Monday, September 25, 2017

Attitudes towards authority

AVI's parable reminded me of a couple of anecdotes.

About 40 years ago I was listening to a preacher who was talking about the calling of God. He described the last question the ordination committee put to him: "If we decide not to ordain you, what will you do?" He said (I paraphrase) "I gave them the only answer I could--
'Whether you ordain me or not, I must preach because God calls me to.' It was the answer they wanted to hear."

Simon Stylites chose a curious approach to austerity--living on top of a 6 or 8 foot high (but the Egyptians built them wide!) pillar. Instead of finding himself alone, thousands flocked to hear him and ask for advice. Church elders weren't sure what to make of him.

Elders living in the desert heard about Saint Simeon, who had chosen a new and strange form of ascetic striving. Wanting to test the new ascetic and determine whether his extreme ascetic feats were pleasing to God, they sent messengers to him, who in the name of these desert fathers were to bid Saint Simeon to come down from the pillar.

In the case of disobedience they were to forcibly drag him to the ground. But if he was willing to submit, they were to leave him on his pillar. Saint Simeon displayed complete obedience and deep Christian humility. The monks told him to stay where he was, asking God to be his helper.

Of course in Simon's case obedience meant he wasn't crazy, so the cases differ there. But in both cases they asked the same question: are you willing to accept the judgment of your elders that you are mistaken about your calling? The great difference is in the expected right answer.

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