Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Swearing Is Unbecoming for the Orthodox Christian



“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).

Swearing is a wrong and inappropriate behaviour for a Christian, since, among other things, it is an expression of anger and often abusive of others, language unfitting for persons growing in Christ. The Third Commandment prohibits us from the “vain” use of God’s name: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. It is the purposeless and idle use of the Holy name of God which makes it such a disrespectful thing. Another aspect of this improper use of God’s name is to use it in an oath, by which we seek to verify the truth of our words by invoking God’s name or the names of saints or holy things. This is also rejected by Christ (see Matthew 5:34-36; 23:16-21). Remember and keep in mind that swearing is neither fitting nor appropriate language for persons who seek to serve God.

Swearing cannot be spiritually justified. Who does not know the second commandment God gave to Moses: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7)? This is affirmed by St. Mark who quoted Jesus responding the question about what commandment is the greatest: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12: 28-31). Finally St Paul exhorted us: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:28-30).

Avoiding any engagement in swearing is essentially a restraint against offence of the neighbor thereby affirming the Christian commandment to love the neighbor.

Blasphemy is a form of swearing that is considered to be a very serious sin where words are used to curse God. Saint Nikitas Stithatos wrote about the spiritual dangers:
Blasphemy is a frightful passion, difficult to combat, for its origin lies in the arrogant mind of Satan ... we must guard the senses with great diligence, and reverence all the awe-inspiring mysteries of God, the holy images and holy words, and watch out for the attacks of this spirit. ... when we are inattentive it discharges through our lips curses against ourselves and strange blasphemies against God the Most High (Philokalia IV).
Cursing is another form of spiritual swearing that occurs when the heart is set completely against a person and words are used with the intent of bringing the fire of hell upon them. Cursing is a very serious offense. The writer of the book of Proverbs wrote: "If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness" (Proverbs 20:20). The book of Ecclesiastes warned both the curser and the one being cursed: "Do not give heed to all the things that men say, lest you hear your servant cursing you; your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others. All this I have tested by wisdom; I said, 'I will be wise; but it was far from me" (Ecclesiastes 7:21-23).

Saint Paul reminded his readers of the depravity of heart that cursing reveals: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ... Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive ... The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness" (Romans 3:10-14).

The prohibition against cursing is so strong that Evagrius the Solitary said: "Try not to pray against anyone [cursing] in your prayer, so that you do not destroy what you are building, and make your prayer loathsome" (Philokalia I).

Saint Nikitas Stithatos pointed out how to overcome blasphemy and cursing: "Then concentrating our thoughts, we should at once occupy our intellect with some other matter, either divine or human, and with tears raise it towards God; and so with God's assistance we will be relieved of the burden of blasphemy" (Philokalia IV).