To be rather than to seem

2 November OS 2017: Wednesday of the Seventh Week of St. Luke; Ss. Acyndinus, Pegasius, Aphthonius, Elpidephorus, and Anempodistus of Persia, Martyrs.

The daily Gospel reading for the Divine Liturgy this morning is Luke 11: 42-46 –

The Lord said, Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.

St. Theophan the Recluse’s commentary bears careful reading in its entirety. As usual, he shows himself a master of the intricacies of spiritual psychology:

The Lord begins to reproach His contemporaries by saying that they pass over judgment and the love of God. The drying up of righteousness and love is the root of all disharmony, both in society and in every person. It comes from the predominance of self-love or egoism. When egoism inhabits the heart an entire horde of passions settles therein. [This horde] strikes out against righteousness and love, which require selflessness; while the passions generated from it chase away all other virtues. The person becomes, by his heart’s disposition, unfit for anything that is truly good. He can still tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, but he does not find within himself the courage to do anything more substantial. This does not mean that his outward behavior is disgraceful. No, it is adorned in every way with decency, but on the inside he is as a grave which appears not, and the men that walk over it are not aware of it. The beginning of self-correction is the beginning of the appearance of selflessness in the heart, after which righteousness and love are restored. Then, one after the other, all other virtues begin coming to life. Then the person becomes comely in the eyes of God because of his heart’s disposition, although on the outside he may sometimes seem unattractive to other people. But the judgment of man is not the important thing: the important thing is for God’s judgment not to be against us. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 244-245

This is a lot to take in. I would like to offer a few thoughts inspired by the saint’s insights:

Egoism gives rise to all the other passions, destroys love and justice inside of people, and this destroys society. So the only path back to love and justice in society is for Orthodox people to overcome their egoism and subdue their passions.

You can be full of these disgusting passions and seem like a very nice person on the outside. This hypocritical life is what makes up our modern worldly society at its best. When all the masks fall off, then the “law of the jungle” ensues and social life becomes an insane, chaotic war of “all against all.” This is what we are seeing today.

If you are an Orthodox Christian, your responsibility is awesome, because you have the grace and the tools to overcome all this by starting with yourself.

The first step is self-correction, as laid out in the teachings of the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers: Reprove yourself, humble yourself, realize in your being, in constant thoughts, feelings, and actions (not just words) that you are not the center of the universe. This means humbling the body through fasting and prostrations, and humbling your mind by submitting to the Gospel reasoning and giving up worldly reasoning. You have to be ruthless with yourself, examine your thoughts, words, and deed, and confess frequently, living from one Holy Communion to the next in fear and trembling, looking forward to death and God’s judgment.

When you start doing this, you may go from seeming like a “nice person” to seeming strange, perhaps even unpleasant. The other “nice people” may not understand you any more, because you will be going from the realm of phony love, which does not speak truth and pretends to accept everything, to real love, which is sometimes a “harsh and dreadful thing,” in the words of Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima. Real love hurts.

But always remember: The only thing that matters at the end of the day is God’s judgment.

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