Jamie Moran in an article in Raising Lazarus: Integral Healing in Orthodox Christianity, uses the metaphor of an evil lion caged inside us. This lion represents sinful passionate desires or urges. Jamie talks about two common ways Christians deal with this lion that don’t work very well and then suggests a way based on the teaching of the Desert Fathers. The first ineffective way is the way of the “Puritan,” the second ineffective way is the path of appeasement, and the way of the Desert Fathers is the way of identification.
These are some of my reflections on these three ways.
The Puritan insists that the lion does not exist–at least not in her heart. The Puritan sublimates; she forces herself to do the culturally defined good; she acts; she pretends. The Puritan may indeed convince herself that there is no lion caged in her heart, but the repressed impulses find their way out in other unhealthy ways of being and relating. Because the Puritan must give herself so completely to pretending, she loses compassion and empathy; she loses the ability to see what she doesn’t want to see in others because she has worked so hard not to see what she does not want to see in herself. The fruit of this Puritan way is self righteousness and pride.
The second ineffective way to deal with the lion is to hide it by appeasing it. The one who hides the lion is continually negotiating with the sinful impulse–appeasing it, throwing it bits of gratification when no one is looking in the hope that it will stay quiet in public. The lion, however, always wants more. Eventually the lion acts out in ways that cannot be hidden. He who appeases is always burdened with guilt, always tormented by a mostly hidden cycle of building desire, brief pleasure, and long-lasting regret that creeps into all areas of life either as a sense of failure or as over achieving (as a compensation for the sense of failure).
In some ways the appeaser is better off than the Puritan. At least the appeaser recognizes the lion and can thus sympathize with others who suffer from their lions. At least he has something to repent of–if he can find the courage to do so. However, some who are appeasers eventually find their way into the ranks of the crypto-Puritans. The crypto-Puritans, instead of denying the existence of the lion, are proud of the lion. They call evil good and good evil, and in this condition they are worse off than the Puritans.
The third way to deal with the lion is to identify with it–to get in the cage with the lion. I think this is something like what twelve-step programs try to achieve. By saying to yourself and to everyone, “I am an alcoholic,” you begin to know both yourself and your problem as it really is, and you begin to find the power to muzzle the lion.
Sometimes Orthodox Christians have a hard time getting into the cage with the lion(s) in their heart. Sometimes they have a hard time admitting that the lions are there at all because their own heart is a closed book to them.
The following is a hymn from the Octoechos, Sunday evening, Tone 4:
YOU ESTABLISHED REPENTANCE, O CHRIST,
NOT FOR THOSE WHO ARE GOOD,
BUT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BECOME OUTCAST BY SIN,
AS WE LEARN FROM MANY EXAMPLES:
THE THIEF AND THE PRODIGAL SON,
MANASSEH AND THE PROSTITUTE,
PAUL, WHO HAD PERSECUTED THE CHURCH,
MATTHEW, WHO HAD COLLECTED TAXES,
AND PETER WHO DENIED YOU.
HOW THEN CAN I DESPAIR,
KNOWING, O MY SAVIOUR, THAT YOU ARE GOOD AND THE LOVER OF MANKIND ?
I WILL TURN TO YOU IN TEARS,
FILLED WITH HOPE THAT YOU WILL ACCEPT ME.
Jesus came to save sinners. The sooner we look into our own hearts to discover the lions of sin caged there, the sooner we will be able to find the repentance that Christ established and be saved.