by Protopresbyter fr. George D. Metallinos (+ 19-12-2019)
Professor Emeritus of the Athens University School of Theology
SHEPHERDS AND WOLVES
“...will enter... savage wolves, not sparing the flock” (Acts. 20:16-18, 28-36)
Of opportune significance for the life of the Church are the words of the Apostle Paul, as given to us by Luke the Evangelist in the Book of Acts. With his divine illumination, the Apostle details the course of the Church, and Her adventures in the world. And he very clearly stresses that the greatest evil will be the appearance of “wolves”, who will insolently dare to take the place of Shepherds (Pastors). Shepherds and “wolves” are also portrayed in parallel by the Apostle Paul, in order to reveal the sky-high difference between the two.
Shepherds of Christ’s flock
Genuine Shepherds are the genuine Bishops of the flock; they are the ones responsible for the incessant care and supervision of the faithful, so that they can remain within the Body of Christ. What weighs most in the conscience of the Shepherds is that the flock – the entirety of the faithful – does not “belong” to them, but to the ONLY “Supreme Shepherd”, Christ. The Church is HIS Body, which is why it is called “Body of Christ”, and not “body of Christians”. He is the One Who saved the Church and rendered Her His Body, through His most holy Blood. And that is the reason “Shepherds” look after the flock that Christ entrusted to them, with “care”, fondness and love (cmp. John 21:15 etc), and are always willing to sacrifice themselves for it and its well-being.
The holy Fathers, great and small, known and unknown, are all aware that their opus in the Church is a spiritual one, a regenerative one, and not merely an administrative or authoritative one. Themselves being spiritually cleansed and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, they are aware that they have been assigned as guardians of the flock’s spiritual health – as its physicians and healers. That is why they do not transmit an intellectual faith which is expended in pious speculations and religious niceties; they actually lead to therapy, catharsis and to Holy-Spiritual illumination. They activate the de-activated "nous" of man and they assist the faithful to progress from “praxis” (actively upholding the commandments and the cleansing of passions) to “theoria” (illumination, which leads to theosis-deification), while in parallel they tend to the communion and the unity of the faithful, in the Truth and the Love of Christ and His Righteousness.
In this way, they introduce the flock to the tradition of the Church, which is the continuation of Her life, within the Grace and the experiences of the Holy Spirit, given that their aim is not to create good and “useful” citizens or “moral personalities”, but Spirit-bearing people, whose goal is not merely the attainment of morality, but how they can finally attain theosis (deification).
As opposed to the genuine Shepherds, the witting – or even unwitting – perverters of the Church’s poemantic opus are the “wolves” that Paul so agonizingly mentions. They are all the false teachers, the corrupt teachers, the deceivers and the insidious, who enter Christ’s fold stealthily, or who live and function inside the Church - but as “wolves”. Paul’s words pertaining to them are clearly prophetic. In his Poemantic Epistles, it is teachers such as those that he refers to – in fact, the Ephesians. Their work is altogether satanic. They usurp the place of genuine Pastor and make their appearance wearing his garment, which makes them especially dangerous. They appropriate the flock and they exploit it, spiritually and materially, as if it is their own fiefdom. They do not toil for, nor do they concern themselves with the unity of the Body of Christ; instead, they transform the faithful into followers and they form particular groups – no longer of persons faithful to Christ, but of personal followers. “For the aim of heretics hastens to make the people attend to them, not to the Lord, so that they may boast in themselves” (Ammonios).
The grouping of the faithful does not always lead them to becoming followers, even if those groups are not officially condemned as heretical. But, just as the Shepherds must have certain inner spiritual prerequisites, so do the false shepherds (the “wolves”) have their own prerequisites. And should they reach - even unwittingly - the state of “wolf” by having made the faithful their own followers without a trace of genuineness, they will definitely lack the spiritual experience of “God-sighting” Shepherds. Albeit not having undergone the spiritual therapy of the Church, they dare to undertake the spiritual healing of others. The Holy Fathers have common esoteric experiences, because they all have the same illumination. That is why they remain united to Christ and keep the flock of Christ united. However, instead of having the Holy Spirit and illumination, the various “wolves” have wickedness and their passions inside them. In the worst case, they infiltrate the Christian flock in order to “sacrifice and eliminate it”, by not being shepherds but “thieves” (John 3:10). Hence, they don’t see their mission as a continuous offering and sacrifice for the flock, but rather as a stage towards a secular career and profit. In the best case, they might only have the will to work for the flock, but cannot offer it anything, because inside them they do not possess what they should be offering: that is, Holy Spirit and Truth.
They might perhaps be moral (externally) and as such they would naturally be moralizers, who ruthlessly castigate corruption in others. But they are definitely not (internally) cleansed and illuminated, which is why they can never become proper physicians, and instead remain clumsy “quacks”, who moralize but never lead their flock to therapy, by preserving it at the level of idolatry and atheism. Idolatry, because they teach it to admire and believe in their “virtuous” and “cleansed” self (cmp. those Pharisees “who are convinced about themselves” – Luke 18:9); and atheism, because by not progressing through inner catharsis to illumination in the Holy Spirit, they never become acquainted with the True Christ, and thus remain in the dark, as an observance of ritualism.
Only the Holy Fathers throughout the ages, whom Orthodoxy rightly honours in the Persons of the God-bearing Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) as genuine shepherds, are the ones who continue Paul’s opus, and who uphold his instructions on protecting Christ’s flock from various wolves. With the divine Word and the “slingshot of the Spirit”, they ward off the “savage and pestilent wolves”.
With their unsleeping care and the tears of their love, they admonish, they console, they correct. By regarding the Church as Christ’s Flock and not theirs, they do not burden anyone, but instead, they offer everything that they have, to the Flock - both spiritual and material. They render themselves poor (materially), in order to spiritually enrich others. They are in the position to proclaim: “I have desired no-one’s silver or gold or attire”. Being rich in Spirit, they regard material things as a means for ministering to their spiritual children, and not for making a fortune for themselves.... We often speak of a famine of faith and a decline in the Christian mien in our times; it is because albeit so rich in “wolves”, we are unfortunately so poor in shepherds.