On Enduring Scandals in Faith
(The following is an excerpt from a lecture given by Fr. Josiah Trenham at a Men’s Retreat in Victoria, Kansas on March 14, 2009. It was submitted by Jonathan de Jong, the retreat coordinator, for consideration by those who are enduring scandals in the Church in America presently - and by those who may have been drawn to the Church but find themselves now gravitating away from it because of scandal.)
“St. John Chrysostom wrote a penetrating treatise entitled On the Providence of God while he himself was in the midst of a crucible of personal suffering. He had been uncanonically deposed by a corrupt synod of bishops, and unjustly banished from his see in Constantinople by a weak Emperor whose wife despised Chrysostom for his honesty and pastoral forthrightness. He was separated from his altar and the liturgical services upon which he sustained his ascetical life. He was removed from the company of his closest friends, who themselves were being viciously persecuted by the new bishop who had been installed as Chrysostom’s successor. He was being physically abused by the imperial soldiers. He was terribly ill, burning with a fever. He was in constant danger of barbarian attack. He was ceaselessly slandered by shameless ecclesiastical opponents. He was being driven to the extreme corner of the Empire, distant from all the urban amenities he was accustomed to, and death was at his door.
In this condition our Holy Father John Chrysostom wrote his treatise On the Providence of God to encourage his flock to trust in God, and without doubt to believe in His sovereign providence governing all events. He taught his flock that not only do the trials of this life not scandalize those who are believers and well-disposed spiritually, but are actually useful to them, writing:
“For everywhere, it is the sufferings that hold in store the glory, the esteem, the crowns…the patience of those who fight for God is a teacher of resistance for you. By seeing that the entire life of noble men and the elevated soul is weaved of such sufferings, do not be at all disconcerted, nor troubled at the trials happening to each and to the community. In fact, this is how, at the beginning, the Church was nourished, that she increased. Do not be surprised. Nothing extraordinary has happened.”
Many who are scandalized blame their discombobulated condition on the circumstances themselves, but this is not the case. It is their own indiscretion, their own lack of faith, their own sinful curiosity that manifests their lack of confidence in God and is the cause of their being scandalized. That this is true is demonstrated, Chrysostom posits, by the obvious fact that many who are in the same circumstances are not only not scandalized but are able to spiritually profit from the circumstances, triumphing by faith over the temptation of doubt and disbelief in the good governance of God.
It is St. Paul who writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:19), “For there must be heresies/schisms among you, in order that those who are approved may become evident.” Through the scandals, betrayals, and infidelities of those that Christ has entrusted authority to in His Church the faithful are able to discern the authentic and true pastors, the faithful shepherds, and the unwavering believers, and can then affix themselves to these true guides to the Kingdom. So Chrysostom’s advice is for believers, when confronted with the inevitable scandals that arise in the Church, to endure patiently in faith, to keep their eyes open to discern the “approved,” and to be confidently assured that these very trials will be used by the Lord God to strengthen and exalt His Holy Church. No person can be harmed by scandals if he does not harm himself by unbelief."