05 August 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day


Well, not quite a patristic quote, but close. Every once in a while, one hears a Lutheran opining that the Orthodox do not have a very deep understanding of sin. This famous "beichtafel" (confessional mirror) from *The Way of a Pilgrim* just MAY lay such notions to rest... Uncomfortable, but blessed reading it is - and a good preparation for going to the Holy Eucharist! (Oh, the pic is of a chotki, a prayer rope, upon which is prayed the Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!" - you'll feel the need to pray that after reading what follows. Promise.)

A Confession Which Leads The Inward Man To Humility

--Turning my eyes carefully upon myself and watching the course of my inward
state, I have verified by experience that I do not love God, that I have no
love for my neighbors, that I have no religious belief, and that I am filled
with pride and sensuality. All this I actually find in myself as a result of
detailed examination of my feelings and conduct, thus:
1. I do not love God. For if I loved God I should be continually thinking
about Him with heartfelt joy. Every thought of God would give me gladness
and delight. On the contrary, I much more often and much more eagerly think
about earthly things, and thinking about God is labor and dryness. If I
loved God, then talking with Him in prayer would be my nourishment and
delight and would draw me to unbroken communion with Him. But, on the
contrary, I not only find no delight in prayer, but even find it an effort.
I struggle with reluctance, I am enfeebled by sloth and am ready to occupy
myself eagerly with any unimportant trifle, if only it shortens prayer and
keeps me from it. My time slips away unnoticed in futile occupations, but
when I am occupied with God, when I put myself into His presence, every hour
seems like a year. If one person loves another, he thinks of him throughout
the day without ceasing, he pictures him to himself, he cares for him, and
in all circumstances his beloved friend is never out of his thoughts. But I,
throughout the day, scarcely set aside even a single hour in which to sink
deep down into meditation upon God, to inflame my heart with love of Him,
while I eagerly give up 23 hours as fervent offerings to the idols of my
passions. I am forward in talk about frivolous matters and things which
degrade the spirit; that gives me pleasure. But in the consideration of God
I am dry, bored, and lazy. Even if I am unwillingly drawn by others into
spiritual conversation, I try to shift the subject quickly to one which
pleases my desires. I am tirelessly curious about novelties, about civic
affairs and political events; I eagerly seek the satisfaction of my love of
knowledge in science and art, and ways of getting things I want to possess.
But the study of the law of God, the knowledge of God and of religion, make
little impression on me, and satisfy no hunger of my soul. I regard these
things not only as a non-essential occupation for a Christian, but in a
casual way as a sort of side-issue with which I should perhaps occupy my
spare time, at odd moments. To put it shortly, if love for God is recognized
by the keeping of His commandments ("If ye love Me, keep My commandments,"
says our Lord Jesus Christ), and I not only do not keep them, but even make
little attempt to do so, then in absolute truth the conclusion follows that
I do not love God. That is what Basil the Great says: "The proof that a man
does not love God and His Christ lies in the fact that he does not keep His
commandments."
2. I do not love my neighbor either. For not only am I unable to make up my
mind to lay down my life for his sake (according to the gospel), but I do
not even sacrifice my happiness, well-being, and peace for the good of my
neighbor. If I did love him as myself, as the gospel bids, his misfortunes
would distress me also, his happiness would bring delight to me too. But, on
the contrary, I listen to curious, unhappy stories about my neighbor, and I
am not distressed; I remain quite undisturbed or, what is still worse, I
find a sort of pleasure in them. Bad conduct on the part of my brother I do
not cover up with love, but proclaim abroad with censure. His well-being,
honor, and happiness do not delight me as my own, and, as if they were
something quite alien to me, give me no feeling of gladness. What is more,
they subtly arouse in me feelings of envy or contempt.
3. I have no religious belief. Neither in immortality nor in the gospel. If
I were firmly persuaded and believed without doubt that beyond the grave
lies eternal life and recompense for the deeds of this life, I should be
continually thinking of this. The very idea of immortality would terrify me
and I should lead this life as a foreigner who gets ready to enter his
native land. On the contrary, I do not even think about eternity, and I
regard the end of this earthly life as the limit of my existence. The secret
thought nestles within me: Who knows what happens at death? If I say I
believe in immortality, then I am speaking about my mind only, and my heart
is far removed from a firm conviction about it. That is openly witnessed to
by my conduct and my constant care to satisfy the life of the senses. Were
the holy gospel taken into my heart in faith, as the Word of God, I should
be continually occupied with it, I should study it, find delight in it, and
with deep devotion fix my attention upon it. Wisdom, mercy, and love are
hidden in it; it would lead me to happiness, I should find gladness in the
study of the law of God day and night. In it I should find nourishment like
my daily bread, and my heart would be drawn to the keeping of its laws.
Nothing on earth would be strong enough to turn me away from it. On the
contrary, if now and again I read or hear the Word of God, yet even so it is
only from necessity or from a general love of knowledge, and approaching it
without any very close attention I find it dull and uninteresting. I usually
come to the end of the reading without any profit, only too ready to change
over to secular reading in which I take more pleasure and find new and
interesting subjects.
4. I am full of pride and sensual self-love. All my actions confirm this.
Seeing something good in myself, I want to bring it into view, or to pride
myself upon it before other people or inwardly to admire myself for it.
Although I display an outward humility, yet I ascribe it all to my own
strength and regard myself as superior to others, or at least no worse than
they. If I notice a fault in myself, I try to excuse it; I cover it up by
saying, "I am made like that" or "I am not to blame". I get angry with those
who do not treat me with respect and consider them unable to appreciate the
value of people. I brag about my gifts: my failures in any undertaking I
regard as a personal insult. I murmur, and I find pleasure in the
unhappiness of my enemies. If I strive after anything good it is for the
purpose of winning praise, or spiritual self-indulgence, or earthly
consolation. In a word, I continually make an idol of myself and render it
uninterrupted service, seeking in all things the pleasures of the senses and
nourishment for my sensual passions and lusts.
--Going over all this I see myself as proud, adulterous, unbelieving,
without love for God and hating my neighbor. What state could be more
sinful? The condition of the spirits of darkness is better than mine. They,
although they do not love God, hate men, and live upon pride, yet at least
believe and tremble. But I? Can there be a doom more terrible than that
which faces me, and what sentence of punishment will be more severe than
that upon the careless and foolish life that I recognize in myself?

2 comments:

Brian said...

The pilgrim's natural tendency (and our own) to shift blame or put ourself in the best light despite the actual reality reminds me of Chesterton's words that despite the empirical evidence for original sin it is ironically one of the most doubted doctrines of our holy faith.

William Weedon said...

And what can I say to that but "amen"?