The saying is sure. I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men. But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned. When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful. All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Titus 3:8-15 (Epistle of Sunday of the Holy Fathers)
The Sunday falling between July 13-19 each year commemorates the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in the year 451 A.D. The controversy which dominated the Fourth Ecumenical Council centered on the person of Jesus Christ and whether He was fully human and fully divine. As a result of the Council, it was affirmed that Jesus Christ was fully human and is fully divine. Other canons were promulgated (or adopted) at this Council as well.
Each year, on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (as well as on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which is commemorated in mid-October), we read the Epistle of St. Paul to Titus. Every time I read this passage, I am truly amazed at the wisdom of the Fathers of the Church, who put together the Canon of Holy Scripture which speaks to us as much today as it did to the people in the time of St. Paul, in the early years of the Christian Church. We know that St. Paul wrote his Epistles to the early churches, and to the early church leaders, in this case, Titus, to help shepherd the new flock of the church and grow the faith in solid Christ-centered communities.
Each time I read this Epistle, my mind goes directly to verse 9, where we are told to “avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile.” As a priest for nearly twenty years, I have seen a fair share of “stupid controversies” in our churches, which in many instances inhibit us from doing our work of spreading the Gospel to the nations. If only we could keep verse 10, and “as for the man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him.” Many times, in our interest to “satisfy all parties” involved in the life of our parishes, we cater to the stupid controversies and the small factions who fan them.
Looking at verse 8, we are admonished (in fact the verb St. Paul uses is “to insist”) that we apply ourselves to good deeds. The work of the church is to do the things that are excellent and spiritually profitable to people. The work of the church is difficult, and is becoming even more difficult it seems as time goes by. The world today sees Christianity in such a negative light. And churches of all denominations, including ours, are seeing rapid shrinking in membership. And perhaps that is because we have strayed from the good deeds and have become buried in the “stupid controversies.”
If the church is going to not only thrive, but in some places, survive, it has to be committed to applying itself to good deeds and avoiding the stupid controversies which always threaten to keep the church from moving forward.
Supremely blessed are You, O Christ our God. You established the holy Fathers upon the earth as beacons, and through them You have guided us all to the true Faith, O greatly merciful One, glory to You. (Apolytikion, Sunday of the Holy Fathers, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes).
Do something good today! Avoid unnecessary controversy!