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The Disease of Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy embedded in the hearts of the Pharisees was a disease. A disease that

is still present in our church, and can strike the church and its people at anytime. If this happens, the consequences are dire for the spiritual life that lacks depth.

I want to give you an example of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in our modern world. Sometimes we can become obsessed with the image of worship, and not the relationship with God. It is not bad to be organised and to appear holy. The problem arises when there is an obsession with the appearance only. We must ensure the inside is taken just as much care of as the outside. If all our attention is on polishing the outer, and ignoring the inner, then we are guilty of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy prevents us from spiritual growth.

Other times we focus on the look and not meaning. One time, a lady came to me and said, “I want to ask you a question but don’t be offended.”

I replied cusiously, “go ahead.”

She said, “You know how in the liturgy, we pray from the Agpia hours and eventually we end up praying the Lord’s Prayer so many times?

Yes, go on.”

“To be honest, I have an issue with this. You pray it too quickly. I am just beginning and you’re finished already and moving on. Who has the chance to be moved by prayer at that speed?”

At this, I was so ashamed, I said, “Honestly, you have a point. This is not right on my part. I thank you for calling me out on this, and that God sent you to wake me up to pray with honesty and serenity.

Sometimes, I can be so proud of myself for praying all the hours- but what did I feel? If I rush, I have no time to be moved by prayer. I just want to finish, and feel like I have accomplished something. This is hypocrisy. I retained the image of the liturgy, but I have not applied its meaning. I haven’t prayed anything, and this is another form of hypocrisy.

The next story I want to share really broke my heart. One day, there was a deacon from a particular church that went to pray at a different church. At this church, all of the deacons had a specific thread in their tunics that distinguished them as being part of that church. This deacon did not know that. He went with his own tunic and took it to the priest praying the mass to bless it and he did so. When he went to wear his tunic, one of the head deacons said to him, “Brother, what church are you from?

He replied with the name of his church and the deacon said to him, “Welcome, you can attend the liturgy but you cannot serve as a deacon.

The man replied, “Why not?”

Our tunics are all matching but yours is different.

Who could believe such a thing?! We were so careful to have matching tunics and to appear united but we stomped upon the meaning of love and unity. Where is the hospitality and the welcoming of guests? If we have a guest, we shouldn’t just allow them to serve, but give them the most prominent role. The reality of this lack of hospitality is hypocrisy.

Fr Mikhail Ibrahim went to pray the liturgy on one of the feast days. As he entered, he found a child crying. He called to him and asked him, “what’s wrong?”

I was crying because I came late and missed out on a spare tunic from the cupboard”

What do you think Abouna would do? He took off his own tunic and gave it to the boy. He said, “It can’t be a feast day and the Lord looks down and sees one of His children crying.”

Anyone would say that according to the church dogma, a priest’s tunic that has been prayed on cannot be taken off again. But, the Christian knows that love is more important. He could not pray while he knew there was a boy so upset. If the people saw a priest without a tunic, 100 people would offer there’s up for him! No one would to give it to a young boy. The difference is that some people protect the depth of their spirituality and others focus on the outward appearance.

In another instance, in the earlier 80s, Fr Tadros Y. Malaty was giving a lecture on, “Dogmatic Theology,” at the Theological College in Alexandria. He would allow the people to ask questions. Someone asked the question, “I am extremely disheartened when I go to the Vespers and I see the priest chanting ‘O God have mercy…’ and carrying three candles. I read in the holy books that only the bishop is to carry three candles and the priest carries one candle. All priests nowadays carry three candles instead of one and this goes against church dogma.”

Fr Tadros responded, “calm down, my son, it doesn’t matter if the priest carries one candle or three candles, what matters is that he does this with a broken and a contrite heart, asking for mercy for himself and the people whom he serves.”

It is good to protect our dogma, it is very good to protect our traditions. Without traditions, we have no defence, and everyone does whatever they want. But above all, the most important thing to stop us from falling into the trap of hypocrisy is to fix our eyes on our Lord and the inner depth of dogma and not just its physical appearance. Instead of worshiping the dogma, we must practically apply inwardly, and this is our shield against hypocrisy.

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