“If a Christian,” Abba Agathon said, “kept the judgment which follows death in mind every moment, he would not sin with such ease.”
Earlier today I read something I would like to contrast with this Saying. Someone wrote that Christians must repent continually and all I could think was “How self-centered an approach to Christian life.” If a person is repenting continually, that that person’s eyes will be directed solely at that person.
Abba Agathon, in advising us to keep the day of judgment in mind is telling us to keep an eye out for the results of what we do, which forces our attention away from ourselves and onto others.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves as God first loved us. I think Jesus appreciates what the Abba says more than the anonymous, modern day person I quoted above.
“If you are ever slandered,” Saint Ephraim the Syrian writes, “and your innocence is (subsequently) revealed, do not be arrogant. Serve your Lord with humility and thank him for freeing you from the calumnies of men, observing his commandments faithfully and from the heart.”
How many of us have been slandered? How many of us have had lies told about us? How many of us have had our words distorted and twisted to mean something we have never said?
All too many of us, especially we participate in social media or follow and comment on blogs. It hurts, doesn’t it? We want repudiation and vindication, don’t we? That’s human nature, isn’t it?
However, Jesus has words for us that He wants us to take seriously. Don’t return evil for evil. Turn the other cheek. Don’t do the tit for tat thing. Pray for those who are rotten to us.
God knows the truth about us. People open to the Holy Spirit know the truth about us. We don’t have to worry about it.
A holy elder, seeing with his own eyes a certain brother fall into deep sin, not only did not judge him, but wept and said: “He fell today; without doubt I will fall tomorrow. But he certainly will repent, whereas for myself, I am not so sure of this.”
How wonderful it would be if all of us had the same reaction as this anonymous monk. Jesus tells us, as have many great saints and teachers, that we have to pay more attention to the log in our own eyes than to the splinter in the eye of someone else.
This monk reminds us that we are all sinners, we all fall, we all err. When we do we need to repent but as with this holy elder, are we confident that we will ask forgiveness?
Abba Iperechios gives the following counsel to those who are abstinent and practice fasting: “Eat meat and drink wine and do not devour your brother’s flesh with slander.”
And further: “By slandering God, the serpent was able to cast the first-created out of Paradise. He who slanders his neighbor does the same thing; he burdens his own soul and leads the one who listens to him to evil.”
Jesus says “Don’t judge others because you open yourself to judgment.” Same could be said of slander. But both concepts share the same basic principle. Both are examples of a failure to mind one’s own business. If one is going to abstinent and fast and yet say nasty things about a neighbor, then one might as well give up abstinence and fasting because those practices will be outweighed by the slander one speaks.
Abba Iperechios’ example is that of the serpent in the Garden, telling lies about God and we all know what that lead to. Would any of us want to be responsible for a neighbor’s perdition?
“It is true, Abba,” murmured the dying monk, “that I was not a good monk. I have, however, observed one thing with exactness in my life: I never judged anyone. Because of this, I intend to say to the Master Christ, when I present myself before him, ‘You said, Lord, not to judge, in order not to be judged,’ and I hope that He will not judge me strictly.”
“Go in peace on your eternal journey, my child,” the abbot told him with wonderment. “You have succeeded, without toil, in saving yourself.”
It takes a goodish degree of humility to refrain from judging others, does it not? We can be so certain our perceptions are based on facts that we categorize, demonize, label, and stereotype our fellow human beings and be one hundred percent certain our judgment is merited.
However, our perception is very often our interpretation which is based on our internal issues and our interpretation is not necessarily based on evidence, facts, and simple truth.
“Humility, with no extended labors, has saved many,” another elder says. “This is verified by the tax collector and the prodigal son, who were received by God because of the few humble words that they said.”
Humility, it has been said, was the virtue most prized by the Desert Christians. Indeed it seems to be the hallmark of all who have been canonized or otherwise remembered and honored by several denominations.
By “extended labor” the abba means prayers, fasting, acts of contritions and other ascetical practices.
In addition to the tax collector and the prodigal son, I would add the publican whose prayer found more favor with Jesus than that of the Pharisees.
These were all people who knew themselves for what they were. They didn’t pretend to be better or worse than they were, they were merely themselves and God loves them for it.
And Abba Sarmatias said: “I prefer a sinful person, who knows his faults and is humbled, over a self-complacent person of virtue.”
This Saying reminds me of some things Jesus said. There’s the bit about the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14 and the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25: 1-13.
Jesus wants us to grasp that it is the Publican and the Five Wise Virgins who please God the most and I daresay most of us who call ourselves Christians like to think we are like the Publican and the Five Wise Virgins.
After mulling over these bits of the Gospels for a long time, I have come to the conclusion that Jesus is telling us to realize that we are more like the Pharisee and the Five Foolish Virgins.
Were we to realize and accept this, we would be much less complacent and much more humble.