CAN ORTHODOXY BE SELF-CRITICAL?
(Friday, September 22)
“Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath…” (Lk 4:24-28)
Our Lord often criticizes His own people, which sometimes incites their wrath, as in today’s Gospel-reading. Here He “remembers” their religious history, in which they took pride as God’s chosen people, not in a flattering way, pointing out the times that great prophets chose to serve not any Israelite, but certain foreigners. If you read this passage further, you see that on this occasion, “all those in the synagogue” became so angry, that they led Him out of the city to the edge of a cliff, intending to kill Him (as the devil tried to do, from the roof of the temple), but He “passed through their midst” and went away, because it wasn’t His time to die.
I’m thinking about our own capacities for, and reactions to, collective self-criticism. Is it a bad thing, for *us* to criticize *our* history, or do we need to justify whatever *we* did in our history, at all costs? I observe that in Western democracies, we as Western Orthodox Christians do generally criticize our political systems and/or leadership and history with no particular reservations, but when it comes to Orthodox Church history and present-day reality, *we* rarely engage in historical-critical assessments. After all, we are “ortho-dox,” which we might understand to mean that *we* are those who have the *right* opinion and the *right* worship. Period. But I’m thinking that, if our Lord calls His own people to note the shortcomings in their historical behaviors, it wouldn’t kill us to engage sometimes in self-criticism, also as Church. And it would probably make us easier to talk with and to deal with, in conversations with one another and with outsiders. Lord, help us not to fear seeing ourselves as You see us, with our pluses and minuses, with the gentle realism that is humility.