Is it Acceptable for the People of God to Lie?

1 April 2014

Before we condemn people too easily for lying, let’s take a look at some cases from Church tradition where lies were told out of charity.

For a start, there are the midwives of the Jews in Egypt: when Pharaoh became concerned about the increase in the numbers of Jews, he ordered the Jewish midwives to put any new-born children to death. But they feared God and refused to comply. So male children continued to be born to the Jews. When Pharaoh discovered this, he called them to account. They answered that, supposedly, the Hebrew women gave birth before the midwives were able to get there and so they weren’t able to do away with the new-born males. As the Old Testament tells us, the outcome was that they pleased God and prospered in their lives.

The second incident doesn’t have any immediate connection to any lie that was told, but more with the suppression of the truth. From the Sayings of the Fathers we learn that when a monk at the skete where Abba Ammoun lived introduced a woman into his cell, the other monks were scandalized and went to Ammoun to complain. He requested that they all go together to the cell of the fallen brother and to investigate the basis for their complaint on the spot. And this they did. As soon as the blessed Elder entered the cell, he noticed a large earthenware vessel and realized that this was where the monk had hidden the woman. So he sat on it and asked the brothers to search the rest of the cell. Out of respect for the Elder, no-one asked him to get up so that they could search the jar. Naturally, nothing was found. He therefore dismissed the brothers and advised them to be more careful. He merely told the monk not to sin and then left.



The last instance concerns Saint Dionysios on Zakynthos. We know from his Life that someone who was being hounded by an army detail asked for his help. When the saint asked the reason why he was being hunted, the man revealed that he’d killed someone. And the man he’d killed happened to be the beloved brother of the Saint. Despite his deep sorrow, the saint hid the murderer and when the detachment arrived, he misled them, saying he hadn’t seen the person they were looking for. After some time had passed, he also helped the fugitive murderer to escape.