Friday, 13 November 2009

On Sin

The traditional understanding of sin in this country (England) derives mostly from the Roman concepts of legal debt and erroneous concept of the Latin Church that Adam's fall changed us into creatures somehow different from those that God created in Eden.

The idea that sin is in some way held in a kind of 'account', and then meritorious works somehow cancel these debts, is part of the Latin heritage, and it has permeated the language of the Anglican church too. I find this unhelpful as a concept, the thought of having to pay off my account is enough to send me into deep deep depression. Because, like St Paul, I am a great sinner, and like him I persecuted and pilloried the faithful for many years. God be praised that also like him I have seen the light, albeit not quite as brightly – yet.

These are not, however, the concepts of the early Church Fathers who saw sin as a turning away from, or rejection, of God AND his offer of Eternal Life in Him. For the Fathers Adam's fall was as if the Perfection of Adam was obscured by sin, under that shroud the perfection is still in existence – we are still made “in His image” - only God can see it, but it is still there. Christ shows us by his submission, even to revilement and death, the way back to God and to perfection. This is the triumph of the Cross, that by submission to God we can all be made perfect, but the way leads though agony. This is however a cup that you can pick up, or one you can let go by.

All the Fathers agree that God has given his creatures complete freedom to choose, and we retain that freedom forever. It is not the belief in God that brings salvation - the devil and the fallen angels know full well the truth, but have rejected it – it is the acceptance of God's will that enables Him to bring salvation.

This is why it is so important to understand that Jesus was both fully Man and fully God. In his Humanity he shows us what can be achieved if we ask. He did conquer all the temptations of a human life, and then, just for us, submitted to the agony of death and resurrection. He didn't need to go though the agony for himself, he didn't go to 'pay off' our account of sins. No, he went through the agony to show us what God could achieve if we ask him, and to show us that the process would bring pain before it brought life. The Fathers also taught that while in the tomb he showed this to all the dead, so opening the way to life, even to them. On Great Pascha (Passover, Easter) the Orthodox sing the hymn (it's much better in Greek):

Christ is risen from the dead,

Trampling down death by death,

And to those in the tombs he has given Life.

When you next go to St Bega's, Bassenthwaite, look at the ancient Crucifix over the pulpit, the Cross stands in the open tomb, the scull and bones are Adam's; but they are ours too.

So how do we handle our sin? The first thing to say is “turn back to God”, which is another way of saying “pray”. You have broken the relationship you had with Him, so do what you would do for any relationship that you have broken and want to mend – ask for forgiveness. But don't get hung up on the sin, it isn't an irretrievable situation – this is Christ's Good News: “life for sinners, follow me!” And don't get into self over-analysis, that way leads to depression - an opportunity for the devil - it is no way out, and it leads to death.

A wise man, probably a modern saint, Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov (the title means roughly Chief Abbot – a monk, he died in Essex) said: “You know, we pick and poke away, hunting for every little mistake or thought, and we make ourselves crazy, all for nothing. It becomes an obsession, and really makes a wall between us and God, leaving no room for grace to act. Yes, we must know our sins, and that we are sinful and deluded beings, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we come to God in prayer, not to be obsessed with our sins, but to find His mercy. Otherwise the devil takes everything away from us… joy, hope, peace, love… and leaves us nothing but this obsession with our mistakes. That is not repentance. That is neurosis…”

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

This is joy of our faith that we can, with utter confidence, say: “Lord have mercy.”

Love, Richard.

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