We Have Crucified Christ Once Again
There were protests against the location of a church on a part of the central city square “Macedonia” in Skopje. There were also contra-protests. So far, it is all right. It is a democratic right who and when as well as for what and where one wants to protest. It is not right, and it is much not right the physical clash between some among the participants in both groups, not like-minded people. Regardless of who provoked whom and in what way as well as who hit whom (because provocation is more a bad word, while hitting is already a bad deed); also, regardless of whether it was an insignificant or a mass clash. And it is much not right, when it comes to the Orthodox Church, to hinder someone’s democratic right to freely express one’s opinion. Let us thank God it still all ended with no physical consequences whatsoever for anyone. I am not talking about the consequences at the level of soul, of which I do not believe anyone was spared.
What happened in the media, as one of the most important areas for public expression of personal thought and for information carriage? All who wrote on the subject, agree only in their statements and in their conclusion that violence is unacceptable, yet their interpretation is different, biased. We cannot possibly fail to observe that criticisms are addressed to one or another party. The more tense the political scene is, the more exaggeratingly it is being criticized, particularly when compared to other such or similar incidents. There is no objectivity. There lacks objectivity because we occupy ourselves with the visible part of the incident, its huge invisible part in the background remaining unknown. We do not deal with the reasons, but with the consequences. No one embarks on a serous analysis of the reasons, which is the most certain indicator that the consequences are used only for current political needs and showdowns. The analysis of the reasons also presupposes the willingness to remove the same. The fight against the reasons has continuity and is long-lasting, while the misuse of the consequences is a media nine days’ wonder. Just as we have seen.
The Church’s relation with the public is a specific problem. It is a widespread opinion that, when it comes to the media, we do not make out quite well, especially in the first moments of thus complicated and extraordinary situations. Now, how could we make out, when the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light (cf. Luke 16:8). It seems like it is high time to have professionals engaged in regulating our relations with the public, which are a highly important segment of our activity in the world. We all are aware that it would be only a guise if Church’s people do not simultaneously work a little more seriously on their spiritual personality as well. It is us through whom the world recognizes and comes to love Christ or through whom it turns away from Him.
Every problem becomes additionally more complicated when parties, for their own purpose, involve themselves in it and take their stance. Then confusion may occur in people’s heads due to the conflict between their personal attitude to the problem as such and their personal attitude to a certain party or to a certain stance of a party. If they do not have their own stance to the problem, then they only one-sidedly incline to their party’s stance, consciously or unconsciously. Eventually only the experienced eye of the spiritual father can tell whether the expressed standpoint of a man is his conscious personal stance to the problem or an unconscious reflection of his negative or positive stance towards a given party that has also positioned itself in relation to the problem. Not to mention the spoiled relations. And so on and so forth.
It turns out as if the parties had no positive program of theirs to offer, so now as if all that is left them is only to use the negative incident, for instance, at the square in order to pull out a couple of more votes. It would be most normal in a pre-election period to hear them what political and economic perspective they have to offer us, and to see them trying to convince us about that. Since, political campaign should serve also for education of the people, and it is not good that it serves for its moral erosion. Still, these are after all party decisions, which are later valorized at elections. Most important for us is that the parties do not use the Church (as an institution) for accomplishment of their objectives, both during elections and in the course of the mandate. It is not good that they bring the faithful into a situation to choose whom to vote for depending on whether or not the one supports the Church. The Church is a unique force that gathers and unites in good and in love. The Church cannot and must not be a field for battles and divisions between parties. We should put an end to this immediately, because the stake is too big. Every normal man who will answer himself the question “where else in the world, except in our midst, does this still happen?”, will be much ashamed. All parties should be close with the Church just as She with them, and they all should help Her and vice versa. Orthodox spiritual life is in any case permanent and common value which, if we accept it, makes us worthy heirs, bearers, and witnesses of our common spiritual and cultural legacy and identity, and this should not be contentious to any of the parties in the Republic of Macedonia.
I am placed to lead and direct through a personal example, not to compel anyone. Every man is free, by this also responsible before God, to choose his road and the consequences of it. I will not change my loving attitude to anyone because of his choice. I can only feel joy or sadness, owing to someone’s joy or someone’s sadness. However, following this brief analysis of the main participants in the incident, let us go back to the current problem, where we are faced with an essential question: was the protest truly only against the location of the Church and did the contra-protest truly protect the Church?
The incident we have discussed so far, in spiritual literature is named temptation (trial). How is every temptation seen and experienced by them who strive to lead a spiritual life? For them temptation is always an opportunity to check the quality of their spiritual life. If love toward all people, regardless of their attitude toward us, is the highest ideal of Christian spirituality, then temptation is always an opportunity to check how much and whether we love also the one who hurts us. If we also love the one who hurts us, then we cannot find our beloved guilty of what happened, but us. If, however, we justify ourselves while blaming the others, we are not on the road toward ideal love. On the other hand, if we hate the other one, if we blame and condemn the one, the question is, whom are we harming? The other one? Maybe. Our heart and our soul? Certainly, yes! Thus, if Love is not our ideal, then let us not wonder at all at anything, then all is allowed so that our passions can be satisfied.
They who defend the Church in any way, they who are affected in any way because of that, and they who observe all this indirectly, ought to know the following: In spiritual life there are three levels of spiritual development—purification of the heart from passions, illumination of the mind, and deification of the whole man, both body and soul. Those who are at the lowest level are still prisoners to their passions and under their influence, and they should therefore be much careful. To them the law still applies—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It is no wonder that such ones fall easier into temptation, to pay back for the evil (seen by them as such) with evil. This is not any justification, but merely explanation of their erroneous behavior. Therefore, one must not remain at this level. Spiritual fathers are responsible for their spiritual state, upbringing, and progress. Spiritual fathers must not dissociate themselves from them or condemn and reject them as people. They can only dissociate themselves from the sin and condemn the evil, while blaming themselves personally for the failure of their mission. All in line with the principles: “we hate the sin, and love the sinner” and “the beloved one is never to blame.”
God’s judgment is one thing, while man’s is yet another. God will judge all according to their response to the talents He gave them. For instance: one who had the opportunity to commit greater evil and, constraining himself, committed lesser one, will not be judged the same as the one who had the opportunity to accomplish greater good and, not exerting himself, accomplished lesser one. Do you see that in fact the former narrows the space of activity to the evil, while the latter leaves more space for activity to the evil. Or, the former was given less by God and gave Him more in return, whereas the latter was given more by God and gave Him less in return. Not to talk also about responsibility at each of the levels of spiritual development, respectively. Therefore, it is better, since God alone knows exactly what is in a man, not to judge anyone. Anyway, for all of us, the judgment, criterion, and level are the Holy Slavic and Macedonian Enlighteners and Teachers Methodius and Cyril, and the Holy Wonderworkers Clement and Nahum of Ohrid, and it is through them that we see the Church, not through our weaknesses and mistakes. In any case, I would like to thank all who, with the best intention, came to support the construction of the church, and I personally apologize to all whom we have not taught yet how one should act lovingly at that, and I would like to ask them in future to act only according to Christ’s commandments of love toward every man if they wish truly to represent the Church.
They who protested against the location of the church, I am sure that as future architects, from the subject History of Architecture, know the following—which most of the faithful do not know either, yet feel it: The Godman Jesus Christ is the foundation, center, axis, and goal of the Orthodox Christian life. Just as in the entire Christian life, this truth should and does reflect itself also in the ecclesiastical literature, in the ecclesiastical icon-painting, and in the ecclesiastical architecture. This means that just as Christ is the center of our church life, so should His shrine be (according to us) at the spot seen as the center of the town, and all else should be organized in line with this spiritual center. I am writing in principle theologically and am advocating basic standpoints of the Church, not of anyone else; otherwise, I would negate myself as an Episcope. If someone’s standpoints in this case coincide (or not) with the Church’s i.e. with mine, that is another subject.
One can realize from the above-said how sensitive religious issue for us Christians is the location of the church. Hence, one who has Christ as the center of his life, would like to see the church, too, in the center of the town, rather than in its margins; whereas, one who has Christ in the margins of his life, is not interested in a church in the center of the town. What is in the margins, later is easy to remove from there, too. We have an example of this in our near past. We are witnesses to it that in the time of the imposed one-party rule, at the construction of big suburbs in Skopje, as are Karpoš and Aerodrom, a place for a church was not planned at all; and today, in a time of democracy, there is a tendency to build a church in the immediate center of the town. I find both the former and the latter understandable, yet it is necessary, particularly today, to respect the democratic and institutional processes when deciding where and what is to be built, moreover since it coincides also with the will of the majority of the citizens. That is the road of solving situations like this one. Otherwise, how will we endure as a civil democratic society? In any case, I personally apologize to all the students-architects who in any manner feel hurt with the incident.
In addition: I know that the architecture students are not either against the Church or against the construction of a church, but are only against its location. I know this because among them as well I have spiritual children. When they could now have the opportunity to place a new square in Skopje, or when they would plan a new town, I am convinced that they would again locate the church in the center and organize the area around it. Hypothesis is one thing, though, while cruel reality yet another. Sometimes it is better the church to be somehow there, then not to be anywhere at all. It is good for the future architects to know that a church is not brought down only to and is not measured with the categories of this world, because it is not only of this world. Also, they should know that if they wish to be true and avant-garde, they should not remain to be prisoners of time and space, that is to say, of space’s passing shapes. It is the construction of a church that can free them from this captivity and conditionality, and open to them unknown and new horizons. Since the church along with its architectural reality has also another, spiritual reality, which goes beyond the relative dimensions of time and space, and it does that so powerfully that in the end it will certainly cover, compensate, and transform the incongruity that according to the architects would appear in the architecture and in the symmetry of the buildings at the spot where it is planned. If, in this area, as young and insufficiently experienced people and architects they did not think about it, here is a chance for them at least to think, and, if they wish, also to check.
Why should we come into conflict? Why do we all not understand this situation as a challenge to become better and learn some more? What is it in us that moves us negatively or positively when having faced a challenge? These are more important and existential questions than the current one.
Man is a part of the cosmos, yet man is also the head of the cosmos. Saint Maximus the Confessor calls man both microcosm and macrocosm. Man is also a part of the Church as the body of Christ, yet, according to the Holy Fathers, man also heads the whole Church. All live in everyone, because of everyone, and with the help of everyone; and everyone lives in all, because of all, and with the help of all. Every man is a Church in miniature. That mystery is accomplished by the grace of the Lord Holy Spirit in the Church. The Godman Christ identifies Himself and suffers together with every single man on this planet, regardless even of one’s faith or any other distinction. Therefore does Christ say: “Inasmuch as you do it to one of the least of these My brethren, you do it to Me” (cf. Matthew 25:40). That is why there is nothing more sacred than man is. That is why all the temples in the world are not worthier than a single man. That is why no objective whatsoever justifies the violence against any man. That is why there is no sin (even such against Her) due to which the Church could reject and condemn any man. That is why the main protest and the main struggle that ought to be waged in this world is first of all the struggle against the evil inside us, since that is what makes man Godless. Godlessness is same as depersonalization i.e. dehumanization of man. Therefore does the Church—which is a place of man’s meeting with God, a place of man’s healing from the evil inside him, and a place of man’s deification—embrace all and regard all Her spiritual children, both them pro and contra the construction of a church at the square.
Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica