Written by Vladimir Moss



     In today’s Gospel the Canaanitish woman achieves salvation by humbly accepting being compared to a dog (Matthew 15.27). For dogs are one of Holy Scripture’s commonest symbols for “unbelievers”, as in: “Give not that which is holy to dogs” (Matthew 7.6) and “outside [the Kingdom] are dogs and sorcerers” (Revelation 22.15) And she, as a pagan, was an unbeliever, and therefore a dog. But she sensed the untruth in her inherited paganism, while sensing the truth in Christ, Whom she called “Lord” and “Son of David” as if she were a believing Jew. In this way she propelled herself out of the class of unbelieving dogs and into the class of believing human beings who by their belief make themselves worthy of the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table – the Holy Things of the Divine Eucharist.

     The distinction between believers and unbelievers is the most fundamental of all distinctions. The distinctions between colour and race and gender and ability are important and not to be ignored, but they are not fundamental; they are not relevant to our ultimate destiny in eternity. But the distinction between belief and unbelief is – in spite of the ecumenists’ assertions – absolutely vital; holding the true faith is “the one thing necessary”.

     We must be careful, however: today’s unbeliever may become tomorrow’s believer, and vice-versa. “Let him who thinks he stands fear lest he fall”. The first can become last, and the last – first.

     And so it was with the Jews. They were believers, but out of pride lost the faith, and became, symbolically speaking, dogs. And so: “Beware of dogs”, said St. Paul, “beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation” (Philippians 3.2) – by which he meant the unbelieving Jews.

     We could say the same of many Orthodox Christians today. They are incredibly proud of belonging to an historically Orthodox nation, while showing none of the fruits of Orthodox faith. It is a tragic paradox that nations, including Orthodox nations, often vaunt themselves most when they are at their spiritual nadir, and least worthy of praise and honour. At the same time, they look down on certain non-Orthodox nations. Not only do they not show the fruits of Orthodox faith: they make no attempt to tell their neighbours about Orthodoxy, so that they should cease to be dogs, “unpersons” (neliudi), and become true human beings.

     National pride is not that different from personal pride. Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) wrote: “The nation, this collective organism, is just as inclined to deify itself as the individual man. The madness of pride grows in this case in the same progression, as every passion becomes inflamed in society, being refracted in thousands and millions of souls.”[1]

     Of course, this is not an excuse for ecumenism. Even when the Jews were at their lowest point and on the edge of destruction, the Lord said: “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4.22). He was not an ecumenist, and always affirmed that the truth was in Israel and not elsewhere. At the same time, it is striking how little he praised the Jews of His time – even the Apostles, with whom He was often deeply exasperated, once even calling them “evil” – and how often He praised “believing unbelievers”. Of whom does He say that He has never seen such faith, “no, not in Israel”? Of a Roman centurion, a foreigner and an unbeliever. Who was the first convert to the faith that we know by name in the Acts of the Apostles? Another Roman centurion, Cornelius. And to whom does He say: “Great is your faith”? The Canaanitish woman of today’s Gospel, the “dog” who became a true human being.

     The Church will never fail, but it is perfectly possible for all the existing Orthodox nations – the Greeks, the Russians, the Serbs, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Georgians – to fall away from the Kingdom, and to be replaced by westerners, Africans or Asians “bringing forth the fruits thereof”. St. John of Kronstadt openly speculated, at the time of the greatest glory of the Russian empire, that the whole of Russia might fall away from Orthodoxy and become like the Carthaginian church of old. And the new martyr St. Victor of Glazov said he respected an Orthodox Japanese more than an apostate Russian, of whom there were so many then and now.

     Having the true faith imposes obligations, not privileges, in relation to unbelievers.This was so even in the Old Testament. For example: “Ye shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22.21). And again: "Would you kill those you have taken captive? Set bread and water before them they may eat and drink and return." (II Kings 6:22) God rewarded such generosity: after Israel's kindness to a captured invading foe, "marauding bands of Aramaeans did not come again into the land of Israel."

      In the New Testament our obligations are much greater: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify Your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.16). The early Christians were noted for their extraordinary charity to all those around them. For, as St. Justin the Martyr said: We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live familiarly with such people and pray for our enemies.”[2]But if the unbelievers see, not light but darkness, not love but hatred, not the freedom of the Spirit but satanic oppression and violence, how can they come to the true faith and glorify God? Is it not the case here that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you?” (Ezekiel 16.27)?

     Jewish nationalism destroyed the Jews; for it compelled them to crucify their universalist Messiah. Orthodox nationalism has the capacity to have the same effect on the Orthodox Christians today. Let us listen to two Orthodox thinkers who were well aware of this danger.

     St. Nikolai Velimirović warned strongly against perpetuating racial hatred against neighbouring unbelieving nations: “We sin if we see it as an obligation to hate those whom our relatives hate. This hatred passes into us like a family disease.”[3] While rejecting the false beliefs of these nations, he said, we must still show them love: “When our nation is at enmity with neighbouring peoples, we as men dare not extend this enmity to every man from that nation, but it is our duty, in a given situation, to help every man in need, with no consideration of whether he belongs to our nation or not.”[4]

      Again, Bishop Nikolai’s disciple, Archimandrite Justin Popović, said: “The Russian, Serbian, and Bulgarian nations can be great only if the goal of their existence be the collective realization of the commandments of the Gospel. Otherwise, ‘Serbianism, ‘Russianism’, and ‘Bulgarianism’, are reduced to senseless and pernicious chauvinism. If ‘Serbianism’ flourishes not by the power of evangelical podvigs and not to Orthodox Catholicity, then it will choke in its own egoistic chauvinism.

      “What is profitable for Serbdom is profitable for other nationalities as well. Nations pass, the Gospel is eternal. Only in so far as a nation is filled with the eternal evangelical truth and righteousness, does it exist, and itself becomes and remains eternal. Only such patriotism can be justified from an evangelical point of view.”

      “This is the patriotism of the holy apostles, the holy martyrs, the holy fathers.” [5]

      And again he writes: It is time, it is the twelfth hour, for certain of our ecclesiastical representatives to stop being exclusively slaves of nationalism and politics, no matter what and whose, and become high priests and priests of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

     Loving our enemies, whether personal or national, does not entail admiring, or agreeing with, or even liking them. It does mean desiring their salvation, and doing nothing that would hinder it. As long as there is life there is hope; and as long as an unbeliever is alive, there is hope for his salvation - and fear that his believing accuser may fall. “For a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9.4).


September 19 / October 2, 2017.

[1]Gribanovsky, “Conversations with My Own Heart”, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville.

[2]St. Justin the Martyr, First Apology, 14.

[3] Velimirović, Okhridski Prolog, Shabats-Valjevo, 2009, June 9, p. 476.

[4] Velimirović, Homily on the Fourth Sunday after Pascha.

[5]Popović, “On Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky)”.

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