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The false prophets

At the end of His Sermon on the Mount the Lord warns the faithful against false prophets, comparing them to wolves in sheeps’ clothing. The "dogs" and "swine" the Lord just spoke about have a depraved way of life that is obvious; they can only be repellant, and are thus not as dangerous to believers as false prophets. False prophets present their lies as truth, and their rules of life as godly ones; one must be sensitive and wise in order to see the spiritual danger they represent.

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Mat. 7:15-23).

This comparison of false prophets to wolves posing as sheep was very convincing to the Jews listening to Christ, because their nation had suffered many ills at the hands of false prophets in the course of the great centuries of its history.

Against the backdrop of false prophets, the virtues of the true prophets were particularly obvious. True prophets were distinguished by unselfishness, obedience to God, fearless exposure of humans sins, profound meekness, love, strictness toward themselves and purity of life. They set for themselves the goal of drawing people to the Kingdom of Heaven, and were the creative and unifying beginning of the life of their nation. Though true prophets in their time were often rejected by the majority of the masses, and persecuted by people standing at the helm of power, their activity made society healthier. They inspired the best sons of the Hebrew nation to the life and feats of virtue, in a word – they lead to the glory of God. The activity of the true prophets did bring forth such good fruits, in which the faithful Jews of later generations rejoiced. They remembered the prophets Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisyius, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and others with gratitude.

The self-styled prophets, pursued completely different ways of acting as well as different goals — which were numerous. Because they avoided exposing sins, they were able to ingratiate themselves with people; this guaranteed them success among the masses and the favor of the powerful of this world. With promises of prosperity they lulled the national conscience to sleep, leading the society to moral degradation. At the time when true prophets did everything for the good and unity of the Kingdom of God, the false prophets sought personal glory and benefit. They did not shy from slandering true prophets and persecuting them. In the final analysis, their work served to destroy the nation. Such were the spiritual and social fruits of the activities of the false prophets. But the premature glory of the false prophets decayed faster than their mortal bodies, and the Jews of later generations remembered how their forefathers had succumbed to their guiles with shame. (The holy prophet Jeremiah complained bitterly about the false prophets who had destroyed the Jewish nation in his "Lamentations," 4:13).

During the periods of spiritual decline, when God sent true prophets to direct the Hebrews toward the good path, there appeared at the same time a great number of false prophets amid them. For example, particularly great numbers preached from the 8th to 6th centuries B.C., when the Israeli and Judean kingdoms were destroyed; they also appeared later — not long before the destruction of Jerusalem — in the 70’s A.D. In accordance with the predictions of the Saviour and the apostles, many false prophets will come before the end of the world; some of them will even perform amazing miracles and signs in nature, though false ones [see Mat. 24:11-24; 2 Pet. 2:1; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 19:20]. As in the Old Testament, false prophets caused much harm to the Church in the times of the New Testament as well. In the Old Testament period they accelerated the process of moral decay by lulling the nation’s conscience to sleep; in the New Testament period, they broke off branches from the great tree of the Kingdom of God by leading people away from the truth and by sowing heresies. The contemporary abundance of all sorts of possible sects and "denominations" are, without doubt, the fruit of the activity of the false prophets of these times. All sects disappear sooner or later, and others arise in their place, but only the true Church of Christ will remain until the end of the world. The Lord spoke of the destiny of the false prophets: "Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Mat. 15:13).

It must be clarified that it would be an exaggeration to consider every modern pastor or non-orthodox preacher a false prophet. Undoubtedly, among religious activists of other faiths there are many truly believing, deeply sacrificing and decent people. They belong to one or another branch of Christianity not by an objective choice, but by inheritance. False prophets are, specifically, the founders of non-orthodox religious trends. Modern television "miracle-workers," diabolical charmers in a state of exaltation, conceited preachers presenting themselves as God’s chosen, and all those who transform religion into a weapon for personal gain can be called false prophets.

In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord warns His followers about false prophets. He teaches them not to trust their external attractiveness and eloquence, but to pay attention to the "fruits" of their activity: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." The "evil fruit" or deeds are not necessarily to be understood as sins or evil deeds, which false prophets can skillfully conceal. The evil fruits of the activities of false prophets, common to all of them, are pride and the forcible separation of people from the Kingdom of God.

A false prophet cannot hide his pride from the sensitive heart of a believing person. One saint said that the devil can show any form of virtue except one — meekness. Like wolf’s teeth from under a sheepskin, so does pride show in the words, movements and glances of a false prophet. False prophets seeking popularity love show, to perform "healings" or "exorcisms" of demons before a large audience, to amaze listeners with brave thoughts, to drink from public exhilaration. Their performances always end with large monetary collections. How distant this cheap zeal and self-assuredness is from the meek and humble image of our Saviour and His Apostles!

The Lord further presents how the false prophets will point to their miracles: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" About which miracles do they speak? Can a false prophet perform a miracle? No! But the Lord sends His help according to the faith of those who ask, not by the merits of those presenting themselves as miracle workers. False prophets ascribe to themselves the deeds which the Lord performed out of His compassion toward people. It is also possible that the false prophets, in their self-delusion, sincerely believed that they performed the miracles. In any case, the Lord will reject them at the Last Judgment, saying: "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity!"

So, though false prophets weakened the Church, taking away careless sheep, true children of the Church should not be troubled by the sparseness of people, or the apparent weakness of the true Church, because the Lord gives preference to the small number of people preserving the truth, and to the many lost: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!" and He promises His faithful His Godly protection from spiritual wolves, saying: "And I will give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (Lk. 12:32; John. 10:28).

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