NOT AS THE SCRIBES (Mark 2.1-12 / John 10.9-16)

St. Botolph’s Parish, Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas, 12 March 2017

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may  have life (John 10.10).

Shining the lamp directly into your sockets, she bends down. Heavy breathing ruffles fine hairs on your ear. A pungent scent of sushi assaults your nostrils, mingling with a vinegar aroma of Laurent Perrier-Cuvée. Her preferred late afternoon tipple. ‘Say it’, a hot breath hisses in your ear. ‘Say: “A tool of patriarchy, keeping my sisters oppressed”. Say it. Say it!’ Behind closed eyes, you long for a Mars Bar. A sausage off a grill, glistening with fat. How long have they kept you awake? Twenty-four hours? Forty-eight? No food, no drink. Staring sleepless at incandescent lamps and windowless walls. In an underground cellar, under the college, twelve student participants and four faculty chant: ‘Say it, bitch! Say it now!’ ‘Say it’, the trainer snarls. ‘A tool of the patriarchy. That’s what your “Jesus Prayer” is’. ‘But …’ your sleep-starved brain shapes a word. ‘Nuns. What about … nuns?’ ‘Nuns?’ the name drops poisonous from her lips. ‘Brainwashed sheep, my little lamb. They can’t even think for themselves. Female eunuchs’. The entire room applauds, as if on cue. On the edge of your ear, she growls: ‘Maybe out in the backwoods of, of – where did you say your folks come from?’ ‘U-, Ukraine’, your breath gives out. ‘Maybe in that icon-kissing, incense-burning, patriarchal cult of yours, nuns think. I seriously doubt it. Certainly, not in this US of A. Not in this college. Not in this year, 1991’. Squeezing out a tear, you look up.

‘For Chrissake, Netty’, a colleague begs. ‘She’s just seventeen’. ‘Prime for conditioning’, she replies. By the lock of silver in her chestnut curls, you recognise your interrogator. ‘Dr. Massari’, you sob. ‘Why?’ ‘Why, Christina’, she gloats. ‘It’s your sensitivity training’.

Sensitive to every ‘feeling’ but faith, committed to equality for all sexes but male; devoted to a diversity inclusive enough to exclude your little patriarchal sect of bejewelled bishops and praying priests, Bernadette Massari, PhD, plays the game called ideology. Ideal bloodsport of the academic. It is after all 1991. Being politically correct, the latest vogue, permits her to exploit a pawn and block her opponent’s king. ‘You’re young, pretty’, she whispers into your palpitating mind. ‘You know how to assert yourself. Stop praying “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” to some imaginary Face in the light’. Fading now, fading steadily, your mind switches off. You awake to find yourself in a dingy, dusty corner of grandfather’s old shop in that little town outside Winnipeg. Standing by the till, on a sweltering August afternoon, he wipes wet streams from his brow to his shirt soaked with sweat. He never wears short sleeves. On his forearm, the digits 98691. Granny brings a tall glass of iced tea, her wide  cheekbones jutting over a sunken, hollow face. She never touches meat. Not since … A domestic animal, perhaps a pet, with four feet – perhaps two – leaves a foetid taste on her lips ever since the famine of 1933. ‘How do you spell Holodomor, Babusia?’ you ask her. ‘With an H,’ replies Granny. ‘Like Holocaust’. Lost on a chessboard of ideology, pawns in the hand of the scribe. By the rusty cash register, you spot a notice printed only in Ukrainian.

‘Tse ne povynno povtorytysia’. This must not be repeated.

As late as 1991, a soviet socialist utopia dies of old age and transplants itself to the West. ‘Repeat after me’, the trainer orders. ‘Yes, yes’, the prime candidate for conditioning gives in. ‘Demystify your worship’, says the commissar of the politically correct. ‘The face that you see in the Light when you pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy”. Who is he? Is he there, your optical illusion of a man? Wash him from your mind’. Why do you suffer this abuse from a woman, Christina, that you never would from a man? ‘Who’s speaking?’ you groan softly. ‘I am Gregory, Archbishop of Thessalonica’, says the voice. ‘The heretic, Bernardo Massari: Barlaam the scribe. As my name is Palamas, I recognise his voice’.

‘I have seen the rise and fall of many a scholastic scribe. Many a thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy, consigning lives to death by the stroke of a professor’s pen. Rise up. Defy him. Stand your ground’.

Paralysed with a crippling fear, you cling to your cot. A voice inside your soul that coaxes and cajoles, beats and batters you, deprives you of sleep, food, and faith, bends down to your ear. ‘Say it’, the voice hisses. ‘There’s no one there. No one! Can you even see him on account of the crowd?’ ‘I believe’, your brain stubbornly shapes the words. ‘I believe’. It is not your faith, Christina, that sends branches cracking, splitting, straw flying this way, that, mud falling in clumps on the floor. It is the faith of your friends that removes the roof. The icon-kissing, incense-burning harvest of martyrs, tried in the furnace of spin and lies. Those who have suffered with you now lower you down. ‘Daughter’, the Son of Man tells you, ‘your sins are forgiven’. ‘Who does he think he is, God?’ ask the scribes. Always the scribes. ‘Why do you question me, you blind guides?’ asks the Son of Man. ‘Which is easier – to say: “Your past is now behind you” or: “Get up and walk”? Rise up, then, Christina. Rise up from your mental cell. Turn your back on the brainwashed generation and walk away. All that you need to do is rise and walk away’.

‘Holy Father Gregory’, you ask, ‘am I really like the paralysed man?’ ‘You are the lamb that got away’, replies the saint. ‘The pawn that fell from the board into the hand of the King’.

Beloved in Christ: truth knows no male or female. Injustice knows no male or female. Hypocrisy knows no male or female, no immunity of sex and race and class.  Truth slides off no politician’s grill, glistening with fat. Ever so slightly ‘underdone’, suiting the taste of social utopians and the tenured bourgeois Left. Truth is no aphorism borrowed from Aquinas, no nicety from Nietzsche, no witticism from Wittgenstein. Truth is no theory privately concocted, no light switched on and off at will. Truth is the Light shining into the interrogation chamber and piercing the windowless wall.

Truth looks that brainwashed brainwasher straight in her eye, declaring: ‘Feminazi is as Nazi does’.

Behind the ovens of Auschwitz, beneath charred waters of Chernobyl, the eye of a scribe hides from Truth. Reshape it, recast it, mold it into whatever tool of lies and liars you like. So long as truth is an It, not a Who. ‘What is truth?’ ask the political pundits – the scribes, toying with an ideology and throwing life aside. ‘Who is Truth?’ replies Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, champion of theologians. He who prays to Light from within the Light. He who speaks with authority and not as the scribes.

Holy Hierarch Father Gregory Palamas, pray to God for us!

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