Monday, October 29, 2012

How to respond when someone speaks badly of us?

My father used to always tell me, "Remember you are part of a family and what you do reflects on the reputation of our family." My dad was not a model Christian, but was always an exemplary citizen and lived by Christian principles. I respected him and always remember this simple  direction he gave me. My actions had an impact on the reputation of others I loved.

A good name is important. It says in Scripture, "a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." (Prov 22:1) With a good name we we gain the trust of others. When we are attacked by others unfairly in a way that may discredit our name, we need to have concern.  What is it we should do as Orthodox Christians when we receive such an attack?

This is a question that Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg addressed in his book, How to Live a Holy Life. He gives us four points to consider.
1. First of all, no matter how bad and how injurious the evil talk spread about us may be, we must guard ourselves from anger, verbal abuse, and revenge, but remain as placid as possible in spirit, because we must be of one spirit with Christ, and Christ, in face of all the accusations from the Jews, remained in a placid, not in the least bit vengeful, spirit. Christ, "when He was reviled, reviled not again...but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously, the holy Apostle Peter says (1 Peter 2:33).
The first thing is to remember the example of Christ and remain calm and objective so we can deal righteously with the accuser. This requires a command of our passions so we do not become angry and respond inappropriately. This is where we can draw on prayer and especially the Jesus prayer, because with daily practice it is with us always to keep us away from passion, allowing us to guard our anger when unfairly charged.
2. When you hear that others are speaking badly of you and ascribing to you vices of various sorts, bad intentions and so forth, then immediately subject yourself to the strictest examination to see whether the vices they ascribe to you are really there... Examine yourself very closely: don't those vices actually lurk within you, if only to a small degree?
When you find only a shred of truth in the accusations then immediately repent and offer fervent prayers asking to be relived of this vice and work with zeal to make corrections in your own ways.  Use every such circumstance to first examine your own way of acting. In this way any accusation can become a blessing helping you to become a better Christian in Christ's image.
3. If after the most attentive, impartial examination of yourself, you find that the vices ascribed to you do not exist, you may legitimately defend yourself and refute the slander leveled at you, but only when finding this necessary not because of your self-love or pride but because of your position in society. But defend yourself calmly without anger or indignation.  
This is not an easy step to take as we are so often hurt because of pride or some undeserved overstated image our ourselves and our false image of our importance. We must be sure we pick our battles carefully and most objectively without emotion coming from an ego-centric pride.
4. If you see defending yourself will not do you any good, then:
    a) Try to hear the slider leveled at you, now matter how serious, with patience, and console yourself with the thoughts, "God sees my innocence, so what should I grieve about: He Himself care for me, and, if my vindication will be beneficial for me, then He Himself will vindicate me.  He will declare my innocence at the Dread Judgment at least, and all the people and all the Angels of God will vindicate me with Him."
    b) Console yourself even more with this thought: "They let forth a great stream of abuse on our Savior when He lived on earth, but He never justified Himself in any court. Some of the abuse was very serious, but He endured everything with equanimity. That is how I should act. "The Disciple is not above his master and it is enough for the disciple that he be as his master" (Matt 10:24-25).
    c) Double your efforts to conduct yourself as irreproachably as possible in all circumstances of your life. Endeavor not only to avoid giving others occasion for spiteful talk by any of your words or deeds, but also, endeavor to avert an occasion to be even suspected of any vices, and therefore avoid even permissible behavior if it somehow can give cause for slander...
     d) If the evil talk spread about you does not cease, or even multiplies, then resort to nothing but fervent prayer that the Lord God may have the kindness to enlighten and correct your slanders Act this way because Jesus Christ Himself acted this way even with his executioners (Luke 23:34).
Always remember always, Christ is our example.  In addition to prayer, read the Scriptures and seek the examples of everyday life He shows us.  It is clearly one based on humility and dispassion. He prayed and fasted to condition His human flesh to be obedient to His divinity.  This is our challenge as well and why all the elements of the Orthodox way of life are so important.

Reference: How to Live a Holy Life, pp 55-58

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