To Bear Our Sins

Anthony_BloomFrom time to time I post an excerpt from other writings – particularly when they seem to resonate with the conversation here on the blog. I saw this recently published on pravmir.com. I’ve corrected the English in a couple of places but otherwise left it as is. It is a small sermon from the late Met. Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh. It reinforces some of the conversation regarding shame that we have had lately. I thought it might be of interest.

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In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

So often we ask ourselves and one another a very tormenting question: How can I deal with my sinful condition? What can I do? I cannot avoid committing sins; Christ alone is sinless. I cannot, for lack of determination, or courage, or ability truly repent when I do commit a sin, or in general, of my sinful condition. What is left to me? I am tormented, I fight like one drowning, and I see no solution.

And there is a word which was spoken once by a Russian staretz, one of the last elders of Optina. He said to a visitor of his:

No one can live without sin, few know how to repent in such a way that their sins are washed as white as fleece, but there is one thing which we all can do; when we can neither avoid sin, nor repent truly, we can then bear the burden of sin, bear it patiently, bear it with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross; not Christ’s cross, not the cross of true discipleship, but the cross of the thief who was crucified next to Him. Didn’t the thief say to his companion who was blaspheming the Lord: We are enduring because we have committed crimes; He endures sinlessly… And it is to him, because he had accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil he had committed, of being the man he was, that Christ said, ‘Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise…’

I remember the life of one of the divines, the story of one who had come to him and said that he had led all his life – a life that was evil, impure, unworthy both of God and of himself; and then he had repented, he had rejected all the evil he had done; and yet, he was in the power of the same evil. And the divine said to him:

There was a time when you lapped up all this filth with delight; now you perceive it as filth and you feel that you are drowning in it with horror, with disgust. Take this to be your reward, for your past, and endure…

This is something which all of us can do: to endure the consequences, to endure the enslavement which is ours patiently, humbly, with a broken heart; not with indifference, not with a sense that if we are abandoned to it by God, then, why not sin? But taking it as a healing perception of what sin is, of what it does to us, of the horror of it. And if we patiently endure, a day will come when our inner rejection of sin will bear fruit, and when freedom will be given us.

So, if we can, in all the ways we can, let us avoid sin in all its forms, even those sins which seem to be so unimportant, because the slightest crack in a dam sooner or later leads to its bursting. If we can — let us truly repent, that is turn away from our past in a heroic, determined act; but if we can do neither of them — let us carry humbly and patiently all the pain and all the consequences. And this will also be accounted one day by the Lord Who in a folkloric life of Moses, in response to His angels saying, ‘How long shall you endure their sins’ — the sins of the Jews in the wilderness, answered: ‘I will reject them when the measure of their sins will exceed the measure of their suffering’…

Let us therefore accept the pain as a redeeming pain, even if we cannot offer it as pain pure of stain. Amen.

12 August 1984

27 comments:

  1. Very interesting and enlightening. So much of this way of thinking is “anti-society”. Our society thinks we are all fine “just as we are”, and rejects the idea of “sin” before God in its entirety. That may be why they cannot understand a loving and forgiving God; they think of any offense as something only to be punished (the offender must be humiliated), not forgiven. It’s very difficult to get out of that mold and mindset.

    *side tangent of no real importance but I figure I’d ask: how is it I can “follow” you on FB but not send a “friend” request?

  2. What a profound insight into the nature and consequences of sin. When repentance is difficult, when we can’t change the past, may God give us the grace to bear with the consequences of our actions patiently,

  3. One of my favourites Father…! how I marvel at every new unearthing of the depths hidden in the account of the three crosses on Golgotha! All seems to be there…

  4. I continue to thank God for the influence of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Anthony upon my life and understanding of prayer. This adds a welcome dimension and your posting it and making it accessible comes just when I need to share it with a soul in distress.

    Praise God.
    Thank you.

    Fr Theodore

  5. My mom, indeed Russian-speaking people themselves now, likes to say: “everyone has their own way.” This attitude seems so benign yet it is precisely the gateway to Anti-Christ. We need to humble ourselves and be open to instruction. Always.

  6. MormontoOrthodox
    Pray. Think of the Psalm “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Repentance is not a work we offer to God, it is a gift that God gives us. But recognizing that our hearts are hardened, that we have no remorse, is already a beginning of repentance. Offer it to God and ask for the grace of repentance.

  7. St Makarius’ counsel that one should do the works of repentance, of love, of faith etc without having repentance, love, faith etc, in order to consistently express his desire for them – even when it is still no more than ‘a desire to desire’ them- is etched on my mind.
    As is offering thanks to God for his mercies –which are a ‘given’-, (a great start), even more so when the sin for which we have no remorse has ceased and we can thank Him for a certain measure of liberation from enslavement.

  8. Father, thank you so much for this. How Met. Anthony of blessed memory has ministered to me, even though I never knew of him when he was alive. Is it true that both he and C. S. Lewis were doing radio broadcasts in the U.K. around the same time?

  9. Well, I’m actually on your main account page but I only have the option to “follow” it (which I do, but that doesn’t allow commenting on your posts). No option to send you a “friend” request (there is an option to send you a message but my understanding is that unless you pay FB a fee, it won’t be delivered. Hence, my raising the question here). Oh well, that’s enough time spent on that. I can comment on your blog posts here, at least.

  10. I know they both did broadcasts Karen, but I thought that CS Lewis’ were somewhat earlier (late 40’s?), whereas Met. Anthony’s were slightly later and carried on for many more years, up to the 80’s perhaps…?

  11. The Metropolitan’s life is well known but, just in case people haven’t been aware of him, here’s the (fairly well-known) incident of his initial conversion:
    In his late teens in Paris, Met. Anthony was a staunch atheist, belligerently antithetical towards the Church and all it represented. However, while at boarding school, a little later, the strange thought that a life entirely deficient in meaning would certainly be nothing less than unendurable entered his conscience with tremendous force. He gave himself a deadline of 365 days in which to explore whether life had any meaning or not, promising that if at the end of that year he hadn’t found any, he would commit suicide! The time was passing though, without the slightest sign of any meaning on the horizon. One day he was dragged along to a priest’s talk, during which he found himself aggravated by the Christianity portrayed by the speaker. He was virtually nauseous and deeply repulsed. The moment he returned to his home, he opened the shortest of the Gospels (St Mark’s) to reaffirm his negative impression from that frustrating lecture. To his utter astonishment however, he unexpectedly became aware of this mysterious and absolutely overwhelming presence in front of him. It was given him to know without a shadow of a doubt that this was the living Christ, the alpha and omega… This first-hand encounter was to become the turning point of his life. And the certainty that was granted him through this experience was so profound that it never abandoned him for the rest of his life.

  12. Lewis and Met. Anthony are of two different generations, though they might surely have met. Lewis was a veteran of WWI, while Met. Anthony was in the underground in France during WWII. His storey is fascinating. BTW, Dino, I’m engrossed in an essay of Elder Aimilianos – and he’s talking about nothingness and repentance!

  13. Father,
    if I may, which one is it? I am not fully aware of the available English translations and availability.

  14. I suspect it’s his homily on “The progression of the soul”, which I know exists in English? It’s a magisterial talk which also has a characteristically ‘youthful dynamism’ about it, combined with the usual (for the Elder) sublime authoritativeness of his homilies (a sense of a speaker who is unrivalled in their knowledge of what they are talking about)

  15. Thank you, Dino, and Father. There is an interview with Met. Anthony about his conversion in the preface to his book, Beginning to Pray, which I have. His teaching has always blessed me.

  16. This is a bit off topic but it is a great story of Met. Anthony Bloom, included in the book, “Everyday Saints and Other Stories”.

    The author writes of Bishop Basil Rodzyanko, who was tonsured a monk shortly being made Bishop, having been a priest whose wife died. He did not know how he was going to learn obedience as novice monk in his role. To whom was he to give obedience?

    Met. Anthony, his spiritual father, reportedly told him, “You will be in obedience to everyone and anyone whom you meet on your journey through life. As long as that person’s request will be within your power to grant it, and not in contradiction with the Scriptures.”

    This instruction was readily accepted by the new Bishop. He was often late for important functions, because he gladly obeyed simple requests, such as traveling across the city to bless someone’s apartment. The story, while rather amusing in the telling, demonstrates a profound understanding of obedience, humility and service by Met. Anthony – and by Bishop Basil who emptied himself in service.

  17. Father,
    I recall a sister homily (on “Spiritual Rebirth”) in the collection ‘The Way of the Spirit’, (this time addressed to the monks of simonopetra rather than the prospective nuns of Ormylia) that also talks about the same topic with perhaps even greater sagaciousness.
    As a spiritual grandchild of his, access to impartiality is not available to me, but I distinctly remember (many years ago) being rocked to the core after encountering such peerless words…!

  18. Reader John Kennick,
    You might apreciate St Peter the Damascene reiterating this point:

    if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even against your long-term desire, show humility like the publican (Luke 18:13); it suffices to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without managing to repent, yet does not abandon hope, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so may receive many other blessings as well. Even if he is subject to the devil in that he sins, yet from fear of God he disobeys the enemy when the latter tries to make him despair. Because of this he has his portion with God; for he is grateful, gives thanks, is patient, fears God, does not judge so that he may not be judged. . . .

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