Saturday, March 5, 2016

From darkness to Light

I live on a planet called ‘earth,’ but it might as well be called ‘judgment world.’ I am racking my brain to come up with spectacular sins to confess to my priest to fulfill the unwritten obligation to endure the mystery of repentance at least four times yearly during the great fasts. Why is it so hard to confess our own sins, when we can hardly refrain from confessing the sins of others by the minute?

So, a president is photographed being jolly and cell phone snapping a shot at a memorial service. Meanwhile, his wife stares straight ahead with what looks like an attitude of studied disapproval. Who took that photo, I wonder, instead of being solemn and respectful? It seems we are all citizens of ‘judgment world.’

While I was preparing to reenter the Church as an adult Christian, though still on the sidelines looking in, the first Orthodox priest I ever knew said to me, ‘Try not to pass judgment on others, because that’s not your job. That’s what Christ will do when He returns, so let’s not take His job away from Him.’ I knew Father Ihor wasn’t kidding, and I never forgot what he said. In trying to follow his advice, I have found it not very easy, especially when everyone around you is doing it—judging, I mean. Almost as a survival tactic, you start doing it too, just so you don’t fall behind. Then, in a moment of calmness and clarity—which will happen if you pause a moment to catch your breath—you realize with horror what you’ve been doing and cry, ‘Lord, have mercy!’ and, perhaps just a little later, you’re back to judging again, even if it’s only yourself.

We know the scriptures so well that we become inattentive, and in our mental looms sometimes false weavings are weft. We hear ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and as soon as the commandment courses through our bodies with our lifeblood, it is contaminated by the ‘food’ we eat—what we see, hear and unthinkingly enact every day—it morphs into its very opposite, ‘judge your neighbor as yourself,’ and we find ourselves obeying a very different commandment.

Yes, we do judge ourselves, with mercy, and think we are being disciplined harshly. But if our neighbor ‘helps’ us, we rebuff his rebuke even if well-intentioned—are any really so?—feeling slighted, insulted, condemned, and so we judge him back. After all, ‘even steven.’ Yes, we’re all guilty, hands down.

This is life on planet earth, the ‘judgment world.’ If we had no other sin to confess, this one would be enough. That’s exactly why I lazily confess that ‘I am a sinner,’ and why I ask your prayers ‘for Romanós the sinner.’

What? Did I kill anyone? Did I steal? Did I lie? Did I commit adultery? Did I not honor my parents? Did I take the Lord’s name in vain, worship idols made by hand or, even worse, have different gods before Him? Well, answering the previous probes, I might have to say ‘yes, and no,’ and leave it to the questioner to guess which of the eight I have transgressed. Better yet, go ask my enemies, if I have any. Enemies always tell the truth—from their point of view. Really, though, my worst enemy—or my best—is myself, or he would be if he weren’t too shy to fess up to his—I mean, my—shenanigans.

At least I don’t work on Sunday, and I don’t covet. Those two of the Ten I accidentally left out. Was it a Freudian slip? Nobody works on the Sabbath unless they have to, and therefore, it isn’t their fault. Even the Church excuses us in this case, as long as we try our best to make it up during the week. We think that it’s enough just to make an appearance, maybe light a candle, kiss an ikon, and skip out. After all, we’re with Christ ‘twenty-four seven’ wherever we are, right? There’s no escape. As for coveting, like everyone I know I have everything I need already, so why should I want more? Besides, ‘there’s no pockets in a shroud’ and, speaking of ‘judgment world,’ we know that ‘whoever has the biggest part has the worst part.’ That’s what the saints say anyway, and I’m with them (I hope!).

Yes, we do indeed live on a planet called ‘earth,’ and whether we believe it or not, it really is a ‘judgment world.’ We’ve been sent here, deliberately, not to work off our bad karma or to attain enlightenment, but to learn to speak God’s language. Judgment is the language of this world that we pick up in infancy and speak for the rest of our lives unless, unless we are drawn to the learning of the language of God and of the age to come, and that language is silence. Learning His language we pass from judgment to mercy, and from mercy to glory, and finally and forever, from darkness to Light.

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