Posts Tagged ‘sin’

Short reflection inspired by St. Theophan the Recluse is here.

(Theophan, sometimes called Theophanes [the original Greek version of his name], was a 19th-century bishop in Russia who retired early from the active episcopate – hence “recluse” – and became an incredible spiritual father and writer!  A real latter-day Father of the Church.  He even wrote an acclaimed book on how to raise children!  And he was glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate at its Council in 1988, its first chance in 70 years, under glasnost in the waning days of Communist rule; for this reason, older printed references to him might not say “Saint.”)

From Saint Symeon the New Theologian, one of the key Fathers of the Church (his feast is commemorated this Sunday 12 October, and two hymns of his feast are here):

Our holy fathers have renounced all other spiritual work and concentrated wholly on this one doing, that is, on guarding the heart,* convinced that, through this practice, they would easily attain every other virtue, whereas without it not a single virtue can be firmly established(Emphasis added.)

(*–NB: In the Author’s Prologue, in the second paragraph, I believe the phrase “it is not anthropocentric but the anthropocentric” should read “it is not anthropocentric but theanthropocentric,” ie, centered on the Theanthropos, the God-Man — Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, Theos and Anthropos, God and Human.  One might also say “Christocentric.”

NB2: The online text from Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS’ Orthodox Psychotherapy linked to is not the entire book, which you might wish to buy or borrow [or steal?! Just kidding.].

NB3: This work is not to be confused with this one of Russian provenance, which I have not yet read through.

NB4: Metr. Hierotheos may well be a living Father of the Church.  At least as of 1994 he was spiritual father to “a vast number” of people, especially in Greece, but also worldwide, even through “a treatment network” of “the more spiritually healthy” of his spiritual children.  Since ’95 he’s been an active Ruling Hierarch of a diocese in Greece northwest of Athens [on this page he’s spelled Ierotheos, without the H].  As you can see, they have quite a few dioceses over there … where they’re called Metropolises, as with most Greek / Hellenic jurisdictions.)

I know nothing about the recent controversy over this, referenced at the beginning of this article from St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania (anonymous), and was surprised to hear about it.  But this article seems to address it well, briefly, and Orthodoxly.  It also highlights the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Patristic writings that is possible unless one is steeped ever more deeply in Orthodoxy’s Patristic, Holy Tradition, ie, not just historic prooftexts (or even Scriptural for that matter), but the Tradition in its fullness, including the Liturgy and its hymns and prayers, the spiritual and ascetic struggle to receive God’s Gift, and even how Orthodoxy has and has not made use of non-canonical (“apocryphal”) scriptures and related writings.  For its taste of this, I highly recommend the article even if you already don’t question the sinlessness of the Theotokos.

(I would only add to the piece, to clarify it, that at no time did Mary lose her free will.  She was probably sorely tempted!)

OK, OK, now that we’ve all had a laugh over a Vatican bureaucrat-archbishop’s politically-correct-sounding interview, first things first: what he was really about (Latin perspective).  For further background, from other sources on the WWW, I gather that what he was doing in the first place was providing advice to priest-confessors / spiritual directors in the Latin tradition, to broaden the traditional examination of conscience to cover things Sister Mary Rose may not have covered when His Excellency was in parochial school several generations ago.  Secondarily, to his faithful as they go to confession themselves – as he wishes they’d do more of (as should we all).

(More sober treatments are, for now at least, available from the Sydney Morning Herald and Reuters.)

The media didn’t have quite as much ‘fun’ when the Latins’ new Catechism of the Catholic Church did something similar over a decade ago, adding speeding and other such “modern” *  things to moral considerations.  As I recall they treated it as just a small, quirky highlight of a very long and detailed book about everything a Latin (or even an Eastern Catholic – with more Eastern Christian ‘flavor’ peppered-into it than we’d ever seen before) needs to believe in order to be saved (as they believe).

Someone with 6 years of graduate Western religious studies 😉 might like to say that this suggestion from Rome is indeed somewhat new, not altogether out of line with recent developments in Western moral theology regarding what it calls social sins or structural evil.  British United Reformed hymnwriter Dr. Brian Wren even penned one that conveys some of the idea:

1. Not only acts of evil will,
but bland routine and good intent,
can hurt and harass, starve and kill
the outcast and the innocent.
  In such a world, and in God’s name,
  we seek a gospel to proclaim.

2. Our normal, ordinary ways
of doing business, getting more,
entrap the poorest in a maze
of hunger, debt, disease and war.
  In Christ we would make good our claim,
  and find a gospel to proclaim.

(Speaking of which[!], you can look at the whole text at his copyright administrators Hope Publishing Company, but when they say you can agree to download one copy free and easy for personal use, they don’t mean you can save the HTML on your hard drive – it’ll hose your browser like it just did mine!  [All open tabs and windows!  Thank goodness WordPress auto-saves drafts.]  But they don’t bar highlighting and copying the text … for now.  BTW, I’m considering this truncated quotation an acceptable use under usual copyright laws; I even recommend his stuff for purchase by non-Orthodox choirs and congregations, so consider this a review.)

Not to mention someone with a background as an oppressed Irish Catholic [849 years, Your Majesty!], a Native American, a political and investigative reporter, a local labor union leader, and in Liberation Theology.

But I would be wrong to think this sort of thing is new, merely counter to stereotype, where we focus on personal failings in areas like sex, stealing, lying, cheating, killing, hurting, betraying – the stuff of the party game Scruples.  Important stuff, stuff that’s often hard not to do, a challenge!  But written Examinations of Conscience or Preparations for Confession have been ‘expanding upon’ or ‘contextualizing’ Commandments, Vices, and other violations for centuries.  ‘Ya haven’t killed anyone lately, but have you killed their reputation?’ etc.  And before that, you still had priests questioning penitents, especially if they seemed reluctant to come clean.

As pointed out, some of the specific things mentioned this week were technologically impossible not long ago, but variations on older temptations.  Other things, like contributing to social injustice, may have felt – rightly or wrongly – largely out of the reach of most laity in past eras, but most Christian Churches have frequently counseled rulers about this.  Today, with voting and rapid transit, not to mention the Internet(!), the average lay Christian in much of the world may sin against many times more people than in former times.

As the context of Confession points out, and as Orthodoxy emphasizes even more, it’s not just about resisting temptation, but repenting of sinfulness, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary (scroll down to last paragraph).  The perfect Latin is considered possible, as I recently implied, if highly doubtful; and some Protestant groups at least historically believed in some form of perfectibility in life.  But in Orthodoxy we have the frequently-told tales of the saintliest of monastics on their deathbeds worrying sincerely – though not unhealthily – that they haven’t even begun to repent, and the monastic Father who, when asked what they do all day, replied, “We fall down and get up, fall down and get up, fall down and get up.”  “Orthodox aren’t perfect, just repentant.”  Seeming to successfully resist temptation can tempt to and induce pride, the deadliest sin of all; better to remember that we can never repent enough to divinize ourselves – repenting is merely the best preparation for God to do it.  And what happens then?  An even greater sense of our own sinfulness, of our responsibility for the sins of all humanity, even praying for the devil (they say) and seeking to refrain from killing bugs.  “New sins”?  We’ll probably never run out of sins!  But increased sensitizedness?  Even if it’s driven by news media like some of the archbishop’s seem to be – and as journalists say, “The news is usually bad” – is that a bad thing?  Is God unconcerned?  Brian Wren says no.

But consult your priest or spiritual parent.

(*–Who was the guy in the Old Testament who could be identified by watchmen while still several miles away from a fortress “because he drives like a maniac”?!!  I swear I read that exact phrase in a supposedly reputable translation a decade or two ago!)

I contributed this to a Catholic Answers forum thread while looking for something else over there:

Originally Posted by Jimmy B
What is the difference between Catholic Salvation and non-Catholic Christian Salvation? Is there Salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church?

I can’t speak with authority about Eastern Catholics. But the Latin Church teaches that salvation is to see God’s Essence – the Beatific Vision – after one’s death. The normal way is considered to die in good standing with the Latin Church, without any unabsolved mortal sins on one’s soul, and spend some ‘time’ in purgatory being “purged” of unabsolved venial sins and the residue of absolved venial and mortal sins, before entering heaven. (Forgive me, I forget the normal terminology for the ‘residue’. Also, “time in purgatory” is not understood as ‘temporal time,’ since it’s outside the space-time continuum so to speak. Nevertheless…) One’s time in purgatory may be shortened by the prayers of the living (also their difficulties, good deeds, Masses, or Communions, offered up for them) and by partial indulgences obtained by oneself before death or by survivors after one’s death, or abolished by a plenary indulgence obtained by oneself near one’s death or by a survivor afterward. Any good deeds, prayers, extra sacraments received by one[, as well as the use of priest-blessed ‘sacramentals’ such as medals, rosaries, relics, etc.,]* are technically optional and considered signs of ‘extra’ – desirable but superfluous – holiness, although they are also considered means of acquiring created grace from God, a substance in one’s soul to help one resist temptation in the first place. But if you die with one unabsolved mortal sin on your soul, you go directly to hell for eternity. Persons who are not visibly in “full communion with Rome” may be saved if they have not with full knowledge and culpability rejected this communion, and have lived their lives following their best lights or conscience in good faith, avoiding or turning back from sin and doing good.

The Orthodox Church (which originally included the Patriarchate of Rome) teaches and has always taught that salvation is to see and participate in God’s Uncreated Energies – in which He is fully present – hopefully even in life – because His Essence is neither visible to nor participable by creatures, ever, because the Uncreated is so far beyond the created. The normal way is to believe right doctrine, be joined to the Orthodox Church, and follow its way of Purification, Illumination, and Glorification (theosis, aka “deification” or divinization, but not apotheosis), including resisting and repenting of sin, partaking of the Mysteries (“sacraments”) of the Orthodox Church, prayer and worship, fasting and self-discipline / self-restraint / asceticism, almsgiving, following Holy Tradition and the Canons of the Church, practicing co-suffering love / charity / philanthropy, etc. (These things are not considered optional.) Purgatory, created “grace,” indulgences, a visible Divine Essence, and differentiating mortal and venial sins, are doctrines which became part of the tradition only of the Patriarchate of Rome subsequent to its original embrace of o/Orthodoxy. God’s Energies are what the Apostles Peter, James, and John saw as Light emanating from the Lord’s body at his Transfiguration, and many others from the living bodies of the Saints since then, and what were seen as “divided tongues as of fire” filling the Church at the first Christian Pentecost in Jerusalem, among many other instances (including the face of the Holy Patriarch Moses after his theophany on Mt. Sinai). God’s Energies are His activities and attributes, Uncreated Grace, seen by the Orthodox Saints as the Glory of God, the fire in Moses’ Burning Bush, the smoke that covered Sinai at the giving of the Law and the Temple after its construction (“Shekinah”), the fire/cloud that led the Israelites for 40 years, etc. Everything that exists has essence and energies, but the (o/Orthodox) Fathers of the Church learned this about God first not from human philosophy but their own vision of God’s Glory, their own Glorification. Theosis / glorification is becoming like God, though Energetically, not Essentially; reacquiring the God-like-ness our first parents lost (the “likeness” in Genesis’ “image and likeness”): “God became human so humans could become God,” as more than one Father of the Church expressed it. Glorification, ie, salvation, cannot be earned or deserved, but God bestows it freely on those who prepare themselves as described above. We will all see God in His Energies after the Last Judgment, the saved as Light, the rest as painful purifying fire for eternity. God in His Love does not force Himself on anyone. If anyone outside the Orthodox Church is saved – which may be possible – it’s because of God’s Grace through the Orthodox Church, His Body (which is not the same as Fr. Rahner’s “anonymous Christians,” nor according identical regard for other Christian groups’ rituals as for the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Orthodox Church). The fact that non-Orthodox, even non-Christians, have sometimes seen actual Uncreated Light, is proof of this for faith … although some “light visions” may be demonic in character, as “Even the devil can appear as an angel of light,” so one really needs an Orthodox spiritual father or mother to help discern it.

How the Patriarchate of Rome’s teaching changed from the latter to the former, I’m not certain.

(*–Material in brackets disallowed by CA’s time limit on editing your own posts. Whatever.)