Living between hope and fear

18 August OS 2015 – Thursday of the 13th Week after Pentecost (13th week of Matthew), Holy Martyrs Florus and Laurus

In today’s Gospel, the Lord teaches about the sin that cannot be forgiven:

Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit. There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.  Mark 3: 28-35

What is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Since it is the sin that cannot be forgiven, we should be very eager to find out what it is and to flee it by all means.

St. Theophan the Recluse, quoting a standard Orthodox catechism of his day, relates the following answers: “Great or excessive hope in God’s grace; despair or lack of hope in God’s compassion; contradicting manifest and confirmed truth, and rejection of the Orthodox Christian Faith… (Orthodox Confession, part 3, question 38).”   – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 181

Let us examine these one by one.

The first two ways of sinning against the Holy Spirit are related: they are the opposites of each other.   A Christian lives between hope and fear: hope in God’s mercy and fear of God’s judgment. If we lose the fear of God, we will say, “Oh, God forgives, God forgives” carelessly, assuming that anything we do will be forgiven no matter what, and we will live as if God’s judgment does not exist. This is excessive hope in His mercy, taking it for granted. This attitude is typical among certain Protestant sects as part of their teaching, but each of us can consciously or unconsciously adopt this attitude and thereby give up any efforts at repentance.   “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” says the Scripture. We must live in Godly fear and have an intense hatred of sin, revulsion to sin. To adopt a careless attitude about one’s sins and to presume on God’s forgiveness makes forgiveness impossible, because one is not repenting. This is a form of the sin against the Holy Spirit. To combat this, we must ask God for a healthy hatred of sin, for the desire to please Him and do His holy will, and for constant remembrance of death and God’s judgment.

The opposite of this excessive hope is excessive grief over sin, as if God cannot forgive us. To fall into despair and give up all hope is spiritual suicide. It comes from intense pride, a pride so great that we believe that our sin is greater than God Himself.   We must pray daily for true humility, in order to accept completely, with all our hearts, that God alone is the source of our life, while everything that is from us, including sin, is something finite and subject to God’s sovereignty and omnipotence.  There is nothing more powerful than God’s love. There is nothing He cannot overcome. Despair is a denial of God’s love, of His omnipotence, and of His sovereignty over His creation.   It is the ultimate fruit of listening to the lies of the master accuser and liar, Satan. When dark thoughts of hopelessness assail us, we must go into action immediately with prayer, reading psalms, prostrations, and thanksgiving and praise to God.   We should chant Church hymns and psalms that we know, since singing spiritual songs is a great help against despondency. We must run to confession and carefully confess all of our sins in detail, with compunction, since usually depression and despair arise from unconfessed sins.  We should also apply ourselves assiduously to productive work, and manual labor especially, which acts very powerfully to drive away despondency.

“Contradicting manifest and confirmed truth” leads ultimately to “…rejection of the Orthodox Christian Faith.” If one stubbornly rejects the teaching of the Church, one loses the saving effect of one’s baptism, even if one does not formally renounce one’s identity as an Orthodox Christian. How many times do we hear, “Oh, yes, I am Orthodox, but, you know, I think the Church is wrong about such-and-such,” or “I just cannot accept such-and-such that the Church teaches because it just does not seem right to me,” and so forth.   To deny Truth is to separate the soul from grace, to kill the soul. If one chooses to kill one’s own soul, God does not force us to “be forgiven.” Holy Tradition is not a cafeteria from which we choose the items we like, in order to make up our own lunch tray of tasty religious beliefs, leaving off the “dishes” we find unpalatable. We must wholeheartedly embrace all that the Church teaches.

Let us open our minds and hearts to the Faith. One does not have to understand everything…we cannot understand everything! One certainly may and should ask questions, in order to deepen one’s knowledge and strengthen one’s commitment to the Faith. But one must do this with the disposition to be obedient and docile to the Church, to be her child, not her critic, accuser, and judge.

May the All-Holy Spirit, sent by the Lord Jesus Christ to lead us into all truth, open our minds and hearts to all the saving truths of our Holy Faith, give us the grace of the fear of God coupled with all-daring hope in His mercy, and guide us securely on the path of salvation, right up to our last hour.   Believing wholeheartedly, repenting humbly, and hoping in God with childlike trust, may we find Paradise. May He bring us all together to life everlasting.

B085JB mosaic of the Pentecost, Katholikon church, Hosios Loukas monastery Greece

B085JB mosaic of the Pentecost, Katholikon church, Hosios Loukas monastery Greece

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