For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults… (2 Corinthians 12:20)
St Paul showed his pastoral concerns in his letters to the early parish communities. He wrote about very specific faults, problems and disagreements which he heard were going on in various communities. The list in the above quote points out some bad behaviors which are common to this day in our parishes: social sins which hurt both individuals and the entire community. We each should examine our own hearts and consciences about whether we are guilt of any of these vices, and then repent, changing our behavior so as to become a peacemaker between our fellow parish members. Archimandrite Aimilianos points out that these bad behaviors are vices, but not always sins. They still need to be weeded out of the garden of our heart so that we can produce spiritual fruit for our Lord.
“A vice is an error in judgment, an inability to discriminate justly among one’s thoughts. Such errors are not always sins in the eyes of God, but they are still a vice and at some point or another will result in something evil.” (THE MYSTICAL MARRIAGE, p 118)
We need also to be open to our fellow parishioners offering us correction when pointing out our bad habits. The monk John Moschos (d. 619AD) reports the following edifying story that even a saint can benefit from the correction of a sinner. The story is about a holy monk priest, who was pure in heart, yet theologically untrained. He was considered to be a holy man because he saw the angels every time he served the Liturgy and he conversed with them. Yet because of his lack of formal education, somethings he said and did in the Liturgy were wrong, heretical. A deacon approached the holy old man and explained to him what he was doing that was heretical…
“Since the elder could see angels when he was celebrating, he paid no attention to what was said, and thought nothing of it. But the deacon went on saying: ‘You are at fault, good elder, the Church does not allow those things to de said’. When the elder realized he was being accused and blamed by the deacon, the next time he saw the angels, he asked them: ‘When the deacon speaks to me like this, what am I to make of it?’ They said to him: ‘Pay attention to him; he is giving good counsel’. The elder said to them: ‘Then why did you not tell me so?’ They said: ‘Because God has ordained that men should be corrected by men’, and from that time forth he accepted correction, giving thanks to God and to the brother.” (THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW, pp 177-178)
Even the holy person who converses with angels can benefit from being corrected by a fellow parishioner. Unfortunately, we often resent being corrected by others, especially if we think we are spiritually superior to them. Because of this we sometimes miss what God is trying to tell us.
Let a good man strike or rebuke me in kindness, but let the oil of the wicked never anoint my head; for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds. (Psalms 141:5)