Giving Satan Opportunity

33268195933_661cfa9dcc_nAs we come to the end of Great Lent, we realize that it is easy to give Satan opportunity to enter into our lives and tempt us away from Christ.  It can happen so naturally and mundanely that it has occurred before we realize what we have done.  We turn against those around us because we have lost sight of Christ and we come to believe falsely that “my” will is the most important thing in the world, and I become willing to sacrifice everyone around me to defend and preserve my self will.   In doing this we come to the fact that when we no longer are willing to let all we do be done in love for others (1 Corinthians 16:14), we have lost Christ.   If we have lost Christ, we no longer have anything to say to other Christians.

Whenever we become obsessed by some past event in which we perceive that we have been wronged, we give the devil ample opportunity to lead us toward greater temptation. We forget that our warfare is not with each other! We are to engage in spiritual warfare against the Enemy of our salvation and his willing hosts, the demons. When we remember wrongs, we fall prey to the Father of Lies and engage in combat with our fellow brothers and sisters.   (Joseph David Huneycutt, Defeating Sin: Overcoming Our Passions and Changing Forever, Kindle Loc. 924-27)

38195829935_4831a43b3b_nThe antidote for Christians to this sinful self-will is Christ Himself.   “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  In order for Christ to become human, He emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-7).  In order for  us to become fully human, we need also to empty ourselves and open our hearts to Christ abiding in us.   Here we realize that “the heart” of which the fathers speak isn’t the organ that pumps blood in our bodies, but refers to the spiritual reality that every person is capable of being a temple for God, or a dwelling place for Satan.  The choice is ours.

Understanding these things, enter within yourself by keeping watch over your thoughts, and scrutinize closely your intellect, captive and slave to sin as it is. Then discover, still more deeply within you than this, the serpent that nestles in the inner chambers of your soul and destroys you by attacking the most sensitive aspects of your soul. For truly the heart is an immeasurable abyss. If you have destroyed that serpent, have cleansed yourself of all inner lawlessness, and have expelled sin, you may boast in God of your purity; but if not, you should humble yourself because you are still a sinner and in need, and ask Christ to come to you on account of your secret sins.

5445024975_2374e497dc_n

The whole Old and New Testament speaks of purity, and everyone, whether Jew or Greek, should long for purity even though not all can attain it. Purity of heart can be brought about only by Jesus; for He is authentic and absolute Truth, and without this Truth it is impossible to know the truth or to achieve salvation. (St Symeon Metaphrastis, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 33655-64)

This is why we prayed daily throughout Great Lent:  Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.

Advertisements

Obedience is Better Than Asceticism

Photo by Seth Bobosh

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  (1 Corinthians 13:2-3)

As we move through the second week of our Lenten sojourn, we are reminded that if we are not acting in love or if we are not growing in love than our Lenten discipline, no matter what heights of ascetical self-denial we attain, are in vain.  The purpose of Lent is to control the passions and sin, not just to strictly change our diets.  Among the sayings that come to us from desert monastics are the words of Amma Syncletica. 

She also said, ‘As long as we are in the monastery, obedience is preferable to asceticism. The one teaches pride, the other humility.’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 234)

Asceticism can become a source of pride as we compare ourselves to how others are keeping or not keeping the food fast.  Or, even as we compare how much better we are doing this year than last or this week than last week.   Pride can set in, judgmentalism, gossip, bickering and backbiting. Or, on the other hand, envy and jeealousy, showmanship and hypocrisy.

Amma Syncletica thinks that obedience to an elder or a rule is even better because then there is no self pride, self vaunting, seeking attention or hyper-vigilance in watching what others are doing or keeping track of how much more I am doing than others.  Obedience says, it doesn’t matter what others are doing or not doing, I have a rule which I am to keep and that is what I need to be mindful of.  There is nothing to get proud about, or envious, or judgmental – we are simply doing our duty, doing what we were told to do.

“Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”  (Luke 17:7-10)

 

Reflecting on Hebrews 11:24-12:2

The Epistle reading for the 1st Sunday of Great Lent is Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2.  The text gives us a lot to think about in terms of Great Lent but also our daily lives.

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

The entire text is a challenge to anyone who wants to embrace the American prosperity gospel for its entire point is that though these people are the most faithful members of the household of God, none of them received the promised rewards in their lifetime, but all of them suffered.  They didn’t suffer because they were unfaithful, but precisely because they were faithful to God they suffered.  Thus Moses rejected the easy life and wealth that he shared as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  All the wealth of Egypt he disdained, choosing rather to suffer poverty, exile and 40 years of testing and wandering in the harsh desert so that he could be with the people of God.  He didn’t receive wealth and prosperity by being faithful to God – rather he had to disown that wealth and privileged lifestyle so he could be faithful to God.

For those of us who like to revel that we live in the richest country in the world and the richest country in the history of the world, Moses would say to us, better to choose affliction and suffering “with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”    All the wealth and prosperity of the richest country on earth cannot purchase life with God’s people.  Suffering and affliction are not signs that God has rejected you, but maybe signs that you are choosing God rather than the world, rather than mammon, rather than yourself.

Whatever sins the wealth of Egypt had to offer, America surpasses it in wealth and in sins.

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

As the author of Hebrews already said, “what more can I say?”  This is not prosperity Gospel thinking.  All of these people are the heroes of the Scripture, all of them are saints and examples to God’s people.  Yet all of them suffered affliction, and none of them received the promises of God.

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for …

The people mentioned above all proved themselves faithful to God, proved themselves to be children of God, proved themselves to be saints, proved themselves worth of God’s blessings and rewards.   But now the text takes a surprising turn.   These folk above – God’s chosen, God’s saints, God’s heroes, God’s faithful did not receive the promise.  

Why?   Because God had provided something even better for them. . . Right?

NO.  The text doesn’t say God provided something even better for them.

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

God provided something better for us, not for them.   They remained faithful to God, did not receive the promise fulfilled, but suffered affliction so that we might benefit from their faithfulness.  They weren’t suffering to benefit themselves, but to benefit us.  Talk about unselfish and altruistic behavior!   Not only did they not receive the promise for their faithfulness and their suffering, but they weren’t even suffering for their own benefit.  They weren’t going to get the reward at the end of their suffering – we were.  They knew of God’s promised blessings, and never received the reward, because they were living, suffering, dying in order that our generation might partake of the blessings.

We are called to have just that attitude.  We aren’t faithful to God so that we might receive the rewards of prosperity and blessings – but so that our children and future generations might know of God and choose to follow Christ, just like we have chosen.  Perfection for us is not obtained in this world, but only in and with the future generations that will receive the Tradition from us and pass it on to their descendants and the next new generation of Christians.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We are not to embrace the temptations and sins which prosperity provide to us, but to eschew them so that we can follow Christ.  We are to be with Christ wherever Christ is.  We are to live for the Kingdom and for all Christians yet to come, and not rely on prosperity today as a sign that we have obtained the promise.  For today’s prosperity can be a snare which entraps us and prevents not only us but future generations from obtaining the promised reward.

Running the Race, Looking Unto Jesus

For the past two weeks the Winter Olympics have been going on enabling us to see some of the world’s best athletes.  The Olympics in some way are a good metaphor for the Christian life.  Athletes train very hard and aim to win the prize.  They commit all their soul, heart and strength to the sport.  But it is also true that the Olympics only run for 2 weeks out of every 4 years, so they represent a rather small part of the athletes whole life.  Indeed the athletes have more to their life – some are parents, some are spouses, some are in school, some have jobs, all have to train and fund raise and just live life.  They have to have food and transportation and housing.  They have all the needs and many of the responsibilities of any citizens.  Standing of the winner’s platform really ends up being only a few minutes of their entire life.  Often the actual game they participate in may last only a few minutes.  The Olympics are a very tiny part of a much bigger world and life.

So too is the Christian struggle.  We are to love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength.  We have many mundane things we have to attend to just like everyone else – employment, housing, family, meals, health care, social and political involvement.  Our Christian life is to spill over into the rest of the things we do, but being a Christian doesn’t free us from the cares of the world.  We exercise our Christianity in the context of the greater whole of life, just like an Olympian.  And this life turns out to be just a very small portion of the entirety of human history which is dwarfed even further by the eternity of God.  Our life on earth ends up being something like the two weeks of the Olympics – a very small portion of the entire, grand picture of the universe in God’s eternity.

We encounter this Olympic vision in the Scriptures, for example in Hebrews 12:1-2 where we read:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We have to lay aside the many obstacles to loving God and to receiving God’s love.  All those things weigh us down, but we are to run the race, just like Olympians do and this requires great endurance on our part.  But, most amazing of all we don’t have to do the hardest part of the Olympic race – Christ has already done it for us.  He ran the race, endured the cross and death, then entered into heaven and now sits with God.   All we have to do is stick with Him.  He did the hard part and he invites us to share in the prize and reward.

Last Sunday in Orthodoxy, we heard a great deal about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise.  That narrative is recorded in Genesis 3.  After Eve and Adam disobeyed God, they were filled with shame and tried to hide from God.  Not unlike many of us do when we sin or do something we know we shouldn’t do.  We try to hide it from spouse and family and friends.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God came looking for them, calling out:  “Where are you?”  (Genesis 3:9)

Every Lent God comes looking for us and calls to each of us:  Where are you?

Where are you in your spiritual life?

Where are you in your Lenten efforts?

Where are you in relation to God and His Church?

Where ae you?  Are you coming home to Him like the Prodigal Child?

Where are you?  Are you seeking Him like Zacchaeus or the Publican?

Where are you?  Are you seeing God in the people around you, the least of the brothers and sisters of Christ and ministering to Him?

Great Lent is a time for us to find our way home.  To remind us not to be so self centered and rather to see Christ in the poor and needy.  To seek Christ every day of our life.  To see God because we are working on purity of heart.  The pure in heart will see God.

In Great Lent we are walking the path carrying a cross on the way to Christ’s crucifixion:

Look at the icon of the Crucifixion:   what do you see?

Just a man dying?    Or do you see God?

It is an icon of God.  That is who we see in the icon, nailed to the cross.  If we only see a man dying and a group of saddened people around us, we are missing the main point.    God is there revealing himself to us, open the eyes of your heart so that you can see.

We are preparing ourselves to receive the Bread of Heaven, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Holy Communion:  what do you receive?

Bread and wine?  Or Eternal life?

Do we see beyond the visible and physical?

Lent says it is time to see with the eyes of our heart.  And we have to purify our heart in order to see with it.  Lenten fasting is not about the stomach but about the heart.

Unfortunately often with our eyes we can look at others and only see their faults.  We look and we see in order to criticize and condemn.

Or, we can repent of that thinking and    we can see in the other, in the neighbor, in friend and family as well as in the stranger an opportunity to love them and serve them.  We have to have the eyes to see.  Great Lent endeavors to open the eyes of our heart.

Nathaniel in today’s Gospel was quick to judge and criticize Jesus:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

The response to his quick criticism:  Come and see.  Only when his eyes were open could Nathaniel see Christ.

A story from the desert fathers reminds us about what we are looking at and how we see the world around us:

Certain Old Men went to Abbâ Poemen to ask him a question, “Would you like, Abbâ Poemen, if we see our Brothers sleeping in the congregation, to give them a swift kick (or as one old English version has it: smite him mightily) and wake them up?”  Abbâ Poemen answered them, “If I see my Brother sleeping, I place his head on my knees, and I give him a place to rest.”

Then one of the Old Men said to him, “And what, then, do you say to God?”

Abbâ Poemen replied, “I say this to God: You Yourself have said, ‘First of all, pluck the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see well enough to remove the splinter from your Brother’s eye.’” (St Matthew 7:3)

 

Great Lent is the time to take out the log from our own eye which blocks us from seeing clearly.  To confess our sins, to acknowledge the power of sin in our life, so that we can see the icon as a window to heaven, to see the neighbor or the stranger as Jesus Christ, to see heaven opened and to see beyond the physical and visible into the eternal Kingdom which Jesus has opened to us.

The Publican and Me

5445613926_85169104aa

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.

6849439164_25997164bb_n

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.

24873289413_680bc62134_m

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 Virtue of a New Year

As we have made it through one complete week of the New Year, we can consider our spiritual renewal – whether or not we made New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of a year is a good time to reflect on our spiritual life and commitment.    Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  We Orthodox engage in evaluating our lives in the sacrament of confession, in our daily examination of conscience, in meditating upon the Scriptures and spiritual writings, in our liturgical services, in our talks with our Father confessors and with our fellow Christians.

Here is a meditation from St. Francis of Assisi  on how virtue drives out vice.  We might use this to combat both sins of commission and sins of omission.  

“Where there is charity and wisdom

There is neither fear nor ignorance.

Where there is patience and humility,

There is neither anger nor disturbance.

Where there is poverty with joy,

There is neither covetousness nor avarice.

Where there is fear of the Lord to guard the house (cf. Lk 11:21),

There the enemy cannot gain entry.

Where there is mercy and discernment,

There is neither excess nor hardness of heart.”

(Francis and Clare, the Complete Works, p. 35)

Never Repay Evil with Evil

Another brother asked him: “what is the meaning of ‘Never repay evil with evil’?” [cf. Rom 12.17].

Abba Poemen said to him: “This passion works in four ways: first, in the heart; second, in the sight; third, in the tongue; fourth, in not doing evil in response to evil.

If you can purge your heart, it does not come to the sight.

If it comes to the sight, take care not to speak of it.

If you do speak of it, quickly prevent yourself from rendering evil for evil.”   (Give me a Word, p. 233)

The Desert Fathers did not hold to a “one-size fits all” spirituality.  They were realistic about the capabilities of different people and allowed for the fact that no everyone would be perfect in following Christ.  They did not have a total “black and white” viewpoint of people or of sin.  They recognized rather that in spiritual warfare, sometimes one gets only a partial victory.  They did not think that if you fail on one point that everything is lost.  As in the words above, they saw the battle for the heart as a war of inches, difficult battles with sometimes small victories, a war of attrition in which gains and loses might occur on small levels.  One might even suffer some defeats, but one would keep fighting against sin and evil wherever one could.

The Rich Ruler Considers the Value of Poverty

There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world;

but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.   (1 Timothy 6:6-11)

In Luke 18:18-27, we are given a record of a conversation between a wealthy man who also had some political influence and Jesus Christ.  It is a rare Gospel lesson in that it does directly mention the man’s inner, emotional reaction to a teaching of Christ.

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

In Luke’s version of this story, we are told that the rich man became very sorrowful when told to give away his wealth.  We are not told whether he ever acted upon what Jesus told him.  The man in Luke’s Gospel is not referenced again.  We can surmise based on the other Gospel versions of the narrative (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31) that the man walked away from Christ grieving.  Mark additionally notes that Jesus  actually loved the man for keeping the commandments and spoke to him out of love for him.  Be that as it may, the man still walks away from Christ.  Luke, however, does not have the man walk away from Christ.  Whatever the man’s inner grief was in thinking about giving up his wealth, we aren’t told what he actually did.   Did this rich man actually think about the value of poverty or the spiritual bankruptcy of wealth?  Luke does not tell us.  It is possible the man grieved but then did what Christ directed him to do.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann at one point in his writings considers the phrase from this Gospel lesson, “It is difficult for the rich…”

“It is quite obvious that at the center of Christianity is the renunciation of wealth, any wealth. The beauty of poverty!–there is also, of course, the ugliness of poverty, but there is beauty. Christianity is enlightened only by humility, by an impoverished heart. Poverty does not consist always of lacking something–that is ugliness–but in being content with what there is.”   (The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, p. 50)

The rich ruler of the Gospel lesson was not sure he could be content with having nothing.  His contentment was based on his wealth.  His spiritual dilemma was that in being told to give away his possessions, he thought this was giving away his contentment and his self worth.  Without his wealth, he couldn’t see himself as having any value.

Overcoming Our Sins

Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos muses:

Christians often say: “if my fellow men behaved to me differently, if I had better children, if my spouse did not do this or the other, if…,if…, I could probably live a Christian life”. We have the impression that the cessation of external problems would make us better. However many times I say that external problems will never cease. Now we have troubles with our studies and later we are full of anxiety about our career or marriage. Bringing up our children will raise new problems. Afterwards we will be concerned about the future of our children or even finally of our grandchildren…I leave all other problems caused by work and social dealings. Problems will never end. We must overcome them. (The Illness and the Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition, p. 71)

Anger is Another Kind of Drunkenness

Brethren, there is another sort of evil satiety and drunkenness which does not result from indulging in food and drink, but from anger and hatred towards our neighbor, remembrance of wrongs, and the evils that spring from these. On this subject Moses says in his song, “Their wine is the wrath of dragons and the incurable wrath of asps” (Deut. 32:33). So the prophet Isaiah says, “Woe to those who are drunken, but not with wine” (Isa. 29:9)

This is the drunkenness of hatred which more than anything else causes God to turn away, and the devil attempts to bring it about in those who pray and fast. He prompts them to remember wrongs, directs their thoughts towards harboring malice, and sharpens their tongues for slander.

He prepares them to be like that man who wishes for evil whom David describes with the words, “He deviseth mischief continually, his tongue is like a sharp razor” (Ps. 51:2 Lxx), and from whom he prays God to deliver him, saying, “Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man; they have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips” (Ps. 140:1, 3). (St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p. 49 & 50)