“… his blood, I shall require at the watchman’s hand” (Eze. 33:6).
Fearful words are revealed to the Prophet Ezekiel. The Lord commands Ezekiel to speak to the “sons of your people” (Eze. 33:1), which means all of Israel of old and for us today it may be understood as those within the Church.
The prophet says, “When he [the watchman] sees the sword coming upon the land, he shall blow the trumpet and warn the people. Then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet but does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. For he heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning. So his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning shall save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them. He is taken away in his transgression; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (Eze. 33:3-6).
Obviously one of the primary roles of the clergy: Bishops, Priests, and so forth, is that of “watchmen.” Yet, this vocation is not limited to clergy alone, indeed every true Christian is called to be a watchman.
Undoubtedly, those who have been set forth as shepherds of Christ’s flock will have much to answer for (myself included!), as St. James says, they “will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
A vital work of the shepherds, and the faithful, is to warn of “the sword,” that which would destroy right teaching. The watchman is commanded to sound the trumpet, to give clear and meaningful warnings. This is what he must do, this is what is required. If the watchman is faithful in his vocation and still the people choose not to heed the warning “their blood is on their own hands.”
Yet, if the watchman is silent when he sees the coming “sword” then all those who perish, all of them, their blood will be on his hands.
Of course, in the ultimate sense, this should be understood spiritually. That is, one of the most vital works in the Church is to warn of false teachings – destructive heresies – which kill not the only body but the soul too. The “sword” will come; it is inevitable that the enemy will attack the Truth, for he desperately seeks its destruction. Thus we are ever warned in the Scriptures, “False prophets arose among the people, as also there shall be false teachers among you, who shall introduce privily heresies of destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1).
When falsehood – heresy – is allowed in the Church, it is akin to letting the enemy in through the front gate and warning no one. Thus, all those who are lead astray, into spiritual death, will be required of the watchman whose job it was to watch and warn. This is a grave matter.
Those watchmen who do nothing in the face of heresy are responsible for the destruction of possibly many souls. Well may the words of our Lord be applied, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea …” (Lk. 17:1-2). Here “the one through whom they come” is not only the person actively promoting heresy and falsehood, the source, but also those who allow it to continue, those who do nothing to stop it, for then such ones become participators in the spread of wickedness and spiritual destruction.
There is nothing loving about allowing the “sword” to enter in and cut people down. In fact, as the Scriptures make clear this is a hateful action, one which betrays a complete lack of true love for neighbor. Any person who truly cares for his neighbors will sound the trumpet of warning so as to save them, if they have ears to hear. But the watchman is not responsible for the state of the hearer’s ears only for whether or not he faithfully and diligently sounds the trumpet, the alarm.
A courageous preacher of our times, Fr. Theodore Zisis, instructs, We are all responsible for the Church, and not only the bishops, for the Church is not someone else’s private property. The bishop, together with the clergy, as well as the laity, as one body with the head – Christ, are responsible for it, each in their own way.
The responsibility to uphold the Faith diligently and steadfastly belongs to every Orthodox Christian. Each one will answer for his “talent” in the faith. Each will give an answer for whether or not he stood for the Truth. Fr. Theodore elaborates, The laity cannot claim that they are only obedient sheep, that they themselves do not decide anything, and that all responsibility lies exclusively with the shepherd, who will give the answer for everything. To think that way is disastrous, for a certain death awaits the sheep, not only when they do not follow the good shepherd and therefore are attacked by wolves, but also when they follow the evil shepherd. In conclusion, the Apostolic decrees offer the following advice, which is relevant at all times: “Therefore, it is necessary to run away from the shepherd-destroyers.”
True Christians are called not to be dumb sheep but rational ones, those who may discern clearly the voice of the True Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. And rational means Christians are responsible for their action or inaction.
All those who desire to build a new and better Christianity are false watchmen. All those who would have us lay aside the clear way indicated by the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers are false prophets and false shepherds. This is not limited to simply clergy but to any who are claiming to “speak in the name of the Lord,” and yet do so falsely (examples, which I’ve highlighted in the past include, “orthodoxy in dialogue,” “public orthodoxy,” those who recognize blatant schismatics such as in Ukraine, those who actively promote the pan-heresy of ecumenism, those who desire to use various circumstances to alter the mode of Orthodox worship and teaching – effectively making it not Orthodox -, and others in these veins). To such and to all the warning comes, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture … I will attend to you and your evil deeds, declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:1, 2).
The Lord Himself will repay each according to his deeds, “I will recompense, says the Lord” (cf. Heb. 10:30).
The vocation of true watchmen is not to innovate but rather to hold fast (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15), using the measuring rod – canon – of holy Tradition as the standard of warning, and thereby aiding in saving people from the sword. Anyone who clearly disregards this evident and God revealed standard is but a thief and robber (cf. Jn 10:8), and the blood of many shall be required of them.
May the Lord keep us all.