What does it mean that all the anathemas just proclaimed by the Church refer to false teaching and heresy and not one condemns impiety and vice? Is an impious life really less contrary to the Gospel than incorrect faith? No, impenitent vice is more criminal than impenitent unbelief. If a vice was not condemned by these anathemas it is because concerning its criminality there never were any arguments, for everyone, at all times-both Orthodox and heretics-unanimously recognized that an iniquitous and impious life in an of itself is already anathema.
Does it not follow, according to this one fact, for every unrepentant sinner to be stricken by shame and horror? But, in order for saving fear to be that much more forceful and real, let us open Holy Scripture and read from the place where misfortune and curses for sin are pronounced.
Let us hear, firstly, the leader of the people of God, the law-giver of Sinai, Moses. He, according to the Word of God, “was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). And what does this meek man say to the sinners?
Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife; because he uncovereth his father’s skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen. [LXX and Slavonic: Cursed be he that lieth with his wife’s sister. And all the people shall say, Amen.]
Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Similarly, Moses or, rather, the Lord Himself with his lips, says in another place to the people of Israel,
But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
Do you see how many anathemas there are and what they are for? They are not for heresy and schism but for breaking the law of God, for life in sin, and for impenitence.
But maybe such strictness against vice was only characteristic of the Old Testament which, corresponding to its strict inner nature, was given on Sinai amidst lightning, storms, and thunder. Maybe in the New Testament, the testament of mercy and grace, there is less horror and fear for the unrepentant sinner, as, upon the hope of Christ’s merits, we can give ourselves up thoughtlessly to our lusts and passions? But, my brothers, wouldn’t to think in such a way mean that we did not understand, that we humiliate and insult the most venerable Grace of God and, according to the terrible phrase of the apostle of Christ, change it into lasciviousness (Jude 1:4)? For, to say together with St. Paul, “is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid” (Gal. 2:17)! If in the New Testament, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20) then it was not so that with this abundance to nourish and strengthen lawlessness in man, but to press it, efface it, and abolish it. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses and saves from every type of sin, but for whom? Not for every sinner but only those who grieve for their sins and accept forgiveness in the name of the Redeemer and, for their part, use all means to free themselves from the shameful captivity to the passions. So, for sinners, in the New Testament, just as in the Old Testament, there is neither grace nor mercy.
So that these terrible truths did not seem to anyone to be our personal judgments we will turn again to Scripture and hear from the New Testament what it says against vice. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matt. 23:23)! Here is an anathema against false piety! “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27)! Here is the judgment on the hypocrites! “[W]oe to that man by whom the offence cometh! [I]t were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:7, 6)! Here is the anathema on tempters! “[W]oe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation (Luke 6:24)! Here is the judgment on the iniquitous rich and hard-hearted! “Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger” (Luke 6:25)! Here is sentence against the sons of delight and luxury! “Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25)! Here is the thunder against the mad worldly joy! “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you” (Luke 6:26)! Here is an arrow against vanity and empty praise of men!
You see with what force and strictness the New Testament condemns even that which, according to the judgment of the world, is not only not considered a vice but is sometimes even considered a virtue. And from whose mouth comes all this woe and judgment? From the mouth of the Sweetest Jesus, from the mouth of the One Who Himself is the only origin and giver of every grace. Does He pronounce woe in vain?
Do you want to hear also what the Apostle Paul, the apostle who was so full of love for his neighbor that for the salvation of a dying brother would have been accursed from Christ, says about sinners? St. Paul anathematizes not only obvious vice and obvious unrepentance but also coldness to faith, a lack of a heartfelt disposition, and love towards our Lord and Savior. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (I Cor. 16:22)! After this, what sin and what vice will be freed from an anathema? For does the pastor who serves at the altar only because he is fed at the altar and cares not for the salvation of the souls which are entrusted to him love the Lord Jesus? And so he is under Paul’s anathema! Does such a judge or whom are dear not truth and innocence but payment and partiality love the Lord Jesus? Does such a master who, with the back breaking work of his servants, dissipates in luxury and caprice love the Lord Jesus? He is under Paul’s anathema! Does the rich man who has every opportunity to ease the lot of lesser brothers, both his and Christ’s, and hard-heartedly “shutteth up his bowels of compassion” (I John 3:17) before a brother in need? He is under Paul’s anathema! Does such a father who does not care for the upbringing of his children but gives them a bad example love the Lord Jesus? A husband not maintaining mutual faithfulness and not tolerating his wife’s faults? Children not showing respect for their parents and elders? Do all the unrestrained, all the irritable, all the cursers, all the proud, and all the sinful love the Lord Jesus? Therefore, all of them are under an anathema. For, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ,” according to the words of St. Paul, “Anathema Maranatha” (I Cor. 16:22)! What, then, can be promised to such unrepentant souls? Surely not paradise and blessedness in the heavens?
Will someone say that it is cruel to say such things (see John 6:60)? But for whom is it cruel? For those who do not want to love the One, Who Himself is completely love. The One Who died for our sins and rose for our justification. What remains for such people except for judgment and condemnation for their sins? For whom is it cruel? For those who have attached themselves to the seductions of the world, have deadened the voice of their conscience and the law, and have decided, apparently, to permanently continue a dishonorable and impious life.
Let us rather thank the Lord that the terrible lot awaiting the sinners is not hidden from us and what will happen to the unrepentant beyond the grave is clearly shown. If heavenly love itself resounds above us with the thunder of anathema it is in order to wake us from a deathly, fatal sleep. Let us be grateful for this attention to us and, returning to our homes, instead of indulging in an idle conversation about how the anathema’s were proclaimed in Church, look and see if something in our habits or our life lies under an anathema. And if we find something of the sort, let us hasten to do away with it however dear and precious it seems to us, so that, otherwise, we would not fall under, finally, that terrible anathema from which there will be no salvation, even with repentance and Christ’s merits. Amen.
St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson