"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday, 11 September 2015

A HOMILY ON JUDGING ONE ANOTHER, preached a few days ago at Pachacamac Monastery.

painted by a monk of Pachacamac

Jesus told his disciple parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person?  Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when full trained,every disciple will be like his teacher.Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?  How can you say to your brother,‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?  You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”  (Luke 6: 39-42)

Among the desert fathers of Egypt there was a sin so easy to commit that it struck fear in the hearts of the monks like no other.   It was not a sin against chastity, nor was it a sin of violence.   It was the sin of judging and criticising others.   Each stage of the spiritual life has a temptation to which all in that stage are prone.   At the beginning of our seeking God there can be grosser sins of the flesh, sins that really belong to the time before conversion. However, once we are on the path to perfection but do not yet love God with our whole being nor love our neighbour as ourselves, then the scene is set for this sin of judging and criticising others.  The monks were afraid of it because it is so easy to commit.   

Just think for a moment how many times during any day you criticise somebody or take part in gossip!   In Peru it is said that a small town can become a big hell.   It was probably worse in the Egyptian desert where the monks heard little news of any importance.  Listen to this short excerpt from the Desert Fathers:
The old men used to say, "there is nothing worse than passing judgement. 

They said of abba Macarius that he became as it is written  a  god upon earth, because just as  God  protects the  world, so   abba Macarius would  cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and  those which he heard as though he did not hear them. 

Abba Pastor said,  "Judge not  him who is guilty  of fornication,  if  you are chaste, or you will break the  law  like him. For  He who  said "do not commit fornication" said also "Do not judge". 

A brother asked  abba  Poemen, "If  I see my brother sin,  is it right  to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "whenever we cover  our brother's sin, God will cover  ours; whenever we tell people  about our brother's guilt,  God will do the same about ours."
 A  brother in Scetis  committed  a fault. A council was   called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you".  So he got  up and went.  He took  a leaking jug and filled  it with water and carried  it with him. The others came  out to meet him  and said, " what is  this,  father?" The old man said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and  I do not see  them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that,  they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
A  brother sinned and  the priest  ordered him to go  out of  the church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner."

Why is judging others so bad?  Firstly, because, for our own good, God has reserved judgement to himself and because only God knows the whole story, and because God loves the person or group that we are criticising.

If we had met Saul of Tarsus when he was persecuting Christians, we would have had no natural reason to love him. In his own words to Timothy, he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and an arrogant man.  If we were ethnic Jews we would have had reason to fear him. However, we would have had no reason to know what God was, perhaps already, doing in his soul, no reason to know what God had in store for him, no knowledge of what he would later become.  If, as Christians, we were "Christ-bearers" whose vocation it was to manifest the attitude of the Christ we bear to others through our physical bodies, we would be obliged to treat him mercifully, with faith and love, rather than with condemnation, because only in that way could we do justice to Christ's attitude towards him. If this is true with Paul, it is also true with everybody else.

The truth is that, when we condemn someone, we are only looking at that aspect of him that we dislike and are ignoring the rest.   When we love someone, we may well recognise his faults and failings, but our love extends to the whole person.  This is also true of groups, nations, churches and religions.  Because God sees everything, and the bad is allowed to exist only for the good of the whole, God sees all and loves all that exists.  We are only like God to the extent that we love, even though we know and accept that we cannot see the whole picture.  We could not have seen what was most important about St Paul before his conversion; neither can we see what is most important about anyone we condemn.  Thus, those who condemn are blind, seeing what is bad only outside of God's context, outside faith. Only those who love in faith can see: all the rest are, relatively speaking, blind.

Hence, Peruvians who judge people from Chile or Ecuador are blind Peruvians.   Chileans or Ecuadorians who condemn Peruvians are blind Chileans or Ecuadorians.  Catholics who judge Protestants adversely simply because they are Protestants are blind Catholics.    Heterosexuals who condemn homosexuals are blind heterosexuals, and vice versa.  Even people who hold a grudge against others for having done them real harm in the past or are doing them real harm in the present are blind in their regard. Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, even while they were driving home the nails.

We have already given reasons why we should not judge; but there is another reason as well: there is the sheer greatness of every human being, a greatness that can never be reduced to any one aspect of his character, or to his beliefs, or even to a series of wicked deeds he has done.   Every human being has been created to know and love God, to share in the very life of the Blessed Trinity.   Only God can comprehend all facets of any human being because only God is present at that point of the heart in which he loves that person into existence.   When we execute a murderer, we execute a person who is much more than a murderer; when we condemn any person for being what he is or for doing what he has done, we condemn someone who is much greater than what he is or what he has done.   Only in hell is a person reduced to being nothing more than what he has done so that there is nothing left of the real person for God to love.  But, even then, he gets his being from God; and this constitutes his pain and, perhaps, the hope of salvation.

Thus Christ gives us the warning, "“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?"   As Christian leadership is based on love, so it is limited by lack of love.  When East and West fell out and no longer understood  nor loved one - each side condemning the other - the petrine ministry became unrecognisable to the Orthodox East, explaining itself to the East in the way it had to explain itself to the half converted princes in the West, in terms of law and jurisdiction, rather than love, service and communion.

What can we say about people who condemn other people?   Obviously we can say that condemning other people is wrong.   Obviously we can condemn that tendency in ourselves.  What we can't do is condemn anyone else without hypocrisy.

Let me give you an example.  There is a peninsular in Greece which is a monastic republic in that all its citizens are monks.  It is called Mount Athos.  Around 2,000 monks, living in monasteries, small houses, hermitages and even caves, seek God in silence and prayer.  It is a wonderful place.  It was where my abbot had his first experience of monastic life as a student in the university of Thessaloniki.  It is the spiritual hub of the Orthodox Church, and its reputation for holiness has spread far be, to beyond the borders of Orthodoxy.   

Yet it is also famous for xenophobia.  It was burned and monks were massacred by the Catholic Frankish army for refusing to unite with Rome in the thirteenth century.  In Athonite vocabulary, a western European guest is still called a "Frank", and they speak of the massacre as though it were yesterday and that the pope is personally responsible for what happened.  The abbots are absolutely anti-Catholic, and they seem to believe that, to be faithful to Orthodoxy, a person must accept a view of history of Catholic-Orthodox relations in which Orthodoxy is completely right and Catholicism completely wrong.  Catholicism is judged by some events in the past, and every other aspect of Catholicism is ignored.

I have chosen Mount Athos because it is clear why I can say that condemning Catholicism in the way they do, the abbots of Mount Athos are wrong.   They are blind leaders in this matter. But, how can I condemn those abbots who, most certainly, are a thousand times more holy than I am?  Their anti-Catholicism is a very small aspect of their total relationship with God and their neighbour.   After all, it scarcely touches their present lives on Athos.  Of all people, it must be said that they are far greater than their views of a Catholicism that they hardly know.   They are so great that, however large their prejudice may be, it is but a mote in the eye of their general holiness.

Let us declare war on our tendency to criticise and condemn.   Pope Francis has said that, if we never condemn anybody, we are well on our way to holiness.

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