Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sin is Personal

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

A.I. Solzhenitsyn

This little quotation says so much to me.   Some people say that they think of me as being good, but I know myself to be a sinner.  My heart contains so much to be sorry for, as well as so much to be grateful for.

For example, only one of many, I have a terrible temper, especially when I blame myself for something.  I am liable to go into a complete ranting rage at a moment's notice.  There appears to be nothing that I can do about it.  I also have difficulties with other passions.  Most of these are habits, and I would dearly like to have them behind me.

In fact when I think about it, I have all the passions: Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth; but also in some strange way hints of all the virtues: Humility, Patience, Chastity, Contentedness, Temperance, Liberality, and Diligence.  This is what Aleksandr is saying in the quote above.  Defeating sin is about moving our own personal dividing lines.

And defeating sin is an internal battle: the devil is pretty simplistic in his approach, "if he did it yesterday, lets see if we can fool him into doing it again today" is his favourite ploy.  Not being a creator, he doesn't do well in the innovation stakes.  For true innovation in sinning you want a human, but once invented the devil is quite happy to nudge you into it time after time after time...

It's easy to say "avoid the opportunities for sin", but in practise this is impossible.  Yes, we can avoid pubs to avoid drink, but then we cut ourselves off from companionship with people for whom we may be called to help.  I could give up woodwork, so that I didn't get angry when I cut the wood wrong - but then I couldn't make the things that people love.  We could give up marriage, so we couldn't hurt the ones we love.

In fact we can't avoid sin, it is already in our hearts.  All we can do is turn back every time to God and repent - and then ask for Grace to do better.  Only God can take the stain of sin from our hearts, and He will only do it if he is asked.

This is what is meant by "standing in the struggle".

St Basil the Great wrote this:

Blessed, therefore, is he who did not continue in the way of sinners but passed quickly by better reasoning to a pious way of life.  For there are two ways opposed to each other, the one wide and broad, the other narrow and close ...  Now,  the smooth and downward way has a deceptive guide, a wicked demon, who drags his followers through pleasure to destruction, but the rough and steep way has a good angel, who leads his followers through the toils of virtue to a blessed end.

Notice the words 'continue' and 'quickly' in the first sentence, and the phrase 'toils of virtue' in the last. And this is a story about a monk from Kiev:

A brother asked Abba Sisoes, saying, "What shall I do, Abba, for I have fallen?"  The old man answered, "Get up again."  The brother says,"I got up and fell again."  The old man continued, "Get up again and again."  The brother asked, "'till when?"  The old man answered, "Until you have been seized either by virtue or by sin."

It's clear then, the Fathers tell us that we have to find a way to the rough and steep path that leads to the blessed end. But that we will step off that path, and when we do we must immediately step back on again, albeit a little further from our goal. Confess the sin, turn to God, immediately begin to struggle upwards again.

What, after all, was the Problem in The Garden of Eden?  Was it the eating of the forbidden fruit?  Or was it, perhaps, the lie, the attempt to hide the broken commandment, the fear of being found out?  Yes, the breaking of the command was the sin, but the stain on their hearts, on our hearts still today, is the fear of being found out.  This is why we must immediately confess and ask for forgiveness - the longer we wait the worse the stain, the worse the rot.

A quote from St. Silouan of Athos:

The heart-stirrings of a good man are good; those of a wicked person are wicked; but everyone must learn how to combat intrusive thoughts, and turn the bad into good. This is the mark of the soul that is well versed.

How does this come about, you will ask?

Here is the way of it: just as a man knows when he is cold or when he feels hot, so does the man who has experienced the Holy Spirit know when grace is in his soul, or when evil spirits approach.

The Lord gives the soul understanding to recognize His coming, and love Him and do His will. In the same way the soul recognizes thoughts which proceed from the enemy, not by their outward form but by their effect on her [the soul].

This is knowledge born of experience;  and the man with no experience is easily duped by the enemy.

The Lord should have the last word here (Luke 6:45):

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

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