sin

The Trap of Little Sins

I have a little print-paper icon of St. Moses of Ethiopia that I use as a bookmark.  It is currently in use as I read My Life in Christ by St. John of Kronstadt as part of my bedroom prayer rule.  On the icon are these words from the African monastic,

Even in little sins, let us force ourselves and not become lazy for truly we have forgiveness of sins

From the Russian priest, I found these words on page 58,

Most men not only bear Satan’s burden willingly in their hearts, but they become so accustomed to it that they often do not feel it, and even imperceptibly increase it

moses and kronstadt

It is not hard for us to wake up and repent of our “big” sins.  We are quick to be offended, saddened, or feel some other emotion when an obvious act of immorality has been committed.  If our vision along our spiritual journey goes no further than what can readily be seen, then Satan has blinded us.  As long as we aren’t observant that we don’t fall for the “minor” temptations and make excuses for us committing them, the evil one is allowing us to rot from the inside.  He is often waiting for the rot to set in so deeply that when faced with a major temptation, we will fall quite easily and not realize how we could do such a thing.

Oh, it is a little thing for a man to “check out” a shapely woman every now and then and consider it harmless.  Yet, our Lord taught us better;

But, I say to you, if a man looks upon a woman to lust for her, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28)

In many cases of child molestation and rape it is not unusual for law enforcement to find the perpetrator had a pornography habit.  Affairs and fornication begin with the eyes and the mind long before the sexual organs are involved.  And rather than confront a son’s (or daughter’s, I suppose) lengthy times in the restroom or alone online, even Christian parents resign themselves to the phrase, “boys will be boys.”  The perpetual laziness in not being watchful against and embracing lust is the cause of men and women failing at relationships as we don’t know how to relate to one another as beings who pursue purity of heart.  Even as we pursue our “soul mates,” lust stains our souls so that we wouldn’t know the “right one” unless an archangel actually pointed him (or her) out.  And even if we do find a good spouse, those little sins left unchecked and well fed are able to rot the best of marriages.

Murder can begin with unchecked anger, theft with envy, hate with pride; every “big” sin begins with a “little” sin, or a series of “little” sins.  Care must be taken that we search them out within ourselves in times of contemplation and prayer.  We who seek God cannot afford to accept the worldly excuses for them.  They must not be tolerated in ourselves.  But, we must repent of them no matter how minor they may seem.

 

 

 

Great Lent Week Three: Deeper Than Inside

And when you fast …

Yes, this is the time when Lent gets on your last nerve.  I have seen that Little Cesasr’s Bacon Wrapped Deep Dish Pizza advertised one too many times.  Spring is here and everyone is ready to enjoy the warmer tempereatures and lack of ice and snow.  But, we have a few more weeks of soul searching, intensive repentance, deliberate spiritual reading; our struggle continues.

One of the better known songs by the post-punk indie band (hey, I listen to a lot of different genres) Rites of Spring is “Deeper Than Inside”  I doubt that they meant any spiritual interpretation to their name or lyrics.  But, I am considering a couple of things.  The whole punk rock movement (also early hip-hop) was a rebellion against the huge, corporate monster music industry.  It was a couple of kids who knew how to play a couple of chords and say what was on their minds.  To seriously take on Great Lent, no matter what branch of Christianity you follow, is an act of rebellion against our arrogant and comfort seeking society.  We strip down faith to the sacrificial and repentant following of Jesus Christ as he has called us to do.

Even more so, we stive to know God and confess our sins in a more meaninful way.  Added prayers from the ancient fathers guide our focus to our deeper issues.  It isn’t so much that someone took an ink pen from work, cussed out a stranger, or cheated on their spouse and looks for a legalistic band-aid to cover his/her wound.  We deal with deeper ailments that show themselves when we do not fight against them.  Anger, fear, lust, envy, laziness, greed; these are the passions that monks and nuns have gone into the deserts and forest to fight against.  They have been so gracious as to share with the Church the wisdom they have been blessed with to help us non-monastics with our spiritual journey.  If we settle for a mere, “say 20 Hail Marys,” or “well, God knows my heart,” we have only cut the flower of our weeds.  Perhaps we may have even cut a few leaves and the stem.  Great Lent reminds us to stive to kill the roots of our visible sins.  A dead root cannot  produce a flower.  A wounded root does not readily reproduce.  A root left undisturbed will flourish again.

May God grant us His mercy and strength to continue the struggle.

Lessons From Lent: The Temptations

There really isn’t any point in fasting, praying, nor almsgiving during Great Lent and Holy Week if you are not trying to grow spiritually from the experience.  During this time of renewal, I ran across one of the spurious letters of St. Ignatius to the Philippians that made me take a second look at the tempting of Christ in the desert (Matthew 4).  Satan attempts to persuade Jesus into three frames of mind that would lead him into sin.

St. Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius of Antioch

First, is ignorance of the word of God.  In the previous chapter, our Lord was baptized, had the Holy Spirit descend on Him, and had been announced by the Heavenly Father as the Son.  Jesus needed no other proof as to who He was.  Thus, Satan’s challenge (if you are the Son of God) fell on deaf ears as our Lord chose not to be ignorant, but to pay attention to the word of God rather than obey the legitimate cravings of his flesh.

The second dangerous frame of mind is a vainglorious relationship with God.  Here, Satan was careful to use scriptures to give Jesus a sense of assurance of safety if He would cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple.  But, rather than fall for the seemingly legitimate bait of scripture, our Lord stood on the more humble command not to put God to the test.

The final mentality that Satan used to tempt Christ was direct rebellion against God for the sake of the world.  No doubt, the splendors of the ancient world’s kingdoms were great.  Yet, Jesus knew there was a much greater and everlasting kingdom that was not built by human conquest and construction.  Our Lord felt that this place was so great that He commanded the devil to leave him for even offering up such a choice.

Christ overcoming Satan

Considering my own struggles and temptations, I can see where every sin is linked to one of these three frames of mind.  For the sake of satisfying legitimate cravings we ignore the truth God indisputably revealed to us.  We say and act as we wish because we have adjusted the scriptures to fit our bidding rather than to submit to what the scriptures say believing we have God’s approval.  For the sake of what we can gain in the world, we gladly serve the devil himself in direct defiance that God has something greater for us if we are faithful and patient.

Pascha (Easter) is a few days away.  I anticipate enjoying every form of meat and dairy product that my palate chooses and wallet can afford.  But, I pray that I will spend times meditating on these lessons from my first Lenten Fast as an Orthodox Christian.  Rely on the word of God and forsake the flesh.  Walk with God in humility and not vainglory.  Serve God only and reject this world as it calls us to serve Satan.

A Blessed Holy Week and Pascha to all.

 

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Wednesday): The Mind

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Romans 8:6

My Icon Corner (© John Gresham)

How many clichés and quotes are there that teach that a man will wind up where his mind is?  My late grandfather-in-law and mentor, Rev. Carter Wicks, used to say that “A Man Is His Mind.”  If his and other similar words are true, I think it pays for us to do more than periodical reality checks.  We need daily monitoring and adjusting.  Because there are so many strong temptations to keep us thinking about the things of the world rather than the things of God.  This is not to say that we should all become strict monastics and leave everything we have to live in a cave the rest of our lives for the sake of prayer and contemplation.  But, unless prayer throughout the day becomes a part of our lives, we risk our faith eroding into spiritual uselessness.

I am not simply talking about the obvious sins that hold us down such as lust, anger, hate, greed, and the like.  Anything that separates us from the love of God and love for our fellow-man is carnal.  Take politics (and throw it in a cesspool where it belongs), conservatism and liberalism are two sides of the same coin of our need for earthly government.  We will all take a different stance from one another for various reasons.  But, in order for a coin to have any value, it has to have both a head and tail.  Both sides must work in cooperation with each other.  Due to the presence of wealth and winner-take-all power hyped up by the likes of Fox and MSNBC, we have harsher polarizing arguments than constructive agreements.

What saddens me is that Christianity is buying into this earthly coin and the argument that we must staunchly defend one side or the other.  As people of this nation, of course we will have opinions of which direction this nation should take.  But, we who have been given the Gospel of God’s redeeming love should never give into vilifying those whose political opinions do not match our own.  If anything, we should be a mediating force between (no, above) the right and left and seek Godly solutions to our national, state, and local problems.  As Martin Luther King Jr noted in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” rather than being a thermostat that controls the temperature in a house, the church has become a thermometer that only measures and reflects the temperature.  And when we spend more time reflecting our chosen sides rather than seek after something of far greater value, we make ourselves useless (and sometimes harmful) to the Gospel.

So, to my brothers and sisters to the left and right, I make this suggestion.  For every minute you spend watching Fox News or MSNBC, spend a minute and a half in honest and sincere contemplative prayer.  For every moment listening to Beck or Maddow, spend a moment and a half in self-reflection in light of the Lord who created and loves both equally.  Most of us who are in our 40’s have, perhaps, another 30 to 40 years to call ourselves Americans.  Where we go after that depends on where we have put our minds.  If we have set our minds on earthly divisiveness and strife based on one side or the other of a political coin that will eventually be destroyed, that is where we can expect to spend eternity.  If we have set our minds on seeking spiritual purity and loving others, we will be in that place of eternal wholeness.

 

A Pursuit of the Spirit of Christ: In the Beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

John 1:1

A Douthat Sunrise (© John Gresham/DCR)

The opening 18 verses of John’s Gospel is the glory of Jesus Christ in a nutshell.  Jesus is described as the light and giver of life.  Though John the Baptist may have revealed the light, he isn’t to be confused as the light.  Belief in the light is what gives us rebirth not as physical creatures.  We become children of God.  It is impossible to truly pursue the Spirit of Christ without accepting this introduction of who Jesus is.

Before anything else existed, the Word existed.   In many religions (and among many Christians), things such as commandments, law, and morality are put at the forefront of faith.  Word is far more meaningful to true spiritual pursuit than these things.  Commandment, law, and morality are useful as they set limits of behavior and practice for the good of individuals and society.  There can be no civilization and community without them.  But, they were not there in the creative process of God and only appeared after creation took place.  Adam was given a commandment after the Lord God made him and placed him in the garden with the tree that he was forbidden to eat from.  The Law of Moses was given after the Lord God made the promise of land to Abraham’s descendants and they were free from Egypt and slavery.  So, to have a faith where the morality and the Word are one in the same is wrong.  Morality is secondary as it is a created boundary.   A true pursuit of Jesus must focus on pursuing the Word.

The fact that the Word became flesh goes above and beyond the latter boundaries.  For the creator to take the form of the created ends the wall of separation between the two.  The creator can easily reject the created because of its flaws and faults.  He who made the flesh has every right to condemn it for its constant infringements of commandments, law breaking, and immorality.  Yet, this Word possesses light and life.  These qualities have no rejection in themselves.  But, they offer renewal to anyone who is willing to accept them.  And as these qualities are a part of the Word that was with God and is God, light and life are far more desirable, powerful, and merciful than the secondary boundaries of commandment, law, and morality.  According to these, we should all die in our sins.  The Word gives us light and life in the fullest as it became flesh and dwelt among us.  A true pursuit of Jesus calls for us to behold his glory. 

 He came first to those who had all of the necessary boundaries for righteousness in individuals and society.  But, they held on to their law and ancestry rather than receive him and believe in his name.  Adhering to Mosaic Law and claiming Abraham as their father were the spoken grave mistakes of the Jews in the Gospels.  We run the risk of being just like them when we cling so tightly to morality, race, and nationality that we cannot accept the Word that created all things.  Our righteousness is limited to ourselves and what we believe should be done.  The righteous Word is all merciful and reaches out to all that will accept his authority over their lives.  Our boundaries govern those born of flesh.  To receive him and believe in his name is to be born of God.

May we be born of God, pursue the Word, and behold His Glory.

Each One An Icon

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness, … .’   So God mad man. in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.

Genesis 1:26, 27

How foolish I am!  How can I venerate and give honor to the saints on the wall and not show like love to the person on the street?  How dare I honor the Holy Theotokos and harbor lust for the girl I did not marry? 

What is a holy icon but a window and portrait of God’s greater glory?  Was it not by the hand of the painter that we have these windows?  Perhaps by the skill of a wood-carver and other craftsmen that we possess such items as reminders of the love of our Lord?

And yet God made the perfect icon when he made men and women.  In his image and likeness we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  With his breath of life we are all living souls.  Here is the icon I should honor and kiss in holiness.  Here is the image I should hold as evidence of God’s compassion and mercy.

Yet this is the icon that I hold in contempt.  I suspect it a thief and liar.  I condemn it for its flaws and imperfections.  I abuse it as a toy only fit for my pleasure and whims.  This icon which was not made by a man’s hands.  This image of God and made by God.  This likeness of which I am.  I am their brother and I have shown them fear, hate, and lust. 

Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  I am the chief of all sinners! 

Forgive my calloused thoughts and harsh words toward my fellow-man.  May the power of the Holy Spirit cleanse my heart and mind of wicked desires.  Let me hold high the value of each man, woman, boy, and girl.  We are the icons that you made.  Let us honor and love one another as such.

No Greater Hell

… and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:51

But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.’

Matthew 25:11

And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:30

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …”

Matthew 25:41

Crossing (© John Gresham)

Is there a worse version of hell than the descriptions Jesus gave to his disciples during the eschatological discourse?  Can the reasons for going to such a hell be more frightening?  Note, if you would, the ten virgins who were locked outside of the banquet hall being told by the bride groom, “Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.”  These women are left disowned and vulnerable.  The wicked servant fares no better being counted among the hypocrites for abusing his fellows and carousing with drunkards.  He and the virgins did not live in expectation for something greater.  They mistakenly believed they had plenty of time before being in the full presence of the bridegroom and master.  The unprofitable servant made no effort to increase the wealth the master gave him, not even to give the gift to those who could make some sort of profit.  He too goes to the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In these three examples, the graphic punishment is not some demon in a red suit armed with a pitchfork.  To be disowned by the Lord Jesus Christ and left vulnerable in great tears and agony goes beyond any sort of vengeful torture.  This is why the martyrs endured the wild beast, burning pitch, and other horrors of earthly cruelty.  They chose to die brutally rather than be separated from the source of life and life eternal.  And the source of life is to do well to one’s neighbor, practice self-control, increase love and spirit, and to anticipate a glory beyond what this world can give.

Indeed, to ignore the plight of the least of humanity is the apex of being separate from Jesus Christ.  The Lord identifies himself with the “least of these.”  The cursed are to suffer the same total separation as the ultimate rebels against God not because they committed some act of immorality.  They are punished for their lack of compassion and mercy.  Morality is good.  But, it is no substitute for the love that gave it’s self to our unworthy humanity for our salvation.  If we do not love likewise, we have missed the whole point of the crucifixion and resurrection.  If we miss the point, we will miss his return.   There can be no greater hell than that.

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect

Matthew 24:44

Let us live in his presence believing that his greater glory will come.

Selling Out Jesus

Happy Easter to all Orthodox Christians.

This weekend is the celebration of 40 years of Pastoral Service of Rev. Wilbert D. Talley at Third Union Baptist Church.  He has been a mentor to me since I was a child. Dr. Talley held high positions at Virginia Union University and other statewide organizations.  A man of his caliber and education could have easily sought the pulpit of the most lucrative churches in the nation.  And yet, for four decades he remained the pastor of a little country church.  His work has included major improvements on the building and aiding people in building their lives.  It is an honor to celebrate such a man and wish him many more years of service to God.

Dr. Wilbert D. Talley (© John Gresham)

SELLING OUT JESUS

Matthew 26:14-16

(Introduction) Now that we know him as the resurrected savior, no Christian would sell Jesus out the way Judas did.

(Antithesis) In Matthew’s Gospel, Judas is no more wicked than any other disciple.  But, he made a most horrible choice.

(Thesis) We must be on guard not to sell Jesus out the same way Judas did because we face the same temptations.

(Relevant Question) How do we sell Jesus out

(Points)

1.  We hold on to our preconceived ideas of what is right (v. 6-14)

2.  We go to those who truly seek to kill him (v. 14)

3.  We accept a cheap payment (v. 15)

(Conclusion)  True discipleship is too costly for us to sell out at any price.

Don’t Blame the Serpent

Why do we sin?  Why is Paul right in saying that when I want to do good, wickedness is always present?  We used to say, “the devil made me do it.”  Truth is that the real blame lies more in who we are as humans.  We are images, flawed imitations of the original.  Fortunately,  the Original has blessed us with a means to make up for our deficiencies and to seek a more complete way of life.

Pier Beyond (© John Gresham)

 

STOP BLAMING SNAKES

Genesis 3:6

1.  Introduction:  Don’t blame the snake

The snake is only subtle, not forceful (3:1)

It could only spit game, not force anyone to play

We may have bad influences, but it is our choice to act

2.  Propositional Statement:  Because we are created only in the image of

God, we are subject to make wrong choices.

3.  Relevant Question:  What is it about human nature that leads us into

making wrong choices?

4.  Points:

A)  Want of sustenance

– she wasn’t hungry, she just wanted

– control what you want like Jesus did

B)  Sensual delight

– she relied on a sense without sense

– good sense gives protection

C)  Ambition for betterment

– desire without divine direction

– always seek divine destination

5.  Conclusion:

Human nature is a life that leads to death.

– flawed communion with each other

– broken relationship with God

Spiritual nature is a life that leads to eternal life

– Jesus was human enough to live among us

– Jesus was divine enough to live beyond us

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Third Tuesday)

“Nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out of someone that makes that person unclean.  Anyone who has ears for listening should listen!” Mark 7:15, 16

There is a great concern among many about the outward appearance of religion.  That the rituals we perform in public are of an utmost importance.  Lent is a traditional time of fasting.  Those of us who observe it certainly don’t want to be seen with a barbecue sandwich in our hands or something else we are restricted from eating.  Strict observance of such dietary rules do not make us  any more worthy of salvation than those who don’t.  The discipline of fasting is a tradition we are free to accept and reject.  We walk by faith and not sight.  We all see food in front of us.

Higher Ground above fog (© John Gresham)

Vigilance against the things within us is not optional.  We all have capacity to think and act out evil.  Fasting from our unclean ambitions and urges is far more critical to our walk in the spirit than eating red meat after Mardi Gras.  If I were to eat a hamburger today, it will leave my system soon enough.  If I don’t indulge in such eating and exercise, there are no consequences to either my physical or spiritual health.  Lust is different.  It is not excreted from the bowels.  It leaves an imprint on our personhood that affects the way we respond to others.  By its very nature, lust demands more of who we are.  Relationships are broken, responsibility is cast aside, growth as a creature of spirit is stunted.  If left unchecked, it is acted upon in the worst ways.

Take upon whatever tradition you wish and do so in faith.  But, don’t let such things become more important that what we all must fast from.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene