Entries with tag judging .

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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The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Recently, I heard about a man (let’s call him John) who went to his 25th high school reunion. John never felt very comfortable with himself during high school. He always felt too skinny, and admired the other guys in his class who were athletic and popular. But at this reunion, one of those athletic popular guys told John how he always admired how confident John was in high school.  

You see, the way John saw things didn’t match with how others did. John and his high school classmates looked back on their four years of high school very differently; all because they perceived them differently.

Experience is shaped by perception. We see ourselves one way, while others see us differently. We worry about how others perceive us and whether they will accept us.

Sometimes we even worry if we’re good enough for God.

It’s easy to get stuck inside our heads, lost in all of these questions, and forget that each person is just as bound to their perception as we are to ours. More often than not, this perception is shaped by insecurities and fears, and even traumas.  

But what if we were able to let go of this bad thinking? What if we could get out of our own heads and see things, not as we fear they are, but as they really are?

So let’s briefly look at three areas of perception and try to look past the lies we tell ourselves to discover the truths that God is trying to tell us.

1. How we see ourselves

On a daily (or even momentary) basis, it’s easy to fluctuate between feeling confident and feeling unsure of ourselves. We are constantly sizing ourselves up against all of the goals and expectations that we have, whether self-defined or given to us by our family or society.

If we’re feeling insecure, we can find imperfections in just about anything: our looks, our voice, or our smarts. We can doubt our abilities in school, sports, and work. And then on the other extreme, there’s pride. We can see ourselves as the best at whatever it is, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

But somewhere between insecurity and pride is a balanced self-worth. It’s the ability to look honestly at ourselves without being destructively critical; to see when we have done well and where we could use improvement. If we’re struggling with something, we need to be honest with ourselves and ask God to be with us and guide us. If we’re battling insecurities, we can ask God to give us clarity and to guide us to see the truth of our situation.

It’s a balance that we can only strike through regular self-reflection, which includes the sacrament of confession and the guidance of a spiritual father. It’s a balance between acknowledging our sins and shortcomings while putting our hope in Christ and the salvation He offers.

2. How we see each other

 It would be great if we only looked inward. But unfortunately, most of us are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Judging others and worrying about how others see us are related problems we can face.

If I’m preoccupied with what other people are doing, I neglect looking at myself. It’s like during Lent, when it’s all too easy to look at what others are eating instead of looking at our own plate. Or maybe we worry people will judge us if we don’t fast properly, and so Lent becomes a time to worry about whether we look pious enough instead of a chance to turn more and more towards Christ. And since we catch ourselves judging others, we worry how other people are judging us.

But worrying about these things does no one any good. How others perceive us doesn’t necessarily reflect who we are, and our relationship to Christ. And we can never know what’s really going on in another person’s heart, and the secret struggles they bear. All we can do is work on our own struggles, and try to honestly see ourselves, which takes us back to the first point.  

3. How Christ sees us

But all of this worrying over ourselves, judging others and worrying how they see us…is just noise.

It’s noise that keeps us from hearing the truth that, regardless of whether we live up to expectations, or whether we are as good or better than anyone else: the God who created us, who fills us with life each and every moment, that God loves us unconditionally just as we are.

We come to God as we are, and through our knowing Him, He transforms us into the person we can be.

The person He made us to be.

We are His masterpiece. We are His unique design, imperfect though we may be.

Jesus Christ sees our imperfections, but not according to our specifications. He sees the difference between who we were and who we are today.  He sees the difference between who we are today and the person we could be if only we trust in Him.

You see, we were made in His image (Genesis 1:27), and through a relationship with Jesus Christ we can become more and more like Him. We are living icons of Christ. Each Christian, regardless of our past mistakes and struggles, is an adopted child of God (Galatians 4:4-5). Through our faith in Christ, we have a connection to God the Father.  

Our worth is no longer dependent on what anyone else thinks; our worth is revealed in our relationship with Him.

 

It can be tough trying to walk the line between humility and self-pity, between a healthy sense of worth and pride.  It can be tempting to want to worry about how other people are living their lives, to wonder why we aren’t like them or why they aren’t like us. This temptation is so disruptive because it keeps us from living our lives as they actually are; it keeps us bound to some other person’s story instead of living the story that God wills for us, personally.

When instead we allow ourselves to live as Christ sees us, when we see ourselves as icons of Christ made for a specific purpose, we can begin to live according to His purpose for us. Whether we are the best or the worst at something isn’t as important as doing whatever we do to the best of our ability and to the glory of God.

We can ask the Lord to help us keep our eyes on Him. We can ask Him each day to keep us from being overly preoccupied with other people and what they might think of us, or what we think of them.

Then, free from the burden of the world’s expectations and our judgements, we can come to Christ ready to follow His will for us today.

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. 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.

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