On What Our Disposition Should Be Towards the Disobedient (St. Basil the Great)

NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, there are various methods each superior will utilize to subtly coerce a self-willed monk into submission. The most common way is to humble them via yelling and insults. Another way is to call the brother/sisterhood together, single out the disobedient individual in front of everyone, sometimes even divulging personal and embarrassing things that have been revealed in private confession. For those who understand the Greek cassette homilies at Filotheou by Geronda Ephraim, these are the parts where the homily is abruptly stopped, and then continues later on a different topic (some of the cassettes have not been stopped and one can hear Geronda Ephraim go off on individual(s)  concerning their transgression as well as their personal weaknesses as monastics). This technique is used to instill shame and embarrassment in the disobedient individual while simultaneously instilling fear in the other monastics lest they want to back talk, argue, do their own will, be lax in the struggle, etc. For those who transgress frequently, harsher methods may be employed such as instructing the brother/sisterhood not to speak, look at, or have any dealings with the individual, “Pretend that they don’t exist until I tell you otherwise.” This can even extend  to removing the individual’s setting at the dining table until they break, repent and go ask forgiveness from the superior, or they feel compelled to leave the monastery altogether. Again, each superior has their own methodology to break an individual and “smash” the subordinate’s ego. In one monastery, one of the older fathers had a “mini-break” and ran downstairs, laid on the floor, repeatedly banged his forehead off the floor, while crying and making guttural sounds. The abbot said to leave him and continued to exhort the brotherhood on about this monk’s transgressions and how he will probably end up possessed due to his self-will, back talk, etc. There is a very militaristic mindset of “Shape up or ship out.”

Basil

Q. 28. What the attitude of all should be toward the disobedient.

R. All should certainly be compassionate at first toward one who obeys the Lord’s commands reluctantly, as toward an ailing member of their body. The superior, also, should endeavor by private exhortation to cure his weakness; but, if he persists in disobedience and is not amenable to correction, he should be severely reprimanded in the presence of the whole community and a remedy, together with every form of exhortation, should be administered. If he is neither converted after much admonition nor cures himself by his own actions with tears and lamentations, being, as the proverb has it, ‘his own destroyer,’1 we should, as physicians do, cut him off from the body of the brethren as a corrupt and wholly useless member. Physicians, indeed, are wont to remove by cutting or burning any member of the body they find infected with an incurable disease, so that the infection may not spread further and destroy adjacent areas one after the other. This we also must do in the case of those who show hostility or create obstacles to the observance of the Lord’s commands, according to the Lord’s own precept: ‘lf thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee.’2 Benevolence to such persons is like that mistaken kindness of Heli which he was accused of showing his sons, contrary to the good pleasure of God.3 A feigned kindness to the wicked is a betrayal of the truth, an act of treachery to the community, and a means of habituating oneself to indifference to evil, since that saying is not fulfilled: ‘Why have ye not rather mourned that he might be taken away from you that hath done this deed.’ 4

On the other hand, the saying which follows necessarily comes to pass: ‘A little leaven corrupted the whole lump.’5 ‘Them that sin, reprove before all,’ says the Apostle, and he immediately adds the reason, saying: ‘that the rest also may have fear.’6

In general, then, whoever refuses the remedy applied by the superior acts inconsistently even with himself; for, if he does not take kindly to being governed and his own will acts as his arbiter, why does he continue to live under a superior? Why does he take him as the director of his life? But, having allowed himself, once and for all, to be reckoned with the body of the community, if he has been judged a suitable vessel for the ministry, when a command appears to be beyond his strength, leaving the decision regarding this to the one who imposed the command, he should show himself obedient and submissive even unto death, remembering that the Lord became ‘obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.’7 To rebel and to contradict, however, are indications of many evils; a weak faith, a doubtful hope, and a self-important and arrogant character. His disobedience, indeed, implies that he holds in contempt him who gave the order. On the other hand, one who trusts in the promises of God and keeps his hope fixed on these will never draw back from commands, however difficult to execute they may be, knowing that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory to be revealed. 8 Furthermore, one who is convinced that ‘he that humbleth himself shall be exalted’ 9 and bears in mind that ‘that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory’10 obeys with greater alacrity than he who gives the order expects.

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NOTES

1) Cf. PG. 31.988 n. 20.

2) Matt. 5.29.

3) I Sam. 3.13.

4) 1 Cor. 5.2.

5) 1 Cor. 5.6

6) 1 Tim. 5.20.

7) Phil. 2.8.

8) Rom. 8.18.

9) Matt. 23.12.

10) 2 Cor. 4.17.

monk weeping sketch

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