Remember that awful picture of Greek and Armenian monks hitting each other with brooms in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem a couple of years ago? I think most of us North American Orthodox cringed in embarrassment.
Similarly, I remember some years ago a brouhaha in a local Orthodox church of Eastern European background where police had to be called in to break up a fist fight between factions who held differing opinions about political matters in the old country.
You don’t usually find such honest emotions on display in Western churches. Not recommending the fisticuffs, but the alternative, the avoiding of conflict and saying peace peace when there is no peace, is equally unhealthy. It just takes longer to work its insidious destruction.
There are professional consultants who specialize in church conflict these days to help conflicted parties resolve their differences. But it’s like that joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb—just one, but the bulb has to want to change! In the case of conflict, both parties have to want to change and resolve things—and sometimes one or both have no motivation to change.
We are warned by the Scripture that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. I don’t think we want to jump and yell ‘Satan!’ every time something upsets our course in this life we clergy wives pursue; but it is worth remembering that the ‘church antagonists’ are not actually the enemy. Even if they are sick or disordered or in fact actually doing hostile things, they are not the enemy.
Still the events instigated by some of these people are in fact tactics used by the spiritual powers to block and undermine the work of God’s church, of which our priest-husbands are among the army officers in this spiritual war. And being that we clergy wives are standing next to these men, we sometimes catch some flack. What is often surprisingly damaging is when it comes from some unexpected direction or in some unexpected way.
There are various books about church antagonists, church dragons, clergy-killers, whatever you may call them. Sometimes these people are just entrenched power-lovers; other times they are people with ‘issues’, and even occasionally they are seriously mentally ill, as in paranoid schizophrenia and the like. The power-lovers are predictable; the mentally ill are predictable in their unpredicability. It’s the middle group, the ones with ‘issues’ who can be tricky to deal with.
You can’t get out the brooms and start swiping at these people. But if you turn your back, you may be the one who gets tripped up. You can try to talk reasonably with them, but when there is an ‘issue’ in their own background or makeup that is governing their behaviour, and you don’t know what that issue is, you may be thrown for a loop.
Because unlike the monks with brooms, these people do not fight fair. These are the passive-aggressives who will say they support you and then pull the rug out from under you. These are the people who talk behind your back but then act like nothing has happened to your face.
However hard it is at times, we have to remember that these people are still the icons of Christ to us. We need to remain harmless as doves, even when being wise as serpents means we know better than to trust some of these characters. Still it can be heartening to hear, as we have done at times from friends outside the Church, ‘these things are happening to you as spiritual attacks because you are doing God’s work.’