The Source of Sin is Within

Our Lord Jesus made it clear that sin comes from within our hearts. Jesus tells us that the food we eat enters the stomach, not the heart, so the food we eat doesn’t make us unclean.

Fasting from food doesn’t cleanse the heart, but fasting can allow us to become more clearly aware of what is in our hearts.  Food itself doesn’t cause us to sin.  If we consider the Lord’s words we realize we can’t even blame Satan for our sins, for the sins come from within us.  They don’t originate outside of our self.   Spiritual warfare has to take place in and for our own hearts.

And Jesus said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”  (Mark 7:20-23)

So, St. John Cassian reminds us that even another person can’t really cause us to sin.  Blaming another because “YOU make me angry” is failing to acknowledge the anger is already an evil in our hearts.  It is more honest to acknowledge, “I get angry when….”  Others don’t cause our anger, but they can cause us to reveal what is in our hearts.

angrycrowd

So Cassian says:

“A man can be harmed by another only through the causes of the passions which lie within himself. It is for this reason that God, the Creator of all and the Doctor of men’s souls, who alone has accurate knowledge of the soul’s wounds, does not tell us to forsake the company of men; He tells us to root out the causes of evil within us and to recognize that the soul’s health is achieved not by a man’s separating himself from his fellows, but by his living the ascetic life in the company of holy men.” (The Philokalia: Volume 1, p 87)

Holiness, like evil, is found within our own hearts.   We have to bring it out in our relationships with others.  Avoiding other people will not help us become holy.  Being in the company of holy people can help awaken the holiness God has planted within each of us – the image of God which is natural to each of us and which is imprinted on our souls.  We do become like the people we associate and identify with.

The purpose of fasting is to help “stir the pot” which is our heart – to help bring to the surface what really  is within each of us.  We can then confront the passions and sins in us or bring out the holiness which God has endowed us with.

Notice in icons – the halo around the saints emanates from the holy person.  It doesn’t descend on them from above.  The icons show holiness is revealed in and through the lives, the very being, of the saints.

This is the spiritual goal for us all.

The Spiritual Miser

The Gospel lesson of Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.

Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.  So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.  Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. Where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

St. Mother Maria Skobtsova (d. 1945) writes:

“Spiritual egocentrism replaces the goal of true asceticism. It cuts off such a person from the universe and makes him into a spiritual miser – and then this miserliness quickly begins to develop and grow, because he begins to notice that the more he acquires, the emptier his soul becomes. This occurs because of a strange law of the spiritual life, whereby everything that is not distributed, everything that is saved, everything that is not lovingly given away somehow degenerates, becomes corrupt, is consumed in flames.

The talent is taken away from the one who buries it and is given to the one who will lend it at interest. Further accumulation makes one more and more empty. It leads to dryness, to spiritual numbness, to the complete degeneration and destruction of one’s spiritual essence. A unique process of self-poisoning by spiritual values takes place.”

(Essential Writings, pp 172-173)

A Cure for Nightmares

The 4th Century monk Evagrius teaches that doing charity work can calm the mind and rid it of nightmares.  Quoting Proverbs he writes:

If you sit down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. And you will not be afraid of alarm coming upon you, nor of approaching attacks of the ungodly (Proverbs 3:24-25):

By this we know that compassion dispels the terrifying visions that befall us at night.

Meekness,

angerlessness,

patience, and

everything that is able to pacify the aroused irascibility, have the same effect, since these visions of terror tend to arise from the provocation of irascibility. […]

[One of these fathers] delivered a certain brother from the disquieting specters by which he was visited in the night by ordering him to minister to the sick and to fast while he did it. When asked about his rationale from employing this procedure, he replied:

‘Such afflictions are extinguished by no other remedy so well as by mercy.’”

(Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread by Gabriel Bunge, pp 91, 90)

Free Will and Seeing the Light

“Light does not fail because men have blinded themselves; it remains, with its own properties, while the blinded are plunged in darkness through their own fault…

Therefore, all who revolt from the Father’s light, and who transgress the law of liberty, have removed themselves through their own fault, since they were created free and self-determining.”

(St. Irenaeus of Lyons in The Faith: Understanding Orthodox Christianity by Clark Carlton, p 86)

The Mystery of Seeing the Invisible God

“God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” (Genesis 1:5)

“You make darkness, and it is night…” (Psalm 104:20)

“The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”  (Psalm 139:12)

Unlike the idols of the nations which have eyes but do not see (Psalm 135:16), the God of Israel, who has no eyes, is able to see and understand all that takes place on earth.  God who makes eyes for all creatures clearly sees everything but is not dependent on eyes.  For God is able to see through the thickest darkness and is never blinded by the darkness or the light.  We have to be careful when we apply the concept of sight to God who does not see as we do, though God may see what we see.

Darkness is not antithetical to God, since darkness is part of creation and is made by God to serve God’s own purposes.

And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.   (Exodus 20:21)

God who is light is described as abiding in the darkness.  God can be found in the thickest darkness, and, so Solomon realizes, even prefers to dwell in darkness.  The Holy of Holies in the temple was built with no windows to respect the invisible God’s preference for darkness.   Those who have eyes which can see physically have no advantage over the blind when it comes to seeing God.  Darkness is the perfect medium for seeing the invisible God.

Then Solomon said, “The LORD has set the sun in the heavens, but has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell in for ever.”  (1 Kings 8:12-13)

 

In the midst of this talk about darkness and light, we come to realize they have a different meaning for God who is both invisible and capable of seeing despite the darkness.   Light and darkness mean something for us that they don’t mean for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Spiritually speaking the words light and darkness can only illumine our understanding of created things for they cannot directly reveal God to us.  Yet, in the darkness, in the mystery, God is revealed.

St. Gregory of Nyssa gives us a theology of darkness when he writes the Life of Moses:

“‘What now is the meaning of Moses’ entry into the darkness and of the vision of God that he enjoyed in it?…The sacred text is here teaching us that…as the soul makes progress, and by a great and more perfect concentration comes to appreciate what the knowledge of truth is, the more it approaches this vision, and so much the more does it see that the divine nature is invisible. It thus leaves all surface appearances, not only those that can be grasped by the senses but also those which the mind itself seems to see, and it keeps on going deeper until by the operation of the spirit it penetrates the invisible and incomprehensible, and it is there that it sees God.

The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off by the darkness of incomprehensibility. Thus that profound evangelist, John, who penetrated into this luminous darkness, tells us that no man hath seen God at any time, teaching us by this negation that no man – indeed, no created intellect – can attain a knowledge of God.’ (St. Gregory of Nyssa).

Now it is clear that the point here is not that supernatural truths are relatively obscure for the natural man; for Gregory presupposes that the soul has already been enlightened by grace, and is discussing its further progress in contemplation. After learning all that can be known of God, the soul discovers the limits of this knowledge; and this discovery is an advance, because now there is an awareness of the divine transcendence and incomprehensibility. We have then arrived at a negative, ‘apophatic’ theology. For we have now an authentic experience, a true vision. And the darkness is a positive reality that helps us to know God – that is why it is called luminous.” (Jean Danielou, From Glory to Glory, pp 29-30)

 

Self-will Vs. God’s Will

“Abba Poemen said, ‘The will of man is a brass wall between him and God and a stone of stumbling.

When a man renounces it, he is also saying to himself, “By my God, I can leap over the wall.” (Ps. 18.29)  If a man’s will is in line with what is right, then he can really labor,’  […]  Abraham, the disciple of Abba Agathon, questioned Abba Poemen saying, ‘How do the demons fight against you?  They do not fight against us at all as long as we are doing our own will.

For our own wills become the demons, and it is these which attack us in order that we may fulfill them. But if you want to see who the demons really fight against, it is against Moses and those who are like him.’”  (Poemen in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pp 174, 176)

The Spiritual Gift of Listening

An old proverb says, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would listen more and talk less.”

“In I Kings 3:9 Solomon is portrayed as asking the Lord for a ‘listening heart’ that he may be able to judge the people of God and ‘distinguish right from wrong.’ He receives the gift of wisdom, and immediately the famous episode of the two harlots is narrated.”

(Roland Murphy, The Tree of Life, p 2)

Flies, Bees and Seeing One’s Own Sin

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) writes:

“Let us not bite and chew others’ wounds; let us not imitate flies, but emulate bees: flies settle on wounds, bees fly onto flowers.

Hence it is the latter who form honeycombs, whereas the former carry diseases to the bodies they alight on; they are loathed, while the bees are desirable and welcome. Let us, therefore, have our soul fly over the meadow of the virtue of holy people, and constantly stimulate the fragrance of their good deeds instead of biting the wounds of the neighbor.

If, however, we should see some people doing the latter, let us silence them, stopping their mouths with the fear of punishment, reminding them of their kinship with their brethren. But if they do not respond to any of this, let us refer to them as flies in the hope that the reproach of this name may make them desist from their wicked occupation, so that they may rid themselves of this evil pursuit and devote all their time to studying their own vices.” (Old Testament Homilies: Vol. 3, Translated by Robert Charles Hill, p 51)

The Blind Man Healed at Jericho

The Gospel lesson of Luke 18:35-43 has a blind beggar petitioning Jesus for mercy.  The blind man is given the gift of sight by Christ.

Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) writes:

“We must believe that our Savior’s miracles were truly performed, and that they are revelations as well; his works show us one thing by their power, and tell us another mystically. We do not know the historical identity of the blind man who was sitting by the wayside as Jesus drew near to Jericho, but we know who it is he mystically represents. The blind man is the human race. Driven from the joys of paradise in our first parents, and ignorant of the brightness of divine light, our race experienced the darkness of rejection. Yet we are enlightened by the presence of our Redeemer, so that we can already behold the joys of inner light through our desire for them, and can direct our footsteps, our good works, in the way of life.

The blind man is described as sitting by the wayside, and also as begging. Jesus himself told us: I am the way.

Those who are ignorant of the brightness of eternal light are blind. If they already believe in their Redeemer they are sitting by the wayside. If they believe, and acknowledge the blindness of their hearts, and if they beg to receive the light of truth, they are sitting by the wayside and begging. If any of you recognize the darkness of your blindness, if any of you understand that you lack the light of truth, then cry out from the bottom of your hearts, cry out with your thoughts, cry out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Be Friends of God: Spiritual Readings from Gregory the Great, pp 23-24)

Praying Without Words: Purity of Heart

“He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.”  (Proverbs 22:11)

“Purity of heart constitutes prayer more than do all the prayers that are uttered  out aloud, and silence united to a mind that is sincere is better than the loud voice of someone crying out.” (Aphrahat in The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, p 5)

“Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.”  (Psalm 73:1)

St. Herman of Alaska

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)

St. Julianna the Merciful