I’m my own worst enemy. The reason for this is that my ability to either delude myself or to overreact is so “normal” to me that it is really hard to be objective about my struggles by myself. I’m either too hard on myself or too easy on myself!
Learning this opened my eyes to the wisdom of the Timeless Faith in encouraging me to have a regular confessor and to see my obedience to my spiritual father as a path away from self-delusion. How powerful is the wisdom of regular confession and a mutual accountability relationship that allows another set of “eyes” to look into my heart? No wonder King David prayed in the Psalms 138:23-24 (LXX) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” St. David understood that left to himself, he was going to miss his own weaknesses or justify them or blow them out of proportion.
Look at the wisdom in our Lesson today in 1 John 1:8-10; 2:1-6:
Brethren, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
St. John is clear here; if we say we have no sin, we lie. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dealt with people who have no awareness of their need for forgiveness or repentance. They make statements like “I’m not so bad” or “Why does the Church judge me.” All the while their own spiritual blindness keeps them spiritually sick and enslaved to their passions. But St. John gives us two significant insights into how to avoid this spiritual slavery.
First, we must confess our true needs. If I am so blind to my need for forgiveness and repentance, I will continue to be at the mercy of my passions. I will continue to be ruled by my spiritual poverty and I will miss the healing power of the spiritual medicine offered to me by God in Christ. But, if I come to myself, as the Prodigal did when he was working feeding the hogs on a farm, and he remembered that the servants in his father’s house were well fed and cared for, I will begin the admittedly difficult journey back to the Father’s House.
Next, we must abandon our excuses and justifications. Once I see that I am only lying to myself and escape this delusion through honest confession, I am finally free to see myself as I really am: A person who needs God’s mercy and grace. How powerful the trick of the evil one is when he cons me into believing that God won’t accept me because of my mistakes! I allow shame and pride to build a wall of delusion between me and the very love that will set me free. God already knows me better than I know myself. He sees all my weaknesses and mistakes and He loves me still. He, like the Prodigal’s father, stands at the end of the road every day looking for me to return home to His warm embrace. He does not shame me. I shame myself by foolishly wallowing in my ego!
And the saint we are called to remember today gives us a powerful story to show just how dangerous it is to ignore my spiritual needs and my need for an honest confession of my broken life. St. Nicephoros lived around 260 AD and was a friend of a certain Christian priest named Sapricius. Through some events, these two friends had a break in their relationship and became enemies. Saint Nicephoros later repented of his part in the broken friendship and sent word to Sapricius that he wanted to ask his forgiveness. The priest refused every offer for reconciliation. But when Sapricius was arrested by the pagan Romans for being a Christian, Nicephoros again reached out to Sapricius asking for forgiveness. But even being tortured for being a Christian didn’t soften Saprticius’ heart, and he refused to forgive his brother. The emperor sentenced the priest Saspricius to beheading for his faith and faced with dying for Christ still Sapricius refused to forgive his brother. When the time for the beheading arrived the priest Sapricius denied Christ and sacrificed to the pagan Roman gods. Upon seeing this Nicephorus proclaimed himself a Christin and was beheaded instead of Sapricius, thereby earning the martyr’s crown Sapricius abandoned because of his unfaithfulness and lack of love.
Today, are you willing to abandon the lie that you are OK? Are you willing to look into your own heart, without shame, and be honest in your need for God’s mercy and grace? Are you finally willing to travel the Lenten wisdom of prayer, fasting, and repentance to see your loving Father throw His arms around your neck and welcome you home and forgive all? Such spiritual treasures await the honest and humble man. All the love and forgiveness you will ever need is as close as your willingness to abandon the delusion of your own heart and embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Your Martyr, O Lord, in his courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since he possessed Your strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.
Beautiful insight! I will carry these thoughts with me today and everyday, Lord willing, as I immerse myself in the Jesus Prayer. Lord, help me with my efforts as You, and You alone, mend my heart.