October 25, 2014

Met. Jonah: Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness

Wisdom from the experience of a true pastor. The piece is a bit long but once you start you will want to complete because it covers matters of the heart that all serious Christians struggle with.

When I was in seminary I had the great blessing of becoming the spiritual son of a Greek bishop, Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. It was he who taught me the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.

  • Do not resent.
  • Do not react.
  • Keep inner stillness.

These three spiritual principles, or disciplines, are really a summation of the Philokalia, the collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual wisdom. And they are disciplines every single one of us can practice, no matter where we are in life – whether we’re in the monastery or in school; whether we’re housewives or retired; whether we’ve got a job or we’ve got little kids to run after. If we can hold on to and exercise these three principles, we will be able to go deeper and deeper in our spiritual life.

Do Not Resent

When we look at all the inner clutter that is in our lives, hearts and souls, what do we find? We find resentments. We find remembrance of wrongs. We find self-justifications. We find these in ourselves because of pride. It is pride that makes us hold on to our justifications for our continued anger against other people. And it is hurt pride, or vainglory, which feeds our envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy lead to resentment.

Resentfulness leads to a host of problems. The more resentful we are of other people, the more depressed we become. And the more we are consumed with the desire to have what they have, which is avarice. Often we’ll then engage in the addictive use of the substance of the material world – whether it’s food or alcohol or drugs or sex or some other thing – to medicate ourselves into forgetfulness and to distract ourselves from our resentments.

One of the most valuable and important things that we can thus do is look at all of the resentments that we have. And one of the best ways of accomplishing this is to make a life confession. And not just once, before we’re baptized or chrismated. In the course of our spiritual life we may make several, in order to really dig in to our past and look at these resentments that we bear against other people. This will enable us to do the difficult work that it takes to overcome these resentments through forgiveness.

What does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness does not mean excusing or justifying the actions of somebody. For example, saying “Oh, he abused me but that’s O.K., that’s just his nature,” or “I deserved it.” No, if somebody abused you that was a sin against you.

But when we hold resentments, when we hold anger and bitterness within ourselves against those who have abused us in some way, we take their abuse and we continue it against ourselves. We have to stop that cycle. Most likely that person has long gone and long forgotten us, forgotten that we even existed. But maybe not. Maybe it was a parent or someone else close, which makes the resentment all the more bitter. But for the sake of our own soul and for the sake of our own peace, we need to forgive. We should not justify the action, but we should overlook the action and see that there’s a person there who is struggling with sin. We should see that the person we have resented, the person we need to forgive, is no different than we are, that they sin just like we do and we sin
just like they do.

Of course, it helps if the person whom we resent, the person who offended us or abused us in some way, asks forgiveness of us. But we can’t wait for this. And we can’t hold on to our resentments even after outwardly saying we’ve forgiven. Think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we don’t forgive, we can’t even pray the Lord’s Prayer without condemning ourselves. It’s not that God condemns us. We condemn ourselves by refusing to forgive. We will never have peace if we don’t forgive, only resentment. It is one of the hardest things to do, and our culture does not understand it. It is to look at the person we need to forgive, and to love them – despite how they may have sinned against us. Their sin is their sin, and they
have to deal with it themselves. But we sin is in our reaction against their sin.

Do Not React

So this first spiritual principle – do not resent – leads to the second. We must learn to not react. This is just a corollary of “turn the other cheek.” When somebody says something hurtful, or somebody does something hurtful, what is it that’s being hurt? It’s our ego. Nobody can truly hurt us. They might cause some physical pain, or emotional pain. They might even kill our body. But nobody can hurt our true selves. We have to take responsibility for our own reactions. Then we can control our reactions.

There are a number of different levels to this principle. On the most blatant level, if someone hits you don’t hit them back. Turn the other cheek – that’s the Lord’s teaching. Now, this is hard enough. But there is a deeper level still. Because if somebody hits you, and you don’t hit them back – but you resent them, and you bear anger and hatred and bitterness against them, you’ve still lost. You have still sinned. You have still broken your relationship with God, because you bear that anger in your heart.

One of the things which is so difficult to come to terms with is the reality that when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God’s grace within ourselves. It’s not that God stops giving us His grace. It’s that we say, “No. I don’t want it.” What is His grace? It is His love, His mercy, His compassion, His activity in our lives. The holy Fathers tell us that each and every human person who has ever been born on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature.

The implication of this truth is that we have no excuses for our sins. We are responsible for our sins, for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions, and our reactions. “The devil made me do it” is no excuse, because the devil has no more power over us than we give him. This is hard to accept, because it is really convenient to blame the devil. It is also really convenient to blame the other person, or our past. But, it is also a lie. Our choices are our own.

On an even deeper level, this spiritual principle – do not react – teaches us that we need to learn to not react to thoughts. One of the fundamental aspects of this is inner watchfulness. This might seem like a daunting task, considering how many thoughts we have. However, our watchfulness does not need to be focused on our thoughts. Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God’s presence.

If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. We can, to paraphrase St. Benedict, dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God. If we can do that, we will begin to control our troubling thoughts. Our reactions are about our thoughts. After all, if someone says something nasty to us, how are we reacting? We react first through our thinking, our thoughts.

Perhaps we’re habitually accustomed to just lashing out after taking offense with some kind of nasty response of our own. But keeping watch over our minds so that we maintain that living communion with God leaves no room for distracting thoughts. It leaves plenty of room if we decide we need to think something through intentionally in the presence of God. But as soon as we engage in something hateful, we close God out. And the converse is true – as long as we maintain our connection to God, we won’t be capable of engaging in something hateful. We won’t react.

Keep Inner Stillness

The second principle, the second essential foundation of our spiritual life – do not react – leads to the third. This third principle is the practice of inner stillness. The use of the Jesus Prayer is an extremely valuable tool for this. But the Jesus Prayer is a means, not an end. It is a means for entering into deeper and deeper conscious communion. It’s a means for us to acquire and maintain the awareness of the presence of God. The prayer developed within the tradition of hesychasm, in the desert and on the Holy Mountain.

But hesychasm is not only about the Jesus Prayer. It is about inner stillness and silence. Inner stillness is not merely emptiness. It is a focus on the awareness of the presence of God in the depths of our heart. One of the essential things we have to constantly remember is that God is not out there someplace. He’s not just in the box on the altar. It may be the dwelling place of His glory. But God is everywhere. And God dwells in the depths of our hearts. When we can come to that awareness of God dwelling in the depths of our hearts, and keep our attention focused in that core, thoughts vanish.

How do we do this? In order to enter in to deep stillness, we have to have a lot of our issues resolved. We have to have a lot of our anger and bitterness and resentments resolved. We have to forgive. If we don’t we’re not going to get into stillness, because the moment we try our inner turmoil is going to come vomiting out. This is good – painful, but good. Because when we try to enter into stillness and we begin to see the darkness that is lurking in our souls, we can then begin to deal with it. It distracts us from trying to be quiet, from trying to say the Jesus Prayer, but that’s just part of the process. And it takes time.

The Fathers talk about three levels of prayer. The first level is oral prayer, where we’re saying the prayer with our lips. We may use a prayer rope, saying “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or whatever form we use.

The next level is mental prayer, where we’re saying the prayer in our mind. Prayer of the mind – with the Jesus Prayer, with prayer book prayers, with liturgical prayers –keeps our minds focused and helps to integrate us, so that our lips and our mind are in the same place and doing the same thing.
We all know that we can be standing in church, or standing at prayer, and we may be mouthing the words with our lips but our mind is thinking about the grocery list. The second level of prayer overcomes this problem, but it is not the final level.

The final level of prayer is prayer of the heart, or spiritual prayer. It is here where we encounter God, in the depths of our soul. Here we open the eye of our attention, with the intention of being present to God who is present within us. This is the key and the core of the whole process of spiritual growth and transformation.

II. So how do we do this?

The Prayer of Stillness

The foundation of the spiritual process is learning to keep inner silence, the prayerof stillness. On the basis of this, we gain insight into how to stop resenting and to stop reacting. Then the process goes deeper and deeper, rooting out our deeply buried resentments and passions, memories of hurt and sin, so that the silence penetrates our whole being. Then we can begin to think clearly, and to attain towards purity of heart. Before beginning this process, it is important to have an established relationship with a spiritual guide, a father confessor or spiritual mother, to help you. Confession is a central part of the spiritual life, and things that come up in prayer, as well as resolving resentments and other issues, are part of that. It is also valuable to expose obsessive or sinful thoughts to your confessor. Simply exposing them deprives them of their power.

We always need to be accompanied on the journey within. Prayer is always a corporate action, leading to the transcendence of our individual isolation into a state of communion with God and the Other. The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” or some form of it, can be used as a vehicle to help us bring our attention into a prayerful state. The Jesus Prayer states the intention of our prayer, and we use it first verbally and then mentally until it goes beyond word and thought and becomes pure intention in deep
silence.

A prayer rope is very helpful to get started, not so much as to count prayers, but to keep the physical level of attention. We say one prayer on each knot, going round and round the rope, until our attention is focused in prayer. Then we can stop moving around the rope, and be still. The rope is not important in and of itself; one can pray just as well without it. It is an aid. Another aid is to follow your breath. What is important is not to get caught up in technique, but to pray.

The Prayer can be said standing, kneeling or sitting. If one is ill, lying down is acceptable; but it is hard to preserve focused attention while lying down. Prayer is not relaxation. It may relax you, but that is not the point. Posture is important to help keep your attention focused. If you’re sitting, it helps to keep your back straight and your shoulders back. One can also be prostrate on the ground, but it takes practice to let go of the physical distractions.

In beginning to pray, remember that God is “everywhere present and filling all things.” In prayer, you make yourself present to God. Open your mind and heart, your awareness of God, so that the sense of God’s Presence fills your consciousness. At first, we may not have a sense of God’s Presence. But the more disciplined our practice of prayer, the more that conscious awareness of God will fill our mind and heart. This is not an image, a thought “that” God is present (though this is a place to start), or a feeling or physical sensation. It is simply an awareness. This is the beginning of spiritual consciousness, where our awareness moves from the head to the heart, and from God as an object to a sense of being rapt in God’s Presence.

How to Enter the Prayer of Stillness

In short, sit down and collect yourself, and remember that God is present. Say the Trisagion Prayers if you wish. Breathe in slowly and deeply a couple of times, following your breath to the center of your chest. Begin to say the Jesus Prayer quietly, slowly, until you have a sense of God’s Presence. Then let the Jesus Prayer trail off, and go into silence. Thoughts will come, but simply let them go by. Don’t let them grab your attention. But if they do, gently dismiss them and bring your focus back to God’s Presence, perhaps using the Jesus Prayer to reestablish your intention to pray. Go deeper within yourself, below the thoughts, into the deeper stillness and awareness of Presence, and simply abide there.

The period of prayer should start out with a few minutes, and may entirely be occupied at first with the Jesus Prayer. Eventually, over a period of weeks or months, as you begin to master keeping your attention focused and dismissing thoughts, let it expand up to twenty or thirty minutes. Two periods of prayer, early in the morning and early in the evening are an excellent discipline.

Surrender and Detachment

The Prayer of Stillness is a process of inner surrender to the Presence and activity of God within yourself. Surrender your thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, agendas, plans, images and submit them to the Divine Presence. This is surrender of the ego, and the enkindling of our spiritual awareness. We stop our ego and its thoughts from distracting our attention, and permit God’s energy to work within to heal our souls. This is a kind of active and willful passivity, so that God becomes the active partner in prayer.

It becomes obvious that we cannot hold any kind of rancor or resentment, lust or passion, in our minds while trying to enter into silence. In fact, all our attachments to things, people, concepts and ideas have to be surrendered during silent prayer, and thus, they are brought into perspective. The more we connect with God in prayer, the more detached we become. It is a necessity if we are going to progress in prayer and in communion with God. All things that are obstacles to our living communion fall away, if we let them. The key, of course, is to surrender them and let them go.

The Emptying of the Subconscious

One critically important process that occurs is the emptying of the subconscious. After we have gotten to a point of stillness, over a period of days or weeks, we will be flooded by memories of past hurts, sins, resentments, images and sensations, and wrongs done to us. At first, we feel like we make progress in the prayer, and it is nice and peaceful.

Then, with the flood of memories, we feel like we are going backwards. This is progress! It is the beginning of the process of the purification of our soul. It is extremely unpleasant, at times, but the key is to not allow ourselves to react. These memories have been suppressed, and are now coming to awareness so that they can be dealt with. This purification is already the action of grace illumining your soul. During prayer, make a mental note of the memory or sin, and then take it to confession. Sometimes these memories and the feelings connected with them can be overwhelming. This is why accompaniment on the spiritual journey is so important.

You need someone who can encourage and reassure you, as well as help you resolve the issues that come to awareness, and forgive your sins. It is extremely distressing when suppressed memories of abuse and violent emotions come up. It can not only be confusing, but it can dominate our consciousness. We have to deal with these issues, as they come up, in order to be purified and open ourselves to God. This means working through forgiveness, accepting forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves and God.

The Imagination

Another thing that comes up is images, which play on our mind and imagination. There are two main levels here: first, the memory images we have seen that are connected with our passions; the second, images from our imagination. All the images we have ever seen are stored in our brain. They range from the face of our mother from our infancy, and other joyful images, to pornographic and violent images or those who have hurt us.

These images are especially powerful if they are attached to some kind of passionate act, of lust or anger. They can be a strong distraction from awareness of God. What is important is to remember that these are just thoughts, memories, and we can dismiss them. They have no power over us that we do not give them.

The task is to get beneath them, and let them go, and eventually take them to confession. The second level of images is what is produced by the imagination. We quiet down, and start to pray, and go into all sorts of imaginal realms, populated by angels, demons, and any and everything else. Many people take this as spiritual vision. But it is not. It is the realm of delusion, and there is nothing spiritual about it. This is especially dangerous if one has a past with hallucinogens and other psychotropic drugs.

The task is, first, to stay with the Jesus Prayer. Then, after much practice, go into silence and be absolutely resolute to allow no images, even of Jesus or the saints, into one’s mind during prayer. The imagination is still part of the mind, not the spirit (nous).

Even icons are not to be contemplated in an objective sense, bringing the image into the mind. As St John Chrysostom wrote, somewhere, “When you pray before your icons, light a candle and then close your eyes!” The icon is a sacrament of the Presence. Spiritual work is very serious business. If we do not work through the issues that arise in a healthy way, they can literally drive us crazy. It takes a deep commitment to the spiritual process, so as not to be distracted by the emptying of our subconscious, and led into despondency or despair. The task is to perservere, and let the process take its course. This means confessing our thoughts and resolving our resentments, and receiving absolution of our sins. Eventually, it works itself through, though it may take months or years to do so. As Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said, somewhere, when it gets too heavy, sit back and have a cup of tea! God is going to be there; it is we who have to work through our issues so we can be present to Him.

Dealing with Resentments

Resentment and reaction are deeply interrelated. Resentment is an impassioned reaction, based on a judgment of a person (or the self), where our passions are ignited. Resentment is a reaction which we hold within ourselves, and allow ourselves to nurture. It comes from and feeds off our passions, from judgment of others. Resentment is judgment and objectification of a person according to his actions, which have offended us.

The real key to resolving resentment is to realize that it is not the other person who is causing it, but that it is our own reaction. The actions of the other person may have precipitated the reaction, his words or deeds, his sin; but the reaction to those sins, words or deeds is purely our own.

We can only control what belongs to us; we cannot control another person. It is our decision to allow ourselves to be possessed by our passions and reactions, or to take control over our own lives. It is our decision to take responsibility for our own reactions, or to allow ourselves to be caught in the vicious cycle of blaming the other person, in resentment and self-righteousness. Blame and resentment lead nowhere, except to bitterness and unhappiness. They make us into helpless victims, which, in turn, robs us of the power to take responsibility for ourselves.

Resentment comes when we refuse to forgive someone, justifying ourselves by our self-righteous indignation at being hurt. Some of these hurts can be very deep: abuse,abandonment, betrayal, rejection. Sometimes they can be very petty. We keep turning the hurt over and over in our minds, and refuse let it go by justifying our anger. Then we feel justified in hating or despising the person who hurt us. Doing this, we continue to beat ourselves up with someone else’s sin, and compound the other person’s sin by our own resentfulness.

We blind ourselves to our own sin, focus only on the sin of the other, and in so doing, we lose all perspective. We have to put things into perspective, and realize that the other person’s actions are only part of the equation, and that our own reaction is entirely our own sin. To do this, we have to move towards forgiveness. To forgive does not mean to justify the other person’s sin. It does not mean that we absolve the other person—not hold them responsible for their sin. Rather, we acknowledge that they have sinned and that it hurt us. But what do we do with that hurt? If we resent, we turn it against ourselves. But if we forgive, we accept the person for who he is, not according to his actions; we drop our judgment of the person. We realize that he is a sinner just like me. If I am aware of my own sins, I can never judge anyone. We can begin to love him as we love ourselves, and excuse his falling short as we forgive ourselves. It helps when the person who hurt us asks for forgiveness, but it is not necessary. We must always forgive: not only because God forgave us; but also because we hurt ourselves by refusing to forgive.

Our resentments can also be extremely petty. Sometimes we resent because we cannot control or manipulate someone to behave according to our expectations. We become resentful of our own frustration, where the other really had nothing to do with it. All our expectations of other people are projections of our own self-centeredness. If we can let other people simply be who they are, and rejoice in that, then we will have tremendous peace!

We have to be watchful over ourselves, so that we do not allow ourselves to project our expectations on others, or allow resentment to grow within us. This kind of awareness, watchfulness, is nurtured by the practice of cutting off our thoughts and practicing inner stillness. By this, we practice cutting off our reactions, which all start with thoughts. We can come to see what is our own reaction, and what belongs to the other.

Eventually, we see that our judgment of the other is really about ourselves, our own actions, words, attitudes and temptations, which we see reflected in the other person. To face this means to face our own hypocrisy, and to change. If we judge and condemn someone for the same sins, thoughts, words and deeds that we have ourselves, then we are hypocrites. We must repent from our hypocrisy. This is real repentance: to recognize and acknowledge our own sin, and turn away from it towards God and towards our neighbor.

We have to see how our sins distract us from loving our neighbor, and from loving God. Our love of our brother is the criterion of our love of God. St John tells us, “How can we love God whom we have not seen, if we can’t love our neighbor whom we can? If you say that you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar”. If we love God, then we will forgive our neighbor, as God has also forgiven us. The conscious awareness of our own reactions and judgments, of our attachment to our passions of anger and our own will, is the first level of spiritual awareness and watchfulness. We have to move beyond self-centeredness (oblivious to others), to becoming self-aware, aware of our own inner processes through watching our thoughts and reactions.

Repentance and Confession

Awareness of our sins and hypocrisy, our short comings and falls, leads us to repentance and the transformation of our life. Repentance, conversion, the transformation of our mind and our life, is the core of the Christian life. Repentance does not mean to beat ourselves up for our sins, or to dwell in a state of guilt and morose self condemnation. Rather, it means to confront our sins, and reject and renounce them, and confess them, trying not to do them again. What this does is, that to the extent we renounce and confess our sins, they no longer generate thoughts, which accuse us or spur passionate reactions.

Sometimes we have to confess things several times, because we only repent of, or are even conscious of, aspects of the sin. Things that make us feel guilty, provoke our conscience, or that we know are acts of disobedience all should be confessed. We have to train our conscience, not by memorizing lists of sins, but by becoming aware of what breaks our relationship with God and other people. We need to be conscious of God’s presence, and realize what distracts us from it. These things are sins. Of course, we are experts at deluding ourselves, when we really want to do something, and we know that it is not blessable.

Confession is not only Christ’s first gift to the Church, the authority to forgive sins in His Name; but is one of the most important means of healing our souls. Sins are not sins because they are listed in a book somewhere. They are sins because they break our relationship with God, other people, and distort our true self. Sins are sins because they hurt us and other people. We need to heal that hurt, and revealing the act or thought or attitude takes away the shame that keeps it concealed, and prevents healing.

We need to confess the things that we are the most ashamed of, the secret sins, which we know are betrayals of our true self. If we don’t confess them, they fester and generate all sorts of despondency, depression and guilt, shame and despair. The result of that is that we identify ourselves with our sins. For example, same-sex attraction becomes gay identity. Failure in some area becomes a general self-identification with being a failure.

What is critically important is that we are not our sins, thoughts or actions. These things happen, we sin, have bad thoughts and do wicked and evil things. But we are not our thoughts or actions. Repentance means to stop and renounce not only the actions, but to renounce the identity that goes with it. Thoughts are going to come. But we can learn, through practicing inner stillness, to let our thoughts go. They will still be there, but we can learn to not react to them, and eventually, simply to ignore them.

The process of purifying our self is hard and painful, at first; but becomes the source of great joy. The more we confess, honestly and nakedly, the more we open ourselves to God’s grace, and the lighter we feel. Truly the angels in heaven (and the priest standing before you bearing witness to the confession) rejoice immensely when a person truly repents and confesses their sins, no matter how dark and heinous. There is no sin so grievous that it cannot be forgiven. NOTHING! The only sin not forgiven is thinking that God cannot forgive our sin. He forgives. We have to forgive our self, and accept His forgiveness.

Preparing for confession is an important process. It means to take stock of our life, and to recognize where we have fallen, and that we need to repent. The following should help to prepare for confession, but it is not a laundry list. Rather, it should help to spur our memory, so that we can bring things to consciousness that we have forgotten. It is more of an examination of conscience.

The Passions

  • Gluttony,
  • Lust
  • Avarice
  • Anger
  • Envy
  • Despondency
  • Vainglory
  • Pride

The Commandments

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself

Loving God

Do I love God?
Do I really believe in God, or just go through the motions?
Do I pray, and when I do, do I connect, or is it just mechanical?
Do I rush through prayers, Scripture readings, and spiritual literature?
Do I seek the will of God in all things?
Do I rebel against what I know to be God’s will, and the Christian life?
Do I try to be obedient, and constantly surrender my life to God?
Do I go to church, go to confession and communion regularly, keep the fasts?
Do I try to be conscious of God’s Presence, or not?
Do I try to sanctify my life? Or do I give in to temptation easily? Thoughtlessly?

Loving our Neighbor

How do I treat the people around me?
Do I allow myself to judge, criticize, gossip aboutor condemn my neighbor?
Do I put people down? Do I look for their faults?
Do I condescend and talk down to others?
Do I treat others with kindness, gentleness, patience? Or am I mean, rough and nasty?
Do I try to control others, manipulate others?
Do I regard others with love and compassion?
Do I bear anger or resentments against others? Hatred, bitterness, scorn?
Do I use and objectify others for my own pleasure or advantage? For sex, for profit, or for anything else which de-personalizes him/her?
Do I envy and bear jealousy towards my neighbor? Do I take pleasure in his misfortunes?
Do I act thoughtlessly, oblivious to the feelings or conscience of the other?
Do I lead myneighbor into temptation intentionally?
Do I mock him or make fun of him?
Do I honor the commitments I have made? Marriage vows? Monastic vows?
Do I honor my parents? Am I faithful in my relationships?
Do I have stability in my commitments?
Am I conscious of how my words and actions affect others?
Have I stolen anything, abused or hurt anyone?
Have I committed adultery?
Have I injured or killed someone?
Do I covet other people’s things? Do I lust after possessions or money? Does my life revolve around making money and buying things?

Loving Our Selves

How am I self-centered, egotistical, self-referenced?
Do I take care of myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Am I obsessed about my self, my image, my appearance, my desires and agenda?
Do I indulge in laziness? Do I get despondent, depressed, despairing?
Do I beat myself up, indulge in self-hatred or self-pity?
Do I injure myself? Do I have low self-esteem, or think myself worthless?
Do I blame other people for my reactions? Do I feel myself a victim?
Do I take responsibility for my own reactions and behaviors?
Do I engage in addictive behaviors, abusing alcohol, food, drugs, sex, pornography, masturbation? How do I try to console myself when I’m feeling down?
Do I have anger and resentment, rage, and other strong emotions and passions suppressed within me? Do I act out on them? How do they affect my behavior? Can I control them or do I abuse other people?
Am I conscious of how my words affect people?
How am I a hypocrite? Can I face my own hypocrisy? Am I lying to and deluding myself?
Do I have a realistic idea of myself? Am I honest with myself and others? What kind of façade do I put up?
Have I done things that I don’t want to or am too ashamed to admit? Abuse of others or animals, incest, homosexual acts, perverse actions? Have I abused drugs, sex or other things that I don’t want to acknowledge? Am I afraid that I am those things—an alcoholic, drug addict, gay, child abuser? Am I afraid to confess them?
Can I forgive myself for these things? What do I feel guilty about? Does guilt control my life?
Am I being faithful to myself, to God, to others? Does my life have integrity?

Comments

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    Andrew says:

    I can think of two clear examples which contradict the Do not resent, Do not react, Keep inner stillness viewpoint

    The first is St. John Chrysostom who certainly was known as a man of reaction. St. John writes:

    “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”

    The second example is Christ overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the table. Our lord Himself certainly gave us an example of a healthy anger. He reacted!

    I would would like to point out that the Metropolitan spends very little time talking about the vicitims of sin. Do victims deserve to be made whole as a part of the repentance of those who committed sinful acts?

    Lets remember that all of us have an obligation to prevent sin not just forgive and repent after the fact. Do not resent, Do not react, Keep inner stillness is a nice sentiment but is it grounded in reality? I am not so sure because in many ways this viewpoint can be manipulated by those whose intentions are less than moral. As the previous OCA administration showed us, While we are busy not reacting people can easily plunder the Church for selfish gain. The virtues of the Church can easily be manipulated to abuse the Church and her faithful.

    As Orthodox Christians we have to do more than simply clean things up after a moral mess has been made. We have to actively oppose evil in all its forms and prevent people from being corrupted. In the meantime, it is perfectly healthy for people to be angry in circumstances where evil has been committed.

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Andrew,

      What you say is true and it seems to be a particular shortcoming of hierarchs in general. I saw this happen when a priest who served ten years of probation for fondling a girl was invited back to the altar in a very public venue soon after his probation ended. Needless to say some parents were irate, reported it to Pokrov, and the priest was never seen in public again. (Why he was not defrocked I still don’t understand.)

      Frankly, if a priest were ever to fondle my daughter (God forbid!) I would demand full prosecution of the law and that he be defrocked. It’s a reasonable price to pay for his crime. It also helps the victim. If a crime has clear and decisive consequences, the crime is objectively defined as a crime which aids in the victim’s healing.

      But abusers are not only abusers, they are still people. That’s what the hierarch’s see (some of them anyway) and on that basis they make their judgments. They view the crime in a broader perspective and it makes a certain sense. I can understand it. When I have dealt with people who have committed crimes I draw on those other things too to help them (if they are willing) come to some sort of reconciliation so their life isn’t frozen in the crime either.

      So the weakness you describe includes short-sightedness, inexperience, possibly neglect and probably not having any children of their own. Sometimes however, a genuine and authentic fondness exists for the abuser because they know more about the person than just his abuse. This is where the confusion enters. That’s what happened with the Katinas affair in the GOA for example, and why Abp. Demetrios made the misguided request that Katinas not be defrocked so that he could be buried as a priest. It caused outrage among the laity and justifiably so. His intent was not to diminish the severity of Katinas’ crimes although his request did precisely that in the eyes of almost everyone. Wisely he did not pursue that course.

      I’m not justifying the misjudgments here. I’m only explaining the dynamics of why they occur. And the reason they are bad judgments is that they foster a kind of rot. When crimes are not dealt with decisively, if therapeutic concerns muddle the clear right and wrong of certain behaviors, confidence in leadership wanes.

      You are calling for a kind of de-Oprahizing of the Church if I read you correctly, putting aside emotional reasoning for a return to dogmatic truth and principle. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and while there is forgiveness, forgiveness does not preclude clear consequences for particular types of acts.

      Anger shouldn’t necessarily be the driver here, but it can be an indicator something is seriously wrong and move us to act in clear headed and decisive ways. I agree with your premise, that tolerance of sin and crime under the rubric of humility and other misplaced appeals to virtue is itself sin. And sin has to be rooted out.

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        It is true that in the last century, both in the Orthodox and in the Roman Church hierarchs have been lenient with serious crimes. But we must also remember that although there are patristic and NT examples of righteous anger, they are depicted always as the very last instance and rarely used.

        I know that some misguided mercy may be at work sometimes, but I also know how good targets for slander priests and bishops make. A lot of people feel they are the “small people” taking revenge at the “big guys” if they put down an elderly priest. Others know that the times are on their side to put false accusations and make some money of what they suppose to be a wealthy institution.

        I too think it is time, everywhere, for some tougher measures from the hierarchy. It’s not the first nor will it be the last time that a worring number of unvocationed men enter the priesthood and lower its respect for their misbehaviour, sometimes criminal. But I *do* get more concerned about the innocent priests and bishops that could be slandered than in demanding secular justice for the guilty ones. I do remember the case of an 80-year-old Roman bishop in the US whose name was dragged in the mud by an accusation of abuse of young boys when he was the principal of a Catholic school decades before. Eventually, the poor old man died of depression for the social pressure on him and from seeing his name associated with pedophilia and his accuser confessed nothing had happened and he was just trying to get money from the Roman Church.

        Particularly, I believe this kind of situation is far more common than actual misbehaviour or criminal behaviour of the priesthood. Sometimes for money, sometimes for petty internal politicals, gossip and slander are far more common than actual perversion.

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          Eliot Ryan says:

          Particularly, I believe this kind of situation is far more common than actual misbehaviour or criminal behaviour of the priesthood. Sometimes for money, sometimes for petty internal politicals, gossip and slander are far more common than actual perversion.

          I definitely agree with you. “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.”
          Many believers are on the sidelines because they don’t want to deal with the major spiritual attacks that come from serving the Lord.

          …the poor old man died of depression for the social pressure on him and from seeing his name associated with pedophilia and his accuser confessed nothing had happened and he was just trying to get money from the Roman Church.

          Patience and Humility

          It is necessary always to be patient and to accept everything that happens, no matter what, with gratitude for God’s sake. Our life — is a minute compared to eternity. And for this reason “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

          Bear the insults of your enemy in silence, and open your heart only to the Lord. Try in any way possible to forgive those who humiliate you or take away your honor, by the words of the Gospel: “Of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again” (Lk. 6:30).

          When people curse us, we must consider ourselves unworthy of praise, imagining that if we were worthy, everyone would be bowing down to us. We must always, and before everyone, humble ourselves, according to the teachings of St. Isaac the Syrian: “Humble yourself and you will see the glory of God within yourself.”

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        Harry Coin says:

        Here’s a good article that speaks to why this is important for those not personally involved as perp or immediate victim of misdoing.

        http://www.ajewishminute.com/2009/07/maarat-ayin-appearance-of-impropriety.html

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        Harry Coin says:

        “Here, sports fans, is Conflicts 101: You rob a bank; as you are fleeing, there’s a woman at the door who sees you, but you point your gun at her, she ducks to the floor, and you skip around her and make your escape. You are arrested and brought to trial. When you get to the courtroom and glimpse up at the bench, who do you see wearing a black robe? Why, it’s the woman who witnessed the bank robbery. No way, you say–and you’d be right–the court will find you another judge because this one is an actor in the facts that are the subject matter of the case.

        It doesn’t matter that the judge happens to be the hardest working, best, most accomplished jurist in the land. It doesn’t matter that she is so apolitical no one knows whether she even votes, let alone for whom. Most of all, it doesn’t matter that she may not have done anything wrong or anything to be ashamed of. Her conflict does not lie in her work ethic, her political views, or what we might think of her conduct. It is strictly a matter of perception. We have reason to think that she will render judgment based on what she saw in the bank that day rather than what gets presented in the courtroom; we have reason to think she may rule against you not on the merits of your legal arguments but because you pointed a gun at her. Of course, she may not actually do any of those inappropriate things; she may be the very epitome of rectitude. But even if she is, we will always wonder. And if we are left to wonder, the court’s rulings lack integrity and legitimacy. If you get convicted, we’ll think you might have been railroaded; if acquitted, we’ll think you may have intimidated the judge. But one way or the other, we will never be confident that we know what happened in the bank that day.”

        …. And so avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, so emphasized in the New Testament. To survive, much less grow: we need those who’ve known successful marriage among our bishops who oversee parish life.

        Events move so much faster now, we can’t afford to be like the church in Galileo’s day, avoiding to deal with the advances and changes the world sees before we do. Now women outlive men for the first time — only in the last 100 years.

        (Excerpt above from a 2004 article by A. McCarthey.)

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      Dn Brian Patrick Mitchell says:

      “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”

      Andrew, can you tell us where this appears? I may need to use it soon in my own defense. It would help to have the citation. Thanks.

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        Andrew says:

        Deacon Brian, I took the quote from the following article which appeared in Touchstone Magazine

        http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=22-06-012-v

        Looking back I did not see a footnote but my guess is that it is probably not too hard to find the exact citation.

        I know we do not share the same views on many issues but I am happy to help out in this regard.

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          Dn Brian Patrick Mitchell says:

          Unfortunately, the supposed quote from Chrysostom appears to be spurious. Here’s a good reflection on the quote and on the general issue of anger. Note the author’s observation that the problem isn’t a lack of anger, but anger over the wrong things.

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        The Summa Theologica, although not Orthodox, has a good chapter on it and pinpoints the mentioned quotation:

        Question 158. Anger
        Is it lawful to be angry?
        Is anger a sin?
        Is it a mortal sin?
        Is it the most grievous of sins?
        Its species
        Is anger a capital vice?
        Its daughters
        Does it have a contrary vice?

        Article 1. Whether it is lawful to be angry?

        Objection 1. It would seem that it cannot be lawful to be angry. For Jerome in his exposition on Matthew 5:22, “Whosoever is angry with his brother,” etc. says: “Some codices add ‘without cause.’ However, in the genuine codices the sentence is unqualified, and anger is forbidden altogether.” Therefore it is nowise lawful to be angry.

        Objection 2. Further, according to Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv) “The soul’s evil is to be without reason.” Now anger is always without reason: for the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 6) that “anger does not listen perfectly to reason”; and Gregory says (Moral. v, 45) that “when anger sunders the tranquil surface of the soul, it mangles and rends it by its riot”; and Cassian says (De Inst. Caenob. viii, 6): “From whatever cause it arises, the angry passion boils over and blinds the eye of the mind.” Therefore it is always evil to be angry.

        Objection 3. Further, anger is “desire for vengeance” [Aristotle, Rhet. ii, 2 according to a gloss on Leviticus 19:17, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” Now it would seem unlawful to desire vengeance, since this should be left to God, according to Deuteronomy 32:35, “Revenge is Mine.” Therefore it would seem that to be angry is always an evil.

        Objection 4. Further, all that makes us depart from likeness to God is evil. Now anger always makes us depart from likeness to God, since God judges with tranquillity according to Wisdom 12:18. Therefore to be angry is always an evil.

        On the contrary, Chrysostom [Hom. xi in the Opus Imperfectum, falsely ascribed to St. John Chrysostom] says: “He that is angry without cause, shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked.” Therefore to be angry is not always an evil.

        I answer that, Properly speaking anger is a passion of the sensitive appetite, and gives its name to the irascible power, as stated above (I-II, 46, 1) when we were treating of the passions. Now with regard to the passions of the soul, it is to be observed that evil may be found in them in two ways. First by reason of the passion’s very species, which is derived from the passion’s object. Thus envy, in respect of its species, denotes an evil, since it is displeasure at another’s good, and such displeasure is in itself contrary to reason: wherefore, as the Philosopher remarks (Ethic. ii, 6), “the very mention of envy denotes something evil.” Now this does not apply to anger, which is the desire for revenge, since revenge may be desired both well and ill. Secondly, evil is found in a passion in respect of the passion’s quantity, that is in respect of its excess or deficiency; and thus evil may be found in anger, when, to wit, one is angry, more or less than right reason demands. But if one is angry in accordance with right reason, one’s anger is deserving of praise.

        Reply to Objection 1. The Stoics designated anger and all the other passions as emotions opposed to the order of reason; and accordingly they deemed anger and all other passions to be evil, as stated above (I-II, 24, 2) when we were treating of the passions. It is in this sense that Jerome considers anger; for he speaks of the anger whereby one is angry with one’s neighbor, with the intent of doing him a wrong.–But, according to the Peripatetics, to whose opinion Augustine inclines (De Civ. Dei ix, 4), anger and the other passions of the soul are movements of the sensitive appetite, whether they be moderated or not, according to reason: and in this sense anger is not always evil.

        Reply to Objection 2. Anger may stand in a twofold relation to reason. First, antecedently; in this way it withdraws reason from its rectitude, and has therefore the character of evil. Secondly, consequently, inasmuch as the movement of the sensitive appetite is directed against vice and in accordance with reason, this anger is good, and is called “zealous anger.” Wherefore Gregory says (Moral. v, 45): “We must beware lest, when we use anger as an instrument of virtue, it overrule the mind, and go before it as its mistress, instead of following in reason’s train, ever ready, as its handmaid, to obey.” This latter anger, although it hinder somewhat the judgment of reason in the execution of the act, does not destroy the rectitude of reason. Hence Gregory says (Moral. v, 45) that “zealous anger troubles the eye of reason, whereas sinful anger blinds it.” Nor is it incompatible with virtue that the deliberation of reason be interrupted in the execution of what reason has deliberated: since art also would be hindered in its act, if it were to deliberate about what has to be done, while having to act.

        Reply to Objection 3. It is unlawful to desire vengeance considered as evil to the man who is to be punished, but it is praiseworthy to desire vengeance as a corrective of vice and for the good of justice; and to this the sensitive appetite can tend, in so far as it is moved thereto by the reason: and when revenge is taken in accordance with the order of judgment, it is God’s work, since he who has power to punish “is God’s minister,” as stated in Romans 13:4.

        Reply to Objection 4. We can and ought to be like to God in the desire for good; but we cannot be altogether likened to Him in the mode of our desire, since in God there is no sensitive appetite, as in us, the movement of which has to obey reason. Wherefore Gregory says (Moral. v, 45) that “anger is more firmly erect in withstanding vice, when it bows to the command of reason.”

        http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3158.htm

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      George Michalopulos says:

      Andrew, does this include being angry at the Stokovites for what they did to Fr Joseph Fester?

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    Fr. Peter Dubinin says:

    Thank you AOI for providing such a substantive treatment of that one thing which is needful. It is teaching such as this that keeps me in the Orthodox Church and continually, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, leads me to repentance. The world and the things of the world are darkness and emptiness; truly, the only hope of salvation, transformation, regeneration, renewal, transfiguration is Jesus Christ. Peace.

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    Karen says:

    “Frankly, if a priest were ever to fondle my daughter (God forbid!) I would demand full prosecution of the law and that he be defrocked. It’s a reasonable price to pay for his crime. It also helps the victim. If a crime has clear and decisive consequences, the crime is objectively defined as a crime which aids in the victim’s healing.”

    I am glad to hear you say this, Fr. Hans, because reading about the history of these issues in the Church here in the U.S. in the last few weeks and how they have been (mis)handled, I have often thought exactly the same thing. If, God forbid, I were to come upon such a thing occurring with either of my children, I would immediately dial 911 and proceed exactly as you have described. I’m convinced this is the only way to true healing–for ALL involved.

    It has also been very disturbing for me to think that some of our hierarchs would abuse the teaching that Met. Jonah presented here by using it as a pretext for leniency for perpetrators of this kind of devastating abuse.

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