Clergy preach many variations on the theme of God. This week's clergy talk about how to honor a true prophet -- or walk away from one who is not real.
The Very Rev. John A. Jillions, chancellor, The Orthodox Church in America, Syosset:
A prophet is a charismatic figure who draws followers, and one person's prophet might be another's devil. How you discern true from false all depends on your inner "eye." As Jesus Christ said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light" (Matthew 6:22).
Spiritually healthy eyes look out on the world as God sees it. And for Orthodox Christians that requires a willingness to shape our inward being around communion with Him in time-tested ways: the Scriptures and centuries-long traditions of worship, prayer, fasting, service and spiritual training.
Drawing on this well of experience, we can recognize false prophets by asking some searching questions. Are they bringing an all-too-easy message? Do they preach freedom while being enslaved to money, pleasures and power? Are they self-serving? Do they exploit others? Are they impatient, unkind, jealous or boastful? Are they arrogant or rude? Do they insist on their own way? Are they irritable or resentful? Are they gleeful at the failings of others? Do they point toward God or to themselves? Do they oppress and constrain or build up and empower?
If you feel the person is a false prophet, walk or run away. Don't buy into the system. Walking away could be painful. You could lose friends and even family members. But, you have to hold onto your soul. If your inner person is being destroyed, you have to get away.
Cantor Zachary Konigsberg, Jewish Center of the Moriches, Center Moriches:
The first thing would be [to recognize] anyone who displays arrogance, anyone who is conceited or prideful. In the Jewish tradition, the greatest prophet was Moses. He was the closest to God and the most modest person to ever live.
We have a strong notion that a holy person is a modest person. That doesn't mean they don't have inner confidence, but they wouldn't show off or claim to be something magnificent. Anyone who would claim to be a prophet, we would be highly skeptical of. If one has the gift of prophecy -- one who is able to share the message of God -- that person would not brag about it.
Your message is not about yourself. You're expected to improve the lives of those around you. Moses, then later prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were known to be men who would wander the streets in ragged clothes. They didn't worry about what they wore. They were desperately trying to share with the Israelites that they must live their lives in a moral way.
It is not about showing off your appearance, your abilities or how close to God you are. The task is to improve the world, most importantly searching out those in need. That is a foundational core of Judaism.
Another clue is that a false prophet might be someone who is talking instead of acting.
Father Shawn Duncan, canon for media and mission, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, Garden City:
Scripture teaches us that we are not to believe every spirit, but to test spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). There are two tests that come immediately to mind. Is the message consistent with the whole arc of Scripture as we understand it? Secondly, whose kingdom does the prophet seem to be building: God's kingdom or the prophet's kingdom?
Jesus said he will send to the church the spirit to lead them into all truth. The spirit will show us things we haven't seen before.
Generally, the community is looking at whether what the prophet says is congruent with Scripture. Of course, there are always new things in Scripture, new ways of understanding. I can read Scripture six times, and on the seventh time God can reveal something new to me.
We also believe discernment is exercised in community, in the church. There is a reason Jesus had disciples and built a community. One gains a better understanding when one talks, prays and thinks in community.
The second way is that as Christians we're called to build God's kingdom. That is a question we all should reflect on. David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians who died in Waco, Texas, is an easy example of someone who was building his own kingdom instead of God's kingdom. If, when you ask the question of whose kingdom, the answer isn't God's kingdom, you need to walk away.