Saint Nicholas Velimirovich
How beautifully our peoples in the Balkans decorate eggs, especially when they’re for Easter. For increasing the joy of Easter. To make guests happier. Sometimes these dyed eggs are real works of art. But if these dyed eggs are kept too long, they go off and stink horribly. In the end they dry out completely.
Then the colored shell contains nothing but death.
Even worse is Christ’s image of the hypocrites, who are ‘like whitewashed sepulchers which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and all uncleanness’ (Matth. 23, 27).
‘Take heed that you do not give alms before others, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven’ (Matth. 6, 1).
The righteousness which is pleasing to God, as revealed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, is the following: mercy, prayer, trust and faith in God as the only Lord; absence of concern for tomorrow; the quest, above all else, for the Kingdom of God; belief that we will receive what is necessary from God, what it is that we’re looking for; and that a door that’s closed will be opened. Moreover, we mustn’t judge harshly, we mustn’t measure by a false rule, because the same might happen to us; we shouldn’t see the mote in the eye of another person and hypocritically ignore the beam in our own. We should behave towards others as we would wish them to behave towards us. We shouldn’t fear the strait, but clear and holy way that leads to life, but should shun the easy, primrose and broad path that leads to death*. We should render good fruit to God, the Master of the house, who planted us as productive trees. There should be no pride in our mighty works, but simply the execution of everything in accordance with the will of our Father in heaven. We should observe in practice all of Christ’s commandments and in this way construct the abode of our eternity, like wise people who build their houses not on sand but on a rock where storms, winds and torrential rains can’t damage them. (see Matt. 7, 24-25).
The Pharisees, Scribes and hypocrites do everything in opposition to the words and wisdom of God. When they give alms they do so in central squares and streets, not for the glory of God, nor even to help the poor, but only to be seen by others. When they fast, they distort their features, making themselves unkempt and pale, again so that people can see them. Woe betide them. They do everything to attract the attention of others and make it look as though they’re truly engaged in alms-giving, prayer and fasting.
People today do the same thing, for two reasons: to acquire fame and money from other people. As for God, they pay Him no heed at all, as if He didn’t exist. In fact, hypocrites are the most atheistic of people. They fool people, they take what they want and that’s their final payment. They can’t expect anything from God, because they didn’t oblige Him with any of their actions, but merely draw down His wrath upon themselves. The Lord said about such people: ‘these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from me’ (Is. 29, 13).
Since they don’t observe the will of God the Father, they keep that of the father of lies. The father of all lies, the devil, teaches them that it’s normal, natural and reasonable to behave like this and that others before them did the same and had a wonderful life, enjoying fame and wealth . This is the catastrophic way of the world, but they don’t abandon it, because of the world. They’re poor wretches who aren’t aware of the extent to which the devil has deceived them with such lies, how much he’s polluted and desiccated their hearts, so that even God’s angels turn away in disgust from the stench of their souls.
The whole of their carefully-crafted exterior is no more than the colored shell of death, a whitened sepulcher. When what we call death finds them, woe betide them. What will befall them then will be the confirmation and seal that their soul has been long dead.
But we shouldn’t be like the hypocrites, Christ teaches us. ‘But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’ (Matth. 6, 3).
Don’t be hypocrites when you pray to God: ‘But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly’ (Matth. 6, 6).
Don’t be like the hypocrites when you fast: ‘But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matth. 6, 18). ‘For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret that will not come to light’ (Mark 4, 22).
God will reveal great secrets to you when you least expect it. The prophets and the righteous knew this, but the Scribes and Pharisees didn’t and they still don’t, to this day.
The prophets and the just feared God and loved their people, but the Scribes, the Pharisees and the hypocrites have no fear of God and hate their people.
Jesus wept out of love for his people (see Matth. 15, 32; Mark 8, 2). But the Archpriests and Leaders deceived them, cursed them and mistreated them without mercy. Christ declared open war against their hypocrisy in one of his early sermons. While Christ was with us and as time passed, this warfare intensified. He berated their hypocrisy and that of the religious leaders of the time, chastising them to their faces and before his people.
He never berated any sinners to the extent that he castigated hypocrites. In the end, the castigation of hypocrisy by Christ, coming as it did towards the end of his sojourn on earth was transformed into thunder and lightning. This should come as no surprise to those who know that Jesus wasn’t addressing only that particular generation, in his own time, but all the generations till the end of the world. As he berated the Jewish hypocrites to their faces, so he castigates hypocrites of all eras, all generations.
So why did Christ strike so hard and mercilessly against hypocrisy in particular? Because hypocrisy is a devilish lie from the outset. It’s the tare that the devil has sown in all of God’s fields on earth: in our heart, in our home, in our marriage, in our friendships, in our people and nation, in politics and trade, in sorrow and gladness, everywhere, at all times and in every culture. There’s not a single culture that has been able to root out the weed of hypocrisy, but hypocrisy has managed to obliterate many cultures. If a culture, such as the European or the Japanese, has managed to shine with external brilliance, this doesn’t mean that it’s conquered hypocrisy, merely that it’s been more skilled at concealing it under the shell. A shell which doesn’t have the name of Jesus Christ written on it, as do our Easter eggs in the Balkans. More likely they were inscribed with ‘breeding, manners and sophistry’, that is, words that the demons don’t fear. In this way, the pestilence of hypocrisy has spread unchecked.
From the beginning, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God declared war on the devil and on hypocrisy. People loved and respected him as their savior ‘for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes’.
* Cf. Hamlet, act 1 scene 3: ‘Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, show me the steep and thorny way to heaven; whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine, himself the primrose path of dalliance treads, and recks not his own rede’ [WJL].