From The Blog

Mission Monthly – October 2006

“The man who keeps silence with knowledge is the man who is convinced that he is unworthy to speak, as the Fathers used to say, and this is silence ‘with knowledge'”

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

My father was a quiet man. Even now when I meet and speak with old timers who knew him they most often say that Dad “didn’t ever say too much but when he did people would listen.” Chester Joseph died almost 17 years ago. I was a mere 29 years old then and only at the beginning of my manhood; I never really understood my father’s quietness. At times I wished he would have been more vocal, but looking back I see how that would have been in opposition to his beautiful nature. I cannot say conclusively that Dad had the virtue of “silence with knowledge” but knowing how he was loved and respected by so many (his weekday funeral at a good sized church was standing room only) leads me to believe that I need not look too far to see a shining example of this exemplary way of life.

Within the vocation of the Presbytery one might think this virtue of silence might be practiced to a high degree. The ordained priesthood, however, seems to be one that requires a lot of talking. For those of us who may struggle with talking too much it could be a terrible place to fight this inclination. For those of us who might prefer to remain more quiet (whether because of virtue or simple preference), frequent speaking is virtually compulsory. Even my particular vocation is not immune from contemporary social forces which generally see silence not as a virtue but rather as a sign of ignorance and/or weakness.

Doesn’t it seem as though today no matter what subject is being discussed or reported on everyone is supposed to have an opinion on it; especially when it comes to a popular “topic du jour?” If one doesn’t have an opinion, or the ability to articulate it, that person might be subject to some form of ridicule. Maybe it’s the age of information and communication or maybe it’s the age of self-importance that has led us to this unhealthy place, but never has it seemed more (in)appropriate that the old adage applies, “Opinions are like bellybuttons, everybody has one.” Corporate culture, domestic and international politics, academia, entertainment, marketing, technology, Wall Street, pop culture, sports, relationships, etc; there seems to be very little room for “silence with knowledge.”

Here again we as Orthodox Christians are faced with another sober, “contrary to the world” characteristic of how we are to define ourselves in both word and action. I say “contrary to the world” for only a mild emphasis. There are much stronger ways to communicate the seriousness of this virtue. Suffice it to say that to ridicule or deny the virtue of silence with knowledge would be at best irreverent. This is another example of how truly “counter culture” the nature of Orthodox Christianity is.

No, we are not free to speak our minds. This commonly held (mis)belief, which has been helped along by the misinterpretation of the first amendment of the American Constitution, has led contemporary American society to an increasingly bitter place of “entitlement.” The pressure and right to “prove” one’s self has also led to the pressure to be right all the time, which is often accompanied by an aggressive defensiveness which beyond its sinful makeup is simply demeaning to the gracious potential of human nature. In my view there are too many words being spoken, being written, in print, in images, on television and over the radio, and now and maybe even more insidiously, over cyber-space on the internet with personal websites, e-mail, blogs, and streaming broadcasts. Anyone with even a little technical savvy can make their opinion known and feel pretty darn good about it (even if no one is listening)! The one thing generally missing in all this clamor is any sense of accountability, the one thing that differentiates a man who possesses the virtue of silence with knowledge. Silence with knowledge does not mean that we never speak (certainlywe know the importance of words in proclaiming the Gospel and in the worship of God in His Church); it just means that one understands responsibly that there are consequences to speech, and consequently becomes more aware that more often than not it is usually best simply to keep silent. Honestly I do not know if my father was a quiet man because he was being “accountable” or simply because it was his nature. The fact that he was deeply respected by so many certainly reveals that his quietness did have a virtuous effect on others. While I am only beginning to learn something about this virtue I find it somewhat ironic that I’ve chosen to write about it.