10 August OS 2018 – Thursday of the 13th week of Matthew; Dormition Fast; Ss. Lawrence, Hippolytus, and Sixtus of Rome, Martyrs
In today’s Gospel, the Lord tells us there is a 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 must find out what it is and 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 form inverse opposites. A Christian lives between fear and hope: fear of God’s judgment and hope in His mercy. If he loses the fear of God or gives up hope in God, he sins against the Holy Spirit.
When we lose the fear of God, we say, “Oh, God forgives, God forgives” carelessly, assuming that anything we do will be forgiven no matter what, and we live as if God’s judgment does not exist. This shows excessive hope in His mercy, taking it for granted. Certain sects, popular in American culture, teach this form of the unforgivable sin as their central dogma, but Orthodox Christians also may adopt this attitude through ignorance or carelessness and give up any effort to repent for their sin. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” says the Scripture. We must live in Godly fear and cultivate 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. To combat this, we must ask God to give us a healthy hatred of sin, the desire to please Him and do His holy will, and the 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 springs 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 should also apply ourselves assiduously to productive work, and manual labor especially, which acts very powerfully to drive away despondency. Most powerfully, 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, and prepare to receive the infinite gift of Holy Communion, the decisive remedy for all of our ills.
“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 cannot accept such-and-such that the Church teaches because it does not seem right to me,” and so forth. To thus deny Truth separates the soul from grace; it kills the soul. If a man chooses to kill his own soul, God does not force forgiveness on him.
Let us open our minds and hearts to the Faith. We do not have to understand everything…we cannot understand everything! We ask questions, using the mind God gave us, to deepen our knowledge and strengthen our commitment to the Faith. But each must do this as a docile child of the Church and not Her judge.
May the All-Holy Spirit, sent by the Lord Jesus Christ to lead us into all truth, enliven our minds and hearts to embrace 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.