I Do Not Know

As One day, some of the old men came to visit Abba Antony.  Among them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man proposed a text from Scripture and asked them, beginning with the youngest, to explain it.  Each one offered his opinion to the degree that he could.  But to each of them, the old man said: “You did not understand it.”  Lastly, he turned to Abba Joseph, saying: “How would you explain this saying?”  Abba Joseph replied: “I do not know.”  Then Abba Antony said: “Truly, Abba Joseph has found the way; for, he said: ‘I do not know.’”[1]

i dont know

Reading this story should put all of us at ease and relieves us from much pressure.  Somehow, we feel that we have to answer every question as if we are some form of a human encyclopedia.  We even feel compelled to give driving directions to someone who is lost while we are not sure how accurate these directions are.  In the story above St. Antony, commended Abba Joseph for answering with ‘I do not know’.  Although Abba Joseph is the oldest among the other men, he did not feel pressured to answer the question.  To be able to answer with ‘I do not know’
is something commendable for everyone and in every area of life.  Somehow, we feel that we have to form some kind of an opinion related to our professional careers, politics, sports, finance,
the bible, and the church.  Abba Joseph, in the story above, could have probably formulated some sort of an opinion about the text proposed by Abba Antony, but he chose ‘I do not know’,
probably out of humility.  Pressured by the desire to answer, lest we found to be ignorant about
a subject, we sometimes form uneducated and premature answers without any foundation.
This approach is in many times, very harmful especially in the spiritual matters. Faced with
a question; laymen, church board members, servants, deacons, priests, bishops and all the hierarch of the church should, before answering, consider the scriptures, the canons of the church,
the church fathers’ writing on the subject matter, and of course the overall church tradition.
No one is supposed to be omniscient; opinions without studying the subject matter carefully could cause much damage to many people, confusion and a loss of trust in the speaker.

The bible clearly warns us from being wise in our own eyes (Pro 3:7).  In the hierarch of
an organization, the higher an individual is, the more careful one ought to be with his/her own words.  When it comes to spiritual matters, we should carefully consider the opinion of the church fathers.  It is clear from the history and the life of the church that the opinion of one individual
is not the opinion of the church at large, but rather it is always the opinion of the synod or
the council that defines the faith and its practice.  This is very clear from the context of the first council of Jerusalem and its decree.  We read in the book of Acts, that after the Apostles and
the elders of the church met and discussed the issue of circumcision they came up with an official statement to express what they have collectively agreed upon and how the church will practice it.

I also believe that organization members should not expect that anyone individual should have the answer to every question.  Unanswered questions are just a room for research and study. Unanswered questions are a room for prayers.  Unanswered questions could mean that maybe God wants it to be unanswered.  We don’t claim to know God fully, and hence we shouldn’t expect that any one individual would have the answer for every question. Let us all not be quick to speak but rather let us consider all factors before jumping into answers. Let us love knowledge, the spirit of studying, let us pray before answering and let us be willing to say ‘I do not know’.

[1] A story from the Paradise of the Fathers.

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