Elder Athanasios Mytilinaios
Then as I said, Apostle Peter asked them to be quiet. A very serious problem arises here, which has been troubling me for years now. Since you and I are inside the Church, and we are the Church, this is the problem: The secrecy of the issues of the Church by the faithful.
The Church was once a closed circle. A relic of this closed circle that has remained to this day is when we say: “The doors! “The doors!” In other words: "Close the doors." Of course, today we don't close the doors because there's supposedly no reason to close the doors and we have given to the contemporary interpreters of the Holy Liturgy a new, metaphorical so to say, dimension to this: "Close the doors to the soul which represents the five sense," for example. Your eyes shouldn't be staring or looking about in a strange way when attending a service. Your eyes should avoid listening to whatever shouldn't be heard, etc. In other words, close whatever distracts you from concentrating on the Holy Liturgy.
Yet, this isn't a spiritual order at all; it's clearly a technical order. Just like: "Wisdom.” “Arise." There's a full stop after "Wisdom" and another one after "Arise". This means that the Evangelion (Gospel) is Wisdom. When the Priest says "Wisdom,” there should be a pause. A pause to signify the full stop and then, "Arise" and pause again. This means that the Evangelion (Gospel) is the WIsdom of God so you should stand up from your seat. Because the faithful had the option of sitting even from ancient times.
Just like today, we have seats inside the church, maybe not enough for everybody, but people could sit in the old days too. They had stools that were called "scymbous". (Let me say something strange here, concerning our language. Scymbous was a Greek word meaning "Stool". This word travels to Europe and came back as "Escabeau" (This word is used today).)
So ... people could sit if they want to. So at that time they had to get up, to stand up. This is just a practical order. And all these matters were taken care of by the Deacons or others who had such a responsibility.
So, here, again, with "The doors" what we mean is "Close the doors". A technical order. Why? Because the Church was a closed issue. You couldn't enter the Church if you hadn't been baptized. The Catechumen can enter the Church but they had to leave before the Sanctification of the Holy Gifts [i.e. after the Sermon].
During the persecutions, the Church was in hiding. Those who had nothing to do with the Church should never find out the activity of the Church. This should never happen. This secrecy of early Christianity was kept meticulously. I have talked to you in the past and I'm going to remind you again when we read the teaching of St. Cyril [of Jerusalem].
There is a quote outside but it's not by St. Cyril but by someone else: "Be careful, for this is not to be delivered to the uninitiated". St. Cyril, in his first catechesis, clearly states: "Mind you, that if you have come here to spy on us and see what we are doing here, God is spying on you instead." And St. Cyril keeps stressing how careful a Christian should be because it was an absolute necessity that spies should be kept away, and no one should be spying on what they did during the services.
This should never be because Christians were persecuted. Therefore, keeping the secrets was an absolute necessity for everyone, both clergy and laity. Now, how could a priest go out in public? There is something that has been done, will be done, and is being done, take it as you will. Namely, the following: Let's assume that one day I stop wearing the priest’s garment (the cassock or rassa), not under the influence of modernism but because of a strict prohibition. Thus, I'm not allowed to wear my Priest‘s garment and my dress is the same as a layman’s, or a person in the world, and nobody knows that I am a priest.
By the way, I just remembered that I had been offered a tiny epitrachelion a few days ago. I thought: This is to be worn underneath my shirt so that no one can see and I can do the work! This is actually something I have already done, I've listened to people's confession on the street! In the street - can you imagine? Or at the entrance of a block of flats! And wearing my epitrachelion underneath my black cassock, today we are allowed to wear our black rassa, but there may come a time when we won't be allowed to wear them, so an epitrachelion could be worn as a shirt underneath.
A very small epitrachelion could be worn and you could start [the confession on the Street) by saying: "Well George, how are you? How is everyone at home? - Whispering, go ahead and say your sin." Then, George replies: "How's work?", in other words, some words to be heard out loud and others whispered, pretending to have a conversation while one is quietly confessing.
Now, can you imagine in this case if that person who confessed later went and said to other people, “Brother, ‘You know, Father Athanasios took my confession on the street ... Of course, he didn't wear a robe or a priest's cassock"...Note that everything is done in secret because it's a time of persecution and I don't know if this is the second, third or tenth person to hear this story from George. For, certain people lack the virtue of discretion and keeping a secret and so they could openly point to the priest and say: "That is a truly a priest and a Father-confessor who performed in secret." So, then they go and arrest Father Athanasios with the charge of being the father confessor and therefore a priest.
If you think these things belong to the distant future, allow me to tell you that five or six years ago we read in the newspaper the following event: A high ranking official of the Russian synod was found dead in a train. He was there for an inspection concerning the bookkeeping. As I said he was a high-ranking official and he had a small briefcase always with him. So the man had a heart attack and died on the train. When they opened the briefcase, do you know what they found? A Bishop's vestment! He was a secret Bishop. This happened recently, in our days. Tomorrow, things may be worse, we don't know, there will be retrogressions of phenomena.
A question: Is there any confidentiality between the faithful? When Apostle Peter asked them to be quiet, could anyone have shouted out to their neighbors: "Do you know something? We saw Peter... etc." No, not a word, not a peep! Are you listening? Unfortunately, among the faithful today there are frivolous people; indiscreet, shallow, and irresponsible. And these people, without looking deeply into things, are capable of harming the Church enormously.
For example, [let’s suppose that] fifty of us are gathered somewhere to perform a secret Divine Liturgy. In other words, we hiding from the authorities [to do so]. And then one of the faithful goes to a neighbor and says: "What a wonderful Divine Liturgy that was!" . . .And they ask, “where...how...what...?" Can not such a secret be kept?!...The news goes around and the second time we go there, they come and arrest us.
And there, what is there to do? What can we do now? This problem has always been troubling me. If difficult times come how can a priest perform his priestly obligations when there's so much frivolity all around? For, I have to tell you that in time of persecution this issue, which is, in fact, a problem, is almost insurmountable. It is a great problem. This is why, dear children, the faithful must acquire what is called an "ecclesial conscience" and a responsible attitude towards the Church, so they don't get to the point of harming the Church.
Let's not forget that, in the end times, when the Divine Liturgy won't be an easy thing to perform, what do you think, when Christians retreat to the mountains, when the Antichrist comes or just before that, that you won't face such a problem? This is something very important, extremely important: how to be able to perform the Divine Liturgy in secret, or perform your duties as an Orthodox Christian in secret.
In those days the ones who are not serious, the ones who are frivolous and reveal secrets, who are ready to spill the beans, to reveal what is to be kept secret, then God - this is how I understand it - will allow these people to bow down before the Antichrist among the first. You may ask why ... It is very simple: because they'll get arrested. After this frivolity, which brought them to this situation, in order to avoid any kind of maltreatment, they'll resort to denying Christ. Therefore they bow down before the Antichrist. This is something that awaits those who can't keep a secret.
So, please, try to do some work [on yourself] concerning this issue. Let's try to be very careful and serious and discreet in Church matters. Let's not be ready to go out and tell whatever crossed our minds. And, lots of time we distort things we hear in Church. Of course, such a person, whether he realizes it or not, turns into a traitor. And unfortunately, as the Holy Spirit informs us in the holy writings of the Apostle Paul: in the end times, there'll be traitors around.
In his letter to Timothy, 3:4, St. Paul says: “In last days men shall be truce-breakers, ... Traitors. "Truce-breaker" is someone who, interpreted... isn’t stable in his friendship, nor true to what he agrees." These people show a frivolity in regard to agreements they promise to keep. These are the truce-breakers, the ones who break a truce (lit. ‘not the same confederacy’ in Greek).
Therefore these are the people who break the agreements, and the Apostle Paul calls them "traitors". Pay attention: Traitors! And this is a major issue, indeed, the issue of treason (or betrayal) and of traitors. One may become a traitor out of frivolity. Just like some children, after some pressure, were forced to reveal where the Bishop of Smyrna, St. Polykarpos, was hiding. These children showed the authorities where BIshop Polykarpos was hiding and they found him and arrested him. But sometimes a person truly has the disposition of being a traitor.
Unfortunately, this element of treason (or betrayal) has never been eliminated. Either for obtaining benefits, or whatever may be the reason. In any way, a traitor is the one who could even get to the point of betraying his fellow men, those belonging to his own faith but also to his own people at home, his family, and relatives. Just like our Lord said to us: that a father will betray his child etc., in difficult times.
Also, traitors are the ones our Lord mentioned, that one will be betraying the other because of different personal interests. Also, betrayal inside the Church has unfortunately a broader character. For example, a person who is baptized into the Orthodox Church, and he writes a book in favor of Ecumenism, an ecumenistic book, trying to mislead the believers concerning the heresy of Ecumenism. Isn't this person a traitor of our faith?... This is why we should be very careful and never forget that traitors exist in the environment of a decadent of spirituality. Because the person who has a booming, a flourishing, a thriving of spirituality prefers to be a martyr rather than a traitor.