Many people believe that they do not sin. This is a great illusion allowing the false belief that sin has only to do with the most extreme manifestations of evil such as violence, murder and so on. The thinking is that being sinful is the conscious practice of evil. Sin is therefore seen as a harsh and negative word and the word sinner, even worse, because it identifies us with it. The focus on sin is thought to be negative hindering the positive aspects of our nature. If we think like this, we can easily convince ourselves that we are good.
This thinking shows that we do not know ourselves and our relationship with God. If we did know ourselves, we would be convicted by our own conscience, we would be silenced as were the Pharisees and scribes gathered before Christ to test Him in respect to the Adulterous woman. They tested Him by asking the following question: “Now Moses in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?” Jesus chose to ignore a direct answer knowing that they were eager to accuse Him and said to them “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:3-7) Convicted by their conscious they all left one by one.
A lack of self knowledge allows people to become spiritually unconscious, so that it becomes virtually impossible to see or hear spiritual things. In this depleted state, people place a heavy reliance on their reasoning and logical argument to explain themselves, but it inevitably becomes a futile exercise because human logic is incapable of perceiving the mysteries of God. It was for this very reason that Our Lord spoke in parables to people. He did this in order that His Word might find its way directly to their hearts, by-passing their limited obstructive human understanding and that by faith the mysteries of God and the heavenly kingdom could be received. “Therefore” says Our Lord “I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matt. 13:13)
THE CONDITION OF SLEEP
Jesus refers to this condition of sleep as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah which he recited to those gathered around him:
“Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
SIN IN US
To gain a better understanding of ourselves it is important for us to understand the meaning of sin in our own lives. To help us with this it is useful to take a look at the Greek word for ‘sin’, ‘αμαρτία’ (amartia), which literally means falling short of the mark or target. The Philokalia describes it as a “failure to achieve the purpose for which one is created.” (Philok. Vol.1 pp 364) The purpose of course is to enjoy communion with God, to love God, to live with Him, to be one with Him. This carries a further responsibility to love one another, for we are members of His One Holy Body having been united to His Body through Baptism. As one Orthodox Christian put it “sin is about remembering oneself and forgetting others”. Love on the other hand “is a humble disregard of oneself, a giving up of oneself for others, for God, and for God’s children”. (Light in the Darkness by Sergei Fudel, St Vladimir’s Press pp 64). When we look at it this way we come to realise that we sin continually. Those who find this hard to believe have not yet come to understand themselves and their need for Christ.
Christ did not come for the perfect and for the good for “No one is good but One, that is God.” (Matt.19:17); nor did he come to condemn us, but He came to free us from the bondage of sin of which its consequence is death. We are granted forgiveness of sins and new life through Christ.
If we do not seek the remission of sins within the Church through the Sacrament of Confession then our faith is founded on nothing more than theory. Yes it is that definite, especially to those who see themselves as Orthodox Christians because there can be no claim to ignorance. Confession is one of the compulsory Sacraments of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church without which we are not worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
Christ then awakens us out of sin and from the eternal sleep of our sure death. He is the Light of the day that leads us along the path to eternal Life. This He gives freely to us out of love, if only we ask for His forgiveness. If we do this, He restores our soul, He rescues us out of evil and the world of darkness.
In his letter to the Romans St Paul tells us that “Now is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11-12)
POSITIVE NOT NEGATIVE
Contrary to popular belief that our focus on sin encourages a pre-occupation with negative thoughts, awareness of sin allows us to do something about it. If you have a malignant growth or some other potentially harmful illness it is most important that you find an accurate diagnosis so that it can be treated early. The same is the case with sin. To deny its existence is foolish and dangerous just as it is foolish to allow a treatable illness to go without treatment.
We have a responsibility to disassociate ourselves from the ugliness of sin so that what remains in us is pure and of God alone. Strange as it might seem, this leads us to self-condemnation which is rather unheard of in today’s world. “Where God is” says St Seraphim, “there is no evil. Everything that comes from God brings peace and profit and leads a man to humility and self-condemnation.”
(The Little Russian Philokalia, St Seraphim of Sarov, Vol 1: pp25.)
Fr Emmanuel Stamatiou