Sin is an Offense to God

St. Nicholas Cabasilas points out that some people only hate sin because they don’t want to be punished for doing the sin – if there was no punishment for wickedness, they would gladly do evil things. He says that our goal as Christians is to love God, which means we want to do God’s will, not to avoid punishment but because we never want to offend God or be separated from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“Just as he who hates wicked men cannot properly be called a hater of mankind, so to feel abhorrence of sin merely because it brings punishment on its perpetrator rather than because it conflicts with God’s laws is not to shun wickedness itself but merely to flee from its punishment. It is quite clear that were it possible to sin without peril to oneself such men would not flee from evil.

But those whose affection for God exalts them to a philosophical life honour the law because they love its Giver. When they have offended God they condemn themselves and blame themselves for the sin itself and bewail it, not because they were cheated of the rewards of virtue but because their will was not in harmony with God.” 

(The Life in Christ, pp. 209-210)

 

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Two of Every Sort of Animal

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The story of Noah taking the animals in the ark mentions at one point taking two of each kind of animal with him.

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But the Noah narrative is actually made of two versions of the story woven together in one tapestry and makes no effort to harmonize the two versions.  The other version mentions taking seven pairs of clean animals and birds.

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When the animals follow Noah into the ark as if he is the chief shepherd to all animals, it is the first time in Scripture that the animals are said to follow the dominion of humans.

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The story portrays humans and animals in a harmonious relationship with humans having proper dominion over the animals.

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Inside the ark itself the story suggests another paradise with humans and animals living peaceably together, though outside the ark the raging waters will threaten death to all.

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“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

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Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive.

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Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.”  (Genesis 6:19-21)

The ark was to be a protective storehouse of plants and animals that God would keep safe from the chaotic torrential downpour that would inundate the world.  As destructive as the deluge might be, God was preserving all the species on earth.

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What a menagerie of animals was brought together – just like in Paradise.

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“… they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind,

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and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.

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And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in. ” (Genesis 7:14-16)

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All of the above photos were taken at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  You can view all of my photos from there at SDZSP 2018 .   Photos from a previous visit are at SDZSP 2012.

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The Publican and Me

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One of the lessons of the Gospel Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14) is that humility is a virtue needed as a precondition for further spiritual growth.  It isn’t a goal that we strive for and hope to achieve in some distant future after years of Christian maturation, but it is part of the foundation we need for further growth.

6995565225_d498f6e3a7_mThink about Moses, that mighty hero of the Old Testament who defied the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt and led a slave rebellion against the Egyptian Empire.  God speaks to Moses face to face the Scriptures tell us (Exodus 33:11)and God even backs down when challenged by Moses who intercedes for Israel.   Yet, God calls Moses the most humble man who ever lived (Numbers 12:3).  Certainly, we see in Moses that being humble does not mean lacking courage.  But it is Moses own humility which God finds so virtuous in Moses.  Moses was not arrogant, did not seek things for personal gain, and served both God and the people faithfully even when the people and God were displeased with him.  In all of this, Moses is a Christ-like figure.  But humility was the virtue at Moses’ heart.

And Jesus Himself tells the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee to extol the virtue of humility.  We’ve all been told endless times that the Pharisee in the story is the religious zealot.  He does everything he boasts of doing.  He is not lying nor exaggerating but telling the truth about his piety.  He is laying claim to the reward he assumes God must bestow upon him for his virtue.  The Publican is the notorious sinner of the parable, who admits before God that he is a sinner and begs God’s mercy.  As even St. John Chrysostom notes it is not particularly humble to admit you are a sinner when in fact you are one – you are just acknowledging the truth of the matter.  The Publican has little to commend himself to God, and yet it is he not the pious and self-righteous Pharisee that is favored by God because God rejects the pride of the Pharisee and embraces the humility of the Publican.  The Publican goes beyond admitting to the truth and accepting the judgment that is laid on him.  Therein lies his humility.  He cannot lay claim to any reward for virtue, but opens himself to the mercy and love of God.

Now we can retell the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee so we perfectly understand it by putting our self in the Parable in the place of the Pharisee and then picking whomever we consider to be the most loathsome, despicable kind of sinner for the Publican.

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Almost everyone has a kind of person or sinner they particularly despise and wish evil on.  When I visit inmates in prison, the murderers despise the child molesters.  Everyone seems able to imagine a sinner worse than themselves, someone else who is the foremost of sinners and perhaps beyond God’s grace.

One inmate I visited in a prison told me a story which really was his living out the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.  He was in prison for having been involved in the manslaughter of his pregnant girlfriend and the baby she was carrying.  One day in prison, he learned he was being assigned a new table place at meals – directly across from a child molester.  He despised child molesters.  He was seething with anger that he would now have to sit across from this pedophile at every meal.  This ruined not only that day but threatened to ruin every meal he would eat.  As he sat at table with his food in front of him, stewing in his anger and hatred, the child molester sat across from him, and not even looking up, he humbly bowed his head and quietly said grace over his food:  “God, thank you for the food you have given me and for providing for me every day though I am a terrible sinner living in prison where I deserve to be.  Forgive me, Lord, for my sins are many.”   Sitting across from this man, shame came over the inmate.  For he had started eating without giving thanks to God or saying any prayer, and found himself consumed with hatred.  He felt total embarrassment that he was being so judgmental because he felt himself to be a Christian, and yet here was this man praying and confessing his sins at the table while all he did was internally rage with anger.   It is easy to be the Pharisee.

So, now retell the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee.  Who is the Publican in your life – the liar, the murderer,  the child molester,  the homosexual, the criminal, the adulterer, the thief, the user of pornography, the drug pusher, the abuser, the angry, the greedy, the narcissist, the obese, the person who doesn’t use their turn signal, the driver using their cell phone?   Who is the kind of person you really despise?  Now tell the parable:

7305699938_68e888fb39_mTwo people went to our church to pray.  I was one, and the other was . . . (name the worst sinner you can imagine – whether by name or by sin they commit). . .

I went to the front of the church and stood before the icon and prayed:  God I thank you that I am not like those who sin against You.  I fast most of the days during Lent, I pretty often remember my prayers, I donate some money to the church and to charity.  I am especially thankful that I am not like … (name that sinner or kind of sinner you hate the most) because he/she commits the most horrible kind of sin.

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The … (name that sinner or kind of sinner you hate the most) … knelt in the back of our church, bowing his head before God, wringing his hands and quietly weeping in his heart, he prayed, “God be merciful to me the sinner.”

 

Jesus said:  “I tell you, this person went down to his/her house justified rather than the first; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:14)

The Sin of Pride

In preparation for Great Lent, we Orthodox are asked to consider the virtue of humility and the value of repentance for finding one’s way to God.  So today’s Gospel, Luke 18:10-14, gives us the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

St John Cassian offers us a description of how we can tell if the sin of pride is at work in us.  We can see in his description many words which describe what today we might call a narcissist, a shallow loud mouth, the stubborn uncooperative person, the bully, the incorrigible.  St. John says:

By the following indications, then, that carnal pride of which we have spoken is made manifest.

First of all, a person’s talking will be loud and his silence bitter;

his joy will be marked by noisy and excessive laughter,

his seriousness by irrational sadness,

his replies by rancor,

his speech by glibness,

and his words will burst out helter-skelter for a heed-less heart.

He will be devoid of patience,

without love,

quick to inflict abuse,

slow to accept it,

reluctant to obey except when his desire and will anticipate the matter,

implacable in receiving exhortations,

weak in restraining his own will,

very unyielding when submitting to others,

constantly fighting on behalf of his own opinions but never acquiescing or giving in to those of others.

And so, having become unreceptive to salutary advice, he relies on his own judgement in every respect rather than on that of the elders.” (The Institutes, pp. 271-272)

While we might imagine this is a description of many in positions of power, Cassian is talking about each of us.  In Lent, it is time to look at my self and my own faults, for the only person I can change is me.  Recognizing faults in others is most helpful when it teaches us about our self.

Imitate the Publican

Amma Syncletica teaches us to imitate the Publican not the Pharisee in our piety and behavior.

She also said, “Imitate the publican, and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee. Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water.” ( The Forgotten Desert Mothers, p. 52)

She is, of course referring to the parable of Jesus found in Luke 18:10-14 –

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Chrysostom: The Many Blessings of Baptism

St. John Chrysostom while addressing newly baptized Christians, tells them there are 10 blessings received at baptism:

“Let us say again: Blessed be God, who alone does wonderful things, who does all things and transforms them.  Before yesterday you were captives, but now  you are free citizens of the Church; lately you lived in the shame of your sins, but now you live in freedom and justice.  You are not only free, but also holy; not only holy, but also righteous; not only righteous, but also sons; not only sons, but also heirs; not only heirs, but also brothers of Christ;  not only brothers of Christ, but also joint heirs; not only joint heirs, but also members; not only members, but also the temple; not only the temple, but also instruments of the Spirit. 

Blessed be God, who alone does wonderful things!  You have seen how numerous are the gifts of baptism.  Although many men think that the only gift it confers is the remission of sins, we have counted its honors to the number of ten.  It is on this account that we baptize even infants, although they are sinless, that they may be given the further gifts of sanctification, justice, filial adoption, and inheritance, that they may be brothers and members of Christ, and become dwelling places for the Spirit.”  

(DAILY READINGS FROM THE WRITINGS OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM,  pp 15-16)

Optimism

The 15 January 2018 issue of TIME had a series of essays from optimists looking at the world today.  There were two quotes, taken from the longer essays, that for different reasons stood out to me.  First from Malala Yousafzai , a Pakastani who advocates for education for women and who survived a murder attempt on her life by the Taliban:

“Earlier this year, someone asked me, ‘After everything you’ve been through and everything you’ve seen, how do you keep from being hopeless?’ After talking for a moment about all the things to be grateful for in my own life, I said, ‘I think it’s pointless to be hopeless.  If you are hopeless, you waste your present and your future.'”

On a lighter note, comedian Trevor Noah says:

  “People always ask, Is the world getting better or is it getting worse?  . . .  I’ve come to find one of the reasons I believe the world is getting better is because we have access to information on how bad the world actually is.”

The Lord is Not Like Us

“No man of himself can know what God’s love is unless he be taught of the Holy Spirit; but God’s love is known in our Church through the Holy Spirit, and so we speak of this love.

The sinful soul which does not know the Lord fears death, thinking that the Lord will not forgive her sins. But this is because the soul does not know the Lord and how greatly He loves us. But if people knew this, then no man would despair, for the Lord not only forgives but rejoices exceedingly at the return of a sinner. Though you be at death’s door, believe firmly that the moment  you ask, you will receive forgiveness.

The Lord is not like us. He is passing meek, and merciful, and good; and when the soul knows Him she marvels greatly, and exclaims: ‘O what a Lord is ours!’

The Holy Spirit gave our Church to know how great is God’s mercy.”

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 363)

How unlike us humans is our God.  Human may never forgive or forget and can keep angry all their lives, but not so with the Lord.  Humans demand retributive justice and often want to treat people as they deserve, or even worse.  On the other hand, God, so the psalmist tells us is not like us.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger for ever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.   (Psalm 103:8-10)

God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom Not of This World

“It’s just what Christ was trying to say. If his aim had been to rule the world here, to rule this dust which he created, he would have fought. He would have brought armies to fight against those who crucified him. And as he apparently didn’t fight and as he apparently was defeated, he was actually fighting back and winning the battle, but not here, not over this dust, but over the kingdom, the eternal kingdom of peace.

…We might die and our families might die and our culture and civilization might die, but if we die in the name of Christ, we have won. Whereas, if we win, abandoning Christ and his commandments, if we win and rule this dust at that expense, we have, in fact, lost.

…The world does not need more soldiers; the world needs more saints. There is no question whether you or I should fight, because we are fighting, even against our will. We are all involved in this battle. We are all soldiers, but we can be the type of soldier that fights for a kingdom over dust and become a warrior, a terrorist, who [is] any kind of person who kills another person; or we can become the kind of warrior that fights for the kingdom to come, that fights for the kingdom of love, that fights for the kingdom of peace, which Christ promised to all those who make peace. Let’s pray for peace, for all of us, everywhere. Amen.”    (Fr. Seraphim Aldea, In Communion , Summer 2017, p. 8-9)

The Sanctity of Human Life (2018)

A number of Church Fathers thought that the main human problem is not that we sin, for if sin had been our main problem, God had already appointed repentance for sin.   The Law of the Old Covenant would have been good enough for dealing with sin.  Humans could repent, perhaps offer the appropriate sacrifice and be done with the problem.  For many Fathers, the real human problem was corruption – death, we had become mortal beings as a result of sin. This was something that repentance could not undo or fix. Repentance itself was not enough to overcome the corruption – the fact that we died as a result of sin.  And they understood that it was not sin that we inherited, for sin was something committed by the will and not by our nature.  Corruption, mortality had entered into human nature and now was passed on from one generation to the next.

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It was that our nature had been corrupted which required salvation.  That humanity had become corrupt, mortal, made God’s own incarnation necessary.  God took on human flesh in order to heal it.  And God took on death in the flesh in order to overcome death/corruption/mortality.  The death of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, meant the defeat of death and the salvation of the human race.

In baptism, we humans die and rise with Christ, thus baptism was our way to participate in the salvation which Christ offered humanity.  We “put on Christ” as St. Paul says – we put on Christ’s resurrected humanity so that we too can defeat death and rise from the dead.

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This is also why we baptize infants. Baptism is not only for the remission of sins. We die with Christ in baptism in order to rise with Christ in the resurrection. Baptism is to overcome death and corruption.   St. John Chrysostom said those who think baptism is just for the remission of sins misunderstand baptism.  As we read in Acts 19:3-6, baptism only for the remission of sins was what John the Forerunner offered, but Jesus offered something more in baptism:

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.  

The baptism in Christ gives us salvation from corruption, it offers us eternal life.  As Chrysostom notes, Infants have not sinned, they are sinless. We baptize them not because they have sinned but because they are subject to death and corruption. We baptize them so they too can rise to life after death.  Even if they haven’t sinned, they will die, for they have inherited human corruption.

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Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:14-17)

It is our understanding of death, corruption, as being the real enemy of humanity that causes us to oppose abortion. Abortion is inflicting death and corruption on a human being who has not sinned – an innocent, sinless human whom we by abortion condemn to an unrighteous death.

Again, we can think about Chrysostom’s comment in which he says, our warfare doesn’t make the living dead, but makes the dead to live.

A human is a composite being consisting of soul, body and spirit. The body is also part of who I am, or who you are.  The corruption of the body, death, is destroying “me” – you and I.  God brought us from non-existence into being and death wants to return a human to non-existence by destroying the human body.

It is this thinking that leads us to oppose abortion, but also tells us why we should not use our body for sin.  The body is part of who you are. If you sin, you unite yourself, your body to that which is ungodly, to death itself.  We should never do that because our bodies were meant to be temples of the Holy Spirit.

If we Christians over focus on “sin” as being the main or only human problem, we can easily miss why we consider human life to be sacred.  God is at work in us to save us from death and to give us life in abundance.