When someone speaks of God and His Providence without respect or without honoring Him, he is blaspheming, and if one speaks disrespectfully of holy items or of clergy, he is committing sacrilege. Both blasphemy and sacrilege are grave sins against the third commandment: Do not pronounce the Name of the Lord Thy God in vain. Unfortunately, this sin is very prevalent.
A Christian should speak of God with a sense of awe. Sacred things and people should be treated with respect and honor. One who does differently is blaspheming and committing sacrilege. What a coarse heart has one who derides and puts down God, one's tenderest Father, one's greatest Benefactor? Even a dog does not bite his benefactor. Thus, a blasphemer places himself lower than the animals.
This is so harmful and dangerous. Not a single sin pertains so directly to God as blasphemy. Therefore it is often followed by immediate and severe punishment. In one spiritual book it is related that twice the Mother of God warned a comedian who derided her before the people. After this, appearing a third time, she pointed to his arms and legs, which lost their function at once. He became stiff, like a stump.
During the reign of Julian the Apostate, his envoy came to Antioch in order to rob a rich, beautiful church. After defiling the altar table, he ordered that the sacred items be thrown down on the floor. He sat on them and uttered the most vile and blasphemous words against Jesus Christ. Suddenly, he became ill with a frightful disease. Worms appeared on his body and began to crawl inside him. Medical help was of no use and this enemy of God died in great torment. "Then all understood," writes the church chronicler, "that this illness was sent by God as a punishment for the sin of sacrilege." (The story of Sozomen, Book 5, chapter 3)
Children! Many of you honor and respect God and His Word. Yet there are those who ridicule church ritual; who speak disrespectfully of church items: relics, the cross, the Gospel, clergy. This is so sinful and frightening.
A peasant from the village of Podsosenia often got drunk and allowed himself jokes and mockings about church. No advice would make him stop. The long-suffering Lord finally put an end to this. This is how it happened. The peasant was present at a reception after his niece's wedding. Wanting to make the guests laugh, he got drunk and asked to be placed in an old tub, as into a coffin. He asked that the young ones carry him around as if he were a corpse. Then, putting on a soiled robe, he approached the holy icons and read the epistle and the Gospel. After this and more jokes he fell on the floor, as if someone had beaten him down. The guests, not suspecting anything, wanted to tickle him, but he asked not to be disturbed and to be sent home. His limbs became paralyzed, and he could not move his head. The witnesses to this had much trouble getting him home and he died that very night.
Knowing this, children, do not speak of holy items and individuals, as well as the practices of the Orthodox Church without due respect, or joke inappropriately and sinfully about them, remembering that this is a great sin before God and will not be left without punishment from on high. Translated by Maria Naumenko from Pastyrskiye Besedy s Det'mi, Moscow 1997 (reprinted from a 1901 edition).[OA/_private/oabot.htm]