Resisting Like St. Maximus
Fr. Thomas Hopko · February 5, 2014
We have just finished the month of January where many of the heroes of the Faith are remembered. One of them is St. Maximus the Confessor who paid a price for resisting bishops and emperors when he thought they were promoting false doctrine. Fr. Tom teaches us what can we learn from this humble and brave saint.
The month of January in the Orthodox Church calendar is filled with commemorations of saints, great saints who defended the doctrine of the Church and who defended the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in times when it was being massively rejected, and when there was a kind of a triumph of heresy and apostasy going on within the Church and within the Orthodox Church as well at that time… I mean, the men that we celebrate and think about and reflect on in January are Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. Then there are also St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Theophan the Recluse in the 19th century in Russia, Sava the Archbishop of Serbia is commemorated that month, Athanasius the Great and Cyril of Alexandria, the God-bearing great St. Anthony of Egypt. These are all people who are remembered during this particular month liturgically. Isaac of Syria, Ephraim of Syria, Ignatius the bishop of Antioch—they’re all in this particular month.
Now, included in the commemorations with those people that I just mentioned, and many more whom I did not mention—if you just get a calendar and take a look and see who the saints are that are venerated in January, you see almost every great name when it comes to the teaching of Orthodox Christian interpretation of Scripture, theological doctrine, and spiritual and moral behavior; just so many are there… But today we want to focus on a very particular issue, a very particular man and a very particular issue for our own instruction, inspiration, hopefully, edification, so that if we find ourselves—and many of us think we do—in times of massive apostasy and heresy, by the leaders not only of the non-Orthodox churches of our time, but even of the Orthodox churches of our time, we can have a good instruction here and a good example of St. Maximus how we ought to stand, how one must make a stand when they’re in the situation where they believe Church leadership—and at that time it would have been both secular and ecclesiastical, the God-fearing emperor plus the patriarchs—what happens when they themselves are teaching the false thing: how do we behave?
St. Maximus the Confessor lived in the seventh century, and there were huge theological controversies in the seventh century, some of which are reviving today, by the way, that have to do with how to understand the full divinity of Jesus Christ our Lord and also his full humanity. How does the divinity and humanity coexist within the one Person of Jesus Christ? How is that to be understood? How is it to be confessed so that it would be according to the Scriptures and the Ecumenical Councils and the teachings of the great Church Fathers who are giving us the proper understanding and interpretation of these particular doctrines and patterns of behavior?
So what we want to see here now, in a very simple way, is… We’re not going to get into the actual theological controversy of the time; it’s rather complicated, but on the other hand, it’s rather simple, too. Basically, St. Maximus was holding that if the Council of Chalcedon is correct and Jesus is really of one essence with God the Father concerning his divinity and of the very same nature as we humans concerning our humanity, how is that to be understood and how is that to be understood relative to Jesus having a will, a human will, a human soul, a human operation, human actions or energies; how is that to be understood?
Well, it was a huge controversy, and without getting into it, we just want to say that St. Maximus the Confessor and a rather small group of coworkers, some of whom were very prominent in [the] Church… Pope St. Martin of Rome was actually arrested and imprisoned and died because he agreed in the theology of Maximus the Confessor and those with them; Sophrony, the Patriarch of Jerusalem also was a defender of the teachings of St. Maximus that would be accepted at the Sixth Ecumenical Council of the Church after Maximus’s death.
So there were prominent people and most of the monastics were of the same mind and heart as St. Maximus, but he was being persecuted by the emperor and by the chief bishops, most of them, for teaching the wrong thing, or for stirring up all kinds of trouble that wasn’t necessary, or being kind of ornery and obstinate even when he wasn’t asked to make a confession of faith. All they asked him was: don’t be against it and don’t be against it publicly, and let’s not talk about it any more and let’s let life get on. And St. Maximus said: you can’t do that. We not only believe in our heart, but we also confess with our mouth what the Christian faith is. As the Apostle Paul said, if even an angel of the Lord comes and gives a different gospel than the one you have received, let him be anathema.
Here’s the setting. You have the great majority of the most important people of the Byzantine Roman Empire teaching what Maximus the Confessor and his small group of supporters claim is simply wrong and that they cannot accept it. So they are then arrested and then they are questioned about why they could not accept it and how they’re behaving because of it.
Now, there’s plenty of information about the theological issue at stake. You know, why were these documents of the emperor and the patriarch of Constantinople—there were a couple of them, one called the Typos, one called the Ekthesis—why were they wrong? And why is it that what Maximus and St. Martin the Pope of Rome and Sophrony of Jerusalem and others, including the majority of monastics, why were they right? Why were they right and the other side was wrong?
Well, that needs to be studied, and we need to know about it, but that’s not our topic today. Our topic today is: when Maximus and his supporters were arrested by the imperial power and were punished by the Christian bishops, how did they do it? How did they take it? How did they defend themselves? Because accusations were not only made against what they were teaching, but accusations were against them as being proud and arrogant and thinking they know more than the emperor and the bishops, and who were they not to sign the decree that the emperor gave out and why wouldn’t they sign it even if the emperor said, “Okay, don’t publicly defend it, but at least sign it, and don’t talk about it any more, and let’s have some peace”; why they could not accept to do that?
It’s wonderfully demonstrated in the Life of St. Maximus how they handled this. The day of St. Maximus the Confessor is on January 21. If you were interested in reading this, you get the Lives of Saints and read the Life of St. Maximus the Confessor which is for January 21. There’s also a separate publication of his Life not in a collection of Lives of Saints but just by itself which is available, and if you search for it, you’ll find it pretty quickly and pretty easily.
But let’s talk about this now. How did Maximus behave? How did he answer those who accused him of heresy as well as arrogance as well as pride and disobedience and all that because he refused to go along with the emperor and the bishops who were with the emperor in their teaching about Jesus Christ, because he really believed it was wrong? Well, the first thing that we want to see is that when he was arrested, and those who were arrested with him, but mainly we see he’s the spokesperson here, especially in the Life of him, what did he say? What did he say and how did he act?
First of all we have to see that he insisted that he was not against the emperor as such. He did not even think that it wasn’t even for him to decide whether the emperor was a good man or a bad man, whether these bishops were good men or bad men. All he kept saying was: “They may be good, they may be bad; God himself will judge them, but one thing I know: what they’re forcing me to believe and to do I cannot do. Therefore I cannot sign these documents and I cannot behave in such a way that would show that I did.” And the main way that would show that he did was by receiving holy Communion in the patriarchate of Constantinople, which he refused to do, because, he said, they are teaching the wrong doctrine. What they are saying is not the Gospel.
So Maximus begins by saying: this is not a controversy of personalities or who’s holy and not-holy, whom God is going to judge and not judge and so on. He said: At least for me, that all belongs to God and God will decide, but there’s only one thing I have to tell you. He kept repeating [this] until they cut his tongue off and cut his arm off and put him in jail till he died. He said: I just have to keep saying to you: What they have written is not true. What they are forcing us to say and do is not true, and therefore we cannot accept it. We just simply cannot, because we do believe it’s not true.
And why do we believe it’s not true? And there Maximus has just volumes of writings on this subjects. He says: We believe it’s not true because, number one, it’s not according to the holy Scripture; number two, it’s not according to the teachings of the holy Fathers; number three, it’s not according even to the teaching of the received doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils. At that time, there were five of them. The Sixth Council would vindicate Maximus in the seventh century, but it was the Sixth Council; they had five at that time. Of course, many in the Church did not accept the Council of Chalcedon. They thought that it was Nestorian and so on.
What we see at this time is he is saying: It’s not what you think, not how I think is who is good, who is bad, who is right, who is wrong, who’s arrogant, who’s proud. The issue fundamentally is: Is the teaching sound? Is the teaching correct according to the Scriptures, the traditions of the Church, the worship of the Church, the decrees of Ecumenical Councils, and the witness of the saints? And what I and those and those with me are saying is: What you are asking us to do is not acceptable on the basis of those criteria. If you read the Scripture and the Councils and the canons and the saints, what you are saying isn’t true. It’s a deviation. It is not right.
So Maximus simply says, “The Typos is opposed to a correct confession of the faith, by which every person is sanctified.” That’s the main point, that’s what I’m trying to say, and that’s why I can’t sign it. Then he is told: Well, just sign it, but don’t talk about it; we won’t enforce anything. You could believe anything you want to believe, and that will be acceptable. So here we have another example of Maximus’s behavior. He said: I and those with me cannot do that. We cannot do that. We can’t sign something that we don’t believe in and then not tell anybody, just for the sake of some kind of unity which won’t be a unity at all; it’ll be a sham. So he says, and it’s not enough for a Christian to hold a true faith in their heart; they also have to confess it with their lips. He quotes the Apostle Paul: With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. So those who are defending the proper Gospel and the Church[‘s] traditional teachings of the councils and canons, they have to say publicly that they do not think that what they’re being asked to do is correct. It’s not according to this.
Now, there was a council in Rome that did affirm the proper understanding of the Scripture and tradition over and against the Constantinople. So when St. Maximus is asked, “Did you sign the acts of the council held in Rome?” he answers, “Yes, I did.” Then they say to him, “You dared to put your name on a document anathematizing the Catholic Church and every sound-minded person? We shall drag you through the streets and into the forum” for such behavior. Maximus says: There’s nothing I can do about it. The council in Rome, which then itself was somehow denied there afterwards, was a true statement. These documents are not true. They’re just not according to the Gospel, and that’s why we are opposed to them, and that’s why we will not receive Communion with the emperor and the bishops of the patriarchate of Constantinople.
So then they say to him: “Why do you hate the emperor, if you are a Christian?” Maximus, again, as we said, answers: I don’t have any hatred to anybody. All I’m saying is that this is not correct. We cannot go along with it. So then they continue in the same line. They said: You are causing divisions and strife in the empire and divisions in the Church by your stubbornness and your obstinacy. And Maximus answers: We have no choice! We are not there for making divisions and so on; divisions already exist, because what has been decreed is not right, and we have to stand up and say that we believe that it is not right. So this is how it would be.
Then he’s told: Well, if you don’t do this act, you’re going to be punished. You’ll be punished by the imperial law and you’ll be punished within the Church as well. You’ll be excommunicated from the Church and you will be punished for disobeying the imperial authority. Again, Maximus says: I have no choice. I cannot obey this. I cannot do it, because it’s not according to the Gospel, and that doesn’t mean that I hate the patriarch of Constantinople or the bishops with him or the emperor. It’s not for me to do that, but it’s also not for me to say that I believe that what they have written is right when I don’t believe it.
So then [his questioners were] saying: Well, you prefer your own faith to that of the Church? So you’re following your own mind? You think you’re smarter than the Church and the Church tradition? Maximus answers: Wait a minute. He said: We refuse to sign this not because of our own subjective understandings of the Christian faith, because exactly we claim it’s not of the Church. So the question is: Who is really of the Church and who isn’t, and you cannot simply say that, because someone refuses to accept a statement of the emperor or the leading bishops, that they are defiling the Church and they think they’re better than the Church. What they’re saying is… what we are saying is: We don’t think this is really of the Church.
So he says, “If I had the books in which I wrote all the reasons down, I could give them to you, and you could read for yourselves why I think so.” He said, however, “I (and those with me) have no dogmas of [our] own, but only those held by the whole, holy, Catholic Church. My confession includes not a single word that can be properly be called my invention.” Then they retort, and they say to him, “And you still refuse to enter into communion with the patriarchate of Constantinople?” He said: Yes, I still do.
And then they said again, “Why so?” And then he says the same thing over and again. He said: Because the leaders of this Church have rejected the definitions of the four Councils, the ecumenically received Councils, and are teaching a teaching that is not according to the Gospel, and it’s not even the teaching that they themselves have subscribed to when they were ordained and consecrated as bishops of the Church. So they’re violating what they themselves confessed early in their life by accepting these writings.
Then come back at Maximus with this charge; they say this, “So, then, you think that you alone will be saved and all the others will perish?” The emperor’s men said to Maximus, “So you think you alone will be saved and all the others will perish?” Maximus answers: I don’t judge who’s saved or not saved. I don’t judge who is good or not good. In some sense, I don’t even judge who is true and who is false. All I’m saying is I do judge what I believe to be true and good according to the Scripture and Tradition of the Church, and I cannot deny it, because I’ll be denying the Scriptures and the saints and even my own conscience. Now, as far as being saved is concerned, Maximus says, that’s up to God, and I will stand before God also for what I believe is true and right, and I will give the answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ, but it is not at all that I think I will be saved with those with me and they’re going to burn in hell. Then he goes on to say: I’m not even saying anything about who’s going to be condemned by the Lord at the end, and I don’t condemn anybody now and I don’t hate anybody now. All I’m saying is: I cannot do what you’re asking me to do.
Then Maximus brings up a very wonderful example, and here I think this is one of the most important things we could learn from him today. This is what he said: In the holy Scriptures, when the people in Babylon worshiped the golden idol, when God’s people were in Babylonian captivity and they were told by their captors that they had to worship the idol that the most wicked king who ever lived, named Nebuchadnezzar, had built up… and I think we all are familiar with this story. In fact, it’s read with great solemnity and the canticle is chanted in our Orthodox Church on Great and Holy Saturday, the eve of the Holy Pascha: when the three young men in Babylon refuse to worship the golden idol that Nebuchadnezzar has built.
So the saint says: You see? These young men refused to worship the idol because they thought it was an idol, that it was wrong, it wasn’t a true god. How could they do it? They could not do it without violating the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church and their own consciences. They couldn’t do it. But then he adds: When the people in Babylon worshiped the golden idol, the three holy youths—Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, right? Ananiah, Azariah, and Misael in their different names—he said: the three holy youths did not condemn anybody. They condemned no one.
And he goes on and says: Their concern was not for the behavior and the doings of other people. All they were saying is they did not believe that they were right and they could not do what they are being forced to do; that they themselves would fall away into impiety, into blasphemy, idolatry.
Then Maximus adds: And also Daniel. When Daniel was cast into the lion’s den, he did not condemn those who, obeying Darius, failed to worship God, but he kept in mind his own duty, his own faith. He said: He did not condemn those who threw him into the lion’s den, but he preferred to die rather than to sin against conscience and Scripture and the law of God.
And then Maximus says, “God forbid that I should judge anyone or say that I alone will be saved!” God forbid. I’m not saying that. God forbid that I should set myself up as the judge of anyone, to say that I alone will be saved. I will never do such a thing. It’s God’s business. He said: Nevertheless, I would rather die than violate my conscience and my convictions by betraying the Orthodox faith in any particular detail as it is witnessed to in Scripture and in the doctrines of the Church until that time.
So it’s so very interesting. And then he even quotes the actual Scripture, because Nebuchadnezzar says to the three young men in the fiery furnace: Do you believe that your God will come and save you if I throw you into the fire because of your refusal to worship the god that I have built, the golden god that I have built? The three young men don’t say: Oh, yeah, yeah, God will definitely save us, and, boy, one day, Nebuchadnezzar, you’re really going to get what’s coming to you, and you’re going to be burning in hell with gnashing of teeth and worms and darkness and everything else. Maximus points out: The boys didn’t say anything like this; not a word.
What they did say to Nebuchadnezzar was: Live forever, O king. Live forever: you’re the king. But we cannot obey your decree without violating what we believe to be the truth, namely, that the Lord God of Israel is the one true living God, Creator of heaven and earth, and that what you have constructed here is a dead idol. We cannot do that. So they say: Live forever, O king, but our God does whatever he wants. He will save whom he knows he should save, and he will judge properly everyone according to their actual deeds. That’s God’s job to do; it’s not ours to do, but our job and duty is not to worship the golden god that you have constructed here. That’s all we’re saying. We don’t condemn anybody. We don’t judge anybody. We don’t hate anybody. We don’t send anyone to hell. All we’re saying is, those are all God’s business; our own business, our own duty is that we would not fall away from the true faith.
Well, then the conversation continues on. They say to Maximus, “What will you do when the Romans unite with the Byzantines?” In other words, [writings of the council of] the Church in Rome that you signed, the 105 who you believe said the proper understanding of the faith and signed it, right now in Rome there are those who say, “No, that was wrong; they shouldn’t do it,” and they’re going to go along with the emperor and with the patriarchate of Constantinople, and then with also those who accept Chalcedon in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. What are you going to do when they arrive? They said: Tomorrow is the Lord’s day, Sunday. These people from Rome will partake of the immaculate mysteries with the patriarch. They taunted him. So these people from Rome are going to receive communion with the patriarch tomorrow.
Then the Life says, “The godly one replied, ‘The whole world may enter into communion with the patriarch, but I will not. The Apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit anathematizes even angels who preach a new Gospel and introduce novel teachings.’ ” That, of course, is the first chapter, letter to the Galatians. So he said: The whole world may enter into communion with the patriarch and the bishops with him, but I will not. And of course those with him would not either. And then he quotes St. Paul, that even if angels preach you a different thing, you cannot accept it.
The persecutors then continue: Is it really that necessary to confess two wills and two operations in Christ? Is that really necessary? The saint insists: Absolutely necessary! If we are to hold fastly to Orthodox doctrine, then we have to accept this particular formulation, which is denied by the Typos and the Ekthesis, and that is why we cannot sign it.
Then they say to him: You’re too stubborn. You can believe what you want in your own heart, but just sign it, give it your own interpretation, don’t discuss it any more, and peace will come to the Church. And that’s why the most-holy emperor commands that there be no discussion of things that give rise to differences of opinion.
At that point, Maximus begins to cry, and he casts himself on the ground and he cries out: I do not wish to grieve the emperor, who is a good man and loves God, but still more I fear to anger the Lord by keeping silence about what he commands us to confess. If as the divine Apostle says, God has set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, then it is clear that the Lord speaks through them. All of holy Scripture, the writings of the teachers of the Church, and the decisions of the Councils proclaim that Jesus Christ, our incarnate Lord and God, has power to will and to act according to both natures, to both his divinity and to his humanity. He lacks no property pertaining to the Godhead or to the human nature, except sin. If he is perfect in both natures, and deficient in nothing proper to them, then it is evident that the mystery of the Incarnation is utterly distorted by anyone who fails to confess him to have all of each nature’s innate properties by which and in which he is known, his natures are known, and he is therefore confessed and truly God and truly man.
But then they continue going against Maximus. Now they say to him: Abba, there remains still the primary point at issue. Because of you, many have broken communion with the Church of Byzantium. Maximus objected. He says: Who can say that I have ordered anyone to break communion with the patriarchate of Constantinople? The fact that you are not in communion with us turns many away, replied Sergius. In other words, if you would just change your behavior, other people would fall in line, because they respect and follow you.
And then the man of God responds: There is nothing more burdensome than to suffer the reproach of conscience, and nothing more desirable than conscience’s approval. And my conscience is telling me that this is not according to the Scripture, the canons, the Councils, and the teachings of the Church. Then he says: May God forgive those who prompted our lord the emperor to issue the Typos. They ask him: Who prompted the emperor? And then he says: The bishops did. The primates of the churches prompted him, and the nobles gave their consent, thrusting responsibility for their impiety upon our blameless ruler, who is a stranger to all heresy. So Maximus is defending the emperor, saying he’s just a weak guy who’s following the bishops, and he’s probably a good guy, too, but still he’s writing things that are not true and they cannot be accepted.
So he said: Advise his majesty to do as his grandfather Heraclius did. Now, Heraclius was the grandfather of the present emperor. When Heraclius learned that many fathers refused to accept the Ekthesis and condemned the heresy in it, he cleared himself of responsibility for it by sending letters to all the churches, explaining that the Ekthesis was not, in fact, his, but that of Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople. So the emperor even said: Okay, I’m the emperor, I decreed this, but I decreed it because it comes from the bishops not from me. So Maximus then points out his weakness. But perhaps, he says; in any case, he says: it is not for me to judge what he did or what he didn’t do.
So then this brings things really to a head, and he remains anathematizing the Typos and the Ekthesis. He said he explained why, and in that explanation it also explains why he cannot be in communion with the church that is not teaching the proper doctrine and the proper practice and behavior in the Christian Church.
So then the prefect again asks him for one last time: Will you enter into communion with our church or not? Maximus answers: I will not. Again, the eparch asks: Why not? Again Maximus responds: Because it has rejected the rulings of Orthodox councils. The eparch continued: If that be so, how is it that the fathers of those councils remain in the diptychs of our church? Maximus responds: Oh, yes, they remain in the diptychs, but how do you profit by commemorating them when you renounce what they actually teach? You may say their names, but if you don’t follow what they actually teach, what good is that?
Then he is asked again: Can you prove that our church rejects the dogmas of the holy synods? He said: If you wish me to, and remain calm, said the elder Maximus, I can do so easily. Then they pick up a new tack: “Why are you so fond of the Romans, but hate the Greeks?” they ask Maximus. He responds, “God commands us to hate no one. I love the Romans because they hold the same faith as I do, and I love the Greeks because we are speaking the same language and are belonging to the same people.”
“How old are you?” the treasurer asks. “Seventy-five,” says Maximus. “How many years has your disciple been with you?” The elder said, “Thirty-seven.” Suddenly one of the clergymen present shouted, “May God punish you for what you are teaching and what you did to the blessed Pyrrhus,” because what Maximus had done was he had converted Pyrrhus to defend the true Orthodox faith.
And then the interrogation finally concludes that the true council and the true teaching is the Byzantine one; Pope Martin was wrong. At that time Rome was right, although as I mentioned they changed later, and Martin was in fact persecuted, flogged and beaten and so on. So then what happens is they do the same thing to Maximus and to his disciple Anastasius.
They tore out his tongue at the very root, (it said,) hoping to staunch the flow of divine teachings that was drowning heretical error and to reduce the elder to silence, then did the same to his disciple (Anastasius). After this they sent both men back to the dungeon.
And they accepted that. And then they produce a knife or an axe, and they chop off the hands of Maximus and Anastasius so that they cannot write. So they can’t speak and they can’t write. They’re mutilated. Then they parade the tongues and the hands of Maximus and those with him through the streets of the city. And then they send Maximus out into exile. He lives, I think, about three more years or so, and they keep trying to get him to recant. He keeps saying that he can’t, and then ultimately he dies. Less than a quarter-century later, the Sixth Ecumenical Council will say: He was right all along.
So what’s the lesson for us? It’s a very simple one. Let’s not hate anybody. Let’s not attack anybody. Let’s not claim that we’re right and everybody else is wrong. Let us not claim that we’re over the whole Church and all that kind of stuff, and know better. Let’s just try to do what Maximus did. First of all, let’s try to be right in what we teach, because not every bloke who opposes his bishop is Maximus the Confessor. Thank God, most of the time or normally—let’s put it that way—the bishops are right in what they’re doing.
The point being is, you support that when it happens, but when you really believe that it’s not happening, you have to say so. You have to say so with your mouth, and then you have to be ready to pay the consequences. But when you are accused of being arrogant and proud and knowing more than the bishops in the Church, being disobedient to the emperor—we don’t have one now, but to whomever is wielding power in the Church—when you say that they’re going to burn in hell or something like that, that’s not right to do. We have to be like Maximus and the boys in the fiery furnace. We simply say: We cannot do what you are asking us to do, period, and God will decide about who’s right and who’s wrong.
As long as we think that we are not holding the same Gospel and teaching the same doctrine, then we have to also not participate together in the same Eucharist. We can only do that when we are convinced that we are following the true and right faith as in the Scripture and in the Councils of the churches through the centuries and that was taught by the holy Fathers and that is celebrated in the sacraments and the services of the Church. But we do that without malice or judgment of anybody.
When you think about that, that would be amazing. Suppose someone said, I don’t know… Let’s use the hottest issue going right now: gay marriage, which is now entering the Orthodox Church and people are defending it. And we say: We cannot affirm this. We do not think it’s right. People will say to us: Who do you think you are? You think that you’re smarter than all of the other people? You think that you’re better than them? You think that they’re going to go burn in hell and all that kind of thing by doing these things? We have to say, and really say with all our heart: No, no, that’s up to God. We have to say, really: I don’t hate anybody. I love the people, you know, the two men who got married yesterday or something, the two women, or whatever.
In a free society like America, I could just say publicly I just think this is terrible and it is contrary to what is true and right and good, but if people are going to do it, they do it, and it is for God to judge them, but it is also for me to say that I don’t agree, and then refuse to go along about it—but without arrogance, without pride, without judgment, without condemnation, without thinking that they are horrible, ugly people who are going to burn in hell. That’s not for us. We cannot go there. St. Maximus did not go there. The three youths in the fiery furnace, they did not go there. They said: God will judge; he does what he wants, but one thing is for sure: We cannot confess with our lips, believe in our heart, what you are asking us to do, because we simply believe that it is not true, right, and good, and not godly, and not Christian.
That’s all we can do, except one more thing. We have to be ready to stand the consequences, and it might very well be that the time is coming and is already here when Orthodox Christians who follow the traditional interpretation of Scripture and the Fathers and the saints and the sacraments, when they will be persecuted for that. We might even dare say when we will be persecuted for holding what we do. But if we do find ourselves persecuted and oppressed and treated unjustly and perhaps even be convinced of being stupid and arrogant and immoral by holding our positions as we do, we have to say: Well, that’s too bad that you think that way. We don’t think that way. On the other hand, we want you to know that we love you; we don’t condemn you. We turn you over to God who is merciful and just; he will know what to do, but in the meantime, we do have to say: Forgive us if we’re wrong, Almighty God, but we don’t believe that we are. And therefore, we cannot go along with what you are asking us to believe and to do.
And this has not only to do with sexual morality and marriage. It has to do with the structures of the Church. It has to do with authority in the Church. It has to do with the proper way of explaining and understanding the sacraments. It has to do with the discipline of participating in the sacraments. All these questions are there, but the one thing we cannot do is hate anybody for anything, and the other thing we cannot do is to think of ourselves as the only right and just ones. We confess our own sins, and Maximus himself even said he thought that he had to endure all these persecutions and beatings and mutilations so that his own sins could be forgiven.
But we have to still hold to the very end what we believe to be the true faith and the true Gospel. And to do so without condemning anyone for anything, and, in fact, commending them to God, and praying for them and for ourselves so that we really could come to unity of the faith and the comprehension of the ineffable glory of God. But when that is not the case, we still have to make our stand, peacefully, firmly, in some sense even joyfully, gladly, but we do have to make our affirmation and not deny it.