Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour

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We must be sure what a lie is before speaking about the Eighth Commandment, in which the Lord forbids us to slander our neighbors. A lie is a distortion or concealment of the truth. A lie is contrary to Truth, which proceeds from God. A lie proceeds from the devil. Christ calls the devil, the father of lies: When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it, says Christ (John 8:44). The Apostle Paul teaches that a liar works on behalf of the devil. In his Epistle to the Colossians we read: Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9).

The word of God often speaks of the pernicious habit of lying. A lie is a foul blot in a man, yet it is continually in the mouth of the untaught, we read in the Old Testament book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 20:24). King Solomon also bears witness to such a truth: Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight (Proverbs 12:22). In another place the Solomon writes: Therefore beware of murmuring, which is unprofitable; and refrain your tongue from backbiting: for there is no word so secret, that shall go for nought: and the mouth that belieth slayeth the soul (Wisdom of Solomon 1:11). Indeed, lies and slander are tantamount to murder, for it is possible to kill not only the physical body, but also the spiritual body. The disposition of a liar, writes the wise Sirach, is dishonorable, and his shame is ever with him (Ecclesiasticus 20:26). The Apostle Paul writes that God punishes the liar: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another (Ephesians 4:25).

Life provides a wide field for lying by reason of faint-heartedness, vainglory, or gain, which last converges with stealing. The vainglorious pharisaical lie proceeds from self-love and is uttered for self-exaltation and condemnation of one's neighbor. Slander is a lie aimed to defame another. In this instance, malice may work together with lying.

The Fathers of the Church understood the Ninth Commandment as a warning against every sin committed by word and against idle talking, as well as the sin of bearing false witness in court. This form of lying turns against the one speaking. Remember the words of Christ: Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant (Luke 19:22). Whatever we speak does not disappear without a trace. If we speak about love, but in life take vengeance on those who offend us; if we speak about morality, but do not follow God=s moral laws; if we speak about the dignity of the human person, but treat our neighbors badly, and so forth; then God's Last Judgment will deal with us by our own words. If we speak about good, we know about it; and if we know about good, and if we do not do it, all our talk was idle. And Christ said: But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36). Idle talk is not merely vacuous; it is every word not justified by life-time deeds.

Saint John of the Ladder says: Silence is always beneficial. One may speak, of course, but not idly. It is necessary to speak only that which we sincerely feel. But the tongue can no man tame, teaches the Apostle James; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. And a little earlier the Apostle proclaims: If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body (James 3:8, 2).

The ascetical Fathers teach us to wrestle with condemnation. Here is one instruction of Saint Isaac the Syrian: When someone begins to criticize his brother in thy presence, do not listen to him; but lower thy countenance. As soon as thou shalt do this, then before God and before him that shalt prove to be careful.

The beginning of salvation is the condemnation of one's self, teaches Saint Nilus of Sinai; and he says further: Let us attend to ourselves that we do not begin to condemn others, for much of what we condemn in others is in us ourselves. Instruct the sinner, but do not condemn the fallen, admonishes the ascetic of Sinai, for the latter is maledictory, while the former evidences a desire to correct.

Concerning condemnation, Abba Dorotheus writes thus:

"To disturb, to condemn and to harm, are not these demonic? And we are found to be helpers of the demons unto our own ruin and to that of our neighbor. Why is this so? What is there no love in us? For (according to the word of the Apostle Peter) charity shall cover a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8). . . . The saints do not condemn the sinner and do not turn away from him further, but feel pity for him, sorrow over him, instruct, comfort and heal him as a sick member, and do everything in order to save him."

The Elder Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, the author of the book Unseen Warfare, writes thus concerning the evil of condemnation (pages 197-198):

Self-love and high opinion of ourselves give birth in us to yet another evil which does us grievous harm; namely, severe judgment and condemnation of our neighbors, when we regard them as nothing, despise them and, if an occasion offers, humiliate them. Since we value and think of ourselves so highly, writes Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, we naturally look at others from on high, judge and despise them, for we seem to ourselves far removed from such faults as we think others possess.....If you still feel the impulse to pass judgment, add to this the truth, that you are given no authority for this and that the moment you assume this authority you thereby make yourself worthy of judgment and condemnation, not before powerless men, but before God, the all-powerful Judge of all.

The holy Fathers of the Church use words to teach us about false witness and condemnation, but they also teach us by their lives. Here is one story from the book, Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

"A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, 'Come, for everyone is waiting for you.' So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, 'What is this, Father?' The Elder said to them, 'My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.' When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him."

And how should a believer regard his slanderers? Concerning this, the holy righteous John of Kronshtadt writes in his diary, My Life in Christ:

"When your brother sins against you in any way, for instance, if he speaks ill of you, or transmits with an evil intention your words in a perverted form to another, or calumniates you, do not be angered against him, but seek to find in him those good qualities which undoubtedly exist in every man, and dwell lovingly on them, despising his evil calumnies concerning you as dross, not worth attention, as an illusion of the Devil. The gold-diggers do not pay attention to the quality of sand and dirt in the gold-dust, but only look for the grains of gold; and though they are but few, they value this small quantity, and wash it out of heaps of useless sand. God acts in a like manner with us, cleansing us with great and long forbearance. How difficult this all is! But let us not become despondent, and let us recall the words of Christ: With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)."

©Archpriest Victor Potapov,

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