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.”
“But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Your servant.”
“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.”
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.
So, 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.
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: