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"Watch Your Tongue"

by the New-Martyr Priest Sergei Mechev

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

To judge and to talk idly are not akin to one who is repenting, my dears. One who is repenting ought to be silent as much as possible in order to accomplish his salvation in repentance. But we constantly talk idly, constantly judge and criticize others, constantly do evil with our tongue. Thereby we bring evil upon both us ourselves, who are speaking evil, and upon those who are listening to our evil speaking. And the Holy Fathers point out that our tongue is a little member, but does great evil, inflaming our life's circle. How conveniently it arms one against another.

And our negligence about our speech is an instrument of murder. Saint Anthony the Great says plainly: "Whoever receives a man speaking evil or a slanderer communes with a murderer." See, a slanderer and a murderer, according to the words of the Holy Father, are one and the same. "Withdraw from the slanderer, whoever he might be, and be not ashamed to withdraw from him." "It is safer to live with a serpent than with a slanderer," say the Holy Fathers. And John Climacus forbids one to render esteem to such men. "Never render esteem to one who speaks to thee evilly about a neighbor. Thereby thou shalt heal both thyself and thy neighbor."

But you may say, my dears, that here the matter concerns slander . But what if you hear that they are speaking badly about a man and what they are saying may be true, what is to be done then?

Since we are prone, my dears, to speaking evil, it is better for us not to listen to such conversations. After all, we might communicate to him of whom they spoke: "They are saying this and that about you," or we shall discuss this with one, a second, a third and so forth. Whenever you begin to stop whomever is speaking, he usually justifies himself by the fact that, after all, he heard this with his own ears. And then what happens? The one speaking evil falls into pride. No, my dears, a Christian ought not so to act, even if he were himself present at some vile act or other. He ought not spread another's sin, but cover it with his love. Let us learn from the saints, how they acted in such cases. Here I shall now recount to you a case of such a Christian attitude toward speaking evil of a neighbor:

A hermit came to a scete where ascetics lived, and he dwelt there. A scete elder gave him a cell, and he began to live in concord with the hegoumen and the brethren of the monastery. But soon this concord was broken, since the scete elder that had given the ascetic the cell envied the newcomer, to whom many people began to go for counsel and spiritual guidance. Prompted by envy, he sends his young novice to the guest with an order to be off from the monastery, and he commanded him to convey this in these words: "Get thee thence from whence thou camest."

The novice went, and although, in accordance with the duty of obedience, he ought to have conveyed the words of his elder exactly, he began to reason: "If I convey the words to the newcomer just as the elder said, I might arouse malice in him, and enmity between the elders will begin. It is surely better, in the name of the Lord and general peace, that I hide these evil words and take everything upon myself." (Abba Dorotheus, in his instructions, permits one to do this in prayer and struggle.) And so the novice, on coming to the elder, instead of saying "get thee thence", as he was ordered, bowed down and said: "My father has asked me to inquire of thee, 'Art thou well?'" To this, he replied: "Tell thy father that I ask for his prayers, for I am a little ill." On returning, the novice said to his elder: "That elder has found himself another cell and will soon leave." Give heed, my dears, what love. After some time, the elder again sends the novice to drive out the hermit. And he, on coming to him, said: "My father, having learned that thou art ill, has sent me to visit thee." - "Tell the father, that by his prayers I am now completely well."

The novice conveys to his elder something completely different, that the guest is asking to live in the monastery only a week more and then will move to another cell. In a week, the enraged elder himself goes to drive the hermit out of the cell. But the novice, having learned of this, out of love for peace and his elder, runs ahead and informs the newcomer that his father himself is coming to him to call him to join him at the trapeza. Having heard this, the hermit at once went out to meet the elder with a look full of love and says: "Trouble not thyself to come unto me, I myself am coming to thee." Struck by the newcomer's lack of malice, the elder himself was touched in his soul, his malice disappeared, and he really did conduct the guest to the trapeza. When the latter went on ahead, the elder learned how his novice had acted. He fell down at his feet and aid: "Henceforth thou art my preceptor, for by thy words our souls have been saved."

Here, my dears, is how the saints acted. Even when they were sent to say or do something evil, they did not do this, although they ought to have done just as their elders had ordered them. But we, with the greatest readiness and joy, will recount everything evil, everything bad about a man, and if it is something we ourselves have heard, we begin so to object when we are stopped, we begin to wound one another, and we do, as the Holy Fathers say, the work of scorpions and serpents with our tongue.

During the days of fasting and repentance, we ought to watch our tongue more than ever. Ascetics are truly sick at heart over one who speaks evil of his neighbor. And we, in the name of what seems to us the truth, constantly do evil. Every society suffers more than anything else from evil speaking and condemnation, which is communicated in every possible way.

So while we are repenting, come, my dears, let us attend to our tongue, let us join real battle with it, and this will give us very much. If we will not speak evil of another, but instead of this will pray for him; if we will remember that by our one word we can undermine a whole edifice of relations between men, then we shall understand why Ephraim the Syrian asks in his prayer that the Lord not give him idle talk. And even in church, before the beginning of a service, we post bulletins, if not "on walls", then "aurally", and thereby in church we begin the worst business. By this, my dears, we break down the Church; we become her real destroyers, and also the destroyers of our own and another's structure. Let this novice serve as an example to us. He proved to be a great guide of elders to the Kingdom of God. Let us then in every way strive to get out of the habit of speaking evil, slander and condemnation. Then it will be easier for us to live, and we shall acquire for ourselves many more friends, but not in slander and speaking evil, but friends in God, in the struggle with sin, and this will unite us in the one flock of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Translated from Nadezhda, Number 16.]
Parish Life, February, 1998