From 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.
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