pride to the sensitive heart of a believer. One Saint commented that the devil could show himself in the form of any virtue, except one — humility. Just as the wolf’s teeth become visible underneath sheep’s clothing, so does pride emerge in the words, gestures and gaze of the false prophet. In seeking popularity, they love to perform — before a large audience — “healings” or “exorcisms,” dumbfound their audiences with bold thoughts, and evoke excitement from the public. All their appearances are crowned with large collections of money. How distant this cheap pathos and boldness is from the meek and humble image of the Saviour and His Apostles!
Further on, the Lord raises the false prophets’ references to their miracles: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’” What miracles are they talking about? Can a false prophet perform miracles? No! But the Lord sends His help according to the faith of the solicitor, and not through the merit of the individual that projects himself as a miracle-worker. The false prophets attributed to themselves, those deeds that the Lord performed through His compassion for people. It is also possible that the false prophets, in their self-delusion, imagined that they performed the miracles. In either case, on the Final Judgment Day, the Lord will reject them, pronouncing: ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Thus, although the false prophets weaken the Church in wrenching careless sheep from Her, the faithful children of the Church should not be perturbed by Her lack of members and seeming feebleness, because the Lord prefers a small number people that safeguard the truth, to a large number of misguided individuals — “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” and promises the faithful, His Divine protection from spiritual wolves, stating: “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (Luke 12:32, John 10:28).
Thus, you can distinguish the false prophets by their lives and deeds. The following words of the Lord, appear as though they were intended for the contemporary sectarians that preach a person’s absolution through faith alone, without good deeds: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven” (Mat. 7:21). This clearly shows that faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ is insufficient, but what is also needed is a life that is consistent with faith, ie. fulfilling Christ’s commandments — good deeds. In the initial stages of Christianity’s dissemination, there were indeed many that performed miracles in Christ’s Name. Even Judas received this authority with the twelve Apostles on an equal basis. However, this will not save a person that is not concerned with fulfilling God’s commandments.
In conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord repeats this thought: he who hears the Lord’s words and does not fulfil them, does not create good deeds, is like a person that builds his house on sand; while a person that fulfils Christ’s commandments in deed, is like a person that had built it on rock. Inasmuch as in Palestine torrential rains, accompanied by storms that swept away houses that were built on sandy soil were normal occurrences, the comparison was understood locally and appreciated by the Jews. Only those that fulfil Christ’s commandments will be able to withstand the invasion of like storms of intense temptations. Those who don’t easily fall into despair and perish, denying Christ; that’s why our Church asks in Her canticles for us to be affirmed on “His rock of commandments.”
Evangelist Matthew concludes his narration on the Sermon with witness about how the people were amazed at this new teaching, because the Lord taught as One with authority and not like the Scribes and Pharisees. In the main, their teachings consisted of trivialities, of useless verbiage and contentious words; on the other hand, the teachings of Jesus Christ were plain and elevated because He spoke from Himself personally, as the Son of God: “And I say to you…” — one clearly feels in these words His Divine authority and power.