Judge Not, Part 5 – Stories from the Desert

For the last blog of this series, I wanted to share a few stories from the Orthodox monastic fathers that illustrate the importance of not judging one another.

EXAMPLE 1

One day, Abba Isaac the Theban saw a brother committing a sin.  Abba Isaac judged and condemned the man in his heart.  Shortly thereafter, an angel stood before the Abba with the departed soul of the brother who sinned.  The angel asked, “Here is the person you have judged.  Where shall I send this man’s soul, to Hades or to Paradise?”  Abba Isaac fell to the ground, horrified, stating, “I have sinned, forgive me.”  The holy old man, frightened beyond measure, spent the rest of his life praying with sighs and tears and continuous hard work to be forgiven this sin even though the angel had told him he was forgiven.  Still, Abba Isaac carried the guilt of this sin with him until his dying day. [1]

In this story, we see a rare glimpse into the life of a holy man who realized the horror of judging another human soul.  Abba Isaac knew that there is room for only one judge of human souls, and when we judge another person, we are competing with Satan for usurping God from His throne.

EXAMPLE 2

There is another story of a monk who lacked discipline.  He was not a bad person, but quite lazy and not at all reliable.  The other monks were frequently annoyed with him.  While this lazy monk was on his death bed, the other brothers came to visit him.  They were surprised to see him in such good spirits.  “Are you not concerned,” they asked him, “that God’s judgment will come upon you harshly for living such a lax life as a monk?”

He smiled and did not deny that he was far from exemplary, but he had one key defense, “Our Lord said, ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.’ I have never judged a man for anything he has done.  Rather I have looked upon all with simplicity and love.”  The brothers were speechless at his response and realized that though they had good works, they had neglected this crucial aspect of the spiritual life. The simple monk died in peace and went to Paradise, and all of the brothers were edified.  [2]

EXAMPLE 3

But what about when someone’s faults are so glaringly obvious?  Is it a sin to notice that others have faults?  The answer is no.  The saints saw the sins of others.  However, Abba Dorotheus says, they simply would not let their eyes dwell on sins.  Who hated sin more than the saints?  But they did not hate the sinners all the same time, nor condemn them, no turn away from them, but they suffered with them, admonished them, comforted them, gave them remedies as sickly members, and did all they could to heal them.

Take a fisherman: when he casts his hook into the sea and a large fish takes the bait, he perceives first that the fish struggles violently and is full of fight, so he does not try pull it in immediately by main force for the line would break and the catch would be lost in the end. 

No!  He plays out the line and, as he says, allows the fish to run freely, but when he feels the line slacken and the first struggles have calmed down, he takes up the slack line and begins, little by little, to draw him in.  So the holy fathers, by patience and love, draw the brother and do not spurn him nor show themselves unfriendly towards him, but as a mother who has an unruly son does not hate him or turn away from him but rules him with sweetness and sometimes does things to please him, so they always protect him and keep him in order and they gain a hold on him so that with time they correct the erring brother and do not allow him to harm anyone else, and in doing so they greatly advance toward the love of Christ. [3]

Giving Sacred Space

When we act in the way the holy man describes above, we are creating room for our brother or sister who has fallen into sin and offering them a sacred space to heal.  Rather than preaching at them, we, in some sense, stoop down to where they are.  He illustrates this point in a story:

At one time, one of the monks in Abba Ammon’s care had a woman visiting him and sleeping with him, which of course is not appropriate for a monk.  The other monks in the coenobium figured out what was going on and rushed to Abba Ammon who in turn went to the brother’s cell and found him with the woman.  There was a large barrel in the cell and Abba Ammon told the woman to hide in the barrel, which he then sat upon.  The other monks in the monastery came rushing in and began looking for the woman.  None of them could find her, and out of respect for the abbot, none of them dared to ask Ammon to move.  He then warned them to be careful about judging others and sent them away.  Additionally, when they were alone, he warned the brother who had fallen into sin to flee it.

It is important that we keep in mind the words of the Apostle Paul, who said, Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Gal. 6:1)  If ever a rebuke is necessary, it should be done with utmost gentleness, otherwise we too will be tempted.  Tempted into what?  Self-righteousness and spiritual pride, which results in an eternal downfall.

May the Lord preserve us from judging others that we may have a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless peaceful; and a good defense before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ, let us ask….Grant this, O Lord. [4]


End Notes:

Photo credit: James Marvin Phelps – Desert Playground

[1] This story was pieced together from Abba Dorotheos’ account (Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings, translated by Eric P. Wheeler, Cistercian Publications 1977) and the one found in The Sayings of The Desert Fathers (translated by Benedicta Ward, Cistercian Publications 1975)

[2] I have read this story a couple of times and I cannot remember the source, so I have attempted to recall it from memory (which is always a bit dangerous!).  Feel free to share it in the comments if you know the source.  Thanks!

[3] Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings, translated by Eric P. Wheeler, Cistercian Publications 1977

[4] The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (ROCOR edition)

Judge Not, Part 4 – Holding Our Tongues

“That idiot needs to learn how to drive!” is something that I have certainly said or thought on multiple occasions while driving down the road.  Even if we hold our tongues, there are many situations in life that anger or annoy us and cause us to label a person an idiot, a jerk, or something else.

However, the fathers warn us of the danger of labeling someone with a derogatory word.  We must be careful to never sum up a human’s entire existence in one unkind thought or word, whether or not it seems justified.  Otherwise, we are condemning that person, which is a dangerous sin.

Condemning a man is saying, ‘he is a wicked liar, or he is an angry man, or he is a fornicator.’ For in this way one judges the condition of his soul and draws a conclusion about his whole life…This is a very serious thing.  For it is one thing to say, ‘He got mad,’ and another thing to say, ‘He is bad-tempered,’ and to reveal, as we said, the whole disposition of his life. [1]

Continue reading Judge Not, Part 4 – Holding Our Tongues

Judge Not, Part 3 – Our Upbringing

A TRUE STORY: Many centuries ago, there arrived a slave ship at a certain harbor in a city in which a pious Christian virgin lived.  Her desire was to purchase a young female slave in order to bring her up in love and the ways of God.  Purchasing another human sounds horrifying to our modern ears, but this woman was truly trying to prevent the young lady from enduring what could be a terrible fate at the hands of a merciless master.

The ship owner informed the woman he had two young girls, and the Christian lady purchased one of them.  She raised the young girl in a loving Christian home in which the household operated a bit like a monastery.

The other girl was purchased by someone who was sort of like a pimp.  He forced her to learn seductive dancing so that he could make money off of her by entertaining men.  Such was her fate. Continue reading Judge Not, Part 3 – Our Upbringing

Judge Not, Part 2 – Coming to the Center

I have never met a person who thinks of judgment as a virtue.  Even the most critical people, who seem to thrive on criticizing others, will often become defensive when they are on the receiving end of a stinging remark.

Obviously, judgement is prohibited, but why?  How does it harm us?  It all has to do with oneness, which is one of the final prayers our Lord had for His disciples (and us) while on this earth (John 17).

To explain, I will provide an illustration that I’ve adapted from Abba Dorotheos of Gaza, a 6th century saint and desert father of our church:

Imagine something that is much like a wheel with numerous incomplete spokes that can grow and move from the perimeter to the center.  In the center is Christ, who beckons all of us to move toward him.  The only path to this center is love.  One spoke symbolizes our lives, the other spokes represent our neighbors.  As all of the spokes move closer to the center, they also move closer to one another.  It is impossible to move toward the center without simultaneously coming together with the other spokes. Continue reading Judge Not, Part 2 – Coming to the Center

Judge Not, Part 1 – Making Excuses

Perhaps one of the things we all hate the most is being judged by someone else.  It gets under our skin, makes our blood boil, and hurts us deeply, especially if it is someone whom we trusted.  When we feel that someone is judging us, even for something we can admit was wrong, a multitude of thoughts will flood the mind, “You’re not being fair,” or “If you only knew all of the facts then you wouldn’t judge me,” or “The Bible says not to judge others.”

Yet all of us are guilty of this sin, whether or not we realize it.  While we are walking through the city, driving down the road, or in church on Sunday, we are probably forming all sorts of “little” judgments about other people.  Such judgments usually stay in our heads, so we think they have little or no consequence.  However, Abba Dorotheos of Gaza warns us, I am always telling you that bad habits are formed in the soul by these very small things…” [1] Continue reading Judge Not, Part 1 – Making Excuses

Priestesses in the Church?

The topic of women in the priesthood is making its rounds in various circles of Orthodoxy.  CS Lewis addressed it in the following essay, which I found to be quite edifying.  I have left a few comments in the END NOTES section.

Originally published under the title “Notes on the Way,” in Time and Tide, Vol. XXIX (August 14, 1948), it was subsequently reprinted with the above title in the posthumous “God in the Dock” book, published by William B. Erdmanns, Grand Rapids, MI.

PRIESTESSES IN THE CHURCH?

“I should like Balls infinitely better,” said Caroline Bingley, “if they were carried on in a different manner … It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”

“Much more rational, I dare say,” replied her brother, “but it would not be near so much like a Ball.” We are told that the lady was silenced: yet it could be maintained that Jane Austen has not allowed Bingley to put forward the full strength of his position. He ought to have replied with a distinguo.

In one sense, conversation is more rational for conversation may exercise the reason alone, dancing does not. But there is nothing irrational in exercising other powers than our reason. On certain occasions and for certain purposes the real irrationality is with those who will not do so. The man who would try to break a horse or write a poem or beget a child by pure syllogizing would be an irrational man; though at the same time syllogizing is in itself a more rational activity than the activities demanded by these achievements. It is rational not to reason, or not to limit oneself to reason, in the wrong place; and the more rational a man is the better he knows this. Continue reading Priestesses in the Church?

Tyranny of The Selfish

What is the opposite of rules and authority?  Many of us would be tempted to pick freedom.  But after some reflection, I do not believe that is the case.  The alternative to rule is not freedom but the unconstitutional (and often unconscious) tyranny of the most selfish member, as CS Lewis once pointed out. [1]

Let me provide an example: for several years, I hosted an open spirituality forum at a local pub.  When I began, I had no idea how to moderate discussions, and at times, the conversation would decline into several simultaneous heated arguments.  After a few chaotic meetings, somebody joined us who had decades of experience in facilitating groups and he coached me in how to do so.

I would then bring a Beanie Baby with me and strictly enforce that whoever is holding the little stuffed animal is the one speaking, all others should be listening.  It took a few weeks to break our old habits, but people quickly came to respect my “authority” as the group leader and conversation moderator, and they found that the rules of this new format provided freedom in holding edifying discourse.  Seven years later, this group is still holding discussions. Continue reading Tyranny of The Selfish

On Christian Pacifism

The international policy of our country is one of the few political issues to which I am attentive.  Every election cycle, I analyze the candidates’ positions toward other countries and look for the one who seems to be most peaceful.  The options usually leave me wanting as I listen to candidates argue about their own ability to outspend the others on military expenditures and warfare.  It is quite disturbing.

Yet, I am not a pacifist.  While in my 20’s, I was one, but I could not hold that position after becoming Orthodox and learning more about Christian thought and beliefs over the past 2,000 years.

THE CASE FOR CHRISTIAN PACIFISM

Not all pacifists are Christians, so I will not be addressing the various philosophical arguments that other forms of pacifism make.  Instead, this will be written from a Christian perspective.

Defining our terms is always useful when entering into any kind of discussion that can become difficult.  I have chosen Ted Grimsrud’s definition of pacifism, which comes from the book A Pacifist Way of Knowing: John Howard Yoder’s Nonviolent Epistemology:

Hence, “pacifism” is more than simply approving of peace, which everyone in some sense would do, it is the conviction that the commitment to peace stands higher than any other commitment.

Continue reading On Christian Pacifism

My Humble Neighbor

Years ago, I was speaking with a former neighbor of mine who was a high functioning autistic young man.  We’ll call him Danny.  We were both about to begin mowing our respective lawns, he with a push mower and me with my riding mower.  Danny asked if his yard could be mowed with a riding mower.

We live at the foot of a mountain, so both our yards are sloped, in some areas almost unwalkable.  I explained that due to the steep slope in his yard, it wouldn’t be safe to use the riding mower (there was some truth to that, but I have to admit I was being lazy and hoping he wasn’t going to ask me for a favor – I feared that’s where he was heading with the conversation).  Danny then pointed to an especially steep part of my yard and asked if I was able to mow that.  I said, “No, I’ll have to come back later and hit that with the trimmer.”

We then commenced our work and both finished about the same time.  As I headed to the steep part of my yard with the trimmer, I noticed it had already been cut.  I turned to Danny, who was still in his yard, and curiously asked, “Did you cut this?”  Continue reading My Humble Neighbor

More on The Five Love Languages

I previously blogged what was meant to be a slight critique of The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman.  It has been one of the more popular posts on this website and I recently received a letter from a reader who was skeptical of Dr. Chapman’s book.  My intention never was to throw Dr. Chapman under the bus.  Therefore, I thought my response to this reader may help provide a balancing counterpart to my original essay.

THE LETTER

Dear M~,

Congratulations on several decades of marriage.  That is a wonderful gift from God.  Many marriages do not last that long these days; and even many marriages that do have no guarantee of continuing in a healthy manner.  Like the Christian struggle that never ends, our marriage is a gift that needs continual upkeep and love.

You are right about the “give-to-get” mentality that is widespread throughout our entire society.  It distorts loving relationships and turns them into something other than what God designed.  Despite that, I would actually recommend you follow your therapist’s suggestion of reading The Five Love Languages.  But do so with discernment.

Continue reading More on The Five Love Languages

You Are Not Your Sexuality

The modern person is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis.  There is a subconscious question being asked, “Is my sexuality an expression of my innermost being, of what it means to be human?”  The marketing departments of large corporations and numerous publishers are pushing us to answer that question with a firm “Yes!”  We are worth far more money to them that way.

But what if the marketers, the publishers, and pop-culture have it wrong?  What if our sexuality is quite insignificant to our humanity?  Then it seems to me we would find that, as a culture, we have been traveling down the wrong road for quite some time.  When traveling down the incorrect path, it is wise to stop and search for clearer direction before moving any further.  Otherwise “progress” turns into regress. Continue reading You Are Not Your Sexuality

Is Easter (Pascha) a Pagan Holiday?

Many of us have read articles or seen memes floating around the internet that attempt to tie the celebration of Christ’s resurrection to some form of paganism.  It seems to me that these rumors are perpetuated by a lack of knowledge regarding ancient Christianity, history, linguistics, and paganism.

THE ORIGIN OF THE NAMES

First of all, according to all ancient accounts of which I’m aware, Jesus Christ was crucified during the time of the Jewish Passover, which in Hebrew is called Pesach, and in Aramaic Pascha.  The timing of the Jewish festival is tied to the cycle of the moon, but always lands somewhere in the spring.  Christians from the most ancient times have seen Jesus’ death and resurrection as the fulfillment of the Passover holiday and have therefore kept the transliterated name for Passover, which is usually a derivative of the word “Pascha.”  Continue reading Is Easter (Pascha) a Pagan Holiday?