Entries with tag christ .

Three Lessons from Saint Porphyrios

I’m always interested in getting recommendations for new books, especially books that give practical ways to grow closer to Christ. After I graduated from James Madison University in 2009, I was in the scary new world of “life after college” and in need of some inspiration. By God’s grace, I found Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios and soon devoured the book.

 

I used to be one of those people…you know, the ones who care a bit too much about books and who don’t underline or highlight them out of sheer reverence for the printed word. But this book of mine is underlined, highlighted, tagged with sticky notes, and has a worn binding from being read so much.

 

Elder Porphyrios was recently recognized as Saint Porphyrios in 2013 (just 22 years after his repose), and his feast day was commemorated on December 2. There are so many nuggets of wisdom which have helped me in moments of need, that I can’t help but recommend this book to others and write this post about three of his most memorable lessons.

 

1. Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified

 

Life seems to just throw things at us sometimes. Things will be going fine and then out of nowhere disaster comes. Or, perhaps we’re going through what seems to be just one issue after another. With all of these waves of anxiety or hard times, it might feel impossible to rise above water. But what if these troubles could be used to our good instead of to our defeat? Saint Porphyrios says that regardless of our circumstances, God can turn our situation into an opportunity to grow closer in our relationship with Him.

 

A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square [in Athens, synonymous with vice and corruption], if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become saints – through meekness, patience and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence – not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest. If it happens, for example, that you are given tasks to do that fall outside the remit of your duties it is not right for you to protest and become irritated and complain. Such vexations do you harm. Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified. (p. 143-144)

 

Each day is a new start in our relationship with God. Each day we can choose again to follow Jesus or we can choose to follow after our anxieties and worries.

 

All the unpleasant things which are within your soul and cause you anxiety can become occasions for the glorification of God and cease to torment you. Have trust in God. Then you will forget your worries and become His instruments. Distress shows that we are not entrusting our life to Christ. (p. 145)

 

I have to accept my day as being the way it is. Sitting here and fretting about my situation won’t change it. Being frustrated with people around me or trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders isn’t going to change them or the world. But I can change my attitude, I can change my response to what worries me. Saint Porphyrios says to “deal with everything with love, kindness, meekness, patience and humility. Be rocks. Let all the waves break over you and turn back leaving you untroubled” (p. 145).

 

We can be the saints that God is calling us to be, regardless of life’s circumstances, but only if we rely fully on God and turn to Him anew each day.

 

2. Turn to Christ

 

Just as tempting as it may be to focus on our fears and anxieties, it’s also easy to focus on the sins and passions which seem to wage war against us. The more we slip up, the more we repeatedly struggle with the same things and confess them time and again, the more our eyes focus on our struggle instead of on Christ. We might start to think that if only we fight harder against the passions, we won’t keep doing whatever it is. Saint Porphyrios points us towards a different path.

 

We need to turn to Christ instead of looking at our sin. "You won't become saints by hounding after evil. Ignore evil. Look towards Christ and He will save you” (p. 135). Saint Porphyrios gives this advice over and over again. “Don’t look at what’s happening to you, look at the light, at Christ, just as the child looks to its mother when something happens to it. See everything without anxiety, without depression, without strain and without stress” (p. 145). When we fight against our passions directly, we forget to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3) who understand that they can’t save themselves.

 

But how do we turn to Christ? How can we keep our minds on the things of God?

 

Life in Paradise and don’t let your evil self know and envy it…Do not strike at the evil directly, but, disdaining the passion, turn with love to God. Occupy yourself with singing hymns, the triumphant hymns of the saints and martyrs and the Psalms of David. Study Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers. In this way your soul will be softened, sanctified and assimilated to God. (p. 123)

 

This might be the point when you say, “but that’s easy for a monk to say! I have work, school, a life to live!” But Saint Porphyrios reminds us that “in prayer what is important is not the duration but the intensity. Pray albeit for five minutes, but abandoning yourself to God with love and longing. One person may pray all night long and another person only for five minutes and yet the five-minute prayer may be superior” (p. 128-129).

 

In our lives, we are going to face temptation, but we are called to turn to Christ and away from our struggles. And then we might begin to see that others are on the same path that we are on.

 

3. We shouldn’t be discouraged or judge

 

As we begin to see everything as opportunities to grow closer to Christ, as we recognize every struggle as a moment to receive God’s grace, we ought to recognize that every person around us might also be on this same journey. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of judging those around us who are stumbling and struggling with sins openly, and forget that we are fellow pilgrims in this journey to the Kingdom.

 

Saint Porphyrios offers us this hope-filled reminder for those who struggle or those who struggle loving those who do:

 

Souls that have known pain and suffering and that are tormented by their passions win most especially the love and grace of God. It is souls such as these that become saints, and very often we pass judgment on them. Remember what Saint Paul says, 'Where sin abounded, grace flowed even more abundantly' (Romans 5:20). When you remember this, you will feel that these people are more worthy than you and than me. We see them as weak, but when they open themselves to God they become all love and all divine eros. Whereas previously they had acquired different habits, they now give all the power of their soul to Christ and are set on fire by Christ's love. That is how God's miracle works in such souls, which we regard as 'lost'. We shouldn't be discouraged, nor should we rush to conclusions, nor judge on the basis of superficial and external things. (p. 185)

 

Each person who faces temptations, each person who has fallen into sin, each imperfect image of God is the soft clay which God can use to form according to His likeness. Each difficult person, each openly sinful person, and - thank God - each one of us who remains an imperfect Orthodox Christian, can become the recipient of God’s grace and the source of God’s grace to others.

 

*****

 

As a monastic, Saint Porphyrios grants us insight into the spiritual life and reminds us of how to be more watchful of our thoughts and preoccupations. And as a modern person who lived amidst the temptations and noise of Athens, Greece, Saint Porphyrios speaks to us directly as someone who knows what it’s like to live in today’s world.

 

We can choose to look at all of life’s circumstances as opportunities to be sanctified. We can turn towards Christ instead of trying to face our passions on our own. And lastly, we should take heart and not be discouraged nor become judgmental of others who struggle against passions different from our own.

 

What struggles have you faced recently and how can these be opportunities to encounter Christ today? Do you find that you try to battle against sin directly, and how could you turn instead to Christ to let Him fight for you?

 
 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Jesus is Better Than We Are Bad - Eleventh Sunday of Luke

The Church sets the bar very high.

I’ve written a lot lately about earthly attachments and giving ourselves and all we have to Christ. If you’re anything like me, it can feel sort of overwhelming to think about what goes into the Christian life. The more I think about the call to give ourselves away, the more overwhelmed I tend to feel, thinking that I’ll never attain the kind of life that Christ calls me to live.

It can be easy to get discouraged.

I especially feel this as we approach the fourth Sunday of the Advent fast. I haven’t fasted nearly as well as I had planned. I haven’t kept up my schedule of reading the Scriptures as regularly as I had hoped. And I certainly haven’t even begun to pray as I would like.

It can be easy to get discouraged.

And I see myself in the central figure in this Sunday’s reading.

We read about a woman who has been bent over for eighteen years, forced to look at the ground everywhere she goes. She has been afflicted by Satan, the Lord tells us, and it has been a burden that she cannot escape.

Oh, how I understand how this situation feels.

Blessed Theophylact doesn’t exactly help all that much in his interpretation of this woman’s affliction, likening us sinners to her, writing, “Is not that man indeed bent over who is attached to the earth, and who always sins in disregard of the commandments, and who does not look for the age to come?”[1]

Great, I think. More things wrong with me: complete disregard of the commandments and not caring about the age to come. What hope is there?

Of course, that’s what I want to do when I read these texts. It’s far too easy for me to do so, to beat myself up and focus on how I need to do better, how I need to pray harder, fast stricter, etc.

But then I realized that the reading isn’t entirely or even primarily about demonstrating how wretched we are; rather we see in this passage what we see in almost every passage of Scripture: a Jesus who wants to deliver humanity from that which afflicts us.

We see a merciful Jesus.

We see this woman who is afflicted in her body, who is bent over, who has been looking at the ground for eighteen years, and then we see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Promised One of Israel, the Word who has taken on a human body…touch her. He lays His hands on her and makes her well.

As easy as it is to look at the Scriptures, to look at our lives and see all the things that we are doing wrong, all the things that we think we need to perfect, it can be just as easy to neglect the biblical and traditional reality of how Christ comes to us.

He comes to us in a body. He comes to us in a way that is accessible to us. He comes to us to touch us, to bind Himself to us in our humanity.

And that’s what we’re preparing for with this Fast: the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, the Word, Power, and Wisdom of the Father.

Honestly, I find that I continually have to combat the sense that I have to earn Christ’s love, to win His approval of me, to somehow be made worthy of His grace.

But all of that is just a trap. It’s a trap to keep me in despair, to keep me from actually looking to Him who promises to come to me, to heal me.

Who promises to love me.

I don’t know how it becomes so easy to lose sight of the primacy of God’s love for us. But it almost always leads me to feel deeply ashamed and, honestly, a little bit like giving up. After all, there’s no way that I’m good enough to follow Christ.

The only response is to hang my head and walk away, sort of like the rich young ruler we read about last week.

But Christ’s offers us the grace to follow Him, and invitation to be forgiven and healed rather than “bound by Satan” (Lk. 13:16).

One of my favorite Mumford and Sons songs has this lyric:

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at every start.

This makes a lot of sense to me. When I think of the things that have made a difference in my life, it is not the times I’ve been lectured about the things I need to change. But rather, it is the experiences of extreme grace, of extreme acceptance, that has changed my life.

It is not by berating myself that I become spiritually renewed, but by allowing Christ to draw near to me, to bring his humanity to touch my own and to heal it.

Ultimately, it is not my fasting, it is not my prayer that heals me, but Christ.

And the good news of the Fast, the good news of the Gospel of Christ, which includes his taking on a human body, is that He draws near in merciful and compassionate ways that are easily accessible to humans with bodies. We don’t just have to close our eyes and bear down to see Him, but rather, He comes to us physically in the Church. To touch us. To heal us.

He is the Bread of Life that feeds us.

He is the arm of the priest embracing us in Confession.

He is the oil of unction that heals our afflictions.

There are three weeks left in the fast. We’re halfway there. Instead of being like me and focusing on everything that is wrong with us, let’s turn our attention toward the Incarnate Word of God, who comes to us mercifully, bringing the greatest present of all:

Himself.

 

 

[1] Blessed Theophylact, The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (Chrysostom Press: House Springs, 1997), p. 170.

Loving Your Neighbor; Stop, Look, Listen - Eighth Sunday of Luke

I’ve never liked needing anything from anyone. Whether it’s emotional support or financial support, being unable to care for myself is pretty shameful and even embarrassing.

After all, being described as “needy” isn’t a good thing.

We are taught that need (or at least being perceived as needy) is something that we should avoid at all costs, that we should be able to do things for ourselves.

Maybe it’s an outgrowth of American rugged individualism, the ideal of the independent settler living off the land. That aside, I think we can agree that we should be able to do many things for ourselves, especially when it comes to fulfilling our own obligations and responsibilities.

It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to expect my neighbors to pay for my daughter to go to preschool, nor would it be appropriate for me to offer to pay for their son’s preschool. These things are our respective responsibilities, and we should expect people to “carry their own load,” as St. Paul says (Gal. 6:5).

I should be able to govern my life and my responsibilities well enough to meet basic needs and expectations, and so should my neighbor.

Need is a real thing, and there’s no shame in it. We all need help at some point, but it can be difficult to determine when (and how) we should help. Are there times we should hold back, and let people struggle? Are there times we should step in and help, even when others don’t want our help?

This dynamic, drawing good boundaries with others is a difficult aspect of the Christian life, and honestly, it is one that I struggle with every day.

I regularly ask myself:

To what extent is my unwillingness to help a person based in Christian love and good boundaries? To what extent am I just being stingy? To what extent does my discomfort with my own need prevent me from having pity on person who is merely expressing her own need?

The tension of the call to care for our brothers and sisters while also not being consumed by them is difficult to navigate. It even appears in St. Paul’s writing: while he tells us that we are to carry our own load, he also encourages Christians to “bear one another’s burdens” only a few verses earlier (Gal. 6:2)!

So which is it St. Paul?

Rather than contradicting himself, maybe St. Paul is giving us guidance by distinguishing between the loads we bear on our own and the burdens we bear for each other

This Sunday, Christ will tell us the story of the Good Samaritan. When a man asks Christ, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Luke 10:30-35

It would be too easy to deduce from this story, then, that the neighborly thing to do is give a person in need anything that he wants, and then go the extra mile and continue to provide for him until…well, indefinitely.

The Samaritan’s actions are far more specific than simply throwing money at the injured man to get him the help he needs. The Samaritan stopped and assessed the situation, knowing that he had to meet particular needs in a particular order.

The man is bleeding and injured when the Samaritan finds him, so naturally, the first thing that needs to be addressed is the man’s wounds. The Samaritan dresses them with oil and wine, bandaging him and putting him on his own beast because he can’t walk. The Samaritan read the situation properly, understanding the man’s actual and pressing need.

He didn’t just walk up to him and say, “You look like you’ve had a rough day, here’s a denarii; get yourself something to eat…and don’t waste it on booze.”

Rather, he meets the actual need that is in front of him.

Too often, we throw mere band-aids at people who are in much greater need than we realize. Or we encounter people whose needs are simply different than we might expect (or want!).

Some argue that we shouldn’t give money to people who beg in the streets because they might use it to foster an addiction. But do we pause to consider if they are looking for a place to stay for the night? 

And how much help is it really when we throw a McDonald’s gift card at someone because we “don’t want to enable them?” How does that address a person’s joblessness or homelessness?

Whose needs are we meeting in those instances? Theirs? Or our own need to appear as religious and helpful people?

Instead of loving being present with a person as they bear their load, or stepping in to bear their burden, we resort to half measures that primarily satisfy our needs. 

We won’t take the time to help someone actually get back on their feet, nor are we interested enough to sit beside someone and ask for their name.  Instead, we quickly hand over a gift card and get back to our day, satisfied by a job well done.

And I don’t think that this tendency only applies to our encounters with the poor. We may try to throw band-aids at the people in our communities (and even in our homes) just as readily, simply because we are so afraid to stop and assess the actual need in front of us.

Does my daughter really need me to teach her how to express her feelings nicely when she doesn’t get to go to the park, or does she need me to be empathic, to attempt to understand her pain and simply say, “I get it, honey. It’s okay to be disappointed?” Perhaps both. But I won’t know unless I stop and assess the situation.

Everyone has their own needs, and there are things that we are each responsible for dealing with on our own. Each of us is called to bear our own load (our thoughts, our feelings, our time, our resources, our relationships), but there are also many circumstances in which we must bear one another’s burdens, because sometimes there are “robbers” and they beat the snot out of you.

Because sometimes we’re the ones laying half dead by the side of the road. 

But a good neighbor doesn’t rush to offer any particular kind of help, nor to offer generic and unhelpful aid; a good neighbor stops and asks, “What does this person really need? Is this a load that they are struggling with, and do I simply need to be empathic? Or is this a burden that is crushing them?”

I’m not sure I always am capable of telling the difference, but I know that I rarely stop and try to figure it out. But a good neighbor, like the Good Samaritan, tries to understand what the real problem is and does all she can to support others in the way they need.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Blinded by the Light - Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Lately, my wife and I have been trying to teach our four-year-old daughter the value of picking up after herself.

It has been a struggle.

One of us will tell our little girl, “I see shoes in front of your door. I see a doll next to mommy and daddy’s bed. I see a headband under the kitchen table.” Usually, thank God, our little one responds quickly, running to pick up her belongings to put them away.

But it isn’t always that easy. Especially on my feet.

Why, oh why is toy food made out of DIAMONDS?

Yes, of course, we want the munchkin to learn the importance of taking care of her possessions and treating her belongings with more respect and how we can’t get new things if we don’t clean up our old things and how we need to be responsible with what we have and blah blah blah. But we also just have gotten tired of stepping on her stuff in her room. Especially in the dark.

For what seemed like an endless 6-month period, my daughter would wake up in the middle of the night, crying because she was scared, lonely, or even simply cold. Every night at around 1:30AM, like clockwork, I’d hear the same cry: ““Daaaaaaaaaaaaddy!”

And so, like the doting (grumbling) dad that I am, I would roll out of bed, stumble down the hallway into my daughter’s room to graciously (groggily) ask her what was wrong. But before I could reach her with love (fatigue), I would accidentally stomp on the surprisingly sharp face of Elsa (or maybe it was Anna?). Instead of whispering words of comfort to my daughter, as intended, I’d mumble words of exasperation that sentenced her Elsa (Anna?) doll to a lonely night in the closet.

Over that 6-month period, it was an almost nightly routine. I would stumble into my daughter’s room, impaling my foot as I tried to feel my way through the dark.

Because, you know, I can’t see in the dark. I don’t have sweet night-vision goggles. I don’t even have a cool, primitive sonar capacity that would allow for even cooler echolocation navigation. Needless to say, my ability to make my way through my home without sight would embarrass Matt Murdock.

So why not just turn on the lights?

At 1:30AM, even the softest light feels blinding to my sleepy eyes. My retinas prefer the comfort of darkness to the blinding flash of a light bulb. Yet that choice always comes with a cost, as it leaves me unaware of the mess in front of me. My eyes avoid pain in the dark, but my feet usually don’t.

At 1:30AM, darkness is both friend and foe: friend because, in itself, it doesn’t hurt; foe because it keeps me from seeing the truth of the mess around me, and I become far more likely to get hurt.

Turning on the light to see the mess isn’t exactly that enjoyable, but it’s the only way to avoid stomping on sharp toys.

This coming Sunday, we will hear about Christ encountering a woman, Photini (“the enlightened one”), at a well. I am particularly struck by one of her lines in the story: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:29).

When we meet Photini, Christ is sitting near Jacob’s Well. She comes to get some water, and Christ asks her for a drink. This simple conversation starter leads to a great amount of discourse in which Christ shares that this water, while it may slake her thirst now, will cause her to thirst again later.

Christ then offers her living water, telling her that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). Photini’s response to this is exactly what it should be: “Sir, give me this water” (Jn. 4:15).

But then, what follows is not what she expected.

When Christ tells her to call her husband (Jn. 4:16), she responds that she has no husband (Jn. 4:17). Christ then tells her, “You are right…you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly” (Jn. 4:18).

And just like that, the lights are turned on, and Photini becomes “the enlightened one.”

Her sin is exposed. This encounter with Christ reveals something about her.

And it hurts.

When we stumble around in the dark, it is easy to pretend that we are just “a little clumsy,” but when the lights come on, we begin to see this room is a mess – this room is my mess.

Photini experienced this. And we must experience it, too.

If we are going to come to know Christ as Savior, it can only happen as we come to recognize that He is Savior because we stand in need of being saved. To see this, we must see ourselves clearly.

Fr. John Behr, commenting on this Gospel writes:

Encountering Christ and receiving the spring of living water may not be what we expect it to be. You can’t introduce a stream of running water into a still pool without all the silt and sediment in the pool being stirred up; the immediate result will be that the pool is much more murky and turbulent than it was before…Encountering the truth of God in the person of Christ by receiving his Spirit is at the same time being faced with the truth about ourselves, and we simply fool ourselves if we think that this is going to be easy.[1]

Too often, we find ourselves like the woman at the well, stumbling around in the dark, avoiding the hard truth about God and ourselves. But Christ is inviting us into a true, living, and dynamic relationship in which we may simultaneously know Him to be Savior and ourselves as forgiven sinners.

But we tend to like the dark. We like the sediment settling at the bottom of the pool. We may be resistant to the light coming on in our hearts because we may begin to realize what a mess it is in there. We may hesitate to receive the living water lest it begin to stir up all the stuff we would rather not deal with.

But the call of Christ is one that we are encouraged to undertake bravely as we can know that He is the Savior who has already forgiven us for our multiple infidelities to Him – “You have had five husbands.”

But that doesn’t mean dealing with our mess is going to painless.

We may continue to stumble around for a little bit because turning on the light is disorienting and painful.

As St. Syncletica of Alexandria stated, “Those who would ignite a fire are at first choked by smoke, their eyes stinging with hot tears. Even so, by this effort they obtain what they have sought: The God Who is a consuming fire. Just so, we kindle this divine fire with tears and breath and labor.”[2] The work of opening our hearts to God and looking truly in ourselves is “painful. It is akin to spiritual death, but it is the only way in which the healing process can begin.”[3]

And Christ promises that this healing process will lead us to thirst never again. He leads Photini – He leads us to desire Him and the healing that only He can bring.

The healing involves a stark look in the mirror, to be sure. We will see ourselves as we really are, and we probably won’t like what we see. But we will only see ourselves clearly because the Light of Christ illumines all, making photinis of us all, inviting us to gaze on His face, to see Him as He is.

Then “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

So, let us contemplate Christ, the Light of all, that “we may come to know ourselves as sinners, yet also know that we are forgiven in Christ. This reality is inescapable – it is the truth; and it is better that we are broken upon this rock, and then built up upon it, rather than that it falls upon us and grinds us to dust (cf. Matt. 21:44).”[4]

What about you? Does having your heart exposed scare you at all? Or have you ever had such an experience of coming to know Christ and being confronted with your own sinfulness? Comment below and let us know how you responded to what could have otherwise been a difficult and demoralizing time!

 

[1] John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood: 2014), p. 82-83.

[2] Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Paraclete Press, Brewster: 2007), p. 25.

[3] Joseph J. Allen, Inner Way: Toward a Rebirth of Eastern Christian Spiritual Direction (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline: 2000), p. 25.

[4] Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, p. 83. 

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo Credits:

Play Food: Original

Daredevil: OsCataleptic via Compfight cc

Murky Water: Eva the Weaver via Compfight cc

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For more:

For commentary from the fathers on this reading, check out the Gospel Passage at Exegenius

For more on the call to Repentance, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on Exposing the Mess in Confession, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

The Easy Way

I didn't draw attention to the matter particularly.  If you make someone actually aware of his fault, this provokes a reaction in him that makes him unable to give it up later . . . And so, I wouldn't emphasize the specific fault.  This is very important.  Besides, the person is not exclusively responsible for his mistake.
 
I took this quote from “Wounded by Love,” a wonderful book on the life and spiritual counsel of the great Elder Porphyrios, a contemporary saint who reposed in 1991.  Regarded by many as perhaps the greatest elder of the twentieth century, he was a pious and gentle spiritual giant, immersed in the Scripture and divine services and consumed by a love of God and all creation.
 
Though strict on himself, he was gentle with his spiritual children.  He did not condemn them for their faults, nor did he use the weapons of guilt and judgment to bludgeon his spiritual charges.  His peaceful interior state was complemented by his irenic dealings with others and, in turn, helped to develop the spiritual peace of the the untold thousands of people fortunate enough to know him. 
 
Though the Elder did not deny the reality of sin, he did allow it to preoccupy him, either.  He was not a warrior against sin, a crusader against vice; instead, he was a lover of Christ and a proclaimer of the Gospel. 
 
The Elder used a wonderful metaphor to explain the difference:
 
Imagine a pitch-black room: the curtains drawn, the lights switched off.  Can you expel the darkness from the room?  Can you wave your hands about and claw at the blackness to somehow push it aside?
 
Elder Porphyrios realized that such a negative approach would fail: Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul.  Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.
 
He preferred what he called the easy way, to keep his eyes, not on sin, but on God by devoting himself to prayer, the divine services, and Scripture.  The soul, especially when it is sensitive, is filled with gladness and enthusiasm through love; it is strengthened and transforms, alters and transfigures all the negative and ugly things.
 
As much as this applies to our inner struggle, it may even be more relevant for the part we play in the lives of others.  Remember that the Elder, when hearing confessions, did not want to focus on a person’s sins because that provokes a reaction in him that makes him unable to give it up later.  Though we may have the best of intentions, we may do great damage if we approach other’s sins without the necessary sensitivity.
 
Our agressive moves against sin may actually move people further away from God rather than closer to Him. 
 
While our gentleness and compassion can draw people out of the darkness of their personal struggle and to Christ, our judgment and condemnation can push people deeper into their isolation and despair. 
 
How many people grew up in a household that was vehemently against alcohol, only to secretly get drunk with their friends every chance they got?  How many grew up in a household that didn’t tolerate dating at a young age, only to secretly hook up whenever the house was empty? 
 
Many worry that we have an unhealthy sexual culture centered on meaningless intimate encounters and crippling pornography addictions.  Perhaps it’s a reaction to the unhealthy culture that preceded it, one centered on puritanical sexual repression and shame?
 
Being against sin is not the same thing as being for God. 
 
Elder Porphyrios didn’t need to scold or condemn.  He preferred the easy way.  He invited people to come and see the crucified and resurrected Lord.  He could show people Christ because he himself knew Christ.  And this knowledge allowed him to be confident that, as soon as the Light of Christ enters into a person's heart, the darkness will dissolve. 
 
Do we know Christ?  Can we bring others to Him?  Are we confident that God can heal any wound, forgive any sin, and transform any life, no matter how broken? 
 
Or are we more interested in sin after all?
 
Originally posted at http://orthodoxyouthministry.blogspot.com/.
 
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