The Unholy Double Standard

I think anyone who is diligently pursuing the spiritual life of repentance knows the frustration of losing the battle to sin on a daily basis.  Many of us have habitual sins that we cannot seem to break.  We fall into sin, we feel dirty and unworthy, we ask God to forgive us, and then we get up and try again.

However, if we are to be honest, many of us sometimes feel at least a hint of hopelessness.   We wonder if God really wants to take us back.  If we’re constantly falling into the same sin over and over, will God justly become angry with us and refuse to accept our repentance?

The devil would sure like for us to lose hope.  But here is the double standard: when repenting of a sin, and then being tempted to fall into it again, I have never said to myself, “No, I might as well give up on sinning.  After repenting so many times, I don’t think the Devil will take me back.” Continue reading The Unholy Double Standard

What God Finds to Be Beautiful

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Matthew 26:10)

Today, the Wednesday before Pascha (Easter), we remember this event in which the soul of a harlot was saved through tears and repentance, and the soul of a disciple of Christ was lost forever through greed and envy.

This is the only place in the Gospels that I know of that our Lord and God states something is “beautiful” to Him.  That causes me to stop and ponder: what does God find to be beautiful?

The Psalmist writes, “A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise.” (Psalm 50/51)

When we fall down at the feet of Christ in genuine repentance, it is a beautiful thing for invisibly we are re-establishing inward communion with the God of love, grace, and beauty.  An inward roadway is opened to the heavens for the angels, the saints, and the Lord Himself to descend within us and carry us upward into the heights of heaven, making us adopted children of the most high God.

The Impossibility of Repentance

Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.

In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it. Continue reading The Impossibility of Repentance

When Death Valley Blooms

02_deathvalleybloom-national-geographicRecently, National Geographic posted beautiful pictures of one of the hottest and driest places on earth, which is aptly named Death Valley.

Due to an unusual amount of rainfall, this valley has had what is called a “Super Bloom” in which flowers have burst forth everywhere.

It reminds me of the spiritual life.

Within every heart is the potential for Godly beauty to arise. The seeds are lying dormant.  With the waters of baptism as well as tears shed over our sins, the once dead, stony heart in everyone of us has the potential to “Super Bloom,” as Death Valley has.

Should we continue in repentance, the roots will grow deeper as our hearts are purified and we noetically see God.  Then when dry spells come, these “dark nights of the soul” that are allowed in order to test us, our established roots will keep us alive as grace invisibly works within us, deepening our love for God.

No person is a lost case. Every heart, even the driest, has this potential for beauty. Continue reading When Death Valley Blooms

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 5

“FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS”

Baby__s_First_Steps_by_Shadyslady1219REPENTANCE

Salvation is the therapeutic process of healing and oneness with Christ our God.  We begin our journey toward God and healing with the first step of repentance.  As a child taking their first steps excites parents, so too the angels and our Savior rejoice when we begin our baby steps in repentance.

As we mature, our steps become stronger and our strides take us further, but we never mature beyond taking steps.  In the same way, we never mature past repentance.  We do not reach a place on this side of heaven in which we no longer need to repent for wicked thoughts, words, and deeds.  Rather, as we mature spiritually, we know ourselves more fully and our repentance deepens. Continue reading The Lord’s Prayer, Part 5

The Daily Struggle

Falling_by_Anonymous_Caribou (deviantart)If you’re anything like me, you struggle with sinful thoughts and behavior on a daily basis.  Those with an addiction or some strong habitual sin can especially relate.  It is easy to feel depressed or overwhelmed.  I spent many years of my life afraid of God because I felt He was either mad or very disappointed in me.  Spiritually and emotionally, I crawled through life wondering when the next lightning strike would hit me.

A habitual sin is like a rut in the road in which a wagon wheel easily enters and struggles to leave.  In Orthodoxy and scripture, these sins are called “passions,” and are the result of entertaining a thought that may have begun with something seemingly neutral.  There’s often a bit of guilty pleasure in entertaining these thoughts. Continue reading The Daily Struggle

The Problem with “Hate the sin but love the sinner”

Great Lent

orthodox prostration

The Eastern Orthodox Church is in the season of Great Lent since our Pascha (Easter) isn’t until May 5th this year (it’s late!). Great Lent is a very purposeful time of repentance. We are called to spend time in introspection, to see our own sins, and to repent for them. It is also a time of paying special attention to the needy in our communities. In the Western Church, Lent is looked upon as a time of giving up something such as coffee or Facebook. In the Eastern Church, it is taught that we fast in order to submit our body to our spirit’s will, and also to save money by buying less food so that we can give to the needy.

There is a prayer by St. Ephraim the Syrian that we frequently recite with prostrations during this season:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.”
[Prostration]

“But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Your servant.”
[Prostration]

“O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
[Prostration]

The popular catchphrase

So, going back to the title of this blog, why do I have a problem with “Hate the sin but love the sinner”? Because it always seems to apply to the “other,” aka, not us. If we realized the extent of the horror of our own sins, we wouldn’t have the audacity to focus our hate on other people’s sins. We would instead be focused on the life-long process of removing the plank from our own eye.

When a young aspiring monk came to St Macarius the Great, seeking how he might find salvation, Macarius informed him to go to his cell and stay there weeping for his sins.

Dr.-Phil-Youre-Fat1So, the primary reason that popular catchphrase bothers me is because it can potentially take my focus off of my own sins, if understood in the wrong way.

Secondly, nearly every time I hear this phrase it is applied to situations where the sin is culturally unacceptable or for sins in which most of us are not tempted. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard people talking about obese or overweight Christians saying, “We just need to hate the gluttony, but love the sinner.”

Nor have I seen someone go up to a fellow brother in Christ at an all-you-can-eat-buffet and say, “Hey bro, you know that I love you and want to see you saved. But I hate your gluttony. You’ve got to put that third plate down so you don’t burn in hell.”

Instead, we pick on people who sin differently than us.

Let us spend this Lenten season with our hearts broken by our own shortcomings that we may rise up in the glorious resurrection of our Lord and the hope that is here now and is to come.

~~~UPDATE~~~

There are several places in the writings of the Orthodox fathers where I have come across something similar to the sentiment of “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  If practiced in purity, it is very good advice.  As I wrote above though, we, or perhaps I should say “I”, tend to be a hypocrite and find it much easier to hate other people’s sins more than I hate my own.  That is a big problem.  It is that problem I am attempting to address in this blog.

Someone brought this video to my attention a little after I wrote the above post: