"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Strife and Reconciliation: The Priest, the Reader, and the Wise Bishop

In a village there served a priest who was constantly quarreling with the church reader. The reader had not finished seminary and thus he could not become a priest, so his dream was at least to be made a deacon. Unfortunately, he could not count on the support of the priest whom he hated and with whom he rudely quarreled. Once during service the priest and the reader quarreled over something the priest raised his voice, the reader did not yield and answered with insulting words. The priest was enraged and tried to hit the reader with the incense burner. The latter threw several heavy books at the priest, until in the end they literally began fighting, to the great chagrin and temptation of the people. The rumor of the fight of the priest and the reader in God's temple spread all over the village, and the case was reported to the bishop in the city as well. This bishop was a very wise man. He called the priest and the reader to himself to question them and find out who was to blame. He called the priest first and asked him:
"Tell me how it all happened. Honestly confess the truth!"
"I, holy Bishop, was serving in the church," the scared priest began to justify himself, "and I told the reader to read more slowly, but he attacked me with insults, began to throw the church books at me, and even hit me with his fists. I grabbed the incense-burner to defend myself, but I did not do anything to him."
"So he is to blame?" asked the prelate.
"Yes, holy Bishop, he is to blame!"
"So he started the fight?"
"Yes, Bishop, he started the fight."
"Then you are a martyr," continued the prelate. "You poor man, how long you have put up with this spiteful reader, and you have never complained! This is what I have thought of to reward you with a compensation: tomorrow I will elevate you to the rank of archpriest. Do you hear, child, even tomorrow! Get ready!"
The priest was moved by the unexpected turn of the matter and said: "But, Bishop, I am not worthy to be an archpriest. I am guilty of the quarrels too, and, it seems, my guilt is greater than the reader's. I started the quarrels!"
"So, there is a conscience in you? Praise God, praise God!" rejoiced the prelate. "Then you fully deserve the rank of archpriest."
The priest, repenting, began to cry.
Then the bishop sent for the reader. The reader came in worried and saw that the priest was crying and that the prelate did not stand grim and stern, but was smiling in a fatherly way.
"What do you say? Who started the fight?" asked the prelate.
"It was not me, but the priest!" said the frightened reader to justify himself.
"The priest said the same, that he is to blame. That means that you are innocent. Because you endured innocently, like a martyr, the insults of the priest for such a long time, I have decided to ordain you as a deacon tomorrow! Are you ready?"
The reader expected a punishment, but now he was being offered the deaconship that he had dreamed of for so long! Yet his soul was so disturbed! He felt so unprepared because of his quarrel with the priest. Suddenly, he fell at the feet of the bishop and said through his tears: "Holy Bishop, I am not worthy to be a deacon. I am more to blame than the priest."
The bishop lifted him up from the ground and, embracing him, said: "It is today that you are most worthy, because you repent, just as the priest repented. That is why I will certainly make him an archpriest and you a deacon. Make peace!"
The two recent enemies embraced and forgave each other with deep contrition. On the next day, during the Divine Service, the bishop rewarded both of them with clerical ranks and sent them to their village in peace.
They returned reconciled and joyful, to the wonder of the whole village. From that day they lived like true brothers and never quarreled again.
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Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev, The Meaning of Suffering and Strife and Reconciliation, Volumes II & III (St. Xenia Skete, Wildwood:1994) pp. 84-86.

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