On Lies ~ Saint Philaret of New York



On Lies 

By St. Philaret of New York 

The Evangelist Luke tells of how the Lord Jesus Christ cast out a demon from a possessed person. Such accounts are found many times in the Gospel, but it is characteristic that the Lord Jesus Christ, when the evil spirits confessed Him to be the Son of God, forbade them to say this, while driving them out of those unfortunates whom they had under their power. They were seemingly telling the truth when they said plainly: “Thou art the Son of God.” But He did not allow them to speak thus, and cast them out. 

In like manner, once the Holy Apostle Paul, preaching in the city of Philippi, cast a demon out of a maid, a woman who was possessed of an evil spirit and followed the Apostles. When they preached there, she seemed to speak the plain truth: “These men,” she cried out, “are servants of the Most High God and proclaim to us the way of salvation.” This was the truth. However, the Apostle Paul was indignant, as it says in the Book of Acts, and cast the demon out of this maid, and she ceased speaking thus. 

Already in antiquity, St. Athanasius of Alexandria was asked: “Why did the Lord and His Apostles act in this way, when the demons were speaking the truth? When an evil spirit is speaking an untruth (as they tend to), then it is natural to silence them. But here he is speaking the truth.” But to this St. Athanasius the Great replies that an evil spirit, when it speaks the truth, does so with the unjust intention of winning people’s confidence and then later speaking what is not fitting – that is, by means of this truth they entice those who will listen to them. 

St. John Chrysostom said the same thing in his time. He said that when the name of Christ is preached as the Son of God, when Christian truth is being preached, it is not the job of evil spirits to proclaim this. They are rejected of God; their testimony and confession are not acceptable. So it happens in life. When someone tells the truth, but with the aim of unrighteousness, the true Christian should never be in the position to be enticed towards trust. 

Take, for example, our unfortunate homeland in the years of the Communist regime. When its hierarchs speak about God, they say much that is good; but when they say that there was no persecution, that the Church there is flourishing as it has never before flourished – then this was an obvious untruth and an outright lie, which has scaled the church ambo and altar…

We will by no means condemn those unfortunates who lived under such conditions, under which the Orthodox Church has never before lived, for such a regime that is as terrible, cunning, evil, and insidious as Soviet Russia has never before existed on the globe. This regime has announced a campaign against all faith, denies all that is holy and everything that is sacred, and strives to take away the holy things from the Russian people and make it into a godless and atheistic one. Under such a regime, I repeat, no single hierarch has ever before had to live and serve. And therefore we do not condemn them. To God alone belongs judgment. But as regards our own flock, of course, we caution and are obliged to caution that these unfortunates are forced to speak lies. Let our flock remember that these are lies, and lies cannot by any means be trusted. 

Tomorrow the Church glorifies the great Russian hierarchs: Peter, Alexis, Jonah, Philip, and Hermogenes.*  Each of them fulfilled his ministry in his own time; the primacy of each was a whole epoch in the history of our Russian Church. 

Here is the Holy Metropolitan Philip, whom the Church calls a hieromartyr. It was his lot to head the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church during those frightful times when the kingdom was ruled by Tsar Ivan the Terrible, whose victim he ultimately became, as we know from both Church and Russian history. But can one even compare this Terrible Tsar Ivan with today’s Soviet regime? Tsar Ivan always referred to himself as “Sovereign by God’s grace.” He was a believing, religious person. He was a neurotic person, who suffered from a mania of suspicion, and therefore he killed people, sentencing to death, and sometimes to a painful death, people who were in reality guilty of nothing; but it seemed to him, in his painful suspicion, that they were encroaching on him and on his throne. 

Recall how St. Philip faced Tsar Ivan, feeling that he was obliged as a hierarch, as a herald of God’s truth, to expose untruth. Was he silent? Did he speak such words as the Russian people heard in their time, when the heads of the Soviet regime – bloody murderers and fiends – heard words of praise in addresses from the Orthodox Church and its hierarchy? And when the terrible Tsar began to threaten him for going against his power, the saint replied: “Tsar, I am a stranger on the earth who strives for truth; no power on earth can force me to be silent.” This is what Christ’s servant said. And we know how fearlessly he continued his rebuke while suffering exile and imprisonment and how Malyuta Skuratov in the end strangled him – but he remained faithful to his archpastoral duties to the end. And now we have in our homeland a regime that is in all respects infinitely worse and more repulsive than was the kingdom of Ivan, an unfortunate and sinful man. However, the current spiritual leadership of the Soviet hierarchy, which everywhere asserts that there were no persecutions or oppression at all, praises this purely satanic regime. As if there were not hundreds of hierarchs who suffered there, thousands of clergy (pastors, deacons), and also [tens of millions of] Orthodox laymen. As if there were nothing of the sort! 

I repeat, that we will not condemn them, but rather pity them. But this example shows us how terrible lies are, when they make their way into the Church and onto the church ambo and into the church altar. Let us remember how Christians need to beware of all lies! 

An ancient sage once said: “The Lord detests lying lips!” Everyone should remember this, once and for all, because the man who grows accustomed to telling lies falls under these ominous words. In one of the Psalms there is this expression: “Futile is the horse for salvation.” [In Slavonic, literally: “Lies are a horse for salvation.”] Very many people incorrectly understand this saying of the Psalmist. The Psalmist once said that man can be saved if he sets off on a horse from danger, but the Psalmist says that God saves, and not the horse: “Lies are a horse for salvation.” That is, it is a lie that horses are for salvation. It is not the horse that saves, but the Lord, His protection and His defense. But this saying has become misinterpreted to mean that lies can save. Never! 

There is a conditional truth that is allowed by the saints, but so as to achieve higher goals. For example, St. Theodosius of the Kiev-Caves stayed awake all night in flaming prayer, but strove to conceal his ascetic struggle. And therefore, when the monk who woke people came to his cell before dawn, “when it was yet dark,” in order to get his blessing to wake up the brethren and call them to early morning prayer, the saint fell onto his bed and pretended to sleep, so as to hide his ascetic struggle. Or he would not respond to the call of the monk waking people up immediately, as if he were asleep. 

A thief who was being pursued ran to a holy elder. The elder hid him, and said to his pursuers: “He is not here.” They believed the holy elder and left. His cell attendant later said to him: “Abba, you spoke a lie, a falsehood.” The elder replied: “If I had spoken the truth, they would have killed him and his soul  would have perished, for he would have died in sin without repentance. But now he is mine and I will try to lead him to God.” And that is just what happened. 

Only in such cases did the saints allow a conditional untruth: when it protected, so to speak, a higher principle, a divine truth. But God’s people – not just great righteous ones, but all true believing Christians – never allowed a direct lie, a lie as such. 

Beware, man, lest lying words escape from your tongue, because the Lord will sternly chastise this. It is not in vain that the Holy Apocalypse warns us that all liars will burn in eternal torment in the lake of fire… Amen. 


* This commemoration fell on the following day in the year in which this homily was delivered. – Trans. 

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